Writing Gigs of Ten Years Ago

Pornography and Professional Skiing

 

Central Question: How, besides an emphasis on the “face shot,” is pornography like professional skiing?
Volumes of Chasing the Big Ones reviewed by Lars Thorwald: 13, 15, 17, 18, 21, 23, 26; Novelty products reviewed by Leopold Loeb: Head Coach Erection Pump, Hot Rod Enhancer, Pearl Beaded Prolong Ring; Skiing-related articles by author: “Glenn Plake and the Three Little Phils That Could,” “Baker Caper: The Squaw Boys Invade the Northwest,” “Disputable”; Representative skiing nicknames: Monkey, Toilet Brian, Toothless Dave, Stain; Representative male porn stage-names: Mandingo, Sledgehammer, Voodoo; Representative female porn stage-names: Julia Ann, Brandy, Jocelyn

The professional skiers, who were all male and in their early twenties but looked and acted fifteen, were obsessed with porn. They watched it every day while eating sugary breakfast cereal and arguing about which porn chicks were the hottest. Children in adult bodies, these athletes were unanimously frightened of pubic hair. Meanwhile, the porn stars I spoke with seemed to have personal histories involving competitive snowboarding and skiing (and the military), and they were unanimously frightened of their parents knowing about what they did with their photogenic genitalia. I know this because during a strange and interesting period of my life I wrote about pornography for Adult Video News and about professional skiers for Freeze. About ten years ago both of these odd, amusing gigs ended simultaneously.

My two jobs were perfect for me: ever since I was a little boy, I’d been obsessed with mountains and skiing, and thunderstruck by any form of forbidden erotica. But though both jobs had high entertainment value, they also made me incredibly anxious, so I wasn’t completely distraught when they fizzled. The skiers always went far beyond their normal risk threshold to jump cliffs for the camera. They were noisy in bars, and a brawl always seemed imminent. Every day I thought someone was going to die; over the years, many pro riders I knew did bounce off the mountain and die.

Watching porn stars do it in front of a bored production crew, cameraman crawling around on the carpet in knee pads, searching for a deeper truth, also gave me an ill-prickly feeling, as if suddenly I was one of the truly depraved, and getting paid for it. Standing there, I was the inert, polite observer, a lumpy witness. (For some reason no one ever sits down on a porn set. Everyone stands, like during the important parts of church or a court sentencing. After a series of acrobatic moves, there’s applause, laughter, high-fives, the same fraternal après-ski atmosphere that skiers enjoy.)

Since all porn stars have pseudonyms, and ditto the writers who cover porn, I wrote under the names Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr’s murderous character in Hitchcock’s Rear Window) and Leopold Loeb, Leopold being my mother’s maiden name and the Leopold and Loeb murders being one of her favorite murders to discuss with anyone who would listen. When the porn magazine had too much gay porn to review and too few hacks to handle the job, I cheerfully obliged, and adopted the penname of my least favorite teacher. I felt insane using his name as my nom de plume, but also lunatic-correct and giddy. Through my porn reviews, I channeled the old curmudgeon into a cock-and-balls-loving aesthete.

On location in a fancy rented mansion above Mulholland Drive, a naked Inari Vachs (named after the remarkable eye-patched crime writer Andrew Vachss) spoke to a naked Jake Steed about his left-curving dong, trying to decide on the best positions for their scene: “If you curve this way maybe I should be lying down on my other hip.” After fifteen minutes of filming, everyone in the room froze as a group of older women were suddenly escorted into the room by a real estate agent to take a look at all the furnishing pieces that were apparently for sale: leopard-print couches, Persian rugs, oil paintings, a humongous green vase, and a pair of waist-high black porcelain panthers. As the ladies rounded a corner, their guide, in Foster Grant aviator glasses, said, “Oh, yes, and let me direct your attention to these faux antler horns that evoke the spirit of an old hunting lodge.” Once they were gone, porn resumed.

Extreme incongruities were less prevalent in the ski scene, though just before closing time at a bar in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, at the conclusion of the Jonny Moseley Invitational, two legendary male ski stars drunkenly kissed, which set off a fisticuff melee with the local necks. All in all, I admired the teenage ski prodigies. They’d devise new spins and flips and off-axis maneuvers based on things they pictured in their heads. All of them could ski fifty miles per hour backward. To follow them down a mountain with a three-inch-by-four-inch composition notebook was an honor, like chasing a little god through an ornate cathedral.

Skiers go to a lot of trouble to have plumes of snow sprayed in their faces from their own skis. Then they’ll trade stories about the face shots they’ve received on the slopes: it’s a simple ecstasy, something that never gets old. It sounds mundane and masturbatory, and it may well be, but there’s always something shocking about it when nature reacts to your flight through its newly fallen crystal layer by exploding, delicious, into your face. Face shots vary depending on the temperature: some are grainy, granular, a hissing, sandy snow. Then there’s the super-dry light stuff, like cold smoke, with no real body; it envelops you as a vapor as you jet between century-old trees.

The money shot in porn—David Foster Wallace, in his classic report from the Adult Video News awards, wrote that one porn star’s ejaculate was “more like mortar rounds than bio-emissions”—is the liquid trophy. What the face took and how it took it and where. “Give it to me in my eye,” I’ve heard a porn star say.

Back home, trying to keep the avalanche of smut at bay, I’d sometimes review ten videos in one day, my VCR on permanent fast-forward. It felt like I was viewing America, and a little bit of Europe, from the blunt angle of its cheerful groin. There was porn for guys who liked to be squished, tied up, bitten, suffocated, costumed, peed on; for guys who were into XXL people (2000 Pounds of Love), Thai trannies, vampires, simple innocent tickling, and then all the rural farmer porn that came from the Midwest (endearing, scary). There was German porn, exhibiting a national fondness for grassy meadows and lakes. And, in a perfect fusion of my jobs—my obsessions—there were pornos shot on glaciers in the Alps, on snowmobiles, with performers toiling in their unzipped one-piece ski outfits.

There was something like gluttony involved in both pursuits. Overwhelming abundance, which at first seemed like a dream come true, that much later began to sicken me. Now, with those simultaneous jobs ten years behind me, I want to ski only with friends, and pornography is best consumed in small doses. Lars Thorwald has retired.

—Benjamin Weissman

Benjamin Weissman, who has written two books of short fiction, most recently Headless (Akashic), teaches at Art Center College of Design and Otis College of Art and Design. Mammoth Mountain is his mecca.

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