Thought Catalog

My Life In Pornography, Part I: A Girl’s Best Friend

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“I don’t think you’re cut out for manual labor.” My dad told me that in 1970, when I was ten going on eleven. My dad was a “route man” for National Foods, which distributed Wise Potato Chips throughout Northern and I believe Central New Jersey, and every now and then during my childhood, he’d take me out on a run, for which he had to get up every weekday at about four in the morning to get his truck out of the garage by six. The truck was small, and single seated, so on those few times I went out with him I had to sit in a folding chair and hang on to a handle by the sliding right door. My function would be to help my dad unpack and set up the boxes of snacks at various supermarkets and delis, and he placed a good amount of pride in the care with which he set up the displays in each particular store, and tried to impart this expertise to me, but I was quite a bit more interested in eating potato chips than in the niceties of their retail display, and also more interested in leafing through a deli’s stock of Warren Magazines (they published “Vampirella” and “Eerie” and that kind of horror comic dreck) than in unloading and cutting open boxes and stuff. I was a bit of an abstracted child — a “dreamer,” as some of my kin put it, and how I did come to hate that word—and once my dad had rewarded me with a cursory sum of money for my indifferent contribution to his work, I’d go out and squander it on some rock LP that had caught my fancy for whatever reason. (The record I bought after the outing that had prompted my father’s observation—an observation made more in resignation than in anger, I ought to emphasize — was Donovan’s Open Road. Yeah, I dunno either.)

I can’t say for certain whether I was remembering those words — oh, to hell with it, I can pretty much guarantee I was not remembering those words — as I stood in a hardware store on 8th Avenue near the Port Authority in New York City one morning in late August of 1980, looking for something that I thought was called “duck tape.” Clearly, though, the kernel of my father’s observation had held true. Picking up this mysterious “duck tape” was the first task of what was to be a day full or manual labor, and further evidence that this wasn’t really my thing is that, as far as I can remember, the shoes I was wearing, and would wear through much if not all of the next two weeks, were black patent leather loafers, which were the only footwear available to me at the time. Every time I remember this I can barely believe it. There’s absolutely no sense to the idea that even as a 21-year-old I didn’t have the wherewithal to run out and get a cheap pair of Chuck Taylors for a two-week job that entailed a lot of running around and lugging stuff. I didn’t have a lot of wherewithal at 21, who does, but still. That sounds like a bit much. And yet that’s what I remember having on my feet much of the time working as a production assistant on the pornographic film A Girl’s Best Friend, which was shooting under the title, The Family Jewels.

How I got the job was this: my friend Ron, on graduating from NYU with a filmmaking degree, took an entry level position at Quality X Video, on 44th Street between Eighth and Ninth avenues, where he was in charge, or second in charge, of videotape duplication, manning a console which ran off copies of VHS cassettes of “adult” movies. Quality X was the domain of Sam Lake, the one-time grindhouse king who turned to hardcore full time after being part of the big Deep Throat score. Lake, like many of his peers in the exploitation game, had a very alert nose for a buck. For instance, a few months my brief tenure in his employ, John Lennon was shot to death. This event triggered a memory in Sam: didn’t he have, in his vault (or wherever it was that he kept the nasty products he’d been churning out for the skeeve cognoscenti since the sixties) a movie in which a youngish Yoko Ono played a small role, and in fact appeared nude? Indeed he had: the movie was Satan’s Bed, made in 1965 when Ono was a semi-struggling artist in New York, although Sam was wrong about her appearing nude in it; she does run around in her underwear and get smacked around a bit though. In any event, Lake dictated a letter to Ono sending his condolences on the recent tragic events and offering to let her take his print of Satan’s Bed off of his hands for $50,000. Sam’s secretary, not a woman of inordinate sentimentality, flatly refused to type the letter, and that was that. Upstairs from his office, in a small facility, Ron would spend his days keeping watch over several monitors as masters of various porno films played out as they were duplicated onto VHS tapes that would retail for something like eighty bucks a pop. (Home video was primarily a rental market at that time.) He wound up watching a LOT of porn, which was not something he was necessarily interested in. I don’t actually know why he took the job in the first place, now that I think of it; I think he was eager to get out from under the wings of his parents, who had put him through school but now would be entirely happy for him to come in and help run the family business of women’s clothing retail, which he had zero interest in doing.

I had no such concerns. I was still in college, whittling down my course load semester after semester, squandering my college loans on ever more obscure record albums (that summer I found a copy of Henry Cow/Slapp Happy’s In Praise Of Learning at the Soho Music Gallery: score!), and hanging out a lot at the office of the college paper, The Beacon, where I was Arts Editor and unofficial Enfant Terrible. My parents had not business for me to go into, and were in fact FINALLY getting the divorce that had been looming since my dad had taken up with another woman about five years prior. One of my summer “jobs” had been at the student center at my school, setting up events and stuff. When I wasn’t doing that—and the hours weren’t exactly generous — I worked as the World’s Worst Telemarketer, selling, or rather, not selling, subscriptions to TV Guide, Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone and other Fine Publications to people who would say to me that they would only shell out for such a thing if I could spell the name of the town I was calling, in this case being Nacogdoches, and then reneging once realizing that, of course, I had the name of the town on the card I had with their phone number to call. I don’t know why, exactly, I was the World’s Worst Telemarketer; even in my early 20s I had a relatively pleasant, resonant speaking voice, and I could read from a script like nobody’s business, way better than the other doofuses who would start off on the wrongest foot, ending their intros with a question mark. But I couldn’t sell worth shit. I don’t know if my delivery lacked the requisite sincerity; maybe I read from the script too well. In any event, it was likely only my relative objective competence that staved off a firing, but I could kind of feel it coming.

So late-ish in the summer, when Ron told me that Lake, who was now backing one feature production each year as his business model shifted to video, erm, monetization of his library, was assembling a crew to shoot a new picture, and that there was a production assistant job there for the taking, I was in a not atypical “why not?” frame of mind. In 1980, you were pretty much out of the “porno chic” era but still in the time of porn-with-mainstream-ambitions/pretensions. Lake had not named his outfit Quality X for nothing. This picture was going to be shot on 35mm, with Panavision cameras, by a highly professional outfit headed by a guy who was best known these days for his stellar on-the-fly work for the proto-reality TV series That’s Incredible. It would amount to Invaluable Technical Experience for someone interested in working in film. Ron would take it himself, except he’d have to accept his pay being docked for those two weeks from $200 a week to $50 a week, which he couldn’t afford. For me, who was just sort of sleeping on pull-outs at various residences whose rents were being paid by friends or a parent or another, this was not so much a problem. As for “interested in working in film,” I was mainly interested in not working but I seemed to be coming to an age where I’d have to make some adjustments in that area. So I said sure.

Still, a porn film. That might be a little weird. Not to worry, Ron assured me; all the sex stuff was shot on a “closed set.” I’d carry and set up lights and reflectors and go back to the truck and imagine I was working on a “real” movie. If that’s what I preferred.

Others were not so sanguine about this temp gig. I had a dinner at the log cabin in Wayne, N.J., that my mom and dad split spending time at as their marriage underwent its final dissolution and they made rather drawn-out arrangements to get rid of the place and set up housekeeping, separately, elsewhere. The log cabin had been the final geographical my dad and mom pulled before everything fell apart for good, and I’ve always felt a little guilty over it, and I’m sure my younger sister, a year my junior, feels similarly. At the time they got the cabin, the only kid living “at home” was my high-school age brother, and the house was a relatively cozy, congenial fit for three and potentially a good space for a rebuilding of relations but then I had one roommate/girlfriend/whatever situation go all wobbly so crawling back I came to the new old homestead, and meanwhile my sister fucked up junior college in Boston and she came crawling back with an affected Southie accent and there we all were again, a one big happy family, which was actually hardly the idea. So one night, my sister and my brother and I were dining with Mom, as she was in charge of the house that evening, and I laid out that I was doing this thing and I was gonna crash most nights in Brooklyn at my uncle’s place or maybe at my pseudo-quasi-girlfriend’s or something, but it didn’t make sense given the potentially erratic hours for me to try to commute from the more rustic depths of Wayne into the city every day blah blah blah, and my sister complained to our mother, “I can’t BELIEVE you’re letting Glenn work on a PORNO MOVIE. If I was in a porno movie you’d have a FIT.” Our poor mother, who had a bunch of other things on her mind, only one of which, I imagine, was the question as to how she’d managed to be blessed with this gaggle of idiot children, rolled her eyes and said, “Well, your brother’s not going to be IN the film, he’s going to be setting up lights for it. OF COURSE I’d have a fit if you were in a porno movie.” She looked at me meaningfully. “Still…”

“It’s okay, mom, really. They’re shooting it on Panavision cameras!”

And so they were: I saw one such camera on the truck on the morning I arrived at the Quality X office right next door (or so) to Dykes’ Lumber, which business name was ever an occasion for male collegiate mirth and which I hence duly chuckled at as I passed its front. But I was not to take the truck to 13th Street with the rest of the crew on that bright and very hot August day; no, I was to go hang out at the hardware store around the corner until it opened at nine (call time at the truck had been 8 a.m.) and procure as many rolls of “duck tape” as the twenty bucks the Best Boy had given me would allow. And then get a cab down to 13th Street as fast as I could get there.

Looking around the store right after it let its gate up, more or less, and seeing nothing that I would have imagined as duck tape, already starting to feel anxious about wasted time, I asked the only guy in the store where they might stock it, and he said, “Duct tape?” and I shrugged, and he said “Duct tape,” and he went over to where it was and started pulling rolls off a wall hook and said “how much you want,” and I said “twenty dollars worth?” and he didn’t even blink by this point. What was the price of a roll of duct tape in 1980? I don’t remember. I got quite a bit of it, that was for sure, and left and got into a cab.

I went to a restaurant cum discotheque called The Continental on 13th Street, where a fair amount of the pivotal action leading up to various sex scenes would be taking place. For not only was this picture being shot with Panavision cameras, it actually had a script, with dialogue and a plot and everything. The Family Jewels, scripted by one Joel Bender, concerned a team of mother-son jewel thieves/con artists and a particularly convoluted escapade that eventually compels them to, wait for it, commit incest. Hoo-eee. On the street level of the location, racks and racks of clothing were being donned by a bunch of young extras, who apparently had been summoned via a notice on a bulletin board at the drama department building of NYU. Also dressing in semi-formal party style were the principal actors in the scene: Juliet “Aunt Peg” Anderson, an attractive blonde whose particular cachet was that she had entered porn performing just as she was turning 40; she was playing the mother of the mother-son jewel thief team. Samantha Fox, whose fame in porn would in a few years be eclipsed/confused by a British Page Three Girl turned singer who used the same name, but who at the time was a Very Big Thing in the biz and a fan favorite to boot, had a prominent cameo in the scene. A tall lanky balding guy who was to pick up Anderson’s character in the scene was straightening the bow tie on his tux. Also in formal wear was a short, mustachioed young guy who looked like a somewhat lower-rent hybrid of Joe Namath and Burt Reynolds, with a heavy dose of Outer-Borough-Nice-Jewish-Boy, thrown in for good measure. This was Ron Hyatt, or Ron Jeremy, depending on whom you talked to.

By the time I got to the location with what I now understood to be duct tape, the truck had been pretty much unloaded, so I needed something to do. The Best Boy, Phil, introduced me around; I met the Other Production Assistant, Dan, and the d.p. Larry Revene, and the director of the film, Ron Sullivan, who went by the nom du auteur Henri Pachard, which he had adopted back when he was making softcore roughies for Sam Lake in the ‘60s. Sullivan had floppy hair and wire-rimmed glasses and an easy smile and the general demeanor of a guy who would have been the “card’ in a suburban golf foursome. His A.D. was a wiry, loudmouthed, sour-faced guy named Bill Slobodian, who wore a t-shirt that read “Billy AH,” for “Billy Asshole.” Taking in my full height—at the time I stood six-four or so, and had a Dylanesque, or maybe even Rob Tyneresque, Caucasian afro hairstyle that made me look taller still—Slobodian decided to make me the boom operator.

I was placed behind the bar where Juliet Anderson and her lanky balding pickup would have the brief enigmatic conversation that would lead to their leaving together to go and have some sex. Ms. Anderson was exceptionally well-mannered and friendly, while the lanky balding guy was a sullen lump. I wasn’t feeling all that well myself; I seemed to be coming down with something, and my arm strength wasn’t what it could have been. I didn’t blow any takes, but I did have to be reminded to get on tiptoe and hold the boom REALLY HIGH before they commenced with another take. It was, as so much menial labor on movie sets still tends to be, kind of tedious.

I was then dispatched to do same for an exchange between Samantha Fox and Mr. Hyatt, or Jeremy, or whoever he was. The conclusion to this bit would not be the pair leaving to go have some sex elsewhere; rather, Fox was going to give Jeremy a hand job right there on the dance floor. Sullivan, Fox and Jeremy worked out their blocking before things got started. The first words I remember hearing from Ron Jeremy’s mouth are “So, what, am I just going to let my goo spill right onto the floor?” He was referring of course, to what was/is euphemistically referred to as “the money shot” (this is neither the occasion or place to comment on how dispiriting it is to come across this term in various forms of opinion writing, but it is) or more bluntly the “come” or “cum” shot, in which the male actor is seen actually ejaculating, which custom originated, so it is said, so as to demonstrate that the sex in the scene has not been simulated. Because people need that reassurance when viewing porn. Or something. I imagine that prosthetics and other technologies have evolved to the point that such shots CAN in fact be seamlessly faked, but again, that’s a topic for another time. In any event, Jeremy, the consummate professional , wanted to make sure he was gonna give his director what he wanted/needed for the scene. Which, apparently, would be his goo spilling right onto the floor. Somebody appeared with a roll of Scott Towels and waved it in front of Jeremy, as if to say, don’t worry, it’s not gonna permanently mess up this nice parquet floor, we’ll just mop it right up after you’ve finished.

Once the shots in which Fox and Jeremy exchanged their own epigrammatic dialogue were finished, all non-essential personnel were instructed to go downstairs. There we were, a bunch of overdressed NYU drama school kids, a few scruffy P.A.s, and some equally scruffy camera and electric guys. So the closed-set thing was true after all. The question was how long it would be closed. The camera and electric guys were speculating on the time it would take for Jeremy to “get wood,” that is, achieve an erection. One fellow bemoaned the fact that he hadn’t brought a deck of cards; while Jeremy was known to be a highly competent “woodsman” once he got going, he could be a little gun-shy, particularly early in a shoot. One of the other guys recalled an hour-and-a-half wait before Wood Was Realized. Sighs were heaved. In the meantime, the NYU kids were chatting among themselves and trying to figure out whether to be excited or skinked out about the fact that they were in a porn film; apparently the notice they answered had been a little vague on that point.

Jeremy took only a half hour to get aroused, after which Fox dispatched him with enthusiasm and efficiency. (Aside from her ostensibly unusual-for-a-porn-star looks—she wasn’t at all busty, for one thing—Fox was renowned in the industry for being not only actually something like a real actress, but for bringing a very immediate heat to her sex scenes.) Back upstairs we went. A few pickup shots with the dancing extras were put in the can, and I was given a couple of pay envelopes. One for Fox, and one for the lanky balding lump. Neither was sealed, so I looked at the checks inside. Lanky Balding Lump, who was going to come back next week to shoot the scene in which he was actually to have some sex with “Aunt Peg,” got $875; Samantha Fox, who, after exchanging a few words and then giving a handjob to Ron Jeremy, was “wrapped” as far as The Family Jewels was concerned, got $2,000, such was her own particular cachet at the time. I was impressed.

The day, which had been pretty exhausting, ended with an exterior shot in which Juliet Anderson and Lanky Balding Lump got into a cab together, so as to travel to the destination at which they would have some sex. This took a few takes, and the cab had to be re-cued, and all that, so I had to be That Guy who stands on the corner and asks pedestrians to go another way on the sidewalk while we’re getting the shot. “If anybody asks you what you’re shooting, just say it’s a John Travolta movie, or the new Woody Allen or something,” a camera guy told me. So I alternated between those two, and people were delighted to hear it, and happy to go another way. Once, as an experiment, I told the truth, and got a very dirty look an “Ugh!” in response so I didn’t try THAT again. For some reason I had been under the impression that New York City residents were, to a man/woman, entirely cool with pornography.

Later that evening, at my uncle’s Brooklyn Heights brownstone, one of my cousins responded pretty similarly when I told her what I was up to that required me to crash there for a few nights or maybe even two whole weeks. “That’s disgusting,” Maeve said, in a tone that added “but hardly surprising, knowing you.” My uncle’s kids were all being well-educated and I was the slightly precocious but largely boorish country cousin to at least a couple of them. My aunt, who’d been kind enough over the years to have been my docent on numerous cultural excursions to The City (took me to see Buñuel’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie when I was a thirteen-year-old aspiring surrealist), saw more in me, and fortunately, she was out of town and never needed to know of this, unless Maeve decided to rat me out, which was a possibility. But I was too exhausted to care.

Midweek I met Bobby Astyr, a short, brash, energetic guy in early middle age who was playing one of the rich conquests of Anderson’s character. Years later I would read an interview between him and the former porn star, later porn publisher Gloria Leonard (the doyenne of High Society magazine and a slight bete noire of Spalding Gray’s; she had a habit, when Gray would be on television flogging one of his projects, of calling in and bringing up his porn performing past; he “rapes” Leonard in the opening scene of a porno called The Farmer’s Daughter, in which he is credited as “Spaulding”), in which, recalling the early days of their friendship, Astyr enthused about their shared love for the great jazz drummer Max Roach, and the evenings they spent at the Village Vanguard, watching Max play. Astyr, whose stage name was a very rudimentary anagram of “satyr,” was of a breed of “adult” actor that would pretty much die off after the industry stopped having any kind of New York base at all. That is, he was a trained performer, a guy who’d done stage work and had fallen into porn through some combination of desperation, curiosity, personal kink, what have you. There was a guy went by the name of Mike Horner who was actually operatically trained. Paul Thomas, the performer who’d later become a director of some notoriety, was rumored to have appeared in the film version of Jesus Christ Superstar; I think the reality of it was that he was in one of the stage touring companies of the show, and not even really in such a big role in it anyway, but I could be wrong. What this meant in practical terms on the day we were shooting in a Times Square office building across the street from the big Burger King and the National Theater was that on lunch break Astyr would be absorbed in the New York Times crossword puzzle, and he decided I was OK when I was able to provide an answer for him.

Not everybody else in this caravan was of equal refinement, of course. One of the sex scenes we shot in the office environment was one in which Astyr’s character got a blowjob from a secretary or some such individual; the secretary in question was played by a woman who called herself Veri Knotty. The wordplay here was of a dual nature: not only was this performer, of course, “very” “naughty,” but she supposedly had this trick where she could pull down both sides of her labia and tie it into a literal knot. Everyone involved in the production expressed some relief that she was not going to be required to do this for her scene. She was quiet, kind of mousey, and not particularly well-liked by anybody; a few days later, dropping some stuff off at the editing facility, I looked over a few shoulders at some rushes they were putting through a movieola and heard someone compliment Sullivan and Revene on how they shot her scene: “You made her look almost human.”

By this time it had become apparent that the whole “closed-set-for-sex-scenes” rule or custom or convention or whatever it was was at the very least highly provisional or a complete crock. By Thursday we had moved up to a couple of apartments on the Upper West Side, the summer heat was getting even more unbearable than it had been, the air conditioning wasn’t functioning too well and it made too much noise to be kept on during actual shooting, so at one point I found myself crouching behind a potted plant, my hand on the control of an electric fan, which I was to turn on between takes of a lengthy sex scene between Jeremy and a woman named Jody Maxwell, whose nickname “The Singing Cocksucker” derived from the fact that she could apparently, if not sing, at least hum a coherent tune while performing fellatio. Again, for the purposes of this film, she would not be required to exhibit this skill. Maxwell was perky and flirty; before her scene was to begin shooting, she informed me that if I could procure her a six-pack of Pepsi Light, the low-calorie lemon-tinged cola that all the kids were crazy about at the time, she would be my “slave” for that portion of the afternoon which did not involve servicing Mr. Jeremy. Sullivan/Pachard tsk-tsked her, then me, as if too tell me not to take her seriously in the least but of course I had not. It wasn’t that I was snotty enough to turn down Ron Jeremy’s sloppy seconds in the event that the offer had even been vaguely plausible; no, it was more that witnessing the entirely mechanical nature of the staging and shooting of the sex scenes had already, in the phrase David Foster Wallace would use eighteen years later, fried my glandular circuit board. And me so young. (Just turned 21.) It was temporary, but it certainly did inadvertently solve the potential dilemma of whether I was going to try to get over on my sort-of-ex-girlfriend when I was crashing at her place during the shoot.

The Upper West Side shoot was a little fraught for several reasons: the “money people” were in from Kansas City Missouri to look things over. I was rather expecting, as who wouldn’t, a bunch of short squat cigar smoking guys in dark suits, Italian-American coevals to Sam Lake’s urban Jewish vulgarian, but no, the two guys and one woman checking things out were young, with feathered hair and white flared jeans and French t-shirts and one of the guys had a disco moustache. They all seemed pretty mellow, third generation mobbed-up maybe, semi-Fredos who were assigned to a funsy portion of the business that didn’t require much in the way of brains or muscle. I didn’t think all of this at the time, of course. I think what I thought was, “They don’t LOOK like they’re from Kansas City,” although again I really had no idea of what anybody from Kansas City looked like or was supposed to look like. Then there was the fact that the guy who was lending the production his apartment was also, at the same time, trying to sell said apartment, and the real estate broker was apt to happen along with a potential buyer at any time, at which point we were all supposed to be on the same page and act as if we were shooting a television commercial. It did not occur to me to ask aloud just what kind of television commercial could be said to credibly contain footage of Ron Jeremy penetrating “The Singing Cocksucker” from behind, which I suppose was just as well. We were lucky that nobody turned up during our labors there, but the tension at times was, as they say, palpable.

There was also this one guy, who also had feathered hair and wore what I recall as a rather ostentatious gold earring on his left side, who would sit in a director’s chair on the set and whisper into a tape recorded during the shooting of certain scenes. Once he whispered a little too loudly and roused the ire of Billy AH, who was told by a producer to back down. This was David Rensin, a writer for Playboy magazine who was doing something, he wasn’t quite sure what, about adult entertainment for the magazine, and he was here as a note-taking observer and this was important. Relative to the status-consciousness of the production entire, Playboy coverage, whatever form it might eventually take, conferred a sort of legitimacy that I inferred was considered very desirable by many of the assembled. Once I found out who he was I started paying very close attention to the way he spoke into his microcassette recorded. Was this how Notes Were Taken In The Big Leagues? I couldn’t quite figure out how it worked. I never liked hearing the sound of my own voice played back to me but I guess people with actual confidence didn’t have that problem. Eventually I introduced myself to Rensin, who, I couldn’t help noticing, was also remarkably short, and gushed to him about how I worked at the college paper and when I got out I wanted to be a rock critic or a film critic and gosh it sure must be great to work at Playboy. “I’m sure you’ll do very well for yourself,” he said to me. I’m pretty sure I remember those words exactly.

While Rensin wasn’t conducting formal interviews with any of the cast at the time, whenever Jeremy saw him around he made sure to pitch his voice up to near-announcer levels. “Yeah, I just got my SAG card, “ he announced one day during a wardrobe change to no one in particular as Rensin hovered around. “I did some extra work in the new Woody Allen movie, whatever it was, you know, he doesn’t title them while he’s making them…” (It was Stardust Memories, and Jeremy is not visible in the final cut.) On another occasion, apropos of nothing, he directly asked Rensin “Did you see Dressed To Kill?” Rensin had; pretty much everyone in New York who was vaguely interested in film had, sure. “I can’t believe they gave that picture an R! It’s total bullshit. I mean, come on. That shower scene in the beginning? I SAW that finger go up there.” He exhaled and rolled his eyes in mock exasperation. His point, for he indeed had one, was that Hollywood was entirely hypocritical in stigmatizing porn performers and producers when they were peddling this kind of stuff and completely getting away with it. This leitmotif was sounded in a number of other conversations on the set; for Jeremy, it would function as more or less of a chorus of complaint for him over the following three decades and more.

Weirdly, all of the sex scenes were beginning to get to Dan, the other production assistant. “These people are a bunch of whores and sluts,” he bitched to me one morning as we were unloading the truck. “They should all be taken out and shot.”

While I couldn’t rightly say I was feeling entirely comfortable in this environment myself, I thought this was a bit much. “You knew what this picture was when you signed on, right? Don’t you work over at the Quality X office anyway?”

My logic was unassailable. He gave me some kind of “you’ll never get it” grumble and handed me a reflector stand, or something.

Phil, the best boy, had noticed Dan’s discomfort, and decided to do something about it. That is, to escalate it. He asked Dan and I to have lunch with Ron Jeremy. We went to some dark bistro in the lower ‘70s, close to the apartment where the shoot was. I got a slice of quiche and Jeremy got a burger. I don’t remember what the other guys were having. But as soon as we got our food, Jeremy and Phil started talking shop, discussing the most outré porn product that was out there at the moment, and sneaking amused glances as Dan turned green.

“Hey Ron, you see that Jamie Gillis enema movie, what was it called?”

Water Power?”

“Yeah, that, you see it?”

“Yeah.”

“You see that scene in it, where…” And so on.

Relatively late in the meal, Jeremy turned to me and said flatly, “You know I can kiss myself.”

I wasn’t sure if that was a question or, if it was a question, if I quite understood the nature of it. What would the difference be if I HAD known he could “kiss” himself? So I just said, “Really.”

“Oh yeah,” he said, warming up. “Did you ever see Inside Seka?”

I had to admit that I had not.

“Yeah, there’s this scene in Inside Seka, you know, where she decides to gang bang a construction crew. And I’m the crew foreman, and I’m the only one who’s not in on the gang bang.”

I suppose I gave him something like a sympathetic look.

“So I’m really pissed off, and I’m gonna break it up, so I pull on the whistle and I yell at all the guys to get back to work. And then Seka laughs at me and say, ‘Go blow yourself.’ So I do.”

I let this sit for a few seconds.

Jeremy settled back in his chair. “One company offered me two thousand dollars to do it to completion, but I said no, because THAT’S gross.”

I made the DeNiroesque “that’s worth pondering” face (raised eyebrows, lips out in an exaggerated semi-frown) and nodded a bit. Jeremy pushed his plate toward me; there was about a third of his burger left.

“You wanna finish this? I gotta go bang two blondes in the next scene, I don’t wanna get too bloated.”

“No, you know what, I’m fine with just the quiche, but thanks,” I said.

The production broke for the weekend and the entirety of the next week would be spent at a mansion in Connecticut that was being loaned to the filmmakers by its owners. The talent and the crew were told that there was a swimming pool on the premises and if anyone wanted to bring a suit to go for a swim during whatever downtime there was that would be okay. Because that’s just the kind of set they were running.

Truth to tell, the actual producer, a fellow named Robert Sumner, was a very nice, pleasant fellow. He was slight and seemed in his late thirties; he had a neat Beatles mop top and his jeans were always pressed and his tennis shoes always looked spanking new. He was in a sense a stand in for Chuck Vincent, the porn producer/director whose name was on all the permits. Vincent never showed up on set, I never met the guy, but apparently the aforementioned editing loft I had to drop some stuff off at on a few occasions the first week was his place. He had an odd propensity for philosophizing in between setups. There were two elaborate sex scenes that would be intercut together in the finished film: one a Tom Jones inspired comedic flesh feast between Anderson and Astyr, the other a kitchen tryst in which Ron Jeremy distracts the French maid played by Veronica Hart. That scene, too, would be played for slapstick, with Jeremy fumbling around with pots and pans and such before getting down to business. I remember in the kitchen after the whole scene had wrapped, and there had been an earnest debate midway through as to whether they were going to shoot a cum shot and just how they were to do it; it wound up that Hart would get on her knees and take the oral shot rather than have Jeremy ejaculate on her belly while she was splayed on the metal kitchen table. And now Sumner, a diminutive guy, stretched out on the table and said, “If it was up to me, I would just get rid of the come shot. Eliminate it.” He sighed. “I’d love it if someday I could be seen as a filmmaker, and not a pornographic filmmaker.”

The arrangements for getting out to the Connecticut mansion were pretty catch-as-catch can, and as a result, Monday morning I, a very lowly and poorly dressed production assistant, got to ride in a purple stretch limousine with Juliet Anderson, the film’s female lead. She was enormously sweet and a little self-consciously soigné as she described her weekend, the activities of which involved disco dancing and just un peu de cocaine. She was from San Francisco, which was certainly a great place to live and in which to be a pornography professional, but there was just something about New York…Sounded nice, I allowed, and gave her a little background on my being an English lit major and working at my college paper and so on. She was an avid reader herself, she averred. This would be our bonding thing, as it happened.

The Connecticut mansion’s owners, it appeared, were a very swishy gay couple who were friendly with Sumner and/or Vincent or somebody, and got a kick out of lending the place to porn shoots. It was huge, with a spectacular array of rooms that could serve as sundry far-flung locations (as I’d learn later on, the beginning of the film actually takes place in a house in Paris). One of the first scenes shot therein was the sex scene that had been initiated at The Continental the prior week, the one between Juliet Anderson and her pickup, the Lanky Balding Lump. There was a lot of dialogue for Anderson in both the lead up and during the sex proper; cheesy allusions to this pickup REALLY adding up to the “perfect stranger” once Anderson relieves him of his trousers, and so on. What was really crucial for Anderson was how she was to be handled during the actual sex; Lanky Balding Lump had to be hyperaware of the fact that she, Anderson, had ultra-sensitive nipples so they needed to be touched/kissed gently if they were to be touched/kissed at all. Lanky Balding Lump took all this direction to heart while not saying much in response. I don’t think I can recall him saying a single word.

The guy made me curious. I had seen his paycheck the week before: eight hundred bucks and change, not a measly sum by the standards of the day, but not exactly show biz money, particularly for a two-week gig. After Lanky Balding Lump had “wrapped” “picture” I heard some of the camera guys lauding his quiet professionalism and made an inquiry.
“He’s gotta do something besides this, no? Or does he do live shows too?”

One of the guys shrugged. “I don’t think so. His day job is as a court reporter.”

This kind of blew my mind, as I envisioned a defendant in the dock looking at the guy sitting at the steno keyboard and wondering, “Where have I seen him before?…” I also pondered as to whether or not there was any kind of morals clause in employment agreements for court reporters, or if the skill was sufficiently esoteric that such considerations were elided.
Another Anderson sex scene, in another bedroom, was necessarily complicated by the fact that the scene as written had Jeremy’s character sneak through the room itself while she’s making it with a character called “The Count,” played by Richard “R.” Bolla, something of a porn legend although I’ve never quite figured out why, although he was a terrifically nice guy who wanted to chat with me about Jersey in between setups. Keeping the (lightly) choreographed action going and shooting Jeremy’s actions around it in a way that could be edited seamlessly was a bit of a pain in the ass. Less daunting but still an issue was the fact that when Jeremy went out the door of this bedroom, the door he’d be shutting behind him in the next room would in fact be in Manhattan…he was walking into a scene that had already been shot, the two-blonde-banging that Jeremy had cited with such breathless anticipation at out bonding lunch. (And indeed that session left him sufficiently discombobulated that he came out of the scene with his Fruit of the Loom briefs on inside-out and backwards.) What struck me as impressive and quixotic at the same time were the pains everyone involved was taking to make a “real” movie. Coverage of all angles was conscientiously shot, a script person kept notes, and care was taken with these relatively elaborate bits of business and/or physical comedy that would also advance the narrative. Alongside the high spirits and goof value of the enterprise, you could detect some kind of post countercultural idealism at work, something different from Jeremy’s careerist “why should I have a stigma attached to me for working in porn?” complaint. Rather, there was an idea that trying to make a light jewel thief caper comedy with hardcore sex scenes was actually WORTH DOING, artistically, and that if the film was successful it might advance a less puritanical sexual ethos among North American couples and movie lovers. While we weren’t doing God’s work, we might be doing Eros’ work, and wasn’t that worth something?

This high-mindedness did not, as far as I could glean, extend to Veronica Hart, who played the “French” maid who Ron Jeremy’s Paul seduces in an attempt to keep her out of the dining room while his mom screws Bobby Astyr in the hopes of eventually fleecing him. As you might reasonably infer, the scenario of The Family Jewels contained a higher-than-average amount of Distraction Fucking.

For whatever reason Hart, who was a new fresh face on the porn scene, took an instant dislike to me and would address me at all only to drop some insult or other. I grant that I was a gawky and awkward and voluble 21-year-old who talked loud and she had a few years, but not really all that many, on me, and she was really working the gum-chewing seen-it-all tough chick thing and I clearly made a perfect foil for that.

One night at a dinner break she was at the same table as me, and the topic of conversation was My First Porno. I recalled that some high school buddies, having heard tell of the wonder of nature that was the over-endowed porn legend John “Johnny Wadd” Holmes, had organized a field trip to a strip mall in Wayne, where a one-time Jerry Lewis Cinema fallen into disrepair had been transformed into an “adult” house, to see a double feature of Around The World With John Holmes and Tigresses. The Holmes picture was a stitch unto itself; stock footage of Rome would cut to an interior of a hotel room (a very makeshift studio set) with a poster of the Trevi Fountain on the wall; a couple of skinky chicks speaking in fake Italian accents would have their way with Mr. Holmes, who did indeed appear to have something like a thirteen-inches-when-erect penis. Then there’s be stock footage of Paris, the hotel room wall would have a poster of the Eiffel Tower on it, the pair of skinky chicks, maybe the same pair, who could say, would coo “Zut alors” and “Au secours,” and so on. Still, it was Tigresses that had made the bigger impression; it’s opening shot framed an erect cock right in the middle, and a woman—who had been, if I recalled correctly, the self-same Samantha Fox who had performed a similar operation on Ron Jeremy last week—faced the camera and manipulated said erect organ to orgasm, and after the spurt, she looked straight into the camera and delivered a not particularly terse speech about how there’s a certain breed of woman called a TIGRESS and that TIGRESSES just can’t get enough COCK and PUSSY and that they’re INSATIABLE and if you don’t believe it just watch these vignettes. I found this disquieting, I said, and so—

“So you went home and jerked off on your mother?” Veronica Hart asked me.

“Well, no—“

But she’d stopped listening and was speaking with someone else.

Juliet Anderson still loved me, though. It got so hot that week that everyone who wasn’t actually acting in the film was walking around with their shirts off (except Sullivan and the producers, whose polo shirts were nice and light and who did need to maintain a modicum of dignity/authority), and one afternoon Ms. Anderson twisted my nipple as I walked past her carrying a reflector stand. (Carrying reflector stands wound up being something I just did, for the hell of it. No. But, yeah, I did carry a lot of them, or rather, maybe, the same one, over and over again.) I must have turned deep crimson or something, because she then said, “Well, YOU were the one who wanted to work on a porno movie.” Sometimes, after makeup and waiting for her call, she’d sit in a director’s chair near the pool and read Joan Didion’s The White Album. “Listen to this,” she’d call over to me, and when I came, she’d launch into a passage (I won’t pretend to remember which one, though if I thought there was a chance in hell I could afford to pay for the permissions I might give it a shot). “Isn’t that fantastic,” she’d coo afterwards, and I’d nod, avid and probably puppylike. Well what the hell else was I supposed to do, sniff “Oh to hell with Didion and her magisterial affected anomie?” I don’t even think I had anything like an opinion of Didion at the time, except I knew she was a favorite of the amateur parodists who used to fill up the New York Magazine Competition every week. Strangely, even though I still counted myself as hormonally challenged, I was beginning to think that maybe I had what they call a “shot” with the woman I was now calling Juliet. I wouldn’t have said no to her, no way, and of course I’d make sure I was VERY careful with her nipples.

This was a ridiculous idea not just on the face of it but in every other aspect, insofar as there were any other aspects. Let’s say this “shot” was a real thing, just where would we actually GO to take it? My place? I had no place. I had a couch in East Orange, which was, after all, in East Orange, a foldout bed in rural Wayne, and…well, my ex-quasi-girlfriend DID have a place on Wooster Street (think about it: 1980, Wooster Street…at the time it did not seem that impressive, strangely enough) which she shared with a bodybuilder I had some suspicions about, and anyhow every time I went over there all she wanted me to do was work on her legs with this weird electrical depilatory device. She actually didn’t have hairy legs at all, and in fact she was about the finest blonde (finest as in “most fine,” as in not thick) I’d ever had the opportunity to be intimate with, but she was weird and OCD-ish about the whole body hair issue. It was getting to be real “where do they find me?” stuff. In any event, you get the idea. And yet I recall entertaining the notion anyway. Perhaps I was lonely.

The pool was a nice diversion. I’m not sure where I scored a pair of swim trunks from, but I did, and after the shooting wrapped one day early in the week I dove right in without even gauging the pools depth. On the arc back to the surface I actually scraped my chin on the pool’s bottom and gave myself a nice thick gash. Next day Bobby Astyr got a gander at me and asked me what the hell had happened, and I told him. “Schmuck,” he said.

The climax of The Family Jewels, which was about to be retitled A Girl’s Best Friend, involves the mother-son jewel thief team attending an elaborate masked ball hosted by Bolla’s Count, whom the team have already ripped off, and scoring the remainder of a matched set of diamond jewelry that he owns. As the team are making their escape, they stumble into a post-party orgy, and in order to not look suspicious, are obliged to have sex with each other. You’d do the same thing. Anyway, since the pool was available, it would be part of the splendor of the initial portions of the masked ball. A bunch of extras were bussed in, including a portion of the NYU kids who had been part of the discotheque scene. Henri Pachard/Ron Sullivan had a vision for the opening shot of the sequence. One of the NYU extras was a very attractive brunette, not ready for porn but game to lounge around in a bathing suit. She was poised at one end of the pool; we laid down a rudimentary camera track at the other end of the pool for the camera to dolly down. THEN, some schmuck—that would be me—hadda get in the pool, float a bunch of paper plates with candles on top of them, and light those candles. The camera would dolly down the length of the pool, the floating candles would glisten, and when the camera came to rest the focal point would be this lovely leggy swim suited brunette surrounded by revelry. The epitome of continental ‘70s glamour and old-school charm. It actually WAS a pretty nice idea for a shot, the only problem being, of course, that a stray wind would knock out the flames on one or more of the candles, and some schmuck, me again, had to go in and reignite them. This was tedious, but hardly as tortuous as it might sound; just as practicing a passage on a musical instrument until you get it right can be simultaneously frustrating and engaging. The problem was that the “magic hour” daylight was fading fast and this was the only day we had with the extras and so…but it actually got done and everybody patted himself or herself on the back for it, not without justification.

The orgy scene presented its own specific challenges. Again, taking perhaps more pains than should be considered strictly necessary in the context of a pornographic film to maintain the integrity of the diegesis, the whole orgy was to be conducted with all of the characters still wearing face masks. Astyr was wearing a chicken mask, and he worked this for all it was worth with various clucks and gesticulations, and of course crowed like a demented rooster for his come shot. But Anderson’s own headdress was remarkably oversize and cumbersome, which made her fellatio shots with Jeremy difficult to navigate despite Ron’s not unimpressive and photogenic member. And then there was a dialogue issue. The pivotal moment of the scene, the do-or-die crux of it as it were, arrives when Mom and Paul, having scored the diamonds—or so they believe—are trying to make an escape and inadvertently step into the orgy room. Befuddled, they look before them, weighing their options, and then a female participant, who had been orally pleasuring a gent, is supposed to look up at them and say “Why don’t you join us?” or words to that effect. Except the female performer who had been elected to deliver this crucial line was a luded-out mess who, whenever she heard her cue, took the cock out of her mouth and delivered the line to the guy who she was actually blowing, rather than to Jeremy and Anderson. Given the semi-tumescence that signaled the state of interest of the actor himself (whose mask covered up the fact that he was something like 85 years old), her question was not inapt in the newfound context she applied to it, but nonetheless, this was wrong. Sullivan/Pachard and the producers were up against it. It would be tactless to replace fellators in midstream, as it were, but if that had to be that had to be. But the old college try had to be given first, and after about fifteen takes, the actress craned her head with sufficient ambiguity that she could be said to be addressing the right actors, and that was the take that was printed. Many dark imprecations against the actress and her drug consumption were muttered after the fact.

The second Friday of the shoot was our scheduled wrap, and we did in fact get done by the late afternoon. All day the set had been buzzing that Anderson and the crew had concocted a surprise for Sullivan/Pachard. And so, as soon as he called cut on the final shot, a couple of the guys held him in the director’s chair and Anderson came over to him, undid his pants, and gave him a blowjob that apparently took no time to complete. I didn’t witness this; I was in the kitchen, no doubt breaking down a reflector. Someone had used one of the handheld auxiliary cameras used for close-up work during the sex scenes to immortalize the moment in all its premature-for-porn ejaculatory glory, and Sullivan, who was, if I recall correctly, married, albeit to a relatively understanding woman, thought it was all a pretty good laugh and a nice capper to a successful shoot. I was very excited and full of questions: how long was the editing going to take, when was the picture actually going to be released, would it be in theaters, was I going to get a credit.

Mostly I was excited because I now had content fodder. School was starting after Labor Day weekend, as it customarily does, and I had not lined up or even thought about lining up material to put in my stupid college paper arts section, which every week was placed precisely in the middle of the folio and thus caused all sorts of double-truck layout challenges that give me a headache even as I think about them now. I would write up the whole of my experiences on the Family Jewels/Girl’s Best Friend set as an exemplary participatory/Gonzo journalism piece. One thing was certain: it would be long.

The prior semester, as a joke in memory of a prankish college pal who’d gotten himself killed in ’78, I had run for Student Government Association president. The problem with this particular joke was that I was the only person running, and I was subsequently elected to the position. Oops.

One perk of the position was my very own private office, and the outer office, which was to house the full-time secretary I’d been charged with hiring, had a very nifty electric typewriter on which I could burn away much faster than on the manual Royals that the Beacon’s offices were equipped with. (It’s entirely possible, too, that my own Royal at the office was in terrible disrepair after I’d thrown it across the room in one of my enfant terrible fits). I decided to work in the method I imagined to be that of one of my idols, the rock critic Lester Bangs. That is, to just sit before the keyboard and spew until I was finished. I was aware from reading Bangs’ work, which included several epic confrontational interviews with the doom-rocker Lou Reed in which pharmacology was at the very least Topic B, that his method frequently involved assistance from chemical resources, namely some form of speed, but at the time I was too much of a (justifiable) fraidy-cat to indulge, and anyway I wouldn’t have known where to score such stuff had I even wanted to, so I just ran on coffee and adrenaline. The aforementioned secretary, whose hiring ended up representing the only smart decision I ever made as Student Government Association President (I wound up resigning in Nixon-like fashion on the night before Sam Lake remembered the existence of the film Satan’s Bed), was a little taken aback to come in one early afternoon as the semester was beginning to find me hunched wild-eyed over the typewriter she usually used for Official Student Government Correspondence, and was moderately amused when I told her what I was up to. Since I had neglected to bring a camera to the set, I was up against it as far as illustrations for my epic-to-be were concerned, which in a sense was just as well. I consulted the art director, who summoned an illustrator whose work I didn’t even bother to look at, and I fed that illustrator my pages pretty much as they were coming out of the typewriter.

What I ended up spewing was long enough to fill up two entire arts sections, double-truck layout and all, and that was just what I was gonna do. The illustrations ended up being goofy as fuck—sub-Bill Perry ink drawings of some doofus holding up a boom mike, and such—and I didn’t care, because the two-part story called “My Life In Pornography” was bound to make an impact based on the title alone.

And so it did. I pushed the thing through with very little input or interference from the rest of the staff, and when the paper was actually published, said rest of the staff suddenly felt they had been asleep at the wheel. The actual journalism class presided over by the paper’s advisor, Herb Jackson, went vaguely apeshit. Aside from being completely irrelevant to campus life, the story was salacious in content. William Paterson College was largely a commuter school, and a lot of the students would bring the once award-winning-paper, whose investigative journalism had not so long ago actually toppled an administration that was caught trying to over-enroll the school in order to achieve university status, and Jesus, what looks they got from their parents who would peruse this “back to school” issue and find a story called “My Life In Pornography” smack dab in the middle of it.

Jackson himself had been around the block a few times and could not even begin to pretend to be quite so shocked. College students were college students, after all. Still, he wasn’t particularly thrilled either. “This is the William Paterson College Beacon,” he pointed out to the paper’s editor-in-chief and managing editor, “not The Village Voice.” The Voice was Jackson’s default bad-example comparison whenever the Beacon did something a little too “far-out.” In any event, the determination was made relatively quickly that Part Two of “My Life In Pornography” would not run in the Beacon the next week, or in fact, ever.

I don’t quite remember how I got the news. I have a vague recollection of a staff meeting where it was put to a vote. I can say with some confidence that the person who was particularly adamant about wanting Part Two pulled was the managing editor, Susan Merchant, with whom I had not acquired too much of a history at that point. There WAS some tension in our relationship. There was tension in all of the relationships at the Beacon, as was to be expected in the staging area in which young people rehearsed for adulthood. Susan had come on the paper in late ’78, early ’79, or something, after I had been there for about a year (I had entered William Paterson College in the fall of ’77). She was a willowy blue-eyed blonde who made an immediate impression. Relatively soft spoken and with a strangely knowing air, she came to the paper with what appeared to be a rather unlikely and initially sullen-seeming hulking boyfriend. It didn’t take more than 15 minutes or so in her presence to figure out why the hulking boyfriend was so sullen, as Sue’s appeal, an oddly blotchy facial skin condition notwithstanding, was pretty immediate, and the straight guy who didn’t hit on her more or less right off the bat at least thought about hitting on her relatively immediately. She clearly enjoyed attention but as you got to know her further you were indoctrinated into the mystery of exactly what she wanted the attention for. This sounds rather more sexist-portentous than I mean it, but it was college, it was a newspaper, and we were all drama queens to a certain extent. Susan’s negative capability, if you will, with respect to personal interactions with the target gender, if you will, encompassed a full acknowledgement of the sexual intrigue she conjured in guys while insisting on a certain intellectual respect and acknowledgement of her talents as a journalist. This would be, for her, the leitmotif that animated most of the crucial actions she took in her life.
But I’m not certain as to where exactly she and I were at as the whole “My Life In Pornography” campus controversy was coming down. The semester before summer break had been not without odd incidents between myself, Susan, and another staffer who I had a weird kind of college-anchor romantic involvement with, Nicole. There were arguments, an incident where Susan pulled a stunt involving vandalizing Nicole’s desk (Susan could get particularly erratic when she was popping performance-enhancing black beauties, as she was wont to do during times when there were lots of deadlines looming), nasty notes passed back and forth, and an adaptation of Susan’s last name to “Mechant.” I don’t recall what spurred all this stuff on but I’m not sure that anything like a romantic triangle was the cause. Then again, I do recollect having a distinctly uneasy feeling in almost all of my interactions with Susan’s hulking sullen boyfriend, and his more voluble roly-poly pal who had somehow installed themselves as the poobahs of the paper’s sports section.

Whichever. The occasion of her having to break the news to me that the kibosh had been put on running part two of “My Life In Pornography” provided me with what I considered a fair enough pretext to get into a snit about her and her very existence. Not too long after that, it was determined that, anyway, I couldn’t be the Arts Editor of the college paper AND the president of the Student Government Association at the same time. So I had to quit the paper and pretend to care about the administration of the student government, which was a bit of a chore. I had a spiffy private office and I managed to get one young woman in there to have student government power sex in the big leather presidential chair in there (my glandular switchboard having successfully rereouted itself in the wake of the Girl’s Best Friend shoot, I was now behaving like the average straight white 21-year-old male in the waning days of the pre-AIDS era), but I was really an awful president and had no idea of how to improve. Student Government Associations sessions were regularly punctuated by direct attacks on myself and what actually existed of my character, mostly perpetrated by this greasy mook named Frank Nicholas, a guy who actually wore glossy polyester shirts and those fucked-up Mafiosi semi-tinted glasses all the fucking time. I didn’t know what this guy’s deal was, except that during the election in which I ran unopposed as a joke, he started a write-in campaign to get himself in lest I bring about Student Government Apocalypse. He lost, but not that narrowly, and this made him bitter. Eventually the Beacon itself turned against me, running an editorial cartoon that depicted a not-bad-likeness of me in my standard meeting posture, elbow on the table and hand propping up my bored head by the chin. My friends at the paper were sorry, they told me, but somebody had to say something. By December a face-saving arrangement had been worked out. I would resign for “personal reasons” (my parents were finally finalizing their divorce, and wasn’t that sad) and my position would be assumed by my Vice President, Diane Panasci, who was actually politically savvy and had voluminous student government experience and was an excellent administrator and blah blah blah blah. Why she hadn’t run for the fucking position of president in the first fucking place is beyond me and I suppose it’s too late to ask her now. I was too abashed and abased, or too caught up in acting abashed and abased, to think to pose the question then. So on the evening of December 8, 1980, at a Student Government Association meeting at which it had been announced that I would be making a big announcement, I quit, and then Linda Ritchie, a rather delightful young woman with whom I’d been conducting a bizarre on-and-off affair over the prior couple of years (during the span of which she actually had managed to get married and then divorced herself) had a drink with me and drove me to the log cabin in Wayne, and we were the only ones there and we were at one of the many portions of the relationship in which the should-we-or-shouldn’t-we question with respect to having sex was in play, so we ended up just dry-humping. Next day I heard from my mom, who was staying with her mom, and who asked me if I’d heard what happened to John Lennon. So whenever anyone asks me what I was doing the night John Lennon was shot, I can say “Dry-humping Linda Ritchie” and that pretty much ends the conversation right there.

A Girl’s Best Friend had its theatrical release, such as it was, the following spring. At the time, apart from neglecting my studies and not having a job, I was pursuing a charming young woman named Lisa Garafalo, who was a regular at a bunch of the New Wave clubs that were sprouting up in the Passaic County area. There was this mook bar in Lyndhurst called Aldo’s that had New Wave DJ nights that eventually swallowed up the club’s repertoire of nights entire; the geniuses who ran the joint eventually started selling T-shirts emblazoned with the text, “If New Wave Sucks, Then Get The Best Head Of Your Life At Aldo’s.” There was also Hitsville, in Passaic proper, which hosted actual bands, like the Gang of Four, and which was kind of awesome. Lisa was a petite brunette who made an impression with her horizontally striped black-and-white French-cut t-shirts and black jeans, from the belt loop of which she occasionally hung a pair of handcuffs. Oo la la! She had found it rather amusing that my CV included a stint on a porn film, wondered if the environment was “hot,” and expressed some curiosity about seeing the finished product.

And what do you know, one day in May of 1981 it arrived at the very same failed Jerry Lewis Cinema in the same Wayne strip mall where I had seen my first porn double feature not too long before. I had actually sat through the entirety of A Girl’s Best Friend once already; its videocassette release was to be contemporaneous with its showings in the already dwindling porn emporiums in varied urban areas, and Ron was still working at Quality X, so he had pretty much mastered the cassette. My name was misspelled in the end credits. But now that the picture was in a theater, I could call Lisa’s bluff, so to speak, and I asked her if she’d be my date at what might in fact have amounted to A Girl’s Best Friend’s New Jersey premiere. She agreed.

Like pretty much every porno theater I’d ever been in (and there hadn’t been that many; the prior November, on Election Day, I took the ex-girlfriend with the depilatory fetish to one, because she was “curious,” and then she wasn’t curious) this joint in Wayne was pretty low on concession stand amenities and the like. There was a box office, a short hallway, a thick narrow velvet curtain, and then there you were inside. We took seats near the aisle in the middle of the sparsely filled house, and almost immediately started tittering. I walked her through scene after scene — “Yeah, that girl in the black bathing suit, she was an extra we got from NYU, and the director thought she was hot, and he made us lay down this elaborate track just so he could resolve his establishing shot on her” — and kept getting shushed by the older men, and they were all men, sitting alone, in the audience, which made us titter a little more. And as the end credits came up, I said to Lisa, “No, let’s stick around just a minute, I want you to witness the final indignity,” and when my name came up I said, “They didn’t even get the spelling of my name right,” and she laughed.

I drove her home and walked her to the door of the house where she still lived with her mom. I had idly wondered whether or not the experience of watching a porn film in an actual theater in which a woman constituted something like a genuine foreign body would have some aphrodisiac effect on Lisa. I got my answer in the form of a very chaste goodnight kiss. TC mark

image – Shutterstock

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