Back in college I had a friend who was something of a thief.
He was more of a con artist than an ordinary crook. He was an embezzler, of sorts, and he did a little drug dealing, marijuana mostly, and he cheated at poker when he played with strangers. He was the dorm bookie and loan shark, although a tender-hearted one who didn't charge a very high interest and was willing to accept payment in kind from clients who couldn't come through with hard cash.
His ambition was to become a pimp.
He was an older guy, returning to college at age 28, and he'd been around. He'd done a hitch in the army and he'd driven a cab in New York City, and both lines of work had given him an affection for prostitutes. As a cabbie, he said, he had a number of hookers who made him their regular ride and they confided in him. So he had a high regard for prostitution, both as a money-making trade and a, to him, romantically raffish way of life. He was always on the look out for girls for his stable, but although he had a knack for attracting and befriending hurt, careless, and woefully screwed up young women, as friends, always only as friends, they all had a habit of giving away what Charlie believed was their ticket to wealth.
Charlie was a creative guy, though, and he had the soul of an artist.
He loved the theatre. That was his major, in fact. He wanted to be a director. I was in one of the plays he directed. Moonchildren by Michael Weller. It was a smash hit. We'd produced it outside the drama department and so all the profits belonged to us. Everybody in the cast and crew was supposed to get a take. Probably wouldn't have amounted to more than 20 bucks a piece after paying off our expenses. Charlie decided that was chicken feed and we'd all prefer something else.
He used the box office receipts to buy grass, most of which, he said, was smoked at the cast party. My guess was that most of it was hidden under Charlie's bed and was sold off a little at a time over the course of the semester.
The borrowed sound equipment we used and some of the lights disappeared when the show closed. "Stolen," Charlie told the head of the drama department, shrugging fatalistically. "What are you gonna do? People, you know? Anything that's not nailed down."
Charlie was 28 but he looked 40. He was fat and balding and there was gray in his bushy mustache. I thought he was lying about his age, like he lied about almost everything, but I met his older brother, a doctor, who was nearly 40. He confirmed Charlie's age. He told me that from the time Charlie was a teenager people were always mistaking their ages, thinking Charlie was the big brother. So he looked 40 and he sometimes acted older. He had bad feet and a bad back, he smoked too much, ate too much, got no exercise. He had heart trouble too. Basically, he was a wreck.
Yet women loved him.
But not that way. He had lots of adopted little sisters and no girlfriends. Like I said, wounded and messed up girls flocked to him, but he also made friends with many who had their acts together. They confided in him. They trusted him. They shouldn't have. He told me everything they told him. He was doing me a favor. He knew I wanted to be a writer and he felt I needed to learn the secrets of the human female heart. I was doing a good job on my own, I thought, but he thought my method was too slow, one heart at a time. One way of educating me was to break his other friends' confidences. Another was to try to throw me and some of these girls together and see what developed.
I owed a lot to Charlie.
Charlie was an entrepeneur, as you can tell. And some of the ways he made money were legitimate. Other ways he made money weren't legit, but they weren't overtly criminal either, except from the IRS's point of view. He did a lot of wheeling and dealing off of everybody's books, buying and selling used cars and stereo equipment and leather clothing and other moveable goods whose original owners had long ago given up missing them. He always had his eyes open for a deal.
One day an old friend of his from high school approached him. The guy had a lot of money, cash, that he wanted to invest without attracting any state or federal tax collectors' attention. The guy knew Charlie was a director, he hung around with actors and actresses, presumably then Charlie could help him make a movie. The guy wanted to get into filmmaking, as a producer and maybe as a cameraman too.
He wanted to make a porno film.
Charlie thought this was an excellent idea and agreed to direct. He asked me to write the script. Yes, there was going to be a real script. This was going to be a high class porno film. The cast would have to be able to act as well as take their clothes off. He asked me to write it, he asked my friend Ray to compose the music, and he asked another friend, Neil, to handle all the technical side, lighting and sound and whatever.
We were wary. Even at 20 we knew money like this didn't fall from the sky. It came from somewhere it didn't want anybody to know about. That the guy who was giving it to us had an Italian last name and no job at which he could have made all this money he was going to admit to, this also made us wary. We talked it over and decided that we weren't interested in having our first professional gigs be paid for by the mob.
But we didn't tell Charlie right away. We told him we'd think it over. We wanted to see if it was possible to make a porno film with the resources available to us.
We meant, we wanted to see if there were any girls we knew who would take off their clothes and have sex on camera.
We were 20, remember. Actually, Ray was 19.
As it happened Charlie had already gathered all the resources we'd have needed.
He had put together a cast of eight. Six girls and two guys. He had two other girls and another guy thinking it over. These were all kids from our dorm. We knew most of them. And I'll tell you, there were only two of them, one girl and one guy, who if you'd taken a vote before knowing they'd all agreed to do it you'd have said, yep, they'd get naked and screw on camera.
The guy was kind of a John Belushi in Animal House type. He'd have stripped naked in the dean's office and danced for visiting parents at Homecoming if the mood took him, and he wouldn't have even needed to be drunk, although he'd have prefered to be, whatever he was doing. The girl was one of Charlie's wounded angels. Hurt, careless, insecure, indifferent. She wasn't a slut or a wild-ass or anything like that. She was just needy enough that she could be talked into anything.
The rest of Charlie's cast, though, were complete surprises. They were all smart, cheerful, seemingly wholesome---for college students---without reputations as wild things or rebels or dare devils. None of them were theatre majors or dancers, either, although one of the girls was an art major. The girls were all attractive too. And several of them were real beauties.
This would have been a watchable movie, if nothing else.
It's probable that most of them, or all of them, were going along only up to a point. Like Ray and Neil and me, they were curious to see what Charlie was capable of pulling off and when the time came for them to get naked they'd have told him they'd changed their minds.
But we never got past a couple of meetings. We had a story, but I never wrote a script. No shooting schedule was ever outlined. We all talked earnestly about how we'd go about making the movie and discussed, sensitively, who was willing to do what with whom and how much of themselves they were willing to let the camera capture. Every one of the girls, every one, agreed to be in bed naked with another woman, but only half of them agreed to do it if the only other person in the bed was the other woman. Both guys were willing to do threesomes with one of the girls. No gay male scenes were ever suggested, of course. But it was something to me then that here were three girls willing to do lesbian sex scenes. As long as they were tastefully done, naturally, which Charlie agreed they would be.
Learning that, Ray and I almost gave up our scruples about taking money from the Mafia.
We were both going to be on the set at all times, don't you know. I had to be there to make on the spot rewrites. And Ray was going to play the piano to set the mood, like Schroeder for the Christmas play.
Fortunately for all concerned---or maybe unfortunately, I can't really say, maybe we'd have all had a great time and there'd have been no repercussions or regrets---Charlie's friend's wife made him use the money he was going to give us to make the movie to open a pizzaria. I swear. I'm not making any of this up.
I'm reminiscing about this now because a buddy of mine from grad school, who I'm pretty sure up until this moment didn't know about my past as an almost pornographer, sent me a link to a magazine that's being published at Boston University, the school I transfered to from where I was when I was in the skin trade.
The magazine is called Boink.
That's the editor there on the cover. She's the blonde with her back to the camera. She's a magazine journalism major. The brunette is a student too. The editor is also one of the publishers and she and her partner, a 38 year old photographer who I can't help thinking is another version of my old friend Charlie, promise that all of the models in the magazine are real university students.
Not Boston University students, necessarily. I suspect many of them will be students the way the girls at strip clubs are "real live co-eds." At some point in their recent past they were enrolled in a night course.
But some of them really will be real students, I'm sure.
My friend who alerted me to the news of this fine publication thought that I might want to write about it here. I'm not sure what he expected me to say. He probably doesn't care what. He probably just hoped I'd find a way to get nudity onto my webpage. He's a dirty-minded rogue, a lech, and a cad, and if I wasn't so grateful to him for giving me this excuse I'd be extremely disappointed in him.
I suppose my grown-up reaction to learning that college students are willingly modeling for soft core porn should be very much like the reaction Phoebe Maltz had to Vita Excalorum, a similar publication at her school, the University of Chicago.
Now, is it any more "wrong" to print pornographic or semi-pornographic photos of people who are easily identifiable to their own classmates, professors, and possibly even parents, than to print such photos more anonymously, as mainstream (i.e. non-academic) porn? It's hard to say--it's pretty clear that "Vita" isn't forcing anyone to do anything they don't want to, so from the models' perspective, things should be legit. But what of the weirdness for professors and classmates, who see a girl raising her hand to ask a question and immediately picture her breasts, regardless of whether they find the girl attractive, simply because they know, to a pixel, what those breasts look like?
I think Phoebe's touched on the exact right point. The question isn't whether or not posing naked for bath room and under the blankets late at night reading material is wrong. It may be, but more immediately what it is, in the case of these magazines, is inappropriate. Despite the fact that for almost all students the most important aspect of college life is the social scene, college is really your first step into the professional world. All of your fellow students, including your best friends, and all the professors are your colleagues and your relationships with them should be to some degree professional. You need to be concerned that your classmates take you seriously. Letting them all know what you look like naked changes the dynamic in a way that's not helpful to your career.
That's what I should think.
But what I think is, boy, if we'd had digital cameras and really cheap good video equipment back then...
End of Part 1. Part 2 Saturday night. There's nudity involved, so make sure the kids are in bed.