A Life in Porn
He was too young for the Great War, and his flat feet might have saved him from the trenches. Just before the war ended, he fell in love for the first time, with a girl promised to a dead soldier. She was older, although her age did not mean a more varied experience. She had soft, dark hair, and sad blue eyes; before they were sad, she had been the kind of girl men painted on war planes.
He couldn’t quite remember how he came to use the camera, except that it involved an ephemeral friend who worked in a studio. He remembered the film cost him a month’s pay, and that it was a nitrate film and required special handling to avoid suffering horrible burns; he also remembered that once he’d coaxed her out of her dress it was worth it all. When she blushed her rosy cheeks became a darker shade of gray, and she whispered silent, dirty words to him he strove in vain to remember. Her voice buzzed in his ear like a bee deep in a flower, resonating, but not quite clearly, and as the film ended, she waved goodbye. They made love after that, and even now he was glad there had not been enough film to capture those first awkward moments. She fell in love with another soldier returned from the war, and she didn’t so much leave him as drift away to that other man.
Like most honest scoundrels, he had a thing for red heads, probably the fault of Katherine Hepburn. He even swears he whispered, although the archaic microphone failed to capture it, her name on film. He remembered Mae, a chorus girl who wanted more than anything to be a star. He never had the heart to tell her that, lovely as she was, and beautiful as she could sing, on camera she was a stone. He knew she dated him because he was a grip, and she hoped to use his decade of experience; he loved her for the soft Irish lilt in her voice, echoing through a sharp, southern whisper, and the way she stared at him after waking. Another war was on in Europe, and loomed on America’s horizons, but he was too old for any service but voluntary, and his work had broken his idealism.
The film by then was more expensive, beyond him even in payments, and the work was arduous. But Mae was lovely, and he knew too lovely for him, because he was not quite old, but older than he’d ever thought of being when he was younger. As the movie played, he touched the screen; he was handsome, young, and perhaps not a movie star, but better looking than his mind’s eye allowed him, and in a moment of synchronicity, his filmed double touched Mae’s cheek. She blushed; he remembered spending that weekend with chemical washes, transferring three separate color prints onto gelatin film- in his whole life he never worked harder than in those 48 hours, but that one moment, her red cheeks, was worth it.
They kissed each other, and began to remove their clothes. He walked off camera to see that she was framed correctly, and she smiled, and waved, only barely putting her other hand over her nudity, and the film stopped. His friend, the color expert, told them they were out of time, it would take them all weekend to finish what they’d shot already. The next week, the producers fired them both for stealing the film and chemicals, which he never returned. He wasn’t surprised when she didn’t leave with him, or even sad; it was just the way she was.
In ‘68, he bought his first Double 8 camera. He drifted to California in the wake of Kennedy, and found a bit of his old idealism waiting for him there in the desert. It died with another Kennedy brother, but he buried it in the arms of a woman seven years his senior; she taught him many things over their short time together, not the least of which about women. She agreed to be filmed with him on condition that she received a copy, too. For the first time he was not constrained by expense or development concerns; but perhaps he’d learned enough by then to know when things should end. He recorded her removing her clothes, and focused intently as she touched herself, then stopped recording.
She demanded he reverse the film, and recorded him doing the same, and they split the film, and each took their half. And one day she said she wanted to share him, and be shared, with a few likeminded friends, and he told her goodbye. She asked for her half of the film back, and he said he’d lost it; she told him she’d lost his as well, and smiled. Then she told him not to wear her footage out, and kissed his cheek. He wasn’t out of love with her, but perhaps he’d learned enough to know when things should end.
In ‘73 Kodak released a sound-synced Super 8 recorder. He met Linda at a screening of Deep Throat, in the days when adult movies were shown in movie houses and reviewed in the Times. They had each gone with friends, each a third wheel, and met in the crowd after. They had frantic, pent-up sex in the back seat of his car, the kind of sex you only get when you really want it but don’t think you’ll get it.
He knew he was getting older, his hair white, his skin hanging loosely where it wasn’t padded with extra flesh; but she insisted. Linda always insisted. She practiced for weeks, stretching her throat and exercising her jaws, to duplicate that other Linda on the screen. She dyed her hair and styled it like Linda's, and he wondered if perhaps some way she loved her. They covered all the windows in the garage, and found a little theatre outside town to see the movie a second time. When Linda’s namesake appeared onscreen, his Linda went to work. Halfway through the picture, he scooped her up, unable to wait any longer, and took her home. She bucked and moaned and wailed, and for a moment they paused while their neighbor pounded on the door. Their scene ended when they finished together, and he said an awkward I love you, which she hesitated to return as the tape stopped. A few months later, Linda decided to move, and asked him to go with her, which he was reluctant to do. Linda insisted, and when he refused, she went East without him.
In 1983 he bought one of the first Betamovie camcorders. He never thought he’d have the chance to use it; he was an old man, and his health was faltering. His nephew paid for a nurse to live with him. Elizabeth was thirty years his junior, but exciting and adventurous. When she learned about his collection, she agreed to give him a strip tease on his birthday, as long as he agreed to record it for her. It started as a lark, a playful joke with an old man’s libido, but something in his eyes, or something in his way, tickled something in her, and when her clothes where spread across his lap and piled at the foot of his bed, she kissed him. And kissed him again.
When they made love he set the camera on his night stand, so all it captured were the gyrations of a bed post, and the animal sounds they made. It was accidentally classy, and so was his proposal eight months later, and their wedding the following spring. But despite being younger, cervical cancer caught up with her, as it had her mother and sister before, and she died in his arms after months of artificial aging.
He hadn’t loved anyone since. Some years later, his grand nephew, in a half-thought act of kindness, bought him an HD camcorder, and a night with a lovely young woman. He ignored the thoughts that said she was so young it was scandalous, and even when he couldn’t work the damned camera, he followed the beating of his breast. The girl, as it turned out, was a film student, working her way through school, and she helped him with the camera, which became strangely like foreplay. She was very kind to him, and said her name was Karen, and he pretended not to notice that she died her hair blonde.
His fingers are even older now than then, wrinkled, and cricked, stiff and unyielding. His fingernails were longer than he should have let them get, but it was too hard for him to cut them without help, and harder still to ask for it. His finger brushed against the little blue pill on the table beside the remote; he’d forgotten it there, and pushed it to the floor.
He hadn’t kept the pictures he took with them, or the love notes or trinkets they left; they felt too sentimental, or hurt too much, at the time. But he kept the movies they made together. Vibrant moments of passion, and life, and love in motion.