I REMEMBER WHEN SEX was dirty. In fact, I remember the dirtiest thing anyone ever said to me. I remember because it coincided with my first paying gig as a writer. I was 19, still in college in New York City, and I’d answered an ad seeking ‘adult book authors.’ There was a number at the bottom of the ad, which appeared, if memory serves, in the classifieds section of The Village Voice. I called. (Though at this point, mind you, I’d only been a non-virgin for three years.) A woman with a voice like Beaver’s Mom, Barbara Billingsley, answered the phone on one ring, asked me what I was calling about and, satisfied I was a simple writer-to-be seeking employment – and not, say, a postal inspector with interstate through-the-mail obscenity issues – she asked me to pop in the next day.
(But, can we back up a minute, maybe re-wind back to the Beaver thing? Assuming anyone reading this can even remember the Fifties classic TV show, Leave It To Beaver – starring Jerry Mathers as The Beaver! – is there anyone besides me who has found themselves mulling, at three AM, the nature of the lead character’s name? Beaver Cleaver? Really? All the names for freckle-faced little white boys in the world, and they went with “Beaver Cleaver?” Hank Ketchum had Dennis The Menace. Charles Schultz came up with Charlie Brown. Mark Twain marched out Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer. So what exactly was the deal with giving Eisenhower America’s favorite little squirt the moniker of an axe-wielding SVU vagina mutilator? Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher, the show’s creators, developed another show called Meet Mr. McNutley. You be the judge.)
But where were we? Right – I was about to put on my court suit and go downtown to meet Marge Maidenform (not her real name, because I can’t remember her real name), editor-in-chief at Beeline Books. On first sight, I might have stumbled into the Middle School principal’s office. Marge – I’m not being familiar, she said to call her Marge – was a pert, no-nonsense lady in her forties with a stiff beehive and a white chiffon sweater unbuttoned but closed at the neck with a little pearl chain. (I almost said “pearl necklace,’ but that would give the wrong impression.) She looked like a young Aunt Bea – if I may make another bygone television reference, to the ever lovable cracker sheriff, Andy Griffith.
After a minute of small talk/interviewing – I was a student at Columbia, I was an English major, I was familiar with Beeline (a lie) – Marge got down to brass tits and read me a list dirty book DO’S and DON’TS.
69 – YES
INTER-RACIAL – YES
INCEST – YES
GOLDEN SHOWERS – YES
ANAL – YES
ORGIES – YES
DOGS – YES
HORSES – YES
CATS – NO
In spite of myself, I asked about the cats. It was such an anything-goes checklist, why not Kitty? “Because,” Marge explained, more than a little annoyed I’d interrupted her spiel, “we try to keep things realistic.” Whereupon she jumped back with S&M – YES, DRUGS – YES, then finished up with two rapid-fire NO’s: POLITICS and COPROPHAGIA. I had to go home and look that up, but it wasn’t in my Merriam Webster college dictionary, so, this being pre-Google, I had to shlep down to the a library and look it up on the giant OED, Book One: A –Z, which had its own podium in the Columbia Library. Happily, I did not have my heart set on shit-eating, so I could live with it. You have to pick your battles.
But fair enough! I had a week, I had my instructions, and, by way of books-for-study-slash-thank-you-gift, the be-sweatered editrix spun her chair around and snatched a few titles off the wall-mounted shelves behind her. Telling me to “just read the good parts,” she handed me a few novels I only wish I still had: Oversexed Aunt, by Chuck Selwyn, Diana’s Guest, by Peter Valentine (with a perplexed German shepherd on the cover), and The Anatomy and the Ecstasy, by – could this be the hippest pseudonym in history? – King Coral.
And that was that. I perused Oversexed Aunt on the subway, careful to keep a Daily News over the saucy, vaguely Down Syndrome-ish blonde with her breasts spilling out of her dress on the cover, and – much to my surprise – found myself getting aroused, nursing, to utilize a Bee-line trademark: catchy and unexpected genitalia names, “a pants-python hard enough to crack a skull.”
Marge wasn’t all business, after all. She knew us creative writing types had to be, you know, creative. And where we could really cut loose was in coming up with festive new terms for dicks, cunts, clits, tits, nips, assholes, mouths and skin tags. (Okay, I made up the skin tag one, but that’s really just a plug for the first steamer in my upcoming Senior Sex Trilogy, Skin-Tags Gone Wild. First sentence: Esther’s hair was not just blue on top…. Available only on SINDLE. Patent Pending.)
Anyway, back in my dorm, I dutifully set about to bang out a 9 chapter (20 pages each) four-sex-scenes-per-chapter, one-hander. Feeling all Nabokovy, I figured there was no reason I couldn’t go a little meta with it. I mean, I’d once ridden in an elevator with Edward Said, I got post-modernism.) Besides which, who said Beeline couldn’t be a little Brechtian? Twenty days later, amped on White Crosses, weed, beer and acid (I might as well have been a long distance trucker) I arrived back at Beeline with my mastur-piece, pre-emptively titled, Her Breath Came In Short Pants.
Three days after dropping it off, I got a phone call from Marge herself. (We’re talking about pre-fax, pre-internet, I feel like maybe pre Federal Express, but I may be on shaky ground here.) I don’t remember Marge having a secretary, though if we were in one of her books she certainly would have: either a sex slave named “Hulga” or a sister was she was sharing with the plumber, or her father, “who had a member wide enough around to put out a dinosaur’s eye.”
I remember the dinosaur thing. At first I went with brontosaurus, then, after much back and forth, decided “dinosaur” was specific enough. (Calling to mind Oscar Wilde’s famous quip, when asked what he’d done all day, “I spent the morning putting in a comma, and the afternoon taking it out. Though in this case, it wasn’t a comma, it was a crappy dinosaur dick-size analogy) I remember (even more mortifyingly) being pretty damn proud of that paleo-imagery. But it didn’t help.
To this day, I am still haunted by ferocity of my Ms. Bee-Line’s response: “I read your book” and – please, play along on the home game and slam down your hand – IT DIDN’T MAKE ME WANT TO JERK OFF!”
And there they are: the most disturbingly dirty words ever uttered in my direction. Even now, as I say, decades later, if I’m half asleep at night, the memory of Big Marge’s explosive desk-bang can send me into a flurry of hypnogogic twitches fierce enough to knock books off shelves in adjacent rooms. None of them, sadly, with my name – or even a pseudonym over the buzzy bee Bee-line logo.