“The Sensuality of the StoreMore Console Table”
by Lily Dodge
Talking about sex is hard. Reading and writing about sex are even harder. This is why most adults, even those with above-average reading proficiency, prefer pictures. The world’s leading women’s magazine knows this, so it prints all of its sex tips in the form of pictures accompanied by witty captions. To prevent pornographic implications, the pictures are rendered as tasteful, featureless line drawings. To avoid any problems that might arise as a result of racial insensitivity (race being another thing that otherwise mature adults find difficult to discuss, even in pictures), the figures are green, purple, and hot pink.
Every month, the leading women’s magazine includes a pull-out section featuring a half dozen new pictures depicting sex positions never before attempted or accomplished by human beings. Because they must be printed on special, extra-large sections of paper, these pages are outsourced to a printer in Atlanta, Georgia. A Swedish manufacturer of affordable, ready-to-assemble furniture also uses this printer for its large fold-out instruction manuals. For seven years the printer served both the leading women’s magazine and the Swedish furniture manufacturer with no problems, until one day the intern responsible for handling the files at the printer misread “funtime.pdf” as “furniture.pdf.” Due to this mix-up, the July 2010 issue of the leading women’s magazine ran assembly instructions for the StoreMore Console Table under the headline “Fun Time in the Summer Time” and the StoreMore Console Table shipped out with detailed diagrams of sex positions like the Sultry Stretch, the Passion Pinwheel and the Jolly Jackhammer.
After the printing mix-up, a sexual revolution took place in the sleepy suburbs and exhausted cities of America. The abstract, technical diagrams became wildly popular with the readers of the leading women’s magazine, many of whom had been put of by the sleek, stylized drawings of neon-colored bodies having sex. The old diagrams were too sexual, too sleazy. They were complicated and confusing. They made sex seem like something only other people did. But the furniture instructions were perfect. Insert Tab A into Slot B. Use a Size 5 screw. What could be simpler? Instead of captions straining at cleverness and achieving only pathetic innuendo, the new drawings were simply labeled Step One or Figure Two. They told what parts went where and that was that.
Middle-aged housewives trapped in the sort of amicably passionless marriages commonly represented in melancholic short fiction were inspired by the clear, handy drawings to escape their poetically sexless lives. Their interest in their husbands’ parts reignited. That was what the new diagrams called them: “parts.” It was much more pleasant to handle a “part” than it was to deal with a “johnson,” a “package,” or a “little soldier,” as the leading women’s magazine had previously referred to them. College students already bored with their partners awakened again to the energy of sex thanks to the edginess of the furniture assembly guides, their no-holds-barred instructions always in the mandatory tense. A national organization for queer visibility recognized the leading women’s magazine with an award for their gutsy choice to do away with gendered depictions of sex altogether, smashing the heteronormative paradigm and including queer-identified people who had previously been excluded from discriminatory sex tip illustrations.
The Swedish furniture manufacturer was winning awards as well. A post-modern counter-intellectualist art and design studio in Vancouver stunned the critics by awarding their most avant-garde prize to the Swedish furniture manufacturer, whose work had previously been derided as pedestrian and offensively functional. The prize had last gone to a man who dressed up as a ballerina and performed a root canal on himself outside the United States Department of Agriculture building to protest an important issue. But Cassandra Bennetton, the daughter of one of the wealthiest and most influential art collectors in North America, had seen in her lawyer’s secretary’s office a StoreMore Console Table assembled in the manner of the Booty Butterfly and insisted on having one of the delightfully useless and grotesque tables for herself. Hers was put together according to the instructions for the Tarty Tango.
Both the leading women’s magazine and the Swedish furniture manufacturer were stunned by the sudden success. The intern responsible for the mix-up at the printer was hired by the leading women’s magazine after a vicious bidding war for her employment. The Swedish furniture manufacturer began running a line of sex-inspired furniture – ottomans performing fellatio on chairs, shelves mounting one another, tables engaged in autoerotic behavior between their stainless steel legs. The leading women’s magazine bought out all the diagrams for furniture models no longer in production and ran them monthly without headlines or captions. This raised a small protest among the writers on staff hired solely to come up with the cheeky, alliterative titles for sex tips, but they were quietly downsized despite the fuss. Many found new work naming pornographic films or writing for adult cartoons.