Dear Penthouse,

To celebrate my new book, I Probably Shouldn’t Have Done That (Kindle version here), I decided to showcase a few of the blog entries you’ll find in this book.

I hope you enjoy my stroll down memory lane.


Dear Penthouse,

As a chubby teen, I was introduced to your letter column through a high school friend’s sleepover. He titillated our boys club by showing us his father’s stash. We poured over them. The other boys were mesmerized by all the pictures of women spreading their legs.

I was mesmerized by the naughty cartoons and also the letters written by men who experienced surprising seductions. I loved those masculine, sexy letters. I ignored the photos and devoured how the men felt, the raw pleasure of seduction and getting sex delivered so easily, like pizza. Well, sometimes literally through a pizza delivery woman. Later, as the other boys moved to another room to play Atari video games, I remained behind, reading your letters, studying them. So I know exactly how to begin.

Dear Penthouse, this kind of situation doesn’t ever happen to me. (I nailed it, right?) I’m not the guy who gets hit on at parties. I’m the guy you ask, “Dude, where’s the beer?” Hot neighbors don’t wash their Corvettes in tight jeans cutoffs for me and I’ve never had a voluptuous male tutor make sexy double entendres while I was labored over Italian vocabulary. Mostly my tutors spent their energy suppressing frustration because my brain refused verb conjugation.

Penthouse letters are traditionally crammed full of clichés, so allow me to say you could have knocked me over with a feather when my own Penthouse experience showed up at my front door one weeknight after 10 p.m. The pounding roused me from writing in my den, which was the first irritation and as I crossed to the front of the house, I couldn’t help but complain. My porch light and living room lights were already off. Who ignores those obvious signs?

Grumble, grumble.

The pounding resumed a second time, already impatient with me.

I was not amused.

I peered through glass planes like the crabby ass I felt myself to be and was surprised to see Mike. He was one of three twenty-somethings renting the house next door. His two housemates, both women, were bubbly and friendly to me, contrasting his surliness. Maybe they were compensating. I knew he was a homo the day I met him. Shaking hands, he looked at me and his entire face wrinkled into mild disgust, as if to communicate, Ugh. Bear.

Mike dressed casually but with great attention to detail and he affected a beard which looked scraggly on him in his post-twink era. His hair bristled with chemical product and always remained sculpted to look as if it were not. The modern word best describing Mike is hipster but back in the mid-2000s, we had not yet dreamt up that new-fangled vernacular to define someone who tries hard to make you believe he doesn’t care about his appearance. Mike himself would boast he was a hipster before it was cool.

His cheerful housemates and I would sometimes gab if we came home at the same time, twelve-sentence conversations as we lugged our gym bags and groceries to our front doors. Mike never said more than hello and sometimes only shot me a grim nod if he could not avoid eye contact. No problem. Not everybody has to be chat buddies in the front yard but since he had never come to my home in the two years living next door, I was mighty alarmed to find him standing on my front porch.

When I opened the door, he said, “You know, we’ve never really gotten to know each other as neighbors.”

I said, “No, I guess not.”

For him, that must have translated into, Well then, come the fuck in, because that’s what he did, sailing across the threshold and squeezing past me, clearly propelled forward by the thick alcohol cloud surrounding him. I thought I might get wasted by proxy.

He dropped on my living room couch, the big one, and I sat across from him, a three-by-four-foot oak coffee table between us. I briefly wondered if this could be a booty call but that seemed absurd as he made it a habit to scowl at me. He had probably locked himself out and needed to waste a half hour before a housemate came home. If he had just glared at me and said, “Look, I’m locked out. Can I crash here until my roommate gets home?” that would have been fine. In fact, I would have preferred the honesty.

Mike asked, “Got anything to drink?”

I tried to hide my annoyance when I said, “I’ll check.”

My kitchen was a disaster, dirty dishes everywhere and leftover carnage from dinner suggesting I’m not the kind of person who uses my hands to open packages and move things around. While I take pleasure in believing I’m a free spirit who doesn’t mind if my household is cluttered and dirty when friends spontaneously visit, sorry, I’m really not. I do not appreciate chicken gravy on most flat kitchen surfaces and scum-riddled plates piling up like a high-rise buffet for rats. In moments like this, I hear my mother’s voice say, “That’s why we make our bed every morning and do the dishes after each meal, because you never know who may drop by.”

I don’t think she anticipated booty calls, however.

Of course, Mike strolled into the mess right behind me and when he (deliberately?) brushed against me, I inhaled a full shot glass of whiskey breath or something of equivalent proof. He nodded at the vodka sitting on top of my fridge and noted it would serve fine. (I store my hard liquor on top the fridge. Mine is not the classiest house even when it’s clean.)

I grumbled while I found us clean glasses, wondering how long this stupid seduction would take. If it were that. I still wasn’t sure.

It sucks when you’re getting your Penthouse experience, the young neighbor almost twenty years your junior appearing suddenly for a booty call, and all you can think is God, I am turning into my mother.

When we returned to the Mission-style couches in my cozy Minneapolis bungalow, I sat where he was not so he moved and joined me on my couch. He sat very, very close and asked, “Do you have a boyfriend?”

Yup. Booty call.

“Yes, I do,” I said right away. “It’s not an open relationship.”

He frowned. “Oh. I never see him.”

“We mostly sleep at his place.”

As I scooched a few inches away, keeping a more appropriate distance between us, I elaborated. The relationship was fairly new, that delicate stage where no one uttered the word monogamy, but wouldn’t it feel great if we both shared that shy desire? Wouldn’t the timing be nice? I told a sweet tale of my new boyfriend and our potential for being each other’s one true love.

None of it was true. I was very, very single and actually lacking in amorous adventures of late (which is a classy way of saying I was horny).

But when Mike switched couches and I felt the heat of his body as he dropped next to me, I had decided no way and instantly lies poured from my mouth regarding this newish romance while my brain screamed, “For God’s sake, don’t give him a fake name! You’ll never remember it.”

“Things are good right now between him and me,” I said, purring. “Who knows where it will go. You dating anyone?”

“No,” he said staring into my eyes, “Single.”

He moved his hand to massage the back of my neck.

This moment, my lie, was one of those questionable decisions a person makes in life. Why didn’t I go for it? We were both single, he was attractive, just sort of scornful and pretentious. I didn’t like him as a person but he wasn’t proposing six hours of conversation. Why did I invent this big lie? Why not just get laid, consequences be damned?

I removed his massaging hand and realized I truly didn’t want this, not with him. Maybe there comes a point in your life where respecting yourself finally overtakes the need for carnival sex. Maybe. I’m a big fan of carnival sex. I got my hand stamped so I can come back anytime. But I don’t spend my every waking moment wondering about who might be next or thinking about what we might try.

“I’d like to see your house,” he said, “see how it compares to ours.”

The rest of my house wasn’t much cleaner than the food-splattered kitchen, so he wasn’t winning any points with me by demanding to see every room in its natural state. But I wanted us off the romantic couch so I walked him room to room. When we headed through the kitchen toward the sun porch he embraced me from behind and kissed me on the neck.

I froze. Why the kitchen? Couldn’t he see the mess? The chicken gravy? I couldn’t possibly make out with all those dirty dishes mocking me from a foot away.

“I know you want me,” he whispered in sloppy dramatic seduction. “I see you watching me from your house. From your kitchen you can see right into my bedroom.”

I extracted myself and said, “Mike, I don’t even know which room is yours. I’ve never been in your house to know that.”

He pointed to his window and said, “That one. I know you watch me undress. I see you standing right here.”

I pondered this and said, “Huh.”

I had never watched him undress. I really didn’t know which room was his. But I knew why he would think I might have. Mike wasn’t entirely wrong. I did spend a lot of time in this spot, just not for the reason he suspected.

I decided to tell the truth. Another questionable decision.

“Thing is,” I said and I probably blushed a little, “we’re right in front of the refrigerator. I spend a lot of time at the fridge with the door open. Standing right here.”

That was humiliating.

It can be hard to tell your embarrassing truths, like why I spend so much time in front of the fridge debating meal options, or why I am single. Well-meaning friends frequently ask with loving concern why I’m still single, and while my defenses can offer a variety of reasons from “I’m not putting myself out there” to “I’m concentrating on my writing these days,” sometimes the truth is “I don’t know. I guess I don’t really know.”

He tried to kiss me again and I said, “No. No, Mike.”

Man, this Penthouse letter sucked.

We continued the house tour and now that it seemed apparent he wasn’t getting laid, he didn’t fake being impressed by each room. In the den he looked at my festive Christmas lights wrapping a house plant and said with disdain, “Oh. So tacky.”

After we concluded the downstairs, the only part of my house tour available to the visiting public, he strode past me in the dining room and asked, “What’s up here?”

He disappeared up the narrow staircase into my master bedroom.

I followed, not liking where this was headed symbolically or literally. I was sure my imaginary boyfriend would raise his eyebrow when I repeated this part of the story, doubting for a moment whether we were truly heading toward the monogamous thing after all. Thank God, I did not give the imaginary boyfriend a name. I’d never remember it.

I found what I expected to find, underwear and shirts on the floor, comic books strewn about, pomegranate-striped sheets rumpled at the foot of my bed, my pillows slammed and drooping against far walls as if my sleep violence ought to be studied in a lab.

There he was, lying on my unmade bed, flipping through a comic book.

And this is why we make our bed every morning.

The cupboard door to my secret stash of unread comics stood wide open and he had reached in, grabbed a random book. He wore his natural state of disdain on his face, flipping through the colored pages.

My blood hardened in its veins. You don’t fuck with a nerd’s comics, dude. Not cool.

“C’mon,” I said with forced good cheer, “I still haven’t shown you the basement.”

When my tour completed its run and I walked us to the front door, he resisted and flopped onto my living room couch again for one final attempt at seduction. He patted the seat next to him and I murmured, “My boyfriend.”

In a bored voice he asked me what I did for fun and I said, “I write.”

He said, “Me too. I’m a blogger.”

This became the only I’ll show you mine if you show me yours moment of the night, for we each whipped out our home pages on my laptop and ogled them, right there on the oak coffee table. As expected, he saw my homepage and said, “Yeah, that’s nice. Here’s mine.”

I never expected any real interest from him. I was a booty call.

“I’m new to blogging,” he confessed.

His blog had two entries on it, only two, and both began with rants against junk food manufacturers and their stupidity. His written attitude was a mixture of confidence-without-facts and everyone-is-stupid, so while he explained his theme for colors and layout, I grew more irritated with him and felt a resolve in myself to get rid of him within the next five minutes.

“I’m anorexic,” Mike said. “Well, recovering anorexic. Not many men get diagnosed with anorexia compared to women, so I felt my voice needed to be out there.”

I looked at his blog posts again and instead of seeing smug confidence I saw a defiant, wounded man still struggling to succeed. When you uncover a vulnerable dimension to a late-night booty call, it’s suddenly harder to think of him exclusively as a booze-guzzling jerk.

I listened to him describe his relationship with food and I told him he was brave, which he was, and he responded with a knowing smile to suggest, Yeah, I really am. Okay, I still didn’t like him. But I could appreciate before me I beheld a man on a journey, same as me.

Dear Penthouse, I sent Mike home a few minutes later after he suggested my imaginary boyfriend never had to know about this. Mike let me know we didn’t have to do everything, but maybe just some things. I made sure he crossed safely to his own front door and made a mental note to spend less time at the fridge. Jesus, what if he gave me a deliberate striptease while I was salivating over leftover lasagna?

The next morning after the Penthouse seduction, the UPS man asked if I could sign for an important package for my female next-door neighbors. Working from home as I did, my signing for neighbor packages was not unusual. I left a note taped to their front door to come over.

I considered he might be the one to come, but the odds were against it. Besides, it might be healing for both of us to acknowledge the previous night’s awkwardness, laugh about it, get it out there, and—crap. I couldn’t remember if I had assigned my imaginary boyfriend a name. I hoped not. I hope I had taken my own advice, but I don’t always listen to the voice inside me which says, “Not a good idea.”

Two hours later, I recognized Mike’s impatient pounding on the front door, like a British soldier checking American homes during the Revolutionary War.

I opened the screen door wide so he could enter and in a sheepish voice, I said, “Hi.”

He took the package from my hand and flashed me the familiar scorn: Ugh. Bear.

In a bored voice he said, “Thanks for signing for this.”

Mike turned and plopped down the front steps in a casual way. Obviously, last night’s rejection did not scar him.

That was it. That was the end of our rich, meaningful relationship. A year later, he moved away.

Dear Penthouse, nothing happened.

Okay, well, not technically true. The prior night, we made out for a minute by my front door as I was sending him home, but then I whispered, “I can’t. The boyfriend,” and kicked him out.

What? Don’t judge me.

I’m not made of stone and this was probably going to be my only Penthouse experience.

One Response to “Dear Penthouse,”

  1. Kathie Says:

    That was great. Laughed so hard I cryed! What a great story teller you are. Thanks for sharing!

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