She didn’t like to think of the men who paid her as tricks. She preferred the term “love partners,” as Jan and Paul Crouch called folks who dialed in and pledged on the number that crawled under their plush Praise The Lord chairs on the Trinity Broadcasting Network.

—Jerry Stahl, “Pure”

HECTOR SCHECHNER’S WEARING BLUE JEANS and a black T-shirt. Jerry Stahl’s wearing blue jeans and a black T-shirt. I’m wearing blue jeans and a black T-shirt. It must mean something, but I’m not sure what. We’re all something, or we’re all not something; or we’re all something else — or trying to be, or wishing we were (or weren’t) — in the same way, consciously or otherwise.

All I know we are for certain is in the kitchen, the three of us, standing, in uniform. Stahl’s about to give a private reading at Schechner’s sprawling seaside estate in Pacific Palisades. Best known as the author of Permanent Midnight, a memoir of his rise to power in the Mormon church, Stahl is least known for “Bad Liver,” his freewheelin’ column in the Los Angeles Reader in the early ’90s, and considerably known for his film and television scripts and the novels I, Fatty, Plainclothes Naked and Perv: A Love Story. And soon he’ll be somewhat known for his tender and gut-busting new short-story collection, Love Without, published by Open City Books.

Schechner’s living room has been painted for the occasion: blue from waist level down, black from waist level up. In the backyard, both swimming-pool decks have been rigged with loudspeakers and enormous video monitors, so that Stahl’s most subtle, endearing tics can be detected from 60 paces. Last I left the kitchen, about 20 minutes ago, there must’ve been close to 200 horrifically scented guests, almost all of them dressed like the living room, black and blue.

It’s close to showtime. Schechner, Stahl and I drink extremely healthy beverages and watch each other age. Schechner appears to be winning, followed by… now, ain’t this a bitch: Stahl’s got nine years on me and has famously done his weight in heroin, crack and so on, yet I appear to be older. Maybe it’s just the hair. Stahl has good hair.

“My father checked himself out when he was 49,” says Stahl. “I was 16. So now I had an excuse to feel the way I always felt before — fucked up and weird. Now I was that guy. I was the son of the guy who did that. In my 16-year-old world, you know, that was, like, Great — now I get to just be full-bore fuckup. Not that I recommend it, but in its own weird way, it frees you. He was gone early, I was gone early, and that was that. I’ve probably spent a lot of my life looking for fathers, because 16 is a key age to lose one. I had to, like, ask guys on the bus to show me how to shave.”

“Sixteen seems to be the magic number,” I say. “That’s how old I was when my big brother died, and the Permanent Little Brother Syndrome kicked in — inability to make important decisions without confirmation from an older-brother surrogate, blah blah blah, freedom to fuck up my life, blah blah blah, same deal, thank you very much. It started almost immediately: The first time I got drunk was right after my brother’s funeral service.”

“Yeah,” says Stahl. “Same deal.”

“And when there’s no surrogate around,” I add, “I make one up.”

“That’s fucked up,” says Schechner.

“Fortunately,” says Stahl, “we all turned out completely normal. It all worked out, with no residual bitterness, weirdness or strangeness.”

THE HOUSE LIGHTS GO DOWN. Stahl takes his place in the spot, at the makeshift podium in the living room, in front of Schechner’s fireplace, before a sea of black and blue. Stahl opens with “Pure,” one of the Love Without stories, which concerns a Christian Love Girl — a prostitute who plies her trade while retaining her virginity — on the way to her next love partnership.

She’d taken the Virginity pledge four years ago, after Laura Bush came to visit her high school and opened a white First Lady Bible to First Thessalonians chapter four, verse three. “God wants you to be holy, so ye shall keep thy nether chalice free of sin and foulness.” She still wore her Silver Chastity Ring to remind her, in the face of temptation, that pure attracts pure.

For a long moment, she let her eyes rest on the front of the matchbook, where JIMP was spelled in letters that looked like the kind on the Ten Commandments. These stood for the first four words of Pastor Bob’s special Escort Prayer. Slowly, she repeated the words to herself: Jesus is my pimp, I shall not freelance . . . He maketh me lie down in Motel Sixes . . .

The crowd grows loud and moist with approval. Stahl follows with two more crowd-pleasing anal selections from Love Without — “Twilight of the Stooges,” about an aged Hollywood never-been/coke dealer requiring expert assistance with her straw; and “Li’l Dickens,” by request, about a manly encounter in a gun shop with our nation’s “burly, pink-thighed, sneering buffalo of love,” Dick Cheney:

Then he turned, waggling his ample bottom, and dropped to his hands and knees beside the army cot. I wasn’t sure how to react, but before I could, he grunted, stretched, and pulled out a monkey-head bong.

“Who does this remind you of?”

THE APPLAUSE DIES DOWN and the lights come up. Schechner heads down to the pools while Stahl is attacked at the podium by well-wishers. On the outskirts of the living room, a lovely young guest stands facing me, between me and my beverage.

“So,” she says, talking to me but staring at the place where black meets blue. “How long have you known Jerry?”

LA Weekly