In times of insurmountable fear and crushing existential anxiety, there's one thing we can always count on: prank texts. One from a friend back home in San Diego read: "San Diego County officials have confirmed a case of coronavirus in the North Park and City Heights CA communities. Authorities urge local residents to avoid mass transit and to stay indoors. Click to see high-risk areas." Naturally alarmed, I clicked the link. What awaited me was a big, naked Black man and his humongous penis.
Embarrassingly, I got suckered into opening photos of this man thrice(!), as have many others, via assorted prank texts circulating and promising breaking information about the COVID-19 crisis. (There's also the one that appears to be a video of a long grocery line, only to cut to a close-up of a butthole letting out a fart. Classic.) This sort of gross-out text pranks is stupid and immature, but it keeps spirits high—or, perhaps, moderately annoyed—as we all attempt to go about life during the coronavirus outbreak that has many of us in self-isolation.
However, I was taken by that man used in this text chain. He's out there, somewhere, possibly not knowing that his big, buff image—and anaconda-esque schlong—is being used to trick countless people out in the world. So I set out to find him and ask him how he feels about being unwittingly a part of the prank. Here's what I found out.
Like a good journalist, I took the image of the unidentified man and did a reverse Google image search, which allows you to upload a photo into the search engine. Google will then provide results of other sites where that image has been posted online. The results sent me to—as you can imagine—various porn sites, including PornHub, where quite a few users had shared the unidentified man's full video. I clicked on one and there he was: the same face now contorted in orgasmic pleasure, the same chocolate leather headboard and cream-colored sheets, the same big ol' dick now being choked out by his thick arms. In the bottom corner of the video there was a website: pantheonbear.com. That redirected to another website, hotoldermale.com.
There I was greeted by, well, hot older males, all passionately engaging in oral and anal sex. On the website's tabs was a button labeled "models." I clicked that and found a gallery of men, all posed seductively in the nude. I scrolled through, passing Adam Clay (a Mr. Clean-looking man sitting on a lawn chair with a large Prince Albert piercing), the tattooed, hairy bear Jack Dixon, and Bishop Sterling, a gray-haired, mature gentleman who looks like your average pop-pop who manages a CarMax.
Then, finally, on page 17, I found him. His name, apparently, is "Wood." No last name, just simply "Wood." Wood was listed as a 39-year-old, 230-lb. "cut" top. His body type was labeled as "bear," "big dick," "daddy," and "muscular," which, well, accurate. According to his bio, Wood was a "hot 'n' beefy" ex-pro football player "with a warm personality and a BIG fucking cock!" Apparently, the cameraman who shot the photos I was gazing upon while sitting at my kitchen counter had "his cock throbbing" during the whole shoot, and I would have endured the same fate if I had a penis.
Excited that I had tracked down the man inside the prank text, I set out to try to find the real Wood. I googled "ex football player turned porn star" but only found a former running back for the Minnesota Vikings named Dave Nelson, who starred in the 1995 porn flick Backfield in Motion, directed by Ron Jeremy.
He and Wood didn't look anything alike, so it wasn't him. Then I figured I'd go the most obvious route and email the website's support address, explaining the prank texts and that I'd love to be connected to Wood to chat about it. Five hours later Walter Smith, the owner of Pantheon Productions, responded: "I'm sorry to hear that Wood's image has been used in such a way. It's quite shameful. Unfortunately, Wood passed away several years ago. Our images from him are from 2011."
You should all be feeling pretty terrible right about now. I followed up with my sincere condolences, and asked what the cause of death was, but received no response. As you can imagine, I felt like a real asshole (and not the kind that farts in your face when you click on a link).
It's realizations like these, where you're laughing at something only to discover the absolute downer that forms part of the backstory, are a good reminder to maybe not be total jerks. This story is truly a sad trombone. Pranks come at you fast; so does life.
Alex Zaragoza is a senior staff writer at VICE. You can find her on Twitter.