After I rebooted TTAC in July, a majority of readers indicated they wanted to see some fiction on the site — as long as it was clearly marked and restricted to an occasional contribution. Thus we have “Sunday Stories”, which so far has featured contributions by me and Thomas Kreutzer with one by Derek Kreindler somewhere in progress.
Under the influence of industrial-strength insomnia well past two in the morning last night, I came up with Turnaround, a tale of a late-night decision on the way to Virginia International Raceway. There’s a minor sex scene in this story, which won’t surprise anyone who has read any of my previous automotive fiction. And I promise you that some percentage of the readers will complain about it, despite the fact that it’s clearly labeled as fiction, despite the fact that it’s on our lowest-traffic day of the week, despite the fact that there’s no insert-tab-P-into-slot-V explicit description doing on.
The odd thing is that I completely empathize with them.
Romance requires an obstacle, eroticism requires a trespass. Don’t bother looking that up, I came up with it. A story about two people hooking up at a bar has no romance in it, not because of the trashy aspects, but because there’s nothing for the lovers to overcome. Romance is almost dead in modern society because we place so few obstacles between any two people who genuinely want to get their proverbial fuck on. For a romantic like me, that’s poison, so I like to find people with built-in obstacles like: pre-existing marriages, tremendous distances, previously-expressed dislike for me, that sort of thing. One time I hit the complete jackpot in that regard when I met a married woman who lived four hundred miles away and who hated my guts so much already she’d created fake accounts on a popular car forum for the sole purpose of slandering me. Oh yeah, plus she was a decade younger than I was and so medically depressed I continually worried she was going to jump out of her condo window. Talk about obstacles stacked on top of obstacles. The stage was definitely set for romance, although the resulting relationship was basically an Amtrak off the side of a mountain. Doesn’t matter. The journey, not the destination, and all that.
Eroticism requires a trespass, but one man’s trespass is another man’s vanilla sex and yet another man’s “squick”. Squick is that creeped-out feeling you get when you see something that is sexual in nature but completely repulsive. The gold standard in squick is commonly held to be a guy named Regan Senter. If you’re over eighteen, not in the same zipcode as your job, and possessed of a terribly strong stomach, you can Google “the creepiest motherfucker in porn” and watch the EFukt videos, but I don’t recommend it, because it might ruin normal sex for you. I’m serious. Don’t watch it, and don’t complain if you do watch it.
The younger you are, the lower your squick threshold is. I can remember occasionally seeing one minute and fifty-nine seconds of a “hard R” movie on QUBE back in the day and being creeped out by how old the performers were. (They were in their mid-twenties, my adult memory tells me.) It’s almost a hard-and-fast rule that any time people older than you by five years or more are talking about sex, it will squick you out, and that’s particularly true before your thirtieth birthday. A lot of fetishes are squicky for regular people. I’d venture to suggest that a lot of what the media calls “homophobia” is just squick; witness how indifferent most people seem to be to lesbians and their behavior and how squicked they are by, say, leather bears in the Castro. Hollywood knows this and that’s why stuff like “Brokeback Mountain” gets made. It, along with the “Glee” television series, represents a concentrated effort to de-squick attitudes towards male homosexuality.
But I digress. The squick threshold isn’t set in stone for any of us; it is changeable depending on situation. Alcohol tends to raise the squick threshold; proximity to one’s children lowers it. You get the idea. But the most interesting thing that happens to a lot of men is this: when we are thinking about something that’s supposed to be non-sexual, our squick threshold drops to the floor.
I still remember a day in 1989 when I was delivering parts for David Hobbs BMW to a place called “The Body Shop” in Dublin, OH. I was dropping off some fairly expensive fenders and bumpers and someone told me to wait in the boss’s office. On the guy’s desk there was a photo of an attractive brunette woman, completely nude, with her legs apart. In a frame. This made me so nervous I was actively contemplating running out of the building by the time the boss came in and said, in a booming voice, “You like checking out my old lady’s pussy?” Note: the phrase “old lady” in reference to one’s mate is a squick-doubler for me. I don’t think I was able to speak for an hour after that.
Under other circumstances, I’d have eagerly checked out that photo, but in the middle of an automotive repair facility it was disgusting. I should note that in 2003, my wife’s 330i required a hood repaint so we went to The Body Shop. The man, and the photo, were long gone. What a shame. This time I’d have checked it out without any awkwardness. Getting old will do that to you.
A lot of guys have a “car” mindset and a “girl” mindset and they don’t mix the two. To some degree, that’s the reason we don’t bring women to the racetrack. It isn’t because they won’t come, it’s because something in our backbrain says “Don’t bring women to the hunt” or something like that. I’m still working on figuring that out.
When I was a ten-year-old reading Car and Driver, I remember actively blushing and/or frowning every time the guys worked some mention of breasts or sex into an article, and I sure as hell didn’t appreciate shots of Linda Vaughn standing braless next to a trophy or whatever else used to appear in the Seventies issues. I don’t think any of us every completely lose that mindset when we’re reading about cars. It’s a uniquely American thing, too. The Euros mix girls, cars, sex, food, whipped cream, and riding crops in equal measure. Disgusting, if you ask me. No wonder we rolled through Normandy as quickly as we did.
For that reason, I think that a certain percentage of TTAC readers will continue to have their jimmies rustled every time Sunday comes along and your humble author describes some bizarre juxtaposition of high-speed driving and female sexuality. I can live with that, and I can certainly understand it, but I’m not going to let that change the direction of my writing or the content thereof. Until I turn, say, forty-five. Or fifty. Cause that would be creepy, and I’m sure I’ll feel the same way when that day comes. Right?