The day after Hugh Hefner died, I received a text from my sister that our grandfather was starring alongside James Franco and Maggie Gyllenhaal in HBO’s new series, The Deuce. I had long suspected Marty “King of the Peeps” Hodas would be included in the show—the previews dripped with that salacious, 1970s porn aesthetic he had helped to create—but his celebrity hadn’t seemed credible until I looked up the show on IMDB.com and stared into the face of actor Saul Stein.
What Marty did was buy up any coin-operated, 8-millimeter film machine he could find and replace the cartoons inside with movies of what he referred to when interviewed by journalist David Susskind as “simulated acts of lovemaking.” These early peep show machines built his fortune; he sold them to adult bookstores in every borough of New York City. He made good money and later added massage parlors, sadomasochism “theatres,” adult shops, and a pornography movie business (where Linda Lovelace was the breakout star) to his business portfolio.
Marty was a visionary, a millionaire, and an executioner. He is the origin of my trauma, a monster of Godzilla-esque proportion (if Godzilla smoked crack cocaine and spoke with a 1930s gangster intonation). He beat his wife and all four of his children regularly, and on her sixteenth birthday he beat my mother nearly to the point of a broken arm. His rages were so frequent and so violent that the family dog pissed the floor each time Marty walked through the front door.
I was told he had mellowed as he got older, and by the time I met him he had reduced his physical rages, beating only his second wife and only a few times a year. He didn’t care much for me or my sister—we didn’t have breasts and were too young to plausibly work for him, so he ignored us.
I remember when I turned thirteen and he asked me when I was going to start having children. I told him I wasn’t sure I would ever have children, and he walked over to where I was sitting and stood over me, shouting and spraying spittle onto the top of my head.
“Women who don’t want children are sick,” he told me, “because that’s their purpose to fulfill, you hear?”
He may have mellowed his physical violence towards his children as he aged, but the verbal terror persisted well into their adulthood. My mother’s brother was in his mid-forties when he stuck a gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger just to escape his father’s daily torment. He survived, though now he is blind and lacks a tongue.
My uncle spent months in the hospital as neurologists monitored him for brain damage and plastic surgeons began mapping out his facial reconstruction. Marty became tired of fronting the exorbitant medical bills and threatened to cut the hospital off; however, after facing backlash from my mother and her sisters, he paid the bills and continued to financially support the rehabilitation efforts until his own death in 2014.
When I heard the news of his passing, I was vacant of the sadness and confusion I had experienced after my uncle’s suicide attempt. When I heard that Marty had died, I felt only relief. Godzilla had been vanquished.
I don’t remember a consciousness exempt from sexual violation. My first introduction was at age four, when a buddy of my father (who lived with us, in the bedroom adjacent to mine where my parents were preparing a nursery for my unborn sister) invited me to look at some pictures in a magazine.
A magazine turned to the centerfold showed a naked man in a bowtie lay across a dining cart, as if he were a caterer just pulling some after-hours shenanigans. In the first picture, the caterer held the rounded cover of a silver dining platter over his genitals; in the second, he pulled off the cover triumphantly, exposing his long, pink penis and wrinkly ball sack to another naked man who had joined the frame.
The next penis I saw, shrunken and pink with floppy testicles that I knew came as a pair but looked to me like a single, drooping jowl, was my uncle’s. I was sun-bathing on his boat around age ten when he stepped over me, wearing loose shorts and no underwear. A few years later, with the rise of Internet accessibility, he would begin sending me pictures of Looney Tunes characters contorted into anal and vaginal orgies.
All the Hodas children were oversexualized and without boundary, and all of them contributed to the violation of my adolescence. The men in my family asked me as often as they saw me if I was part of the itty-bitty-titty-committee. My aunt had phone sex while assuming I was asleep in her bed; my mother held me down and licked my face until I sobbed.
In a system whose legacy is pornography, female bodies exist for consumption. When I was growing up my mother grabbed my breasts and pinched my butt. She chased me up the stairs of my childhood home and asked to see me take my clothes off. “You came out of my vagina,” she would plead, “I deserve to see you naked.”
I have been asked by her whether or not my boyfriends have big dicks and whether or not I was wet when we first began having sex. She has held me down and tickled me until vomit rose into my throat and on one occasional she grabbed handfuls of mayonnaise and stuffed them up the back of my shorts. In my nightmares, she is on top of me, hands like tentacles feeling me up and down.
My mother does not feel compelled to stop when you ask her to. That would require her to respect my boundaries, but she neither has nor understands boundaries because when she was a child her parents taught her she was nothing.
My father had little interest in interacting with his children and rarely touched or talked to me. In the mid-90s he quit his payphone installation job and went to work for Marty. He took to it, at first, finding glamour in the bloated duffle bag of cash he returned home with every week, compelling us to watch as he dumped the bills on the table and counted them out into thousand-dollar stacks.
Sexual paraphernalia began turning up around the house. Magazines, VHS tapes, cock rings, and supersize bottles of lube. My father designed and wore the company jacket, a shiny black bomber with a naked woman perched on a swing, red high heels pointed to the sky. I pleaded with him to remove it before dropping me off at elementary school but he refused, like he refused to stop talking to my friends about his ass tattoo or to relocate his Between the Cheeks DVD collection.
Marty had promised him the business, had promised him the world, and my father was excited to live out the American dream exactly as he had imagined it, growing up poor and Jewish in Ukraine and aching for the comfort of the West.
His first FBI tail happened a few years in, and then they were following him home from Manhattan and interrogating him outside the house where my sister and I slept. My father believed the FBI were interested in the illegal Sri Lankan immigrants that Marty employed, and that Marty had sold my father out as a way to protect his own name.
My father entered a permanent midlife crisis. He got his nipples pierced, took up a cocaine habit, found himself a mistress named Maria and before his death developed a fondness for heroin. He kept his cellphone turned off and stopped coming home at night, only returning occasionally to medicate my mother’s rage with a vial of Percocet and a stack of hundreds, tucked neatly into her purse.
Before Marty, I am dancing in home videos and my father and I are giddily chasing the family parrot around the living room. After Marty, my father is under his bedsheets sobbing when EMTs with oxygen tanks storm the house after my mother has called 911.
My father came from poverty and oppression and lost his mind when he became privy to the unconceivable amount of money porn could provide. He wanted everything, all the time, and frequently binged on European sports cars and high-fashion boutique items for my mother. He ballooned to obesity from his habit of ordering double and triple entrees for himself at dinner time and earned himself a diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes when I was a teenager.
From the time he went to work for Marty until his death at approximately fifty-five (I never knew his true age because he diverted the question, time after time, by telling us he was young at heart), he filled his soul with any amount of vice it took to obliterate the disappointment his American life had become.
If my father had had an obituary (which he didn’t, nor a funeral or a ceremony of any kind), I wouldn’t know how to fill even a paragraph about him. He didn’t have a favorite color, a favorite television show, or any childhood friends he still kept in touch with. I don’t know if he liked to read or how he took his coffee.
I barely knew him but lost him for good when he joined Marty’s business. I lost whatever may have remained of my mother once she began self-medicating the pain of her husband’s decompensation away.
I last saw my grandfather in the early 2000s. It was a sunny day and we sat by his pool, Marty in his trademark polo shirt and high wasted slacks, me covered up in a hoodie because I did not want to hear either Marty or my mother’s commentary on the body I also felt at war with.
Sitting under the sun in a sweatshirt soon turned oppressive and the pool began looking delicious; I was considering buying a one piece from the gift shop inside the condo building when Marty elbowed me in the ribs.
“Hey, you,” he said, “what’s with the tattoos?”
“What do you mean?”
“Are you a lezzie?”
“You look like a lezzie.”
My mother, who had multiple tattoos herself, nodded in agreement.
“You do, Rach,” she said, avoiding eye contact with me. “Daddy’s got a point.”
“You like eating muff,” my grandfather further probed, “or are you a normal girl who wants to get dicked?”
“Daddy,” my mother giggled, still avoiding eye contact with me and lifting her hands to her mouth in a flirtatious manner.
“I don’t think you have any say about what’s normal,” I said to my mother, finally finding her eyes, “at all.”
I was with my mother when she got the news Marty had died. His death followed the passing of my father by only a few months, both due to chronic conditions that their arrogance had prevented them from seeking treatment for. My father died of a stroke several months after having his leg amputated, my grandfather due to COPD he most likely developed after years of smoking cigars and crack cocaine.
Marty left the majority of his estate to his second wife and her children, and the rest to my mother and her siblings. My sister and I, as specified in the will, do not receive any of the inheritance until my uncle dies of complications from his suicide attempt. I have already excused myself from whatever remains after my uncle’s death; I do not want those heavy-hearted leftovers.
I no longer speak with uncle or any of my mother’s siblings. My mother has been out of my life since our last visit in 2014, and my father and I were estranged for years before his death. My personal tormentors may be gone, but the world has supplied a multitude of supervillains to take their place: Bill Cosby is innocent. Woody Allen is still beloved. Donald fucking Trump is our president.
Hugh Hefner dies and the media tries to convince us that the allegation of abuse is fresh news. As if we couldn’t have made the assumption on our own that a ninety-year-old man who owned dozens of women as sex slaves was actually a pretty bad dude?
I know nothing of Hefner’s family but I have to wonder if he leaves behind children and grandchildren with a legacy of abuse like my own. For about ten years I have taken four different psychiatric medications for three different psychiatric illnesses. I have weekly appointments with a psychotherapist and an EMDR-trained clinician to help with my traumatic nightmares. The latest I go to bed is nine-thirty, because I like to wake up early to do Pilates.
I’m fucking boring and it’s the achievement of a lifetime. My reptilian brain is a diva and she demands perfection. A single night of poor sleep can trigger depression, IBS exacerbations, and dissociations that leave me untethered from reality.
I haven’t yet watched The Deuce and I’m not sure I will; the mental health risk-versus-benefit analysis highly favors risk. My grandfather was an asshole and I don’t need a television program to reinforce that for me. What I do need—safety, healthy love, consistent income—I am able to ask for from myself and from the loved ones I have selected as my chosen family. I am able to have and refine my voice, and unlike my mother or her siblings, who never believed they could, I am able to put up my hand and say: “Stop. No more.”
Rumpus original art by Anna McGlynn.