"Oh my God, it's porn!: Even striking gold on that playground wouldn't have made us happier than that weathered public school porn

Released from Yom Kippur prayers, we were desperate for something to do -- and that's when we made our find

Eytan Bayme
September 14, 2015 1:00AM (UTC)


We lived across the street from the synagogue, on the first floor of a six-story, redbrick, co-op apartment building. From the corner outside shul that sunny September afternoon, I could see the window of the room that Yehuda and I shared. Diagonally across the street was a giant public junior high school with a gray and yellow facade. I was relieved to have fled prayer services after being cooped up in them for so long, yet as I paced the sidewalk, looking up and down the double yellow lines along the empty street, I grew antsy. There was nothing to do, no games to play, and no TV to watch or food to eat. ...

I turned around to sneak back inside and investigate further as my best friend Gilad came striding out toward me. Gilad was a gangly nine-year-old with a blond Jewish Afro he wore proudly. He earned the highest marks in our class of sixty students, while I usually scored the lowest. On Saturday afternoons during Shabbat lunch, his family discussed topics foreign to me such as current events, culture, and sports. During these interminable debates, I shifted couscous from one side of my plate to the other until the meal was over, or I excused myself to play Legos with his four-year-old brother.


“Eytan!” Gilad shouted.

“Good to see you.” I nodded and shook his hand. In the hallways at school, we high-fived each other or bumped shoulders, mimicking the way cool people acted, but here we gripped each other’s hands and shook vigorously. It was how adult men greeted each other at synagogue.

“How’s your family?” I asked smoothly, taking the role a little further.


“Fine, thanks for asking,” he said earnestly. “I got fifteen minutes before the dead people prayer is done. Where should we go?”

“There,” I said, pointing to Junior High School 191. The four-story building stretched from corner to corner and reached back halfway to the next avenue. Behind it lay a baseball diamond, four basketball courts, handball courts, and a small wooded area.

“Good call,” he said, and we grabbed each other’s hands to safely cross the empty street. ...


When we reached the curb of the opposite sidewalk, we shook loose each other’s hands and began walking through a covered passageway, into the belly of the empty public school.

At our school, our classmates were all white, observant Jews. Boys wore yarmulkes, long pants, and collared shirts, while girls wore dresses that fell below their knees and elbows. The only non-Jewish person I knew was Rhondie, the woman who dressed like a nurse and came once a week to clean our apartment. J.H.S. 191, with its sturdy construction and multiethnic student body, was mysterious and sexy to us.  ...


Most of 191’s students came from Kingsbridge, a less affluent Bronx neighborhood to the south of Riverdale. If classes were out at my school or I pretended to be sick and stayed home, I watched from my window the large, unaccompanied waves of dismissed students pile onto city buses that drooped under their weight. Sometimes they opened the emergency exits and tossed their classmates’ knapsacks and baseball mitts out onto the sidewalk. Once in a while a fight broke out on the street and sucked the cheering mass of bodies toward it, leading it, like a magnet attracting iron shavings, wherever the brawl meandered.

Dismissal at my school of five hundred students was a well-orchestrated event. Each class was summoned via loudspeaker and  marched  single file to their  chartered yellow school buses waiting for them at the front entrance. Once the buses were full, we could exit the long driveway and head home only after  the assistant principal inspected and  confirmed that each of us sat safely in our seats.

In the empty 191 campus, Gilad and I took a footpath along the fenced-off wooded area behind the main building and looked for openings until the chain link met the baseball diamond. Past an empty dugout, we slipped inside a narrow gash in the links and discovered an old concrete path rambling through a woodsy courtyard. Weeds grew out of the cracks in the ground and a creepy silence hung in the air.


“Awesome!” I cried at the sight before us.

Strewn around the forest were large gatherings of empty bags of Doritos, Swedish Fish, Charleston Chews, and every other non-kosher-candy wrapper imaginable. It was as though a corner store had been shaken over the woods and all its contents had tumbled out for the students to plunder. ...

As we squatted over the gathering of debris, huffing the various empty bags like addicts, something farther down the path, amid a gathering of Crazy Calypso potato chip bags, caught my eye. Slowly, without standing, I squat-walked over to the pile and used a branch to flick the trash away from the object.


My eyes widened and I felt a cool breeze on my lips. The hardened concrete path stung through the thin cotton knees of my suit pants, yet I hardly cared. “Oh my God,” I said, “it’s a porn!”

“Wha??” screamed Gilad, dropping the bag he was inhaling and scampering over to me.

“Shh. Shh,” I said, worried that people would hear us deep in the empty woods. ...

The fifteen faded black-and-white pages of the public school porn had been weathered from dirt and rain. Many were crumpled, some stuck together. The cover was missing. I picked it up with both hands, my mouth hanging open moronically. Each page of the porn featured several very small, neatly arranged pictures of women displaying their private parts. They all had big hair and dark cheeks, and some had their hands near their pubic regions. Next to each photo was a title and price. It was a catalog for other pornographic magazines and videotapes. Most of them cost $39.95.


“Yes!” I screamed toward the sky. “Thank you!”

We were like oil men and black crude was spewing from the ground beneath us. Gilad let out a gradually rising “ahhhh—” sound that got louder and faster until it peaked and burst into a laughing fit interspersed with out-of-breath “Holy crap”s.

“Who’s gonna get to take it home first?” he asked finally, after we calmed down and flipped through each page.

The thought of sharing the porn pained me. This was the most valuable object I had ever held. I didn’t want to split custody of it with Gilad, wondering if he would take proper care of it when I was not around.


“I don’t know . . . ,” I said. “How am I gonna get it from you when it’s my turn to have it?”

As we silently pondered the valid logistical concern, the Bible story of two women who fought over an infant in King Solomon’s court came to mind. One woman claimed the baby belonged to her, while the other said she was the mother. The king said there was no way to know who the true parent was so the baby should be sliced in half, with each woman caring for one part.

“I got it,” I said to Gilad, and tore the porn in two, giving him seven pages and keeping eight for myself.

“Genius,” he said and I beamed proudly. Gilad knew I was a poor student, but he trusted my street sense in times like these. “Okay, I gotta get back to shul,” he said while stuffing his pages beneath his tzitzit, against his bare chest.


“I’m gonna go home first,” I said, before sliding my half down the sleeve of my suit jacket and heading back out to the street.

Moments later, I ran up the stoop to our first-floor apartment, my arm bent at the elbow and my fist above my heart to keep the porn from sliding out. Please don’t let anyone be home. Please don’t let anyone be home.  Please don’t let anyone be home, I prayed silently. Yom Kippur wasn’t the day to be asking God for favors, especially ones relating to hiding things from my parents, but I didn’t know who else to turn to.

“Hi, Eytan!” yelled my mother from the living room when she heard me enter.

“Hi, Mommy, I gotta make!” I screamed back and ran to the bathroom, slamming the door and locking it behind me.

Carefully, I pulled the porn from my sleeve and sat on the toilet. The pages felt frail, like a text that belonged in the rare books section of a library. I worried that the oils from my palms would corrode the paper fibers. ...

I placed the porn by the corner of the bathtub on the black and white tiled floor and slid down onto my stomach. Any concerns about keeping my holiday suit clean were far in the back of my mind as I slid my hands beneath me.

In the year since I had stopped rocking in public, I had orchestrated elaborate sexual fantasies in my mind each night. In one, a younger girl that I was secretly in love with would come over to help me with my homework and end up giving me a bath instead. In another, I was a member of the 1986 Mets team and my mattress would transform into one of my teammates’ wives. Rocking was not just about feeling good any longer; it had become sexual, something that I wanted to do with, or at least near, a girl.

Now, on the bathroom floor, it felt different. My mind wasn’t working while I was pushing against myself. I didn’t have to think in order to feel good, the fantasies were all laid out there on the floor before me. Sex Boat Party 14, Tales of She-Man 3. It was as though someone was there with me, guiding my mind. “Everything all right?” my mother said from behind the bathroom door.

My body quaked at the jolt of the surprise, like a flash of lightning with no thunder to follow. For a few moments, I lay there motionless, trying to register what was going on outside the door.

“Yah?” I said finally, as much a question as a statement. Could she somehow know what I was up to? ...

“I’m in the bathroom,” I said to my mother as though it weren’t obvious. I wondered if my voice sounded different while lying horizontally with my hands underneath me.

“Okay,” she said finally. “I’m going back to shul. Should I wait for you?”

“No, that’s all right. I’m gonna be a little bit,” I said, breathing a sigh of relief as her footsteps faded away.

From "HIGH HOLIDAY PORN: A Memoir" by Eytan Bayme. Copyright © 2015 by the author and reprinted with permission of St. Martin’s Press, LLC.

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