Read America Unzipped Online

Authors: Brian Alexander

Tags: #Fiction

America Unzipped

BOOK: America Unzipped
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You'd be surprised what was going on on the other side of the hotel. They didn't even bother to pull their shades down. I saw one guy, a gray-haired, very distinguished-looking guy with only his shorts on, do something you wouldn't believe me if I told you…. Then, in the window almost right over his, I saw a man and a woman squirting water out of their mouths at each other. It probably was highballs, not water, but I couldn't see what they had in their glasses. Anyway, first he'd take a swallow and squirt it all over
and then she did it to
—they took
, for God's sake. You should've seen them. They were in hysterics the whole time, like it was the funniest thing that ever happened. I'm not kidding, the hotel was lousy with perverts. I was probably the only normal bastard in the whole place—and that isn't saying much.

—J. D. Salinger,
The Catcher in the Rye,


Because of the nature of this book, some subjects portrayed in it preferred not to use their real names, usually for the protection of relatives or out of concern for their jobs. Generally, use of both first and last names denotes a person's real name. A first name only may or may not be his or her actual first name. All events are real.


What Have I Been Missing?

I am still of the opinion that only two topics can be of the least interest to a serious and studious mood—sex and the dead.

—William Butler Yeats, 1936

Fucking and the Trinity are the two most interesting things to talk about.

—Joe Obenberger, adult entertainment lawyer, 2006

his is my chance to be a “player.” And a VIP. A VIP player. I have my fingers wrapped around the invitation and that's what it says: “Player VIP Party.” Thanks to the invitation, and many gin and tonics, I can feel myself closing in on the American Dream of being a VIP player.

I am standing here in line facing the huge, black-suited security bravos with my two new friends, Zach and Anna. They're Internet porn entrepreneurs as well as being boyfriend and girlfriend with degrees from the University of North Carolina as fresh and crisp as just-picked heads of lettuce. Befitting our status, we have been placed in the VIP line, meaning we get first dibs on the elevators that will sweep us into the sky to Rain, the nightclub at the top of the Palms hotel and casino, a joint made famous by
Real World Las Vegas
and near-constant celebrity sightings: Paris, Britney, rap stars, sports guys—all dressed and looking sexy. Always sexy.

All around us young women are tucked into tight, short dresses or draped with cleavage-baring metal tops. Every one of them is perched on high, spiked heels. Their lips are glistening. They outnumber men. The men who are here, waiting in the line snaking down toward the hotel lobby, look like younger, thinner versions of Tony Soprano.

For the briefest of moments, I feel guilty as we VIPs ooze forward, inexorable as a glacier, while the men and women who have worked so hard to be worthy stand still in the other line, their eyes following us. I admit I haven't worked hard at all. Still, I have put on a nice pair of pants and a decent print shirt and my best leather flip-flops—an elegantly casual ensemble, I think, for Vegas in the summer when it is still ninety-something degrees outside at 11:00 p.m. Zach and Anna are pretty casual, too.

We shuffle forward, myself, Zach, Anna, and a few others from XBIZ, the Internet pornography producers convention we are attending where we obtained these VIP tickets. But just as I reach the enormous gatekeeper, a few steps from the elevator of happiness, he places his beefy hand on my chest.

“I'm sorry, sir. You can't go up without shoes.”

He is not sorry. I know that. “But these are my best flip-flops.” He shakes his head. I show my VIP pass only to learn how worthless “VIP” can be if you aren't wearing shoes. I have come so close. Now I am banned. I could go to a twenty-four-hour Wal-Mart a few miles away and pick up a pair of shoes, he suggests with sarcasm he would never use on LeBron James, or even K-Fed.

Zach and Anna feel sorry for me. With the wisdom of all that gin, we hatch a plot to have them go on up and then send Anna down with Zach's shoes because, man, nobody could ever possibly notice the switch. But I know in my heart this won't work. I can see into the elevator heading up into the sky, but I won't be allowed to launch.

I retreat into a tattoo parlor located in the hotel lobby near the elevator line. For twenty minutes I watch a boy and girl about eighteen pore over a book of sample art, trying to decide which design would be sexiest on her. The tattoo will cost a couple hundred dollars, cash she is clutching tightly in her fist. “Yeah, it's a lot of money,” she says, “but it'll look so hot, won't it?” In a couple of years, she can show off the tattoo in a short, backless dress and her own set of heels, and if her makeup is just right the security guard won't send her away, and up there at Rain, or whatever the hot club of the moment is by then, she will be cool and sexy, sexy and cool, and then she will step into a glossy, candy-colored dreamworld.

Earlier tonight, while walking around the pool deck of the Hard Rock Hotel during an XBIZ cocktail party, I met a girl wearing a miniskirt slung perilously low on her hips, with a hem that did not quite cover her ass. Thin and coltish, she wore Lucite stripper heels and a crop top. I think she thought I could do something for her—impressed by the leather flip-flops and shirt, no doubt—because she made a point of introducing herself to me by saying, “Hi, I'm
tent!” with the accent on the first syllable.

“Uh, excuse me?”


“Well, hello,” I answered. And then we talked briefly about being
tent as opposed to con
She was not con
yet, she said. So I asked her what she hoped to do, thinking I would hear something like “After I make some money in porn, I would like to go into commercial real estate.”

“Oh!” she said excitedly, “I wanna be the next teen anal queen!”

I wished her luck, and as she walked away to introduce herself to more people in nice shirts I wondered at what point, when thinking of her life options, she decided against medical school or retail management or working in a tanning salon.

Now, though, watching this girl try to pick out just the right tattoo, and the line outside beginning to nudge forward, I think, Well, why not? After all, I was so happy to be in my VIP line. I wanted to be
tent along with all the other pretty people in our own little porn production, bigger and better than life, the glow of disco stage lighting illuminating our belief in American possibility.

Lately I have been spending a lot of time zigzagging across the country exploring sex. I am trying to square encounters like the one with America's future teen anal queen and what seems to me to be a hypersexual culture with the idea that we are also supposed to be in the middle of a new Great Awakening, a time when the nation is said to be turning to the Bible and medieval canon law as the preferred sex manuals, and a conservative view of sex disguised as “traditional values” has become part of the nation's political dialogue. The view from the window of this tattoo parlor makes me think we have come unzipped.


everal years ago, I was sitting in the Atlanta airport, waiting between planes, when my cell phone rang. An acquaintance I knew from my work writing for magazines was calling. She wanted to know if I would be interested in writing a column for, the online news site financed by Microsoft and NBC through some Byzantine arrangement that has since been explained to me but which I still don't understand.

The column, she said, was about sex, to which I replied that I was not an expert in the subject. I quickly retracted that statement and said, “Well, I do know how it works. I mean to say that I'm not a sex therapist or anything.”

No problem, she answered, because in the column they had in mind, I would not speak as an expert. I was to report, to contact experts, sometimes to find answers to questions from readers, sometimes to write short features. It shouldn't be that tough a job, really.

I debated with myself. I have been preoccupied with sex since I was a boy, or at least thought of myself as preoccupied, though, truth be told, I have never been sure if my own expended brain power qualified as preoccupation or just normal guy interest. I have occasionally worried. Maybe I fretted because I was raised Catholic or because other people keep their own similar worries under cover and I felt alone.

On the other hand, I think sex is a perfectly legitimate subject, as legitimate—maybe more—as politics (something else I have covered), which itself has become a sort of porn entertainment in recent years. So I have always been willing to write about it. In the early 1990s, for example, I had a phone conversation with an editor at
magazine, then the very hip downtown New York young men's magazine of choice. The editor wanted me to do an edgy, transgressive first-person memoir, but as he ran down his list of desired topics, I began to feel hopelessly inexperienced.

“Ever had an STD?”

“Uh, not that I know of.”

“Okay. Um, ever had a threesome?”

“Well, no, but I can, you know, do some research.”

We struggled to come up with some exotic sexual episode until he finally gave up and moved on to other possible topics, saying, “Okay…Well, hey, have you ever killed a guy?”

Not long after that conversation, I became a columnist for
magazine (where I am now a contributing editor) and sometimes wrote about sex, including some of my own experiences with dates and girlfriends. But I wasn't sure I wanted to take on the title of sex columnist.

Still, when the job was formally offered, I took it. I thought it would be fun. Not long after I started, though, I began to wonder just who was reading this column. People sent in hundreds of e-mails every week, and I was shocked at both the volume and the nature. It wasn't the language. Henry Miller hasn't shocked anybody since the sixties, and these days thirteen-year-old girls in shopping malls sit with bags of new clothes around their feet, each with a cell phone to her ear, successfully using
as several parts of speech, sometimes in the same sentence.

Rather, I was surprised that so many questions were about sex I always assumed was carried out in real life only by a tiny fringe in swanky apartments conveniently located near the British parliament. The transgressive sex
wanted from me in the early 1990s didn't sound transgressive in the 2000s. If my readers were at all representative, I wondered how it could be that so many people existed in the same country that was experiencing a national freak-out over the possible baring of Janet Jackson's nipple. (I still can't make it out, and believe me, I've tried.) How could a country that said its football-watching children would have to go into therapy to recover from the trauma of seeing Janet's boob also be full of people demanding to know “the difference between same-room swing and soft swing”?

I also wondered why I didn't know the difference between soft swing and same-room swing and had to look it up. I wondered why so many people wrote to ask me—me!—if they were normal because they had an unnatural passion for women's shoes or stuffed animals, or being tied up and spanked, or if their penises took a dogleg to the left, or their labia dangled.

When they wrote, there was an element of striving in their tone, a fear of being left out of something. “My wife and I have heard that a lot of couples in their thirties are playing strip poker, truth or dare and other games that end with someone being naked, as well as skinny dipping with other couples/friends. Any idea if this is a fashionable trend or has it been going on for some time and we never knew it?” “I am interested in bondage and hear that there are secret bondage clubs someplace. Can you help me find them?” “My girlfriend saw a porno with female ejaculation, and now she keeps trying to do it. Is there any such thing?” “I hear Paris Hilton is into fisting, how do you do it?”

Like everybody else, I have an imagination. So of course, being somebody who thinks about sex, and worries about thinking about sex, I have wondered about all sorts of sexual possibilities, but it has almost never occurred to me to ask in any serious way about the more extreme variations. Now I was discovering that many people, from all over the country, from many walks of life, were not simply verbalizing their imaginations but trying to act on them, partly because they thought lots of other people were too. The fact that they were asking me was a little disconcerting, but I didn't get the idea they were loathsome, sad perverts. They were average people who were being bombarded, and so bombarding me, with their bewilderment, consternation, and above all curiosity about sex, including what we used to think of as deviant sex.

The wildest of wild sex seemed to have caught on with accountants, managers, truck drivers, cops, husbands, wives. Something was happening out there, I decided, and I thought it might be important. While I had been pretty confident I was sexually hip, or while I was fooled by what was supposed to be the “culture war” into believing Americans who were sexually exploring were a tiny number located on the coasts, the country had moved on. Average people, people whom we never got to read about, were quietly altering their own sexual lives and the sex life of the nation. They were people who did not testify before Congress or make movies or march with protest signs, but they were there.

I did a little research to see if my instinct was correct. The last scientific survey of the nation's sex life was formulated and taken nearly a generation ago and it didn't ask many questions like the ones I was getting.

Then I looked at I typed
into the search function and came up with 277,697 books with
in the title or that have sex as their subject matter, many of them promising “mind-blowing” sexual experiences, often through oral sex or anal sex or new sex positions or the use of some tool or other. Lately, the books have been coming even harder and faster.
How to Make Love Like a Porn Star,
the story of porn actress Jenna Jameson, spent so much time on best-seller lists, “Jenna” became a mainstream brand in her own right. We have been treated to overheated and self-important sex books. The
New York Times
The Surrender,
a book about anal sex by a former ballet dancer named Toni Bentley, one of the most notable books of the year in 2004. In 2003
The Sexual Life of Catherine M
(“My favorite parts describe the gangbangs,” wrote reviewer Dr. Susan Block in Alexander Cockburn's
) made headlines, too.

The sex isn't just literary. Hardly. Gawker Media, parent of popular websites such as Wonkette and the eponymous media gossip blog Gawker, is appealing to young viewers with a site called Fleshbot. The site turns sex into camp with a snarky tone that clues readers into the escapades of, for example, Edouard and Virginie, a French couple documenting their sexual experiments, or a review of the new porn flick
Kill Girl Kill,
an installment in the ongoing “punk-porn” revolution.

BOOK: America Unzipped
3.76Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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