MY LIFE & TIMES IN THE SKIN TRADE
Terry Southern / The Blood Of A Wig
To be honest, I wasn’t exactly expecting a good time. But then the Octopus connected me to the Frog, and I got the opportunity in the summer of ’86 to write the movie script that almost turned the trick over in its grave, and from that came the juice I needed to start writing that infamous media column in that memorably forgettable weekly downtown art rag, which of course gave me the chutzpah to say fuck it and decide to make my first feature film. In short, one night when the Moon is void, of course, but so full of itself it can’t even see it’s own reflection, a psychic of some acquaintance calls up and tells me, honestly tells me she has a message for me from beings from another galaxy, and then puts me on HOLD.
A few minutes later she comes back on the line and tells me that these beings have told her that “I should expect difficulty on the project.” As though I needed beings from another galaxy to tell me. . .
It started out simple enough, as these things usually do: I got a call from a producer who wanted to make a film about people living on the streets. Because some of my early writing when I first came to the city in the late 60’s was about living on the street I had been recommended to him by a mutual friend to write the screenplay. Fair enough. It’s good to have friends who come through for you in the clutch. And even better to get paid for what you do. Not that those two things necessarily go together. I’d taken some meetings in my time that were set up by friends, and had more than my share of being jerked around the block and back, so I wasn’t really expecting anything other than getting tooled for my ideas and then never hearing another word from the so-called producer. I probably wouldn’t have gone to the meeting at all if the flaming Dutchman’s ego hadn’t flipped out and killed that fabled joke of a downtown rag I ran for him before he bailed and left me at such loose ends I was wide open for anything – and I do mean ANYTHING – that might actually get off the ground and fly.
The so-called producer who wasn’t really a producer yet, but a successful real estate mogul who was ready to retire and open up his Big Pockets to make films, seemed if not somewhat overly romantic about the reality of living on the street, totally naïve about making feature films, but could prove he was genuinely sincere if his check didn’t bounce. On a strictly human level, he reminded me a lot of my late Uncle, Kid Horizontal, an infamous Jersey Lightweight contender who was always searching for catharsis, and used to take my brother and I to sing with him and our cousins in the Missions on the Bowery when we came north for the summer from Tennessee to visit our parents’ respective families. I had the sneaking suspicion that this producer, just like the late Kid, was a man who was always in the midst of a spiritual crisis. Despite these reservations we shook hands on the deal the very first meeting, and I went home ready to write the producer’s vision, even though on reflection it seemed totally derivative of Rocky, E.T. and the stories of Hans Christian Anderson. This particular story was supposed to be about a wasted alcoholic street bum getting a second chanceto go back to the world that drove him to the streets in the first place. As F. Scott Preposterous would have said, It not only had a false ring to it, but no second act. But because of Mr. Big Pockets’ commitment to bringing the miraculous to life on the Big Screen, it definitely had a better shot to get made than a real street person getting a second chance.
As far as I know, to this day it hasn’t been made, nor did the contract that would’ve allowed me to begin writing it arrive in the mail when it was supposed to. But I kept having meetings with the so-called producer, and I kept agreeing to new deals and shaking hands and waiting for the contract, and then he’d change the deal again. Which was no big deal. Blueballs are definitely the M.O. for the movie business. The Octopus taught me that early.
A walking People’s Page with a hand in every pie being baked in the biz, The Octopus was the closest approximation I had to an older bother; he brought me into the game three years earlier to alternately save my ass after the wife stabbed me in the back and walked out with the bank account. I suppose his generosity was as much to help me learn the great lesson of rope-a-dope as I fought through the pain of betrayal as it was for him to cover the back end of his conscious as she moved in with the Producer he set me up with on the fade. In the process I got an easy credit under my belt, but naturally got schtuped not only out of my 12-year marriage but out of all the important zeros on the end of the check. The Producer who got my sweetie’s cheating cherry was French, a veteran of 20 of the most forgettable films of all time, but definitely a player who could turn the cheese into bread. In our meetings he always smoked cigars and blew the smoke in my face, but we were not drinking the cheapass brand of wine either, so I kept my mouth shut and turned the trick, PASSED GO, and collected more for two weeks work than I had made the whole previous year. Of course, I had made nothing the previous year. And the second payment, the third payment, and the final payment which would have justified my existence in the material world to my creditors and already cheating-behind-my-back-ex never showed up. Everybody has problems of course, and the last thing an audience wants to read is a writer bitching and moaning about getting fucked-over, but. . .
But the poor Frog. . .now there’s a story. . .the poor French Producer who took my wife, please, then my script, please, and behind my back had it translated into French and put his name on it as the writer before selling it as his, the poor guy had more problems dogging him than my already-cheating-on him-too ex, as I later heard with more a glow of astonishment than satisfaction. It seems one day, right after he sold my script, he got a call from the German Consulate. They called him into their Paris office, they had something important, something profound they wanted to discuss with him. They asked him to sit down. Handed him a check for $150,000 (approximately what I was supposed to be paid if my script was ever bought), and asked him to understand how sorry they were; it seems that they had unfortunately buggered the poor lad’s family during WW II, and now wanted to make amends.
For over three quarters of his life the French Producer had managed to block out the traumatic memories of his childhood. Though not an especially imposing figure, he leaped out of his chair while they were formally apologizing for the atrocities, and ripped the check, the check for (my) $150,000, into shreds! Then picked up the chair he had been sitting on and broke it over the German Counsel’s head!
It took six men to restrain him, to hold him down while they shot him up with sedatives. After that they shipped him to Switzerland for the sleep cure.
A beautiful opening sequence for a film. But one thing’s wrong with it, it should be writers, not producers, who are shipped to Switzerland for the sleep cure. Writers are an afflicted breed, driven to their calling by sirens whistling dreams of glory for the sake of glory in their ears. They’re miserable when they’re not writing, obsessed when they are, and usually taken advantage of in the interim by every scumbag wheeler dealer that could be writing their own immortal life story if they didn’t have more important business to take care of at the time. Which is when somebody usually masquerading as a friend suggests the wheel hire a writer. Usually the writer is starving, ensconced in some menial job to protect what’s left of his or her mind while wrestling with some childhood Proustian compulsion — it could be his mother’s underwear, or the size of her father’s penis which the writer must work out in order to reach the next level of discombobulation on the path of discerning which fork in the road or fork on the table to pick. Which one it is actually doesn’t matter, but there is one thing that’s certain, if a writer isn’t a hired gun taking on somebody else’s Waterloo, the writer must write about something of their own choosing, anything actually, because usually it takes years, perhaps lifetimes, for a writer to figure out the jigsaw puzzle their life’s work is about anyway. In the interim, however, opportunity sometimes knocks. Which is where our wheeler-dealer comes in. Meets with our writer, dangles his carrot, tells his story and hooks the fish. The writer loves the story! The writer would run through a wall to write this story! The writer would run through a wall to write any story outside the Proustian compulsion which promises to drive the writer crazy the rest of the writer’s life, though of course the producer doesn’t realize that. The producer thinks it’s his story the writer would run through a wall to write, because his story is so special.
This is when the producer decides to go shopping. If his story is so special, should he just entrust it to the first putz that comes along? Business is business, and the producer’s business is taking care of business, so though he just shook hands on the deal with the first writer he met, he can now relax while the contract’s being drawn up, and start meeting other writers he might like better.
This is where the writer should be sent to Switzerland for the sleep cure. The writer is hopped up, the writer is ready to run through a wall, the writer can’t just sit and wait patiently in the corner for a producer’s neurosis to get greased, because a story is like a pregnancy in that it can only be held on to for so long before it has to come out. This is why, though I hate to say it, almost anything of real value is usually done on spec,then later if it goes any farther, pounded into submission like a cheap piece of veal by a team of hired assassins, into that safe familiar but all too forgettable Veal Parmesan hero,that somehow manages to get us to the next deal, the next meal, the next whiskey bar, as the song goes, relatively unscathed.
Ultimately maybe that’s the best writers are going to get. My realtor-fledgling producer, for instance, told me after three months of false beginnings on his story, he and his wife had met another writer’s wife at a cocktail party, and this writer’s wife just happened to be an astrologer who had shown them astrologically that her husband should be the screenwriter of his movie.
To be honest (and he wanted to be honest), he didn’t have to tell me what he was about to tell me: What he wanted was us both to write treatments of his story, and then he’d pick the best treatment, and the winner would receive a grant from The National Endowment for Humiliation,and get to write his screenplay for him.
I won’t bother to recreate the rage here. Everyone who deals with rejection from morons as much as artists do, feels it. And art is certainly not sacred, and writing screenplays is not any more art than cooking or plumbing or running a 3-card Monte scam down on the street without getting busted for it before you can pocket the payoff, yet there is a particular muscle that has to be developed for every craft, there is an art to every discipline, including staying alive itself. Nothing basically deserves to be romanticized, or taken for granted either. And I guess that includes rage too.
So as much as I wanted to write one that got made, I couldn’t play the silly assed eat shit and grin game again, I couldn’t go against the very desire for freedom which was why I had become a writer in the first place, and I couldn’t write a treatment of a screenplay I’d already started so that it could be judged against another bimbo’s treatment by people who three months ago had never even heard of a treatment before I brought it up, much less read a screenplay before.
“Adios, amigo, good fucking luck,“ I said, before I quit something else that had already quit me. And then, taking a deep suck-for-air-breath, because I was truly overdrawn-bank-account-broke and had just turned down his magnanimous offer for further eat-shit-and–die humiliation – though it was an offer that would have covered the next six months’ nut at least – I answered an ad in The Times (of all places), and faster than you could say PRESTO SLEAZO, got a job as Editor-in-Chief of an infamous mob owned skin mag that we’ll call Buster in order to dodge the dire consequence of what could happen if one the goons of record were accidentally in bed with a woman who could and did actually read out-loud to them what I had to say about my ridiculous life in the skin trade.
This being the height of the Holy Reagan reign, the Meese Commission Report on Pornography had just been released, and the magazine was very paranoid that if it didn’t change its image it was going to be driven out of business. So after only one interview, Lou the Duck, as we’ll call the managing honcho (for a variety of reasons, including the way he walked, the way he talked like Huey, Dewey and Louie all at once when he got excited, and the way he ducked every time someone asked him a question), hired me to change this no taste (if not bad), plastic bubblegum-poon rag into one of those glorious, old time fabled men’s’ mags of yonder stroke yore, that I must admit now, outside of early Playboys and Penthouses I actually never saw myself. Or for that matter, did I actually know anyone that did. But they must have existed, because every time the old timers started talking about the good old days of men’s mags, they’d start talking about them. You know the kind of magazine I mean, the kind of magazine where you can picture the high priest of hiposie, the great Terry Southern himself, lost and wandering down the hall as he tries to score something to keep the old eyes open, like maybe the blood of a Chinese schizoid poet, or like the newer-vowing-to-live-cleaner-me, a hit of raw Brazilian Guarana.
For me it felt like after a number of hard, really hard years mygood old days were just beginning. I mean, I woke up at five every morning. Worked out hard for an hour — sort of a yin-yang combination of yoga and martial arts designed basically to stay inside my body, at the same time it gave me the energy not to get trapped by the very weight of being in that body. Writing, unlike painting, is basically an out-of-the-body-experience. It’s a wonder more writers don’t get hit by buses or cabs or fall down manholes as their minds soar into the clouds getting ready to dump down on their poor unsuspecting bodies. For me the Guarana helped reach that natural etheric state of a speed freak that was needed to work on the treatment every morning before I went to work at Buster, and then let me fly through the rest of the day looking at pictures of naked women.
Not a difficult job, you might say, but like the reality of the dream of the everlasting cum, looking at pictures of the object of your desire all day long eventually becomes banal too, so it has to be balanced or you’ll not only lose the object of your desire, you’ll go crazy or brain dead pretty quick. I used schmoosing on the phone as an antidote. I felt an obligation to recruit all the top quality irreverent lit guys I knew. For the most part, I have to admit, none of them were thrilled to have their names associated with Buster, though nobody was willing to turn down a quick buck for their recycled shit either. Surprisingly, my word on how the mag was going to change gave them visions of altruistic poon dancing beside their hottest (as yet) unsalable prose. The new Buster would not only be a hot stroke book, it would be a hot lick book, the kind the boys in the back room would lock up with their private stash at night, when they drifted off to Other Land. And that wasn’t all! No, not by a longshot. I had set up an interview with the infamous Mistress Y, a Dominatrix who claimed to have regularly kinked out with JFK at the White House before he started an affair with East German spy Ellen Rometsch(http://boatagainstthecurrent.blogspot.com/2008/08/this-day-in-presidential-history-jfks.html). And if that wasn’t enough, I had contests, real contests lined up. For instance, one with the notorious Annie Ample, that I was especially proud of: On the weekend of the Super Bowl, Buster along with Mabel’s, that infamous Las Vegas brothel, would sponsor THE SUPER BALL! Three lucky guys would spend the entire Super Bowl weekend, all expenses paid, at Mabel’s, doing whatever they wanted whenever they wanted for as long as they could, until The Super Bowl itself was over, or they were.
Though he liked the idea, The Duck developed a rash over that one. He kept mumbling something about The Olmstead Act, and whining about what the almost absentee owner and his accountant would say. I understood his apprehension. This was a daring move. Maybe too fast and too far for too few true appreciators of the form to pay dividends back to the house.
I was experiencing somewhat the same problem with the treatment. By this time I had fallen in-love with the story, though the story I fell in-love with had very little to do with the producer’s original story. The seed he had planted in me had grown into a different vision than the one he had originally ordered, and I use that word ordered, just as if you were ordering it your way at Burger King. You can Have it your way if you pay me and don’t fuck with me, was my motto. If not, I’ll have it my way. That simple.
But of course not that simple. For one thing, the premise of the producer’s original story, no matter how hard I honestly worked on it, never cut it, much less creased the truth for me. What I saw was something totally different. I saw Jesus. Yes that Jesus! The walking one and only Jesus. The futility that Jesus might feel if he suddenly came back to modern day New York City and was expected to save the world. But the point of view I wanted the film to work from was not Jesus’ point of view, but the way people reacted to the reality of Jesus coming back. The whole thing had the stench of art to it. But of course according to Mistress Y, “Life imitating art is the sincerest form of emptiness.”
Far be it for me though to argue with such a noted Psychodramaturgist. The very fact that she was talking to me at all after I “bungled” getting her memoirs to Fellini on the last weekend of “the flogging season, three years earlier, ” was a miracle. To say she wasn’t exactly hot about giving me an interview for Buster would have been under an understatement. Buster, in the opinion of those in the know, was beneath contempt. Though the Duck kept a low profile, everybody who knew shit from shineOla knew he obviously didn’t know the difference, or had deliberately chosen to promulgate shit as a way of life. Which is why it is here that I must defend the Duck, despite the fact that when the going got tough, he definitely wimped out on our deal. In his defense, it wasn’t easy operating in the kind of atmosphere that Buster provided for its editors. The owner and his anal compulsive henchman were the living embodiment of Catch 22 ‘s General Dreedle and Colonel Cathcart. As long as your desk was clean, it didn’t matter if you were buggering Mother Teresa. The walls also had to be clean. No paste-ups on the walls. Nothing on the desks, in fact the paginations for the coming issue of the magazine could not be visible, but you’d better be able to present them on a dime, when the Duck called your number at the weekly staff editorial meeting. That was the rule. There were no exceptions, except of course for The Shredder.
A monstrous concoction that was the apple of management’s Cyclops eye, this gizmo which looked like some sort of bizarre H. G. Wells time machine that could transfer you back or forward to a different lifetime, sat out in the hall in front of my office, and was only to be used if the Meese Commission, like Elliot Ness and his raiders, decided to attack the jism spattered halls of Corporate Buster Headquarters, and attempt to confiscate our First Amendment filth. There was a new guy, a new editor, who’s whole job was to sit at the wheel of The Shredder in case the raid actually went down. Though we never spoke, I had the feeling he was an FBI informer, and that gave working for Buster a sense of dignity I was starting to feel it lacked.
I guess if you must know, the truth is, I never quite got over being left off Nixon’s Enemies List. I admit it, I have this complex, this pit I can fall into, where I see that my entire life, everything I’ve ever done, is totally insignificant. Of course, insignificance is relative, as I learned from Mistress Y.
An imposing looking woman of Eckbergian proportions who radiated animal magnetism, Y was easily recognizable to connoisseurs of kink, even without the Lone Ranger mask she wore in her ads. Though she still billed herself as an “Amazon Goddess,” the fact is, as we grow older we shrink, sometimes alarmingly so. In her case, possibly as much as four inches, though in her six-inch stiletto heels she still thinks she towers over the rest of the world. None of her clients of course would beg to disagree, though they certainly pay to beg, which she assures me is the main fantasy most men of power need fulfilled.
Naturally, this was what I wanted her to talk to Buster about. I had the heard the whispers, not only about JFK, but Rocky, Special K., and the boys on the other side of the fence too. A couple of times over the years she had let the loose lips circumlocute in front of me, but it was always off the record. And when a source says off the record, you have to respect that it’s off the record. Sometimes, of course they try to enforce off the record after they’ve already shot the shit out, but it doesn’t work that way, you can’t pull the shit back once you’ve shot it out there. The way I saw it was it would only take one conversation on the record to turn Buster into a hot ticket.
Y met me somewhere in the west 20s, one of those S&M theme clubs throwing a Slave Auction, the kind of joint you walk in and the first thing you notice is two TVs in prom dresses at the bar, in the middle of a life and death argument about the Red Sox: Before I could even luxuriate in the incongruity dancing in front of me, Y appeared, looped her arm in mine, and led me toward the stage.
“I want cha to meet Len,” she said, introducing me to a large skyscraper shaped Neanderthal down on the knees in the middle of the room. “Len, this is my friend, he’s a writer, and he wants to know why you’re so submissive.”
Len’s eyes immediately went wide with fear! He started gagging on his tongue, rolling around on the floor. For a minute I thought he was having a stroke until I realized he was trying to lick Y’s boots.
“Jesus, what was that?” I asked as we pushed through the haze of body odor dropping down from the ceiling like a blanket of wet Santa Ana on sabbatical from the Left Coast. “A tight end?”
“You recognized him! You’ve seen him in Sports Illustrated? ”
Before I could answer a man clad only in a jock strap, knee pads and a saddle galloped up to us, whinnied and offered Y a ride through the crowd to the stage. “This is Danny the Pony,” she said as she sat down on his back and almost crushed the poor little guy to the floor. “Maybe Buster would like to do an interview with Danny.”
“Maybe,” I shrugged. It looked like it was going to be a long night. Up on the stage, some of the ugliest men I’d ever seen had been converted into some of the ugliest women I’d ever seen. I wasn’t putting it down though, wasn’t putting down anybody’s proclivities. Who knew what got anybody off at any given point in time? It could be something they overheard their father say to their mother, or vice versa, that triggered it, or hey, even some past life hang up as the New Age bimmies believed. I didn’t know. Outside a crescendo of one night stands, I hadn’t even come close to meeting anybody I could wake up in the same bed with since my wife walked out on me screaming, “I LOVE YOU BUT I HATE YOUR LIFE!” As far as relationships went, I had become a walking advertisement for the noncommittal New York Syndrome, literally an emotional cripple, nothing more than a generic dick swaying in a sea of decadence trying to get off.
Up on the stage phony Mistresses were bidding on phony slaves with phony money. “The name of the game is psychodrama,” Y kept saying in my ear like she was conducting a subliminal advertising campaign. And maybe she was, after all this was her business; for $150 an hour Y would berate, humiliate, blindfold, gag, shackle, penetrate and flog your greatest fears into if not submission, then at least regression, until your next session groveling at her feet.
When I first met her, right after the wife walked but before The Frog showed up, she was planning to get out of the domme biz, and go into the sauce business, which was how we got connected. I had had it with failure and rejection. I had gone down the tubes going for virtuoso, but writers as virtuosos weren’t welcome anywhere but the gutter, so I decided to put my creativity into sauces, and took out an ad on the back page of The Voice. Over a bowl of Matzo ball soup at the Second Avenue Deli we swapped marinara sauce recipes, and then as I was explaining my obsession with making a green marinara sauce she started reminiscing about her practice. She told me that during the furor over the presumed exhumed body of Nazi swine Josef Mengele, she received a rash of Auschwitz fantasies from her clients. I was curious about how a Jewish woman of Eastern European stock rationalized putting on a Nazi uniform and strapping men to a rack and threatening to surgically remove if not their ulcers, you can guess what. But before we could get into it any deeper a waiter appeared at her side, bowed, tore up the check, dropped to his knees, crawled under the table out of sight and began licking her boots.
“The big boys aren’t the only one who can’t get enough of getting their butts beat,” Y confided to me then. At the time she claimed to have a State Supreme Court judge from the Midwest, two corporate vice-presidents, the head of the English department at a large Midwestern university, two network bigwigs, a Broadway producer, a well known editor in-chief of a major New York Book Publisher, a regular on the Soaps, and somebody so Big, somebody so major, that if we saw this man, this macho symbol of international ass-kick in his baby-blue baby dolls, strapped over the saddle of a hobby horse, we’d not only have to revise our entire vocabulary and value system, but we’d probably never be able to watch another Super Bowl in our lives, much less get our vicaries from something like Rambo.
Up on the stage a different kind of vicarious thrill was going down, but I think you’d have to be living in an alternate universe to appreciate it. A man who looked almost exactly like the character Klinger on Mash, stood up and lifted his dress for the audience to inspect him.
He had a clit. An actual clit. No one seemed impressed at all. No one bid anything. Massive silence, then suddenly the slave spread its legs, and PRESTO SLEAZO, there’s a schlong!
What a bargain! Two for one! A real live hermaphrodite, who is about to take the skin of his/her, its female genitalia, and stretch it over its male genitalia, and one-two, button your shoe, about to get it on with itself!
While I watched this bizarre scene I confess my brain went out of focus. With my afflicted sense of imagination working overtime, I flashed into the young hermaphrodite’s life, back in grade school when it was still a he, when it still had hopes, dreams and wishes like other deluded human beings. All it wanted to do, I guessed, was be one of the gang, one of the guys, one of the girls, but everybody, no matter what their gender all said the same thing when the little nerd approached them: “Go fuck yourself!” And now 20 years later that was exactly what it was doing!
LIVE! On stage right before my disbelieving eyes this Revenge of the Nerd short circuited my brain! Oh, I’d like to tell you I was thinking about some past life flashback, or my vacation on a different planet, perhaps, but NO, just blank. No words coming out of the mouth. . .Nada for at least a week, when The Duck suddenly turns to me during the middle of an Editorial Meeting and quacks, “You’re not looking at enough girls. You know that? You’ve got to look at more girls.”
The irony of course was inescapable. For almost my entire life, no matter what I was doing, studying, writing a novel, working on a deadline, taking out the garbage, even on the way to my own wedding, I confess, I couldn’t keep my eyes off the girls. I loved hanging on corners just watching the amazing creatures float by, and I loved perusing the magazine racks, or at least I had before I started working for Buster. Now the whole things seemed sort of, uh, putze, in a weird sort of way. Of course I could tell by the way The Duck was talking to me he thought I’d lost my mind, and I could tell by the way I was talking to him I was definitely in the land of the blind; the deal was obviously about to go down again. I had a psychic flash that if I didn’t clean out my desk when I left the office that day, I wouldn’t even be able to cop a souvenir from my days as one of the top Poontologists in the Big Sleazy.
Which of course was true. It was over, except for collecting my last check. I hung around late that day, not only cleaning out my desk for mementos, but getting in my final long distance licks to my cronies in crime on the Left Coast. Saying goodbye until the next time one of us got a ride on The Good Ship Lollipop, and could throw a few bones out to the rest of the boys.
I was almost getting sentimental about the whole thing, and the truth was I hadn’t even put my name on the rag. You’re always working three issues ahead, and I had refused to put my name on the old Buster, so though The Duck hadn’t asked me for my keys back I knew I was just a memory. Which was cool. I was well into the screenplay, and the treatment was finished. I had neither starved nor compromised myself to write it, and I was ready to go make the film or die trying.
Since the object of course is not only to get paid, but to get the movie made, I decided to go back to my fledgling producer and give him first shot. The only difference between now and before was I owned the property outright. I was a nice enough guy to be giving him first shot at it, but if he liked what I did he’d have to buy it at my price, and if not I could go to somebody else with it. Not a bad gamble, I thought, considering I had no other immediate plays on the board.
When I called the producer to make my pitch after two months of not speaking, he seemed genuinely glad to hear from me. And of course he was still interested in what I had written, but more important, a strange thing had happened to him since we last talked. His body, according to him, had become inhabited by a Spirit. I shit you not. He had an 8th degree Adept named Abraham living inside of him.
Out at his comfortable Long Island compound, the producer explained, before Abraham had come into his life, other less enlightened spirits, ghosts actually, were entering his body and he was dispatching them to “the other world.” Ghosts, it should be pointed out, are nothing more than spirits who don’t know they’re dead. The producer, on the advice of a famous Metaphysician he had consulted, had learned how to “hurl the spirits” into “the other world,” and since his home was actually located over the old underground railroad tunnels from Civil War days, he was freeing, as he estimated, “hundreds and hundreds of slaves.”
It sounded noble, if not exactly plausible to me, but I suspended my disbelief long enough to listen to the producer’s story of how after dispatching the slaves, another, different energy entered his body, and this time he thought he was going crazy, really craZy, so he and his wife flew to Sweden where they consulted the man who’s body housed the spirit who advised Shirley MacLaine herself, and together the two spirits gave a “teaching” to a group of people. When he finished the story he showed me some pictures of the man and then a video tape the producers’ sons had made of him while an actual Leprechaun was inhabiting his body. To say I was entertained as I watched the normally staid producer bounce around on the screen like Pee Wee Herman, would be an understatement; I hadn’t taken him for the kind of guy who was capable of such theatricality, much less turning himself into a housing project for spirits, though housing indeed was his business. In fact, originally I had taken him for a very sincere Straight Arrow businessman on the verge of a nervous breakdown, but now I didn’t know.
The other psychic, the woman who kept calling me with messages from these beings from another galaxy, had been a Performance Artist before realizing being a channeler was a more profitable business, but the producer had already made his fortune and had nothing I could particularly see to gain from hustling me. In fact, he was actually excited that I had written the treatment on my own and was offering it to him. So excited he promised to read it immediately and make a decision on whether to make the film or not, and invited me to come back the following week and witness Abraham give a “teaching” to a select group of people.
Truthfully, before showing up at the producer’s house I hadn’t really considered what I was walking into, but it suddenly hit me that if the producer really was carrying around this spirit in his body, then the spirit was most likely in control, in fact the entity calling itself Abraham was who I probably would have to pitch to if I wanted to sell my movie.
However improbable all this seemed, outside of variations on personal style, if you’ve seen one cult you’ve seen them all. Not meaning to come across either blasé or burned out, but the writer’s job is to explore where others more utilitarian fear to tread. My credentials along those lines, went something like this: Some typical late 60s early 70s back to the land communing with The Great Spirit Mescalito, and the accompanying Castanedian visions, some bizarre comic encounters of the third kind through a Ouija Board, with the spirit of one Alfred Jarry, a turn of the century French playwright and ‘Pataphysician, which was followed by a long succession of magicians, both black and white, prediction slinging astrologers, burned out psychics, lamebrain spirits and a past life regression therapist (who told me I was Shakespeare in a past life, but didn’t say which one), and naturally some good, some bad, but always weird trips into uncharted territories — Remember, it wasn’t considered the real thing if you knew you could “get back, get back, back to where you once belonged,” before you went.
All of this weirdness was no big thing, looking back. Just good clean bone-chilling fun, now that I can see it with the brain damaged detachment one usually reserves for 20-year high school reunions, or ex mother-in-laws, 10 years later.
Call me a friendly skeptic though. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe anymore, but what I believed was if you opened the door to weirdness you might just get the beast who came to dinner and stayed and stayed and stayed. . . I’d seen the same thing happen in the early 70s with drugs. Once the civilians out in the burbs started fucking around with their reality they usually lost all their material possessions, without having anything on another level to replace them with. Now they were fucking with something a lot more potent than drugs, and God only knew what they were going to let out of the bag.
When I arrived, cars were parked everywhere outside the producer’s compound. There must have been 30 or 40 people all milling around a buffet table filled with dips and chips. Most of them worked for the producer’s real estate company, and were paying to attend this “teaching”. Though the producer wasn’t actually charging money to meet Abraham, he was recommending a contribution to Greenpeace. I was all for the Greens, but short of it again myself, so I passed, and wandered into the living room, where I immediately spotted what had to be the other writer. The writer who was getting paid for his treatment!
It was impossible to mistake him. The bimbo’s eyes were blank, there was a bone stuck through his nose, and he was on a leash, being led around by this short-pushy, Leo-Aries-Taurus astrologer-wife-manager, who had shot me down and turned me into a pornographer.
But I wasn’t bitter. No, not bitter at all. Astrologically speaking, I had what might be called, “strong Martian energy” when wronged. That’s all.
Though I was a sweet guy I unfortunately had combat imprinted in my counter-puncher soul. It usually came out in my prose, but listening to the other writer’s wife explain to a group of people how much her husband loved to write, loved to write, loved to write, for the first time I felt embarrassed to be a writer. I didn’t love to write! I don’t love to write! I have an affliction, that’s all! I have to write! If I had the choice I’d rather do almost anything else. But I have no choice. If you love to write, write the fucking telephone book! And let people who have something to say, say it!
So all right, ok, I admit I was pissed. I mean, Jesus, I was standing there in the middle of this room of civilians feeling superior because I wasn’t one of them, and feeling alienated and abandoned for the exact same reason. The way they were building the evening up, I had the sinking feeling Abraham would turn out to be another pompous New Age hambone, spouting clichés about peace, love and bubbahood to the shell shocked brethren.
Which is when the producer’s son started talking to me. I liked this kid. No lame-O at all, he really seemed on top of things. He told me how proud he was of his father, how they now walked around the house talking to each other all day in the ancient language of Atlantis. How one day he’d like to make a film about it. He liked my treatment too, my ideas on the return of Jesus, and he wanted his father to make the film, but his mother wasn’t thrilled, so we were in a Mexican standoff.
It was here I started to sense the inevitable. It was going to come down to Abraham, and there was no way I was going to be able to sell Abey-baby my Second Coming script. It wouldn’t even talk to me, and I, not exactly feeling the freedom to heckle was mine, kept my mouth shut. I’d like to tell you it was a bizarre scene, but it wasn’t. The highlight of the evening was when a woman started screaming, “He’s in my foot! I feel him in my foot!” And then later a man who had been smoking three packs a day for 30 years, passed out head first in the dip, and had to be revived.
The other writer’s wife served as unofficial guest shill for the evening, lobbing Abraham questions. Gimmes. Love, peace and bubbahood. . .None of it rising above the level of clichés or worth repeating.
It was obvious I was going to have to find another way to make my movie or eat the fabled crow all the way back to the old city of Jerusalem. All because my over inflated ego had the temerity to think it had something to say on a subject nobody in their right mind should touch with a 100-foot X.
Despite this reality check, when I got home I had an idea, a brilliant idea to raise the money to make the film!I’d publish the script, the entire script in the old Dutchman’s newest rag, and have copies distributed FREE all over hip downtown New York, on Christmas Eve!
Which was when the psychic of some acquaintance called me up with the unsolicited advice from beings from another galaxy, that “I should expect difficulty with my project, then put me on HOLD.
© 2015 Mike Golden excerpted from the fictional memoir GIVING UP THE GHOST