I am trying to be nonchalant, but I know that deep down I am just a mook with a notepad. So I smoke my American Spirit and try not to step in anything gross. We’re in the back alley behind a warehouse in Chatsworth, California. Crudely painted flats, the whitened bones of low-budget film shoots, lean haphazardly against the building. The crumbling asphalt is littered with cigarette butts. A greasy penis pump, half-full with rainwater and god knows what else, lies scattered with empty beer bottles. I don’t know anybody here, really. And deep down I am glad for that.
As the “Erotic Entertainment” editor of Hustler I’m here to watch a porn film get made, then go home and write about it for my readers. That makes me something of an outsider. Sure, I work in smut just like everybody else, but I only write about it. I dole out reviews on Hustler’s “peter meter” scale – from “Totally Limp” to “Fully Erect.” So on a good day, porn starlets and directors begrudgingly accept my existence, but often they hate my guts. That’s one reason why I never made any friends in smut apart from the other people that helped make our magazine. The other reason is that I thought I was better than all of them – all those failed Hollywood filmmakers and strippers with checkered pasts full of abuse and bad decisions.
I was wrong about all that, of course. I was no better than any of them. In fact I was worse for looking down my nose at them. I believe I am poorer for not taking the time to know some of them better.
I was worse for looking down my nose at them. I believe I am poorer for not taking the time to know some of them better.
They’re shooting a vampire movie inside. The bar scene, lavish by today’s gonzo Internet standards, is full of dancers and extras. One is a young starlet named Belladonna – it’s her first year in the business. She’ll soon blossom into something of a sensation, directing her own successful line of fetish films that capitalize on her aggressive, unflinching persona. But today she is unsure of herself, still finding her feet.
Belladonna is totally naked when she emerges from the back of the warehouse. Her skin is covered in black body paint – her face and limbs are slashed with white to make her look like a skeleton. The tattoo of a flaming heart against blue over her left breast is totally concealed. But when she bums a cigarette I recognize her by the gap between her two front teeth.
She drags from the cigarette and shivers a little. “Tell me the truth,” she says, her eyes pleading for honesty. “I look stupid, don’t I?”
If I was Nicholas Veridian – my porn critic alter ego – I probably would have ripped into the filmmakers, chiding them for hiding Belladonna’s barely legal charms under crude stage paint, but I wasn’t that guy. I never was. At least I hope I never was.
That day I was just Gus the mook, trying to be cool around people with lives much more interesting than his.
“You look beautiful,” I tell her.
Pretension +1 is a weekly column about the intersections of life, culture and videogames. Follow Gus Mastrapa on Twitter @Triphibian.