by Bob Bringhurst
Harlan Poke liked MTV. When he wasn’t studying accounting, when he wasn’t avoiding his five roommates who shared his Raintree apartment, when he wasn’t hunting for a wife at BYU dances, he watched MTV. MTV shows beautiful women in taunting poses. These poses caused Harlan’s hormones to go berserk. In fact, they prompted him to want to have sex with women. He prayed that he would find a woman to call his wife so that he could have sex any time he wanted to–in the morning, in the afternoon, at night, in the middle of the night, in the car, on the table, anytime, anywhere.
He couldn’t find a wife at dances, so he continued to watch beautiful women on MTV. He wanted to see them naked. He found himself in video stores looking at the backs of video covers in the Wild Comedy section. At night, images would flood his mind–images of women revealing parts of their bodies that had been hidden from him, images of red satin and black lace and white and pink flesh. Harlan’s throat would dry, and he would jog, read the scriptures, pray, read scriptures, jog some more. Cold showers only made him cold; but then he got used to the cold water, and quickly imagined what the nipples of a model would look like if she were taking a shower with him.
After weeks of looking at MTV and the backs of video covers, Harlan broke down. He rented a naughty adolescent video. During one scene, three clever teenagers dressed up as girls so they could watch a large-breasted woman taking a shower in the locker room. Harlan rolled over onto a pillow and ejaculated. It was the first time he had ever done that. But he knew what it was called: masturbation. It was a bad thing to do.
He thought himself a loser, a pervert, a Man of God fallen from grace. Harlan took no comfort in the fact that an American male who masturbates for the first time at age 22 is an anomaly. The normal starting age for most boys is somewhere between ages 12 and 14, and they continue masturbating for the rest of their lives, or until they are unable to. Yet the first time Harlan shot jit into the pillow, he felt perfectly horrible.
As a 12-year old beehive, Shireen Allred refused to partake of the chewed piece of gum. By analogy, she refused advances of any young males who wanted to fondle areas below her neck or above her waist, or start probing that hidden area of her body that had become dark with small hairs, or do something even worse.And now, eight years later, as Shireen stood in front of the beehives sitting in a classroom in a church in her parent’s ward in Springville, she placed one piece of chewed gum on a plate with other virgin sticks of gum. Unfortunately, she had more students than pieces of gum. The cause of the miscalculation was Jill Stuckley’s rare appearance in church. Jill was a 13-year old who wore black eyeliner and a bra.
“Now there’s not enough gum for everyone,” Shireen said, handing the plate to the girl sitting closest to her. “But take the piece of gum you desire and pass the plate on to the next person.”
As the plate made its way around the room, the virgin pieces of gum were selected and devoured one by one until only the chewed piece of gum remained on the plate. All but one of the girls chewed and snapped their gum. Shireen held up the plate for all the girls to see.
“Young brothers and sisters,” Shireen began. “How come none of you ate the chewed piece of gum?”
“Gross!” said one girl, who wrinkled her face as if she had just sucked on a lime. “Oooh!” said another girl.
“Well, if you break the law of chastity and allow yourselves to be fondled and petted by boys, no one will ever want you. You become like the chewed piece of gum. Worthy priesthood bearers don’t want chewed gum.”
Shireen set the plate on the table and told everyone to open up their scriptures. As the young girls fumbled with their bibles, Jill Stuckley walked to the front of the classroom, grabbed the chewed piece of gum from the plate, held it in front of everyone, and plopped it in her mouth.
“I want someone with experience,” she said.
Harlan looked for a wife at a dance in a Joseph Smith Memorial Building on the BYU campus. He felt that this dance, like other dances, was too crowded and that there was too much light. The cool people danced on the inside near the stage where the music was being played, while the losers and foreigners and ballroom dancers encircled them on the periphery. Harlan joined those outside the circle, but refused to put his hands in his pockets. He sat on a cold metal folding chair and watched others dance. Quickly his imagination took him far, far away. He rushed across the football field in his mind’s eye, breaking tackle after tackle to the beat of the music. No one could stop him.A group of three giddy girls interrupted his fantasy. They made a semi-circle in front of him. Harlan recognized one of them–mediocre–but he couldn’t remember her name or how he knew her. She yelled at him above the music.
“Ask me to dance!”
“Ask me to dance!”
Harlan didn’t know what to do. On the one hand, he was disgusted because she mistakenly thought that acting bubbly was appealing, and Harlan hated her for that. On the other hand, she was sort of cute, and cute girls can be dominated.
He wanted to leave the dance, just get the hell away from there, but the pressure to find a wife pinned him to the metal chair. Finally, he and the bubbly mediocre girl danced to “Surfin’ Safari,” and Harlan moved awkwardly to the rhythm of what must have been a different song.
He finished his dance and poured himself a glass of punch. It was nasty punch, red with thick sugar, but it felt good to have a glass of punch in his hand while he wasn’t dancing. Everyone else in the gymnasium was probably saying, “Oh, Harlan isn’t dancing because he’s drinking red punch.” There he stood with new confidence inspired by the red punch. The world was his. While Harlan was sipping his drink, a spastic guy walked by him. The poor misfit’s face was twitching; he was dressed poorly–green pants, black socks–and he was doing a perfect imitation of a dork, only he wasn’t pretending. He was an original dork. Harlan felt sorry for him. He counted his own blessings.
Harlan turned his head away from the misfit and looked for a dance partner who would make a good wife. Most of the girls had fat butts, so he wanted no part of them. The beautiful girls were occupied, and if one of the beautiful girls did happen to break free for a moment to join the peripheral crowd, Harlan talked himself out of approaching her: “What would she do with a plain guy like me?” A void in his heart made him want to love deeply.
He left the dance, trying not to make eye contact with anyone for fear that he might have to explain. Everything around him–the leafless trees, the empty cars in the parking lot, the renegade cigarette butt–told him that he was a loser. He did not believe them and he did not cry.
Shireen wanted to date more. She missed her family in Springville and decided she didn’t like BYU. Four out of six roommates at Heritage Halls owed her ice cream, and I’ll tell you why. The rule is that if you get kissed, you owe ice cream. While eating dinner at the Brick Oven on Saturday night with her friend Marsha, Shireen made a joke that by extrapolation, one of her roommates should owe a large banana split. She imitated the moaning that went on late at night in the bedroom next to hers. Shireen and Marsha fell silent as the waiter served their brownies, each with just a “small scoop” of ice cream.Marsha confessed to Shireen that she was not a virgin. Shireen envied her.
Harlan was hostile to pillows. He refused to use his hands to masturbate, because he feared something homosexual, so he humped his pillow once or twice a week.Words like “repentance” and “forgiveness” swirled in his mind. During those times, the idea of sex was horrible. When his thoughts turned to young kids having sex, he felt sorry for them and wished he could warn them of their folly. Sex is wicked, and wickedness is not happiness. To be happy, he must rid his life of sex.
To dull his prurient mind, he watched television. “Eat your heart out,” said a young, attractive male in a commercial. He had his arm around a young, attractive trophy woman. “I’m 25, I have a million dollars in the bank, and I’m sailing around the world in my brand new yacht.” Harlan wanted to be attractive, he wanted to be wealthy, he wanted to be famous, he wanted to be moral.
Abstinence is not repression, Harlan said aloud to himself.
“What?” said one of his roommates who was eating spaghetti in front of the television.
“Nothing,” said Harlan. He left the front room and wandered into his bedroom. His roommate was not there.
He lay on his bed wondering how many people in Provo alone were having sex at that moment. Naked people touching each other in dark bedrooms. Naked people groping and wet and in rhythm.
Harlan rolled over and drilled his pillow into submission. After spilling his seed, he repented fiercely, cried humbly, and fretted over his defiled heart. His prayer was as the prayer of ten men, bursting from his tear-stained lips, soaring through the bedroom roof, and flying straight to the heart of God. God is an omniscient being out there who controls the universe and answers everyone’s prayers. He cuckolded a guy named Joseph so that people on Earth could kill his only begotten son Jesus Christ, thereby saving themselves.
Shireen set up an interview with the Bishop to see if a church authority could shake her from her doldrums. A Bishop is a leader of a group of about 200 latter-day saints, collectively called a ward. A doldrum is a tiny item in the pancreas that causes depression.”So what can we do for you today, Sherry?” asked the Bishop. He wore a blue suit with a yellow power tie.
“Now why is a happy young girl like yourself depressed?”
“I don’t think I’ll ever find someone to marry me.”
“Oh, come now! An attractive girl like you should be a boy magnet. Are you dating anyone?”
“I go out every once in a while, but nothing ever works out. Either I don’t like him or he doesn’t call back.”
“Are you praying and reading the scriptures?” he asked.
“Yes . . . sometimes.”
“If you have faith, the Lord will bless you with a husband.”
“He didn’t bless my Aunt Jessica with a husband, and she was faithful. She gave me these scriptures.”
The Bishop looked down at his Franklin Planner. “Sometimes the Lord gives us trials and tribulations so that we can become stronger.”
“But I thought you said if I was faithful, I would be blessed.”
“Yes . . . sometimes.”
After the Bishop in Harlan’s ward gave a rousing talk on morality, Harlan left church with a boner. A boner occurs when blood is not allowed to exit the penis freely, thereby causing the male organ to swell. Usually, hormones have some effect on blocking blood flow, but often the devil can cause men to have boners at the wrong time. The devil is a shrewd, wily creature whose plan of easy salvation was rejected by the Word. He became so bitter that he took upon himself the chore of tempting people to do things like cheat on tests and rape people and purchase large homes with servants’ quarters.Anyway, Harlan was home from church, and he had a splendid boner and no one to share it with.
Shireen sat next to Harlan in a religion class. This particular class was a scholastic study of The Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon is said to contain writings of ancient American prophets. Shireen had a difficult time believing all the stories in the Book of Mormon, but they didn’t seem any more ridiculous than stories in the Bible, and millions of people believed in the Bible. Prophets cutting off people’s arms and donkeys talking–it all requires faith to believe.She introduced herself to Harlan. She thought he might be tall, but she couldn’t tell since he sat crumpled. Her overall impression of him was that he was a beaten man–dark rings under the eyes, tousled hair, pale skin. She asked him if he was sick. He said, “No, just tired” She said, “Oh. You look nice.” He sat up straight and asked if she wanted to see a movie. She said “When?”
One night, while Shireen and Harlan were making out on his bed, Shireen got on top of him and began simulating the sex act. Harlan was introduced to “Mormon humping” (also referred to as “dry humping,” “levi banging,” and “waxing the levi surfboard”). It is not taught in Sunday School class and it is not talked about very much, but most Mormon kids do it. Of course, some have normal sexual intercourse, and some never indulge in any sexual activity, but at some point in their lives, most reasonably attractive Mormon kids do the Mormon hump. It consists of simulating intercourse without penile insertion, and often without even removing clothes. One reason for this activity is that many want to remain virgins, or at least technical virgins. Another reason is that there is a large gap between heavy petting and intercourse when it comes to confessing to the Bishop. “Be moral, stay oral,” is the advice young people give each other.Harlan refused to have sex, because sex is wrong, but he and Shireen frequently went too far. They petted each other heavily. First light petting, then heavy petting. Light petting is a collective term for transgressions such as kissing and fondling outside the clothes. Alternatively, heavy petting is a collective term for transgressions such as fellatio, cunnilingus, and touching naughty parts. Fornication, as you know, is inserting the penis into the vagina. The following map indicates which areas are not to be touched:
Surely God would be disappointed with the fact that Harlan was not perfect, and that His son was taking advantage of one of His daughters by petting her.
Saturday night after dinner and a movie. Shireen wanted Harlan to like her. She tried to take off the young man’s underwear, but it was snagged. She tugged and pulled. He grabbed her tightly, suddenly. After a few seconds, he said, “Uh oh.”
Harlan did not want to marry Shireen. His wife wasn’t going to be someone who fooled around like one of King Solomon’s harlots. His wife was going to be as pure as the driven snow, as calm as the azure sky.One weekend in the early spring, Harlan took Shireen home to see his parents. The young couple strayed into his younger brother’s room in the basement. For some strange reason, people seldom ventured into his younger brother’s room, where the walls and ceiling were veiled in red shag carpet. The couple started fooling around on the mattress. Clothes were removed. Harlan lay on his back and concentrated on making himself as big as possible so she wouldn’t think he had a small penis. He felt insecure about his sexuality because he compared himself to his little brother, dear Derek, who often walked around the basement naked with his you-know-what slapping between his thighs.
Harlan was lying naked on his brother’s mattress, and Shireen got on top of him; she turned around so that her head was in his crotch and her privates were in his face. He looked up and saw layers of a red hell where other men had probably journeyed. Harlan cringed and his penis wilted and he wanted to leave the room and crawl into his parents’ bed upstairs. He stayed in the room because he knew Shireen would have felt horrible and lonely without him. He felt miserable trying to comfort a woman whom he now despised. He knew he had to break up with her, or soon he would have sex, God forbid.
“Now tell me exactly what you did,” said the Bishop to Shireen, who was crying in his office.”We fooled around,” said Shireen. She tried to wipe the streaked mascara from her face but failed.
“Did you have intercourse?” he said.
“No!” she cried.
“What exactly did you do?”
“I . . . he . . . we, I don’t know!”
“Please calm down and tell me.”
“We took off our clothes and held each other.”
“What do you mean, `held each other’? Be precise.”
“We heavy petted.”
“Did you use your mouths?”
“Only a little bit.”
“How do you feel?”
After Harlan paid for both of them to see a movie, he decided he was going to break up with Shireen. It was the right thing to do. Not only was she ruining his spirituality, she was costing him a lot of money.”I’m tired,” he said after starting the engine.
“How come you never open my door any more?” she asked.
“Because you can open it yourself. What are you, helpless?”
She cried. Harlan hated crying. He hated people who were stupid, and he hated people who cried.
“You don’t respect me.”
Harlan was quiet.
“If you respected me, you’d open the door for me.”
Harlan remained quiet. He was driving fast down University Avenue toward her apartment.
“Are you going to marry me?” she blurted.
“Listen. I respect you. But if I open the door for you, it’s as if I’m saying, `You’re too weak and fragile to open the door. You stay home with the kids.’”
“You didn’t answer the question.”
“Are you going to marry me.”
“Let’s talk about it tomorrow.”
“Now!” she yelled.
Harlan pulled up to her apartment. He got out of the car and opened her door. At her doorstep, he said, “No.”
“No, I’m not going to marry you. In fact, I never want to see you again.” He wanted to add slut, but he was not cold-hearted.
Harlan went through his bedroom and bathroom to find all of Shireen’s stuff. Like many women, Shireen left personal items all over her boyfriend’s place. Women do this instinctively so they have an excuse to call men even though it’s not their role. A nucleopeptide on the X strand of the chromosome produces an unnamed hormone which prompts women to leave lipstick and books and cassettes and ski goggles and cosmetics all over their lover’s place as a means of marking territory.Harlan knocked on her door.
She answered the door.
“Here’s your stuff,” he said.
“Thanks. You left a couple of tapes.”
“Could you get them?”
“They’re in my room. Come on.”
Harlan was torn. Were a couple of cassettes worth going into her room? As he soon found out, they definitely were not worth it, especially with the latest compact-disc technology coming out.
When they were in the privacy of her room, she started to cry. She begged him to tell her why he was breaking up.
“It just won’t work out,” he said. They were sitting on the edge of her bed.
“It just won’t.”
“Tell me why. I would be a great wife! I’d cook for you and I’d love you! Just give me one reason!”
Harlan couldn’t tell her the truth. How do you tell someone she’s a slut? How do you tell someone she would be a lousy, untrustworthy mother? The truth is devastating.
“It just doesn’t feel right anymore,” he said.
“You’re everything to me. My only friends are your friends. Your life is my life,” she cried.
“It just doesn’t feel right anymore.”
As he got up to leave, she grabbed his waist. She was crying uncontrollably now. He kept walking. In a desperate attempt to stop him, she tried to grab his thigh, but the shift of weight caused her to fall off the bed.
“You’re making a spectacle of yourself,” he said.
“Don’t leave me!”
The next night, chicken hearts were left on the doorstep of Harlan’s apartment. Harlan’s roommates were envious.
A month or so after they broke up, Shireen called Harlan and told him to come over. There was going to be a little video party, just some friends, that’s all. It didn’t take long for Harlan to picture in his mind that everyone would leave after the video, and Shireen would invite him into her room, and the cycle would begin again.Here is a diagram of the cycle:
“Silence of the Lambs or Top Gun. We rented both.”
“I’ve seen ‘em both,” said Harlan.
“Well, come over anyway,” she said. “Or come over after the movies.”
“I don’t think so. But maybe.”
“OK. See you.”
Harlan was furious with himself for his indecision. He tried to study business ethics, but he couldn’t concentrate, so he turned on the television to dull his mind. He turned it to MTV, which showed Black rappers singing about women with nice big asses. Black guys treat their women like shit, he thought. Then he turned the channel to ESPN to watch sports. A commercial showed guys offering bottles of beer to women in bikinis. Shireen would look good in a bikini. Finally, he turned it to CNN, which was doing a report called “Sex and Teenagers.” Everyone’s getting it but Harlan.
Harlan found himself jogging along University Avenue with a semi-erection. He pulled down the pouch of his sweatshirt to cover up his member, and he ran until he was exhausted. Single people with hormones don’t mix well with religion, he thought. After he ran all the way to the mouth of the canyon, he began his journey back. Shireen’s apartment was on the way. His steps got shorter. The lactic acid was building up in his legs. Soon he stopped running and began to walk. He breathed in the fresh spring air and thought to himself that life is good. Some of the stars revealed themselves through the clouds, and a halo above an eastern mountain indicated that the moon had either just set or was about to rise. Things will be better when he gets married, but life is good anyway, no matter what problems confront him. He was walking along with a smile on his face and no erection. He was sweating, but he felt clean and happy, like someone who uses Zest soap.
On the way to his Raintree apartment, he stopped under Shireen’s stairwell. His mind clouded. There he stood at the bottom of the stairs with one foot on the first step and a hand on the rail. Dare he go up? All five senses were heightened: he tasted the salt from his sweat; he smelled the spring air; he saw the moon emerge; he heard the gentle rumble of cars on a nearby street; he felt the cold metal rail that could take him up to prurient ecstasy.
Should he go up? If he went up, he knew he would find himself in Shireen’s room, the thought of which made his testicles tingle. But he also knew that he would feel dark and dead immediately after the sexual flare-up, and he had made a promise to God. Alternatively, if he refused to go up, he would feel peaceful. Peace and tranquility. That’s all a man can ask for. He would probably have a wet dream anyway, and these awful lusts would subside, and God would see over him. He made up his mind.
He decided to go up and tell Shireen that he couldn’t stay.
“Hello, Shireen,” said the Bishop. “How are you doing?”"Bad,” she said. “I don’t know who I am anymore.”
Harlan found himself sitting in the smoking section at Denny’s Restaurant. It was a reasonable punishment. He sat at a table near the kitchen for about ten minutes. No one served him. Not even water. The clanging of the dishes in the nearby kitchen formed music that matched his discordant soul. He left. He drove down Freedom Boulevard in his father’s old Ford Granada, looking desperately for something. He found nothing. He turned onto 1230 North and pulled into the drive-thru at McDonald’s, where the feeling of punishment is intense.”Can I have a Big Mac with no onions, French Fries, and a medium soft drink?”
“Sir, you’ll have to take the onions off the Big Mac yourself. We don’t do special orders.”
Burger King does special orders, he thought. But it was getting late.
“Could you please pick the onions off for me?”
“I just want the drink.”
“Sir, what kind of drink?”
“Water. Just give me water, please.”
“We can’t just give you water unless you purchase something.”
“Give me a fun meal and water.”
“What kind of drink would you like with your fun meal?”