Thursday, December 15, 2016
Dope (Part 9)
The next morning I retrieved the keys to my rental car from the concierge. They'd scored me a Cadillac Brougham to tool around in, perfect. We went and picked up Mallory, her occupying the shotgun seat, as she would be constantly giving me driving directions. We got some brunch, then Mallory began pointing us at all the traditional places to visit in Minneapolis, standard chamber of commerce locales. The passive-aggressive behavioral fillip installed in all Minnesotans at birth showed itself on the road. Drivers stayed at EXACTLY the posted speed limit. In Southern California, you get used to temporarily occupying fairly small amounts of space on the road, so you can set up for lane changes or hit an exit. Me putting the Brougham between two cars on the freeway (who were spaced EXACTLY two seconds apart) would cause the car to the rear to lift off the gas until there was a huge cushion between us. It was as if to say, "You, in the Cadillac, I know you're trying to get me to rear-end you. You can't get one over on me, buddy boy, I'm staying way back here where I can keep an eye on you."
Minneapolis had the standard displays of culture available: symphony, ballet, opera. It also had quite a few comedy clubs, which surprised me. Almost every club or venue would have a weekly stand-up night. I was confused, as attending a comedy club is supposed to make you laugh. Laughing is a demonstrative activity, a behavior which draws attention to the person doing it. The problem is, the concepts of "demonstrative" and "Minnesotan" will never be used together. Minnesotans don't laugh out loud, they just nod and give you a tight smile like they're holding back a fart. I studied the Music and Night Life sections of the local alt weekly, trying to ascertain if there was any sort of "alternative" bar or venue. I figured just looking at the display ads would help, I'd be able to get the tenor of a place by how their ads looked. No such luck. The ads for bars and clubs all had an odd sameness to them, as if they all wanted to blend in with the crowd, saying, "Oh heck, don't mind us, we're okay. Real good then." A rock club announcing Death Angel and D.R.I. playing used the same fonts and general layout as some beer hall announcing there was now karaoke on Wednesdays.
And of course, the "lakes." I put that in quotations because calling many of these bodies of water lakes is giving them far too much credit. They are ponds. I have lived my life in an area that is, rationally speaking, a desert. San Diego has damn little native fresh water, hell, the San Diego "River" would be called a seasonal creek anywhere else in the country. A good percentage of the "lakes" in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul area are just ponds. They are clean, they are scenic, but they are too damn diminutive to be lakes. I got the impression that any non-moving body of fresh water larger than a lawn sprinkler puddle would have a joggig path installed, picnic benches placed, and given a name derived at random from any of the local Indian tribes.
I was also surprised at the number of bicycles being used as actual modes of transportation. In San Diego, there are three kinds of people who use bicycles to actually go from one place to another: school kids, the poor, and the politically correct macho men who wear Day-Glo Spandex covered with corporate logos, whose bicycles cost more than a new Hyundai. The poor and school kids have enough sense of self-preservation to ride as though everyone in a car is trying to kill them (while that's only true of about forty percent of the motorists). They stay the hell out of the way. The Spandex jocks, not so much, they overestimate their abilities of acceleration and capability to move at the speed limit, and routinely find themselves being clipped into the closest strip mall, quickly learning that Spandex is piss poor protection against sliding impact with asphalt. Hopefully those dorky-looking helmets actually do their job. LA has even fewer commuter cyclists, as it's just too spread out. Also, anyone trying to commute on a bicycle in Los Angeles would be dead from emphysema in three weeks, from breathing LA air. Riding in San Diego is made even more difficult by the terrain. San Diego is creased with large canyons, making the place more hilly than one would expect.
Minneapolis, on the other hand, is flat. It is not a terribly crowded city, by any measure. And Minneapolis drivers operate their vehicles as if everyone had been made to memorize the Minnesota Vehicle Code in high school. Streets are not narrow, there's room enough for everybody....
.... Which doesn't matter when a large number of cyclists ride in a legal but stupid manner: right in the middle of a fucking lane. This is the behavior of a crusader mindset. These riders are the ones who believe that the existence of the private automobile in America is what will cause global warming, tsunamis, autism, and the clap. Therefore, they will demonstrate their moral superiority as cyclists by pointing at the sections of Vehicle Code which say bicycles are road vehicles, and have the same scope of courtesy and responsibility as automobiles. "I'm within my rights" is the mantra of these people, after tangling with a motorist who wasn't expecting something moving nine miles an hour to be in the middle of a lane on the Minnehaha Parkway. Yes, they are within their rights to create an ambulatory road hazard by their very presence on the street. I am within my rights to paint my house with luminous paint, then put the words "KILL THE PIGS" across it in twenty foot letters. Just because you have the right to do something doesn't mean it's a good idea.
After the third time I nearly sodomized someone with the hood of a late-model Cadillac, I told Bekka to keep her window down. The next cyclist who wished to demonstrate that moral self-righteousness was a louder voice in their heads than the one which urges personal safety would have an interesting spin put on their day. I would get alongside, Bekka would lean out the window and grab the cyclist's handlebars, and I would tromp on the gas, and do my best recreation of the car chase in "The French Connection," bringing the cyclist along for the ride. Definitely an "E" ticket attraction.
We learned local history and visited a few museums of various size. Minneapolis is considered the western terminus of the Rust Belt, the northern strip of country which has all the steel-based manufacturing and industry. The heart of the Rust Belt is, of course, Detroit. Sadly, there is no "sister cities" pact between the two place, which is a shame. Minneapolis could have introduced Detroit to lutefisk, and Detroit could have introduced Minneapolis to kleptocracy-based local government.
Around six we began knocking around ideas for where to have dinner, or at least what kind of food. Bekka suggested we find a Mexican restaurant for the comedic value. I told her that we would find their food about as funny as that one kid in sixth grade who had memorized every single Dead Baby joke ever made. Okay, maybe this was snobbery on our part, maybe some gastric entrepreneur had done their homework, found a source of avocados and Dos Equis beer in Minnesota, and had.... Okay, it still wouldn't be great food, but it wouldn't totally suck, either. I promised Bekka we would go to a Taco John's during our stay. I would stand on a table and give a loud and impassioned speech about how all those present were apologists for charlatans, how both Taco John's and Taco Bell were culture rapists, that anyone claiming to actually enjoy any menu item at Taco John's was proof that cowardice and self-deception walked hand in hand, and the next Midwest pinhead who thought Domino's sold Italian food would be reduced to a paste and used to thicken homemade pesto.
"Okay.... Mallory, there's gotta be some sort of culinary tradition or specialty in Minneapolis. New England has clam chowder, New Orleans has gumbo, Southern California has the fucking six dollar churros at Disneyland. How about this area? What is it?" asked Bekka.
There was a brief pause. Then Mallory sighed and said, "I suppose there is, after a fashion. But it is not really special. In fact it's terrible. And it's identical in Milwaukee, and Des Moines, and Wichita. Tuna bot dish, or tuna casserole if you prefer, is ubiquitous in the area. Everyone makes it, everyone eats it, often on the same day every week. To me, the religious manufacture and consumption of tuna hot dish is proof that Midwest residents only consider food to be enjoyable if it primarily consists of fat, salt, and carbohydrate. Another personal opinion is that anyone who makes tuna hot dish and claims they have any competency in a kitchen is both self-delusional and cheap. A box turtle with fetal alcohol syndrome can make tuna hot dish, the most complicated part of its creation is boiling a flippin' bag of egg noodles.
"Tuna hot dish is a symptom of a malady which is epidemic in the region. The people of the Midwest suffer high rates of diabetes, high cholesterol, and morbid obesity. The locals consider food to be valid if its consumption makes the diner feel as though he or she has eaten several trowels of wet cement, washed down with grain alcohol. Midwest cooking celebrates base flavors, starch, and meat. Whoever invented the corn dog should have been put on trial at the Hague. You look at the ingredients that go into common meals in the area, and wonder why there is not an epidemic of scurvy.
"Okay, Minneapolis has good restaurants, of different ethnic traditions. Anywhere else in the state, they consider the most pedestrian Chinese restaurant foreign and exotic. A Thai restaurant in someplace like Duluth would go belly up in six months. And given our great traditions of quibbling in your neighbor's business, woe upon any home cook who tries to break out of the rut and make something interesting, or even healthful. These people consider ownership of a wok to be paramount to burning the flag. Go ahead, Minnesota housewife, try to add variety to your family's meals by making a tofu stir fry with lots of vegetables besides iceberg lettuce and pickles. A local housewife who tries to make meals which don't clog arteries and weaken eyesight may as well start spray painting quotes from Rene Descartes across the front of her own house. She has cracked. Poor Marge, the dear went nuts and began using a cookbook made up of recipes from someplace called Bahrain. We're hoping medication will set her right."
This was by far the highest number of words we had ever heard Mallory speak at once. Bekka said, "You, uh, seem to feel a bit of passion about the subject."
Another pause, then Mallory said, "It's one of many sore subjects for me about the Midwest, and Minnesota in particular. I am a native of Minneapolis, but I have also done a bit of traveling, and put forth the effort to learn about the places I visited. The polite euphemism to describe Midwestern attitude is 'provincial.' I believe 'regressive' is more accurate. To me it's almost funny. I'm sure you two will find Minneapolis to be a very tranquil place. The rest of Minnesota considers Minneapolis-Saint Paul bastions of horror and decadence, like Rome under Caligula. The serious outlanders are terrified just by driving around here, they have never been on a freeway in their lives. They can prove we are godless heathens, because we have churches besides the Lutherans and the Catholics. Be very glad I'm not in some pipsqueak town up north, and you came to visit. Word of your arrival and appearance would spread through the town like smallpox. The local police would stake out your motel room, day and night, until you left. Since you are both obviously criminals of some sort, the motel management would insist you pre-pay on your room every day. And next Sunday's sermon at the Lutheran church would use your visit as proof that the godless are spreading further out from their hives, coming to poison the local spiritual well."
I commented, "Like we told you at breakfast, we haven't had the warmest welcome at our hotel, and they've really the only people we've interacted with for more than five seconds. The attitudes directed at us range from weary indifference to bitchiness to self-righteous dismay. I haven't had a person smile directly at me since I left the charter terminal at the airport."
"It's a little confusing for me," said Bekka. "I've caught people staring at me, not in hostility, but the more cow-like, 'Would ya look at that, it's Becky Page' gaze. But yours is the only autograph I've signed since we arrived. I'd say it's nice to be left alone, but we aren't, really. You know how you can just sort of feel when someone is staring at you, even though they're at your back? I keep getting that. At the hotel is the worst, we were in line at the concierge for ten minutes. In California, when I'm recognized, people will walk right up to me. Not around here. Is it shyness, or manners, or aloofness towards one of them Hollywood types, or do people really think Becky Page is a Satanic bitch, come to destroy anything more pleasant than a acetone milkshake?"
"Probably all of them," Mallory answered. "The polite and the shy are by far the biggest percentage, but I'd bet there are more folks who don't like Becky Page, for whatever reason, than there are in California. The sort of evangelical gibberish you had to put up with last night isn't very common, that's not the style of either the Lutherans or the Catholics, who have pretty much cornered the market on salvation in Minnesota. But remember, they're both conservative faiths. I think that both churches, deep down, hold nearly identical views about what is right and wrong. The main difference is the Catholics call things sins. The Lutherans just say it's a darn shame, and leave the judgement and condemnation to the lay people."
"So what's the chance of finding good sushi in this burg?" I asked.
"Not bad," Mallory replied. "Minneapolis does have a fair amount of sophistication. It's always been a major center of commerce and business, deals affecting international markets happen here. The money and the outside influences have their effect. Like I said before, the rest of the state thinks this is a bacchanal, or worse yet, ambitious. In small-town Minnesota, there is an attitude that any ambition which would make a person better off or more important is just a guarantee that God will smack you down just as you're making progress, and you deserve it for getting all high and mighty. The Miller boy wants to be the first one in his family to attend college? Stupid kid, everyone knows colleges are just sewers where you are taught to reject God, embrace Socialism, and own a Toyota. Want to be an entertainer on a scale larger than performing at the grain co-op hall? You're putting on airs, those heathens in Hollywood will chew you up and spit you out, and you'll have just wasted your time in trying. You are constantly warned that getting 'too big for your britches' is a sure-fire way to get taken down a few pegs, and serves you right, for starting to think you're somehow better than the rest of us.
"Believing there is a better life outside your town of origin means you think your fellow residents are just dumb hicks, that you'll think you are somehow special. Everyone will remind you that you aren't special, you don't matter at all, so stop your fancy talk and get in the fields, there's forty acres of potatoes to weed. Those that do leave are monitored as closely as possible, so everyone can find out how they failed wherever they moved to. Wishing bad luck on others is a sport in those towns. The Olson's daughter went to Milwaukee, where she went to night classes and became a paralegal. Normal people would say, well, good for her. In the small towns, everyone waits hopefully to hear of her being attacked by a criminal at work, or becoming an alcoholic, or getting pregnant out of wedlock, which will show that she started to think she was better than us. Stupid girl, Milwaukee is an even bigger cesspit than Minneapolis. Now look, the ritzy lifestyle she was chasing has bit her on the ass.... And it's her own darn fault for thinking we're all just peasants. She was offered that waitress job at the diner, but no, she had to break her parents' heart and run off to try to be the female Perry Mason. She gets what she deserves, you know. And she'll be used as an object lesson whenever some kid gets mouthy with the parents, talking about how there must be more to the world than this town. There isn't. Quit making a fool of yourself. Who do you think you are, anyway?"
Another long speech from Mallory. It occurred to me that she was expressing views she may have sat on for years, sources of personal contempt which she never told people about, she had never had a safe audience before us. She was a Minnesota native, but not only was she from the bedlam that was Minneapolis, she had traveled in her life. Out of the country, even! While her fellow Minnesota citizens would find it hard to peg her as a lesbian unless she brought the subject up, Mallory had no respect for all those stiff-faced, close-minded, dismissive denizens in the small towns. And now look, she's made friends with a professional strumpet and some sort of mutant criminal, who claims to get paid for hanging around naked women all day, he makes them nasty movies. Well.... let the idiot woman chase some dream, she'll end up crawling back with her tail between her legs. Serves her right, too.
I said, "I get the impression that there are very large aspects of the Midwest in general, and Minnesota in particular, which you will no longer tolerate. The subjects you brought up make you angry, and I've never heard you sound angry before. What happened? Was there some sort of critical mass reached in your life which brought your frustrations to the surface?"
"Two things," said Mallory. "First was when Becky --- Bekka --- called me. By making that call, and us having the conversation we did, she proved everyone in Minnesota wrong about what both celebrities and Californians are like. In Minnesota, California is portrayed in as negative of a light as possible, personally, I think it's rooted in jealousy over California's weather. California is loud, outgoing, demonstrative, like a stripper working the audience for tips. California has earthquakes, riots, drugs, homosexuals, depravity like the porn industry, and the Fox Network. And California has Becky Page, some darn hussy who started appearing on the news and in the national magazines, a woman who not only makes a living by having carnal relations, but is proud of it. I know exactly what the opinions my fellow state citizens have of Becky, and of my including my phone number in my fan letter. Becky Page would be too busy snorting cocaine, having anonymous sex, corrupting children, and setting fire to churches to bother to call me. Who do I think I am? But Becky did call me, and has turned out to be possibly the warmest, most joyful person I've ever met in my life. Common knowledge around here says that Becky Page is egotistical, shameless, immoral, aloof, rich, and unfeeling. You know, a celebrity. Hey, I know better, so to heck with everyone else.
"Also, I learned at work this past week that I'm going to be transferred. They'll be sending me to a wide spot on I-35 up north named Moose Lake. It's over a hundred miles away. I have a hunch I'll need to cover that distance if I ever want to have espresso, a deep tissue massage, stromboli, or music that isn't either country and western or polka. The utility has told me they will cover the cost of the move and locate acceptable housing for me, and I will be promoted, all of this will happen in about six months. But the epiphany I had after talking to Bekka on the phone was that all the Minnesota yokels I've described to you will now all be my neighbors. They will be dour, joyless, humorless, stiff-faced, suspicious, nosy, dismissive, pious, and proud of their ignorance about the world outside of Moose Lake. And over the course of about ten years or so, all my defenses will have broken down, and I will be just like them. I will live in a state of self-loathing for my own sexuality. I will glare at anyone going past my house in a car I don't recognize. I will have become everything I hate.
"Lenny.... Bekka.... I want to move to California. I can no longer suffer the Midwest, I have had too many ugly realizations about the place recently. The only truly objective information about California I have is a map from the auto club. Asking people about the place, they all have the same initial response: 'California? Why would you want to go there? They have earthquakes!' Yes, and beaches. Also a rainbow of cultures, Mount Whitney, mountains, deserts, redwood forests older than Christianity, ethnic restaurants from countries no one around here has ever heard of, and Disneyland. But really? In my head, California is more a concept than a place. I want to live there, but I don't know diddley about it. Can you help me?" Mallory sniffled. "What should I do?"
Bekka and I were silent for several moments. This felt like the start of a conversation which didn't need the distraction of being in a moving car, so I pulled into the lot of a park overlooking one of Minneapolis' many, many minuscule lakes. We got out and began strolling. Out of force of habit, I started talking.
"Okay. Wow. First of all, California has so many variations, in so many ways, that the only true statewide commonality there is would be a collective loathing of the New York Yankees. Different places will have different terrain, climate, ethnic majorities, cultural foundations, sense of style, political climates, and collective opinions of the meaning of life. Our roommate Jane is touring Europe this summer, and has said Europeans hold a simplistic view of what California is like. We ride our surfboards to work in the mornings, then spend some time driving on the freeways at high speeds. After that we all go back to the beach and party all night. Then we repeat the process the next morning."
"But that's silly," said Mallory. "Al you have to do is look at a map...."
"Oh, it is silly. To the Europeans, California is more of a way of thinking than it is a place. My point is, don't let the same sort of thinking cloud your judgement. Okay, would I be correct in guessing you are a political progressive?"
"I'm a registered Green."
"Then for God's sake, don't move to San Diego. It's a lovely town, but is something of a cultural wasteland, and far too many of its residents hold the same world view as Archie Bunker. Despite its location on a border with Mexico, depressingly few residents speak Spanish. Why would they? They don't want to have a conversation with the gardener. To use your euphemism, it is a very provincial town.
"The flip side would be Berkeley. That is quite the politically progressive town, in theory. We made friends with people there, and to hear them tell it, a city council meeting will have all the dignity of the Russian Parliament. One guy suggested that there are actually two city governments in Berkeley, one which accomplishes the task of running a city, and the one which appears in public, providing a fantastic source of entertainment for the locals. There are local political action committees so far to the left they think the Greens are all closet worshipers of Ronald Reagan. And what no one suspects is that it is not a party town at all. I know of one bar, Blake's on Telegraph Avenue, which stays open past midnight. I'd never even heard of a 7-11 that closes, but the one in Berkeley does."
Bekka threw in. "San Francisco is lovely, fun, has fantastic cultural resources, is accepting of all flavors of social subsets, and is alarmingly expensive. And far too much of downtown smells vaguely of stale piss. Los Angeles.... Oh boy. LA has a smaller downtown than Minneapolis, there is no unifying center of the city, it's spread out all over the place. The various districts and small municipalities that make up the greater Los Angeles area vary wildly in economic status, culture, quality of life, and attitude. Don't live in Compton or Inglewood unless you don't mind carrying a gun. And with it's total lack of centrality, it is also something of a cultural wasteland. Los Angeles has Hollywood, and hates it. The county issues environmental alerts, warning people to stay inside and somehow avoid breathing for a couple days, that's how bad the smog gets. The best quote I've ever heard describing LA is from Douglas Adams. To paraphrase, Los Angeles is like several thousand square miles of American Express junk mail, only without the moral depth. The stereotype of the LA phony and self-important and fake are accurate for far too many people there. Their smile, behaviors, and words seem to convey that they'd really rather be screaming 'fuck you' in your face, over and over, rather than dealing with your lame ass."
I said, "Okay, we know you should be somewhere with a good cross-section of political views. California has towns where I'd swear the residents are the last remaining paid members of the John Birch Society. So let's move on. Would you like to be located in an urban, suburban, or rural area.... Or even the only human being for twenty miles? Would you like to be at the beach, or in the country, or in the mountains or desert? Should there be an active queer scene, or at least have a scene at all? Do you hate driving? If you do, your options are greatly limited, especially in Southern California. Yeah, in San Diego, if you don't have a car, you die. Public transit is shit, and everything is spread out, and sometimes completely cut of if you are on foot --- hah! --- or a bicycle, since neither is allowed on freeways.
"Anyway, where you go in California should be determined by what you want from California. If you want to learn to surf, you shouldn't be in Bakersfield. In fact no one should be in Bakersfield, for any reason. When your town's greatest claim to fame is that Merle Haggard was born there, you know everyone at the chamber of commerce drinks their lunch. If you want nightlife and action, don't move to Arcata or Eureka. Oh, don't move to the Central Valley for any reason. If you want sedate, safe, white bread living, don't move to San Francisco, Oakland, or LA.... Although the outlying areas would agree with you. Shit, BART runs through both San Francisco and a 'burb named Walnut Creek, a town that will make you think Stepford, Connecticut actually existed, only it was in the Bay Area.
"Actually, there are reasons to live in the Central Valley. If you value linear thinking, drunk driving, racism, poor air quality, conservative populist politics, and crank, you will like the Central Valley. And rents are cheap. As you drive into the Valley with the intention of making it your home, there are bins on the side of the freeway. You stop and deposit your hopes, dreams, ambition, sobriety, empathy, and personal dignity in these bins, you won't need them anymore. It's my understanding the state waits until the bins are full, then redistributes the contents among folks who have moved from places like Manhattan, Kansas and Stromberg, Illinois, and landed in either the Bay Area or Humboldt County. Their culture shock is so bad it requires medical attention."
Mallory murmured, "I would like.... To live near the beach. Within a half hour drive is fine with me."
"Okay. Would you like your beach to look like the cover of a Surfaris album, a Homer painting, or foggy and lined with redwoods?"
"Oh, definitely the Surfaris album."
"Great, we're narrowing things down. You want to move to Southern California. Anyplace south of Point Conception will work.... Although with a few exceptions, you're going to be somewhere semi-urban if you're that close to the water."
Bekka added, "Big point here. What sort of work will you look for, what are your job skills?"
Mallory considered this. "Well, I've got two years of college under my belt. And I've worked for the utility for six years. I'm actually management, sort of. I supervise other meter readers, I'm like an army sergeant. I don't have a route anymore, but is someone is gone, I cover their route. Uh.... being a meter reader does require having a brain, but it's not the most intellectually taxing work, either. You don't need a lot of education or problem solving skills to be a meter reader. If you were to ask me what my dream job would be, I'd say I want to write lesbian erotic novels for a living. Us dykes need porn too, and the stuff I've seen is kind of lame. My stories would be much more filthy and to the point, you know? Yeah, you have a romantic plot, but my sex scenes would be hardcore, really juicy. I've got a bunch of short stories in journals, but after I discovered Becky Page my stuff got way heavier. I want to raise pulses."
This information threw a few switches in my brain. I asked Mallory, "Tell me, do you think you could write straight stuff? Or more to the point, do you think you could write movie scripts for straight porn?"
Sounding surprisingly confident, Mallory answered, "Yes. I do understand hetero female lust, and I've learned quite a bit about male hetero lust from my older brother. Him and me never had any sibling rivalry, we got along great. He's three years older than me. When he first started getting interested in girls and dating, he'd tell me about how things were going, and would be very candid about his desires. For gosh sake, I knew his masturbation habits. I was the first person he told when he lost his virginity. He shared fantasies. He sought my advice in dating. Heck, when he met his wife and was wavering on whether to propose or not, he asked me if I thought it would be a mistake, and he would base his decision on what I said. So yeah, thanks to him, I really do understand what gets guys hot and bothered. I'm pretty sure I could pull it off. Why?"
"Because I can use someone who can write interesting, intellectually engaging, well-paced stories that are simultaneously dripping with hot sex. You've seen Inana's features, you know those scripts didn't get bashed out in a weekend. Also, you probably noticed that the sex and the plot in our movies are intertwined, the plot moves through the sex scenes, so the hardcore doesn't have that tacked on feel like in most porn. You can't just write a script, then go back through it and insert a note saying 'Fuck Scene Here' at the right intervals. As a writer, I'm totally self-taught. I read a couple books on how to write movie scripts, and just started winging it. Shit, the script for 'Bewitched' went through seven drafts, me trying to get what I wanted into a format that would satisfy the technical requirements of being filmed. Script writing isn't brain surgery, most of the meat for the 'Temporary Pleasures' script was written by one of my studs, a guy named Eddie the Jew. He'd never written a script before, but I knew he was funny and creative, and he gave me some of the best satire I'd ever seen...."
Mallory interjected, "That's right, you share the writing credit on that one."
"Yeah. Really, I came up with the plot and characters and structure, and Eddie filled in all that empty space with really funny material. I'd basically given him a half hour lecture on how a script is structured and he took it from there. Anyway, you understand that our scripts aren't just phoned in, I bust my ass to make them work. Do you think you could write a script for Inana?"
There was a slight pausse, but in a still-confident voice Mallory said, "I believe so. I understand about how the sex is intertwined with the plot. Not necessarily part of the plot, but its presence feels totally natural. I know your stories are not simplistic, and neither is your dialogue. What caveats can you give me?"
I thought about that, and said, "Okay, first off, locations. Inana has three sound stages to work with and quite the stockpile of furniture, props, and stage dressing. Public locations can be a hassle, how much of one depends on where you want to be. In 'Good Girl/Bad Girl,' we shot some scenes at a mall. While filling out their paperwork is simple, they usually have extortionate use fees, and in our case, just turn you down. They didn't like having the mall associated with porn. I finally got to use the place because I explained we would not be shooting any sex at the mall --- I'm not an idiot, it's a public place --- and I also agreed to line up our shots so they excluded any signage. The mall was anonymous, and so were the businesses leasing there.
"Working on public streets is cheaper, but requires more paperwork, go figure. And they still have the right to tell us to get lost. I'm luchy, about fifteen minutes north of the studiio is a town called Oceanside. The only thing of note about Oceanside is that it's the military tank town for Camp Pendleton, the Marine base. Otherwise, it's just a somewhat white trash suburban town on the beach north of San Diego. The city itself is pretty poor, so when I came along, talking about different places in Oceanside I wanted to shoot video, they figured out how much they'd be taking in on the use fees and waved me in with a smile. Oceanside is our go-to town when we just need generic snots of people walking down the street, or driving a car, or whatever. We'd worked with San Diego in the past, but they didn't know who we were. Now it's very widely known Inana is a porn studio, and on the few occasions I've spoken to their film board, they make a lot of very nervous noises. State Parks were fine with us. all of Imperial County loved us. But each place is a new set of paperwork to fill out, even if you're just moving to the end of the block. So think about where scenes will take place when you write.
"Another warning.is about special effects. I believe we're the only adult video studio who uses them at alll, but that's because cost is prohibitive to anyone but the biggest studios. The effects in 'Stroke of Luck' added an extra $190,000 to the movie, and it wasn't exactly Star Wars. If you have something you would want to show using effects but fear it may cost an arm and a leg, write some alternate action for that part, in case the cost is just too damn much.
"So far as cost goes, our budgets are monstrous compared to other studios, but an absolute pittance compared to what Hollywood spends to make a movie. 'Bewitched' was about $400.000, 'Stroke of Luck' was nearly $700,000, and we spent 4.5 million on making 'Succubus.' My first feature, 'Lust Instructor,' only cost $180,000. That was on purpose. I was trying to convince my bosses that we could make features as well as loops, and we wouldn't go bankrupt. All the scenes in 'Lust Instructor' were shot on the same sound stage, which was redressed over and over. While Inana is not stingy, while you're writing, don't decide a character's E-Class Mercedes is going to get blown up. The vehicles appearing in the 'Dangerous Desires' car chase were our own, Bekka's Plymouth and Skye Tyler's Grand Am. We rent costumes, we don't buy. And we don't have a green screen system, so any adventurous background you might want has to be done live, during production.
"Basically, whenever you're envisioning some spectacular visual presentation while you write, think about how much it would cost, and write an alternate, much more subdued version of that part of the script. Me, I'd love to make a pornographic space opera, a XXX Star Wars. But that would be insanely expensive. We would want good effects, and those cost. But low-budget effects would just look hokey, and Inana won't release a sub-par feature. The only way we'd do a space opera would be if we co-produced with a major mainstream studio, and the universe will go through heat death before that happens. I hate Hollywood, and Hollywood really, really hates me."
From the back seat, Bekka said, "Me and Lenny giggle about it all the time. Hollywood sees our features, and then finds out our budgets. Then they have a collective pantie-wetting session, because some damn fuck film makers down in San Diego has released a full feature that is cinematic perfection and sells millions of copies, but cost less than what the studios would spend on a production's catering. And for them, the worst thing of all is that it's done by Lenny Schneider, some punk rock kid, a nobody. And Lenny Schneider keeps doing it, over and over, making dirty movies that break sales records, on these budgets they would consider not just an insult, but an unfunny joke. According to Hollywood, Inana does everything wrong, we have no business being in the entertainment industry in any form. But we are, we put out great features, and we're being led by some little shit who looks like he should be mugging tourists in Venice."
"There is no room in the mainstream industry for anarchist producers," I added. "I entered the business with no breeding, no experience, and no intention of playing by any rules. But my features are loved by critics and viewers, they sell at an alarming rate, I have a stable of talented and loyal performers and crew, and I produce these features for what they'd pay Harrison Ford for a twenty second walk-on. I never knew the rules in the industry, and when I eventually learned them, I didn't care, and said so in public. That was what bugged Hollywood the most, I think. I'm sure they figures I'd be sniffing around for a job at a major studio. Nope, I made fun of them in front of reporters, basically saying that Hollywood is pathetic and incompetent, and I liked making porn. I had no mainstream ambitions, I was having fun and getting rich doing it, so Hollywood could suck my dick."
Wow," said Mallory. "I've heard stories about how writers do work for the studios, turn in the script, bur by the time the movie is actually released, they don't recognize a thing when comparing what they wrote versus what shows up on the screen. The studio owns the script, and can do anything it wants to with it. If it gets almost completely rewritten in little chunks over time, well, too darn bad. And the writer can't say a word, even though his name will still appear in the credits. I'm guessing this would not happen if I wrote for Inana."
"No way," I answered. "Shit, I don't have the time to micromanage and rethink an entire script. If you wrote something and I saw a chunk I thought should be different, I'd call you up and we'd hash it out together. No, I'd have a hard time altering someone else's writing, then being a dick and saying, 'Hey, it was an executive decision, stop whining.' When I write, I really, truly give a fuck about what I'm doing, and I'd be pissed if someone was second-guessing me. I'd never do that to someone else."
We had been walking slowly on the path circling the lake. I suddenly realized it was nearly dark, we were almost diametrically opposite the parking lot where the Cadillac was, and I was starving. I said, "Uh.... A while back, we were talking about finding a restaurant. Personally, we should return to that subject in great haste."
Both girls agreed. We started heading back to the car, hashing out that we would go to a British-style pub for dinner and beer, then to a comedy club. I'd mentioned to Mallory my observation, which was that the number of comedy clubs in Minneapolis seemed to be out of proportion, given that Minnesotans acted like boisterous laughter was about as polite as spelling the alphabet while belching.
After dinner, we went to the club. It was fairly packed. The headliner was a local boy named Mike Nelson, and he was good. He was consistently funny through his whole act, and he had a couple zingers that hit home with me and Bekka, we were teary-eyed and slapping the table, we were laughing so hard. I looked around and realized people around us were watching us, and not the stage. Made sense: who are these two, carrying on like that? During the two openers, it was my observation that everyone in the audience was laughing, but it seemed to be rather controlled and subdued, like when the minister tells a joke on Sunday morning. I came to the conclusion that at no time in Minnesota's history had any native used the phrase "Let's rock this mothafuckin' house!" Prince may have once proposed that we Party Like It's 1999, but I'm sure the tiny Minneapolis native and I had vastly different visions of what that party would look like. I think his version involved an extra large deli tray and two more cases of Pabst than usual. Tell a Minnesotan to kick out the jams, and he'll wonder why you want him to destroy a door frame with his boot.
We dropped Mallory back at home, promising we'd return at nine the next morning. Tomorrow was day one of seeing the actual interesting stuff in Minneapolis (sort of an anti-chamber of commerce tour Mallory had in mind), so we would want the extra hour. That night, Mallory said she would take us to a place called Lush, a bar and dance club. It was the "home" bar for many of her friends. It was a "mixed" club, fags and dykes, there were no lesbian bars or clubs in the Twin Cities, and apparently a couple of the other queer clubs were fairly hostile to any of the Sisters who wanted to drop in. Like, the bartender would walk past you repeatedly, ignoring your presence if you had two X chromosomes. I'd asked if I would get any hostility if it was revealed I was straight when asked.
"Maybe a couple of individuals might get snotty with you, but you won't have the room collectively giving you the stink eye," Mallory responded. "Although that's why I'm taking you there, and not to a few other places. At Lush, you'll just be some guy who happens to be straight. At other places, there would be hostility directed at you all night, like pointed glaring, bitchy comments muttered by people as they walked past you, and if it was late enough and someone was drunk enough, they might actually walk up and tell you to get out."
"Oh shit," I heard Bekka mutter.
"Yeah, thank you for keeping me away from that scene. Fuck 'em, I've had another man's dick in my mouth in my lifetime, on more than a few occasions. I have no shame about it, and I don't care who knows it. The people at the places you're keeping me away from can eat shit. They don't know me. To me, that's just crazy."
Bekka said, "In San Francisco, if you talk about mixed clubs, they mean queer and straight, not gay and lesbian. The EndUp is an awesome club in SOMA and it's mixed except Friday night, which is called Girl Spot night. Trax on Haight is another mixed club. I'm sure there's probably a couple bars in the Castro which would get bugged by Lenny's presence.... But shit, we went to a gay leather bar called The Stud the last time we were there, and it was all good. We weren't being tourists, we were just hanging out, you know? A few dudes offered to buy Lenny a drink, with obvious invitation in their voices,and Lenny would just tell them, 'Sorry, you're barking up the wrong straight boy.' Then he'd offer to buy them one, and they'd accept, and hang around and talk for a bit. It was no big deal. Sorry that shit happens around here."
"So there's no hostility between the boys and the girls in San Francisco?" asked Mallory.
I said, "That shit is dying. It's kind of a generational thing, the older set had those hostilities, but they're all fading away. I think the younger queers realize that fags and dykes have the same social and political goals, and just never could understand what all the animosity was about to begin with. Hell, you want to see the generational split with gay men? Okay, the Castro is supposedly ground zero, right? I feel sorry for some gay dude in his twenties, new to town, hitting the Castro and hoping for a good time. You'll step into a bar in the Castro and realize there's nobody there under fifty. No, the younger ones are in SOMA or on Polk Street. And unless you're being a tourist, they don't give much of a fuck if you're straight and in a gay club, just so long as you're there to dance, like everybody else."
"Gosh," said Mallory.