LOOKING FOR THE SHIT
How I parlayed my annoying but tolerable sex addiction into an unexpected career move through the smut biz, providing however, that I could ever find anyone crazy enough to give me a part in one of those movies I had been watching from the safety of my seat in the balcony.
by Shaun Costello
First things first. In 1968, Otis Redding was sittin’ on the dock of the bay, Marvin Gaye heard it through the grapevine, and The Rolling Stones had sympathy for the devil. America lost first, Martin Luther King, then Bobby Kennedy. Richard Millhouse Nixon won the Whitehouse, and the Tet offensive shocked the Pentagon and turned Vietnam into the quagmire that it was to remain. America’s favorite doctor, Benjamin Spock, was indicted on charges of conspiracy to encourage violation of the draft laws. At the Mexico City Olympic Games, two track athletes had to return their medals for giving the Black Power salute, and Yale went coed.
In 1968 I was 24 years old, living in Manhattan, unemployed, without direction, pretty much adrift. I had gotten a job editing a small, controlled circulation magazine called “Careers for the College Man” when I got out of school, but after two years I became bored with it and quit. With no office destination in my daily schedule, I found myself spending an ever increasing amount of time sitting in the balconies of sleazy movie theaters looking at the bodies of naked women. This was before hard core porno was legally shown in theaters, and the available smut was anything from volley ball games in nudist camps, to exploitation sagas which included some minor nudity, to travelogues showing the breasts of Massai maidens in Kenya. As far as I was concerned any breast was better than no breast, whether it was a bouncing volley baller in a nudist camp, or a maiden in Nairobi. Then came the soft core sex movie, which presented a vast improvement over bouncing boobs. Partial nudity, simulated sex, and occasionally girls actually kissing each other. I was in heaven. I was in the balcony.
I suppose I could blame my sex addiction on my Irish Catholic upbringing, or on every girl who denied me bare tit during adolescence, which was every girl I knew, but the fact is that, for as far back as I can remember, I just wanted to have sex with everyone I met, and was disappointed when reciprocity did not present itself. I’m not even sure what a sexual addiction is exactly, except to say that, for most of my life, my libido got in my way. For most kids puberty is the beginning of an exciting life long adventure, for me it was the end of reason. Sexual fantasy became my religion, masturbation became my delight, and the balcony of the sexploitation house became my home. I was a willing slave to my own carnality, and that was just fine with me.
Having always suspected myself of possessing larger than life sexual proclivities, not that I understood the alternative, or even wanted to, I had no problem accepting my questionable daily routine, prowling the caverns of Manhattan’s West Forties looking for the shit. My problem was paying for it. With no income to support my ever-expanding sexual adventures, it was only a matter of time before I ran out of box office resources. I needed a job that would pay enough to support my smut habit, while leaving me enough free time to indulge in it.
Thank God for old friends. Joe was the only holdover from my high school days in Forest Hills, and I became reacquainted with him purely by accident, while dropping off the photo-mechanicals for an ad in “Careers” at Grey Advertising, where our production work was done. Joe had taken a job at Grey as a junior Account Exec, and it didn’t take me long to remember how much I liked him. Knowing that I hadn’t saved a nickel from my magazine salary, he had strongly advised me not to quit until I found an alternative income, advice which I completely ignored. So, when I quit the magazine Joe had an idea. He had a friend who was an up and coming fashion photographer. The guy had potential, but was shooting more tests than jobs and needed a good sales rep. A photographer’s rep is someone who pounds the pavement, from one advertising agency to the next, carrying the photographer’s portfolio, hoping to show it to agency art directors, whose responsibility it was to select the appropriate photographer to shoot an ad that the agency had created for a particular client. Sounds simple, but the competition was fierce. For every ad created there were a thousand photographers hoping to shoot it, and a thousand reps hoping to make the deal. I didn’t really know that much about photography, but during my time at the magazine I had accumulated a sizable number of contacts at most at the bigger agencies. It seemed reasonable to me that I could parlay those contacts into a successful career as one of the thousand reps hoping to make the deal.
His name was Peter and his studio was a few blocks from Gramercy Park. A large second floor loft with a decent size reception area filled by several girls with portfolios on their laps, hoping to have Peter shoot test shots of them, a brick walled shooting studio, and an apartment in the back where Peter lived. His portfolio seemed surprisingly good. Black and white photographs, mostly tests, but nice, crisp, appealing stuff. I liked the feel of the place. It was a glamorous space in an entry level kind of way, Credence Clearwater or NRBQ was playing really loud, and there were always models around, hopeful and willing. I could do this. The problem was there would be no salary. I would make a twenty five percent commission on any jobs I brought in, but that might take a while. Peter and I shook hands on a pretty loose arrangement, and I was now a photographer’s rep.
The studio turned out to be a great daily destination. I would arrive each day between nine and ten, drink coffee, make sales calls to art directors at advertising agencies, and canoodle with modeling hopefuls. After lunch I would trek uptown, portfolio under my arm, hoping to make the deal. Advertising was in it’s golden age, and the agencies still had those romantic and almost musical names, now abandoned, and long since replaced by initials: Batton Barton Durstein and Osborn, Sullivan Stauffer Colwell and Bayles, Doyle Dane Bernbach, Benton and Boles, Foote Cone and Belding, J Walter Thomson, McCann Ericson. And I took Peter’s portfolio to each and every one of them, glad-handing as many art directors as I could manage, undaunted by rejection, hoping to make the deal.
By the late sixties the Ted Bates Agency had moved into the new Astor Plaza Tower, at Broadway and Forty Fifth Street, the beginning of the alleged gentrification of Times Square. The Ted Bates Agency became a favorite target for my sales efforts, not because of its size, which was large, or its client list, which was substantial, but because of its location. It was only a block away from my balconies of choice, the sleazy movie houses of Eighth Avenue. An enthusiastic and impassioned sales pitch to a Bates art director on why Peter should photograph their new Schweppes advertising campaign, followed by two hours in the balcony watching exploitation films that probably included the nude initiation ritual of a coven of witches in Denmark.
There was a popular fantasy at the time, that my girlfriend of the moment explained to her shrink three times a week, and me whenever I would let her, which involved living in the cast of “Hair”. Spending the rest of your life dancing the dances, singing the songs, giving, and loving, and caring, and naked, and free. Let the sun shine in. There are worse ideas, I guess, but that just didn’t work for me. For me, being in the cast of “Sexual Customs in Latvia” was more like it. Being naked with flaxen haired maidens, dancing around Maypoles, and participating in strange sexual initiation rituals, while some guy with a camera keeps saying, “That’s right, keep smiling, keep dancing, that’s it. Now….everybody kiss….that’s it…more kissing”. After all, there were people in these strange movies. Why couldn’t I be one of them?
Before Al Goldstein started publishing Screw, there was an alternative weekly called The East Village Other which, because of its highly sexual content, was a must-read for any self loathing sex addict. The classifieds in the “Other” were particularly amusing, and a good place to find cheap entertainment. Swingers Clubs, Encounter Groups, Rap Sessions, Naked Bhudism – hey, it was 1968 and people DID these things. As I perused the assortment of opportunities something stopped me dead in my tracks. Right there, in between INGRID’S ENCOUNTERS, and RAP LIKE YOU MEAN IT, was the ad I had been looking for all my life. The answer to every question. The remedy to every ailment. Better than finding the Holy Grail. Right there in capital letters, printed for all to see:
MALE AND FEMALE MODELS WANTED, NUDITY REQUIRED.
I gasped. I tingled. There was a phone number to call at the bottom of the ad. My prayers had been answered. Flaxen haired nakedness, and Maypoles, and kissing, and dancing, and more kissing, and more nakedness………Latvia, here I come.
It was early February on 42nd Street, cold and bleak like it’s supposed to be. At the huge news stand on the corner of Broadway all the newspapers carried the same photograph on their front page. It was Eddie Adams’ Pulitzer Prize winning pic of the South Vietnamese general holding a pistol to some poor guy’s head and blowing his brains out. A major offensive had just begun by the North Vietnamese army on a holiday called Tet, and there was pretty universal grumbling about where this whole mess was going. As I stood there in a crowd of equally disturbed gawkers, looking for brain particles coming out of the guy’s head, the speaker over the record store on the corner was blaring out the Beatles’ Happiness Is a Warm Gun. I hesitated, savoring the irony of a not easily forgettable moment, and then began to work my way east toward Sixth Avenue. Happiness Is a Warm Gun. Not for the guy on every front page in the city getting his brains splattered all over downtown Saigon, it wasn’t.
The north side of 42nd Street was mostly two and three story buildings, cheap retail or fast food on the street level with a stairway to the floors above, inhabited by temporary tenants, occupying the space until the long promised demolition began. I took the index card out of my pocket. I knew the address by heart, but somehow having it on a card was like having the written invitation to a party. The studio was on the second floor over a cheap electronics store that occupied the street level. The kind of electronics store that’s been going out of business since the day it opened, with large banners covering most of the windows that read: LAST DAYS…….EVERYTHING MUST GO……..LOST OUR LEASE……….MAKE AN OFFER. I guess somebody must have believed the signs, because there were customers going in and out. There was a doorway to the right of the store, and inside a stairway to the second floor. I started getting nervous as I climbed the stairs. Would there be flaxen haired peasant-girls awaiting my nude caress? Would there be nakedness and kissing? Would they like me? Or would they simply say that there’s been a big mistake. What nude models? What the hell are you talking about? Nude Models? You better get the fuck outta here. Get out. Get out before I call the cops, do you hear me. Get the fuck outta here.
I sheepishly opened the door because no one responded to my knock. It was a big, empty, dirty space, with dark paper covering the picture windows to the street. A heavy-set man came through a door with the sound of a just-flushed toilet behind him. “You the guy?” he asks me. I tell him I called from the ad in the paper, and that somebody gave me the address and told me to come on over, and that I was sorry if I was late. “Don’t worry about it. The girls are in the back. My name’s Aaron”. The place was owned by a guy named Teddy Snyder, who had a camera store in Queens, and was making extra money selling nude photographs to cheap sexploit magazines. His Igor-like, toilet flushing assistant Aaron led me to the back where Teddy was busy, taking pictures of two seriously ugly biker babes. He was an affable but business-like guy who was there to take nude photographs of myself and the two ugly girls that would be published in masturbatory magazines, and he would pay us $25 dollars each for the session.
So we start. I’m relieved to find that there’s no kissing. Not even any touching. Teddy took photographs of semi-naked people almost, but not quite touching. The girls were both stoned on the same thing, whatever that was, and were ugly. They had gnawed fingernails and horrible feet, and never stopped giggling. None of this mattered to Ted, who probably got paid the same amount for the pictures whether the feet were ugly or not. So I posed with the girls, almost, but not quite kissing their breasts, and they giggled and continued acting stupid. I don’t think they actually ever acknowledged my presence in the room. Where was my flaxen haired maiden, with her kissing and nakedness? I don’t think Teddy Snyder knew any flaxen haired maidens, but what the hell, I had twenty-five bucks more than I came in with, and Ted’s assurance of more of the same.
I walked back over to the corner of Broadway and had a hot dog at Nedicks, covered with their special relish, and a large orange drink, and thought things over. I was disappointed, but it could have been worse. I got paid something for my efforts, and had gotten a foot in the door. Even though the biker babes had been hideous, the situation itself had possibilities. The flaxen haired maidens were out there somewhere, and if I just persevered, those possibilities would be realized. So I walked over to Eighth Avenue to engage in some serious balcony time.
I’d been Peter’s rep for almost four months now and hadn’t made a nickel, so it was time to muster whatever resources I could to keep the wolves at bay. McCalls Patterns was a division of McCalls Magazine, and published a how-to book for housewives who still made their own clothes, filled with photographs of models showing off the possible final product of their domestic efforts. The man who ran it was an old friend of my family, someone I’d known since early childhood. So, I made the call. “Hi Uncle Sidney. Say, I was wondering…….who takes the pictures for your pattern book?” The next day I was in his office, in the old New York Central Building, showing Peter’s portfolio to his art director. Thank God for family friends. The art director, who was impressed by Peter’s book, agreed to meet us at the studio for lunch the next day to discuss a possible job. Hallelujah. Well, I’ve done my day’s work, I wondered what was playing at the Tivoli.
Of all the sleaze houses in New York City, the Tivoli Theater was my favorite. Built early in the century as a legitimate theater, it went through the usual transition to Burlesque, then to Vaudeville, then to movie house, and continued the downward spiral until arriving at today’s feature presentation, “THE PLEASURE MACHINES”. Hey, I’m in the mood for some of this. An actual feature film about a crazed scientist who creates life-like female robots whose sole purpose on this planet is giving pleasure to men. And they do it naked! I’d better get myself some popcorn, I’m going to be here for a while. The Tivoli actually had a candy counter, with hot buttered pop corn, Goldberg’s Peanut Chews, Snow Caps, Raisinets, Milk Duds, Honey Roasted Peanuts, pretty much the entire movie theater menu. So, popcorn in hand, I climbed the stairs, took a seat, and got ready for an afternoon of serious depravity. Forget about flaxen haired Maidens. Give me a room filled with horny female robots any day. I began to wonder what they’d be like, inside. Being experienced at public masturbation, I came equipped for the task at hand. You needed tissues or napkins, because this could be a messy business. And you needed something to put the used tissues or napkins in, because it just wasn’t kosher to leave your semen filled paper goods for the ushers to clean up. After all, they have enough to do as it is. Ah, life in the balcony.
My girlfriend of the moment decided to spike the eroticism in our relationship by dragging me over to Cinema One, on Third Avenue, to see a new sensation in modern yet classic erotica. Elvira Madigan was a slow and fuzzy journey with two suicidal Swedish adolescents though forests and foggy bogs, touching and caressing and being profound, all the while worrying about the consequences of touching and caressing and being profound. As the Mozart 21 played on and on, the audience sensed that the moment they had anticipated was near. Yes, here it was, right there up on the big screen, to see, and to cherish. The waking Swedish adolescent girl glanced up and saw the sleeping Swedish adolescent boy’s flaccid penis, and smiled, as the audience exhaled a universal sigh of approval and acceptance. And I’m thinking, a robot girl wouldn’t do that. No self-respecting robot girl would behave like that. If a waking robot girl glanced up and had one look at that sleeping Swedish adolescent’s equipment she would chow-down on that boy’s weenie right then and there. That’s just the way robot’s are. As the moviegoers exited the theater in silence and a shared understanding of a better world, my girlfriend of the moment gazed at me knowing that we had traveled together through an emotional portal to a new level of mutually experienced and sanguine tranquility. Ouch.
I was splitting time now between my girlfriend of the moment’s apartment in the East Seventies, and an apartment I shared with a friend down in Chelsea, which was not far from Peter’s studio, and definitely the domicile of choice. After work, I picked up a copy of the “Other” on my way to the Chelsea apartment, as well as two slices of pizza. There was a note on the fridge telling me that my room mate wouldn’t be home until later on, and would I please feed the cats, after which I sat down to troll the “Other’s” classifieds, looking for amusement. And there it was again, the same ad:
MALE AND FEMALE MODELS WANTED, NUDITY REQUIRED.
Teddy had told me that he would use me again, but I guess I must not have made much of an impression. Instead of simply picking up the phone and calling me, he was spending money advertising for someone else. Oh well. Maybe I should have pretended to like the biker babes. Maybe he thought I was ungrateful. I had mentioned to Teddy and Aaron my disappointment at the quality of the female participation. I should have kept my mouth shut. But wait a minute. There’s a different phone number. Maybe this ad was submitted by someone else. Teddy Snyder can’t be the only guy in the world looking for nude models. Maybe this guy knows some flaxen haired maidens. I paced the floor for a few hours, too nervous to make the call. Maybe Ted’s just gotten a different number. What would I say if he answered the phone? So I finally made the call, and got a busy signal. I guess I’m not the only pervert trying to get paid to get naked with women. When I finally got through, a guy named Bob Wolfe answered. After a brief and surprisingly friendly conversation, he told me to show up at 11AM on Thursday, at a ground floor studio on West Fourteenth Street, between Ninth and Tenth Avenues. This time it’s not stills. He’s shooting a soft core, ten minute short or loop, with one guy and one girl in the cast. Now, this is what I’ve had in mind from day one.
I arrived a little early, trying to score points with my potential employer. It was the kind of ground floor space where you entered though a gate under the stone stairway to the first floor of the building, pretty typical in Manhattan walk-ups. Bob was a small, bearded man, maybe in his mid thirties, friendly and talkative. The space was small, with film lights on stands surrounding a mattress on the floor, and a 16MM Bolex camera on a tripod, waiting for action – Bare-bones porno at its best. He tells me that he’s never met the girl, and that this will be her first time. Of course I’m hoping for a flaxen haired maiden, but I’ll settle for what walks through the door. I’ve learned my lesson. No more complaining about the talent.
The bell rang, and Bob disappeared down the hallway to the front door. A few moments later he returned with a truly adorable girl. I couldn’t stop grinning, and probably acted like a complete jerk, but I was beside myself with joy. She had long, curly, sandy colored hair, and a beautiful smile, and a small tight body to die for, and she was grinning at me just as much as I was grinning at her, and this was the moment I’d been waiting for, since masturbation hit me like an explosion when I was eleven. I’d reached the promised-land. Honey, I’m home.
Bob had a very different approach than Teddy Snyder. Paramount with Teddy was there be no touching, where with Bob, touching was what it was all about. Bob’s definition of “soft core” was not showing penetration. Genitalia was to be avoided, but if a penis did sneak its way into a shot, it had better be soft. The camera had 400 feet of 16MM film to expose, which translated into ten minutes. The editing had to be done in the camera, and Bob seemed to have a grasp of the content he wanted and the method to get it. I stood there with my co-star like camera fodder, awaiting our first big shot, while Bob fidgeted around the room turning on lights, checking his light meter, adjusting the camera; all the while expounding on his varied philosophies regarding eroticism and the moving image. And all I could think of was getting this girl’s clothes off. Meanwhile my curly haired cutie had begun her mischief. Her fingers had found mine. She was playfully gliding her hand up and down the inside of my thigh, grinning up at me, like we shared a secret, unknown to the rest of the universe. Well, we did share a secret, at least from Bob. My cock was as hard as a rock.
Bob was big on undressing for the camera. Unbuttoning, unzipping, slowly revealing body parts; reveal and caress, reveal and caress. When you see some skin where fabric had been only a moment ago, kiss it. I guess Bob figured that he could use up four of his ten minutes just undressing, as long as it was done with a certain slow, and erotic panache. I had completed the undressing of my co-star with painstaking tenderness, revealing the whole of her magnificent body, one part at a time, adoring every square millimeter as her loveliness was revealed to the camera, and meaning every bit of it, as she continued to grin at me, and unbeknownst to Bob, to secretly tickle my ever harder penis. OK, my turn. She removed my shirt with a reciprocity of caresses and licking, and the big moment finally arrived. Kneeling before me she undid my belt with her teeth, which I thought was a nice touch, then the hook, then the long slow unzip. She grasped my pants with a hand on either side of the open zipper and slowly pulled them down. Bob had grown silent as his performers had pretty much taken over the action, and the only sound in the room was the constant whirring of the camera. Her hands continued pulling down my pants until that inevitable moment when my very hard, and long imprisoned member, yearning to breath free, was released from the constriction of my trousers, and snapped up like a whiffle ball bat smacking her across the face. The camera stopped, and I heard Bob’s voice, “Oh shit”.
“Look fella, I can’t work this way”, like I’d broken some important rule, which I guess I had. Like a ritual that was familiar to him, Bob slowly turned off each of the four film lights surrounding the mattress. There was no instruction, no explanation, but it seemed understood that in turning off the lights, Bob was calling time out. My erection was obviously here to stay, and the only way around this problem was a sex break. His co-stars would fuck. There would be consummation and completion. The erection would be history, and he could turn the lights back on. So we do.
This little girl was a sexual powerhouse, and the action was noisy and athletic, and wet, and intense, with frequent changes of position, and her mouth was attached to my ear repeating over and over, “come inside me……come inside me…..give it to me”, until staring into her ever grinning face I did exactly that. As the breathing diminished, and the click of the first light being turned back on broke the silence, I realized that I had discovered something about myself that I never knew. In the midst of my bout of sexual frenzy with this wonderful young girl I had felt Bob’s eyes watching me. Quietly, silently, Bob sat there in the dark, watching his performers perform, but only for him. I’m not sure how it made him feel, but it made me feel powerful. Controlling, manipulating, teasing someone’s libido by performing a sex act in front of them. I would have to spend some time thinking about this. I liked the way it felt.
Round Two. My grinning co-star was back at it, playfully caressing my still hard penis while Bob checked his light meter. Action. The second reveal, with the same result, only this time she ducked as my erection escaped my pants, and the camera stopped again. “You’ve got to be shitting me”. Bob’s pissed. He’s been patient with me, even gave me a sex break, and this is the thanks he gets. He’s genuinely angry with me, but there’s no way around it. A second sex break is the only way. Knowing that I’m causing Bob a fair amount of grief, I feign a humble and contrite demeanor, but the truth is that I was having the time of my life. We fuck again. Bob watches. I like the way it makes me feel.
Round Three. Same result. I’m still hard. Bob’s beside himself. Being the pragmatist that he is, Bob sees that the only solution to dealing with my still hard penis is hiding it inside the girl. Now why didn’t I think of that? So we finish the little film with me pretending to fuck my co-star, while in fact doing exactly that. At some point I wondered how this was going to look from my seat in the balcony.
We say our goodbyes, exchange phone numbers, and my still grinning co-star, a bit disheveled from a day at the sexual olympics, exits Bob’s little studio to resume her life in the real world, wherever that is. Bob’s attitude has now taken a new turn. I’ve given him some grief, but I’ve shown him something he’s never seen before, a guy whose erection never goes away. It’s nothing new to me, but Bob’s never seen anything like it. We sat in his studio talking about things. He wanted to know if it was always like this. I told him, ever since puberty. I told him how I used to jerk off before going to the Friday night dances at the Community House in Forest Hills, where I grew up, so that my cock wouldn’t get hard slow dancing with girls. It never worked, but I did it anyway. I was thirteen, and I jerked off a lot. Bob’s looking at me as both, freak of nature and super hero, and I’m still thinking about my ever-grinning co-star. So, Bob laid his cards on the table. How would I like to come over to his apartment later on and fuck his wife while he watches? This was an unexpected development, and I said, “Sure”. A surprising fringe benefit to a day that had already exceeded any expectations I might have had. Sex had occupied my every thought since I was twelve, and endlessly masturbated in my room, while thinking about the skin behind Betsy Ryan’s knees. And now I was fucking a pornographer’s wife, after a day at the sexual olympics. It was an evening’s gratuity for an outstanding afternoon’s performance, and I was a kid in a candy store.
I could tell you more, but I think I’ve said enough. Besides, I’d run the risk of repetition, and by now you’ve surely Googled me, and have a good idea where all this is headed. As I began the process of remembering, I found this story’s narrator to have maintained a strangely appealing innocence, considering his chosen journey. He took a magic carpet ride, like a modern day Candide, through a murky world of pleasure, and danger, and risk, savoring every moment. And the farther his journey took him, the more distant the innocence became. And, there really was an innocence to the events of that afternoon in Bob Wolfe’s basement studio. It was never really quite like that, ever again.
© 2011 Shaun Costello
This story is gleaned from the pages of Chapter One, of Shaun Costello’s manuscript:
Sex, Gangsters, and Deception in the Time of ‘Groovy’
And can be reprinted with permission.