LULA AND CHRISTY GO TO TAMPA
An Uber Adventure
By Shaun Costello
Friday afternoon began without any surprises. I headed for my car carrying a bag of garbage to take to the community compactor, and a grocery list for the day’s shopping. When I got behind the wheel, I tapped the Uber App on my smart phone, which would connect me, through the GPS system, with Uber’s network. I had been driving an Uber cab for about two weeks, and was anxious to get some trips because last week I had gotten no fares at all. After dropping off the trash, I got back in my car to the sound of Uber’s trip signal. On the phone’s screen a circle was flashing on the GPS map, and my little Samsung Galaxy was beeping its heart out. A trip – just what I needed. Normally, the screen on the Uber App would provide the address and name of the passenger, the destination and the distance. But my screen was too dark to see any detail in daylight. Uber’s software was not yet fully engaged. So I let the voice on Uber’s navigation system guide me to my passenger. The Uber software is pretty glitchy, and seldom works as advertised, and Uber’s tech support is defensive and relatively unhelpful. As an Uber driver you’re pretty much on your own to wrangle your way through Uber’s software jungle, and somehow make it work.
The navigator’s voice guided me over the Peace River Bridge to downtown Punta Gorda, and a few quick turns took me to the front of one of the town’s waterfront hotels. I parked under the hotel’s portico and waited. No one approached the car, and the navigator’s voice kept squawking about another left turn and one hundred feet to the destination. I slowly made my way around the parking lot, and, sure enough, there was a second entrance. As I came to a stop, my phone’s screen lit up and told me I had arrived, but there was still no passenger’s name or destination provided. Not that I cared. I had a fare, and like Travis Bickle, I was prepared to take them wherever they wanted to go.
There was a substantial pile of luggage outside the door to the hotel. Four large hard bags, with handles and wheels, and several smaller bags, including several plastic shopping bags which were overflowing with contents. Standing behind the pile of luggage were two thin women, I would guess to be in their mid-forties, puffing on cigarettes and intensly babbling at each other. I got out of my car and asked them if they had ordered an Uber cab. The luggage might mean an airport run, which meant fifty bucks in my pocket, so I’m sure I had a smile on my face. At first they were a bit baffled by the car and the luggage, and how to fit all this into my little Honda Civic, and they shuffled their feet a bit, and puffed on their cigarettes. As we began to stuff my little trunk with their baggage, I asked if they were headed to the Airport. ‘No honey”, said the taller of the two in a seriously southern accent , “We’re goin’ to Tampa. A long trip today, sugar.” Tampa – that was over a hundred miles north, good news for this eager Uber driver.
After packing my little Honda’s trunk to its absolute limit, and the girls agreeing without complaint, to not smoke in my car, they crammed themselves and their overflowing shopping bags into the back seat, as I wiped the Uber App’s ‘Begin the Trip” bar to officially start the journey. They would introduce themselves as Lula and Christy. Two southern babes who had found themselves abandoned in Punta Gorda, Florida.
As we made our way toward I75 for the trip north to Tampa, they began to tell me their story, which, of course, was obvious from the get go. Lula, the taller and older of the two was from Memphis, and young Christy was from Biloxi Mississippi. Lula said she used Uber cabs all the time because she traveled so much, but she was vague about the nature of her travels. Christy seemed to be along for the ride. It seems they met this guy, which is, of course, how all stories like this one begin. They met him in an airport, although it was difficult from their babbling to understand where exactly, in the terminal cocktail lounge, waiting for a flight to Orlando. The guy bought them drinks, and after a while, began to persuade them to skip Orlando and come with him to Punta Gorda. “Orlando’s for losers”, he told them. “Come with me. My car’s in the lot at the Fort Myers airport. We’ll fly there and I’ll drive you to Punta Gorda.” He told them he would put them up in the best hotel in town and rent them a car. They would have the time of their lives. He would pay for everything. After several drinks, their Punta Gorda adventure began sounding more and more appealing. So, they changed their flight, and joined their new and generous friend on his journey to Fort Myers.
The whole business began to unravel as they checked in to the hotel in Punta Gorda. It seems that their new friend’s credit cards were maxed out. He told them that it was no problem. He had other cards at home and he would bring them over in the morning to pay for their room and take care of that rental car he had promised them. Although they were not specific about what took place in their hotel room that night, I think it’s safe to assume that a menage et troix of some kind was the order of the evening. They awoke with hangovers, their new friend long gone, having made his escape during the night. When they attempted to call him they found that his cell phone was out of order. He had never mentioned his last name. They had no way to find him. So, here they were – a couple of southern babes with serious hangovers, out two hundred bucks for the hotel room, in a strange little town about a million miles from nowhere. Lula had been to Tampa several times and liked it. She told her hungover companion that they would go to a waterfront hotel she knew in Tampa, and just try to forget the whole unpleasant episode. How would they get there? Lula had an Uber account.
Enter yours truly, dear reader, now on I75, headed north with a packed car, and two hungover and frisky women, who had decided to forget their misfortune and seize the day. We had barely put ten miles on the odometer before two fleshy objects revealed themselves on the arm rest between the two front seats – Two bare feet, containing ten toes, and two toe rings. Lula, who was sitting behind me, had placed her right foot on the arm rest, along with Christy’s left. I have to admit that they were attractive feet, and to thinking that this was the most promising Friday I had spent in a while. After a moment or two of silent anticipation, Lula pleasantly demanded to know which of the two feet were sexier. Was I being tested? Seduced? What exactly was happening here?
“C’mon now, honey. Who’s got better feet? You know you’re gonna like one more than the other. I think mine are pretty sexy, but if you like Christy’s, I’m OK with that. C’mon honey, you pick ‘em.”
The ten toes seemed engaged in some kind of choreographed wiggle routine, perhaps to help me decide. Was there a candid camera hidden somewhere in their luggage? All I knew is that I was up a hundred bucks for the long distance Uber trip, and presently engaged in an outrageous flirtation with two whacky women who had been abandoned in my neighborhood. I tried, of course to be “Solomon-like” in making any comparison. I told the girls that each foot had a different shape and that both were attractive in different ways. I said that I found both feet to be appealing, and that, if I came upon either of them in the course of an evening’s activities, that I would certainly create an inventive and satisfying use for them. Silence now. No response from the girls until I heard Christy telling Lula no to Patty Cakes.
“I don’t want to play Patty cakes.”
“C’mon now Christy honey, you know you want to.”
“No I don’t. No Patty cakes”
“Yesterday you played. You said you loved playing Patty Cakes.”
“No, I don’t want to. You can’t make me.”
“Suit yourself, Chisty honey, but you know you want to.”
During the Patty Cake exchange, the two bare feet disappeared from comparative consideration, my carefully crafted comparison evidently ignored. But the inquisition continued. Inquiring minds wanted to know.
It was Christy this time. “What do you think makes me horny, honey?”
The acoustics in my Honda favored road noise over back seat dialogue, so Chisty’s question seemed muffled, and my response was idiotic. “Christy, you want to know what I think makes you a horny honey?”
“No, no, no….You’re the honey – I’m just horny. I asked you, ‘What do you think makes me horny, honey?’ So, what do you think? C’mon now, guess.”
Were they just messing with me? I wasn’t sure. This was now far outside my very limited Uber experience..
“Christy, I don’t know you well enough to know what makes you horny. I know that you have an attractive left foot, and that some guy played some havoc with you both. That’s about all I know.”
“Drinkin’. Drinkin’ makes me horny as hell. The more I drink the hornier I get. You like drinkin’?”
“Sure, I mean, I guess.”
“I bet I could drink you under the table.”
“I’m sure you could, Christy. At my age, I don’t really do much high-volume drinking anymore. I’m too old for that kind of thing.”
“Nonsense. You’re not old at all. Younger men are stupid. I can’t tolerate ‘em. I like older men. Wisdom comes with age, don’t you know that? Hey, what sign are you, anyway?”
This conversation peaked with the foot comparisons, and had gone steadily downhill since the introduction of the Patty Cakes. “Capricorn, Christy. I’m a Capricorn.”
“Capricorn. That’s the goat. I like that. You know, I’ve learned a lot from hangin’ with older men. Older guys know stuff. Older guys have taught me everything I know about sex. And I know a shit-load about sex, I’ll tell you. A mega shit-load. “
Lula chimed in. “She sure does. Knows everything there is to know. Christy’s a fuckin’ encyclopedia, pardon my French, in the sex department.”
Was there a hidden microphone recording all of this? Adjectivally speaking, ‘hoodwinked’ would best describe how I felt at this moment. This couldn’t really be happening, could it? We were approaching the Sunshine Bridge on I75 and there was a scenic rest stop on the water, so I exited the highway, and pulled into the parking lot. I told the girls I was giving them a bathroom and cigarette break, and they squealed with delight. They needed the trunk opened so that they could rearrange some of their luggage, and for the next half hour, all of their bags were taken out of the trunk, and emptied on the pavement. They seemed to be taking the contents of each bag and placing it in the bag next to it, which had been emptied for this purpose, the contents now spread all over the ground. They sat in the midst of this mini-mountain of their possessions, babbling incomprehensibly, and passing cell phones back and forth. Christy had two, and Lula three, and they began to send text messages to unsuspecting recipients. The babbling had stopped now, and their thumbs were ablaze, texting away – using all five cell phones at once – passing them back and forth in an orgy of tele-communication.
If I were a normal taxi driver, I think I would be concerned at this point. Had these two escaped from psychiatric incarceration somewhere? Did they really have the money to pay for this very expensive ride? But with Uber, the minute a customer requests a ride, a hold is put on their credit card for the approximate amount of the fare. There was no way that I was not getting paid for this adventure. But this was time consuming, and I had to crack the whip. I told them that if a state trooper came by, we might get a ticket for littering, and to please get all of this stuff back in the trunk. They reacted surprisingly well, like naughty children who knew they had overreached, and began to fill the trunk with their newly rearranged possessions. We had now been in this parking lot for an hour, and neither Lula nor Christy had peed or had a cigarette. It was time to do both and get on with the trip.
I took advantage of the girls’ bathroom visit by activating the navigation system on the Uber App, which immediately lit up and started squawking directions. I now knew that I was getting paid for this bizarre endeavor, and I had directions to our destination, which made me feel better, since the girls were vague about knowing how to get where they were going. As we began to ascend the towering Sunshine Bridge, Christy spoke up mournfully, “When my Mama drew her last breath, a tear trickled down her cheek, like to break my heart right then and there.” Well, this was certainly a conversational game changer. Not to be outdone in the ‘last breath’ department, Lula answered, “When my Gramma drew her last breath, it was so soft you could barely hear it, I loved my Gramma.” Without skipping a beat, Christy responded, “When my Papa drew his last breath, it sounded like the last note in a sad song.”
Lula was now fully engaged. “When my Uncle Abner drew his last breath, it was as crackly as could be. Sounded like a chain saw.”
“Last breaths can’t be crackly, Lula. The good Lord made last breaths to be soft and soothing, like angel’s feathers.”
“You never met Uncle Abner. Every time that man opened his mouth it sounded like a chain saw. Like to drive Aunt Esther to drink. Not that she needed much help.”
The ‘last breath’ competition continued for a few more minutes, before the girls remembered that I was in the car. At least Christy remembered.
“Hey there, you don’t have to go back tonight , do you? I got plans for you, mister. I’m gonna drink you under the table. Hey, you’re not married or nothin’, are you?”
I told Christy I was divorced and she squealed, “Eeeeeeehaaaa…..I bet you’re not as innocent as you look. I bet you’re a guy who’s constantly on the prowl, lookin’ to meet up with someone just like me. Aint that true? C’mon, fess up, you’re a horny bugger, aint you? I’m gonna drink your cute little ass right under that table. Then we’ll see what’s what. I don’t take no for an answer, do I, Lula?”
“Nope, she sure don’t. You’ll be stayin’ with us tonight. We’ll get a room, and when the fun starts, the sky’s the limit.”
For purpose of disclosure, I have to admit to being both amused and tempted when those two feet suddenly and playfully appeared on the arm rest. But now, that seemed so long ago. I did not feel that these girls put me in danger in any way, but we were now three and a half hours into this trip, with at least another half hour to our destination, and there was the return trip to consider. Spending the night in a hotel room with Lula and Christy was not on my bucket list. I did not say no, however. I thought it prudent to play them along, and wait for the right moment to make a graceful exit.
We were now in bumper to bumper rush hour traffic, and the navigation system’s voice was giving me different directions than Lula, who had told me she had stayed in this hotel several times. She said that she might have given Uber the wrong street address. Uber’s navigation system was extremely precise, and if she address had been off by a single digit in the street number, the directions to the address would differ substantially. Lula had said turn right when Uber said left, and since she had been there before I followed Lula. We made a few more turns until we would up in a parking lot a few hundred yards from the hotel. Lula said to stop here. That someone was meeting them here, and they would decide on where to stay when he arrived. This was a new wrinkle in their story. Someone was meeting them. The Uber App was telling me that we were 300 feet from our destination, and until that destination was reached, the trip could not be concluded, which meant of course, that I would not be paid. I had to get these girls out of my car, and their ton of luggage out of my trunk as gently as possible, and drive that 300 feet.
Lula and Christy were now sitting on the pavement next to my car, all five cell phones actively engaged in another texting orgy. I mentioned to Lula that she should call her friend rather than texting him, since he was obviously on his way, and driving a car. Christy responded that Lula didn’t talk on phones, she only texted. My Samsung kept squawking about the 300 feet to the destination, and I tried, as gently as possible, to explain that if my car did not travel the 300 feet, that Uber would not pay me. They responded well to this information, and began removing bags from the trunk, while continuing to text to God only knows whom. But as the bags were placed on the pavement, their contents began being switched, just as they had at the rest stop. Distracted by their texting, the girls were removing half the contents of the bags, leaving the stuff strewn all over the pavement. This is where Lula had said that her friend was meeting them – right here in this parking lot.
Just as they had done at the rest stop, Lula and Christy were now sitting in the midst of a mountain of clothes, various and sundry bathroom items, and odd electronic devices, texting away on all five cell phones. I announced that I was going to drive that final three hundred feet to complete the trip, so that I would be paid. They grunted a vague acknowledgement, but pretty much ignored me. So that’s where I left them, in the middle of a now-trashed parking lot, sitting on the pavement in the midst of all their worldly possessions, texting their hearts out, seemingly unaware of my leaving, or of anything else for that matter. As I got back in my car, they didn’t look up. I watched them in the rear view mirror as I drove away, hoping that they might wave, but they were in another world entirely, and quite oblivious to mine.
By the time I reached home, eight hours had elapsed since my smart phone lit up with the Tampa trip. As a purely business venture I consider these eight hours to be badly invested. The hundred and twenty miles to Tampa was a paid trip, but the hundred and twenty mile return was not. Two hundred and forty miles on my car, a lot of gas, and eight hours of my life that I’ll never get back. But everything you do in life is not measured in dollars and cents. I will be paid $99. for the trip, which is hardly enough. But the eight hours I spent in the deliciously insane company of Lula and Christy will linger in my psyche for quite some time. Was anything they told me true? I really can’t say. Were they simply toying with me? I just don’t know. But those wiggling toes, the “Last Breath” stories, “I’m gonna drink you under the table”, “C’mon, fess up – you’re a horny bugger, aint you? “The sky’s the limit.” The texting orgies. These are moments I won’t soon forget.
And where do you suppose they are now? Did their friend ever show up? Are they still sitting in that parking lot? Did some wayward cop cite them for littering, or even vagrancy? Are they attempting to explain themselves to the psychiatrist assigned to their case? Who knows. I like to think that girls like Lula and Christy just keep on keepin’ on. That, even in the midst of their apparent confusion and seemingly irrational behavior, they somehow triumph. That there will always be some guy who has a scheme that isn’t true, who will persuade them to change their plans, and follow him to paradise. That they will wind up abandoned once again in a strange hotel that they were forced to pay for. And that they will need to leave that strange hotel, and go somewhere familiar to recuperate and regroup. And how will they get there? Well, after all, Lula has an Uber Account.
© 2016 Shaun Costello
DONATE ANY AMOUNT THROUGH PAYPAL
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.
CREATING MORAL ROT
One film at a time
By Shaun Costello
By the early Spring of 1971 I was still bogged down by the editing of Forced Entry, my first feature length film. I could successfully fake directing a movie, which is exactly what I had done, but dealing with the machinery of post production proved to be a difficult undertaking. The months were going by as I pretended to edit the film, terrified that, sooner or later, I would be discovered as the fraud I most certainly was. Meanwhile, there was no money coming in, so I had to resort back to porno-acting as a source of income.
Sex films were now being made with theatrical distribution in mind, and some very different people began to test the waters. In mid April I showed up at a five story brownstone in Manhattan’s fashionable East Seventies, to act in a feature length sex film. The owner of the house was Richard De Combray, a semi-famous actor/photographer who did coffee table picture books of cities like Venice. Doug Collins and Avind Harum were the producers. Doug had been a film editor, and Avind, a six foot five, blond Norwegian, had been a lead dancer with the Harkness Ballet. This was a far cry from the sleazy atmosphere I had experienced just a few years earlier. These guys had a concept. Shoot a film in one day. Edit in under a week, and get it to the marketplace in under two. They had a story with a beginning, a middle, and a surprise ending. They also knew where the money was, market wise. Jerry Gross, who had a company called Cinemation, was raking in record profits on a film he picked up called “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song”, made by Melvin Van Peebles for almost nothing, and which was quickly becoming the biggest grosser in the history of independent films. Gross was looking to pick up a sex movie, and Doug Collins knew it. So Doug made his little movie for about five thousand dollars, and sold it to Gross two weeks later for Fifteen. These guys had a concept from day one. There was a lesson to be learned here.
In the Fall of that year, I got a call from Doug, who was flush from the success of having sold his first sex movie at a profit of 200%, and wanted to invest that money in a project so bizarre that he was convinced it would make him a fortune. He planned to produce a movie that would be called:
“AN AMERICAN IN BETHESDA”
The world’s first Vaudeville Porno Musical.
He asked me if I would play the part of an amputee, who had lost his leg in combat in Vietnam, and was recuperating at The Bethesda Naval Hospital, just outside Washington DC. Doug’s idea was to create a movie around the lives of Vietnam vets, who were under long term care at this facility, and the unusual entertainment provided for them by the Veteran’s Administration. He put casting notices in the trade papers for Vaudeville performers, and they responded in the hundreds: singers, dancers, comedians, jugglers, fire eaters, ventriloquists, even an Adagio Dance Act called Patrick and Nadja who did a tasty Adam and Eve routine with a twelve foot python named Gladys. Doug and Avind’s idea was to create an absurd, grotesque comedy revealing the daily drudgery of the patients, intercut with the performances of the Vaudeville acts who had been brought in to entertain them. And, somewhere in the midst of this cinematic hocus-pocus the ever horny patients would chase their nurses around Ward “F”.
Now, this was 1971, when hallucinogenic pot sold for twenty dollars an once, and Doug certainly smoked more than his share, which was the only explanation I could come up with for how he could possibly think he could sell something like this. But, who was I to argue with a guy who made a 200% profit on his first movie, regardless of how insane this project seemed.
The entire film was shot at the old, abandoned AT&T soundstage in the Westbeth complex, on Bethune Street, on the extreme edge of Manhattan’s West Village. The Vaudeville acts, none of whom were told that Doug and Avind planned on putting sex scenes in this epic, were shot separately, one right after the other, which took an entire, very long shooting day. The actors who had been hired to play the patients, Doctors and Nurses; myself, Jamie Gillis (his first film), Fred Perna (later Lincoln), Laura Cannon, and many others whose names I have forgotten, showed up on the second shooting day which, as I recall, exceeded 24 hours. The shooting took so long, and Doug was so confident of turning cinematic absurdity into profits, that he only shot one sex scene, which involved me and Laura Cannon.
A few days later we shot the preposterous last scene, in which the amputee, played by myself and now nicely fitted with a new prosthetic leg, exits the Hospital using crutches, and is run over by a car while crossing the street. Doug and Avind hired an expensive Hollywood stunt man to do the scene, and shot it from many angles, over and over again, while I sat on a bench across the Street with my friend Harry Reems, both of us tripping on mescaline, watching me die again and again.
It took Doug a few months to cut this thing, and I went to a screening with Jamie Gillis and Bill Markle, who had been the cinematographer, and with whom I was now involved in another project. We could only shake our heads in disbelief. Doug had included all of the angles of the death scene in the final version, so that we see the amputee hit by the car about ten times, which is all scored to a song, written by Doug, the lyrics of which I remember as beginning with:
“A Man’s not supposed to cry,
But flowers grow,
Under the snow.”
While this movie was a hilarious adventure in absurd film making, I was absolutely convinced that it was unsellable which, unfortunately for Doug and Avind, turned out to be true. They spent about six months pounding the pavement, screening their cinematic oddity for distributor after distributor, until finally giving up, and shelving it.
Flash forward to mid 1974, when I got a call from Doug, whose name and latest misadventure were all over New York’s newspapers. He told me his tale of woe over a few beers at Joe Allan’s, an actor’s hang-out in the Theater District. It seemed that Doug, who had become a partner in a Commodities Brokerage firm, had gotten himself into trouble selling something called commodities options. Buying futures on commodities like plywood, or cocoa, or soy beans was a common practice, but Doug took this to another level by selling options on these futures which, while not illegal at the time, was highly questionable. Evidently there was someone at the Commerce Department in Washington who set the price on chickens each week, and Doug had been told that this information could be bought for a price. So he borrowed from everyone he knew, and came up with ten thousand dollars which he stuffed into an envelope and passed to the appropriate person at Commerce, and bought a ton of options on chicken futures on behalf of all his customers. The shit hit the fan when the market opened, and the price of chickens that Doug had purchased for ten thousand dollars turned out to be bogus. He had done all the purchasing on margin, and when the call came he was caught short by a mile, his company lost their seat on the commodities exchange, and Doug was up on felony fraud charges, facing possible jail time. He was selling everything he owned to pay attorneys, and thought that maybe I might be interested in buying “An American in Bethesda”. Doug had heard that I had become quite successful producing ‘one-day-wonders’, which were cheaply made quickie sex features, and thought I might be able to add a few sex scenes, and convince my distributors to buy his fiasco as a sex film.
I told Doug that I would see what I could do, and convinced Teddy Kariofilis, the owner of Manhattan’s Capri Cinema, that this was a good idea which, of course, it wasn’t. Poor Doug. He was a nice guy who would forever be known as the man who was caught short on chickens.
Renaming the film “Teenage Nurses” was Teddy’s idea. So, I added some sex scenes, and even a laugh track, which I thought was funny at the time, and “Teenage Nurses”, formerly “An American in Bethesda”, opened at the Capri Cinema sometime in the Spring of 1975. Al Goldstein’s scorching review in Screw Magazine featured a production still under which read the caption:
“Pornography loses its innocence, and succumbs to moral rot in this puker”.
I thought I had died and gone to heaven, being reviled by Goldstein, New York’s preposterous porno maven and morality huckster. Goldstein’s venom was my first worthwhile achievement in pornography.
Another flash-forward, this time to early 2010. After remaining in some unknown basement for 35 years, a tattered 16MM print of “Teenage Nurses” was found, and used as source material, from which a low quality DVD was struck. A friend in New York, who was aware of the story behind this bizarre project, sent me a copy. I think it’s important to include here my reaction to seeing this strange movie, 35 years after I talked Teddy Kariofilis into buying it. What follows, is a copy of the e-mail I sent to my friend in New York, describing my feelings, after watching it.
Re: Teenage Nurses
Yes, that’s me as Arthur Boynton BSF News with the Groucho nose and glasses. I added these scenes to Doug Collins original, blissful catastrophe to give the film some chaotic structure. And yes that’s me as the amputee patient, filmed four years earlier. The last scene, where I was run over by the car, was done with a highly paid stunt man. I sat there, with my friend Harry Reems, watching take after take of myself dying, while I was high on Mescaline, tripping my brains out. Boy, those were the days.
OK, I guess enough time has passed since I saw Teenage Nurses, I think it was Friday. Ultimately I was disturbed by it. It was like being locked in an unruly child’s untidy room. The chaos was unrelenting. There was nowhere to hide. It broke every rule, and then some. There was a mesmerizing quality about its dysfunctionality. Watching it exhausted me. The sex scenes that I added to Doug Collins’ original potpourri were strangely unappealing, the actors unattractive, the dialogue topsy-turvy. It was a runaway train of sight gags, and one-liners, without much continuity or cohesion. What surprised me, was that I obviously attempted to keep the additional footage I created, in order to give it a legitimate sex-film release, consistent with the mischief and mayhem of the original. As a sex film it was just God-awful. I doubt that much masturbation went on in the balcony of the Capri Cinema during this film’s run there. Not really fair to the audience. Very self-indulgent behavior on my part, in keeping with my behavior in general back then. Talking Teddy Kariofilis into putting his money into something ridiculous was one of my favorite endeavors – see “Passions of Carol”. So I was insensitive and unfair to the film’s audience, and manipulative and dishonest with the film’s backer. Where does this leave us? Locked in a messy room with a pile of broken toys. The amount of energy I expended, back then, on self-indulgence and manipulation, simply for my own amusement, startles me. Teenage Nurses is like a cinematic thalidomide baby.
Whether “Teenage Nurses” formerly “An American in Bethesda” is the strangest movie ever made is for someone else to decide. But, I have to admit that, while creating a little “moral rot” is deeply satisfying, being responsible for having produced this cinematic anomaly does make me a bit nervous.
© 2010 Shaun Costello