To my sister I bequeath my massive porn collection

Our family friend collected vintage girly mags plus S/M sketches of his girlfriend. Then he died


Cary Tennis
September 23, 2010 4:21AM (UTC)

Dear Cary,

"Ben," a friend of the family, died recently. He had no children, never married, and had lived alone for the last 30 years. A few years ago my parents bought a house from Ben that he had abandoned in the 1970s. Inside the house were boxes and boxes of vintage porn and a large number of sketches he had drawn of his girlfriend at the time, in great anatomical detail with various costumes, props and S/M devices. We moved the various items down the street and he put them in his tool shed.

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Ben's older sister has inherited his house, and my father has asked me to break into the tool shed and destroy the porn cache before his sister finds it. I don't feel comfortable breaking into the shed, and I also don't think his sister would be surprised or care that her brother owned porn and I doubt she will clean the house out by herself anyway.

But Ben was also active in his church, and while the woman in the sketches is a stranger to me, another friend or relative who finds the sketches might know her and some embarrassment could be caused. If I came across a picture of someone I knew, 30 years younger with a ball gag in her mouth, I would find it disturbing.

Do I honor my perception of this man's memory and destroy his porn stockpile, or do I respect the property rights of his relatives? When a friend of mine died in college, her parents asked a relative to clean out her room, knowing that there were things in the room they likely didn't want to know about. I'm sure they were thinking of love letters and birth control, not the crack pipe she had been given as a gift.

Her parents chose to distance themselves from her secrets. If they hadn't, would it have been wrong to hide the pipe from them?

I don't know what to do. It may just come down to whether the risk of breaking into a tool shed in the dead of night is outweighed by the fun of making a giant porn bonfire.

Perplexed

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Dear Perplexed,

The porn does not belong to you. Neither does the tool shed. So I don't see how you can justify breaking into it and destroying its contents. I mean, what are you going to say if you get caught? That your dad told you to do it?

That stuff doesn't belong to your dad, either.

Or does it?

Wait a minute.

If the porn was in the house when title passed to your dad, maybe an argument could be made that it does belong to him.

But that's a long shot, and you'd have to ask a lawyer, and besides, ownership is not the point. Your dad just wants to make that porn go away quietly.

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Imagine his chagrin if he ended up having to argue in court that the porn was legally his, and that's why his son was found by police making a spectacular bonfire of it out behind the shed on a clear, brilliant "save the air" night.

Not a good outcome.

Even if, or especially if, his sister finds them, I doubt the sketches are going to start floating around the church social circle.

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So I think the best thing to do is just talk to the sister and offer to clean out that shed for her and dispose of the junk. Explain that your dad helped move the stuff when he bought the house. Without mentioning the sketches of his girlfriend with a ball gag in her mouth, you might just hint that some of it is objectionable junk that the sister might just as well not want to see. And if she's sharp and sensitive, she might pick up what you're trying to signal to her.

Incidentally, the hypothetical crack pipe situation is interesting. If the student was given the crack pipe as a gift but never used it, then its discovery would create an impression that's not only harmful but false.

In getting rid of the crack pipe you would be committing a relatively small transgression to avert a relatively large and unjust misfortune. Whereas in breaking into the tool shed and burning the porn, you would be committing a fairly large transgression to prevent an unknown and possibly nonexistent misfortune.

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You don't really know what would happen, if anything, if the sister found the porn. There's a chance she might prefer to discover the stuff herself. That way, she could believe that she was the only one who knew about it.

There are too many unknowns. Your dad apparently feels a sense of ownership and responsibility. But breaking into the shed and burning its contents would require more than just a feeling of ownership; it would require real ownership.

So my first choice is for you to talk to his sister as outlined above, and my second choice is for you to just do nothing.

In a case with this many unknowns, abiding by the letter of the law is an honorable option. Her brother died, she inherited his place, and it's up to her what to do with it.

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Cary Tennis

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