Wednesday, May 30, 2007

My (Almost) Life as a Pornographer

IN HUNTING FOR A new job this spring and summer (though, I hope, not this fall), I have thought about the two previous job hunts of mine. The most recent was in the spring of 1999, beginning in about March and ending in early May. I recall riding to the interview and seeing the headlines about the Columbine shooting on everyone's newspapers.

It was my first job hunt, the one most folks face right after college, that crossed my mind today. This one was an extended, half-hearted affair beginning in June 1991 . . . the Great Bush (40) Recession . . . and was made longer when I sought refuge in a part-time job at a healthcare marketing-research firm. Phone interviews with medical professionals, combined with clerical work and eating the leftovers from focus groups, formed half of each weekday from that July through mid-September 1992. Between the scarcity of local publishing jobs, my deficient internship experience, and a general lack of interest in my future, my actual job-seeking activity was sporadic at best.

Before I took this stopgap job, however, I did get a callback for an interview from one of my resume mailings to the publishing field . . . or at least, one niche of it. I forget the precise name of the position as it appeared in The New York Times, but the first sentence will never leave my memory — "Hot opportunity on a hot title" — because the job was with High Society magazine.

Those of you who were never teenage boys, or single, middle-age guys who haunted 42nd Street before it was Disneyfied, may not be familiar with this rag. Go about one and a half steps downward from the porn level of Playboy — none of the occasional investigative reporting and Quagmire-level class of Penthouse, but none of the truly disgusting layouts and abhorrent attitudes toward women rampant in the various Larry Flynt titles. Not that women were all that positively depicted in any of these magazines, but at least Playboy would run an interview with Tom Wolfe or an excerpt of his work, and a review of the newest BMW coupe, alongside some airbrushed bim. High Society by contrast might carry a pseudonymously penned pulp story, and maybe some lurid exposé of a Third World death squad or a gory shark hunt, but the pictorials lacked all pretension of art.

Still, all magazines need to be both written and produced by someone, and High Society needed a writer and editor. As a lark, I sent them the laughable document with my name on it that fit the description of resume. If they had the gumption to advertise in the Times, why not give it a spin?

To my surprise, I got a call a week or so later from a guy with a heavy New Yawk accent to set up an interview! It seemed I would be editing the letters column of the magazine, in addition to office work and possibly layout, depending on qualifications. I wondered, as he described the job, how much of that would merely be writing said letters from whole cloth. I envisioned myself at a wheezing Selectric, light filtering feebly through a window layered with Eisenhower-era grime, in some sinus of an office in the Thirties, clacking out page after page of "I never thought I would be writing High Society . . ." mini-essays about forbidden lusts run amok. I told him I would come in for the interview. Why not? This job had high comedy written all over it.

The question of telling my parents opened up the first sliver of doubt over this job. This was a far cry from the usual postcollegiate English major jobs of proofreader, editorial assistant, or manuscript reader in the bowels of some obscure press or magazine . . . and certainly was not the gateway to graduate studies in my field should I decide to continue my schooling. The workplace itself was also a dubious factor. I imagined stumbling into "fashion" shoots in the office, rubbing elbows (and probably little else) with porn stars pushing their latest projects, and cologne-reeking sleaze merchants oozing out like balding Weebles at eleven for a steak and cocaine binge at Delmonico's. Not the best mentor for a sprout seeking a fast track in publishing.

I also wondered what sort of samples I would acquire to show future employers. It's one thing for me to pass a copy of the accounting newsletter across a desk to show a prospective employer how much table typesetting I can cram into 8 hours. It's quite another for me to read to a group of hiring managers a sampler of my finest letters to the editor, or worse, to fan out a grotesquely splayed — if meticulously color-corrected and retouched — centerfold.

And I had a genuine concern over the exact source of my paychecks. What sort of an organization was "Drake Publishing," the parent corporation that produced High Society, Playgirl, and other skin books? Who owned it? I assumed that Drake, like most pornography companies in New York, both legit and clandestine, was at least partly Mob affiliated. This hunch would prove correct; years later, the then-current cugines behind the scenes would plead guilty to using phone-sex numbers in High Society to rack up hundreds of millions in credit card and phone charges. At the time, however, I imagined the Boys would be using this legitimate business as a shell for some manner of dirty dealings, and I didn't want to end up running numbers or taking football bets while grinding out my torrid narratives of two nymphets getting locked overnight in a pudding factory, or whatnot.

With all this to ponder, and the offer to work at the marketing-research firm also on the table, I called the High Society guy back and canceled our interview appointment. He sounded genuinely surprised and asked me to reconsider, but I offered my regrets and stood firm. I was working on a phone survey with pain-management professionals for the Duragesic patch not two days later.

I don't have any regrets about passing on the opportunity to become a 21-year-old pornographer, though I do sometimes regret not at least going on the interview, just to see how the degenerate half lives. I still managed to find my way into publishing, by the more honest route of an independent producer of psychology, social science, and human factors books and journals. I got to strip down art with white tape instead of placing black bars across incriminating eyes and erogenous zones. The only reason to have taken this route, I feel, would be to have the most potentially riveting tale to tell at my high school reunion . . . or its career fair. Especially because I attended an all-male Catholic school.

Now there? There, my samples would have been most welcome.

1 comment:

Schizohedron said...

All hope is not lost! I just sent a resume to Playboy Enterprises for an editorial production position. It's a long shot — they want experience with consumer magazines — but there is always hope. At least Hef hasn't had to do the perp walk alongside a bunch of Mafiosi like the goons behind High Society.