billboards and blasphemy: small-town sex on the american highway

And now, a break from your regularly scheduled starry-eyed rants about leather archives and the sparing of yet another glowing gushing note about how Riley continues to provide me with delicious and nutritious tidbits of Canadian leatherdyke history in an entirely above-and-beyond-the-call-of-duty use of his research skills and LA&M volunteer position. (Hmmm… did I say I’d spare you that? My bad.)Today, I blog about sex in the small towns of the midwestern United States as exemplified by highway billboards and business names.

Okay, so that might sound a little odd. But odder still have been the many, many moments of spluttering hilarity I experienced on a recent camping trip through the backwoods of Missouri. No, I didn’t come here for the geek value – I’m spending family time with my platonic life partner, her five-year-old daughter Princess Firefighter to whom I’ve been playing daddy for a week and a half (fascinating experience – ask me sometime about how temporary parenting has given me psychological insights into D/s!), and on various occasions her mother, grandfather and other extended family members. It’s been an interesting ride, particularly since her mom is a highly religious homophobe. She’s a perfectly charming lady, but goodness me, if she were to simply peer at the covers of the books I’ve been reading (and carefully shielding from view) or ask the wrong question about the precise nature of the “history archives” were that we were so intent upon visiting last Saturday… well, I cringe at the thought.

Back to topic. The backwoods of Missouri and the side-splitting highway signs.

My first hint that all was not quiet on the midwestern front was when we stopped, oh so innocently, at a Subway for a bite to eat on the way to the lake. Not far away I caught sight of a massive billboard proclaiming PORNOGRAPHY DESTROYS, with a photograph of a very forlorn-looking little girl in a white dress, with blonde ringlets, holding a bouquet of lilies. She looked like… I dunno… a child on the way to a funeral, but dressed for a Christian confirmation ceremony. The folks proudly claiming responsibility for the sign were the Citizens For Decency (with all the poor capitalization that seems typical of copywriting around these parts). Not far away there was a billowing American flag and a billboard ad for a new cancer treatment centre. Of course I couldn’t help but be struck with the irony of seeing one ad loudly claiming the destructive capacities of porn while the one right next to it highlighted the fact that folks in this country have to pay out of pocket for cancer treatment, or follow the sinister dictates of HMOs, or just fuckin’ suffocate in a pile of their own tumours if they can’t pony up. Which one seems more destructive to you? Hmmm. Tough call, that.

Maybe the kid was in fact on the way to her mommy’s funeral after mommy couldn’t afford her radiation therapy.

Next on the list was the tiny small-town bar – or I think it was a bar, I couldn’t quite muster up the courage to go in – proudly named The Glory Hole.

The Glory Hole!

Okay, so I realize there are several meanings to the term “glory hole.” Wikipedia enlightens us: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glory_hole for the curious. I suppose it’s not impossible that this particular bar could have been making a reference to old-school mining practices or perhaps glassblowing terminology, or maybe even calling to mind the colloquial expression indicating a cupboard full of odds and ends. But really, I’m just as happy to read it as an instance of repressed homosexuality and leave it at that.

But it doesn’t end there.

Even funnier was the service truck parked at a store located just a few minutes further down the highway. A square white truck with blue lettering proclaiming: WELL HUNG Seamless Gutter Co. Guttering, Leaf Guard, Soffit Siding, Roofing and More. “We Do It Right.”

Folks, I almost have no words. Do you think the WELL HUNG guys ever visit The Glory Hole? And when they do, do they Do It Right? Aaaagh! My sides are hurting.

All right, all right, deep breath. We’re not done yet.

The “porno-destructo” theme came up yet again, this time with another fascinating billboard combination. This one was definitely a case of deliberate strategic placement: first, we have the bright yellow-and-black sign bearing the simple words ADULT SUPERSTORE. Nothing too exciting – no lewd imagery or suggestive fonts, just a stark pair of words to indicate the presence of a business. My travelling companion informs me that municipal zoning laws often prevent adult-oriented businesses from operating within town limits, so they instead opt for highway locations… and clearly they still attract a clientele. (I wonder if the town mayor ever got curious about The Glory Hole. Okay, leaving it alone!) Next, within a few dozen feet of the store sign, we have a giant billboard saying PORNOGRAPHY DESTROYS ALL PEOPLE, and below that, “Taking a Stand with JESUS CHRIST.”

Which, if you read it just right, tells you that if you take a stand with Jesus Christ, you better watch it because pornography will destroy you. But who am I to giggle about punctuation?

This second porn billboard (provided by the Pulaski County Ministerial Alliance) eschewed the forlorn little girl, and instead chose to feature four photos of very happy-looking people – a multiracial group sitting on a staircase, a Hispanic-looking mom and young daughter sitting on grass, an older black MF couple cuddling on a couch, and a Hispanic-looking child in a school portrait. I’m not sure why these folks were so happy when the forlorn girl was so sad; perhaps porn has different effects on moods? I admit I am puzzled. 

Equally giggle-worthy were the very tiny sign not far from the billboards advertising the Church of the Nazarene (with an arrow pointing to the building), and the eensy-weensy sign hawking the services of a tanning salon. Fabulous mix.

Y’know, it’s not so much that I was unaware such vehement sentiments existed on the topic of pornography. I get it, I really do – there are a lot of very passionate religious believers out there who think that the sight of naked people will suck your soul out your eyeballs or something. It’s just that in good ol’ sexy Montreal, and tolerant Canada as a whole, and bookish Boston and daring New York and sophisticated Chicago and hippie San Francisco and all the other places I generally spend time in North America, you just don’t see that sort of silliness standing loud and holy along the highway while the sellers of poorly produced porn and cheap jelly sex toys truck bravely on, peddling their wares in the face of righteous protest. I almost asked if we could pull over so I could walk in and congratulate them, but I wasn’t sure they’d really understand themselves as sexual freedom fighters – most likely they’re just Joe Blow tryin’ to make a buck and rolling their eyes at the holy folks. Though who knows, perhaps I am underestimating. Too late to find out now.

I also thought it might be funny to include the blow-by-blow of a brief conversation I found myself engaging in with a couple of gentlemen at a grocery store in the small town near our campground. Picture it: Princess Firefighter is tearing around the store being her usual hyper-gregarious self. Mom is pushing the cart around and filling it with sandwich fixings and juice. I am taking turns between ensuring that Princess Firefighter doesn’t trip over a stack of soft drinks and ensuring that Mom’s cart is sufficiently stocked with my personal favourites.

Princess Firefighter spots a grocery cart bearing a baby in a carrier. Said cart is being pushed by a guy in his late thirties, maybe early forties. No wife in sight. Princess Firefighter – who luuurves the little babies – runs up and starts asking if she can play with the baby’s toes and such. Guy agrees and stands aside to let her reach. I arrive on the scene, panting from the chase, and observe that nothing harmful is occurring. Guy is talking to Princess Firefighter but aiming his comments to include me in the conversation.

Guy: “Yep, that little baby’s toes sure are tiny. Do you think your toes were ever that tiny?”

Princess Firefighter: “Nooo! But well maybe when I was a baby yes.” (And so forth.)

A second gentleman appears, about the same age as the first one, only wearing overalls and no shirt. He reaches out, strokes the first gentleman’s back with his hand, sashays a little bit and says in a falsetto, “And this little one’s ours, we just adopted!”

Guy #1: (looking mildly embarrassed – I think?) “Aww, now, don’t be sayin’ things like that. I might just have to see these fine people again.”

Guy #2: (playing innocent) “What, honey? I don’t know what you mean.”

Guy #1: “Come on, stop bein’ so weeeeird.”

I couldn’t help it… I just deadpanned, “Oh, it’s not that weird. You haven’t seen my other half, have you?” And then I smiled and gathered up Princess Firefighter and headed back towards Mom to help her reach some things off the shelf. I also couldn’t help it – anytime the two guys passed us in the aisles after that I found myself coincidentally brushing Mom’s hair out of her eye or putting my arm around her. We’re entirely platonic partners, but most people assume we’re lovers anyway, so why not milk it a bit, I figured.

Funny thing is, I’m really not sure if the guys were serious or not. You know how sometimes you joke about something because you really mean it, rather than because you don’t? I just don’t know what was up with those two. They weren’t trying to hit on me. Guy #1 was embarrassed, but not violently so. Guy #2 had to have come up with his little gesture from somewhere, and it does seem an oddly random joke to make with a complete stranger. So I truly don’t know if I was participating in the conversational equivalent of a small-town “queer nod” or putting two straight boys gently in their place. What an odd experience.

That’s it for road-trip blog fodder… but I promise I’ll keep you posted with my upcoming travel adventures, which will include a short stay in Ann Arbor, Michigan, home of worship-worthy sexuality scholar Gayle Rubin (though I doubt I’ll be crossing paths with her, a geek can dream); a hot night in Toronto with my sweetie M; a jaunt to Victoria, BC – which I don’t expect to be particularly sexy, but you never know – and a short stay in Vancouver, where I plan to go and kiss the doorstep of Little Sisters Bookstore (speaking of both sexual freedom fighters AND intellectual fodder) and enjoy the sights and sounds of the town with a few kinky queers of my acquaintance. I am also finishing up the book Sadomasochism: Powerful Pleasures, a collection of recent scholarly work on BDSM edited by Charles Moser (San Francisco) and Peggy Kleinplatz (Ottawa!), and I’ve more or less concluded that every single essay in it deserves a post of its own, so you may be reading a lot about that in the near future.

Before I sign off, I will give a totally off-topic plug for my good friends King Size… they’re performing on September 2nd in Montreal, and they promise a super-raunchy show which I will have the misfortune of missing thanks to my travels. Please, someone, throw some panties at ’em for me, OK? You can take special aim at Rod Screwheart and Little Big Horn if they do that pelvis chair-humping move again like they did last time. Hot damn. Please note that King Size is also seeking a new moniker – full info below.

***

Sunday, September 2
 
King Size will perform a 30 minute gig during the annual event “Fear and Loathing in Montreal vol. 666”. It will be at Foufounes Électriques (how many drag kings in the world get to perform in electric buttcheeks?!?!) at 87 Ste-Catherine East. The event starts at 8PM and tickets are $10.
 
Fear and Loathing in Montreal is a mix of punk and rock bands and freaky sideshows. The shows are 30 minutes each and they alternate between band and sideshow. King Size will appear on the “garage stage” at 10:30 PM. To live up to the “sideshow” aspect of things, this’ll be one of our raunchiest shows yet!
 
Help us find a name!
 
Well, friends, in a few months time, we will be needing to change our name. We love King Size, but for the reasons explained in the section “Our name” on our website, we need a new one. We need a name that, like King Size, expresses everything and nothing. We are a diverse group so we need something that allows us to individually and collectively explore our artistic impulses. We also need something that speaks to both the Francophone and Anglophone communities. Got any ideas? A prize (to be determined) will be awarded to the person who suggests the winning name! Drop us a line at info (at) kingsize.ca.
 
Royal hugs and kisses from your favourite drag kings!


7 thoughts on “billboards and blasphemy: small-town sex on the american highway

  1. In the category of wierd small town signs, there’s one near my hometown that simply has a picture of a goat with a circle around it and line through it, as if to say: NO GOAT. It is decidedly lacking in the context. Another favorite is the series of small signs every quarter of a mile in which each asks a question and then the next answers it. I am fascinated by the overactive, sometimes combative signage that is the thing of road trips.

    P.S. The story about the two guys was really cute. Their individual reactions seem entirely feasible to me, as a rural couple with whom I’m acquainted have reacted in a similar way.

  2. What dates are you going to be swinging through T.O.? D and I are thinking of leaving town for a few days in the next couple of weeks, but we don’t want to miss you.

    Also wtf is up with the girl crying? Were they, like, implying that porn had driven someone to molest her, or was she just crying on principle because there’s porn in the world and isn’t it terrible? Or maybe someone had taken away her porn? What, if anything, did the picture say to you?

  3. No goat?? I am at a loss for words. Apparently the sign is too. Wow.

    Jake baby – unfortunately my stay in TO really is for only a single night, preceded by a day-long drive on Friday from Ann Arbor and followed by a flight leaving super-early on Saturday morning from Toronto to Victoria. However I will be back in Hogtown for 8 or 9 days in mid-September, so I will most definitely be in touch then so we can hang out.

    And I wish I knew what the little girl was all sad about. Leaves much room for speculation for sure.

  4. I love those signs. I used to see fun signs all along the roads in Indiana. A lot of them were pithy messages in white lettering on a black background. They were all signed “-God”.

  5. Oh well, that’s okay.

    Oh, and my mom and my sister have an ongoing thing, from when my sister was a teenager and took it into her head that she wanted a pygmy goat for a pet, and now whenever my sister asks for or implies that she wants anything unreasonable my mother says sternly “No goat!”

  6. There are question/answer road signs placed all down the corridor that leads to Burning Man, too… Some are snippets of poetry or reminders about safety and such, too. It certainly makes a long, slow drive in the middle of an endless winding trail of cars heading into the middle of the pitch-dark dusty desert a lot more entertaining. Ahhh, the Burn… how I miss you…

    (And there are no goats allowed there. Apparently someone tried to bring one in once, hence the rule.)

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