Something you may not know: ages ago — ages — a publisher asked me to write a book of erotica. And I did.
Unfortunately, it took a few months longer than I’d hoped to finish the damn thing. By the time I submitted the manuscript, the publisher had changed directions, and I didn’t fit the bill anymore. His focus had shifted to erotica anthologies — “best of” stuff — so a full-length work by a single author wasn’t really his thing.
Fine. These things happen.
For the past ten years, I’ve had 60,000 words just laying around on my laptop, doing nothing. Frankly, I hadn’t even thought about the novel until last week, when I got on a kick uploading my work to Google Docs for backup. I was rifling through one folder after another, making my way methodically down the line, and there it was: rediscovered.
Of course I had fun flipping through it again. My writing style has changed over the years, becoming become less florid, more to-the-point, so certain sections made me cringe. But oddly, I’m still pleased with much of it. (Personal fave: an orgy scene involving James Baldwin, Tony Kushner, Mark Leyner, Federico Garcia Lorca, David Sedaris, and Edmund White. YES.)
Also weird — and I can’t believe I forgot this — but I’d entitled the work Flood. I used a fairly simple framing device: a hurricane was heading for New Orleans, so a bunch of friends hunkered down and rode it out together. While they were waiting for the storm to pass and life to return to normal, they told stories. Thankfully, Jonno and I didn’t take that approach to Katrina.
Anyway, I thought I’d share a PG-rated bit from one of the stories — one called “Quebecois Groundhogs and Other Delights”. I think it’s kinda funny. Well, at least it makes me laugh. If any of you are publishers and/or purveyors of erotica, you know where to find me…
“Quebecois Groundhogs and Other Delights” (excerpt)
Sometimes I wonder what goes on in Bart’s head. I mean, yes, I’m all for wackiness and hijinks and creative genius, but shooting a “groundhog-themed porn scene” (his own cryptic words) on Groundhog Day? For someone who doesn’t drink or do drugs, Bart comes up with some doozies. As I drove to the location — a video shop managed by our friend, Jasper — I mulled some questions:
* What, exactly, constitutes a “groundhog-themed” porn scene?
* Will there be live animals involved?
* Will I be involved?
* Will I need a rabies shot?
I began to fabricate excuses that might allow me to bow out of any videotaped assignations bordering loosely on bestiality (e.g. “My family has a long history of rodent-related deaths, so to avoid dredging up any unpleasant memories, I’d appreciate being left out of this altogether”). Of course, should the situation arise, I knew Bart would respond best to tried-and-true Southern morality: “Why, if my neighbors ever saw this, well, just what would they think?”
I was so absorbed in dialogue with an imaginary Bart that I nearly missed my turn into the deserted parking lot of Violet’s Video Vault. V’s, as I correctly assumed it was often called, was a 70s-era ranch building that clearly served as both business place and abode to the owner — children’s toys lining the flowerbeds were a dead giveaway. I glanced at the yellow flashing roadside marquee announcing V’s featured rentals, including The Year of Living Dangerously, which was touted as a “new release”. This was going to be interesting.
With a slight sense of trepidation, I dismounted from my trusty vehicle, paced up the cigarette-strewn sidewalk, and knocked on the ubiquitous diamond-paned front door (you know the kind I’m talking about). After half a minute of staring at a cornflower blue mailbox oddly placed at waist-height, Bart opened the door and ushered me into what was once the owner’s living room but was now lined with a dozen video shelving units. Several first grade-sized chairs were curiously situated among the aisles. Near the door, a groaning, beige computer system sat perched on a counter that still smelled of cheap wood stain. The ancient, green shag carpet and the numerous family portraits that hung from cabbage-rosed walls confirmed that someone still called this place home after business hours. It was strange and magnificent, indeed. I let out a short laugh that Bart mistook for a sneeze.
“Bart, if John Waters doesn’t track you down and hold a gun to your head to get the address of this place, I’ll be a monkey’s aunt twice removed.”
“Maybe so, Queen Kong.” His smile was wider and brighter than I’d seen it in months. He was very, very happy. “It is pretty good, isn’t it?”
“It’s beyond good, bubbulah — it’s wretched.”
Bart beamed, knowing he’d pleasantly surprised me. “And didn’t you say just the other day that all this kitschy shit had been bought up by New York design queens?”
“Most of it has, boo. You know those gals work their manicured fingers to the bone, trying to maintain their grip on the cutting edge of fashion.” I smirked, a little jealous of the fact that I was neither a New Yorker nor on the cutting edge. I covered my insecurity with a haughty sigh. “It’s so much easier down here. You know, if I made an offer to the owner, I’d pay about ten times less for that” — pointing to a lamp made from vintage duck decoy — “than if I tried to buy it on Avenue A.” As an aside, I wondered where the aforementioned lamp had come from. Could Violet herself be the marksman? Would that increase its value if I took it on The Antiques Road Show?
“Stop being so pretentious,” Bart chided, ending my reverie. His eyes narrowed to slits, his head cocked back and to the side, and his arms pulled up into an unusually femme akimbo: Bart’s patented “Cut the bullshit, Mary” pose. “Violet decorated this whole thing — not to be campy, but because it’s her. And we can just thank our lucky stars that she’s letting us use it this afternoon.”
“Okay, but don’t even try to tell me that Holly Hobby portrait doesn’t get your dick hard, ’cause you’d be lying. You’re here to film camp or my name isn’t Sophie Tucker.”
“Oh, do shut up and meet Sven, our star du jour.”
Bart dragged me into the next room — presumably the former dining room — and led me to a low breakfast table with similarly low chairs where Sven was seated, naked as the day he was born. He stood up to greet me: a short-ish husky boy, maybe 5’8″ or so, roughly 160 pounds, brown curly hair, brown eyes, a day’s worth of thick growth on his cheeks, a chunky chest and belly covered in hair. If I’d been in a crowded bar and someone had asked me to find one man who was not named Sven, I’d have pointed to this guy. He was as un-Sven-like as they come.
“Hi, Sven, nice to meet you.” He nodded and smiled, eagerly looking to Bart for approval. It looked as if Bart didn’t speak much English.
“Sven is going to play the groundhog today,” chirped Bart. “We got the suit and everything.”
“I see,” I replied, sporting my own patented arched-eyebrow-arms-folded “Mary, you’re a freak” pose.
“Aw, stop the hemmin’ and hawin’. I promise, you’re gonna love it!” Bart cooed, squeezing my arm in excitement. “The premise is so brilliant! We’re going to pretend that the movie Groundhog Day has just been released, and Sven’s going to dress up like the groundhog, like he’s doing a promotion for it. So I’m going to walk in the front door, check him out, and then we’re gonna have sissy-boy sex in the middle of the aisle! Haha!” His laugh was gleeful and anxious, as if he were titillated by the concept but wanted to get it all over so he could move on to other things—like editing. Bart always says directing drives him crazy, editing drives him sane. If that’s true, as a close, personal friend I can honestly say that Bart needs much more editing in his diet.
I had to admit, the groundhog tie-in may have made for an odd storyline, but it was pretty good as far as porn’s considered. Even better: I was apparently just operating the camera. No lines, no walk-ons, nothing. The anxieties I felt on the drive over vanished.
“Bar-tholah-mooooo!” I heard a female voice yodel from somewhere beyond the living room/sales floor. If Elsie the Cow could call her master, that’s what it would sound like.
“Er, Bart, who’s that?” I asked for obvious reasons.
“Oh, that’s Violet. She’s taking the day off since it’s her birthday and all. She won’t bother us. She and Jasper are going to be in the next room watching their stories.”
At that moment, Violet came waltzing around the corner, presumably from a door in the back of the room nearly hidden by an over-laden coat rack. Wearing a birthday hat of green foil and a one-piece bathing suit in Pucci print, I’d have to say that the most surprising thing about her appearance—aside from her well-stacked brunette beehive—was the fact that she measured about three feet in height (including the hair). Well, that explained the miniscule chairs and the half-height mailbox….
“Hey, y’all! Aren’t you gonna wish me a happy birthday?” She ashed a Virginia Slims Menthol 100 on the carpet.
“Happy birthday, Violet!” Bart said, speaking for us all. “Violet, I’d like you to meet my friends Richard and Sven.”
“Hi, Richard, I’ve heard so much about you!” she said cordially. Did I imagine her leering at me as she shook my hand? “Hi, Sven, what a big boy you are,” she purred as she brazenly looked him up and down. “You can come play with me after you’re done here.”
Sven looked at Bart for translation. I’d assumed correctly: English was neither Sven’s first, second, or third tongue. “She likes you,” Bart half-shouted, using semi-vulgar hand signals to convey his meaning. Sven nodded and smiled wanly at the short woman, making a marginally successful attempt to hide his meat-and-potatoes, which were dangling at Violet’s eye-level.
“Oh, Bart, you’re so bad!” Violet screeched. “You’re makin’ me out to be some wanton woman when you know I’m the most chaste thing this side of the Mason-Dixon. Really!”
“Oh, I know, Lady V. Jasper was saying just the other day how he was trying to get in your culottes, but that you firmly rebuffed him!” Bart sounded as if he were joking, but knowing him, I couldn’t be sure.
“Baby, you know I only do it with hairdressers — they fix me up after we’re done!” Her cackle was nearly absorbed by the thick carpet and the flocked wallpaper. She looked directly at me. “Now y’all don’t worry about a thing. I just came in to tell you if you need me, we’re gonna be in the next room — but don’t come disturbing me ‘till the stories are over at 4:00! I’ve got some Co-Colas over in the fridge, help yourself if you like. Enjoy! And don’t forget, Bart, I want a copy of this! Jasper and your mama both have been telling me about your stuff and I wanna see it firsthand!” Her laugh rang out one more time as she exhaled a long smoky breath, spun on her shoeless heel, wheeled past the coat rack into the back room, and shut the door. After a moment or two of staring at one another, we burst into uncontrolled fits of girly giggles, covering our mouths so as not to be too disrespectful to our diminutive elder.
Bart was the first to recover. “Ok, Sven, go put on your costume,” he pantomimed. Sven waddled over to a heap of fur lying next to the breakfast table and began suiting up.
“You know how to pick ’em, Bart.”
“Which do you mean: Sven or Violet?”
“Both. Where’d you find ’em?”
“Well, I didn’t know it, but Violet’s an old friend of my mama’s. It’s just coincidence that Jasper happens to work for her. One night I came to pick him up and he introduced us and the pieces fell into place. As for Sven,” he said, smirking over his shoulder, “he was out wandering the streets night before last, looking for a party. I stopped him and chatted him up, and voila.”
“Where’s he from?”
“Quebec. He’s here for some hairdresser convention. But don’t tell Violet,” he grinned. She’ll eat him alive!”* * *
Moments later, I had a camera perched on my shoulder, Bart was standing outside the front door, running through the scene in his head, and Sven was hopping from foot to foot, dancing as he imagined groundhogs must do when no one’s watching. I wondered if they even have groundhogs in Quebec, and if they do, what do they call them?
Before I could ask Sven about the fauna of the Great White North, Bart called “Action!” and strode through the door, looking about in mock wide-eyed amazement. Apparently, he’d chosen to play his character as that much-maligned archetype, the Video Store Ingenue. He ambled slowly through the living room to the dining room, awestruck with the analog wonder of it all. When he started fondling the wallpaper, I began to think someone might’ve put acid in Bart’s Diet Coke (that “someone” being Bart). Upon reaching Sven, he straightened up a bit, mesmerized by the buoyant rodent before him.
“Hello!” Bart said, louder and more articulately than necessary. “Could you recommend a movie for me to watch?”
The groundhog nodded violently and held out a copy of Groundhog Day. Bart took the tape from the groundhog’s bouncing hand (he was still dancing) and read the boxcover blurbs.
“Oh, I don’t know. I don’t think I like groundhogs.” The groundhog hid his face in mock shame beneath his poly-cotton paws. “Well, I didn’t mean it like that, Mr. Groundhog. I’m sure you’re very nice.” The groundhog looked up at him and resumed his dance even more vigorously than before. “Wow, you can really dance!”
The groundhog became more excited, adding a little bump and grind to his completely silent routine. We were hurtling toward David Lynch territory.
“Do groundhogs eat roots?” Bart queried. The groundhog nodded several times in response to the egregious non sequitur. “Would you like to taste a special root, Mr. Groundhog?” Bart asked, grabbing the front of his khakis and showing off the bulge he was sporting — miraculous, under the surreal circumstances. The groundhog gleefully jumped up and down several times, nearly hitting the drop-ceiling. He quickly fell to his knees and began licking Bart’s crotch with exaggerated movements of his faux-fur head. I was terrified.