Monday, February 13, 2017

Preacher (Part 18)

     A night's sleep did wonders for Bekka.  She was far more herself in the morning.  She got dressed and headed downstairs to the psych unit, as per orders.  The shrink interviewed her and gave approval for an eleven a.m. release.  He did insist she stay on the unit until that time, though.  Fine with her, she wanted breakfast.  A staffer on the unit called up to my room to pass on the information.

     At 11:30 Saturday morning, I was in Ben Davis, an Oxford shirt, slip-ons, and sunglasses.  Angel wheeled me out to the front of the hospital, Bekka at my side.  Press conference time.  TV news crews from both San Diego and LA were present, plus reporters and photographers from as far away as the San Francisco Chronicle and the Phoenix Sun.  On Friday, Angel and Bekka had given brief statements to the press, but the press wanted all three of us, so we were doing this gig.  We stopped just outside the doors and lit cigarettes, my first in a couple days.  We moved at glacial speed to where the press was so we could finish our smokes before going on camera.  Still cameras started clicking as soon as we were outside the door, and reached a frenzy when we got to the bench we'd be sitting on, me alongside in the wheelchair.  There was a flurry of boom mikes above us.
     "Did you expect this sort of trouble, Mr. Schneider?"
     "Unfortunately, yes, we did.  There were too many signs pointing to something like this happening, so we were as ready as we could be.  Our current concern is how the associates of the five attackers will respond, if at all.  My hope is these five men were the only ones reckless enough to attempt what they did, and now that they're in custody, the others will reconsider any further action."
     "Ms. Page, how do you feel about being considered a threat to the collective morality of the country?"
     "Annoyed.  Disgusted.  Slightly amused.  Those that believe I'm a bad or evil person are judging me based upon their own moral litmus, and that litmus says adult entertainment is immoral.  So, Becky Page must be immoral.  They know nothing about me as a person, or how I live my life, they judge me based on their own preconceptions.  I'll get mail condemning me, saying I have no scruples, I'm a whore, I want to destroy family and faith.  Sometimes I'll write them back and tell them how I live: happily married, a Christian, a quiet life in Encinitas....  I donate money to the San Diego Rescue Mission and Glide Memorial Methodist Church in San Francisco.  Most nights Lenny and I are watching TV and petting the cat.  I look at my life and can't understand how people reach the conclusions about me they do."
     "Ms. Page,  do you feel that pornography is valid entertainment?"
      (Laughs)  "I think it can be.  Inana Productions has had the success it has precisely because we feel that way.  My husband Lenny decided that adult film should entertain as well as excite, a film should entertain on multiple levels, not just fire up the libido.  I'm proud of the features I've appeared in, and I'm proud of Lenny for writing and producing them.  At this point, other studios are making steps towards producing their own features --- high quality ones --- and I applaud them, I wish them the best."
     "Mr. Schneider, this is the second time you've been shot in your own studio.  Do you consider the adult video industry dangerous?"
     "Overall, no.  No studio has ever had the troubles we have, nothing even close.  Both times I've been shot, the people shooting at me were moral crusaders, violent censors who felt what Inana does should be stopped. There is no inherent violence or danger in the adult entertainment industry.  I think you'd be better served by asking conservative evangelical religious leaders why they like to hurl so much invective at this industry that they inspire their followers to commit acts of violence."
     "What would you say to Jerry Fallwood if you met him face to face?"
     "Nothing that you could print or say on the air,"  There was laughter.  "No, I'd tell him that his message and style of preaching are proof to me he hates America.  Mr. Fallwood, you are divisive, abusive, paranoid, and close-minded.  You don't preach morality, you preach hatred and bigotry.  You believe people should be condemned for how they live their lives.  If two men have sex with each other, in a consensual relationship, who are they harming?  What does it matter?  Jerry, you're bugged by gay sex?  My advice is to not have any.  There, problem solved.  You think porn is immoral?  Don't watch it, and you'll be just fine.  Just because you think an activity or form of entertainment will destroy your soul doesn't mean everyone else believes that.
     "Jerry, you claim you love America, while hating about ninety percent of its population.  Don't you see just a little bit of disconnect there?  Sorry man, you want everybody to think like you do.  That's really twisted, dude, that's a sign you're a megalomaniac, and a control freak, and a tyrant.  Get over yourself, stop hating your fellow citizens, and maybe occasionally touch on the whole 'love and forgiveness' messages that come out of Christianity.  My God is loving, and gave his only son to die for the sins of the world.  Your God is a total jerk, dude."
     "Ms. Page, Jerry Fallwood has encouraged the members of his Moral Militia to 'engage in direct action' in order to try and stop your career.  We've seen how some have interpreted this message.  Have you felt threatened by Fallwood and his followers?"
     "Yes, absolutely.  I have a man with a large television viewing audience saying I'm Satanic and evil, and I want to destroy American society, and on and on.  How he reaches his conclusions mystifies me.  And as we just learned, some of his followers not only have the minds of zealots, they also have the convictions and world views of Middle East suicide bombers.  There is no doubt in my mind that all five men who attacked the studio weren't afraid to die.  They wouldn't be victims, they'd be martyrs.
     "The problem with the religious nuts is they have no internal conflict over their behavior, they are sure they have the moral high hand, God is on their side.  They have total conviction to their feelings, they never suffer any self-doubt or wonder if just maybe they're approaching things wrong.  Dealing with people whose minds are that locked in is worrisome, you can't really reason with them."
     "Mr. Morelli, what measures will you take to protect your studio and its employees?"
     "We're reviewing our options.  This is a situation and a problem no other business in the country seems to have.  My first thought is to fence off the entire studio, and have a guard at the gate, checking IDs and sequestering visitors.  But with what happened on Thursday, I don't think even that would have helped.  These maniacs would have just shot the guard, then used a vehicle to muscle their way in.  We can only be so security conscious, because no matter what we do, someone will figure out a way of getting past our security.  And when you're a violent zealot, you have no compunction about shooting anything that's in your way."
     "Ms. Page, will you continue to perform and make movies?"
     Bekka gave a pointed stare at the TV reporter asking the question, then said, "You'd better believe it.  Tell me, why would I stop?"
     "Well, in light of Thursday's attack on the studio, and your husband being shot, don't you feel the stakes are getting too high?"
     Another, more vicious stare.  Then, "You cowardly little man."  (There was a murmur from the crowd of reporters.)  "Yes, the stakes are high. To me, this isn't about whether a porn slut named Becky Page is making dirty movies that offend the easily offended.  This is about freedom of expression and the First Amendment versus rabid moralists and violent censors.  I will not wave the white flag and spend the rest of my life hiding in a hole.  I will continue to engage in the admittedly unusual form of performance I always have.  I enjoy harnessing my acting skills, capturing both the nuances of a character and the beauty of physical human love. I will not cave in to Bible-waving terrorists.
     "In fact, this is the second time my husband and I have defended ourselves, our friends and co-workers, and our business against a Christian terrorist.  I have a message for the next set: we're ready. From now on, if put in the same situation again, every shot is going to be a head shot.  So ask yourself if you really, truly are willing to die, if you think that will please God.
     "If you do decide you're willing to die, to become a self-appointed martyr, I will be happy to oblige.  You've shown no mercy towards me or my husband, expect none from us."
     The crowd of reporters started mumbling again.  Another TV reporter called, "Ms. Page, are you serious?   You'd kill someone to protect your career and studio?"
     Bekka shot back, "You're not very bright, are you?  That's not what I said, and given the events of Thursday, I'd think you could put one and one together on your own.  Twice now a person, or people, with guns have tried to kill me and my husband.  Why should I play nice with people like that?  They want to kill me?  You're goddamn right I'm going to try and kill them.  They have no mercy or respect for me and Lenny, so I have none for them.  The next gun-toting, Bible-fellating prick who decides he's going to make God happy by murdering a porn star is leaving the studio in a bag.  Put that in your pipe and smoke it.   Have I made myself clear enough, or should I do an interpretive dance?"
     "Do you harbor any hostility towards Christians?" another reporter called.
     "Oh, thank you, I was in the mood for another silly question.  What an idiotic notion.  This may come as a shocker to you, but I am a Christian. I have my faith, and my faith is strong.  And I'm an intelligent enough person to know that the members of a religion are not a homogeneous group.  Tell me, are all Muslims suicide bombers?  Do you engage in that sort of lazy, linear thinking?  The swine who attacked the studio on Thursday are a tiny minority, isolated zealots.  They don't represent Christianity any more than I represent the average twenty-nine year old woman from Southern California."
     Angel stood up and stepped forward.  He said in a loud voice, "We're going to take a cigarette break.  We'll be back in a few minutes."
     "Use the time to put some thought into what questions you want to ask," I said from my chair.  "You won't embarrass yourself that way."
     Angel pushed me around the corner of the building, Bekka alongside.  Once we were out of earshot, Bekka grumbled, "I wonder if reporters suffer from sort of collective decrease in intelligence when they're all in a group together.  Thank you, Angel.  The questions started out fairly intelligent, but were starting to get dumber.  Perhaps they will individually regroup and put some thought into their queries."  She laughed.  "Maybe you're right, Lenny.  Never trust any group larger or more organized than a pickup basketball game."
     When we returned, the questions were, in fact, more reasoned.  They also began to cover a wider area, touching on Bekka's views of the industry in general, my history as a screenwriter and producer (my answer, "I have none," surprised the reporters), future plans for Inana, future plans for Bekka, who would be the heir apparent for Bekka's crown, the Next It Girl in porn.  I was asked when the next feature would be released.
     "Around New Year's," I answered.  "We put out four features between January and July, we;ve been taking it easy this fall."
     "What will the new movie be about?"
     "It's a surprise.  I'll only say it's a satire, like 'Temporary Pleasures.'  We've got a finished script, pre-production was going to start Wednesday, but we're pushing things back a week because of Thursday's incident.  I think our performers would like a bit of time away from the studio, until we can get the smell of cops out of the place.  Oh and I'm not the author of the new script.  I've located a talented writer who will also be contributing scripts, her name is Mallory Ollafsen.  Don't bother to search for previous work from her.  Like me, she has no pedigree, but she's damn talented."

     After the press conference, I was taken back up to my room, to find my parents sitting there waiting on me.  "Where did you guys come from?" I asked.
     "We walked right in the front entrance," said my dad.  "You were having that news conference, and we didn't want to loiter there, so we just came up and waited.  How are you?"
     "Fair to middling.  Restless.  Lacking a decent amount of nicotine in my blood.  How about you two?"
     "We're fine," said Mom.  "So.  Now you've been shot twice at work, landing in the hospital.  Are you two finally ready to settle down and start decent careers?"
     The air pressure in the room increased, as Angel, Bekka, and myself all sighed deeply at once.  Bekka said, "Mrs. Schneider, speaking for myself, I'm having a hard time constructing a polite response to that question.  You've asked it many times before, and our answer never changes."
     "Do you know the sort of odds that I've beaten?" I asked.  "I have what is essentially a white collar office job in the entertainment industry.  I should not be having people shoot at me, you're right.  But just the same, I'm happy with my career.  And it is decent, in fact it's damn good.  It's made me a millionaire at an age where most of my peers are still in the probationary stages at the companies they work for.  You bring this subject up, and we give the same responses.  You make the same criticisms, and we correct you on your assumptions.  You insult the industry, and we point out that we don't live the stereotype, now do we?  I'm staying, Bekka is staying.  Please, let's not beat this dead horse any more.  It's really bloated and starting to stink."
     "You've nearly been killed twice now!" my mother yelled.  "Why can't you see the writing on the wall?  Not only are you in a sleazy business, it's going to get you killed!  It's time to grow up, Lenny, and get your life together before it's too late!"
     I didn't respond, I was too angry to say anything even remotely appropriate to my mother.  Angel picked up the ball and purred in his mafioso voice, "Mrs. Schneider, it takes a grown-up to harness a small studio and turn it into an industry powerhouse, nearly single-handed.  In fact, it takes a damn genius.  And I would greatly prefer you don't call my studio, or Lenny, or our productions, sleazy.  Am I clear?"
     "Pornography has never been a reputable business," my father sniffed.
     "Until now," Angel said with a wolf's smile.  "Now, thanks to a rather visionary young man, some porn, almost all of it released by Inana Productions, has created a whole new plateau for adult film, and entertainment overall.  Our features have garnered the phrase 'smart porn' in the media, movies that are both hardcore porn and valid film-making, genuinely good movies."
     "So can you explain how my son came to be shot in your studio, Mr. Morelli?" asked my mother with a dagger in her voice.
    "Yes, I can.  There are a lot of mentally unbalanced people in the world."
    "How is that an explanation?" pressed my father.
     "It certainly describes the men who attacked the studio," Angel replied.  "Five men with a collective mental flaw which made them believe the End Times were coming any day.  The idea of a porn star reaching incredible mainstream success is appalling to them, as well as her movies being viewed as legitimate entertainment.  This offends their narrow, hard-edged morality.  The porn star must go away, permanently.  They decide they have to kill her.  To anyone else, this would sound like insanity, but to these mooks, there's nothing wrong with that.  After all, the porn star advocates sin for a living, so she's evil.  And Jesus is going to be here any day now, so the laws created by governments don't really matter.  They know that when God comes to judge them, He will be happy with their actions.  If they're killed while trying to do their task, oh well, a few more martyrs.
     "Five men who were part of a small group of apocalyptic Christians, a splinter group of the Moral Militia, attacked the studio with rifles and shotguns.  Your son was wounded while defending himself, his wife, and about another ten or so people in the building at the time.  He, Bekka, and Bekka's bodyguard Terry took the attackers down.  Your son prevented a handful of fanatics from committing mass murder, and unfortunately was wounded while doing so.  I'm not sure how else to explain."
     "So what kind of security measures are you going to put in place?" asked Dad. "This is the second time this has happened."
     "I'm weighing my options.  Are you familiar with the mansion the studio is in?  I'm happy to take suggestions as to how we can best approach this problem."
     "Go out of business," my mother said flatly.
     "If Angel decides he's going to divest himself from Inana, a very unlikely event, I would buy Inana from him," I said.  "Owning the most successful porn studio in history?  Who could pass that up?"
     "Don't you want to do anything with your life?" my mother wailed.  "You're just going to make dirty movies?  Don't you want to do something positive, leave a mark on the world?"
     Bekka stepped up close to Mom. In a voice like the fridge door in a morgue opening, she said, "Lenny is doing something with his life, something positive, and something which will have him remembered for generations.  I am so fucking sick of having to repeat this: Lenny created a whole new genre of adult film, one which has artistic validity and is socially acceptable.  It's not sleaze, his movies are genuine cinema, creative masterpieces."
     "Well, I wouldn't go that far," I grinned.
     "Your son will be remembered in the entertainment industry, and in popular culture, as a visionary who made pornography a valid artistic statement, and acceptable entertainment.  A hundred years from now, people will talk about the sea change Lenny caused in entertainment, and in fairly reverent tones.
     "You should be very proud of Lenny.  You say porn is sleazy?  Not anymore, thanks to your son.  Now groups of adults will get together, make some popcorn, and watch an Inana movie on any random evening.  They're not looking to get off, per se, but they're mature enough to admit they do enjoy the cathartic pleasure of watching hardcore.  But they're also entertained on an intellectual level.  With some of Lenny's movies, people will sit and discuss details and minutiae for hours, debating characters and plot twists, like college students who just saw 'Citizen Kane' for the first time.  Your son makes people engage their brains, entertains them, and arouses them, all at once.  Tell me, how does a person do that in a civil service career?
     "Mr. and Mrs. Schneider, we've been having the same conversation over and over since Lenny and I got engaged.  I'm bored of it, there is nothing else to be said.  If you try and kick the subject into life again in my presence, I am going to simply walk away.  I'm not going to respond or try a new tack, I will ignore you and refuse to engage in this game of conversational deja vu with you;.  One of the needles in your brains are stuck in a groove, and I will no longer indulge you.  It's up to you to.... To grow up, and accept things as they are.  Am I clear?"
     "So, there's nothing left to discuss," snipped my mother.
     "There are plenty of things to discuss!" exclaimed Bekka.  "There are five intelligent, educated, well-read people in this room.  Our conversational possibilities are endless.  But the topic of Lenny's career, and mine, being invalid is dead as a subject.  Think up another topic. Anything.  Can you do that?  Can you have something besides the same tired subjects you always have on your minds, in the presence of your son and daughter-in-law?  Anything at all, try us."
     "The new Jean Auel book is out," I chimed in.  "Heard anything about it?"
     "I wonder how Adam Rich is doing after his bust," commented Angel.  "Christ, has there ever been a child star who grew up to be perfectly well-adjusted?"
     "I just thought of a new endeavor," chuckled Bekka.  "The Hector Camacho driving school."
     "You lost me, dear," I said.
     "You didn't hear?  He got arrested for getting blown while driving.  The girl's head was still in his lap when the cop walked up to his car."
     "You can get arrested for that?  Oh, shit.  Think about all the times we--- well, I guessed we have been dodging some bullets.  Jeez, so long as your driving isn't as sucky as the girl you're with, the most it should be is a citation."
     ":We now have a new Supreme Court justice," put in Angel.  "The only one with firsthand experience in handling women's rights.  Or at least handling women.  I wonder if the other justices will nickname Clarence Thomas 'Woody'?"
    "Well, his appointment will leave a hole in the ropes at the social club he belongs to." I said.
     "How so?  What club?"
     "The 'Black Republicans of America.'  With him in Washington, now the club will only need a table for five at Denny's."
     "So is Jane still constantly naked at home?" Angel asked.
     "Oh yes.  She keeps a robe downstairs, in case Boss shows up unannounced though.  We're totally used to it, and everyone else adjusts.... Although Vinny gave himself a headache the first night he was over.  He thought he'd be subtle by keeping his head in one position, and just rolling his eyes towards Jane."
    My mother finally spoke up.  "What's this about that girl Jane?"
    Bekka explained, "She became a nudist over the summer.  She was traveling Europe with our friend Vito, and they went to a family nudist resort in Italy.  She decided she had never felt more free, walking around all day wearing nothing but her Doc Martens.  So, she is continuing at home.  Obviously she can't walk around in public naked, but if she's in the house, her clothes come off, and stay off.  She also goes to Black's Beach on a regular basis."
     "Don't get her started on the subject," I added.  "She likes to get up on the soapbox and espouse how the human condition would improve if nudism was a culturally acceptable thing.  I do get a little tired of, when we're going out to dinner or something, hearing her say, 'Okay, time to suffocate my body again.' I strongly feel her militant nudist attitude would wither if we lived in, say, Minnesota or Wisconsin.  Certainly during the winter, anyway."
     Mom and Dad installed their appalled expressions.  "So.... You have a teenage girl who walks around your house naked all the time," said Dad.
    "In a nutshell," I responded.
     "No matter who is there?  She walks around naked in front of you?" Mom asked me.
     "There is one exception," said Bekka.  "If our friend Boss is over, she'll cover up.  Boss isn't a prude, he wouldn't be offended.  The big lug is just kind of modest, he'd be really embarrassed.  When you're a six foot seven outlaw biker, you shouldn't be capable of blushing."

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