I spent that night, and the next two, under the roof of Crystal and Mojo. They actually had a house a block away from the bar. If I hadn't needed to get Hal and Jen home, we would have just gone straight there. I had privately explained to Hank at the bar that I'd been around scammers before, and these two didn't worry me. I'd keep my dope and my wallet on me, and the doors of the Falcon locked. Barring them braining me with a pipe, they'd find it hard to rip me off. They couldn't try to wheedle anything out of me, since I would be offering it up of my own volition before they could start.
We spent a lot of the time cruising during daylight hours. Crystal knew the gold rush history of the area, and would point me to places of interest. The Falcon saw a lot of dirt road. She would also point out more recent bits of history, like where Ryan, that stupid fucking tweaker, had killed himself going into a tree at sixty while huffing a bag of spray paint. Or where Deputy Getty had twenty pounds of confiscated weed stolen from him by masked men on the road, a modern day highway robbery. This was interesting in itself. There was damn little law in the area. Someone, somehow, had tipped the robbers off about Getty being the one to carry all that weed after a bust. Crystal refused to speculate, out of fear of slandering someone.
As near as I knew, neither Crystal nor Mojo slept the whole time I was their house guest. The morning I left, they were both unconscious. I poured a pile of dope onto a clean plate and left a note that simply said, "Share! Love, Lenny." Also an Inana business card. I went out to the Falcon and fired up, heading north towards the town of Quincy, where AAA assured me I'd find several decent motels and good dining. I spent the night in Quincy, then jumped on the 70 into the valley and made my way south. Another night in Bakersfield, then home. When I arrived at the house, Bekka and Jane launched themselves into my arms, and I felt loved, more loved than any man ever deserves to.
On Wednesday morning I was clicking away at the keyboard, working on the new script. Gina buzzed through and said there was a woman who was urgently insistent upon speaking to me, right away. I'd been having Gina take messages from people so I could call them back in the afternoon, leaving me to work on the script in peace. I picked up the phone with a grumble.
"Hello, Lenny?" came a vaguely familiar voice.
"Yeah, who's this?"
A slight pause. "This is Jolene. From the motel in Grass Valley."
"Oh, hi. What's up?"
This time a long pause. "I'm in San Diego."
My turn to pause. "Oh really?"
Jolene said, "Yes. I ran away from home. I couldn't take it any more. I wanted a husband to live with and ended up with a child to raise. I took his goddamn Nova yesterday afternoon, took half the money out of our savings account, and left him a letter explaining how I felt. Hopefully I didn't use too many big words." She chuckled bitterly. "I spent last night in a motel in Fresno. It was the first night since I got married I had a good night's sleep, I wasn't being prodded awake with a hard-on at four in the morning, getting nagged for sex by a horny little boy, you know? Now I'm down here and I want to make porn. Your business card only has a P.O. box number on it, where do I go? What's your address?"
I said, "Lord, girl, but you're being presumptuous. Why are you assuming I'm bringing anyone on right now at my studio?"
"I dunno.... From what I've heard, porn studios always are looking for new talent, they always want new girls to get in front of the cameras."
"And at most studios, you'd be right. They burn through 'em pretty quick. Inana holds onto the same talent for long periods of time. Bekka, Becky Page, has been with Inana for nine years now. I've got a Brazilian girl, Rio, who is working on seven years. Yeah, we have talent come and go, but between a combination of good pay and good working conditions, my girls stay. I've told you how hard it is to be an Inana girl. If I took you on right now, I could only have you on a couple loops a week. Do you do anal?"
"No," Jolene sighed.
"Then the best I could offer you would be $1500 per week right now, before taxes. Take away that tax money and you're only looking at $4400 a month. Sorry, but that's the best I can offer. And that's assuming you get through your interviews."
"Wait, that sort of money? How many hours a week would I be working?"
"About ten," I said. "Unless you feel like hanging around a porn studio for fun, you'll be bored."
Jolene exclaimed, "I was seeing $950 every two weeks out of the motel. You're saying $1100 a week would be low money for me?"
"For this industry, yeah. Everyone at Inana, even our male performers, drive late model cars and have decent places to live. It's not work just anyone can do. Okay, today is Wednesday, I can get you through your interviews and blood test by next Monday. How much of a cushion do you have? It will be nearly two weeks before you see a check, if we take you on."
"About $3700. I figured I'd find a motel until things were settled."
"Get your ass up here," I said. "I'll put you up at least through next Monday. That's the day you'll be getting your blood test results and doing your video interview, sucking and fucking in front of a camera. If I take you on, I'll squeeze you onto our shoot schedule. Save your money, in case you need to head for LA and work for one of the studios up there. Where are you right now?"
"A place called La Jolla Cove," Jolene answered. "I'd seen it on a postcard a friend sent me once, and I wanted to see it for myself before I started taking care of business. Where are you? Where is La Costa?"
I gave her directions to get to the mansion from I-5. I said, "This afternoon, you'll be doing your script test, you'll be working with my wife for those. Straightforward stuff, we just want to see if you can impart inflection and feeling while working from a script you've never seen before. Tomorrow is a bit of a cruncher, you're going to watch a loop being made, and afterwards you have to ask yourself if this is really work you can handle a few days a week. Friday you get a blood test, checking for STDs and HIV/AIDS, and Hepatitis. You pick up your results Monday. After your blood test, you come back here and we take Hustler-style pictures of you, spread shots. We want to make sure you're not shy with your body. So long as your blood tests are clean Monday, I'll be pairing you up with a stud and you're going to spend a couple hours sucking and fucking while we tape it all. Can you get your freak on while you're stone sober?"
"I know I can," said Jolene.
"Good. I'll be pairing you with a nineteen year old powerhouse named Roach. He's young, hung, energetic, and smart. He will put you through your paces. If you can keep up with him, you're doing good. Girl, you took a big risk, you're basically showing up on my doorstep and hoping for the best. You're lucky that I'm expanding our production from four days a week to six soon, when that happens, you'll start getting okay money out of us. But right now two loops a week is the best I can offer."
"Are you kidding? That's fantastic! How much is rent around there?"
I said, "In this neighborhood, you're looking at about $650 for a decent one bedroom apartment. In Del Mar or Cardiff, $750 per month. Someplace safe but lame, like Clairemont, you can get a place for $400. But then you'd have a commute. Get up here, we'll talk more. You can meet my wife. So, uh, how do you think your husband is going to react to you leaving?"
"Total confusion," she said. "I'm afraid I babied him. I didn't express my dissatisfaction with how we lived often enough or loud enough.... Although I'll be he's most upset about both the lack of sex and the fact that I took his favorite toy with me. Legally, the Nova is my car, so he can't report it stolen or otherwise jam me up. I'll stay in contact with him, I'll let him know what's going on, but we will no longer have our lives intertwined. He's going to have to balance his own checkbook and pay his own bills."
"Why did you decide to take his Nova?" I asked.
Jolene chuckled. "Purely as a dig. It's always been his toy, he never let me drive it, but it got registered in my name because he had blown off registering his daily driver, so DMV was pissed at him. I got it registered, and I went shopping for insurance for the damn thing, which was also in my name. Legally, I can do anything I want with it, and he can't say shit."
"This Nova was a symbol of contention, I guess."
"You'd better believe it. He liked to go cruising in it, looking for races, and refused to bring me along. He said having me with him would cramp his style. Maybe he was hoping to impress girls with it, get into the pants of gullible high school girls, I don't know. But I do know I'm in possession of part of his ego right now."
The recorded voice of the operator broke in and told her to insert more money. I quickly said, "Get your ass up here, we'll talk more in a bit, okay? See you in about twenty minutes from where you are."
"Okay. Thank you, Lenny, see you in a bit." Jolene hung up.
I turned back to the Macintosh and wrapped up the scene I'd been working on. Then I got on the phone and called Bekka, telling her I had a favor to ask, I had a new girl on the line for performing. I gave her the whole story. Bekka had already been told of my oral exploits with the motel desk clerk --- my wife was mystified I hadn't fucked her --- and agreed to come down and work a couple scripts. We'd work from "Rocker Girls" and "Temporary Pleasures." With the first, Jolene would have to prove she could provide intensity. In the second, she'd have to do comedy, clowning stuff.
I stationed myself out front by the garage doors, smoking a cigarette, after an appropriate amount of time had elapsed. Sure enough, a white trash street rod of a '72 Nova rumbled up the street, found the address, and pulled in the driveway. Overall the paint was red but oxidized. The right front fender was primer gray. The exhaust note spoke of dual exhaust. It permanently drove downhill, the nose pointed at the asphalt, the rear end jacked up and sitting on tall street-dragging tires. I stared at it and realized I'd found the car Roach would drive in the new movie. Some cosmetic changes to make it look more post-apocalyptic, and maybe put a supercharger in the damn thing, have a blower sticking out of the hood.
Jolene got out and walked towards me. She looked different than the last time I'd seen her, she was in Daisy Dukes, a white wife-beater, and slip-ons. Her hair was up. She was much sexier now than she was as a front desk clerk. I stepped to her, gave her a squeeze, and said, "I want to buy your car."
She looked confused. "Oh?"
I said, "Or at least borrow it, if you'll let me modify it. I need it for my new feature. You've seen 'Road Warrior?'"
"My husband loves that movie," she chuckled.
"My next feature is going to be along those lines, post-apocalyptic action. With some modification, this would be perfect for either my female or male lead. I'd put on a push bar on the front, cut a hole in the hood and install a blower, shit like that. Make it look like something Mad Max would drive."
Jolene laughed at this. "Wait until I'm sure I have a job," she said. "I may still need it."
"What sort of work has your husband put into it?" I asked.
"Um, he jacked up the rear end, a Thrush exhaust, and a Holley four-barrel carburetor. He wanted to drop a 427 motor in instead of the 350, and a four speed transmission. I'd point out to him that he was going to have nothing left but the body, and maybe he should have kept shopping and bought a car closer to what he wanted."
"He bought a base Nova, and he wanted the SS version," I pointed out.
"I guess," said Jolene. "You know hot rods?"
"A bit. It's what we drive around our house. I've got a new Cadillac Fleetwood, but we also have a '71 Cutlass 442, a '70 Plymouth Sport Fury with the 440 and six-pack carbs, and the '64 Ford Falcon that's supercharged. Plus the Harleys. Yeah, we like to go fast. Shit, even the Cadillac is modified, it's got the Police Interceptor package installed.... And speaking of the Falcon, here comes my wife."
Bekka rumbled up the driveway and pulled alongside the Nova, looking it over as she got out of the Falcon. She walked up to us smiling, her hand out to Jolene. She said, "Hi, I'm Bekka, my stage name is Becky Page. So you're the woman my husband made come while he was on vacation."
Jolene went pink but recovered, saying, "Did he ever. I couldn't feel my legs. Does he do that to you?"
"Routinely. He'll get me so I can't remember my name. So, have you done any performance before?"
"Only if you count satisfying my husband's fantasies. I've been a mommy, I've been a little girl, I've been a nurse, I've been a schoolteacher.... I satisfied a lot of stereotype porn tropes for him."
"And he's out of the picture now, Lenny was saying," said Bekka.
Jolene said, "For now, yes. Once I'm settled somewhere we'll go through the trouble of a divorce and dividing things up. But your husband made me realize there's a whole world out there I'd like to explore, things I've thought about doing but was always too afraid. I'm twenty-five, if I don't do them now it will be too late, you know?"
"And porn is one of them?"
Jolene considered this. "Yes and no. I've always had an exhibitionist streak. I always had to have the smallest bikini when we went to the river. I've always gotten a thrill out of the idea of men being turned on just by looking at me. Well hell, if I'm appearing in porn videos, I know there are, like, thousands of men all getting off looking at me. I'd never given the idea of appearing in porn serious thought --- not a lot of people making porn in the Sierras --- but Lenny sort of planted the idea in my head, he said I had the right attitude for the job. In fact, that night may be when I decided it was truly time to leave my husband. Lenny was such a free spirit, so open, and generous with himself. I knew I had to make drastic changes to my life, I'm too young to be in the rut I am."
I said, "Well, let's go see how how you do with a script. Then we'll get some lunch and talk more. You said you were a child actor, do you think you'll be rusty?"
"I could barely read when I first started working with scripts, we'd learn words phonetically. Just out of necessity, I was reading at a high school level when I was seven. So long as your scripts are in English, I'm not worried. What am I playing?"
"We're gonna play with two scripts. The first, you're going to be the bartender in a punk rock nightclub. In the second, you're going to be an airhead office worker. Bekka will be reading opposite you for both. Don't worry, we're not expecting DeNiro, we're just checking for literacy, pacing, inflection, and a bit of punch, a feeling for it. Are you up for it?"
Jolene laughed. "You know what? I watched one of your movies last night in the motel, 'Dangerous Desires.' I saw it in the pay-per-view listings on TV and remembered you mentioning it. I understand why you insist people have some talent to work with you after seeing it, I was really impressed. Before I insisted he stop watching the crap, my husband really dug porn, but I'd never seen one like that. It was hardcore, it was really sexy, but it made a good movie too. That threw me."
"Why did you not allow your husband to watch porn?" asked Bekka.
"Because he'd want to act out whatever he saw. He came on my face so many times I started to think I was a glazed donut. He didn't get that when girls take it in the ass, they've lubed themselves up first. He thought my friends would be perfectly willing to have three-way sex with us, and he'd ask them out of the blue. He just didn't get that porn really is fantasy."
We went into my office, me introducing Jolene to Gina on our way past. I pulled scripts from "Rocker Girls" and "Temporary Pleasures," leafing through my copies to find where I wanted to start for each one. Before each one, Jolene asked for thirty seconds to read over the chunk of script, which I allowed. For "Rocker Girls," she added a bit of tough-girl gravel to her voice. As a vocal execution, she sounded better than Bekka had in the role. Reading as Madison, Ellen's part in "Temporary Pleasures," Jolene captured the ditzy blonde airhead wonderfully, playing a cheery thimble-wit against Bekka's exasperated ,office manager. She didn't oversell, either, she didn't sound like a cartoon.
I collected the scripts. Bekka and I stared dumbfounded at Jolene. "So how did I do?" she asked nervously.
Bekka said, "Woman, if you fuck even half as good as you handle scripts, you'll be going places. Has Lenny set up your next two interviews?"
"He said he wanted me to sit in on a shoot tomorrow, just to see what it's like, make sure I can handle it. I guess on Friday I guess he'll be taking pictures of my pussy, then Monday I'll be doing a full sex scene. He mentioned a blood test, too. Where do I go for that? Local clinic?"
I said, "No, Inana has a contract with a lab in Oceanside, I'll give you directions there. Get your draw done Friday morning, pick up your results Monday morning. No results, or a positive result on anything, no video interview. We test weekly around here, it's mandatory to work. You will always have something to do on Fridays, going to the lab for a draw. We're checking for gonorrhea, syphilis, herpes, chlamydia, HPV, hepatitis A through C, and HIV/AIDS. Inana started its testing in 1985, one of the first studios to bother. With weekly tests, we're still an exception."
"We've headed off a couple outbreaks of the clap at the pass," said Bekka. Somebody got laid and didn't use precautions, tested positive while the disease was still in its incubation period. We were able to say, okay, the infected person worked with this, this, and this person in the past week, they're all off the roster until they get treated. We drove the Department of Public Health people crazy, because here we are bringing in four people for treatment of chlamydia and they have no symptoms. But we showed them the lab slips and everyone got treated. A lot of studios only test monthly, looking for HIV. Shit, that could be a disaster."
"I had gonorrhea, once," I said. "I guess women can write off their symptoms as having indigestion, the chick I got it from was amazed at the news. But as a guy, I can't even imagine being able to spread it. It hurt like hell just to piss. Having a hard-on was agony, I can't even imagine what coming would feel like. I got symptomatic on a Friday and had to wait through the weekend to get treated, and I was miserable. The last thing on my mind was fucking someone. But I knew it could only have come from one person, so I dragged her by the ear down to Public Health so we could both get treated."
We headed out to lunch. At my insistence, we took Jolene's car. She put it through its paces, and was right: it was fairly quick, but not blazing fast. With the Nova having a slush-box transmission, the Falcon would eat it alive, the Cutlass would dust it off, and the Plymouth, even as heavy as it was, would probably best it. The General Motors V8 350 motor was designed to be a reliable workhorse, not a high-output monster. However, GM built so many of the damn things there were plenty of modifications available to get more pep out of them.
As we drove to Triplets, Jolene asked, "So how old are the performers at Inana? I'm twenty-five, am I older than average?"
Bekka said, "At twenty-five, you're right around average, more or less. Most everyone is in their twenties. I turn twenty-nine in June. Tawny is the oldest, at thirty-three, and we've got a stunt-cock named Roach who is just nineteen."
"Roach?" asked Jolene with amusement.
"He's a punk rock kid I found," I said. "I think I said before, he's who you'll be doing your video interview with --- turn right here --- and I'm glad I did. Young, hung, and has a brain."
"Why are you putting her with Roach?" asked Bekka.
"Because despite his age and appearance, Roach is a gentleman. If she had been talking about what a size queen she was, I'd put her with Eddie. If she'd been bragging about her talents, I'd put her with a tireless acrobat like Dale. She's been fairly close-mouthed about her interests and abilities, so why not put her with a decent guy? Jolene, you'll like Roach, he's a good kid. He's one of those poor bastards who got badly scarred up from acne, so he's not the best looking dude, but he's polite and respectful. His attitude is that him and the girl he's with are working as a team, he's not jaded, he genuinely likes women as women."
Jolene said, "Nineteen, wow. I thought that's how old all the girls would be, that I'd be this granny figure if you took me on at all."
"We'll probably be gaining a young girl in a few weeks," said Bekka. "A punk rock girl named Feather, who's been agitating to work for us for months, she hated that we wouldn't have anything to do with her until after her eighteenth birthday. She'll stop by the studio now and then and try to hang out, but Lenny runs her off. So she'll be our youngest. We gave her the script interview, and she did fine, but there's no way we'd have an underage girl in front of our cameras. Her birthday is next week and she's already set up her appointments for the other two interviews.
"A lot of studios actively seek out girls that are barely legal. Inana doesn't have girls, it has women, you know? A girl can know how to fuck. It takes a woman to know how to seduce. And admittedly we have a couple who can pass as young. Ellen is twenty-four, but can pass as eighteen. Sue is twenty-two, and our makeup maven routinely makes her up to be in high school. Yeah, youth sells, but our fans don't seem to be interested in little girls. You'll see some hardcore loops where the girl is wearing braces. Yeah, the stuff was produced legally, it's just some chick who started wearing braces late, but it's still kind of creepy."
I threw in, "Yeah, I'm glad Jeanette has more good taste than to put Sue in pigtails. That whole 'Lolita' fixation is kind of disturbing. Screw that. Grown women know what they want and know what they're doing, that would be way more fun than having to be giving instructions to some young chick, no matter how eager of a learner she was. Pull in the third driveway on the right, where that Buick is pulling out."
We got stared at as we parked. Bekka, Jane, and I all drove hot rods, but they had class and style to them. All our cars had the same size tires at all four corners. We kept them shiny. They were all well-tuned, and passably muffled. Jolene's Nova, on the other hand, was a white trash staff car. The huge dragster tires and ass-up suspension, the bad paint and primer, the intrusive exhaust (you had to TALK FAIRLY LOUD when riding in it).... I worried that Jolene would find herself driving a cop-magnet while in North County. She wouldn't get a second look in El Cajon.
We were seated, perused our menus, and ordered. Jolene considered me across the table and said, "I'm curious about something. Over the phone, you said that if I was taken on I'd probably only be making about $1100 per week after taxes. What do you mean, 'only' $1100? Where I'm from, that's damn good money."
Bekka responded for me. "It's a matter of perspective, I suppose. Porn pays well because there are very few women willing, much less able, to do it. Yes, it pays better than an office job.... Or being a front desk clerk. But I'm guessing Lenny told you he could only get you in a couple of loops per week to start off with. You can get spoiled with the money if you're willing to work a lot and they'll place you on the roster all you want. Shit, for a while, I was making six loops a week. That's $4500 before taxes, for between twenty-four and twenty-eight hours a week of my time. The downside of doing that much performance is that, to be blunt, you hurt a lot of the time. But by god, I drove a new car, I had a great place to live, and I'd erased my student debt.
"Guys make less. It's far easier to find guys willing to fuck on camera, so the labor pool versus the number of positions available is very different. Inana pays the studs $300 per scene, and we're at the high end. Very, very few guys become wealthy doing porn. Your name has to be Peter North or Ron Jeremy to pull big money. And again, it's a matter of perspective. Roach, for example, can't believe his good fortune: he works three times a week, a total of fifteen hours max, and makes $900 pre-tax. Him and our fluff girl got a place together, they're paying $425 each for rent every month. Roach can save up and buy the motorcycle he wants with the money he earns, and with such a light schedule, he can take college classes in the fall. He's too young to be thinking about things like a family or owning a home, or just plain getting burned out on the job he's doing."
I said, "Something to consider about the guys, and consider this a warning, is that most of them are kind of stupid. Roach is smart, Eddie The Jew is smart. Hell, Eddie is packing nine inches and helped me write the script for 'Temporary Pleasures.' But in the brains department, the rest rank from mediocre to dim. Vince is the worst. Mind you, he is a talented actor and a nice enough guy, but if you use big words around him when you talk, you will completely lose him. The last time I checked, he was paying a high school kid a hundred bucks a month to keep his checkbook balanced. And everybody takes it for granted that he'll need help during initial read-through on scripts."
Jolene said, "Wow. Complete pillocks, huh?"
"Absolutely," smiled Bekka. "Feel free to call them pillocks, too. They won't know what the word means, not even taking situational usage into consideration."
"Okay, let me review," said Jolene. "Let's just say I'm confident enough that my inner slut will come through for me and I get the gig. I'll be making a decent living wage, in fact a damn healthy one, working eight to ten hours a week. My boss is a good guy, and his wife strikes me as a real sweetie, despite her celebrity status. So what's the catch? Nothing is this easy."
"No, no catch," said Bekka. "But Inana is also different in a lot of ways. You can go just about anywhere in the industry and get about the same money. In too many other places, though, it comes at the cost of your self-esteem. Inana performers are treated with respect, both by crew and each other. You can find studios that might pay $1000 for a shoot, but they motivate you by calling you a dumb bitch. And remember, being a porno queen is a job that very, very few women would ever consider doing, especially when they see that not only is it technically sex for money --- an abhorrent idea to most women --- it's actual work. You're not just getting laid. So there's your catch, you're doing a job almost all other women would consider horrible and offensive. I have been told, both in person and by mail, that I am worse than a prostitute. Not only do I have sex for money, I flaunt it, I have to show it off.
"That's another reason to enjoy your money: you certainly have no status to enjoy. Tell people you make porn, and you'd be amazed at the assumptions people will make about you. You're a junkie. You have no self-respect. You have no personal morality. You're a nymphomaniac. Lenny is assumed to be a scumbag who exploits women, a pander, and a pimp. And that's the opinion of his parents! Lenny's folks absolutely hate his success and my fame."
"Although I will admit," I said, "I am enough of an asshole that I will sometimes tell them precisely what it is I do for a living, knowing full well it will upset them. When I come across Midwest tourists who already assume I'm a scumbag because I'm a punk, I'll tell them, 'Yeah, I run a porn studio. Large portions of my work week are devoted to watching other people have sex. In fact, my wife is one of them, say hello, dear.' My 'straight' answer to people is that I run a video production service, and leave it at that. It sounds kind of boring, most people assume I tape wedding videos or whatever. That was the line we were laying on the bank when we were trying to get the loans for our property and house construction. It helps that few people know who Inana is."
"Who is Inana?" asked Jolene.
"Inana was a powerful Sumerian goddess with an insatiable sex drive. With that knowledge, it makes perfect sense as the name for a porn studio. Fortunately, the people at Wells Fargo weren't all that hip to Sumerian history. I'm glad the studio is named what it is, it has class. Better than 'Knob-O-Throb Productions' or whatever."
"Or Hustler," said Bekka.
"Yeah, or Hustler," I agreed.