Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Bukkake Social Club

Leah was my secret. I didn’t talk about her, or blog about her, or invite her to meet my friends at my orgies. We saw each other regularly, and I liked that it was just between us. We drank bourbon, we talked about smart things, we had brilliant sex. Wild horses couldn’t have dragged a word from me about any of it.

She seemed just as content with our discretion. In public, my bite marks were hidden underneath her clothes, the welts from my cane readily felt and easily disguised. In private, she never refused me any request and relished being told what to do.

Leah had a way of compartmentalizing to keep our relationship tidy, maintaining a cool reserve that didn’t interfere with our measured intimacy. She kept a few things at my place—ear plugs to block my snoring, a speculum that we kept forgetting to use—but she always traveled with her own toothbrush.

She knew about my blog, although we didn’t talk about it much. I wasn’t even sure she read it. She also knew about my orgies, but she didn’t ask to attend. I might have assumed she simply wasn’t interested had I not also known that she was, first and foremost, exceptionally well mannered. She would never pry or ask for an invitation to anything.

Being beautiful also worked in her favor. Life had taught her that any invitation she wanted was likely to come to her.

This dame was a class act. Just watching her hold a glass as she talked, resting it in the palm of one hand as she held it between the manicured fingers of the other, I inevitably thought of the word “poise.”

Her innate composure held the same intrigue for me as a house of cards holds for a cat. I was compelled to comprehend it even at the risk of scattering it to pieces.

One evening, I extended an invitation.“Would you like,” I said, resting my bourbon glass on my knee, “to be my guest for the Bukkake Social Club?”

She didn’t miss a beat. “Why, thank you for the charming invitation, but what is that?”

I explained. “Well, as you know, Leah, I host a few orgies each month. One of these is a mixed party of bisexual men and women. It’s very popular, and there are always new men who want to be invited. This puts me in a bind, as we want a good gender ratio. If I add a male, I like to add a female.”

“Naturally. You’re a good host.”

“I do my level best,” I smiled. “So this imbalance finds me in a quandary. I am left with a group of men who are all perfectly satisfactory—attractive, polite and bisexual, or at least bi-friendly—and nothing to do with them. So I was struck by the thought that perhaps I could start a new event for them. And thus was born the Bukkake Social Club.

“The Bukkake Social Club meets every couple of weeks. At each session, I present a different female guest. The gentleman undress and I undress our guest. They then watch as our guest and I have sex. The gentlemen are not permitted to touch our guest, though they are invited to interact with one another if they choose. At the meeting’s end, the gentleman cum on our guest and then leave.” I took another sip. “And then, you know, we keep fucking.”

Leah laughed. “I’m in. How can I resist an opportunity to be the center of attention?”

“Cheers.” I raised my glass. “And can I tell you something funny about the Bukkake Social Club? I don’t impose a time limit, but a meeting has never once gone over forty-five minutes. One boy will announce that he’s going to cum, and once he does, it’s a chain reaction. They all cum.”

“That’s interesting,” she nodded. “Sort of a tribal male ritual?”

“That, or the porn effect,” I shrugged. “They all know their roles, having seen it often enough in bukkake porn. Either way, they are going to really enjoy making a mess of you.”

“You say the sweetest things,” Leah said, extending a leg to press her toes against my groin.”

I put down my glass and extended a hand.

The next day, Leah emailed two pictures for me to forward to the gentlemen. One showed her body as she lay flat on crisp white sheets. The other was shot in a mirror, the camera obscuring her face but revealing her large breasts and slender waist.

The gentlemen responded with terrific enthusiasm.

On the evening the Bukkake Social Club next convened, Leah was late to leave work. Several of the gentlemen had already arrived when I opened the door for her. They stood as one when I introduced her to the room.

“Gentlemen, this is Leah. Leah, may I introduce Timothy, Bill, Jeremy, Max, Chris, Philip, Eric . . .”

Leah raised a hand. “Oh, I’m sorry, I’ll never remember names,” she said. “Unless I have to, and I’d rather not.”

The men laughed nervously. Although many of them had been members of the Bukkake Social Club for a while, the first moments of each session still felt awkward for some.

“Not at all,” I said. “Drink?”

“Yes, please.” Leah looked to the couch. One of the gentlemen moved aside to make room. “Thanks,” she said, sitting at the vacated space near one end.

Leah was chatting with the gentlemen when I returned with her vodka and seltzer. (I had learned that she couldn’t tolerate the quinine of tonic water, and so I kept seltzer for her.) She was a natural, I observed. She could manage any cocktail party with aplomb, even one such as this.

Typically, I preferred that the guest arrive before the gentlemen so that the two of us would have time to get in the right frame of mind. Now, that would just have to happen in a group setting. But it would need to happen reasonably soon, as some of the men needed to get home to dinner with their wives or girlfriends.

There was a knock at the door. “This fellow is late, but he’s lucky we’re off to a late start tonight,” I said, standing. I opened the door to find one of the new guys.

“Hey, Jefferson? Jacob, man. Sorry I’m late.”

“No worries, Jacob. We’re off to a late start.” I took his hand. “Come in, I’ll introduce you.”

He smiled. I closed the door behind him.

My mind flipped through its Rolodex of club applicants. Jacob was bisexual, right? I would need to look back into that. For in that moment at the door, I had catalogued his lips, his smile, and the way he said my name. I was beginning to assemble the necessary ingredients for a hearty crush.

I introduced Jacob to the room. Seating positions were adjusted and the late arrival sat next to the guest of honor.

“So you’re Leah?” he said, offering a hand. “I’m Jacob.” He chuckled as they shook hands. “Interesting way to meet, huh?”

“Oh yes, but how else do you meet the most interesting people?”

“I suppose so,” Jacob nodded. “So how do you know Jefferson?”

“Craig’s List, though that seems a long time ago. How do you know him?”

“Craig’s List, too, but kind of indirectly. I know someone who came to this bukkake thing and he told me I had to check it out. So I’m checking it out.”

“Oh right, Robby,” I recalled. “How’s he doing?”

“I guess he’s okay,” Jacob said. “He said hey, sorry he can’t make it.”

“Send him my regards.” Robby was a cute twink who tended to cling to the walls at our events. I pictured Jacob and him naked together, wondering if that’s how they knew one another.

“Hey, Leah, can I ask you a question?” Jacob said. “Do you work in midtown?”

Leah moved her glass to her palm. “Yes. Why?”

Jacob ran a hand through his hair. He asked if she worked in a particular building. She did. He asked if she worked for a particular company. She did.“Yeah, well, so do I. I’ve seen you in the elevators. I thought that was you.”

I cringed. Leah was content with our discretion and now I had brought in a co-worker to watch us fuck.

The two passed a volley of company gossip. I watched the faces of the other gentlemen. This was unprecedented in our social club, and it threatened to upset our decorum. I needed to address this.

“Leah, sorry to interrupt,” I began. “But are you comfortable having Jacob here? I mean, if it’s a problem, we can just have him back another time when you won’t be our guest.”

“Oh no, I can totally have him fired.”

“It’s true, she can so fire my ass.”

The men laughed. “Well, if that is resolved,” I said, standing. “Then I would like to officially open this session of the Bukkake Social Club. Gentlemen?”

The gentlemen stood and began to remove their clothes. Jacob looked around and began to do the same. I remained clothed for now.

Leah sat back with her drink. “Hmm, I’m enjoying this.”

“All for you, pretty,” I smiled, waving a hand to the assembly.

A moment before, there had been a group of guys sitting around, chatting nervously. Now they were gone, replaced by virile bodies, handsome faces and cocks that were filling with anticipation. Leah slowly sipped her drink, letting her eyes take in the men who would soon be so intent on looking at her.

I watched Jacob’s body emerge from his clothes. He pulled off a black t-shirt to reveal a lean torso decorated by old-school tattoos that had no immediately discernable relationship to one another. A Star of David hung from his neck.

“A fellow Jew with tattoos,” Leah smiled approvingly. She raised a fist in the air. “Huzzah!”

“Oh yeah?” Jacob replied, unfastening his wide belt. “You too?” His pants lowered with the jangle of the chain that connected his wallet to a belt loop.

“You’ll see soon enough,” Leah said, lowering her eyes as she first saw Jacob’s thick cock.

I glanced at Jacob’s body, surreptitiously cataloguing. Certainly, there was nothing about his appearance that would quell the threat of an incipient crush.

Physically, he was just little slighter than me. I imagined unzipping my skin and wrapping him in it; the fit would be just right.

Jacob looked around at the other nude men. He brought his palms together with a clap. “Okay,” he said, involuntarily.

“Gentlemen, I recommend that we adjourn to the bedroom.” I took Leah’s hand. “Shall we?”

“You lead, I follow,” she said.

When she stood, I turned her to face the men. I moved her hair to kiss the back of her neck, inhaling deeply. I took her arms behind her back and wrapped them in my right arm. I twirled her suddenly to face the other direction. “Actually,” I said, “Why don’t you lead?”

She stepped forward haltingly, unable to move beyond my restrictions on her body. I pressed myself against her back and turned her to enter the bedroom. The gentlemen followed, forming a semi-circle around the bed.

I released Leah and turned her. I lowered my lips to hers. My hands moved down her body. I pulled her top up and over her head. I kept my eyes on her as I spoke. “Gentlemen, let’s take a moment to revisit the club rules. You are welcome to watch and jerk off. If you want to touch another fellow, make sure it’s okay before you touch. You aren’t to touch Leah . . .”

“It’s okay above the waist,” Leah interjected.

“A fortunate revision, gentlemen.” I turned Leah to face the assembly. I unfastened her bra.“Whoa,” Timothy said.

Leah smiled. “Before anyone asks: yes, they are real.”

My hands cupped her breasts from behind. “Hmmm, and spectacular.” I lowered my teeth to her shoulder.

“Unnnh,” Leah squirmed, closing her eyes. I pinched a nipple.

I stood back and reached around to unfasten her pants. She raised her legs to step from them. I kicked them aside. I ran my hands along her hips, fingering her thong panties, caressing her flat belly, watching over her shoulder as the men gazed at her body. No one was looking at me; I was merely the barker showcasing the main attraction.

I ran a cheek across Leah’s shoulders, a private gesture between us. Her breathing accelerated. My eyes were closed, savoring her scent and touch. When I opened my eyes, I saw Jacob looking at me. I closed my eyes again, smiling inwardly, growing hard in my clothes.

I slipped my hands into the strands of her thong. “Gentlemen, also please recall that you are not to cum in Leah’s face or in her mouth.” I crouched, lowering Leah’s panties as I sank. “That said, we want to give her a good soaking, so when you do cum, please be sure you cover her.” I stood, wrapping my arms around her. “May I suggest you consider her tits as your target?”

“Shit,” Eric said, stroking fast. He looked as if he were ready to explode.

I turned Leah to face me. I undressed and put my hands to her face. “It’s me,” I whispered. “And you.”

Leah nodded. I lead her to the bed and lay her back. I spread her thighs and ran a finger along her slit. “Wet,” I assessed. “Very nice.” I lowered my face to taste her, burrowing my nose into her smooth, soft pubis. She twisted, breathing fast. Her eyes were closed. I knew they would remain closed until I told her to open them.

The men pressed close. Eric knelt on the bed over her body. He raised a hand, but halted. “I can touch you?” he asked. Leah sucked a deep breath and nodded.

Eric’s hand shook slightly as he caressed a breast. Other hands joined his on her. I soon felt Leah quiver in my mouth. I flicked her clit steadily, prepared for her orgasm.I

t came quietly as her body bucked, her soft high wail filling my ears. “Fuck, that’s hot,” Chris admired. He looked to another man. “God, she’s so hot.”

“Yes, isn’t she?” I agreed. I took a condom and tore the package. I pulled her to the bed’s edge. She moaned as I entered her. I stood with her legs against my chest, exposing her body to the eyes and hands of the gentlemen. This was a show; they wanted to see her, not merely watch my back humping over her. I had cast myself as a supporting actor.

Leah’s hands went back over her head. I recognized this as a sign of her surrender. Often, I pinned her back as I fucked her. “Jacob, do me a favor,” I asked. “Hold Leah’s arms back, please.”

“Sure.” Jacob dropped his cock and knelt on the bed behind Leah’s head. She crossed her forearms as he took him in his grip. She squirmed against his hold. Jacob held firm.

“Good boy. Thanks.” I pressed back on Leah’s thighs and fucked into her with deep thrusts. She responded by cumming again. As she came, I saw that she held Jacob’s cock in her confined hands.

As her wail subsided, I nodded at Jacob, gesturing that he should release her arms. He did, and her hands fell away from his cock. I leaned forward and took Leah’s jaw in my right hand. I roughly turned her to face me.“Open your eyes, Leah.” She opened her eyes, nodding as best she could in my grip. “Come here, Jacob.” I turned my eyes to direct him to kneel at her side. I turned Leah’s face in his direction. “Take a look at Jacob. Isn’t he beautiful?”

She nodded.

“Look at his hair, his face, his body.” Leah’s eyes lowered. “Look at that cock. Don’t you want it?”

She nodded.

“Leah, we have a rule at the Bukkake Social Club. You don’t get to blow the boys. Do you understand that rule?”

She nodded. I could hear the men breathing heavily around me, but I kept my eyes on Leah. I shifted her face from my right hand to my left.

“But Leah,” I continued. “That rule does not apply to me.” I turned my face and took Jacob’s cock in my hand. My eyes locked on his as I took it in my mouth. He nodded as I swallowed him, shoving him in and out of my mouth.

I moved the fingers of my left hand into her mouth, pressing to the back of her tongue as I sucked Jacob’s cock. I pressed deeper into her cunt, keeping her full.I knew her eyes were open, as I had instructed.I pulled back and looked at her. I took Jacob’s cock in my hand and guided him a few steps to one side. I leaned over Leah and kissed her. I moved my face back slightly and once again took Jacob in my mouth. His cock brushed lightly over her lips as I sucked him.

Leah opened her mouth to taste him. I pulled her hair with my free hand. She yelped.I dropped the cock from my mouth, drool running into her face. “You are such a slut, Leah.” I pulled out of her. “Turn over.”

Leah weakly turned on her front, then up on her knees. I lubed her ass and slid into her. She groaned and fell forward slightly.

“No, Leah, you must remain upright.” I grabbed her shoulder and fucked into her hard. “Godammit, you are hopeless. Jacob, I’m sorry, but can you lend another hand?”

He came to my side. “What can I do?”

I slapped Leah’s ass. She sighed. “I give up. She’s a slut and there’s nothing to be done about it. Go put your cock in her mouth, please.”

Leah looked back at me. "Yes, please, please put your cock in my mouth!"

Jacob smiled. “Sure, Jefferson, anything you say.”“

Fucking hot,” Philip said.Jacob positioned himself in front of Leah’s face, spreading his legs wide to accommodate her elbows. She lowered her mouth to his cock tentatively.

“No Leah, you wanted that cock, you take it.” I grabbed her hair and pushed her up and down Jacob’s shaft. He rested a hand on the back of her neck, so I could focus on her ass. I grabbed her hips and stood back to push into her hard and fast.

“Damn,” Chris said.

“Yeah, with this one, you have to be sure she feels it.” I spanked her, alternating buttocks as if galloping her onward. “How’s that cocksucking, Jacob?”

Jacob looked up, his hands on Leah’s temples. “Feels awesome,” he said, laughing.

“Hold ‘er steady, then, we’re taking ‘er home.” I was having a hell of a good time. I knew Leah had gone pretty far into herself, but we’d get her back in time. As for Jacob, he was a natural wingman.

After an eternity of fucking Leah’s ass at my top speed, I slowed up. “Whew, man, I’m exhausted,” I said, pulling out. “Jacob, drop the blowjob for a second.” I grabbed Leah’s hair and pulled her head back. Jacob retrieved his cock and scooted over the bed’s edge.

I grabbed Leah’s hips and flipped her over. “Get a condom, Jacob. I need a break, so you’re taking over.”

“You’re serious?” Jacob looked from me to Leah.

“Yeah, I’m serious. Seriously beat. Thanks for pitching in.” I tugged the condom from my cock and threw it on the floor. It landed with a thwack.

Jacob opened a condom as I leaned in to Leah’s ear. “You don’t mind if the cute boy fucks you a little bit, do you, Leah?”

She shook her head, eyes closed. “Thank you for the cute boy,” she whispered. I kissed her hair.

I wrapped a forearm around Leah’s head as Jacob spread her legs. He leaned forward on his extended arms and began to jackhammer.

The gentlemen moved closer to watch. I intended to give my cock a break, but I could resist touching myself as he fucked her. Here were two gorgeous people who had just met, fucking in a circle of aroused naked men. And why?

Because I made it happen.

That realization filled me. If I had pockets at that moment, they might have been filled with Zuzu’s petals.

After a time, I checked the clock. We needed to wrap this up to keep on schedule.“Okay, Jacob, I’m tapping you out.” I kissed Leah’s forehead and stood. “Let’s finish this.”

Jacob slowed his thrusts. “Oh, okay, you want me to stop?”

“Yes, but stay nearby,” I instructed, lubing a new condom. “Leah honey, stay with me.” She nodded, eyes closed, as I pushed into her. I stood with my knees apart and spread back her limber legs. “How’s that view, Eric?”

“Fuck man, that’s fucking hot.” Eric moved closer, tugging fast on his cock.“You ready to soak her, man?” I asked, rocking back and forth in her.

“Yeah, you want me too?”

“Yeah, man, get it started.”

“Okay, man, I’ve going to pop.” Eric leaned over Leah’s breasts and beat himself furiously, watching Leah watch him. “Shit, shit, shit,” he moaned, spraying Leah’s right breast and neck.

“Shit man, I going to cum,” Chris panted, pressing forward.

I smiled at Jacob. Like clockwork, I thought, as Chris unloaded on Leah’s ribcage.

Timothy and Jeremy were almost simultaneous. The others lined up to make their contributions. Bill kept us waiting for a bit as we offered encouragement.

“C’mon man, bust that nut,” Timothy said, his eyes on Bill’s cock.

“Yeah, I’m gonna cover her . . .” I realized this was the first thing Bill had said all night.

“Do it man, give that slut what she needs.”

Bill pressed his hips forward and grunted. His heavy drops splashed like petals landing in the puddle on Leah’s body.

“Fucking a’, dude,” Eric laughed. “That’s too damn hot.”

“Okay gentlemen, nicely done.” I pulled out and walked around to Leah’s face. I kissed her cheek. “You did very well, pretty. Now I’m going to clean you up. Don’t move.”

I left to retrieve a warm washcloth. The gentlemen tidied up with tissues. Jacob stood watching. He started to remove the condom still on his cock.

I looked up from washing Leah. “Hey, why don’t you fuck her, very gently? That would be nice.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah, let’s treat her sweetly. She’s worked very hard.”

“As I said, such a good host.” Leah grinned as she gave me a thumbs up.

Jacob nodded and slowly entered her. Leah moaned softly, as if she now felt him for the first time.

Leah’s belly glistened with the sheen of drying semen. The gentlemen each took a moment to thank Leah.

She was alert now, eyes wide open. “Well, thank you, guys. That was really nice.”

“’Nice’ doesn’t begin to describe it,” Eric marveled. “You are smoking.”

“Thanks.” Leah smiled and turned her attention to Jacob. “I especially like this one.”

“Me too.” I put my arm on Jacob’s waist and kissed his neck. “You two take care; I’m going to show out the fellows.” I grabbed my clothes and went to join the men in the living room.

When I returned to the bedroom, Leah and Jacob were stretched out on the bed. They laughed as they talked.

I took off my shirt. “Did you notice the time? We broke the forty-five minute mark, but just barely.”

Jacob looked at the clock. “Are you serious? That wasn’t even an hour, huh?”

“Like clockwork,” Leah nodded.

“Yeah, like clockwork.” I pulled off my shorts. “So what do you think? You two want to break and have drinks, or should we just fuck some more?”

Leah looked to Jacob, then back to me. “Can’t you just make the decisions?”

“Yeah, whatever you want,” Jacob agreed.

I smiled.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Blindspots: Art School, Nineteen-Seventies

My parents once attended a business function featuring a surprise guest entertainer. As the event progressed, the lights dimmed. An announcer intoned a lengthy build-up over drum rolls before concluding: “Ladies and gentlemen, the hardest working man in show business . . . James Brown!” A spotlight revealed the dancing entrance of the Godfather of Soul. The astonished crowd stood and cheered.   

My mother sat in place, her arms crossed. “Why aren’t you dancing?” Dad asked. 

“I’m not applauding a wife beater,” she scowled. 

I rolled my eyes when I first heard this story. James Brown! How could anyone sit out a surprise concert by James Brown? Only the most sanctimonious killjoy could skip that beat. More evidence, were it needed in my teens, that Mom just wasn’t cool. 

It was true that James Brown had been arrested multiple times for domestic violence. He had been jailed for assault. This was widely known as part of the lore of the man behind the music. But the music is the thing. Popular music is filled with stories of excess, drug abuse, scandals, ruined lives—such is the stuff of legend, part of the escapism, the voyeurism of celebrity. Legends don’t live by our rules.

Last October, facing multiple accusations of harassment, assault and rape, Harvey Weinstein offered this explanation: “I came of age in the sixties and seventies, when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different.” I thought, “Yeah, good luck with that, buddy.” But I felt that he did have a point. 

The rules really were different then. The era’s sexual revolution seemed to open a Pandora’s box of sexual activity in which pretty much anything went in freeing the bonds of Puritanism. It was an extraordinarily liberating time. Everyone was trying new things. 

I was a kid at the time—born in 1964—and grew up admiring idylls of sexual freedom and Dionysian abandon. When Weinstein schooled us that “the rules were different,” I retreated to my conviction that while he’s a unique kind of monster, yeah, that was then, this is now. 

Then I caught myself. Why do I think that? How did I come to that immediate reaction? 

After Weinstein’s “apology,” accusations against prominent men in media came on a near-daily basis. Some were men I admired. Others, less so. One Wednesday morning, I announced to my girlfriend, “ . . . and now, it’s Matt Lauer.” She replied that she had always thought he was creepy. That struck me: I didn’t care about Matt Lauer, but does that make any difference? Do I feel differently when the accused offender is someone I do admire? 

As in past scandals of sexual malfeasance, public discussion turned to Woody Allen and Roman Polanski. I had long registered their behavior as generational, the overreach of men who had been influential artists of the sexual revolution. Their misadventures could be chalked up to the tabloid foibles of celebrities. 

But what if I was thinking about this all wrong? 

I couldn’t keep with the pace of current accusations, but I could look into those from my lived memory. No one was alleging anything new about either Allen or Polanski, so these were something of closed cases in public discourse. Of the two, Allen’s story is more frequently revisited, particularly in light of his son Ronan Farrow’s recent reporting. Nonetheless, it is also a story specific to a particularly troubled family. 

If I were to burrow into the belly of the beast, I thought it better to start by researching Roman Polanski. There were some unique elements in this story: 

First, Polanski was found guilty of raping an underage girl. This was not an allegation. The truth was settled without question: there is no discussion of “he said, she said.” 

Second, I admire Polanski’s films. At a young age, I learned to regard his art as canonical. His art and his rape have always been intertwined in my mind. 

Third, the rape happened in 1977, a long time ago. We’re told the seventies were different times. I was fourteen back then, just a kid, but I’ve repeated that point of view in excusing the excesses of my artistic elders. 

These are facts. Polanski raped a girl. He’s made great films. It was a long time ago. 

Before looking deeper, I took stock of what else I already believed to be true, factual or otherwise.

Roman Polanski directed three films that I had seen as a young artist: “Repulsion” (1965), which established Catherine Deneuve as a star; “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968), which established Mia Farrow as a star; and “Chinatown” (1974), which catapulted Jack Nicholson into mainstream films. Each film masterfully redefined a genre—horror, psychological thriller, film noir. Polanski had gone on to a prolific career, including many films I enjoyed, including “The Pianist” (2002), for which the director won an Oscar, among three for the film. 

So far as his personal life went, I knew that Polanski’s wife Sharon Tate had been murdered by the Manson family. At some point, Polanski had sex with an underage girl at a party at Jack Nicholson’s house. There was some sham trial, and he had escaped the United States in favor of France. Many in Hollywood lobbied for his return. As for the girl, she had long since said this was much ado about nothing; from her point of view, it was time to move on.

Now, to check what I believed to be true against unknown or less familiar facts, I first turned to Polanski’s memoir, the cleverly entitled Roman by Polanski, originally published in 1984.

By any metric, Polanksi had a traumatic early life. Born in Paris in 1933, his childhood began in a Jewish ghetto in Kraków, in Nazi-occupied Poland. He survived childhood by fleeing to be raised by strangers. His parents, sister and grandmother were taken to concentration camps; only his father and sister returned. Polanski held out hope that his mother would return, only to learn at age twelve that she was gassed at Auschwitz. She had been pregnant when he last saw her. 

Following the war, Polanski grew up under Soviet rule, studying as a filmmaker before fleeing to France. With the success of “Repulsion” and greater American renown with “Rosemary’s Baby,” Polanski emerged as Hollywood’s brilliant enfant terrible. He married actress Sharon Tate and settled with her in a home in Los Angeles canyon. On August 8, 1969, Tate and four friends were murdered there by the Manson family. Tate was eight months pregnant with their child. Although Polanski was in London at the time of the murders, he returned to intense public speculation that their lifestyle was somehow to blame. 

All of this had transpired before Polanski was forty. 

Eager to escape media scrutiny following the murders, Polanski fled to Europe. He settled into a Swiss chalet, which, he realized, was close to several girls’ boarding schools. He began sneaking young girls to his home for overnight parties. “Kathy, Madeleine, Sylvia and others whose names I forget played a fleeting but therapeutic role in my life,” he wrote. “They were all between sixteen and nineteen years old . . . They took to visiting my chalet, not necessarily to make love—though some of them did—but to listen to rock music and sit around the fire and talk.”

At one such party, Polanski was having sex with a fourteen-year-old girl and invited her reluctant friend into a threesome. That’s how he met Natassja Kinski, then fifteen years old. Polanski made Kinksi his protégé, and they continued to have an ongoing sexual relationship. He determined to bring her to Hollywood as his discovery. 

(Polanski’s memoir promptly contradicts his assertion that all the girls were between sixteen and nineteen. It also omits mention that the daughter of actor Klaus Kinski scarcely needed discovering. Polanski would eventually direct his protégé in “Tess” (1979), which garnered three Oscars. For her part, Natassja Kinski has denied Polanski’s claim of a sexual relationship. “There was a flirtation,” she said in 1999. “There could have been a seduction, but there was not. He had respect for me.”)

For contemporary readers of Polanski’s memoir, the subject of most immediate interest would have been the scandal that followed when he returned to Hollywood to direct his first film since the Manson murders. Before leaving Europe, he was asked to act as guest editor for a special issue of the French edition of Vogue. Polanski proposed a photo spread focused on the erotic sensuality of girls in their early teens. Polanski’s interest was certainly personal, given his recent life in Switzerland, but also cultural: pre-menarche girls were frequently sexualized in the era’s popular media. 

Polanski wrote that he arrived in Los Angeles with a lead on a thirteen-year-old model to whom he gave the pseudonym “Sandra.” In February 1977, he met the girl and her mother at their home, showing them photographs he had already made with Kinski and describing his plans to bring her to Hollywood. Sandra’s mother, an aspiring actress, shared her daughter’s interest in Polanski’s renown.  

The next week, he returned for a photo shoot. The mother had assumed she would be joining, but Polanski insisted on taking the daughter alone to a private area nearby. There, Polanski photographed her topless—“she had nice breasts,” he recalled of her undeveloped body. He asked for a second session several weeks later, on March 10. Once again, the two were unaccompanied. After a brief session in which Sandra again posed topless, Polanski proposed moving to another site, the home of his friend, Jack Nicholson. 

Nicholson’s caretaker admitted them to an otherwise empty house. Polanski resumed the shoot outdoors. Sandra was gradually directed to pose in a Jacuzzi—now nude and served champagne. When Polanski stripped and joined her, Sandra complained about the heat and began wheezing with an asthma attack. Polanski took her inside where, he wrote, they were soon “making love.” They were interrupted by the arrival of Nicholson’s girlfriend, Anjelica Houston, who called to them from another room. Sandra grabbed her clothes and raced to Polanski’s car to await her return home. 

Sandra told her boyfriend about her experiences with Polanski. Her sister overheard and told her mother, who contacted the police. Polanski was arrested and charged with five felony counts: rape by use of drugs, perversion, sodomy, lewd and lascivious act upon a child under fourteen and furnishing a controlled substance to a minor. These charges were dropped when he agreed to plead guilty to the single charge of statutory rape. Prior to sentencing, he was briefly confined to jail for a psychiatric evaluation. On release, unsure of the judge’s objectivity and feeling he had fulfilled his plea bargain, Polanski did what he had been conditioned to do since boyhood: he fled. 

Mind, this was Polanski’s own telling of the story.

The memoir was published in the year of Reagan’s reelection, when I was twenty years old, when the conservatism of the eighties was beginning to supplant the licentiousness of the seventies. Samantha’s rape, the trial and the attendant publicity had happened just seven years prior. 

Polanski’s memoir described his life at a calm remove, particularly sanguine in light of the traumas he related. These received the same descriptive distance as stories of his filmmaking process. He freely told of his sex with young girls in Europe, where he faced no charges. He obfuscated on prosecution claims of providing Sandra with drugs and champagne—supporting elements of his plea bargain—while freely admitting the rape (“she was not unresponsive,” he chillingly assures readers). He admitted to committing a crime. He simply didn’t feel he deserved to do more time for it.

Polanski endured the media scrutiny of the trial as he had that following the murder of his friends and pregnant wife: with the certainty that the public would eventually move to other scandals. This proved to be the case. The director returned to his work, gathering continued accolades and awards. In 1989, at age fifty-two, Polanski married actress Emmanuelle Seigner, thennineteen; the couple have a daughter and a son. Polanski has never returned to the United States. 


As I read Polanski’s memoir, I revisited his films and sought out interviews. Two years after his wife’s murder, Polanski was charming on Dick Cavett, attentive as the host’s other guest described his enjoyment of dating much younger women. After leaving the United States to avoid sentencing in 1978, Polanski opined to Martin Amis, “I realize, if I have killed somebody, it wouldn't have had so much appeal to the press, you see? But . . . fucking, you see, and the young girls. Judges want to fuck young girls. Juries want to fuck young girls everyone wants to fuck young girls!” In a later interview, Charlie Rose implored Polanski to return to Hollywood where he could do his best work.

At the time of Rose’s plea, Polanski was working on “The Pianist.” When the film was nominated for several Academy Awards, speculation turned to the possibility of the director’s return to United States. Larry King interviewed the girl at the center of the infamous scandal, Sandra—or, rather, the thirty-eight-year-old woman now appearing under her real name, Samantha Geimer. Asked what she thought of the trial’s outcome, Geimer replied, “What happened that day, both to Polanski and to some extent the American judicial system—I really think it was a shameful day.”

That comment caught the attention of a documentary filmmaker, Marina Zenovich, who was curious that Geimer held more contempt for the trial than for the accused. Her resulting documentary, “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired” (2008), featured interviews with Polanski, Geimer and others in investigating allegations of bias and irregularity in the proceedings. 

In revisiting the trial, the film had the unintended consequence of reviving interest in the case. While attending a Swiss film festival to accept an award, Polanski was arrested for possible extradition to the United States. He spent 2009-2010 awaiting a decision, at first in prison, then consigned to house arrest in the very chalet to which he had once brought boarding school girls. 

Zenovich followed the events set in motion by her film, resulting in a second documentary, “Roman Polanski: Odd Man Out” (2012), covering the arrest and its aftermath. Now, over three decades after the events of March 10, 1977, new details emerged. 

In his memoir published in 1984, seven years after the fact, Polanski had written: 

“We dried ourselves and each other. She said she was feeling better. Then, very gently, I began to kiss and caress her. After this had gone on for some time, I led her over to the couch. There was no doubt about her experience and lack of inhibition. She spread herself and I entered her. She wasn’t unresponsive.”

In her original testimony to the grand jury, with the recent event fresh in her mind, thirteen-year-old Samantha offered a different perspective.

Uncomfortable with the situation, Samantha faked an asthma attack in the hope of going home. Polanski offered her more champagne and Quaaludes, which she accepted. She repeatedly asked to go home. Instead, she said, “He reached over and he kissed me. And I was telling him, ‘No,’ you know, ‘keep away.’ But I was kind of afraid of him because there was no one else there.”

Samantha described how Polanski licked her vulva—which the child called “performing cuddliness”—before penetrating her vagina.

Samantha was stoned and disoriented. “I was mostly just on and off saying, ‘No, stop,’” she said. “But I wasn’t really fighting because I . . . you know, there was no one else there and I had no place to go.” 

He asked when she had her last period. She couldn’t answer. He asked if she was on the pill. She said she wasn’t. Samantha testified, “He goes, ‘Would you want me to go in through your back?’” 

“No,” she answered, not sure what her meant. Ignoring her, Polanski sodomized Samantha. 

They were interrupted by Huston’s arrival. Samantha seized the moment to escape to his car, in tears. After a brief conversation with Huston, Polanski drove Samantha home, enjoining her to keep their secret. 

Looking back decades later, well after Polanski’s memoir, Geimer’s story remained consistent with her grand jury testimony. 

Polanski wrote that he had “no doubt about her experience and lack of inhibition.” Geimer had attempted to appear worldly to the famous director. She had previously tried champagne, she said, “maybe a glass on New Year’s Eve. But I had no sense of how much to drink. Later, Polanski offered me a Quaalude pill. He asked me if I knew what it was. I didn't want to seem like a stupid kid, so I said, ‘sure.’ And I did know. Quaalude was the drug of choice in Los Angeles in 1977. It was part of the culture. Quaalude pills were depicted on T-shirts and were in the lyrics of pop songs.

“He took me into a dark room, and then I knew, ‘Okay, the guy wants to have sex with you.’ I was surprised, because he didn't really seem to like me much. But I didn't know how to stop him. I had told him that I didn't want to go into that room. When he touched me, I said no. But when ‘no’ didn't work, I didn't know what to do anymore. ‘Let him do it,’ I thought, ‘and then I'll go home.’ I knew what sex was. I had a boyfriend, and yes, we had had sex. At the time, I thought I was an adult.

“I didn't want it. I tried to say no. That makes it rape. Did I think it was rape at the time? No. I thought rape meant physical violence or kidnapping. Then I got home and everyone was shouting, ‘You’re thirteen. It’s rape!’ I was really surprised.” 

In telling her story, Geimer returns to the trauma she experienced as a thirteen-year-old girl. She also returns to the context in which she understood that trauma at the time, and in the years since. 

“There is no justification. Roman should have known better. But you have to recognize that people behaved somewhat differently at the time when it came to sexual matters. Roman believed, as he said later on, that his actions had been based on warmth and affection. And you know what? I believe him. Condemning it from today’s perspective is ignoring the historical context. Nevertheless, it was shitty of him to do it, no matter what he thought at the time, and no matter how he feels today.

“It was 1977. The world was different then. I grew up at a time when thirteen-year-old Jodie Foster played a prostitute in ‘Taxi Driver.’ Soon afterwards, Brooke Shields was in ‘Pretty Baby,’ playing a twelve-year-old prostitute. The sexualization of girls my age was mainstream. It was everywhere. That’s why it didn't seem very odd. I know how strange that sounds today.

“Today it's hard to imagine what the mood was like in the late seventies, especially in Hollywood. Elvis Presley had married Priscilla in the sixties. She was fourteen when Elvis met her. Woody Allen's ‘Manhattan’ was an homage to a middle-aged man in love with a teenager. I saw a photo of Don Johnson with his later wife Melanie Griffith sitting on his lap. She was fourteen when they met. The girl who becomes a woman was no taboo. The term child abuse didn't exist. Or at least no one talked about it.

“Erotic experiences were seen as beneficial. People also believed that emotional growth was fostered by a more expanded—or early—sexuality. And it applied to both sides, to those with power, like Roman, and to the relatively powerless, like me. Roman didn’t see me as a victim.”

It may be surprising that Geimer recalls her rape with an eye toward historical context. Yet for decades, she’s been a footnote in the history of the sexual revolution of the seventies. Discussion of the era’s sexualization of young girls invariably returns to her rape, in which she is depicted as a faceless victim—a label Geimer insistently rejects in reference to her rape. The public treatment of her and her family is another matter. “I would rather relive the evening with Polanski than the court hearing. It was humiliating. Those questions. That's where I was the victim.” 

Geimer was devastated by her representation in the court and the media. She was pressed by the court to reveal her prior sexual experiences. A scandal involving Polanski was the subject of wide media speculation. As was not atypical at the time, Samantha was considered by many to be a willing participant in her rape, despite being a child at the time. 

“My mother and my sister would tell you that I was never the same person after that. I was terrible. I didn't talk to anyone anymore. I didn't come out of my room anymore. I shut down my life. The press, the court, the judges, the photographers, the fear of the trial, the bad things that were said about my mother and me—I couldn’t stand it. But it had nothing to do with Roman. A year later, after Roman had left the country, all I felt was a sense of relief: ‘He’s gone! No more trials! Party!’ I became a stoner. We drank a lot, took LSD, speed, cocaine, Quaaludes, everything.”

With the publication of his memoir in 1984, Polanski seemed to have the final word in narrating Samantha’s rape. Geimer took issue not only with the facts as presented, but with his characterization of herself and her family. In 1988, Geimer took Polanski to court in a civil suit. In a settlement, Polanski agreed to pay her a half million dollars, with interest incurred by his delays in finally fulfilling payment. While Geimer is prohibited from discussing details of the settlement, she insists she is in no way restricted in what she can say about Polanski or her rape. 

Today, Geimer is married and the mother of two adult sons. She lives in Hawaii, not far from her mother. Yet for all its normality, her life has remained inextricably linked to Polanski and that photo shoot in 1977. “We have a shared life, and yet we are complete strangers.” 

“If he could resolve his problems, I'd be happy,” Geimer said. “I hope that would mean I'd never have to talk about this again. Sometimes I feel like we both got a life sentence.”

Following his arrest and detention in 2009, Polanski was eventually spared extradition and returned home with his family. Geimer went on to write a book, The Girl: A Life in the Shadow of Roman Polanski (2013). On the cover was a portrait Polanski had captured during their first photo shoot. 

My research into Polanski was precipitated by the relentless revelations of the burgeoning #metoo movement. I had been uniformed about some of my assumptions. I was unaware of Polanski’s traumatic early life. I had forgotten that Sharon Tate was pregnant at the time of her murder. There had been no party at Jack Nicholson’s house; Polanski had taken his model there with the intent of isolating her. The trial had been botched, corrupted by the intensity of public interest in a Hollywood sex scandal, resulting in sympathy for the most acclaimed fugitive from American justice. 

Samantha Geimer was a revelation. 

Previously, I’d only considered “the girl” (as Geimer referred to her younger self) as someone without a name, or a face, or a life beyond the tabloid scandal, outside the shadow of Roman Polanski.Over the years, I’d picked up the idea that she was cool with Polanski and wanted the whole thing to go away. This unexamined view left me unprepared for the strength of her personality and the fire with which she told her story. Polanski raped her. It was “shitty.” And yet her rancor is reserved for those who would define her without hearing her.  

(For example. in an interview at the time of Polanski’s detention in 2009, Piers Morgan pressed Geimer to decry her rapist. She reiterated that what he did was awful and her treatment in the media no better. “Many people would disagree with you,” interrupted the media personality in cutting off the interview.)

I had gone into my research expecting to arrive at some conclusion about artists who are bad people, about a divide between esthetics and ethics. Polanski is, without doubt, a great filmmaker. I enjoy his movies. Unlike my mom, I continue to dance to James Brown. These men are among many artists who have harmed people. How do we reconcile genius with monstrosity? 

I now realized I had been pursuing the wrong question. Instead, I now wondered, how did I inherit this intellectual blindspot? Why was my instinctive reaction to understand, in accord with Harvey Weinstein’s apology and Geimer’s own view, that the seventies were just a different time? 

At the time of Polanski’s arrest in 2009, many influential people lobbied for his release. Petitions were signed and statements of support offered by such luminaries as Martin Scorsese, Pedro Almodóvar, Steven Soderbergh, Wes Andrerson, Tilda Swinton, Natalie Portman, Sam Mendes, Diane von Furstenberg, Mike Nichols, Salman Rushdie, Milan Kundera and—perhaps unhelpfully—Woody Allen. Weinstein dismissed the absurdity of Polanski’s “so-called crime.”

If I had an inherited blindspot, I was in good company. In questioning it, I was in agreement with Katha Pollitt: “It’s enraging that literary superstars who go on and on about human dignity, and human rights, and even women’s rights (at least when the women are Muslim) either don’t see what Polanski did as rape, or don’t care, because he is, after all, Polanski—an artist like themselves.”

That’s how it is with blindspots: you don’t see them.  

Since my adolescent beginnings as an artist, I had identified with Polanski’s plight. Now, I felt a commonality with Samantha. We’re of the same generation—in fact, we’re the same age. We each put our faith in artistic mentors. As creative kids in the seventies, we had each internalized our mentors’ lessons about how things are. 

I’m also the same age as Natassja Kinski. In fact, I’m the same age as the fourteen-year-old girl Polanski raped the night he met her future protégé. I’m the same age as “Kathy, Madeleine, Sylvia” and the other girls with forgotten names to whom Polanski assigned “a fleeting but therapeutic role.”

Beyond the girls introduced in Polanski’s memoir, I’m also the same age as the four women who came forward to accuse the director in light of Geimer’s public statements and the subsequent #metoo movement. 

Charlotte Lewis was sixteen in 1983, acting on Polanski’s film “Pirates,” when the director sexually abused her “in the worst possible way.” Robin M. was assaulted as a child and lived in fear that if her father knew, he would harm Polanski. Former child model Renate Langer recently reported to police that Polanski raped her twice on a photo shoot in 1972, when she was ten. Marianne Barnard was also ten years old when Polanski assaulted her; she came forward only after her parents had died and wouldn’t be harmed by the revelation.

In 2016, Barnard took action by gathering signatures for a petition that ultimately succeeded in removing Polanski from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. 

As I read deeper into Polanski and the era’s cultural exploitation of young girls, I kept returning to Samantha, often wondering how her life might’ve turned out if she hadn’t had what she saw as her “big break” with a famous director. My friends heard me talk about “the girl.” Samantha frequently followed me into therapy. 

I entered therapy a few years ago, following a painful break up. I could accept the facts of the break—my girlfriend dumped me in favor of a friend of mine, that happens—but I couldn’t reconcile those facts with the depth of my depression. I felt betrayed, ashamed, discarded. I was mired in humiliation. I couldn’t climb out from despair. 

My therapist encouraged me to examine my past experiences of betrayal. 

In stumbling onto Samantha, I found someone who acknowledged the “shitty” betrayal that she endured at a very young age. I saw her resentment to being called back to that trauma over and again by uncaring voyeurs. She revisits her story, repeats her truth and declines to fit into expectations. In her bravery, I also saw her resilient strength and wit. 

My therapist noted that sometimes I spoke of Samantha, “the girl” stuck in Polanski’s shadow, and other times of Geimer, the woman living with clarity, totally in charge of her own narrative.  

“Polanski wrote frankly about raping young girls,” I said. “Samantha hadn’t intended her story to get out, and once it did, it became a part of her life forever. Yet Geimer deals with that reality. She takes care of that hurt thirteen-year-old self. She’s pretty awesome.” 

My therapist nodded. “And think: how many others young girls may have been spared by her bravery.”

I hadn’t really thought about it that way.

In the tumultuous period following the 2016 election, my anxiety about current events entered my therapy. Two subjects were of recurring engagement: mass shootings, particularly school shootings, and the #metoo movement. I felt upset that mass shootings have violated the sanctity of schools as safe places. I expressed frustration with the parade of powerful men, some of whom I admired, who abused creative aspirants for personal sexual advantage.

Then, something else came over the transom.

The elevation of Jeff Sessions to Attorney General left open his Senate seat representing my home state, Alabama. There was no question that the special election would go to a Republican. Alabama hadn’t elected a Democratic Senator in a quarter century. 

President Trump’s chosen candidate failed in the Republican primary. The candidacy went to Judge Roy Moore, a familiar figure to anyone who follows Alabama politics. Moore made national news when he installed the Ten Commandments at his courthouse. He was a headline-grabber who served his politics with plenty of ham. Trump and Sessions supported him. Moore would win handily.

That’s how it seemed when Leigh Corfman came forward. She alleged that back in the seventies, when she was in middle school, Moore had molested her. On NBC’s “Today” show, Corfman said, “I was expecting candlelight and roses. What I got was very different.”

“I felt guilty. I felt like I was the one to blame. It was decades before I was able to let that go,” she revealed. “I was a fourteen-year-old child trying to play in an adult’s world and he was thirty-two years old.” When it was pointed out that Moore claimed he didn’t know Corfman, she responded, “I wonder how many me’s he doesn't know.”

Evidently, quite a few. At least eight women came forward to say that they, too, had been young girls molested by Moore. All of these women are my age. All of this transpired about an hour east of where I grew up, while I was also in middle school.  

To my mind, there’s nothing admirable about Moore. I don’t agree with his politics. I find his showboating manipulative and distasteful. Yet in spite of all these women coming forward with credible accusations of child molestation, I was confident Moore would win the election. I felt angered and resigned. 

“Roy Moore is really under your skin,” my therapist observed. 

“Of course he is.” I replied. “Obviously, politically I want a shift of balance in Congress. But I’m primarily bothered by all the people online calling Alabamians stupid, incredulous that they would vote for an accused pedophile. I’m like, of course they will, and you attacking him won’t help one whit. The more you attack, the more they’ll support him. Protect your own. That’s their nature. Our nature. It’s what we do.”

“Even to protect a pedophile?” she asked. 

“Fuck yeah, to protect a pedophile,” I replied, angrily. 

She sat quietly. She didn’t even have to ask. I took a breath. 

I began to tell my story. 

Art School

I was a weird kid. 

I was the first of four boys born to teenaged newlyweds. My parents married not long after Dad graduated from high school. Mom, now a married woman, left school to start a family. We were raised among cousins and extended family, the old folks recalling a time when survival was pretty much the best one could hope for. 

My grades in public elementary and middle schools helped me to gain entry to Indian Springs School, an academically rigorous independent school located on a beautiful rural campus in Jefferson County, Alabama. Most of the students came from Mountain Brook, one of the wealthiest enclaves in the Southeast. Few of us lived among the suburbs emerging from former cow fields further down the highway.  

The school was a top feeder for national universities. Incoming freshman such as myself often experienced the culture shock of independence: most assignments were to be completed outside the classroom. Not as homework per se, but utilizing the resources of faculty, library, laboratories and, above all, study. If one chose, there was freedom to enjoy the gym or swim in the lake, but deadlines were imperative, as was quality. Students were expected to be scholars. 

For the first time, I struggled as a student. Scholarship is hard. 

Mercifully, faculty members were accessible. They kept regular office hours; many invited students to their home for informal study groups, fostering a collegial bond. 

My interest in drawing comics led me to the art studio, where I was granted unrestricted access to space and materials. I learned photography, calligraphy, ceramics and to draw and paint from observation. Above all, I learned to benefit from critique. My teacher shared copies of Artforum and Arts Magazine, introducing me to an art world beyond comic books. It was a heady introduction to contemporary art for a fourteen year old. By sixteen, I had my mind full of conceptual art and my eyes set on SoHo. 

Unfortunately, the economy shifted during my sophomore year and my family could no longer afford the school’s tuition. I was encouraged to assemble my portfolio in order to audition for Birmingham’s unique public high school, The Alabama School of Fine Arts. I was readily accepted, though no less disheartened to be leaving Indian Springs, particularly for economic reasons. My friends would go away to Harvard or Yale or whatever. I should’ve known that wouldn’t happen for me. I entered the fall semester as a begrudging junior. 

From the beginning, I heard his name repeated. 

The Alabama School of Fine Arts (ASFA) required students to complete the state’s mandated academic requirements. Additionally, each student was assigned to one of five departments of arts: dance, music, theater, writing and visual arts. ASFA students were expected to be artists. I joined these unknown teenagers in a large, open commercial factory building situated downtown, adjacent to an interstate; a far cry from the bucolic campus of my previous school.  

Now sixteen, I could drive alone into the city, an adult’s hour-long commute each way. I had a part-time job and my own income. I was a newly urban young artist, like the ones in the art magazines. Soon I made friends among these gifted adolescents from all over the state. We had the ineffable bond of misfits; most of us had grown up labeled as the “weird kid.” At ASFA, with its small classes and emphasis on creativity, being weird was cool. It was our gift. 

In the visual arts department, there were two full-time faculty members, Adrienne Anderson and Dan McCurdy. The department chair, Jim Neel, was on sabbatical in Nicaragua. Though the department was small, the two faculty members were stretched thin by covering eighth-through-twelfth grades during studio periods. For the most part, we were left to out own devices. I was accustomed to independent work, though missing the one-on-one attention of my former art teacher. 

Wait until next year, my new friends told me. They were awed by the absent faculty member, who had trained many of them since eighth grade. 

Jim Neel returned for my senior year. He sustained an aura as an important figure: department head, successful working artist, well traveled, knowledgeable. Thin and balding with a scruffy beard, he bore a resemblance to Pete Townsend, whom he matched in age. Whenever this was pointed out, he deadpanned, “Who?”

Seniors in the Visual Arts were required to take a seminar called “What is Art?” Jim conducted a syllabus that required reading and discussing art theory and modern art history. My study of art magazines had prepared me to shine. I encouraged seniors from other departments to join our class. We became a tight-knight clique of young intellectuals, with Jim as our guru. 

Also entering my life that autumn was Debbie, a junior in the theater department. We’d seen each other around in the previous year, but now, we fell in love. Our romance was much noticed in our small school. We were open in our displays of affection. When we began to have sex, of course our friends knew—which meant, everyone knew: students, faculty, administrators. At the end of the fall semester, Debbie’s family moved with her to Seattle. This was a personal tragedy for us, and for those who followed our sweet romance. We pledged to sustain a voluminous correspondence; it would come to fill boxes. 

Our public romance and tragic end had an unexpected outcome: I was now seen as a romantic figure who put out. I was seen as a sexual person by other students, male and female, curious to explore. I was more than happy to oblige. My sexual availability was commented upon by everyone: students, faculty, administrators.

For seniors in the visual arts, spring semester was given over to creating our thesis shows, a requirement for graduation. I had expressed an interest in sculptor George Segal, who cast figures engaged in prosaic activities, like waiting for a bus or shopping. Jim took the time to show me how to make full-body plaster figures, painstakingly casting torso, head and limbs in sections before rejoining them as a complete body. 

We needed a model for the process. I enlisted a friend. For weeks, Jim and I layered her body in plaster strips. Once a section had set fully, it was removed by cutting with safety scissors. I took care not to cut through the swimsuit she wore under the layered plaster. 

I rejoined the pieces into a fairly dynamic figure. A friend had donated a disused television console. I wanted to have the figure explode from the set, surrounded by detritus: spools of film, body fragments, household products. Jim suggested this would be more effective if I sustained the monochromatic effect of Segal’s work. I opted for hyperrealism. I cut and reseamed clothes onto the figure. I glued a wig on its head, and painted exposed areas to match my skin. Another friend donated human teeth from his mother’s dental lab, which outfitted the screaming mouth. 

The finished sculpture was displayed in the school gallery. It was ambitious and a knock out. I had to admit, though, it might’ve been more effective if I hadn’t been so literal about realism and color. With this project completed, the die was cast: I planned to focus on figurative art in my senior show, in drawings, paintings and plaster figures. 

Adrienne, another of the art faculty, had assigned us to make an artwork based on another artist’s work. It was a simple project that inspired a larger idea. I would realize a three-dimensional environment based on a two-dimensional painting. I chose R. B. Kitaj’s “Walter Lippmann” as my starting point. It included, at left, a woman stepping on a ladder next to a man in a trenchcoat. I would recreate those figures in plaster and add others as the project developed. In my mind, the overall effect would be a connected set of environments, something like Ed Kienholz meets George Harriman—in short, a comic strip in the round. 

My mind was bursting with ideas. 

I discussed my plan with Jim. He thought it would be impossible to realize during the school’s studio hours, and so he made a generous offer: I could use his home basement as my personal studio. I readily accepted. Here I was, barely eighteen and with an opportunity to share a working space with the professional artist I most admired. 

Jim lived a small, neat house on Birmingham’s South Side, on a dead end across the street from my cool English teacher, Randy. Jim had no furniture in the combined dining and living room, just a long worktable. I packed my materials and moved to join this artsy enclave. Jim gave me a key so I could work anytime, even on weekends while he was away visiting his girlfriend in Tuscaloosa. 

I put out word that I needed models. Several friends offered. Jim suggested I start with the female figure climbing a ladder, as that would be the most complicated in terms of support and weight distribution. A junior in the theater department volunteered. 

When the two of us joined Jim at his basement, he pointed out that the process would be easier, and the results better, if the model was nude. If she didn’t want to be nude, he suggested she might wear underwear that could be destroyed in the process. We talked it over. She and I were used to being nude together—as Jim was aware—and so, why not? She could sacrifice her current panties, she said. Being topless was no big deal. 

As with our previous figure, we started with the torso. The model stripped to her panties and tied up her hair. I had already built a ladder; she placed her foot on the rung and took her position.  Jim and I used our hands to cover her flesh in baby oil and Vaseline—to aid with the removal of the casts—and began methodically layering the plaster strips. The process had to be completed before the plaster set, so we moved efficiently, causally talking, with Jim offering instruction. 

This was all very arousing, yet I maintained a professional decorum. I was shy about the model’s panty area, so Jim took the lead there. 

After the plaster set, I cut the mold away in two parts. Jim and I placed these carefully on the floor as the model stretched and began flecking off bits of plaster. Her panties had been cut away in the process, so she was nude, standing nonchalantly as if this was commonplace for her. 

Jim suggested I take her upstairs to fix a bath. He had a large claw-foot tub. He also had a shower in another bathroom, but he asked us to use the tub, as the shower might clog. The model and I were in good spirits and elected to bathe together. Jim soon joined us, bringing wine and lighting candles. 

Over the course of several evenings, we repeated this process, casting legs, arms and head, always leading to a bath with wine and candles. After more time together, I would drop off the model on my way back home. 

(I’m not providing additional details beyond this point. This is not fully my story to tell and it risks the writing of underage pornography beyond that cited above, which has long been public knowledge.)

Word got around about these sensuous, bohemian evenings. I received offers from other girlfriends eager to be models. Each evening followed a similar course. Jim always participated, directing, rubbing oil, layering plaster, pouring wine and conducting further activities. 

The only anomaly came when I used a male model for the Kitaj figure in a trenchcoat. Though this was large figure, complicated in terms of creating a solid base, Jim showed no interest in participating. I managed this session on my own. 

With friends eager to model and faculty encouragement, I was glad to be pushing boundaries like the artists we discussed in the “What is Art?” seminar. Inspired by Yves Klein, I wanted to make body prints: nude bodies would be covered with paint and pressed against paper to leave imprints. Jim discussed this with his neighbor, my cool English teacher, and I was offered the English classroom on campus in which to stage my homage to Klein. 


I removed the classroom furniture and covered every surface—walls, floor, ceiling—with butcher-block paper. I laid out tempera paint and buckets for water. I would regularly take in a friend or two to strip, cover one another with paint and press our bodies onto paper. Afterward, we would shower in the dorms. I displayed the prints on all surfaces, like a cave of absent bodies. Neither Jim nor the English teacher was present for the sessions, though they visited to follow my progress. Each selected a print to take as their own. 

I was burning on all cylinders, having fun and producing a lot of work. 

Not everyone approved of this activity. 

One of the school’s two dorm parents asked me if I was having sex in the classroom studio. Of course, he had seen the prints. I answered truthfully that I was not. That satisfied him. 

Adrienne had arranged for seniors to visit the media lab at the University of Alabama at Birmingham so that we could view Robert Hughes’s series on the history of modern art, “The Shock of the New.” Here again, I learned that all significant artists took risks. 

As Adrienne drove us to the media lab one afternoon, she began speaking about my off-campus sessions at Jim’s house, saying she found it “inappropriate.” On of my classmates rejoined, “You’re just jealous because no one want to work at your house!” 

I remained silent, waiting for the subject to change. Maybe our sessions weren’t appropriate, but that’s not what art is about. In art, rules are for breaking. Jim knew that. He taught me that. Jim and I were peers. I was special. I was his chosen one. His protégé. 

Between classes, my job and our sessions, I thought I might’ve bitten off more than I could chew. Other requirements popped up. Seniors had to pass a driving test in order to graduate. We had to pass a typing test. I had been cast in a play. I had to take SATs and the state equivalent. Though the school had a guidance counselor, I never thought to ask about college admissions, and no one suggested I do so.

With the casting process pretty much complete, I began to transport segments back to the school to be joined. I also brought in other elements for my environment, including a large mobile sign I had borrowed from a local company. As my collection of body parts began to appear at school, stowed with my classroom of body prints, Jim’s mood changed. He began to pressure me about what could be shown and what could not. He wanted very clear ideas of the environment’s final appearance. He inserted deadlines never previously discussed. 

One day, Jim asked me to the office he shared with the two other faculty members. They were all present. Jim closed to the door. 

Adrienne spoke. She said that after careful consideration, it had been decided that I would not be allowed to show my work. It was deemed of “insufficient quality.” As an exhibition was required for graduation, I would not be graduating with my class. Jim had agreed to take me on as a private student for the summer. If I produced entirely new work, under Jim’s supervision, I would be permitted to graduate in the fall. 

Jim stood with his arms crossed, silent. 

I was stunned. “I just . . .” I began. Then I ran. I ran out of the office, through a door, outside into the rain, across the street and into my car. I turned the ignition. The radio blared. I swerved onto the street and up the ramp onto the interstate. I was panting. I replayed what I had just heard in the office. Jim’s posture. 

I thought, I could just drive this car off the road, into traffic. That fast, boom, done. I choked as I cried.

I drove to my grandmother’s house. I flung myself onto the couch, sobbing, barely breathing. My parents rushed over. Everyone wanted to know what had happened.

Things happened quickly after that. 

My mother recalls contacting a school administrator. “The day this all happened, I called the head of the school—his name escapes me,” Mom says.” I asked him why you weren’t going to be allowed to graduate with your class. He said you didn’t get enough input and supervision from the staff. I asked him if he was aware that you built this in the basement of Jim Neel’s house and that you couldn’t control how often Jim Neel went to the basement to check your progress.”

I hadn’t told my parents about the nude sessions. They knew nothing about those interactions with Jim Neel and fellow students until reading this article, prior to publication. 

I was too humiliated and hurt to return to ASFA as a student. I was too angry to see Jim Neel, much less be his private student for the summer. 

I returned to ASFA only on evenings to perform in the play in which I had already been cast. Pulling out would have derailed the student director’s thesis project. 

My parents helped me to transfer to a local high school. 

I spent the waning days of my senior year as an assistant to the art teacher I had in seventh and eighth grades, at the beginning of my journey as an artist. I taught her students how to make plaster masks of their faces. 

I graduated with a class of strangers. My family and art school friends cheered loudly as I crossed the stage to collect my diploma. 

I heard nothing from the faculty or administration of the Alabama School of Fine Arts. There was no follow up. My artwork was destroyed. I never saw Jim Neel again.

“No one at the art school reached out to you, to see if you were okay?” my therapist asked. “That’s shocking.” 

“Only my friends,” I nodded. “We were a tight-knit group of weird kids. We’re all still Facebook friends. We’ve stayed in touch over the years. Decades, now, with all the weddings, births and funerals that come along.” 

My therapist and I had spent a good deal of time investigating my research into Polanski and my discovery of Samantha Geimer. I had learned, as Samantha did, that she was not alone. I relayed my surprise that Leigh Corfman’s honesty led to the fall of such a skilled liar as Roy Moore. I had learned, as Leigh did, that she was not alone. 

Samantha was thrust into a spotlight when she was thirteen. She has processed her experience privately and performed it publicly for decades. Her story brought forth others. Leigh says it took her decades to come to grips with Moore’s actions and to stop blaming herself. Her story brought forth others. 

We are, all of us, the other side of the “it was the seventies” acceptance that had seduced us as kids.

My therapist took all that in and returned it with a question. “Do you think there were others who were abused at your art school?” 

“Oh yes, I know that for a fact,” I nodded. “I know with certainty that there are other sexually betrayed students from my generation at the Alabama School of Fine Arts. I know what I witnessed. I believe what I’ve subsequently heard. I’m not the only one. There are others.”

“Consider this,” she said. “Perhaps Jim Neel had reasons for not wanting you to exhibit evidence of him hosting nude high school students in his home.” 

I was floored. Honestly, that thought had never occurred to me. 

Speaking with my friend Allan after my departure from art school, Jim expressed his surprise that I hadn’t taken the offer to study with him that summer in order to graduate in the fall. “He’s got pride, Jim,” Allan replied. 

That fall, many of my friends went away to college. I stayed in town, working in a movie theater, sharing an apartment with my best friend. I found an awesome girlfriend, hung out with bands and enrolled at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where I found a cadre of supportive teachers who saw my talent and encouraged me to keep working. Within two years, I was enrolled primarily for independent study. I mounted an exhibition and began to be shown regionally. I amassed an impressive portfolio. 

Quietly, I applied to the Corcoran School of Art. I was accepted and completed my BFA. I moved to New York where I completed a post-baccalaureate at the School of Visual Arts, which led to a job at the Museum of Modern Art, which led to studying art history at Columbia University, which led to my careers in museums and art criticism. Looking back, I can say I’ve been involved in art, in one way or another, since I was a kid. 

This may be read as a curriculum vita of recovery, and yet, I experienced it differently. I had the faith to apply myself to opportunities. I had the ability to accomplish good work. I believed in my talent and creative genius. But throughout, I have faced the expectation that my creativity will fail. 

At every turn, I encountered encouragement, affirmation and acceptance. At every turn, I shut down, expecting calamity. 

I stopped making art. 

Years gave way to decades. I carried this thought in my head. How was it that I was so talented and special that I earned the full attention of Jim Neel, and all the privileges of working under his private tutelage, only to be told that my art was of “insufficient quality?” And why was the only remedy offered yet more private tutelage with Jim Neel? 

This became a central narrative in my interior life.

I began to do this research, and to write this article, in October 2017. As I write, it now eight months later. More specifically, it is just after four in the morning on June 24, 2018, in New York City. It’s quiet but for the hum of the refrigerator and the plaintive wail of a passing siren. 

Today, my girlfriend and I will attend an annual arts festival organized by generous, hard-working volunteers, some of them friends of mine. Also today, graduates of the Alabama School of Fine Arts will gather at Railroad Park in Birmingham for their annual family picnic. The gathering will include an open mic talent show featuring generations of students who are tethered to some part of the school’s half-century of history. Some of them are friends of mine. 

Just now, my girlfriend noticed I was missing from our bed. She stumbled from our bedroom to find me typing. She kissed my bald head and asked if I’m okay. It’s not unusual for me to awake in the middle of the night, unable to sleep, perseverating about things that happened a long time ago, sometimes sparked by things that are happening now. I’m fine, I told her, just writing some thoughts before returning to bed. 

Jim Neel has been on my mind for the better part of a year, revisited in memories long since absorbed into my personal history. I’ve warmed over the fulfillment of being treated as his peer as a fellow art sophisticate. I’ve felt again the plaster and paint on my hands as I once had created bodies that told a story. I’ve fallen again as everything I trusted to be true about art and artists was suddenly revoked by someone whose evaluation of my worth surpassed my own faith in myself. 

Prior to this, I haven’t thought of Jim Neel in years, but he’s always been around. He’s with me when I dread my creativity will end in ruin. He’s with me when I stop speaking, and stop writing, and stop performing, and stop painting, when I protect myself from the hurt to follow when my art and I are discarded again. He’s with me when I distrust friendships with men, in many guises, who I fear will use me and my talents to get what they want and to take it from me. He’s with me when I give up and walk away.

I haven’t seen the flesh-and-blood Jim Neel since he betrayed me on that rainy afternoon in 1982. I know he’s still alive, still teaching art in Birmingham. I have no interest in that old man. I don’t want anything from him. I’m concerned with the old man at a laptop in New York, and the weird kid within him who wanted to stay weird. 

The sun is rising. I’m back to bed. Good morning.