“Join us, salsa dancing, roller skating, and merry making on east Pico.”
It was already 10 p.m. when the text message came in. Still recovering from Friday night’s bender, we nonetheless dragged ourselves downtown — and it was deep downtown, where they don’t have street lamps anymore, where the city planners seemed to give up.
We parked in the dark lot next door and were immediately chased onto the street by two barking dogs. The gate at the address was locked, there was no one in sight, and my internal monologue was already off this street and onto Burrito King’s chile relleno burrito when a worried young gal in five-inch heels and a sparkly purple dress came clicking down the stairs. “Go on up — the salsa teacher got stuck in traffic.”
Three flights high, it was a typical CalArtsy party — mostly familiar faces standing around drinking and laughing in a huge industrial space. Wandering down the hall, I happened upon what seemed like a Moroccan opium den — lush throw pillows strewn about, dark mood lighting, fans oscillating, curls of cigarette smoke colliding at the ceiling — but turned out to be a porn radio studio.
A 40-something woman in a sheer black top, sans bra, rushed up to me and pressed her finger to her lips as a signal to be quiet.
“We’re live on the air and we’re looking for guests. Do you have any deep, dark secrets to confess?” Past the racks of illegibly marked gray VHS boxes and the TV monitors showing video footage of busty African-American women “acting,” a middle-aged blonde wearing heavy lipstick and a low-cut top talked into a radio mike.
I said I knew someone who would definitely have something to get off his chest and ran back to the party to get a friend. They announced him on the air as “Anton,” and what he proceeded to tell the radio host was an outrageous lie, which, of course, she had to take seriously because in the business of perversion eradication you have to assume everyone is telling the truth.
Anton confessed a childhood of incestuous molestation, which triggered the anger that led to his adolescent abuse of small animals. As retribution for his youthful crimes, Anton said, he has dedicated himself to being an animal-control officer for the city of Los Angeles, helping abused and abandoned cats and dogs. The problem, said Anton, is that he seems to be exclusively attracted to men at the workplace. And he just doesn’t know how to move on.
The professional sex world is so eager to be accepting, nothing can be shocking. A studio technician in his 60s took the mike and said, “Hey, Anton, listen. I’m much older and wiser than you, but I used to take cats, put them in burlap sacks, and swing them around. It’s not right, but hey, we didn’t know any better.” Then one of the breathy female guests chimed in. “Maybe you should date a girl with cats. Then you’ll love her and you’ll love the cats. I have cats…”
After an hour of this feline-focused oral extravaganza (and after being offered the job of associate producer, which I graciously declined), the words “cock ring” were spoken, and it was Anton’s and my cue to get the hell out of there. Miraculously, we escaped from the smothering bosom of sexual acceptance just in time for the salsa instructor to show up, about 1 a.m. With the help of blaring music and partial inebriation, I tried my best to follow the simple back-and-forth cha-cha he demonstrated, to little avail. The rest of the night was spent stumbling over someone else’s feet, and roller-skating with the 24-hour porny people who filtered in from down the hall. It was heartwarming to watch the trust-fund babies, sex workers, video artists, journalists and high school dropouts flourish in each other’s awkward and untalented two-stepping.
A skinny, six-foot-tall professional in a skintight red ensemble introduced herself as a “porn star renaissance woman.” As we stood gazing out of the window onto Pico Boulevard’s black abandon, she told me how she takes care of those ill-tempered parking-lot dogs, leaving them food and water. She was very excited that one of the dogs had recently eaten out of her hand. And then she offered me a job — an editor position to go through the thousands upon thousands of hours of tape she has yet to organize. I graciously declined.