Back in the teens of this century I had an interesting job for about a year; it wasn’t a bucket list gig but it wasn’t a hack job, either (though it had some hacky elements). I was the shadow editor of a men’s magazine whose salad days were long past. I say “shadow” because I was hired to copy edit and proofread but an expertise shortage at the top found me doing the heavy lifting, editorially. Before the shadow job could turn into anything more tangible and lucrative, I left Porn Valley for reasons that seemed reasonable at the time.
I won’t mention its name, but this magazine had been one of the big three and it had a Sexy Letters section for which it was widely known. I remember reading those letters in water-damaged, sun-baked copies of the magazine that I’d find behind my junior high school or (in slightly better condition) under my older brother’s waterbed. Let us say that I did not encounter any of this material until the day after my 18th birthday and let us further say the magazine was founded by Pip Caligulone and the Sexy Letters section was named after the place the Lakers used to play.
By the time I arrived at Pip Caligulone’s Houseboat, the bloom was off the rose. A large chunk of the content-creation process had been farmed out to Australia, where the ,magazine had a bigger market share, and so one of my jobs was editing the horribly-written lifestyle/aspirational copy the Aussies had come up with, changing phrases like “en suite” to “bathroom” in advertorials for luxury hotels that readers would never visit, changing kilometers to miles in advertorials for high performance vehicles that readers would never drive, and looking up Australian/American dollar exchange rates, as if the price tag mattered.
In the first month I was handed a celebrity interview to edit.
“Houseboat actually interviewed Jake Jellybean or however his name is spelled?” I asked.
“No,” the guy who was paid to be editor replied. “We subscribe to a service that interviews celebrities on press junkets. They answer a bunch of generic questions, their publicity departments fill in biographical information, and (magazines like Houseboat) fill in the Q to Jake Jellybean’s A.”
I realized I’d been reading interviews like that all my life in magazines like Parade or in free shopping circulars distributed to bodega dental offices, Planned Parenthood, and Christian Science reading rooms.
“Golly!” I said. “I learn something new every day!”
The job was often fun and—really—I’ve been in more exploitive situations in workplaces. I wasn’t picking strawberries or cotton, and I didn’t hate myself like I did when I worked for TMZ.
But if there was anything that represented a loss of innocence for your young narrator at Pip Caligulone’s Houseboat, it was when I was told that the Sexy Letters weren’t real. Can you imagine? Just a few years before we had all woken up to a whole effing U2 album nonconsensually inserted up our iPods, and then I was told that someone on staff had to write the Sexy Letters!
But then it all started to make sense. Because the Sexy Letters always had pictures with them that never quite seemed to fit the story. I remember reading one, years ago, about some haybale farm girl fling and the pictures were of razor-thin women in high heels and lingerie.
“This isn’t the ‘Children of the Corn’ butter-soaked romp that I envisioned with my underdeveloped sexuality,” I mused at the time.
So one of my jobs was to read the stories and then send an email to the photo department to find images from the Houseboat archives that matched, to the best of anyone’s ability and motivation, the characters from the Sexy Letter. It never worked out. The images were about as relevant to the Sexy Letters as the images in this article are to what is happening at your house right now, you poor clod.
But over several months I did write several of the Sexy Letters, which I will begin sharing with you today. And, since I am my own photo department, I’m populating the stories with my own incongruous images from the Gram Ponante archives.
Previously on Porn Valley Observed: Scenes from the Class Struggle in Playboy’s Penthouse; Peter O’Toole’s Porn Valley Contributions