After a three-day bender in San Francisco, it’s always advisable to check your pockets before boarding an airplane. If there’s a lesson to be learned from this story, it’s that, perhaps. Fortunately, this time I escaped relatively unscathed.
My job is in business development, for a technology company. We make one measly product and my role is to shill for it. Every day, all day, that’s what I do. My conversations never deviate. It’s very dull but it pays well so it’s difficult to walk away. The one perk is getting to travel frequently and always with a sizable expense account. It’s important to show the customers a good time.
Like most weeks preceding it, this week found me entertaining a group of fat, puffy, wattle-faced men. The routine’s always the same: We start in the office, where a serious discourse about the merits of my company’s technology over the competitions’ ensues. The question isn’t whether or not my company makes a superior product, but whether it’s worth the premium price. Truth is, I have no idea whether it is or not. However, that shouldn’t matter to a quality salesman. A quality salesman can convince himself of anything, and, therefore, convince his customer of anything. That said—it shouldn’t be long before I’m exposed as a terrible employee and cut loose.
The next part of my entertainment regimen is the dinner: the terribly awkward transition from work-talk to making personal connections. This appeals to me not in the slightest. It’s my firm prerogative that this breed of upper-middle class worker who at forty-five has turned practically asexual is the greatest monument to futility that America has ever created. It’s my terrible fear that the condition is contagious—that I’ll wake one morning to the sound of screaming children hungry for breakfast, and that next to me in bed will be a woman I haven’t fucked in months, and that when I try to get up my lower back will ache terribly because I’ve allowed my belly to transform into a massive paunch, causing me to realize that my life’s no longer my own, forcing me to seriously consider suicide.
From dinner, the evening can go in one of two directions. Most often, you part ways amicably with a firm handshake, agreeing to follow-up in the coming days with a new pricing proposal or what-have-you. However, there still exists a certain sub-species of the successful working man whose masculinity has not yet been fully extinguished by the demands of contemporary life. Presented with the prospect of a night away from their wife and children, these crazed wild-men set their sights on hell-bent destruction.
It just so happens that in San Francisco I stumbled into this occasion several nights in a row. In order to maintain a jovial and good mannered appearance, I was forced to rely heavily upon an inordinately large diet of stimulants. The morning of the flight I had gotten back to my hotel room around four a.m. and had failed to properly set my alarm. By a stroke of tremendous good fortune, a few hours later I was awoken by the sound of the garbage men collecting their cans. This provided me with just enough time to pack and catch my flight.
By the time I sat down in my window seat on the plane I was sweating profusely. As I struggled to take off my jacket, a rather sizeable bag of cocaine leapt from my pocket and onto the empty seat next to me. Before I had a chance to grab it, a grey-haired woman with a lined and austere face set her purse down directly atop the drugs, as she settled into the aisle seat. Comfortably situated, she leaned over and rooted around her bag, eventually pulling out a book of crossword puzzles, a package of vanilla wafers, and a bottle of water. I carefully plotted my inconspicuous reach for the drugs, as I anticipated her stowing the purse below the seat in front of her, in accordance with FAA guidelines. My timing impeccable, I secured my aims and tucked the coke safely into my jacket.
The flight was to San Diego. The purpose to gather information, with the intention of penning this piece I’m working on now. Weeks ago, I began a conversation with my publicist about ways to promote my forthcoming novel. He encouraged me to write and publish a few non-fiction pieces, as a way of increasing my writerly profile. I told him I’d consider it, not having a clue what I’d possibly write.
Then I remembered a conversation I’d had with a lawyerly pal of mine named Gomez. Over drinks a few weeks back, he regaled me with a story about his brother Julian, a man I’d met on several occasions during my years living in Southern California.
My initial encounter with him had come in the wake of Gomez’s divorce. Julian was sent by their mother to assess Gomez’s psychic well-being, which was, without a hint of doubt, in shambles. At the time, Julian was steadily employed as a journalist in Washington D.C. His beat was Capitol Hill, reporting on both lurid scandals and tedious public policy. Julian dressed neatly and was well-groomed. Of the two brothers, he was decidedly the one with his shit together.
The next time I saw Julian, he was visiting on holiday. Gomez had alluded that he’d paid for Julian’s airfare. We all got together to play a game of touch football in the park. When I arrived, everyone except Julian was idling leisurely, every now and then passing a ball back and forth. Julian, on the other hand, was practicing running precision routes with focused intensity. Since I’d last seen him, his hair had grown out and was now haphazardly tucked behind his ears as he sprinted from one side of the field to the other. Just before the game started, he put on a pair of black gloves. He assured me they gave him a better feel for the ball, which would help him to catch more passes.
During the game, while the rest of us loafed clumsily around the field, still half-drunk from the night before, Julian played as if in a mad fever. Every play from scrimmage saw him either tearing down the sideline in a torrid sprint or risking bodily injury crossing the always dangerous middle part of the field, in hopes of making a sensational catch.
“I had no idea you were such an athlete.” I said to him in the huddle.
“It’s a new development,” he said. “I just joined a rec-football league.”
“What brought that on?”
“I started covering high school sports in Virginia, and I caught the competitive fire.”
“You’re not working in D.C. anymore?”
“No… I lost that job a few months back. High School sports is my thing now.”
That was the last I’d heard of Julian until my recent conversation with Gomez. In the interim, Julian’s life had undergone a few more unforeseen changes. For the sectional championship, he had travelled out of town to cover the big game. In a small town and not having anything else better to do, he began flirting with Eliza, a woman sixteen years his junior whom he’d met on Tinder. Eliza confessed to being fresh out of her first adult relationship. The guy turned out to be a deadbeat. After moving her away from her hometown of Traverse City, Michigan, to rural Virginia, he quit his job at his cousin’s Italian restaurant, leaving her with the sole responsibility of supporting them. Eliza’s gig working at the local retirement home wasn’t cutting it, so she had to find something new. The deadbeat boyfriend encouraged her to try webcam pornography. She quickly learned that in three hours’ time she could earn more money defiling herself on the internet, from the comfort of her own home, than she could make in an entire day’s work caring for old fogies.
That night Julian and Eliza made an instant connection and captured their fresh love on video. Julian made the mistake of saving the evidence of the encounter on the same thumb-drive where he kept the photos and story of the championship game. Shortly after handing over the thumb-drive to his boss for editing, he was terminated from his position.
With no prospects on the horizon and rent due, Julian asked Eliza whether she thought her fans would be interested in a “couple’s show.” That night she proposed the idea of her getting fucked live on camera to the thousands of fans that were now watching her nightly. The answer was an emphatic YES. Julian, having the strong business acumen he does, set up a campaign where Eliza’s fans had to pledge $2500 in donations before the show would occur. They used footage of the video that got Julian fired to promote the campaign. They anticipated it would take weeks to raise the funds. The goal was met in three nights.
Two days later, Julian boarded a Greyhound bus bound for Eliza’s town. The theoretical idea of having sex for money sounded grand, but now the prospect of having to not only fuck on camera but to fuck really well on camera, was grating his nerves. He took two Xanax pills from a prescription he’d received from a doctor the day after his firing.
That night, the excitement of all those eyes on him gave Julian the strength and stamina of a bull-fighting Hemingway hero. Over the course of a three-hour show, he came five times. What he liked best was the rolling commentary in real-time from Eliza’s fans. Not only did they offer him encouragement and a barrage of ego-building praise, but they provided him with fresh ideas and requests for acts of a kinky nature he never before had in his sexual repertoire. Julian’s fears of being rejected or antagonized by Eliza’s fans turned out to be completed unfounded. In fact, this relationship with the viewing audience was nothing if not symbiotic. The fans got to watch their muse get fucked in the way they had always fantasized her getting fucked, and Julian not only made rent money but was more importantly exalted to the status of sex-god at a time when his sense of self-worth was more fragile than it had been at any other time in his life.
For the next month, Julian made the long, arduous bus ride to Eliza’s town on a weekly basis for sex shows. The money was good but not enough to keep him afloat. He finally decided to move cross-country to squat on his brother’s couch in San Diego. He quickly learned the California job market was no better than anywhere else. Apparently, he wasn’t the only one who dreamt of a better life by the sea in the land of milk and honey.
Julian and Eliza talked on the phone every day. Although they had only spent a combined total of five nights together, most of it live and on-camera, he was already beginning to feel the pangs of love. One night, he pleaded with her to move to California. The next day, it snowed six inches in Virginia and she decided she’d had enough with the cold weather and so she packed up and headed west.
When I spoke to Gomez, the two of them had been staying at his condo for less than a week.
“So are they shooting porn at your place now?” I asked.
“What can I do? They need to make money.”
“You ever watch them?”
“It’s my brother, man. I don’t watch him have sex.”
“You hear them?”
“I go out when they do their shows.”
“How long can you go on like this?”
“This weekend, I’m taking them apartment hunting.”
My conversation with Gomez didn’t cross my mind again until I started thinking about possible articles I could write to promote myself as a distinguished author. Considering the subject matter, I reasoned anything I’d write would probably require me to use a pseudonym, or run the risk of killing all future job prospects in the non-writing world.
Without further consideration, I got Julian’s number from Gomez and called him up.
“I want to spend a night hanging out with the two of you,” I explained. “Then, I’ll write about it.”
“You going to want to watch us fuck?”
“Could be good for the story. Let’s just see how things go.”
Finally, Julian agreed, and I made plans to pay them a visit on the tail-end of my work week in San Francisco.
I got off the plane, jumped in an Uber, and went straight to my friend Leah’s apartment. She was out of town but had left me a key under a flowerpot on the steps leading to her front door. I was exhausted from three late nights in a row and wanted to nap but I still had some work to do before I met up with Julian and Eliza. I started in on the bag of coke I had almost lost on the plane. The intention was to do just enough to make it through my email inbox and to return a few phone calls I was days late in getting to. By the time I finished my work, an hour-and-a-half later, I had gone through the whole bag.
I still knew a guy in San Diego and I gave him a ring. He told me to meet him downtown at a bar near his apartment. It was a place I frequented years ago when I still lived in San Diego. Many of the same folks still occupied the same bar stools they had years earlier. Some of them recognized me immediately: “Hey, Val! Long time no see, amigo! Where you been?” I greeted a few old pals and then found my guy sitting in a booth at the back of the bar. He’d gained weight since I’d seen him last and he’d shaved the strange, prohibition-era mustache, an affectation, really, that had always been his signature physical characteristic.
“How’s New Mexico?” he asked.
“It’s lousy,” I said. “I can’t wait to make my escape. I’m thinking of moving to Budapest in June. How about you, what’s new?”
He said he’d recently had a daughter. That the experience had changed his life completely.
“You can’t imagine it. A child is the greatest blessing that can be bestowed upon a man,” he said. “I’m, like, a totally different person, now!”
“Can I get an eight-ball?” I asked.
He reached into his bag and we surreptitiously exchanged the money for the drugs under the table. I thanked him, wished him luck in fatherhood, and then set off to meet Julian and Eliza. I had told them to meet me at a bar called Werewolf. I was a couple minutes late but they weren’t there when I arrived. I was nervous and tired but wanted the night to go well and reasoned it was important that I was in good spirits, because they would feed off my energy, so I went to the bathroom and did a few key bumps. Feeling better, I went to the bar, ordered a whiskey, and then sat down at a booth. Julian texted to let me know they were five minutes out. I finished the drink and ordered another before they arrived.
I saw them come through the door. I had never seen Eliza except in pictures. There she looks like some kind of deviant, a French sex goddess from the 1960s: a round face with large deep-set blue eyes, perfect tits, long neck, and messy blonde hair. A beauty to be desired, not worshipped. Now she just looks like a sweet kid, one who perhaps is fighting hard to be bad because she’s simply not content being good and virtuous. The two certainly look like an odd pair. He’s about a foot taller than her, and the age gap of sixteen years is obvious.
I stand up to meet them. Eliza and I share an awkward hug. Julian and I shake hands and exchange greetings. I notice immediately that he has a long row of stitches on his chin.
“What happened there?” I ask.
He shakes his head despondently and then goes on to explain how during yesterday’s shoot he had taken five Viagra, become severely dehydrated, and then passed out face first onto a wood floor. He opens his mouth to show me the rest of the damage: three broken teeth.
“I don’t have dental insurance,” he says. “I’m not sure what I’m going to do.”
“You might try Tijuana,” I say. “Lots of folks get work done down there. It’s much cheaper.”
He agrees that it’s something to consider.
I buy them a round of drinks and we start talking. I’ve never done any formal interviewing, so I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do. Julian comments that I don’t have a pen and paper to make notes, nor am I recording the conversation. It’s a very good point. I silently curse myself for being ill-prepared
Julian goes into a long, detailed explanation of how he ended up at his current station in life. He doesn’t indicate the slightest regret over squandering any past potential. He keeps his arm fixed around Eliza’s shoulder and he unconsciously twirls her hair between his fingers. The candidness with which he discusses his life is dizzying. Nothing is held back. No pretense. No shame kept private and he makes no secret of his very strong affection for Eliza. Whenever he makes a particularly poignant or sentimental remark, he squeezes her into a tight cuddle and kisses her on the forehead.
I ask Eliza about her long-term goals in the industry. Before she can answer for herself, Julian chimes in. He says webcam is just the first stop on a long journey, one with an ultimate goal: she wants to be a sex therapist. But the next step is for her to do traditional pornography. Eliza has already been courted by a bigshot talent agent from L.A. They had gone to meet with him the week before at a fancy restaurant. He had brought along two of his most successful girls as props. The agent explained that the business is moving outside of California. Too many regulations. Big Government. The action is now in places like Arizona, Texas, and Florida. The agent expressed great admiration for Eliza’s work. He said her passion for fucking really shined on the screen. “People can tell right away when an actress is faking it,” the agent said. “Anyone can take a dick, but what makes a star is when someone really truly loves it.”
After the dinner, Eliza signed a contract. The next day she was flown to Phoenix for a two-part shoot. Julian decided he wanted to come, in order to show moral support. He had to purchase his own ticket. The first part of the shoot was a foot-job. A team of cameramen and lighting technicians made a semi-circle around a couch where Eliza and an overly-tanned, middle-aged man with a totally waxed body, did their thing. The director told Julian to wait in the next room, so as not to distract Eliza. There he waited, with his ear pressed to the door, listening to every moan and sigh that emanated from her mouth, trying desperately to discern whether the agent was right, that primal noises like that can’t be faked.
The second part of the shoot was an ass-eating scene. Eliza was positioned bent over the arm of the couch with her ass in the air. The tanned, middle-aged man went to work. The director wanted shots from a myriad of angles. One cameraman held his lens inches from her face to capture her expressions. A second camera zoomed in on the man’s tongue making circles around her little pink asshole.
The shoot lasted just over two hours. When finished, the director gave Eliza a great, big hug. “You did fantastic, honey,” he said. “How would you like to do a girl-on-girl in Florida in three weeks?” Eliza lit up like a New York City skyline. Of course, she would, she gushed. After the production, Julian and Eliza boarded a plane back to California.
I ask Julian how he feels about Eliza having sex with all these other people. He becomes visibly uncomfortable, his face losing its color and then twisting itself into a grotesque grimace.
“It’s really not a big deal,” he says. “It’s just business. What we have as a couple won’t be affected by
what she does for work.”
I turn to Eliza.
“So, is your agent correct?” I say to her. “Can you not fake good sex on camera? Did you love having that guy eat your ass with all those cameras pointed at you?”
She smiles coyly, her face turning a rose-colored hue.
“It wasn’t too bad,” she says. “But it’s not like it is with Julian.”
Eliza decides she wants to eat steak. I suggest we head to the Turf Supper Club, a place virtually unchanged since it opened its doors in 1955: a neon-green sign hanging over a nondescript, two-story building, dim red lighting inside, vinyl booths, a piano player in the corner, and photos of race horses lining the walls. In the Uber-ride over, I ask Eliza whether her family knows what she’s doing. She laughs uproariously.
“Of course not, are you kidding me?” she says. “I’m sure they think I’m being supported by a man. On the one hand, I’d really like to tell them, because I want to show them how independent I am. But on the other hand, there’s nothing more taboo than porn. Even drugs or drug-dealing is easier to accept than porn.”
Before we head inside, I ask if they’d like to do any coke. Julian’s grin is full of rebelliousness. Eliza’s enthusiasm is more subdued. She’s only done drugs a small handful of times. It’s been years, actually. This leaves me feeling very confused. In my mind, drugs and pornography go hand-in-hand. Life’s two great vices!
Eliza takes two small bumps. Her face contorts into a sickly look of revulsion. Conversely, Julian and I attack the bag ravenously, each taking hit after hit. Inside, we order drinks: Julian and Eliza take vodka martinis. I continue with whiskey. The cocaine now has Julian speaking in rapid-fire fashion. He’s lamenting about how totally dependent Eliza and he are on each other. How they don’t have any other friends in San Diego. How having sex on camera has zapped his will to make love off-camera.
Eliza orders her steak and eats quietly. Julian and I abstain from food but double-down on our efforts with the booze and coke. After her steak, Eliza orders a piece of cherry pie. Julian reproaches her, disdainfully. He explains to me that her eating and exercise habits are their number one source of contention. “It’s essential she keeps her body in tip-top condition,” he says. “It’s the money-maker.” Eliza doesn’t argue the point.
I suggest we go somewhere to finish the bag of cocaine. Julian meekly offers up their apartment. It’s only a few blocks away. He’s hesitant to have visitors because of the apartment’s state of disrepair. It makes no difference to me, I assure him. However, upon arrival, I’m struck by how beggarly it really is. Entering the front door, I nearly stumble over their mattress, which they’ve moved from the bedroom to the bare wood floor of the living room. Behind it is a shelf displaying their sex toys, candles, gags, etc. The only other piece of furniture is a clear chair that sits discarded in the corner. The off-white walls are completely bare minus a handful of instructions Julian has scribbled in black marker for a past sex-show. They read: Eliza gets manhandled. Chair preview. Bunny ears blow. Bunny ears fuck. One thrust. DT training. Shunga. Wax play. Duct tape. Dart throw.
Julian retrieves a plate from the kitchen, and we sit on the bed and take turns doing lines. A grey cat prowls around the room making soft meowing noises. Eliza disappears to the bathroom, returns, and then disappears again. Julian offers to make her tea, which she gladly accepts. The three of us have now been in each other’s company for nearly eight straight hours. We’ve exhausted all topics of discussion. Finally, Julian asks if I’d like to see them fuck. I glance over at Eliza. She doesn’t look pleased.
“I can’t,” she says. “I did a four-hour shoot, yesterday. I’m really sore, and I’m spotting.”
“Spotting?” Julian asks.
“I’m bleeding. That’s why I keep going to the bathroom. It didn’t hurt earlier but now it’s killing me.”
That’s my cue to leave. My Uber arrives within two minutes. I give each of them the type of hug reserved for family and old friends. When I get back to my friend Leah’s apartment, I pass out on her couch in all my clothes.