When I first listened to Van Halen’s “Panama” — whose inclusion in the 2007 film Superbad renewed my interest, however facetious, in the song — I had just reached puberty, finding its newly excised fulcrum with my hand and letting out a desperateness which would become more sophisticated and perverse as years passed along, to this very day. I loved hard rock, as if my boy’s pulse — the same one invoked in the opening sentence — was given a better beat. Eyes closed in my room, which became a stage before adoring groupies, their faces painted purple in the theatre of smeared mascara, I performed an erratic mixture of air guitar, drums, sometimes bass, toggling between the instruments depending on their prominence in the song.
Airing to a song was a swift choreography of delusion and hope, my personal pantomime. Two thirds into it, Eddie Van Halen slows down the song with a thick fuzzy minor riff, sliding up the neck in phallic representation. I’m in my room covered in a fraction of the sweat he was, but still. Here David Lee Roth seemingly ad libs this narrative about being in a steamy car with a woman. When he evocatively says “…reach down between my legs…ease the seat back…” I always thought he was talking about a nap, and never understood why such an ostensibly virile man would want to take a fucking nap during such an enhanced moment in a car with a woman.
I had no idea what a blowjob was. I knew about sex, but only vaguely based off of allusions in crass sitcoms, the parts of biology class which made it past my preoccupation with the stunning contours I could make out underneath various prime girls’ clothing, and the occasional blessed sex scene in a movie I was hopefully not watching next to my mom. It wasn’t until porn — whose first bounty manifested inside my father’s bedside drawer, a giddy Freud in the closet laughing at my arrivals to the same images my father arrived at — that I realized the penis could be inserted inside a mouth, an effectiveness corroborated by abstract expressionist-y visual evidence; though, in the late ’80s, Penthouse and even Hustler didn’t show actual fellatio being performed, only inferred it with an erection next to an open mouth. So there were about 2 – 3 years in between in which I earnestly thought David Lee Roth decided to “ease the seat back” because he suddenly got tired hanging out with this uninteresting groupie.
Listening to the song now — self-conscious, embarrassed, and even mockingly — Roth’s douchey fellatio narration feels a little gross, though if we consider his notable sexual conquests during that time, the women didn’t feel it was gross, or perhaps conversely felt desired by it. Being a gentleman is often a cock-block. I think of all the cum David Lee Roth shot inside the mouths of women — in tour buses, backstage dressing rooms, pricey hotel suites — and imagine all his precluded offspring swallowed into various stomachs still digesting corn dogs, nachos, or curly fries, perhaps washed down with a Coors Light, its logo’s mountain peaking with American glory, the landlocked sadness of loud songs and nothing to do but fuck. I think of him allegedly spitting on Eddie Van Halen’s face, as angrily claimed by the latter, which brings to mind images of the former’s semen evocatively portrayed on the modest-to-attractive faces of these groupies, their hair-sprayed bangs aggressively curved forward as Hokusai’s wave, acid-washed jeans marbled as pale blue neurons forever remembering the ’80s.
It would be many, many years until I was to receive fellatio, that pink halo of a lover’s mouth and the coronation of one’s swollen royalty. My first girlfriend had broken up with me, in that harsh sudden way that involved a mutual friend, of messy overlaps and my complete sexual emasculation and emotional annihilation. I was 27 years old, depressed, desperate, slowly going insane — not for just sex, but rather to purge her out of me, and purging myself into somebody’s mouth I thought would do the trick. It’s endearing how simple humans are; we just want parts of ourselves in someone else. I found a prostitute — who went by “Bunny”; yes, concede to this comedy — on craigslist, via their now technically defunct yet essentially active “erotic services,” called her from my parents’ house (I was living at home, as the recent breakup incurred moving out of her place); drove frenetically through my childhood suburb, ignoring the sad flashbacks the main road passing by at 55 mph envisioned in me; entered the parking lot “between Taco Bell and Wells Fargo, behind JC Penney” — her small detached voice, saying this, seemed so near somehow; this is how desperate I was, almost in love — to meet her there, barely lit under vague orange orbs of street lamps moonlighting as fat pedestrian stars and got in the right side of her green 2000 Mustang, in which she, leaning over into the passenger seat, her right elbow braced on the lowered handbrake, was to earn the $100 dollars, divided into 5 crisp twenties recently spat from the ATM placed on the dashboard, in under 5 minutes; this stranger’s warm mouth and at times throat completely accepting of me, this black pain inside me, this white genome of a child we didn’t bother having. Our truncated future, which was to end that night, and yes, I eased the seat back.
The past is a formidable thing, like God, that we try to make merciful: twisting the apparition, wringing it of accident, until it’s pure again. Driving down Clayton Valley Road — the main artery which dryly cuts through Concord, California; of TJ Maxx’s, Ross, Payless Shoes, Jiffy Lube — is an exploration into the hell we’ve created on earth.
Late capitalism, short on breath, threw businesses across the land as rolled dice, taking a chance nowhere. The suburban sprawl offers its mirror image in the town next to it, ongoing, further into the mainland where states slowly become shaped as near-perfect boxes. At a stoplight, I look at a car in a near empty parking lot, behind the KFC and Baskin Robbins by the back wall separating them and someone’s backyard, the low eucalyptus hanging from above reaching as hands of devotion, and imagine a guy like me paying for a thing like that from a girl like her, we the faceless actors on an endless stage with no director, how random it all was — yet desperately necessary — that my semen was, at that point, inside someone who told me she was Bunny’s stomach. Cindy, she looked like. Or Beth. I saw her face lit blue by her television, an hour or two later, on a couch I would have lay forever in.
In a way, I guess I was reclaiming all the sex I never had the first time around. I remember one picture in my High School yearbook, no more than 3 x 4″, of a queen beeish girl surrounded by two other subordinate girls and two-or-three males competing for the alpha-role of finally fucking her that night. They smiled — this was prom night, I think — in front of the Marriott, by the fountain turned off for the night, the camera’s flash hitting the perfect contours of her face, to which I laboriously masturbated for about half a year, searching for some recognition in those tiny black and white eyes. The story I told myself, the erotic narrative which heightens the sensory of sex, was that I was the guy who would wind up in suite 203 at 12:23 a.m. that night with her, a fantasy which I to this day collate with amateur porn in which the camera man (with the help of a tripod) and actor are the same person who explicitly pays the woman, technically here a prostitute, to engage in sexual matters whose ultimate gesture is the facial or swallow. These often include an oddly verbose mini-interview at the beginning of the clip, in which the girl lies about her name but tells the truth about what brought her here. The entire conceit is transparency: the participants concede to the reality of how the porn is being made. It’s a guy with a camera that pays a girl. They get a hotel room. The fantasy is heightened by its very honesty. The viewer feels almost acknowledged, let into their 7 minute clip world. From years of whacking off, to a few relationships and a handful of “legitimate” sexual encounters, to “Bunny,” and a few others like her, sex is verily running into someone in the inverse path of running away from yourself.
As for “Panama,” popular belief asserts it’s about a stripper, some say from Detroit, for whom Roth was then smitten; though, others claim, perhaps more accurately, that it was actually Roth’s 1969 Opal Kadett station wagon named for the southernmost point it could drive for a Rothian escapade and still get him back home. Looking online, on behalf of this article, it seems every guy has their own theory, their own fantasies which turn into online forum arguments. I guess we’ll never know. The myth of rock and roll is oral history for kids who ought to be in church, of surrogate Gods in tight spandex jumping on stage, proposing a future of blowjobs in place of full-time ones. I’ve considered celibacy, but every time I see a beautiful woman, my heart twists, and I exorcise the demon within. May this be an elegy to the 11-year-old who thought Mr. Roth simply wanted to take a nap? Those were simpler times. Imagine a song called “Mustang,” about a tad chubby but cute in the face girl I told was beautiful inside her cigarette vs. air freshener scented car — but first “pretty,” in an earlier email addressing meeting and fiscal logistics — both of us coy, as the reduced humans we conceded to be, in our mutual complicity. My mother worked at the JC Penney behind which this warmly wet memory took place. In a way I pray is not sick, I thought of her in the background, her small Chinese hands working the register to help pay for my college tuition.
Guilt is a formidable thing. It sits pissed off in your brain as the last person at a party who won’t go home. What I didn’t tell you is that Concord is the last suburb going inland from the bay before it meets Mount Diablo and its enormous accompanying hills. They are grand, silent and stately. Growing up, lost in MTV and junk food, I never actually noticed these amazing idyllic hills, and how topographically protected our township was.
It was perfect, but we gnawed at one another from therein. I guess I should have been happier. I guess I should be happier. Taco Bell’s logo shines its purple neon light into her car. My mother and father are on a cruise somewhere in Europe again. I am dead. I remember weaving my fingers through her hair, almost clinically the way an anthropologist might upon discovering this rare species, while gently massaging her neck then eventually guiding her head as she mechanically bobbed up and down on my fierce loneliness. Perhaps life is a song left to be un-coded: a place of lies and myths, where ignorance is a reprieve. I think of the five Andrew Jacksons staring coldly, obliquely to his left, into the American dream, and felt sad for this girl who needed him so much, swallowing sad depleted men who found her apparition online. It must have been around nine o’clock, bedtime for small children laid in clean beds, their parents just beginning arguments over bills, a pouty dog on the laundry room floor. The world at large was fine without us, we at the center of my selfish universe. My release was near silent, an apology. She wiped off the profuse pool of saliva with the bottom of my shirt, which I smelled over and over again for two days, closing my eyes and shutting off this world just as I did, to her borrowed kindness.