Partying with the dirty old man

Deep down, I felt like a pervert. As a result, I behaved like a hyperactive 14-year-old in anticipation of having her boobs fondled for the first time. It was 1999, I was 24 years old, and there was actually Something new to do on a Friday night.

We'd all heard all about an art show taking place at the offices of the newly defunct Orbit magazine. The gonzo mag had been one of the last vestiges of free media that was worth picking up back then, and when news came of its demise, there was mass revolt (to the extent that a bunch of angry punk rockers qualifies as "mass"). Advertising and avarice had won out again and we were pissed. But as Orbit editor Jerry "Vile" Peterson sounded the paper's death knell in the form of a salacious art exhibit referred to as "the dirty show" — there was no way in hell any of us were going to miss it. We wanted to say goodbye.

"Was that guy jerking off?" my friend Mel asked as we ascended the dingy staircase to the barebones Orbit offices that resided above a bumper shop in downtown Royal Oak.

I giggled nervously when the aforementioned fellow brushed by us on the staircase: his boner bump was obvious and both of his hands remained suspiciously tucked into his trench coat pockets. I remember trying to play it cool in front of my horrified friend, but truthfully, that shuddersome 50-something-year-old scared the hell out of me.

In retrospect, what actually frightened me was the fact that I was participating in the same event as that dude. I hadn't even entered the party and I already felt like I'd done something bad.

It's so clear to me now, but at the time I had no clue that my anxiety traced back to the bane of many women's sexual existence — especially women like me. No daddy issues or crippling needs for attention from men here. Becoming a sexually active young single women came with its own set of complications, nuances and confusions. Opting to attend a show like this one forced me to make a decision — however minor — about who I was sexually. Was it too far?

The whole night seems ridiculously innocuous now. And I can safely say that it in no way went too far. I mean, how scary could it have been? We were looking at dirty artwork in an office space along the mean streets of my hometown of Royal Oak. But at the time, it felt like a big deal: Six years earlier, I rode down that very street in the back seat of a convertible MG — the virgin homecoming queen of Dondero High School — throwing candy at freshmen and waving happily into my dad's camcorder. And now I found myself eating bean dip from a half-naked girl's navel, being served drinks by a 6-foot-1 transvestite and talking about the artistic significance of the hairy asshole installation. It was a change.

The content of that first show wasn't terribly shocking. Much of it was just bad art — phallic and bondage-y — something a smartass teenager might concoct in the back room of his high school art class. But the spirit of the evening — the death rattle of Orbit — put everything into perspective. Good for Peterson for soldiering on in his own pervy way. What better way to bid adieu to the non-paying advertisers who ostensibly put the mag out of business than with a (literal) "shove it up your ass."

Eight years later, "the dirty show" is The Dirty Show, and it's a nationally recognized traveling art exhibit. Many of the artists who participate are professionals, and much of the artwork is just really beautiful. The way this art show that catered to all ages, races, genders and sexual orientations has gone from underground to mainstream makes me kind of proud. (And that makes the demise of the Detroit counterculture I once knew and loved sting a little bit less.)

I'm almost embarrassed to admit this, but I still have a picture of myself from that inaugural show. In it, I am doing a Lynndie England to a papier-mâché wiener that's covered with Brill-O pad pubic hair. Knowing what I know now, and having come into my sexual self with an ease and open-mindedness I could have never even imagined at the time, I can't help but wonder if my first publicly displayed openness to all things sexual might have helped me along the path of sexual liberation ever so slightly. And no, the Dirty Show didn't pop my cherry, but it certainly helped to ease me into a realm I might never have had the courage or permission to explore: the fun side.

Eve Doster is the listings editor of Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]
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