Hugh and #MeToo

For me, innocence ended with my favorite uncle.

He was my favorite because he was funny. Always cracking jokes. And he had a big fancy car, and he owned a music store and a giant color TV with a wooden console, and he let me play pool on his pool table that cost a zillion dollars and even ride the Vespa scooter around the neighborhood.

One day the bubble burst. It was one of those Jewish holidays that lasts a week, and my parents had actually taken me out of school to join the extended family in the New York suburb where Uncle Funny lived. He was married to my mother’s sister. The family was very close-knit.

Suddenly on this particular holiday, Funny Unc just could not keep his hands off my growing butt. Every time I walked past him with the hors d’oeuvres tray, zap! He made it a point to show me I could not avoid his pinching fingers.

To not carry the trays, or serve drinks, was not an option. Never mind that my cousins were all outside playing. My mother made sure I played “little hostess” and made sure everyone got some. But until this one year, my buns had not been up for grabs.

Telling anyone was just not an option. There were jokes about this or that uncle, how you had to watch out for him. But it was considered a kind of cat-and-mouse situation: cat is a cat, and mouse is a mouse, and you play the game.

That night the adults went out for dinner and left us cousins with TV dinners and the TV itself, but we didn’t watch it. Instead we let ourselves into the aunt and uncle’s bedroom.

After a warm-up snoop around my aunt’s dressing table, where we marveled at her collection of false eyelashes and the accompanying paraphernalia, we got down to the real business.

Under the bed were a number of cardboard boxes. In the boxes were the Playboy magazines, also Hustler and Penthouse, which we considered to be way too dirty for even us to look at. I thought maybe my cousins looked at them when I wasn’t there, but when I picked up one with a real pussy shot on the cover, they made me put it away. I had never seen such a thing. They had.

We contented ourselves with flipping through the Playboy numbers, giggling at the ridiculous appearance of full-grown women sporting ears and tails, serving cocktails to cool-looking men in evening dress. I wondered whether the women in their leotards and fishnet stockings were cold, because they certainly would never let the men in suits be too warm. I wondered if they got headaches from the rabbit ears, like I did when my mother made me wear a headband to keep my hair out of my face.

We scurried to put all the magazines back properly before the Cadillac tires crunched in the driveway. When the adults got home, we were downstairs playing pool like usual. I did not know what to do with this new information, the fact that there existed such a thing as dirty magazines and that there were boxes of them under my uncle’s bed. The thought of broaching the subject with my parents took my breath away. So until this very moment, only the actors involved shared my secret.

That night, my uncle came into the room I shared with my girl cousin, to say goodnight.

“Let me give you an earlobe,” he said through breath smelling of Manhattans.

“A what?” I asked.

“An earlobe. Here, let me show you.” My cousin tittered from her twin bed. She most certainly knew what an “earlobe” was.

Well, I found out. Funny Unc took my ear in his mouth, breathed into it, and stuck his tongue in it…and that was enough! I pulled away, feeling mortified and not knowing why. I felt very confused. According to my cousin, this was something pleasurable. According to my feelings, it was invasive, inappropriate, and wrong.

After that I flatly refused to do anything that put me in range of pinching fingers and probing tongues. I never told a soul, but I much preferred my mother’s wrath for not “serving” to my uncle’s abuses.

Years later I learned, through judicious listening to aunts who didn’t know I was eavesdropping, that Uncle Funny had sexual problems. He couldn’t get an erection without his porn. Lights went on in my head, especially later on when I became an expert in child sexual abuse: there is a pattern there, a certain profile, where the male factor has difficulty achieving sexual satisfaction with real grown women, so he seeks out porn and children. My uncle was one of those.

So among the other infuriating distractions of the past month, I’ve had to somehow contain my rage at the fact that in the face of the wave of “casting couch” accusations, confessions, denials, “mee-too-isms,” and mea culpas, glossy tributes to Hugh Hefner, the Big Bunny Boffer, father of modern pornography, Objectifier In Chief, are all over the virtual newsstands I frequent. I have no fondness for the man who built an empire on the vulnerability of women, on the ritualistic subjugation of those with the “right” measurements and the implied or outright denigration of those who measured otherwise.

To Hugh Hefner I say: good riddance…I truly wish you had never existed.

To my Funny Uncle I say: you destroyed the lives of your children, but you couldn’t get me. Rot in hell.

And to the at least two generations of women who have obsessed about their measurements and shoe size, who thought that ass pinching was simply something you had to put up with, and probably meant you had found favor with your power brokers: no more! We don’t have to do this anymore.

In fact, we never did. We bought a lie, but it’s time to return it. It doesn’t fit.