I’d never seen one like it. The glass door looked two inches thick. The silver coating on the inside reflected a blur of me clutching my film can. Was this the place? No sign identified the business within this grey building in North Hollywood’s industrial section. Four Cadillacs filled its front parking lot. I pushed the button, hearing no ring through the thick glass. I waited.
A big lock clacked. The door opened a few inches, as chains jangled. The small face of a bearded gnome peered out. “Yeah? What can I do for ya?”
I drew a breath. “I have an appointment with Tony. I was referred by Robby.”
The door closed. The lock clacked shut. Had I said it wrong? Should I find a phone, call in, and explain myself?
The lock clacked again. Fingers unhooked chains. The gnome pushed the door open. “Follow me.”
He led me through a hallway partitioned into three sections. The reason for the three doors, I’d learn later, was to slow down cops during a raid.
We entered a warehouse and passed racks of boxes stacked almost to the ceiling fans. I followed the gnome through a doorway into a large office, where I couldn’t help but stare.
Filling the center of the room was a rectangular table, piled high with rubber love dolls, film boxes, magazines featuring page-filling genitals, dildos, lotions, and contraptions that sucked, squeezed, pulled, prodded or trussed sensations out of human flesh. Around the display, men hunched over phones and order pads. In a corner beyond the central table, one of the ugliest men I’d ever seen rose from his desk. His border of stringy hair made his head look like some kind of root vegetable. “Da cocksuckah!” the man exclaimed. “His fuckin’ check bounced.”
“Whose check, Marv?” the gnome asked.
“Whatchamacallim…yer buddy; da guy from Philadelphia.”
“Yeah. Dat guy.”
I’d find that Marv’s East Coast street accent (which I dubbed “3 D”–“dese,” “dem,” and “dose”) prevailed among pornographers. It was contagious; I’d later find myself lapsing into it.
The gnome turned to the other back corner. “Tony…” He gestured at me. “This guy here-” He halted when Tony raised a hand then punched a button on his phone. The gnome scurried off to a battered desk, leaving me standing with my film can.
Tony was almost good-looking, but hard creases in his face made him seem like a cross between Al Pacino and a bloodhound. A grin pushed the creases up into his cheeks. Tony exclaimed into his phone, “Luca Brasi! Mah man! What’s happenin’ pal?”
Luca Brasi was a hitman in The Godfather. Was life imitating art?
Tony caught my glance. He hunkered down into his phone and lowered his voice. I looked away and saw a poster above his head. It was a well-drawn caricature of Tony behind bars, wearing stripes and waving a two-finger peace gesture. The sagging eyes fit the man below, but the cheeks were full, as if someone had since then let the air out. Headlining the poster were the words, “Free Romano.”
Feeling out of place, I tried to memorize the names of items on the table so I could jot them into my journal later. There were phallic devices: The Avenger, Mule Crank, Wired Destroyer with Balls, Mr. Wonderful, Big Al, Twisty-Erecto, and a misshapen thing called Rasputin. There were Pocket Pussies and Pocket Assholes. Electro-Vibro Butt Plugs. European magazines that were “Ganz in Farben (printed in full color).” Vibrators and other “marital aids,” marketed under the pseudo-medical brand name Doc Johnson. Potions and lotions: Anal-Vaginal Glide in peach, grape, lemon and tutti-frutti. Bottles of Locker Room contained “the odors of a gymnasium after a hard workout.”
What kind of weirdos buy this stuff? Or sell it?
I reminded myself that I was no better than this crew. After all, I’d double-crossed Reed Michaels, a man who’d given me work, to get here.
Tony hung up the phone, rose and slouched past me without a greeting. Had he beckoned me to follow him? I did. We crossed the warehouse to a rectangular structure that filled a corner. About fifty feet by fifteen, it was constructed of two-byfours and chicken wire, with cardboard for inside walls. I’d later call it “The Bullpen,” when it became my listening post on the world of porn.