An old man’s porn collection and my Sliding Doors moment

An old man’s porn collection and my Sliding Doors moment

About a year ago, an 80-year-old man asked if he could will me his porn collection. It was after a stand-up show, and I’d had a great set that night. I exited the theater to find this old guy waiting for me. He waved me over, and excitedly shook my hand as he explained that he had never married, had no children or surviving relatives, and believed he was nearing the end of his life. “I loved your comedy. Really felt a connection,” he said. “And I have a large and varied collection of softcore pornography on VHS. I would like to leave you this collection in my will.”

It was a Gwyneth Paltrow/Sliding Doors moment, a point in time that splits the future in front of you. Do I continue my career as a serious actor, or do I start a lifestyle blog that rhymes with poop? That’s what Gwyneth’s Sliding Doors moment was, anyway. Mine involved curating a dying man’s porn. In an instant I saw a multiplicity of lives roll out before me, lived by many Camerons, and I visited them all.

In one version, I am written into his will. We do it casually over tea at his lawyer’s office. He is grateful; he seems at peace. Months pass. There is a knock on my door. It’s morning probably. I’m drinking coffee. Perhaps I am wearing spats and a tailored three-piece suit. The Gay Gatsby. That sort of look. Lots of linen. Several juleps.

This Cameron lives in a very nice apartment: high ceilings, plants that are alive due to my actually remembering to water them. When I open the door, the delivery woman is immediately impressed. “Wow. Beautiful Eames chair with ottoman,” she raves, struck by the clean lines/casual elegance of the home decor behind me. “Oh that?” I reply, “Yes, it’s very nice. And my vegetarian fiancée doesn’t even mind the leather.” After a brief threesome, I sign for the boxes and she wheels them inside.

In this future, the old man’s pornography is well catalogued, sorted by publication date. The covers of the tapes are pristine. “1981?” I wonder. “Why, this is from the year I was born! And this one is from Cuba! How did he ever manage to get around the trade embargo? What a well-traveled man he must have been. How connected or dangerous!”  

After screening the films in my home theater for several of my most discerning friends, it is decided that we will create a film festival to honor my benefactor’s legacy, and the festival is an enormous success. So taken is he with the atmosphere, Crispin Glover conducts a post-film Q&A without any apparent reason or connection to the films. Bill Watterson comes out of retirement to draw a grown-up Calvin and Hobbes attending the event. All of the women in the films are treated with a very sexy amount of respect, but not in a way that excludes cool, dirty stuff from being featured, and there’s tons of dudes in the films as well.

Barack Obama calls me from the White House to convey his congratulations, and the Wachowskis turn the whole thing into a movie wherein, due to some quality facial prosthetics, I am able to play all the roles. This is a future that sees me extensively interviewed about the collection for the rest of my days. “Why did you take the tapes?” the interviewer will ask. “I believe in the preservation of good taste,” I’ll coolly answer. I live a long, revered life. When I die, I in turn will the porn collection to Yoko Ono, who is still alive in the form of an app and translates the tapes into a series of tweets about trees.

Then there is the another me. This me accepts being written into the will before realizing the collection has been cursed. This Cameron lives in the apartment I do now, which is equal parts crappy and amazing. Yes, the sinks have an awful, rabbity smell, but it’s a one-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment, and that’s not a kind of apartment that exists anywhere outside these walls.

In this future, I agree to maintain the collection and then forget about it. I forget for years. All during that time I have a nagging feeling that something has gone wrong. Maybe it’s like Stephen King’s Thinner except applied to softcore porn, wherein every time I take off a bra there’s another bra under there, and no matter what I do I can’t get through all the bras. Or maybe there’s a version where the porn is eventually delivered and it’s like The Ring: I go out of my way to find a working VCR to play the tapes, only to be scared to death by the amount of oil used to enhance the gleam on an ’80s bikini babe in the first one I watch. “She’ll give herself skin cancer with that deep, oil-enhanced tan, but she doesn’t realize it yet because we had different information about skin health in the ’80s,” I’ll mutter with my last breath.

There are futures where the curse is less magical, more rooted in reality, too. One future ends the morning the tapes appear at outside my apartment. There is a knock on my front door, and I answer wearing ancient, giant sweatpants because I don’t usually wear normal clothing items until around 3 p.m. A box labeled “Porn Belonging To Old Man, Now Deceased” sits on my doormat and when drag it inside and open it, the 80-year-old man springs out and lobs my head off with a small, box-sized sword. “Idiot,” he says, standing over my body. “I only write people into my will so I can find their addresses, wait a couple of years and then jump out and decapitate them inside their own homes. I’m not even 80. I’m like 52, but this lesbian couldn’t judge how old a man might be. Can’t believe she died in those sweats.”

Perhaps I am written into the will, the boxes are delivered, and I keep the tapes for a week and then I shudder and leave them at the curb. Perhaps the boxes arrive and I unpack them to find the tapes inside are sticky. I call a friend to tell her that I have been left pornography in a stranger’s will and that the pornography ended up being sticky; she ends the friendship because she believes I only make bad, gross decisions.

Maybe worst of all, there is a future where I am willed an old man’s prized collection of softcore pornography because he believes we have had a moment of connection, and even though I felt no connection to him, I accept. In this future, the VHS boxes arrive worn and discolored from age, the tapes themselves dinged from use. I find a VCR to play them and discover that the tapes skip in certain places and then I know what really did it for this old guy. This is the future where a man disappears from the Earth and leaves behind very personal information to be kept by someone who doesn’t want the information at all. This is the future where I become the person who knew him best, and I’m still a stranger.

Had I been willed the porn, I don’t know which Cameron would have emerged. But it wasn’t willed to me. Standing outside the theater that night, I asked the old man to repeat his offer, not believing what I thought I had heard. Then I politely thanked him for asking and accepted his business card because I didn’t have the presence of mind to say, “No thanks forever!” in the moment. I called my fiancée on the drive home and told her the story, asking her if this would have been my superhero origin story had I just said yes on the spot. We reasoned together a porn-collection-based superhero probably wouldn’t have my preferred powers (flight, bulletproofedness) anyway. The next morning I received an email from the old man through my website. I never wrote back. He felt a connection; I felt that his tapes would become a sad story told over drinks or material evidence kept by the police after my inevitable murder.

I’m not saying I did the right thing. I didn’t step into Peter Parker’s great power/great responsibility paradigm because I wasn’t sure if the responsibility would be great, or even good, or slightly above terrible. Other Camerons stepped forward and made decisions and lived lives of doom and glory. Other Camerons took roads that diverged outside a theater into various morning woods but I, I took the road most traveled. I just drove home, on the same road I always do, to the life I already live, and my own porn collection on the Internet. 


Cameron Esposito is a Chicago-bred, L.A.-based stand-up comic and the host of the Put Your Hands Together podcast. Follow her on Twitter at @cameronesposito.

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