Allie and I were hundreds of miles away at the time, signing the papers on a new home in Tennessee while Daniel completed his final week of classes at Fort Lauderdale Christian School. We had allowed Daniel to stay at a buddy’s house in our absence, and we’d arranged for the friend to take him out to dinner on his birthday.
Daniel didn’t carry a cellphone back then — this was 1998, during the Pliestocene Age — so on the morning of the Big Day we phoned the friend’s house to wish our son happy birthday. His buddy answered, and under Allie’s skillful questioning he told us that dinner arrangements had already been made.
Where were they going? [long pause] Uh, Hooters.
In case you have been comatose or in orbit for the last thirty years, Hooters is a restaurant that specializes in beer, wings, and breasts. It’s not a strip club or anything. The “Hooters girls” are clothed, but in a way that puts the goods in the window, if you know what I mean. Turns out, this form of merchandising is very good for business.
My wife found Daniel’s dining preference amusing rather than appalling. After all, she and I had patronized the place ourselves, several times. Allie likes the wings at Hooters. She was under no illusions about Daniel’s interest, however. She knew the kid wasn’t going to Hooters for the wings.
Allie extracted from Daniel’s buddy the exact time the boys would arrive at the restaurant, and then she swore him to secrecy. When she hung up, she turned to me and said “We need to make this birthday one Daniel will never forget — and I have an idea. Do they still do singing telegrams?”
“Kristin will know,” I said. We called our daughter in Florida immediately, and in less than an hour she had arranged a wonderful surprise for her little brother’s birthday.
When my son and his friend arrived at Hooters that evening, dressed in their most grown-up clothes and reeking of after-shave, the place was nearly full. The blonde hostess, who seemed to be expecting them, led them to a prominent table overlooking the beach. Soon, a perky college-age waitress arrived bearing menus, favoring each boy with a flirtatious wink and acknowledging their orders of “Coke, I guess” with deep breaths that left the boys breathless.
As time passed, other Hooters girls sashayed past the table, and the boys became aware that some of the girls were watching them.
“Dude, did you see that? She just smiled at me.”
“No, Dude, she smiled at me!”
The boys ordered wings. By now, they were thoroughly enjoying the party atmosphere. The warm ocean breeze, the sound of the surf, the attention of sexy girls, the steady rhythm of classic rock pulsing in the background…
Suddenly, the music stopped, and Daniel heard someone calling his name.
He turned to see a figure standing near the bar. It was a female figure, a strangely familiar female figure. It was … Snow White!
Okay, it was a Snow White impersonator, but a damn good one—a dainty brunette with a porcelain complexion, ruby lips, a blue bodice with puffed sleeves and a huge white collar—and she was gliding in Daniel’s direction, a look of innocent devotion on her face. She was carrying a boom-box.
“Happy birthday, big boy!” Snow White said, placing the boom-box on the table and planting a kiss on Daniel’s cheek. His buddy snickered, and applause and whispers rippled through the restaurant.
Snow White pressed a button, and the strains of “Someday My Prince Will Come” filled the dining room. “Dance with me!” she said, dragging Daniel to his feet. Then, for what seemed like an eternity, she waltzed the blushing boy from table to table, pausing only to announce to individual diners and servers, “This is Daniel, and he is sixteen years old today!”
When we called our son later that night, he was still seething. “NOT funny,” he said.
Allie and I tried to be sympathetic, but we couldn’t stop laughing. “Believe me,” I told him, “Someday you will understand just how funny it was.”
* * *
It might be difficult for you to believe that I did not find Hooters the least bit titillating back then, but it’s true. The reason was simple. I was not moved by the sight of scantily clad girls because I was secretly staring at naked girls every day, often many times a day, and the constant exposure to all that bare flesh had left me numb.
That is one of the corrosive effects of pornography: desensitization. Because the brain learns to tolerate the chemical release stimulated by arousal, the intensity of provocative images required to produce the same effect increases with repeated exposure. After two decades of looking at porn, a trip to Hooters was no more stimulating to me than a sip of coffee to a cocaine addict.
There was another sinister side effect of all that porn use; it had blinded me to the beauty of my wife. Allie has always been a beautiful woman, but she hasn’t always known it, and she has naturally looked to me, her husband, for feedback. I am the biggest mirror in her life. Pornography, however, drew me into a world of air-brushed images and artificial intimacy, a fantasy world so seductive and deceptive that no flesh-and-blood woman can compete with it for long.
Allie watched my growing indifference, my emotional withdrawal, and concluded that child-bearing and aging had destroyed her beauty. In her darker moments of self-doubt, she took my disinterest as proof that she had become uninteresting—not just physically, but intellectually as well. Her entire self-image was affected.
That, I think, was one of the main motivations in Allie’s desire to move to Tennessee. She was hoping that a fresh start in a new place might help us get back to the closeness we had felt when we first met. I was hoping for the same thing, And as it turned out, that is exactly what happened—although it came about in a way that neither of us had anticipated. It was in Tennessee that I finally admitted my addiction to lust, became willing to face the devastation it had caused, and started the long and fruitful journey of recovery that I’ve described in Samson and the Pirate Monks.