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Humans of Cannabis — Regina Nelson

Do you remember the first time you smoked weed? Regina Nelson does — it was August in 1978, right before she turned 14. She celebrates that date as one that changed her life — although she didn’t know it at the time. If you had told Regina that she would earn her PhD, become a cannabis thought leader and renowned author, she wouldn’t have believed you. Nor would she have believed that she would be arrested on a felony drug charge with her youngest son in 2018.

The Art of Sex

Exploring the sexual culture of live sex shows in the socialist Netherlands.

 
 

Naturalization in St. Louis

For 10 immigrants, St. Louis is home--and citizenship is now theirs.

Patty's Showclub

A 250-pound stripper in Indianapolis. May I say more?

A Common Hoosier

Ralph Souders has had a pain-filled life. At age 7, his eye was shot out by a bb-gun. He's had cancer multiple times while still maintaining his vice of chain-smoking Winston's Red Box cigarettes. This is his life.

 

HUMANS OF CANNABIS — Regina Nelson

Do you remember the first time you smoked weed? Regina Nelson does — it was August in 1978, right before she turned 14. She celebrates that date as one that changed her life — although she didn’t know it at the time. If you had told Regina that she would earn her PhD, become a cannabis thought leader and renowned author, she wouldn’t have believed you. Nor would she have believed that she would be arrested on a felony drug charge with her youngest son in 2018.

After all this, Regina Nelson is now on a mission to destigmatize cannabis use. She travels and speaks around the country to educate people on modern day cannabis uses. Her own health success story is the green-filled fuel for her journey. Over the last 12 years, Regina has been testing and trying different cannabis products for her own health — she’s had issues with malabsorption, nausea and vomiting, all while not having health insurance. But before her health issues arose, she was just a regular mom. 

In my thirties, I was just like a nightly user — six kids, full-time corporate job. It was a nice little stress relief because I’m not a drinker,” Regina explained. “But I didn’t really understand how medicinal [cannabis] could be until I went through a divorce after 20 years of marriage and I took cannabis out of my life for a couple of years. This would’ve been around 2008, 2009, and I started getting sick and I was nauseous all the time. I didn’t have health insurance so I wasn’t seeing a doctor, and one night my oldest son came over to a barbecue and he handed me a joint and he was like, ‘I’d really like for you to smoke a little bit of this so I don’t have to watch you puke after you eat.’ And I was just like ‘Okay,’ and I walked out in the backyard and, after a couple of years abstinence, it’s that immediate thing — I took a step back, I felt better than I had in a long time. I ate, I didn’t throw up. I actually slept fairly well that night.”

Ever since that night, Regina has been trying out various methods of cannabis consumption, from tinctures to salves to whole-leaf juices, all in an effort to mainly alleviate her nausea, but also other health issues. About 7 years ago, she had a major bowel resection. “They didn’t know what they were going to find because they couldn’t see that far in,” she said. “My intestines were obscured in scar tissue and literally were in a huge knot.” She lost over six feet of her small and large bowel.

After a three weeks’ recovering in the hospital, Regina checked herself out on her 48th birthday. The first thing she did when she got home? She smoked a bowl. “I’m so over the opioids at that point. For three weeks now, I was on antibiotics and morphine. I was in a huge amount of pain, so it’s required and I wouldn’t have wanted to go without that, but I also realized that I was a mess at this point [from the pain meds].” That surgery didn’t stop nausea and the vomiting. At this point, Regina’s living in Albuquerque. She only has access to street weed, with which she attempts to make her own edibles. “I was making butter and trying to figure out how to make edibles, which knocked me out because I didn’t really know how to do it,” she said with a laugh. Anything to find relief. In the midst of all these health issues, Regina realized it was time for a career change, she left the corporate world and started a Ph.D. program through Union Institute and University in Ethical and Creative Leadership.

In 2012, only a few months into her program, Regina met an herbalist named Vicky Pastor Garland who convinced her to go to a dispensary to talk about topicals, something easier to apply for pain and discomfort in the body. But Regina was skeptical of the products. “I was like, really? I’m not seeing that break in the blood barrier. I’m not seeing it, so she handed me a little sample, probably just to shut me up. I put it all over my shoulder — my shoulder had been killing me.” By the end of the visit, Regina was still skeptical, until Vicky asked her how her shoulder felt. “I was like, holy shit. It doesn’t hurt at all… That night I used it head to toe, I didn’t smoke my bowl, and I passed out. I slept for the first time in three years without pain and just woke up in a puddle of drool thinking, ‘okay, I have hope.’”

READ: The Dispensary Guide for Everyone

A few weeks later, Regina went to a medical cannabis conference in Tucson where she met people like William Courtney and Ethan Russo. “I had no idea the road I was on at the time, I just had a shit ton of questions, mostly because I was sick,” she explained. After that trip, Regina started talking to growers about fresh leaf, which she used to make juices. “That changed my life. It took away the pain in my gut. I ate, I slept.” After this, Regina kept experimenting with cannabis methods, all the while traveling around the country to speak at more cannabis conferences learning and teaching about new education and knowledge in cannabis. She’s now spoken about her cannabis experiences and provided education in 38 U.S. states and 12 international countries over the past five years.

Regina quickly realized she had developed so much knowledge, and she wanted to spread it. She started a for-profit cannabis education consulting company called Integral Education and Consulting, LLC and a non-profit called eCS Therapy Center. eCS stands for the endocannabinoid system, the cellular system in all human bodies that breaks down the cannabis molecules. The mission of eCS is to “set the highest standards in medical cannabis education & research; with an initial function of providing social support services through an innovative, peer-to-peer education model.” Her past projects include several published articles and books such as Time for the Talk: Talking to Your Doctor or Patient about Medical Cannabis, Theorist-at-Large: One Woman’s Ambiguous Journey into Medical Cannabis and many more.

READ: Blog – What the Terp?

Regina finished her Ph.D. program with a final dissertation that looked at communication between doctors and patients around the medical recommendation process. “I talked to doctors and patients from all over the country about the first time that either gave or got a recommendation. I got these huge stories, and then looked at the social implications of those, and cultural implications, the relational things and how it impacts people. And the transformative learning outcomes because that’s a key piece that we just see time and time again — that people come into this space and there are a lot of obstacles. It’s transformative to their lives — it changes how they view this plant and its role in society.” After years of conducting her own research, Regina is now a full-fledged social scientist who has chosen to give her time and passion to educating people on the benefits and uses of cannabis.

Working in a developing industry isn’t all good. As we all know by now, cannabis is not yet federally legalized, although legal in states like Colorado, both Washingtons and more. Regina was traveling on one of many road trips to speak at a pro-cannabis event in Oklahoma with her business partner Michael Browning and one of her sons. They were driving a rental car with Colorado plates — one of the reasons she believes she was targeted by the highway patrol officer. But she’s not letting these felony charges get in the way of her passion for spreading knowledge about cannabis in efforts to destigmatize and decriminalize cannabis.

Her most recent project — Signs for the Times — aims to bridge gaps in sign language for modern day cannabis language. “We’ve brought together a team of certified deaf interpreters because there’s no sign language that pertains directly to cannabis words, phrases, and vernacular. For the endocannabinoid system, you’ll have to spell it out and explain what that is. So it’s a huge obstacle in communication,” she explained. The program is targeting education systems and other learning hubs. “We’re bringing cannabis education and literacy to the deaf population. We want to take them through training and take them on field trips so they can understand how the language is used in multiple ways.” Regina’s non-profit was also recently granted permission to teach medical education classes for physicians, but this is only the start of Regina’s career in cannabis education.

Originally published in BestinGrow.co


 

Patty's Showclub

(Published in A Midwestern Review, Fall 2016)

            From the outside, the ramshackle white building looks abandoned. Potholes decorate the parking lot and shards of broken glass glow red from the high, illuminated street sign reading “Patty’s Showclub, Entertainment 1:00 pm to 3:00 am.” Eleven cars loiter in the parking lot at 8 p.m. on a late summer weeknight in west Indianapolis.

            At the door, a security guard wands down every customer. This precaution started in 2010 when a shooter got through security and shot up the place, killing one and injuring two. The girls at the club say it was a freak accident, “a Mexican came up in here and just went crazy,” I heard one of the girls say. Things have been calm since.

            Inside sits a dark bar, two pool tables, scattered tables and chairs resembling those found in an Elks Lodge, and a silver dance pole halfway encompassed by mirrors. Body odor and hairspray perfume the air. Black lights and lasers pulse around the room. T.I.’s “Whatever You Like” bumps from the jukebox while a woman the size of a refrigerator mounts the pole wearing only a bra, thong and stiletto pumps.

            She weighs 250 pounds and goes by the name of Christine Anderson. She’s been dancing at Patty’s for the last ten years.

            “There’s not a lot of girls in this lifestyle that can sit down and talk to people and make money,” Christine explains. “A lot of them think it’s about how they move on stage, how they dance, going to VIP, this and that, but really—honestly—what breaks the ice is your conversation.”

            Two angel wing tattoos stain the top of her DD-sized breasts, while fourteen other tattoos litter her neck, shoulder, back and feet. Thousands of freckles pepper her pasty white skin.

            Patty’s is known for their plus-sized dancers, and many online reviews boast this aspect. One reviewer wrote that at Patty’s, you’ll find “friendly, honest curved girls who would rather hang out with you and hope you'll ask for a lap dance,” while another wrote that Patty’s boasts “dancers ranging from the obese to the anorexic to toothless.”

Christine started dancing a week after her 25th birthday in 2005. “I couldn’t get my daughters formula so I started working here. I didn’t have a job at all,” she explains.

            A 60-year-old local, who the girls call Chicago, has been coming to Patty’s for nine years. “This right here is a neighborhood club. It’s about friendship, you know, shooting pool, it’s not all about sex,” he explains, making eye contact with me through his Dolce and Gabbana sunglasses. He breath smells of musk and mothballs.

            Each dancer has their own locker to store their belongings. Christine’s locker looks like a display counter at a department store and everyone has borrowing-access: tampons, baby wipes, gum, makeup, seven different scents of Victoria’s Secret body mists, many different skimpy outfits.

            Plastered on the lockers, bumper stickers proclaim: “Screw You,” “Eat shit and die!” and “Cunt.”

            Christine is sitting on the toilet in the bathroom when Layla (formerly known as Treasure) swings open the door to her stall.

            “Ah! I’m naked,” Christine yells from the toilet.

            “Ain’t nothin’ new. That’s what you love being anyways is naked,” Layla replies, and hands Christine a baby wipe to wipe the period blood off of her thong. Layla is a skinny black woman wearing a string-bikini as lingerie and a gold grill standing in for her four front teeth.

            Another young black woman with a soft face named Candy perches quietly on a stool wearing light blue lingerie. She has a curvy body, which is nothing like the magnitude of Christine’s.

            “This is my second day,” Candy says timidly. “It’s new. It’s cool though.”

            Diamond, a veteran dancer, sashays into the dressing room sipping an extra large soda with a bag of Taco Bell in hand. Her luscious black weave waves all the way down to her ass.

            “Are you Diamond?” Candy asks.

            “Yeah, how’d you know?” Diamond replies with some attitude.

            “’Cause you the only other name I heard that I hadn’t seen yet,” Candy explains with a giggle.

            “Oh,” Diamond says, strutting into the other part of the dressing room where the makeup counter is. She sits at the makeup counter and starts applying her makeup while taking bites of her dinner. Christine sits down next to her.

            “I’m so excited for my transformation,” Christine voices in hopes of getting some attention.

            “What’s that?” Diamond replies in between bites of a taco supreme. Tomorrow, Christine’s hairdresser will shave half of her head, turn the remaining hair royal blue, then adding a Mohawk as a finishing touch. Her last big hairstyle was “purple and pink with cheetah.”

            Christine starts pulling up selfies on her phone from her other hairstyles: black hair with red bangs, blue and purple short Mohawk with matching purple eyebrows and lips, reddish-brown hair with blond highlights.

            “I’m a very communicative person. I love to conversate. I love to drink—that’s a definite. But conversating with people is what gets me my drinks,” Christine explains while applying liquid blue-sparkle eyeliner to the bottom lid of her already bloodshot eyes. She wipes away the smudges with the back of her hand and blinks furiously into the mirror, trying to find the made-up beauty that guys like.

            Christine has danced at Patty’s for ten years total, but she left in January of 2015 to go live with her family in Cissna Park, Illinois. She came back to Patty’s two months ago.

            “It was nothing but destruction. I came back here [to Patty’s] where I know that I have people who really care about me. My dad is a meth addict, his wife is a pill-addict, the whole family has drug problems,” she says with a nervous laugh. She never breaks eye contact. “My dad wanted me to be this certain type of person, but how can I be what you want me to be and your life is fucked up? Mentally, I got tired of paying all the bills and taking care of them and I came back home. This is home and this is where I belong.”

            Christine fumbles with her freshly manicured hands. Every nail is Barbie pink, except for her two ring fingers, which are straight sparkle. “I [thought I] needed that part of my life. I was looking for something that I was missing and then once I went and tried to find it, I realized that’s not what I needed.”

            Christine was born March 6, 1981 in Tampa Bay, Florida at MacDill Air Force Base (her father used to be in the military). Their family moved to Germany for a year when she was two years old, but Christine doesn’t remember Germany and hasn’t been out of the country since. Her father’s been in Illinois with his dead-friend’s wife for the past few years.

            “I worked at a nursing home when I was in Illinois, but this is home to me,” Christine says with confidence. “This building, the people here are my family. I have blood relatives, but then I have my family.”

            Outside the dressing room on the floor of the club, Layla dances on the pole to another rap song. Layla has already come into the dressing room three times in the last twenty minutes to do two outfit changes and open a new pack of Marlboros. Her grill sparkles in the light every time she smiles.

            “I’m a lot happier, and other people noticed it, not just me. I’m not under all the stress. I’m not living on pins and needles. I don’t have to pay everything to survive,” Christine explains. “I love it (working at Patty’s). This is who I am.”

            Christine has a daughter, Alexis, now 12 years old, who she doesn’t see anymore.

“She’s in foster care. The state took her. That’s why I can’t have her because they don’t consider this a real job. And her daddy’s in prison,” Christine explained. “They said I would be spending time at the club when I should be spending time with my daughter. But I’m making money for my daughter.” It upsets Christine that the state took her daughter away, but Alexis is always with her; on her right thigh, Christine boasts a foot-long tattoo of Alexis’s name surrounded by blue flowers.

            Christine has many regular clients, whom she often texts. She also keeps up her image on social media. “I have people text me on Facebook saying, ‘Can I come meet you?’ Yeah, you can come see me at work,” she says with a high-pitched cackle, similar to that of the Grinch.

            “This place is interesting,” Diamond chimes in, dotting her face with two different shades of makeup foundation. She looks more like a warrior applying war paint before battle than she does an exotic dancer.

            “I didn’t used to wear makeup, but then I found out that I got more tips with it,” Diamond says. “I’ve danced at every club in Indy, but I always come back to Patty’s.”

            Halfway through applying her makeup, Layla comes back into the dressing room to tell Diamond that “two Mexicans are here for her.”

            “They can wait,” Diamond says, without pausing from her eye shadow application.

            Christine explains that eighty-percent of their clients are Hispanic—she even learned Spanish from one guy.

            “He didn’t speak any English and I didn’t speak Spanish but we both wanted to learn. We would write notes on a napkin of things we wanted to learn and pass it back and forth,” Christine says with a smile. Not everyone can learn Spanish in a strip club.

            Christine twirls her finger around one of her pink hoop earrings. She’s wearing a floral bra, and three different neon-colored thongs that illuminate in the black lights on stage to create an optical illusion while she dances. Her hair is faded-pink in color and short, barely hitting her shoulders.

            “I didn’t use to be a girly-girl. I was a tomboy, like all the way tomboy… It switched when I started working here,” Christine says.

            Brenda, one of the managers at Patty’s, explains that the establishment has been around for 45 years. The original Patty used to dance at the club, “a long, long, long, long, long, long lonnnnng time ago,” Christine exaggerates.

            Christine and the other dancers mainly work in cash since Indiana doesn’t consider exotic dancing to be a “legal” profession. On a good night, the dancers will make at least $100, but most nights aren’t that good. The most Christine has made in one night is around $500.

            “I work a lot, a whole lot,” Christine says. “Whenever they need me, they call me. Tomorrow I’m (supposed to be) off, but I’m working.”

            “If there was no drama, I would do this all the time,” Diamond says. “Love, naked women, and alcohol—that’s what makes a good night.”

            Diamond only works a few nights a week. The rest of the time, she’s a barista at the Starbucks in the Indianapolis airport. “This is my gas money,” she says.

            Diamond straps on her 5-inch stiletto heels and runs out of the dressing room door with two, one-dollar bills in hand to pay for her songs on the jukebox. She comes back in 30 seconds later. “They left,” she says, sitting back down to put on her fake eyelashes, or “eye wigs.”

            Most of the dancers make their money on tips from dancing or getting customers drinks. They charge $25 a song for a private lap dance, which isn’t very enticing since the VIP dance room consists of two of the Elk’s Lodge chairs in a small room made of painted plywood and neon lights.

            “I’ve been through a lot but I have a very open personality,” Christine explains. “I like to try new things. I like to be myself. Sometimes I get to a point where I try to be somebody I’m not because I try to impress people, but it gets me nowhere. All it does is hurt myself, so I’ve learned to just be myself.”

            Christine has no shame about the life she lives and enjoys.

            On Patty’s Yelp.com page, one reviewer named Sarah wrote: “Here is where you will see [a] 250 pound women flipping around on the one pole they have (on the one dance floor) as if she has the body and agility of a 21 year old PT's [Showclub] girl.”

            She’s exactly right. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

 

 

The Art of Sex

(Published in A Midwestern Review, Spring 2017)

          I’d been in Amsterdam two weeks before I went to my first sex show. It was the summer of 2016, I was 21, and I’d never felt more in control. I was studying abroad in Amsterdam with a group of students from my Midwestern college. After extensive research and recommendations from friends, I convinced a group of three girl friends to attend a live sex show with me at Theatre Casa Rosso in the Red Light District. It’s important to note that I was the only one excited about the show. It takes a certain type of person to willingly attend and take part in a sex show—outgoing, fearless—and I’m exactly that type of person. Luckily, my friends are easily persuaded by my charisma and reasoning, the main thesis being, “We’re in fucking Amsterdam. We have to go see a live sex show.”

            Ever since I was young, I’ve been intrigued by sex—the intimacy between two (or more) people, why people enjoy it, why people get so uncomfortable when sex is brought up in conversation. I didn’t understand the awkwardness—it’s the most basic animalistic act, that of procreating. My interest would only increase as I got older and my hormones developed. I learned that I’m a very sexual person, when it’s with the right person. I’m not a woman that can do one-night-stands. I have to know a person, understand their mind and their motives. They have to respect me and I have to respect them. My interest in sex increased even more once I realized how uncomfortable it makes my father to talk about.

            Sex shows and prostitution have been legal in the Netherlands since the 1800s, and tolerated since the middle ages. Sex workers must be 18 years or older and a legal citizen of the Europe Union. The Red Light District in Amsterdam, called Rossebuurt (Dutch for ‘pink’ or ‘red’ neighborhood) lies just West of the city center, only six blocks from Anne Frank’s house. The Red Light District boasts brothels, sex windows, sex shows, and sex museums. Workers must work out of the designated sex-working buildings—it is illegal to work on the street. The people who own the sex-working buildings rent out spaces, rooms and windows to individual sex workers. Popular sex bars and shows include Casa Rosso, Moulin Rouge, and the Banana Bar and Club—a club popular for making tourists eat banana’s out of sex workers’ cleavage.

            Walking through the Red Light District, the canal water reflects the flickering red lights from the shops and bars. Marijuana flows through my veins like the water that flows through the canals of the city. Amsterdam is a black beauty, sparkling with mystery. The streets are crowded with tourists gawking at half-naked women dancing in their windows. Potential customers rap on their windows to inquire prices—sex workers charge around 40 euros for ten to fifteen minutes of vaginal or oral sex, but they can refuse any customer they want. Taking photos of the sex workers is illegal and horse-mounted police and private body guards enforce this. As we walk up to the box office window of the Casa Rosso, I try to sneak a photo of the enormous pink light-up elephant above the entrance. A window prostitute immediately sees me and starts banging on the window with a sour look on her face. I put my phone away and mouth, “I’m sorry” multiple times. She flicks me off. I get in line for a ticket.

            The ticket attendant asks for my ID. Tickets are 40 euros, or 50 euros with two free drinks. The show’s acts are on a constant loop that starts every hour and a half, but customers can stay for as long as they want. I shell out 50 euros, and I receive back two drink tickets and a pink, penis shaped lollipop. A bowl of candy-like pieces also sits at the ticket counter. I ask the bouncer what they are.

            “Viagra for women,” he says with a laugh. I get excited and take a handful, that’s when he decides to tell me the truth. Laughing harder he says, “they’re just mints.” Frowning, I put back my handful, only keeping one. Walking through the entrance, I can already see a nearly naked woman on stage wearing a white thong and sparkle nipple petals.

            Inside, it smells of vanilla lubricant and excitement. Resembling a small movie theatre, the space holds about 100 people, seated on two levels facing the stage. Everything is dressed in red velvet: the walls, seats, carpet and stage curtain. The stage boasts a revolving round red-velvet bed in the center and a silver pole on each end. I’m more excited than a stoner in a coffeeshop (the Dutch word for marijuana dispensaries, which is quite confusing for an American wanting coffee).

            My friends and I get a row of seats on the second level with a great view of the stage. Before my ass hits the cum-stained seat, my mouth is gaping open in amusement at the current act (and it didn’t close for 20 whole minutes). On stage, a thin, naked blonde woman walks casually from one end of the stage to the other while a Britney Spear’s hit plays on the speakers. She is pulling a pink ribbon out of her vagina and wrapping it around each pole, making what appears to be a massive spider web. When she’s finished, she has wrapped the vagina-ribbon around each pole six times, pulling almost 75 feet of ribbon in total out of her vagina. The most amazing part was how poised she remained throughout the entire process—never wincing, or making any other gesture indicating her discomfort. It was a natural act for her, like a brown recluse spinning her web in preparation for a crisp cockroach. The other visitors to the theatre—couples, some lonely men, a few groups of friends on a night out—all seem pleased with the acts so far. My friend Laura downs her entire vodka-soda before the next act can come on.

            “How did she do that??” Laura asks me.

            “She’s a trained professional,” I whisper-giggle back to Laura.

            And I wasn’t lying. Prostitution and other sex-working jobs became legal professions in the Netherlands in 1988. They have workers rights and receive full-coverage health care. They handle their job like any other young professional would—mastering their hair-flips, ball-cradling skills, thrusting techniques and blowjobs. Unfortunately, stigma still exists.

            Next to strut on stage is a lovely, young black couple. They take their place on the revolving bed and immediately start banging to some tasteful R&B music. Their movements are methodical, but not insincere. You can tell they’ve practiced their sex positions, the order, and the timing—resembling a synchronized swimming routine. They stay in one position for a few minutes before switching, and they don’t ever laugh (as I often do in bed). I learned later from a local bartender who has friends that work at the live sex shows that in order to get the job, the man and woman couple have to be dating in real life in order to work at the show. He also told me that in some cases, even if the couple breaks up, a couple will continue to live together just to keep their job at the show.

            “This is crazy,” Laura yells to me over the music. “Thanks for making us come you crazy bitch!”

            “Take notes on new positions to try,” I say back. I now have a Cheshire-cat like grin on my face.

            Although phones are strictly prohibited, Laura has been discretely texting her boo-thang back home. An aisle attendant finally notices her.

            “No phones! Final warning. You will be asked to leave,” she says.

            “I’m so sorry,” Laura replies earnestly. “I’m putting it away.”

            “You idiot! You’re gonna get us kicked out,” I whisper to Laura.

            “Sorry! I thought it was just no pictures,” Laura explains. I roll my eyes and get back to the sex. Just as the black couple is exiting the stage to applause, the music takes a turn. Blaring, screaming rock music comes on the speaker and I fly to the edge of my seat anticipating the next act. From the right side of the stage, out walks a skinny, heavily tattooed woman with straight black hair down to her ass. She’s wearing black leather lingerie, fishnets, and holding a leather leash, which drags behind her. A man then comes crawling out behind her, with the leash attached to a collar around his neck. The man boasts the same hairstyle and tattooed body as the woman, as if they’re perfect replicas of each other in male and female form. The woman starts whipping the man with a leather whip. He smiles with a face that says it hurts so good. After a few minutes of brutal foreplay, they start fucking like jackrabbits and don’t stop for 10 minutes straight—at least three metal songs later. I give a standing ovation for that performance.

            My main motive for coming to the show was to search for new sex positions. I wanted to get some tips from the pros to improve my own sex game. As I’ve gotten older, my sexual desires have gotten more advanced. Maybe it’s all the porn I’d been watching, or maybe I just always have to be experimenting with something new. Bondage was something that always intrigued me, but I’d never had the guts to try it. After watching the black-haired duo have bondage sex on stage, I think I have enough visualization to try it on my own. Besides using the show to my own advantage, I also wanted to study other’s reactions to the sex show. Not only are shows like this taboo in America; they’re illegal. I wanted to see how a culture functions when people are allowed to do what they want with their body—like sell it freely without fear.

            This act is followed by a lesbian duo that takes turns penetrating each other with a large black dildo strap on. Another woman performs a salsa dance on stage, and then gives a lap dance to a man in the front row. Next, a thicker white couple has vanilla sex on stage (we take this opportunity to move seats to the first floor, and I refill my drink). When I return with a fresh vodka soda, a new act is starting. One woman walks out naked on stage and lights a cigar. I expect a boring dance routine, but I’m wrong. She shimmies her way over to the left pole on stage, does a handstand, and places the lit cigar in her vagina. After a few moments, smoke rises from the cigar. She is smoking the cigar through her vagina. I mentally compare her vagina to that of a smoker’s lung—black and caked with tobacco. She continues to smoke the cigar through her vagina in various positions on stage before retiring to much applause.

            Throughout this entire show, I’ve been wondering to myself: could I ever do this? Yes, I enjoy sex, a lot, but wouldn’t it lose all enjoyment and intimacy when you’re “performing” sex in front of hundreds of people every night? I would think so. But regardless of my own preferences, I appreciate these sex workers for opening my eyes to new people and the way they want to live their lives. I push myself to try at least everything once—but my internal worth and societal stigmas prevent me from “steeping so low” as to sell my body. I’m grateful these sex workers are helping to change the stigma surrounding sex working.

            The final act of the loop features the same salsa-dancing woman from earlier. She comes out on stage and asks for volunteers. This is my chance to challenge everything I’d been taught was inappropriate. My hand shoots up and my friends push me towards the stage. I’m giggling profusely, trying not to let my imagination run wild about what I’ll be asked to do on stage. I love to participate, but my inner conscious knows there’s only so much I will do. I promise myself that I will not take off any articles of clothing on stage, especially if I’m not being paid for it. The salsa dancer starts instructing me and four other fools on how to dance and grind. Luckily, I’ve practiced these moves many times in clubs and fraternity basements—I’m practically a professional at the pop lock ‘n drop it move. The salsa dancer then tells us we have 30 seconds each to show off our best dance moves to the audience. My performance was a blur, but I do know that I nailed the pop lock ‘n drop it. Next, we’re instructed to eat a banana from the crotch of the salsa dancer (she kept her hot-shorts on so there was no skin-to-mouth contact). Although I possess a small mouth, I succeeded at this task as well (I love bananas, and this one was the perfect ripeness).

            The third and final task was to form a conga line and dance together around the stage. The salsa dancer, seeing my keen dancing abilities and outgoing personality, instructs me to be at the back of the line. She obviously appreciates my good form. Everyone is laughing and cheering us on throughout the conga line, when suddenly I feel something trying to penetrate itself into my anus. I turn around abruptly, and to my surprise, a huge man in a gorilla suit with a black dick is trying to penetrate me. I run, scream and laugh my way off stage as the entire audience erupts in laughter. Now that I know the thrill of a live sex show, I’m not sure that I could do the real thing for money on a nightly basis. I imagine myself taking over the salsa dancer’s job: pulling people from the audience and teaching them to dance sexually. This would be a good back-up job if all my other aspirations fall through. But for now, I’ll go back to writing.

 

 

The Common Hoosier: A Tough Life for an Average Man

          Six miles west of Greencastle, Indiana, off of West County Road 125 South over Walnut Creek and past the volunteer fire department, there’s a brown and white doublewide mobile home. Sitting on three and a half acres of rocky and tree-filled land, Ralph Souders has called this place his home since 1998 when he bought it from his neighbor.

            Now a big-bellied man with a soft smile and grey mustache to match, Ralph sits behind his home at the picnic table and bench that he handmade over 20 years ago. Chain-smoking Winston’s Red Box cigarettes, Ralph describes his pain-filled life.

            “I got an expensive body,” he says with a chuckle. “I got a $3,000 eye ball, $3,000 in teeth, and all these $5,500 surgeries and a $400,000 chemotherapy. Yeah, I’ve got an expensive body for an ugly ole’ fart.”

            Ralph was born in Beach Grove, Indiana, just south of Indianapolis on February 3, 1953. When he came into this world, he didn’t know that it would be the start to a hard and rough life.

            As a child, Ralph would hand pick his relative’s cornfields in Poland, Indiana for a dollar or two a day. “Workin’ us as little white slaves is what theys doing,” he says. At age 11, Ralph’s friend shot out his left eye with a BB gun pellet. After four months in the hospital, the doctors decided that they couldn’t salvage his eye. They installed a fake eye that is still in place today. In 2010, Ralph was diagnosed with leukemia, and again in 2011, Ralph was diagnosed with bladder cancer. He overcame both of them in record timing, his doctor said.

            “I told you I’m like a Timex; I take a lick and I just keep on tickin’,” he says in a cartoon-like voice. “God don’t want me yet.” Ralph’s wife Thelma cuts in: “I told you that—God don’t want you and the Devil’s afraid you’ll take over.” This is Ralph and Thelma’s relationship—constant lovingly teasing for the past twenty years.

            Thelma is a thin woman with short sandy hair and glasses. The head florist at Kroger’s in Greencastle, Thelma works six days a week to support her, Ralph and Ralph’s brother Russell who lives with them. Besides Thelma’s paychecks, the only other sources of income come from Ralph and Russell’s disability checks from the government.

            Ralph and Thelma got married in a one-room church in the woods of Turkey Run State Park. “The preacher was reading out of the bible with a flashlight, that’s how dark it was in that church,” he says with a chuckle. Thelma and Ralph used to go hiking in Turkey Run and Clifty Falls State Park on some “bodacious trails and waterfalls.”

            For seven years, Ralph worked at the Heartland factory in Greencastle on the assembly line making ZTR riding mowers. Twice a year, the factory would shut down for two weeks and during this time, he and Thelma would take off for vacation. “We’d just hit the road, wouldn’t even pick up a road map, just drive. No matter where we went, it didn’t matter. We’d always end up South: Kentucky, Tennessee, places like that. Go fishing; be camped out for ten days. Hell, we’d bath in the river, catch dinner, cook dinner right there on the open fire. It was sweet times,” Ralph says with a smile.

            Even without a high school diploma, Ralph knows about camping. “Went to Pickwick Lake, Alabama once, near Florence, Alabama. For eleven days, we camped and fished from daylight till dark. Every time we’d catch a fish, we’d clean it and fillet it right there. But in Alabama, you can only squat for six days. You’ve got to pull up roots and you’ve got to move over there, or somewhere else, otherwise you’ll be arrested for squatting.” The last day on the trip, Ralph and his friends caught 176 Mississippi blue catfish.

            He and Thelma considered moving south at one point, but then Ralph’s health got too bad. And they want to see their grandchildren. “I gotta see my babies,” he says as he flicks open his lighter to light the cigarette draping out of his mouth.

            Over the years, Ralph has taken in countless stray dogs. Right now, he has three dogs, all of which he took in off the road. “I feel for ‘em, people throw them out like that and you don’t know what person’s gonna shoot ‘em. You don’t know what person’s just gonna stomp on the accelerator and run ‘em over just because they want to. It’s sad. Animals have no kind of control over that. They get throwed out, my heart goes out to ‘em. They gotta have someone take care of them, too.”

            Flipping through an old photo album, Thelma comments with pride on the furniture pieces that Ralph made, some for her and some he sold. Every piece was made from scrap wood that Ralph and Thelma found “junkin’.” A carpenter by heart, Ralph made dressers, wooden tables and benches, a sewing table, TV stands, and shelves, among other items.

            “See that big table down there,” Ralph says as he points to a big wooden table down by his shed. “That’s a Kroger’s table and I put a top on it. That was trash. Boy I tell you, if I see it, wheels start turning, I got something I can do with that. And I like doing shit like that. If I can fix it up, it gives me something to do.”

            A resourceful man, Ralph has been junkin’ for the past nine years. He estimates that he’s made over $20,000 tax-free. Depending on economic activity in the world, especially in China, scrap metal will sell for $200 a ton. “We’d run an ad in the paper saying we’d pick up your junk that’s cluttering your yard,” he explains. “We’d pick up your junk for free.”

            In another picture, Ralph and his ex-wife sit on a couch with two middle school aged girls on their laps. “That’s my bitches, and believe me—they’re bitches,” Ralph says with a serious face, referring to his two daughters. When Ralph divorced his first wife, they each took one girl to live with them so that no one had to pay child support. “That didn’t last long,” Ralph says. “After the divorce was final, she told the other girl, ‘I don’t want you to live here, go live with your dad.’ So we took her back.”

            At this time, both daughters had dropped out of high school. “We talked them into going back to school,” Ralph explains. “We didn’t tell them that we’d gone put my foot up your ass if you don’t go to school, we just asked them: what would it take to get you back in school? Get that diploma; you’ve got to have that diploma. Times have changed, it ain’t like 50, 60 years ago.”

            The girls said they didn’t like the school they were in, and demanded they move if Ralph and Thelma wanted them to go back to school. So, they moved. “It’s not like we own the place, you know, we just rented. So we just moved,” Thelma says.

            To make matters more difficult, after the eldest daughter, Tracy, graduated from South Putnam High School, the younger daughter, Amanda, wanted to go back to Greencastle High School to graduate.

            “We ended up moving anyway, to satisfy them all,” Ralph says. “And, we got them both into school. Their mom would let them quit, and I said that ain’t gonna fly, ‘cause I dropped out and I know I shouldn’t have. You got to have something to look forward to and that diploma will help. Without it, you ain’t nothin’.”

            “I got a lot of compliments on my kids, but boy they turned out to be assholes,” Ralph says as he slowly shakes his head and stares down at his cigarette. The older daughter, Tracy, married into money and now she doesn’t care to interact with Ralph and Thelma. “She won’t even call me, and she’s always on the phone. If that tells you anything,” Ralph says. By now, the ash on his third cigarette has grown half an inch high.

            Besides Thelma, Ralph’s grandsons, Cody (16) and Caleb (7), are his biggest joys in life. Amanda stays in touch, Ralph explains, so that he and Thelma can see the boys. She sees and calls Ralph a lot, “but there’s a lot of bad blood. They have took [the boys] away before. They took them away when they was on Meth.”

            Thelma and Ralph took care of Cody for six months while Amanda and her partner Sean were doing meth. Caleb wasn’t born yet.

            “Cody stayed with us for six months, and mom and dad didn’t even come and see him or nothin’,” Ralph explains. “Mommy called one day and said ‘Can I talk to my little boy?’” But Cody refused to talk to her. “They finally did get off the Meth shit. It took a lot of pushing,” Ralph says. When he was younger, Ralph tried cocaine and weed, but never any meth. Now, the pills help with the pain.

            The spring Indiana sun beats down on Ralph’s now bare chest—he has taken off his blue t-shirt. With every breath he breathes, a lump on his left abdominal side bulges out with air. This is from a hernia that busted through his ribcage.

            Ralph was beaten and abused by his father until he left home when he was 19 years old. “I got my good and my bad. I could sit here and write a book on bad,” Ralph explains. “About how I was abused when I was a kid, beat with whips and chains. A gun stuck to my head, a weed cutter stuck to my throat. But I try to forget all them.”

            Through all this, Ralph still finds the good in life. “I like to be friendly and pleasant,” Ralph says as he flicks his cigarette butt into the grass behind him. “I don’t like to be a drunk and aggressive, or a drunk and stupid. A SOS as Thelma calls it—stuck on stupid. That’s Thelma’s theory.”

            On his left forearm, a tattoo reads C.R. with a heart above it. These are Ralph’s first wife Connie’s initials. “I put that on myself,” he says with a chuckle. “Wouldn’t do it again, though.” When asked if he would ever get it removed, Thelma jumps in: “I can help you with that,” she says with a grin. “I don’t believe in tattoos. I don’t believe in nose rings, lip rings, earrings. A man’s a man,” Ralph says. “Yeah, I’m kind of old-fashioned on that.”

            In the 1970s, Ralph found himself in jail. The police accused him of theft of fishing poles and a wooden stove. He served time for seven months even though he didn’t commit the crimes.

            If there’s one thing that gets Ralph fired up, it’s when people steal his money. “You make $10, the government wants nine of it. My god almighty,” Ralph says with a shake of his head. Thelma thinks there should be a spot on the ballot for this year’s president election that says “none of the above.”

            Ralph thinks Trump has good thoughts and issues, “but he’s too mouthy. He don’t know when to shut up.” Ralph doesn’t want Trump, the black-guy brain surgeon, or Hillary. “I just think it’s time to go back Republican, though. Obama’s really screwed things up.” Ralph lights a fifth cigarette.

            “Now, I had to drop half my medications ‘cause Humana won’t pay for them, and I don’t have money to pay for them. And that’s thanks to nigger-Obama, I mean Obama,” Ralph says with a laugh.

            Although he doesn’t hunt anymore, Ralph is unhappy with the gun control situation. “Guns went up probably 500%, ammunition probably went up another 500% so an average Joe like me can’t afford to go there and buy any ammo.” But boy does Ralph love nature. In his younger years, he loved to fish and hunt. As a child, his goal was to become a Warden at a National Park.

            “I ain’t have the heart to kill no more. It’s weird because you change over the years, you just don’t want to kill no animals no more. I see ‘em now; they’re so adorable. I couldn’t squeeze a trigger on one now if I wanted to,” Ralph explains.

            A smoker since he was nine years old, Ralph is surprised he’s lived this long. “The craziest time we had was fishing, with a bad storm comin’ in. It was a tornado within a mile of us. The wind just about tore us apart. Tents were flying up in trees; our shit was flying off of the tables into the river. We just got in the back of the pickup truck and hunkered down,” Ralph explains. That was fifteen years ago in Kentucky.

            The thing that Ralph can’t stand is when people refuse to work. Amanda’s partner Sean, Cody and Caleb’s father, is one of those people. “Cody’s daddy is the laziest mother fucker. His daddy don’t wanna work. His daddy owes like $50,000 in child support,” he says. After Sean and Amanda stopped using Meth, Ralph took out a $7,500 loan for them to use to get back on their feet. When the time came to pay the loan back, they never did. Ralph and Thelma got stuck with the bill.

            “What they’d done is wrong. [Sean] needs to be executed, she does too. And I’m sorry, that’s my daughter but you can’t tell me she didn’t intend to do that when they only made one payment on the loan. And that hurts,” Ralph says with a raised voice. “I wanted to kill him so bad, and I got the guns in there to do it but I take my happy pills every day. If I don’t, lord only knows what could happen to that boy because I wouldn’t give a damn if he was dead. I’ve been stiffed so many times. People tend to take that goodness for weakness.”

            A coughing fit comes on and Ralph takes a break from talking. Underneath the picnic table, one of Ralph’s dogs, Jax, rests in the shade. A Siberian Husky with sky blue eyes, he follows Ralph wherever he goes.

            “I’ve had a rough life. A hard, hard life. But the last twenty with Thelma, man a good 20 years. You can only be pushed so far. If it wasn’t for pills, I probably would’ve hurt somebody,” Ralph says as he leans back to look up at the birds chirping in the trees. “We’ve been together a long time now, and it’s been a wonderful marriage. We went through a lot of hard times but we stuck together and we beat it all. We beat it all.”