It was early 2017 and I was having a Talk with my girlfriend of four months. I had been candid with her about my dirty mind, my sexual history, and my work as America’s Beloved Porn Journalist. And yes, while I uttered the term “journalist” glibly, I was enough of a muckraker to have done my due diligence on her, and what she told me that night wasn’t a surprise. Because of something that had happened with a member of her family, she said, she would like me not to have anything further to do with porn.
I understood where she was coming from. As out as I was, as fervently as I believe that this business is as friendly and transactional as any and more transparent than most, I knew that the general perception of the porn world—despite my girlfriend having been a consumer of porn in the past—was that it was sordid, tainting, and not a gig to be brought up in polite company. I knew that all I had to do to ease the passing of an elderly relative, for example, and to end his suffering, was to mention that I’d been the editor of Penthouse. Why waste all that cash on hospice when all you need to do is tell someone, gently, that you once sprained your ankle slipping in someone’s ass juice on a Vivid set?
One’s porn CV can be a terrible weapon of mercy.
My professional life as Gram had been winding down anyway, and I was also considering what being in my 40s in a world of barely legal teens and their MILF sisters might look like. I had entered this business and brushed against the ranks of many walking Cautionary Tales—”Lifers,” as yet another ex had called them—who lacked the ability to function elsewhere, who didn’t want to function elsewhere, or who were a combination of both. Dirty Old Men.
And that’s fine, too. I know a lot of women who dig the Dirty Old Men.
Because I must acknowledge that a little bit of the appeal of porn to me is a general sense of accessibility. Because I’m monogamous until I’m not, I like people for whom The Act is a zesty, freewheelin’ enterprise. I like how [certain] porn performers’ worldviews are shaped by the industry’s basic openness. Sex is such a taboo that, having conquered it in such a public way, porn performers and sex workers and even beloved journalists are allowed to put lots of things in perspective. That’s what I dig about it, anyway.
So as I sat there at an Orange County dining room table, far away from Porn Valley (but fairly close to Kelly and Ryan Madison, it turns out), I vowed to “divest, but not disavow” my tiny adult biz empire that had taken me around the country, almost got me to Europe but for a breakdown at the Woodley Street Flyaway (I curse it still), and had imperfectly financed the life of my little family. The next morning I set about getting rid of websites, made a few phone calls, and fairly quickly closed up shop (though a GoDaddy renewal notice a while later, coupled with the news that someone was copying and pasting my articles on inferior sites, alerted me to the fact that I still had a web presence; that was an unwelcome and damning surprise). I stopped accepting work from porn outlets. Even when I really needed it.
Love being what it is, the perks of the relationship (stability! age-appropriate television choices! the promise of partnership!) for a while outweighed the nagging ache of isolation from a community I’d really enjoyed. All those exuberantly sadder-but-wiser people. Her jealousy kept me from most relationships with women, not just the ones who did Anal for Pay on Sherman Way.
But I guarantee that she made sacrifices, too. I might have a heart full of love, but there are times—and I hesitate to shatter your heroic impression of me—when I’m no prize.
It turns out that this Talk we had fell on the same night that Bill Margold died.
Margold for me was one of those Cautionary Tales. He’d been in the business since the 1970s, and even starred in some of the first pornos shot on video. (As I write this, my friend Roy Karch, who directed some of those videos, is in a downtown LA rehab, having suffered a stroke. He’s one of the only people I kept in touch with, as our conversations were all about Led Zeppelin, Tough Jews, and the Red Sox.) By the early years of this century, when I met Margold, he had become one of those guys the porn world is full of: a blowhard, a buffoon, and a massive repository of forgotten knowledge that, because of the underground nature of the world in which he started his career, and the zeal among the majority of its performers, once “retired,” to be erased from memory, was going to die with him.
I felt bad for him, I admired his store of lore and knew it needed to be preserved, and I couldn’t stand him. No doubt he viewed me, as someone with a qualified impression of him, as disrespectful.
How does one survive in a business that makes its money off youth, whose professionals are replaceable, and whose history is murky? Different people have different methods, but if you’re Margold, you become a guy who constantly says things like “Well, the thing I’m famous for doing is – -” or “A quote that originated with me is – -.” Porn’s elderly often succumb to the fate of being just as insufferable as they are essential; they are fonts of data from a past that disappears way sooner than it does in other jobs.
Because she got really antsy and hurt whenever I’d talk about porn, my girlfriend only knew that a guy I knew died. I talked about how most people felt about him, using the words “blowhard” and “buffoon” and “insufferable.”
She said, “So I guess you’re not giving the eulogy?” (I loved her because she was funny, smart, and beautiful, and yet so many conversations were off limits. I realize I should have gently removed myself and spared us both my resentment and her growing distrust.)
Margold died alone in his apartment in Chatsworth. A memorial service was planned and Roy Karch went. He said that every eulogy included some language like “I thought Margold was an ass, but he was our ass.” I recalled some feud or other Margold had had with someone, back in the days when websites mattered (and I had the best one, whereas everyone else’s looked like they were from 1995 and reflected the grammar, usage, and spell-check skills of people who were too busy reveling in the easy availability of good-natured sluts to worry about getting their GEDs), in which he publicly wished the other person dead. I remember thinking that Margold had freed me from writing a politically correct obituary for him when his time came.
When I’d determined that Margold had died the very night my girlfriend had asked me to quit porn as a condition of our continued relationship, I thought of it as a benevolent validation of my choice. We look at people as Cautionary Tales because we see ourselves in them. No, I wouldn’t be a bloated and pink-faced, blathering troll skeevily calling 19-year-olds “kid” and handing them greasy teddy bears straight off the bus (yes, Margold did this), but I feared what type of person I’d become if everyone forgot history but me. If, after losing the ability to get lead in my pencil, I was still hanging around.
On this website I placed the following notice as I waited for the domain name to expire:
Then, after my girlfriend and I broke up, I was surprised to see the site was still here (I thought it expired last June). So I’m left with the slight ache of the breakup of a relationship that was wonderful in so many ways but just didn’t sit right in others, thinking “What now?” and “Do I still have those pictures of Cytherea?” and “Is anyone still alive?” For verily, I looked at the nominations for this year’s XRCO Awards and I couldn’t identify 70 percent of those people.
Join me, won’t you? in trying to make sense of a past that may also include a present and a future. I have such a KILLER idea for two coffee table books that I’m itching to get started on, and I’d kinda like to see if I can navigate the new porn reality without recognizing a Cautionary Tale in the mirror.