Sunday, November 29, 2009

Things My Dad Said about the Rockettes While Watching the Radio City Christmas Spectacular on TV

“Imagine if it was somebody’s goal to screw every one of them?”

“They probably hire only light-skin black dancers instead of regular-skin black dancers because otherwise they would stand out too much from the white dancers and you’d spend the entire show going, ‘There’s the black dancer!’”

“They have Oriental dancers now? Oh wait, what’s the right word?… ‘Chinese.’”

“I knew the Rockettes had nice legs, but who knew they had such great tits?"

“God, look at all those gorgeous women. Oh, to be young and rejected again.”

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

O Christmas Tree, My Parents' Christmas Tree

NOTE: This is admittedly a repost from two years back, but I just wanted to rerun it like one of those lesser-known Rankin-Bass special (Rudolph Gets His Real Estate License) to kick off my holiday season..

Recently I went over to my parent's house (and my childhood home) to help them set up their Christmas tree. Although it wasn't the same color-coded tree kit I grew up with (the Marciuliano folk often chose their evergreens from an artificial forest), the ornaments were the very ones I hung as a child, a teen, a college student and a visiting sporadically-employed adult.

The sheer familarity resulted in a bittersweet process, not only because the decorations recalled a time when the entire family was around to put the tree together (then gather in front of the RCA hearth and warming glow of a Rankin-Bass special) but also each ornament captured a particular Christmas or rite of passage that seems sadly to grow dimmer and dimmer until you hold the very material of those memories right in your hands.

So with your kind permission I would like to review a small sampling of these very ornaments, each their own holiday madeline cookie evoking a stream of self (indulgent) consciousness. Let's start with clearly the most prized and esteemed festive bibelot of them all...
Yes, your eyes do not lie. That is indeed an exquisite egg carton compartment, delicately turned on its base and brought to perfection with a mere wash of vermilion, a dab of glitter and a pipe cleaner curved so faultlessly yet so effortlessly that one cannot help but wonder if this was brought to life not by a skilled artisan but by the very Son of God himself! Or you may think it's the handiwork of a kindergarten student circa 1972, devised as a time-killer project by one Mrs. Sharf (who all the students quickly dubbed Mrs. Shark and despite in my mind having the menacing mien and temperment of a Margaret Hamilton was probably no more than 30 and simply slowly going insane spending the majority of her waking hours tending to 20 kids whose biggest accomplishment was almost getting their snowpants off before peeing). Either way, the fact that my parents have managed to keep this ornament in perfect condition (not to mention keep it all) is touching and telling to say the least.

The next holiday bauble may seem at first glance to be simply one of many cartoon-related decorations that nowadays festoon store shelves...
But back in the late 70's and early 80's my brother, my mom and I were quite the Ziggy fans (I was quite the fan of most comics back then, devouring every strip in the New York Daily News Sunday supplement from Little Orphan Annie to Peanuts to Dick Tracy to such now-forgotten selections as Dondi, Motley's Crew and Herman). When my mom saw the above ornament in our local supermarket, she not only knew it was the ideal addition to our tree but the start of a family tradition (rightfully believing that the year "1982" indicated this ornament was the first of an annual release). My mom bought two variations, one for Marcello and one for me, and promised to buy two new ones every year from then on out. Alas, although my mom looked high and low come 1983, there was no "second in the series" to be found, bringing to a quiet yet swift end what was hoped to be an ongoing, multigenrational family collection.

Now on the whole Marciulianos like to make more often than buy, and both my parents created numerous decorations for our tree, from the rather ornate...

To the comfortingly homespun:

But around 1973, they decided to start mixing it up...with mixed results. It began innocently enough during a trip to my cousins' house in Cherry Hil when my family stopped at a small arts & craft store and picked up a collection of wooden, paint-by-numbers Christmas ornaments for a fun-filled, squeaky clean family project. Unfortunately, even though we all managed to say within the lines, the end result of our efforts was a psychotropic phantasmagoria that looked less likely to adorn a Christmas tree and more fitting perched on the shoulder of a piper at the gates of dawn...

Or starring as a "living credenza" character in Yellow Submarine

This was followed in the mid-to-late 1970's by what would soon be dubbed my mom's "Bob Mackie" or "A Cher Christmas" phase, featuring cloth ornaments with more sequins than a Taiwanese drag queen and often in the shapes of such holiday standards as "Stonewall Bar American Indian"...

Let us get a closer gander at the ornament's sheer volume of "pizzazz," shall we? Note how every pore of this proud native seems to say--if not scream--that he is going to boogie-oogie-oogie until he just can't snort coke off the sternum of Bianca Jagger no more...

That happy fellow was soon joined by the perhaps-a-tad-too-fabulous Christmas Peacock...

The customary Christmas Glitter Gator...

And something that is either a shiny holiday heart with bow or a sparkling beefsteak tomato.

But no ornament holds a greater place in our family's heart than the oldest, purchased by my parents for the their very first Christmas tree as husband and wife. The very box for the ornament (still in mint condition) is the epitome of 1963 fashion and fancy (once you discount the curiously satanic number code on top), with a description that harkens back to a a time of unbridled optimism when man dreamed of a technological utopia where architecture was sleeker, transporation was faster and kitchens were better for his housebound wife...

That is, until you take out Santa on Stork...
With wings broken, a body held by the merest of fabric tendons and a St. Nick that can perhaps best be described as "bindle-less hobo," Santa on Stork may appear to be less a relic of the golden "Jet Age" than an all-too powerful reminder to check in regularly on the elderly come the long, winter months. But despite all that (and a tendency to turn to dust upon touch or breeze), this Santa remains perched on his steed a full 44 years later, still ready and willing to careen through the Christmas Eve night air to deliver presents to all good boys and girls or merely slough off feathers, wires and perhaps a foot along the way.

Now over the many years and decades some of the above ornaments have fallen out of favor with our family and failed to make it to the tree (most notably the wooden and beaded). But this Christmas I declared that there would be no benchwarmers. Every ball, every figure, poorly-glued shredded paper thingy would get to shine in the LED light and hang with their brethren on the manufactured branch, from the tradional...

To the traditions sadly cut short...

To the solemn Santas...

And unorthodox Kringles...

The ornaments fashioned in pre-school...

In days of macrame and denim...

Or nights at Studio 54...

The questionable...

The eerie...

And the downright horrifying...

And last but certainly not least, our beloved but not-yet bereaved Jet-Age Santa on Stork, perched ever so carefully on a spray of branches and still prepared for takeoff, bum hip and all.

And so with all the ornaments hung carefully in place (and on every branch possible)...

We all sat down to celebrate with that Rankin-Bass classic, Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town, complete with the despicable Winter Warlock ("Please, call me Winter").

And though our family Christmas evergreen may never possess the glitz and grandeur of its nearby big city cousin...

Frankly, I never thought it was a bad little tree.

So to you and yours, may the Christmas bells ring loud and clear this year...

May the stars shine brightly over your home...

May the snow fall gently on your white Christmas...

May we all finally experience some peace on Earth...

And may you receive visits, gifts and joy from the Jet-Age Santa for years and years to come.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Four Breasts, Five Davids: The Finale

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.

“Why not?!”

“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.


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!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Four Breasts, Five Davids: Part Three

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 and Part Two

Just like every crime caper involves one last big score, every crime caper hero requires a gang of experienced cohorts to help him pull it off. You need your wheelman, legman, faceman, poolman, crimperman, saucierman and a whole slew of criminal employment positions that I clearly do not have a grasp of to this day.

Needless to say I had none of those individuals at my disposal. But I didn’t need any experts. This was going to be an easy break-in. We would all simply walk into the dining room, watch two women do whatever it is two women do in a Penthouse photo shoot and then everyone would walk out with me hoisted on their shoulders as the hero of the hour, day, month and year. Of course, how I was going to “simply walk in” with a bunch of kids into a porno shoot I didn’t quite know. And as far as what “two women do in a Penthouse photo shoot” I thought it could be anything from them writhing on our glass table naked to playing Gnip-Gnop naked, a wide range of possibilities informed by me having absolutely no conception of heterosexual sex, much less potential lesbian erotica.

What I could envision with almost preternatural clarity, though, was the celebration afterwards. How every kid in the neighborhood—and maybe some of their dads—would rush up and claim me as their hero. How everyone would cheer my name, almost certainly mispronouncing it but the intensity of their love more than making up for their poor articulation. How by September I would be riding to class if not in the back of the school bus with the glitterati of grammar school then at least several rows behind my standard “social death seat,” far away from the relentless arc of tossed crayons.

Now, naturally I couldn’t invite every kid to the shoot. I had to be practical, winnowing down all possible candidates to a mere twenty or thirty. I automatically nixed my younger brother from the list, under the delusion that I somehow had the authority to banish him from my parents’ house. But I was sick and tired of Marcello bothering me…or at least assuming he was bothering me. I always felt he was under my foot but looking back I can’t think of a single reason he would have been so unless it was to watch me indulge in self-pity or make Eeyore look like Norman Vincent Peale by comparison. In fact, in hindsight it seems ridiculous that I wasn’t desperately trying to hang out more with him. Despite his Tolkien-like need to fabricate new languages, Marcello had far more friends than I ever had—many my age—and I could have only benefited from being seen with him. His omission from the list proved to be the first of my many mistakes during this crucial operation.

As far as my other candidates, Val would be away “Penthouse Day” and so also failed to make the cut. That just left with the rest of humanity. Sure, I could choose those people who I thought were nice or kind or deserved to see whatever it was that women sported beneath their waist. But this was an once-in-a-lifetime networking opportunity and so had to be approached in purely strategic, not sentimental, terms. I had to focus on the movers and shakers in my school and on my street. The kids who defined “cool” in that ill-defined yet in-no-doubt manner that years later leaves one wondering exactly how and when we all agreed who were our social betters. The kids who would immediately get the word out about what an awesome thing I had done and how I was now one of them. The kids who called me “a baby,” “a sissy” and “a fucking spazz.” (The last having just been added to the list after I ran screaming from what I thought was a flying snake but turned out to be a floater in my right eye).

I had to invite “The Five Davids.”

Like popularity, some names are just a given for their time. Were it thirty years later I would be trying to sneak in five kids named “Tyler” to see a gang bang shot on a Flip. Had it been a hundred years earlier I would have spearheaded a covert mission with five juveniles named “Horace” to catch the scandalous glimpse of a woman’s ankle during the felonious production of a “nudie stereopticon.” But this was Long Island, 1978, and every cool kid/jock/bully/stoner/future indicted politician was named “David.”

Of course, knowing whom to invite was easy. Actually going up to talk to them was an entirely other matter. I had spent my entire life avoiding social contact with people, less I make a complete jackass of myself. I was afraid to breathe in public for fear that doing so would make too bold a statement about my desire to live. And on those very rare occasions when I found I had to speak up I suffered from what could be best diagnosed as “selective aphasia,” making it impossible for me to talk at those very moments when I needed to most, like weekdays and weekends. So for me to go up and talk to anyone uninvited—much less one of the five Davids—would have been like walking into a handshake six blocks too early. It could only turn out horribly awkward and ultimately disastrous.

This time, however, was different. This time I felt I had something to say that other people would actually want to hear. Something that they would have them singing my praises and worshiping at my feet for years to come. So after screwing up my courage for a straight three days—and walking in a zigzag pattern that bought me an additional two hours—I found myself deliberately within one of the David’s eye line for the first time I could recall. But just as I was about to open my mouth—and probably let out a little squeak before speaking—the David swiftly turned his head, locked on to my frightened gaze and said, “Is your brother a fuckin’ liar?!”

And like that I was already thrown. Before I could even open my mouth to apologize for talking the conversation had devolved into a flat-out interrogation. I was about to try my classic evasive move—passing out—when another David appeared and said, “Is it true?! Are you gonna have nude chicks at your house?!”

At first I was confused. Then I was livid. My bastard brother had beaten me to it. While I had spent the last half-week psyching myself into “normal conversation” mode, Marcello had been running everywhere and anywhere, probably pointing to our house and yelling, “Vaginas! This Saturday!” My plan had fallen apart before I could even stake claim to it as my idea. Yet, just as I was about to run off and fool myself into thinking I had the physical strength to beat up my six-year-old brother, one of the Davids spoke up again.

“You have got to get us into that shoot!”

“Yeah!” said the other David. “And we should see if David can come, too!”

Yes, once again, just when everything was at its bleakest, fortune smiled on me. The Davids were looking to me to get them in. They were asking me for a favor. They knew who I was, not just what I was (a baby, sissy or a fucking spazz).

So for maybe the third time in my life I looked someone straight in the eye and said, “I’ll get you all in.” Well, either that or “I just peed.” I’m not exactly sure since I instantly went into shock afterwards. But when I came to I was pacing back and forth in my bedroom, waiting for the Saturday when I would become a god.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Four Breasts, Five Davids: Part Two

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.

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.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Four Breasts, Five Davids: Part One

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.

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 stammering an inaudible, almost incomprehensible apology to a naked 19-year-old as she laid spread-eagle on the glass dining room table my family still eats Christmas dinner on to this day.

That’s how it ended, not with a bang but a lot of mortified whimpering. But it began like any other crime caper—with a lone hero looking for that one last big score that would set him up for life.

By the age of eleven I realized I was already a good 20 years behind my classmates sexually.

Not only had the word “play” apparently been redefined in my absence from “hanging out with friends” to “playing baseball, playing soccer, playing football, playing any team sport that did not involve Kenner’s Death Star Set” but also girls had somehow gone from just “guys with barrettes” to “people of great interest.” Perhaps it happened the week I was out with the first known case of “hysterical flu”—or the day I passed out from fear in the middle of reading my book report and woke up in the nurse’s office with a bump of my head and a withering critique of Mouse on a Motorcycle still clutched in my hand—but when I returned the very social fabric of fifth grade had been irrevocably altered. Boys now saw themselves as “preteens,” with the emphasis on the second syllable, and began to comport themselves as such. They approached girls with agendas, hoping to come across as attractive, funny or at least capable of blowing up a party balloon without gasping for air halfway through and bursting into tears (a remarkably low bar that I had thoughtfully set for my classmates earlier in the year). And though they didn’t quite have the sexual discourse down yet (“I would so do her mouth”) the boys were at least making an attempt to learn the language. Even my five-year-old brother Marcello—who still occasionally spoke in a Nell-like patois of his own device in which plants were “kmms,” and pajamas “tash”—knew the word “vagina” and would use it in a sentence as often as possible. On the other hand, I was doomed to feel insecure being around or even pondering the opposite sex until a good ten years after you are currently reading this story.

About the same time, my best friend Val had started watching Star Wars over and over again in the theater for any sign of Princess Leia’s breasts jiggling, often with the scholarly intensity usually reserved for the Zapruder film. (As I stared sad-eyed up at the screen certain I would never possess the masculine self-confidence of C-3PO). Val had also just replaced his bedroom posters of soccer superstar PelĂ© with hundreds of photos of the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders, effectively turning what was once a shrine to the New York Cosmos into a full-fledged, NFL-endorsed masterbatorium.

Wherever I looked in school, on the bus, on my street it seemed as if every kid was getting older, wiser, more sexually confident and less likely to spend their afternoons doing very wide, slow donuts on a Big Wheel. Meanwhile, I was feeling less mature, less capable and highly likely to spend my approaching teen years collecting as many white Lego blocks as possible to construct the ultimate Ice Planet Hoth diorama. Already a favorite target of derision for being fat, painfully shy and famously incapable of inflating even the smallest party decoration, I was now being called “a baby,” “a sissy” and—by my own brother—“a vagina.” Things were getting worse for me socially, which up until that point I had found comfort in thinking wasn’t even possibile. My worst fears had been realized…and then trumped. Clearly it was time for drastic action.

And so like my friend Val—and no doubt countless red-blooded American boys before me—I decided it was high time to make some bold interior-decorating choices. At age 11 my bedroom had become a veritable walk-in photo album to my toddler years. Wherever you looked there were pictures of me at three and younger, as if I were desperately trying to recapture my glory days of minimal motor skills and carefree incontinence. What I needed instead was something that said, “Here lies not a boy but a man!” Something that said, “This is the room of a mature, sexually curious individual!” Something that said, “Ignore his cherished childhood stuffed toy ‘Peanut Butters’ still lying on his bed and instead take in the wonders of this fortress of unbridled masculinity and sophistication!” I pondered the possibilities. I weighed my options. Then I walked into my father’s home art studio, looked him straight in the eye and said with supreme self-assurance, “Dad, I want a Miss Piggy poster.”

Back then I considered The Muppet Show to be the epitome of adult entertainment and peer confirmation. My parents loved the show. My friends (friend) loved the show. My classmates loved the show. In the then heavily-fragmented, niche, multimedia 1970s programming world that was three networks and a Spanish-language station, The Muppet Show was one of the few TV series everyone could agree upon. To say you liked The Muppet Show was to say what everyone else was saying, and when you’re desperate for social acceptance that’s all that ever really needs to be said. Throw in that Miss Piggy had become the show’s breakout sex symbol—a conclusion that could only make sense to a boy who read his dad’s porn magazines strictly for the comics but understood none of them—and clearly I had taken my initial brave step towards true manhood.

Unfortunately, the fact my wanting a Miss Piggy poster was the very first sign of interest I had shown in the opposite sex scared the living crap out of my dad. Years later I learned he’d slowly been prepping himself for the possibility of having fathered a gay son. (“Real men don’t cry halfway through a balloon.”) But poor dad possessed neither the psychological make-up nor willful ignorance to be the proud parent of a latent pigfucker. It was one black mark he could not bear and so sought to scour off the family name as soon as possible.

Thus my dad, fearing for his son’s sexual development and the Marciulianos’ acclaim for not mounting unsuspecting farm animals, dismissed my request and instead bought me the now-iconic Farrah Fawcett poster, bathing suit, gleaming smile and all. He then nailed to my bedroom wall with the determined solemnity of Martin Luther. That poster was his proclamation, one that read, “You shall look upon her protruding right nipple. You shall wish she had worn a bikini instead of a one-piece, stomach scar be damned. You shall have funny yet perfectly normal feelings when you stare up at it from your pillow late at night or when you think your mom and I aren’t home. And should some portions of this poster wear out faster than others due to the constant application of saliva, well then who is anyone to judge?” Then my dad left, secure in the knowledge that he had effectively steered me towards a sexually compatible species.

That poster remained on my bedroom wall, fooling no one including myself. It stayed there long after Farrah had left Charlie's Angels, divorced Lee (Six Million Dollar Man) Majors and failed to ignite a nation's imagination on fire with Saturn 3. Long after my classmates had moved on from Farrah to Madonna to actual girlfriends. Long after what was meant to be proof positive of my impending manhood eventually served as yet more evidence of my all-too-obvious immaturity.

I was now a child with a poster he didn’t want, a reputation he couldn’t rescue and a fear that he was always going to be “a vagina.” I now knew it would take more than a few cosmetic changes to salvage my preteen years and make me if not cool then at least not doomed to be only known as “The Half-Balloon Boy.” It was going to take truly phenomenal circumstances.

It was going to take an at-home photo shoot with Penthouse Magazine.


Saturday, November 14, 2009

Quote of the Week

"This is a great song to dance naked to and watch your testicles swing around."
--My Dad on Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive"

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Nice Cover of One of My Favorite Songs

Wonderful cover (on autoharp, no less) of The Troggs "With a Girl Like You," featured prominently in the must-see film Flirting (a movie made all the more enjoyable by the presence of one Thandie Newton).

Be sure to check of Sarahvideos other great covers, including Dinosaur Jr., Mazzy Star, Leonard Cohen, Neutral Milk Hotel, Billy Bragg and even The Misfits.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Coffee for Those Who Think Rat's Milk Isn't Pricey Enough

Click here for the ultimate way to "calm you down and pick you up."

Thank you, Dan Gezelter (known to some Sally Forth readers as the elderly next door neighbor I killed in the strip) for the heads-up.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Statement That Sounds Much Deeper Than It Really Is

Overheard while walking on Fifth Avenue this evening...

Woman on Cell Phone: What does it matter how beautiful a button is if you don't have the fucking hole for it?!?

The Berenstain Bears: The Movie (No, This Is Not a Joke)

Hot on the heels of Owen Wilson being cast as the voice of the title character in the upcoming Marmaduke movie (also not a joke) comes word The Berenstain Bears will also appear in their own live action/CGI movie.

But what will this future financial juggernaut, multiple award-winning masterpiece be about? Common sense would indicate it will focus on such well-known, high-octane, gripping tomes as The Berenstain Bears Visit the Dentist, The Berenstain Bears Count Their Blessings and The Berenstain Bears Get the Gimmies.

But I strongly suggest the screenwriters look for inspiration in the upstanding ursine family's lesser-known adventures, especially those that show them throwing off the shackles of civilization and finally embracing their grizzly and grislier instincts. So with that in mind, which Berenstain book do you think would make the best transition from page to screen?

The Berenstain Bears Rub Themselves against Trees
The Berenstain Bears Wander Aimlessly for Several Days in Search of Suitable Mating Partners
The Berenstain Bears Cough Up a Moose Tendon
The Berenstain Bears Commit Infanticide
The Berenstain Bears Evacuate Their Bowels in a Nearby Parking Lot
The Berenstain Bears Sever a Deer's Coronary Artery
The Berenstain Bears Feast on Carrion
The Berenstain Bears Display Sexual Dimorphism
The Berenstain Bears Eviscerate a Couple of Campers and Their Dog
The Berenstain Bears Are Taken Out with a .44 Magnum-Level Semi-Automatic