I read the autobiography of Larry Flynt as a senior in high school. It was out of print, but I found one at the library. I’d been inspired by the movie The People vs. Larry Flynt, and because I’d learned we had the same birthday: November 1, the day after Halloween. Also I was lonely, and I wanted something to think about when I wasn’t practicing guitar obsessively. The fact that I could drive to the library and grab a book about porn, for free, felt like a big deal. Part of it was because driving was a new thing in my life, and I was excited about the possibilities there. I assumed the autobiography of Larry Flynt was only the beginning.
Meanwhile, I was giving guitar lessons, and sometimes I would walk around with $100 in my pocket. That, plus driving, made me feel like maybe I could do whatever I wanted. I spent a lot of time rattling my skull listening to heavy metal music, thinking I could go anywhere and do anything, trying to imagine big moves. But all I ended up doing was reading Larry Flynt’s book.
It’s a cool autobiography. He talks about growing up in Kentucky, in the piss and shit. At a certain point, he explains the logistics of maintaining an erection while being paralyzed from the waist down. It involves using a pump, not unlike what you’d use to fill up a bicycle tire. He says the pump-erection system is a far cry from the real thing, but it’s better than nothing for a guy living the rest of his days in a wheelchair.
He also says he knows he’ll never be happy again because the love of his life died of a drug overdose. That’s how the book ends: with Larry Flynt saying, bluntly and matter-of-factly, that he will always be sad. It’s probably the reason I’ve spent the rest of my life being moved by the autobiographies of heterosexual male psychos: David Lee Roth, Lenny Bruce, Mike Tyson. Larry Flynt was the first version of that dude I ever studied. He was a problematic and fascinating champion in his field. He would have been a good guest on Rogan.
I remember being sad when I drove back to the library to return the book. Sad because the book was over and my friend was going back on the shelf, and sad also because Larry Flynt was sad. I thought to myself, “I’m rooting for ya.”
After I finished the autobiography, I entered an intense period of anti-fun. This was the dark, lawless winter of 12th grade. People had mostly finished their college applications and wanted to party, but I didn’t feel like it. On Friday nights I would go running, by myself, and then stay home and practice guitar. I missed my ex-girlfriend, who was a freshman at the University of Chicago. Like Larry Flynt, I could not imagine a route to my own happiness.
On top of that, I had been the one saying we should break up, when my older ex-girlfriend was about to go to college. I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I thought ya know, seasons change, and also I wanted to hook up with the new girl in my high school. But then the new girl started dating some new guy I’d never heard of, and meanwhile, my ex-girlfriend sent me an email from orientation saying a member of the U Chicago football team had helped her move into her dorm.
That was the moment I became a heterosexual male psycho. I began my campaign of anti-fun, lifting weights after cross-country practice and going running on Sundays, the team’s day off. A lot of my friends had graduated, and the guys I had left were pro-fun. Not me. I was the after-puberty version of the boy in Little Miss Sunshine who doesn’t talk, because of vague ideas about Nietzsche. In my case, it was vague ideas about practicing guitar and running, and trying to make myself into the sort of grim, resolute nutcase they make movies about.
I wondered if my cross-country coach and my guitar teacher were my only friends. I wondered why the new girl didn’t like me, even though I was tall and under 8% body fat. What was holding her back? I sensed, and dreaded, that she was wondering whether I was a person whose only friends were 40-year-old male authority figures. I think everyone was wondering that.
It hadn’t always been that way. New Girl and I had sat next to each other in 3rd period, back in 11th grade. Due to a weird coincidence, both our schedules had forced us to take sewing class as an elective. She was the new girl, and I was the only boy in sewing. It was clear that it was on between us, except that I had a girlfriend, so really it was off. It ended up being a pretty sexy sewing class though. One time she asked me, flat-out, “Are you still dating that girl?”
Something I miss about high school is that girls said stuff like that, just putting it out there completely. I didn’t know that comes to an end. The signals change as you get older, and some of them are still obvious and great, but I didn’t know it was rare for adult women to look at you and say, “Are you still dating that girl?”
That’s what I was enjoying about life in 11th grade. By the time 12th grade started, it was over. New Girl lost interest in me, or maybe she wanted to pay me back for flirting with her relentlessly every day for a year, just to entertain myself. Either way, I was running the best races of my life, soaking up praise from my guitar teacher, and living in total agony.
I wondered whether me and New Girl ever had a chance, even though I was completely certain that we did. So then I would wonder if it was just that the timing was wrong, that we’d met at the wrong moment in life, and because of that fact alone, we were doomed. I grinded out 40 miles a week on the pain of that thought. When I couldn’t take it anymore, I switched to thinking about the only thing that was more excruciating, which was that I had dumped the girlfriend I was actually in love with, for no reason except I was dizzy from sewing class, and also that I was selfish. Then I would remember the sentence, “A guy on the football team helped me move in,” and I would hate myself.
Maybe it was time to use my $100 and my parents’ car. Maybe I should drive to the University of Chicago and find my ex-girlfriend, like in The Graduate. Maybe this was my chance to do whatever I wanted. Those were the thoughts, but I didn’t act on any of them. I just practiced guitar, and went running, and read the autobiography of a sad guy in a wheelchair with a bicycle pump for a dick.