I experienced my first and only peep show when I was thirteen. My father, Pierre, was coaching a junior level hockey team in a tournament in Montreal, Quebec, where he grew up. I wasn’t old enough to play, so I tagged along as the team’s “stick boy.” Fifteen hours north of our hometown of Roanoke, Va., it was my job to organize and arrange each player’s extra sticks on the bench. I took my job very seriously.
After the last game of the tournament, my Uncle Jerry, who lives in Montreal, called and asked to speak with the stick boy he’d noticed during one of the games. He explained that he was a recruiter for the Montreal Canadians and was very impressed with my skills and wanted me for the organization.
Did I mention I took my job very seriously?
“Oh come on, Bryan, he said he’s sorry,” Pierre told me when it finally occurred to me I’d been had. “He’s your uncle. He didn’t mean anything by it. He was just joking around.”
I refused to speak to Jerry, and vowed never again to organize hockey sticks for anybody. The players on the team were all in their late teens and early twenties, but still managed to make me feel like I was part of the team and comfortable…while it was still light outside.
Once the florescent lights of downtown Montreal replaced the sun, I was still part of the team, whether I liked it or not. After drinks in the hotel, the players amused themselves by escorting Stick Boy along St. Catherine’s Street, Montreal’s version of Vegas’s Strip, where we were welcomed by thirty-foot waving illuminated cowgirls and trashed college students from the university. Although over-stimulated, I felt okay as long as we stayed on the street where I could turn back at any time.
“Stick Boy! Catch up. Hurry up, let’s go!” I caved in to the pressure and followed the team’s starting defenseman and left winger into a dimly lit building. The establishment was in desperate need for renovation as evidenced by the baby blue paint chipping from the walls, not to mention the Kleenex all over the floor—what kind of business were they running!? I’d never been to Europe, but imagined every inch of the continent to mirror this building.
“Patrick…Ryan?” I called out. No answer. I heard screaming and moans, some desperate, some in need for more. The space was separated by stalls, but couldn’t be a bathroom—we’d paid a cover charge to enter (again, a striking resemblance to Europe, which holds a monopoly on your bowels.) Apprehensive, I slowly opened a stall door—more Kleenex. Only
now they sat balled up under a screen where a cheap blonde maid was being ravaged from behind by an Italian man—probably punishment for not keeping the tissues off the floor. To my left was a box of unused tissues: I didn’t know what I was expected to do in the stall. Was I supposed to be moved to tears and in need of Kleenex by the heartfelt exchange of fluids between a man and his longed-for servant? I exited the stall and after three wrong turns in the erotic maze, escaped back onto St. Catherine’s. I’m not sure how I got into the peep show in the first place. It seems a XXX night club would at least have a minimum age allowed, or at least a height requirement enforced by a horizontal line across the belly button of a pictured stripper on the outside wall.
The players asked if I wanted to stay out or return to the hotel. Ah, the hotel. The sweet, sweet comforting, accommodating hotel; now I needed a tissue.
“So, what did you guys do?” Pierre asked as I entered the hotel room.
“Not sure. There were stalls and porn and chipped paint.”
“They took you to a peep show?” Pierre immediately knew the spot. I thought he might be angry. “Well, what did you think?”
Pierre often jokes about the possibility of his son, me, being adopted. “I guess I should have been home more when the post office guy came buy.” It’s true: our personalities are oil and water.
Pierre lives uninhibited and by the code, joie de vivre, which is difficult for me to pronounce and even harder to live by, feeling that the only way to be truly happy is to let go of it all (easier said than done)—all the minor, futile worries pushed aside to, as Pierre would put it, see “the big picture” (again, easier said than done.)
Part of joie de vivre is the amazing trait of not minding traveling with their kids. When I was fourteen we traveled to Playa Del Carmen, Mexico. Although it wasn’t a major culture shock and I heard far more English than Spanish, it still was superior to Cancun.
As I walked beside my family towards the white sand beach, Pierre gave me a pep talk.
“Just remember, some people down here may or may not be wearing clothes.” My sandals flopped a bit faster, excited at the prospect of finally experiencing MTV Spring Break in person.
I hope I don’t stare—that would be terrible, but how can you look away when beautiful women are just flaunting themselves in front of you!?
It was early and the beach was sparsely inhabited. I unfolded my lounge chair and waited until everyone was occupied or looking away. In one motion I whipped my shirt off and flattened out onto the lounger, glancing down to make sure my stomach looked as level as possible—good to be on vacation, good to unleash inhibitions! I put on my I-pod and was ready to lie back when I saw something coming my way. What looked to be two incoming pieces of stale jerky was actually an aged couple. Of course they were nude. I tried to look away, but come on, they were still nude. I approximated their ages to be in the B.C. range. The woman could’ve played hacky sack with her nipples as they flopped above her knees. Her husband, or swinging partner, who knows, shared the dimensions and appeal of a rotting mammoth carcass. It angered me that these two, although pleased with themselves, were ruining nudity for everyone else. Because of these two exhibitionists, I would never be able to develop a fetish for anyone over the age of thirty five: the image of wrinkles, carved by the sun to depths capable of losing car keys, forever stained my mind.
The exhibition didn’t bother my parents. In fact, they used Playa Del Carmen as a stepping stone for future nude excursions. On a weeklong trip to St. Martin, they once again shed their inhibitions on the French Polynesian side of the island.
“We had just gotten on the beach and were setting up our chair and umbrella,” Pierre recalled in his own form of English that’s so efficient it doesn’t require plurals. “And this old man—he was probably in his mid seventies—walk up to us and ask if we needed help getting our umbrella in the ground. He probably weighed three hundred pound and was the hairiest man I have ever seen.”
“I’m guessing he was naked?”
“Completely nude,” Pierre confirmed. “So he take the umbrella from Paula and jam it in the sand. Then, he starts violently twisting trying to corkscrew it in.” Pierre mimics the man as he twists from side to side, thankfully leaving the man’s bare body up to the imagination. “That was not a pretty site watching this naked obese man twist like that in the sunlight.”
In his previous life, Pierre must’ve been an Aboriginal, an islander of some sort. For him, clothes are an afterthought, unless he’s going to any social gathering in which case clothes are king. His preferred method of existence is nude. Growing up my bedroom was on the second floor in between my parent’s room and the guest room at the other side of the house, where the bathroom was. When friends spent the night they were treated to a midnight showing of Pierre’s nude silhouette as it passed through the middle room, my room, and made its way to the bathroom. If they were homesick before, now they were just sick.
After peeping into a world unknown north of the border and viewing death incarnate on the beach, my next failed foray into the world of pornography would have to wait until college.
My freshman year was spent on Vancouver Island, Victoria, the capital. The island was docile and we rarely deviated from Victoria’s state of mind, but on one particular night it was decided by my dorm-mates that we were going downtown and we were going to a strip club. Based on my prior experience, I was apprehensive, but now older and of legal age, I was in.
We sat down at a round table the width of an extra large pizza. Four dorm-mates squeezed around the table as the waitress took our drink orders. I was excited to be nineteen and of British Columbia’s legal drinking age.
“I’ll have a Jack and Coke,” I told the waitress. Not wanting to appear cheap, I resisted the urge to ask the price. Eight dollars later, incensed, I turned to the stage expecting a Broadway show: nude, perfectly choreographed with dancers all on par with Gisele Bundchen—validation for my tab. It was my understanding that strip clubs are typically semi-nude—breasts showing—the rest up to the warped imagination.
“Whoa, whoa, what the hell was that?” I ducked as a fully exposed young girl swung spread eagle on a trapeze swing over our table.
“Not bad, huh ,Bryan?” a friend asked as I stared at the high flying nudist swing back and forth. I couldn’t get into it. As I watched her and watched lecherous men on their tip toes trying to offer her cash, I couldn’t help but imagine her mother walking in and the thoughts that would follow after witnessing your daughter in an X-rated Cirque du Soleil. Perhaps the course of having a sister of my own? Misha was about the same age as the soaring spectacle.
I tried to justify her actions: maybe the dancer/trapezist was using the club as a way to pay her way through college or support a daughter or son after a once promising father skipped town. Or maybe she was volunteering as a way to help unsightly men experience a woman, if even only from above. No matter how noble her intentions might have been, the intrusive thoughts of an unsuspecting parental pop-in made my eight dollar whiskeys all the more depressing.
I have nothing against the free-spirited lifestyle that my parents live. In fact, I’ve made numerous attempts to reach out to them, even join them in their quest to live inhibition free.
While in Victoria, I was fortunate to be able to come home for Christmas. I typically find presents for Pierre at any sports store and Paula’s gifts usually come from commercial knickknack shacks like Macy’s Home Store. I steer clear of clothes, being that my fashion sense
isn’t exactly on par with Paula’s—candles are the way to go. There are endless varieties of candles: short, tall, cinnamon, lavender, wax, oil—the list goes on. If Paula is tired of candles, she hides her disapproval well and that kind of acting calls for a celebration with more candles.
Although candles were the safe choice, I decided to broaden my gift giving one year and give her something even more useful: biking shorts. My understanding is that women’s biking shorts are just that: short. Paula looked confused as she opened her first gift. “What are these?” she asked as she held the shorts in the air for my father, brother-in-law, and sister to see.
“Biking shorts. You said you needed some.”
“These are a little short, aren’t they?” The short’s elastic trim didn’t extend farther than her wrist.
“That’s what everybody’s wearing these days.”
“Are you sure about that?” Misha asked.
“If you don’t like them, I can take them back.” I was in trouble—the biking shorts were the serious gift—next on the menu was a gag gift that was distasteful to say the least. Paula cautiously unwrapped her next present as if she suspected anthrax powder just under the surface.
She stared down at the item, in no hurry to hold it up, as is custom in our family.
“Well come on Paula, hold it up so we can see.” Pierre said. She held up the black t-shirt, turning it around for the family to read the front: “I Dick.”
The room fell silent. Pierre looked over at me with a blank expression, shaking his head.
“What’s wrong with you, my son?”
“I thought you could wear it with your bike shorts.”
“You mean my hot pants,” Paula said. “That’s all of the gifts, right?” she asked.
“Yeah, that’s it from me.” The room slowly recouped and began opening presents: a nice blouse for Misha, running socks for her husband, a speedometer for Pierre’s bike. Paula’s shirt
and shorts were put back in the cardboard box they came in, shorts on top, and placed back under the tree.
It would take a few years of candles for me to make up for the t-shirt and shorts, but after their house was inundated with shaped wax and smelled like a Yankee Candle factory, it was time to get back to free-spirited gift giving. Joie de vivre!
I took my friend Matt with me to the mall around the middle of December to do a little shopping. He needed to get his mom something. “I’m thinking candles,” he said as we walked the length of the mall.
“I need to stop in Victoria’s Secret.”
“For what?” Matt asked. His question was a valid one; my request was an odd one because I wasn’t dating anyone at the time.
“I need to get something for Paula.”
“Yeah, I mean it is Christmas, Matt.”
“Yeah, why don’t you just get her something for her kitchen or candles like a normal human being.”
“I’m tired of candles. This year has to be something special. I want to get her something funny, but practical.”
Just then, a saleswoman approached. “Can I help you gentleman find anything in particular today?”
“Yeah, I’m looking for some lingerie. I want something with a Christmas theme.”
“Okay, we can definitely do that. We actually have some really nice sales right now. Is this for your wife, girlfriend?”
“It’s for his mom,” Matt interjected. The saleslady forced a grin, waiting for a “we’re just kidding” that wouldn’t come.
“I’m thinking like a Mrs. Clause getup,” I said. “I’m not sure what size she is—probably a medium—she’s pretty thin, and tall.”
I scored a great deal on a silk red miniskirt with white cotton trim and a black garter belt. The top was also silk, low cut with a four-inch thick belt, topped with a Santa hat: perfect. After a late Christmas Eve party with Pierre playing host and throwing vodka martinis around like small talk, we opened presents late the following day. It was a very French Christmas morning with Pierre’s old hockey teammate, Claude, also French Canadian and his wife, all sitting in the living room with my family while we opened presents. Pierre popped a bottle of champagne and mixed everyone a mimosa. With drink in one hand, Paula picked up her present from me. She covertly opened it, hoping the conversations in the room would dilute whatever was beneath her. She peeled away the tissue paper and began laughing, a good sign.
Pierre caught a glimpse of red silk. “Well hold it up Paula, let us see!” She held up the outfit, a gag gift of sorts, which immediately caught Claude’s eye as if Vera Wang herself was in the living room. He sized up the outfit then looked over to his wife, conjuring up Mrs. Clause.
“That is really, really beautiful. Susan, we have got to get you one of these! Bryan, you got this!?” I nodded, terrified. “Where did you get this!?” Before I could answer, “Pierre, you’re going to be a lucky man tonight!” he added, now wearing the Santa hat and slugging champagne just as Mary and Joseph had done a few years back.
“There ya’ go, Pierre—looks like it’s gonna’ be a good year!” Brad, my sister’s husband joked.
“You got that right!” Pierre shot back.
Two joyful Frenchmen, one content Paula—my present was a success. The room was alive, like she had unwrapped joie de vivre itself.