lots of people need help -- and I don't consider it any disgrace to be a helpmate. I didn't become an expert on all things sexual, erotic and desire-conscious just to sit on my satin pillow and smile like a post-orgasmic Cleopatra.
Frankly, it's the sexual conflicts above the neck that intrigue me most, but I'm not above discussing the fleshly basics if that's what's called for. At least, that's what I tell myself every time a television talk show producer gets me on the phone.
Sex experts have a peculiar relationship to television. We're asked on the air to lend a veneer of authority to the most superficial and titillating discussions. Behind the scenes, however, we often wind up giving advice on a much more complicated, and deeply human, side of sexual affairs -- to the show's staff. If I tell producers everything they want to know, will they still respect me in the morning? I'm never sure how far to go.
Tom Snyder called last week. Well, not Tom Snyder, actually, since the on-air talent is the last person who'd ever speak to you before show time. Tom was being kept fresh for me, like a just-baked sticky bun, while I was investigated by his team of production specialists.
S---- of the Snyder show called late Thursday night, wondering if I might be the right candidate to come down to their studios the very next day. I'd be appearing with Jeff Goldblum, star of the latest Jurassic Jerk-Off, but I wasn't under any obligation to talk about dinosaurs.
S---- thought I had "energy," which is the mystical on-screen substance that TV producers seek. She seemed to be able to tell in five minutes that I was no dormouse, both mentally fit and media alert. I can size up potential baby sitters over the phone in much the same manner, and I was delighted we had crossed that hurdle.
She told me that a senior producer would call me the next day to go over the possible topics with me, and that if they decided I was Miss Right, I should have my bags packed and ready to leave by 3 p.m. That's typical by the way. TV producers never plan ahead because they assume that any American anywhere will drop any commitment in order to appear on television.
M---- called at 10:30 the next morning. I'd already scanned the newspaper for current events. I was prepared to spin the bottle on military discipline, argue the relative merits of celebrities sharing their sexual delusions or cruise down the Internet Pornographic Tunnel of Paranoia. I had issues! I had energy! I had three hours left to pick out an outfit!
Producers ask for quick, solid opinions and want to hear how you stand up to an argument. Most actors and models would melt under this kind of scrutiny, but it's their charisma that's on display, not their brains. Experts have to be dynamically smart, loaded but not trigger-happy. Unfortunately, there's a downside to being armed with a lot of intimate information; producers may hit you up for personal advice, especially if they get the feeling you have the inside scoop. Worse, if they're fretting about a sexual matter that they haven't even discussed with their lover or closest friends, you're on the receiving end of their most troubling unconscious thoughts; their confidence is laced with anxiety.
A full hour into our phone call, I'd realized that M---- had long since abandoned the hot button news of the day and moved into territory far off the front page. For example: What was up with lesbians going to straight bars? He recounted his experience of sitting in a "regular" club with a date, when BOOM -- there they were, looking at his girl. It made his date (or was it him?) uncomfortable. "Last time I checked, most women were straight!" he huffed, as if that notion could use some defending.
My audition was taking a weird turn, but I was determined to be gracious and forthcoming, even if it meant swallowing my immediate reactions: "Don't be afraid of the little lipstick lesbians, Mr. Straight Man," I thought, "they're not likely to slip a mickey in your drink -- and they're just as scared of girls as you are."
Instead, I made some sympathetic noises and plowed on. M---- became noticeably inarticulate about the subjects closest to his panty line. He relied on pregnant pauses in an attempt to coax me into saying the words he didn't want to use. He brought up how damn "difficult" dating is these days, what with everything you have to watch out for. "You mean safe sex?" I said, and he grumbled an affirmative. I told him all about my "Safe Sex for Sex Maniacs" workshops -- a place to realistically figure out how to be "safe" and get off at the same time. M---- seemed more irritated than ever, as if I were sidestepping the issue.
"What do you want -- details on how to deal with condoms?" I guessed, searching for a psychic link to this man's mind. He exhaled audibly. I'd guessed what the problem was, what was so "difficult." "You really want to talk about that now?" I said. "Surely you're not going to let me discuss this kind of thing on the air." He asked me to try.
"OK, just for starters, all rubber is not alike. You have to buy a dozen different samples and set aside a couple of hours to conduct a 'condom' lab for yourself to find out the differences. Next, when you're using one, put some lube, or at least some saliva, in the reservoir tip so that when you slide it on, it feels sensuous instead of like a dry elastic. And finally, if you have a lover who enjoys watching you slide one on, or better yet, playing with you, it's a much more pleasurable operation than furtively slapping it on while the seconds tick by."
I don't know which of those nuggets he'd never heard before, but something clicked. He said maybe it wouldn't be so bad to talk about something like that with Tom.
But now we had less than two hours to get me to the airport ... if indeed I was coming. I interrupted M---- to firm up the logistics of my arrival, and that's when the conversation got chilly.
"Well, I wouldn't count on anything," he said, "It's premature, because we haven't seen you on tape. And nothing personal, but we've never had any guest here, ever, who we haven't seen on video before. I've never heard of you, and neither has anyone else here."
Huh? Then why have we been talking about sex for more than an hour? Why don't you have tape of me? Don't you do any research before you call people up and ask them for tips on everything from condom connoisseurship to fending off predatory lesbians?
I was blind-sided. It wasn't until after I'd hung up that I realized I'd just given someone a nice bit of professional sex advice -- complete with all my sympathy and attention -- and after he got what he wanted, he couldn't get away fast enough. I had gone too far on the first date!
I called up my agent to bitch. She told me she'd advised another client of hers to visit a counselor who specializes in coaching people on how to get through talk show auditions. "Don't give it all away!" the experts warned. "Don't tell them everything you know, don't be too 'smart.'" It's the Rules Girls all over again, and clearly I had failed to appreciate the advantages of holding out. My erotic philanthropy was keeping me from becoming either a trophy wife or a TV superstar.
I'd be happy to acknowledge on late-night talk shows that men's No. 1 fear of condoms is that they'll wind up with a limp dick and no hope of recovery. I have answers -- from vanilla to kinky -- for almost every burning sexual question, a point of view on every erotic controversy. But somehow I suspect we'd never have gotten around to that -- not even if Jeff Goldblum himself had begged and pleaded for enlightenment. I can just see it: "Jeff, do movie stars ever suffer the indignities of rubber burn? Tom, if a lesbian came on to your date at Spago, would you ask her to take her booty elsewhere or would you just hand her a dental dam with your blessings?"
But it was not to be. M----, a fellow who's not too busy to keep tabs on the sexual orientation of "most women," or spend the better part of an afternoon dancing around the topic of condom application, couldn't be bothered to find out who, exactly, I am. And if he'd never heard of me, who did I think I was, anyway?
I went to bed early that night, exhausted by my audition. The next morning I called my agent to find out who Tom Snyder had gone all the way with. "Jim Nance, " she told me, "the CBS sportscaster. He seemed pretty pumped up about it."
"Oh dear," I sighed, wiping the sand out of my eyes. "I've never heard of him -- am I missing something?"