January 08, 2015

The Day I Wrote A Dirty Book

I spent my twenty-fifth birthday writing naughty literature.

At the time I was essentially a bum. I had quit my teaching job (by acclamation, I was chosen America's worst teacher) and had decided that I wanted to be a writer. I had no idea what I wanted to write.

Scouring the classifieds, I answered an ad for a writer of "adult fiction." I submitted a sample and was hired.

You can imagine how proud I was.

Our office was in Greenwich Village. It was above a gym on 6th or 7th Av. somewhere south of West 4th St. Forty or so intervening years of advertising, alcohol, and adulthood have rendered the details a little hazy.

There were three of us -- a statuesque lesbian about a head taller than me who wore cat's eye glasses and was the sexiest thing I had ever laid eyes on. I still have dreams about the black knit dress she wore.

Then there was Erwin or Walter or something like that. He was a scrawny little intellectual about my age with curly, balding hair who walked bent over as if he was prepared for the ceiling to fall in on him at any moment.

And there was me. Since it was the 70's I had the obligatory full beard and shoulder length hair.

Our boss was a gay guy we will call James. He had an earring, which was unusual in those days. He wore a multi-colored, vertically striped silk shirt with a long, pointy collar and rolled up sleeves. I wasn't sure if he owned the place or was just the editor.

Our assignment was simple. We had to write a book a week. The book had to be exactly 150 pages, which meant we had to write thirty pages a day. I can't type thirty pages a day. We got paid $1 a page.

I lasted one day.

When I tell this story, I often say that spending eight hours that day thinking about nothing but sex was too much, even for a dirty little mind like mine. But the truth is, one day's work exhausted everything I new about the subject.

I called in the second day and left a message that I wouldn't be returning. James called me back and asked me to reconsider. He said he had read my "manuscript" overnight and was very impressed.

You can imagine how proud I was.

I don't often talk about this episode. But sometimes, when people ask me what I did before advertising, I say, "I was a novelist."


Cecil B. DeMille said...

I worked in movies. Which is to say I managed a run-down movie theater. The neon was broken in places and the roof leaked. I wore a tie. It was awful.

Jonathan Rodgers said...

Very brave, Bob. It's not easy to talk about premature resignation.

CaliforniaGirl500 said...

That's hilarious. I guess you have nothing on Anais Nin or Henry Miller.

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Jeff Spicoli said...

If only you had stayed on the higher moral ground and not descended into the world of advertising.

RobSterling said...

Florence King published an essay (maybe 20 years ago, possibly in National Review?) about a similar experience set during the 50s. She described how management rotated the whole staff in and out, every now and then, to keep the writing fresh. Great story and it really stuck in my mind.

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