The Sporadic Beaver

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November 30, 2012

Tags: Mary Lyn Maiscott, Louie Free, Ella Lounge

With Hanukkah just over a week away and only 24 shopping days till Christmas, I imagine it's in the realm of possibility that some of you are planning to buy things this weekend. And if you're looking for the ideal Christmas/Hanukkah gift, allow me to suggest you go to CD Baby and download Mary Lyn Maiscott's Blue Lights. The album contains two classic Christmas songs, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, by Ralph Blane and Hugh Martin, and Mary Lyn's own Blue Lights. Nine other Maiscott originals and covers, like You Can't Do That and Be-Bop-A-Lula, are included as well.

I'll go out on a limb here and say that Mary Lyn's touching take on Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas rivals Judy Garland's 1944 version, recorded for the film Meet Me in St. Louis. And though Blue Lights hasn't yet achieved universal status as a Christmas classic, for years Louie Free has been playing the song on his radio show, now broadcasting weekdays 8:00-noon on the Internet and on WYCL, 1540 AM, in Youngstown, Ohio.

If you’re in the New York area, you can hear Mary Lyn live on December 7, at Ella Lounge. I’ll be writing more next week about this special Christmas/Hanukkah show.

Is There Work After Porn?

November 29, 2012

Tags: Beaver Street, pornography, porn stars

In the Beaver Street Prologue, I talk about how, after working in adult entertainment for 16 years, I was "totally burnt out on smut" but felt trapped in my job because "I'd become a professional pornographer and my career options were limited."

Fortunately, I was saved by a book deal, which coincided with my being fired. For the past 13 years, I've been able to stitch together something resembling a living through a combination of book writing, freelance writing and editorial work, and a number of odd jobs that have nothing to do with writing or publishing.

Most of my former colleagues, the majority of whom have been laid off or cut back to nothing as the magazine business collapsed in the face of free Internet porn, have not been so lucky. They've been forced into unwilling retirement because--as if it's not hard enough for members of the Baby Boom Generation (and older) to find any kind of work that pays a living wage in this economy--nobody, apparently, is willing to hire somebody who once worked in hardcore pornography. (I left the business in 1999, just before most magazines switched from a softcore to hardcore format.)

I’ve been thinking about this dilemma since an article from the Detroit Free Press was brought to my attention. A district attorney in upstate New York, Mark Suben, denied during a reelection campaign they he’d ever worked in pornography. Videos posted on Youtube then came to light, indicating that Suben, using the pseudonym Gus Thomas, had acted, in the early 1970s, in such X-rated films as Deep Throat Part II, Doctor’s Teenage Dilemma, and The Love Witch. Suben, however, has refused to resign, saying that the films were made over 40 years ago, they weren’t illegal, he wasn’t married at the time, he wasn’t practicing law, he wasn’t even a law student, and his studwork is irrelevant to his current job and law practice.

Suben’s opponent, of course, is saying that the issue is that Suben lied, not that he was once a porn stud. But would Suben have been elected if he’d admitted that he was once Gus Thomas? Well, considering that none of my former colleagues who are now seeking work outside the porn industry can get so much as the time of day from potential employers, I think the answer is self evident: If you’ve ever had any association with XXX, you are forevermore unqualified to make any contribution to society. This is, after all, America.

Next Stop: Naziland

November 28, 2012

Tags: Bobby in Naziland, Beaver Street


Brooklyn Museum: A collection of photographs and plates from books.
The streets of Naziland.

Now that all turkey carcasses have been stripped bare and there's no more stuffing leftover to stuff myself with, it's time to get back to blogging. But before I return to the final phase of the Beaver Street Autumn Offensive, I'd like to say a few words about what I've been working on between meals for the past week: Bobby in Naziland.

If you're a regular reader of this blog, then you already know that I've described Bobby in Naziland as a combination of historical fiction and black humor about a Jewish kid growing up in Brooklyn in the 1950s and 60s where, to quote from the book, "World War II lingered like a mass hallucination on East 17th Street and large swaths of the surrounding borough." And if you know me personally, then you might think that that sounds an awful lot like a memoir. You would be correct.

When I finished Beaver Street, the question before me was: What next? And it occurred to me that there was some very rich material in the Beaver Street Prologue that needed to be more fully explored—mainly the opening scene in my father’s candy store.

I spent the next two years writing down everything I could remember about that particular time and place: Flatbush in the 1950s and 60s. And I found myself with 400 pages of notes, fragments, anecdotes, character sketches, bits of dialogue, etc. I read through it, searching for common themes, and what jumped out at me was Nazis, Nazis, and more Nazis. I grew up surrounded by Holocaust survivors and World War II veterans, and for them, the war had never ended. This became the heart of the book.

Yes, Bobby in Naziland began as a memoir, but for reasons both practical and personal, it turned into a novel. And now, as I appear to be coming down the home stretch, I’m reminded every day of the William Faulkner quote: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” And Faulkner didn’t even have Facebook.

Times to Google: "You're a Prude!"

November 19, 2012

Tags: Google, Amazon, Facebook, The New York Times

Before I flee New York this afternoon for my Thanksgiving break, I'd like to bring to your attention an article that ran in The New York Times yesterday.

But let me begin with an article that ran in the the Times in 2002, “A Demimonde in Twilight,” that was in part drawn from an embryonic Beaver Street manuscript. The "newspaper of record," having no taste for double entendres, refused to print the title Beaver Street. So yesterday, when the Times called Internet monoliths like Google, Facebook, Apple, and Amazon "prudish," they were really saying something.

The gist of the article, “You Can’t Say That on the Internet,” by Evgeny Motozov, is that Silicon Valley, supposedly a countercultural bastion of openness and tolerance, is actually a deeply conservative place that imposes its "outdated norms" on billions of people. Facebook and Apple do it though outright censorship. The former recently blocked The New Yorker's page after they posted an Adam and Eve cartoon that showed Eve's nipples, and the latter, until recently, wouldn't post in its iBooks store the title of Naomi Wolf's new book, Vagina: A New Biography.

But Google and Amazon are arguably the worst culprits, using their “dour” algorithms to insure that the autocomplete function does not lead us to morally impure sites or books that contain such words as “penis,” “vagina,” “bisexual,” “Lolita,” and “pornography.” (The potentially malignant nature of autocomplete popped up again last night on The Good Wife.)

As readers of this blog know, I’ve had my issues with these two Internet monoplies, and I’ve written about them at length. Though the Amazon problem appears to be settled for now, the Google issue has only gotten worse. To recap: Once Google sent a lot of traffic to this site. Then, a couple of weeks ago, they cut me off. Since the Google algorithms is as sacred to Google as it is secret, it’s impossible to say why. Though after reading this article I can only assume the magical algorithm has decreed my site morally unfit for public consumption.

A New York Shopping Story

November 16, 2012

Tags: Little Shoppe of Horrors, reviews

One reason I've lived in New York City virtually my entire life, and in Manhattan since I graduated from college--the last 22 years downtown, in Soho--is because of the incredible convenience of not having to own a car. Everything I want or need, be it freshly made, hand-cut buckwheat pappardelle or an obscure book that's been out of print for a decade, can be found at a store, like Raffetto's or The Strand, that's within walking distance of my house. At least that's the way it used to be.

Manhattan in particular has been undergoing dramatic changes for some time. The quirky specialty shops and dusty book and magazine stores that used to line so many streets have given way to upscale boutiques, chain stores, and nail salons. Thanks to our mayor, Michael Bloomberg, New York has been transformed into a generic megacity—a gilded ghetto stripped of all funkiness, and designed to cater to tourists. A lot has been lost and very little had been gained.

This was driven home to me the other day when I went out to look for what I thought wouldn’t be especially hard to find: the latest issue of Little Shoppe of Horrors, “the journal of classic British horror films,” as publisher Richard Klemensen calls it. The magazine has been around for 40 years, and in that time I’d seen it in numerous stores, like Kim’s, which used to be the place to go for offbeat publications of all kinds. (Kim’s still exists, but in a different location and has been reduced to a shadow of its former self.)

LSoH had run a rave review of Beaver Street, and though I had a scan of the review, I’m a completist when it comes to my own stuff, and I wanted a printed copy for my files. Thus began a shopping odyssey that included trips to more than a dozen stores, all within walking distance of my house: McNally Jackson, Bluestockings, St. Marks Books, Kim’s, Bleecker Bob’s, Barnes & Noble (ha!), Dashwood Books, Generation Records, Forbidden Planet, a comic book store on St. Mark’s Place, and I don’t know how many well-stocked magazine shops that seemed to carry everything but LSoH.

The result: Nada, nada, and nada.

So I ordered it online, directly from Richard Klemensen, who I imagined sitting in his house in Iowa, stuffing magazines into envelopes, addressing them by hand, and licking and sealing the flaps—an image that Richard confirmed is not far from the truth. “On the shipping end of things,” he said, “I am, indeed, a one-man-band!”

I anxiously await delivery.

Izzy Singer on the Radio

November 15, 2012

Tags: Izzy Singer, Irv O. Neil, Beaver Street

If you've read Beaver Street, then you're familiar with a character I call "Izzy Singer," a magazine editor and "porno intellectual" who took me under his wing when I went to work for Swank Publications. Izzy, as I explained in the book, showed me that pornography could be "a form of high art that required specialized knowledge and talent to produce."

Last year, I wrote about how Izzy, writing under the pseudonym "Irv O. Neil," had begun publishing on Kindle his short stories about female domination. And I said that one story in particular, "Learning to Be Cruel," had shocked me because Irv/Izzy was clearly writing from the heart, and the story gave me the feeling that he may personally enjoy having sexy young women treat him in the degrading manner that he so graphically and realistically described.

Over the past year, Irv/Izzy has published a number of other such stories on Kindle and has begun to attract some well-deserved attention. This week, along with three other fetish writers, he appeared on a Blog Talk Radio show, In Bed with Dr. Sue. For nearly two hours, they discussed their craft, the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon, and took calls from listeners. It’s an interesting look into one of the darker corners of the publishing biz and a rare opportunity to hear a Beaver Street character speak. You can listen here.

Little Shoppe of Beaver

November 14, 2012

Tags: reviews, Little Shoppe of Horrors, The Bloodsprayer, Shu-Izmz, Review 31, Beaver Street

It's interesting that a number of sites primarily devoted to horror, like The Bloodsprayer and Shu-Izmz, have taken such a liking to Beaver Street. Now you can add Little Shoppe of Horrors to that group. The venerable film mag--they've been around for 40 years--has run a delightful review of my investigative memoir in their latest issue, #29. It almost sounds as if it could be yet another rebuke to the hatchet job posted on Review 31 last month. That rather unpleasant critique put forth the opinion that, though Beaver Street was basically an anti-feminist piece of shit, certain low-minded individuals might find it "titillating."

Since the LSoH review is not available online, I'll take the liberty of quoting the last paragraph in full:

“If you are looking for some titillation, this isn’t the book for you. If you want to read about people, situations, a time and place in an industry that was looked down upon by many people (while many secretly gobbled up the magazines), this is a gem of a read. You won’t find yourself embarrassed reading it. You will find yourself fascinated by the cast of characters. This is a book both men and women would enjoy (even if the women were only trying to find out why men would even have been interested in that crap!)”

Well said, LSoH! Now I’ve got to go out and track down a copy.

Sick Day

November 13, 2012

I'm sitting here coping with what feels like a mild stomach virus, which is most definitely interfering with my ability to concentrate. So allow me, if you will, to take a sick day. It's the first time I've called in sick in the nearly three years that I've been doing this blog. Hope to be back tomorrow.

A Well-Targeted Review

November 12, 2012

Tags: reviews, Beaver Street, Fifty Shades of Grey

If you happen to run a sex shop or "intimate apparel" store, then you're probably familiar with the trade magazine StorErotica. This is a serious publication that gets into nuts-and-bolts retailing issues like maximizing profits, store security, and hot new products. Well, I'm tickled pink to report that in the magazine's Hot Products section, among the James Deen endorsed dildos, they've listed Beaver Street, describing it as "an interesting and witty look at pornography from the early '70s through late '90s."

Considering chains like Barnes & Nobel have been less than eager to stock Beaver Street in their remaining brick-and-mortar stores, I couldn't think of a better place for my "intriguing" (as StorErotica calls it) investigative memoir to be sold. I mean why should Fifty Shades of Grey, which I noticed is in the window of my local Pleasure Chest, have all the fun? Isn't it possible that people who buy Doc Johnson vibrators are also interested in quality, thought-provoking literature?

So, I’d encourage all erotic products entrepreneurs to take StorErotica’s advice and order Beaver Street today. It’s the book that carries both the Vanity Fair and Erotic Review seal of approval. How can you go wrong?

Blackout Memories

November 9, 2012

Tags: Hurricane Sandy, blackouts

Forty-seven years ago tonight, I witnessed my first major blackout. As the New York Metropolitan area continues to struggle with the aftereffects of Hurricane Sandy and the ensuing power failure--some places are still without electricity--I will commemorate this anniversary with my blackout memories.

November 9, 1965: My family had recently moved to a new apartment on East 8th Street near Caton Avenue on the edge of Flatbush, in Brooklyn. My bar mitzvah was three days earlier, and our refrigerator was jammed to the bursting point with leftover food from the reception. I don't recall exactly how we found out that major portions of the Northeast and Canada had experienced a power failure, but I suspect that somewhere in the house a radio or TV was playing, and around 5:30 that evening the broadcast turned to static. Yet, the lights remained on. What I do remember most distinctly about that night was going up to the roof with my cousin Ellen, who lived in the building, and looking out at an ocean of darkness as far as the eye could see—except for our building and the ten or so surrounding blocks. We were in the middle of a little island of light, unaffected by the blackout. But I was sad because I didn’t get to experience a historic event. My mother, however, was thrilled because the food in the refrigerator was not going to spoil.

July 13, 1977: It was the middle of a sweltering summer and I was living in an unair-conditioned apartment on Riverside Drive, in Washington Heights, with a roommate and a dog. Having recently finished graduate school and embarked on a career as a writer, I’d spent the day working on a book. The lights went out only in New York City around 9:30 that night, and I recall sitting on the couch in the candlelit foyer, listening to reports of nearby looting and arson on a portable radio. But we couldn’t see any looting out the window; Riverside Drive was quiet. However, we prudently remained inside until the lights came on the next day. Thirty-five years later, I somehow associate this blackout with the death of Elvis Presley, but that didn’t happen till a month later, on August 16.

August 14, 2003: When the lights went out across the Northeast, Midwest, and Canada around 4:00 that afternoon, I was in my current apartment, in downtown Manhattan. It was hot, and the air conditioner suddenly died. I called Mary Lyn, who was working in Midtown—regular landlines remained in service—and asked her if she knew what was going on. There was a major power failure, she said, and she was going have to walk down 21 flights of stairs to get out of her office building. She got home about an hour later, just as Dee, a friend of ours who lived in the neighborhood, called. She wanted to join us to search for something to eat, so we went downstairs to meet her a few blocks away. New York was filled with people wandering around, asking each other, “What’s going on? Is it a terrorist attack?” Some people were listening to portable radios and many were trying to call—unsuccessfully—people on their cell phones.

As the sun went down, Mary Lyn, Dee, and I walked through Greenwich Village, feeling disoriented on familiar streets now shrouded in inky blackness. We found an open pizza place on Christopher Street and ate a couple of slices by candlelight. When we got home, our friend Laura, who was unable to get back home to Queens, was waiting for us at the top of the stairs. One of our neighbors has given her a little flashlight and somebody had bought her a glass of wine at a restaurant across the street. We went up to the roof and looked down at 6th Avenue, where a party at the restaurant had spilled onto the street. Laura slept on our couch. The power came on 27 hours later. Having kept the refrigerator closed the entire time, no food had spoiled.

Back to Business

November 8, 2012

Tags: Review 31, reviews, book promotion, Beaver Street

Before Hurricane Sandy plunged me into 104 hours of pre-industrial living, and a certain election restored the tiniest glimmer of hope in American democracy's ability to function, I was, as I recall, writing about the vagaries of the book business.

On the British site Review 31, a critic that one of my more eloquent defenders described as "a tyro reviewer with a political ax to grind" had subjected Beaver Street to its first hatchet job. What I never got around to talking about is the upside of having your book trashed in an inaccurate and inherently dishonest manner: It sparked an online debate that ended up bringing more attention to Beaver Street than another rave review would have. It's the kind of debate that you just don’t see often enough these days--one that demonstrates the passion for books that still exists in this age of social media.

Also, the day the power came back on, a far more friendly British site, Morgen Bailey’s Writing Blog, posted an essay I wrote a few months ago titled “My Book Promotion Philosophy.” The gist of that philosophy can be boiled down to one sentence: “Talk to anybody who wants to talk to you about your book for as long as they want to talk about it, and go anywhere people are interested in your work.”

In other words, I’m happy to report that the Beaver Street Autumn Offensive, though suspended for a week due to inclement weather, remains an ongoing operation.

My Fellow Americans

November 7, 2012

Tags: politics

A New York City voter fills out her ballot in a “privacy booth.”
If anybody's under the impression that I felt a surge of ecstasy last night when Obama was declared the winner of this presidential election, they'd be sadly mistaken. What I felt was a sense of relief--relief that things will perhaps get worse a little more slowly than if Romney had won. Relief that in the coming years my health insurance might be a little more affordable, a little more accessible, and that maybe I won't have to waste hours of my life arguing with people on the phone about incorrect billing every time I go to a doctor. And relief that at least a slim majority of my fellow Americans weren't so fucking stupid as to believe one word that came out of Romney’s mouth or so fucking racist as to vote for him because he's white.

In other election news, it comes as no surprise that Scott Garrett, the Tea Party congressman who takes money from pornographers, was reelected by a comfortable margin in his New Jersey district. It would be nice to say that Garrett, who has one of the most ultraconservative voting records in congress, is New Jersey’s problem. But Garrett, who is vicious, intelligent, and articulate, promises to do all he can to stop Obama from accomplishing anything in his second term. He belongs to us all.

And finally, I’d like to thank New York State for making voting more complicated, confusing, and stressful. In order to cast my ballot yesterday, I had to wait on four lines: a line to find out which table to get my ballot, a line to get the ballot, a line to use a “privacy booth” to fill out the ballot, and a line to scan the ballot, which, incidentally, provided something less than total secrecy. I really do miss the old machines, where you waited on one line, went into a booth, closed the curtain, and pulled a lever. It felt like you were casting a vote. The new way feels more like you’re taking an SAT, which perhaps partially accounts for the increase in stress.

The Mindless Nattering of Pundits and Pollsters

November 6, 2012

Tags: Hurricane Sandy, election day

The electoral map at “Democracy Plaza,” New York City.
It's election day--or "erection day" as John Lennon preferred to call it--and as the island of Manhattan continues its incremental crawl back to total normalcy from Sandy and its aftermath (and other parts of the greater metropolitan area struggle with epochal devastation) I can now look back on the darkest days of the hurricane and be thankful for the many blessings that a lack of electricity had bestowed upon me. The street was quiet. The phone was not constantly ringing with computers trying to sell me things. But first and foremost, for the 104 hours that I was without power, I didn't have to listen to the mindless nattering of pundits and pollsters.

Picture the Maiscott-Rosen household on any night of the blackout: In a candle-lit living room, with the cat curled up between us, Mary Lyn sat next to me on the couch reading Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye by flashlight as I listened to hurricane reports on our one working portable radio, a Sony Walkman that we hadn’t used in years. Kind of a combination of 19th century, pre-TV 20th century, and pre-iPod 21st century.

I can’t say those candle-lit nights were exactly fun, but this morning, as I was eating breakfast and listening to MSNBC, I felt a twinge of nostalgia for the good old days of last week. Broadcasting from so called “Democracy Plaza”—a name that brings to mind a central square in a totalitarian country—the usual suspects were jabbering about the polls and the electoral map imprinted on the Rockefeller Center ice skating rink. If I heard correctly, a “journalist” is going to skate around, coloring each state red or blue as the results are announced, and a scoreboard-type contraption on the side of the GE building is going to count off the electoral votes until somebody gets the 270 needed to win.

A wave of revulsion practically ruined my breakfast as I realized that a major television network had turned an election with so much riding on it into a moronic game show. Which goes a long way towards explaining why I often find MSNBC only marginally less depressing than Fox News, and why 42 percent of eligible voters in the U.S. don’t vote.

I’ve heard reports that lines at New York City polling places are long and chaotic. But I refuse to be deterred.

Semi-Normal

November 5, 2012

Tags: Hurricane Sandy, Scott Garrett, politics

AT&T store on Wall Street near Water Street, where flood waters reached a height of ten feet. Photo by Mary Lyn Maiscott.
Life in downtown Manhattan continues to return to semi-normal in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. By "semi-normal," I mean subway service and mail delivery have not been fully restored, PATH trains are still completely out, supermarkets have not been fully restocked, some people still don't have heat and hot water, and further downtown, by the Battery, where damage was heavy, as this picture shows, water is still being pumped out of basements.

But lower Manhattan's problems don't amount to "a hill of beans" compared to what's happening in parts of Long Island, Staten Island, New Jersey, and especially the Rockaways, where 20,000-40,000 people have been left homeless, and there appears to be a Katrina-like humanitarian crisis brewing. And, as you may have heard, there's an election tomorrow. All of which is to say, it seems inappropriate to get back to book business as usual.

As longtime readers of this blog are aware, I’ve never shied away from discussing politics, though I tend to limit those discussions to issues that relate directly to Beaver Street. I have, for example, written at length about the fact that my former porn publisher, Lou Perretta, has donated money to Tea Party icon Scott Garrett, a New Jersey congressman who’s up for reelection tomorrow, and—as Jersey residents should note—has voted to drastically cut funding for FEMA’s disaster relief.

As for the presidential race, I mean really, what can I say that hasn’t already been said a thousand times? Of course I support Obama, and the less said about Romney, the better. I don’t think anything I say here could possibly change anybody’s mind as far as who to vote for. But I do urge you to get out and vote, no matter where you are and who you support. Because if you think there’s no difference between the candidates, then you’re a fool.

104 Hours

November 3, 2012

Tags: Hurricane Sandy

Watts Street, NYC, 4 P.M., November 2. Normally, this street, which feeds into the Holland Tunnel, is Gridlock City. Sandy turned downtown Manhattan into Ghost Town Manhattan .
I know there are a handful of you who read this blog every day. My usual excuse for not posting is that I'm on the road and there's too much going on for me to concentrate on writing anything more substantial than a tweet. Well, I've got a better excuse for not posting for the past four days: Hurricane Sandy.

I live in downtown Manhattan, and though there was no flooding or visible damage to my neighborhood, power was out for 104 hours, from 8:30 Monday night until 4:50 this morning, when the sound of burglar alarms woke us up. We looked out the window and the lights were back on. Many thanks to all of you who expressed concern and offered us shelter from the aftermath of the storm.

For the past four days, my life has revolved around walking to the “electricity zone” in Midtown Manhattan, finding a place to take a hot shower, check my e-mail, recharge my phone, and then lugging a couple of bags of ice two miles back to Soho. I’ll be writing more about Sandy and its aftermath in the coming days, but for now, let me just say that it’s a joy to be able to walk into a room, flip a switch, and see the light.