Last night, I read at KGB with Legs McNeil. Ordinarily, this would be a statement that would require me to add the "brag" tag around it. However, despite being really honored and excited by the invitation, I'm not sure I've ever felt so confused and out of place in my entire life. Well, there was that time when Norman Mailer invited me to stand over his shoulder and watch him eat ravioli in front of his publicist and agent. (That was awkward.)
The pretense for the evening was this: Legs just co-authored a new oral history of the adult film industry. He is about to embark on a book tour, and just had his book release party on Monday night. (Blog that!!) He was booked to read passages from the book, as part of the KGB non-fiction reading series, curated by the affable and charming Felicia Sullivan. Felicia had seen me read an ass-oriented story [the initial seed of that story appears here] a few months prior, and thought I might make a good pairing with Legs at the KGB reading.
"Really?" I thought. A good pairing? Legs McNeil is the man who coined the term "punk" in the seventies, and was one of the founders of PUNK magazine. Legs McNeil has probably held Dee Dee Ramone's toes spread while Dee Dee shot heroin into the webbing in between. Legs is six feet-plus of craggly, paper-brittle East Village icon. He still wears sunglasses indoors and, amazingly, it's kind of forgivable on him. He was an editor at SPIN. He edited Please Kill Me! which, combined with the excellent and well-annotated Q Magazine history of British punk, is the most exhilarating record of that movement I've read.
I, on the other hand, am a Jew. A short, twitchy, fearful and nervous Jew. I was too young to live through the punk movement. I caught punk after it had been filtered through the power-pop mill by bands like The Feelies and The Undertones and Let's Active, and all the male artists stood pigeon-toed and adorably shy, styled in high-waters, sweater vests, long bangs, and tapered jeans. I was reared on floppy New Wave, soft-focus videos for songs dispensing New Romantic platitudes about yearning and aching. I watched all 15 minutes of MC Hammer's infamous multi-million dollar "haunted house" video. I was so removed from punk that, when I was a teenager, it seemed appropriate to costume myself like a punk for Halloween.
And I was asked to present a story about sex, or porn, or both, to complement Legs' presentation. Considering the content of this site, I had a surprisingly difficult time preparing a completely non-fictional piece on either of those subjects. It made me realize exactly how private I am about certain things.
It also made me realize how utterly casual my relationship with porn truly is. I've never even purchased a copy of Playboy. Most of the pornography I've seen has been either inherited – from someone's dad's collection, from a roommate, from my old boss or ex-girlfriends. I own a couple of videos, but they were primarily chosen for their historical value – and I have strict rules about asthetics that inform my limited purchases. For a man who owns 3 or 4 adult films total – and two of those were inherited from my optometrist – it makes no sense that my collection would feature the pasty, hair-covered flab and unsexy bathtub suicide of the original The Devil in Miss Jones XXX. The closest I've ever been to walking into a video store to rent pornography was when I spent a summer working as a clerk in a (mostly gay) adult video store. I had to get on the inside, to get inside.
And since Legs (and his very nice co-authors) and I were the only scheduled readers, I found myself in a strange position. I've been on line-ups where I felt seriously outgunned by the other performers, but at least then I could (at best) present myself as a pleasant surprise among four or five more well-known writers. But this time I was opening up for someone who drew 99.999% of the audience by himself. NO ONE, apart from a handful of incredibly nice friends, was there to see me. They were there to lick Legs' gritty aura, and rub their Dead Boys stories up against his. They were there to show off their pins and battered copies of "PUNK" and get things signed and be close to someone who has been close to all of their music idols. Or, in certain cases, they were there to wax nostalgic about Show World, Billy's Topless, and dollar-a-lick stage shows with Annie Sprinkle and Vanessa Del Rio. And one guy was just there to proselytize about the need for "better, smarter, New York-based porn!"
When it was all over, I had a good experience, probably even better than I was equipped to believe last night, thanks to a healthy mix of "brand new story"ness and "i am sure i fucked that up terribly"ness. The host was kind enough to introduce me as an "emerging author" – which is officially the nicest spin on "here's someone you've never heard of" I've ever received – and the audience was generous and appreciative. But I felt something, physically, that has been absent since my first open mic in NYC: on my way back from the podium to my seat at the rear of the room, my legs went missing. They were de-boned jelly, and it took all of my manufactured resolve to make that walk through the crowd without toppling over like a teenaged girl on her first night in heels.