David Henry Sterry

Author, book doctor, raker of muck

David Henry Sterry

Month: April 2014

The Book Doctors on Books, Writing, How to Get Published, & May 22 Pitchapalooza at Word Bookstore Jersey City

The Book Doctors talk about publishing, pitching, how to successfully get your book published, & May 22nd Pitchapalooza at Word Bookstore Jersey City, in the Digest.

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Society for Children Book Writers and Illustrators’ Kristine Carlson Asselin Give The Book Doctors the Skinny

We first became aware of the Society for Children Book Writers and Illustrators a few years ago when David’s middle grade novel came out, and he was invited by Penguin to the national SCBWI conference in Los Angeles. It was totally mind-blowing. Wall-to-wall writers, artists, agents, editors, book people of all ilk who were madly passionate about kid’s books. Since then we’ve send countless writers to SCBWI. They have regional chapters all over the country, and a large national presence. This year we were asked to bring our Pithcapalooza (think American Idol for books) to the annual SCBWI New England chapter’s conference, and we thought we’d take the opportunity to pick the literary brain of SCBWI’s own Kristine Carlson Asselin, who is a very accomplished writer in her own right.

The Book Doctors: How did you first become associated with SCBWI?
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Kristine Carlson Asselin: In 2007, I was hoping to break into writing for children. I’d finished several picture book manuscripts as well as the short story that would later become my first completed novel.  I attended a one-day workshop sponsored by SCBWI New England. It literally rocked my world. Before then, I had no idea that writers and illustrators came together to learn from each other. Soon after that fall workshop, I attended my first regional conference, held in Nashua, New Hampshire.

That first year, I felt like a poser. I thought for sure someone would see through the façade and kick me out! But everyone I met treated me like a “real” writer. I was hooked. In 2011, partly because I had previous event management experience, I was approached to co-direct a future conference. I spent two years shadowing the conference directors, and it’s been my great pleasure to serve in the lead role in 2014. It’s been the most amazing professional experience of my career.

TBD: What are some of the benefits of coming to the conference like SCBWI NE?

KCA: The SCBWI New England conference staff works hard to select a diverse menu of over 60 workshops for writers and illustrators of all skill levels, and writers of every genre of children’s publishing. Another tangible benefit includes the opportunity to network and rub elbows with literary agents, editors, and art directors. Intangibles include finding inspiration from our incredible keynoter speakers, fangirling (or fanboying) over your favorite children’s author, and making new friends and critique partners.

TBD: How has being part of an organization like SCBWI helped you in your writing career?

KCA: I can’t imagine where I’d be with my writing career, if I hadn’t stumbled upon that workshop years ago. I love being in the same room as successful authors and learning what works for them, and how to apply it to my own work. I’ve also met some amazing critique partners and beta readers, and dear friends through SCBWI.

TBD: What are some of the things you’ve observed that successful authors have in common?

KCA: All the writers I hang out with write for children, so I can’t speak for writers of books for grown-ups. However, children’s book writers are the some of the nicest, most generous people you’ve ever met. I think most people really embrace the concept of “paying it forward.” I’ve witnessed a lot of effort made by successful writers to mentor and advise newer writers and to “give back” to the universe.

TBD: What have you found effective in promoting and marketing your books? What are some of the things you’ve done that don’t work so well?

KCA: All but one of my published books have been written specifically for the school library market, so the publisher manages the marketing for those books. For me, the priority is to maintain a current blog and website, and to be helpful and supportive on Twitter and Facebook.

TBD: How did you first get into writing nonfiction books for kids?

KCA: I decided early in my career, I wasn’t going to pigeon-hole myself. I knew I wanted to write fiction for children, but I also wanted to experiment with different genres and styles. After my efforts to publish picture books stalled, I stumbled across the contact information for Capstone Press, the publisher of many of my nonfiction titles. I wanted to start something completely different from what I’d been working on. I sent the company my educational credentials and a writing sample, and they offered me my first contract. Of eleven books with Capstone at this point, that first book, WHO REALLY DISCOVERED AMERICA, is still one of my favorites.

TBD: How do you approach writing fiction differently that writing nonfiction?

KCA: I’m under contract for a Young Adult contemporary romance for Bloomsbury Spark (ANY WAY YOU SLICE IT is due out in late fall 2014). It started as a NaNoWriMo book. I wrote 50K words during the month of November–they were raw and awful, but it was so liberating to turn off my inner editor and write fast. I loved it! My nonfiction approach is to research first and then write an outline before I ever start the manuscript. VERY different from fast-drafting without my inner editor!

TBD: How did you go about getting your first publishing deal?

KCA: My first publishing contract for fiction came about from a twitter pitch! It’s true! I pitched a novel during #PitMad in the spring of 2013, and that pitch attracted the interest of Meredith Rich, of Bloomsbury Spark. It wasn’t a slam dunk–she still had to read and like my work. But ultimately that 140 character pitch turned into the contract for ANY WAY YOU SLICE IT.

TBD: What tips do you have for writers?

KCA: We all have different styles, and not everything works for everyone. But my very basic advice for writers is to write. You can’t get better at your craft without practice. So write. A lot. Take workshops, take classes, read blogs, read books in your chosen genre, have your friends give you writing prompts. Write. Write. Write. That’s the best advice I can give!

Kristine Carlson Asselin writes contemporary Young Adult & Middle Grade fantasy. She has written fourteen nonfiction books for the school library market with Capstone Press and Abdo Publishing, the newest (Dangerous Diseases) released in February 2014. She is one of the co-directors of SCBWI-New England this year, and her debut Young Adult novel, Any Way You Slice It, is due from Bloomsbury Spark in late fall 2014. She is represented by Kathleen Rushall of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency.  Kris on Twitter: @KristineAsselin

Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry are co-founders of The Book Doctors, a company that has helped countless authors get their books published. They are also co-authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How To Write It, Sell It, and Market It… Successfully (Workman, 2010). Arielle Eckstut has been a literary agent for 20 years at The Levine Greenberg Literary Agency. She is also the author of eight books and co-founder of the iconic brand, LittleMissMatched. David Henry Sterry is the best-selling author of 16 books, on a wide variety of subject including memoir, sports, YA fiction and reference. His books been translated into 10 languages, and he’s been featured on the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review.  They have taught their workshop on how to get published everywhere from Stanford University to Smith College. They have appeared everywhere from The New York Times to NPR’s Morning Edition to USA Today. Twitter: @thebookdoctors

Book Doctors Erma Bombeck Writers Conference Pitchapalooza Photos

One of our best Pitchaplooza at Erma Bombeck Writers Conference.

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Chicken: “I cancelled my weekend plans to read this book, I was so invested in what happened next”

“This story is told with the voice, humor and perspective of his teenage self, after letting it marinade in years of insight and wisdom. David’s account honestly portrays his own search for family and acceptance, which takes him to the unlikely of places — the streets of Hollywood. His account of a childhood riddled with the usual suspects of problems and misadventures took a few wrong turns, and landed him searching for a way out. Chicken reminds us of our shared humanity, as David shows us how he connects with his clients and other prostitutes along the way.

I cancelled my weekend plans to read this book, because I became so invested in what happened next to Sterry. This book is a sometimes horrifying and always fascinating tour of a world most of us will never know firsthand, and Sterry is the perfect tour guide.”

Find Chicken at your local independent bookstore:  Indiebound Amazon

“I walk all the way up Hollywood Boulevard to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre: past tourists snapping shots; wannabe starlets sparkling by in miniskirts with head shots in their hands and moondust in their eyes; rowdy cowboys drinking with drunken Indians; black businessmen bustling by briskly in crisp suits; ladies who do not lunch with nylons rolled up below the knee pushing shopping carts full of everything they own; Mustangs rubbing up against muscular Mercedes and Hell’s Angels hogs. It’s a sick twisted Wonderland, and I’m Alice.”

chicken 10 year 10-10-13This is the chronicle of a young man walking the razor-sharp line between painful innocence and the allure of the abyss. David Sterry was a wide-eyed son of 1970s suburbia, but within a week of enrolling at Immaculate Heart College, he was lured into the dark underbelly of the Hollywood flesh trade. Chicken has become a coming-of-age classic, and has been translated into ten languages. This ten-year anniversary edition has shocking new material.

“Sterry writes with comic brio … [he] honed a vibrant outrageous writing style and turned out this studiously wild souvenir of a checkered past.” – Janet Maslin, The New York Times

“This is a stunning book. Sterry’s prose fizzes like a firework. Every page crackles… A very easy, exciting book to read – as laconic as Dashiell Hammett, as viscerally hallucinogenic as Hunter S Thompson. Sex, violence, drugs, love, hate, and great writing all within a single wrapper. What more could you possibly ask for? -Maurince Newman, Irish Times

“A beautiful book… a real work of literature.” – Vanessa Feltz, BBC

“Insightful and funny… captures Hollywood beautifully” – Larry Mantle, Air Talk, NPR

“Jawdropping… A carefully crafted piece of work…” -Benedicte Page, Book News, UK

“A 1-night read. Should be mandatory reading for parents and kids.” -Bert Lee, Talk of the Town

“Alternately sexy and terrifying, hysterical and weird, David Henry Sterry’s Chicken is a hot walk on the wild side of Hollywood’s fleshy underbelly. With lush prose and a flawless ear for the rhythms of the street, Sterry lays out a life lived on the edge in a coming-of-age classic that’s colorful, riveting, and strangely beautiful. David Henry Sterry is the real thing.” –Jerry Stahl, author of Permanent Midnight

“Compulsively readable, visceral, and very funny. The author, a winningly honest companion, has taken us right into his head, moment-by-moment: rarely has the mentality of sex been so scrupulously observed and reproduced on paper. Granted, he had some amazingly bizarre experiences to draw upon; but as V. S. Pritchett observed, in memoirs you get no pints for living, the art is all that counts-and David Henry Sterry clearly possesses the storyteller’s art.” – Phillip Lopate, author of Portrait of My Body – Phillip Lopate, author of Portrait of My Body

“Like an X-rated Boogie Nights narrated by a teenage Alice in Wonderland. Sterry’s anecdotes… expose Hollywood at its seamiest, a desperate city of smut and glitz. I read the book from cover to cover in one night, finally arriving at the black and white photo of the softly smiling former chicken turned memoirist.” -Places Magazine

“Snappy and acutely observational writing… It’s a book filled with wit, some moments of slapstick, and of some severe poignancy… a flair for descriptive language… The human ability to be kind ultimately reveals itself, in a book which is dark, yet always upbeat and irreverent. A really good, and enlightening, read.” – Ian Beetlestone, Leeds Guide

“Brutally illuminating and remarkably compassionate… a walk on the wild side which is alternatively exhilirating and horrifying, outrageous and tragic… Essential reading.” – Big Issue

“Visceral, frank and compulsive reading.’ –City Life, Manchester

“Sparkling prose… a triumph of the will.” -Buzz Magazine

“Pick of the Week.” -Independent

“Impossible to put down, even, no, especially when, the sky is falling…Vulnerable, tough, innocent and wise… A fast-paced jazzy writing style… a great read.” -Hallmemoirs

“Full of truth, horror, and riotous humor.” -The Latest Books

“His memoir is a super-readable roller coaster — the story of a young man who sees more of the sexual world in one year than most people ever do.” – Dr. Carol Queen, Spectator Magazine

“Terrifically readable… Sterry’s an adventurer who happens to feel and think deeply. He’s written a thoroughly absorbing story sensitively and with great compassion… A page-turner… This is a strange story told easily and well.” – Eileen Berdon, Erotica.com

“Love to see this book turned into a movie, Julianne Moore might like to play Sterry’s mum…” – by Iain Sharp The Sunday Star-Times, Auckland, New Zealand).

 

From Corporate Cubicle to Courtesan: Six Questions for Veronica Monet

In this original, excerpted interview, David Henry Sterry interviews Veronica Monet about her journey from corporate America to being a high profile courtesan to becoming an author, couples therapist and radio host. Her essay “No Girls Allowed at the Mustang Ranch” appears in the anthology “Johns, Marks, Tricks & Chickenhawks.” It’s a riveting story about a woman who wants to go to the Mustang Ranch as a customer, and does so for her birthday with her husband.

sunglasses-bwVeronica Monet is the author of Sex Secrets of Escorts (Alpha Books 2005) and a Couples Consultant specializing in Anger Management and Sacred Sexuality. Monet has been a vocal and highly visible spokesperson for the sex worker rights movement since 1991 having appeared on every major network as well as CNN, FOX, CNBC, WE, A&E and international television programs.  Veronica has been profiled in The New York Times and has lectured at a variety of academic venues including Kent State, Stanford and Yale Universities. Veronica Monet combines over 14 years of “hands-on” experience as a courtesan with many years of formal education. As a Certified Sexologist (ACS), Certified Sex Educator (SFSI), Certified Anger Management Specialist (CAM), Trained Volunteer for the Center Against Rape and Domestic Violence (CARDV) and an Ordained Minister (ULC) her subject matter marries the body and the soul on many levels – reuniting sex and spirit in down-to–earth terms and providing compassion, intuition, integrity and safety. Veronica Monet coaches men, women and couples over the telephone, via Skype and in-person at her northern California office. Veronica hosts a radio program The Shame Free Zone – her online radio program at http://www.sextalkradionetwork.com

Ho's cover

Ho’s cover

David Henry Sterry: How did you get into the sex business?

Veronica Monet: It was 1989 and I had just resigned from a secretarial position at a major computer corporation. Since graduating from college in 1982, I had held a variety of jobs in corporate settings including one as an office manager and another as department manager. I resigned from my last straight job because my supervisor was a sexist who wrote me up for stupid things like “not smiling enough.”  At the time I was dating a male stripper whose live-in girlfriend was also an exotic dancer. I considered becoming a dancer in one of the San Francisco clubs. Then I met this beautiful woman who worked as a prostitute and I quickly realized that she enjoyed her life and her work a lot more than the exotic dancer seemed to. The prostitute also made a lot more money than the girl who danced for a living. After I began dating the beautiful prostitute, I asked her to teach me the business so I could enter the profession too.  Funny thing was that despite my college diploma and seven years in corporate jobs, I had a lot to learn about being a successful escort. Turns out it is not a job for dummies, contrary to popular opinion.

 

DHS: What are some things you’ve learned working in the sex industry?

VM: I learned that when you take his clothes off and provide him with one of the most emotionally moving orgasms of his life, a man will show you that he is not all that different from most women. Men, too, want to be held while they cum and will cry during an internal (prostate) orgasm. There is softness and a desire to be nurtured which I never saw in men until I became a prostitute. I literally went from hating men and the oppression they represented to me at that time, to loving men and feeling regret that we live in a world culture which demands that men sublimate their feminine side in preference of appearing in control.

 

DHS:  Do you tell friends and relatives that you were/are a sex worker?  Not, why not?  If so, what has their reaction been?

VM: People sometimes assume that sex workers lie about their profession because they feel ashamed of it. This is not true for most sex workers. Instead they hide what they do from anyone who might hurt them because of it. For instance, a prostitute can be evicted just for being a prostitute. Sex workers can lose custody of their children. Sex workers almost always lose their day jobs if their employers find out they are doing any type of sex work, whether it is legal or not.

I chose to be out as a sex worker from early on when I decided to become politically active on behalf of sex worker rights. Appearing on a multitude of national and international television shows including many programs on CNN and FOX News as a sex worker, there was no way to keep my status as an escort a secret. And I certainly paid a price for that honesty. I was evicted and audited and arrested and spent two years in family court, all due to being an out prostitute. People I thought were my friends rejected me. My family was ashamed and embarrassed by my choice of professions.

Many of the women I knew in the trade were unable to sustain a relationship with a man because men are simply too jealous and possessive to tolerate their woman being a prostitute. Fortunately for me, I was married to my soul mate for 14 of the 15 years I worked as an escort. He was loving and supportive of me and although we are divorced today due to other circumstances, I will always be grateful that he loved me while I worked in the sex industry. I know how rare it is to find a man who possesses enough confidence and self-esteem to be the partner of a prostitute. I was extremely fortunate to have my husband’s emotional support and loyalty throughout my career as a sex worker.

 

DHS: What are some other jobs you had?

VM: I have worked the graveyard shift in a cannery, as a change-person in a casino, as a waitress for a family restaurant, as a personal secretary, as an administrative assistant, as an office manager, as a department manager, and as a marketing representative for a radio station. I received many awards and I was promoted several times. Although some might term my seven years in corporate jobs successful, I was never happy with the 9 to 5 grind and I hated commuter traffic. When I discovered that I could be self-employed as a sex worker, I felt freed from the claustrophobic nature of cubicles and released from the insult of taking orders from people enamored with their own transitory power. As an escort, men far more powerful than the ones who had previously employed me as their secretary, catered to my interests, needs and desires while paying me handsomely for the privilege of my company.

DHS: Would you recommend the sex business as a way to make money?

The “sex business” is a broad term encompassing a vast array of services, some legal and others illegal. I don’t “recommend” any profession as I think that is an individual choice, which should be based upon personal attributes, goals and desires. When I am asked about escorting as a profession, I do my best to inform others of the positive and negative aspects of the profession. For instance, as long as prostitution remains illegal, prostitutes and escorts remain a target for crimes such as assault, rape and murder. Fear of arrest plays a huge role in the lives of prostitutes as well. And then there is the matter of scape goating, stereotyping and outright rejection from those very support people most of us rely upon to create stability and security in our lives.

If an individual has an independent and self-supporting nature; if they feel they can shrug off the judgments and projections of people they care about; then prostitution can be a very rewarding profession. But money should be only a secondary goal.  Yes, escorts can make amazing amounts of money in a short time and the temptation is to envision escorting or any other branch of the sex industry as a “get rich quick scheme” but if you go into it with that goal, you will quickly find yourself on a dismal and destructive path.  Like all professions, the best reason to get into the sex industry is because you enjoy helping other people. If you bring your love, compassion, empathy and nurturing to the sex professions, then you will not only make a lot of money, you will create a lot of happiness for your clients and yourself.

 

DHS:  What are some of your best and worst experiences being a sex worker?

VM: My worst experience being a sex worker was being arrested. It was a humiliating and disgusting effort to “teach me a lesson” for shooting my mouth off as a sex worker rights activist. I fought back and in the end I prevailed as I was neither convicted of anything nor did I go to trial. But still, the handcuffs and the sexual leering from the police officers at the station were insulting and degrading. The irony of course is that law enforcement is fond of saying they want to “save” prostitutes from a “degrading” lifestyle.

There are so many happy memories of my escorting days. It is difficult to say which are the best. My first trip to New York City often stands out for me. It was my first foray into the life of a courtesan, which is distinct from that of an escort. The courtesans of old had only a few patrons and became quite wealthy by associating with the wealthiest and the most powerful men of their day. Likewise, as I moved from being a high-priced escort to a true courtesan, I stopped charging by the hour and began obtaining a fee for several days of companionship, which may nor may not include sex.

As the sex worker who was showing up on shows like Bill Maher’s Politically Incorrect and in publications like The New York Times, it was not difficult for me to command an impressive fee for that day, while demanding the best in accommodations and travel arrangements. Gaining access to wealthy socialites and billionaires was fascinating for me as well as extremely educational. Born to working class parents and literally growing up in a trailer, this side of life was completely foreign to me. Learning what true wealth looks and acts like as well as absorbing the particular pains and challenges that wealthy men experience also expanded my compassion for others—regardless of how much money or stuff they might possess. I think that window into the world of exorbitant wealth and what our society terms “success” was very instructive for my own spiritual path. It gave me the freedom to walk away from money whenever I feel like it. I know the allure of money is mostly transitory and illusory. It is what lives in our hearts that determines the level of happiness each of us will attain.

What You Don’t Know About Immigration and Border Patrol Will Horrify You: Sterry on Huffington Post

To view on Huffington Post click here.

I met Todd Miller when a friend told me about the amazing work he was doing on the issue of immigration, borders, and the people who guard them.  My parents are immigrants who escaped the Olde Country in search of the American Dream, and this has colored who I am, how I think of myself, and how I view America. So when his book Border Patrol Nation: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Homeland Security came out, I thought I’d ask him to give America the skinny on what’s really happening on our borders.

ToddMiller small BorderPatrolNation smallDavid Henry Sterry: You’ve either lived or worked near international borders your whole life. You grew up on the U.S. border with Canada and have been reporting from the U.S. border with Mexico for more than a decade. What are your observations and what should people know about our borders?

Todd Miller: There isn’t a better time than right now to discuss this. Immigration reform proposals are floating around Congress, and there isn’t one that doesn’t include a multi-billion dollar package to bolster border policing in the south, the north, possibly on the coasts, and definitely in the Caribbean. Since 9/11, more than $100 billion went into a border enforcement apparatus that now seems to be growing for the sake of growth. The budget for border and immigration enforcement, and their law enforcement agencies, are higher than all other federal law enforcement agencies combined, including the DEA and the FBI.  Long gone are the days of orange cones on the bridges at night between Canada and the United States, or chain link fences along the U.S.-Mexico border. Mexican border communities with significant familial, political, and economic ties look like deranged versions of what they were even as little as two decades ago. Twenty-foot walls scar the landscapes, mounted cameras peer into Mexico, and stadium lights blind people at night. Armed Border Patrol agents stand behind these huge obstructions, eyeing Mexico, and sometimes shooting and killing innocent people. A manufactured war zone has been created where there isn’t a war.

DHS: In Border Patrol Nation, you give many detailed examples and stories about how the military style and culture of policing the border is no longer limited to the border itself. What’s going on? Are U.S. Border Patrol really all over the country and not just at the borders? Can you provide examples?

TM: One of the best examples of this is the Border Patrol presence set up to protect the Super Bowl, which has been conducted for the past 10 years no matter if the game is located in Indianapolis or Dallas. A typical operation will include uniformed agents going to train and bus stations in the game’s area, asking people for their citizenship status. This is one example of many of the agency’s post-9/11 expansion into places where it has never been before, having a jurisdiction of 100 miles from any international border–including coastline–into the interior of the United States. This covers an area where two-thirds of the population lives. They are now in other surprising places like Erie, Pennsylvania, Cleveland, Ohio, or Port Townsend, Washington. Since September 11, 2001, Border Patrol has more than doubled its ranks, and is clearly advancing into the interior. Collaboration between these Homeland Security agencies and local police forces (more than 650,000 nationwide) have brought the type of targeted policing into the interior at an alarming rate.

DHS: In Border Patrol Nation you describe the booming business that has exploded around the U.S. Border Patrol. Is this really a growth industry? Explain.

TM: The Border Patrol and the border enforcement apparatus it represents has become big business, and is a growth industry by all prognostications of the market. Companies big and small are flocking to this global industry projected to be worth roughly $20 billion in 2013. And that scratches the surface of what we are talking about. Another projection sees the global homeland security and emergency management industry at well above $544 billion by 2018 if you count “the threat of cross-border terrorism, cyber crime, piracy, drug trade, human trafficking, internal dissent, and separatist movements that have been a driving factor for the homeland security market.”  As we discuss immigration reform, the profit-motive behind border security is perhaps one of the biggest ignored issues.

DHS: Doesn’t increased surveillance, policing, and expulsion of people who are here illegally just make us safer? What’s not to like about a safer country?

TM:  I would argue that it makes us less safe and less secure. If Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy can be ordered out of his car at a Border Patrol checkpoint, then what does that say about the erosion of civil liberties? And if a law-abiding Islamic Studies student can have his laptop confiscated, what does that tell us about freedom of expression? If a U.S. citizen of Puerto Rican descent can be deported to Mexico, and then Honduras—countries where he had never been before—what does that tell us about the racialized nature of this type of surveillance and policing? And if officials hem and haw to tell us how many “terrorists” they’ve caught at the border, how much safer does it make us when the majority of people crossing are simply looking for a job? As a sales representative from a military surveillance company told me, “we are bringing the battlefield to the border.” If these “battlefields” are moving to our neighborhoods, as the notion of the border continually expands, how can we say it’s safer?

DHS: Not everyone agrees with the aggressive treatment of people based on their residency status. There have been flare-ups where ordinary citizens are mobilizing against police actions. What’s been going on?

TM: In Tucson, where I live, some truly remarkable actions have been happening. In one case roughly 100 people formed a human wall around a Border Patrol vehicle so it couldn’t take away two fathers of small children, who agents had arrested under suspicion of not having correct documents. Two days later activists stopped deportation busses in transit, and locked themselves to the vehicles, including its tires, to draw attention to a hungry deportation machine. People are starting to put their bodies on the line in what is, perhaps, the United State’s newest civil rights movement. Undocumented youth, who grew up in the United States, are appearing at U.S. ports of entry in graduation robes and demanding that they be reunited with their families. They do this at great risk: incarceration and permanent banishment from the country.

Todd Miller is the author of Border Patrol Nation: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Homeland Security, just published by City Lights. http://www.citylights.com/book/?GCOI=87286100874610

David Henry Sterry is the author of 16 books, including Hos, Hookers, Call Girls and Rent Boys: Professionals Writing on Life, Love, Money and Sex, which appeared on the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review.  His new book Chicken Self:-Portrait of a Man for Rent, 10 Year Anniversary Edition, has been translated into 10 languages.  He is a finalist for the Henry Miller Award. He can be found at www.davidhenrysterry.com.  https://davidhenrysterry.com/

 

 

Rainbow, the Hippie Yoga Chick Who Paid Me to Learn About Tantric Sex

From my new book Chicken Self:-Portrait of a Man for Rent, 10 Year Anniversary Edition chicken 10 year anniversary cover

I was 17, studying existentialism at Immaculate Heart College, when I got sucked into the sex business in Hollywood.  I didn’t mean to.  It’s not like I thought, “I have no money, I have no family, I have no resources, I think I’d like to have sex for money.”  I was just in the right place at the right time.  That’s how it is with lots of the sex workers I know.

Sporting my nut hugging elephant bells, I arrived in Laurel Canyon, an enchanted eucalyptus oasis in the middle of this Hollywood smogfarm metropolis.  As I entered the log cabin house set behind a wildflower jasmine jungle, a solid block of patchouli incense musk nearly knocked me over.  With driftwood tie-dye batik beanbags windchimes macrame´ hanging plants and Mexican day-of-the-dead skeleton art everywhere, it looked like Woodstock exploded in Rainbow’s house, as this boomed out:

“Driving that train, high on cocaine, Casey Jones, you better watch your speed”

Rainbow had long straight grey hair, feather earrings and a floor length tie-dye dress with a dopey hippie happy face on it.  No make-up.  No shoes.

“Namaste.  Enter.  Would you like some ginseng tea?” wafted out of Rainbow.

The customer’s always right.  When in Rome, drink ginseng tea.  While she fetched me tea I survey lots of pots of pot plants.  Rainbow returned with my tea in a psychedelic homemade mug with a drawing of some dopey hippie happy face on it.  The tea smelled too earthy and dank for drinking, but I brought the Mother Earth medicine scent up to my lips and siped.

It was good.  And good for me.

“Do you dig the dead?”

Rainbow looked at me like she expected something.  I was confused.  Was this some weird necrophilia deal Mr. Hartley, my employment counselor/father confessor/fairy godmother/pimp, forgot to tell me about?  I made a mental note: Find out what’s the going rate for having sex with dead people.  But perhaps more importantly, do I feel comfortable shopping a dead person?

“I believe Jerry Garcia is the physical embodiment of the Godhead, don’t you?”

Jerry Garcia!   The Grateful Dead.  That’s who belonged to that dopey hippie happy face.  Jerry Garcia!  I saw me digging a grave and putting a gratefully dead Jerry Garcia in it.

“Oh yeah, Jerry Garcia is a total Godhead.  Yeah, I definitely dig the Dead…”

I trotted out my best hippieboy smile.  Actually, I couldn’t’ve cared less about the Dead.  Or the dead.  Rule #5: the customer is always right.  I was there to get paid.  I looked around for my envelope.  No envelope.  I didn’t like that.  I was looking for a low-maintenance score, get in, get out, badda bing badda boom.  Relax, cowboy, you’re gonna get paid, go with the flow, flowing, in the flow.  Hey, someone wants to pay me to say Jerry Garcia is the physical embodiment of the Godhead, that’s Easy Money.

“Give me your hand,” Rainbow said.

I gave her the hand.  She took it.

“You have big hands,” she said.

In my line of work that was a compliment.

“Thank you,” I said.

She looked at me funny, like it wasn’t a compliment at all, just a statement of fact.  But she didn’t really seem to care, she looked into my palm like it held the key to the sweet mysteries of life.

GET THE MONEY UP FRONT

GET THE MONEY UP FRONT

GET THE MONEY UP FRONT

 Only the newest greenhorn in Greenhornville doesn’t get the money up front.  This is what separates the rank amateur from the hard working professional.  You’re not here to have a good time, Charley, you’re here to get paid.

But Rainbow had produced nothing, and I could tell she’d be just the sort who’d get all bent if a guy mentioned something as crass as cash.

So I sat and stewed as Rainbow gazed into the crystal ball of my palm.

After she stared at my palm for what seemed like a month, Rainbow was starting to seem demented.  I was convinced she was a Charlie Manson groupie with a garotte she was going to use to sacrifice me and the goat I was sure was in the backyard.

I was starting to have serious doubts about Rainbow.  About this whole line of work.  I had enough money.  I could excuse myself like I’m going to the bathroom and walk out and just drive.  But again the question: Where would I go?  Who would I go to?  I had nowhere.  I had no one.

“You’re a very old soul…” Rainbow concluded.

You said a mouthful there, sister.

“…and you‘ve lived many lives…you were an explorer and sailed all over the world… and you were a sultan with many women.  You were a mighty warrior in battle, and you were a slave on a plantation…”

Rainbow looked into me like she had periscopes that went through my eyes.

That was when I noticed her for the first time.  In all the confusion I hadn’t really seen her.  She had deep eyes, steel-colored with flecks of cobalt.  A big Scandihoovian Bergman madly-suffering but eternally hopeful face.  I half expected Death to walk out of her bedroom and challenge me to a game of chess for my soul.

“You’re here to learn a lesson, and I’m here to teach you…” Said Rainbow.

Okay, it’s a hot-for-hippy-teacher thing.  I breathed easy.

“Do you know what tantric sex is?” Rainbow asked.

I could dish some semicoherent gobbledygook about ancient mystic Asian sex, but she wanted me to be the blissfully ignorant manmoonchild, so naturally I turned myself into whatever she wanted me to be.  That was my job.

“No, I don’t…”

Rainbow handed me a smile, and led me through a translucent tie-dye cloth door into a bed with a room around it.  It was the biggest bed I’d ever seen.  Overhead, high in the tall pointed ceiling was a skylight, where incense curled up thick from fat Buddha bellies; candles tossed soft little drops of light everywhere; elephantheaded Indian gods with massive genitalia copulated with lionheaded goddesses; statue women stared with dozens of breasts; a halfman halfbull was inside a godhead with a doghead; Japanese paintings of Jade-looking beautybabies intercoursed in every position imaginable, one leg up over an ear, the other wrapped around a head; Old French postcards of cherubinesque honeys were Frenched and doggied; a guy went down (or would that be up?) on himself; and a shrine of rosebudvaginas and phalluspeni smiled.  Pillows and cushions plump velvety; blankets, fur, and fat cloth made me feel like a cat, and I wanted to roll around getting my belly stroked while nubile handmaidens fed me catnip.

A sculpture of a vagina started talking to me: “Hi, David, welcome to the party, come on in.”

And in the center of it all a big picture of a dark man with long black curly hair and brown magnets for eyes that kept staring at me no matter where I went in the room, it was freaky.  He was hard and soft at the same time.  I’d never seen the guy, but he looked familiar, like he was the kind of guy who could set you straight if you were floundering around.  And I was so very full of flounder at the moment.  I made a mental note to find a wise, kind, benevolent guru teacher as soon as I left Rainbow’s.  I’m still looking.

“That’s Baba Ram Wammmalammadingdong,” said Rainbow.

I was sure she didn’t really say that, but that’s what it sounded like to my 17 year-old man child idiot ears, all Dr. Seussy.

“He’s the master of sensual enlightenment.”

That’s what I wanna be when I grow up: master of sensual enlightenment.

“Sexual transcendance can only happen when you are connected to the life force that flows through all living things,” breathed Rainbow.  “You have to open, I mean really open, all of your… shock absorbers.”

Years later I would realize it was my chakras and not my shock absorbers that needed opening, but at the time I couldn’t care less.  I’d open my shock absorbers, my athletic supporters, my cookie jar, whatever she wanted.  I just needed to get paid, and I needed to get paid IMMEDIATELY.  I was seeking enlightenment through cold hard cash.

“Why don’t we start by meditating?”

Rainbow settled into a big comfy-womfy cushy cushion crosslegged, and motioned for me to do the same.

I balked.  I’m naturally curious by nature, I was very interested in the whole third-eye transcendent sex thing, and picking up some exotic kinky eastern sex tips would’ve been grand, but I had to get my money UP FRONT.

I sighed quiet.  I knew for a fact it will not help us achieve harmony with the life force that flows through all living things if I told Rainbow she needed to pay me IMMEDIATELY.

I was dreadfully dithered.

But just when things were looking their most dodgy, the gods smiled upon me, and Rainbow, God love her, new what I needed and could not ask for.

“Oh, shit, you need some bread, don’t you?” she said.

I could’ve cried.  I saw this as a clearcut sign that I was being taken care of by something bigger than myself.

Rainbow got out of crosslegged, rummaged through an old macrame´ bag, and returned with four skanky twenties, a nasty ten, a funky five, four filthy ones and a bunch of loose change, then handed me the whole kitandkaboodle.

I was starting to dig this crazy chick.  I could see her scrimping and saving to give herself a treat.  Me.  I was the treat for my trick.  I vowed then and there to be a pot of gold for this Rainbow.

“Opening the gate that leads to the garden of earthly delights can only be achieved through a woman’s pleasure.”

Rainbow paused to make sure I got it.

“Opening the gate that leads to the garden of earthly delights can only be achieved through a woman’s pleasure.”

She looked at me intensely, so I understood how important this was.

So I thought about it hard.  It was comforting to have someone telling me what to think about.  I didn’t have to make any decisions, and that moment, decisions were just disasters waiting to happen.

Garden of earthly delights.  A woman’s pleasure.  A woman’s orgasm.  Tumblers click in my head, a lock snapped open, and I saw the light.  A woman’s pleasure was the key to sexual ecstasy.  Now that I had my money, I was keenly interested in this whole thing.

“A man can have multiple orgasms… most people don’t know that, but it’s true.  And I can show you how to do it.” Rainbow said with absolute conviction.

Multiple orgasms?  Hell, I had one and it nearly kills me.  But I was crazy curious to see if I could incorporate some clitoris into my penis.

“There’s a line where your orgasm is, it’s kinda like a waterfall.  See, it’s like you’re in a beautiful warm river, and the current is pulling you along, and you’re headed towards the waterfall, you’re getting closer and closer… until you’re hanging right there on the edge of the waterfall, but you’re not letting yourself go over.  You just get inside your own orgasm, and you can stay there as long as you want, as long as you don’t release.  Do you know what release  means?”

Yeah, I think I got the idea.

“No, what do you mean?” I asked.

“Your release is your ejaculation.  So you can orgasm without ejaculating,” Rainbow said carefully.

And the weird thing was, I knew exactly what she meant.  River, waterfalls, release, the whole shebang.

“I know it sounds totally… far out… but if you can wrap your cosmic mind around this, you’ll always have lots of groovy lovemaking in your life.  You probably won’t get it tonight, but it’s something you can always practice.  By yourself, with a partner, doesn’t matter.  In the words of Baba Ram Wammalammadingdong, ‘Practice makes perfect.’”

I was starting to really like this Wammalammadingdong guy.

“Wow, that sounds… far out.” I’d never said far out before or since, but Rainbow ate it up like wavy gravy with a tie-dye spoon.

She took off her robe.  She was the only industrial sex customer I ever had who took off her clothes while I still had mine on.  And for an old broad (again with the proviso that anyone over the age of twenty-five years was Old) she had a riproaring body.  Supple muscles firm lithe and graceful, breasts slung low, with big brown chocolate kiss nipples in the middle.  Mental note to self: as far as books go, don’t judge them by their covers.

Rainbow seemed to be one of those rare people who was actually comfortable with her own naked body.

“You have a beautiful body…”  I would’ve said it whether it was true or not, but in this case it was true, which did makes it easier.

She liked it.  She wasn’t desperate like lots of my other clients, but she liked it.

“Do whatever makes you happy,” said Rainbow.

“Do you want me to take my clothes off?” Just trying to keep the customer satisfied.

Wow.  Whatever made me happy.  Reminded me of my mom.  No one said that to me in real life, never mind when I was chickening.

Seemed like if you were gonna learn to orgasm without ejaculating, you should be naked.  So I took off my clothes.  Rainbow set opposite me crosslegged on that continent of a bed.  I tried, but I just couldn’t get the crosslegged thing going.  My pedophile grandfather’s coalminer soccerplaying legs were just too unyielding.  I was tugging and pulling, cuz I was trying to suck it up and play through the pain, but damn, that shit hurt.

“Don’t do it if it hurts.  Don’t do anything that hurts…” Rainbow flows.  You gotta hand it to the hippies, when it comes to peace and love and all that business, they really know their shit.

Rainbow showed me how to deepbreathe, and we deepbreathe until we felt the life force flowing through us.  I didn’t actually feel the life force flowing through me as such, but she did, and that was good enough for me.  The crumpled bills in my pocket were filling me with the life force.

Rainbow and I Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhmmmmed for about a fortnight.  Eventually I did feel a little lightheaded, like when I first smoked a cigarette.  But hey, if she wanted to pay me to breathe and say om, that was rolling off a log for a chicken.

Finally when Rainbow was om’d out, she took my hand, placed it on her breast, looked me in the eyes, and with a hypnotic smile showed me how to roll that mammoth mammarian poolcue tip between my thumb and forefinger, and it got bigger and tighter, until it felt like it was ready to pop, while she made airsuck sounds of pleasure.

I could smell her now, Rainbowing as she made my hand the axis between her legs around which she gyrated, nestling my head into her neck and whispering, “Kiss me soft…”

I ate her neck like a fruitcake while she revved in growly moans, everything moved in rhythm like a well-oiled sex machine, the fur blanket softly soft as she guided me like an air traffic controller.  Then Rainbow replaced my hand with my mouth and she huffed and she puffed like she was gonna blow the house down, jimjamming and earthquakeshaking.

I smiled inside.  I was getting a crash course in the fine art of a woman’s orgasm, and I was getting paid for it.  America–what a country!

“Now I’m right there,” she pants, “…if I let myself, I’d go right over the waterfall… but… I’m… not… I’m gonna stay… right here and let the… waves roll through me… there’s one… slow down… Stop!” Rainbow squeezed, fists clenching and unclenching like a baby breastfeeding, “…now slow… there’s another one… ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh… God…”

Rainbow let rip with a top-of-the-lungs scream.  A gigantic little death.  When she collapsed at the tip of my tongue, I understood for the first time what they were talking about, as time warped, Einstein smiling somewhere, eternity in a second, infinity in a grain of sand.

I thought of busting my ass in the grease of Hollywood Fried Chicken.  I thought of my father slaving away at the explosives plant.  I thought about my grandfather shovelling coal down the mine.  I sure as hell wouldn’t be getting black lung disease from this.

A rainbow slowly descended from Orgasm Mountain, while I stood next to her, nakedly rolling my big huge rock up my big huge hill.

After a brief intermission, Act II began.  She pulled me into the river, took me right to the edge of the waterfalls, and then stopped.  The most important thing, she said, was to turn off your mind, and move into your body.  You can’t think and swim at the same time.

Once a man plunges over the waterfalls in his barrel, of course, it’s all over for him.  For a while at least.  So you have to be very careful and really pay attention.  I practiced getting right on the edge and just sticking there.  And it was good.  When she did something particularly compelling, I felt the spray in my face and the pull of the fall, and by God, quivers did quiver me, then I quickly pulled myself back.

Rainbow was my Seeingeye sexdog.

“Wow, that was groovy…” I said, when it was clear we were done.

Groovy?  I couldn’t believe that came out of my mouth, but as usual I’d ceased to exist in my need  to please.

I didn’t know what to do next.  Should I hang out?  Were we friends?  I thought for a minute.  I still didn’t feel that creeping mudslide of depression I usually got after I worked as a chicken.  I was just a little confused, that’s all.  But looking around I could see myself moving right in here and being the sextoy for all of Rainbow’s old greatbodied freakyhippie chicks.  Sounded like fun, I think, as I grabbed at another salvation flotation device.

“I have something for you…” Rainbow was sweet as you please, slipping into an old soft tie-dye robe.  I followed at her heels like a naked chickenpuppy.  She reached in a drawer and I was expecting a nice fat juicy tip.  Twenty, maybe fifty.  Instead Rainbow pulled the out a feather.

A feather.

“It’s an earring,” said Rainbow.

I had to work hard not to show how totally disgusted I was as I took out the rhinestone in my ear and replaced it with the feather.  I looked in the mirror.  To my amazement, I actually liked the way it looked.  Kind of tribal.  Even though I silently scoffed when she presented it to me, that feather became a war souvenir, and I wore it on and off for many years.

And whenever I did, I thought of Rainbow.

She kissed me on both cheeks.  She thanked me.  I thanked her.  She didn’t say we should get together again soon, or that we should stay in touch.  I loved that.  I did what I came to do, we both got what we wanted, and that, as they say, was that.

Rainbow was the only trick I ever had who gave me more than I gave her.

Motorcycling away from Rainbow, floating on my feather earring in the sweetness of the cool Laurel Canyon night, I was high on Rainbow’s free love.

That she paid for.

If having sex for money were always this good, I’d still be an industrial sex technician.

David Henry Sterry is the author of 16 books, a performer, muckraker, educator, activist, and book doctor.  His new book Chicken Self:-Portrait of a Man for Rent, 10 Year Anniversary Edition has been translated into 10 languages.  He’s also written Hos, Hookers, Call Girls and Rent Boys: Professionals Writing on Life, Love, Money and Sex, which appeared on the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review.  He is a finalist for the Henry Miller Award.  He has appeared on, acted with, written for, been employed as, worked and/or presented at: Will Smith, a marriage counselor, Disney screenwriter, Stanford University, National Public Radio, Milton Berle, Huffington Post, a sodajerk, Michael Caine, the Taco Bell chihuahua, Penthouse, the London Times, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, a human guinea pig and Zippy the Chimp.  He can be found at www.davidhenrysterry.com.  https://davidhenrysterry.com/

 

Me & Wolf Pictures

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Phil Donahue on Books, TV, Mohammed Ali and Erma Bombeck: David Henry Sterry on Huffington Post

To read on Huffington Post click here.

In the 70s my mom went from being an immigrant housewife stay-at-home mom to a bra-burning consciousness-raising feminist to a card-carrying the same-sex loving lesbian.  And she loved Phil Donahue.  So from a young age I had a deep fondness and respect for Phil Donahue.  He represented things we believed in our household.  Progress, inclusion, valuing individuals over corporations, trying to get at the truth of what makes America a great place, and how we as average citizens can shape this country into a place where freedom, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are not just ideals, but concrete building blocks to a better life for everyone, regardless of race, creed, color or how much money you have in the bank.  So when I found out we were both appearing at the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop I jumped on the chance to pick his brain.

Donahue-Phil-200x300David Henry Sterry: You basically invented a type of television where the host asks questions about the emotional life of other human beings and it spawned everyone from Oprah to Jerry Springer, and I wondered what your thoughts were when you watch some of these shows and reflect on your part in this and how the whole thing has evolved?

Phil Donahue: Well, I think I said this before that I love them all equally. They’re all my illegitimate children.

[We both laugh]

PD: It’s been fun watching the evolution. We didn’t know it then. We weren’t smart enough to know but very early on, we brought to the day-time schedule a revolutionary idea called democracy. We let the people who own the airwaves use them. I said many times there would’ve been no Donahue show without the studio audience. That was a happenstance; we inherited the audience of the show we replaced. They had tickets for the preceding show, so when they showed up to the studio that day in Dayton, Ohio, they found that the show they’d come to see had been canceled.  And here I was with two talking heads, me and the guest. Everything else we were competing with was spinning wheels and “Come on down.” Monty Hall was giving away about a thousand dollars to a woman dressed like a chicken-salad sandwich. It was visual. It was exciting. People screamed and clapped. But our audience was so involved in the conversation and wanted to get in.  I realized they were asking better questions than I was! During the commercial break during the third day, I jumped out of my chair and went out into the audience with a mic.  We did put the audience up front and put the cameras behind the audience. That was new. Audiences were not that popular among the blue suits that ran the stations. In our case, we really highlighted the audience. Since we had a visually dull show anyway, just two talking heads, we suddenly realized we had something nobody else had. It was a very fundamental idea.

DHS: I feel like this was a precursor to the Internet, where everybody has a voice.

PD: Yeah, you could say that. Somebody who represented you sooner or later showed up in the audience and said what they thought, what you were thinking.  It was a daytime show so usually a woman. We started our show in 1967, locally in Dayton, Ohio. Our first full year on the air Martin Luther King was assassinated, Bobby Kennedy was assassinated, the cops beat up the kids in Chicago, gays fought back at Stonewall. We really got very lucky and found ourselves riding the crest of the wave of the women’s movement, the civil rights movement, the gay rights movement. We put a live homosexual right here on my show in November, the first week of the show. In 1967, nobody was out.

DHS: Liberace was a huge star, women of all ages confessed to having a big crush on him.

PD: Absolutely, Liberace was in the closet. Of course, all the mothers thought their kids would catch it if they watched it.  It was November 1967, and I had never seen such moral courage in my life. Here is this guy—live. “Yes, I am gay, and it’s none of your business. We are people, too. We have every right anybody else has.” I was scared to death. I thought everybody would think I was gay and it would be the end of my career. We did it anyway because even back then we realized this was a civil rights issue.

Then there was the women’s movement…these women coming out and say, “Children in this culture get too much mother and not enough father.” I thought, “Jesus, they’re talking about me.”

We did Madelyn Murray, the atheist, and it made you think about the separation of church and state. Why? You don’t want somebody in the Oval Office who talks to Jesus everyday and Jesus talks back. You know? The framers were correct on the separation of church and state. We have more churches, synagogues, mosques, temples; we throw more holy water and burn more holy smoke than any nation in the history of civilization. It is because of the separation of church and state. People miss that. Having been raised Catholic and a graduate of Notre Dame, it really opened my eyes. It made me appreciate other faiths and that they were just as sincere as mine was. Then, suddenly, you begin to see the sins of these institutions, and how the Christian church, especially, promoted all of them–it promoted homophobia. “The church does not approve of gays, then I sure don’t.” It made it easier to beat them up. You realize the church may be the number one promoter of homophobia on Earth. It’s also the institution that has the largest closet. All these ironies come crashing down on my head and the viewers and our audience.

DHS: You were one of the first shows that featured writers prominently. What did you observe that writers did successfully?

PD: Obviously we wouldn’t put you on the show if we didn’t think the book you wrote was compelling and of interest to the people who were watching the show, especially women. So, first, you know, write a great book that lots of people want to read.  And you have to know your audience, be in touch with your audience. We got pretty good at a knowing what would be compelling. Our audience was mostly women, so I felt we should practice what we preached, and I hired women. They brought a lot of insight about the audience that you couldn’t really expect from a man, especially in 1967. Many times if I balked at an idea it turned out to be fabulous. I knew I didn’t have all the answers, and I was often wrong. The women I hired knew stuff I didn’t know. They had insight I did not have. I went to an all-male institution—high school and at Notre Dame. I came from an all-male world, from a house presided over by a mother who stayed at home, a father who got up and went to work every morning, worked 9 to 9 during Christmas retail season. It was definitely a man’s world.

DHS: When you had an author as a guest, what characteristics make someone a good guest who is an author?

PD: There’s a certain visual dramatic necessity if you’re going to succeed on the air. You’ve got to look the part. You’ve got to be enthusiastic about the subject. The best guests were the ones you had trouble shutting up. The worst guests were the ones I’d ask a four-minute question and the guest would say ‘yes.’ Most of them were scared, and I would be too. The best, most exciting guests for me were the ones who had a fascinating story to tell and were politically inclined to say how they feel, to make statements without regard to being popular.

Nobody wants to make anybody mad, but some of the best shows we did featured people who made people mad. Muhammad Ali is an example of that. A woman in front row said, ‘Why are you always throwing your blackness at us.’ He said, ‘Why do you always throw your whiteness at me?’ She said, ‘I’m not throwing my whiteness.’ He said, ‘Take that white Jesus off the wall. You made Tarzan white. You made angel food cake white and devil’s food cake black. I know plenty of black women who are prettier than your Miss America.’ I’d never seen a man who’s so thoroughly skilled and filled with insight. I stood there really awed at what he’d done for a billion young black males all over the world. You don’t have to take it. Inspire people.

Not that many years later, I actually went to Muhammad Ali’s ranch. He owns the ranch owned by Al Capone, that’s what I hear anyway. I drive in, and I park in a little parking spot in a little parking lot. There’s a little sign that says, ‘GOAT.’ G-O-A-T. What the hell’s that? I’m walking in the front door and I realize it’s, ‘Oh, Greatest of All Time.’ I knock on the door, walk in and he gives me a big hug and kiss on the cheek. What a thrill that was!  So he says he had a teacher told him, ‘You’re never going to amount to anything.’ He goes to the Olympics and wins the gold medal. He comes back and he walks into her classroom and dangles the medal in front of her. He said, ‘You said I wasn’t going to be nothing.’ He tells me that as a child that was the thing that changed him. An insult. He went to the Louisville armory as a teenager to see Gorgeous George. Gorgeous George walks out in a red mink coat with white lining fur and yellow hair, and he says, ‘Don’t you touch my pretty face.’ The boos erupt all over the arena. ‘Don’t you touch my pretty hair.’ More boos. He said he looked around and there wasn’t an empty seat. And he realized: that’s how he learned to sell tickets. What insight this teenager had, and then for him to move on and evolve into the Greatest of All Time, which, honest to god, I don’t believe is an overstatement. I think he was the athlete of the 20th century, and I think he should’ve won the Nobel Peace Prize. ‘I ain’t got nothing against no Viet Cong. No Viet Cong ever called me nigger.’ He was pilloried for this. He lost his championship status. Talk about moral courage, he was a rock.

DHS: Let’s talk about Erma Bombeck. I hear you have a long and fascinating with Erma Bombeck, who I consider one of the greatest comedy writers America has ever produced.

PD: She was extremely gifted. In the list of the top ten best-selling books of the 1970s, Erma had two. It is true we lived across the street from each other on Cushwa Drive in Centerville, Ohio. This was one of the first cookie-cutter, suburban community. All the houses were the same: detached, same floor plan, no basement, three bedrooms. Diagonally across the street were the Bombecks. We both belonged to the same church. I was doing the radio program (this was before November 1967), and I worked for the news department of WHIO, the TV and radio.

Erma wrote an op-ed for the Dayton Journal Herald. The executive editor of the Journal Herald recognized her talent. He gave her a job writing her own column. So she comes across the street to interview me for her column. I was doing much of what we began the Donahue Show with: feminist issues, what our children are seeing, daddy goes off to work with a briefcase and mommy does to the basement to do wash and what is this doing to our kids. We’d do shows like that. Obviously Erma had tuned in. ‘Hey neighbor, I’ll do a piece.’ I’d never been this excited in my life. No one ever wanted to interview me. It was very flattering. At that point it meant so much to me.

DHS: I’m curious, why do you think America took to Erma Bombeck? What about her captivated people, besides her obvious talent, in terms of her message?

PD: I eulogized Erma in 1996. It wasn’t just that she was the best; she was the only. Erma was irreverent in many ways. Motherhood was sacred then. There was a lot of pretense. There still is. Motherhood was sacred. How blessed you are to have children. Erma came along and said, ‘Oy, I want to sell my kids.’ Erma said if a man watches three football games in a row, he should be declared legally dead. Erma said coat hangers breed. And she could also be very thoughtful. Her work was attached to millions of refrigerator doors around the English-speaking world. Erma could be very poignant. She could spot pretense across a crowded room. I remember once we were in St. Louis. Big crowd and little Erma is on the stage. You can hardly see her. They had like three balconies. There she was all by herself. I’m running around like mad with a wireless mic—the big time now. A woman in the balcony, way up, said, ‘Erma, I understand you were Phil Donahue’s neighbor. What’s Phil Donahue really like?’ And she said, ‘He peeks in windows.’ Of course the building falls down.  Years later, after she moved, they had a beautiful home in Paradise Va  ley, Arizona.. She’s walking us through the house, and this is on TV. There was a huge fountain in their home I said, ‘That’s a great fountain, Erma.’ She said, ‘Yeah, the grandchildren pee in it.’

One of the women who eulogized her said she was going to communion and Erma was in front of her. She turned around and said, ‘Be careful. You don’t know where his hands have been.’

She credited Phyllis Diller. That surprises some people, but Erma was very impressed by her. Phyllis Diller said radical, crazy things, like she’d stuff the turkey from the wrong end, and make fun of the wonderful privilege of being a housewife and raising kids.

No one was being irreverent then. Not only did she have that sense and that courage, it took a lot of nerve to obscure all the sanctity and pretense that accompanied discussions about motherhood and being a housewife. She had a brilliant comedy sense. Those two things together made her very unique, evidenced by her book sales. Two of the bestselling books in the 70’s. Her titles were brilliant: If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits?  When You Look Like Your Passport Photo, It’s Time To Go Home. Things like that made women scream. The wisdom and insight. She wrote a very honest but painful piece about women who’ve had catastrophically challenged children and how it would be so hard for her to not be bitter, angry, not to say ‘why me.’ Her syndicate asked if she was sure. Yes, I do, she insisted, and they published it. A woman called her, ‘I’ll never forget that, Erma. I had a child. I can’t lift her anymore. She can’t walk up the stairs. I want you to know your article spoke truth to me and I felt a little less guilty.’ There were another piece she did about being upset that the grass was tramped down and not growing as vigorously because the kids were rolling on it and running on it. She’d plant a little more seed, water it, and then the kids would roll on it and it would become barren. Pretty soon the kids went away to school and got married. She looked out the window and the place where the kids had played was green and the grass full and vigorous. She missed the bare spot where they were playing.

DHS: That’s beautiful.

PD: It made you cry.

Phil Donahue changed the face of daytime television, pioneering the audience-participation talk format as the host of the Donahue Show, a 29-year run which stands as the longest of its kind in U.S. television history. His TV journalism earned him 20 Emmy Awards — 9 as host and 11 for the show — as well as the George Foster Peabody Award; the President’s Award from the National Women’s Political Caucus; the Media Person of the Year Award from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance; and induction into the Academy of Television’s Hall of Fame. TV Guide named Donahue one of the Greatest Television Shows of All Time. Donahue has frequently been lauded for his groundbreaking interviews with world leaders and newsmakers — including Muhammad Ali, Johnny Carson, Ayn Rand, Nelson Mandela, Madalyn Murray O’Hair (his first Donahue guest), Margaret Meade and all of the presidents since Jimmy Carter. He was the first Western journalist to visit Chernobyl after the nuclear accident there. Donahue has also headlined numerous network and public television specials, including the Emmy Award-winning children’s special, Donahue and Kids, the landmark Ryan White Talks to Kids about AIDS and The Human Animal; an exploration of human behavior which was also a five part, prime time series that aired on the NBC television network. In 2006, Donahue co-produced and co-directed Body of War, a documentary film about a young Iraq War veteran left in a wheelchair by enemy gunfire who begins questioning America’s involvement in the war.
Universally hailed by critics (“almost unbearably moving,” wrote Time magazine), Body of War captured, among others, the Best Documentary award from the National Board of Review; the Grand Jury Prize at Michael Moore’s Traverse City Film Festival; and a People’s Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival. Donahue is also an admired writer, whose opinion columns have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Los Angeles Times. He is the author of the best-selling memoir, Donahue: My Own Story; and The Human Animal. A native of Cleveland and the father of five and grandfather of two, Donahue is married to award-winning actress, author and activist Marlo Thomas. They live in New York.

David Henry Sterry is the author of 16 books, a performer, muckraker, educator, activist, editor and book doctor.  His anthology was featured on the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review.  His first memoir, Chicken, was an international bestseller and has been translated into 10 languages.  He co-authored The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published with his current wife, and co-founded The Book Doctors , who have toured the country from Cape Cod to Rural Alaska, Hollywood to Brooklyn, Wichita to Washington helping writers.  He is a finalist for the Henry Miller Award.  He has appeared on National Public Radio, in the London Times, Playboy, the Washington Post and the Wall St. Journal.  He loves any sport with balls, and his girls.  www.davidhenrysterry

 

 

 

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