Excerpt from a work-in-progress
One of the two novels I’m drafting right now is entitled Rebecca: An Oral History of a Former Porn Star.
The book will be assembled as a fictitious oral history, structured so that the story is told through multiple character reminiscences (often differing points-of-view of the same events). The raw material for these reminiscences is character “interviews,” which I’ll edit down and assemble to form a narrative.
This piece is an interview with the title character, Rebecca, a 54-year-old former porn star who started doing stripclub appearances at age 52. If she sounds a little familiar, it’s because she’s Christy from my novels You Don’t Think She Is and Meeting Dennis Wilson. She’s been doing appearances at a local “private gentlemen’s club” called Back Room (“What happens in the Back Room stays in the Back Room”), but also teaching a striptease and exotic dance class at the local community center…
Rebecca – Something I’ve just been thinking about, that just… it hit me a couple Mondays ago with the striptease class. I just remember standing up there, we were working with veils… I was teaching them a little bit of bellydancing, right? And as I’m standing here watching these ladies whip these colorful veils around in the air, I looked at the one girl, who really IS a girl, just 22, you know, and she’s about four months pregnant so she’s got this teeny little bump just starting to show. And I’m looking at her rubbing this veil back and forth across her belly, smiling, like she’s thinking of that baby inside her, and I just… something about seeing her do that made me think “Wow, O.K. You know, my time is done now.” You know? It was just a flash. But it was a strong feeling.
Q – When was this?
R – Third class, so, like, two weeks ago.
And then afterwards, we all… these girls, these women, even though they’re PAYING me to take this class, still, they always insist on taking me out to the diner afterwards, and we all get this big table in the back room– Back Room, I just thought of THAT… isn’t THAT funny?– but in the back room of this place, and we sit and have a late supper and we talk and laugh and all that. Right? Just fun. But it always seems to turn into grilling me… you think these INTERVIEWS are putting me on the spot? (laughs) Anyway, so this Monday night… one of these women, she’s about 35, I’d say, Leanne… just a beautiful woman, with this wavy reddish brown hair but also these kind of tired, sad eyes. Scared eyes, kind of. Like she can’t quite figure out what she’s doing there but there she is, right? I figured she’s one of those people like Marty, you know, who kind of sits there in a group looking like he’s off in his own world, but then he’ll speak up and you realize he’s been right there all along, and you want to say “Put yourself out there more,” right? Anyway, when we all introduced ourselves in the first class and I asked the women why they were taking the class, she said “I just want to put on some moves for my boyfriend.” Right? That’s what I figured most of the women were there for. That’s what most of them say. But you know… she was just a LITTLE red in the face when she said that, and I kind of suspected there was more going on. Like Marty. Right? More going on in there than what he’s LETTING on.
So this night in the diner, we’re talking and they’re grilling me, “how did you get into this? How did you get into doing porn? How did you get up the nerve to pose nude in the first place?” And I went through it all, you know, seeing the ads on campus, thinking “That might be fun,” the human sexuality classes and my study sessions with Eddie– they loved THAT: “What class is that again?” You know? But basically telling them how all of these things together just made it kind of feel right, and from there (laughs) it was kind of a slippery slope.
Anyway, I said, “But still, if someone told me in high school that I’d be 54 years old and stripping at a men’s club as a former porn star, I don’t think I would have thought that it FELT the way that it feels.”
Well, Leanne just sits forward and blurts out “Do you ever feel like you’re too old?” And her face got REALLY red, and she said “Just asking. I don’t think you are.” And I said “No… I like it, it’s fun, I love the charge of it, I love the sexual performance, same as doing shoots but this is in front of a crowd so you get THAT energy,” blah blah blah, all that. Right?
And I don’t think she was SAYING “you’re too old for this,” but… somehow… that’s how it felt. That I was too old, and why am I doing this? Right? So there was that.
Anyway… THAT got me thinking about the first time I’d really felt that way, the last time I stripped at Back Room, December, about how something about it just didn’t feel… it felt OFF. You know? And I realized as I was telling them this that that was the first time I’d really really felt like it WASN’T right, like maybe I WAS too old. ”
WE talked about this, right?
Q – Not really.
R – “Not really.” Fuck! (laughs) So I have to go through it for you. O.K. Well, I might as well just tell YOU what I told them, which is basically…
O.K. When I came back to do the videos in the late 80s and I was just doing the pay cable stuff, you know, the videos on the local cable systems for Gerry… at that point, Maura was in grade school, I was a single mom working on my masters and trying to scrape by on just an assistantship and my share of some insurance money that we kids got when Daddy died. And I could have gotten some crappy office job but I didn’t want to do that, but I NEEDED the money. So that… what I made from those videos, those shoots, it really helped me get through those few years in a practical way, financially, so in that way, I needed to do it.
But then there was ALSO… I kind of realized after the fact that at that point in my life, there was a part of me that ALSO needed… I needed to NOT FEEL like this 32-year-old single mom struggling through grad school. You know? In all that I was doing I just felt so constrained and stressed out in so many ways– SCARED in a lot of ways– and doing those shoots, that was just… I was going to say “desperation,” but what it was was this huge shot of FREEDOM. Right? It made me feel like myself, in a way… which is weird: in order to feel more like myself, I felt like I had to be this persona, be Rebecca. Do this thing. But I NEEDED that feeling I got from being Rebecca. Right?
O.K…. so that was years ago, I got through that, I’m with Marty now, that’s what I tell myself, right? I don’t NEED to do it, it’s just fun, it’s extra money, all that… but still… I found myself kind of feeling compelled to inhabit that persona in ways that had nothing at all to do with performing. Going on Facebook and actually chatting, sexting with fans I’d met on there, taking selfies and sending them to people and getting myself off while we sexted.
Q – Really?
R – Yeah.
Q – Did Marty know?
R – Oh, Marty knows everything. I tell him everything. And I made it sound like, “oh, it’s just Rebecca being Rebecca, performing,” but, I mean, I did that a couple times and I thought “Fuck. What was THAT? That was NOT performing.” Right? It was just… it went over any line I’d EVER gone near as a PERFORMER, and when I thought about it, I could tell… I could feel that there was something there that I had to take a look at. It was exactly the same feeling I felt when I used to do the shoots when Maura was little and I was scraping money together in grad school. Like I needed to do this for other reasons that had nothing to do with the money.
So meanwhile… the last couple months, as I’m doing THAT, Maggie is starting to wonder, ask questions… she’s ALWAYS wondered, always asked questions. But her questions seemed to have more of a tone– and maybe this was just because I knew I was doing something more than just going and stripping at the club– they seemed to have a tone of “Why are you even doing this?” Not “Why did you ever do it?” but “why ARE you doing this?” And she never asked that question in that way specifically, in those words, but in my mind, I felt like it was always what ~ I ~ came back to. So there was that. “Doesn’t Dad mind you doing this?” No, he’s totally supportive, I say, after I’ve snuck up to the bedroom, to our bathroom, and locked the door and stripped down and taken a selfie for a fan and then made myself cum texting with him. With HER.
Well, the thing that got me, finally, was the show over Christmas, doing that show the weekend after. I flew solo, because Marty had to go up to New York City for the Pinstripe Bowl. It was just… it’s like all these things converged that made me really take a look at all this and question it and how it fit into my life. They kept asking me if I was going to do anything over Christmas break, which is a big money time, tip wise, all that… and I kept putting them off, because we didn’t know… it looked like Penn State MIGHT be going to a bowl game, but nothing had been finalized, and, I mean, he’s with the band, so if he was going to a bowl game, that meant WE were going to a bowl game. Right? And I didn’t want that to conflict. So finally, Penn State is bowl eligible, but just barely, and Marty’s and my thinking was, we didn’t have a good enough season to be in a really good bowl game, so it’ll PROBABLY be the weekend or the week BEFORE Christmas. I mean, six-and-six teams do NOT go to major bowl games. We figured it’d be that week before Christmas, something like the Sonic Burger Bowl (laughs), you know? Third or fourth tier. So I called Back Room and I said “Let’s make it the weekend between Christmas and New Year’s. Saturday the 27th.” Right? Well, then the bowl bids get announced, and what was ours? The Pinstripe Bowl, Yankee Stadium, on the Saturday after Christmas. The 27th.
Well, I felt like I couldn’t back out… I’d already held them up for too long. And Marty CERTAINLY couldn’t back out of HIS commitment, I mean, for all different sorts of reasons.
So I just said, “Hey, look, no problem… I’ll just fly solo… Nina can come along with me. She’ll look out for me.” Because of course I didn’t want Marty to worry about me making that trip alone.
But in my mind that wasn’t the big concern. The big concern was Maggie. It wasn’t… of course, obviously she couldn’t come with ME to the club, but somehow it didn’t feel right to make her stay at home with a sitter. And Marty was like, “Oh, no problem, she can travel with me, we’ll have a nice father-daughter time in New York City, it’ll be fun.” Right? So that was what he did… they went up on that Friday, and I stayed back Friday and Saturday and did the Back Room gig… went with Nina.
And like I said… that whole weekend… it just felt WRONG. And I mean, I made more money that night than I EVER made stripping there– jeez, I made the twelve-hundred dollars PLUS another eleven-hundred-eighty-six in tips. Right? Twenty-three, almost twenty-four hundred bucks, right?
But I just felt awful, like I was missing something with my family– with Maggie– that was really special and would never be again. I kept thinking of the last time we went to New York City, and we went up the Empire State Building and all the things we did, and now yeah, she was having special time with her dad… but there I was, doing what? Stripping. At age 54.
I just thought “This is it.”
I just remember after the show was over and I’d stripped and did lap dances and posed and pretend-cum for four hours, fun, but in the back of my mind the whole time thinking that those two were up there as a FAMILY… and I just… Nina and I got in the car to drive home and I opened the envelope and started counting the money, and she was there watching me, and she laughed and said, “Jesus, Chris, I feel like you just robbed a bank.”
And I just… I broke down and started crying. And I said “I wish I HAD robbed a bank. Then I’d get arrested.” You know? And I just said “I should be up there with them. This is wrong. I missed them… (laughs) missed a great game. Fuck. You know? This is just wrong. What am I doing, anyway?”
And then the other thing that happened that night that I just thought of. I’d just come in and I was in the dressing room putting my gear on… (laughs) It’s GEAR. It’s not an outfit. It’s GEAR. Anyway, one of the girls, she comes in, Flash is her name, this redhead. Kind of reminds me of my sister Betsy. She’s NOT a kid…probably mid 30s, maybe? Anyway, she sees me and comes in and gives me this big hug and kisses my face, and goes “I’m so glad you’re here, Rebecca. I don’t feel like an old lady anymore.”
Q – (laughs) THAT’S nice.
R – (laughing) She was horrified as soon as she said it. “Omigod! I’m so sorry, Rebecca. I didn’t mean it like THAT. YOU know what I meant.”
And I DID know what she meant, but… then when I thought about it afterwards, I really started feeling exactly what she thought I thought she meant.
Interviews With A Porn Star by Max Harrick Shenk…
…gathers five unedited character “interviews” which will serve as some of the raw material for my upcoming novel Rebecca: An Oral History Of A Former Porn Star.