Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Meet Linda Lovelace

When I was twelve, my father did something I’d never known him to do: he acquired a best friend. This is not to say my father was not friendly or personable. In fact, I’d wager my father is the friendliest person produced by the American South in the twentieth century. But at that time, in his early thirties, he was busy with a wife, four boys, two jobs and a mortgage. Dad had no time to cultivate a buddy.

That changed when the bachelor came to work at Dad’s car dealership. The bachelor, with no family or obligations of his own, was soon spending weekends at our place helping Dad with various projects. The two of them built an extended back porch, put in a pool and transformed a perfectly good two-car garage into a den, complete with a brick fireplace—rarely necessary in Alabama—and an eight-foot wet bar, in which my teetotaler father stored the unopened liquor bottles he had received as gifts over the years. Soon, the bachelor had Dad drinking Miller Lite. It was really something.

Soon, the bachelor decided to upgrade his home entertainment system with a video disc player. My father acquired his now obsolete VCR, our initial foray into video technology. It came with three tapes. The first was Smokey and The Bandit, which became the first movie my brothers and I watched repeatedly. To this day, we can recite whole swaths of dialogue and sing every Jerry Reed song. The second was National Lampoon’s Disco Beaver From Outer Space, an unsuccessful follow-up to Animal House. The third was Deep Throat.

As the oldest son, I was afforded the privilege of a later bedtime than “the kids,” as I referred to my younger siblings. After they groused off to bed on school nights, I settled in with Mom and Dad to watch the television shows denied to children. I delighted in recounting Mission Impossible plots over breakfast as the kids sulked into their corn flakes.

We were watching television one night when my mother suggested looking at the third video tape. Neither of my parents had watched Deep Throat. They knew it was racy, possibly even naughty, but I was a mature young teen who enjoyed adult fare like National Lampoon, so why not try it out?

“Deep Throat” opens with Linda Lovelace in sunglasses, driving though Miami to the movie’s bouncy theme music. She drives and drives as the credits roll, then drives and drives more as the music plays on. She’s on her way to see her doctor with a very heavy concern: she’s never had an orgasm. She weeps her sorrow to the doctor, played by Geraldo Rivera. (The role was actually played by Harry Reems, but to my young eyes, the actor was presumably the guy on television with a bushy moustache.)

Doctor Geraldo Rivera gave Linda Lovelace a quick examination and made a shocking discovery. Many women orgasm from stimulation of the “glitterus”—or so the word sounded to my young ears—and by some abnormality, her glitterus was located deep in her throat. The only way she could achieve orgasm, he diagnosed, was by sucking a cock at least nine inches long. Linda Lovelace wept. It was hopeless. She would never have an orgasm, for where-oh-where would she find someone with a nine-inch cock?

Doctor Geraldo Rivera unzipped. Bow chicka bow bow! Ecstatically, Linda Lovelace set herself to the task of swallowing the good doctor’s cure.

I sat between my parents, watching. I looked neither left nor right. No one said a word.

We sat frozen for the duration of Deep Throat.

After the movie ended, my mother got up to turn off the television. “Okay, time for bed!” she ordered. I put up no disagreement, hurriedly mumbling “Good night, I love you,” as I rushed to my room, eyes averted.

One may think my parents were freethinkers for watching porn with their eldest child, but in fact, we had no idea what we were getting into. It was the first time any of us had seen explicit sex. Before the advent of video tapes, the only places to encounter stag films were bachelor parties and adult theaters in seedy sections of big cities. My parents had no experience with such places. The only theaters they visited were cineplexes and drive-ins with four children in tow. The bachelor’s video introduced blowjobs into our family’s garage-cum-den-cum-grindhouse.   

The next morning, I ate breakfast with the kids in silence. The third video vanished, never to be seen again.

Years later, now an adult living in New York City, I visited the annual Tattoo Convention at the Roseland Ballroom. I don’t have ink of my own, but I like art and flesh, so I’m an admirer. As I toured the near-empty second floor balcony, I turned a corner and nearly tripped over an easel with a sign reading “Meet Linda Lovelace!” Two women were seated at a table some distance away, as if prepared for a queue that never materialized. I smiled and waved. They waved me over.

I introduced myself. One of the pair replied with her name and introduced her companion as Linda Lovelace.

“Nice to meet you. Big fan,” I blurted. I tried to cover. “You know, Deep Throat was my first porn movie.”

“Yeah, it was a lot of people’s first,” Linda Lovelace replied flatly. “Some firsts for me, too.”

I laughed at the joke. She didn’t smile. I pressed on. “Yeah, but how many people watched it with their parents?”

She nodded, unimpressed. “So, you want to get an autograph? You can buy a picture for ten dollars or the book for fifteen.” She indicated a stack of The Complete Linda Lovelace by Eric Danville. I asked for a book and paid her friend. “How do you want it signed?” Linda Lovelace asked.

“How about ‘To Jefferson?”

Linda Lovelace carefully creased back the book’s cover to the title page and took up a pen. She sounded out the words as she wrote:  “To . . . Jeff . . er . . . son . . .” Her companion and I exchanged glances. I wondered if Linda Lovelace had suffered some disorder that caused her to write so slowly. I knew very little about her.   

By the time I met her, Linda Lovelace was one of life’s walking wounded. As a young woman, Linda Susan Boreman emerged as “Linda Lovelace,” immediately cast as a national punchline. Although few people actually saw Deep Throat, everyone had heard of the film and its star. Johnny Carson got a reliable laugh from dropping her name. Woodward and Bernstein used the film title in identifying their secret informant on the Watergate scandal, certain readers would get the reference. The smart set enjoyed the era’s “porn chic,” opining that X-rated fare indicated a new direction for sex in mainstream cinema.

Linda Lovelace herself felt used by the filmmakers and her unsought notoriety. She had been paid flat fees and never saw profits from the film, its sequels or merchandise. She renounced Deep Throat, claiming that her abusive husband, Chuck Trayner, had forced her to perform. Coming out as a survivor led to her embrace by second-wave feminists. Linda Lovelace was pushed to the front lines of a campaign against pornography, speaking on campuses and marching through Times Square buffeted by Gloria Steinem and Bella Abzug behind a banner proclaiming “Porn Hurts Women.”  She testified before Congress, “When you see the movie Deep Throat, you are watching me being raped. There was a gun to my head the entire time.”

Linda Lovelace came to feel used on all sides of the debate about pornography. She became a born-again Christian and retired into a private life about we which know little other than its continued hardships. Not long after I met her, Linda Susan Boreman would die from injuries sustained in a car accident at age fifty-three.

But that day, she was still Linda Lovelace, relying on her disavowed celebrity to survive by selling autographs at an uninterested tattoo convention. I quietly watched as she inscribed my book, slowly looping the “e” to the “l” in “Lovelace.”

“You have very nice handwriting,” I observed.

Linda Lovelace looked up. “Thanks. I’m proud of my handwriting. I learned cursive as a fourth-grader in Catholic school in Yonkers.” She returned to complete her signature. “I always say, you should always have something in this life that you’re proud of.”

Linda Lovelace smiled as she gave me the book. I shook her hand and left the pair at the table on an empty ballroom balcony. I carried away Linda Lovelace’s signature and life lesson: always have something in this life that you’re proud of.  

A lesson I’ve always tried to apply to my own life in pornography.

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