John Bear
John Bear (John Bear)

It was my 18th birthday and my friend Wil demanded we go to the peepshow, the middle-class white version of a Bar Mitzvah, I suppose.

A peepshow didn't seem appealing. At all.

I replied with something along the lines of, "can't we just go vote or buy cigarettes, or a shotgun or something?"

He was adamant.

Said peepshow was inside a pornography shop in a part of Albuquerque, affectionately known as The War Zone (not its official name). It was the part of town you didn't want to be walking around in at night — and not really during the day either. The building was run down and menacing as was the gaggle of winos and prostitutes congregated in the parking lot outside.

For millennials: Before the advent of widespread internet pornography and Amazon.com, if you wanted smut or marital aides, you came to one of these places. Often they had high-fenced parking lots to help hide the identities of customers. This particular establishment lacked such a fence. The people who shopped here didn't care who knew.

Will and I walked through the front doors. The stink of shame stung my nostrils. I thought I felt something sticky on the door handle.

Once inside, a fairly large number of fat 30-something men mulled about, inhaling the cornucopia of lurid viewing material.


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This was all new to me. I had flipped through "Playboy" and "Hustler" before and watched the occasional dirty movie purloined from the stash of a friend's father. I had not, however, ever seen a life-sized rubber fist or an inflatable woman.

Wil ushered me over to a row of doors situated at the side of the shop. He opened one and I haltingly followed him inside.

"Happy Birthday," he said, slapping four greasy tokens in my hand. Inside the four-by-six foot room sat one chair. A coin slot jutted out of the wall, and a piece of glass covered a piece of plywood on the other side. I wondered how clean the room was.

A sign on the wall opposite the coin slot read "Insert two tokens." I inserted two tokens.

Like magic, the wood on the other side of the glass slid open. On the other side stood woman with black, curly hair. She wore a red, thread-bare negligee. Black circles ringed her eyes. She wore too much makeup and appeared to be about 50 years old, though it was possible she was quite a bit younger. She was smoking a Benson and Hedges.

A combination of pity and guilt swept over me. I wanted to leave.

"Sorry, sweethearts," she said, her mouth bending into a crooked but warm smile. "Only one guy in a booth."

"Go in the next booth," Wil said, his eyes transfixed on the woman.

I walked to the next booth and closed the door behind me. I put my two remaining tokens in the slot. The partition opened. It was the same lady.

I jumped a little and then realized that she was just in a big, long room and moved from window to window. It was not entirely unlike the reptile exhibit at the zoo. I experienced a variety emotions, but not one of them qualified as aroused.

She danced slowly, rolled around on the floor, exposed her breasts and vagina and winked at me. There was nothing erotic about this. I watched to be polite and the partition mercifully closed after a few minutes.

I reentered the pornography emporium, and I expected Wil to come back out too.

He didn't.

For five minutes.

Then ten.

I just stood there. Not really wanting to look at the magazines, or Chinese Love Beads, I just stood there with my arms crossed. It's hard to loiter in a pornography dungeon.

Fifteen minutes.

It occurred to me that at least one, and possibly more, of the 30-something overweight men inside the store were staring at me from adjacent aisles, their beady eyes only half emerging from the tops of the aisles.

Twenty minutes.

I began to wonder just how much bodily fluid was present on the door knobs of the booths, and the store in general. A strange, unpleasant sensation unsettled my stomach and began to radiate through me.

Twenty five minutes.

Remember, this is a neighborhood that attracts the bare minimum of foot traffic. There was nowhere for me to go.

At 29 minutes, Wil came out bearing a disgusting smile. He motioned me toward the front door in a confidential way. I took one last paranoid glance around and followed him out.

"Dude," he said, trailing off into a disturbing recap of what occurred during that 29 minutes that does not bear retelling here. This is a family paper.

"I think I'm going to start going there all the time," he said.

"Not my thing."

We climbed in his truck and went to buy cigarettes.

Read more Bear: coloradodaily.com/columnists. Stalk him: twitter.com/johnbearwithme.