Welcome Home, Kakuda

Bill Riley

Bill Riley

In 1997—the same year I took a trip to Kakuda, Japan as a youth community ambassador to our sister city—the Spice channel came to rural Indiana.

Of course, we didn’t subscribe to Spice, a pay-per-view pornographic channel that showed real porn, actual penises and vaginas, none of this I-guess-you-could-imagine-if-you’ve-done-this-before-what’s-happening suggestive humping.  I had no idea it had come to town. Not even Chris’s parents, who bought Wrestlemanias on pay-per-view every now and then, subscribed.

Here’s how I got the news: my parents had recently bought me a television for my room.  It was a 13-inch with a built-in VCR. As near-high school boys are wont to do, I found myself interested in the late-night offerings of our cable provider one evening.  Finding only tame yet serviceable things on—Singled Out on MTV, a Bowflex infomercial on a local channel—I decided to see if, by any stroke of luck, it was preview week for the premium cable channels.  Sometimes the cable company did that.  I had no idea at this time what channels HBO or Cinemax were, so I simply punched in numbers starting at fifty and working higher, always punching in a number, then pressing “26,” ESPN, so I could hit “last channel” if I heard my parents coming.

Channels 50 to 70 produced only snow, white and black pixels that threatened to illuminate the half-inch gap under my door.

On channel 71, though, I was met with skipping, distorted frames, overly reddish.  While I couldn’t tell what was happening, I could tell something was happening.  And then I saw a woman in an alien costume getting jiggy on a man in a spacesuit.

Over the next year, I learned a lot about the Spice channel.  I learned that in the middle of the day, it was completely snowed out.  Then, as if determined by nightly rises in mid-pubescent testosterone, at exactly 10 p.m. (or, in the summer, as Indiana had not yet accepted Daylight Savings Time, 11 p.m.), channel 71 turned a glorious glow of distorted red. I learned that no matter what poor visual scrambling the cable company implemented, the audio never disappointed.

I had never heard the fake sounds of porn sex.  I learned that when the audio became really interesting and frequent and loud, the picture went haywire.  When things got quiet, the picture would come into focus a bit more.  Because certain things are usually quite loud, and others are quite quiet, I bore witness to many terrible porn plots with awkward initial lines.  Also, I noticed that when a man received oral sex, things got awfully quiet.  Unfortunately, when the action really picked up, things got much louder.  I grew to hate synthesized music not for its cheesiness but mainly for its existence.  It messed up the picture.

And then, one night, I got a great idea.

I had little access to porn during the day, especially since my dad was on to my AOL usage by this time and promised to make me show my mother what I’d been looking at the next time he caught me.  And, as any 14-year-old boy might, I wanted access to porn hourly, perhaps even half-hourly.  Pamela Anderson by this point had become as familiar as my fourth-period math teacher.  I not only wanted access to porn, I wanted that it to be new.

I was going to tape the Spice channel.

Taping favorite television shows was nothing new in my house.  My mother taught elementary school, so she missed her favorite soap operas—the CBS line-up: The Young and The Restless, The Bold and The Beautiful and so on.  She used the same VHS tape to tape the shows daily, until the tape was so worn out that the audio was barely audible.

Since I was The Young and The Horny, I reached into my desk drawer and pulled out a VHS tape.  I threw it in, pressed record, and went to sleep. It wasn’t until morning that I realized what I had done.

I hit “Eject.”

The tape said Welcome Home, Kakuda on the label.  I had taped over the entire visual record of my first time abroad.  I taped over green tea ceremonies and new friends and eating fish with the heads still on… with scrambled porn.  With scrambled porn that I would watch over and over and over again, until I nearly blew out a speaker when I returned to normal television.


  1. Bill,
    This piece still makes me laugh out loud when I read it. I had such a great time editing it with you. What I love most is how vivid the storytelling is. I can easily imagine a young teen boy carefully plotting out his plan to record the Spice channel. I can just see a worn out Welcome Home, Kakuda video tape.
    Simply awesome.

  2. Just saw your note, Erin. Thanks for your kind words and all your editorial help!


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