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An Evening in the Nude With Gay Talese

When Amy finished her pool game, I wanted to play her, but there was one problem. The game cost a quarter and I did not have any pockets.

Gay, pursuing a cheaper entertainment, took Amy in his arms and they started to two-step, their dance floor bordered by barbells. The puffing fat girl paused in her sit-ups to watch them. Gay pulled Amy very close as the mirror ball spun on its axis.

Gay said, "This is the way we used to do it in high school."

Amy stopped dancing. She wanted to ask Gay something. The question went back to last summer when he had managed the massage parlor in which she was employed.

"All the time you worked at The Middle Earth, you never came on to me. Why not?" Amy demanded.

Gay said, "It would have been bad for business."

Amy reached out and took hold of Gay's penis as calmly as if it had been a pool cue. She was ready to play a new game.

"I'm going to tear it off," she said.

"I love it. I love it," he said. "Do it. I have dreams about it. I have fantasies about it."

Amy continued to tug gently at Gay as if his appendage were thee knob of some reluctant bureau drawer.

Gay kidded, "Next time I work there you can chain me and then whip me."

Amy said, "I'd hit you with a chair."

Gay said, "I love chairs, especially Chippendale."

Amy gave another pull and repeated her threat: "I'm going to tear it off."

A less specific tug had drawn Gay into massage parlor culture a little over two years before. The initial discovery had come one night when he was walking home from P.J. Clarke's with his wife, Nan. She had been the first to see the second-floor sign which advertised LIVE NUDE MODELS, and she had known her husband well enough to know that he would see it too and want to go up. She already half-suspected that he might someday write a book about the world he found at the top of the stairs.

Gay not only wanted to go up, he wanted his wife to accompany him. Nan demurred. Gay gave here the keys to their 61st Street brownstone. While she walked home alone, he mounted the steps. Talese came back time and again, and he began thinking more and more bout massage parlors and other embodiments of sexual ferment in the country. The idea of a book about an American Sexual Revolution gripped him and would not let go. It would be an ambitious book, but all Gay Talese's writing life his ambitions had grown with each project. He had started out doing sports pieces and later features as a reporter for The New York Times. Then he had moved on to become a contributing editor at Esquire, where his profiles of people like Floyd Patterson ("The Loser"), George Plimpton ("Looking for Mr. Hemingway"), Alden Whitman ("Mr. Bad News", Joe Louis ("The King as a Middle-Aged Man"), and Frank Sinatra ("Frank Sinatra Has a Cold") may have changed American journalism more than any other work done by any other writer in the past decade. Tom Wolfe and Normal Mailer were more brilliant, more dazzling, more !!!!!!, but for that very reason they could not really be copied. Their techniques without their intelligence became ludicrous. But Talese was different. Other writers could read his Esquire pieces and actually learn from them. He taught hem to shadow their subjects for days or weeks (the way he did), so that in the end it read like a nonfiction short story rather than a newspaper story.

After writing a long series of nonfiction Esquire articles which read like fiction, Talese was ready, by the late sixties, to attempt a nonfiction "novel." He chose as his subject The New York Times, where he had worked for a decade. The result was The Kingdom and the Power, which sold for 85,000 in hardcover and 250,000 in paperback. Then, searching for a topic even bigger than The Times, he settled on the Mafia. The result was Honor Thy Father—an ironic title since his father did not want him to write about Italians who broke the law—which sold 200,000 in hardcover, 736,000 in Literary Guild and bargain editions, and 2.2-million copies in paperback. Ever since Gay had finished Honor Thy Father, he had been looking for a subject even bigger than organized crime. There could be only one: sex.


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