fixations

I Think About This a Lot: The 1993 Adam Sandler Song, ‘At a Medium Pace’

Photo-Illustration: Steve Eichner/Getty Images

I Think About This a Lot is a series dedicated to private memes: images, videos, and other random trivia we are doomed to play forever on loop in our minds.

As middle-school students, my friends and I listened to Adam Sandler’s mid-’90s comedy albums the way kids a few years older drank beer: Huddled together in the woods, vibrating with the fear and exhilaration that adults might find us. The songs and sketches were incredibly dirty, far more explicit than his Saturday Night Live appearances and movies at the time. Most of our favorite lines weren’t even safe to quote in polite company. “The Hanukkah Song,” acceptable to our Jewish parents, was the Trojan horse that brought the albums into our lives, but we stayed for tracks like “Food Innuendo Guy” and “Toll Booth Willie” … at least until someone’s mom or dad confiscated and disposed of the CD (or, gasp, cassette) that we’d been listening to.

Ironically, once you’re old enough that those records are “age-appropriate,” they’re not nearly as funny. For the past two decades, I’ve been as content to relegate Sandler’s albums to the dustbin of my personal history as my friends’ parents were to throw them in literal dustbins. I have about as much use for a minute-long sketch about a science teacher getting the shit beaten out of him as I do for other middle-school relics like Dunkaroos, Trapper Keepers, and my own virginity.

Only one track — the song “,” from Sandler’s 1993 debut album, They’re All Gonna Laugh at You — has had resonance in my life beyond my middle-school years. The gentle guitars of the intro and the first few lyrics (“Put your arms around me baby/Can’t you see I need you so/Hold me close against your skin/I’m about to begin … loving you”) could have been ripped straight from the one crossover ballad on a hair metal album. If you weren’t listening closely, it could have been a Bryan Adams theme song from a blockbuster movie. But the song gets far more graphic than “everything I do/I do it for you” (or even “Summer of ’69”).

“At a Medium Pace” detailed for my social group a breadth of experience that public-school sex ed left out. After the relatively chaste opening, the lyrics quickly speed through some ham-handed foreplay instructions before transitioning into a fantasy of what I can only describe as a low ambition, ad hoc, dom-sub relationship. The singer narrates the romantic encounter, from his lover shaving his pubes to shoving a shampoo bottle up his butt (at the titular, medium pace). He also growls through the intensely specific request “pretend I’m the pizza delivery guy and watch me whack off” and the elaborate humiliation of “Oh darling, make me push my dick and balls back between my legs/Call me an ugly woman, and take my picture to show all the people you work with.” Remember, this was before digital cameras, so someone else would have to develop those pictures.

Most of my friends at the time, myself included, probably would have described sex like this: “Your thing goes in her thing and then stuff comes out and she has a baby,” which is, let’s say, a limited definition. Then we heard this song and went: “Wait … THAT’S sex, too?” (Although some of us probably thought: Oh, yeah, for sure, that’s what I’m going to be into.) It raised so many questions: Why would you want a shampoo bottle in your ass? Who is this pizza-delivery guy? Why would want your pubes shaved after waiting for them to grow in for years? Confused and in search of answers, we had to ask someone’s older brother (the original Google). The sex Sandler sang about isn’t necessarily my kind of sex, but hearing the song felt like the first time you learn that there are other restaurants than McDonald’s. But also you’ve only ever heard about McDonald’s secondhand.

Over the years, I’ve come to realize that the joke of the song wasn’t the deviance of the sex acts; it was more of a parody of the genre that uses “making love” or “staying up all night” as an anodyne euphemism for, well, the kind of things Sandler sings about. The ultimate punch line comes (sorry) when the singer reaches orgasm too quickly to back up all his dirty talk — which is also what sex can be like sometimes, I’ve heard. But even that is undercut by the earnest crooning of “Maybe next time I’ll be better at loving you.” With apologies to Paul Thomas Anderson, forget Punch-Drunk Love, this is Adam Sandler at his most vulnerable.

In just over three minutes, Sandler introduces the ideas of having open communication, showing generosity to your partner, and feeling unashamed of your sexual kinks — even if those kinks include feeling ashamed. Sure, that all went over my head at the time. I just thought it was funny to hear a guy bellow “WATCH ME WHACK OFF!” over subdued guitar strumming. But 20-plus years later, I’m mostly impressed and confused by how the same guy whose characters all have the emotional intelligence of a frog being blown up by a firecracker created such a tender, slightly tongue-in-(butt)-cheek BDSM ballad.

Although, even with the passage of time, I’m still left to wonder: What was so special about that pizza-delivery guy?