There's an essay by David Mamet - I believe it's called "Girl Copy" - in which he muses about his early career writing porn captions for Oui magazine during the late 70s. "All over the country," he wrote, "adolescent boys and frustrated married men were looking at the sexy photos of the sexy naked women, and these men were having fantasies about them. Here I was, getting twenty grand a year to look at the same photos and create those fantasies, and it felt to me like work."
With all respect to David Mamet, writing porn never seemed like work to me. But I suppose I could understand why a person might think so. When your professional life involves making up sexual fantasies, it can take some of the fun and mystery out of your own fantasy life. The difference was, I never considered what I wrote to be fantasy. Not that it was a reality, at least not for me, but for the actors who would ultimately end up performing my words, it wasn't that far from the truth.
You have to remember, these aren't people like you or me. They're sexual extremists. You don't end up in porn because of a casual interest in sex. You have to be obsessed with it, fanatical in your devotion, driven to push your body to frightening heights of sexual pleasure. What you see on screen is only half the story. Their libidos don't shut down just because the cameras are turned off. They take their work home with them, honing their instruments like classical violinists. And there's very little that they haven't tried, or are willing to try. They have sex in city parks, government buildings, barns, public restrooms, planes, furniture stores, cars (parked and moving). Any situation they might find themselves in, regardless of how tame or innocuous, could feasibly result in an exchange of bodily fluids.
I'm aware that many of you will think I'm exaggerating. And I don't blame you. You just naturally assume that because they call themselves actors, what they're doing (or attempting to do) in those movies is acting. But there's a very big difference between what constitutes acting in porn and the conventional definition of acting. When Harrison Ford battles Nazis in Raiders Of the Lost Ark, we all know that he's just playing an expensive game of make-believe. He's probably never even met a Nazi, much less been involved in a high-speed chase with one. But when a porn star plays a role, the line between fiction and reality is a bit more fuzzy.
There's an old story from the porn trenches that may explain my point more clearly. I didn't actually see any of this firsthand, but it was told to me by a reliable source, and he swears that it happened exactly as he described it. According to the story, an actress was doing a scene that involved her seducing a pizza delivery guy. Seconds after the cameras began to roll, she called for the director to cut. She couldn't do it, she said. It was all wrong. The whole premise was too unbelievable. The director asked if she had any suggestions, and she told him that the scene could be fixed with a simple costume change. Instead of a Domino's delivery guy, the actor should be dressed as a Pizza Hut delivery guy. What's the difference? The director asked. Well, she said, from her experience, delivery guys from Pizza Hut tended to be hotter and more willing to fuck their female customers.
So I never thought of myself as a writer of fiction. Rather, I was a journalist, recording the facts as I saw them. Granted, I used my imagination more than most journalists. But I never drew from the well of my own fantasies. When I needed an idea for a script, I simply closed my eyes, made a mental picture of the actress I was writing for, and then just pieced together the events of a typical day. Once you knew these people and what made them tick, it was just a matter of thinking like they did. The story was inconsequential. Your characters could be anywhere, doing practically anything. You just had to wait long enough, and they would find some reason to have sex.
So writing porn was easy. The real problems started when I stopped writing and went back to my normal life. I'd spent so much time concentrating on the sexual lives of porn stars, I forgot that the outside world didn't operate under the same set of rules. Porn had warped my sensibilities, and I was having a difficult time readjusting.
I would walk to the store for a pack of cigarettes, and be astounded by all the people out on the street who weren't naked. They were everywhere, driving in cars or talking amongst themselves, doing things that didn't in any way involve hardcore sex. And yet they seemed perfectly fulfilled. Who are these people? I wondered. How do they live like this?
My wife would occasionally be visited by her female friends, and it shocked me when none of them attempted to mount me. They could carry on entire conversations without being tempted by their sexual impulses, not once reaching out to caress a breast or unbutton a blouse. I was awestruck by their self-control. I wondered if the same thing was happening in other cities. Could it be that all over the world, in millions of homes, there were other people not having sex? It seemed implausible. How did they pass the time? What did they do with their hands?
My neighbors were starting to look at me funny. I could hear them whispering in the halls, avoiding my gaze when I stepped outside to get the mail. Occasionally I would catch children peeking through our window, only to run away shrieking when I advanced on them. I had become the resident crazy hermit. I could imagine what they were saying about me. "Have you seen the guy who lives in Unit D? I heard he hasn't left his apartment in years. Sometimes, late at night, you can hear him muttering to himself. They say he's mad. Mad, I tell you!"
I watched a lot of TV during that period. I hoped it would help, but it only made me more confused. I was especially disturbed by sitcoms, which shared many of the same aesthetics of porn. But unlike porn, each contrived set-up led nowhere. Always they went for the laugh, missing countless opportunities for gratuitous sex.
"You fool," I would yell at the television. "Can't you see that she's begging for it? Drop your pants! Drop your pants!"
My god, what was wrong with me? Had it really come to this? Had I become one of those twisted old perverts who looks for sex in everything? I was a sick man. I needed professional help. I considered checking myself into a detox center. But which one? There were places that treated sex addiction, but I was suffering from something more complex than that. Surely there was a clinic in this city that specialized in my unique disorder. A Betty Ford Center for porn professionals. Did such a place even exist? If it did, I couldn't find it in the phone book.
If I was going to kick this thing, shake this monkey off my back, then I would have to do it on my own. I decided to go cold turkey, cut all my ties to the porn world. They wouldn't be happy about it. They might even threaten to have me killed again. But I'd just have to call their bluff. I might end up with a bullet in my lung, but it was a chance I had to take. Better to be dead than live another minute in this hell.
It took me a few days to muster the courage. I called Clark, the producer on my latest film, to announce that I was retiring from the business.
"Eric, thank god it's you," he said. "Where've you been? We've been trying to call you all day."
"Listen, I've been doing a lot of thinking, and I don't-"
"We'll talk about it later. We need you to come to the office right away. It's an emergency."
"What kind of emergency?"
"I don't have time to explain now. Just get down here!"
Less than an hour later, I was standing between Clark and a porn director named Ray. We were in a dark, unfurnished room about the size of a walk-in closet, looking at their office through a window. It was one of those one-way mirrors like they have in police interrogation rooms, allowing us to see inside without being detected. It was distressing enough that anybody would have a secret chamber installed in their office, but the fact that these men were pornographers added an extra element of creepiness to it.
"We have to act fast," Ray said. "We can't keep him waiting there forever."
"Don't worry," Clark said. "Let's just give him some time to think. We don't want to make our move too quickly."
"I still can't believe that he hasn't walked out on us. I knew that athletes were supposed to be stupid, but this is unbelievable."
"Calm down. He's not going anywhere. We've gotten him this far, we're not going to lose him now."
The "athlete" that Ray and Clark were discussing with excited whispers was sitting in their office, unaware that he was being watched. They didn't have to tell me his name. I recognized him instantly. I wasn't much of a fan of professional basketball, but I was familiar enough with the NBA to know who I was looking at. He was a megastar, easily in the same league as Michael Jordan or Shaquille O'Neal. I'd seen him play countless times, knew friends and family who idolized him. It didn't seem possible that a celebrity of his magnitude could be here, sitting on that dirty couch, tapping his fingers on his huge knees as he waited for somebody to fetch him.
The story, as it was explained to me, went something like this:
This NBA superstar (let's call him "J.D.") had been partying at an LA club when he'd met one of Ray's contract girls. Being recently divorced, he was intrigued by the prospect of sleeping with a real porn actress, and eventually ended up back at her apartment. The evening evolved into a weekend, and then a full week of sexual Olympics. J.D. surely understood that their relationship would be short-lived, but for the moment at least, he had fallen hard for the girl. Poor J.D. had been seduced by the same siren song that had captivated many a celebrity before him, chief among them Charlie Sheen.
At some point, the actress had suggested to J.D. that he make a guest appearance in one of her videos. Nothing major, just a walk-on role. Maybe a line or two. At first he resisted, but she somehow convinced him that it would be good for his image. He already had a reputation for being the bad boy of basketball. Surely this would only increase his notoriety. Wanting to please her, he agreed, and she sent him to see Ray.
Ray was scarcely able to believe his good fortune, but he was also at heart a businessman, so he decided to find out if he could negotiate a better deal. "Forget the walk-on role," he'd told J.D.. "We want to do something more outrageous. We're working on this new script and you'd be perfect for the lead. There's some nudity involved. Okay, a lot of nudity. You'd be having sex in front of the camera. But you're an athlete. You can handle it."
"Besides," he'd said. "You want notoriety? You want to show the world what you're made of? You can't do much better than this."
It must have been one hell of a sales pitch. When he wanted to, Ray had an uncanny ability to make people forgot common sense and do things that they would never even consider under a more rational state of mind. It was a skill that had served him well. But this was by far his biggest challenge. He'd been preparing for this moment all his life. It was the ultimate test of his ability at coercion, and he'd given it everything he had.
"The cocksucker won't do it," Ray told me, nearly spitting he was so disappointed. "Said he wants to talk with his agent first. Can you believe that shit?"
As a matter of fact, I could believe that shit. It was the smart move. He understood that he wasn't thinking clearly. He was under the influence of too much sex, and he'd agree to anything just so the fun could continue. His agent would be able to knock some sense into him, get him out of this mess. He hadn't gotten this far in his career by making major business decisions on his own.
Ray was right about one thing. Appearing in a porno would give him notoriety. But would it be the good kind of notoriety, where a mere celebrity was transformed into a cult icon? Or would it be bad notoriety, where one misguided decision would snuff out a career in seconds flat? It could go either way, actually. It's a subject that has been hotly debated among porn scholars. Although no definitive answer has been determined, there's a theory that has yet to be disproven. This theory is better known as the Stallone/ Schwartz Principle.
Allow me to explain.
Years before Rocky made him a household name, Sylvester Stallone got his first major acting role in an obscure 1970 porno called Party at Kitty and Stud's. Even by porn standards, it was an awful film, with tepid sex scenes and goofy dialogue. ("I'll be velvet-mouthed on your shank of love.") Sly eventually went on to bigger and better things, but whoever owned the rights to Party at Kitty and Stud's capitalized on Stallone's fame by re-releasing it on video with the title The Italian Stallion. It enjoyed huge sales for a brief period, if only because it contained proof that Stallone was a man of modest endowment (and, interestingly enough, that he had a four-inch scar just under his butt.) But public fascination with Stallone's porno past soon quietly faded, and today only a few film buffs even remember that it ever existed.
By contrast, we have Scott Schwartz, the child actor who skyrocketed to fame during the early eighties with starring roles in A Christmas Story and The Toy. Soon after his string of hits, he retired from the business for almost a decade. It wasn't until the mid-nineties that he returned to acting, but the once pudgy-cheeked kid was now all grown up, and dropping his pants for the camera. His porn antics in such videos as Scotty's X-Rated Adventure and New Wave Hookers 5 may have proved that Scott wasn't a boy anymore, but it didn't exactly help his film career. When he attempted to find work in the mainstream again, he discovered that Hollywood was no longer interested. He had been labeled as damaged goods, and there wasn't a studio in town that would touch him.
Two popular actors, both of whom dabbled in porn during their weaker moments. But only one of them escaped unscathed from the experience, while the other continues to be punished. What was the difference, you ask? It was all in the timing. Stallone could claim that he was young, that he had been duped, that he was just another starving actor who needed a quick paycheck. But Schwartz didn't have such a convenient excuse. He had already attained some degree of success, and unless he invested unwisely, he should have had plenty of money left over from his glory years to be financially secure. While Stallone's misdeeds could be written off as a youthful indiscretion, a desperate act by a desperate actor, Schwartz's foray into porn seemed more calculated, a malicious attempt to use his image to make a quick buck.
In other words, pre-celebrity porn is fine. But post-celebrity porn is an altogether different matter. You can make a mistake before you achieve fame. But once you're famous, all bets are off. You should know better.
This NBA player - sorry, J.D. - had probably never heard of the Stallone/ Schwartz Principle. But I think he understood it intuitively. He was too famous at this point to do something so foolish. He would be crucified by the media, stoned by outraged fans. And worst of all, for the remainder of his professional career, regardless of his accomplishments, he would forever be known as "that basketball player who was in a porn."
He would be fine, I told myself. They can't trick him into doing this. As good as Ray was, he wasn't dealing with one of his blonde bimbos anymore. I was almost looking forward to seeing him get shot down.
"We want you to talk to him," Clark said.
"Why me?" I asked.
"You're a writer," Ray said. "You're good with words. We figured that you'd be able to come up with something that'd make him change his mind."
I tried to explain to them that they had misjudged me. Just because a writer knows how to string together a coherent sentence doesn't make him a competent public debater. I could write him a letter, I suggested. Or send a fax to his agent. But they were adamant. I had to speak with him and argue our case. Today. Right now.
"We're not just asking you to do this for us," Ray said. "It's in your best interests to make this happen. This is your film we're talking about here."
"Can you imagine the publicity?" Clark said. "It'll be huge. Everybody will be talking about it. We'll be the best selling video in the country."
"The world!" Ray added.
"You thought the Tommy and Pamela Lee video was a big deal? They've got nothing on us. We're talking millions upon millions of units. Maybe billions. Nobody's seen anything like this before."
"I don't know," I said. "I just think we should-"
"Listen to me," Ray snarled. "Shut up for a fucking minute and listen. This is not just some stupid porno anymore. We're at a whole different level now."
"I don't think you're grasping the enormity of this thing," Clark said. "We're asking you to be a part of something bigger than all of us. Something groundbreaking in its scope."
"The fucking Star Wars of porn."
"This is our chance to do something important, to create a film that will survive the ages."
"And make a fuckload of money in the process."
"I just don't want you to regret your decision. Years from now, are you going to think of this moment and feel that you let an opportunity slip away? Or are you going to look back and know that you accomplished something special?"
I was beginning to come around. Actually, at the first mention of how much money we stood to make, I was pretty much sold on the idea. I also suspected that I could get a little more out of this deal than just a healthy bank account. If I played my cards right, I could ride the storm of media exposure all the way to a legitimate writing career. There was nothing particularly special about being a porn writer, but to be the porn writer responsible for the downfall of a great basketball player, well, that might bring me just enough infamy to make a difference.
Oh sure, there were plenty of moral reasons not to do it. It wasn't exactly honorable to cause somebody's misfortune for your own financial gain. But I was pretty sure I could live with the guilt. These NBA fuckers had it too good. Their lives were filled with riches and abundant pleasure. Surely they could afford to sacrifice their dignity for the good of one of their fans. After all the times I'd stood in line outside stadiums, waiting to pay two-hundred dollars for the privilege of watching a bunch of overpaid college drop-outs put a ball through a hoop, I was owed a little pay-back.
Ray gave me the contract and showed me where J.D. needed to sign. I assured them that everything would be taken care of. I walked through a side door and followed a hallway around to the front entrance of their office. I could hear my heart thumping as I opened the door and walked inside.
J.D. was still sitting on the couch, looking far more nervous than I was. I could tell that he felt vulnerable in this environment. In the NBA, he was considered eccentric. But here, he was out of his element. He was, for perhaps the first time in his life, the normal one.
"How's it going?" I said, casually striding towards him with an outstretched hand.
"Fine," he said, timidly.
He took my hand and shook it. I was shocked at just how enormous he was. I had only ever seen NBA players from a distance, or on television. I knew they were big guys, but it's an altogether different thing when you meet one of them in the flesh. Even sitting down, he towered over me.
"I hear you're interested in participating in one of our upcoming projects," I said.
He wrinkled his nose, like he had just caught a whiff of some horrible odor. "I want to think about it," he said.
'Don't think about it,' I wanted to scream. 'Run away. Save yourself. It's too late for me. Don't let these bastards get their greasy hands on you.' But I resisted the impulse.
"You're worried that it'll hurt your career?"
"Well, yeah," he said, as if this was almost too obvious to mention.
I sat next to him on the couch. "I understand your concerns. But let's think about this logically. What's the worst that can happen? You'll get fined by the NBA for inappropriate behavior. Your teammates will make a few jokes. Maybe a sports journalist or two will make some disparaging remarks, until somebody reminds them of Marv Albert. You're telling me that a little public embarrassment isn't worth the greater good?"
"What greater good?"
"The fans, my man. I'm talking about the fans. They love you. And not just because you're a great player. They love you because your life is more exciting and dangerous than theirs could ever be."
"They're living vicariously through you. Every time you do something outrageous, they eat it up. And that's because they wish they could be like that. They want to believe that it's not just an act, that you really are that crazy and rebellious."
"And you know what? When this porn comes out, there may be a few people who think it's in bad taste. But I guarantee you, your real fans will think you're a god."
"I don't know."
"Yes, my friend. I'm telling you. You'll be a god. It'll just confirm everything they wanted to believe about you. You know what they think, don't you? They think that after every game, you're out partying, whooping it up with beautiful women, getting laid eighteen times a night. And now they'll have proof."
"No one will ever doubt your reputation again. Every time you walk out on the court, they'll know that you're hardcore. The other guys may talk tough, but you walked the walk. You'll make Dennis Rodman look like a goddamn Mormon."
I got off the couch, walked over to the desk, and pushed away a pile of papers, letting them flutter to the ground. I pulled the contract out of my back pocket and laid it on the desk.
"Just sign," I said. I was startled by my own voice. I sounded so fiercely insistent, so unwilling to be denied. J.D. must have sensed it too, because he quickly jumped off the couch and joined me next to the desk. He looked at the contract, studying it uncertainly.
"I can get out of this, right?" He asked with worried eyes. "This isn't legally binding or anything?"
"Of course not," I said, lying through my teeth. "It just says that you're considering a role in one of our films, and that you'll be available to discuss it at a later date. We're not asking for a commitment."
He wrung his hands anxiously, trying to skim the dense and confusing contract. As I watched him, he seemed so helpless. I almost felt sorry for him. He was going to sign, I was sure of it. He wasn't any more confident that he making the right decision, but I had somehow managed to intimidate him. And now he was about to make the biggest mistake of his life.
I couldn't let him go through with this. As much as I wanted to, as much as I knew I would be throwing away what might be my only chance to become rich and successful, I couldn't do it. It wasn't because I wanted to protect this idiot. If he was stupid enough to let some nobody writer talk him into throwing his career away, he probably deserved it. But if he signed that contract, and he did it because I had convinced him, then I would be no better than Ray or Clark.
For as long as I'd been working in porn, I could claim that I was an outsider. True, I didn't always like it. Occasionally I would complain that I was treated differently, that I was never made to feel like I belonged. But deep down, I was happy that they never accepted me. I wanted to keep a safe distance from their world, make it perfectly clear that I was not one of them. And as long as they called the shots, I could still cling to that belief. After all, I wasn't playing an active role in any of this. They had come to me. They had sought me out.
But this would be different. This opportunity hadn't just fallen into my lap. I had made it happen. I was responsible. And that signified something. It would have consequences. I couldn't pretend that I was just flirting with the dark side anymore. I had jumped in, head first. It might as well be my signature on that contract.
I knew what I had to do. I picked up a pen, leaned closer to J.D.. "Let me show you where to sign," I said.
When our faces were just inches from each other, I began to whisper, trying not to move my lips. "Listen to me," I said. "I can get you out of this."
"Be quiet." I motioned towards the window behind us, but just slightly, careful not to be too obvious. "They're watching us."
Without moving his head, his eyes shifted to the window and then back to me. "Just follow my lead," I whispered.
I handed him the pen, but he knew enough not to take it. "What do you mean you won't sign?" I yelled, loud enough so that Ray and Clark would hear every word.
J.D. looked at me helplessly, unsure how to respond. I tried to give him subtle cues with my face, silently prompting him. "I won't sign," he said, but not with the confidence we needed to sell it.
"Don't be a fool," I hissed. "This is a huge opportunity for you."
"I can do what? Stick this contract up my ass?"
"Yeah." He was still too tentative, but at least he was playing along.
"You fucking cocksucker," I roared, baring my teeth at him. "Nobody talks to me like that. I should have you fucking killed."
That last bit was for Ray. I knew he's like it. But it made me nervous all the same. I was not in the habit of threatening large muscular black men who had a good three feet on me.
I advanced on J.D., pushing him towards door while trying to make it appear that I was actually following him, attempting to cut him off. It involved some complicated choreography, and it didn't help that J.D. was totally confused, thus forcing me to do all the work.
"Where the hell do you think you're going?" I screamed.
J.D. almost tripped over backwards a few times, which would have ruined everything, but he eventually got his bearings back. He began to move on his own power, and even flailed his arms a few times, like we were actually involved in a game of keep-away. A nice touch, I thought. He reached for the door, but I placed an arm in front of him, blocking his exit.
"You can't leave. We're not done here!"
He pushed my arm away, but I came right back, throwing my body across the door.
"I'm serious. You walk out on us and you'll regret it."
With his huge hands, he grabbed me by the shoulders and picked me up. It was all too easy for him. He held me there for a moment, dangling in the air like a rag doll. When it had been made abundantly clear that I was no physical match for him, he gently dropped me to the floor, a few feet to the left of the door.
Before he left, he looked towards the window, speaking directly to it. "Thanks anyway, guys," he said. "No hard feelings."
He turned back to me, and his face was filled with so much anger, I actually thought he might hurt me. "And you," he snarled. "You're a fucking asshole."
He opened the door and began to walk out. But at the last second, he smiled at me, so quickly that I almost didn't notice it. "Thanks," he whispered.
"Fuck you!" I screamed, but the door had already slammed behind him.
I stormed around the office, knocking things over and kicking the wall. I wanted them to think I was furious, so disappointed that I couldn't control my temper tantrum. But inside, I was laughing. I had actually pulled it off.
As I continued making a mess of their office, I heard the faint echo of someone screaming from behind the one-way mirror. I couldn't be sure, but it almost sounded like Ray and Clark were tackling each other.
Good, I thought. Throw a few punches for me.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Eric Spitznagel has written for a lot of magazines over the past 10 years. Here are some that you may have heard of: Playboy, Spy, Harper's, The Chicago Reader, McSweeney's, The Nose and Salon.com. He's written four humor books, a few of which are still in print. He's pretty sure that A Guy's Guide To Dating (Doubleday, 1998) is still available, and he's seen The Junk Food Companion: A Celebration of Eating Badly (Plume, 1999) in a handful of used bookstores. He used to live in Chicago, where he taught comedy writing at the Second City theater and performed with such sketch groups as Marlboro Country and Fancy Ketchup. He's also written plays which were produced by kind people with access to storefront theaters. His personal favorites were "All Bad Kids Go To Hell" and "Nothing Cute Gets Eaten," if only because he thinks the titles were kinda clever. After leaving Chicago, he briefly lived in Florida, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and the woods of northern Michigan. He currently resides in Sonoma, California, with his wife, though he still isn't entirely sure why. He's more afraid of you than you are of him.