At about 4,000 words, the following story will probably be the longest entry in The Moon-Haunted Heart, a collection of 50 stories that I hope to have finished very soon.
Sometimes, in spite of our deepest longings for connection, in spite of our innate compulsion to communicate—that quintessentially human need to make contact— the gulf that divides us simply proves too vast.
This story was partly inspired by my encounters with a bright, young hearing-impaired woman at the local general store, someone I’d very much hoped to get to know better. I observed that she was attractive and funny with a smile that lit up a room; intelligent, strong, and determined—all characteristics I find virtually irresistible. She could read my lips, but when she tried to point or indicate something visually, I had to tap my glasses to let her know that I couldn’t see what she was indicating. Intrigued, I considered striking up rudimentary conversations in ASL, but ultimately had to abandon the idea due to my own visual limitations. Basically, I could sign, however brokenly, but trying to read her signing at speed would have proven impossible, and the whole endeavor would quickly have devolved into the equivalent of her talking down to a child.
This is one of the points I now understand I was trying to make in writing Where Nobody’s Dreams Come True: For a ‘disabled’ woman or man, there is no greater insult than the perception of being pitied. If, as a visually impaired person, I had the choice between being hated or pitied, I would choose to be hated without hesitation. At least, then, I could fight back and prove the haters wrong.
Information about the porn industry and its many players is almost as easy to find on-line or on film as porn itself. Centered largely in the San Fernando Valley of southern California—sometimes referred to as ‘Porn Valley’ or simply ‘The Valley’, porn is one of the most thoroughly and transparently documented of all human endeavors. From reality TV series to documentaries on individual actors (everyone from Ron Jeremy and Anabelle Chong to Belle Knox and Traci Lords—who almost single-handedly destroyed the industry by lying about her age), the foibles of The Valley have never been a secret, whence they have been grist for fiction and mainstream cinema going back decades. That is, at least prior to the 2011 ballot initiative in Los Angeles County, requiring the use of condoms in adult films, an ordinance that put the industry into an unprecedented state of turmoil and retrenchment.
Neither is a deaf porn star something all that novel. The delightful Savannah Jane (who left the industry to pursue an advanced degree in therapy) is probably the most famous example of a hearing-impaired actress who forged a successful career. Others have not fared quite so well. The highly-exploitative video I describe in this story is based on seomething very real, which can still easily be found on-line (though, considering how angry, empty, and sad it made me feel, I do not recommend it).
Where Nobody’s Dreams Come True
Four years of film school for this? Cooped up in a crummy editing booth that smells like something between rotting pastrami and a chain-smoker’s armpit? On the up-side, in a soundproof cubicle nobody can hear you lament the utter meaningless of your existence.
I’d come out to California with such high hopes—and who ever doesn’t?— dreaming of making a name for myself, climbing onto the shoulders of geniuses like Houston and Hitchcock, Coppola, Cocteau and Kurosawa. Instead, I’m working as a de-facto wage slave for a soulless, visually-illiterate creep whose idea of high art is slo-mo snowballing after twenty minutes of DP anal. I sit here, sometimes for thirteen hours a day, editing these low-budget gonzo extravaganzas, cutting and splicing and looping and looping and looping until it feels like my whole life is stuck on a loop. Is this hell? Am I Sisyphus? No, it’s The Valley, and this is what passes for normal around here.
Believe me, this stuff stopped turning me on a long time ago. There are jaded gynecologists who would envy the clinical detachment I’ve developed over the last year and a half. How many bald-facedly infantilized miffies, photogenically epilated ball sacks and Caverject-enhanced porno-perfect peen can one normal, reasonably well-adjusted guy stare at day in day out before he starts stifling yawns? How many scenes of listless cunnilingus and up-the-poop-chute POV before it’s just another day at the office
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Working here was only meant to be temporary, a quick something to tide me over until I could land a ‘real’ job in the ‘legitimate’ industry—a gaffer’s gofer or an assistant grip— whatever thanklessly menial thing I could find to start my way up the ladder. Never mind that I’d excelled at editing in film school and had good, even glowing references from all my profs. Nobody was willing to take me on, not even as an intern. “Sorry,” they’d say if they said anything at all, “it’s a liability issue. You understand, right?”
Oh, I got it. The message was hardly subtle, and after months of having my nose rubbed in it, I wasn’t sure I’d take a chance on me either. As far as the mainstream was concerned, I’d be lucky to end up as a member of the craft-services cleanup crew, let alone some perpetually-uncredited third-assistant butt monkey. Nonetheless, I had this nagging notion that a guy’s gotta eat, so here I am.
The deaf girl wandered into my editing suite one Monday morning, lost. She was there for what was supposed to be a quick half-day shoot, but nobody’d been at the front desk to tell her what was what, or, more importantly, what was where. I didn’t notice her come in at first. She made a couple grunting noises that might have passed for extreme throat-clearing to someone who didn’t know any better.
“May I help you?” I asked without looking away from my work.
She made the same noise again and tapped me on the shoulder.
“What do you want?” I swiveled to face her, “Oh—”
“Heh,” she howled from the back of her throat, wagging a hand at me in greeting. Her voice was like twisted metal on a ruined violin.
“Hi,” I said, getting up from the chair, “Can you read lips?”
“Can you eat shit?” she spoke slowly as if addressing a child, and I was close enough to see the extreme frustration in her face.
“Just asking,” I signed awkwardly.
“Sorry,” her expression brightened as she signed back, “That was mean.”
“It’s OK,” I reassured her.
“I’m not like that.”
“I didn’t think you were.”
She smiled, and the dim room seemed to light up around her.
“You sign funny,” she said.
“Like I speak with a foreign accent? Yeah. I get that a lot.”
“Where did you learn?”
“My baby sister was born with a hearing impairment.”
“You don’t see so good either, do you?”
“Not without these,” I tapped my glasses, “It’s why my signing sucks. It’s also why I have such a hard time finding work in the regular industry.”
“Tell me about it,” she smiled again, and this time the light was aimed straight at me.
“So, what was your name—”
“There you are!” Brenda from reception burst in all out of breath. “Where the hell have you been? Scott’s going apeshit! You were supposed to be on set fifteen minutes ago.”
“Brenda,” I tried to be helpful, “You’re talking at her back, and she’s—”
“I wasn’t talking to you, Zak,” Brenda snapped, “And you’re not supposed to talk to the actors, either—or don’t you remember?” She grabbed the startled girl by the arm and hustled her back towards make-up at the far end of the building.
Technically, Brenda was right. I wasn’t supposed to talk to anybody in the cast unless it specifically involved my aspect of the production, and, even then, I was expected to run it past my boss or one of his three vice-cretins. Scott was the scumbag-in-chief, the guy with his name on the letterhead, executive producer, casting director, and ever-hopefully self-styled auteur. His coke-snorting brother Brian passed himself off as a sound director, producer, and company accountant, though it’s a pretty safe bet most of the studio’s profits went straight up his nose. Brian also stood in as the occasional stunt cock—at least on those rare occasions when he could actually still get it up. Their cousin Jason had long ago called dibs on the director of photography and chief production coordinator’s chairs, while his best buddy Rick handled the gaffer work, lighting, electrical, and anything involving the acquisition of gray-market prescription drugs or exotic venereal disease.
It was not a fun place to work. If people already equate a pornographer with somebody who doesn’t wash his hands after going to the bathroom, my boss was more than happy to double down on the stereotype, proud that he never bothered to put the seat down or ‘aim’ either. Scott was a firm believer in volume over substance, and there would be at least three different productions on the go at any given time. The man fancied himself a brilliant editor, but mostly left the tedious stuff to me. The only things I didn’t have some hand in were Scott’s so-called ‘special artistic projects’, charitably referred to around the office—and always discreetly under people’s breath— as his ‘special autistic throwups’.
Her scenes landed on my monitor the following Wednesday morning. But for our earlier encounter I might never have given them a second look, and, honestly, I don’t know why I should have been surprised at what I saw. Take away the sound and there was nothing extraordinary about the footage. It was the kind of drearily unimaginative stuff that plays on cheap-motel pay-per-view or appears with pop-up ads on tacky internet portal sites all the time.
She was sitting on a white couch, facing the camera in a blue gingham-patterened halter top that I guess was supposed to make her look like a helpless little hillbilly girl recently arrived in the big bad city. She wasn’t what I’d refer to as strikingly beautiful. Pretty enough, though, and definitely a cut above a lot of the other girls I’d seen in the business. A nice body with tits more than adequate for the camera. Perhaps a little too much baby fat—but that jailbait look never goes out of style. She had big blue eyes and flowing black hair, her pleasing, femininely fleshy features charmingly parenthesized by long, soft-edged bangs.
All fine and good.
But hearing what the guys on that set were saying right there virtually to her face—going out of their way to humiliate the deaf chick— it was like a gang of sadistic little boys gleefully torturing a wounded animal. Scott was doing a rambling commentary about how cool it was that she couldn’t hear what they were saying about her—“Hey bitch! Can you hear me? What’s your name? HEY! I’m talking to you! Can you say slut? Can you say WHORE? Come on! SAY WHORE!” The other guys were laughing and sneering as she took a dildo up the ass. Constantly referring to her in the third person as if she wasn’t there at all, they took turns shouting at her, testing to see just how profound her deafness really was, snapping their fingers next to her ears, clapping their hands and whistling, trying to elicit a reaction—trying to get her to make some noise they could make fun of as she chowed down on an anonymous actor’s cock . . .
Somebody touched me on the shoulder and I nearly jumped out of my seat, like a guilty kid caught sneaking one of his dad’s skin mags. It was her again.
“Those mine?” she signed slowly for me.
“Yes. Just started working on them.”
“What do you think?”
“Is that all?”
“I see a lot of this stuff. Believe me, not bad is good.”
“My name’s Bo, by the way.”
“They’re calling me Satin Sheetz,” she pointed to herself on the screen and spelled out the words.
“That’s original,” I laughed.
“Savannah Jane was taken.” she gave me a playful wink. “Would you like to go out with me sometime, Zak?”
“You’re asking me on a date?”
“Yes. Why not? Do you have a problem with girls asking guys out?”
“Not at all. It sounds great. When and where?”
“I’ll pick you up here Friday night. Don’t forget!” she gave me a playful poke in the chest to underscore what she’d been signing, “Out in front around 7. That OK?”
“Can’t wait! See you then.”
It might have been the best thing that had happened to me since I started working in Porn Valley. Finally! Something I could actually look forward to.
Of course. I endured another lecture about not getting friendly with the cast—this one from Brian. “We don’t need people getting distracted,” he pontificated, “you or them. Besides, they’re way out of your league.”
Maybe he was right about that. But Bo had asked me out, and it was nobody else’s business. Besides, with all the extra hours I’d been putting in for the company, I was way overdue for some R&R. Brian said what he had to say while I pretended to listen. Then I headed back to the editing room as it all went out the other ear.
She greeted me punctually at 7 that Friday evening. We tooled into the city with the top down on her little pink PT Cruiser convertible, ending up in front of a place somewhere in the nightclub district. The weekend crowd was already queueing up for a good time, and we had a fair amount of our own to kill as we waited in line.
“Hey,” I signed, “Sorry about those guys at the shoot the other day. They were jerks.”
“Ass. Holes,” she said, the sounds coming out something like “Aaaahhth. Hothz” before she switched back to signing. “Stupid as fuck, too! None of them had a clue I could understand every word they were saying.”
“It wasn’t right.”
“No, it wasn’t,” she agreed, “but I don’t need you to protect me, and I don’t need you to feel sorry for me, either.”
“I don’t feel sorry for you,” I said the words aloud as I signed them. “I see you.”
The music was loud inside the club. Bo could feel the vibrations of the bass and drums, and her body moved in perfect sync with the sound. She really was beautiful out on that dance floor, so blithe and free and full of life. Her joy was infectious. I could have watched her for weeks—months, years— and never grown weary of the vision. But, of course, she grabbed my hand and pulled me onto the floor with her in spite of my protests—“I’m a terrible dancer. Not like you. You’re amazing—”
“Just feel it,” she said, “Feel it and let go! Nothing else matters!”
The evening ended with Bo putting the brakes on what had, up to then, been an extremely promising make-out session.
“I think we should wait,” she said.
“How come?” I was in a blue-balled daze of nerdish need and wanted more. But Bo was adamant.
“In the real world it has to be with somebody I love—” she signed, “—somebody I’m committed to. Otherwise it’s too much like work.
“What happened to just feeling it?” I asked. “Besides, I think I’m in love—”
“I like you, Zak,” she stood on tiptoe to kiss me one last time, “but I’m serious. Don’t worry. It’s not you. I like sex. I like it a lot. Maybe too much. That’s why I’ll put up with assholes like those guys on the set the other day. But for the rest of my life—the part that isn’t a performance— I want something better. I want something deeper. I want something real and lasting and solid.”
I told her that I understood. She sped away into the balmy So-Cal night and it was six months before I saw her again. A buddy of mine from film school and I were out stag for the evening, waiting in line at that same club just as Bo and a girlfriend were coming out. We exchanged a nod and a smile, she moved on and I thought that was that. But a second later, Bo turned around and came running back. She threw herself into my arms, practically knocking me over as she buried her tongue in the back of my throat. We set our friends up with each other, and, less than an hour later, Bo and I were in bed together, all lofty principles cast aside along with our clothes.
People are always wondering what it’s like to have sex with a porn star, and all I can say is that it’s like having sex with anybody else. They tend to keep it simple in private; basic missionary, face to face with a lot of wonderfully intense kissing and deliciously deep touch. Not having to assume an uncomfortable position for the sake of a good camera angle allows for closeness and the kind of spontaneously unhurried love-making that ordinary mortals often only dream about. In Bo, I could see a deep hunger for connection, a longing for something far beyond the physical—though she was very skilled in that department, no doubt about it. So many people get into porn because they honestly enjoy having sex, and yet, ironically, it is the last place on earth to find intimacy.
I left her place about 5 the next morning and went directly to work. It felt as if I never stopped working after that. The projects kept coming and coming, and it was all I could do to keep up. I’d wonder about Bo from time to time, but mostly I was just too busy trying to keep my head above water to think about anything beyond the job.
Then, late one afternoon, Jason poked his head in the door.“Hey Brainiac! Get your ass over to Scott’s office, pronto.”
“What’s up?” A trip to the office usually meant that I was in for at least a half-hour of my frustrated-genius boss berating me for not being able to read his mind.
“We’re throwing a surprise party for you,” Jason said sarcastically, “All you need to know is that it’s urgent, and get your butt in gear.”
I got to the office and thought I’d walked into an intervention. Scott and the three vice-cretins were all there.
“Drop your drawers,” Scott said as I came through the door, “Show us your dick.”
“We need a stunt cock. Like right now. Joey bailed on us, and we’ve still got twenty minutes left to fill.”
“What about—” I nodded in Brian’s direction.
“Coke limp as usual,” Jason said matter-of-factly, “Drop your fucking pants—”
“I haven’t exactly been tested—”
“Give you two-hundred bucks,” Scott said, “cash. Just for a close-up of your little friend.”
“Who’d I be with?”
“Who gives a shit? Let’s see what you got.”
“What if I say no?”
“Then I’ll fire your ass, after which you can explain to the other actors why they’re not gonna get paid.”
“Fine,” I said, undoing my belt buckle, “when you put it that way . . .”
My penis was apparently good enough to stand in for the missing star’s, though there was some debate about whether I would need an injection to keep it up long enough for them to get the footage they needed. In the end, they decided to shoot me with a dose of Bimix before virtually shoving me onto the set.
I came around the corner, past the temporary backdrops surrounding the bed. I was nervous as hell—though it wasn’t the roaring drug-induced hard-on I had that gave me away. I’d worked in post production so long that being on the actual set seemed unreal and somehow wrong. It wasn’t stage fright I was feeling so much as a particularly vertiginous form of déjà vu. I also realized with a sudden butterfly-inducing clarity that I would be responsible for editing the material from this scene, a prospect that terrified me even more than what was about to happen . . .
Then I saw her.
Bo looked older than I remembered, harder somehow, no longer glowing quite so radiantly. She was lying on the bed as the make-up lady did a final touch-up on her face and pussy.
“Let’s get this done,” Scott shouted, “Everybody wants to go home.”
“You OK?” I signed as surreptitiously as possible.
“What do you think?” she asked.
“I’m really sorry about this—"
“Just get it over with,” she signed curtly.
“You two love birds gotten to know each other, yet?” Scott snapped impatiently,
“Everybody cut the crap and concentrate . . .”
I felt nothing. It wasn’t just that the cocktail of hard-on drugs they’d pumped into my pecker had done their thing and desensitized it. I was emotionally numb through the whole ordeal—and it’s not exaggerating to say that an ordeal is precisely what it was. What happened during that interminable half hour comprised a microcosm of everything that sucks to high heaven about porn. It was awkward and contrived, repetitively mechanical, virtually robotic in its utter lack of passion, clinical and cold. The only thing good or extraordinary about it was that I might have had an actual feeling or two for the girl I was being paid to fuck.
I tried to lean forward and reassure Bo with a kiss.
“What the hell are you doing?” Scott screamed, “Make-up’s gone for the night. Whose gonna re-do her face? You?”
“Sorry,” I said.
“Worst. Stunt cock. Ever,” Jason added, “One simple stinking job! Just stand there and fuck, and you can’t even do that!”
I tried to apologize again, but Scott cut me off.
“Just shut up and stop moving around. Don’t touch her. Don’t try to kiss her. Don’t get in the way of the shot. Do you understand? Don’t. Fucking. Move.”
When it was all over, I got cleaned up as quickly as I could and tried to catch Bo before she left the building. I caught up to her just before she hit the exit.
“Hey! Hey!” I tapped her on the shoulder.
She wheeled around, startled at first, then angry when she recognized me.
“You!” she made the sign like a stabbing motion, aimed accusingly at my heart.
“Fuck you! I don’t want to talk to you!”
“Please!” I begged. “Please, I—”
Bo was signing furiously, repeatedly slapping her hands together, clearly pissed off.
“Slow down! Slow down!” I signed, “It’s too much! I can’t keep up!”
“You’re an asshole!” she said it aloud before reverting back to signing, “I thought you were different, but you’re just like everybody else around here!”
“It wasn’t my idea,” I signed as precisely as I could, “I didn’t know it was going to be you, and they told me you—or whoever it was— wouldn’t get paid if I said no.”
“No. I’m telling you the truth. Scott said he’d can me, and you wouldn’t get a paycheck because the shoot wasn’t going to get finished. I swear, I didn’t know who I’d be with.”
“How come you never called me?”
“After the night we were together. How come?”
“I was so busy—”
“No texts. No e-mails. No nothing. What am I? Dog poop?”
“I’m sorry, Bo.”
“Why?” she asked aloud.
“I’m chickenshit, alright? I’m a coward. My life is going nowhere because all I do is sit in that narrow little cutting room, and it’s the only world I know. Sometimes I get so busy with it that I forget about everything else. But I also feel safe in there. I know what’s what when I’m working. There are no real surprises. It’s stupid, and it’s boring, and it kills my spirit a little more every day, but there’s nothing I don’t know how to handle. I’ve gotten comfortable and lazy because, the truth is, I’m afraid to stick my neck out into the real world."
“That’s too bad,” she signed, “It’s sort of sad, too—”
“—and I really do feel sorry for you, Zak.”
“Please, Bo!” I grabbed her hand, looking pleadingly into her face, too upset to sign the words, “Please, don’t leave things like this!”
“I. Can’t. Hear. You.” She spoke the words in that horrible rusty voice of hers that I would have traded everything to live with for the rest of my life.
But it was too late.
She put a period on the sentence with an upraised middle finger, turned her back, and left me alone. I never saw her again.
You don’t get into porn if you don’t seriously like sex. You don’t stay in porn if you can’t handle the shit. Still, I don’t know anybody who’s been in this business for a long time who doesn’t secretly hate it. I’ve seen a lot of starlets come and go. Most of them do one or two films with us before moving on to classier operations or getting out altogether, having earned just enough to give their dreams a decent burial before catching a bus back to wherever it was they came from. A very few go on to become stars or, at least, highly prolific artists. But even the so-called legends get lost in this notoriously voracious industry’s perpetual high-volume shuffle.
They seem like such sweet kids at the start, so bright-eyed and eager to please, so full of hope and wonder before the cynicism sets in; before this brutal, male-dominated system chews them up and casts them aside; before the pressure to perform inevitably grinds them down, or the need to maintain endurance lands them in the emergency room; before disappointment leaves them old before their time. They arrive in all shapes and sizes, colors, creeds and kinks, claiming to seek thrills and the glamour of fantasy. But few ever find what they’re truly looking for. The one thing they all seem to have in common is hunger. Not for food, but for belonging, for caring and connection.
Soon enough the wise ones learn that sex is not a substitute for intimacy. It makes a pretty lousy cure for loneliness as well—a weak palliative at best. As alcohol can help one forget for a time, sex can calm the mind and bring some needed rest to the body. It can be memorable—sometimes profoundly so— but its immediate effects are fading. And the nasty hangover of shame and regret that sometimes lingers for a lifetime hardly seems worth it all in retrospect.
I see it clearly now. Still, here I sit, endlessly editing these banal regurgitations of half-baked adolescent fuckery, cutting and splicing and looping until it feels like my whole life is a series of disjointed episodes, crudely cut together, the same scenes playing over and over— the same regrets repeated again and again. Am I Sisyphus? Is this hell? Yes. It’s the Valley, and I have nowhere else to go.