To me, porn is kind of like foie gras: expensive, overrated, and it always makes me feel a little sick. I have watched about an hour of it in my lifetime, and never an entire film -- usually just snippets, and always at the behest of a boyfriend. Yet all my boyfriends who liked it were the sweetest, most doting guys. I hate porn but love the men who love it.
Which is why I decide to attend the Learning Annex's new class "How to Shoot Your Own Adult Video." The catalogue description said the class would feature a "live scene enactment" and I want to see just what kind of men (and women) will show up -- who for kicks and who for the solid information.
When I walk into the classroom, a few minutes late, I bump right into a blonde woman by the door. At first I'm relieved not to be the only chick, but then I notice that she's wearing a schoolgirl outfit: a short plaid skirt with knee-high white socks and black Mary Janes. She's no student; she's talent.
I find an empty seat and remove my coat, feeling self-conscious in my red scoop-neck. But when I look around, I see 40 men intent on the lecture. They are racially diverse, from early twenties to mid-fifties, and they seem disappointingly square. If I didn't know it was the adult-video class, I might have thought it was "How to Buy Foreclosed Property." The only other female students are an attractive brunette with thin eyebrows, and a coiffed twentysomething whispering into her cell phone, "You won't believe where I am right now."
The lecturer, Joe Gallant, is a buff guy in his mid-forties with a husky voice, and he's standing next to a blowup mattress. "This class may seem a bit free-form," he says, "but we're going to touch on everything. Some of you might want to start a serious business, while others might want to tape their significant other. I'm in it for a life journey."
The men nod pensively, appreciatively. Gallant started making movies two years ago. He used to date porn star Trinity Loren, who died in 1998 of a brain aneurysm, and he decided to produce films to raise money to support her daughter. "I've shot a hundred scenes and acted in about fifteen," he says. "Maybe you recognize me from Toe Tales or Smothering Bitches." There are some nods of recognition. "My approach to filmmaking is guerrilla. I like to shoot in public places." He pops in a video. "This is from Times Square Trash Vol. 2." The camera, up on a balcony, holds on musicians playing jazz in a downtown performance space, then pans to a woman doing a performance on a male companion, unbeknownst to the audience below. To distract myself I stare at Joe's chest. His pecs are bulging like the Hulk's.
A guy in the front raises his hand and asks, "What are the going rates?"
"New York rates are much lower than L.A.," says Joe, ejecting the video. "A solo girl is about $300. Girl-girl, $350. Boy-girl, about $400. Anal or double penetration, $500. That's per person."
"What about men?" a voice calls out.
"Men are always cheaper."
Someone asks about HIV tests and a discussion ensues on STDs, proof of age, and DV cameras. Then Joe says it's time for the scene, and everyone shifts in their seats.
He brings up a stocky guy holding a video camera; the schoolgirl; and a Michael Bolton look-alike with a saxophone.
"Jeff's going to tape Dana doing a solo scene to music," Joe says. "I asked my lawyer what we could get away with, and he said no penetration. It could be perceived as pandering." The room collectively groans, and Dana winces as if she feels guilty, too.
Michael Bolton plays the opening notes to "New York State of Mind" as Jeff tapes him and a live video feed appears on both monitors. Dana slowly removes her uniform and rolls around on the mattress doing things that would qualify her for detention. "I always try to walk in for the close-ups instead of zoom," says Jeff, demonstrating.
I look around. No one's writing in their notebooks anymore. After a little while, Dana stands and faces us, smiling. Everyone applauds lightly, like at a tennis match.
"Now I'd like to bring up Penny Lai and Ice Cream," Joe announces. I turn to the back and see two petite girls in teddies and leopard-print heels who have arrived on the sly. They parade to the front and stand side by side, like porny Vanna Whites.
Joe takes the camera, and the girls lie down. Michael Bolton's music sounds familiar, and I'm reminded of synagogue. Then I realize it's "Miserlu." Penny has a tattoo of a dolphin, and I watch it bob and spin.
"Have either of you been in anything we might have seen?" someone asks after they finish.
"I just shot a Max Hardcore," says Ice Cream, pulling her teddy on.
"What was Max like?"
"I don't think he likes women much."
"How much do you make?" I ask.
"Last year, I made eight grand a month," says Ice Cream, "but I forgot to pay my taxes."
They sashay out, and Joe thanks us all for coming. Students approach one another, exchange cards, inspect the equipment. It's like a Tupperware party for boys.
I go up to the brunette, Nikki, 26. She's a dancer at a club in New Jersey. "I want to be a featured dancer," she says, "and one of the ways to break in is by doing porn. But now I'm thinking of directing my own films."
I corner a stocky black guy in a Las Vegas cap, William, 35, and ask if he liked the scenes. "You can see girls anywhere," he says. "But I got to learn about start-up costs, how to use a camera, and put out material. Maybe someday I could build an empire."
Just then Joe sees me scribbling in my notebook and asks what I'm doing. I say I'm a journalist, and when I tell him my name, he exclaims, "You're the girl that has sex on the first date! We're going to do a shoot tonight -- come watch!"
I pile into the elevator with him and his entourage. The guys are goofy and remind me of the nerds I hung out with in high school, who called themselves the Boner Crew. I almost feel at home.
The elevator doors open and we go outside. "Say you'll come with us, Amy," says Joe. "You and I could even do a scene together. How 'bout it?"
I look at Joe and his bulky arms, and for one split second I can see it happening. He seems so earnest, the kind of guy who would do a sex scene with you and then take you out for a burger.
The Boner Crew is panting, waiting for my answer. Joe and me together is one thing; Joe and me with these guys watching is something else entirely. "I'm sorry," I lie, "but I have a date." They walk off shaking their heads. I duck into McDonald's, buy a Big Mac, and eat it on the subway home.
Illustration by Michael Crawford.