June July 2016
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Excerpt: Shopping for Gay Porn with My Parents

Josh Sabarra

(The following is an excerpt from Porn Again: A Memoir, by former Hollywood executive Josh Sabarra, pictured above. Meet the author January 21 at 7 p.m. at Book Soup in West Hollywood at 8818 W Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90069 for a special discussion and signing.)

I didn’t know whether I should shuffle off to Buffalo or to Albuquerque. Having a severely cross-eyed tap dance teacher made it difficult to learn the choreography, even after three months of lessons.

“You have to watch my feet, not my face,” Isabel, the owner of TapTronix Dance Studio, instructed. Her challenged extraocular muscles and untamed unibrow upstaged her fancy footwork. “You’re not going to learn to tap from the mirror, Josh,” she reiterated. “Stop looking in front of you, and look down.” It was tough to focus on the ground with Frida Kahlo flashing jazz hands in my face like a Broadway hoofer on Speed.

“I’m not planning to be part of the year-end recital,” I said, trying to manage Isabel’s expectations. “I’m here purely for fun.” As appealing as it seemed to be dancing to “Top Hat, White Tie and Tails” alongside twenty bored “real housewives” of the San Fernando Valley, everything I needed from the private classes was in my reflection.

“I understand,” Isabel said, “but you’re not even keeping time with the music.” I began to tune her – and Ella Fitzgerald – out and stared past her frizzy up-do into the mirror on the wall.

“That’s OK,” I answered, looking straight ahead. “I’m enjoying myself.”

“It’s your money,” she said, “but I’m not sure how many steps you’ll have to show for the cash.”

“I already got what I wanted,” I replied, “everything else is icing on the cake.”

“There’s a freedom that comes with being able to dance,” she continued. “I just wanted to help you experience that.” A tear rolled down my right cheek. “Are you alright? Did I upset you?” She became concerned.

“I’m perfect,” I said, my gaze still fixed on the 40 year-old man in sweats and split-soled tap shoes whose eyes were locked just as intensely on me. Isabel and the music faded into the background as the truth of my story took center stage: I had been alive for four decades but was just starting to live. In the dance studio, I wasn’t judged by anyone or anything other than my “flaps” and “heel drops.”

It was obvious, looking at myself in the mirror, that losing 15 pounds wouldn’t be so bad for my health. I wasn’t terribly concerned, though, about how the weight affected my appearance. The idea of finding a local gym and perhaps a part-time trainer – and maybe even buying pants with a larger waist size – crossed my mind. My midsection jiggled a little bit with particularly active dance steps, but keeping my drawstring pants tightly around my hips had me covered. A surgical remedy was no longer my go-to solution; I wasn’t willing to take the risk or suffer any more pain electively.

A professional reinvention was also on the horizon; one that didn’t include the dangerously alluring glamour of Hollywood. The guy looking back at me from the glass was OK with that. Maybe it was time to pursue old passions; to become a writer or go back to school for an MBA, two possibilities that now got me more excited than a red carpet premiere. I realized by watching myself – vulnerable and trying something new with Isabel – that my identity wasn’t wrapped up in a job or high-level title. And, it certainly wasn’t defined by the celebrity affiliations that came as a “gift with purchase.”

“Let’s take a quick break after this next song,” Isabel said, changing the music on her iPod, “Straight Up” from Paula Abdul filtered through the room. “Don’t you love Paula? Her songs just don’t get old.”

“I do love Paula,” I answered, but I didn’t feel the need to tell Isabel that my personal relationship with the pop star went beyond a topical enjoyment of her 80s hits. In the past, I wouldn’t have missed such an easy opportunity to generate positive attention for myself by spending an hour dropping names. Nailing my first tap routine seemed like a better use of time, even when I heard my mother’s voice rush into my head.

“I don’t think that’s a great idea; other boys wouldn’t understand.” In 1982, my interest in tap lessons was met with a disapproval that, while commensurate with the social attitudes of the time, jailed me in a lonely self-hatred that forced me to steal my sense of identity from the outside.

The week after my first dance class, during their biannual visit to Los Angeles, my parents agreed to run some errands with me after lunch in West Hollywood.

“What’s the ‘Pleasure Chest?’” my mom asked, as I pulled in the parking lot of the adult superstore.

Josh Sabarra

“It’s a sex shop,” I answered casually. “I need to buy some funny greeting cards for a few friends’ birthdays that are coming up.”

“They sell cards?” My father was surprised by the scope of merchandise.

I quickly looked over the racks and put my selections into a hand basket. “I’m going to look at some videos upstairs; are you and Mom OK to browse here for a little while?”

“Sure; take your time,” my father said. “Mom and I will meet you in the porn section if we finish before you.” The two short, cotton-topped 70 year-olds were fish out of water in a sea of pierced and tattooed hipsters.

It was hard to choose between Dawson’s Crack and Scrotal Recall; both had hot cover models, and the scene shots on their back covers promised kinky, hardcore fun. I took them both from the shelf just as my parents turned the corner.

“What are you buying?” my father asked, grabbing the two boxes out of my hands and examining them front to back. 33 years after my plea for tap dancing classes was overruled, my folks were reviewing my choices in pornography – and I wasn’t the least bit embarrassed. “Wait, these are $60 a piece?”

“Yes, porn is expensive. They don’t sell as many copies as the studios do of mainstream films, so they charge more per DVD.” Thankfully, my years in the movie business helped me explain the exorbitant price point.

“Do you really need both? It’s the same penis going into the same hole,” my father reasoned, holding up both titles in front of me. It was as if I were a kid at a restaurant all over again, being told that I could choose between ice cream and a cookie; I didn’t need two desserts.

“The appendages and holes are attached to different people,” I said, “so they’re not the same video.”

“I think one is fine,” he continued. “Mom and I are treating, so pick the movie you want more.”

“Dawson’s Crack, I guess,” I said, disappointed that the men of Scrotal Recall would have to wait until I could sneak back to the store with my own credit card.

“You could buy a week’s worth of groceries with that money,” my dad harped. During the hour-long car ride back to my house, he talked non-stop about the price of porn these days.

“Howard, I think you’ve made your point,” my mom interjected from the back seat, “but if the videos make Josh happy, let it go.”

“It just doesn’t make any sense.” My dad’s voice was getting louder. “Can’t you re-watch older videos in your collection? Penises, butts and mouths haven’t changed over the years.”

“I like new penises, new butts and new mouths,” I laughed. “The porn industry doesn’t make billions of dollars a year because other men share your point of view.”

“How many times do you watch one of these DVDs?” my dad asked.

“I probably see each scene twice, so about 10 times total,” I replied.

“If you amortize that out, it’s $6 per orgasm,” he said. “It’s ridiculous, if you ask me.”

“I didn’t ask you,” I answered in an attempt to end the circular conversation.

By the time we pulled into my garage, we agreed to disagree; but, I was warmed by the debate more than irritated. There was no disgrace attached to our discussion about my sexuality or my interest in adult movies. The two most important people in my life – from whom I had hidden the real me for so many years – were not ashamed to have me as their son. In fact, they seemed downright proud.

“Honey, here’s $60 in cash.” My mother slipped three $20 bills into my hand as soon as we walked into the house and my father disappeared into the bathroom with a newspaper. “Go ahead and buy Scrotal Recall the next time you’re at the Pleasure Chest.” She remembered the title. “No need to tell Dad.”

As soon as my parents returned home to Florida, I returned to the sex shop.

“Guess what? There’s a sale this week on all of the pornos.” I called my mom on the way home to share the good news.

“Was there a discount on the one you wanted?” she asked.

“Yes; so I got the DVD and a sex toy for the $60.00 you gave me.” With 40% off the movie, the add-on dildo came in on budget.

“That’s fantastic.” She seemed genuinely thrilled that her money stretched beyond one item. “Enjoy!” (I absolutely planned on enjoying my gifts; they were ideal stand-ins for the elusive boyfriend who still hadn’t crossed my path.)

“Thanks, Mom,” I said, as I parked my new, no-frills sedan in front of the TapTronix Dance Studio. “I am about to walk into my class. Can I call you tomorrow?”

“It’s funny that you’re learning to tap at this point in your life,” she replied. “You begged me to take you when you were little.”

“You never did, so I suppose I’m making up for lost time,” I said with a hint of indignation. I no longer needed anyone to take me; I could chart my own course.

“We just thought…well…you know,” she hesitated.

“No, I don’t know.” I waited quietly for her to finish. I did, in fact, know, but I wanted to hear the words.

“Dad and I were young, and dance seemed like a feminine interest that might impact you a certain way.”

“You mean you thought it would make me gay?” I asked directly.

“I suppose so,” she answered.

“I guess I showed you, didn’t I?” I said. After an awkward pause, we began to laugh hysterically.

“We didn’t know better, honey,” my mom continued, “and we didn’t want anyone making fun of you. We wanted you to be happy.”

“I am happy. Now.”

Smiling confidently, I walked into the building; it was liberating considering that my life would seem disorderly to the uptight, anxiety-ridden depressive I’d been for so long. My career, my friendships and my romantic life were all in transition, but I was finally navigating them on my own. Approval from others still felt good, but it wasn’t the necessary fix it had been since I was seven years-old.

Excerpt from the chapter “Full Release” from Porn Again: A Memoir by Josh Sabarra. Available now from J|B|S Books at Amazon. More information about Josh Sabarra can be found at www.joshsabarra.com

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