Ally, by Zeke Jarvis

         Dirk had prepared carefully for the protest. He positioned himself near the entrance to Adult Arcade’s parking lot, away from the door, because the space near the doorway was already taken up by the anti-porn protesters. Dirk didn’t want to be mistaken for one of those judgemental, close-minded people. When he got to his ideal position, Dirk set his bag down and looked around. It was a nice day out. There were nine anti-porn protesters by the door. They all had either bibles or large crosses. They were just starting to look at him when Dirk pulled the sign out of his bag. He scooted the bag into the grass just on the other side of those little concrete stoppers at the end of each parking spot. He then lifted his sign up and started to yell, “Honk your horn if you’ll put some color in your porn!” Although Dirk’s brother had been the one to give him the line, when he was yelling it, he felt like it was his.

            It was only a few seconds before he got his first honk. Of course, it was impossible for Dirk to know if the honk was in response to his chant or the large image of a nude black woman on his sign. But even if it was the image, Dirk was still helping to change what sexy could be, and that was his big-picture goal.

            While Dirk got a number of honks, it was a few minutes before the first car actually turned into Adult Arcade’s parking lot. Dirk’s arms had started to get tired, so he lowered his sign and turned it towards the car, yelling “Black women are hot, too!”

            The car pulled into a spot a few spaces away from the door. As Dirk watched, he realized that Adult Arcade had no handicap parking, but that would be a whole separate protest. Maybe he’d bring a picture of a disabled porn actress that day.

            When the driver exited his car, Dirk held his sign up again. “Buy black!”

            The driver looked over at Dirk. He gave a thumbs up, then turned towards the door. The driver looked over at the protestors near the door and shook his head. Dirk briefly considered going over to the driver, explaining his position in greater detail. Instead, he turned back to the street, lifting his sign again, but this time only to chest height instead of about his head. He was almost immediately rewarded with honking. He watched the honking truck drive on. It had a stars-and-bars license plate protector. Dirk shook his head.

            There was some yelling by the door. Dirk turned towards it. The driver was walking past the anti-porn protesters. They were telling him that the Lord was judging him. The driver had both hands in the air, middle fingers extended, though the left arm was bent, because the driver had a brown paper bag tucked under it. Dirk shook his head. Nobody was coming out on top.

            “Hey hey, hoo hoo, black girls should be in porn, too!” Dirk yelled. A car drove by with two teenage boys in the back. They pointed at Dirk as the car drove by. It was hard to tell if they were laughing at him or just excited to see a picture of a naked woman. Dirk thought about when he was a teenager. When his own family drove past Adult Arcade (usually on the way out of town to visit his dad’s side of the family), he would always give a quick peek out his window, hoping that his mother wouldn’t see. At that time, Dirk thought that the order of hotness by race went: Asians first, then whites, then blacks. He hadn’t even thought about Hispanics or Native Americans. Or Arab women, for that matter. He’d just been like every other white guy. But that’s why today’s protest was too important. This was Dirk atoning for his small-minded porn consumption in college.

            Dirk turned back to the door. The anti-porn protesters were now all looking at looked to be his way, though he couldn’t tell if they were looking at him or at the street. Dirk noted that they were all white, and only two of them were women. Maybe they thought that all porn buyers were perverts, so it wasn’t safe to bring too many women to the protest. Dirk could understand that. With the internet, places like Adult Arcade probably got fewer customers, and the customers probably tended to be more of either the hardcore perverts or the tinfoil hat guys who thought that the government was watching everybody’s downloads and wouldn’t be willing to look up porn on their home computers. The tinfoil hat guys were basically out of Dirk’s reach, but the hardcore pervs were exactly who Dirk should be reaching out to. They were the people whose interests could actually motivate the larger porn industry.

            A car honked and Dirk jumped a little then chuckled at himself. He’d gone into one of his little speeches in his head. “Black is beautiful,” he yelled. He shrugged his shoulders. His arms were getting tired again, even though he was just holding the sign at chest height. Next time, he’d have to use a sandwich board or some kind of stand.

            A car slowed down. A woman leaned her head out of the window and yelled, “Don’t hold that filth up while kids are watching.”

            The car behind her honked its horn, though it was hard to say if that was because of Dirk or because the car was slowing down traffic. Either way, Dirk just yelled, “Keep driving, lady.”

            A few seconds later, after the car was gone, Dirk realized that that had been a stupid comeback. The lady had been in the passenger seat. But before Dirk could get too down about it, another car came into the parking lot. This one was a kind of beat up hatchback. A bachelor’s car. As it pulled into a spot near the door, Dirk started walking towards it. The car had an “I Brake for Zombies” bumper sticker. Dirk wasn’t sure what that meant for his chances of success. As the driver was getting out (some college-aged guy with messy hair and sunglasses, probably trying to buy a little porn without being recognized) Dirk called to him, “Sir!”

            The guy kind of looked at Dirk, then at the anti-porn protestors, who had started to yell about the whore of Babylon. Dirk could see the guy thinking about just getting back into his car and taking off, jerking off in the privacy and safety of his own apartment. It was hard to blame him.

            Still, Dirk held his sign up as he ran, hoping that the driver would see that he wasn’t going to get some kind of big, anti-porn sermon. Sure enough, the guy craned his head a little, checking the sign out. Unfortunately, before Dirk could get to the guy, two of the anti-porn people made their way over. One was holding his Bible above his head. The other guy was kind of mumbling or chanting. Maybe he was supposed to be speaking in tongues, though Dirk had never bought that the whole speaking in tongues thing was real.

            Either way, the driver looked really creeped out by the protestors. He got back in his car and locked the doors, but he didn’t drive off yet. The two protesters were standing on either side of the car, and the other seven were starting to come over. By the time that Dirk made it to the guy’s car, the guy seriously looked like he was going to cry. Dirk stood in front of the windshield, held up his sign, and shouted at the anti-porn protestors, “Shut up! You people need to just shut up and listen for a second.”

            To Dirk’s surprise, it seemed to work. The two protesters stopped chanting, and the others stopped walking towards the car. Before they could start up again, Dirk said, “We are all being very thoughtless with our porn. There are so many black women looking to break in, looking to feel beautiful and sexy. And what are we buying?”

            The driver put his head on the steering wheel and yelled, “I just wanted to buy some DVDs for my buddy’s bachelor party.”

            Before Dirk could reply one of the anti-porn people yelled, “The greatest gift that you could give your friend is the first step on the path to solution.”

            “Please,” Dirk yelled, “listen to my message of equality.”

            The driver said, “Fuck this,” and started his car.

            Dirk, thought that standing by the hood, where he was, was the safest place. The driver would probably back up then turn out of the parking lot. It was the protesters on the sides and the ones coming from the rear that needed to watch out.

            The driver laid on the horn and screamed some curse words. The protesters got the message, backing up and yelling that he couldn’t drive away from his sins. Dirk wondered if they had those lines prepared or if the protester had actually thought that up on the spot. He didn’t think that they’d be that clever.

            The protesters all stepped back when the car started to move. Dirk was a little surprised that none of them pounded on the car as it backed up. It could have, after all, run over one of their feet, and then what would have happened? Some combination of the protesters would have had to head to a hospital if that had happened. And maybe the would have called the paper.

            After the car drove off, Dirk made eye contact with one of the protestors. One of the guys. It wasn’t unpleasant. The guy didn’t make a face or anything, though maybe he just hadn’t seen Dirk’s sign.

            Dirk wasn’t sure if he should stand his ground or head back to the road. One of the other guy protestors, an older, heavy-set guy, said, “What are you advocating for, friend?”

            Dirk held up his poster, but only at about his sternum. “Too often, the only model for beauty for women is a thin white or thin Asian woman. I want the customers of this establishment to buy material that shows an inclusive sense of beauty.”

            “Material?” one of the female protestors said. She was thin and blonde. Dirk thought that she was hot, though he almost immediately pushed the thought out of his mind. He didn’t want to be a hypocrite.

            “Well,” said Dirk, “We vote with our dollar, right? So this is a small but powerful way for me to start a movement towards racial harmony.”

            The older protester said, “But it’s filth.”

            Dirk tried to make eye contact again, but the protester he’d done it with earlier just looked away. “People are going to buy porn,” Dirk said. “You can’t stop that. Your only real hope is to elevate the quality of their purchases.” Dirk raised his poster a bit.

            Another protester said, “We refuse to accept that.”

            Dirk laughed quietly, then muttered, “Welcome to the real world.” He turned and walked back to the street. Dirk turned to look at the protesters one more time. One of them was on a cell phone. Dirk faced back towards the street and yelled, “Vote with your dollar, care with your dick.” He’d just thought that one up.

            Another car honked. The windows were tinted, so Dirk had no way of knowing what the honk meant. Still, Dirk gave the guy a thumbs up, though the car had driven off by then.

            Dirk was starting to get thirsty. He made a mental note to bring a water bottle with him next time. He looked back to see whether or not the anti-porn protesters had water bottles. He didn’t see any, but that didn’t mean that they weren’t there. While Dirk was looking at the anti-porn people, a customer came out of Adult Arcade. He was holding a brown paper bag, but from Dirk’s position, he couldn’t tell if it held magazines or DVD’s. The anti-porn people started their chanting. Dirk shook his head and started walking over. “Sir,” he said. “Sir, can I please just ask you a few questions about today’s purchases?”

            The guy looked at Dirk, then at the anti-porn protesters. “Fuck off,” he said, “We’re all adults, and I can do what I want with my money.”

            “Sir,” Dirk yelled, “I’m not telling you not to buy porn.” Dirk stepped up his pace, hoping to catch the guy before he got in his car. Unfortunately, his feet got tangled, and he tripped. Dirk fell on his sign, and he felt the breath go out of him a little.

            He started to sit up, brushing off his hands. The driver was most of the way in his car, but he stopped to shout, “Way to run, asshole.”

            Dirk shook his head. There was no need for that. He sighed and got to his knees, then he grabbed his sign. The driver backed out of his spot. Dirk wanted to flip him off or to yell at him, but he knew that he shouldn’t. It was a lost cause.

            Dirk got up and took his sign back to the street. The driver honked and waved as he drove off. Dirk found himself wishing that the guy would get into an accident, though he knew that he shouldn’t want that. Maybe just a paper cut from a magazine is what the guy deserved. That seemed reasonable.

            Dirk looked at his palm. It wasn’t bleeding, but it felt hot. Dirk held his sign back up and yelled, “Porn is power, black is beautiful.”

            Most of the cars went by without much reaction. A couple of honks, a few yelling parents, and one white woman gave Dirk the finger. He tried not to take it personally.

            The next car to pull in was somewhere between grey and silver. Dirk started towards it, wanting to beat the anti-porn protesters this time. He succeeded, and he watched two men get out of the car, both looking about college age. They were also both black. Dirk swallowed, his mouth still dry, and lowered his sign.

            The men looked at Dirk’s face, then at his sign. “What’s that?” One of the men said, pointing.

            Dirk said, “Well, I’m doing activism. I’m an ally.”

The first man said, “The hell’s an ally?” but the other one groaned and rolled his eyes.

“He’s one of them white people that think they know what it’s like to be black more than we do.”

            Dirk set his sign down, leaning it against his side. “No,” he said, “no, I’m not saying that I know it better than you.” The second man to speak looked towards Adult Arcade, but the first one seemed to still be listening. “In fact,” Dirk said, “my whole point is to get African Americans more exposure so that more white Americans can understand.”

            The second man looked back at Dirk. “Exposure?” He pointed at Dirk’s sign. “Like that?”

            Dirk looked down at the sign. He wondered if these men thought that the woman on it looked like she was aspiring to a white notion of beauty. Dirk had tried to find an appropriately curvy porn actress. It had taken quite some time. “Yes,” he said. “Or, I mean, it’s a little more complicated than just holding up a sign, but if I can get just a small handful of customers to buy or ask for material featuring strong black women, then it puts black women in a greater position of strength and beauty.”

            The second man spit on the ground. “You think a girl on her knees with a dick in her mouth is in a position of strength?”

            Dirk had expected a question like this, and had even rehearsed an answer about how attention could translate into power, but, when this particular man made the criticism, Dirk couldn’t respond. Instead, he said, “If you don’t want to help, then we’re done here,” and he started back towards the street.

            As Dirk was walking back, he heard the first guy say, “Dude, we have to get this to pledge in our frat.”

            Dirk kept walking. Under his breath, he muttered, “And a frat boy. No wonder why you’re part of the problem.”

            “Hey,” the guy yelled again. The other guy yelled. “They all told us we had to get something with at least two Asian girls in it. I ain’t our fault.”

            When he got back to the street, Dirk held his sign up high and yelled, “Respect black women, buy their porn,” so loud that his voice cracked, but he didn’t care. He stood there, sign up, for what seemed like a very long time. A few cars honked, a few more yelled at him, but the next car to pull into the lot was a cop car. Dirk lowered his sign and watched the car pull into a spot far from the door. It was pretty close to Dirk, actually. The cops stayed in the car for a while, and Dirk began to wonder if the cops were on break and looking to buy some porn but had second thoughts after seeing the anti-porn protests.

            The first cop to get out of the car was a white woman with blonde hair pulled back into a bun. The second was a Hispanic guy. As least, Dirk thought the guy was Hispanic. Dirk had trouble telling sometimes. It was possible that the guy was Native American, but Dirk didn’t think so. He was surprised when the cops started walking towards him. When they were just a few feet away, Dirk said, “Officers?”

            The guy looked at the lady, then at Dirk. “Is this your sign here, sir?”

            Dirk swallowed again. “Yes sir,” he said. “I’m using this sign to make a difference in our world.”

            The cop wiped at his nose. “Yeah, well we’ve been getting complaints that you’re displaying salacious images in public.”

            “Complaints?” Dirk said. “Who would complain about getting to look at this?” He held his sign higher.

            “Sir,” the female cop said. “Who reported it doesn’t matter. You’re breaking the law here.”

            Dirk shook his head. “I can understand how, as a woman, you could misunderstand, but I’m trying to open people’s minds through peaceful protest. I’m not a bad guy.”

            The guy cop sighed. “You’ve got a naked lady picture that you’re holding up in public. That’s against the law. If you put the sign away, then you’ll just get a little ticket, a little fine. If you don’t put it away, then you’ll come in with us. Do you understand?”

            Dirk looked over at the anti-porn protesters again. They didn’t seem to be watching him. “Yeah,” he said. “I get it.”

            The male cop took out a book of citations and started filling it out. Dirk turned back to the lady cop. “Really though,” he said, “don’t you get why this is important?”

            The lady cop laughed quietly. “Do I get why you’re waving around a picture of a naked black woman and saying that you’re a great guy? Not really, no.”

            Dirk thought about trying to explain it again, but it just felt like a lost cause.

            The two black guys came out with a bag. The must’ve wanted to get in and out quickly. One of them pointed at Dirk and laughed. The other took out his cellphone and started taking pictures. Dirk felt his face getting hot; he knew there was color coming to his cheeks. It occurred to Dirk that he could tell the cops that the black men were videotaping them. That he could make them see what it was like to have the cops turn on them. That would make them see that it wasn’t so funny. That would make them get it.

Zeke Jarvis is an Associate Professor at Eureka College. His work has appeared in Thrice Fiction, Moon City Review, and Quail Bell, among other places. His books include So Anyway…, In A Family Way, and the forthcoming Lifelong Learning His blog can be found at zekedotjarvis.wordpress.com.

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