Monday, February 13, 2017

Preacher (Part 23)

     Forty minutes after services had ended, and the parking lot of the Crystal Chapel was still rather full.  At first I wondered if they had a Scientology con in play: load the parking lot with broken cars, so that at a distance, the place looked busy.  (This would be proved incorrect by just walking past the lot, and seeing the cobwebs running from the tires to the wheel wells.)  Then it struck me, we had one hell of an audience.  Some stared like lobotomized cattle, others maintained angry, self-righteous scowls, others quietly talked and gestured.  Some, but not many, even worked up the courage to actually approach the fence, or even (gasp!) step onto the sidewalk.

     Those at the fence and sidewalk wanted to ask questions.  Very silly ones.  The questions usually demonstrated either jaw-dropping ignorance or barely-muted hostility.  A common question was a variant of, "Are you also prostitutes?"  The go-to response quickly became, "Are you Catholic?"  The questioner would splutter, "Of course not!"  Well there's your answer.  Why did you think the performers are prostitutes?  Oh, and by the way, I'm not a performer, I'm an editor.  "Well, it's sex for money, right?"  No, it's sex for performance.  Sort of a pantomime of sex.  Yes, there is lots of contact with genitals, but genitals are just another body part.  Besides, prostitutes are indiscriminate.  At this point, studios like to keep a roster of reliable and healthy studs around, so you'll see the same cocks coming up (so to speak) over and over.
     "What do your parents think of what you do?" was a standard among the self-righteous.  This would be greeted with laughter.  Answers varied widely.  Feather told one woman that her mother was overjoyed: thanks to Feather's career in porn, Mom and Dad wouldn't lose the house to foreclosure, and the power stayed on.  Other responses were Accepting, Okay With It, Resigned, Amused, and Disgusted, But I Don't Give A Shit What They Think.
     "Do you believe in God?"  The parishioners were getting far, far more "yes" responses than they'd even dreamed.  So, they'd follow up with, "What church do you go to?"  At least in LA, the Congregationalists seemed to have the lion's share of the market, when it came to the salvation of adult performers.  Of course, given the nature of the Congregationalists, that wasn't a good answer for the Crystal Chapel people.  Others were Episcopals, Methodists, Unitarian, and None Of Your Damn Business.
     "Why did you start doing what you do?"  This one was fun for all: remember, people from all aspects of the adult video industry were picketing, not just performers.  In response to this, the questioner would get, I like the technical challenges and artistic possibilities involved with operating a video camera.  Or, Entertainment will always need good light techs.  Really, the parishioners seemed amazed that making hardcore involved the same technical drudgery as taping a sitcom (only without the studio audience).  Cam operators, gaffers, sound people, script girls, directors, producers, editors, script writers (sort of), photographers, and on and on.  It's like they thought porn was produced just by people getting together in a small group and having unnatural sex while thinking really bad thoughts.  The sex would magically appear, shot and edited, on a videotape sitting in the next room.
     "Is being in porn really worth it?"  Well, duh.  Show me where else I can earn $2400 in a twelve to fourteen hour work week.
     "What do you tell strangers (or neighbors)?"  That I'm in the entertainment industry.  If they press, I'm in video production.  I'm not lying, now am I?  ("So you're ashamed of what you do!")  No, but because of people like you, there are a lot of misconceptions about what kind of people are in this industry, and I don't like anyone making assumptions about the kind of person I am.  Understand?
     "Aren't you afraid of disease?"  No more than I would be while leading a normal sex life.  ("But I don't worry about disease....")  Maybe your sex life isn't normal.  Or at least not normal to me.
     "You engage in indiscriminate sex acts!"  No we don't.  If our sex acts were indiscriminate, we wouldn't have spent ten minutes blocking them before the cameras rolled.
     "How can you face yourself?"  I can't face myself, my neck doesn't work that way.
     After a while, the parishioners figured out there weren't any questions they could lob at us without getting an answer, or at least a retort.  And a miracle happened: they began asking basic, but common sense, questions, like what the pay was like.  Where was porn filmed? (Anyplace from living rooms in condos to fully-equipped sound stages.)  Is it legal to make porn?  (In most California counties, yes.)  How long will you do this for a living?  (Until I get bored, burned out, too obviously aged, or my metabolism betrays me.)  And, Do you know Becky Page?  (Not personally, but far better than your pastor does.)
     Bekka's presence drew people to the fence.  SHE was here.  Satan's concubine, destroyer of all that is Good and True, burner of flags, molester of iguanas.  Or something.  The parishioners gawked, as if amazed Becky Page could even be that close to the Crystal Chapel and not burst into flame.  I'm sure at least a few were thinking that, just maybe, borrowing a cup of holy water from the Catholics would be the start of a good test.  Bekka, for her part, was keeping her royalty smile on and her sunglasses off, all the better to catch eyes, smile wider, and wave.  Parishioners would make vague hand gestures back.
     She got some specific questions.  "Ms. Page, why are you here?"
     "To exercise my civil rights.  Also, to correct untruths told about me by Reverend Fallwood with anyone willing to engage in civil discourse.  Walk to the driveway and wait for me to get there, then walk alongside.  We'll talk.  I will tell you all the things Reverend Fallwood has got totally, completely, and utterly wrong about me.  I don't bite, I promise."
     "Becky, are you a Satanist?"
     "No.  This seems to keep blowing minds around this place, but I'm a Christian.  I have no denomination, but I am baptized, I am faithful, and that faith is strong.  I know my Bible.  In fact, I know several of them, I will compare verse from one version to another sometimes, to see if something has been mis-communicated.  Really, that's a silly question.  Satan can offer me no material goal I can't obtain on my own, and feel better for actually having worked for it.
     "Beside, if I wanted to hunt out Satan, I wouldn't be looking for cloven hooves and brimstone.  Find the guy in the 8-Series BMW and Fendi suit whose hair is always just so.  And remember, Satan doesn't lie, he's just really good at not telling the truth.  So, you'll probably find him working in real estate."
     "Why do you do what you do, Ms. Page?"
     "Simplest answer?  I'm damn good at it, and the money is very nice."
     "Why don't you try going to Hollywood, or TV?  Something not obscene?"
     (Laughs)  "If you want to avoid obscenity, the last place you want to be is a major Hollywood studio.  My reasons for having no 'mainstream' aspirations are many, but I'll just say that not only would Hollywood probably not do right by me, I'd be so frustrated with the industry I'd be going out of my way to do wrong by them.  Movie studios are run in such a sleazy, loathsome manner I'm surprised people don't contract chlamydia just watching the previews in a theater."
     "How can you be married, Becky?"
     (In a patronizing voice)  "Well, my husband and I sent out invitations, we arranged for a DJ and caterer for the reception, we stood in front of a minister, we said vows, we signed a marriage license for the state of California...."
     "No, I mean, how can you be married and do what you do?"
     "(*sigh*)  If you think my marriage is not sacrosanct, or that I philander, you are very wrong.  To me, and the people I work with, and many others, no sex happens on the set of an adult studio.  There is physical contact in explicit ways, but that's only sex if you have no soul.  Sex is a combination of body, heart, and mind.  My body may be engaged in acts of intercourse, but that doesn't matter.  In adult video, performers are very objective with their bodies while at work.  They're tool boxes, like a mechanic would use.  On our private time, things are very different.  But at work, we're not having sex at all.  Elements that make human sexuality a far more incredible and beautiful thing than other animals have are missing.  I am faithful to my husband.  I just have a very odd acting specialty."

     The Dark Grey Suit Brigade was out, and covering the area from inside the fence.  I had a bit of pity.  They had the same restrictions on appearance as Secret Service agents --- don't you dare loosen that tie --- and while not blistering, it was a fairly warm day.  They were spaced fairly evenly along the length of the fence, watching the picketers walk past, keeping passive expressions on, mostly.  Some of them looked a bit disappointed.  The largest concentration of professional sinners they could ever hope to encounter, and they looked like they were in line at Disneyland, or waiting to get into a football game.  Nearly everyone was dressed casually, people chatted and laughed, there was absolutely nothing remarkable about anyone.  With her blue mohawk, Jane was really the only visual aberration.  The only behavioral aberration was two girls from Skin Star Video who were singing (in harmony) songs from "Paint Your Wagon" and "Fiddler on the Roof."
     Our crowd of spectators thinned more and more, it was obvious nothing of interest was going to happen.  What a disappointment: no nudity, no spontaneous sex acts, no Tourette's-like bursts of descriptive obscenities, no blatant drug abuse.....  These were Satan's handmaidens, and they were perfectly normal people, more or less.  At ten after one Pelton got on his bullhorn and announced another twenty minutes, then we'll go enjoy the rest of the day.
     As we passed the driveway, we were joined by two Dark Grey Suits, who began pacing us, one on my side, one on Bekka's.  Their arrival was greeted with smartass remarks:"Well, now we know who still gets their suits from Brooks Brothers!"  "How can anyone live in SoCal and be that pasty?"  "Swing those hips when you walk, sweetie, we're trying to keep a rhythm."  "They look like Mr. Rogers' security detail."  "You just know these guys drive Buicks."
     The one on Bekka's side said, "We'd like a moment of your time, Ms. Page."
     "You have my undivided attention, darling," Bekka demurred.
     "No.  That request would indicate you have things to say which you don't want any witnesses to.  Any interaction I have with employees of Reverend Fallwood or Crystal Chapel will be very much public.  You will speak your piece while we walk, if you can."
     Bekka's shadow said, "We understand you had a Mr. Hugh Westin arrested today...."
     "No, he very much brought it upon himself," Bekka replied.  "I wasn't present for part of his little tantrum, I was only present for when he threatened to murder me and attempted to assault my husband.  His demolition derby bid happened while I was at the east end of the sidewalk.  How, and why, did you think I had that horrible man arrested?"
     My shadow came back with, "Deacon Westin was purposely goaded into erratic behavior by your presence.  If not for you, he would not be at the Gardena Police Department right now."
     "Surely you're joking," I said.  "That dude Westin is as stable as a two-legged table.  He'd worked himself into a tizzy before he even knew Becky was here.  He'd already committed one assault, and had been standing in the driveway hollering the word 'Whores!' over and over like a mantra.
     "Okay, you're saying Westin snapped because of the mere presence of a single woman, in a crowd of over five hundred, totally sent him off his rocker.  Any reason you keep somebody that emotionally fragile around?  He was in a psychotic rage already, and Becky being here really broke his brain?  Please.  Homeboy was an accident waiting to happen.""
     "You knew your presence would be upsetting to members of Crystal Chapel, didn't you?" Bekka's shadow growled.
     With a sharp smirk, Bekka said, "Of course I did.  I was expecting a bit of hankie-waving and clutched pearls.  Pickets are meant to attract attention.  They are also meant to make the target of the picket uncomfortable.  However, having a grown man flip his lid and begin attacking people, physically and verbally, then attempt to run people down with his car, is not behavior expected from the mentally stable.  Are you saying we should have expected multiple apoplectic men bellowing abuse and trying to pick fights?"
     "Word has it Westin does research for Fallwood, gathering intel on people who are gonna be discussed on a show any given week," I mentioned.  "So homeboy presumably was the one who was supposed to research Becky.  Why didn't he do his job?  The most basic information about Becky Page is totally unknown by you clowns here.  No, Becky Page isn't her real name.  Yes, she's married.  She's twenty-nine years old, lives in Encinitas, and has spent her career of nine years at Inana Productions.  Anyone who reads Time, or People, would know this shit."
     "Just what is your real name?" Bekka's shadow said accusingly.
     Bekka and I laughed.  "I'm afraid you'll have to read the restraining order I'm filing against Mr. Westin to learn that," Bekka said.  "Or, you can go to the library and leaf through back issues of Time, Newsweek, People, Us, or the microfilm archives of the LA Times.  The fact that you don't know already suggests people employed by Crystal Chapel are either very lazy or very dim."
     "You're filing a restraining order against Deacon Tustin?" exclaimed my shadow.  "What for?"
     Using a voice a four year old would have found patronizing, I said, "Because he threatened to kill my wife.  In front of witnesses.  In front of the police.  And in front of a running video camera.  This may seem surprising, but Becky and I are just a teensy bit tired of death threats coming from psychotic evangelicals.  I got holes blown in me a week and a half ago by some of them....  Or don't you watch the news?"
     My shadow scowled at me and sniffed, "Yes, you're Leonard Schindler, from Becky Page's studio.  I know who you are.  What's that got to do...."
     "Okay, you got my name wrong.  And it has a hell of a lot to do with Becky filing a TRO.  We're burnt out on people connected, however loosely, with Jerry Fallwood and Crystal Chapel threatening --- and attempting --- to kill Becky.  This jackoff Westin threatened her today.  The five creeps who raided the stuido?  They're part of a Moral Militia splinter group, they worship the ground Fallwood walks on.  Enough, no more.  Any time we've put a thumb on anyone making death threats towards Becky, they've turned out to have a connection to Jerry Fallwood, however tenuously.  So any more threats that come in, we're taking legal action against them."
     "And any more assaults on the studio, like we had recently, will keep the coroner's office busy, as I intend to blow the head off the attackers, not just aim for the torso," said Bekka.
     "You can't connect those madmen to Reverend Fallwood," said Bekka's shadow.
     "Fallwood may not connect himself with them, but they connect themselves with Fallwood," I stated.  "Like I said, they worship Fallwood.  If Jerry Fallwood hadn't gone on TV six weeks ago and told the world a load of shit about my wife, none of this garbage would have ever happened.  But Fallwood went on his show and said a bunch of inflammatory lies about Becky Page, then told people to take, and I quote, 'direct action.'  Well, gosh, some of the people who watch Fallwood's show definitely did.  And I've got the bandages to prove it."
     "It seems like you're only fanning the flames by having this little march," said my shadow.  "Why didn't you leave well enough alone, and let things die down?"
     Bekka replied, "First off, we didn't organize this picket.  Other people in the industry did.  Also, it was felt a message needed to be sent.  If Fallwood wants to target an adult performer, it's not him and the Moral Militia versus one person.  They're going to have to face down our entire industry.  The adult film industry is going to unite in a way no one has ever imagined.  Right here, today, are a good number of industry workers, from on both sides of the cameras.  Now think that all these people have families, and friends, and their friends have friends.  Fallwood can't decide he's going to pick a performer and kick her around.  His life will become far more difficult if he does."
     "We're going to return to our original topic," said Bekka's shadow.  "Deacon Westin is in custody right now because of you...."
    "Oh, shut the fuck up, you stupid asshole," I interjected.  "Westin worked himself into a foamy-mouthed, morality-based psychotic rage when he realized all these people, who make naughty movies, had shown up.  He'd have gotten himself tossed in the clink whether Becky Page was here, at Disneyland, or on Mars.  He'd already been running around acting like a violent asshole well before he was aware of Becky's presence.
     "Go ahead, try and somehow drag Becky into court, claiming that poor widdle Hugh Westin wouldn't have blown a gasket if not for that mean woman Becky Page being in the same geographic location.  Explain to a judge that gosh, Westin is incredibly mentally unstable and shouldn't be out in public....  But Becky Page triggered his instability, so all the laws he broke are her fault, not his.  Are you gonna just cross your fingers and hope to get a judge with a long history of head injuries?"
     "I can tell this conversation isn't going to be constructive with you two," sneered Bekka's shadow.
     "In what way was it supposed to be constructive?" chuckled Bekka.
     "For once in your life, you could do the right and moral thing, and go to the Gardena police, and tell them you're dropping the charges against Hugh Westin!"
     "Except we didn't file any charges.  Gardena PD asked Lenny if he wanted to press charges after Westin swung on him, and Lenny refused, he didn't want to be bothered.  Every charge Westin is in jail for was brought by Gardena PD.  It wasn't my police car Westin crashed into.  I'm not the TV reporter Westin assaulted.  I'm not the police officer Westin tried to attack.  You're going to have to face facts and admit that Westin's current predicament can be blamed one one person, Hugh Westin."
     Then there was a lanky specimen next to Bekka's shadow.  He was walking sideways, partially to look at the shadow, and also to not bump into people coming the opposite direction.  He had a sign reading, "I Make The Sex Sound Good."  He grinned and said, "I caught part of that wingnut's act, buddy.  Is he always beet red?  Does he yell everything he says?  Buddy, his brain was way out past where the buses stop.  The way he looked and acted, I was expecting him to just explode in a red mist at any moment."
     And a girl with red Henna hair is in front of us, walking backwards.  She said, "I saw the bastard.  That was pure rage, pure anger.  It was hate.  How can anyone hate anything, or anybody, that hard and deeply?  How do you train yourself into that?  He hated us, and I guess he really hates Becky here.  What warped him so badly?"
     I said, "It makes me wonder about the environment here for employees of Jerry Fallwood.  The level of moral rage and hatred Westin has must have been cultivated, I can't imagine it happening organically.  Okay, Westin thinks porn is immoral.  But to have moral contempt morph into the level of bile-filled rage he had is just....  I can't think of anything to compare it with."
     My shadow glared at the two arrivals and said, "Is this any of your business?"
      A girl's voice behind me said, "It is!  And it's mine, too!  You're trying to bully a fellow performer, so it just became my business, ya loser!"
     In front of me was a guy with a well-toned body, obviously a stud.  He said over his shoulder, "I've been listening to this for a while.  I'm afraid to hear what you pricks planned to say to Becky if you'd got her alone somewhere."
     Bekka's shadow plunged ahead and said forcefully, "Do not file that restraining order against Hugh Westin."
     And a dozen voices around us said, "Or what?"
     Bekka gave her shadow a demure smile and said, "They took the words out of my mouth.  Why won't I file my TRO?"
     There was a brief pause, while everyone waited for a response.  Finally my shadow said, "We will take you to court for harassing Westin, causing him undue pain and anguish by filing a frivolous restraining order.  We will have it quashed."
     I laughed, hard and loud.  "Oh, really!  Uh huh.  Um, we'll see your pain and anguish, and raise you the testimony of several Gardena cops, a couple OC sheriffs, Phillip Mann from Channel 2 News, and the audio and video of Westin yelling about how he's gonna shoot Becky Page.  If you got a hole card, you better play it right now."
     Another Dark Grey Suit came jogging up to us in a panic.  He cried, "I just got off the phone with Gardena PD!  Hugh is being moved to the mental health crisis center in Fullerton!  The cops put him there on something called a '5150,' he'll be stuck there for three days!  We need to call a lawyer..."
    "Don't waste the energy," I said with a grim chuckle.  "If you're chucked into Happy Acres on a 5150, you're not going anywhere for seventy-two hours.  Period, full stop, do not pass Go, do not collect $200.  I'm guessing Hugh didn't settle down after they put him in the cooler at the station."
     The Henna-red girl edged a little closer to my shadow and said, "I've gotta wonder what you did to that poor man here, which made him develop a hatred for a form of entertainment so strong he lost his mind, just by being around people who work in that industry?"
     "It's gotta be some serious brainwashing," said the girl behind me.
     I suggested, "Or, homeboy was already nuttier than a cheese log, but he could quote from Revelations chapter and verse, so they hired him here anyway.  Fallwood has railed against adult entertainment for a while now, and the subject sorta grew in the fertile fields of Westin's tattered little brain."
    And Bekka pondered, "And when it came time to do research on me, Westin just made up a bunch of hateful gibberish, offensive things he imagined I would do, like worship Satan.  I'm surprised I wasn't accused of pedophilia, or white slavery.  Anyway, he send all these falsehoods in about me.  Fallwood's legal team knew better than to have them put forth as truth, so they had Fallwood make these statements couched in slander and libel-avoiding terms.  'We have heard....'  'It is reported....'  Verbal dodge'ems to avoid lawsuits, but still get a point across."
     Bekka's shadow shouted, "I can't believe the insensitivity of you people!  A good man is being sent to an insane asylum...."
     "You doorknob," I said.  "He's not a good man, he's a violent psycho who's triggered by the very concept of adult entertainment.  You're saying nobody ever noticed the fives and nines were missing from his deck?"
     The recent Dark Grey Suit arrival started to say, "Well, actually, there was the fire in the staff lounge.  Or when he pulled that TV off the wall...."
     "Shut up, Gary," barked my shadow.
     "I'm just saying, who'd have thought seeing a TV ad for Nair would ---"
     "GARY!" both shadows yelled.
     "Jesus, that nut must think the Taliban are a bunch of swingers," giggled a girl's voice behind me.
     All three Dark Grey Suits wordlessly split off from the picket at hup-two time.  The Henna-red girl called, "Gary sweetie, come back and talk to us some more, 'kay?"  Gary turned to look over his shoulder, a nervous smile on his face.  The other two each put a hand on a shoulder and kept him moving towards the Chapel.
     Bekka broke off from the line, saying she wanted to talk to "our" cop, and learn what she could about Hugh Westin.  Several minutes later, I was just approaching the driveway.  I was in time to see Bekka giving the cop a kiss on the cheek.  I could hear him blushing from where I was.
     Returning to my side, Bekka said, "Well, Westin didn't become any more agreeable on the ride to the station, or in the holding cell.  He verbally abused the cop at full volume on the drive there, and when he was in the cell --- it's big enough for one person, and faces right into the main room --- he began quoting the most gory verses out of Revelations, still going full blast.  They used an ambulance for transport, and the EMTs hit him with Thorazine while he was still in the station.  He got combative any time a door was opened, be it on a cop car or a cell.  So he'll have his seventy-two hours in the puzzle factory, at least."
     "The dude was so on the edge," I noted.  "I mean, look at us.  We look like random people, we could have been heliport-lifted out of a shopping mall.  There is nothing about us that says 'We work in porn.'  Not even peoples' picket signs use the word 'porn' on them.  The only way Westin would have known who we are is because he was told....  And that bit of information was enough to send him over the brink. And take into account what that guy Gary let slip...."
     Bekka suddenly got a disturbed look.  She said, "Um, here's a concern.  Mr. Westin was wearing a wedding band.  I'll bet that woman has many a tale to tell...."
     "As well as the neighbors.  Jesus.  It's enough to work yourself into a state like he was in, but to sustain it?  Shit, maybe he enjoys it.  Not only is he a rage-aholic, he freebases his rage."

     The parking lot was nearly empty when we cut out twenty minutes later.  There was a gaggle of Dark Grey Suits still hanging around in front of the Chapel watching us.  People waved and blew kisses.  Everybody gathered back in the office parking lot across the street.  There was talk of everybody going out to do.... something.... but no one could think of anyplace that would handle an influx of 520 people unannounced, besides Disneyland.  It's hard to get a drink at Disneyland, and people were in a mood to unwind.  An incredible amount of phone numbers were being exchanged, which was really cool.
     Terry blatted up on Eddie, using her Bekka-sonar to locate us.  I asked where she'd been all day.  "I been around, what are you talking about?" she asked. "I've lost track of the number of fuckin' times I rode past the picket.  Didn't you notice me?"
     It struck me that the USS Enterprise could have gone down Chapman Ave. and I wouldn't have noticed, I'd been too busy in conversation or otherwise distracted.  "So, what were you doing?" I asked.
     "Fuckin' perimeter, dude," Terry smiled.  "Just sorta looking for any suspicious motherfuckers who were around the fuckin' church.  I wasn't worried about Bekka per se, more like....  If somebody put a bee in the bonnet of some local Bible creeps, telling them all these porn stars are out in front of the Crystal Chapel, they could wreak some serious shit, you know?  I knew Johnny Law had shit covered so far as the actual picket and the pew-warmers went, so I wasn't stressed about providing individual protection.  If I was back in those residential streets and saw three dudes walking along carrying gym bags, I'd have fuckin' braced 'em.  But all was quiet."
     "We had a bit of fun," I said, and went on to tell the tale of Hugh Westin, the angriest man in the world.  "He looks like he's about sixty.  He could be younger, I imagine sustained vitriol would age a person.  I'd love to know some of his history, he's gotta have been in trouble at some point.  These days, even the idea of porn triggers him into mindless rage.  I wonder what his old triggers were?"
     "I just thought of the most terrifying way to pass time, ever," said Bekka.
     :"What's that?"
     "Being a passenger in a car, with him, on the 405 during rush hour.  You'd need earplugs, if nothing else."

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