This is the true story of being a White Asshole in black sitcoms. The first time I thought it must be a coincidence. But by the fourth or fifth time, I couldn’t help but wonder: Was I REALLY a White Asshole?
Category: Fiction Page 1 of 2
After I had my knee replacement I got addicted to opioids in about ten minutes. This is how I kicked my addiction. I wrote this as a cautionary tale for anyone with pain. Or anybody prone to addiction.
We first met J. K. Knauss when we did a Pitchapalooza at Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville, Illinois, one of our favorite bookstores in the world. We loved her idea for her book, but we were also impressed that she actually wrote a blog post that was very entertaining and formative about the event itself. Subsequently she bought one of David’s books and noticed that the metadata for the e-book was wrong. It was these impressive displays that made us become big fans. Not only of what a professional J. K. is, but also how generous a person. And now that her new book is out, we wanted to pick her brain about writing, publishing, and all that jazz.
The Book Doctors: What made you decide to become a writer? What were some of your favorite books as a kid and why?
J. K. Knauss: I’m not sure there was a decision involved. I have no memory of ever wanting to do anything else. My favorite books as a kid were the many by Zilpha Keatley Snyder and Willo Davis Roberts. Not only did they write lots of great books, but I also got to meet them at an author fair near my hometown. Seeing that authors were real people, like me, I hoped that someday, somebody might pay me for my writing.
TBD: We noticed that you use Goodreads. Could you explain to our readers how you work with that website and what some of the benefits are?
JKK: Goodreads is a wonderful way for readers to get in touch with authors because the site is entirely dedicated to books. I encourage readers to use the “Ask a Question” feature on my profile, and to join groups that interest them. With so many books out there, sites like Goodreads can help with one of life’s toughest questions: what to read next?
TBD: Could you describe your process of writing Seven Noble Knights? How did you come up with the idea? What is your daily writing practice like?
JKK: Seven Noble Knights is based on a legend I encountered in graduate school. Don’t let that turn you off! I read my advisor’s paper about the possible meanings of the bloody cucumber incident and decided I had to read everything I could about such a bizarre story. It had much more to offer—knights, ladies, Spanish pride, Moorish civilization… I let it marinate for a few years, then wrote the big travel chapters, the giant battle, and the last three chapters during two consecutive NaNoWriMos. During November, writing was the first thing I did every morning. Otherwise, I stealth wrote, fitting in sentences and scenes wherever I could between my paid editing and copyediting projects. I’m still a stealth writer today.
TBD: Do you use beta readers? Are they valuable in the editing process?
JKK: The first time I lived in Tucson, I had the kismet to join a writers group worth its weight in editorial comment balloons. They’re talented writers who gave me fresh perspectives on how to build a medieval world without bogging the reader down. Most importantly, they’ve stuck with me through some exaggerated highs and lows, even though I had to leave Tucson not once, but twice. Thanks, Low Writers!
TBD: Did you work with an editor at your publishing house? If so, what was that like?
JKK: I worked with a couple of professional editors as well as my critique group, got feedback at the 2013 Naperville Pitchapalooza and the 2014 Grub Street conference, and sent Seven Noble Knights through my own editing mill before I sent it out. Bagwyn Books makes historical accuracy their highest priority, so my editor and I focused on presenting a well-rounded picture of medieval Spain.
TBD: This is such an epic, how did you approach keeping all the storylines and characters afloat and helping your readers not get confused?
JKK: Buried in a tote bag with a flamenco dancer on it, I have a folder that’s thicker than the paperback is going to be with research notes, fold-out maps, character lists, chapter outlines, and a handwritten translation/summary of a few chapters of a thirteenth-century history book. There’s nothing like the benevolent authority of King Alfonso X, el Sabio, to keep a writer on track.
TBD: There’s lots of violence in Seven Noble Knights, but none of it feels gratuitous. Could you give us some of your philosophy about violence in stories, particularly violence towards women?
JKK: Medieval Spain was a society in a state of perpetual warfare for more than 800 years. Everywhere you looked, there was a border to attack or defend. So while it surprised me to be so drawn to such a violent story, it’s important to present the context accurately. I hope readers will come to their own conclusions about the appropriateness of violence in the Middle Ages and today.
There’s so much else going on in Seven Noble Knights, violence against women only occurs during Doña Lambra’s punishment. This is a female character who hasn’t hesitated to wield violence against others as one more tool for getting ahead. In the sequel, there will probably be some nongratuitous violence against innocent women characters. Much as it pains me to consider, again it’s a question of historical realism.
TBD: So, we have violence and odd uses of produce. Do the passions of your medieval characters come out in any other way?
JKK: As fiercely as they slay the enemy and seek revenge, so do the characters in Seven Noble Knights defend their families and fall in love. The hero, Mudarra, finds no meaning in his life until he meets a forbidden love. The seven young title characters will do anything to keep the peace within their beloved family. Don Gonzalo is deeply devoted to his wife, the mother of the seven noble knights, and will do anything to return to her—even betray her with another woman. Doña Lambra loves her cousin, but has to marry some nobleman she’s never met before. Lambra’s maid falls in love with the stable boy and hopes he can help her escape her servile life. Love arises all the stronger in hopeless places.
TBD: We checked out your story collection Rhinoceros Dreams. David also loves rhinoceroses. Why are you drawn to the rhinoceros?
JKK: All five species of rhino are soulful creatures, the gentle giants of the savannah or the rainforest. I had the opportunity to pet a pair of white rhinos at Southwick’s Zoo in southern Massachusetts, and it was the most Zen moment of my life. I highly recommend petting a rhino if you can! And I hope people will stop desiring them for their horns, which are worthless to anyone who isn’t a rhino.
TBD: We hate to ask you this, but do you have any advice for writers?
JKK: You might think a field dedicated to bringing the dreams of sensitive writers to an eager reading public would be all daisies and unicorns. But the publishing world has more of the brutal about it than the subtle. When you least expect it, something about the publishing process will break your heart. It’s the price authors pay for loving to write. If you have what it takes, you’ll keep going. So my advice is: “Brace yourself.”
Born and raised in Northern California, J. K. Knauss has wandered all over the United States, Spain, and England. She worked as a librarian and a Spanish teacher and earned a PhD in medieval Spanish literature before entering the publishing world as an editor. Seven Noble Knights, an epic of family, betrayal, and revenge in medieval Spain, debuted December 2016 in ebook from Bagwyn Books. The softcover edition came out January 16, 2017. Tour dates, fun, and prizes are still being added to the Seven Noble Knights Grand Book Launch Blog Tour. Feel free to sign up for her mailing list or visit JessicaKnauss.com for castles, stories, and magic.
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 co-authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How To Write It, Sell It, and Market It… Successfully (Workman, 2015). They are also book editors, and between them they have authored 25 books, and appeared on National Public Radio, the London Times, and the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review.
JOIN OUR NEWSLETTER TO RECEIVE MORE INTERVIEWS AND TIPS ON HOW TO GET PUBLISHED.
It’s hard to be a writer in the Bay Area and not know Charlie Jane Anders. Besides being a prolific writer, she is an incredibly generous networker and runs an absolutely awesome reading series called Writers With Drinks. So we thought we’d check in with her and pick her brain about novels, writing, reading, and all that jazz.
The Book Doctors: In some ways, your book defies categories. To us, it felt like magic realism, but it has elements of fantasy, cyber-steam punk, and coming-of-age. When you sat down to write this book, did you think about what category it would be in? Did this make it more difficult to sell the book and find an audience?
Charlie Jane Anders: When I started to write All the Birds in the Sky, I was attracted to the idea of smushing together fantasy and science fiction by having a witch and a mad scientist in the same story together. I thought of the book initially as sort of pastiche or spoof. I would have all these standard fantasy tropes and these science fiction tropes, and they would be colliding in a funny way. That turned out to be very, very boring. Instead, I had to think more about what these two genres meant to me and how I connected to each of them personally. I was terrified that this genre confusion would make the book a hard sell — but it turned out the bigger problem was the fact that it starts out with the characters as little kids and then we see them grow up about 100 pages in. It seemed like some people could not quite wrap their minds around the idea of a book that feels like a young-adult novel at first but then becomes an adult novel. I was so grateful that my agent and publisher were willing to roll with it and didn’t try to get me to restructure the book, with flashbacks or whatever.
TBD: David has, because of many personal experiences, felt like an outsider most of his life. So he especially related to the main characters of this beautiful book, and we wondered if your experience as an outsider helped shape these characters, who are fighting against a world that sees them as different, unusual, bizarre, and ultimately, threatening.
CJA: The theme of feeling like an outsider kept coming up in this book, in part because of the decision to start out with the main characters as kids. I think a lot of people can relate, one way or another, to the sense of not fitting in or being misunderstood. I had a rough time in grade school and middle school for a bunch of reasons, and I felt like writing honestly about growing up meant that I had to capture some of that emotional and physical insecurity that so many of us have lived with. And yet, having the kids grow up and live as twentysomethings meant that we got to see them as powerful adults, with control over their own lives and agency and all that goes with that. They can’t escape from being shaped by their childhood experiences, but they can choose how they deal with it.
TBD: You have put a lot of time and effort into reaching out to a community of writers. We suggest this to our clients all the time. How did you do this, and has this helped you in your writing career?
CJA: I can still easily remember when I felt totally isolated as a newbie fiction writer, and how hard it was to find people to connect with. Whatever point you’re at in your career, writers really need to stick together, to help deal with the pressure and insanity of the creative process and the publishing biz. I’ve had a blast curating Writers With Drinks, the reading series that I organize and (usually) host in San Francisco. I have gotten to meet a whole bunch of amazing writers — including David! — and hear them read. And it’s been a thrill to expose people to a new audience, especially since Writers With Drinks usually has as many different genres and styles as I can fit into one event. So you might come to hear the science fiction author, but discover a new favorite poet. But just as valuable has been the social aspect — an event where we’re all creating something together and nobody’s competing has been great for helping me (and hopefully others) make friends. I think being around these awesome, talented people has helped me raise my game as a writer, because I get to hear/read some of the best examples of the craft every month.
TBD: David has read several times at the fantastic reading series called Writers with Drinks, at the deliciously named Make Out Room in San Francisco, and he always has a blast. What have you learned by watching the hundreds of writers that you have wrangled into this wildly successful series?
CJA: Ha, see above. To add to what I wrote up there, I think that part of the fun of Writers With Drinks has been the thing of combining different genres and getting to see how a stand-up comic, a slam poet, a science fiction author and a literary memoirist are using some of the same techniques and approaches — just with different end goals. Plus you get to see how each genre is powerful in its own particular way. I love when you get people laughing their ass off one minute and then being moved to tears the next.
TBD: Tell us about io9 magazine.
CJA: Getting to be involved with the creation of io9 was one of the greatest opportunities of my life. Annalee Newitz, who founded io9, wanted to blend science and science fiction in a kind of homage to Omni Magazine, and it was really inspirational to see how the two things informed each other. After eight and a half years, I came away with a really strong sense that we are 100 percent living in the future. And I basically got paid to geek out about storytelling, and sometimes my half-baked ideas about books, movies and TV shows led to some of the most fascinating conversations with our readers and other folks. It was like getting paid to go to grad school.
TBD: You’ve been published in tons of small magazines and journals, like Tin House, McSweeney’s, and Zyzzyva, to name a few. How does a writer get published in these places, and how has this helped you in your publishing career?
CJA: When it comes to Tin House and McSweeney’s, I was only published on their websites, but it was still a major honor to be featured there. And getting into ZYZZYVA was one of the coolest things that ever happened to me. This super well-respected literary magazine chose to publish me way, way back when I was just starting out and barely getting my stories into tiny zines and the occasional website. In general, I published tons and tons of fiction in small publications, many of which have gone under or never received any exposure to speak of. Early on, I would publish stories pretty much anyplace that was willing to consider them, including one of those adult newspapers that’s mostly a vehicle for stripper ads. I didn’t make a lot of money from doing that, to say the least, but it was good to get the experience of having my creative writing appear in a lot of places and dealing with editors and readers. The whole process of making up a story — and having it turn into something that other people read and take in and form their own relationship with — is so weird, it might be kinda good to get used to it before you start reaching a bigger readership.
TBD: You won an Emperor Norton Award. First of all, what is that exactly, and how did you end up becoming a winner of this prestigious award?
CJA: Oh ha ha ha… the Emperor Norton Award for Extraordinary Invention and Creativity Unhindered by the Constraints of Paltry Reason is something that Tachyon Publishing and Borderlands Bookstore were doing for a while there — I don’t know many of them they gave out, but I was so thrilled. I think something about the weird, silly intros I cook up for the authors at Writers With Drinks, plus my bizarre fiction, struck someone as unhinged, in a good way. I was very flattered — hinges are good for doors, but I think a lot of people could stand to be a little less hinged. I’m always kind of scared of how many people seem to think they have everything all figured out.
TBD: You are a self-described “female geek.” What does that mean to you? And tell us about the anthology you put together that embraces this particular demographic.
CJA: Way back in 2006, Annalee and I were both approached about editing anthology projects for Seal Press, and we decided to collaborate. Our book was called She’s Such a Geek, and it was a collection of essays by women in science, technology and other geeky fields. We put out a call for submissions, and we were just blown away by the hundreds of submissions we received. There were a lot of heartbreaking stories by women who had been at the top of their class as undergraduates but then got treated horribly in grad school. A lot of geeky women of color shared stories of hearing subtle (and not-so-subtle) messages about their ability to keep up and contribute. There were also a ton of uplifting, thrilling stories of geeky triumph and discovery, from women who discovered a love of science, math, tech, gaming or science fiction and found that it changed their lives. It was an eye-opening, intense experience. Since that book came out a decade ago, we’ve seen way more women celebrating their geek identity, and venues for female geeks to come together. There’s an annual event called GeekGirlCon and a ton of other stuff. It’s been so awesome to see that happen.
TBD: In All the Birds in the Sky, Patricia the witch forms a really strong bond with her cat, Berkley. What happens to the cat after she goes off to magic school?
CJA: A ton of people asked me what happened to Berkley, who’s very important in Patricia’s life when she’s in middle school. I learned the hard way that you can’t leave any loose ends where cats are concerned — unless they’re loose ends in a ball of yarn, in which case go ahead. So I wrote a story called “Clover,” which is available at Tor.com, to explain what happened to Berkley later on. This turned out to be one of those things where you start pulling on one thread — to continue the ball of yarn metaphor — and then all sorts of interesting things start coming out. I ended up getting a chance to explore a bit more about the use of magic in my fictional world, and approach it from a very different direction than I did in the book, thanks to a different protagonist. Plus this story absolutely stands on its own — so if someone hasn’t read the book yet, this is a good way to dip into that world.
TBD: We hate to ask you this, but since you do have a column in which you give writing advice, what advice you have for writers?
CJA: The main advice I have for writers is to hang in there and keep writing. And also, to be kind to yourself. A writer — especially a beginning writer — has to keep two contradictory mindsets in order to keep going. You have to believe that you’re a flippin’ genius, your ideas are brilliant, and you’re a fantastic storyteller, or you won’t be able to summon the audacity and stamina to create the big, ambitious stories you want to tell. But you also have to be aware that your writing is going to have huge flaws, it’s easy to screw up, the craft takes a long time to learn (and you really never finish learning it), and when people criticize your work they’re probably on to something. That combination of hubris and humility can be hard to sustain and can easily drive you nuts. So be nice to yourself, and just keep writing even if you think you’re churning out garbage sometimes.
Charlie Jane Anders is the author of All the Birds in the Sky. She organizes the Writers With Drinks reading series, and was a founding editor of io9, a site about science fiction, science and futurism. Her fiction has appeared in Tin House, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, ZYZZYVA, Pindeldyboz, Tor.com, Asimov’s Science Fiction, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Lightspeed, and a ton of anthologies. Her story “Six Months, Three Days” won a Hugo Award and her novel Choir Boy won a Lambda Literary Award.
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 co-authors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How To Write It, Sell It, and Market It… Successfully (Workman, 2015). They are also book editors, and between them they have authored 25 books, and appeared on National Public Radio, the London Times, and the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review.
JOIN OUR NEWSLETTER TO RECEIVE MORE INTERVIEWS AND TIPS ON HOW TO GET PUBLISHED.
Rumors of the death of male stripping in America are greatly exaggerated. I know, because recently on a dark dank Saturday night, I took the Queen of LA Stripper Intelligensia, 5’10” Private Dancer/Nordic goddess Nica Jensen, to the seedy sweet scrotum of Hollywood, Arena Nightclub, Santa Monica & Highland, where The Hollywood Men were reportedly going to be shakin and bakin their moneymakers, while frenzied females shriek & wave seas of money for dick-filled lap dances. Needless to say, me and Nica are highly skeptical. We’re early.
The club seats 500 people. So far there are only 7 lovely Latinas at one table, decked out in the height of East LA fashion. One wears a white wedding veil. One is in a wheelchair. They are already drinking heavily. Looks like we’re in for a long night. We’re greeted by Dan Remington, the emcee/part owner of The Hollywood Men. He’s a 16 pound bowling ball of a guy with slick hair and matching handshake, surrounded by a surprisingly nice smile. He is, and will remain, fully clothed, and is the only performer who will be able to say that. He tells us that December sucks, it’s the worst time of year, which is true in so very so many ways, in my opinion. You can see he’s a little worried that no screaming ladies are going to show up, and without them, it’s a very different show. But during the bachelorette season, Dan tells us, there are 500 women here 3 times a week, in fact they had to move here because they outgrew the last place. Guys come from all over the world to audition, if you’re interested just call, make an appointment, come down, one guy was just in last week from Europe, came all the way here to be a Hollywood Man. A kind of pilgrimage, I guess. Nica wants to know how many of the guys are gay. “NONE,” Dan Remington blurts a little too loud, then says softer, “None of the guys are gay. They’re not gay.” During the next 12 minutes he will tell us like nineteen more times how not gay all the guys are. Later Nica will say, “Me thinks the lady doth protest too much,” and I will laugh. Hard. Nica wants to know if any of the guys are married. We are told they are not. “They all have girlfriends,” Dan says, then leans in with a smile, “but almost all of them fool around.” Later Nica will tell me she has no trouble believing that, and I will laugh again, though not as hard this time. Nica wants to know where men sit if they want to watch. Dan tell us that no men ever come here to watch. In all these years, only one gay male couple came, and when they saw what the show was, they left. So none of the dancers or hosts or waiters are gay, and none of the audience is gay men. But what would happen, Nica wants to know, looking down at Dan, if a guy wanted to come and watch? “Well, we would sit him wherever he wanted to sit.” This satisfies Nica, which is a good thing, cuz you don’t wanna piss off Nica. Next we’re ushered into the dressing room to meet the brains and buns behind The Hollywood Men, the Sultan of Shwing, the King of the G-String, the dean of American male stripping, 1998 Playgirl Man of the Year, Scott Layne. If you called Central Casting and asked them to send over a male stripper, Scott Layne would show up. Even in sweats and a tank top, Scott exudes an utter American maleness, gunboats bulging, buff with mantan, hardbody with soft smile, chiselly cheeks with charmy eyes. I’ve known Scott since New York Chippendale’s, where we worked together, and he first became a star under the late great Nick de Noia, the Grand Daddy dandy of modern American male stripping. I’m happy to see him. And he me, apparently, as evidenced by the big bear hug he lays on me. Hug-wise I give as good as I get. Not in a gay way. I want to emphasize that. It’s a deeply heterosexual hug, the hug of men who’ve fought together in the trenches of the battle of the sexes, comrades in codpieces, me armed with roller skates, tux and microphone, Scott with the smallest G-string the law would allow. The show’s gonna start in half an hour, and I ask him if he’s nervous. “Why would you be nervous?” Scott and Nica answer at the same time. The mark of a true professional. Nica wants to know what the chances are of a woman buying a ticket, attending the show, and taking home a Hollywood Man. “Depends on how good looking she is,” Scott smiles. Sounds about right. Nica wants to know what Scott thinks turns a woman on. “For me, it’s all about sharp moves, quick moves, that are sensual and sexy without being graphic. I hate it when guys get graphic, that’s not what most women want to see. And I hate when dancers don’t pay attention to older women, to women who aren’t traditionally hot. Look, women are all about the chase. Men want to cut to the chase. Women love the tease in strip tease. Men are like, ‘Bend over and show it to me.’” Nica nods. Sounds about right. We’re ushered back out into the club, and glorioski, there are like a hundred women buzz-cocking around, power-drinking, primping, whispering, giggling, babbling in gaggles, a dozen white wedding veils waving like snow covered clouds drifting towards the land of Marriage. As the ladies chill, mill, and spill female hormones, half-nude spandexed cuffed and collared hunk Hosts hustle drinks and smear muscle-bulging flirtatious bodacious charm all over the women. All of a sudden this seems like it could be fun. The women seem like they’re already having a blast. With each other. Every little grouplet has the same kind of hair, the same kind of outfit, like different tribes, all with their own unique plumage. I don’t see one single woman here by herself. They are pack animals. Female strip clubs are loaded with lone wolves. Nica starts drinking. This is a good sign. She leans over and tells me that in a female strip club, if you say the girls are into having sex with each other, this is considered a very good thing. I tell her I think it’s the specter of a homophobic Puritanical low-touch erotophobic machocentric culture. Nica agrees. She chortles: “And for God’s sake, how do they know they’re not gay, what do they do, give them all some kind of gay test?” I laugh at that, too, as I imagine having to take a gay test: fashion sense, artistic ability, fellatio skills. More women are streaming in, and by Jiminy, there must be close to 200 women here. Me and Nica are impressed. Our waiter is cut, ripped, lean yet pec-heavy, hard-haired and ab-happy. It looks like it would hurt your fist if you punched his stomach. He doesn’t seem gay. He doesn’t really seem straight either. He seems kind of asexual to me. Like he’s a Ken doll, and if you took down his black Spandex, a smooth bump would be there. He seems like an accountant. Nica asks him if he dreamed of being a topless waiter when he was a kid. He laughs and says that he did not, that’s it’s a great part time gig. Nica asks him what he does apart from this. Turns out he is an accountant. Seriously. When he’s gone I ask Nica if she thinks he’s sexy. She looks at me like I’m stupid. “Not my type,” says Nica. “If there was some nerd here with glasses and a slide rule in his pocket, that would be more my speed.” Then all of a sudden, BOOM! lights go down, sound goes up, and Scott’s voice booms through the room: It’s Showtime. There’s smoke, there’s a big video screen, there’s crazy swirling lights, and when the first Hollywood Man busts onto the stage, a scream comes up from the ladies, a primal lioness roar that rattles my teeth, rolls through my bones, and lights up my balls like Chinese New Year, as I’m hot-wired right into all that grrrrl power. Nica looks over at me. She’s into it. The women are into it. She leans over and whispers: “There’s a lot of really beautiful women here, aren’t there?” I nod in agreement. There are. 5 Men pop out onto stage and do a hiphoppy Fosse meets Backstreet Boys choreography, and the women are up on their feet, like at a Southern Baptist church when the spirit lifts the congregation. Nothing like this in a female strip club. Big video presentation, clips of movies and local news segments featuring the Hollywood Men show, in front of all that tight seemless choreography. The men do take their shirts and pants off in the opening number, but not until they take off their jackets and shirts, unbuttoning and removing little by little. When they get down to their skivvies, the estrogen laden roar bounces off the walls. Now we’re into the numbers. Each is almost a Jungian American archetype: Top Gun, An Officer and a Gentleman, the Cowboy, the Fireman, the Vampire. They all start off with lots of costume, surrounded many times by other dancers. Slowly they take it off while lip synching, until they take down their underpants to reveal their teeny G-strings. When they get to this point, they all make the same move: they turn around and bend over, their asses shining like a big happy heartmoon. The women seem to love that. They writhe, they undulate, they simulate intercourse, poundpoundpounding into the floor. They pour oil on themselves. The men touch themselves on their covered penis areas quite a bit. The women seem to love that, too. But honestly, after a while, the perfect smooth hairless chestpecs and the perfect smooth hairless 6 pacs, and the perfect smooth hairless asses all blend one into the other. Mind you the women are great. They are so much fun to watch. I love how they enjoy the show through each other. Understand this: in terms of sexual orientation, I am 70%, 20% lesbian, and 10% gay, so this show is not, as has been pointed out repeatedly, intended for me. But I did 2 years at Chippendale’s when it was the hottest show in New York City, so I know my way around men taking their clothes off. Plus, that’s why I brought the lovely and talented Nica, because she likes men and finds them sexual. Plus she’s taken her clothes off in front of them for money, and she’s not ashamed to say so. Plus she’s watched a lot of men watching women take their clothes off. So after every act, I turn to Nica and I ask, “Was that hot? Did that guy turn you on? What that sexy?” Every time she shakes her head and says, “No.” It’s not that she’s having a bad time. She’s actually enjoying the show. It’s just that none of these beekcakey bodies is beaming out any real sexuality. That’s what it seems like to me, and Nica confirms this. Then Scott Layne comes out, and she sees why he’s a star. He’s Danny Zuko from Grease, ducktail, tight leather pants and jacket. Behind him on the screen is John Travolta playing Danny Zuko from Grease. The effect is cooly postmodern in a Warholian way. The movie icon duplicated by the live male stripper icon. And Scott pulls it off, the same cocky shy nice intense calm vibe beaming out of both of them, stripper as movie star. Only Scott actually sings. He’s got a mike, and he’s singing. At first I don’t believe it, because his rockabilly Elvis thing very good. But then there’s a little slip, and it clearly is him singing. Nica turns to me and she nods and says, “Wow, he’s really good.” And you can see it really isn’t the meat, and it’s really is the motion. It’s the power and the skill that comes from having perfected a craft, being able to channel the Sex muse effortlessly with talent. Scott blows the roof off the joint, as the women go gaga. Afterwards I ask Nica if she thought he was sexy. She hesitates. Thinking. “He’s really good. I really enjoyed him, he’s a total pro, the guy is really talented.” Next up comes a guy in a bad female wig and skirt, with balloons shoved down his feminine sweater. It’s as if Jerry Lewis has decided to become a male stripper. Nica is intrigued. To a hip hop Spike Jones-ish soundtrack, this guy does an old school burlesque silent comedy number. And he’s fucking funny. With amazing control of his body. Slowly the wig, sweater and skirt come off, and he’s sporting a goofy Clark Kent meets Devo wig, with a Superman shirt. He shifts the balloons from his chest to his crotch, magically transforming them from huge breasts into gigantic balls. And the guy is an astonishing mindbending breakdancing fool. Isolating his body and moving the parts independently of each other in freakishly funny bendability, in the great tradition of vaudeville eccentric dancers like Donald O’Connor, with the good looks and athletic muscular grace of Gene Kelly, all filtered through new millenium streetwise edgy urban modernism. It is a breathtaking performance. I ask Nica if he was sexy. Her eyes have gone a bit dreamy in the middle of her creamy round face, and she nods her head: Yes. Nica’s got a crush on the guy. I ask her why. She tells me it’s because he diffused the manufactured, corporate asexual vibe with HUMOR. That ironically, a nice dose of humanity is still what entices more than a shapely butt and a bulging G-string.
Now one lucky gal who wins a lottery gets to sit on a chair in the middle of the stage. 5 guys disrobe down to their wee G-strings and towels. Then they gather in a tight circlejerk formation around her, facing her, and appear to remove their wee G-strings while opening their towels and exposing their johnsons and willies to her. The audience goes nuts and bananas. I thought if I was surrounded by 5 beautiful women and they all exposed their nakedness at me, I would like to see that. That is probably a sight that I could work into a fantasy that I could masturbate to. In fact now that I’ve thought about it, maybe I will. Okay, I’m back.
Now all that remains is the up-close-and-personal, interactive, hands-on segment of the show, where the Hollywood Men actually come out into the audience, and the women wave the money, or plant in their cleavage, or in their panties peaking out from under their tight jeans. And I’m telling you, when they climb down from that stage like so many Collosuses of Rome, it is an absolute free-4-all. Unlike in a female strip joint, there are no beefy security guys to stop the clients from mauling the dancers. And the fur is definitely flying. There are at least 6 dancers, naked but for small black underpants, working the room. And I mean working. You hear little random screams and squeals and shrieks as little knots of females gather around dancers like menstrual blood clotting. Every veil-clad bride-to-be in attendance gets at least one lap dance, and most of them get many. The dancer generally comes over to the woman with the dollar bill flag flying (either held by herself, or more usually, her friends) and the dancer takes the bill, then undulates around and into the woman. Many breasts and necks are nuzzled. Male faces are buried into crotch areas. Female hands stroke and fondle and feel up smooth hairless powerful male chests and bellies, and grab a package or two. Sometimes a dancer literally disappears into a forest of females, so you couldn’t even see him anymore. The 7 Latinas who were the first ones in the place are whooping and halloring and dancing. I have to admit it’s great to see a woman dancing in a wheelchair. Then she gets a lap dance, and the guy is really great with her, sexy and nice and respectful. She’s digging it. Then the bride-tobe gets her own lap dance, and she digs it even more. I gotta say, the room is really hyper-charged with sexenergy. Next to me, a truly stunning woman has stuffed a bill in her thong panties peeking out from under her tight jeans. As she slides down onto the booth/chair, the bill disappears. She tried unsuccessfully to fish it out. He tries grabbing it with his teeth. With as little success. She unbuckles her belt, unsnaps her jeans and parts the zipper like it’s a pare of beautiful vaginal lips, revealing her stunningly sexy lower belly. The dancer hesitated, then goes down. He nibbles around the bill, then slowly and seductively pulls it out of the string of her thong thing. I have to admit I was jealous. I wanted to be that dancer. This moment illustrates the best of the audience participation section, what at Chippendale’s used to be called the Kiss & Tip. I did see a couple of the guys pull women’s hair, yanking heads into crotches with what I thought was too much force. Some women seemed to like that. Other seemed put off when the dancer moved away. Regardless, MUCH MUCH money exchanged hands, and MANY MANY hands roved over ACRES & ACRES of naked flesh. I wanted to give Nica the opportunity to have a lap dance if she was into it. I was curious what her reaction would be to getting one, having given so many herself. I asked her if she wanted one. She nodded enthusiastically. This is just one of the things we love about Nica. Guess who she wants a lap dance from? Funny wildly talented smiling sweet guy. Naturally. I have to admit I felt a little odd asking this guy wearing nothing but tiny black underpants if he would give my friend a lap dance, but only because all that gay talk before the show made me afraid I would disrupt the delicate balance of the show. Me, I don’t give a shit, I just want Nica to have her lap dance. So I find the guy and tell him what I want, and he’s the very model of accommodation. Nica gives him the money. The guy’s got curly brown soft hair, as opposed to the hard sculpted look of so many of the other guys. He looks her in the eyes as he pulsates and undulates rhythmically before her. She sinks down into her chair as he moves in closer and closer to her until his smooth supple rippling skin is inches from her lips. Nica seems to be really enjoying her lap dance. She puts her hands on his chest. He is gentle with her, but still seems capable of rocking her world. He is professional, but slightly removed, an amazing mover with a supple lithe physicality and a serious soulfulness, although he doesn’t seem emotionally engaged like he did on stage. He spends a good 5 minutes with Nica before he kisses her on the cheek and takes off. Nica’s cheeks are flushing and her eyes are alive. I ask her if she enjoyed her lap dance. She says she did.
Then it’s on to the big slam bang finale, and Scott’s bringing the show home. Everybody gets their bows and applause, and then the lights are coming up. I go over to the 7 Latinas who were the first ones in the place. Turns out the lady in the wheelchair is the mother of the woman in the white bridal veil. They’re laughing and carrying on and having a grand old time. Turns out the veiled bride-to-be is getting married next Saturday. Her boyfriend knows she’s here. He told her to go out and have a good time. That’s why she’s marrying him. She points out the dancer Nica has a crush on and says, “Tell him, ‘Oh my God!” Just tell him that for me. ‘Oh my God!’” Her mother in the wheelchair points to a picture of Scott. “Tell him that I’d like to take him home.” Everyone hoots and hollars. You can tell they’ll be telling this story for a very long time.
Me and Nica head backstage to the dressing room. Many men are in various stages of sweaty robing and disrobing. Nica sneaks peaks. Scott bounds over. I tell him how much I enjoyed his show, and how Nick his mentor would have been proud. Scott seems genuinely touched. Nica thanks him for a great show. Tells him what a great entertainer he is. It’s nice to watch, one pro to another, acknowledgment always meaning more coming from a peer. “I’ve been doing it long enough, I better be good at it,” Scott smiles with wry self-deprecation. “How long have you been dancing?” Nica wants to know. “Over twenty years,” Scott says. “Not bad for being 42 years old, huh?” Nica cannot believe Scott is 42. I can. Nica wants to know if we can interview her favorite dancer. Scott hooks us up. Chris Watters is his name. 2 T’s. With his clothes on he seems smaller. He’s well dressed casually, groomed, moving with an easy animal grace. He seems shy and earnest. He’s traveled all over the world dancing for women. He got his start Jane Mansfield style, only instead of at Schwabs, Chris was minding his own business dancing in a nightclub in Boise, Idaho, when a guy spotted him and recruited him into the male exotic dancing business. He’s currently running his own music production company, CMW Productions (cmwproductions.net) while going to school studying business administration. His parents are into him being a dancer. They’ve seen the show and they dig it. Nica wants to know what he’s learned about women taking his clothes off for them. He smiles and thinks. He’s a thoughtful guy who chooses his words carefully. “I see women from a totally different point of view. I see women at their worst, when they’re drunk and rude.” Pause. Thinking. “I put up a lot of walls.” Pause. Thinking. “Some dancing… table dancing, makes you feel creeped out… it’s too much… people cross boundaries. I like it a lot better when I can just get out on stage and do my thing. Women dancers are a lot more protected. It’s weird feeling like an object…” Pause. Thinking. “it makes you feel creepy… people can be so… I come home with scratches, and bruises, and bite marks, and I have no idea where they came from… it’s scary… sometimes rich women make you feel like shit, they think they can say anything they want, and they say cruel things, sometimes, they’re drunk, they look down their nose at me… it can get really ugly.” Pause. Thinking. “Like I said, I see women at their worst.” Nica wants to know if Chris is married. He confesses that he is. Me and Nica shoot each other knowing glances. The wife’s a gogo dancer. Not a stripper, he says a little too quickly. Like we’d care. But that’s part of this world, those fine lines that distinguish what you will do and what you won’t. Take off your clothes. Leave on your G-string. Sell a kiss. Let a customer touch you in your most tender netherparts. Selling your sexuality is a tricky thing, and the shading between trick and performer, john and gigolo, hustler and dancer is crucial for mental stability. You set your boundaries, and that is how you define yourself. A lot of male strippers at I worked with at Chippendale’s sold sex, but they would never call themselves a whore. Whereas, when I’ve worked with women from the next class of sex worker down the foodchain, the street ho, many embrace their ho-ness, “Yeah that’s right, I’m a ho, so you wanna fuck with me, I have got to get PAID!” Nica wants to know if he’s planning on having kids. God love Nica, she’s keeping us on track. Chris smiles that crazy sweet sexy shy smile: “Yeah.” I ask what he’d say if his son turned to him and said: “Daddy, when I grow up I want to be a male stripper!” “No way!” he laughs very loud. He’s got a nice easy laugh, which he’s laughed a couple of times, but this laugh is loaded with jaded cynical world-weariness. Nica wants to know why not. “Dancers get lazy. It’s too easy, the money. There’s no work ethic in this world.” He starts to say something, then hesitates, as if his internal censor stopped him. I ask him to elaborate, but he shies away. It makes him more interesting, that there is something withheld. Nica wants to know what he thinks women want. “Confidence with a smile. Even if you can’t dance, if you really have a good time out there, women like that. “ Pause. Thinking. Smile. “I try to use the golden rule. I do to others what I would want done to me.” Hard to argue with that. Nica shakes his hand. I shake his hand. Solid handshake. Single pump. Firm without having anything to prove.
As we leave Nica says what a sweet fragile soul he seemed, and confesses how she wants to rap him up in her arms and give him a big long hug, because he seems like he’s been so wounded. She’s surprised. She never thought guys would feel so much like she does about taking their clothes off for money. She reflects how heterosexual male stripping is more akin to the neo-burlesque movement that is sweeping the country, as opposed to the more anatomical direction female stripping has evolved into, where girls make a series of poses which illustrate what they would look like having sex. “If you can’t show them what you’d look like fucking, forget it, you’re not gonna make any money,” says Nica, and I can’t argue with that.
Then me and Nica walk out into the Hollywood night, where it’s not raining men, it’s just plain raining. And I can say without hesitation that male stripping is very much alive and kicking, kissing and tipping, every Friday and Saturday night in the City of Fallen Angels.
Weaving and gunning, he whipped it down Fell, timing it just right, so he hit the synchronized lights just as they changed, right on the edge of out-of-control. Divisidaro, Fillmore, Steiner flashed by: boom, boom, boom, George cruising Lili through each light as it turned green, one after another, like magic.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw it coming, some big American junker-mobile running the light. That bastard’s gonna hit me, George thought, he’s gonna run that light, and he’s gonna hit me.
Imagine the smallest split of a second you can. Now split that an infinite number of times. That’s how long it took for George to think all that.
George’s eyes were wide as CD’s, utterly concentrated, totally focused. If he had not been, he would have died. If he’d had to, at this moment, he could have lifted a refrigerator off a loved one.
The driver of the American junker was drunk. His name was Ozwaldo Grzylwrsklnzwzykoski, aka Oz Grizzly. He had been drinking beer, then vodka, then beer, then vodka. He had somehow driven from Las Vegas, where he had been drinking with a relative who offered him a job breaking a man’s knees in Lodi, California. Oz was going to check into the Royal Viking Hotel, where he planned to dry out and have sex with several transgender sex workers. He actually should have been making a right turn, in which case this incident would have never happened. But he was so stoopid drunk, he ran the red, right at George, so blurred he couldn’t even focus on the steering wheel right in front of his eyes.
George lifted Lili’s front tire off the pavement. That, combined with the heavy screeching back-tire breaking, caused her to skid away from the Oz mobile.
Oz churned oblivious through the light, completely unaware he was perilously close to manslaughtering U vehicularly.
Lili seemed to be defying gravity itself as she flew sideways on Fell towards Market St.
And just as it looked inevitable that Lili was going to slam head first into the back panel of the passenger side of the Oz mobile, God seemed to intervene. Or maybe it was just George being all he could be.
Either way, George managed to get Lili to just clip the back of the Oz mobile’s passenger side bumper.
This stopped Lili’s forward momentum just enough so that with George flying forward at the same speed he had been, he flew over the handlebars down Fell St, head first.
Joseph Plantune, aka Joey, a homeless man who believed that aliens were coming for him imminently, looked up from the trash can he was mining, and saw a George flying through the air. He didn’t notice Lili or the Oz mobile. All he saw was the flying George. Head first. This caused Joey to sprint down Geary away from Fell, screaming, “You’ll never take me aliiiiiiiiiiiiiiiive!”
Holy shit, George thought, I’m flying through the air. With the greatest of ease. Hey, I’m even making a joke as I fly through the air. He seemed to fly forever, flying, floating parallel to the ground, headfirst. If only I had a cape, I could be Superman.
Then George realized he was gong to come down and hit the pavement. He did something smart now. Instead of thinking, he let his body take over. George was lucky that way. His body just naturally took over when it had to. When all around him were losing their heads he was inhabiting his body.
And his body, like most all bodies, knew exactly what to do.
And his body did it.
As it came down, George’s body naturally tucked, his shoulder rolling down towards the road, his helmeted head shielded by his right arm coming up, and as gravity took over, plummeting him towards blacktop, he landed on the flat of his forearm, rolling forward in a moving ball of humanity like a tumbler in thick black leather.
George’s body was all loosey-goosey, easy-jointed as it made contact.
And somehow he managed keep his roll going, as if he had been coached from an early age by a brilliant but cruel Rumanian gymnastic coach.
And when the roll was over, he popped up on his feet and stood there facing away from Geary St.
Stood on his two feet in his two boots.
Wait a minute, he thought, how did that happen? Did that happen? Did I just fly through the air, and do some crazy stunt man shit? How the hell did I do that? It wasn’t you, stoopid. That was God. God just saved me. Sent you a message. Do your job. Look after the boy. Thank you God, and I will not ever forget that you saved my life here. From now on, I do the right thing. Sex is highly over-rated. George made a note to himself: have that tattooed on your penis, young man.
Then he had a thought that moved him to action.
Please God, just one more thing, I swear this is the last thing I’ll ever ask for: let Lili be okay.
George turned and ran back towards Geary.
There she was.
Lying on her side.
Battered and bruised.
That beautiful old lady, scraped and scuffed.
He reached her, got down on his knees.
Put his hand on her, feeling for a pulse.
Oh please, be okay.
What a night.
This is the worse night of my life.
I did this.
This is my fault.
If I had just minded my business and not been chasing my tail, he wouldn’t have gone skag hunting and Lili would be sitting under her cover where she belongs, having sweet Indian dreams.
Somebody beat me to it.
George stroked her violated tank, gouged deep in the belly.
George ran his hands over her twisted front fender.
George let his fingers linger on her twisted handlebars.
George couldn’t bring himself to touch her scratched to hell forks, shock absorbed in shock.
Sadly he got himself to his feet.
With forlorn care, he lifted her to her wheels.
He slipped down her kick-stand and gingerly leaned her that way.
Lili groaned as her bent gnarled mass her rested on her stand.
She’s upright anyway, George thought.
He straddled her, without resting any way on her seat.
Looking at her handlebars was like seeing an injury victim with a badly broken leg, where the shinbone is pointing one way, and the foot is pointing the other.
Carefully, lovingly, George put his hands on her handlebars, and with the touch of an expert chiropractor, he pulled them back towards their natural resting place, like twisted a neck to bring it into alignment.
To George’s surprise, the handlebars moves easily back into place. In fact, they slid too far, so they were out of kilter the other way. Very easy he slid them back so they were centered.
Okay, George smiled, maybe it’s not so dire. Maybe she’s okay. Maybe we can coax her back to life. Maybe she’s just got a sprained hip and some minor contusions. Maybe there’s just a lot of blood from some superficial wounds.
George now dismounted and went to the front of Lili. He could now see that her front fender was bent badly, but if he was very tender with her, he could twist it back enough to be able to drive her, then take her to the shop and get her all shiny and new, like a virgin Indian touched for the very first time.
George took her into his hands and softly manipulated Lili, bending the metal so that it moved away from the tire. It did. It worked. It was an ugly raw wound, but at least it looked more normal now, and would not interfere with her smooth rolling.
George went back around and straddled Lili once more.
Barely breathing, he touched the key still hanging in its hole. He turned it into the Off position. He stopped and heaved a deep sigh.
I mean it Lord, if you give me this one thing, make this one thing okay, and I will never let you down again. Let her come one. Let their be light.
George switched the key back into the On position.
Wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles, she turned on, the front headlight shooting out a beam of white into the black night.
Okay, said George, that’s it, you win. From now on, no shit, it’s the straight and narrow for me, no bullshit.
George then calmly, moved the lever out for better access, and my his foot primed her a couple of times, while giving her a little taste of gas with the hand accelerator.
He snorted three quick blasts of breath, and kicked down on the lever.
Lili sputtered and spurted, like a heavy smoker trying to wake up in the morning.
But George nursed her into consciousness by opening the choke on the left of the engine, pulling out the knobby pin so the engine gasped air and gas and the pistons sprung to life, pumping like porn stars as Lili finally righted herself and purred.
Oh Lord, thank you, now I know everything’s gonna be alright, George thought.
And he really believed it.
“I’m starving,” Olive announced one day last week is. She’s my daughter. She’s six.
“You’re not starving,” I said, “you’re hungry.”
Epiphany. Laugh-of-luxury child has no idea what it means to starve. To not eat. To be poor.
Yes, she understands there are Poor People. But it’s an intellectual construct. Like knowing there are Emus or Mexican Jumping Beans.
I don’t want Olive to be one of those pampered, entitled suburban white kids who thinks of Poor People as the Other, to be denigrated, looked down upon, ignored, pitied from afar, used for cheap labor and/or cannon fodder. I was raised in lap-of-luxury suburbia, but I was taught that Poor People are just like you and me. Only they don’t have money. Or opportunity. Or a bubble of affluence surrounding them. I was raised to believe that it’s our obligation to give back. To help. To take care of those less fortunate than ourselves. I want my daughter to understand that the corporate-fueled greed which has corrupted this country is EVIL. I want her to understand that people are more important than profit. I want her to understand that it’s important to help people who are less fortunate than ourselves.
I know what it’s like to be poor. When I was 17 I was cast out, and lived in poverty for a decade. Food stamps. Dank basement apartments that cost $25 a month. Trying to choose between buying three slices of pizza or a used paperback. Figuring out how to become an expert shoplifter. Turns out I liked stealing more than I liked being hungry. But I was lucky, I’m white, I was educated, and I was loved and taken care of as a kid, told I could be whoever I wanted to be whatever if I worked hard and did the right thing. And I did. So by the time I was 30, I had returned to a lap-of-luxury life. And I want Olive to have an idea that is like to be poor, without her actually having to be poor herself. I know that’s not entirely possible, but I want to do all I can to help her understand.
So we decided on this Thanksgiving to volunteer to feed hungry people. We took Olive to Roosevelt Elementary School in Union City, New Jersey. We prepared her by telling her there might be some homeless people there, and they might dress and possibly smell different than us. But they were just like us. Only they didn’t have money. Or much chance of getting money. Or a fancy house or a fancy car or a fancy TV or fancy food. Olive has dreams of someday becoming a waitress. (Or an artist. Or an Olympic gymnast. Or an architect. Or a ballet dancer. Or a writer.) So the idea of getting to be a waitress for poor people on Thanksgiving was exciting to her in a way that only a six-year-old can get excited.
The volunteers at Roosevelt Elementary School were a rainbow coalition of all ages, races and sizes. There was festive bunting with “Happy Thanksgiving” festooned across it. Kids had made Thanksgiving art placemats that were totally cool. There was tons of food.
The vibe was festive, happy, thankful and giving.
Then the Mayor walked in. I was not expecting to meet the mayor of Union City on Thanksgiving. But there he was. In the flesh. He looked like one of the volunteers. His name is Brian P. Stack. He was born and raised in Union City. This was his brainchild. He started doing this on Thanksgiving when he was 14 years old. He handed out chickens back then, because he couldn’t afford turkeys. During the week of Thanksgiving he handed out 18,000 turkeys. Well, not personally. But his people. I asked him why he did this.
“I just know there’s so much need here, and I want to help.”
Politician has become a dirty word. They’re rich people who make dirty deals behind closed doors. They espouse goodness, while they lurk around public bathrooms looking for illicit hookups; they smoke crack like it’s going out of business; they cheat on their wives, their kids, and the people who voted them into office while they line their pockets with filthy lucre that’s meant to help those less fortunate than themselves. I didn’t expect on this Thanksgiving to meet a politician who gave me faith that America is not totally corrupt. There are still public servants who are, you know … public servants. Who serve the public. Instead of the other way around. Brian P. Stack seems to be in the business of making the word Politician mean something good again.
Then people started showing up to eat. Young, old, and in between. I was in charge of salad. Olive was in charge of rolls and cranberry sauce. She really got her waitress on, welcoming people, asking with a chipper smile, “Would you like a roll? Would you like some cranberry sauce?” She was the youngest one serving food by 25 years. She made people smile.
And they kept coming. At least 300 hungry mouths were fed by the time we finished. And lots of them took containers of food to go. They ate, they talked, they hung out, they ate. Some by themselves, some with their boy/girlfriend. Some with their family and kids.
After about an hour we took a break and Olive had a roll, some cranberry sauce and a giant helping of salad. There we were, eating with all the Poor People. After she finished eating, Olive looked around and said to me, “Dad, the poor people look the same as us.”
I asked Olive if she was having fun serving rolls and cranberry sauce.
“Yeah,” she said, “it’s super fun.”
She was right. It was super fun. It was pure joy. With no hangover.
I looked up and all of a sudden we were almost done. Apparently time moves quickly when you’re helping people.
As we were leaving, Olive looked at me with a big six-year-old smile and said, “I want to do this again next year!”
And so we shall. So we shall.
This is how I fell in love with Sally. But this is not a love story. It’s a tragedy. Even though we were instantly drawn to each other with a fiery flame, and grew to love each other deeply, we could never be together. We were too different. Our people would never let us. It would have been too scandalous, too shocking, too forbidden. The world was not ready for a love like Sally had for me. And I for Sally.
Sally and I are hired to act in a Michelob beer commercial. The theme of the spot is evolution. I am hired to star in the commercial as a Neanderthal Man. Type-casting. Four hours I sit while a crew of highly-skilled make-up artists glued thin layers of skin-colored latex over every inch of my face, transforming me from end of second millennium American Homo Sapien into Caveman. They sculpt a gigantic forehead with a scary hairy monobrow, wee sunken eyes, a flaring nose cauliflowering across my cheeks, thick rubber caveman lips, and huge wooly mammoth-eating fake teeth. My hair is almost fur, extending from the thicket on my head to my jaw lines, and down both cheeks.
When I look in the mirror I don’t recognize myself. I look for a long time but I can’t find myself in there anywhere. Until I look all the way inside my simian face and see my eyes. There I am. I have a deep desire to grunt and snarl and hump someone from behind.
Finally, I’m ready for my introduction to Sally. Her trainer comes up to me, very serious, doesn’t even notice that I’m a 2,000 year old Neanderthal Man.
“Don’t make eye contact at first. Let her come to you. Get down on her level and don’t make any quick movements. Be very calm and very still. She can sense fear. Plus, she can jump six feet straight up in the air, and she’s ten times stronger than you. For example, Sally’s jaw is so strong she could snap your arm in two like a dry twig. But it’s really important she doesn’t feel any fear coming off you.”
Suddenly all I can see is my bloody Neanderthal hand dangling out of Sally’s mouth and I’m panicking while trying desperately not to panic.
Sally comes out of her trailer, hand-in-hand with another trainer. I squat down to her level. Avert my eyes. I can feel Sally’s stare as she inches slowly towards me wary and dangerous. Sounds like a bass drum has been transplanted into my chest cavity. I’m so scared I have no spit. There’s a small crowd gathering, all quiet tension, waiting to see what Sally will do to David the Neanderthal. Finally she’s right in my face. Since I’m not making eye contact for fear of having my Adam’s apple ripped out, I smell her before I see her. She smells clean, wild, untamed, and of the earth. I feel myself calm with smell of her.
Sally sniffs me suspiciously, moving her mouth to my jaw. The tension is unbearable. Her hot breath breathes on my lips. She’s brings her lips to my cheek. She’s going to rip it open, tear the flesh off the bone, I just know it. I’m trying harder than I’ve ever tried anything not to visualize her biting my nose off with her superstrong jaw that can snap my arm in two like a dry twig.
Slowly, ever slowly, I turn bring my eyes to hers like a simian Southern belle, bringing my eyes up to meet hers. Sally’s stare almost knocks me over. Wise, curious, clever, keen, deep, sharp, smart, mysterious animal passion beams from Sally into me, jolting my soul and rattling my bones. Her face is a picture of puzzlement, brows knitted, head tilted to one side. As she stares into my half-man, half-monkey face, I find I can read her thoughts. She’s speaking to me with her eyes:
“What are you?… You’re not one of them… But you’re not one of me… Seriously, what are you?”
I smile. I can’t help it.
Sally puckers, then covers my face and lips with tiny sweet little kisses.
I’m overcome, undone, head-over-heels in love with Sally. She puts her arms around my neck and hops into my arms. The crowd oohs and ahs, witness to the start of a beautiful tragic love story.
The whole rest of the shoot, Sally and I are like sweet and potato. Whenever she sees me, she runs up to me excited as a longlostlover, jumps up in my arms, and covers me with kisses. I carry her around like she’s my sweet lovemonkey and I’m her ape loverman, holding hands and going bananas, swooning and spooning. I’ve never known a female who was so openly, unabashedly, good-naturedly affectionate, who lit up so in my presence.
Work laws for actors like Sally are very strict, due to years of Hollywood abuse. So Sally works very strict 12-hour shifts. This may seem trivial now, but it will prove crucial as our story unfolds.
In the commercial I, Neanderthal, will be sitting next to Sally, while an actress, playing a Homo Sapien waitress, flirts with me. We block the scene without Sally. The actress walks up to me all stiff and skittishy, just lobbing her line in my general vicinity, like a lazy newsboy tossing an errant morning paper:
“Hey good looking, come here often?”
It’s bad. Bad, bad, bad. The director stops everything, walks over to her and says, “I need you to hot it up, honey, make with the goo-goo eyes, like you did in the callback, babe.” She promises she will, shoots him a sex-baby look, which evaporates the second the director turns and walks away. I notice her gill are a bit aqua green as she thinks about how Sally’s powerful jaw can snap her arm like a dry twig.
The lights are tweaked for the ten thousandth time. The camera focused. Hair, make-up and wardrobe are fluffed, patted, and tucked. Finally everything is ready, hundreds of highly-paid technicians and advertising geeks all set to make commercial magic.
Sally’s brought in, hops up on her stool next to me at the bar, reaches over and kisses me on the cheek as I whisper sweet little Neanderthal nothings into her hairy ears.
“Scene 4, take 1. Roll camera!”
“Camera rolling. Speed.”
The actress walks towards us like a nervous cat at a dog show. Even I can feel her fear, and I’m certainly no monkey. She started to make the most tentative of flirty eyes in my general direction.
Well, Sally goes bananas, jumps up on the bar, bares her teeth, and hisses, looking like she’s going to rip this poor spooked woman’s heart out, show it to her, then eat it.
The actress’ scream curdles blood as she runs raging wailing and weeping through the set, and out the door.
I still think the advertising geeks should have used that in the commercial, because it says more about evolution than any of the lame shit they came up with.
But no, they decide to just write the waitress out of the commercial.
It’s a mad complicated shoot, and because the advertising geeks have been so busy figuring out which swanky restaurant they’re going to eat dinner at that night, we’re way far behind schedule.
So now it’s getting to be 6:30 PM. 7:00 is the end of Sally’s 12-hour shift. So the advertising geeks send some junior assistant flunky over to Sally’s trainer and he asks if they can get Sally to work overtime, because if they don’t get all her shots, they’re going to have to bring everybody back and go way over budget.
The trainer says he doubts Sally will want to work overtime but he’ll see what he can do.
The geeks huddle furiously, whispering toxically. It’s now 6:45 PM. A much better-dressed executive walks up to the trainer. They’ll pay whatever he wants. Name the price.
The trainer smiles. Slowly reminds the executive what Sally is, and how she’s not in any way shape or form financially motivated.
“Well then we’ll give her all the damn bananas she wants,” the better-dressed executive explains.
“Well,” explains the trainer patiently, as if he’s talking to a dumb animal, “Sally already gets all the bananas she wants, but I’ll see what I can do.”
Finally it’s 6:58PM. The best-dressed executive hustles over to the trainer.
“Listen, I don’t care what the hell she wants, we need to get three more shots off before she leaves, is that clear?”
You can see the trainer is about to lose it, wishing to God that he only had to deal with reasonable mammals.
But before he can say anything, it’s 7 o’clock. Exactly 12 hours after Sally started working.
Sally steps up on the bar, and slowly, dramatically, like the consummate performer she is, raises her left arm over her head, and slaps her wrist where a watch would be, the international sign for:
“Look what time it is.”
She then jumps down, and starts pulling me by the hand toward the door. As the highly-paid technicians try desperately not to laugh, and the advertising geeks shit themselves, Sally and I proceed through the set, and straight out the door, hand-in-hand, like a naked bride and Neanderthal groom heading for our abba dabba honeymoon.
They have to bring everybody back the next day, and Sally becomes a hero. She get sus all another day’s pay, and with incredible style, panache, and savoir faire, tells the oppressive exploiting fascist fatcat Bosses to stick it. Love Live Sally!
When I ask the trainer about it, he tells me that Sally has an acute sense of time. Because she works so often, she knows exactly when 12 hours are up, and has figured out that by making the sign for time, not only will her day be over, but she’ll also make everyone laugh real hard. Which she loves to do. All day, whenever it’s time for a meal, or a break, everyone from actors to Teamsters raise their hand up over their head, and slap their wrist where a watch would be, in silent homage to Sally the magical beauty. Much to the amusement of everyone except the advertising geeks, who seem basically jaded and disgusted by pretty much everything except what swanky restaurant they’re going to eat at that night.
As for me, one of the great regrets of my life is that I never get to consummate my relationship with the exquisite, talented and loving Sally. I know she would’ve been a powerful, wild, romantic, spiritual and highly rocking lover, and a fabulous life partner. Oh, the spectacular kids we could’ve had!
But alas, Sally and I had a love that could never be.
It took me a quarter of a century to transition from teenage rent boy to best-selling author, but soon after I did, I was invited into the office of the prominent book agent. “David,” he said as he leaned back in his air ergonomic Aeron chair, “whatever you do, don’t get stuck in the sex ghetto.” So I left the sex ghetto, and wrote several books on very straight subjects. On five of those books, the publishers would not allow me to use my real name, because I have the stink of fornication upon me. But the sex ghetto kept singing her siren-sweet song to me. So I plunged back in and co-edited an anthology in which the contributors have one thing in common: they worked in the sex business. Absolutely no one wanted to buy this book–agents, major publishing houses, smaller publishing houses, university presses, even the tiny presses that publish exactly this kind of book. Finally after two years, and dozens of rejections, we landed at a small but well-respected independent publisher. In the end, after we paid all the contributors, we lost money putting together this book. The publishers only printed 2500 copies. Dan Brown has sold that many books since you started reading this piece. But somehow this little book that nobody wanted has put me at the epicenter of the Whore Wars, a fierce and ugly battle that has been raging for years in the sex ghetto.
In the world of sex for money, there are two armies. The decriminalizationist, largely liberal lefty, “sex positive,” it’s-all-good camp. Many are turning tricks to finance their master’s degrees; others are dominatrixes who are equally at home deconstructing the Marquis de Sade and flicking a cat-o-nine tales; lots of very organized loud lesbian activists. Even though they’re always telling you how empowering it is to be a sexual healer, most are either retired, or looking for a lucrative exit strategy because when you retire from the sex business, there’s no golden parachute. They argue that prohibition makes criminals out of hard-working Americans who are just trying to make sure baby has new shoes. Across the road is the abolitionist, mostly conservative, Christian-tinged, prostitution-is-slavery, everyone-is-trafficked, it’s-all-bad camp. They are mostly academics who wear dowdy clothes and look like they haven’t had sex in years; quasi-neo-feminists who claim to speak for the downtrodden victims of commercial exploitation from the lap of luxury; and not-for-profit activists who overcame brutal beatings on the mean streets as junky hos. They will trot out statistics that prove everyone in the sex for money world was sexually abused as a child, and that everyone who trades their body for cash is brutalized by charming but subhuman pimps, traded by smugglers of human flesh. Except for the reformed junky hos, none of these people have ever turned a trick. Not surprisingly, abolitionists and decriminalizationists alike seem to want to simplify this ridiculously complex subject so it fits their agenda.
In 2002, when my first book and I came out, I was recruited by both sides. And before I looked, I leapt. Just say yes. A good recipe for getting yourself into the sex business in the first place. So I collected writing from both the groups. My mission was to give voice to the entire spectrum of this underrepresented population, to humanize these creatures who are reviled and glorified, worshiped and spat upon in the sex ghetto. I invited everyone. If you lived in the Life, and if you had a story to tell, regardless of whether it was polished prose or a diamond in the rough, you were welcomed with open arms. I very consciously didn’t grind my political ax. In our book $2500 call girls, $100 rent boys, and $10 crack hos are bedfellows.
Most everyone, except me and my co-editor, thought this book would fly under the radar and die a slow painful death, probably out of print in a year. But on August 23, 2009, all that changed. That’s when our little book rather shockingly appeared on the front page of the Sunday New York Times Book Review. That’s when it got ugly for me in the sex ghetto.
Usually, a book or an idea gets attacked from the right or from the left. But I’ve got both sides calling for my head on a pike. One side thinks I am, “Deplorable… dishonorable…” The other is, “Disappointed… pissed off…”. I have no idea what percentage of people who toil in the world of sex for money are doing so voluntarily, and how many are doing so against their will. In my experience, it’s virtually impossible to get reliable statistics. It’s not like a census taker can go to a “massage parlor” where trafficked women are being kept against their will (as was the case in several recently busted in the Bay Area) and interview the slaves. Or from an independent contractor who gets her tricks through craigslist. Or, for that matter, from “Ashley Dupree,” after she’s had her way with Elliot Spitzer. And so many of the statistics we do see from the left or the right are manipulated to fit their agendas. The fact is, right now, in big cities and small towns across America, a hard-working sex worker who is not being coerced, who is doing this of his or her own free will, is making money having sex with someone. And at the same time, a victim is being used as a sex slave by the most hideous, vile creatures ever spawned. That’s what’s going on in America, and whether we like it or not, the sex for money business is booming.
Quite simply, our society is sexually ill. It is broken. I believe the vast majority of Americans do not come close to getting all the love and sex they want. So they try to buy it. I believe this book has generated such intense interest in part because the oldest profession seems to be the next taboo being exposed in the limelight of the American zeitgeist. Mental illness, alcoholism, drug addiction, incest, one after another have been trotted out and examined like a bug under a microscope. Jim Carrol’s The Basketball Diaries, Kathryn Harrison’s The Kiss, Pete Hamill’s A Drinking Life and William Styron’s A Memoir of Madness were all deeply personal accounts of aberrant behavior that had been previously swept under America’s rug. And now it seems like the world wants to know, who are these people selling sex? Why are we buying so much of it? Who are these hos, hookers, call girls and rent boys that make everyone from Catholics to Orthodox Jews to Islamic fundamentalists to Mormons regular guests in the sex ghetto?
This book was an attempt to answer that question. It took no sides in the whore wars. Should it be legalized? Prohibited? It seems both sides want the book to take their position. But it doesn’t. Our agenda is to let these hos, hookers, call girls and rent boys speak for themselves. This is why we opened our book with Post-Porn Modernist Annie Sprinkle’s “40 Reasons Why Whores Are My Heroes.” And followed it with Oakland’s diamond-hard mochaluv’s: “Being a Ho Sucks.” Are whores heroes? Does being a ho suck? Yes and yes.
However, as we put this book together, one thing became clear. Until we take the millions of dollars and man/woman hours currently being directed at adults who, having weighed their economic options, choose of their own free will to exchange sex for money, predators and peddlers of flesh who operate in every major American city, largely ignored by law enforcement, will continue to flourish. People who sell sex will continue to be in constant danger of being abused and beaten by both johns and the police, with no legal recourse. While savage killers like Gary Ridgeway, the Green River Killer, continued to prey on women in that world because, in his words, “I picked prostitutes because I thought I could kill as many of them as I wanted without getting caught.”
If this book helps people see that men and women who have sex for money are mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers, I will be happy. If it shines a compassionate light into the sex ghetto, it’ll be worth all the slings and arrows slung my way in the whore wars. But if nothing else comes out of all this, I hope the words of the legendary Georgina Spelvin, anthology contributor and star of The Devil in Miss Jones, ring out from between the covers of our book. “Do your part. Take a hooker to lunch.”
At 16 I’m shipped away to Boarding School for my sins. The school is full of bright, gifted, spindled, folded, and mutilated teenagers, almost all of whom have been kicked of at least 1, if not several, other institutions of learning. Believe me, I fit right in at Boarding School.
We have the worst hockey team in the history of the league. Our first game we get beat like 31-1. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to let in 31 goals in 30 minutes? Any way you do the math, that’s over a goal a minute, ladies and gentlemen. The best player on the team is Joe Skyfeather. We call him Joe Starfucker, and he likes that. He’s our goalie. A great goalie. After every game he’s one huge Iriquois welt. He says if he wasn’t a hopeless Indian drunk already, he’d have to start drinking heavily. The one good thing about losing 31-1 is that when you score that 1 goal, man, you celebrate hard.
Half-way through our season, we’re 0-5. We’ve scored 4 goals, while allowing about, I don’t know, maybe a kazillion. We’re going to play our sixth game, on the road, against Andover, 1 of the hoitiest of the toity prep schools in America. As we’re getting ready to leave, Rat comes in all excited. He’s just scored some acid from his brother who’s out on parole and laying low in Rat’s room. I’ve never taken acid at this point, but the word from Rat’s brother is that this is the trippiest shit he’s ever seen. And apparently he’s seen some pretty trippy shit. And there’s enough for everybody. Rat whips it out. I’m expecting some bubbling liquid in a laboratory beaker, with smoke and prisms and colored lights. But no. It’s just an 8 x 10 sheet of paper. He peels something off, and with an impish grins, places it on his tongue and downs it. He holds it out for us to join him. Everyone sits and stares.
“Come on, you sorry bunch of pansy-asses. We gotta go show those rich bitches what it means to be play this game with a head full of the trippiest shit in the Berkshire Mountains. We gotta show the world that we may be the worst hockey players in history, but we’re the all-time greatest partiers. We gotta let our freak flag fly, man!’
Rat’s speech stirs something within me. In all of us. We’re castoffs, misfits, the throwaways of our generation. And suddenly we’ve got a shot to go down in school history, turn ourselves from laughing stock into folk heroes, talked about around campfires for generations to come.
Still, no one wants to be the first to follow Rat down the road to Infamy. Eyes are averted. Feet shuffled. Harrumphs abound.
It’s times like this that turn boys into men. While us white suburban bourgeois laddies sit with our thumbs up our collective ass, it takes a young brave from the reservation to lead us. A boy warrior whose ancestors have been raped and pillaged, lied to, deceived, mocked, vilified, burned out of the land they loved, hunted down and destroyed like vermin. Joe Starfucker. He rises slowly, a beat-up rented mule of a goalie with long, straggly scraggly raven hair. He walks with the weight of the ages to Rat and sticks out his tongue.
“Yeah baby, that’s what I’m talkin’ about. Joe Starfucker, you are the man!”
Joe closes his eyes and crosses himself, while Rat places the tab on his tongue like he’s giving Holy Communion. When Starfucker swallows, everybody whoops and hollers. Rat then dispenses the rest of the acid like he’s High Priest of the Order of Psychedelic Hockey, a cross between the Pope, Timothy Leery and Wayne Gretsky.
Beevo, Nevs, Harry the Hoagy, Fat Phil, Dougy the K, even Lurch, all gobble down their medicine.
When my turn comes, I’m shocked to find out that the tab of acid is actually a thin little transparent Mickey Mouse. I smile as I swallow my electric Disney coolaid, visions of Snow White and her freaky dwarves stoned off their nuts, as Jimi Hendrix wails “Some Day My Prince Will Come” in the background.
It’s quiet on the bus to the game. Scary quiet. Everyone’s bugging eyes at each other, trying to see if anything’s happening, wondering if this really is some trippy shit, and if it is, what it will be like trying to play hockey against the masters of the universe Andover superstars while we’re massively loop-de-looped.
Then suddenly we’re pulling into Andover. You can smell the money. At least I think that’s what the smell is. The dorms are all swanky swank swank. The grounds are manicured to within an inch of their strangulated lives. The boys are wearing their spiffy little blue blazers, and their spastic little tassley shoes with their dorkadelic little preppy haircuts. If you weren’t high on some trippy shit already, looking at all these Young Republican bootlickers-in-training would make you go all wavy gravy in a New York minute.
I’m still not feeling any effects, and frankly I’m beginning to wonder whether Rat’s brother sold us all a bill of goods, as we troop into the Taj Mahal locker room, looking at each other for any tell-tale signs of synaptic scramble.
Not a word is spoken as we don the tools of ignorance necessary for us to get the inevitable ass-whupping we are about to take. Our coach, Mr. Clament, the Clam, a besotted French teacher, senses something is amiss. He clears his drunken throat, and launches into a Win-One-For-the-Gipper speech.
About half-way through the Clam’s speech, his face starts melting, his tongue flicks out like an iguana, and his eyes spring loose from their sockets like those eyeball glasses that hang down and wobble when you move your head. His nose spreads out like Silly Putty smushed as his eyebrows do the Australian crawl across his face. His lips are wax candy and his teeth are changing colors like the Wizard of Oz’s horse: red to green to blue to orange.
I shake my head to try and clear it, but that just makes little fireworks with tails shoot across the inside of my eyeballs in wonderful waving watercolors.
I look around. Everyone’s shaking their head, eyes covered with potter’s glaze, like a flock of sheep who’ve just been converted to Christianity.
The Clam reaches his drunken crescendo, expecting a rousing jolt of competitive manchild testosterone. Nothing. We just sit there, staring like big mouth bass, tripping our little brains out. He’s dumbfounded, and decides his next logical move is go into the bathroom and drink, so he shrugs, turns, and disappears into the bathroom to drink.
“Is this some trippy shit or what?” Rat pops his eyes out of his head and rolls them around, and the laugher lets loose – KABANG! – and we chortle like whacked-out bobbing head dolls.
The Andover superstar uniforms are shiny and new as the masters of the universe prepare to use us as the tools of their athletic glorification. They look like bourgeois marionettes to me, stooge puppets of the paramilitary fascist state. The thought of cutting their strings and watching them crumble cracks me up, and I catch an edge of my skate on the ice, tumbling down, and sliding headfirst into the boards with a loud crash. The game hasn’t even started yet, and I’ve already checked myself. Our whole team stops their pitiful warm-up, stares at me, and gets the giggles, tittering like schoolboys, kids in the stands pointing fingers and laughing at us, Andover superstars glaring with smug, condescending menace.
Then suddenly the game is starting, and the crowd shape-shifts, all beautiful fuzzy colors that only make sense when you look at the whole thing from a distance. When I focus on any one person, the face seems to disintegrate and lose focus. Or maybe it is me who’s disintegrating and losing focus. Hard to say for sure. The referee looks like a big fat zebra. I chuckle thinking about the lion waiting for him at the watering hole after the game.
The puck takes about six weeks to drop from the fat Zebra’s hoof to the ice. I discover I don’t have to move my legs to skate. I float over the ice like an angel on a wave of feathers. Beevo is winning the face-off now, and the puck shuffles back to me. It takes its sweet time. It realizes time is sweet. I stop it with my stick, which bends and waves in my hands. An Andover superstar rushes headlong at me, snarling like an overbred hound from hell, but moving in slow motion. I sidestep him with the greatest of ease. I have to stop myself from laughing it’s so much fun. My bones are almost-congealed jello, my skin tingles with the fire of Godlove, and my third eye is wide open. I see Harry the Hoagy streaking with trails like a comet up-ice and I can see the line the puck will travel to get to him before I even make the pass. So I flick my stick and the puck goes on that exact line, like a geometry equation only I can see. As if Harry the Hoagy and I are connected by a Higher Power. The puck nestles gently on The Hoagy’s stick. He cuts between the two Andover behemoth superstar defensemen and suddenly he’s 1-on-1 with the master of the universe goalie, face to mask, stoned off of his nut. Harry the Hoagy starts to go right, the goalie bites, Harry changes his mind, slides the puck onto his backhand and eases it into the gaping mouth of the goal like Casanova scoring with the Queen of France.
We stop. The crowd is all stunned silence. The Andover superstars flabbergast. Then it dawns on us. We scored a goal. We’re ahead for the first time the whole year. We free-form to Harry the Hoagy and do a group hug interpretive dance celebration, Fosse meets Bullwinkle. The fat Zebra has to come get us to re-start the game. We’re too busy celebrating. We’ve never celebrated being ahead in a game before, and we have no idea how it’s done, or when it’s supposed to be over.
The whole game is like that. Lurch hits a guy so hard he airlifts him up off the ice and knocks out his whole family. Rat is a whirling dervish, breaking up plays, leading rushes, poke-checking guys who aren’t even there. Fat Phil is a man possessed, moving like one of those graceful hippo ballet dancers in tutus from “Fantasia”. And Joe Starfucker,a well, Joe plays the game of his life. Stick saves, pad saves, glove saves. At one point he makes a save, and his glove flies off. The puck rebounds right back to an Andover superstar, and he fires again. Joe Starfucker reaches out and catches that puck with his bare hand. This time even the Andover superstar crowd has to give him a big ovation. They don’t want to, you can tell. They have to. He holds the puck over his head, he’s showing it the Great Puck Spirit, then bows deeply, as if he’s a Japanese kabuki actor.
Late in the game, the Andover superstars manage to sneak one by Joe Starfucker, after they roughed him up in the crease, which as anyone who’s ever been roughed up in a crease knows, is nasty business, and strictly illegal to boot. The game’s winding down, and the Andover superstars are sharks who’ve smelled blood. But the acid still floods our collective brains with the power and beauty of Mother Earth and Father Sky, and we match the superstars hammer for tong.
There’s a minute left to play. We to get a face-off deep in superstar territory. Beevo takes the face-off, the puck falling like a big black penny from heaven. Beevo flicks it easily back to Lurch at the point. Lurch winds up and takes a Paul Bunyon swing at it. However, he mostly misses, catching the puck on end so it flutters like a drunken butterfly toward the net. The Andover superstars are caught off-guard. They’re expecting a bullet, clenched and moving towards the upper left corner of the goal, where it is happily headed.
I see the puck fluffernutting towards me, getting bigger and bigger as it calls my name:
“Here I come, David – here I commmmmmme…”
I see myself gently flicking the puck, caressing it lightly like a well-loved lover past the Andover superstar goalie. So I reach up with my wavy stick and kiss the crazy gyrating puck with it. The Andover superstar defensemen and goalie are already off-balance because it is loop-de-looping instead of shotgunning, and when I flick it, the puck tumbles down and right, leaving them grasping at air straws.
Gently lovingly it bulges pillowy into the billowing netting of the goal.
The buzzer sounds.
The game is over.
The silence sits on the ice like the gods have pushed the mute button.
David has slain Goliath. Not with a stone and a slingshot, but stoned with a headful of totally trippy shit.
We skate over to Joe Starfucker and jump on top of him, flopping around on the ice like a huge undulating amoebae, until they cart us off. In the locker room our clothes jump off our bodies. We sing in the rain of the shower, then have a wild raucous ride home.
Word of our triumph, and how achieved it, spreads like wildfire through our little community. Of course we never win another game all year. Never even come close. Rat’s brother gets put back in the slammer, and that’s the end of the great Acid Experiment.
But for one glorious winter afternoon, we were one with the universe, Kings of the World, and we did it tripping the light fantastic.
Olive Annabell Maureen Sterry was determined to make an immediate splash, which she did by making her mother’s water break at five o’clock in the morning on September 11. Olive’s due date was September 5 so technically she was a week late, although obviously the due date is an artificial construct of a society that wishes to control this most uncontrollable of events. But this artificial due date would come to influence Olive’s birth in a profound and terrible. Because she was “late” she was not allowed to be delivered in a nice quiet birthing center suite with a big tub and a double bed, kind of like a cheap room in a Ramada Inn redone by Laura Ashley. This was the first in a series of maddeningly arbitrary decisions which were forced upon Olive by the hospital which made her life, and all our lives, so much more difficult, and seemed solely motivated by fear of litigation rather than the safety and well-being of Olive Annabell Maureen Sterry. So Olive had to be born in the madness of the delivery room of the hospital proper, and by the time she was born, the hallway was sick with contracting cervixes, and babies were practically flying out of uteri.
Olive’s mother basically felt nothing out of the ordinary for the 18 hours after the breaking of her water. Unbeknownst to her cervix was having a series of teeny tiny mini-contractions. I don’t know who Braxton or Hicks are, but I hope one day to have a contraction named after me. Having both seen so many movies and television shows where a pregnant woman’s water breaks, and then she has to frantically give birth in the back of a taxi, Olive’s mother and father were confused when the water so monumentally broke, a tsunami of fluids gushing willie and nilly, and then … nothing. They went to the hospital, they were examined, and were told to go home. So Olive spent the night in her mother on the day the water broke.
The next morning Olive arrived again at the hospital, and she was checked in in utero. The mother and father could not understand how this could be labor. Laughing and cracking jokes, thinking about next year’s line of mismatched socks and chilling with friends and family. Then a woman came into the hospital who was also very very pregnant. But she wasn’t laughing and cracking jokes. Pain flashed furiously out of her face as her body wracked. She was flushed and cramped, wet with mad perspiration, insane pain beaming put of her eyes. Clearly, Olive’s parents thought, there’s labor and there’s labor.
Olive’s mother was now hooked up to machines, prodded and probed, jabbed and stuck, measured and examined. A microphone was placed on her belly, and Olive’s heart was broadcast out of a speaker, while numbers appeared on a screen, and a printout spit from a computer, all synched to the heartbeat of Olive.
BOOM BOOM BOOM!
The one constant in the whole birthing process was the heartbeat of Olive. Rocksteady, pounding, it was magnificent and inspiring. Through the thick and the thin, the pushing and shoving, the tears and fears and panic and triumphant, you could’ve set your watch by Olive’s heartbeat.
BOOM BOOM BOOM!
And so they all assembled: Olive, her mom, her dad, her mother’s mother, her mother’s godmother, her dula and her midwife, with a series of nurses, technicians, doctors, drug dispensers, and the occasional cleaning person making cameo appearances. The contractions were displayed on the graph, next to Olive’s heartbeat.
BOOM BOOM BOOM!
They were small and irregular, these contractions, especially when contrasted with the heartbeat of Olive. And they stayed that way for many hours, while everyone chatted, yacked, laughed and swapped stories. It was like a party in a really depressing apartment without any music or alcohol. When Olive’s grandmother and grandfather left the contractions suddenly intensified. Olive’s mother’s eyes glazed, a dazed trance dancing on her face, her breath short, all of a sudden she wasn’t participating in the happy banter. And there on the contraction graph, a huge spike, the line jumping straight up all the way off the paper. It lasted for 30 seconds maybe, but it seemed so much longer, because it was so intense. I lived through many earthquakes in California, and that’s kind of what it was like. An earthquake. Thirty seconds takes a month and a half to pass. And then it was over.
“Now it’s Active Labor.”
This new phase of quaking just kept going on and on and on and on and on and on, until time lost all meaning. But Olive still wasn’t coming out, and no one quite knew if her mother’s body was ready. No one knew, of course, that Olive was a behemoth. The midwife didn’t want to give an internal exam, for fear of infection, due to the fact that the water had broken so long ago. At the suggestion of the dula, Olive’s mother had been working diligently for months on the Big Ball, perfected a series of exercises which loosen the hips and pelvis. During this contraction marathon, she balanced furiously on the Big Ball, huffing and puffing and working her way through the spasms that wracked her body, telling everyone that Olive seemed to be sinking lower and lower and lower. Although at the time no one referred to Olive as Olive. Olive’s mother and father did not know Olive’s gender until they saw it. They had decided on the name Olive quite early on, but they had struggled to find a male name. Turns out they needn’t have bothered.
Finally, after too many hours of too much contracting, the midwife decided to determine how close Olive’s mother’s body was to being ready. Turns out it was not very ready at all. And by this time Olive’s mother was whipped into exhaustion, from over-exertion and powerful pain. She would start shaking, sometimes a leg, sometimes both, sometimes her whole body, violently involuntarily shaking. It reminded me of runners at the finish line of a marathon shaking uncontrollably, having lost control of their body.
The doctor wanted to cut into the belly of Olive’s mother and yank her out. It had been too long since water had broken, and if something went wrong he and the hospital would be libel. Olive’s mother said, No, please don’t cut me. Her father said , No, please don’t cut her. But the clock was ticking and the doc was a picture of institutional fiduciary grimness. Olive’s dad got so mad he wanted to punch the doctor in his smug face. Her dad managed to repress that impulse.
The dula and the midwife took the great white doctor aside and they had an animated discussion.
The image of the scalpel cutting into the flesh and Olive being ripped out made everyone edgy, tweaky and manic, especially since people hadn’t slept for such a long time and were freaked by the possibility that after all this, the baby could die.
After much deliberation and discussion, the doctor split and the dula and the midwife returned looked very happy with themselves. Something was inserted somewhere to try and make the process happen more quickly. This seemed to have little effect.
After more deliberation and discussion, it was decided that a drug would be injected to induce labor. And a pain relieving epidural seemed clearly in order.
The Anesthesiologist marched in. Crisp, meticulous and immaculate, a pin would look sloppy next to him. He seemed to have a spotlight shining on him. He wheeled in a large metallic box, like a magician, and laid out all his tools on its flat surface. I once worked as a fruit picker, with migrants. The way they attacked a fruit tree was a work of art. They didn’t seem to be moving that fast, but everything happened so rapidly you couldn’t follow it. It was surreal. That’s what the anesthesiologist was like. He had a small needle inserted near the spine of Olive’s mother so quick you thought your eyes were deceiving you. Then he threaded what looked like a metallic fishing line into the hole. Or I’m assuming he did, I didn’t see it happen, all of a sudden it was just there. I don’t even think the man spoke a word. Then all of a sudden, like the Lone Ranger, he was gone without even waiting for Thank You.
Instant relief bathed the grateful face of Olive’s mom. Her face was drained of pain, fear, tension and anxiety. The contractions kept coming thick and heavy, although Olive’s mom was bearing them much more easily. But still her body was not ready for Olive to come out. So Olive’s mother slept, gathering her strength. Recharged and revived, the inducing drugs working away, the epidural was discontinued. It was time.
This is where things got freaky. The midwife actually reached her hands into the womb and started manipulating things inside Olive’s mother. You could see Olive moving around through the thin skin, thrashing and kicking as she was sucked downdowndown into the canal as her heart beat:
BOOM BOOM BOOM!
59 hours and 45 minutes since the start of labor, the body was finally ready. The grandmother and the godmother and the husband and the dula and the midwife prepared with the mother for the final push. With the midwife’s fingers expertly manipulating inside the body of Olive’s mother, the pushing began again. Three to each contraction.
On and on it went, with each contraction the midwife exhorting, imploring, encouraging the mother to keep pushing even when she could push no more, three pushes, with the breath held, then release and sink into the bed.
Suddenly there it was. A miracle. The top of the head. Even though it was clearly visible it was completely unbelievable. Even though you knew it was going to happen, it was incomprehensible. Even though you understood what was going on, it was ununderstandable. Even though it was impossible, it was actually happening.
The grandmother wept and wept, as she helped, great tears of joy and release, and the godmother kept saying just the right things at just the right moment to relieve the tension. The dula was here there and everywhere, supplying what was needed even before it was asked for. The husband whispered in the ear, and supplied the oxygen. And the midwife was like the captain of the team, organizing, letting everyone know what they should do in a commanding yet gentle voice, always knowing what to do, with her hands deep inside the body of the mother, moving and rearranging and allowing life to enter the world.
A third of the head was pushed out and then went back in again at the end of the contraction. And then there it was again with another contraction and push, the whole head, even as they watched they kept asking themselves:
“How is this happening?”
The midwife started yanking on the head with what seemed like, to the interested observer, shockingly violently aggression. The father had a sudden vision of the midwife ripping his daughter’s head right off, the poor headless baby flailing its arms, while the horrified head looked on.
But no, the midwife’s magic fingers slid Olive right out of her mother.
A collective gasp filled the room. The mother was overcome with relieved jioe de vivre and unspeakable metaphysical physical soul opening exhilaration and awe.
Suddenly there she was:
Olive Annabell Maureen Sterry.
Alive, laying on her mother’s chest, still attached by the cord to the inside. The midwife and dula rubbed Olive with sweet vigor. Olive’s tiny yet huge lungs filling with air, and she gave out a small surprised cry, like: Wow, I’m really here!
The father cried copious tears overflowing with a love that he had never felt. He saw Olive learning to talk and walk and read and going to school and learning to drive and falling in love and getting married and having a baby of her own, eternity in an instant, infinity in an infant’s eyes.
And that is how, after almost 60 hours of labor, Olive Annabell Maureen Sterry came into the world weighing a whopping 9 lbs. 2 oz at 2:19 p.m. on September 13, 2007.
My first piece on Salon. Thanks to Arielle Eckstut. To read on Salon click here: http://www.salon.com/2013/02/14/i_wrote_my_way_to_true_love/
“You should stop writing these stupid movie scripts and write about your life, it’s so much more interesting.” Janine, my hypnotherapist, was not being unkind. She just had no filter. And she was right. That was the most infuriating thing about Janine my hypnotherapist. She was always right.
I had just gotten a three-picture deal with Disney. Well, it wasn’t really a three-picture deal. They hired me to write a script for one of their moronic ideas (Sinbad in the Army with dogs), and in the contract they locked me up for another two movies for slightly more money each time. But at the bottom of every page was writ in small letters: “We can terminate this contract for any reason at any time for perpetuity and eternity in this and every other conceivable universe and pay you NOTHING.” I asked my agent and she said I could tell everybody I had a three-picture deal with Disney. Even though I didn’t really. And that, in a nutshell, is Hollywood, baby.
But the thought of telling the truth about myself made me hot and clammy, sticky and jittery, teeth tearing into cuticles till they bled. I was much more comfortable working on my buddy script about two 12-year-olds who go to Vegas and beat the mob. Or my mobster-becomes-a-vampire script. Or my “Some Like It Hot” cross-dressing baseball script.
But I’d always wanted to write a book. So that night I started writing one. It was liberating. Gave my obsessive mind something to focus on besides my own sex-addicted self-loathing.
Turns out I wasn’t quite ready to tell that story yet. I hadn’t hit bottom. I was still living in my beautiful Craftsman home in the hills of Echo Park with my beautiful red sports car and my beautiful sex-denying fiancée. I hadn’t yet been fired by Disney, my Sinbad/Army/dog script unmade, my fictitious three-picture deal evaporated in a puff of smoke. I hadn’t yet been dumped by an entirely different beautiful damaged narcissistic sex-denying fiancée whom I DIDN’T EVEN LIKE. I hadn’t yet been whacked over the head with a metal pipe at 4 a.m. in Harlem by an angry disenfranchised crackhead while pursuing a transsexual thief masquerading as a female sex worker. That was when I hit bottom. The bottom of the bottom.
I decided I would try to get my book published. By this time I was living in the nasty skanky hovel in Venice Beach where you could satisfy all your crack needs by sticking your head out the window and yelling, “Yo!” I’d hang out at Muscle Beach with the steroid-bloated weightlifters and tourists and wannabe actresses, actors, screenwriters, producers, directors and other local whack jobs, begging people to read my book. Eventually I sent it to a woman who used to be my commercial acting agent in New York City. She said she loved my book, and asked me if I’d mind if she gave it to her goddaughter, who was a literary agent. “Do I mind?” I scoffed. “Are you kidding me? I will name my first child after you if you do me this kindness.”
I sent the Goddaughter Agent my manuscript. By that time it was called “Mort Morte.” A week after I sent the script I called to make sure she had received my manuscript. Contained herein is a valuable lesson for anyone doing business. Disregard the Follow Up at your own peril. Goddaughter Agent confessed sheepishly that she had lost it. I rolled my eyes, thinking to myself: What a bunch of buffoons these New York literary agents are. If I had done the typical writer thing, and assumed that the universe hates me, that I am a no-talent hack, and that the agent was rejecting me, I would not be writing this story now. But I did the Follow Up. My motto, which I adopted in Hollywood: I will not stop until the person I’m pursuing says yes or takes out a Restraining Order.
I sent her another “Mort Morte.” A month later, having heard not a peep from her, I called Goddaughter Agent. I didn’t snarl in a snarky voice, “Why haven’t you read my manuscript yet?” I was as nice as pie. I give good phone. I asked her how she was doing, cracked a joke that made her laugh. I never mentioned my manuscript. She promised me she’d read it as soon as she could. Later I found out she was Jewish. Well, she still is. And I was so nice that she felt guilty, and my manuscript moved up about 3 inches in the 12-foot pile by her desk. This was before the Internet, when people actually sent manuscripts through the mail! Can you imagine?!
One month later to the day I made the same phone call to Goddaughter Agent. Nice as pie. Unbeknownst to me, my manuscript rose a whole foot in the 12-foot pile. Nine months, once a month, I called her. One human gestation period. We could’ve had a baby in the time it took her to read my manuscript. Finally, guilt drove my manuscript to the top of the pile. By this time, we had a nice banter going. An idea popped out of my mouth, as if the Muse had pushed it out. I told her I was coming to New York for Christmas. She told me that if I did, she’d read my book and take me out to lunch. Of course I had no plans at all to go to New York for Christmas. I quickly accepted her lunch invitation 3,000 miles away. As soon as I hung up, I frantically bought a ticket to New York.
She took me to a swank restaurant, one of those places agents take writers when they want to impress them. She had seemed in my mind on the phone from 3,000 miles away like a very amiable dowager. Not at all. Turned out she was 20-something, totally cute, great smile, fabulous laugh, smoking hot body, kind eyes and spectacularly stylish, like she just stepped out of a magazine featuring wildly intelligent cutting-edge fashionista intelligentsia 20-something Manhattan babes. I was one smitten kitten. She told me she loved “Mort Morte.” And she had smart things to say about changes she wanted me to make. I was so used to getting the dumbest dumbass notes from Hollywood studio hacks that it was like a fragrant breeze on the first day of spring. She said if I made the changes, she’d represent me and my baby/manuscript. I was ecstatic. But there was something more. I liked this woman. A lot.
That night I couldn’t stop thinking about her. So the next day I called her and asked her if she wanted to hang out. She said she’d like to hang out. I later found out she had plans she broke for me. Nothing sexier than someone breaking their plans for you. We went to see one of Billy Bob Thornton’s most forgettable movies. I can literally remember nothing about it. Except that I was with her. Then she asked me if I wanted to go to a French restaurant near her apartment in Brooklyn. I was pretty sure that was dating code for: I want to hook up with you. Turns out I was right. The French restaurant was spectacular. But not as spectacular as she was.
Suddenly we were in her ridiculously stylish Brooklyn brownstone. She was so much fun to talk to. Religion, politics, books, America, the world, the universe. Einstein was proven right again, time really is relative. An hour passed in a minute. At a certain point she asked me in a funny, teasing and altogether endearing way, “Every first novel is about the author. But this book isn’t about you, is it? You didn’t kill your father and three of your stepdads, did you?”
I laughed. It was funny. The way she said it. What she was saying. Normally, I would’ve given her some lame retort that masked who I really was. I was like an anti-superhero. Instead of having a secret identity that was amazing and saved people, I had a secret identity that was a twisted grotesque monster bent on destroying me and all those who cared about me. But I decided to take off the mask. I was not going to lie about who I was or what I’d done. If she didn’t like it, that was her problem. I was so exhausted living a lie. I was ready to be set free by the truth. I’d hit the bottom. The bottom of the bottom.
So I told her everything. About the man who abused me when I was 17. About being sucked into the filthy underbelly of the Hollywood sex business. Becoming a drug addict and a sex addict and doing my time with Janine my hypnotherapist. I thought it would feel terrible to say all that to someone I was interested in. Just the opposite. It was such a load lifted. The black cloud that had been thunderstorming all over my life parted and the sun shone and the birds chirped and the angels sang. It was a transcendent moment. I thought if I told someone I was interested in about my sordid shameful dirty secrets that she’d be horrified and run screaming away from me. Just the opposite. Goddaughter Agent was fascinated. Spellbound. “That’s the book you should write.” Exactly what Janine my hypnotherapist said. Only now, I was ready. I didn’t care anymore. It was so good to be Out.
I moved in with Goddaughter Agent that night. I didn’t know I was moving in with her, but it turned out I was. Her name was Arielle. Well, it still is. She came out to visit me in Venice Beach. She was even better than I’d imagined. She helped me put together a proposal for my real story. That became a book called “Chicken.”
But much more important, I found the love of my life. Arielle AKA Goddaughter Agent. Two years after the Billy Bob Thornton movie and the French restaurant we were married high on a hill overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge. A couple of years later we made a baby together. I know it happens all the time, babies being made, but it still strikes me every day as being spectacularly magical that two human beings, without any help at all, could make something as complicated as a human being. Olive. That’s what we called her. Well, we still do. She’s 5 years old now. Einstein proven right once again. That five years has gone by in about 10 minutes.
“Mort Morte” never got sent out by my agent/wife. As soon as we got married, she fired me as a client. But I still wanted to get that book published. I kept showing it to people over the years. Everyone seemed to love it, but they all thought it was just too weird. So I decided, at the suggestion of the lovely and talented Arielle, to go after a world-class artist to make some illustrations for my book. This led me to a French Canadian named Alain Pilon. I contacted him, and sent him my manuscript. He loved it and agreed to make a bunch of illustrations. All the while I kept tweaking and polishing, buffing and shining, making it better and sending it out there.
Finally, one day, to my shock and amazement, there it was in my inbox. An email from an editor who said how much she loved “Mort Morte.” I was used to this by now, and I knew the next sentence would be about why they couldn’t publish my quirky, wacky, coming-of-age Alice in Wonderland meets Tin Drum novel about gun violence and kids in America, and a boy who really loves his mother. But wonder of wonder, miracle of miracles, this editor said she wanted to publish my book. I was gobsmacked. I showed the email to Arielle. We danced and made happy happy sounds.
Twenty years after I started writing that book I finally got it published. I’m a different person now than I was then. But every time I look at the beautiful Alain Pilon cover of “Mort Morte” I am filled with joy.
And that’s how writing a book led me to the love of my life.
David Henry Sterry is the author of 14 books, including his memoir, “Chicken,” an international bestseller that has been translated into 10 languages. His anthology, “Hos, Hookers, Call Girls and Rent Boys,” was featured on the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review. His new illustrated novel is “Mort Morte,” a coming-of-age black comedy about gun violence and children, and a boy who really loves his mother.
2 Pitchapaloozas in 24 hours. 3,000 miles apart. They said it couldn’t be done. They were wrong.
It all started on a beautiful Virginia Saturday afternoon at the James River Writers Conference, in the shockingly excellent city of Richmond. JRWC came into our lives as the result of brutal failure. Two years ago I set up a DC area mini-tour for an infamous book I put together. My girl Shawna Kenney (whose memoir I Was a Teenage Dominatrix–which is about when she was a teenage dominatrix) was just optioned by Vince Vaughn) booked us into Poets & Busboys in Washington (packed to the rafters!), Atomic Books in Baltimore (filled to the gills!), and Chop Suey in Richmond. When Shawna and I walked into Chop Suey, there were exactly 0 customers in the store. There were
about 15 folding chairs. None of them had audience asses in them. Just as we were ready to call it a day, in walked a couple of brave souls who looked like they actually wanted to be there. One of them was a colleague and dear friend of Shawna Kenney named Valley Haggard. A ridiculously intimate show like that can actually be liberating, because let’s face it, since there are only four people, it really doesn’t matter, and you can just let loose. So I actually had an ecstatic rhapsodic performing experiences. This is one of the reasons I do it. Afterwards, Shawna and I went out with Valley Haggard. First of all, is that not the greatest name ever? Valley Haggard. Born to be an author. Or a country singer. Second of all, she was so smart, and funny, and generous, and goofy. At a certain point she told me she was part of a writing group: The James River Writers. I told her about Pitchapalooza and BOOM! Next thing you knew, we were on a beautiful Virginia Saturday afternoon about to unleash Pitchapalooza on Richmond. Beautiful old buildings, a rabid writing community, and the sheer NICENESS of the people make it a go-to destination. And I am not being paid by the Richmond Visitors Bureau to say that. Although if they did want to pay me, I would certainly take their money. One of the cool things about doing a writer’s festival is that you get to actually hang out with lots of pretty spectacular authors and writers. Plus, I did about a dozen seven-minute consultations.
It’s shocking how fast get to know someone in seven minutes. So it was fun to see all these people that we had connoitered with, filling the auditorium. By the time we started it was pretty much full, 150 writers and those who love them waiting in breathless anticipation. We had a very funny and savvy panelist, Michelle Brower, from the Folio Literary Management. As we do at every Pitchapalooza, we heard many crackerjack pitches. A middle-age dragon (Michelle said that a menopausal dragon would be hysterical, and in doing so brought the house down). I Do, I Did, I Don’t, a novel about a society where marriages have to be renewed every 10 years. Dystopian apocalypses, literary opusi, zombies, werewolves, vampires and hard-boiled dicks. But our winner was a cut above. He’s a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, where he worked very closely with trained military dogs. Dogs of war. His novel, Boots on the Ground, Paws on the Ground, about soldiers battling in life and death circumstances, and their relationships with these brave, loyal, and extraordinary canines brought Arielle to tears. In 1 minute. Plus, his man’s-man lantern jaw, buff hulking hunky humble manner, and his AWESOME story made him an absolute crowd favorite. Hurt Locker meets Rin Tin Tin, it just seemed to have bestseller written all over it. And it was just one of many pitches that screamed: BOOK!
As soon as Pitchapalooza Richmond was done, and I had said heartfelt thanks to my new Richmond peeps, I whipped back to the hotel, grabbed my baggage, got the kind of hug only a four-year-old can give from Olive, kissed Arielle a fond adieu, and was whisked away to the airport. It was a mad blast to have Olive with us, but we had decided she would go back with Arielle on the train, while I would fly solo to San Francisco, and do Pitchapalooza in San Francisco all by myself.
Having been awakened that morning at 7 AM by Olive begging me to play Biting Piggy (a game we made up about a month ago), I stumbled, mumbled, bumbled and numbled my way off the plane at 1 AM (4 AM EST!), feeling like someone had inserted nozzles into my ear holes and blown cotton candy into my skull. Red-rimmed pupils, baggage under my eyes bigger than the suitcase I was lugging, guts rumbling from too much bad trail mix and caffeine, I shuffled through the disorientating post-midnight fluorescence of SFO. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve heard too many zombie pitches lately, but being in an airport in the wee, wee hours will totally make you believe in zombies. As I threw myself into bed at 2 AM (5 AM EST!) I felt the sting of a tickle catch in my throat. A cough barked out of me. Followed by another cough. Then another. I could actually feel a flu bug attacking my larynx. HACK! HACK! HACK! Knowing that the thing I needed most in the world was a good deep night’s sleep, I tossed and coughed through a miserable night’s stupor. In my fevered dreams, zombies were pitching me books about werewolves, vampires, hard-boiled dicks, and yes, zombies. All while eating chunks of my flesh. It’s so depressing when you get out of bed in the morning, and you’re more exhausted than when you got in the night before.
Lead-headed, wheezing and sneezing, I coughed my way out the door. Luckily it was a rare robin-egg-blue sky day in Baghdad-by-the Bay, and a brisk but toasty breeze blowing lifted my spirits. Once I got to North Beach, I found, to my surprise and delight, that the massive annual street fair was raging. Columbus Avenue shut down, tables four deep set up on sidewalks outside restaurants, revelers and tourists and looky-loos cramjampacked in one of my favorite neighborhoods in the world, where Old Italian cannoli/espresso/gelato culture rubs elbows (and many other body parts) with drunken scruffy post-Beat writer types who scribble away in notebooks.
The fair was madness, in the best sense of the word. A WWII-type float with Andrews Sisters-look-alikes singing Roll Out the Barrel; a high-stepping marching band from Oakland rocking their synchronized syncopation; Chinese slow-motion tai chi masters; kilted-up bag piping bad boys; American flag flying, Harley hog-riders; wild west cowboys on a high-stepping horses, and cowgirls decked out in sparkly costumes that looked like a cross between Dale Evans and Liberace. It made me so happy to be alive.
I made my way to the Vesuvio’s, where I was going to be doing a reading for Litquake, the seismographic orgy of books that blows up San Francisco every October. For those of you who don’t know, Vesuvio’s is right across the alley from City Lights Bookstore, the beating heart and pulsating brain of San Francisco literati for 50 years. Everyone from Dylan Thomas to Lenny Bruce to Jack Kerouac have gotten polluted, plastered and plonkied while waxing poetic at Vesuvio’s. I felt a great wave of history as I walked in, an overpowering sense of honor, humility, and gratitude to be reading at this shrine where so many great writers have drunk until they passed out. The readers performed from the second floor balcony, looking down as if from Mount Olympus on the pulsating, hooch-fueled throng, shoehorned in wall-to-wall, cheek-by-jowl, the body heat wafting upwards, a crackling electromagneticity rocketing around the room, and ricocheting off those hallowed walls, which have seen so much literary history made over the years. I was up first, and my adrenal glands were spitting fire, my central nervous system all jacked up, while my heart felt like a hare being chased by the hounds. The din of the crowd was so loud it sounded like someone had turned the volume up to 11. I was worried that they wouldn’t shut up and listen to me. I underestimated the power of MC extraordinaire Mr. Alan Black, master of the pregnant pause and the growling punchline, a man who made his bones running shows at the Edinburgh Castle, where the Tenderloin sits like a festering sore on the bum of San Francisco. Like a lion tamer who uses a Scottish brogue and slashing wit as his whip and chair to control a room full of wild beasts, he subdued the crowd in 1.2 seconds. I love that feeling of a tightly packed mass of humanity waiting silently for the performer to try and conjure magic out of thin air. I took a deep breath, relished the moment, and plunged in. It was such a joy riding those words in that crowd through my story. Ridiculously gratifying.
Sadly I had to bolt as soon as I was finished, so I missed the show, and as I strolled back down Columbus Avenue toward the Pyramid Building, the adrenaline speed wore off and I was struck dumb by a numbing wave of exhaustipation. I had quite forgotten how depleted and drained my battery was, and I worried I’d have to call AAA to jumpstart me before Pitchapalooza Litquake, which was set to start in 20 min. Caffeine! my brain screamed. I collapsed into Starbucks. I coughed. I hacked. I wheezed. I drank. I made it to Market Street, rejuvenated, just in time to find the organizers starting to seriously worry that I wasn’t going to show up. It was my great good fortune to have two publishing stalwarts, Sam Barry and Kathi Kamen Goldmark (Write That Book Already!) as my copilots. They arrived like the cavalry providing reinforcement for my battle weary troops. And we were off! A meta-post-modern novel about a writer battling his own book. A rich girl getting back at her bad dad. A juicy, gossipy guide to the London Olympics. An Australian graphic novel about fast food workers who are actually crime fighters: fries and spies! Dystopian apocalypses, literary opusi, zombies, werewolves, vampires and hard-boiled dicks. But again, the winner was a cut above: a hysterically told tale set in Liverpool, where soccer is a combination of religious obsession and drunken life-and-death spectacle, and a woman finds she can predict the outcome of matches before they happen. Madcap antics ensue.
Suddenly it was over. I staggered in a stupor out onto Market Street, wrung out like a ragged rag, but wildly satisfied. That night I collapsed into bed moaning and groaning, wracked by hacking spasms. Slept for 12 hours. Next night I slept 12 more. When I awoke, the bug, the tickle, the hack and cough were miraculously gone. I’m on the plane going back to my Jersey hearth and home. Happily anticipating the kind of kiss only a four-year-old can give from Olive, and snuggling into my own bed with my lovely and talented wife.
To see all pictures click here.
Memoirs have been a source of raging controversy. Seems some memoirs are more true than others. But to me, a memoirist makes a deal with the reader: what I tell you is real, and you judge me by the stories I tell you. I think about this way too much because I am a memoirist. So when it came time to choose who would be the best leader of these great United States, I dove into the word-pools of John McCain and Barak Obama, these memoirists who would be president. I started with McCain’s The Way to Bravery. First off, McCain didn’t even write his memoir. And the book reads like it was written by the captain of the football team who had the smart kid do it for him. The facts are all there, but it’s generic as a can of beans with the word BEANS written on it. The book’s peppered with war stories, and he talks about America watching the Iraq invasion with shock, awe and a thrilling pleasure. It dawned on me as I read this book that the John McCain in this book is the archetypal American John Wayne male. A man who’d rather fight than talk.
Barack Obama did write his own memoir. Right off the bat, I like that. In the world of books we talk a lot about voice. The voice in Dreams from My Father is so strong and personal. A scene in an airplane to Africa, home of Obama’s father, stuck in my mind. An Englishman bound for South Africa talks about the poor buggers of godforsaken Africa. Obama feels silent fury, but even in the midst of rage, empathizes with the man and questions his own basic beliefs. If anything, this is a man too stuck in his own brain. But a man with poetry in his soul. He seems to be the model of the new American male. A thoughtful, sensitive international man of the world.
I have no clue how the economic plans of either candidate will dig us out of this gaping gasping chasm. But memoir wise, Obama feels the real deal, while McCain feels a fake. I’ve heard the pundits pundicate that the authentic maverick John McCain has let his true story be edited to the point of fiction, so that he doesn’t comes across like a man who wrote a memoir about courage. Obama, with his thoughtful, elegant prose, comes across like a man who’d rather talk than fight. A man true to his memoir.
Truth or Fiction: Voting By Memoir
Memoirs have been a source of raging controversy. Seems some memoirs are more true than others. A memoirist makes a deal with the reader: what I tell you is real, and you judge me by my stories. I think about this way too much because I’m a memoirist. So when it came time to choose the next leader of these great United States, I dove into the wordpools of these memoirists who would be president. I started with John McCain’s The Way to Bravery. First off, McCain didn’t even write his memoir. And the book reads like it was written by the captain of the football team who had the smart kid do it for him. The facts are all there, but it’s generic as a can of beans with the word BEANS written on it. The book’s peppered with war stories, and he talks about America watching the Iraq invasion with shock, awe and a thrilling pleasure. It dawned on me as I read this book that the John McCain in this book is the archetypical American John Wayne male. A man who’d rather fight than talk.
Barack Obama did write his own memoir. Right off the bat, I like that. In the world of books we talk alot about voice. The voice in Dreams from My Father is so strong and personal. A scene in an airplane to Africa, home of Obama’s father, stuck in my mind. An Englishman bound for South Africa talks about the poor buggers of godforsaken Africa. Obama feels silent fury, but even in the midst of rage, emphasizes with the man and questions his own basic beliefs. If anything, this is a man too stuck in his own brain. But a man with poetry in his soul. He seems to be the model of the new American male. A thoughtful, sensitive international man of the world.
I have no clue how the economic plans of either candidate will dig us out of this gaping gasping chasm. But memoir wise, Obama feels the real deal, while McCain feels a fake. I’ve heard the pundits pundicate that the authentic maverick John McCain has let his true story be edited to the point of fiction, so that he doesn’t comes across like a man who wrote a memoir about courage. Obama, with his thoughtful, elegant prose, comes across like a man who’d rather talk and fight. A man true to his memoir.
David Henry Sterry is the best-selling author of nine books, an award-winning comic/actor, an activist, and a man who has not worn matching socks in 20 years. kept his first memoir, chicken, is being made into a TV series by Showtime. His new memoir, Master of Ceremonies: a True Story of Love, Murder, Roller Skates and Chippendales is the story of when he was at the epicenter of one of the great party cultures of all time, skating around in a tuxedo while Rome burned.
olive has really discovered how to smile, and apparently she enjoys doing itvery much. She had her first Thanksgiving at her grandfather’s birthday party. Everyone was very nice to her. She seemed to have a very good time. At one point on the trip back in the car, she woke up and went absolutely berserk. A whole new level of insanity, this death rattle of the scream that shrieks from the depths of her up her lungs shoots through her throat rattles off the top of her skull and careens out horrifically. In a small enclosed spaces like a car it makes you feel like plucking your eyes out. Arielle wanted to stop the car and comfort her. I said, just let her scream for a minute and see what happens. It’s okay to be furious at the world. It’s a very natural reaction to the human condition. Let’s see if she can figure out how to calm herself down. Sure enough about three minutes later she was asleep, and slept the whole rest of the trip. Being responsible for another human being’s existence makes for a series of seemingly life altering decisions every day.it‘s not dull. And when she smiles in my face it’s like the universe is a rose opening just for me.
Well, we did it.We put all of our stuff into boxes, hired burly man to put them in a giant truck, stuffed our most valuable (mismatched socks, my mother’s ashes) stuff into our Rav 4 and waved goodbye to our life in San Rafael California, where the sun shines all the time, and the deer are so friendly that we frequently found them rummaging through our refrigerator when they had the munchies.Packing, for me, after several months of doing it, was a source of almost unspeakable horror.the more I packed, and more than was to pack, one pile would disappear and 2 more would rear their heads.It was like a dream you have where you’re running as hard as you can, but you’re not getting any closer to the house where those men are molesting your girlfriend, or whatever particular thing you run towards in your dreams.
Several times I just broke down completely, weeping like a hurricane as I tried to decide whether to throw away some postcard my mother sent me 35 years ago, or some fab picture of some babe I boffed in 1979.All the fevered letters, the sweet notes, passionate poems, the broken hearts on both sides of the Highway of Love.It just plumb wore me out sifting through all the shit of my life and figure out the difference between junk and my stuff, what was trash and what was treasure.And of course I turned 50 on June 2.Half a century.If I live to be a hundred it’s already half over.And of course we were writing two books under a ridiculously preposterous deadline.And of course my lovely and talented wife was pregnant.All evidence points toward the fact that it is my child dancing in her womb, only time will tell.So there’s that.
But the results of all these churning tributaries of life feeding into one giant waterfall was that I lost part of my mind, and I’m just now getting it back.My hands have been aching.Ever since the move.While they were sore before that, but they really started aching during the move.A combination of deep sharp pain, slow strangulating pain.Throbbing burning pain, and the psychological pain that constant pain inflicts.The slightest difficulty became a source of intense irritation which flamed into rage so quickly it gave me the bends.Tracking down and talking to computer technicians, phone company lackeys, insurance brokers, tax record officials, it was all just beyond me.
Luckily, I had a lot of help, mostly from my lovely and talented wife, who as I said was pregnant, and continues to be so.Also, Judy, my moms widow, she packed about 17,000 boxes, all by herself.She’s from Minnesota, so she has that good Midwestern work ethic, and she was one box-packing fool.She was like a cartoon character, you stand there and all watching her arms and hands whirring all-around, and suddenly another box was packed and she was taping it shut, easy peasy, Bob’s your uncle.And mind you, I started collecting boxes and packing several months before the move.So it’s not like I was unprepared.
But the more I packed, the more my mental health deteriorated, until finally I was blinded by the light, and suddenly a migraine had somehow slithered like a computer virus into the mainframe of my brain.Apparently when you have a migraine it’s basically just everything tightening up and compressing.It feels like my head is in a giant vise being tightened by a circus strongman with an anger management problem.Then I start to see these lights in the corner of my eyes, only when you look right at them, they go away, so you’re not really sure if you’re actually seeing the lights, or if it’s just some floater that you see in the corner of your eye sometimes.But then I get this kind of disorientated, off kilter, askew feeling.It’s not so overpowering that you can’t carry on a conversation or brush your teeth or pack a box, but there’s definitely something wrong.Then I really really really see the lights in the corners of my eyes, and that’s when I know I’ve arrived in Migraine City, where excruciating agony awaits everyone who steps off that train.It used to be at this point in the migraine, I would get a knee buckling, chest heaving, jaw tightening pain started in the middle of my brain and worked its way out seismically.
However, since I started working with Dr. Marty Rossman, and his amazing creative visualization techniques, I am able to get through the whole thing now with basically no pain at all.Here’s what I’d do.I get myself in a cool very dark place, somewhere soft I can lay down and be very peaceful.I imagine a very happy moment from my past: a beach in Hawaii where wild horses cavorted on a hill 200 yards away, and the warm warm ocean broke in gentle waves.In.Out.In.Out.And I time the waves with my breath.In.Out.In.Out.Then starting at the soles of my feet, I breathe cool blue soothing light into my body, moving up little by little, toes, feet, ankles, calves, knees, and usually by the time I get to my poor wracked brain, I am asleep, and usually I sleep for a couple of hours.When I wake up and I’m groggy and it’s hard for me to put words together, and I’m logey, there’s tapioca pudding where sharp thoughts should be.So that’s what packing reduced me to: a useless, incoherent, blithering idiot.But somehow I got by with a little help from my friends.Then all I had to do was drive across the United States of America.With my lovely and talented wife getting more pregnant by the day, furiously trying to finish writing these books, and wrap our minds around the fact that very very very very soon we were going to be new homeowners, new parents, and new New Jersey-ites.
America is huge.And tilted.All the nuts and flakes eventually roll to California.And what you realize as soon as you leave California, is that you were one of the nuts and flakes.When you get into Nevada, and Wyoming, it’s almost incomprehensible how much land there is no one living there.Land as far as the eye can see.And then some.We drove and we drove and we drove.Then we drove and we drove and we drove.It was actually really fun to just get to talk with each other, without the phone always ringing, and some emergency or other to have to face down.And it was an excellent way to write a book.I would drive, and my lovely and talented wife would type with the laptop in, of all places, her lap. I think our child is either going to be madly in love with books, or will hate them with a fiery passion.
Cheyenne, Wyoming is not nearly as exciting as you think it would be.Basically it seems like a rundown, time-worn western town where everyone seems a little too anxious to talk to someone who’s not from there.We went into a pawn shop and the guy behind the counter with more nose hairs than teeth roped us into a conversation that was literally about the weather.And he would not let us go.We tried to extricate ourselves over and over again, to no avail.He did everything but physically restrain us from leaving his store.It took some classic misdirection involving the unborn within my lovely and talented wife’s belly to get us the hell out of there.But you can get a really good steak in Cheyenne, Wyoming.Omaha is also a very good town for getting a steak.We were going to get married on the trip across the country.Mostly for insurance purposes.Seriously.That’s what we’ve come to as a culture.Got to get married so you can get health insurance.Plus we thought it would be fun to get married while my lovely and talented wife looked so gosh darn pregnant.So we asked about getting married in Salt Lake City.We figured, it must be very easy to get married there, since men historically had so many wives in Salt Lake City.No, turns out it’s actually quite difficult to get married in Salt Lake City.Our waiter said he thought it was because they were trying to discourage polygamy.We had a very nice gay Mormon waiter in Salt Lake City.And I wondered what it must be like to be a gay Mormon in Salt Lake City.And I thought about Matthew Shepard and how those homophobes crucified him.
The open spaces of the planes and prairies are very peaceful and restful.The people we saw there seemed very well fed and friendlier, more interested in other people than folks on either coast.Everyone wanted to know when the baby was due, if it was a boy or girl, what name we picked out.Miles and miles and miles of rows and rows and rows of corn and beans and wheat.There’s so much food and so much space, and you wonder, How is anyone hungry?How is it that people don’t have a place to live?
Chicago is a very cool town.There’s all this amazing stuff going on, blues festivals and world-class theater and food that makes you happy to be alive.We treated ourselves in Chicago, took a day off, and did some chillin.We decided to go to the Ritz, and have their brunch.We had done that in Atlanta when we were on our book tour, and it was so decadent and disgusting and fun.In Atlanta there were three rooms with stations of food in them: meats of every kind and breads of every kind and salads of every kind and the even had a chocolate fountain.A chocolate fountain!Nothing says fun to me like a chocolate fountain.So we walked in about two o’clock to the Chicago Ritz, pregnant and roadburned.They did have a lot of stuff and the stuff was good, don’t get me wrong.But they only had a few kinds of bread, a few kinds of meat, maybe a quarter of the stuff that was in the Atlanta Ritz: certainly no chocolate fountain. We were sitting next to two Uber Alpha males.They were in their late 40s even on a Sunday they were in their killer suits, and tasselly shoes. I always feel like scruffy lad next one of these Alpha Males. Like they are Men.And I am a boy.So the one guy turns to the other and says, “I don’t want to hear about how your kids are sick, or your wife has cancer, or your car needs new tires, I don’t give a shit.You either put up the numbers or you don’t.If you have the numbers, everything else works itself out.If you don’t have the numbers, I don’t want to hear any of your bullshit.”
Either I forgot how disgusting, despicable, and deplorable New York City is, or I’ve completely changed since I moved in away from here in 1993.Or New York City has changed since then.Because it really sucks now.It’s abusively loud, it’s ridiculously expensive, would it is becoming one huge super Mall, where they’re trying to drive out all artists, and the artisans, and regular people who aren’t billionaires.Plus, it smells like sour kiss and old man’s balls.Don’t ask how I know what old man balls smell like, trust me you don’t want to know.Here are some of the highlights from my first week in New York City.
·I got two moving violations for ridiculous shift I didn’t even do
·I got three parking tickets
·the window of my car was smashed in, and all the license and registration material was stolen, clearly an attempt to steal my identity
·my wallet with my drivers license is, the keys to my motorcycle, and hundreds of dollars was stolen
·a cab driver tried to run me over while I was rollerskating on 6th Ave
And it was so hot and humid and muggy and some stinky.I really began to think that it was all a big mistake, I was yearning for California so bad to hurt.We moved from apartment to apartment, staying with our kind friends, trying not to wear out are welcome.We were urban Bedouins.Which is not easy when, as a couple, you are getting more pregnant every day.We did finally finish our books though.Except for a few dribs and drabs, Be Artists In the Me, and The Writer In Me are done and dusted, put to bed.Plus we had a really fun party, where people gave us a lot of stuff for the new baby.Much of which I could not readily identify.It was really great to see people I hadn’t seen in so long.And we went to see a show called Spring A weakening.It’s really a great piece of work.It’s all about repressed sexuality and adolescents.Something which I have been studying, formally and informally for many years, and in fact the subject of my next book, which will be a ghost story about a Shaker baby skeleton aerie in a wall at a boarding school.John Gallagher Jr., who won a Tony for his work in the show, was unfucking believable, just electric.And we saw a fantastic movie called Once, and evolution in the musical, Irish, incredibly real, simple and moving.And I got to play a lot of soccer, with people from all over the world.So that was cool.
We took control of our house on August 1.The people we bought it from had lived here for 50 years.And they have done basically nothing to improve the house for 49 of those years.The electricity was installed by Thomas Alva Edison.The entire basement was constructed from asbestos.So on August 2, asbestosis removers, carpenters, electricians, plumbers, architects, interior designers and decorators, colorists, general contractors, carpenters, and tradesmen of every ilk swarmed through our new home, painting, plumbing, electricing, madly removing asbestos.And then it was a crazy — toward the finish line: getting everything done before our stuff arrived in and/or the baby did.There was much sanding of many floors, paint was ordered and applied to walls, sinks were bought and installed, electrical boxes mounted on the walls, telephone and cable hard wired into this beautiful old house.It really looked for a moment what our stuff is going to arrive before the stain on the floors was dry.I kept having this image in my head of the movers tromping in with our stuff, and traipsing staying throughout every square inch of our house.But somehow, miraculously, almost everything was done by the time our stuff was due to arrive on Monday morning at 8:30 a.m..By about noon on Monday, we looked at each other and had the same thought.Where are the movers with our stuff?Because they certainly weren’t here at our house.So we called up the moving company.Turns out the driver was in Maryland, or Memphis, or Minneapolis.I can’t remember, someplace that started with an M. but they certainly weren’t in Montclair were our house was.And is.It was definitely a case of movus interruptus.So we had to do it all over again the next day.But this time, our stuff came.It was amazing how much of it just seemed like junk to me.I would open a box and think, Oh my God!Did I actually pay to have this moved?What is this?Is this mine?Oh my God!Two large movers, and one short Hispanic man bugged all of our stuff from the truck into the house.After about an hour, but the short Hispanic man started grumbling in Spanish, disgruntled and dismayed.As he walked up the narrow, steep stairs with another heavy boxes, he kept moaning No Mas.This became his nickname around our house: No Mas.It took them eight hours to haul all of our shit into our house, but finally it was done.We were in.Hallelujah!
Many said we were insane to try and move across country while Arielle was pregnant.Into a house that was basically in shambles.But we did it.And we are both very very happy in our new home.And the baby is due today.
After having been through this ordeal, I do have one piece of advice.If anyone out there is thinking of moving:
JUST SAY NO!!!
“I walk all the way up Hollywood Boulevard to Grauman’s Chinese Theater: past turistas snapping shots; wanna-be starlets sparkling by in mini-skirts 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 am Alice.”
Chicken: Self-Portrait of a Young Man for Rent (ReganBooks / HarperCollins, 2002) is the funny, touching story of a sweet, wide-eyed son of Seventies Suburbia who becomes a teenage sex worker servicing rich, lonely women in Beverly Hills. After being abused his first night in Hollywood, David meets Sunny, the manager of Hollywood Fried Chicken, who teaches him all about chicken: how to fry one, and how to be one. But the wild adventures and the mad money are never enough, as he’s sucked into the dark side of Hollywood: the blank-eyed women, the Fall-of-Rome orgies, and the hungry predators. With a mix of breathtaking honesty, sly comedy, genuine tenderness, and an innocent fascination for the bizarre characters and world he enters, Sterry creates a narrative that is fresh, smart, and unexpectedly uplifting. Chicken is a book like no other—a playful, gripping story that explores what it means to suffer through the underbelly of the American Dream. And make it out alive.
Chicken comes with a personal guarantee unprecedented in the history of publishing. If you’re not completely satisfied, I’ll come to your house and wash your car. If you don’t have a car, I’ll vacuum your living room. If you don’t have a living room, I’ll buy you the warm beverage of your choice.*
*Proof of purchase required. Must pass brief quiz.
“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… wonderfully written.” – Vanessa Feltz, BBC
“Insightful and funny… great stories… captures Hollywood beautifully…” – Larry Mantle, Air Talk, National Public Radio
“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).
“Chicken expands our understanding of who does sex work and what it involves; of how family dislocation, dysfunction and desertion affect children and adolescents; and of the complex interplay between social norms, sexual practices, “deviant” behavior, and identity. Academics might use Chicken profitably to help students explore non-fiction and memoir writing, or substantively in courses on gender, sexuality, adolescence, deviance, the sexual revolution, the 1970s, southern California, and related topics. As a floodlit slice of life or an object lesson about attempts to counterbalance (dare I say “straddle”?) propriety and impropriety, Chicken is highly recommended. The writing style in Chicken is brash and engaging. Reminiscent of “gonzo journalism” and Lewis Carroll, Sterry’s style includes vivid descriptions, trenchant metaphors, creative compound words, and a taste for alliteration. Yet the book is more than just flashy, over-the-top recounting of colorful anecdotes. Rather, Sterry’s writing style serves his substance well, clearly evoking the milieu of 1970s sexual-revolution-era Hollywood. At the same time, the book is visceral and brutally honest about Sterry’s emotional and physical ordeals during his year as a sex worker. He expresses both sympathy and anger for his clients; in regard to his own behavior, he is subtly introspective, smoothly moving between an account of his feelings at the time and a retrospective evaluation of his actions and motives. While his account does not appear to temper the meanness, sadness or vapidity of many of his customers, he does not shrink from reporting his own failings, either. For example, his recounting of his displaced rage on the basketball court is unflinching and heartbreaking.” Dr. Ann Lucas –Sexuality & Culture, an Interdisciplinary Quarterly
CHICKEN: THE SHOW
#1 Play in Great Britain. -The Independent
“Poignant…a rare pleasure… moving and original… revealingly honest… Sterry is a sharp comic, using his limber body and versatile voice to create memorably portraits of the hungry, lonely, wealthy women who employ his services…Sterry needs no other prop than a wooden bench to get full mileage out of the ludicrousness of sex… But what gives it depth is the hard, sad reality beneath its Rabelaisian humor… Richly entertaining and thought-provoking… Speaks cleverly and provocatively to anyone who’s ever been or had a child.”
—Robert Hurwitt, Head Theater Critic to The San Francisco Chronicle
“Full of energy… fast, provacative, and highly engaging… Simply unmissable…” – The Hearld
“Irresistible… very enjoyable… radiates honesty… funny, physical, and fast…” -The Scotsman
“What a rare pleasure it is to see a writer perform his own work… dream-like profundity…Sterry’s portrayal of his 17-year-old self is immediately honest and believable… juxtaposed with his masterful control of poetic dialogue balances the show.” — SF Examiner
“Sterry summons up in glorious technicolour an amazing array of characters… Extraordinary… engrossing and touching… a great story… It’s a must!” —Daily Mail
“Graced with insight and empathy—Sterry finds a literary rhythm as fluid and alluring as the strut of his ‘nuthugging elephantbells’… a sense of humor as bright and ridiculous as a ‘blood-engorged wangdangdoodle- hammer’.” —S F Weekly
“Disturbing, heartrending, and so funny it makes you choke… intoxicating energy and magnetic storytelling charisma… the poignancy and honesty hits you hard.” – Brighton Argus
“A tour-de force.”—SF Bay Times
“Sextacular.” – Beth Lisick, SF Gate
“Frank, funny and surreal.” –The Stage
“Pick of the week… Hysterical.” – The Guardian
“Hard-hitting and universal.” -Time Out San Francisco
“Sterry is a man you should know” -Year-End Best Of SF Weekly
“Sterry tells a sad and harrowing story with humor, energy, and a sharp eye for the sort of characters an ‘industrial sex technician’ might meet in the weird aftermath of the ‘60s.” —Michael Scott Moore, The San Francisco Weekly
“Hugely compelling to watch… real skill… The story is told in deft snippets… the language is poetic, and a 1970’s soundtrack gets the audience in the mood… [a] triumphant story… it’s clear that this is a comedy hiding in a tragedy.” -The Independent