Ellen bounced up to me in a scoop-neck t-shirt, tits a-jiggling, and said, "This place is just insane."
She didn't lie. We were in the main hall of the LA Convention Center, and a half hour before the doors opened. At eleven that Saturday morning Eroticon 1990 would commence, a paean to porn. It differed from the AVN Convention in Las Vegas, which was more of a trade show. Eroticon was more aimed at fans and consumers, with lots of meet and greets, autograph signings, and video and magazines being sold by the pallet. Smut fans from near and far would come in the hopes of meeting the stars and buying the hottest movies.
Angel had set up our booth. We had a good-sized booth, fifteen chairs set up in front of two big TVs hooked up to the same VCR, showing Inana's features. All our features were available for sale. We had signings scheduled at two and six on both days, and our performers would be manning (womaning?) the booth throughout the day. Angel had seen to it that we had an excellent location, at the corner of two main pedestrian thoroughfares. Our booth had a good footprint, too, plenty of room to browse and indulge in the free snacks we had available. ("People will remember those who feed them," said Angel.) Gina, my long-suffering secretary, was stationed at a cash register to collect money from those buying videos. Inana Productions may have been a single tiny studio from San Diego, but we'd made huge impact with our features --- Bewitched was the most successful adult film, ever, outselling even Deep Throat --- and so we wanted to have good presence. Hell, we only had one booth. Vivid had three.
Thinking ahead, Angel had reserved a big block of rooms for the whole Inana crew months earlier, and only three blocks away. We could leave our cars in the lot of the Holiday Inn and walk to the convention center, not having to move them until Sunday. For their cooperation, all my performers got generous cash per diem payments, including Eddie, Dale, and Vince. All that was expected of anyone was that they spend their time at the booth being wonderful to anyone who wandered past, or in.
As I said, the event took up the main hall of the convention center.... But not the whole center itself. One of the side wings was converted into a lounge area, for use by stars, performers, and booth crews. It had lots of sofas, tables and chairs, and free food available. Drugs were barely concealed, lines being chopped up on the nearest flat surface wherever you found yourself sitting. A spot under an exhaust fan was where the weed smokers congregated. Cocaine flowed through that room like a river. Bekka and I picked up on the vibe immediately, and with an evil grin, Bekka began horning in on people, offering to trade them hits of Ecstasy for lines of coke. Some were afraid to take an unknown drug, others saw that it was Smiley Ecstasy and forked over immediately. We'd brought the whole bag with us, four hundred hits or so, so that we wouldn't come home to find Jane blissed out and convulsing on the floor of the living room, stark naked.
Jane was annoyed we were leaving her home. "Guys, this sounds like it would be so rad. You're leaving me here? Can I at least have a few friends over?"
"A few friends, not a party. Have your volleyball team to visit. But you know we'll hear about it if you throw a rager, and if you do that, I'm taking your keys away. You wanna ride the bus to school? Throw a party in our absence. The Keillors will tell us about the weekend if we ask them. And stay out of the coke, and buy your own damn beer. Smoke all the weed you want, though."
Who did accompany us was Sue, our goth surfer. She was new to Inana and wouldn't be doing any signings, but her goth-hooker look --- a gothstitute --- would set us apart, and would attract more men than Angel anticipated. Her willingness to deep-mouth kiss Bekka in public helped too. Knowing which side her bread was buttered on, Bekka did both days in dark makeup and black sexy clothing, continuing to play up her success from Bewitched. Sue was a bonus, and thought it sounded like fun.
Sue, still enamored of her new car, drove up separately, meeting us at the motel. We checked in, dropped our stuff in our rooms, and walked to the convention center. It wasn't the happiest of neighborhoods, so I kept my jacket open while we walked, displaying my Beretta. My problem arose when I arrived at the center, and the guy checking people in got a look.
"Hey, you can't have that thing in here," he said.
"What thing?" I asked.
"You've got a gun inside your jacket. You can't have that here."
I smiled down at him and provided him with my ID. "I read my contract very carefully, and nowhere is there anything saying weapons are not allowed. I'd ask you if you know who I am, but nobody knows who I am, and I hate that line anyway. I'd like my all-access pass, please."
"Mr. Schneider, why did you decide you needed a gun here?"
"I need a gun everywhere. It's come in handy in the past. You'd hate to live like I do. Ask my wife here, it goes on first thing in the morning after I shower."
Bekka grinned. "It's true. The fucking thing pokes me whenever I go to hug the bastard."
"What is your name, sir?" asked the check-in guy.
"Lenny Schneider, Inana Productions," I said.
"Inana Productions.... Yes, here you are. Several more of your people are already here."
"Angel Morelli already checked in?" I asked.
He looked and said, "Yes sir, he should be inside."
"So did you give him grief over his pistol? He carries a Beretta just like mine."
"And I'm carrying mine," said Bekka, parting her blouse and displaying her Colt. She smiled.
The check-in guy was not amused. "So does everyone connected to Inana carry a gun?" he asked.
"Those that feel like it, yes. We're a nervous lot, comes from having a madman try to kill you in your place of work. A miracle we still make it in this industry."
Bekka and Sue presented their IDs and received their passes. The guy looked at Bekka and said, "Hey, you're on the brochure."
He handed one over. Sure enough, Bekka's face smiled up at us from the inside fold, with the notation "Appearing Live: Becky Page!"
Bekka gave me a look and said, "Angel's doing?"
"Without a doubt," I replied. "Look, you spend as much time in the booth as you are comfortable with. There's gotta be someplace you can hide out when you need to. If not, go back to the motel. There's the signing schedule, but beyond that, nobody is putting demands on you. Okay?"
She shrugged. "I'm not going to be a prima donna. I'll stay in the booth. If we get too crowded, I've got you to protect me, right?"
Sue looked the brochure over. She said, "So how do I get in here?"
"Eight years in this damn industry is what it took me," said Bekka. "Get ready to spread your legs for a lot of people."
We were each handed a show guide, a program for what was going on, and used the map to locate our booth. We walked for a distance and found our place, which had a banner across the top reading, "Inana Productions." At eye level was a nude glamour shot of Bekka which I'd taken a couple years earlier, blown up to poster size. Angel was banking on the appeal of "Becky Page." Looking around, we appeared to be ready to go. Display racks containing our features were arranged in our booth area, ready to be bought. A couple rotating racks contained nothing but loop videos, and several shelves held the compilation tape of Bekka's early loops, the stuff she was embarrassed was being released again. I had a hunch me and our three rent-a-cocks would be spending a lot of time restocking the shelves. We wanted the girls smiling and greeting people.
We located the door to the lounge and displayed our passes to the slab of brisket standing there, who let us in. We scanned around the room, and I spotted some of our people sitting at a picnic table, including Angel. We greeted each other cheerfully with an Italian man-hug. Also there were Jackie, Elspeth, Donna, Rio, Eddie, and Dale. A few left to show up, we might not see them until the morning. Eddie was amazing Dale and Rio by performing magic tricks with three quarters laid out on the table. A talented guy, Eddie. If it weren't for porn, he'd probably be hustling Three Card Monte on street corners.
"So what's the word?" I asked Angel.
"Fucking Vivid has three booths, and will have twenty performers circulating through. They've also got three new releases, stuff that is just now hitting the stores. How do we keep up with that?"
I said, "Dude, you're forgetting Vivid is huge. What Inana does is put out best-selling perfect releases several times a year. Come on, we're a small company, but we release videos that everybody wants to see. We're a fine vintner, and Vivid is Gallo. We may not be a big company, but we're still champs."
Angel gave me a grim smile. "Yeah.... But it's hard to not feel intimidated."
"Their stuff is okay. Our stuff is excellent. Come on, you've got your name attached to the best-selling porn movie ever. Nobody over there can say that."
"I'll try to keep that in mind. You want a toot?"
"Um, sure. Right here?" I asked.
"It doesn't seem to bother anybody. Hey," he announced to the table, "who wants a line? Nothing too big, we all need our beauty sleep tonight."
Everyone accepted. Sure enough, Angel pulled out a large vial from his jacket and arranged lines on the table, disregarding anyone passing by. Everyone snorted up, cigarettes were lit, conversation got that much more animated. I decided to put in my own two cents.
"Hey, if you want to go through tomorrow nice and energized, just talk to me in the morning, I'll set you up."
Eddie said, "But I don't like that speed you take."
I pulled out the bag of pills. "Not meth, Ecstasy. I brought enough to get this whole convention blissed out. See me in the morning, and I'll get you cartooned. Fair enough?"
This was considered a dandy idea, much better than what would probably be really shitty and overpriced coffee that the convention center would be selling. I put the bag away. Angel asked me, "Where did you get all that?"
"From Boss," I said. "He always has extras, and he keeps flowing them to me. I give away a lot, but I still have managed to develop a backlog of the things. Remember, he still has his own customers, not everything he makes goes to the family."
"I thought we had exclusive rights," said Angel.
I shrugged. "You'll have to bring it up with him. Me, I brought the whole bag with me for two reasons. First, I thought I'd amuse myself be seeing how many people I can get high. And second, I didn't want Jane dosing herself into a heart attack. She likes the stuff a little too much. I left her a few hits, but that was it. So far as Boss goes, he's probably moving a thousand hits a week to customers he's had for years. He's not screwing anybody."
Angel considered this and remained silent. We were suddenly joined by a vacant object whose skull existed to hold up her voluminous blonde hair. "Hey, who are you guys?" she asked.
I looked into her eyes. It was like staring into a vat of unflavored jello. I said, "We're from Inana Productions."
She brightened. "Oh hey, you did that witch movie, right? I liked it. Hi, my name's Lara, what's yours?"
"I'm Lenny. This is Angel. So what brings you by?"
She bent down further, displaying her decolletage. "I'm here with Racer Films, they wanted me as a booth girl. I don't have a contract with them though. I'm hoping I'll get picked up on a contract while I'm here." She gave me another vacant smile. "Are you important? I'll sit in your lap and tell you all of my qualifications."
Bekka gave a feral grin and said, "Only do that if you want a wop bitch stomping on that pretty little head of yours, girly."
"Huh?" said Lara. She focused on Bekka and said, "Oh hey, you starred in the witch movie. Hi, I'm Lara."
Bekka rattled her hand and said, "Becky Page. You don't get to sit in my husband's lap."
Lara's face settled into its natural state, one of vague confusion. She said, "You two are married? Is he a stud? I don't recognize him."
Bekka's smile got wider and said, "He's quite the stud, but he's not a performer. He's a producer, and he runs the studio. So what can we do for you, girly?"
"Are you guys taking performers on contract? I'm tired of working day to day doing loops. I take great wet shots, and I show up on time."
I said, "Sorry, but our performers aren't on contract, except for when we do features. Besides, we're in San Diego, so you'd hate the commute. I'm assuming you're up here in LA."
"I live in Reseda," said Lara. "How far away is San Diego?"
"At least two hours from you, on a good day. Where are you originally from?"
"From outside Des Moines, Iowa. Everybody always said I should go to Hollywood and try to make it, so I did. Um, even if I am in Reseda. And I mostly work in Van Nuys. So you guys can't use me?" she pouted.
I replied, "Darling, just to get on our board to do loops requires three separate tests and a blood screening. You've gotta be able to prove you can work with a script, that you can take stage direction, and you've got good attitude while being schtupped by a guy packing nine inches. Plus having a spotless blood test."
Her confused look grew. "What do you want a blood test for? You screen for people using drugs?"
"No, we're checking for STDs and HIV/AIDS. Our performers have to be virgin clean. You've never had a blood test?"
"No. It doesn't hurt when I pee, and they don't hire queer boys at Racer Films. I'd totally know if they were." (Eddie, veteran of gay porn, chortled upon hearing this.)
Upon hearing this, Angel announced, "Okay, I'm adding another company to the list of blacklisted studios. Nobody tries to pick up extra money by working with Racer Films. Capiche?" Everyone grinned and nodded. The implication shot right past Lara, who just stood there.
I told Lara, "Look, stop by in the morning and I'll get you high on Ecstasy. Does that sound okay, dear?" She giggled and answered in the affirmative, then wandered off to some occupied sofas halfway across the giant room. The Inana crew looked at each other and rolled their eyes.
"I thought Quaaludes were out of fashion," said Jackie.
"That was awful kind of you, Lenny," said Donna. "So instead of a regular idiot we'll have a wired-up, hyperactive idiot."
I said, "Come on, Donna, you know my stuff isn't too speedy. Besides, she may just be an idiot savant that hasn't figured out what she's a savant in."
In a rare flash of wise thinking, Dale suggested we put out our cigarettes and walk the convention hall, seeing what things were like while it was just us and fellow vendors around. We got up and headed for the door to see our surroundings for the next two days.
Every booth seemed to have TVs in it, not to my surprise. My concern was that people would get in volume wars with their neighbors, everybody cranking up their sound until nothing could be heard. Some booths had people lounging in them at that hour, presumably keeping an eye on their stuff more closely than convention center security would. We were trusting in security, guessing nobody would be digging into the shrink-wrapped half pallets of video tapes we had. We had five tapes available for sale: Bekka's compilation tape, Dangerous Desires, Rocker Girls, Bewitched, and Bad Babysitter. Angel had laminated blow-ups of our positive reviews above the respective movies --- AVN gave Bekka's compilation, simply entitled Young Becky, four stars, and it had no new material, just edited down copies of her early loops --- with the publication and month at the bottom. It would have been nice to have some shots from production of the new movie, but I wasn't even done writing it yet. I was trying to write funny, and I wasn't happy with a lot of what came out. I was considering dragging Eddie in to help, as he could be hilarious and had a creative enough brain to help generate a movie script. He also had more practice dealing with cubicle politics, which I had never suffered through in my life. He'd had a few "straight" jobs in his life, while my own experience with work tended to be blue collar or service industry.
We walked in a cluster, observing the booths of others. We were fairly high up on the "tasteful and restrained" litmus, with the single nude poster of Bekka. It wasn't a spread shot, either, except for a single exposed nipple she was theoretically covered up. Our video box art was also restrained: no nipples, no genitalia, no buttocks. Our stuff could be displayed in any video store rack without causing a ruckus. And our booth was in good taste, at least while the video was off.
Not everyone was so restrained. I saw several giant inflatable six foot dicks, looking like swimming pool toys gone horribly wrong. Plenty of places had spread shots of their performers up. Two production companies would be running drawings, where the lucky winner would be appearing in a loop with the company star. I could see my two horn-dog acquaintances Bud and Lou both engaging in ballot-stuffing at these places, they simply refused to believe me that being a performer in porn wasn't that much fun, even (or especially) for the guys.
On the subject of Bud and Lou, two men around fifty who did not hide or disguise their lust for my wife (much to our annoyance), the two of them showed up at the booth just as we were returning.... And both wearing the vendor All Areas passes on their ugly jackets. They considered golf shirts with plaid sports coats to be the height of swinging fashion. I shot a mean look at Angel, who made a calming gesture and greeted them. They shook hands with Angel and started to zero in on Bekka.
Lou said, "Bekka! You're looking lovely as always, and that poster of you over there is gorgeous. Would you be bothered if we chewed on it?"
Bekka rolled her eyes and said, "It's not my poster, you'd only be pissing off Angel."
I told him, "Tell you what, let me soak it in LSD first, then you can chew on it. Turning you two loose in this neighborhood with heads full of acid would just be too precious."
Bud said, "Ignore my partner, he has no class. I was merely going to offer to massage your legs."
"No, Bud," said Bekka.
"Then can I suck your toes?" he asked.
"Bud...." I growled. "Really. I am armed, Bekka is armed. What makes the two of you fuck with people carrying guns?"
"We've, told you, we're obsessed with Becky Page," said Lou. "And that's Becky Page, not Bekka Schneider. We're hung up on a porno queen, not Lenny's wife. How do you deal with what Becky does if you're so sensitive?"
I replied, "Whenever we deal with fans on the street, they're polite to the point of submissiveness. And at events like signings, I'm allowed to throw people out if they get crude. You, I can't throw out. You have vendor passes on, so that means you have a job here. What are you going to be doing?"
Angel answered for them, "They're just gonna help around the booth. They'll keep the racks stocked, deter shoplifters, and answer questions. Considering their day job, they'll be able to answer any question a person would have about the other vendors. And they're gonna walk the convention hall and familiarize themselves with where everything is, so they can give directions to people. They've already been reviewing the layout map for a week. Also they're gonna be extra security. Show him, guys."
They both opened their jackets and pointed at the pistols in shoulder holsters residing inside. I was amazed, and said so to Angel and them.
"It's part of the deal," said Bud. "Inana has had trouble in the past, so it wouldn't be a bad thing for word to get around that all non-performing males at the booth are heeled. Let other vendors think we're paranoid. Shit, all any of 'em would have to have done would be read the news, or even AVN. Inana is the production studio that was attacked by a religious nut with an assault rifle, and got repelled by the producer and his wife, who was naked except for a gun. We just have a higher sense of security than most folks."
"No Uzis?" I asked, sotto voce.
"Just two, and out in the trunk of the car. Any sort of trouble where we need that kind of power is gonna happen outdoors anyway, not inside a convention hall."
Just then Ellen walked up, looking pissed and near tears. "I had two flat tires on the way here!" she announced. "The first one I changed myself, but the second one I called AAA to see if they could help me, and they said besides getting me off the freeway, there was nothing they could do for me. I had them tow me to a gas station and the tow guy suggested calling a mobile tire service and have them come out. I guess they usually do big trucks that have blowouts. I gave them the tire size and they told me $250! For one new tire! So I got it, I was stranded until Monday otherwise, and the neighborhood I was in was kinda sketchy. So what have I missed?"
Angel said, "We walked the exhibit hall and familiarized ourselves with our booth area. Bud, Lou, Lenny, Bekka, and Sue arrived most recently."
Ellen looked at Sue and Bekka and said, "With your spooky looks, you're gonna really be drawing them in."
Angel rolled his eye and said, not quite low enough, "They'd better."
Ellen continued, "Why don't you guys work on me with your makeup? It could be a winning combo."
Sue said, "With your blonde hair? It would be too much of a contradiction on you. We could always dye your hair midnight blue in the motel sink, and that would help. We'd have to do your eyebrows, too."
I interrupted with, "The natural blonde is staying that way. We don't want to give people the impression Inana is overrun with goths. Sue and Bekka just happen to have the look down already."
"What the hell is a goth?" asked Bud.
"I am a goth," said Sue, moving and standing in front of Bud and Lou. "I am fascinated by death, and project that in my appearance. I wish there was a darker color than black for clothing."
Bud and Lou looked Sue up and down. She was dressed sexy, in a genuine devil worship kind of way. The black spike-heel boots, short skirt slit to the hip, black bustier, see-through blouse, eleven earrings, and silver inverted cross around her neck.... It seemed to warn, "I will pull your heart out through your chest and giggle while I watch it beat in my hand." I snickered as I watched their eyes go big, and have to restrain themselves from not running away. Bekka, they weren't intimidated by: after all, they'd seen her in sweats. This creature, which simultaneously exuded sex and menace, had them flummoxed. They'd point it at more manipulable targets.
Angel looked at his watch and suggested that it was time to head for the motel. We'd use the in-room coffee we had available, meet in the parking lot at 9:45, and all walk down together, hoping for something resembling breakfast food at the snack bar. Otherwise Angel would head out and buy bagels and donuts. We headed back to the Holiday Inn. I was a bit on edge. The few other pedestrians we saw were sizing us up, and cars would pass us very slowly. It was obvious we weren't your regular convention-goers. Also, we were too big of a crowd to try and mug. I decided I would be providing escort service to anyone travelling to or from the convention center and the motel, unless they already had their own gun.... And even then, Bekka would be getting an escort.
In the parking lot, Ellen pointed at the brand new tire at one corner of her Grand Am. I asked her about the condition of the other tire. "Did it blow, or did it go flat?" I asked.
Ellen said, "Well, I didn't hear a boom, so I guess it just went flat. It went flat awful quick, though."
"Could I see the tire?"
While Ellen opened her trunk, I went and got my big flashlight out of the Cadillac. I lifted the wheel out of the trunk and began going over it. After a few turns, I found myself staring at the head of a large nail. I grabbed my Leatherman and extracted it, marking the hole with a Sharpie. It was quite a large piece of metal, more than any tire could stand up to. I held it up to Ellen.
"This would do it," I said. "The good news is that your tire is patchable, so long as you get a real patch and not a plug. But that's a hell of a lot cheaper than buying a new tire."
"What about using a can of Fix-A-Flat? Would that work?" Ellen asked.
I laughed. "Fix-A-Flat is only supposed to be temporary, to get you off the freeway and someplace safe to change tires. It is not a patch. God knows, people use it as one, but they're idiots. The stuff doesn't last long, and it pisses off tire techs when you do use it because you have to clean out all this sticky foamy shit from the tire, before you can start working on putting in a real patch. I hate Fix-A-Flat, I'd rather dodge traffic and put on a real spare."
Ellen gave a small smile and said, "I take it this is the voice of experience?"
"Yeah, I worked in a couple full-serve gas stations when I was younger, and spent plenty of time running a tire machine and throwing patches. It's not that great of a job, and seeing what people do to their cars makes you despair in the species. I watched a guy crack his block once. He was overheating, and his solution was to pull up to the self-serve water and air and hose down his engine. I saw the steam and ran over there, and told him what he was doing wrong, and why it's a bad idea. He basically told me to fuck off and mind my own business, and went back to spraying his engine down. All of a sudden there's this loud CRACK and coolant starts running out from underneath the car. I gave him a brief look, pointed to where the pay phones were, and went to get absorbent to soak up the coolant."
Ellen said, "Yeah, that's one advantage to having been raised around farm people. Not like everyone was an expert mechanic, but we could diagnose the problem with a fair degree of confidence. In California, the most car-centric place on the planet, people don't even know how cars work, much less how to fix 'em. You're a California native, how do you account for that?"
"Here, cars are ubiquitous," I said. "We totally take them for granted. And because of their ubiquity, we replace them easily. If your car broke down up here, something major, would you stick around and have it fixed? Not if you're a native, you'd sell it for pennies on the dollar and buy something else. Keep in mind I'm talking specifically about Southern California. Things are different in the Bay Area. They have public transit that works up there. That, and San Francisco itself is a shit town for driving in. Even legally parking is a challenge. Yeah, if Bekka and Jane and I lived in the Bay Area, I doubt we'd own six vehicles."
From above I heard a door open, then Angel's voice say, "Lenny, what the hell are you all talking about?"
"Cars," said Bekka.
"Go to your room, kids, you can't sleep in tomorrow." We took his advice. We went up to our room, where I washed my hands and stripped down. Then me and Bekka got in bed, and fell into a quiet sleep, despite the traffic noise.