NOTE: In an attempt to finally finish my book proposal about growing up in the porn industry in the 1970s, I am going to post one of the proposed chapters here—a section at a time as I complete them—in the hopes that writing for an audience will encouraging me to complete the project. Please note this is a first draft, with all the flaws one would expect but I will probably not catch until it’s too late. I thank you for indulging me.
Previously: Part One, Part Two and Part Three
Every crime caper needs a mark. That mark usually falls into one of two categories—a moneyed institution, like a bank or a casino, or a high-profile personality, like a business magnate or mob don. I had two marks—an institution (Penthouse) and a personality (my dad). I figured Penthouse wouldn’t be a problem, since they were going to take pictures of two women who were no more than eight years older than me and the photographer probably couldn’t care what I was doing so long as I didn’t fuck with his lights or coke. My dad, however, was going to be considerably harder to con.
For a supplier of pornographic paraphernalia my dad could be exceedingly puritanical in his worldview. A strict adherent of the “Do as I say, not as I sell” philosophy, he became very nervous when the subject turned to sex around his children. He got upset when my brother would say “vagina” but he never thought of telling Marcello what that word meant. He even thought many of the television shows during “family hour” were far too lurid. (This being when the closest things TV got to Henry Miller were the naughty answers on Match Game P.M.) True, he had more or less given me free reign to violate a Farrah Fawcett poster, but that was an extreme measure meant to curb what he thought were bestiality urges. That poster was also the closest dad and I ever got to a conversation about intercourse, explaining why it remained on my wall for so long until tenth grade health class could fill in the details.
I had to make certain the five Davids and I would be present at the shoot without the idea that we were going to be around nudity ever occurring to my dad. So the morning of “Penthouse Saturday” I bided my time carefully at the breakfast table, eyeing my dad for any sudden movements or questions. Since my parents’ trip to Morocco the previous year he had taken to wearing a Muslim tunic he purchased there—complete with knitted skullcap—making it look like I was having Cocoa Puffs across from a Neapolitan imam.
I just patiently waited and waited until…
“So, what are you doing today, Ces?
The moment had arrived. I had practiced my lines over and over, which was made all the easier by nascent OCD and my having nothing else to do with my free time. So with utter confidence I casually muttered, “I don’t know…I thought I’d have some friends come over to play Atari or something.”
That was it. That was the entirety of my master plan. But the nonchalant tone of my delivery was flawless. Each and every word I uttered had been chosen with the precision of a neurosurgeon who likes to make watches on the side (including my age-appropriate use of the verb “play”). Plus, I figured the mere fact that I was going to have any friends come over would fill my dad with such joy that I could have concluded my answer with “to set fire to the sofa or something” and he would have exclaimed, “Wonderful! The more the merrier!” Yes, it was perfect. Not a single detail had been left to chance.
Except when you consider that in addition to a mark, every crime caper also involves one out-of the-blue complication that puts the entire operation in jeopardy at the worst moment possible.
“You can’t be in the house, Ces”
“Why not?!” I asked with both pretend and sincere shock.
“’Why not”? Don’t you know what today is?”
This is when things got tricky. If I said “no” dad would quickly surmise I was lying and had every intention of sneaking a bunch of kids into the house to gawk at naked girls. However, if I said “yes” he would fear that I didn’t have even the slightest interest in girls and so had yet to learn a thing from his Farrah Fawcett poster. I quickly weighed my options and came up with what I thought was the best retort.
“Ces, I’m not having a bunch of kids in the house while some naked women are getting photographed. What kind of father do you think I am?”
“Fine!” I shouted to my cereal. “I guess Marcello and I will just have to waste a whole summer day outside!”
“Oh, your brother can’t play outside today, “ My mom replied. “He’s not feeling well.”
At which point my brother slowly turned to me and said in the most deadpan voice possible, “Cough.”
I was officially in hell. Soon five Davids were going to appear up at our door expecting full-frontal nudity and I was going to have to break it to them that instead they would just have to continue destroying my life socially, physically and emotionally. Meanwhile, my brother was now free to spend the whole day in his “tash,” randomly jumping out from behind countless “kmms” to point at some model and yell, “Vagina!”
After that I angrily mumbled through breakfast, mumbled as I got dressed and mumbled through brushing my teeth. Then mom firmly shoved me out the back door as the photographer, lighting crew and 19-year-old models were welcomed through the front. With no hope for escape or deliverance, I trudged down to the driveway to meet my impending death squad. While there I looked forlornly up at the dining room that once promised to be my eternal salvation. The dining room that was going to open a whole new world of social possibilities for me.
The dining room with the open balcony doors that provided an almost completely unobstructed view of the long glass table.
Suddenly the sun shone that a little brighter. The wind blew a little softer. Giddy with relief, I carefully walked behind my family’s Buick Riviera and then quickly dropped, banging my chin on the side view mirror on my way down. From my crouched position I looked up at the balcony and inside. Everyone was busy preparing for the shoot. No one had seen me! I now had if not a front row seat then a perfectly acceptable mezzanine view of practically everything.
I watched with rapt attention. The two models started to take off their clothes. The photographer set up his equipment. The two models exposed their four breasts. My dad quietly monitored the whole scene in his tunic. The two models practiced various positions on the glass table. I didn’t see my brother but I could occasionally hear him blurt out something like “flark” or “plith,” indicating that he had either given up the English language all together or had just suffered a minor stroke. My mother, though, was nowhere near the action Instead she sat in the kitchen with a cup of tea, fuming and quietly cursing out my dad in colloquial Portuguese. But that was of no importance right now. Everything good that could or would ever happen in my life was in my field of vision and I was soaking up every detail. I was so engrossed, in fact, that I hadn’t even seen the five Davids appear, along with two Jasons and a Tony. (After all, we weren’t the only Italians in the neighborhood.)
“Why the fuck are you hiding behind a car?”
“SHH!” I snapped and swiftly dragged a David down by his shirt, pointing up at the balcony. The other kids immediately followed suit, no questions asked. Something different was happening. Something had changed. People were listening to me. People were following my orders. For the first time in my life I was in complete control and I wasn’t about to take shit from anyone.
“Why can’t we just go inside and see?” asked a Jason.
I angrily barked, “Because what kind of father lets a bunch of kids in house while some naked women are being photographed?!”
This confused everybody as much as it should have confused me when my dad said it. But that didn’t matter. The first part of the plan was a rousing success. Every cool kid around knew my family was hosting a porn shoot! It was going better than I ever could have hoped for. I even started composing the letter of gratitude in my head.
“Dear Penthouse Forum: Thank you so much for coming to my house! Love, Ces.”
I worried, though, that “Love” was perhaps a bit too delicate for an 11-year-old boy, even though it precisely captured my true feelings. “Sincerely,” however, seemed far too indifferent and business-like, especially given everything that the magazine and I had been through together. Thankfully, I quickly realized there were far more pressing matters at the moment than letter composition and went back to staring up at the naked girls with the Davids, Jasons and Tony.
One of the models got on top of the table.
Then the other model got on top of the table.
Then the models got on top of each other.
Then one of the Davids yelled, “NO FUCKING WAY!”
Then the photographer, two models and my dad looked out the balcony.
They say that in moments of great danger time slows down to a crawl. That frightening events conjure up richer and denser memories causing everything appear to occur as if in extreme slow motion. Those people don’t have the first fucking clue about temporal measurement, because when the photographer, models and my dad heard a David yell and peered out the balcony, the world changed in an instant and my gang promptly vanished.
Davids bolted through the trees behind the Buick. Jasons dashed down the driveway. Tony disapparated. In less than a second I was alone, mortified and on the verge of tears, staring up at a tableau of displeased and disappointed faces. Once more I was a baby. A sissy. A fucking spazz. A complete loser.
Unlike typical crime capers there was no climactic shootout, no final explosion and no conclusive battle of wits. There wasn’t a last-minute double-cross, a final moment of ironic justice or a closing iconic farewell. There was just a fat, four-eyed kid with a pounding noise in his head that he soon realized was his father yelling his name over and over again.
“CESCO! GET IN THE HOUSE!”
It seemed an odd command given how adamant my dad was to get me out of the house earlier, but I was too numb to question anyone’s reasoning. I entered through the back door and heard my dad beckon me into the dining room. There he proceeded to tear into me, more embarrassed for him than me. Shamefaced to the point of distraction, I only picked up a few words—“”Idiot,” “Degenerate,” “Buick”—while my eyes kept darting around the room to avoid his glower. I caught fleeting glimpses of a model lying naked on the glass. Another model putting her panties back on. The photographer calmly switching lenses. My brother quietly sitting in a chair, eating Stella Doro cookies, more fascinated with the lights than with the nudity.
When the yelling stopped I simply mumbled “I’m sorry” to everyone, but mostly to my own chest . Either that or I stammered “I just peed.” I’m not sure. I was dead inside. After I apologized a few more times into my body for good measure I slowly walked back to my bedroom, making as little noise as possible so that everyone would forget that I even existed. Then I closed the door, flung my body on my bed and stared up at the right protruding nipple where my Miss Piggy poster was supposed to be. “Penthouse Saturday” had become worse than a typical school day, which was to say an unmitigated disaster. I was confident things could never, ever get any worse, but made certain not to say so for fear that would only cause the ceiling to cave in on me.
Come September I was back in my “social death seat” at the front of the bus. And like every year before, my neck was pelted by all the colors of the Crayola rainbow. But something felt different this time. Something had changed again. The crayons no longer stung like they used to. Maybe I had just grown used to the attacks. Or maybe—just maybe—the Davids and their compatriots were no longer sharpening their crayons. Perhaps in some small yet significant way they were telling me that I had proved my mettle, my coolness, after all.
Once more, when all seemed lost, the gods gave me a warm pat on the back. And that’s when I knew sixth grade was going to be the best year yet.
NOTE: Thank you for your time and patience, everybody. It really means a lot to me that you would read so many long posts in a row!