Let us call him "Mr. Green": a varnished old rogue in a stained ascot. At a New York writers party featuring various penniless scribes crushed into a room the size of a janitor's closet, Mr. Green watched as I spoke touchingly of my wife's second pregnancy and the financial burdens presented thereby. Then he asked if I wanted freelance work.
"Copy-editing jerk-off letters for a skin mag," Green said. "Your eyes will glaze over but the money's grand."
It started off pleasantly enough with a phone call the next day.
"Good morning, Daniel. My name is Chastity. I work for Mr. Green at Joystick" (the name of the magazine has been changed).
"Ah yes, how do you do, Chastity."
"Would you prefer 'Butt Busters' or 'Cluster Fuck'?"
We were off to the races.
- - - - - - - - - - - -
Within two days I found myself developing category preferences: No masturbation scenes -- the writer's lot was lonely enough without having to deal with someone else's isolation. Also, no orgies -- they were the equivalent of sweatshop labor. I had to draw diagrams to keep the positions straight (Peg's on the left, Roger's on his knees, but where'd Yvonne go? Quick, call 911! How'd we lose Yvonne?). Fetish Frenzy was good: expanded my thinking. Handicap Parking was lovely: nice to see that amputees got love, too. I was given the magazine's style sheet to refer to and a copy of Canada's guidelines to memorize. Since American issues were exported to Canada, the entire industry had to oblige Canada her narrow views. No pain of any sort, no handcuffs, not even a harmless little enema here and there. Anal play in particular was verboten. Didn't matter how much you may have thought Dudley Do-Right was in need of a grape juice enema, he wasn't going to get one in the pages of Joystick.
Within a week I had my routine down. First thing after a dinner of pot roast and kasha, I'd retire to my sun porch to download files and get my dose of American vernacular. He was packing some heat in his meat ... She had nipples you could dial a phone with ... She came so hard I felt the waves ... Some of the unself-conscious vitality I was being paid to correct was actually more colorful in the original: I burst my pants instead of burst out of my pants. She was sucking on his dick, instead of just plain sucking.
I also enjoyed the addition of too many commas, a stylistic idiosyncrasy that gave the text a breathless quality. I kept her underwear, and, allowed her to get dressed ... When I finally saw my wife, with her legs spread wide around Mike, I thought my heart would pound, out of my chest. And the absence thereof. She began licking between her breasts removing my spunk. I appreciated the stiltedness that resulted from the letter writers' reluctance to contract: Sophie licks her to orgasm every time she has finished shaving her. Frequently this gave the raciest sentences an incongruously Puritan flavor, especially during moments of passion. "I am feeling myself relax," she purred softly. "Now I am ready to have some fun with you." Other times it made the dialogue sound like Bert and Ernie. "Let me see," said Jane as she leaned over to see the love juices winding down her cousin's thigh. "Ernie, look at the mess you have made!"
Tackling a new letter, I'd first hit the find and replace key and change every "cum" to "come" (an average of 19 changes per letter). As per my style sheet, I'd make sure every "doggie-style" was hyphenated, every "bunghole" was not, every "blowjob" was one word, every "daisy chain" was two. Picture, if you will, all of this being dispatched with a 10-month-old baby draped over my lap. In our cozy, kinky domesticity I enlisted my wife to proofread, which she'd do during commercials of "20/20." "Honey," I'd call out from my study, "is 'dream cock' hyphenated?" Nor would the picture be complete if I didn't confide that I was performing this editorial duty at a time when my wife and I weren't getting any, due to a combination of pregnancy and other perils of middle-aged matrimony. Two of the most celibate people on the East Coast were doing some of the dirtiest editing in history, then going to their separate bedrooms to sleep. To my thinking, this gave the venture a poetic justice it otherwise might have lacked.
- - - - - - - - - - - -
"Good morning, Daniel. Name your pleasure: I have 'Meatballs,' I have 'Gang Bangs,' I have 'Three-for-All.'"
"Chastity! Those are my least favorite! What happened to 'Blow the Man Down?' Something I can sink my teeth into!"
"Well, I didn't want to bring this up," Chastity said. "But as long as you're proving intransigent, I may as well tell you that you let a little pain slip through."
"I did? Where?"
"When he screws her in the ass. And I quote: 'My ass felt like it was being split in two.'"
"But doesn't she go on to say she liked it like that?"
"Doesn't matter. And remember: No coming on anyone's face or hair, and two men can't come at the same time on the same place."
Truly she was my guru, my guide through the netherworld of copy editing. And more, through life, in a certain sense.
"Let me get this straight, Chastity. A guy can come on a woman's breasts and two seconds later another guy can come on her belly, but both guys can't come on her breasts at the same time."
"I don't make the rules, Daniel."
"Hey, how's that darling little baby of yours?"
"He's lying right here."
"Awww, kootchie kootchie koo!" she said, ringing off.
The towering giantess could suck very good, I read. I left it uncorrected.
- - - - - - - - - - - -
The remuneration was indeed grand, as Green had promised. Never before having sold out in large degree or small, I was gratified to discover that smut editing filled up the larder with jars and jars of organic baby food. At a rate that boiled down to something like $150 per hour, it purchased the extended afternoon session at day care. I was fast becoming the envy of colleagues who had to supplement their incomes by appearing as expert witnesses on "Larry King."
Another benefit was that my computer was developing street smarts. I had loaded into its spell-checker all manner of esoterica such as "suckfest" and "cockhead," which it thereafter allowed without so much as a red flag. And I myself was becoming proficient in certain arcane areas of copy editing that otherwise might have escaped my expertise, such as the difference between "lie" and "lay." Thus, the buxom blonde lies spread-eagled, but the muscle-bound black lay down in the leaves.
Speaking of which, I thought it peculiar how blacks were able to ignite so much passion in normally reserved white women -- Henriette K. loved to look in the face of her coal-black lovers as they slid their ebony rods between her lips -- until I studied the magazine's demographics. Turned out that a high percentage of Joystick's readers were not only college students and concert pianists (because they're good with their hands?), but also black prisoners of state and federal penitentiaries.
So the readers were real. But were the writers? This question -- the very one asked by concert pianists as well as jailhouse sodomites all over the nation -- went unanswered. It was conveyed to me, by coughs and silences over the phone, that this was something we didn't talk about. I decided to put it to Chastity in a roundabout fashion.
"Morning, Chast, I was just wondering. Is it kosher to change the letters a great deal?"
"In what sense?"
"In the sense of padding, or changing beyond recognition; y'know, fictionalizing? "
Chastity cleared her throat, a holdover from her days as a doctoral candidate at Radcliffe. "As long as the original text's understandable, we don't need to add such traditional literary devices as rhythmic build, picaresque characters or peripeteia."
"'A sudden change of events or reversal of circumstances.' It's from the Greek word 'peripiptein.' Capiche?
"But as long as we're on the subject, Daniel, I may as well ask you, purely theoretically: What would you say if I were to ask you to compose some letters from scratch?"
Figuring it was some sort of test I could always get out of later, I said sure. It was never brought up again.
As the months rolled by I remained impressed. By the ingenuity of the fantasies (the black man tying up the white husband with his necktie and riding the wife to fruition two inches from the husband's nose). By the sheer kinkiness (the husband who arranged to sniff his girlfriend's feet while she was fellating other fellows). Like reading Voltaire or Nabokov, it enlarged my sense of the possible. From my dubious perch outside America's bedroom window, I found myself in a position to be able to monitor national trends. I was astounded by the amount of sheer animal sensuality that was abroad in the land: the hot summer air caressing the bikers riding to an assignation, the sexualization of the cigarettes they smoked afterwards ( She rolled her cigarette around that pouty wet mouth of hers like it was a small erect cock). The ayatollahs were right: We were a shamelessly sensual culture. Brawny, lunatic, infantile and brave: By evidence of these letters, America was a force of nature.
- - - - - - - - - - - -
Did it get old? Hell, what doesn't? Abetting the process were repeated phone calls during dinner telling me I had "trespassed considerably."
"How do you mean?"
"It's close-trimmed pussy, Daniel. With a hyphen! Whenever you have two adjectives describing something, you have to hyphenate."
My wife passed the jar of strained pears for me to open. "I'll try to remember, Chastity."
"Please do. And 'S&M' has an ampersand. Haven't you memorized the style sheet yet?"
Problem was, I had it too memorized. I went over the rules in my sleep. "G-spot" was always capitalized. "Cocksucker" was one word, but "cock-tease" was a hyphenate. "Ass-cheeks" was hyphenated, but "asshole" was not. Mine was not to question why. Mine was to see if I could get health benefits.
My computer was also acting up, auto-correcting such words as "cumputer." The evidence was mounting that I had polluted my hard drive, and this the machine upon which I transposed my fears and dreams. It felt a little like I'd lent my high school sweetheart out to a motorcycle gang for the weekend. Nor was my grammar immune. At a black tie dinner party, I heard myself say "suck on" instead of "suck." When talking to the lady at 411, I was adding and subtracting commas inappropriately (What is, the number, of Richard Spunk please?).
But much worse than this, much, much, much worse, was the fact that I was no longer aroused by the pinups in Joystick. I would glance at a cover girl and see with the curse of clarity that she was just a heavily made-up dropout pushing her sun-freckled boobs together rather pitifully. My eyes were beginning to glaze over, just as Green had warned. I would stare at a video capture of a dirty movie in the review section and think, "Is his face covered in pussy juice or covered with pussy juice?"
- - - - - - - - - - - -
"Morning, Chastity, how're tricks?"
"Everything's fine, except we're letting go of all freelance copy editors ..."
A thrill went through me that was almost sexual. To be fired by Chastity: Here was a sadomasochistic buzz that was almost a category by itself: Cut Off by Editrix (she was strangulating my income and I was staring into her sea-green eyes ... she hoisted me in chains above my creditors as I sputtered my innocence ... ).
"Fired, Chastity! Was it something I said? Was it something I didn't say?"
"Well, to tell the truth, all you copy editors were getting a little literary there."
"Peripeteia. Onomatopoeia, up the wazoo. Whatever. It was like you couldn't control yourselves."
"I guess this means you won't be paying those chiropractic bills I forwarded, huh?"
"Pretty definitively not, I'm afraid ..."
So I was history. And just when Canada was loosening up, too. The day I got my walking papers I also received a bulletin from the Canadian Customs Department revising "the administrative guidelines contained in Memorandum D9-1-1 elucidating Tariff Code 9956 with respect to the provisions dealing with anal penetration." Butt-surfing, in other words, was at last OK by the Canadians.
Too late for me. Dudley Do-Right could force-feed it to Chastity, for all I cared. The kid came out of extended day care. The new kid arrived on the scene, doubtless armed with enough prenatal X-vibes to scandalize his future shrink. Style sheet in hand, stained ascot in place, my wife and I ventured back to the nuptial bed where -- a happy ending for you, and a good night to all -- we proceeded to hyphenate like bunnies.