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.
Part One can be found here.
THE ONE LAST BIG SCORE
I had survived years of public torment and personal isolation in elementary school secure in the belief that when I entered junior high I could effectively reinvent myself to a whole new crop of classmates. I could become one of the cool kids. Or I could be the brooding yet sexy loner who was just too hot to handle. (But what girl doesn’t want to play with a little fire?) Or I could finally be a nice, normal kid who didn’t have to wait eight hours to pee because he was too scared to use the school bathrooms. It was a dream that I effectively blew my first day in seventh grade when I went out to the junior high school backyard after lunch and immediately burst into tears upon realizing there were no swing sets, slides or non-smoking 12-year-olds.
But I simply couldn’t wait for that inevitable failure. By the summer of 1978—between fifth and sixth grades—I had finally fallen off the first rung of the social ladder and was flat on my ass in the “cha,” which in my little brother’s increasingly Seussian dialect meant either “dirt” or “cookie,” depending on what he was putting in his mouth at the time. I had to change course quick or by September I would be the laughingstock of not just the popular kids but also the nerds, the burnouts and even that student who liked to scream at his hand. I needed one grand gesture, one ultimate plan, that would make everything right and let me live in a world in which I didn’t sit alone in the front seat of the bus with burnt sienna and red-orange/orange-red smears on the back of my neck from the crayons the other kids threw at me.
What I needed, clearly, was my dad.
By 1978 my father’s pornography business was picking up considerable steam. His signature “Original Orgy Shirt” had received considerable attention and awards from both the design and degenerate communities. Sales of his “Footsieball” and “Cockamania” shirts, as well as some and tee featuring a midget popping out of a hinged breast, were quite brisk. And he had made some crucial corporate connection courtesy of our regular family trips down to the adult entertainment business expo.
One such connection begat another which begat another which eventually led to Penthouse wanting to do a photo spread of two young women baring it all in our very home. To this day I have no real idea how my dad convinced my mom this was a good idea, given that despite her forays into penis cozy stitching she really did not care for pornography at all. I don’t believe he ever thought far enough to consider it a matter for deliberate and delicate discussion. My dad being who he is almost certainly never asked, “Isilda, would you mind if a magazine dedicated to female beauty used our house for a pictorial?” Instead he more likely said, “Hey, Isilda! Guess who’s coming to dinner! Well, maybe lunch and dinner, depending on how long of a shoot it is. Actually, they may want to start first thing in the morning so perhaps you might want to make them pancakes, too. Anyway, they’re 19 and naked and it’ll be a blast!”
Even back then our house seemed an unusual choice for photo spread, unless the planned theme was “Rainforest with Central Air.” That’s because thanks to my mother’s love of nature and unrestrained green thumb our home had slowly transformed over the years into a three-dimensional Henri Rousseau painting, with hundreds of the aforementioned “kmms” almost choking out all available space. One such houseplant—named “Marcello” because it was bought shortly after my brother was born—had already grown to a remarkably unreasonable size and assumed a position near the front door like Audrey II waiting to devour unsuspecting Jehovah Witnesses.
What sections of the house weren’t overrun by vegetation appeared to be forgotten entirely in mid-construction. One room was ironically deemed the “Empty Room” because it was full of everything that couldn’t be tossed into the garage, the basement, the attic or the other “Empty Room.” (It was also called the “Dark Room” because it had never been properly wired for electricity.) My parents’ bedroom remains unfinished to this day. A bathroom had some of the original plumbing blueprints sticking out from under the plaster on the wall. And until the fire that destroyed our house and made us trailer park trash for seven months, our kitchen was constantly under “eventual renovation.” The entire residence was perpetually half-complete, like some suburban nod to Gene Wilder’s office at the end of Willy Wonka. Even our birdcage featured fake birds because we hadn’t gotten around to getting the real thing yet. (When we did years later my dad unfortunately forgot to clip its long nails and the poor canary accidentally lobotomized itself in the middle of the night.)
Some of this rampant incompleteness was the result of poor financial planning. Most, however, was due to what would later be diagnosed as my father’s ADD but then could be best summarized by such comments as “Dad was going to stucco the wall but then he decided he wanted to create a TV show. Now he’s making a card game about penises.”
Only one section of the house had ever been completed. Twice. Initially our dining room was done in soft greens with countless flowers and saplings and, curiously enough, a trellis, as if we had plans to become the world’s first indoor viticulturists. There was even a balcony that allowed one to take comfort in the beautiful countryside, so long as they didn’t glance down and see the dented Buick Riviera leaking oil on our driveway. It was sylvan and serene and seemed the ideal spot for the Bennet sisters to wile away an afternoon playing whist as they commented on the rectitude of potential gentleman callers.
But by the late 70s my dad had a complete change of heart and decided to make his own bold interior decorating choices. Gone were the dining room’s latticework, the trees, and all the organic elements that recalled Watership Down, minus the repeated disemboweling. In their place my dad put up shiny black walls, mirrored columns, an untold number of pinpoint lights, steps on the ceiling and what was originally conceived to be an overhead illustration of the night sky but which my father gave up in mid-painting to write a children’s book about a dung beetle detective who finds a stolen diamond hidden inside a small ball of shit.
The end product may very well be the gaudiest room ever built outside of a Steve Rubell venue.
Just looking at it immediately conjures images of Bianca Jagger snorting coke off of Truman Capote’s sternum. It was as if at some point our family had completely forsaken good taste and opted to take our decor cues from the third act of Goodfellas.
But something about this room called to the good people of Penthouse Magazine. Perhaps it was the courageous commitment to reflective surfaces. Perhaps it was a color scheme that said, “Bachelor pad meets Italian-American middle class.” Or maybe, just maybe, it was the huge glass table that continues to serve as the centerpiece of all our family’s holiday gatherings. A glass table long and strong enough to accommodate two supple bodies unencumbered by such heavy items as clothing or embarrassment. A glass table that allowed for cameras to shoot from both above and below those very bodies. Just one look and the magazine’s photographer knew he had found his muse and my mom knew all the Windex in the world would not wipe away the memory of this one event. The necessary papers were signed, a shooting date was set for an October 1978 issue release and just like that our house was going to be featured in Penthouse.
And that, dear reader, was when I was once more allowed to dream of a better life, of a chance out of the social pit I had dug through pathological shyness and a growing fear of the color yellow. For the immature boy who couldn’t look girls in the eye was now going to have the opportunity to stare wide-eyed and slack-jawed at their naked bodies. In the blink of an eye—and the unsettling wink of the photographer—my world had completely changed. I now had the one perfect plan to become the most popular kid in school.
All I needed were the right people by my side when it went down.
NEXT: PART THREE, "THE GANG"