David Henry Sterry

Author, book doctor, raker of muck

David Henry Sterry

Category: Writing

Chicken Gets Big Love from Publisher’s Weekly

“Ten years ago, this debut memoir from Sterry burst upon the literary scene with an energy and inventiveness that captured his little-known subject matter—teenage life in Los Angeles as a rent boy working for a benevolent pimp named Sunny whose “rich, generous, horny friends,” Sterry explains, “pay good money to party with a boy like me.” Now back in print, Sterry’s memoir still crackles with its unsparingly honest approach: “I catch myself in the mirror, seventeen-year-old hardbody belly, pitprop legs, zero body fat, and huge hands. I’m seduced by the glitter of my own flesh.” Scenes from Sterry’s early dysfunctional family life not only add pathos to this tale of fall and resurrection but assure readers that he never sees himself as better than his clients, such as Dot, the wealthy 82-year-old, whose only desire is to experience cunnilingus for the first time—a desire that Sterry readily fulfills. “Even though I have no home and no family except for a bunch of prostitutes and a pimp, even though I have no future… at least I’m good at this.” (Oct.) – Publisher’s Weekly

chicken 10 year anniversary coverFind Chicken at your local independent bookstore:  Indiebound Amazon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Pick of the Week.” -Independent

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

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

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

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

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

Me & Sally: A True-Life Interspecies Love Story

sally monkeyThis 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.”

“Sound?”

“Speed!”

“And… Action!”

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.

From Chicken: When I Was a Birthday Present for an 82-year-old Grandmother

Excerpt from: Chicken: Self-Portrait of a Young Man for Rent.  To buy the book click here.

chicken 10 year 10-10-13

“David, I’ve got a fantastic job for you, Friday night, this is a two hundred dollar job!” Mr. Hartley’s straight shooter baritone reaches down my throat all the way to my seventeen year old balls and squeezes hard.

“Wow,” I say in what I hope is a loverstudguy voice, but which I suspect smacks of eunuch, “that’s great, excellent, thanks, I uh-”

“David,” Mr. Hartley sounds like a benevolent dictator in a three-piece suit, the ultimate Master Alpha, “this is a very important client. And if you do this job well I can absolutely guarantee there will be lots of exciting opportunities on the horizon for you. You understand me David? Do we understand each other?”

I have no idea what he’s talking about so I say:

“Sure, absolutely, I got it-”

“This is a very unique opportunity for you David. I want you to be completely prepared. It’s rather unusual job. But I think it really matches your skill set.”

My brain races like a train on bad speed. Will there be barnyard animals involved? Ritual sacrifice?  Death masks and scat sandwiches?  What will you do for money? Where do you draw your line? How much of your life are you willing to sell for $200?

“David, this client, who I must emphasize is extremely important, has decided she wants to treat her friend to very special birthday gift. And that birthday gift is you. So get ready to put on your birthday suit.” Mr. Hartley laughs like a machine gun: rat-a-tat-tat. “I kid of course. Seriously though, David, it’s our policy at the Hollywood Employment Agency to give our clients all the information they need to succeed. We believe that preparation is essential to success. And for this job, it’s very important that you understand you are being given by one of our most important clients to her best friend, as a present for her eighty-second birthday.”

GULP!

“It’s very important to us that our clients are comfortable performing.  Are you comfortable, under the circumstances, uh… performing… David?”

No. No. No.  I don’t honestly think I can fuck an eighty-two-year-old. That’s what I say in my 17-year-old manchild idiot head. Out loud I say:

“Sure, absolutely, I’m all over it.”

“You’re all over it,” Mr. Hartley’s Ouzi of a laugh rattles my skull. “That is droll David, very droll. That’s exactly why I thought of you when this job came in. I have every confidence that you won’t let me… down.” Bam Bam Bam Mr. Hartley laughs fast and staccato. “I kid of course. David I want you to call me as soon as this job is done. Do you understand? Do we understand each other?”

“Absolutely, for sure, yeah.”

Mr. Hartley gives me the 411 and then I disconnect.

Immediately my shattered brain sees an ancient naked wrinkled saggy droopy granny spread-eagled in front of me and my poor placid flaccid penis is a lifeless piece of useless meat, I have to give the money back I see myself spiraling down humiliated, a brutal failure rejected by Mr. Hartley and Sunny, drummed out of the business shunned by all my chicken peers the only family I know at this point who accepts me for what I am, my paycheck my refuge my people, all gone.

Anonymously knocking on the door in the ultra fancy ass swank swish hotel that smell like Olde Money, my mind attacks itself with vicious visions  of wrinkled, ravaged, sagging grandmother flesh that shrinkwrap my rapidly shriveling penis.  Breath short.  Tight.  Heart racehorsing pounding against my breastplate.  A sticky clammy sweaty nervy jumpy freaky tweaky moisture oozes out of most of my pores.

The door slowly opens.  She’s trim and pretty in pink and a styly Channel-type suit.  She definitely has one of those helmet hairdo, but it’s well done if you like that kind of thing. A huge honking diamond ring holds court on a well tended finger.  Shoes the same color pink as her outfit.  She’s got wrinkles but they’re not gruesome. She’s wearing makeup but it’s definitely not Whatever-Happened-to-Baby-Janey.  But the best thing about her is her smile.  She has a smile that welcomes you in.  After a heavy sigh full of deep relief the first thought that pops into my seventeen-year-old manchild head is: Shit man, I hope I’m doing this good when I’m eighty-two years old.

Like a Hostess greeting an international dignitary, she asks me if I would like some champagne?  Chocolate covered strawberries?  Pate and cheese? It’s all spread out on this fancy silvery tray. Curtains are closed.  Lights are low. Candlelight makes everything soft.  She gives me a long thin beautiful flute of champagne.  With a sweet smile ripe with kindness.  Like I’m all growed up.

I know what to do.  I’ve been trained well by my mum.

“I want to wish you a very, very happy birthday, and if there’s anything I can do to make your dreams come true, I’m here for your pleasure.”

I have rehearsed the speech.  I am pleased with the delivery.  I hold up the long thin beautiful flute of sparkly bubbly.  She smiles kinda shy.  Demure.  Which is shockingly endearing in a lady who’s turning out to be the totally awesome grandma I never had.  That I’m just about to have sex with.

She holds out her fluke for a clink.  Weak clink.  We drink.  The champagne shoots little giddy meteors tickling my lips and teasing my nose.  I love the way it feels inside my mouth like the most sophisticated pop rocks ever. Smooth smooth, smooth, it goes down tingly and frothy, liquid laughter.

She tells me her name is Dorothy.  But her friends called her Dot.  I think that’s a cool name. Dot.  She’s talking about the champagne.  Apparently she knows a lot about champagne. This is from some famous champagne place in France.  Soon as I’m done with the first sip I can’t wait for another so I just let it guzzle down my muzzle all twinkly and sparkly.  One more big gulp and the whole beautiful flute is empty, the contents now inside me.  It comes on quick and suddenly my head floats on my neck and my face is happy, bones melting, blood rushing like carefree debutantes jitterbuging at their coming-out ball.  It feels a lot greater to be alive than it did five minutes ago.

Dot insists I have a chocolate-covered strawberry.  Doesn’t take much arm-twisting.  Apparently it’s some world-famous chocolate from Belgium.  It’s got a hard crunch when you bite it, but then it gets all melty in your mouth, as the fruity juice of the rapturously ripe strawberry sings with the chocolate in mind-boggling two-part harmony.  When I finish I see Dot watching me with a big grin on her face.  Makes me like her.   Even more.

Dot tells me she likes to watch people enjoy themselves. I tell her how much I’m enjoying myself.  And the crazy thing is I completely mean it.  She asks me if I want another one.  I say no, even though I really actually do want another one.  She asks me if I really want another one but I’m just saying no to be polite.  Like she can see right inside my head.  I confess I do and did.  She insists with an impy grin that I have another chocolate covered strawberry.  So I do.  I have two more after that.  I could eat every single one.  But I am there to do a job.  I figure after three chocolate-covered strawberries, it might impair my ability to perform.

Dot tells me all about her madcap romantic husband, how they met, how he proposed to her.  Took her to Europe, South America, Broadway shows.  She hauls out a picture of him.  It’s black-and-white.  He’s in a sharp suit with two-tone shoes, hair all slick and a debonair devilmaycare smile.  I must admit, he was one dapper motherfucker.

He’s been dead for ten years.  It’s sad and happy at the same time.  Makes me like her so much that she has all this love for this guy she was married to for like fifty years or whatever.  Being now the son of a dyke from a home broken beyond repair and having sex for money with grandmothers, I just can’t fathom being married to somebody for fifty years.  But Dot says her old man was a pistol and a mensch and a big old bundle of fun.  Dot tells me about how they used to have these wild and crazy parties with all their brilliant zany friends, where they’d get all dressed up, drinking, dancing and yakking all night about art and politics and life and death and war and taxes.

It’s a mad blast listening to her wax about her one wild and precious life.  Makes me hope that at some point I can have one.  A life.  A most excellent wife, some brilliant crazy zany friends, a house with a pool and lots of rooms where people can party.  Sounds nice.

This is such a great job so far.  But of course there’s that nagging tug in the back and pit of my head and belly: how in the name of Pan the horny goat boy am I going to get It up and off?  I am bombarded by the image of my meat torpedo morphing into wet spaghetti.  I am forced to focus extra hard to avoid hyperventilation.

Dot stops talking.  She hems and she haws and she tuts.  Clearly she wants to tell me what’s on the menu for her birthday dinner, but she’s having a terrible time spitting it out.

I’m scared breathless.  I desperately want to give Dot want she wants.  I need to please her.  She’s been so nice to me.  And I want to succeed at this job.  Be an American.  Be a man.  But will I be able to achieve liftoff with a naked octogenarian laying on top of me?  I believe I can.  I know I can’t.  What if she wants to do some weird old person sex thing I don’t know about?

My testes cower in a corner.  My head is like a balloon being inflated by a homicidal clown with ADHD.  My guts rumble thunderously, roiling like a boiler about to blow.

Again I find myself seriously questioning my career choice.

Dot forces out a strangulated sentence like a tongue-tied eighty-two-year-old schoolgirl.

“I’ve always wanted someone to kiss me…” she motions with her head down towards her nether regions, “down there.”

That’s it? Thank you Lord, for delivering me from the wilderness.  A little head?  A wee dram of cunnilingus?  Hell, I can do that with my eyes closed.  In fact many times I have. And then I think, Can you imagine wanting to have someone go down on you for fifty years?  Having a husband you love and not being able to ask him to do that?  I’ve gone down I can and in all this is what he is on every girlfriend I’ve ever had. It seems like one of the most basic sexual things you can do. My mind is officially boggled.

But the weight of the world, so heavy on my head moments ago, has been mercifully lifted.  I assure Dot that I would be more than happy to make her dream come true.

She gets under the covers.  She doesn’t take her clothes off.  This is just getting better and better.

Here are the best jobs in order.

1)      Just talking.

2)      Just talking while I’m naked.

3)      Just talking while I’m naked and playing with myself. And by playing with myself of course I mean masturbating.

4)      Cunnilingussing.

5)      Doggy styling.

6)      Missionary positioning.

7)      Cowgirling with direct eye contact.

So this is the fourth best job there is.

Dot wiggles and wriggles under the covers.  I assume she’s taking her granny panties off.  She doesn’t tell me to take my clothes off so I don’t. I crawl under the covers. I suspect there will be wrinkly grandmother flesh. But what do I care? Cunnilingus is cunnilingus. Luckily I was trained in this art by the first girl friend I ever had, who was much older than me and rigorously demanding, albeit in a very sweet educational way.

So it takes a while for me to burrow myself in, but eventually there I am.  Right between Dot’s 82-year-old legs. It’s very dark in there. Like a cave. I like it. And when I arrive, to my surprise it smells good. Fresh. Manicured. Everything is quite smooth leading up to the area. Which is a very pleasant surprise.

Dot is very ironing board like.  But cunnilingually I’ve been trained well.  I take my time.  I go slow.  I kiss all around the area soft and gentle.  Some lips.  A little tongue.  Very light.  The more I do it the more she softens.  Then suddenly she’s moving herself towards my mouth.  Now there are little moans and sighs and groans and gasps coming from outside the covers.  How cool is this?  I’m thinking, she’s totally into it.

At this moment I feel so useful.

Her hands are on my head and she’s pulling its into her area. And to tell you the truth, her area is much like any other area I’ve been in. Especially in the depth of this black cave.

Dot is now gently manipulating my head, moving it exactly where she wants it and I’m just applying the appropriate pressure.  It’s like we’re dancing and she’s leading while I follow. And she’s exhibiting all the symptoms of excitation. It’s all happening and I could not be happier.

Dot now seems to be climbing the ladder of the stairway to Heaven.  I don’t know how long we been going at this now, but it doesn’t seem that long.  And she’s already manifesting all the physical manifestations of pre-orgasm.

Sure enough, here it comes.  Here she comes.

Here comes Dot.  Diving off the cliff into the sea of sexual ecstasy.

I am overpowered by a sense of joyful satisfaction.  Mr. Hartley  will be so proud of me.

It’s clear we are, you know, done. So I burrow out from undercover and head into the bathroom, to give her a chance to put herself back together.  As I eyeball myself in the mirror, I shake my seventeen year-old man child idiot head.  Can you imagine?  Eighty-two-year-old grandmother pussy tasted great.

Sure enough, when I come back out, she’s totally put together, like nothing happened.  Except for the bloom in her cheeks and the sweet smile of satisfaction on her lips.

Dot thanks me profusely.  She asks me if I would like to take a chocolate covered strawberry with me.  I confess that I would.  I grab a chocolate covered strawberry and head for the door full to overflowing with a sense of well-being. Even though my parents don’t care to speak to me, even though I have no home and no family except for a bunch of prostitutes and a pimp, even though I have no future and I’m wracked by nightmares and lusting for revenge on the man who attacked and broke me into tattered pieces, at least I’m good at this.

As I’m leaving with my chocolate covered strawberry Dot surreptitiously slips a crisp green bill into my hand while she plants of very nice kiss on my cheek. When I pull back, she playfully wipes the lipstick off my cheek.  It’s a tiny little gesture, but it feels so intimate and connected in a world where connection is virtually impossible for me.

I thank her profusely—wish her a happy birthday.

She thanks me right back.

Then I’m gone.

It’s a $100 bill.  Add that to the $200 that was in the envelope on the fancy food platter.  So that’s $300 to drink fancy French champagne, eat world famous Belgian chocolate-covered strawberries and make one pretty great grandma’s dream come true.

As I leave the ultra swank Beverly Hills Hotel, I find myself thinking:

America, what a country!

 

 

 

 

 

The Making of an American Hero: Donovan’s Transformation From Landycakes to Landon the Man

world_cup_0623_01Landycakes. That used to be Landon Donovan’s nickname. As often as he was acknowledged as one of the most talented soccer players America has ever produced, historically he was also perceived as being soft, petulant, churlish, a bit of a puff pastry. He was criticized for wilting when the spotlight got hot, shining only during insignificant games, disappearing when his country most needed him to be all that he could be.

Europe came calling, as it does when soccer talent rears its head. So Landon Donovan went to Germany, where soccer is a religion, played with a rare combination of technical brilliance and cutthroat Hunnish brutality. He struggled mightily, never able to fully display that he had the game, but perhaps more significantly, the balls to compete against the big boys. Sure, the pundits posited, Landycakes can shine in the minor-league caliber MLS, but he doesn’t have what it takes to make it in the real world of big boy soccer.

Then came David Beckham. This international mega-uber-superstar brought his traveling circus to Hollywood, and joined Donovan’s team, the LA Galaxy. Yes, Beckham is in the twilight of his career, but he is still one of the greatest benders of the ball in the known galaxy, and of course he brings his celebrity cachet and the star power of his anorexicish, ex-pop singer wife in tow. From the beginning, according to all sources, there was friction and tension.

According to Donovan, Beckham didn’t take his new job with the LA Galaxy very seriously. Becks was a terrible teammate, and not much of a man. Instead of kissing the hem of the garment of the English superstar, Landon Donovan stood up in front of the world and told his truth. It became international news, shots heard round the world. In fact, it created such a furor, a book was written about it, and there’s rumors of a Lifetime movie in the works. Eventually, a truce was hashed out, and everyone agreed to play nice. But people started looking at Landon Donovan differently. He had become, by standing up for himself and his teammates, a leader of men. Then Landon Donovan received an invitation from English club Everton to play a guest starring role for a month in the stretch run of the English Premier League, one of the very best in the world, studded with international superstars.

Landon Donovan didn’t just play well — he was brilliant. In fact, he was voted the player of the month for Everton, and became a huge fan favorite. It was quite remarkable to listen to the freakishly English crowd break out into chants of, “U-S-A!” when Donovan would rampage. That brief month spent running roughshod over some of the best teams in the world seemed to prove to the international soccer community, and perhaps to Landon Donovan himself, that he had the skills, the flare, and yes, the testicles to compete against the best and the brightest.

Then came South Africa 2010. After a tentative, Landycake-ish performance against the English, the US found itself in dire trouble, down 2-0 to the aggressively Eastern European Slovenian team, in danger of getting bumrushed on the biggest stage there is in the world of sports. This is when Landon Donovan took the game by the scruff of the neck, and hoisted America up onto his suddenly Superman-sized shoulders. He came steaming in from the right flank with the ball at his feet and took it right to the hole. When no one stopped him, from a sublimely ridiculous angle, he fired a cannon shot so hard over the hapless Slovenian keeper’s head, that it singed the poor fellow’s scalp. The ball thundered into the roof of the net, a majestic, monumental, world-class and game-changing goal.

That was the beginning of the beginning for Team USA. America came storming back, and except for the dastardly call by the evil Coulibaly of Mali, they would’ve won handily. But of course they didn’t win handily. And they still needed a victory over Algeria, who suddenly looked every bit a quick, tricky, skillful destroyer of dreams. Sure enough, after yet another travesty of a referee’s decision, denying the US a much-deserved goal, all seemed lost. Seconds sped by with shocking speed. Suddenly, 90 minutes was gone. Four minutes of extra time were now whipping past faster than humanly possible. American fans were gagging on the foul fetid breath of failure belching into their faces.

Then suddenly the ball was in the hands of a player, at this World Cup, who has grabbed the mantle of Best Goalkeeper in the galaxy, Tim “T-Ho” Howard. And there was Landon Donovan sprinting for all he was worth up the right side of the field. T-Ho threw a 60 yard bullet that would’ve made Tom Brady proud, hitting Landon in perfect stride. And there it was, 3-on-1, with Donovan pulling the playmaker strings. He drew the defensive in, laid off a sweet simple ball to Pussycat Altidore, who slotted the ball in front of the goal, where Clint Eastwood Dempsey whacked it as hard as he could. And then the soccer gods beamed down their love upon Landon Donovan, and they rewarded him for all his hard work and suffering. The ball landed like a gift sliding down the chimney on Christmas Eve.

Instead of panicking, disappearing, or choking, Landon Donovan stepped up and made history. He snatched sweet victory from the hoary clutches of defeat, as Americans from Wall Street to Alaska, Hollywood to Bangor, Miami to Minnesota, erupted in full throated roar: “Gooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooal!!!” And thus Donovan became Landon the Man.

Amital Etzioni: Why Are You Saying Such Nasty Things About Whores?

hos hookers cover-500 HosHookersShame on you, Amital Etzioni, for the antiquated, insulting and frankly dangerous ideas you trot out like dead horses to flog in your recent essay on the review of the anthology Hos, Hookers, Call Girls, and Rent Boys. Yes, of course, some people are enslaved in the world of sex-4-$. Just as they are in many industries, such as the garment and diamond businesses. These traffickers of human flesh should be hunted down like the filthy vermin they are, and thrown into a dark hole where the sun never shines. Yes, we all know this. But many prostitutes, or industrial sex technicians as I like to call them, actually choose to enter the sex-4-$ world as adults who carefully consider their economic options, and have decided it makes more sense to earn $250 smoking cigarettes, drinking and getting head (a scenario you reference in his essay), than earning $8 an hour getting their souls sucked out at McDonald’s. Comparing a victim being forced to have sex for money with a high-end industrial sex technician is like saying slaving in a sweatshop is the same as working at Neiman Marcus.

You wrote that HHCG&RB, “has little to say about the role of money in personal, intimate relationships.” Did you actually read this book? Because if you didn’t, then you have no business talking about it. And if you did, you’re intellectually blind not to see that this book is absolutely packed with stories about the role money plays in personal, intimate relationships. Case in point: Juliana Piccolo’s haunting, melancholy piece, “Vice.” It’s about when she was a 17-year-old massage parlor sex technician, and had a relationship with an off-duty cop client. He falls in love with her. She craves his fatherly attention, even as he makes her skin crawl. The last time she sees him he offers her $100 for a kiss. She doesn’t kiss clients. He holds out the money. She kisses him. The moment is devastating. It is a deeply personal, intimate relationship, and it illustrates the subtle, scary and very real way the line between the need for love and the need for money blur.

And in what post-Puritanical, Victorianically-repressed world does an open, honest discussion of sex and money, “embarrass a bunch of frat boys”? I guess it’s been a while since you’ve spent any time with frat boys. It’s very difficult to embarrass them. Given the fact that there’s a good chance they’re doing Jell-O shots out of the stripper’s vagina. In your opening salvo, you call this book “sensationalistic”. If you had taken the time to carefully read HHCG&RB, you would’ve seen that it is in fact a piece of American oral history that gives voice to a population that is woefully underrepresented and misunderstood.

Finally, one of the biggest peeves I keep as a pet is when people who have never turned a trick in their lives, who have no idea what sex-4-$ is like, try to tell us about it. What do you know about the “facts” of the world of sex? When was the last time you sat around chewing the fat with people who actually inhabit that world? I have a news flash for you: people who exchange sex for money are not illiterate, pimped, diseased, drug addicted, career criminals. And it is grotesque, condescending, and ignorant to imply, as you do, that they are. I know because I was one. An industrial sex technician. No one forced me. My employment counselor/pimp did not take most of my money. Of course he got his taste, just like my current literary agent does. I was not on drugs during my time in the Life. In fact, at the high-end agency I worked for, if you were caught taking drugs, you were fired. I have no diseases. The only time I was a criminal was when the Prohibition era laws of America turned me into one while I was making money at the oldest profession in the world. I edited the above mentioned anthology, Hos, Hookers, Call Girls, and Rent Boys. I put together this book as an attempt to tear down harmful myths about sex work and sex workers — myths which you sir, seek to perpetuate. But just to show you there’s no hard feelings, next time you’re in New York, call me and I’ll hook you up with my friend Naughty Michelle. She’ll open all your eyes. And it’ll only cost you $300.

The Whore Wars

HosHookersjohns marks cover croppedIt 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.”

Shame on Joe Paterno & Penn State & a Plea to Abused Kids From a Rape Survivor

 I was raped. By a large, athletic, violent man. I was young, naïve, and defenseless. Being the victim of this unspeakable violence destroyed the kid I was. Every single day I am internally tortured by this abuse I survived over three decades ago. I became a drug addict. I tormented everyone who was stupid enough to love me. It took me years, decades, just to be able to function without indulging in self-destructive behavior on a daily basis. I was lucky. I had a family that stuck by me. I had resources to eventually get help. I healed myself with the help of a hypnotherapist, writing about my abuse and telling my story, and the love of a good woman. But I vowed that I would try, in whatever small way I could, to speak for boys and girls who are not as fortunate as myself. Who don’t have the resources and love in their lives. Needless to say, I was greatly affected by the news that Jerry Sandusky, a man who built an organization that purported to help kids, has been charged with violently and sexually abusing them. There are even reports that he pimped them out to other adults, in order to further his own apparently grotesque needs. I’m filled with rage. I want him to suffer as he made these defenseless boys suffer. I’m filled with fury at Joe Paterno and the other officials at Penn State University, who were complicit in this horrible alleged abuse. Who helped to hide this monster. He is every bit as guilty as the man who actually allegedly perpetrated these deeds of shocking cruelty. I’m filled with disgust for the fans of Penn State who continue to stand by men who allegedly enabled pedophiles. Why aren’t they in the streets expressing solidarity with those boys whose lives were ruined? Why aren’t they in the streets expressing outrage that men who pretended to have the best interests of boys in their hearts, were actually hiding and enabling the most vile creature imaginable? But mostly I’m filled with sadness for these boys who suffered so miserably at the hands of adults. I want to help. I want to tell these boys, these young men, the survivors, but they are not alone. They can get help. They need to tell their stories. If there’s anything I can do, please just let me know.

Tripping the Light Fantastic, or How I Learned to Play Hockey on Acid

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.

darrow lacrosseWe 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.

hanson_brothersRat grins like Jack Nicholson in The Shining.

“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.

lsdNot 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.

slide_294923_2397851_freeThen 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.

largeLate 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.

BUZZZZZZZ!

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.

DSC_0017

The Birthing of Olive Annabell Maureen Sterry, or How My Daughter Got Born

Olive Annabell Maureen Sterry IMG_0080was 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.

IMG_1972 copyOlive’s mom had asked the midwife and the dula over and over, “When is it going to be Active Labor?” The dula turned to Olive’s mother and with dry sly wit said:

“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.

olive sept. 20 040The 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!

IMG_2890The 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.

Pornstar Mustache: The Snowman, Cocaine & Me @ Chippendales

Cockwalking Snowman, the hottest of the hot, shows how coke was to the 80’s what a dry martini was to the 50’s. Video Book excerpt from “Master of Ceremonies: The True Story of Love, Murder, Roller Skates & Chippendales”.

Master ceremonies coverBuy the Book!

Press Release!

Cherry Bleeds Interview!

Great Review of Unzipped by The Independent

60 SECONDS: David Henry Sterry

Revealing the Chippendales

David’s UK Online Times Article

Refresh Lite Review of Unzipped!

Sunday Times With David Henry Sterry

Scotland on Sunday, Full Frontal by David Henry Sterry

1985, smackdab in the cash-happy coke-crazy 80s.  That’s when I was hired to be the MC at Chippendales, it was the hottest show in the city that never sleeps: movie stars, fashion Titans, movers and shakers shaking their booties and grooving and cruising. And I was right in the center of it, in tuxedo top hats and rollerskates, where every night was ladies night, it was always raining men, and girls just wanted to have fun. This book is about a culture of excess and madness spinning out of control, where greed was good, Wall Street was swimming with $, and bankrupt farmers were committing suicide. Where President Reagan’s designer clad Stepford first wife was giving grateful drug addicts everywhere the key to sobriety: Just Say No, even as her husband, flush with the rush of reelection, was funding drug thugs.

It’s about a man, Nick de Noia, who was the visionary genius behind Chippendales, a man who wanted to change the world, to fulfill the promise of Women’s Lib, to make a fun, safe sexy place where women could fondle, ogle and sexualized hot man flesh for the first time in history. And he wanted to get rich doing it. He was a tyrant who ruled with a combination of cruel abuse and buttery flattering charm. He was my boss, and this book is about what it’s like to work for a man who gets assassinated. It’s about performing in front of 600 flesh craving, money waving, booze fueled ladies, with the estrogen bouncing off the walls. It’s about working with beautiful half-nude dudes, and never getting laid. But, in the end, it’s about failing at fame and succeeding at love.

To read excerpts from the book and an interview go to: https://davidhenrysterry.com/category/books/

To read piece in London Times Sunday Magazine go to:

http://women.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/women/the_way_we_live/article2347891.ece


 

INTERVIEW! David Henry Sterry sat down for this interview just before the release of his new book, Unzipped: A True Story of Sex, Drugs, Rollerskates & Murder (Canongate, 2007)
Q: What was it like to work at Chippendales male strip club in New York City in the craziness of the mid-80s, when it was the hottest show in the city that never sleeps?

A: It was absolutely mad, like being in the middle of a Fellini movie. The mid-80s were insane, big hair, tiny skirts, cash-happy and coke-crazy, back when girls just wanted to have fun and it was raining men. 600 flesh-craving money-waving women packed into this tiny club, going berserk, I swear I was high on estrogen every night. To me, watching the women was more fun than anything at Chippendales. They came from all over the world, in every shape and size, bimbo in limos and booming grannies, supermodels and super virgins, hen parties gone wild and desperate housewives behaving badly. Most of these women were so sweet, honestly, I fell in love every night. But some of these ladies, they were absolutely savage. Night after night I would watch them, drunk out of their minds, digging their nails deep into these men, often drawing blood. I remember so clearly on my first night at Chippendales as I came into the tiny stinky dressing room after the show, there was Prince Charming, (that was the name of the character he played in the show), standing in front of a full-length mirror, an enormous $1,000 mountain of wrinkled and sweaty cash in front of him, and as I scanned my eyes down his huge, nude, oiled up perfect body, I saw these teeth marks in his exquisite ass cheek. They were deep and red and angry. Some lady had really sunk in her choppers into him. Seriously, you could have identified her dead body from those teeth marks. I remember thinking, America, what a country! In some ways it was the best job I’ve ever had: four nights a week, two hours a night, making big bank, celebrities like Brooke Shields and Calvin Klein in the audience, it was so much fun. But it was also one of the most frustrating jobs I’ve ever had. You see, I was the master of ceremonies, the MC, the compere, I wore a tuxedo, top hat, and rollerskates. And being a great MC at Chippendales was kind of like being the greatest downhill skier in the SaharaDesert. You may be amazing, you may be the best, but nobody gives a shit. One of the threads of this book is what it was like to be the ugliest man at Chippendales, starving for sex in the middle of hundreds of women every night, and never getting laid.

Q. Were you working at the club when the world-famous Chippendales murder occurred?

A: Yes, in fact the man who was murdered was my boss, the visionary genius behind Chippendales, Nick de Noia. This book is also about what it’s like to work for a charming tyrant, kind of like The Devil Wears a G-String Nick moved with the muscular grace of Gene Kelly, he had salty, peppery, perfectly-coiffed hair, sparkly eyes, and a 20-gigawatt bright-white mile-wide smile beaming in the middle of it all. Nick de Noia wanted to change the world, liberate women so they could ogle, fondle and sexualize hot male flesh. And, of course, he wanted to get rich doing it. He ruled with a combination of cruel brutish abuse, and charming buttery flattery. He designed a life in which he surrounded himself with ridiculously handsome dudes who liked to make $ taking their clothes off, and needed him to love them. And yet he presented aggressively hetero, had been married and divorced to and from supermodel movie star Jennifer O’Neil, star of the hit movie Summer of 42. Nick saw himself as equal parts Julius Cesar, PT Barnum, the Marquis de Sade, and Bob Fosse. And Chippendales was his legacy to the world. After he was shot, the police came and interrogated everyone at the club. When they asked me if I knew anyone who might want to kill Nick de Noia, I said, “Do you want the short list, or the long list?” I mean, I myself had muttered several times under my breath that I’d like to kill Nick de Noia. But I’ve often thought, what does it take to go from casually contemplating killing someone, to actually hiring a hitman to blow their brains all over a wall?

Q: What exactly was your job at Chippendales?

A: It was my job to skate around in the middle of the Pit, as we called it, and recite a 200 page script. As I said, I was the ugliest man at Chippendales, and I was the only one who talked in the show. Coincidence? I think not. I would introduce the men, and I was responsible for cueing all the light and sound change, as well as for the removal of every article of clothing by the Unknown Flasher, the Barbarian, the Construction Guy, the Hot New Guy and Prince Charming. It was my job to yell out “jokes” like, “You’re going to love our next guy, in his spare time he’s a professional bowler, and believe you me ladies, he’s got a pair of 16 pound balls.” And I was responsible for teaching the women most important thing in the Chippendales show. When I would yell, “Whatttayaaaa wann’ ’em to dooooo?” they would yell, “TAKE IT AWWWFF!” And then a stripper would take off an article of clothing. Let me tell you something, on a Saturday night, when the place was packed to the tits, the sound of all those women screaming was, pound for pound, the loudest, most female noise I’ve ever heard in my life.

Q.: What were some of the craziest things you saw while working at Chippendales? 
A: Oh my God, where to start?! There was the Dick Pull. The men used to do it before the show, in the dressing room, which was ridiculously small and had mirrors for walls, so everything was right in-your-face. When performing the Date Pull, the penis is taken in the hand and stretched repeatedly, like it’s modeling clay. When it’s all worked up, the penis is laid flat against the thigh, and the black, skintight Velcro pants are snapped over it, then quickly zippered shut, cutting off circulation to the member, thus creating the illusion of a perpetual hammerheaded trouser snake erection. Speaking of craziness, one time I walked into the dressing room bathroom at midnight, a couple of hours after the show was over, and busted in on a pair of twins performing fellatio on the Snowman, the second hottest guy at Chippendales, who had a shockingly sculpted body and an incredible 70s porn star mustache. Then there was the time the Barbarian, in a fit of steroid-fueled rage, hurled a huge metal trashbin across the dressing room, barely missing Pretty Peter’s pretty head. Speaking of steroids, in another bathroom, one time I caught one of the hot guys with his pants around his ankles, being injected with steroids by another of the hot guys, the small metal prick of the needle piercing Hot Guy #1’s exquisite bum. It was one of the most homoerotic things I’ve ever seen. And these were two guys who mercilessly teased other men about being gay, always doing these lisping caricatures of gay men. It was so much fun to catch them in the act. They were best friends, and often dressed alike, as if they were a couple. But of course they acted like tough, heterosexual he-men. I couldn’t help it, I burst out laughing and said, “Why don’t you just do each other and get it over with?” Oh, they were so angry, they called me horrible names and chased me with murderous rage in their eyes. But luckily I was on my rollerskates and I got away unscathed. Then there was the time I saw a woman offer Large Mark, one of the huge Terminator-type guys, $500 to snort a line of cocaine off his genitalia. I told him he should have done it, $250 an inch is nothing to sneeze at. And personally, I would have paid good money just to watch her chop it up.

Q.: Is it true that most of the Chippendales guys were gay?

A: I’d say about 60% of the Men of Chippendales seemed like if there was money to be made, or they were horny enough, they’d fuck pretty much anything that moved. In fact, it didn’t even have to move, they’d fuck it. About 25% seemed completely gay. And maybe 15% seemed no-questions-asked breeders. But these figures are based on my own survey, which, frankly, did have some methodological problems.

Q.: Your first memoir, Chicken, was an international bestseller, has been translated into many languages, and is being made into a Hollywood film: what were the repercussions of revealing that you were a teenage gigolo servicing Hollywood women, and was it more difficult to write than Unzipped?

A: I didn’t even really think about what the consequences of writing Chicken would be. I just knew I had to write it and get it out of my system. I know it sounds melodramatic to say this, but it really saved my life, helped transform me from an angry raging addict into a semi-normal human being. But of course there was much fallout. My people come from Newcastle, they are Geordies, and my father has never forgiven me for writing this book, he hasn’t spoken to me in many years. Lots of people who I thought were my friends said nasty ugly to me. Many people in the press attacked me personally, especially in the UK. I guess I was unprepared for the vitriol that would come my way from the media. At first I took it personally, but the more I thought about it the more I came to believe it’s got a lot more to do with the post-Victorian terror that the English seem to have about sex, that marvelous combination of titillation and repulsion that appears to be at the very core of British life. And I have taken to heart the words of one of my favorite writers, an Englishman, Oscar Wilde, who famously said, “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.” I guess in the end I’m just happy that people paid attention at all. That being said, for every negative thing that’s happened to me as a result of revealing my sordid past, there have been a hundred wonderful, incredible, amazing things. I remember when I was doing my one-man show version of Chicken at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, after I finished a performance one night, a tiny little Scottish granny came up to me grinning like a schoolgirl coquette and asked me in a thick brogue, “Can I have a wee kiss?” I bent down and she gave me a sweet peck on the cheek. Then she giggled and said, “Now I can say I’ve kissed a gigolo.” I’ve gotten e-mails from people all over the world thanking me for writing Chicken, telling me how much they enjoyed the book, and that they don’t feel like such a freak anymore. And whenever I do my show, afterwards there are always a couple of teenage girls hanging about, shuffling their feet and averting their eyes. Shyly they approach me, and reveal their own terrible stories of sexual abuse at the hands of a relative, a friend, even a priest. It’s obvious that many of them have never told anyone their story, and oftentimes it comes flooding out of them like a geyser, the words pouring out in torrents, and when they’re done they look so happy and relieved, like the weight of the world has been lifted from them. I had no idea that there was this epidemic of sexual abuse going on in our society, it’s horrifying actually. I read about a study in which scientists had people write down the worst things that ever happened to them. They found that when people did this, their immune systems were boosted. When I first read it that seemed unbelievable to me, and yet I can attest that for myself this has been true. Since writing Chicken, I haven’t been sick a day in my life, my immune system is like the locks on Fort Knox. I’ve also had the opportunity to lead writing workshops sponsored by the United States Department of Justice in which I helped teenage girls write about how they’d been used as sex slaves by pimps, beaten with coat hangers and burned with cigarettes, raped by the police, absolutely shocking stuff. It was amazing to watch how they went from being reluctant to wildly enthusiastic about writing their stories. At the end of a conference, four or five of these girls got up and read their stories in front of a packed audience full of politicians, social workers and friends. It was one of the greatest moments in my life to watch the joy that came over their faces when they received standing ovations. These girls often see themselves as only having a value in regards to their bodies, their sex. For them to get so much love and affection for their talent, for their bravery, and for their writing was utterly transforming for all of us. Writing Chicken has also opened up a whole new world for me in that I have spoken and presented at colleges, high schools and universities all over the world, from the University of Amsterdam, to the University of New Orleans, to the Gold Coast of Australia. It was very difficult to write Chicken, for several reasons. One, I had to never written a book before. I’ve been a professional screenwriter, but I always wrote movies that had nothing to do with my own experiences. To reveal the worst, most horrendous, horrific things that ever happened to me, to say publicly that I was a prostitute, one of the worst things you can be in our society, was difficult, it was very painful to relive those events, but in the end it was tremendously cathartic. I used to have nightmares in which I would relive when I was raped, and I used to be obsessed with revenge fantasies where I would kill the man who attacked me in disgusting bloody ways. But as soon as I started portraying him on stage in the one-man show of the book, those revenge fantasies stopped, as did the nightmares. But I recall very distinctly as I was writing the book, many times tears would start flowing down my face, my guts would knot, and my chest tighten. Writing Unzipped was not like that. While there were certainly many frustrations during that time in my life, it was also so much fun to live through it. The glitz, glamour, the drugs. And of course I also met the woman who would become my first wife at Chippendales, she was the costume mistress, an extraordinarily beautiful, sexy, smart woman, who chose me over all those studs. To this day I can hardly believe it. In fact one of the most difficult things about writing Unzipped was trying to protect the anonymity of the men who I worked with. Everyone is so terrified of being sued these days, so I had to be very careful. Plus, I didn’t think it was fair to reveal things about them that they would not want revealed to the world. Many of them are married now and have children. They didn’t choose to write a book, I did. So it was a tremendous challenge to present all the facts, and to show the truth of what happened in that crazy, ridiculous world, while still respecting the privacy of these men. But I worked very very hard at doing that. And of course I did change the names and some of the physical characteristics of the men. But I had a wonderful time writing this book, I enjoyed it so much. I feel like I was very lucky to be right in the center of this moment in history, like I was Nero fiddling as Rome burned.

Q.: What are your next project’s?

A: Well, I have just written the twelve draft of the screenplay for Chicken, it’s being made into a movie by the producers who did the Peter Sellers movie with Geoffrey Rush. It’s pretty amazing to have gone from living it; to not talking about it for 20 years; to writing a book about it; to making a one-man show out of it and portraying all the characters: from the man who raped me, to my pimps, to the women who paid me to have sex with them; to now finally writing the screenplay and thinking about who’s going to play me in the movies. It looks like Jamie Bell, of Billy Elliot fame, is a prime candidate to play me as a 17-year-old rent boy. Naturally he’s a lot more handsome than I ever was. Also I have just finished putting together an anthology of writings by people who have worked in the sex industry, from college professors to homeless crack addicts, from goddess diva Annie Sprinkles to a 16-year-old girl who was sold into prostitution at the age of nine by her dad. I’m very proud of this book, I don’t think there’s ever been anything quite like it, and it comes out of my desire to humanize prostitutes, to show the real people behind the image that society glamorizes and reviles, to take away the stigma from people who have sex for money. At the same time I’ve written two books for 12-year-old girls, under a false name naturally. One is about how to throw a great pajama party, and the other a personality quiz book to help girls figure out exactly who they are and who they want to be, to encourage individuality and self expression in girls. And I just found an amazing illustrator for a graphic novel I’ve written. I’m also finishing up the second book in a series of young adult novels, again written under a pen name. And I’m just embarking on the third book in the trilogy I’m making out of my life. It’s about my time in show business and as a sex addict. Besides being the master of ceremonies at Chippendales, I made my living as a standup comedian, acted in a thousand TV and radio commercials, in dozens and dozens of plays, TV shows and movies, including The Fresh Prints of Bel Air, with Will Smith, worked with everyone from Michael Caine to Zippy the Chimp. I also had a three picture deal with Disney, and made a living as a screenplay writer in Hollywood. All the while I was running rampant sexually, having affairs with glamorous actresses and lovely college girls, going on sex binges with prostitutes that would last for weeks at a time. I tried to figure it out one time, I estimate I probably had sex with 1000 women. The amazing thing is that it was a lot less fun than you’d think it would be. But perhaps the most important project in my life is the new baby that’s on the way. It’s my first, it’s due September fifth, and I’m over the moon. I just could not be more excited about being a father. I’ve wanted to be a dad for a long time, but I knew I wasn’t ready, I couldn’t put someone else’s interests in front of my own, I was too twisted up inside. But now, with the help of my lovely and talented wife, I finally feel able to do that. Although I do worry sometimes what I’m going to say to my child when he asks me, “Should I be a gigolo like you when I grow up?” I haven’t quite figured out the answer to that question.


david chippendales promox3000w

Excerpt from Master of Ceremonies: a True Story of Love, Murder, Rollerskates and Chippendales (Grove Atlantic, Canongate), slightly tweaked.

Master of Ceremonies

1985. Smack dab in the middle of the cash-happy coke-crazy 80’s, a decade dedicated, if not to love, then certainly to sex and madness, when Girls Just Wanted to Have Fun and it was Raining Men, and we all sat around watching Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous, and Dallas and Dynasty, hey, greed’s good man, haven’t you heard? Let’s go watch Rambo blow away some gooks at the movies while we drink New Coke, and Michael Jackson’s hair catches on fire. Reagan, flush with the rush of re-election funds drug thugs while his designer-clad Stepford Wife First Lady gives grateful addicts everywhere the key to sobriety: Just Say No! In the midst of this flood of money, in San Diego a guy walks into a McDonald’s and guns down twenty citizens sucking down Happy Meals; while in Iowa a bankrupt farmer kills his wife, his neighbor and his banker. His wife and his neighbor I can understand. But his banker?

1985. That’s when I get hired to be the Master of Ceremonies at the greatest male stripping empire the world has ever known: Chippendales. You know, the too huge, half-nude dudes, in the tux cuffs’n’collars and skin-thin black Spandex with the bulging crotches, mountain peak pecs, 6-pack man wrack abs, and cheekbones for miles. When I first started working with these guys, every night when I walked into the club, I could actually feel my testicles shrivel.

Nick de Noia. He’s my boss, the visionary genius who transformed a dank dinky little male exotic revue into the Kingdom called Chippendales. He moves with the muscular grace of Gene Kelly, he’s got salty, peppery, perfectly-coiffed hair, eyes sparkling and shining, and a 20-gigawatt bright-white mile-wide smile beaming in the middle of it all. When I meet him, I really want him to like me. That’s the kind of guy he is. But I get the feeling he really hates me. That’s the kind of guy I am. Nick de Noia wants to change the world, liberate women so they can ogle, fondle and sexualize hot male flesh, to display their lust, and be celebrated for it. And, of course, he wants to get rich doing it. He rules through cruel brutish abuse, mixed with charming buttery flattery. He’s designed a life in which he’s surrounded with ridiculously handsome dudes who like to make $ taking their clothes off, and need him to love them. He presents aggressively hetero, has been married and divorced to and from supermodel movie star Jennifer O’Neil. Nick has sees himself as equal parts Julius Cesar, PT Barnum, the Marquis de Sade, and Bob Fosse. And this show is his legacy to the world.

My uniform is a tuxedo, cumberbund, tophat and roller skates. I’m the only one in the show who talks. It’s my job to skate around in circles in the Pit in front of 600 flesh-craving, money-waving, booze-fueled woman, as rampant blasts of estrogen slam off the walls. I have to teach them the most important thing in the show. When I yell, “Whattayaaa-wann’emmmmm-to do?” they yell, “TAKE IT AWFF!!!” “Whattttayaaa-wann’emmmmm-to do?” “TAKE IT AWFF!!!”

On my Opening Night the teeny tiny Dressing Room mirrored walls are cramjampacked with the man-skin of a dozen primping, preening, iron-pumping, oiled-up, slicked-down, tanning-bed-browned, blow-dried, hair-product-stiffened Men of Chippendales. It’s like being inside a thermo-nuclear Man device ready to blow.

In the corner stands a lanky Man with sandy hair wearing nothing but tux-cuffs’n’collar, and black spandex pants, unzipped. He pulls on his unsheathed penis like it’s modeling clay and he’s making it longer, one stroke at a time, until it’s at full extension. Then he meticulously lays his most prized possession on the inside on his thigh and snaps the spandex over it fast, yanking his pants shut, then quickly slithering his zipper over black Velcro-covered hip. Into a mirror he admires his throbbing Johnson knob, nodding his cocky head, like: Wow! I do look hot.

He’s just done the Dick Pull. The principle is simple: if you snap the spandex over your penis fast enough, you can cut off circulation to your member. In a correctly performed Dick Pull, the blood remains trapped in the penis, creating a permanently erect hammerheaded trousersnake.

The Man catches me checking him out. So he cocks his fud and busts a gust of loud foul gas that explodes out of him like a sick goose honking on a foggy morn. Then he scrunches up his face and squawks in a cartoon voice:

“Hey Ma, I fahted!”

Everybody cracks up. Well, not everybody. Only those not lost in the Mirrors of Narcissus.

I hee-haw and guffaw long after everyone else has stopped. I’m slightly embarrassed, but that vanishes when I realize no one is paying the slightest bit of attention to me. It’s a feeling I will become increasingly familiar with.

I hang up my green Cossack jacket and my black drawstring pants in my locker. Now I’m naked but for one red sock and one blue sock. I turn around. Caught in the mirror with all those beautiful nubile nudes is a puffy white MarshmallowMan.

I chuckle.

Marshmallow Man chuckles. I’m embarrassed for the guy. If only he could see how grotesque his pallid fatness is next to the Love Gods of Chippendales.

I stop smiling, and shake my head.

He stops smiling, and shakes his head.

Wait a minute-

OHHHHHH NOOOOOOO!

I AM THE MARSHMALLOW MAN!

Mortified, I grab my tux and hightail my fat ass into the Costume Room, disappearing like a chubby cottontail into the bush.

After I’m dressed and ready, I claw my way through the flesh-packed Dressing Room: duck a dumbbell, dodge a cock, and slither through all that oily hard tanned skin to my locker. As I pull on my roller skates, I’m interrupted by angry voices pounding out of the Upstairs Office, where all the $ lives. Can’t make out the words, but I can sure feel the rancorous anger.

Mister Nick de Noia busts outta the Upstairs Office door like a salt and pepper tsunami, and slams it so hard the wall shakes. He jams down the shitty rickety spiral staircase, and we hold our collective breath like a cranky psychokiller’s got a loaded Uzi in the room. Nick bumrushes pissed-off down the stairs, shoots through the Dressing Room, and yanks open the door. Music floods in. With another slam he’s gone, and the music mutes.

The Edwards Brothers, Nick’s NY $ partners, appear on the landing of the Upstairs Office, in their dark hair and suits. There’s a heaviness that hangs around the Edwards Brothers. The Old Gray Man, their silent partner, joins them on the landing, looking like a vulture that hasn’t eaten in a while. He’s 70 going on dead, with sickly thin translucent skin, a wicked comb-over covering his bald skull, and a big hook nose. A coke-laced Teen Queen in a little bitty miniskirt hangs from his withered arm in an I’m-hot-and-blowing-a-guy-old-enough-to-be-my-grandfather-for-coke kinda way.

I heave a sigh and roll out to start my first show. On Opening Night, when I roll into the Pit, there are bevies of bachelorettes, and blowsy bluebloods, coeds gone wild and booming grannies, models and supermodels, virgins and supervirgins. Shapes and colors swirl in shooting pools and points of light around the club, like a Monet painting of panting women during a lightning storm. The sheer volume of the vulvic volcano eruption that rumbles out of them is staggering. To this day, it’s still the most carnage-charged powderkegged atmosphere I’ve ever been in. A random picture pops out of the crowd: A wrinkled, pearled, high-collared Grandma with blue hair sits with her granddaughter, who’s got a mohawk that’s a remarkably similar shade of blue.

During the Construction Guy number, the mucho macho Construction Guy tenderly, lovingly, longingly lipsynchs the haunting Lionel Ritchie classic, “Hello?” to the red rose he holds. A Big Beautiful Sista wails like she’s just seen Jesus in a G-string. He parades her to the middle of the Pit, gets down on one knee and lipsynchs right into her eyes, “Hello, is it me you’re looking for?” while she screams and pants and Lawd Almighty’s. Naturally this ignites the moist center of the crowd, which flares and rages again. It’s great theater: a thick beauty getting to be all sexilicious in public, safely and sweetly, with no danger or shame. She really does seem to be releasing centuries of pent-up sexual repression and aggression. She really does seem to be having the time of her life. As do her friends. Looks like they’ll be telling this story for a very long time. And I think, Nick really did it: unleashed centuries of pent-u lust.

During my one break in the show, as I trundle and harrumph across the carpet on skates that won’t roll, a large mule-toothed blonde-bleached babe blocks my path. She has her hooks into Large Mark. He’s uber-pumped and ultra-cut, head neck and chest all swolled up, with a washboard man-rack belly. He’s a huge Terminator-type bodybuilder, complete with mammoth sweptback jacked-up hair. On Large Mark’s vast tanned back lives a constellation of angry little zits, an Orion’s Belt in pimples. Gotta be ‘roids: this dude is juicing big-time. Perhaps this would explain his black manic menstrual-like mood, and the muted but palpable diamond-hard rage beaming out of him. I shudder at the thought of his poor wee testes shriveling like grapes being dried into raisins. Bleach Blonde blocks Large Mark’s way, places her hand provocatively on his arm, glares hard into his eyes, and spouts, loud and proud, so everyone within earshot can hear: “I’ll pay ya 500 bucks to snort a line of coke off your dick.” This is officially my Welcome to Chippendales moment. Large Mark pulls out of her grip, curls a lip, and with a massive blast of snarling testosterone growls: “Hey, get the fuck awffa me!” Large Mark gives Bleach Blonde the big-time brush, and bumrushes away, leaving her standing in a cloud of his foul fumes. Immediately I have two thoughts: 1) Large Mark shoulda let her do it – $250 an inch is nothing to sneeze at; and 2) I’d pay good money just to watch her chop it up.

After the show, in the tiny mirror-walled Dressing Room, the Perfect Man stands totally nude in front of his huge Money Mountain, and it’s not just 1s and 5, there’s 50s and hundreds in there, on a good night the Perfect Man can make $1000 cash money, for thirty minutes work. My eyes wander down to his perfect ass, and I notice a sexy scar is crawling across one perfect cheek, and I’m thinking that is one sexy scar, damn! But on the other perfect cheek there are teeth marks: uppers and lowers, deep red and angry. Man, some chick really locks her jaws into his perfect ass. You could identify her dead body with those teeth marks. The scar. The bite mark. The mound of $. The risk and reward of LUST. America, wot a country!

On April 7, 1987 a man disguised as a messenger walks into my boss Nick de Noia’s office on 364 W. 40th Street and shoots him in the head, killing him dead. The cops interrogated all of us. When they asked me if I knew anybody who might wanted to have killed him, I said, “Do you want the short list or the long list?” I mean hell, I myself muttered that I’d like to kill Nick. But what does it take for someone to go from casually contemplating the murder of another human, to actually hiring a hitman to blow their brains all over a wall?

I used to wonder what made Nick de Noia so cruel and abusive. Until one time I dog-sat for Nick while he was in Japan, or Alaska, or Guam, expanding his male stripper kingdom. As far as I’m concerned, one of the great pleasures of apartment-sitting is getting to rummage through all the skeletons lurking and skulking in the dark corners of people’s closets. So me and Johnny, the Costume Mistress, and now my best friend, we’re are on a scavenger hunt to discover the dirt behind the man that is Nick de Noia. Sure enough, at the back of a closet, buried under a pile of innocuous tax returns, is a stack of magazines and videos. Get a load of the titles: Big Black Boys Uncut, Dark Meat & Dark Chocolate, Mandongo, Top Cock, and Big Black Boner III (I and II, sadly missing). I find myself wondering: Could you follow the story of Big Black Boner III if we haven’t seen the first two?

I recently went back to 61st and 1st, on the Upper Eastside of Manhattan, where the club used to be, to get a look at the old place. Turns out Chippendales has been replaced by a Bed, Bath & Beyond.


Excerpt from Master of Ceremonies: a True Story of Love, Murder, Rollerskates and Chippendales (Grove Atlantic, Canongate), slightly tweaked.

The Case of the Missing G-String

Slick Rick is wet from his champagne shower, naked but for one small shiny green g-string, dripping and radiating, his sleek muscle-pumped body engorged and pulsing, standing on a platform above the Pit, looking down at 600 flesh-craving money waving Ladies.

Ho hum. Another night at Chippendales, at the greatest male stripping empire the world has ever known. It’s 1985, and I am the Master of Ceremonies at the hottest show in NY, NY. Frankly, I’m fading. My happy I-love-everyone coke high I had an hour ago has long gone bye-bye, replaced by a chemical lockjaw poisoned discomfort sinking ill-defined lowness that has my face frowning for no apparent reason. I just have to get through Slick Rick’s Kiss & Tip, get the Perfect Man on and off, whip through the Grand Finale, and then I’m done for the night.

Because I’m a bit preoccupied waiting for Slick Rick to begin his Kiss & Tip, I don’t see exactly what happens next. But here are the facts as I’ve been able to reconstruct them.

When Slick Rick pulls on his g-string and threatens to take it all off, silently asking the Ladies with his face and body if they’d like to see his penis, like he does every night, the thin elastic that attaches the triangle of bright green fabric breaks, and the fabric droops forward.

Have you ever heard 600 women gasp as one? I hope you have the pleasure of that experience, because all that Lady lungpower drawing all that startled breath in at the same time is breathtaking.

Why the gasp? Because Slick Rick’s dick pops out. By the time I see it, the penis is already exposed, swinging, big and fleshy, about half-hard. I believe there is an illusion of erection, created by the Tie-Off, which, as I understand it, was first pioneered in male stripperdom in the wilds of Canada, where men are allowed Full Monty nudity. But it has certainly been used in various contexts for centuries. It’s a simple but dangerous technique. A thin leather or elastic strip is strapped around the base of the testicle/penal unit, when the unit is engorged with blood. When you tie-off, the blood is trapped in the unit. This creates the impression of erection, even when there is no sexual excitation. The danger comes when you tie-off too tight for too long. The penis begins to turn a frighteningly deep purple. Perhaps this is the origin of the expression blue balls. There’s a male stripper urban legend that one dim Canadian stripper woke up the morning after an alcoholic blackout to find his blackened cock popped off and laying like an andouille sausage on the floor.

I happen to know that Slick Rick was familiar with, and used, the Canadian Tie-off. I cannot say for sure that he Tied-Off that night, but from the look of his engorgement swinging around in front of all those shocked Ladies, I’d almost bet my left nut on it.

Slick Rick’s penis seems overjoyed to be released from its incarceration in that tiny g-string prison, looks like it’s ready to be adored and loved by the fawning female fans.

Holy shit, Nick’s gonna pitch a fit! That’s my first thought. Nick de Noia is our boss, the visionary genius who transformed a dank dinky shitty little male exotic revue into the Kingdom called Chippendales. Nick de Noia wants to change the world, liberate women so they can ogle, fondle and sexualize hot male flesh, to display their lust, and be celebrated for it. And, of course, he wants to get rich doing it. Nick sees himself as equal parts Julius Cesar, PT Barnum, the Marquis de Sade, and Bob Fosse. And this show is his legacy to the world. He rules through cruel brutish abuse, mixed with charming buttery flattery, and loves nothing more than to publicly humiliate ridiculously handsome men. I imagine he’s going to rip Slick Rick several new assholes. Hope I get to watch.

It’s been drummed into us that any public display of one silly millimeter of penis could result in Chippendales losing its cabaret license. Which would mean closing the show, killing the cash cow, slaying the golden-egg laying goose, and the unemployment of us all.

Bug-eyed jaw-dropped silence is followed by a piercing eruption of gleeful female screams. I still believe that pound-for-pound this is the loudest sound I’ve ever heard.

Slick Rick looks down at his unsheathed penis. Then back up in shocked surprise. But the whole thing feels planned, canned and reeks of pre-meditation. I have no evidence of this, it’s just the feeling I get: like Slick Rick rehearsed the moment. And he’s always so obsessively meticulous in his preparation. Plus he doesn’t cover up right away. He milks the hell out of his cock-flop: Wow, I can’t believe my penis popped out!

Finally, after what seems like about a month of Slick Rick’s naked flailing phallus flapping in the breeze, he hops off the platform, and disappears for a coupla seconds, then re-emerges wearing a new bright green g-string, and dives into his very lucrative Kiss & Tip.

Wait a minute. If Slick Rick didn’t plan this whole fiasco beforehand, why was there a stashed g-string all ready for him to slither into?

“It’s Hide the Salami night here at Chippendales!” I scream my ad lib into the absurdly expensive mic, and that gets a nice rise outta those who are paying attention.

And the show goes on.

Slick Rick makes a bloody fortune during his Kiss & Tip. Hundreds of green shoots sprout up and wave in the wind. Slick Rick harvests the cash crop with kisses. A beautiful bride-to-be shoves bills into his G-string like it’s a bank and she’s making direct deposits. Then he buzzes like a sweet bee straight to Big Alice’s honey. She’s the regular’s regular, big and thick and in the Pit more nights than not. She buries her face in his new G-string, nose-deep in dick. With a huge Comedia d’elle Arte-sized surprise-face Slick Rick plays the whole room as the roar deafens.

Classic de Noia: the bawdy, lip-to-lip with the silly, it ends up being naughty instead of graphic, teasing instead of sleazy. Nick in a nutshell.

Slick Rick rubs up against Big Alice like a housebroken 3-balled cat, and the place goes ballistic. It’s like I’m in the cockpit of a rocket fueled by pure Lady love.

When Big Alice shake’n’bake shimmies, a dollar peeking out of her cleavage takes on a life of its own. She plants Slick Rick’s face like a flag in the continent of her décolletage. When he moves his head away from Big Alice’s heavy cleavage he has the Magic Dollar clamped in his teeth. It’s actually attached to another dollar with tape you can’t see. And that dollar’s attached to another dollar. Which is attached to another dollar. As he pulls on the line of dollar bills they snake magically out of Big Alice’s cleavage. It’s the old endless-handkerchief gag, only with money and breasts, instead of kerchief and pocket. Looks like a moving Escher painting.

The Ladies give Slick Rick much love as he takes Big Alice back to her seat on the Pit bench, kisses her hand like an old-fashioned chivalrous gentleman in a G-string.

This is the philosophy of Nick de Noia. Don’t bring the thin beautiful babe out into the Pit. Bring on the large Lady live wire, the Big Alice. Celebrate the sexiness of the fat and the homely and the old and the lonely.

As Slick Rick bows and trots off, his two beautiful ass cheeks disappears into the Dressing Room. He makes over $1,000 in cash that night for twenty minutes work.

By the time I finish slogging through the rest of the show I’m irritated, annoyed, exhausted, disillusioned, dehydrated, and I’ve fallen out of love with life. But I’m very curious about the fallout from Slick Rick’s missing G-string incident.

When I enter the Dressing Room Sloppy Sam, the stage manager, and the man ultimately responsible for the bolts and nuts of the show, is already grilling Slick Rick. Much to the amusement of the uber-huge Large Mark and longleanlanky Larry Glitter, who seem hungry for the blood of Slick Rick, the man they love to hate.

Slick Rick defends himself vehemently. A bit too vehemently: methinks the Lady doth protest too much.

“No, I swear to God, the thing just came apart. I guess it was loose. I don’t know, man, but I just did what I do every night, and all of a sudden, the thing just came apart.”

Sloppy Sam shakes his disgusted head:

“Look, all it takes is one chick to complain. Or one cop to be here under cover, or whatever, and they yank the fucking cabaret license, and they shut us down, and-”

“I know, man, but it’s not my fault, the thing just came apart, it just came apart-”

The way Slick Rick keeps repeating the phrase ‘the thing just came apart’ seems highly suspicious to me. But again that is strictly subjective speculation.

“I don’t give a fuck.” Sloppy Sam is seriously hot under the tux collar. “It was your dick that popped the fuck out, and if it happens again, you’re gonna get suspended for sure, and fired, if I have anything to say about it. You understand?”

“That’s not fair, man. It wasn’t my fault,” Slick Rick’s all palms-up-shrugging, bunny-eyed innocence.

“I don’t give a fuck. Don’t let it happen again. You understand?” Sloppy Sam demands.

“The thing just came apart, man-” Slick insists.

“Do. You. Understand?” Sloppy Sam looks like he’s ready to rearrange Slick Rick’s pretty face.

“Yeah, sorry, sure-” Slick Rick starts to say something else, then thinks better of it. The effort brings a twitch to his lip, then his eye, as he cracks several knuckles.

Sloppy Sam storms off into the Costume Room to confront Johnny, the Costume Mistress. She’s a 20ish wildchild Latina Marilyn Monroe, and my best friend at Chippendales. I exchange a glance with Arnolpho d’Alencar Araripe Pimenta de Mello, a Brazilian back-up dancer, and my second best friend at Chippendales. Arnolpho does a little Brazilian headshake eyeroll, silently indicating that he’s not buying a word of Slick Rick’s story.

Large Mark, all pumped up like a ‘roiding blowfish, strides right into Slick Rick’s face, invading his personal space.

Slick Rick tries to hold his ground, but a twitch in his right eye betrays him.

“If I find out you did dis shit on poipose, I’m gonna kick yer ass awll de way up Foist Avenue, you unnuhstand?”

“Hey man, I didn’t-” Slick Rick gets shut down quick.

“Shut de fuck up!” Large Mark growls.

Slick Rick shuts the fuck up.

“If dis shit evvuvh happens again, dat’s it!”

Large Mark makes a massive fist and swings it at Slick Rick’s jaw. Slick flinches back into the locker behind him with a bang. Large stops the fist an inch before it smashes into Slick Rick’s face.

“Hey, what the hell!” Slick Rick protests.

But Large Mark is already gone. Larry Glitter follows smugly shooting a sneer at Slick Rick as he trails like the tail of a comet.

Danger momentarily averted, the Men go back to the task at hand: sorting and counting their mountains of $, while I retreat to the Costume Room, to see if Johnny needs the Cavalry.

“No fucking way, man!” Johnny’s utterly adamant, shaking her krazy kurls. “I checked that g-string tonight, I swear to God. And before he went on, I saw Slick Rick fucking with the seam. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but now it totally makes sense.” She doesn’t look like she’s fibbing. But maybe Johnny’s just an excellent fibber. Still, she doesn’t have that shakiness that guilty people so often display. That Slick Rick just displayed. She has more of the I’m-being-framed-and-I’m-not-going-down-without-a fight vibe about her.

Sloppy Sam purses his lips, shakes his deeply troubled head, then says:

“Where’s the g-string?”

“He says it’s gone,” Johnny nods her head slow, like she’s not buying a word of it, that in fact Slick Rick losing the g-string is more proof of her innocence and his guilt.

“What do you mean it’s gone?” Sloppy Sam’s making sure he has all the facts straight for the Nick De Noia Inquisition he knows is on its way.

“As soon as I heard what happened, I tried to get my hands on that g-string, to see if he really did fuck with it, like I saw him fucking with it. And all of a sudden, it’s gone. He can’t find it. Yeah, right,” Johnny’s face can barely contain her disgust.

Sloppy Sam mulls, gives a little tsk, then exclaims:

“Aw fuck!”

Johnny shakes her disgusted curls, picks up some funky fur leggings and angrily dumps them in the fur legging box, then stops and proclaims::

“Unfuckin’believable… un… fuckin’… believable…”

Suddenly Arnolpho flits dramatically into the room:

“Ohhhhhh, you should hhhave seen Miss Thing!”

He launches into a spot-on Slick Rick impression:

“It wasn’t my fault! I don’t know what happened, really I don’t. The thing just came apart, and next thing I know, my cock just popped right out!”

Arnolpho becomes Slick Rick standing there with his dick accidentally-on-purpose out, making a big-eyed face while miming an exposed penis so well you can almost see it.

O, how we laugh, Johnny and I, really let loose.

“Ohhhhhhh bay-bee,” Arnolpho touches Johnny on her chest while placing his other hand over his own heart. “You shoulda seen hhher, what a performance! Miss Slick better hope she never has to testify on hhher own behalf cuz hhhoney, it’s gonna be, ‘Guilty! Guilty! Guilty’!”

“Oh my God!!” Johnny gasps through her laughs.

Luckily for him, Slick Rick was never put on trial for exposing himself, and as far as I know, he completely got away with it.

Nick de Noia, on the other hand, was not so lucky.

On April 7, 1987 a man disguised as a messenger walks into my boss Nick de Noia’s office on 364 W. 40th Street and shoots him in the head, killing him dead. The cops interrogated all of us. When they asked me if I knew anybody who might wanted to have killed him, I said, “Do you want the short list or the long list?” I mean hell, I myself muttered that I’d like to kill Nick. But what does it take for someone to go from casually contemplating the murder of another human, to actually hiring a hitman to blow their brains all over a wall? Turns out: money. Seems Nick’s money partner, Steven Banarghee, was so convinced that Nick fucked him over, that he had Nick assassinated. Banerghee went to prison, where he hung himself.

The Case of the Missing G-string, on the other hand, remains unsolved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gayle Shanks of Changing Hands Bookstore on How Writers Can Work with Booksellers to Achieve Success

We first met Gayle Shanks when we did an event at her bookstore Changing Hands in Tempe, Arizona. Never having been to Tempe, our expectations were low. Our expectations were blown out of the water. They packed the place. We were duly impressed. Turns out Gayle and Changing Hands have managed to make themselves an essential part of their community. They’ve got a phenomenal collection of books, amazing T-shirts and merchandise, and a wildly knowledgeable staff that absolutely loves books. They also bring in fantastic authors to do events, and really encourage self-publishers. So we thought we’d sit down and have a conversation with Gayle to see exactly how she has managed to keep her bookstore thriving, and in fact expanding at this moment in history when people keep trumpeting the death knell of the bookstore.

2013-04-06-staffgayle.jpg
The Book Doctors: So, what prompted you to get into the ridiculous book business in the first place?

Gayle Shanks: When we started thinking about selling books it wasn’t a ridiculous business. Publishers and booksellers were thriving in 1974. There were dozens of independent stores in most cities and people were reading and and buying books. The chains, Borders and Barnes and Noble were smaller and named B. Dalton and Walden Books. They were mostly in shopping centers and didn’t seem to have a large impact on booksellers on Main Streets. Our stores for the most part were small, intimate spaces catering to our local communities and building readers from childhood through old age.

How has the book business changed since you first got into it?

Dramatically. In addition to the “B” chains expanding throughout the country and knocking out the local stores with their over zealous number of stores and retail selling space, Amazon joined the ranks in the 90s and changed the way the public thought about buying books. It’s not necessary to write about the impact Amazon has had but more interesting I think is the innovative ways that indie stores have struggled and evolved and managed to stay around in spite of the stiff and often unfair practices from the chains.

We keep hearing how bookstores are in terrible shape, but we’ve noticed that there are certain bookstores that are going gangbusters, and we would definitely put Changing Hands into that category. What do you do to keep your bookstore relevant and booming?

We change every day in small and large ways. We respond to trends, to our customers’ suggestions, to our employees ideas, to our community’s desires. We think outside the box and have made our store a destination, a Third Place for people to hang out, interact, bring their children, meet authors, have fun. We are an event producer and have over 400 events — large and small — each year inside and for really large events, outside our store. Our gift department with larger profit margins keeps books on our shelves longer and have helped create Changing Hands as a one-stop shopping experience for our customers. We provide gifts for all major holidays and birthday party presents for many, many children in our town. Books and gifts are a natural together and compliment one another. Our used books and remainders offer bargains for those who can’t afford full price new titles and the quality and quantity of them on our shelves offer people lots of choices and price points.

What mistakes do you see amateur writers making over and over again?

Oh so many mistakes — bad covers, not finding a good editor, writing a story that is great for their family but has no commercial appeal, bad writing in general, boring stories. And, an unwillingness or no knowledge of how to market the book once they have written it. It’s a very hard world for writers and self-published writers have an even harder time than those who can find agents and publishers to support them.

What things do you see professional writers do that help them become successful?

They learn to speak well in public. They are great social media people with followers on Twitter and Facebooks and they write great blogs. They interact with their readers and encourage them to share their books with their friends. They befriend their local bookseller and establish relationships with them that will carry over book after book. They make connections with key buyers at indie stores all over the country and cultivate those connections.

When you read a book, what attracts you and what repels you, in terms of putting it on your shelves?

Good writing and an interesting subject always attract me initially, but I have so many books to read that the arc of the story or good character development must happen quickly or I go on to something else. I am always looking for new authors and rely on my sales reps and fellow buyers to alert me to new books coming own the pike. I relish books by authors that I’ve read and loved and can’t wait for them to write another book. Sometimes I’m disappointed but usually not. I read about a book a week and 52 books isn’t that many to read in a year when there are so many published. I have to be somewhat selective but rarely go a day without starting something new. I have a book on CD in my car at all times and listen as I drive even though my commute is only about 10 minutes.

What you see as the future of books and publishing?

I think people are always going to read and I think the trend of reading on devices is going to be short-lived beyond those whose eyesight prohibits them from reading physical books. I think people are tired of staring at computer screens all day and will, after a few more years, not choose them as the way to read for pleasure. E-books will work for long trips to Europe when the weight of many books is too unwieldy for our suitcases but reading in bed and on the beach and on the couch, in my humble opinion, is best done with a book resting on my stomach or in my lap while I sit on a beach chair.

We understand you’re expanding, how did that come about?

A huge hole exists in our community now that most of the chains have left central Phoenix. Most of the indie stores were closed years ago because they weren’t supported by customers who became enthralled with Amazon and buying ‘cheaper’ at the chains. People have been begging us to open a Phoenix store for years now and the opportunity came up when a developer whose vision of a gathering place for the community centered on a bookstore asked us to partner with them on a project that will be truly exciting, innovative and creative. We are rehabbing an old adobe building and it will include our store, a great restaurant and a collaborative/flexible office space. We are planning a store that is smaller by half the size our current store and it will be carefully curated and include a wine and beer bar as well as a commons area where we can host events. The building is across the street from a light rail stop, will include lots of bike racks and we will encourage the urban shopper to
‘think green’ and shop locally.

What can writers do to connect with their local independent bookstore, and why should they?

Buy books at our stores — not on Amazon. Encourage their friends to do the same. Give readings at our stores. Converse with our customers. Suggest books to the buyers that they are reading and are excited about. Don’t stop talking about how important indie stores are to the community of readers and writers. Understand that without indie stores there will be no discovery of new authors, no support of mid-list writers, no venue for discussion and discourse. No young readers growing up attached to their booksellers and their books.

We hate to ask, but what advice do you have for writers?

Keep writing great books so those of us addicted to reading great books can look forward to the next great read. Stay true to your profession and study it. Learn from your mentors and favorite authors. Stay connected to the culture.

When Gayle Shanks isn’t not working in her garden, she is usually reading or watching reruns of West Wing and ER. She loves contemporary fiction, mysteries and memoirs. Occasionally you’ll find her reading essays by people like Malcolm Gladwell, Paco Underhill, Daniel Pink or John McPhee.

Caroline Leavitt with The Book Doctors

Caroline Leavitt On Overcoming Nasty Writing Teachers, How to Write a Bestseller and Never Giving Up

We first met Caroline Leavitt at the Miami Book Festival. If you ever have the chance to go to the Miami Book Festival, do yourself a favor and don’t pass up the opportunity. Not only is it one of the great international book festivals in the world, it’s also the kind of place you run into people like Caroline Leavitt. Not only is she an incredibly accomplished novelist, she’s also a crackerjack human being. Lots of writers tend to be shy at best — standoffish, churlish and surly at worst. Caroline is the exact opposite. She welcomes you with open arms. If you don’t believe me, just go to her Facebook page. It’s a continuous font of information, fun and love. And she’s also that rare bird who’s managed to somehow write literary novels that sell. So we decided to take a little peek into her world and see what makes Caroline Leavitt tick.

2013-03-18-262972_10150748066345252_1826165_n.jpg

THE BOOK DOCTORS: How did you get into the book business to begin with?

CAROLINE LEAVITT: I was an outcast in suburbia with three big strikes against me: I was the only Jewish kid in a Christian neighborhood (my mother had to march up to the school to complain about a second grade test that asked questions about Jesus), I was sickly with asthma, and I was smart (only 10 percent of my high school went on to college. The rest joined the navy or got pregnant). I learned to live in books and I discovered I could keep myself from being beaten up by making up stories! The first time I told a story in front of the 5th grade and they didn’t throw spitballs at me or threaten me, I thought, how cool is this? This is what I want to do! But of course I heard no, no, no. When I got to Brandeis, I studied with this famous writer who told me I’d never make it. He used to slam my work in class while tears streaked my face, but I refused to leave the class. The day I published my first novel, I sent it, along with a rave NYT review to the professor, saying, “Hey, you were wrong.” He wrote back and said, “Oh, I just wanted to make you angry enough to keep pushing on.” I laughed and didn’t write back. I kept writing and writing and every week, those stupid self addressed stamped envelopes would bounce back with rejections. One day they came back and I ripped them both up into pieces. I happened to look down and there was one tiny, shining word: CONGRATULATIONS. I had sold a story and that story got me an agent, which got me my first novel.

TBD: What are some of the some of things you enjoy about writing?

CL: The fact that I can live other lives. The fact that I don’t have to dress coherently to do it. The fact that it keeps me sane. I write about what haunts me and I write the books I myself am dying to read. I love it. I can’t think of anything I’d rather do.

TBD: How do you turn off the voice in your head that says you suck?

CL: What makes you think I can? I can’t turn that voice off. It is always in my head. It always goads me to get online and compare myself to other writers. It pushes me into all sorts of magic thinking like tarot card spells and prayers to the universe: please don’t let me suck. My big revelation was one day when I got the best review I ever received in my life from the Cleveland Plain Dealer — they thought I was a genius! And then five minutes later, I got the worst review I ever received from the Phil. Inquirer who loathed everything the CPD had loved. I had a moment when I realized, not everyone is going to love me. I try to tell myself to go deeper, to just write and write and write about what matters to me, to not think about readers and critics or anything but the story. And I eat a lot of chocolate.

TBD: Do you ever get writer’s block, and if so would you do about it?

CL: I never get it. I’m always working and there’s never enough time!

TBD: Do you ever make decisions in your book based on what you think is going to make the book more commercially successful?

CL: Never. Not ever. You can’t second guess what is going to be commercially successful. You have to write the book you want to write. And wait, actually. My third novel, for a publisher that went out of business, I was pushed into writing a book that was “more commercially.” It got only two reviews, both of them so terrible I could barely leave my apartment for months, and the book died soon after. After that I vowed to never ever write anything I didn’t feel.

TBD: Do you outline your stories or do you make it up as you go?

CL: I’m big on story structure. I studied with John Truby, who mapped out story by means of moral wants and needs, and that’s what I do. Hey, so does John Irving.

TBD: Do you finish the whole draft before you go back and edit, or do you edit as you go?

CL: I do both. I edit as I go, and I must do about ten thousand drafts. Well, more like 23. And I’m serious about that.

I love rewriting because that is where and how you discover the story. It’s like you have this skeleton and you get to put flesh on it and hair and clothes and really wonderful jewelry.

TBD: You have such a fun Facebook life, what is your guiding principle in social media?

CL: Being honest. You can tell when people are trying to do what they think they should do. I’m intensely curious about everyone’s lives and I want to get to know a lot of people. I also don’t hesitate to say how I feel or what’s going on. I am who I am. (Popeye 101) I spend so much time every day alone and writing, that social media is my water cooler. I crave contact.

TBD: Were you working on right now?

CL: My novel Is This Tomorrow, about a 1950s suburb, paranoia and a vanished child, is coming out in May, so I’m doing all this prepublicity type stuff, and I sold my next novel, Cruel Beautiful World (thanks to my 16-year-old for the title!), to Algonquin on the basis of a first chapter and an outline. So I’m writing that now, deeply immersed in that moment in when the ’60s turned into the ’70s and things got ugly.

TBD: Where you see the future of books going?

CL: I think it’s going to boom. People love stories. They need stories. More people are reading on ereaders. I know a few NYT bestsellers who self-published their next book to have more control. Maybe I’m stupidly optimistic but I can’t imagine a world without books.

TBD: I hate to do this to you, but you have any advice for writers?

CL: Yep. Never ever give up. Don’t listen to all the no’s but keep writing. Keep writing. My career was over, so I thought, when my ninth novel, Pictures of You, was rejected by my then publisher as not being “special enough.” I had no sales. No one knew who I was. I called all my friends in tears and one suggested her editor at Algonquin. So I wrote up a paragraph about the book and sent it to her. She liked it and a few weeks later, she bought it and all of Algonquin was doing the unthinkable–the thing that had never happened to me–treating me with respect. They took that unspecial book and turned it into a NYT bestseller and a USA Today ebook bestseller and it got on the Best Books of 2011 lists from the San Francisco Chronicle, the Providence Journal, Bookmarks Magazine and Kirkus Review. I feel like I’m the poster girl for second chances.

Caroline Leavitt is the author of many novels, several of which have been optioned for film, translated into different languages, and condensed in magazines. Her ninth novel, Pictures of You, was a New York Times bestseller, and was also on the Best Books of 2011 lists from the San Francisco Chronicle, the Providence Journal, Bookmarks Magazine and Kirkus Reviews. Her new novel, Is This Tomorrow, will be published May 2013 by Algonquin Books. Cruel Beautiful World will be published sometimes in 2015 by Algonquin. Her essays, stories, book reviews and articles have appeared in Modern Love in the New York Times, Salon, Psychology Today, the New York Times Sunday Book Review, People, Real Simple, New York Magazine, the San Francisco Chronicle, Parenting, the Chicago Tribune, Parents, Redbook, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe and numerous anthologies. She won First Prize in Redbook Magazine’s Young Writers Contest, was a 1990 New York Foundation of the Arts Award, a National Magazine Award nominee for personal essay, and is a recent first-round finalist in the Sundance Screenwriting Lab competition for her script of Is This Tomorrow. She teaches novel-writing online at both Stanford University and UCLA, as well as working with writers privately. She lives in Hoboken, New Jersey, New York City’s unofficial sixth borough, with her husband, the writer Jeff Tamarkin, and their teenage son Max.

David Henry Sterry on Salon: How Writing a Book Led to the Love of my Life

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/

mort morte coverx3000wxzp“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.

The Book Doctors talk with Powell’s Kevin Sampsell about Publishing, Bookselling & Writing

We first met Kevin Sampsell when David did his tour for his first memoir Chicken. On his Portland stop, David was scheduled to read at Powell’s, one of the great bookstores not only in America, but in the known universe. He went to college in Portland, and started going to Powell’s when he was an undergraduate, dreaming that someday he might write a book that would live on those hallowed shelves. So it was kind of a dream come true when he saw his name on the marquee of Powell’s. Kevin was Powell’s events coordinator at the time, and he was so nice to David, made him feel right at home, gave him a great introduction, and they bonded as only two book nerds can. We found out that in fact Kevin is also a well-known writer, as well as a publisher. Since he’s worn so many books hats, we thought we would pick his brain about publishing, books, writing, and all that jazz.

THE BOOK DOCTORS: What have you learned about being a writer by working at Powell’s, quite possibly the greatest bookstore on the planet?

KEVIN SAMPSELL: One thing I discovered is that the book world is vast. It’s easy to walk around the store–even the room with literature and poetry, where I work most often–and feel overwhelmed. I sometimes wonder if what I create as a writer will leave any sort of dent. There’s really no way of knowing, so I just have to keep going. But having a couple of my books on the shelf among the million other books is something at least. It’s an honor to be in there, as an employee and as an author. It’s kind of surreal actually.

TBD: What have you learned about being a writer by watching a million writers do events at Powell’s?

KS: I’ve heard a lot of great success stories from writers–how so many of them struggled to get where they are and how persistence pays off. I learned that some writers are good at doing readings and some are not so good at it. I actually just started writing an article where I ask some of my favorite readers how they got so good. There are definitely some tricks and techniques to a good reading. Rewarding the audience that shows up to your reading is very important and you can’t be boring or ungrateful.

TBD: What have you learned about being a publisher by being a writer?

KS: I learned that you have to respect how much time and work a writer has put into their book. I always give the writer I’m publishing a good deal of control in shaping the book and figuring out how it looks, but I’ll make suggestions on how to make it stronger. It’s very important the book is theirs and comes out as good as they want it to, or better. I try to be a lot of things for the authors I work with–a careful reader, a helpful friend who also happens to be an experienced writer, a thoughtful editor, and a creative midwife.

TBD: What have you learned about being a publisher by being a bookseller?

KS: A lot of little details, like how to price a book. I’ve always tried to keep my cover prices on the low side. I’m more interested in getting people to read the books we publish and less interested in the profit margin. Also, that presentation (good cover and interior design) turns out beautiful and professional. Catchy titles can be important too.

TBD: What have you learned about being a bookseller by being a writer?

KS: Just like writers can have a lot of different styles, so can readers. It’s hard to pigeonhole book buyers.

TBD: What have you learned about being a bookseller by being a publisher?

KS: Poetry doesn’t sell. Just kidding. There is some truth to that statement, but not always and not everywhere. I think one thing I’ve learned, as dorky and obvious as this sounds: People who like cool books are usually really cool people.

TBD: What mistakes do you see writers make over and over and over?

KS: Probably the same mistakes I make as a writer–having certain crutch words and phrases, saying something I said ten pages before, going flat at times when there’s a chance for the prose to do something exciting or unpredictable. I also see a lot of writers who complain when their book doesn’t sell and the reason that happens sometimes, is they don’t know how to publicize or promote themselves. A writer is more successful when they’re involved in their literary community somehow. It’s very easy for an author’s book to fade away if they don’t get out in public and meet people.

TBD: How has the book business changed since you first started as a bookseller, a publisher and a writer?

KS: A lot has changed. I started my press in the 90s and I wasn’t even using a computer yet. I would do cut and paste layout on our first chapbooks. Even in the last five years, I feel like a lot has changed–ebooks are a much more valid format and bigger presses are taking less chances. As a bookseller, there are less real bookstores and more people buying on-line. As a writer, I think there are fewer paths to break through on a big press, but on the other hand there are more small presses doing awesome work now. Overall, artistically, I think it’s a pretty exciting time in the literary world.

TBD: Where do you see the future of books going?

KS: I have a very positive outlook on things. It’s hard to predict how actual books are going to do but I’m not freaked out about ebooks taking over. I think there are probably more active readers now because of computers and iPhones or what-have-you. One thing that is sometimes forgotten in this “future of books” discussion is that there are all these awesome presses–big and small–that are producing and designing amazing books. Everyone from Chronicle and McSweeney’s to Ugly Duckling Presse, Rose Metal, Spork, Poor Claudia, and countless other folks who make books that are like art. People who love to letterpress their own covers and use thread and needle to sew their very own books. It’s a crazy and beautiful part of the book world that a lot of people don’t really know about.

TBD: We hate to do this to you, but you have any advice for writers?

KS: Read as much as you write. Go out and meet other writers. Look for stories in everything around you–music, movies, family, strangers, your bus ride to work, and of course the streets. Also–keep moving forward, keep creating new things. Leave evidence of yourself in this world. Imagine what your legacy could be and try to create it.

Kevin Sampsell is the author of the memoir, A Common Pornography (2010 Harper Perennial), and the short story collection, Creamy Bullets (Chiasmus) and the editor of the anthology, Portland Noir (Akashic). Sampsell is the publisher of the micropress, Future Tense Books, which he started in 1990. He has worked at Powell’s Books as an events coordinator and the head of the small press section for fifteen years. His essays have appeared recently in Salon, The Faster Times, Jewcy, and The Good Men Project. His fiction has been published in McSweeney’s, Nerve, Hobart, and in several anthologies. His novel, This is Between Us, will publish with Tin House Books in November. He lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife and son.

 

The Book Doctors with Smashwords Mark Coker on e-Books, Good Writing & Bad Mistakes

 

SW_Horz_Color smallI first met Mark Coker over the Internet. Which seems appropriate, given how he has done such great things for writers in the world of ebooks. I was trying to upload a book onto his company’s website, Smashwords. I have a problem formatting files. I’m very bad at it. It’s a weakness. I’m not proud of it. But the first step is admitting you have a problem.

MarkCokerSmashwords-smallThat day, I got very frustrated and sent a flaming email full of vicious vitriol and a few flagrant f-bombs. I expected to get back some generic, useless response, which is what you almost always get back from e-companies. Imagine my surprise when the president of the company himself, Mark Coker, emailed me back. He was so helpful and kind and nice. I was completely embarrassed. It led me to formulate a strategy for what to do when I get flamed — and believe me, I get flamed online every day. Now, before I respond, I think, “What would Mark Coker do?” And I try to give my flamer some love. You’d be shocked by how many times it works wonders.

So, I resolved my formatting issues quite easily in the end, and I put my book up on Smashwords. It was so cool — they put your book up, for free, on all these different platforms: Kobo, Kindle, Nook, Sony, Apple. FOR FREE! Then we were lucky enough to meet him in, of all places, Wichita, Kansas. We were both presenting at an event put on by the Kansas Writers Association. If you ever get the chance to see him live, do yourself a favor and avail yourself of that opportunity. Despite his mild-mannered alter ego, he’s kind of a superhero of electronic books. He knows so much about them, has

Mark Coker, Founder of Smashwords

such wise advice for readers, and has smart and often counterintuitive things to say about the future of books particularly at this moment in history, when the publishing industry seems a lot like the Wild West. It was a pleasure getting to know him in person, and we are very honored that he agreed to this interview. If you take nothing else from this, just remember, when someone flames you and you feel like lashing out electronically, think: “What would Mark Coker do?”

 

Mark Coker, Founder of Smashwords
BOOK DOCTORS: What made you start Smashwords?

MARK COKER: Several years ago, my wife and I wrote Boob Tube, a novel that explores the wild and wacky world of daytime television soap operas. My wife is a former reporter for Soap Opera Weekly magazine. We were repped by one of the top NY literary agencies, but after two years, they were unable to sell it to a publisher. Previous soap opera-themed novels hadn’t performed well in the marketplace, so publishers were reluctant to take a chance on us. Our agent suggested we consider self-publishing in print. The idea sounded reasonable at first, but then I realized that without the backing of a major publisher, it would be impossible to get widespread distribution into brick and mortar bookstores, and without distribution, we wouldn’t reach readers. I pondered our conundrum and realized there was a bigger problem at play: Traditional publishers are unable, unwilling and disinterested in take a risk on every writer. Each year, they reject hundreds of thousands of writers, and many of these writers are writing great books. The more I thought about the problem, the more I realized how broken the publishing industry had become. Publishers owned the printing press and the access to distribution, and they alone wielded the power to decide which writers would graduate to become published authors, and what books readers could read. I started to imagine a solution to the problem, and that’s how I came up with the idea of Smashwords. My idea was to create a free ebook publishing platform that would make it free and easy for any writer, anywhere in the world, to instantly publish an ebook. We launched Smashwords in early 2008. The author controls all the rights, sets the price, earns 85% or more of the net proceeds, and receives distribution to major ebook stores such as the Apple iBookstore, Barnes & Noble, Sony and Kobo. Readers decide what’s worth reading.

Our first year, we published 140 books. Our catalog grew to 6,000 in 2009, 28,000 in 2010, 92,000 in 2011, and now, is about 200,000. Our authors routinely hit the top 10 bestsellers at the major retailers, and in 2012, several Smashwords authors even hit the New York Times bestseller list.

BD: Has working with so many writers changed how you write a new book?

MC: The experience has been humbling. He represent most of the bestselling self-published authors. Some of these authors earn thousands of five-star reviews from readers. They’re outselling some of the biggest names in publishing. They inspire me to become a better writer. Since founding Smashwords, I’ve put my own fiction writing on hold and have instead focused on writing books about e-publishing best practices. The best practices I share come directly from our authors.

BD: As a husband-and-wife team, we’ve written seven books together. What was it like writing a novel with your wife?

MC: It was an incredible experience. The two of us moved to Los Angeles for two months to interview soap industry insiders for their stories and dirt. Would you believe there was a soap actress who ate cotton balls as a diet aid? It’s true. Or a manager who raped his actress client when she refused to show him the boob job he purchased for her? After completing our research, we moved to a cabin in the woods of Vermont for four months to fictionalize these and other stranger-than-life stories.

People are surprised when I say this, but co-authorship was a harmonious experience for us, made all the more enjoyable because we were sharing the journey. I imagine the Sterry/Eckstutt team works with equal harmony, otherwise you wouldn’t have written books six through seven together!

The writing process was fun. We plotted the story on big storyboards, and then broke scenes and situations into chapters, and then assigned each other a new chapter each morning. At the end of the day, we’d swap laptops and edit each other, and then swap again for more edits. Our characters took on lives of their own and by the end of the book, the story was much different than we expected. Our first draft was nearly 1,000 glorious pages, and we thought it was great. I note this embarrassing fact to share how completely clueless we were! Thanks to the guidance of some smart book doctors, editors and beta readers, we completed multiple rewrites and revisions over the next couple years. With each revision, we were surprised how much the book improved. I’m a believer in multiple revisions! Finally, the book was ready to shop to agents. In the end, we had multiple agents offering us representation.

BD: What do you think are some of the most important things an author can do to connect with their tribe of readers?

MC: Write a book that moves the reader. Blow their mind and make them scream, “wow!” If you can elicit mad passion in the hearts of your readers, your readers will connect you with more readers through their rave reviews and word of mouth. If you earn mad passion, your readers won’t just suggest their friends read the book, they’ll command their friends to read it. If your friend tells you, “You NEED to read this book now,” there’s no better endorsement.

If an author does nothing else, write an incredible book. That’s 90% of the battle. The other 10% I’d divide into the following four essential items:

1. Give the book a professional, genre-appropriate cover image. Your cover image should be as good or better than what the large NY publishers are putting out. Last year, we documented an example of a Smashwords author, R.L. Mathewson, who simply updated her cover image and it catapulted her to the NY Times bestseller list. This wouldn’t have happened if she hadn’t already written a super-awesome book. A good cover image makes a promise to the reader. It tells the reader, “This is the book you’re looking for.” A poor or inadequate cover image discourages a prospective reader from clicking further. A poor cover makes your book less accessible, less desirable.

2. Distribute your book to every major ebook retailer. Every retailer wants to carry self-published books. Different books break out at different retailers at different times. When you distribute your book everywhere, you maximize the opportunity for readers to discover your book. Unless you’re already an established author with a large fan base and following, most of your sales will come from serendipitous discovery. Readers will browse their favorite bookstore to look for their next read, or their follow the social media hyperlinks of their friends’ book recommendations.

3. Price low. This is where indie authors have an extreme advantage over traditionally-published authors. Indie authors can price at FREE, $.99, $2.99 or $3.99. It’s difficult for traditional publishers to compete at these price points. Low prices make your book more accessible and more affordable to more readers, and since you’re self-published, you’re earning a royalty of 85-100% net vs the 25% net of traditional publishers. Based on our research, which is also conforms to basic common sense, lower-priced books generally sell more units than higher-priced books. More unit sales means more fans and faster platform-building.

4. Make yourself accessible via social media tools. Provide opportunities for your readers to connect with you. Make yourself accessible on Facebook and Twitter, at a minimum. These tools give you the opportunity to do one-to-many communications, and the opportunity to safely and efficiently communicate with your growing tribe. Provide your social media coordinates at the back of every book you write.

BD: What are some of the biggest obstacles writers have to overcome to successfully selling e-books?

MC: The biggest obstacle is obscurity. Thanks to the rise of ebook self-publishing, there’s a glut of high-quality, low-priced books in the marketplace. This means writers need to raise their game. The best writers will rise above the noise on the wings of reader word-of-mouth. If you’re not averaging four to five star reviews, it means your book isn’t satisfying readers as much as it should.

BD: What are some of the mistakes you see writers make when they publish their ebooks?

MC: Here are the top mistakes I see:

1. Publishing a book before it’s been properly edited and proofed. Readers have little patience for sloppiness. You’d be surprised how often I see books ridden with typos. I’ve seen authors misspell their own names on their cover image, or misspell words in their book description.

2. Poor cover design. Unless you’re a professional graphic designer, don’t try to design your own cover image. Hire a professional. Professional cover design is ridiculously affordable. For between $50 and $300, you can get a cover design that looks like it came from a big New York publisher.

3. Impatience. Impatience is both a virtue and a sin. It’s great that an author feels a sense of urgency to reach readers, but impatience can also lead to discouragement, depression or tempestuous decision-making. I’ve seen authors remove their books from stores weeks after publication simply because they’re not selling well. Sometimes, it can take years for an ebook to reach a critical mass of reviews and readership to start selling well. Back in the old days of print publishing, impatience was warranted. If your book didn’t immediately sell well, retailers would pack up the unsold inventory and return it to the publisher for a full refund. Books were forced out of print before they had a fair chance to reach readers. With ebooks, there’s always tomorrow. Ebooks are immortal. They need never go out of print. Think of your self-published ebook as an annuity. It will earn you and your heirs income for decades to come if you keep it out there. This is especially true for fiction. Great stories are timeless.

4. Paranoia and delusion. Almost every month, I receive an email from an angry author who will say something like, “I know I might not be the world’s best author, but there’s no way my book is selling so poorly at retailer X.” This is dangerous thinking. Back in the old days of print publishing, a publisher would distribute a known quantity of books to retailers. Books would either sell or be returned, so there was never any doubt about how many copies were sold, and how much money was owed to the publisher. In the new world of ebooks, the entire ebook supply chain is built upon trust. Smashwords, as your distributor, will send out a single digital copy to each retailer, and the retailer will duplicate that copy for each book they sell. You must trust the retailer to accurately track and report and pay for units sold, and you must trust your distributor to accurately pay you your share of monies received from retailers. If you still feel bitten by the paranoia bug, be your own secret shopper. Once a quarter, buy your book from a retailer, and then wait for the sales report to flow through. Mistakes do happen, but rarely. I can think of three instances over the last two years when an author’s paranoia actually helped a retailer discover an error in their reporting. Even paranoid people get it right from time to time!

5. Limiting distribution to only one or two retailers. If your book isn’t distributed to every retailer, you’ll probably reach fewer readers. If you distribute to only one retailer, you could make yourself dangerously dependent upon that retailer. If they modify their terms, or change their discovery algorithms, you might go from selling great for months straight to selling nothing. Don’t treat ebook retailers like a horse race. Instead, play the field. Get your book everywhere, and then you don’t need to worry or guess which retailer will become the dominant retailer five years from now. You’ll be there already. Every retailer reaches its own unique audience of readers. Many retailers are now opening international stores. Every retailer’s store in each unique territory represents its own unique micro-market where you have an opportunity to reach readers and build fans. If your book isn’t there, those readers will develop life-long relationships with other authors.

6. Negativity. We writers tend to feel our feelings more deeply than the average person, and we’re adept at wielding the power of the pen. Once we build our social media platforms, we have greater ability to share our feelings with the world. It’s something about human nature that when we feel angry, we’re more expressive than when we feel happy. We feel tempted to lash out and hurt those who have wronged us. When you combine anger with social media, people get hurt. Every day, everywhere on the net, there are angry authors sharing their negativity with their closest 5,000 friends on Twitter or Facebook, lashing out against real or imaginary demons that have somehow harmed them. Don’t succumb to negativity. Your fellow authors may learn to fear you, but they won’t respect you. Your prospective readers will be turned off. Your potential partners and supporters will avoid you. think New York Times bestseller Jonathan Maberry put it best in an interview at the Smashwords blog last year. We asked him how authors should use social media, and he spoke at length about the power of positivity, and why authors should never succumb to negativity. He said, “Even if you are a naturally cranky, snarky, sour-tempered pain in the ass, for god’s sake, share that with your therapist or priest. When you go online to promote yourself and therefore your products, try not to actually scare people off your lawn.”

BD: How do you deal with cyber flaming?

MC: I start by taking a deep breath. We’re working with 50,000 authors, and we’re selling books to millions of readers. As much as all 19 of us here at Smashwords work tirelessly to serve our community to the best of our ability. We invariably make mistakes, or fall short of someone’s expectations, and this often leads us to be flamed by a disgruntled person. Also, because Smashwords is the world’s largest distributor of self-published ebooks, upstart competitors are attacking us all the time, often spreading fear, innuendo or mistruths to advance their own agendas, or to draw us into a public fight so they can trade off of our brand equity. It’s classic guerrilla marketing. Popular authors face remarkably similar situations, where readers or fellow authors will try to drag them into a public brawl so the attacking party can advance their agenda.

My approach is that I try to listen to everyone. Our critics can make us stronger if we listen, learn and make positive improvement. Even if I don’t agree with you, or I don’t think you should be upset for the reasons you’re upset, I still try to understand the problem, acknowledge that their feelings and experience was real to them, and learn from the criticism. Often, our most vocal critics are simply feeling real issues more strongly than the community at large. I view our critics as our canaries in the coal mine. They’re our early warning system, so we ignore them at our peril. To the extent possible, I try to avoid getting dragged into public brawls. If I see blatant misrepresentations or lies, however, I’ll step in and try to correct the record. I avoid leveling attacks against any individual, because more negativity only escalates the situation. I try to calmly listen, learn and understand, and then state my side of the story. Often, my reply will start by acknowledging the veracity of their claim, if I believe it is in fact a valid criticism. In this age of hyper-transparency, you must always stick to the truth, or be willing to acknowledge mistakes. I have multiple Google alerts set up — and would encourage every author to do the same for their name, book titles and keywords. I think people are often surprised when I join an online conversation, both to refute mistruths or to simply thank someone for their kind words. I’m also very accessible via email. Our authors aren’t afraid to share their opinions about where they think we’re falling short. Long story made short, as much as it’s uncomfortable to hear criticism, I also treasure it.

BD: So, what is the secret to ebook publishing success?

MC: I actually wrote a free ebook on this subject! It’s titled The Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success, and it identifies the 28 best practices of the most commercially successful ebook authors. At the risk of repeating some of what we covered above already, here are the top 12 secrets to success for indie ebook authors:

1. Your best marketing is a great book. So many authors obsess over marketing when they should instead obsess over making their book better. If you’re only averaging three stars out of five, consider a major revision. When I look at our bestselling books, they’re getting four and a half to five stars, on average.

2. Create a great cover image. Next to a great book, a great cover image is the most important marketing tool. It’s the first impression you make on the reader’s path to discovery. It tells the reader if you’re professional, or not. It makes a promise to the reader about the genre and the experience they’ll receive.

3. Publish another great book. The bestselling authors at Smashwords are writing and publishing multiple books. Each new book creates the opportunity for you to reach new readers, and to build greater loyalty among existing fans. A new title will often reinvigorate your entire back catalog. Make sure each book you publish references the other books you’ve written, especially at the end of the book when the reader will be the most hungry to read more of your work.

4. Patience is a virtue. Your ebook is immortal, unless you make the decision to kill it. Never remove a book from distribution, not even for a short time, because you’ll alienate existing fans, and prevent new fans from discovering you.

5. Maximize availability. Every major retailer — from the Apple iBookstore to Amazon to Sony to Barnes & Noble and others — wants to carry self-published ebooks. All these companies are investing millions of dollars to connect new readers to your book. Just as an investment advisor would advise you against investing all your eggs in a single basket, diversify your retailer exposure so you’re not overly dependent on a single retailer.

6. Avoid exclusivity. This is the corollary to secret #5. One retailer — Amazon — is pursuing an aggressive strategy of enticing authors to make their books exclusive to Amazon. When you make your book exclusive to a single retailer, even for a short time, you disappoint readers who prefer shopping at other retailers, you limit the discoverability of your books and you make yourself more dependent upon a single retailer. Exclusivity is risky for the author. For some authors it pays off, and for others it fails. Amazon’s exclusivity strategy has caused much debate and rancor within the indie author community. I wrote a column here at Huffington Post about it last year. I’ve been one of the more outspoken critics of their exclusivity strategy because I think in the long run it will be harmful to authors, retailers and readers.

7. Trust your readers. Don’t worry about piracy. Copy protection schemes are counterproductive, and will only harm your loyal, legal readers. If your reader does share an illegal copy of your book with a friend, consider it the lowest-cost, highest-impact form of fan-building and marketing money can’t buy.

8. Implement Viral Catalysts. I created a term I call Viral Catalyst. A Viral Catalyst is anything that makes your book more available, more discoverable and more enjoyable to readers. Think of your book as an object, and attached to the object are dozens of dials and levers you can twist, turn and tweak to improve the word-of-mouth virality of your book. These dials and levers are Viral Catalysts. Examples of Viral Catalysts include your cover image, story, editing quality, the book title, book description, price, distribution reach and categorization. Consider every one of these elements in isolation. Ask yourself how you can improve each element to make your book more available, discoverable and enjoyable. My point here is that there’s not just one thing you can do to enable successful word-of-mouth. You must do many things just right, while avoiding common mistakes that can sabotage your success.

9. Unit volume is a lever for success. When a book sells, most authors think of the royalty as their reward. There’s actually a second, and possibly more important benefit of the sale, and that’s the reader. A reader is a potential fan, and a true fan will market your book to their friends and wait anxiously to purchase your next book. The secret to maximizing unit sales volume, other than writing a great book worth buying, is to price low. Based on our research, a book priced at $2.99 will earn about the same amount of money for the author as a book priced above $10.00, yet the $2.99 book will get you about six times as many unit sales. Therefore, if the lower price drives more unit sales, price lower to build your fan base faster. This is one of the most important advantages that indie authors have over traditionally published authors. Indie authors can build fans and platform faster because they can price lower. If you write series, consider making the first book in the series permanently FREE.

10. Practice positivity and partnership. I touched on this earlier, but I’ll add additional color here. Publishing has always been a relationship business. Relationships give you an upper hand in the marketplace. Your fellow authors are your partners, not your competitors. Help your fellow authors succeed, and they in turn will open doors for you. When you complain online about your least-favorite retailer, that complaint is permanently available and discoverable for that retailer to see. When it comes time for a retailer to do a special promotion of certain titles, are they going to promote authors who have been trashing them online, or authors that have positively supported them?

11. Think globally. The ebook market in the U.S. has grown exponentially over the last few years. In 2007, ebooks accounted for less than 1% of the U.S. book market. Today, that number is over 30%. The growth in the U.S. market is slowing. However, the markets outside the U.S. for English language titles are entering the same exponential growth curve phases the U.S. market experienced over the last few years. The market for English language ebooks outside the U.S. will be much larger than the US.. market. Every major retailer is expanding internationally. Apple now operates iBookstores in 50 countries. Amazon is in close to ten countries. Kobo has always had an international focus. Barnes & Noble is expanding internationally. 2013 will see more global expansion from all these retailers. Get your books distributed globally now, because each retailer’s country-specific store represents a unique micro-market for you to start building fans and platform.

12. Pinch your pennies. Ebook self-publishing has become something of a gold rush. Everyone is rushing to do it, but the people who stand to make the most money are the ones selling the pots and pans. The cold hard truth is that most ebooks — whether traditionally published or self-published — don’t sell well. You, as the self-published author, are the publisher. You’re running a business. If you run your business profitably, you’ll survive to write another day. If you’re losing money, you’ll eventually be forced out of business unless you’re financially secure through other means. As a small publisher, you can’t easily control your sales, but you can control your expenses. Minimize your expenses. When you’re just getting started, do as much on your own as possible. Never purchase publishing packages from the vanity publishing services who will gladly empty your pocket of thousands of dollars for services of nebulous value. Ebook self-publishing can be fast, free and easy if you do it yourself. Never go into debt to finance your publishing adventure. Never spend money you need to put bread on the table or to pay a mortgage. If you pinch your pennies, profitability will become all that more achievable. Once you hit profitability, then carefully reinvest your dollars into better cover design, better editing and better marketing.
Mark Coker is the founder of Smashwords, an ebook publishing and distribution platform. He’s also an author, entrepreneur, angel investor and advisor to technology startups.

Mark and his wife Lesleyann co-authored Boob Tube, a satire on daytime television soap operas. Their book was rejected by every major New York publisher of commercial women’s fiction, despite representation by a top NYC literary agency. The experience inspired him to start Smashwords, a free publishing platform that allows authors to instantly publish their work online.

Today, Smashwords is the world’s largest distributor of self-published ebooks. The company has helped over 50,000 authors around the world publish and distribute over 150,000 ebooks to major retailers such as the Apple iBookstore, Barnes & Noble, Sony and Kobo.

Why Khet Mar Got Thrown in a Burmese Prison for Writing

Suddenly I found myself falling down a rabbit hole in Easton, Pennsylvania at Lafayette College, and ending up in a Wonderland known as the Experimental Printmaking Institute. It’s overgrown with wild and beautiful art books, from the surreal and phantasmagorical, to the wacky and wonderful, to the exquisite and breathtaking. Fold-out books, accordion books, woodcut books, black light books, silkscreen books. It was like winning a Golden Ticket to Willy Wonka’s factory, only instead of sweeties everywhere, there was fabulous wall-to-wall eye-candy for a book lover such as moi. Curlee Raven Holton, who runs the joint, has assembled an astonishing collection of handmade art books, and established a workshop where time honored bookmaking techniques can be combined with contemporary, state-of-the-art ideas and technology, passing down to the next generation the tradition of making books by hand that dates back to huddled, hooded monks creating the Guttenburg Bible. MaryAnn Miller, a poet and artist of much skill and talent in her own right, introduced me into this strange and beautiful world. I asked her what she was working on, and she showed me The Souls of Fallen Flowers, the breathtaking art book she is stitching together one at a time for the writer Khet Mar, to be presented at a book signing and reception on Friday, February 24, at the Chateau Chavaniac in Easton, PA. When MaryAnn told me about Khet Mar’s heartbreaking and monumentally inspiring odyssey, from being locked up in a Burmese prison for her revolutionary writing, to her harrowing escape and subsequent relocation to City of Asylum in Pittsburgh, I felt like it was my duty to tell the world her story.

DAVID HENRY STERRY: Tell us about your childhood. Where did you grow up, and what was it like?

KHET MAR: I grew up in a fishing village. My childhood time was like a huge field with valuable plants and terrible weeds. I didn’t notice how much I liked my childhood time until I was a teen. I still have things to write about my childhood even though I have been writing for 23 years.

DHS: What drew you to being a writer?

KM: I could say one of the basic reasons that drew me being a writer was I loved writing. I grew up with my father’s books and my grandmother’s books. The most important one that drew me being a writer was my grandmother’s encouragement to me to write. My grandma is a book-worm and a primary school teacher. In rural communities, general reading is seen as a bad thing for the middle-school-children, yet my grandma disciplined me and provided books for general reading. This was, of course, the turning point of my life. Being a book-lover, I tended to share my own feelings. Recalling my memory, I wrote my first short story while I was in Seventh Standard for a newspaper we posted on the wall of the middle school. Grandma read it carefully and ‘My grand-daughter can be a writer”, she commented. This very comment of my grandma made me dare to dream to become a writer. Being a girl from a poor family of rural area, without any background of literary field, the purpose, becoming a writer was appearing as a dream. However, I was able to start such a dreamy road by my grand-mother’s loving-kindness and hopeful comment.

DHS: You were only 22 when you were arrested. Why were you arrested, it must have been shocking. What exactly happened, and how did it feel?

KM: When I was a third year university student in 1991, there were few anti-government campaigns in the University. Those were remnants of the vital 1988 uprising that 3000 people were killed and about twenty thousands were arrested. Protestors in 1991 demonstrations asked for the freedom of political prisoners and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who is the 1991 Noble Peace Prize laureate who has been under house arrest since 1989. I wrote some political poems and distributed them with friends in the demonstrations. Because of those reasons, I was arrested and was sentenced 10 year imprisonment.

DHS: What was it like in prison? Did you make relationships with other prisoners? What were your captors like?

KM: Prison was like a prison, not like a home. We had to sleep on the concrete floor. We had to eat what they fed. We had nothing to read and write. I made many friends in the prison. Most of my friends who I met in the prison were arrested again and again. The captors were various kinds. I was interrogated by several police intelligences. They used different methods to interrogate to not only me but to every prisoner. Some were soft-liners and some were very cruel.

DHS: How did you get released from prison?

KM: When General Than Shew got power, I was released with other prisoners including some political prisoners in a national amnesty. Burmese authorities usually create an amnesty when a new leader got the nation’s power. General Than Shwe was in the top position for 23 years until 2010.

DHS: When Cyclone Nargis hit, you were almost imprisoned again. Why did this happen, and what were the consequences?

KM: Although about 300,000 died and three millions people became homeless because of Cyclone Nargis, Burmese government did not allow international help and aid. How could I stay away to help the cyclone victims because we all knew a lot of people were dying? I did relief works with my friends. I brought some international journalists to the affected areas when the authorities tried to stop even citizen journalists going there because I wanted international community know about the actual situation of the victims. Doing relief works were dangerous and bringing international journalists to the area were also very risky. The consequences were I was under watch and was investigated by many ways. That was one of the reasons I wanted to be out of my country.

DHS: How did you end up in Pittsburgh?

KM: I tried to be out of country for a few months until 2010 election in Burma. I applied some program that I could be out of my country for a few months. I was selected as a writer-in-residence at the City of Asylum/Pittsburgh. That’s why I end up in Pittsburgh.

DHS: What is your life like now?

KM: My life is like I am at my second home. I feel safe here. Not only myself, but every citizen in Burma felt unsafe.

DHS: The new publication of your book seems to be the culmination of a long arduous ordeal. How did it come about, and how do you feel about it?

KM: I was invited through City of Asylum/Pittsburgh as a writer-in-residence at the Lafayette College in November 2011. One of the projects in my residency term was to make a book of my pieces. It is a very beautiful flower of my effort. I have been very exciting about this book. I can’t wait to see it.

DHS: What do you hope the world will get out of your book, and your experience?

KM: I usually try to share about the truth of my country and my people when I write. I tried to include the pieces that can let readers know about them. My concern abut my book is sometimes I used metaphors and symbols in my writings to avoid censorship in Burma. I hope the readers will figure it out.

Khet Mar is a writer and activist from Burma. A book signing and reception will be held for her book The Souls of Fallen Flowers, in conjunction with Lafayette College’s Experimental Printmaking Institute on Friday, February 24, at the Chateau Chavaniac in Easton, PA.

If you go too far, you’re lost: a golfer’s nightmare

IF YOU GO TOO FAR, YOU’RE LOST: A GOLFER’S NIGHTMARE

I had a dream last night where I was playing golf with Jack Nicklaus and two other professionals, one looked like view is from India or Pakistan or Fuji and the other was just your average old garden-variety professional golfer. A big gallery was watching us. We had all missed the green, and were looking at difficult approaches to saving our pars. The first golfer hit a fabulous flop shot, way up high in the air, it landed softly very close to the hole, and the appreciative gallery applauded. The ball rolled toward the hole, looked like it might go in, but at the last second it slid off to the right and almost came to complete stop. But it didn’t. It kept trickling, wouldn’t stop, just kept rolling along. It rolled slowly down a previously unseen slope, picking up speed as it went. It bombed toward a small creek running along the edge of the green, with a bridge over it. I thought to myself, That ball is going in the water, damn that sucks, he hit such a beautiful shot. But instead of rolling into the water, the ball was funneled towards a hidden hole, where it disappeared, like in a miniature golf putt putt course. The gallery groaned and sighed in dismay. The ball disappeared under the creek, you could hear it clunking down the tunnel, and you could feel the tension in the crowd as they waited to see where the ball was going to end up. Finally it spit out of the ground on the other side of the creek. It flew into the air, and landed next to a muddy, swampy bog where some very hungry looking alligators were lurking, lounging, ready for a midafternoon snack. In the background I could hear commentator saying what bad luck that was, what a great shot he hit, and how almost no one survives Alligator Alley, as the locals have dubbed it. Wait a minute, I thought, how did I miss those alligators? Were there always alligators there? Does the PGA know about this? Lanky lizards, that doesn’t seem right! I was standing on the other side of the green from the alligators, with Jack Nicklaus, the Golden Bear, the greatest golfer in the world has ever known. He is studying his upcoming chip shot. It’s a big green, and the hole is in the middle, so there’s plenty of room to run a pitch right up to the hole, leaving the ball below it for a tidy up and down, thus saving par. The only difficulty is that you have to get the ball up over a small blooming cactus garden that sits between Jack and the green. Cactus garden? How had I not seen all those beautiful blooming cactuses? Radioactive reds, outrageous oranges, blinding blues. So I said to Jack, You just going to pitch and run that up to the hole, eh? After all, he’s executed shots like this a million times before. Hey, you don’t get to be the Golden Bear for nothing. But Jack shakes his head, worried, purses his thin lips, exposing his white teeth. No, it’s a lot trickier than it looks, he said. If you go too far, you’re lost. Wow, I thought to myself, Jack is a deep guy. If you go too far, you’re lost. Jack Nicklaus is a really profound man. Who knew? Jack studies his shot, talks to his caddie, the gallery is restless in anticipation, the TV commentator is whispering about how everything rides on that in this shot, how hard the shot is, but if anyone can do it, Jack can. Jack addresses the ball, performs a few waggles, then strikes it. The white ball travels in a majestic arc over the Technicolor cactus blooms and lands exactly where it should on the green green. It’s rolling straight toward the hole, tracking like it’s metal and the pin is a magnet. The commentator excitedly whispers how this may go in the hole, and the crowd is going berserk, ready to erupt explosively when the ball goes in. Closer and closer it rolls. You just know in your heart that ball is going in, there’s no way it can’t, this is the Golden Bear after all. And yes, the ball actually hits the pin. It can bounces straight up into the air, and it seems to take forever as it plummets down down down, and now the crowd is holding its breath, you could hear a pin drop as the pin quivers in the hole. And the ball disappears like a rabbit down the hole. He did it! the commentator shouts, Jack did it again! The gallery screams and shouts and whoops and hollers. As do I. What a champion, what clutch performer, that’s why he’s the greatest that ever lived. And then suddenly the ball pops back up out of the hole. It hit the bottom of the cup too hard, it was going too fast, and the golf gods spat it back. The crowd groans and moans as for the ball skitters away from the hole, picking up speed as it rolls away, off the green and coming to rest in a sand trap. Jack stoically shakes his head, like he somehow knew this was going to happen. But wait a second, the ball is disappearing, the trap is actually quicksand! And the commentator whispers excitedly that Jack is going to have to go in after it, and there’s a very good chance he will come out alive. Well, the commentator comments, it’ll be a fitting end to a heroic golfing career. Quicksand? Since when has there been quicksand on the PGA Tour? I’m gonna have to talk to my union a rep about this, there’s got to be something in the bylaws about alligators and quicksand! Now it’s my turn to hit my shot. I know exactly what I want to do with the ball, I have my 64° wedge, but I can see the shot so clearly that I need to make. I want to click the ball with some backspin, to make it check up just below the hole. But all I can think about is those alligators and that quicksand, and now on the left side of the green I notice that there are land mines. Landmines? What the hell are land mines doing in the middle of a golf course? Now I see myself blown to bits, my blood and guts shooting into the sky and landing all over the green. I am paralyzed with utter fear. There is no shot I can hit that will not result in all horrifying painful death. If you go too far, you’re lost. And then I wake up hyperventilating in a cold sweat. Good morning to me.

HOW MY BOOK WAS BANNED BY THE PROSTITUTES

carx3000w

I was excited when I agreed to be the token breeder whiteman on the Sex Worker Art Show (SWAS) tour that bumped, ground and belted its way all across the USA.  Ten well-met ex-sex worker women, one fine transgendered fellow and me, a forty-six year old ex-gigolo-ho-rentboy.  I will now tell the true story of how my book got banned by the prostitutes, and how I became a better man for it.
It starts at the beginning, on the West Coast fish-netted leg of the SWAS, a traveling menagerie of musicians, artists, spoken worders, exotic dancers, and madcap activists, all of whom have worked in the sex industry.  As I fly up to Portland, I’m excitedly optimistic and trepidatiously terrified.  But I believe that despite our differences, there will be room for their whore stories, and my whore stories; that we will represent this under-represented population who’ve been reviled and glorified, jailed and inhaled, raped and worshiped, put on a pedestal and spat upon for centuries; that we will celebrate the humor and the beauty, the anger and the tragedy, the pure power of the artist-whore who makes people squeal and feel and laugh and cry, and screams that the emperor has no clothes on.  Personally this is the next step in my attempt to unite my above-ground suburban whiteman half and my underground-raped-ho’-drug-addict half; so I can become my whole truth-telling, sweet-hearted, spreading, evolution-friendly, being-of-service self in every moment.  As opposed to the apologizing, desperately-attempting-to-make-every-single-person-like-me self which I manifest so often in public.
Opening night I arrive at the club a mass of jangling nerves, the world-weary-weight of whiteman’s burden yoking and choking me, terrified that in this sex worker world a 46 year-old Caucasian breeder will be booed, heckled  and hated, will never in a million years be able to rock the house.  It’s January cold in rain-as-usual Portland.  I stalk skittish through the skeevy club, like a freaked animal trying to pretend everything’s normal, but knowing he’s going to be eaten alive.
Luckily my need-to-please is so powerful that it provides me with an immediate opportunity to be useful.  There is much roadie work to be done: guitars, amps and costume boxes need to be humped out of the van, down the stairs, hump hump hump.  I like it.  Gives my mind and my muscles something to focus on that isn’t my own miserable failure and the irrational fear that everyone’s gonna HATE ME.
After there’s nothing left to hump, I settle into the basement dressing room like a dog in a room full of cats.  There’s flesh everywhere: overflowing, undernourished, hard, soft, rippling, cut, hanging, shaved heads and coochies, beaucoups of tattoos.  Everyone’s preparing, as if for a religious celebration or battle, laying out costumes/uniforms and artifacts/weapons.   Sweat pants magically morph into seamed stocking.  Chunky boots into stiletto heels.  Wooly scarves into feather boas.  T-shirts into slit-happy minis and tit-lifting corsets.
A quick sample of backstage banter:
“Are you gonna do your puke number tonight?  Oh, okay, cool, but try to keep it on the tarp.”
“One time I was doin’ phone work, and this guy says, ‘Yer a twelve foot giant, and yer sitting on my head.’  Thank God for the mute button, cuz I’m laughing my ass off.  Then I get myself together, you know, and I’m like, (Deep Butch voice) ‘Yeah, baby, I’m huge, I wear size 24 shoes.’  That drove him wild.  He was my regular after that, and he always wanted me to describe how big my shoes were.”
“One trick likes me to feed him dog shit.  He loves it.  Every week he brings me these baggies full of dog shit.  And he’s a really clean guy, you know, he practically squeaks when he walks.  He’s really sweet, you know, really quiet.  But the funny thing is, I keep picturing him going out in his neighborhood with his little plastic bag and following dogs around waiting for his dooky snack.
“Why can’t people be naked on the outside?”
“I love it when people say, ‘I’m not hungry’, like that has anything to do with eating.”
“I got tired of the being the ho with the umbrella.”
A sex worker artist is scrambling to get her computer working, crazed mumbling, she flicks her lit cigarette near my feet and snarls, “Put that out!” dark blackness ripping out of her.  A direct order.  My Achilles heel, I can’t stand somebody ordering me around.  Rankles my dander, raises my hackles.  But she’s clearly in distress, so I put the cigarette out with a friendly smile.
Back upstairs the club is suddenly alive.  Freaks in fishnets and preppies in plaid, trannies with hot fannies and shy guys in ties, vinylized virgins and rubberized radicals, lots of leather and plenty of pleather, piercings in tongues, lobes, noses, nipples, lips, and places you didn’t even know there were places, middle-aged men in diapers, lone wolves and vampy vipers, divas and dykes, piss queens and fisting mavens, CLEAVAGE, CLEAVAGE, CLEAVAGE, dandies with candy, women dressed as men, men dressed as women, women dressed as men dressed as women, and some who have clearly not made up their mind.
A bunch of grrrrrrrls crrrrrrrrowd around a drinking table: ultrawhite spiked mohawk, one you’d swear’s a beautiful boy in a greasemonkey shirt, and a shaved babe you just know could punch yer lights right out.  Lots of piercings.  Running up and down ears.  Lips.  Eyebrows.  Noses.  I visualize them all naked.  Pierced belly buttons, labias, nipples and clits.  What a drag to have to go through the metal detector at the airport.  That’s my first thought.  But boy o boy they’re having fun, laughing and carrying on.  I’m slightly surprised at the number of extraordinarily hetero couples.  Going to see sex workers doing art is apparently a valid breeder date these days.  Go figure.  Some tough leather men.  Dandies flapping, flitting and drinking in kooky outfits.  Flocks of goths in vampire colors.  Women.  Young.   Middle-aged.  Old.  Women.  I’m agog with a child’s wonder as I wander happily in this estrogen-happy land.
I approach a woman in her early thirties: beige pants and a sweater, very Portland.  I asked her why she’s there.  “When I was little I found out there were strippers, and when I asked my mom what a stripper was, she hemmed and hawed and she didn’t really answer me, so I knew whatever it was, it was forbidden, it was bad, and of course that just made it more appealing, and I really wanted to do it.  Then I discovered there were prostitutes, and I really wanted to do that.   I still do, I guess, I mean I’d like to just try it to see what it’s like.  I’m a baker.  I have my own company.  I bake cakes, cookies, pies, muffins, everything.”
Annie Oakley, emcee and inventor of the Sex Worker Art Show, introduces the first performer to the packed-tight crowd and they roar in approval. When Ducky DooLittle sashe¥s on stage like four feet and ten inches of N’Awlins bordello lampshade, beaming sexy and sweet: “Hi Portland.  I’ve had a lot of good sex in Portland!”  The crowd crawls into the palm of her hand, and purrs there, as Ducky kicks us off with a bang.
I can’t focus, I’m all caged pacing.  Each performer’s a blur of words: trick-hating, dope-shooting, hilarious harrowing narratives, rap and rhyme, my time getting closer and closer until it’s me, it’s suddenly my turn, she’s introducing me, and I’m up onstage, in the place where I can really be whatever I want to be.  When I make fun of stupidwhitemen like myself, they laugh loud as one, and the transcendent wave sweeps through me, as they now crawl into my palm and purr.  When I do the part about me getting raped, there’s that brutal stark silence as they all soak it in.  And there it is, that’s why I’m here: to speak for all of them, the raped boys and the raped girls.  I guide the audience back in, and before I even know it, my twelve minutes are up, and damn man, my slambang ending works like gangbangbusters, and I’m off to a thunderous ovation.  I did it.  The 46 year old whiteman rocked the house.  Afterwards I’m accosted, as I almost always am, by women who’ve been ripped open and torn apart.  They buy my book at the merch table where all the other books are.  I sign my books.  I listen to their stories.  I feel their relief as they confess, toxins fuming out of them like invisible radiation.  Hugs are exchanged.  And I understand why I’m here: to speak the unspeakable, and to hear the unheard.
In Eugene sex worker’s/artist Violet Rae brings two young women up from the audience and teaches them how to strip.  The squat&thrust, the turnaround bendover peekaboo, the pussypat and the shimmyshimmy shake.  After some initial timidity, the two amateurs let loose their goose and get funky with their chicken, flaunting their raise-the-roof sexsexsexiness, bringing down the house.  After the show I run into one them: she’s early twentyish, backwards baseball cap over tight blond hair, two large rings in her lip that make her look like she’s a large fish that’s been caught a few times but always manages to wriggle away.  Statuesque cheeks and blazing eyes, she’s fabulous farmboy hot.  Her grrrrrrrrrlfriends buzz around her like she’s a rockstar.  Which, for tonight, she is.  I ask her if she had fun.  “HELL YEAH!”   I ask her if she was nervous.  “Oh yeah, definitely, I was mad nervous, but Violet Rae, she was like, so totally great… she made me feel like I could totally do it, so I was like, ‘I can either stand here and be a dork, or I can just go for it.’  So I’m like, ‘What the hell, might as well go for it.’  And when the crowd started goin’ apeshit, I’m like, ‘Wow, this shit rocks.’  So then I really started going for it, you know, and I’m just like… wow!”  Funny how much more articulate she was with her body than she is with her words.  I tell her she was really great.  She takes it in.  Looks right at me: “So were you, man.”  She opens, moves in for the hug.  And I give it to her, a hug of tremendous breadth and depth, a hug that takes its time and doesn’t need to hurry.  If you’ve never been hugged by a 22 year-old dyke who really means it, you have no idea what you’re missing. And there it is again: this is why I’m here.
Four shows in, I’ve humped luggage, dozed fitful in vans, woken at dawn, busted and rebusted my ass to get it right every night.  They’re crazy cheering audiences, they so want to interact, to fly their freak flag by embracing us.  In our 2-van posse driving from Portland to San Francisco, we have a great midnight dinner at some divey lizardy truckstop, we walk in like rockstars, all heads turning, we’re got our own little tribe, and it’s dead powerful.  It’s someone’s birthday and Annie Oakley has a cake and we all have this great chocolate bomb of a slice.  And then suddenly it’s 4 AM and we still have a huge chunk of road to go to get to the Golden Gate, and everybody’s dog-tired.  So I volunteer to drive, and while everyone else sleeps like cranky babies, me and the amazing shotgun-riding Ducky DooLittle tell each other our stories in whispers all through the long humming road night.  As the sun also rises and we pull into the Bay Area, I feel at one with my sex worker sisters and brother, in that van, in the trenches, with this traveling-circus family, being my true self.
After the first four shows I take a break from the tour because of prior engagements.  Fast forward to fifteen days later, I’m rejoining the SWAS in New York City, at the Knitting Factory.  I immediately resume dragging bags and luggage humping.  Hump hump hump.  Before the show starts Annie Oakley pulls me aside and says, “We have to talk.”  It’s one of those classic moments, when you go stone cold, cuz you know someone’s about to break up with you, or fire you, or tell you somebody in your family just died.  Well, Annie explains softly and sweetly, it seems Certain Unspecified Performers have complained that my book is racist.  She says that the Unspecified Performers claim I speak disparagingly about female genitalia.  She is sympathetic on this point, as she herself speaks disparagingly about female genitalia in her part of the show.  Reeling, I rock back, my mouth freeze-dries and my palms clam.  Do not apologize!  My brain screams, anytime anyone defends themselves against something like this, they immediately start to sound like a huge lame-ass.  Annie Oakley informs me that I am to censor my performance.  DO NOT DEFEND YOURSELF!  But my need-to-please, my irrational fear that EVERYONE HATES ME, and my stiff British upperlip betray me and I pathetically mumble, “Wow, I’m really sorry.”
DAMN ME!  This is not who I want to be.
Annie Oakley then informs me that my book will be banned from sale on her merch table, where everyone else sells their books.  She tells me she hasn’t actually read the book (which been out two years) but she suspects that the charges of racism are probably true.
Sledgehammer to the knees buckles me.  Lightheaded now, shortbreathed, the tears start to rise up from the well.  And here I utterly fail.  To be my genuine self.  I stop the tears.  The upper lip stiffens, and the flow of sadness is arrested.  Why didn’t I show her my pain, the real me under the smiling and the apologizing?  Why did I revert to being a stupid whiteman?  Annie Oakley encourages me quite sweetly to continue on the tour if I want, but I will almost certainly be the object of angry confrontations, and/or cold shoulders.  Now I err once again.  I do the one thing my brain has been screaming at me not to do.  I defend myself.  And even as I’m shoveling it out, this is what it sounds like to me: “Blah blah blah, yada yada yada, blah blah blah, yada yada yada.”  My voice has ratcheted up into that whiteman-in-anxiety whine, and even I have to admit that I sound like a guilty guy trying to weasel his way out of something ugly, until I actually utter that ultimate racist-defends-himself line: “Seriously, some of my best friends are black people.”  Annie Oakley explains that I probably wrote something racist and didn’t even know it.  Not that I necessarily did, because again she hasn’t read my book.  But since she doesn’t know for sure one way or the other, and she really doesn’t want to marginalize oppressed people, my book will be banned from her merch table until further notice, and I will censor myself.  Annie Oakley, like almost everyone on the tour, is white.
I smile sickly and I apologize, apologize and smile sickly, pretend like everything’s normal, like I did when I was a boy ho on a date that went horribly wrong and I wanted give the money back and get the hell out of there, but I couldn’t, so I disassociated and left my body, just bit the bullet and took one for the team while I kept that hunky dory expression plastermasked on my face.  Through what looks like a pathetically insincere smile, Annie Oakley tells me she feels really bad about all this, but her hands are tied.
As she strolls away, my repression turns me into an angry sleuth, and I sniff around pissed, trying to figure out which ho accused me of being a racist.  Could it be Scarlot Harlot, the kind-hearted activist?  No, I’ve know her for years, and I humped her bags everywhere we went, she loves me.  Could it be Erochica, the brilliant Japanese 2003 World Burlesque Champion?  No, she stayed at my house, she was so happy to see me, big squeal of glee, big hug.  Could it be the transgendered hiphopper?  Possibly, he’s one of the only non-whites on the tour.  Dubious though, he seems so way laid back, so live-and-let-live, so mindin’-my-own-beezwax, so like somebody who’d talk to your face about this kind of thing first. Could it be the shortstoryist who writes about her days as a street tweaker, petty thief, and hardcore ho?  No way, she too stayed at my house in SF, I hung out with her husband and played with her beautiful mixed-race grandchild.  Suddenly I feel all sick and twisted.
Sadly one of the aftermaths of getting violently raped is that I often imagine there is danger and trouble all around me, even when none really exists.  Suddenly here now I feel like the ultimate odd man out.  In a self-loathing daze of crazed confused alienation I wander around making eye-contact with each and every one of my fellow performers.  Every single one of them smiles in my eyes like everything’s normal.  They’re all so nice.  It hits me then that it’s not just the unproven accusation of racism; it’s the making-ugly-accusations-behind-your-back-while-smiling-to-your-face-backstabbingness of the whole thing.  It’s really creepy.  We’re not exchanging ideas, being brothers and sisters.  That’s what I’m here for.  But they don’t seem to want a discussion.  They seem to have tarred me in abstentia.  It’s all gone so terribly wrong and become so very disturbing.  I am disturbed.  And here I fail again.  I withdraw into my withdrawal, watching myself go slow through the motions, smiling and chitting and chatting as the pink elephant of racism waves its mammoth member around the room.  Not who I want to be.  Not at all.
Now the Rants began in my brain.  Don’t they understand that censorship and book banning are tools of totalitarian religious fanatic fascism?  That’s what rabid fundamentalist do to books they haven’t read and condemn out of ignorance.  It’s what happens when people knee-jerk at words without trying to understand.  Idiots and nincompoops banned Huck Finn for exactly the same reason these supposedly enlightened people are banning my book.  Now I’m listening to the show through new furious ears.  Ears that have been boxed and bloodied by the long arms of unsubstantiated racist rumors.  A female performer comes out and says, “I hate men but I love c*ck.”  And it hits me like a ton of dildos.  She hates this whole group of people for no other reason than the accident of being born one sex and not another.  This is a group of which I am a member.  I imagine myself coming out and saying, “I hate women, but I love pussy.”  Or, “I hate black people, but I love black pussy.”  They’d hand me my roasted balls before they ran me out on a rail.  It’s hate-spewing prejudice in a hate-filled world.  She is not only permitted to say this, she is encouraged.  And the things is, I want her to have the freedom to say it.  I want to hear it.  But why is there room for her voice, but not for mine?
And then suddenly it’s me up next.  I’ve been doing this stuff for 25 years, and Annie Oakley gives me the worst introduction I’ve ever had in a quarter of a century.  After the show my friends will ask me, “Why does that emcee hate you?”  I’ll say, “What do you mean?  She doesn’t hate me.”  “Well, it was like a cold wind whipped in when she introduced you.  She called your book a novel when it’s memoir, she said you looked all nervous, and then she mumbled your name.  And she said such nice things about so many other people, and nothing nice at all about you.  It was weird.”  I don’t even notice at the time.  I’m overjoyed to be back onstage, a place where I can control everything, including myself.  And I’m extry-sharp tonight.  It’s packed again, and I have a blast, leaving with a broad roar, blasts of cheers and whistles and whoops and hollers and there in that moment I am happy once more.
As usual, I’m approached by the curious and the damaged.  People want to buy my book.  Like a smuggler I take them into a dark corner to sell them my banned black market book.  They tell me their stories.  I listen.  It’s so good to swim in that river of confession and redemption again.  I sign the books clandestinely, wondering in my sick agitation what would happen if I got caught selling my banned book.  Usually I would help hump all the stuff up all the stairs.  But tonight I don’t feel it.  I leave with some straight friends from the straight world.  Used to be I wasn’t straight enough for the straight world, nor ho enough for the ho world.  Now that I’ve come out as a raped hoing boy, I’ve lost and/or cut out many of my alleged friends from the straight world.  But those who’ve remained accept me as I am, and those are the good ones.  O how they make me laugh as I recount the idiocy of Annie Oakley and the Sex Worker Art Show.  They reflect on what a terrible thing it when an oppressed group takes on the worst characteristics of the group oppressing them.  Yet, they sigh, it seems somehow inevitable.
That night after I go back to the little room where I’m staying, I feel like I’m losing my mind.  Finally I lay my raging head down upon my bed, beyond tired, hotwired and brainfevered but determined to go on with the tour.  To unite my selves.  Who am I kidding, I can’t sleep.  So I call the CEO of my company.  She tells me I would be an insane person to continue on with the tour.  To be attacked and/or cold-shouldered would gut me.  As soon as she says that I start crying.  I cry on and off for the next week, all those stopped tears pouring out with interest.  Plus, says my CEO, I can’t in good conscience support an organization that bans books without reading them.  She reminds me that I am violently opposed to oppression, suppression and censorshipping of all kinds.  I argue with my CEO that it’s probably only a couple of people, that to run away would be chicken.  My CEO laughs: the name of my book is Chicken, which is American slang for a teenager who engages in indiscriminate sexual activities for money.  My CEO says that with my personality I’d have to be not only insane but a masochist moron to continue with a group who obtusely accuses me of the type of blind hatred I’ve been trying to eradicate for decades, and the thought of me lurking around like some haunted hated freak is too much for her to bear.
Again I lay me down to sleep, pillowed head on bed.  Should I stay or should I go?  I just cannot get comfortable.  I toss.  I turn.  Toss. Turn.  Toss.  Turn.  Toss.  Turn.  Suddenly the sky’s lighting and OH GOD NO!  It’s morning.  I scrunch into the far corner of the bed and somehow find a position of comfort.  Suddenly I’m in my Victorian Painted Lady dream house, with the turret, the long sweeping staircase, the four poster bed with see-through canopy.  This is the place I am most at home in the whole world, the place I’ve been looking for ever since I was a raped hoing boy.  People upstairs tiptoe and whisper.  I know with dream certainty that certain unidentified sex workers are upstairs, and they are here to kill me.  Pulse pounding heart thudding thumping breath noosed tight chest constricting as the sex worker women creep down the stairs.  To kill me.  I run hide in the kitchen, and crouching in a broom closet I can see through a hole peeping like a wee boy.  They stalk, predator for my blood as I shiver in the closet.  I can’t die here, not in this house.  Clunky boots and stiletto heels tromp and spike silently stalking me.  Holding breath, I’m smelling cleaning fluids and broom shit.  They pass, I bolt to the next room, it’s an exhausting deadly hide&seek, cat&mouse: I will not die tonight I keep telling myself.
Sweating awake I shake my hot horrified head, gut in knots, balls aquiver.  It’s clear I cannot continue with the tour.  Here in this unfamiliar room in New York City I am suddenly more alone than I’ve ever been.  I crave a sex worker I can have sex with, dive into and forget my sorrows with, soothe my ache, and ease back into my drug addict ho world.  This is part of my illness.  This is what I did for years after I retired from the sex business.  Peeling back the next layer of the onion, I realize that’s not what I really want.  It’s like an itching rash.  You scratch it and it feels good at first.  But you have to keep scratching, which just makes it itch worse, and before you know it, you’ve scratched so hard you’ve got an itchy bloody mess on your hands.  What I really want is to drink from the cup of human kindness, and bask in the arms of someone who really loves me.  But I’m away from home, and don’t know where to turn.  So I call up a friend.  She advises me to get some really good food first.  Then write all this down.  And when I write it all down, the itch disappears.  Go figure.
In the end I am grateful that I had the opportunity to confront the worst part of myself.  Grateful to take the next step towards uniting my selves.  Yes, my book was banned by the prostitutes.  And yes, I am a better man for it.

PRESIDENT BUSH RESIGNS!!!

https://i1.wp.com/hamzajennings.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/george-bush.jpg?resize=143%2C137In a shocking, unexpected and unprecedented move, President Bush announced his resignation today.  He told to a group of stunned White House reporters that Jesus had spoken to him, and told him that the war was very very wrong, that he should no longer represented the interests of a few greedy, money-grubbing industrialists (he mentioned Karl Rove and Dick Cheney by name here) while lying to the American public about weapons of mass destruction and trying to fight terrorism,; that no more innocent blood should be shed in the pursuit of oil; that this barbaric attack would only make the rest of the world hate us even more, and that he should bring all our young men and young women home.  He also produced documents which proved that Vice President Dick Cheney had used his influence to get contracts for all his buddies at Halliburton, and that it was his intention to make sure that Mr. Cheney got, “A good, old-fashioned country butt-whuppin’.”  Mr. Cheney was subsequently arrested as he was hastily packing bags full of money, a one-way ticket to Barbados in his pocket.  Ex-President Bush went on to say that he was very excited about Nancy Pelosi becoming the first female president of the United States, and hope that she would bring her San Francisco values to the White House, transforming a culture of ignorance, elitism, bigotry and intolerance into one of openness, tolerance, and freedom of the press, where everyone, no matter how small their interest group, or how much money they have, or what race, color or creed they are, gets an equal voice in this great country of ours.  He then announced that he was divorcing his lovely wife, because he had fallen madly in love with Tom Cruise, and they had decided to get married, as soon as Tom’s divorce with Katie became official.  After President Pelosi was quickly sworn in, she announced that the war was over, and that all troops would be coming home.  In addition there would be a complete overhaul of America’s educational system, with the money we save from stopping the war being allocated to hiring more teachers, and paying the ones we have a decent wage.  They would also be an immediate end to the system now in place in which standardized test scores correlate to money received by school systems.  The idea, President Pelosi explained, would be that teachers actually get to teach, rather than preparing their students endlessly for rote examinations, full of facts they would never use again.  She then went on to say that her administration would put every resource available into stopping global warming, and making sure all endangered species were given a chance to recover and thrive.  She said she planned to work on immediately legalizing drugs and prostitution, and putting a reasonable tax on them, using the money to go after adults who prey on children in every nook and cranny of America.  President Pelosi concluded this historic press conference by announced that this was the dawning of a new age in the glorious history of the United States, when reason and enlightenment would replace prejudice and darkness, where the Earth would be cherished and the American ideals of liberty and justice for all would prevail once more.  She was greeted with thunderous applause, as Tom Cruise and ex-President Bush shared a deep French kiss in the corner.

Happy April Fooles Day!

Google: Friend to the Author, or Fascist Corporate Totalitarians?

Google: Friend to the Author, or Fascist Corporate Totalitarians?

“Dude, djoo hear what Google’s doin?” Spud (not his real name) sounded all tweaky and freaked out through the phone. “No,” I said, “what’s Google doin?” “They’re stealin’ our books, dude!” Spud spat. “What are you talkin’ about?” Spud is a very good writer. But I’ve learned you have to take everything Spud says with several tablets of salt, because Spud loves his conspiracy theories, and is happiest when railing against how the Man is ripping him off. “Okay, check this out,” Spud launched. “Google, they’re downloadin’ every book ever written. EVERY BOOK EVER WRITTEN!!! That means your books, and my books, dude, they’re scannin’ em and they’re puttin’ on-line for free. FOR FREE.” “Really?” I had a small panic. That would be bad for business. Very bad. “Yeah, dude, even as we speak, in an underground lab in Mountain View, they gotta team of Umpa Lumpa’s scanning round the clock, my man,” spewed Spud, “and cuz they’re worth, like, 40 kazillion dollars man, they they think they can just like, rule the universe. It’s imperialistic totalitarian corporate fascism, bro, it’s like 1984, like Animal Farm, like Lord of the Flies, they’re like Attila the Hun of the cyber-world man, they’re rapin’ burnin’ and pilagin’ – “ “Spud, slow down, man, come back–“ “And now they’re comin’ after you and me, dude, talkin’ food off our plates, they’re violating our inalienable constitutional rights, they’re like AT&T used to be: ‘We’re Google, we don’t care, we don’t have to.’” After I talked Spud out of going to Google’s Mtn. View headquarters and blowing it to Kingdom Come, I hung up the phone, shaken. I make my living writing books. I have a Young Adult book coming out in April, and I had a vision of kids all over the world downloading my book, printing it out and reading it for free. FOR FREE. I had a vision of my first six-month sales print out: 0 copies sold. Which would mean when I go to sell my next book, that’s the advance I’d get: $0.00. And how am I gonna fight Google? I’m just one sadsack geek pecking away on my G5. They’re Google. They rule the Cyberworld, an omniscient, omnipresent omnibeast that would crush me like a crusty bug and turn me into road kill on the information super-highway. That night I had a terrible dream. A giant head, not unlike the Wizard of Oz, was hovering over me, booming: “I am GOOGLE! I will make millions off the sweat of your brow and the genius of your brain! The great and powerful Google has spoken!” I bolted awake sweating cold bullets, determined to fight this axis of evil with every fiber of my being. Over breakfast I vented about the attack of the killer mutant Google to my lovely and talented wife, Arielle Eckstut, who, thankfully, is the rational half of our partnership. She’s been a literary agent for a dozen years, sold hundreds of books to publishers large and small. I like to say she is one of America’s top literary agents, but she hates when I say that, so I won’t. She’s also the author of three books, two of them with me. To my surprise, Arielle had a very different perspective on the whole Google fiasco. “Look,” she said, “the hardest thing for the author is just getting people to notice your book, if Google can help you do that, great. Only 10% of books earn back their advance, so they go outta print. Look at Satchel Sez.” Satchel Sez is one of the books we wrote together. It’s about the Negro Leagues legend Leroy Satchel Paige. It was an American Library Association pick of the year for teens. It came out in ‘01. It’s now out of print. “We have the last ten copies of that book. Wouldn’t it be great if every time someone Googled ‘Ol Satchel they could find out about our book and read it? That’s why we wrote the thing, so people would read it.” “Yeah,” I sighed, “it’s so sad, it’s like that was our first kid and it died on its fourth birthday.” “And what about Mort Morte?” she continued. Mort Morte is a dark, twisted subversive experimental novel I’ve written that I haven’t tried to sell yet. “No one’s going to give you any money for that book. It’s too weird for mainstream publishers. Imagine if Google could help you reach 100,000 college kids who download that book, and they each told a friend, etc, etc, you could then go speak at colleges, and make money that way. You could go to Hollywood and make a very strong case that you already have a built-in, reachable audience for a movie. It would increase your stock as a writer. And what about business books or medical books? A lot of people write books because they have important information they want to spread. And once these books are out they then use them as a calling card. Like Marty.” She’s referring to Dr. Marty Rossman, a client of hers who has a medical practice in Northern California. He’s an expert on chronic pain and has written several books about it. “He could put his book on Google and get it linked to his office, and sell his DVDs, and his CDs, and his services as a lecturer.” Arielle was really hitting her stride now, like a thoroughbred coming around the turn at Churchill Downs. “And what about Seth?” She was talking about marketing guru, Seth Godin who is famous for giving away his books for free. “He thinks that ideas you give away, you put them out in the world for free, and then people come to you and pay you when they need ideas. Lots of books would be great on Google: poetry, books of essays, short stories. People who are self-publishing. Self-publishing is so huge now. It’s so hard selling a self-published book. Why wouldn’t you want your self-published books on Google, so billions of people could have access to them? Besides, people who love books really love books. They’ve been screaming about the death of books ever since the talkies. But people will always buy books.” At that point all I could do was shake my head and take a deep cleansing breath. After I gathered myself, I said: “Okay, but you wouldn’t want Google giving away PYPIP for free would you?” Putting Your Passion Into Print is the second book we wrote together. It came out in September 2005, and it is still a healthy growing baby, all vital signs very good. Arielle thought for a second. “No,” she shook her head, “ I wouldn’t.” The universe is a strange, mysterious and beautiful place. And the gods are a bunch of merry pranksters. Soon thereafter I got an email from Barbara Lane, from the the Commonwealth Club, a San Francisco institution, where the best and the brightest come to present and debate Ideas. Needless to say, I was shocked that they were contacting me. They were having a panel discussion and asked me if I would like to present the perspective of a book writer. The subject: Google’s announced plan to scan every book ever written and make them available on-line FOR FREE! Naturally, I accepted. Game on! This discussion was to be broadcast on National Public Radio. When I told Spud he almost wet himself he got so excitement, and implored me to kick some Google butt. The panel was moderated by Moira Gunn, host of Tech Nation, and consisted of: Bill Petrocelli, owner of Book Passage, a renowned independent bookstore; Brewster Kahle, Digital Librarian and Internet Archivist; Professor Pamela Samuelson, Director, Berkeley Center for Law and Technology of UC Berkeley; and Google lawyer Alexander McAlbrae. Plus me. Naturally, I Googled them all. Including myself/. That night, the Commonwealth Club was packed and buzzing. I felt slightly out of place with all these mucketymucks, but I sucked it up and put on my game face. When the light went on a hush fell over the room, and I swear I heard the Google’s lawyer sphincter snap shut, although I do have an overactive imagination. They grilled the Google lawyer to a crisp, and though he did get a little lawyery, he made it abundantly clear that Google had no intention of scanning and scamming, of uploading books they didn’t have rights to. Of course, he said, we’re going to obey all copyright laws and we’re not out to steal anything in any way shape or form. We want to make information available, while not ripping anybody off. At the end of the whole show, the Google lawyer said: “Google loves authors.” “I’m glad Google loves me,” I replied. In fact, it became clear to me that Google has no intention of making my current book available for free to anyone. However, they now have “Satchel Sez”, they’re scanning it in a basement in Mt. View, and it’s gonna be available for anyone in the world to look at. And with the 100th anniversary of Ol’ Satch’s birthday (or one of them anyway) coming up, I’m tickled pink. I’m seriously considering putting Mort Morte, my dark twisted subversive novel, up there for free too. The Commonwealth Club evening was, for me, a true eye opener. One observation: it’s amazing how when you become a billion dollar business, people start to automatically hate you. I hope one day to have this problem. So, I called Spud up the next day and after he vented at me for being a sellout lackey puppet of the paramilitary industrial state, I explained the whole thing to him. His reply: “Dude, you gotta hook me up with Google.” To listen to the broadcast, go to: http://www.commonwealthclub.org/archive/06/06-01googleprint-audio.html

The War on Whores: The European Conference 2005: Sex Work, Human Rights, Labor & Migration

You may not know it, but there’s a world-wide war on whores.  And George W. Bush is leading the forces, just like he is in Iraq, where the death toll mounts daily.  All over the world, he has tied United States financial support to his agenda of making prostitution a crime, with willing sex workers and the clients criminals.  I found this out recently at the European Conference 2005: Sex Work, Human Rights, Labor & Migration in Brussels.

   Sex Workers' Rights For years there’s been a raging debate between abolitionists who want to make all exchange of sex for money (whether voluntary or not) illegal; and sex workers who view the willing exchange of sex and money as a work issue, not a moral issue.  The abolitionists, many of whom have never had sex for money, often contend that any exchange of sex for money is slavery. 

The sex workers, all of whom have exchanged sex for money, are adamant that they should be able to make money in the sex business if that is their choice.  And they insist that they should be able to do it in safe, sanitary conditions, with the same rights as any other worker to ply their trade.
Abolitionists have often used the trafficking issue (the international buying and selling of sex slaves) to cloud the voluntary exchange of sex for money.  Many claim that if sex work is decriminalized, trafficking will flourish.  However, the fact is that in America, sex work is illegal, and there is much trafficking.  In the Netherlands, sex work is legal, and there is much trafficking.  Furthermore it is clear that by focusing so much energy on criminalizing willing clients and buyers in the sex business, these resources cannot be used to fight real sexual slavery.
Traditionally people in the sex business have not had a voice in how we are treated.  We are jailed, deported, beaten, silenced.  Academics, social workers, lawmakers and do-gooders have spoken for us.  And we’re tired of it.  That’s one reason this conference was organized: so sex workers can speak for ourselves about the deadly serious issues that are at the core of the debate about sex for money.
Here’s what happened to me at this historic gathering.  On Thursday October 14th I arrived sleep deprived at the Mercure Royal Crown Hotel in Brussels, Belgium for the.  Excited, thrilled, yet terrified that I would be shunned and ostracized for being an ugly American stupid white breeder man. This is what it’s now like for an American abroad.  Even as I arrived, my fears were quelled as I was greeted sweetly and immediately put me to work assembling documents.  I was quite pleased to be put to work, as I come from a long line of beasts of burden, and as an ex-whore, I live to please.
As I stuffed manifestos into whore-red folders, I heard my old friend Scarlot Harlot downstairs practicing a speech in Russian.  Apparently “bitch” is “bitch” all over the world.  Why did I travel 6,000 miles to be here?  “Connect.  Celebrate.  Challenge.” That’s what the folder said. Challenge the world’s perception of sex workers, prostitutes, whores. Attitudes, laws, policies, rights to work safely and move freely.  Connect with my European sex worker friendly brothers and sisters. Celebrate good times, come on!
In the conference room, 75 or so current and former sex workers and allies congregated, mingled and chilled.  Art hung on the walls: rentboy photos eating breakfast; line drawings of whore heroes; transgender warriors and brave streetwalkers. And in the corner was Scarlot Harlot’s Whore Store.  For the whore in all of us.
My earlier trepidation now seemed ridiculous.  I communed with sex workers from Russia to Washington.  Suddenly I was face-to-face with the one and only Margo St. James, legendary icon activist and all-around hot mama.  I have, of course, heard stories about her for years.  Even performed at benefits for St. James Infirmary and Coyote (Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics), sex worker institutions she co-founded that provide help with medical, mental, professional, legal, financial and compassion needs in my San Francisco.  It’s slightly odd to finally meet someone you’ve admired for so long.  And such a relief when she is so smart, funny, down-to-earth and mad sexy.  We talked about SF’s history as the sexual capital of America, the Hooker’s Ball, Dizzy Gillespie, cokeheaded lawyers and crooked-ass cops.  I thought how odd it was to travel to Brussels to meet a legend from my own hometown.
First night a big group of us went out to dinner.  Picture the scene: 17 sex workers dropping in on a nice unsuspecting Brussels restaurant at 10pm Friday night.  A Scottish lap-dancer sat next to me.  Apparently the women in Scotland pay a deposit before their dance shift, are required to do a couple of stints on stage, then do their lapdancing in a booth, which is carefully monitored by a closed-circuit camera. No touching policy is strictly enforced.  So there is a real sense of safety in the workplace.  Juxtapose this with SF, where I recently spoke to a lap-dancer who told me the woman have to pay to work, and if they don’t make the $300 they’re charged for a night, they lose their money, goodbye, sayanora, tought luck, baby!  And in the booths she descibed, which woman are often forced into, the door is locked, and they are left unprotected.  Coersion, rape and forced sex often ensue.  And the cops don’t care, cuz they’re often the customers.  Again I am embarrassed to be an American.
On the other side of me was an English sex worker man I’d been corresponding with electronically.  Part of the joy of this conference was putting faces to e-mails.  He was charming in a way only the English can charm, and whip-smart, with a fascinating story: from evangelic angelic English school/choir boy to wildly successful hustler.
Finally I dragged my raggedy ass to bed at 2am and slept until 5am, when my brain popped open and started gyrating wildly around the room.  Sadly I was unable to find any way to stop it.  Next thing I knew it was 9am, and I crawled like a dazed Kafka cockroach down to the conference room.
An absolutely radiant sex worker woman living now in the UK was decked out in a sexy boustier type deal, with a big feather headress flapping exotically on her head. She instructed us to blow up the red balloon on our seat, write something on it, bat it around the room, grab another, and write something on it.  It was grand fun.  And a beautiful sight, watching 99 luft ballons flying around the room, with all those whores batting them about.
Favorite things I saw on a red balloon: “Money can’t buy you happiness, but it can rent some for awhile,” and “Practice random acts of kindness.”
Then they were popped:
BOOM! BAM! BANG!
We were then addressed by the committee who put the whole conference together.  What an enormous undertaking: getting everyone here, translating everything into four languages, picking a clear agenda everyone could agree on.  The most basic goals were laid out:

·        Creating a network for sex workers and allies to share information easily and instantly
·        Getting sex work addressed as a labor issue, and working to get sex workers rights to free movement and safe work, with dignity and respect
·        Drafting and ratifying a manifesto and a declaration to state our needs and desires

It was stressed that people who want to make money from sex of their own free will should have the same human rights as everyone else: protection from harm and harassment, sanitary working conditions, a living wage, freedom of movement.  But often when sex work is legalized, prostitutes are forced to register, often with their home addresses.  They are given mandatory health tests, and often this information is made public, causing stigma and sometimes violence to be heaped on the worker.  Many times they are taxed outrageously, and can have their children taken from them with no recourse.  Of course where sex work is prohibited, the workers have no rights at all, and can be abused by clients, employers, and the police, which sadly happens all too often. To view the issue as a labor/human rights/migration issue seemed a good start in improving the world for people who want to work in the sex industry.
In the afternoon I attended a Network Workshop.  The idea is to create an international network where information of all kinds can be exchanged instantly and freely.  The problems inherent are enormous and obvious: no money, no existing infrastructure, too many languages, every country with different customs and laws, so many workers underground and inaccessible, shadow players in a dark dangerous game. A sex worker who lives in French told a horror story of an African woman working in Paris in deplorable conditions.  When she complained to the government, they assured her they would help.  Instead they used the information to swoop down on the area and make massive arrests, deporting many many women who were working there without documentation.  And nothing could be done.  The French sex worker reflected that if there had been a network in place, perhaps the sex workers could have been warned.
Next was a media workshop, which I had agreed to help facilitate.  It was distressingly depressing how many of my fellow sex workers had media whore horror stories.  One transgendered sex worker living in Norway told about being interviewed extensively, then getting quoted in the paper in a tiny box with a huge unflattering picture above and a caption that read: “WHORE REFUSES TO PAY TAXES!” Time and again the media portays us as sadsack immoral slut dregs-of-society losers, or sex freaks in miniskirts bending into car windows. A general theme emerged: Control the interview, plan and rehearse your message, and deliver it kindly, nicely and relentlessly. And as with all whore work, it if feels weird or bad, JUST SAY NO!
On to the Manifesto.  A statement of needs and desires by sex workers themselves, not policy makers, social workers, or deluded do-gooders who have no idea what it’s like to actually do the the work. The Manifesto addresses everything from working conditions, to migration, to labor practices, to securing basic human rights, respect and protection.  So many of these conferences devolve into pointless theorizing and painful in-fighting.  But here is a real document with real substance written by real sex workers.
Another joy of this conference: the conversations you would never ever have anywhere else.  After we rehearsed for the show we were going to put on, a new stripper friend said, “Please don’t tell anyone about the buttplug, I want it to be a surprise.” I assured her that no word of the buttplug would pass my lips.  And I was true to my word.
At the group meeting Sunday morning, a sex work expert reported that new German legislation doesn’t decriminalize sex work, but now it is tolerated.  Sex workers are expected to sign contracts if they work in houses.  But there is much mistrust, and many workers don’t want to sign them.  Part of the problem is that the workers don’t know about changes in the law, so they’re in the dark about their rights. Legally, it is not against the law to run a house of prostitution in a residential neighborhood, but because of ignorance and stigmatization, many houses are being closed down.  And in every sector their are small variations in law. Apparently in Germany, politicians and government officials are so ignorant about how the sex business works that they tax sex workers when they aren’t even employees.  A pleasure tax is also levied on sex workers, who are not allowed to deduct legitimate expenses.  So they often have outrageous tax bills.  And with the change in law also comes a crackdown on migrant workers, who are deported, even though many have nowhere to go, and face horror stories when they are dumped back in the home lands. On the positive side, the law is a start towards legitimizing sex work.
Laura Agustin’s presentation on migration and trafficking followed.  Apparently there’s a great discrepancy between what is actually happening in the world, and the hysteria that is presented by abolitionists and the media.  Yes, of course there are slaves of all kind being trafficked in the world, but all too often the reality of migrants willingly exchanging sex for money is ignored, and the worker suffers for it.  This makes it all the more difficult to track down real traffickers who are using humans as slaves. Only when governments acknowledge and respect the right to travel and trade sex for money will migrant sex workers get the rights and protection they desperately need and deserve.
An Italian sex work legend, who for many years has been studying human and sexual rights, as well as discrimination and persecution among woman and the transgendered.  Sex workers, she said, are perceived as victims, and stripped of all rights and abilities to determine their own fate. Sex workers and migrants are the subject of racism, violence and abuse.  The perpetrators are not pursued or punished.  The message was: This must end.
A sex worker expert who now live in Swedish presented the new Swedish model of controlling sex work.  Apparently, for better or worse, the Swedes believe that the whole world should adopt their social policies, so they are madly going around trying to get every country under the sun to run sex work the way they do.  The only problem is: What they do doesn’t work.  Their idea is to arrest and prosecute the client.  Which is better than arresting and prosecuting the women certainly, but the point is, why are they arresting willing buyers or sellers at all?  The feminist-driven Swedish government argues that criminalization will empower women, making them less susceptible to being talked into the business.  And their theory is that trafficking will be stopped.  However, the reality is much different.  Sex workers can no longer afford to be choosey about picking clients, since the clients are fewer, scared and edgy.  So often times only the violent, extreme buyers are left.  And if something does happen, the clients, who used to be able to help police, now no longer cooperate for fear of being arrested themselves. Undocumented workers are shipped out.  Police clandestinely film sex workers, trying to collect evidence against buyers.  Sex workers are now loathe to carry condoms, which can be used as evidence of having sex for money. And in Sweden, the government will not listen to the sex workers themselves.  But the Swedish expert said he is bound and determined to “stop the virus from spreading” and urged us to help stamp out this terrible policy, which tramples all over human rights of sex workers.
Gail Pheterson and Margo St. James then gave a presentation, complete with pictures and text, about the history of the sex worker rights movement. They have had a wonderful partnership as academic/sex worker, and this reflected in their beautiful give-and-take rapport.  They said that from the beginning they didn’t back away from words used to denigrate prostitutes, which is why they called the inaugural event, The First World Whore Conference.  This was in 1985-86.  Twenty years ago.  From the beginning, prostitute rights and women’s rights seemed to them intrinsically linked, and they’ve been working (with varying degrees of success) for years to get feminists to understand this, and have sympathetic support for sex workers.  “We are all for rights of sex workers and against violence, exploitation and slavery.”  Gail and Margo did a very interesting thing from the beginning: they dressed up civilian allies as whores so that no one could tell the difference.   We are not who you think we are.  We are not freakish amoral monsters.  We are brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers.  We live next door, up the street, and down the hall.  Looking at Margo and Gail, it was impossible to tell who was the academic and who was the ex-whore.  They quoted Norma Jean Almodavar: “There’s a difference between politicians and prostitutes.  There are some things prostitutes won’t do for money.” I laughed.  We all laughed.
Ana Lopes and George Martin talked about starting a sex woker union in the UK.  Ana got a job in the sex industry, liked the work, but was frustrated that she was stigmatized, had no labor rights, and was treated unfairly, with no recourse. So she and fellow sex workers met in her apartment, with no money, no resources, and formed the International Union of Sex Workers.  They put up a website, recruited more members, and went about making themselves into a valid union.  After being rebuffed by many many organizations, they contacted the George Martin and the GMB.  They found they had much common ground, and joined forces.  They wanted to establish sex work as legitimate labor, thus helping with training, individual benefits, legal representation and rights, as well as better working conditions.  And now they have actually made a recognized union.  Forcing people to see sex work as a labor issue as opposed to a moral issue.  And in giving invisible sex workers a face and a structure to be seen and heard.  Ana and Martin were inspirational indeed.  Sex Workers of the World Unite!
Sunday night was the party/performance, at a nightclub in Brussels.  The place was packed to the rafters with sex workers and allies in all their feathery finery.  Wigs, slits, tits, stilleto heels, big hair, short skirts, silk, leather and lace.  By the time the show started the atmosphere was electric, like being in a cloud just before a lightning storm.  After two beautiful poems by two beautiful French sex workers about activist warrior Gristeledes, Scarlot Harlot, looking like a cross between Mae West, the Statue of Liberty, and a Madame at a Brothel in Heaven, brought the house down with her unique blend of vaudevillian sloganeering.

Stop the Wars On Whores!!!
Outlaw Poverty Not Prostitutes!!!
Keep the Government Out of My Underpants!!!

Solitair has legs longer than I am, a black river of hair running down her impossibly long back, huge spotlight eyes that shine on high beam, and when she paraded onto the stage to the tune of “I Like the Way You Move” in a tiny purple see-through teddy, a hot shiver ran through the room.  Lean lithe and lovely she played the crowd like it was a violin and she was Itzak Perlman in a purple teddy.  And when she bent over and moved her G-string to reveal the butt plug, I was gratified that I had not revealed her secret, because the stunned pindrop silence, full of gaping mouths, stolen breath and bugged-out eyes, was priceless.  To shock this crowd took some doing, but Solitair did it in spades.
I was next, and as I looked out at all those beaming sex workers faces from all over the world: the rentboys and ladyboys, the whores and the hustlers, the disenfranchised and the reviled, the hated and the desired, the objects of revulsion and lust, I was overcome by these people, who had all traveled many miles to be here, to try in some ridiculous way to make the world more fair and humane and safe.
I have done my show, or bits of it, almost a hundred times, on three continents. This was the only time I have been translated on the spot into Russian and French.  Strange and amazing to say a line, then wait and hear my words in Russian.  Then French.  I had been a little worried that it would be too long and too weird.  But for me it accentuated how we were doing something global, and yet incredibly personal.  In my show I portray a client who was a tantric sex expert.  My piece climaxes when she has the mother of all climaxes.  I’ve always said that Orgasm is the ultimate international language, and this proved true on that Sunday night in Brussels.  It felt like we all came together in a celebration of sex work and being human.
Gypsy Charms, my new Scottish stripper friend, had asked me to play a client getting a lap-dance from her.  After the dance I was to yell at her, growling gruffly about what bad her body was.  To me this illustrated a subtle part of sex work that I felt over and over when I was in the business, that no one had really discussed at the conference.  How clients inflict their sexual pain on the sex worker.  How as a whore I absorbed so much sexual illness from my clients.  As a race we seem to suffer so much sexually, and sex workers are a well into which the world dumps its sex misery.  In the piece, I was told to reach up and touch her, which is strictly forbidden.  When I did it, she reached back and slapped me.  The crowd reacted audibly, happy to see an abusive client get some of his own back.  I thought of the men standing outside the booths in Amsterdam, drunk and screaming horrible degrading things at the women behind the glass, laughing like sadistic barbarians.
After the show an amazing DJ ripped some crazy mad tunes, with all manner of Afro/Latino/Eurotrashing rhythms thrown into the pot to create a tasty stew. Boys danced with boys.  Girls danced with girls.  Boys danced with girls.  Girls danced with boys.  Trannies danced with everybody.  It was a slamming jamming euphoric release.  A celebration.
Monday morning, blurry-eyed but bushy-tailed we loaded into buses and headed for the European Parliament.  By this time I was so sleep deprived I felt sure that if my head weren’t tethered to my body, it would float away like a red balloon.  As we approached the huge gleaming glass and metal structure of the European Parliament, its modern majesty made it feel like we were about to enter a center of money and influence. We had to get individuals badges and go through the metal detectors, adding to the effect that something terribly official, and potentially dangerous, was happening here.  It was a fabulous contrast: all of us queer birds dressed like bureaucrats and politicians rubbing elbows with all the straight-laced button-down bureaucrats and politicians.  The room where our meeting took place looked just like you see it on TV.  A table with microphones on a platform in front of many long curving tables with microphones, going back 30 deep, with chairs for about 250 people.  Around the perimeter, behind glass partitions, sat the translators from a dozen or so countries.  Nice gig, I thought, sit around and wait for somebody to speak in your language, hope they’re not too longwinded, then hang out in the European Parliament.
Entering this room was surreal.  Made everything seem more real and possible, because after all, here we were, in the very seat of social power, where laws are changed, compromises are hammered out, and policy is made.  An official from the Green Party, which sponsored us, spoke about how much we have in common.  We both want to stop violence and abuse, and get rights in place for all sex workers.  The funny thing is, you could not have picked this Green Party politico out of a line-up of sex workers.
An Italian member of the European Parliament showed up.  He was attentive, energetic and seemed like quite a sharp fellow.  He talked about putting the sex work struggle in the broader historical context of the struggle for human rights by any underrepresented, oppressed, reviled, stigmatized and beaten down group.  The Italian Parliament said he was going to take our Declaration to other politicians so they can study it, and make changes accordingly.  He said he was on a committee that was responsible for spreading democracy and human rights all over Europe, and that he was going to push our agenda of civil rights and the fight against repressive punitive laws and regulations.  Most importantly, he thought that making sex work seen as a profession would be a huge step.  He suggested we hook up with other organizations to build our power base, and to find specific violations to draw attention to the larger issues.
Then he did something amazing.  He actually signed our Declaration.  Right there in front of all of us.  Out in the open. In the European Parliament.  When our Chairperson asked him, he said he would sigh it, “Very happily.”
When ten basic demands were read by sashed sex workers, a chill went through me, and a feeling of triumph spread through the room.  Stop criminalization, prejudice, violence, ignorance, cruelty and abuse, to ensure that people can work and move free and easy, proudly and with dignity.
Afterwards I thought what we really should do is film our members having sex with all the major leaders of Parliament, then blackmail them into giving us what we need.  Hey, by whatever means necessary.
WARNING: If you ever eat in the European Parliament, DO NOT have the salad.  The green beans were wilted, the corn tasteless, and the shredded carrots a disaster.
So now we had to load into a bus and go to the Street Demonstration.  If you’ve ever tried to move 150 sex workers through the European Parliament you know how difficult that can be.  Somehow we succeeded.  Then suddenly there we were on the steps of the Brussels Stock Exchange.  I thought ruefully of all the bankers who rent us, then revile us.
We were all given red umbrellas, and as we assembled with them on the steps, it was a beautiful sight, like a field of blooming poppies with sex worker flowers growing under them.  A huge banner read:

SEX WORKER RIGHTS = HUMAN RIGHTS!!!

Instantly it was a mob scene, as onlookers gawked and gaped, glued to the spectacle of the whistle-blowing whores dancing and chanting:  “VOUS COUCHEZ AVEC NOUS, VOUS VOTEZ CONTRA NOUS!!!”  You sleep with us, you vote against us!!!
Journalists hungrily buzzed about with notepads, microphones, movie and still camera, hunting for the nectar of the right angle to make the news.
Suddenly there were sirens, and the police showed up.  My first impulse as an American was that they were going to arrest us. Great! I thought, this is the best thing that could possibly happen.  I saw us on the front pages of the London, New York, Los Angeles Times, on the BBC, CNN, Al Jazeera:

150 SEX WORKERS ARRESTED IN BRUSSLES!!!

Alas, sadly, they were only there to keep the peace.  After about 45 minutes, we took off through the streets of Brussels, a police car clearing the road for us.  It was a joyous celebration, and a challenge to the public: we’re here, we’re not who you think we are, and we’re not going away. Globally and locally.  As we moved through the streets of Brussels singing and chanting with our red umbrellas and our banners, we were cheered and waved at by walkers, drivers and passersby.  I also heard that a couple of Belgians saw us and said, “They should all be killed.” They should all be killed.  They should all be killed. We passed a group of boys, 8-10 year olds, on bicycles.  They started cheering and shouting sweetly with boyish enthusiasm, staying with us for quite a while, having a fine old time.  I smiled as I thought that maybe when they grow up they’ll have an image of sex workers as fun, smart and political, instead of uneducated, drug addicted wretches of society.
On the march, one of the member of our contingency was passing out cards for our organization.  She gave one to an onlooker, who looked at the card, then looked at us, and asked what the card said.  Our member translated: “These are sex workers.” Onlooker looked at the card, looked at us, and asked, “What’s a sex worker?”  Our member explained, “People who work in the sex business, like prostitutes and strippers.” Onlooker’s eyes went wide: “Ï am a stripper and a prostitute. And and transsexual.  May I join you?” Our member said we would love to have her.  She introduced Onlooker to one of our own transsexual sex workers, and they walked arm-in-arm through the streets, telling each other their life stories.
Yes, of course, there is much to do, the situation is dire, but I for one, left excited, encouraged and inspired.  From the streets of Brussels to the European Parliament, our voices are being heard.

TOP TEN LIST FROM THE EUROPEAN CONFREENCE 2005
1.     European Parliament member signs official sex worker demand document
2.     Whore Manifesto created and ratified
3.     Margo St. James and Gail Pheterson stroll us down hooker activist Memory Lane
4.     10 sex workers read our needs in European Parliament
5.     Hearing whore stories from around the world
6.     Demonstrating on the steps of the Stock Exchange then dancing in the streets
7.     Meeting sex workers from Greece, Italy, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Russia, Scotland, England, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Holland, Belgium, Germany, and God knows where else
8.     UK strippers
9.     Sharing a room with tantric massage expert
10. Getting my ass squeezed by a lesbian, a gay man, a straight man, a straight woman, and a transsexual all in one day

As an added bonus, I have included a list of things I think every activist should know.  Enjoy!

10 COMMANDMENTS OF ACTIVISM
1. If thou marcheth in the streets, weareth comfortable shoes
2. Talketh not for more than three minutes if thou hast nothing to say
3. Putteth the needs of the group before thine own
4. Forgeth not thine business cards
5. Getteth contact information from everyone thou meeteth
6. Eateth apples instead of candy
7. If thou hast a roommate, tryeth not to snoreth
8. Listeneth more than thou talketh
9. Findeth solutions instead of bitchething about how bad everything is
10. Smelleth good
David Henry Sterry

To view pictures:  http://www.espacep.be/

Here is the Manifesto:

SEX WORKERS IN EUROPE
MANIFESTO

We come from many different countries and many different backgrounds, but we have discovered that we face many of same problems in our work and in our lives.

Within this document we explore the current inequalities and injustices within our lives and the sex industry; question their origin; confront and challenge them and put forward our vision of changes that are needed to create a more equitable society in which sex workers, their rights and labour are acknowledged and valued.

This manifesto was elaborated and endorsed by 120 sex workers from 26 countries at the European Conference on Sex Work, Human Rights, Labour and Migration 15 – 17 October 2005, Brussels, Belgium.

BEYOND TOLERANCE AND COMPASSION
FOR THE RECOGNITION OF RIGHTS

We live in a society where services are bought and sold. Sex work is one of these services. Providing sexual services should not be criminalised.

Sacrificing sex workers for religious or sexual morals is unacceptable. All people have the right to hold their own personal religious and sexual morals, but such morals should not be imposed on any individual or determine any political decision.

We wish to see a society in which sex workers are not denied social power.

We condemn the hypocrisy within our societies where our services are used but our profession or businesses are made illegal. This legislation results in abuse and lack of control over our work and lives.

We oppose the criminalisation of sex workers, their partners, clients, managers, and everyone else working in sex work. Such criminalisation denies sex workers of equal protection of the law.

Migration plays an important role in meeting the demands of the labour market. We demand our governments acknowledge and apply fundamental human, labour and civil rights for migrants.
The right to be free from discrimination
We demand the end of discrimination and abuse of power by the police and other public authorities. Offering sexual services is not an invitation to any kind of violence. The lack of credibility of sex workers must end.

We demand that crimes against us and our testimonies are taken seriously by the justice system. Sex workers should, to the same extent as anyone else, be presumed innocent until guilt is proven.

Defamation of sex workers incites discrimination and hatred. We demand that sex workers be protected by anti-discrimination legislation.
The right to our bodies
Sex work is by definition consensual sex. Non consensual sex is not sex work; it is sexual violence or slavery.

We demand our right as human beings to use our bodies in any way we do not find harmful; including the right to establish consensual sexual relations, no matter the gender or ethnicity of our partners; regardless of whether they are paying or not.
The right to be heard
We assert our right to participate in public forums and policy debates where our working and living conditions are being discussed and determined.

We demand our voices are heard, listened to and respected. Our experiences are diverse, but all are valid, and we condemn those who steal our voice and say that we do not have the capacity to make decisions or articulate our needs.
The right to associate and gather
We assert our right to form and join professional associations and unions.

We assert our right to demonstrate publicly.

We demand the right to form business partnerships, both formal and informal, and to participate in social projects.
The right to mobility
We assert our right to be in all public spaces.

We assert the right of all persons to move within and between countries for personal and financial reasons, including seeking gainful employment and residence in the area of their choice.

The trafficking discourse obscures the issues of migrants’ rights. Such a simplistic approach to such a complex issue reinforces the discrimination, violence and exploitation against migrants, sex workers and migrant sex workers in particular.

Violence, coercion and exploitation related to migration and sex work must be understood and tackled within a framework of recognising the worth and fundamental rights of migrants.

Restrictive migration legislation and anti-prostitution policies must be identified as contributing factors to the violation of migrants’ rights.

Forced labour and slavery-like practices are possible in many trades. But where trades are legal and the labour of its workers recognised, it is more possible to denounce and put an end to the violations of rights and prevent abuse.

We demand our governments prioritise and protect the human rights of victims of forced labour and slavery-like practices, regardless of how they arrived in their situation and regardless of their ability or willingness to cooperate or testify in criminal justice proceedings.

We call upon our governments to give asylum to victims of forced labour and slavery-like practices, and to provide support to their families and friends. Failure to do so perpetuates their exploitation and further violates their fundamental human rights.
Abuse in sex work
Abuse happens in sex work, but does not define sex work.

Any discourse that defines sex work as violence is a simplistic approach that denies our diversity and experience and reduces us to helpless victims. It undermines our autonomy and right to self-determination.
Restrictive legislation contributes to discrimination, stigma and abuse of sex workers.

We demand our governments decriminalise sex work and end legislation that discriminates against us and stigmatises us. We demand the right to report abuses against us without risking prosecution.

Granting rights for sex workers would allow them to report infringements of their human rights.

We demand protection from those who threaten us and our families for exposing them.

We demand methods that allow us to remain anonymous when reporting grievances and crimes against us.
Abuse of young people in sex work
It is essential that education focuses on empowering young people to have sexual autonomy. We demand that support, services and outreach be provided to young people to give them real choice and the possibilities of alternatives.

Young people should have a voice in legislation and policies that affect them.

OUR LIVES

Being a sex worker
Society imposes an ‘identity’ and ‘social role’ on sex workers that goes beyond the recognition that we use our bodies and minds as an economic individual resource to earn money.

The ‘identity’ and ‘social role’ imposed on us defines us as intrinsically unworthy and a threat to moral, public and social order; labelling us sinners, criminals, or victims – stigma separates us from ‘good’ and ‘decent’ citizens and the rest of society.

This stigma leads to people seeing us only as ‘whores’ in a negative and stereotyped way – the rest of our lives, and the differences amongst us, become invisible. It denies us a place in society. To protect ourselves and to ensure we have a place within society most sex workers hide their involvement in sex work, many absorb the societal stigma of shame and unworthiness, and live in fear of being exposed. For this reason many sex workers accept the abuses inflicted upon them. The social exclusion that results from the stigmatisation of sex workers leads to denial of access to health, to housing, to alternative work, separation from our children and isolation.

Societal perceptions impose a moral hierarchy within the sex industry – based on migrant status, race, ethnic origin, gender, age, sexuality, drug use, work sector and the services provided – adding to the stigma and social exclusion of certain groups of sex workers. Amongst sex workers themselves there are those who agree with such views. We assert that all sex workers and all forms of sex work are equally valid and valuable and condemn such moral and prejudiced divisions.

We recognise stigma as being the commonality that links all of us as sex workers, forming us into a community of interest – despite the enormous diversity in our realities at work and in our lives. We have come together to confront and challenge this stigma and the injustices it leads to.

We assert that sex work is a sexual-economic activity and does not imply anything about our identity or value and participation as part of society.

Active citizenship
Sex workers should not be perceived purely as victims to be assisted, criminals to be arrested or targets for public health interventions – we are part of society, with needs and aspirations, who have the potential to make a real and valuable contribution to our communities.

We demand that current mechanisms of representation and consultation are opened up to sex workers.

Privacy & family
We assert our right to be free from arbitrary interference with our privacy and family and to marry and/or found a family.

We are capable human beings, who have the ability to love and care for other human beings – as any human being does. Our work sometimes gives us more financial security and time for a child or partner than other more time consuming and lesser paid work.

The labelling of our partners as pimps and exploiters/abusers simply because they are our partners, presupposes we have no autonomy and implies we are not worthy of love or relationships denying us the possibility of a private life.

We assert our right to establish personal relationships and have self-determination within those relationships without judgement.

We demand an end to discriminatory legislation that prohibits us from being with and/or marrying the partner of our choice and criminalises our partners and children for associating with us and living off our earnings.

The labelling of us by social services and courts as unfit parents and the removal of our children, simply because we provide sexual services, is unjustifiable and unacceptable. Such stigmatisation removes our ability to seek support and assistance if we need it in relation to parenting or abusive relationships for fear of losing our children.

We demand an end to such discrimination.

Media and education
Our voices and experiences are often manipulated by the media and we are seldom given the right to reply and our complaints are dismissed.

The portrayal of sex workers in the mass media all too often perpetuates the stereotypical image of sex workers as unworthy, victims and/or a threat to moral, public and social order. In particular the xenophobic portrayal of migrant sex workers adds an additional level of stigma and increases their vulnerability. Such portrayals of sex workers give legitimacy to those within our society who seek to harm us and violate our rights.

Alongside the misleading images of sex workers, our clients are represented in the media as being violent, perverted or psycologically disturbed. Paying for sexual services is not an intrinsically violent or problematic behaviour. Such stereotyping silences discussion about the reality of the sex industry – it perpetuates our isolation and obscures the actual violent and problematic behaviour of a small but significant number of clients.

Prejudice and discrimination against sex workers runs throughout our society. To overcome this we require our governments to recognise the actual harm that is being done to us, and the value of our work, and support us and our clients in educating and informing not only those in public authorities but also the general public to enable us to participate fully in our society.

Combatting Violence against sex workers
Sex workers experience disproportionate levels of violence and crime. The stigmatisation of sex workers has led to society and public authorities condoning violence and crime against us because it is seen as inherent to our work.

We demand that our governments recognise that violence against sex workers is a crime, whether it be perpetrated by our clients, our managers, our partners, local residents or members of the public authorities.

We require our governments to publicly condemn those who perpetrate actual violence against us.

We demand our governments take action in combating the actual violence we experience, rather than the perceived violence of prostitution put forward by abolitionists who are seeking to eradicate all forms of sex work.

– Time and resources now spent arresting and prosecuting sex workers and non-violent  clients should be redirected towards dealing with rape and other violent crimes against us.

– Mechanisms must be developed to encourage and support sex workers in reporting crimes, including early warning systems amongst sex workers themselves about potentially violent clients.

Health and well being
No-one, least of all sex workers, denies there are health risks attached to sex work, however, it is a myth that we are ‘dirty’ or ‘unclean’. In reality we are more knowledgeable about our sexual health and practice safe sex more than the general populace and we act as sexual health educators for our clients.

We call for our role within society as a valuable resource for sexual well being and health promotion to be recognised.

Stigma remains a barrier to health care for sex workers. Prejudice and discrimination occur within healthcare settings where sex workers experience degrading and humiliating treatment from some health care workers.

We demand that all health care workers treat us with respect and dignity and that our complaints of discriminatory treatment are taken seriously.

In furtherance of the health and well-being of all sex workers we demand our governments provide:
– access to health services for all migrant sex workers
– access to needle exchange and drug treatment options for dependent drug users
– access to treatment options for all people living with HIV, without which many may die unnecessarily.
– access to transitional treatment options for transgender persons

Registration and mandatory testing
Registration and mandatory testing of sex workers has no preventative value, particularly while there is no requirement for clients to be tested. Where mandatory testing still exists one of the consequences is that clients assume sex workers are ‘healthy’ and resist the need to use condoms as they do not see themselves as a threat to the sex worker.

Registration and mandatory sexual health and HIV testing are a violation of sex workers human rights and reinforce the stigmatisation of sex workers as a threat to public health and promotes the stereotypical view that only they can transmit infections to clients.

We demand an end to registration and mandatory testing.

Entitlement to travel, migration, asylum
The lack of possibilities to migrate put our integrity and health in danger. We demand that sex workers be free to travel within and across countries and to migrate, without discrimination based on our work.

We demand the right to asylum for sex workers who are subjected to state and/or community violence on the basis of selling sexual services

We demand the right to asylum for anyone denied human rights on the basis of a “crime of status,” be it sex work, health status, gender or sexual orientation.
OUR LABOUR

Our bodies and minds are an individual economic resource for many people in many different forms. All forms of sex work are equally valid, including dancing, stripping, street or indoor prostitution, escorting, phone sex or performing in pornography.

For some remunerated sex remains part of their private sphere, as such they operate out side the labour market.

For many others sex becomes work, while some work independently, others work collectively and many are ‘employed’ by third parties. For them it is an income generating activity and must be recognised as labour.

Alienation, exploitation, abuse and coercion do exist in the sex industry, as in any other industry sector, but it does not define us or our industry.  However limits are placed when the labour within an industry is formally recognised, accepted by society at large and supported by trade unions. When labour rights are extended it enables workers to use labour regulations to report abuses and organise against unacceptable working conditions and excessive exploitation.

The lack of recognition of sex work as labour and the criminalisation of activities within and around the sex industry results in sex workers being treated like criminals, even if they do not break any laws. Such treatments alienate us from the rest of society and reduce our ability to control our work and our lives. It creates greater possibilities for uncontrolled exploitation, abuse and coercion – unacceptable working hours, unsanitary working conditions, unfair division of income and unreasonable restrictions on freedom of movement – certain groups of sex workers such as migrants are disproportionately affected by unacceptable working conditions.

We demand the recognition of our right to the protection of legislation that ensures just and favourable conditions of work, remuneration and protection against unemployment.

We demand that sex work is recognised as gainful employment, enabling migrants to apply for work and residence permits and that both documented and undocumented migrants be entitled to full labour rights.

We demand the creation of a European Commission Ombudsman to oversee national legislation on the sex industry.  This can be a newly created post or be made part of an existing role.

Professional and personal development

We assert our right to join and form unions.

We as sex workers require the same possibilities for professional development as other workers. We demand the right to be able to develop vocational training and advice services, including support to establish our own business and work independently.

We assert our right to travel and work in other countries. Access to information about working in the sex industry and its different sectors should be available.

We demand that foreign education and qualification be recognised appropriately.

We demand that anti-discrimination legislation is applied both within the sex industry and for sex workers seeking alternative employment given the specific difficulties sex workers face as a consequence of stigma.

We call for support to be provided to sex workers who wish to further their education or look for alternative employment.

Taxes and welfare
We acknowledge every citizens obligation to financially support the society in which they live.  However, when sex workers do not receive the same benefits as other citizens and while our right to equal protection of the law is denied, some sex workers do not feel this obligation.

We demand that we have access to social insurance which gives the right to unemployment and sickness benefits, pensions and health care.

Sex workers should pay regular taxes on the same basis as other employees and independent contractors and should receive the same benefits. Taxation schemes should not be used as a means of registering sex workers and issues related to stigma and confidentiality must be prioritised.

Information on taxes must be accessible and easy to understand, and provided in many languages for migrant workers. Tax collection schemes should be transparent and easily understood for workers to avoid exploitation and abuse by employers.

The purchase of appropriate goods and services, including health services, where paid for, should be considered tax deductible.

Health and safety at work
Our bodies are our business. In order to maintain our health we require free or affordable safe sex products and access to health services.

We demand our governments prohibit the confiscation of condoms and other safe sex products from sex workers and sex work establishments.

We demand our governments provide free or affordable access to sexual health care for all sex workers, including vaccinations for preventable diseases.

We demand the health care needs of sex workers be included in all health insurance schemes and that sick pay be available for work related illness as with other occupations.

Violence within any workplace is a health and safety issue. Our employers have an obligation to protect us and to take action against those who violate our right to be safe within our work.

We demand that our governments take our health and safety seriously and promote safe working environments in which violence and abuse will not be tolerated. To this end we urge governments to establish emergency telephone advice lines through which sex workers can seek advice and report abuses anonymously.

Working conditions
The fact that sex becomes work does not remove our right to have control over who we have sex with or the sexual services we provide or the condition under which we provide those services.

We demand the right to engage in sex work without coercion, to move within the sex industry and to leave it if we choose.

We demand the right to say no to any client or any service requested. Managers must not be allowed to determine the services we provide or the conditions under which we provide them – whether we are employees or ‘self-employed’.

We demand the right to fair conditions of work – such as entitlement to the minimum wage, breaks, minimum rest periods and annual leave. Such conditions should also apply to those who are nominally ‘self-employed’ within a collective workplace.

We demand an end to unacceptable practices such as requiring sex workers to consume alcohol and/or drugs at work, to pay excessive costs for food, drink, services and clothing in the workplace.

We demand that health and safety be prioritised in our workplaces and that for those who work independently in public places their health and safety also be protected.

We demand that employers comply with data protection legislation and that our personal details are treated confidentially and that any abuse of our personal details be taken seriously by the authorities.

Legislation regulating working hours and conditions is complex, it is important that clear and accurate information be provided to sex workers and displayed within workplaces about their rights, such information must be provided in many different languages to ensure that all migrants have access to this information.

To improve our working conditions it is important that we have opportunities to self organise and advocate for our rights. We call upon trade unions to support us in our self organisation and in our struggle for fair working conditions.

We call for the establishment of designated areas for street prostitution, in consultation and agreement with sex workers, to enable those who work in public places to do so safely, without compromising an individual’s choice to work wherever they choose; such areas will enable us to work collectively and facilitate appropriate services, while the police can ensure we are free from the interference of criminals and other undesirables.

Decriminalisation of sex work
Selling sexual services and being a sex worker is often definined in our societies as criminal, even when neither is an actual criminal offense. The hypocrisy of current legislation is that it criminalises many of the activities within the sex industry that enable us to work collectively and safely. Such legislation – which governments tell us is to protect us from exploitation – actually increases our alienation and gives greater possibilities for exploitation, abuse and coercion within our industry. It treats us as legal ‘minors’ as though we are unable to make informed decisions.

We demand an end to legislation that criminalises us, those we work with and for, organisers and managers who follow good practice, our clients and our families.

We demand an end to legislation that denies our freedom of association, and restricts our ability to self organise.

We demand an end to legislation that denies our right to freedom of movement within and between countries

We demand the right to be able to work individually or collectively; as either independent workers or as employees with the full protection of labour rights.

We demand the right to be able to rent premises from which to work, to advertise our services and to pay those who carry out services for us.

We demand the right to use our earnings in any way we choose.  We demand the right to be able use our earnings to support our family and loved ones.

We demand that sex work businesses be regulated by standard business codes, under such codes businesses would be registered not sex workers.

We demand the right to spend time in public places and support the call for designated public areas for street sex work, in consultation and agreement with sex workers, whilst not removing an individual’s right to work wherever they choose

We defend the right of non-violent and non-abusive clients to purchase sexual services.

In order to make sex work safe for all we demand that criminal laws be enforced against fraud, coercion, child sexual abuse, child labour, violence, rape and murder within the sex industry.
(Pictures: http://www.espacep.be/)

Rules to Live by from Satchel Paige, Michael Caine, Groucho & Me

Satchel_Paige

groucho_2363267kMichael's FistsGet the money up front

Don’t ever be too full for dessert

People with happy pets live longer

The only way around is through

Never underestimate the power of a great apology

Trust in a kind universe, but hide your valuables in a very safe place

Bitter failure, brutal rejection, and relentless misery are fantastic fertilizer for comedy, and laughter is the shortest distance between two people

Listening is easier to do with your mouth shut

Learning the rules is the best to understand how to break them and get away with it

Don’t keep swinging when a fight’s all over

Age is a question of mind over matter.  If you don’t mind, it don’t matter

Work like you don’t need the money, love like you’ve never been hurt, dance like nobody’s watching

Sincerity is the most important thing in life, and once you’ve learned to fake that, you’ve got it made

The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about

Fool me once, I’m an idiot, fool me twice I’m twice as big an idiot

The bigger they are, the harder they can hit you

Killing time turns you into the living dead

Outside of a dog a book is man’s best.  Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read

Don’t mistake a short memory for a clear conscience

Be like a duck.  Remain calm on the surface and paddle like hell underneath

If you think that something small cannot make a difference, try going to sleep with a hungry mosquito in the room

A human without passion is like apple pie without the apples

Never make a decision when you’re angry, or shop for food when you’re hungry

A friend is someone who tells you when you’ve got a piece of stray food on your lip

You can’t stop the birds of sorrow from flying over your head, but you can stop them from building nests in your hair

People are like teabags… you never know how strong they are until you drop them in hot water

If it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger.  If you haven’t worn it in a year, throw it away

Use your body for more than carrying your brain around

When you surround yourself with people who are smarter than you are, you prove you are smarter than they are

Never trust a dog to watch your food, and never try to baptize a cat

One cannot change the past, but one can ruin the present by living in the future

People are divided into three classes: those that are immovable, those that are movable, and those that move

One good father is worth more than 100 star athletes

An ounce of mother is worth a pound of preachers

Never spit when you’re on a roller coaster

Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups

Don’t sweat the petty things and don’t pet the sweaty things

Your character is your destiny, and your refrigerator is not the place for science projects

Never interrupt when you are being flattered

In disagreements with loved ones, deal with the current situation, rather than everything that’s wrong with everyone except you

Read between the lines, think outside the box, and be nice to old people, cuz with a little luck you may be one some day

Memorize your favorite poem

Don’t judge people by their relatives

When you lose, don’t lose the lesson, and when you win, be nice to the loser learning the lesson, cuz sooner or later that loser will be you.

Giving and receiving love makes humans happy, therefore it’s the hardest thing to do

It’s very important to smell good

The wise person is the one who knows how little they know – when I finally realized I didn’t know anything people started telling me how smart I was

Drugs, Litquake & the Edinburgh Castle

I just got home from the Litquake Writers on Drugs show, the place was packed, jacked and wacked, 200 litquakin’ loons crammed into the Edinburgh Castle, where the ghost of Irvine Welch pukes in the bathroom, and oh man the joint jumped, rumbled, rattled and rolled, 9.8 on the Richter Scale.  Alan Black the masterful master of ceremonies, was the very model of Scottish hospitality, all nettles and good cheer and the blackest of humor, invoking the dead who’d perished in the Castle from overindulgence and intemperence.  What a wag that Alan is, if you’ve never met him, do yourself a favor, introduce yourself at the Caslte and have a blather, he is a true Olde School wit.  BTW, Litquke was actually conceived at the Castle, in the front room, i’m not sure what bodily fluids were exchanged but the fetus was made and life began there.  From such humble beginnings, Litquake has become such a huge amazing phenomenon.   I was very happy to be at the Castle for Drug Night.
 

Before the show I was hanging out all alone, rehearsing, in the upstairs back room where they normally have readings, when I met another of the evening”s performers, Ed Rosenthal, one of America’s most famous marijuana advocates and a writer and publsiher.  He asked me if this was the place to smoke weed.  I said I thought this was as good a place as any.  He kindly asked me if I would like to join him.  I thanked him, and explained that I can’t perform as well when I’m stoned, it throws me off my game.  Funny to be performing a drug story in a night full of drug stories, and not be able to be on drugs because it would make my performance suffer.  At one time in my life I would have said yes, got stoned, and agonized about it, got all FREAKED OUT, and been all tight and weird and destroy my own self, then fall deep into a funk and go engage in some Behavior, as my AA friends call it, that stuff you do to destroy yourself.  I was happy to have evolved enough to recognize what was in my own best instance, and to act accordingly. That made me happy. But when Ed pulled out his pipe and happily lit up, getting quite lit up in the process, I was suddenyl sad.  Imagine how great Ed Rosenthal’s weed must be.  Later when he went out to perform he confessed in a tiedied stoner voice that he didn’t really remember anything of his life up to about a week ago.  He got a big laugh.  I was struck by how he had evolved enough to make comedy out of his life. And I thought, ahhhh, yes, that’s why I moved to San Francisco.  Ed did a mad rant about how insane it is that the government is sinking all this time and money into  fighting the war on drugs when so much else is mucked up in the world, and thanked San Franciscans for helping him make legal history in fighting the evil bastards of the Dark Side. Jayson Galloway, Professor of English author of Viagra Fiend, deconstructed his six favorite drugs, from acid (worst) to ecstacy (favorite), elborating on the pluses and minuses of each.  Favorite line: Cocaine is a dillatante drug.  Quite right.  Fascinating that meth (#4 on his list I believe) got booed.  Meth apparently is no longer sexy.  Unless you’re on it.  Before you crash and just want MORE METH.  R.U. Serius, looking deliciously Hobbitty and puckish, read a hysterical story about growing up and doing drugs.  Favorite scene: He’s listening to some local dude talk about eating some girl out, and he has no idea what that means, so he assumes it’s about cannibalism and wonders why there were no arrests afterwards. Favorite line: Something he learned that has stayed with him the entire rest of his life: When you’re in a group experimenting with drugs, NEVER GO FIRST.

Then came the break, and I was disturbingly nervous as I did my warm-ups and stretches.  They’re going to hate me.  I could see it so clearly.  Kept flashing on this time I was performing in a nightclub in Edinburgh and they turned on me, I was so bad, I sucked so hard, I bombed, I died, I crashed and burned.  It kept recurring, that flashback of the sick cold failure clamming all over me, wrapping its icy fingers around my neck with an ever-tightening chokehold.  I fought the image as best I could, using Jedi mind control techniques: I countered the failure flashbacks with memories of when I had fun, when I flowed sweet and easy.  At the Assembly Room at the Fringe Festival.  Last year at Litquake when Furlinghetti opened (yeah right!)for me.  Doing a sketch for HBO where I was a leach lover. Emceeing at Chippendales one Saturday night when I was whipping the Ladies into a frenzied froth.  Every time I did, the failure flashback faded.  Still, it was exhausting.

So after the break, the music finally gets turned off, and Alan makes the crowd shut up.  He’s like a great dominatrix, he just demands respect.  So naturally he gets it.  They shut up.  He’s giving me a great intro, and I take a moment to look out at the crowd, all baited with anticipation, so much human energy waiting to have fun, and I have a profound sense of well being, like where in the world would I rather be? 200 humans just waiting be to entertainment, desperatley wanting to be entertained, and I didn’t have to lift a finger to get them there. I had a deep feeling of gratitude to the universe, so lucky to be there in the now of that moment, and I felt a sense of accomplishment, like I worked so hard to get there, the years of stand-up and the years of writing and writing of writing, and the hours and hours I spent working on this story I was about to read,the revising, the re-writing, the tinkering, the buffing the polishing, it all lead me there.  As I looked at the crowd, all those faces, eyes shining, souls hungy for something to wrap themselves around, to transport them, make them laugh and feel and be alive with all these other humans, I felt like part of a long line of history, of people gathering to share their stories, to rejoice in the beauty and terror of being alive on the planet with all the other humans.

I was gonna do some sort of introductory remarks, some witty chitchatty small talk, but feeling the crowd, I sensed that I should just dive right into the telling of the story.  It felt like they wanted to be told a story, so I gave it to them.  Right from the very beginning I could feel the room come with me.  It’s hard to describe how you know that, you can’t quantify or measure it, but my God you can feel it.  When a crowd is bored or resistant, or turned off, it’s like when a date goes bad.  You can just feel it, and if you’re not careful you panic and work harder to make it better, only that just makes it worse.  But when you feel them with you, that crowd, it’s electric, and you feel you can do no wrong.  So, at the beginning I was getting laughs from lines that I never got laughs on before in that story, which is always a great sign, but not abnormal, when you have a large jacked up crowd crammed into a small intimate space.  But then when I came to the part in the story where a character makes an impassioned plea for everyone to all take acid together before the big hockey game against the hoity toits at Andover, I really let loose, and shouted out the lines with all my mojo flowing, amd the crowd roared eruptingly, man what a krazee rush that was.  The best drug of all, I thought, this is the best drug of all, being up here and getting all that laugh love and riotous crowd happiness, riding through my veins finer than the finest China White.  I’m getting goose bumpies just stting here typing this, it was so overwhelmingly purely joyful.  Addictive? Perhaps.  Hangover? Never.

So then I got to the part where we’re on the bus going to the game, as everybody waits for the acid to kick in, and in the story it gets quiet. Scary quiet.  I hadn’t planned to, but I lowered my voice to a whisper, and then just stopped talking to let it sink in. Pindrop eery silence fell night over the room.  In a club so crowded that kind of silence is stunning, and for me, pure gold, mana from heaven, mother’s milk, possibly better than an orgasm. No, better than an orgasm for sure, cuz you can have an orgasm in your room all alone.  It takes 200 other humans to create this spooky silence, where no one is breathing, and even the machines seem to be holding their breath.  Again I hadn’t planned this, but I just stopped talking.  Let it sit there and sink in.  Early in my career I could never have done that.  You have to have absolute trust and faith to stop talking like that.  To give the moment its full due takes a kind of blind faith.  But I felt it.  And I just let it be.  Trusted myself and my instincts.  Trusted the crowd.  Trusted the story.  It was like a comedy time bomb.  After a few stunned seconds of stunning silence, the reality of the moment in the story, where everyone is waiting to feel the acid come on, sinks in to the audience there in that room.  And they get it.  They are one with me and I with them, and that is when I feel God in that moment of union and communion transcendent and holy in the very best sense of the word. I scanned the room with wide eyes, feeling that feeling from the story fully and truly, of waiting to feel the acid and watching the faces of my teamamtes to see if they were feeling it too.  And the more I looked, the more they laughed.  It’s just the coolest thing to get that huge a laugh from NOT saying anything.  This is when Einstein is revealed to be a genius.  Time for me becomes palpably relative.  This moment just keeps going on and on and on, the laughter washing over my shores all warm and wet and tall and tan and young and lovely.  When I die and my life flashes before my eyes, I hope this is one of the moments I relive.  As the laughter faded, I dove right back, and I felt myself riding that crowd like a dragon I trained and made my own, flying through the air, with the greatest of ease, swooping and diving, spitting fire at will.  It was just so easy.  Effortless ecstacy. The crescendo happened right where it should, we all climaxed together just like it’s supposed to be. To the golden sounds of the crowd giving it up, I floated off the stage and up the stairs, the high on all the love I’m getting.

The rest of the show was a blur to me, but Kate Braverman, transplendent and noirish in black, and Michelle Tea were amazing.  Michelle read from Rent Girl. I was reminded again what a great reader and writer she is, which is rarer than hen’s teeth, (as my poor dead mom used to say) and she’s so styly to boot.

As we were leaving the club Arielle turned to me and said, “Boy you coulda gotta lotta pussy tonight.”  I smiled at her and said, “Honey, I’ve got all the pussy I want right here with me. ” And I gave her a big wet sexy kiss.  I guess we’re just a coupla knuckleheaded romantics.  The one sad note of the evening was that I invited a writer who I’m working with to come and talk and network.  She’s got, irony rearing its fat head, a terrible drug problem.  She showed up wacked out of her skull.  Didn’t even stay to watch my part of the show, never mind let me introduce her around afterwards.  She called my cel phone while I was actually on stage.  In her message she said she had a headache.  Headache, my eye.  The fact that she had to self-medicate herself to the point of stupification made my heart sink like a sad loadstone.  She couldn’t do what was in her own best interest.  And she’s such a talented writer.  I want so much to help her, but then I wonder why should I bother if she can’t show up.  It’s not enough to be talented and to to want it.  You gotta show up.  It’s nearly 4am now and I should be sleepy but I’m still so high and wired from my performance.  I guess I’ll go read Crime and Punishment.  I started it about a week ago, and man, that bastard can really write.  Thanks San Francisco, you made my night.

Blue Canoe: A Poem

Blue Canoe

Last night I slept at
My friend’s house
He very politely asked me
Do you mind sleeping

With a blue canoe in your room?

I’ve slept with a lot worse
Than that I said
And he laughed
But I was serious

So I got into a strange bed
In this strange house and stared at
Pictures of ballerinas in tutus
Hanging next to Zulus and gurus by the

Blue canoe in my room

I slipped into wild whitewater dreams
Flying rapids madly paddling
Happily cannonballing
Floating in foaming clouds

I came to a waterfall
So much falling water
A mountain of water falling
Off the edge of the earth

I flew in my blue canoe

Down down down down
Falling fast falling free
Until I lightly touched down
In a lovely summery pond

Air warm but not hot
Green trees undulating
Birds singing sweet and easy
I floated in deep peace

In the blue canoe in my room

Prostitution in America

Prostitution must be legalized. No one should do this work if they’re under-age. No one should be forced to do this work. That’s slavery. But if a grown-up feels their best career opportunity is in the sex industry, it should be their right to pursue that line of work.

Many well-educated, well-intentioned people have told me that it’s in a woman’s best interest for prostitution to be illegal, because legalizing it condones and legitimizes it. Few of these people have ever worked in the sex industry. And those who have seem to confuse slavery with real sex work.

The one thing criminalizing prostitution does is insure that women who do sex for money will be punished. Because it makes them into criminals. So many poor, hungry, undereducated, unskilled, ill-equipped women are being punished every day in every city of America. By johns, by pimps, by cops.

Prohibition does not work. We proved that already in our country in the thirties with alcohol. The results were disastrous. Criminalizing sex work puts the business into the paws of both organized and unorganized crime. If sex work was licensed and controlled by a woman-staffed organization that aggressively protected the rights of sex workers, perhaps they wouldn’t be stabbed, shot, raped, harassed, jailed and forced to give freebies to every cop with an attitude. With tax revenue generated from the sex industry, scholarship and trade education programs could be set up for sex workers, in addition to health, drug, and career counseling.

Some sex workers have been sexually abused. By a parent, an uncle, a cousin, or a total stranger. An abuse survivor needs help to break the patterns this abuse produces. Needs help overcoming the damage abuse does to the brain. Many sex workers want help, and there is no one to help them. But some don’t. And that is their right.

But some sex workers have not been abused. They come to the work because they have made a cool, calm, rational decision. And that is their right in America. Many professions are high risk. But if someone wants run into a burning building for a living, that is their right. And of course no one has the right to force anyone to be a fireman.

If your options are to make four dollars an hour flipping burgers, or $500 a day turning tricks, suddenly selling your sex doesn’t seem quite so unreasonable.

In a utopian society everyone would get all the love and sex they want and need. There would be enough love to go around for everyone. People would express their love freely in all kinds of intercourse, not just sexual. There would be interesting and profitable work for everyone. There would be no bigotry, no orphans, no sexually abused children.

But we do not live in a utopia. We live in America. There’s always been a sex industry in America. And business is booming, even as we speak.

Because we live in a society that represses natural sexuality, we make sex working a heinous act. If a person has skill at sex, and they don’t feel guilty or suffer from it, why isn’t their skill as valued as any other essential skill, like building a house, or talking someone down from the ledge?

Instead of burying our heads in the sands of utopianism, or condemning sex workers and customers who want to honestly exchange sex for money, we must protect the valiant men and women of the sex business. Monitor the industry to eliminate violence and decease. Tax it and use the money to help educate, enlighten, and train sex workers.

Prostitution must be legalized.

Page 2 of 2

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén