Night Terrors

Sex, Dating, Puberty, and Other Alarming Things

Ashley Cardiff - Author

Paperback | $16.00 | add to cart | view cart
ISBN 9781592407866 | 224 pages | 02 Jul 2013 | Gotham Trade Paperback | 8.26 x 5.23in | 18 - AND UP
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From getting kicked out of Bible study to metaphysics with strippers a misanthropes wickedly witty observations about the ridiculous, raunchy, and frequently disturbing impulses that propel human existence.

With the wit of David Sedaris and the analytical sharpshooting of Sloane Crosley, Ashley Cardiff spares no oneleast of all herselfin an absurd and relentlessly funny journey of sexual development.

Cardiff reflects on her introverted, awkward and too-smart teenage years to her slightly bolder (but still uncomfortable) adult relationships, all while exploring the rich anthropological terrain of sex and love. Expounding on dating Mormons, the inherent weirdness of adolescent development, sexual nightmare-fantasies about Prince, family members sex tapes, and narrowly avoiding a teenage orgy, Cardiff recognizes sexuality for the anxiety-making force it is. Weaving adept analysis with hilarious anecdotes, she goes for something much deeper than a rant, crafting satire thats as smart as it is ruthless.

Delivering fresh, unapologetic views from the perspective of a precise and ferociously irreverent young female writer, Night Terrors is a rollicking manifesto on the agonies of modern life and love.

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Growing up, I used to have weird sexual fantasies about my dog. In retrospect, they were probably just weird sexual fantasies about peanut butter. As much as people hate to admit or even talk about, kids start developing sexually a long way before puberty. I don’t mean that they become sexually attractive or start cruising or anything, I mean that every now and again they get struck by some strange impulse. I remember watching Batman: The Animated Series at a very young age and experiencing an unsettling new sensation at Catwoman’s revealing outfit—something exciting in a place that never had much personality before. I used to wait for the show to come on and pray to God it would be a Catwoman episode, but it never worked because I don’t actually believe in God, so He probably saw right through that.

What I’m trying to say is that it’s uncomfortable to talk about but kids play doctor and try to look at each other’s junk all the time because kids are just tiny, crazy versions of people. They have all the same base impulses and pathological self-interest, but they’re really frank about it because they haven’t learned that you can’t rub your crotch on stuff whenever you want to. The civilized world has suppressed most of those base impulses in adults, but they’re all right there, inside every child.

When my cousin was six years old she used to disappear from family gatherings and stick a pencil in herself. Everyone else would be sitting around the table and then she’d come back brandishing it, inviting people to “smell [her] perfume” and all the family members would just look aside or stifle sobs. I don’t know if her sexual development was particularly odd or if she ever graduated to Sharpies or highlighters or something a little less junior varsity, but I’m not saying it’s not disturbing. I’m just saying it happens.

When I was a really little kid, I was madly in love with Luke Skywalker because he was so pure and good, like a Ken doll with a bowl cut. But right about age ten or so, I started thinking Han Solo was the more charming and interesting of the two. This is because Luke represents chastity and virtue while Han Solo represents cock. I mention this because I was still a few years off hitting puberty, but I somehow sensed that Han’s dangerous virility was more appealing.

Since I was a weird, friendless kid, I thought obsessively about these kinds of things as they happened. I still followed the impulses because I wasn’t quite sure what they were or where they came from, but I always felt extremely guilty about them. Once when I was about eight, I covered a whole stack of drawing paper in sketches of naked people. My mother found them and flipped out. She plucked up this one of a woman’s naked torso and demanded I tell her what it was. I think she was very afraid. I said the drawing was unfinished and hurriedly drew the face of a cartoon dog over it, the breasts being its gigantic bulging eyes, the nipples its pupils. My mom seemed to buy my story because she dropped the subject but she still wore a look of incredulity, the kind of incredulity that can only come from watching your eight-year-old frantically draw a dog’s face over a pair of tits. It’s likely she just didn’t want to believe I’d blown through three hundred sheets of paper on crudely imagined smut, but it’s possible I fooled her because I’m really talented and good at drawing. To this day, I’m not entirely sure how I did it, because that cartoon dog with its giant bulging tit-eyes looked genuinely surprised at something out of view, as if witness to the loss of my innocence in real time. Or impressed that a prepubescent experiment with adult sexuality can be set aside by the collision of improvisation and denial.

None of that really gets at what I mean better than the fact that, growing up, I used to have a weird recurring sexual nightmare about Prince. The Artist. The one who wrote and recorded “Pussy Control.” He also starred in Purple Rain and Under the Cherry Moon.

I don’t mean that I was some kind of disaffected urban baby like those little kids whose parents are writers or architects or cartographers and they wear miniature ascots and aren’t allowed to have gluten. It wasn’t like that at all; it’s not that Prince or some similar intangible presence would seep along my dreamscapes in which I’d be picking hot dog flowers with Turgenev and Billy Squier and then Thomas Aquinas would be like, “Where are my puddings? Who ate all my puddings?” and we’d laugh and late eighties corporate rock would filter across the hot dog meadow and it would be extremely funny because Thomas Aquinas was a fat bitch.

This wasn’t the case because little kids don’t understand irony; their tiny brains are stupid. Children are annoying and crazy and half-evolved sexually and practically no one in the world becomes tolerable until at least twenty-four. Everybody knows this but there will always be people who lie about it, like the ones you meet in college who swear on their packs of additive-free cigarettes they’ve been listening to the Modern Lovers and Can and Wire since they were eleven. Believe me, they are all self-mythologizing assholes and if you see pictures of them in middle school, you’ll swiftly deduce they were exclusively concerned with WrestleMania and masturbating. Likewise, when I was a little kid, I didn’t know anything about irony. My only interests were in picking my nose and getting aroused to Batman (probably because it was so atmospheric). My recurring sexual nightmare about Prince was genuine.

It always began with me standing in the garage, alone. I’d be looking down the steep driveway from the house where I grew up in Northern California. I spent most of my time alone as a kid, so this wasn’t all that strange, but something would strike me and I’d stand and turn and gaze off a long way. Then I’d realize I could just make out faint strains of music in the distance. I would pause, disquieted there, and everything would become very still like the way it gets before earthquakes. Then I would hear cruel laughter as the music became louder and I would feel the urge to flee. The odor of evil carried even on that brisk Wine Country breeze.

The chase would begin in the way you fathom events as they unfold in dreams because pervasive dread informs you: suddenly, I would be on my tricycle, handlebar streamers flying. My pudgy, uneven little legs peddled urgently and I’d look over my shoulder to see nothing. Nothing. Still, my panic would mount. I could hear my heartbeat, hear the blood churn in my ears.

The perspective would shift and behind me he would rise: Prince, on a colossal tricycle of his own design, purple and garishly decorated, leading a parade float, his minions dancing and fornicating in the tissue blossoms. The sky would darken and he would be there—the Purple One!—rising larger and larger still, his ass cheeks naked and full each time he pedaled with heaving menace in his lace chaps. I did not understand the things he said or sang or why he gesticulated so feyly but I did understand he was coming for me.

My desperate peddling could not be enough and was never enough. The dream would end just as the giant tricycle and what it represented engulfed me. The vision would dissipate and I’d awaken, shaking, to the faint sound of his effervescent laughter. I was never sure what Nightmare Prince intended to do to me (specifically) but I knew that it would be erotic and strange and transgressive and I’m still unsure if any of this makes me racist. In this way, he was kind of a dark messenger from the realm of adulthood, intending to ferry away my innocence like some sort of silken Charon with his butt showing.

I am certain the dream postponed my adolescence a few months longer, thanks to the correlation between sex and horror. I didn’t realize that the Prince nightmare was really a nightmare about sex itself, that my kid brain had churned out an impressively lazy and no less bizarre metaphor, a flamboyant harbinger of puberty several years before it would take place. Not only does this indicate kids have sexual inclinations and awareness and curiosity before their bodies begin to reflect that, what’s more is kids can be terrorized by the idea of fucking before they have any idea what it is.

I had this nightmare six or seven times from about age seven until I hit the age when you start getting really into Prince and realize Sign ‘O’ the Times is a phenomenal album. I mention all this because I recently had a dream in which I had pretty graphic sex with Prince and it actually wasn’t weird. Well, I mean it was obviously weird once I woke up and thought about it, but while it was happening it seemed reasonable. I guess that’s what it means to be a grown-up.

“laugh-inducing, highly relatable, and appealing”
Bust Magazine
“excellent new book of essays."
Brooklyn magazine
“For all the fun Cardiff makes of the idiocy of her youth, she astutely notes that ‘all feelings are at once more lucid and baroque when we’re seventeen.’ It’s to Cardiff’s credit that these feelings, no matter how overwrought they were at the time, are remembered here with humor, sensitivity, and wisdom.”
Publishers Weekly, Starred Review & Pick of the Week
“Night Terrors reminds us that we all used to be younger and dumber, but the education we got along the way was priceless, and hindsight can make it hilarious.”

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