Like so many men in the 1970s, my father had a passion for Ian Fleming’s novels and was always eager to see the newest film adaptation. Back then, Bond, James Bond, was played by Sean Connery, a suave, hip lady-killer who always performed best under pressure, whether that pressure originated from a cold-war Soviet agent, his bosses with the elite realm of the British Secret Service, saving himself from a potentially deadly encounter with modern-day spy paraphernalia or a sexy femme fatale he needed to conquer. James Bond was the epitome of cool, of virility, a man who wrote his own rules and lived a life of intrigue and adventure. As I said, he was probably every suburban husband/father’s hero at some point in their routine lives of office, home, daycare and honey-do lists.
When a new Bond movie would open, my father would take my sister and I with him to see it. At the time this seemed like an ordinary thing, something daughters and fathers do together all the time. However, I saw my first Bond film around age 8, so my sister would have been 10. Even in the 70s, Bond films were pretty sexy romps. But I don’t recall my father having any real friends, at least not any males who visited our house. He was not one to play in a sports league or hang out drinking beer with the neighbors. A Yale educated attorney, he had a certain off-putting air about him. I spent almost every Saturday with my father, doing whatever he needed to do: run to the office, work in the yard, slap steaks on the grill and, of course, make it to the local ABC store to purchase the week’s supply of martini fixings.
Going to see a Bond film and eat pizza afterward was just another event in our weekend, simple as that. I guess it was an attempt to give my stay-at-home mom a bit of a reprieve and she knew what movies we were seeing. Maybe she didn’t care or didn’t fully realize how risqué those adaptations were, but I do. My indoctrination into the mileux of sexuality, the complex dynamics between men and women was largely formulated by James Bond movies and my father’s reactions to them. Nothing made him happier than seeing James finesse his way out of a deadly situation, challenge authority and sleep with a string of gorgeous women. I watched both the screen and my father and learned that women like Thumper, Bambie and Pussy Galore were the standard to which all women should aspire: physically flawless, smart and sassy and very, very eager to sleep with James, no matter what the consequence (quite often it was a woman’s life).
Around the age of 10, I was walking in my neighborhood with my best friend, a girl who lived two streets over and with whom I did everything. We were inseparable for several years in the late 70s, trying our best to make sense of a world still reeling from Vietnam, the woman’s revolution and psychedelic, acid rock. On this day, I spied a brown paper bag, the kind we would get at the Piggly Wiggly grocery store, stuffed behind some dense, green bushes in a yard near my house. Curious, I retrieved the bag to see what was inside. My friend and I looked in a found a stash of Playboy magazines, perhaps 30 or so, disgarded by someone, for some unknown reason. I remember feeling a flush of exciting and then something else, something akin to guilt. I knew these were “bad” magazines and not anything we should be looking at, but look we did. We slunk away into a quiet ditch and flipped through the glossy pages, staring at picture after picture of nude women, posing seductively and at staring out at an imaginary audience. I saw there bodies, volumnous and curvy, their wet and parted lips, and read the bios that accompanied the centerfold’s spread: Hi. My name is Brandy. I love to play volleyball. I want to study to become a teacher. I am really just a simple girl looking to fall in love with my Prince Charming. All of these fact sheets were “handwritten” in large, loopy, childish scrawls, some with smiley faces dotting the “I”s. It was wrong, I knew, to look at these magazines but somehow I could not stop. These women, like the ones I had seen in the Bond movies, fascinated me.
My friend was not as intrigued as I. She wanted to abandon the brown bag and act like we had never found it. But I came up with a better idea. I knew these magazines needed to be given to someone older, someone wiser, someone who would know how to dispose of them properly. I decided to take the bag home and give it to my father so he could get rid of them, maybe even take them to the recycling center, something we often did on Saturdays with all the bundled newsprint accumulated at the house.
I remember how I felt when I presented my find to my father. It was that same strange sensation that I had done something wrong, that same feeling in the pit of my stomach that I was guilty of something although I could not name what that something might be. Wasn’t I doing the right thing, turning over a huge stack of pornography to an adult? Upon receipt of the dirty brown bag, my father acted oddly, too. He peered inside and then rolled the top down on the bag, sealing all those naked women inside. He praised me for bringing it to him because this was material that did not belong on the street or in the hands of children. “I’ll take care of this!” he said sternly and told me he would get rid of it. I had done the smart, responsible thing. Despite these reassurances, I continued to feel awash in shame.
Weeks went by and I forgot about the bag of Playboys. I continued to ride my bike through the placid, steamy streets of suburban Alabama, pick fights with my sisters, mark my progress at the local library in the summer reading competition. Life was humid and dull and some days simply too hot to venture outdoors although my mother constantly urged us, “Go outside and play!”
Against my parents’ wishes, I would often sneak into their bedroom and riffle through their belongings. I loved to play at the bathroom vanity with my mother’s bottles and jars; to delve into her drawers full of silk scarves and costume jewelry. My father’s closet held mysteries, too, His rows of dark suits, freshly starched shirts with the dry cleaner tags attached to the buttons, a rack with dozens of colorful ties to try on. I loved to slip into the coolness of their room and explore, a secret sensation of being closer to them by touching their most intimate objects, a secret sensation of breaking the rules. On this summer day, however, in the back of my father’s closet, tucked behind a rack of shoes, I saw something familiar; a brown paper sack beckoned me to pick it up and look inside. I knew what I would find but I did it anyway. Inside all those magazines waited, glossy and slick. I pulled one after the other out of the bag and flipped through it, filled with that now all too familiar sensation of guilt and awe and shame. But I couldn’t stop. I wanted to understand why my father had kept them, why they still were in our home, hidden in the depths of his closet. These questions burned inside me but I never asked my father. After all, I was breaking the rules and digging through his closet. Didn’t I deserve this shame? This confusion? The oddest part was that I continued to check on the Playboy stash throughout the summer. Maybe part of me was hoping my father would dispose of them, as he said, or else that other unnamable strange compulsion to look through the pages at all those ripe and open girls was stronger than I realized. I saw them as beautiful and pathetic. Powerful and powerless. So similar to the brilliant spies who always succumbed to the sexual charms of James Bond. Eventually, I forgot about the Playboys, forget to check my father’s closet, grew tired of looking at those women’s empty faces and heavy breasts. I returned to the outside world of play, and bike riding, and lazy days spent running wild in the neighborhood with my friends and my dogs. Eventually, too, my sister and I stopped going to see James Bond films with my father. Once puberty began, it was embarrassing to watch anything of a sexual nature with my father or my mother. I never did find out what happened to the brown paper bag…maybe it did find its way to the recycling center or it was left in a dark, secret place for someone else to discover.