Acid Heroes

March 26, 2015

My life in the porno business: Part 1

In 1979, age 22, I moved from San Francisco to Berkeley.  I had this dream of making a go at a career as an artist or writer or cartoonist or freelance journalist.  Something like that.  I knew I could never adjust to mainstream society.  So I was trying to come up with some alternative way that I could make a buck and keep a roof over my head.

So I rented out this studio apartment ($115 a month, 1979 prices) at the fringe of a funky neighborhood.  In the small, cramped, kitchen area  there was a fold-out ironing board built into the wall.  So I jerry-rigged the ironing board into a make-shift table.  My drawing board.  And from there I began to hatch all my mad plots and schemes.

I had 7 or 8 of these manila folders for the different projects I wanted to do.  A folder for the comic strips I wanted to draw.  A folder for the books I wanted to write.  A folder for the publications I wanted to publish.  A folder for the rock’n’roll album I wanted to record.  And so forth.  And I would regularly stuff the folders with doodles, sketches, shreds of ideas, first-drafts of writing, song lyrics, etc.  Until they were all bulging with scraps of paper.  Eventually, over the years, I would end up completing virtually every one of the projects in those folders.  I’m obsessive, if anything.

But in the beginning it was slow sledding.  Anyone who has ever tried for a career as a freelance artist or writer will tell you how difficult it is.  Aside from the limits of my God-given talents, I had this stupid notion that I wanted to be an “artist.”  Without wishing to sound pretentious, I felt as an “artist” I was primarily on a mission to express the truth as I saw it.  Which just about killed any chances I had in the freelance market.  Because if there’s the last thing the media in general wants, it’s anything having to do with  the “truth,” much preferring whatever bullshit happens to be fashionable at the moment.

Even further limiting my career (so-called) was that, for some reason, I always defined myself as an “underground” artist.  I could never put my finger on exactly what that meant.  And the term — “underground” — became even more nebulous to me over the years.  But it had something to do with delving into the forbidden or repressed aspects of reality that were usually beyond the pale of mainstream society.  So I was a doomed loser from the word go.

At the beginning I managed to sell a couple of cartoons and graphics to different publications.  But it seemed difficult if not impossible.  I felt like the “Myth of Sisyphus”  pushing the boulder up the mountain, only to have it come crashing back down again.  And I’d have to start all over again at square one.   Squarely behind the eightball.  I knew I needed to develop some kind of regular gig.  So I was sending stuff out to all these different publications hoping for a score.  Just sort of throwing it all against the wall and seeing if anything would stick.  Mostly I just kept getting rejection slips, or no response it all.

Every morning I would look in vain at the empty mailbox on my front porch — on which I had written my name and the three or four other aliases, psuedonyms and pen-names that I was experimenting with.  It was like I was hoping for The Answer from God Himself.  Or at least from some fucking editor that realized what I budding genius I was.  But I just kept crapping out pathetically.

Then one day there was a postcard in my mailbox with a handwritten message from some guy named Phil.  “I really like the cartoons you sent me.  Will be printing some in the next issue.  $50 check forthcoming.  Send more stuff.  Let your imagination run wild!”

I still remember that postcard to this day!  Because it was like the first real encouragement that I had gotten to date.  The first sign that this maybe wasn’t just some delusional pipe dream I had conjured up while smoking a bunch of marijuana.  But maybe I actually had something of value to offer the world.  Stranger things have happened.  I read and re-read that postcard over and over.  And it did indeed enflame my imagination.  Heh heh.  Which didn’t need much enflaming at that point.

“Phil” worked for this sleazy porn tabloid in Los Angeles.  The rag used to be in the newspaper racks up and down University Ave and all over the Bay Area.  There used to be DOZENS of these different porno rags in the racks, back in those ancient days before the internet came along and ruined everything.  Bastards!

Phil’s porn tabloid was filled with ads for massage parlors, escort services, hookers of every possible stripe, along with some grainy black-and-white porn photos.  Some of the personal ads were so sleazy and potentially-criminal, I often wondered how he managed to stay in business.  And one day, in fact, “Phil” would disappear without a trace.

Anyways, my feverish imagination suddenly came up with an idea for a comic strip.  “Sexley’s BELIEVE IT OR NUTS!!”  patterned after the old “Ripley’s BELIEVE IT OR NOT!!” comic.  Only my strip would exlusively deal with weird sex facts.  “Sexley’s” would be my first “hit.”  Well, I would end up cranking it out regularly for the next 15 years.  So, at the least, I was off and running.

My second idea was to write a regular column.  So I came up with “SIN FRANCISCO: Your Bay Area Porno Review.”  I drew up a really cool-looking logo for the column.   And just like that I was in business.  I would write that stupid column for years to come.  The column started out as sort of a consumer guide to San Francisco’s sex industry, for lack of a better word.  And I would review the local strip clubs and the latest porn movies and interview porn stars and god-knows-what-else.

In one issue,  I did a comic strip-parody about the porn moguls, the Mitchell Brothers (who I cleverly dubbed as the “Bitchell Brothers”) which they were so enamored with that they gave me a free press pass to their O’Farrell Street strip club and porn emporium.  So I was now a “professional journalist.”  I was moving up in the world.  Or maybe down in another world.

I always remembered something the NY Daily News columnist, Jimmy Breslin, used to say:  “Your column is like your real estate.”  And, just like actual real estate, that space in the prints was valuable and could be turned into money in all sorts of ways.  I always reminded myself:  “Advertisers pay a lot of money for that space.  And I’ve been given it for free to do whatever I want with it.”  It was kind of like that book title by the author Norman Mailer, “Advertisements for Myself.”  You could promote yourself to your advantage in all sorts of ways.

So anyways, I was doing a regular comic strip and a regular column every month for this sleazy porn tabloid in Los Angeles.  And “Phil” would send me a hundred dollar check every month.  Every now and then “Phil” would be strapped for cash, so he’d send me a big box of sex toys instead.  That was another side-line mail-order business “Phil” was running.  I’d open up the box and it would be filled with dildos and vibrators and rectal enhancers and god-knows-what.  I still remember this one amusingly grotesque item.  It was this huge, plastic, flesh-colored dildo, with this sort of accordion thing built into the middle of it.  It was battery-operated with this nifty remote control switch.  And when you turned it on, the accordion part would make the dildo go up and down.  For awhile I kept that thing mounted  on my living room table in a position of pride.  It made for a great conversation piece.   And, at the least, it helped me manage my social life.  Anyone who was horrified by the thing, I immediately weeded them out of my life. . .   I was an “underground artist” after all.

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