From the end credits, A Girl's Best Friend, 1981.
Last month I had a rather unfortunate staircase-running accident, which resulted in my having twenty stitches sewn into the underside of my left big toe. I thought I might use the being-unable-to-run-or-swim time to catch up on Blu-ray assessment (I know I am WAY overdue on a new Consumer Guide, and I'm sorry about that, and I don't think I'm gonna actually be able to put one together until the fall weather starts setting in, the way it's looking) but instead I found the "muse" "calling" and I was compelled to work on a book project that I've been, for lack of a better term, dicking around with since the turn of the century.
To my surprise and delight, I find now that I have finished it, or, at the very least, the major narrative section of it, and while it's in an admitedly rough form, it actually exists, as a thing, and I'm now in the process of getting various people to look at it with the express purpose of "shopping it around, as they say." As I feel kind of bad for depriving my audience of blog stuff whilst I worked on this, I thought it would not be remiss to provide the following not just as an excuse, but potentially an entertainment. And so, the first twenty hundred words or so of "A Girl's Best Friend," which is Chapter One of My LIfe In Pornography.
“I don’t think you’re cut out for manual labor.” My dad told me that in 1970, when I was ten going on eleven. My dad was a “route man” for National Foods, which distributed Wise Potato Chips throughout Northern and I believe Central New Jersey, and every now and then during my childhood, he’d take me out on a run, for which he had to get up every weekday at about four in the morning to get his truck out of the garage by six. The truck was small, and single seated, so on those few times I went out with him I had to sit in a folding chair and hang on to a handle by the sliding right door. My function would be to help my dad unpack and set up the boxes of snacks at various supermarkets and delis, and he placed a good amount of pride in the care with which he set up the displays in each particular store, and tried to impart this expertise to me, but I was quite a bit more interested in eating potato chips than in the niceties of their retail display, and also more interested in leafing through a deli’s stock of Warren Magazines (they published “Vampirella” and “Eerie” and that kind of horror comic dreck) than in unloading and cutting open boxes and stuff. I was a bit of an abstracted child—a “dreamer,” as some of my kin put it, and how I did come to hate that word—and once my dad had rewarded me with a cursory sum of money for my indifferent contribution to his work, I’d go out and squander it on some rock LP that had caught my fancy for whatever reason. (The record I bought after the outing which had prompted my father’s observation—an observation made more in resignation than in anger, I ought to emphasize—was Donovan’s Open Road. Yeah, I dunno either.)
I can’t say for certain whether I was remembering those words—oh, to hell with it, I can pretty much guarantee I was not remembering those words—as I stood in a hardware store on 8th Avenue near the Port Authority in New York City one morning in late August of 1980, looking for something that I thought was called “duck tape.” Clearly, though, the kernel of my father’s observation had held true. Picking up this mysterious “duck tape” was the first task of what was to be a day full or manual labor, and further evidence that this wasn’t really my thing is that, as far as I can remember, the shoes I was wearing, and would wear through much if not all of the next two weeks, were black patent leather loafers, which were the only footwear available to me at the time. Every time I remember this I can barely believe it. There’s absolutely no sense to the idea that even as a 21-year-old I didn’t have the wherewithal to run out and get a cheap pair of Chuck Taylors for a two-week job that entailed a lot of running around and lugging stuff. I didn’t have a lot of wherewithal at 21, who does, but still. That sounds like a bit much. And yet that’s what I remember having on my feet much of the time working as a production assistant on the pornographic film A Girl’s Best Friend, which was shooting under the title The Family Jewels.
How I got the job was this: my friend Ron, on graduating from NYU with a filmmaking degree, took an entry level position at Quality X Video, on 44th Street between Eighth and Ninth avenues, where he was in charge, or second in charge, of videotape duplication, manning a console which ran off copies of VHS cassettes of “adult” movies. Quality X was the domain of Sam Lake, the one-time grindhouse king who turned to hardcore full time after being part of the big Deep Throat score. Lake, like many of his peers in the exploitation game, had a very alert nose for a buck. For instance, a few months my brief tenure in his employ, John Lennon was shot to death. This event triggered a memory in Sam: didn’t he have, in his vault (or wherever it was that he kept the nasty products he’d been churning out for the skeeve cognoscenti since the mid '60s) a movie in which a youngish Yoko Ono played a small role, and in fact appeared nude? Indeed he had: the movie was Satan’s Bed, made in 1965 when Ono was a semi-struggling artist in New York, although Sam was wrong about her appearing nude in it; she does run around in her underwear and get smacked around a bit though. In any event, Lake dictated a letter to Ono sending his condolences on the recent tragic events and offering to let her take his print of Satan’s Bed off of his hands for $50,000. Sam’s secretary, not a woman of inordinate sentimentality, flatly refused to type the letter, and that was that. Upstairs from his office, in a small facility, Ron would spend his days keeping watch over several monitors as masters of various porno films played out as they were duplicated onto VHS tapes which would retail for something like eighty bucks a pop. (Home video was primarily a rental market at that time.) He wound up watching a LOT of porn, which was not something he was necessarily interested in. I don’t actually know why he took the job in the first place, now that I think of it; I think he was eager to get out from under the wings of his parents, who had put him through school but now would be entirely happy for him to come in and help run the family business of women’s clothing retail, which he had zero interest in doing.
I had no such concerns. I was still in college, whittling down my course load semester after semester, squandering my college loans on ever more obscure record albums (that summer I found a copy of Henry Cow/Slapp Happy’s In Praise Of Learning at the Soho Music Gallery: score!), and hanging out a lot at the office of the college paper, the Beacon, where I was Arts Editor and unofficial Enfant Terrible. My parents had not business for me to go into, and were in fact FINALLY getting the divorce that had been looming since my dad had taken up with another woman about five years prior. One of my summer “jobs” had been at the student center at my school, setting up events and stuff. When I wasn’t doing that—and the hours weren’t exactly generous—I worked as the World’s Worst Telemarketer, selling, or rather, not selling, subscriptions to TV Guide, Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone and other Fine Publications to people who would say to me that they would only shell out for such a thing if I could spell the name of the town I was calling, in this case being Nacogdoches, and then reneging once realizing that, of course, I had the name of the town on the card I had with their phone number to call. I don’t know why, exactly, I was the World’s Worst Telemarketer; even in my early twenties I had a relatively pleasant, resonant speaking voice, and I could read from a script like nobody’s business, way better than the other doofuses who would start off on the wrongest foot, ending their intros with a question mark. But I couldn’t sell worth shit. I don’t know if my delivery lacked the requisite sincerity; maybe I read from the script too well. In any event, it was likely only my relative objective competence that staved off a firing, but I could kind of feel it coming.
So late-ish in the summer, when Ron told me that Lake, who was now backing one feature production each year as his business model shifted to video, erm, monetization of his library, was assembling a crew to shoot a new picture, and that there was a production assistant job there for the taking, I was in a not atypical “why not?” frame of mind. In 1980 you were pretty much out of the “porno chic” era but still in the time of porn-with-mainstream-ambitions/pretentions. Lake had not named his outfit Quality X for nothing. This picture was going to be shot on 35mm, with Panavision cameras, by a highly professional outfit headed by a guy who was best known these days for his stellar on-the-fly work for the proto-reality TV series That’s Incredible. It would amount to Invaluable Technical Experience for someone interested in working in film. Ron would take it himself, except he’d have to accept his pay being docked for those two weeks from $200 a week to $50 a week, which he couldn’t afford. For me, who was just sort of sleeping on pull-outs at various residences whose rents were being paid by friends or a parent or another, this was not so much a problem. As for “interested in working in film,” I was mainly interested in not working but I seemed to be coming to an age where I’d have to make some adjustments in that area. So I said sure.
Still, a porn film. That might be a little weird. Not to worry, Ron assured me; all the sex stuff was shot on a “closed set.” I’d carry and set up lights and reflectors and go back to the truck and imagine I was working on a “real” movie. If that’s what I preferred.
Others were not so sanguine about this temp gig. I had a dinner at the log cabin in Wayne, N.J., that my mom and dad split spending time at as their marriage underwent its final dissolution and they made rather drawn-out arrangements to get rid of the place and set up housekeeping, separately, elsewhere. The log cabin had been the final geographical my dad and mom pulled before everything fell apart for good, and I’ve always felt a little guilty over it, and I’m sure my younger sister, a year my junior, feels similarly. At the time they got the cabin, the only kid living “at home” was my high-school age brother, and the house was a relatively cozy, congenial fit for three and potentially a good space for a rebuilding of relations but then I had one roommate/girlfriend/whatever situation go all wobbly so crawling back I came to the new old homestead, and in the meanwhile my sister messed up junior college up in Boston, and she came crawling back with an affected Southie accent, and there we all were again, one big happy family, which was actually hardly the idea. So one night, my sister and my brother and I were dining with Mom, as she was in charge of the house that evening, and I laid out that I was doing this thing and I was gonna crash most nights in Brooklyn at my uncle’s place or maybe at my pseudo-quasi-girlfriend’s or something, but it didn’t make sense given the potentially erratic hours for me to try to commute from the more rustic depths of Wayne into the city every day blah blah blah, and my sister complained to our mother, “I can’t BELIEVE you’re letting Glenn work on a PORNO MOVIE. If I was in a porno movie you’d have a FIT.” Our poor mother, who had a bunch of other things on her mind, only one of which, I imagine, was the question as to how she’d managed to be blessed with this gaggle of idiot children, rolled her eyes and said, “Well, your brother’s not going to be IN the film, he’s going to be setting up lights for it. OF COURSE I’d have a fit if you were in a porno movie.” She looked at me meaningfully. “Still…”
“It’s okay, mom, really. They’re shooting it on Panavision cameras!”