Why you should care

Because fathers might know best, but they’re not supposed to know everything.

Katie Crouch is a New York Times best-selling author and essayist. Her books include Girls in Trucks, Men and Dogs, and Abroad.

So I once had this vibrator. I was 23 and had just been dumped by my college boyfriend. I couldn’t live without him, I told my friends. I missed him so much. Well, not his personality, but … who would ever tolerate me again? Also, had I mentioned that now I wasn’t having sex?

My friends finally got really sick of hearing about how much sex I wasn’t having. So one rainy Sunday afternoon, without telling me where we were going, they took me to the sex toy store.

“Well,” the girl said, “Are you looking for clitoral or G-spot stimulation?”

I may be wrong, but I feel that in that last two decades sex shops have become somewhat ubiquitous. Here in San Francisco, Good Vibrations — a brightly lit, cheerful place — is right next to the flagship Banana Republic. But this was in 1998, and this was not Good Vibrations. This was a nameless, smelly shop in an alley on the Lower East Side of New York.

I was raised in a moderately formal, Southern household. We were Episcopalian, which means nothing to most, but a lot to other Episcopalians. Polished banisters. Sunday roasts with Yorkshire pudding. We are not traditionally people who are free with our bodies. Nor do we have sex. And now here I was in a place where people insisted that I had as much right to pleasure myself as I did to wear socks. A bored saleswoman person in a vintage dress wandered over, asking if I needed help.

“No, thank you.”

“Yes, she does,” my friend said.

“Well,” the girl said, “Are you looking for clitoral or G-spot stimulation?”

I blinked. And the affair with my vibrator began.

My first vibrator was battery operated and small, covered in soft blue plastic. It also had a cord that attached to a remote control device. My interest in it waxed and waned. Sort of like my relationship with my guitar. Sometimes, I play for hours, but during certain phases of life, it gathers dust in the corner. Eventually I got a new boyfriend who was great with his hands. I forgot about the appliance altogether, leaving it to remain, forgotten, under my bed.

This is when the vibrator, sensing neglect, began to get angry. And, in its wily way, it struck back.

I waited, as security dug through my stuff, only to feel a sick twist of dread when I heard a familiar whirring sound.

Instance No. 1: my move from San Francisco to New York. An emotional day, involving saying goodbyes and throwing everything in boxes. My boyfriend had already left for the other coast, so I asked another friend’s boyfriend to help move my bed. He was shy and well-mannered. Together, we lifted the box spring, and hello! Vibrator.

“Hey,” he said, clearing his throat. “What’s that?”

“Nothing,” I said, throwing it into my duffle bag.

Next instance: the airport. After many cocktails I’d obviously forgotten about my embarrassment the day before, because now the vibrator was in my carry on. As this was a few weeks after 9/11, all bags were being thoroughly searched. I waited, as security dug through my stuff, only to feel a sick twist of dread when I heard a familiar whirring sound.

“What is —?”

I looked over. The TSA man was holding the thing by the remote, bullet end dangling. He’d switched it on, and there, for the entire line to see, my vibrator began spinning around like a tiny, lethal ceiling fan.

I got on the plane, had another drink, then flew back home to Charleston for a sojourn at my parents’ house, where the vibrator was thrown into a box in the closet in my childhood bedroom. Naturally, I wasn’t going to use it there. My parents and I had a pleasant week sitting on the porch, before I went north, back to the boyfriend. A year later we broke up and I moved again, but not before calling home asking my father to pack up a box of stuff for me. My camera, some old dishes, and whatever odds and ends might be in my bedroom closet.

I was 25 when this happened. Now I am 41, and I have a daughter. We live in a small Northern Californian town, not a Southerner or Episcopalian in sight. Her freedom of self-expression approaches that of the drug orgies described in early Joan Didion essays. And sometimes, in places like Safeway, she throws up her hands and yodels: “MAMA, MY VAGINA IS DRIPPING!!”

“Is that so?” I say politely. She is looking to me for approval. Is this OK? her gaze asks as she humps a bath toy. I always say yes. Honestly, I don’t know what the hell else to say.

I believe this is how my father felt when he rooted through my closet at my request in 2002. I can just picture it. Hmmm. Here is her old ballet shoe. Ho, ho. Here is an old hair dryer, and, oh dear. Here is the battery-operated appliance my little girl uses to pleasure herself. Well. What is a father to do? Clean it, of course, with rubbing alcohol. Replenish the batteries, seal it carefully in a Ziploc bag, then attach a yellow post-it note to the outside with a smiley face drawn on it with a Sharpie.

When I opened the box I was standing in a new, empty apartment on Manhattan Avenue, in New York. I was lonely, and had no furniture or friends, and now this goddamned vibrator had turned up again. I threw the appliance away, because there is no end to the weirdness of using a sex toy that your father has polished and tuned up for you. But the smiley face, I taped to the living room wall. It gives me a different sort of pleasure.

Comment

Topics:

OZYTrue Story

Interviews, op-eds, and analysis to help you make sense of the news of the day and the news of the future.