by Leif Ueland



A Feminist's Arduous Task

Getting Paid to Scrutinize Naked Women Was the Last Resort of a Desperate Man

By Libby Copeland
Washington Post Staff Writer

Sunday, January 12, 2003; Page F01

It is a little tough to feel bad for Leif Ueland.

"I really got tired of writing about sex," he says mournfully.



When Ueland decided to write "Accidental Playboy," about the six-month bus trip he took in 1998, documenting Playboy's search for the Playmate of the Millennium -- during which he was dragged to strip joints, obliged to photograph topless women and forced (well, maybe not forced) to sleep with two tryouts -- his publisher wanted to use the subtitle "Living the Ultimate Male Fantasy."

"I just wanted to shoot myself," says Ueland, descendant of feminists, recovering sexual neurotic, gay-seeming straight and all-around Sensitive Male. He made a counteroffer: "Caught in the Ultimate Male Fantasy." That, he felt, more accurately captured the angst of his journey.

Ueland, a struggling writer, was living in Los Angeles and working on a novel when he was offered a job writing daily dispatches for Playboy.com about the Playmate tryouts. The great-grandson of a suffragette, Ueland worried that the Playboy job would turn him into a "pig." But he accepted the offer, eager for cash and adventure and egged on by his shrink.

Once on the bus, he met his subjects: small-town girls and strippers, young mothers and even grandmothers, with gorgeous faces and worn-out faces, dream bodies and botched boob jobs. He saw the leers of one of the other Playboy staffers, watched the way a set of muscly hustlers tried to latch onto the bus to score dates, and felt "guilt by association," "embarrassed to be a man."

Last week, Wisconsin resident Ueland, 37, was in town visiting friends during a break from promoting his new book, and -- in homage to his time scoping out talent at bikini contests and restaurants where the true entree is the wait staff -- we took him to a Hooters in Fairfax.

Here are the women: in push-up bras with cleavage-baring shirts and orange "shorts" that look like bathing suit bottoms, nicely complemented by rust-colored stockings that could pass for support hose.

And here come the men: in suits, in hooded sweat shirts, in pairs and in packs, with fox-stealing-chicken smiles. They perch on stools in this good-time place; greasy fingers and sticky eyes.

In the presence of this well-choreographed mating dance, Ueland can only voice "the disconnect I feel from men. I look around, the men in here -- it just boggles me. I have no idea what they're doing here."

He eats a chicken sandwich.

"There's two things going on," he says, to sum up the surroundings. "There's the objectification and then there's also just the sheer tackiness."

This is the Sensitive Male's burden.

"Accidental Playboy" is perhaps too honest, the kind of honest that makes you feel itchy. It details Ueland's sexual hangups, his dating humiliations and his frank discussions with his therapist. When he began the job -- handsome but perhaps a little too nice, with no job, no money and no car -- he had not had sex in five years. (Then there's the gay-seeming thing. Ueland is well aware of it but he has little explanation for the slightly effeminate voice and expressive mannerisms. It may be relevant to mention, however, that he was a child underwear model.)

On board the bus, he was at first a poodle among pit bulls. Acutely self-conscious and tortured by "a nonstop inner narrative," Ueland hesitated even to approach women for the clothed pictures required for his Web site dispatches. When charged with the task of filing the semi-nude Polaroids taken of the tryouts, he couldn't seem to locate his libido. "Shouldn't I be feeling something other than numb?" he writes.

But Ueland's sensitivity is what saves "Accidental Playboy" from being a mere chronology of blond hair, breasts and bright smiles. While he was biased toward the unusual-looking tryouts, like the one whose "nose is the tiniest bit bulbous," as well as the ones who seem to feel a bit cynical about Playboy and its mission, he was surprised by the unquestioning enthusiasm many tryouts seemed to feel for Playboy. For many, making it onto those glossy pages would mean refuge from the smallness of their lives.

He listened to the women's very American stories (Divorced at 21? Inhabitant of 70 -- 70?! -- foster homes?), noted the sense of humor that strippers tend to have, wondered what it's like to possess the open-sesame beauty that provokes instant marriage proposals and wildly exorbitant gifts. (As if to provide evidence, the Hooters waitress serving Ueland tells of a customer who regularly tips her $100 for his $10 meals.)

He watched countless women undress.

"I've never forgotten this," he says. "You would see a pattern of a bruise." With his right hand, Ueland cups his hand around the inside of his left upper arm. He saw that same bruise, over and over -- men grabbing their girlfriends, as in Don't leave until I tell you.

He observed, too, how for himself and his cohort -- the Playboy photographers, the PR woman, the various staffers -- those six months on the bus resulted in a disappointing dissection of beauty. Women became parts, no longer Dolores or Daisy or Cynthia but formless legs or too-close eyes. They became grades: 1, 2, 3. As humble appreciation turned into the expectation of perfection, the tiniest flaws became deal-breakers. The strongest candidates embodied the Playboy ideal of the blond kewpie doll. They seemed "almost slightly higher than human." (The search, however, ultimately yielded two brunet Millennium Playmates, Peruvian-raised twins Darlene and Carol Bernaola.)

"The mind set of the search -- there are very few people that measure up," Ueland says. "It's not what is beautiful, it's 'No, this would prohibit.' "

The tryouts -- well, like women everywhere -- dissected themselves, too. Someone would give compliments, and the reply would be, "Oh, no, I have this weird thing on my thigh."

We consider the Hooters waitresses, the backs of their shirts bearing the motto, "Delightfully tacky yet unrefined," their stockings so . . . orange. ("It gives that kind of Barbie-doll-like plasticity," Ueland points out.) We pick one. How would she fare on the Playboy bus?

Ueland hesitates. "I kind of cured myself of it," he says, referring to the tyrannical Playboy eye.

We ask again. He reluctantly studies her.

"They would say she's got a tough face, tough to make work. A little stocky and skin isn't great. She's wearing a lot of makeup." Ueland rubs his beard. "This feels like a very bad terrain," he says, like a man walking across a still-active volcano. But he continues on: "Not a great jaw thing going on. She doesn't have the greatest -- the butt's a little flat."

Butt's flat? We hadn't thought so. We ponder the butt on our own stool.

Here's what's troubling or heartening about Ueland's journey, depending on your point of view. During its course, he became more comfortable with his own desire. When the women flirted with him, he flirted back. So many of the would-be Playmates turned out to be strippers, the revelation ceased to faze him. He stopped questioning the women's remarkable disinhibition and just went with it. He started inviting his photographic subjects to strip, even though his dispatches weren't supposed to contain nudity, pushing the envelope so far he earned scoldings from his boss. He mentally compared himself to Hugh Hefner. As the trip neared its end, he slept with two tryouts: first with a veteran stripper, then with a college student and Wal-Mart greeter.

All the while, he worried, Am I becoming that kind of guy?

"Whereas we all became increasingly disillusioned with the bus . . . Leif really started getting going towards the end," says Nadine Ekrek, who did PR for the bus and witnessed Ueland's transformation. She describes him like a "kid in a candy store," who slowly became aware that the candy was his for the taking. On the last day, Ekrek says, "He was singing, like, an Alanis Morissette song, and he had tears in his eyes."

Ueland's ambivalence about his journey is evident on every page of his book. He says he wouldn't want to repeat the experience, but he's glad he had it. By the end of the trip, he was burned out, but he'd found his libido. He'd embraced his own maleness.

Sitting in the Hooters, world-weary Ueland says: "I think I do feel like a veteran of the sex industry, like it or not."

Like it or not. The question, of course, is which one it is.




Ueland becomes 'Accidental Playboy' on road to sexual, literary fulfillment

John Habich

Published Feb. 1, 2003

No wonder Leif Ueland makes some guys crazy.

He helped finance his college education with money he saved from modeling underwear. After he gave up as an insurance broker, he got a job watching TV. He earned extra money promoting brand-name liquors by buying strangers drinks. After aborting his first novel, he boarded the Playboy bus to report on the search for the "Playmate of the Millennium."

Did we mention that his great-grandmother was Minnesota's best-known pioneer feminist?

Ueland, 37, is the author of the new book "Accidental Playboy: Caught in the Ultimate Male Fantasy." He hates the subtitle. The memoir describes his six months doing Internet dispatches to help publicize the Playmate quest. He served as the alter-ego of legions of laptop voyeurs -- but the role was not his fantasy.

"I certainly thought it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world for me to get out of my apartment and meet a lot of women," said Ueland. A slim, handsome bachelor with gray-green eyes and chin-length ash-blond hair, he reveals in the book that he was romantically insecure, sexually inactive and genitally embarrassed.

"I was more attracted to the spectacle of weirdness. Not 'I'm the luckiest guy alive!' but, 'Good God, this is bizarre!' "

At the time, he was living in a rickety hovel of an apartment in Los Angeles. He didn't have a car. His come-ons to women usually involved drunkenness and rejection. He once woke up married in a Las Vegas hotel room, an escapade that took a year to untangle.

The Playboy gig was professionally right up his alley, though. He had gone on location for MTV to do Internet bulletins and a book about its "Road Rules" show, and written about sex for nerve.com, including an article called "Trials of a Gay-Seeming Straight Man."

In the book, he describes his first visit to the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles, one of the sybaritic playgrounds of Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner. There he spotted several former centerfold models, or Playmates, wearing bikinis "the color of M&Ms" in combination with high heels, "full-on photo-shoot makeup" and tans as even as Barbie-doll skin.

Flying to join the Big Bunny bus in Vancouver, British Columbia, Ueland got an inkling of his new role as a wish-fulfillment surrogate. Men in nearby seats craned to ogle Playboy Mansion party photographs as he edited them on his laptop. Part of his new job was to file a daily Internet report for premium subscribers to the Playboy Web site.

"Early on, I felt so out of place," Ueland recalled of the auditions. "I would have to take pictures of the women in their clothes, and it felt so sketchy, like I was suddenly part of this pervy . . . I don't know how to describe it."

He became emboldened by his first batch of Playboy e-mail. "I had all these guys egging me on," he said. "The dynamic is, I'm making them crazy because I'm so lucky. They're so annoyed it's not them instead of me." He started to play up the role of Casanova Powerball winner and adopted the moniker of "Fearless Reporter." His bulletins included off-color jokes, suggestive references and snapshots of him with comely candidates.

Eventually, he was taking arty photos of the would-be Playmates with their shirts open. On his birthday, they posed around him on his big hotel bed, as if poised to eat cake off his bare chest. And that was all that happened. Ueland remained pretty shy, at least without being boozed-up. He had doubts about his relative stature south of the beltline. (When he modeled jeans as a teenager, he had padded his crotch.)

Then one night, with a stripper whose specialty was bending over backward until her palms were touching the floor . . . oh, it would be cheap to give away the climax.

"I had this strange way of denying desire or hiding it," Ueland said. "I don't know if that's some Scandinavian Midwestern thing or my own issue, but it's really backwards to feel you can't reveal your interest, that there's something slightly shameful about it.

"The other fundamental paradox about sex, there is just something irrational and absurd and cheesy and weird about it. I have been the good guy to a fault, almost P.C. to a fault and concerned about other people's boundaries to a fault. Being on this absurd, ludicrous Playboy bus and having to get into the fantasy realm for my readers, I had to access my own fantasies. There is something slightly embarrassing about sex, and I'm somebody mortified about being embarrassed. You have to get a little dirty, and having to do that for my job was good for me. It freed me up."

Figures of speech

Ueland has a knack for capturing situational ironies, as when the Playboy bus pulled into a hotel parking lot right next to the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile. ("What are the chances?") He savors the piquancy of human foibles, including his own. He reports that one Playmate contestant, a stripper, wrote "student" on her application because she is taking a ceramics class. (Her license plate reads KANDI.)

Not every peep into this sexy subculture is sunny. Many of the would-be gatefold models can't hide their self-doubt with silicone implants. They yearn to escape mundane lives. A Playmate at a Hefner party tells Ueland, "I lived in Omaha working forty hours a week doing data entry; now I'm in Los Angeles at the [Playboy] Mansion. It seemed like a no-brainer." They stopped seeming like objects of fantasy when they revealed formative years full of hard luck and rejection. One lost her parents in a factory explosion when she was 7; another claimed to have lived in 70 foster homes.

Ueland began thinking about doing a book when a woman who made his heart pound challenged him to write about "women who can't get themselves to leave men who they know aren't good for them."

His memoir-on-wheels was one hot property. The book sold within a week, and DreamWorks snapped up the movie option a week later. The news made the front page of the entertainment trade papers, setting off the alarm at Playboy Enterprises, which disputed Ueland's right to tell the story. The contracts had not been signed, and the publisher scuttled the deal.

Ueland moved to New York City, hired a lawyer and spent the next year wrangling with Playboy, which in 2001 had a market-cap value of $390 million and 15 million magazine readers worldwide. He spewed out a 500-page first draft containing every possible incident he might want to include in the book. One day, his attorney received a one-page fax listing six minor objections. Then Ueland had to persuade Warner Books that he hadn't emasculated his manuscript to get Playboy's OK.

He dedicated "Accidental Playboy" to his parents, Sig and Sissy Ueland of Minneapolis, writing: "Mom and Dad, please do not read beyond this point."

Of course, they did. "We knew it was going to be a sexy book. That didn't bother us in the slightest," said his father. "Not that some of the details weren't a surprise -- but they were all interesting." Sissy Ueland said she was impressed by her son's sensitivity "venturing into a foreign culture."

In the woods

The movie option has lapsed. Although he enjoys "the luxury of bicoastal storage space," Ueland lives in his folks' small, isolated cabin on Spider Lake near Hayward, Wis. He has all but completely quit drinking. After a brief romance there, he is "definitely eligible" again.

When the book came out in November, Ueland gave weekly readings at a little cafe in Hayward. "One night I plunged into this chapter without remembering what was in it. It ended up being a very graphic, point-blank description of female anatomy. I'm looking out at this little old lady with her walker, and my mother, and I start blushing and then these two young women with four empty wine glasses in front of them start chanting, 'Read it! Read it!' " He ended up doing a little paraphrasing on the fly.

One can't help but wonder how his famous foremothers would have reacted. His great-grandmother, Clara Ueland (1860-1927), was president of the Minnesota Woman Suffrage Association and, after passage of the 19th Amendment, the first president of the Minnesota League of Women Voters. She also worked to establish kindergartens, abolish billboards, reform prisons and create a juvenile court.

Her daughter Brenda Ueland, Leif's great-aunt, was the doyenne of Minnesota writers. Her books enjoyed a resurgence when feminist literature was championed in the 1960s and '70s. Her 1938 book, "If You Want to Write," has sold more than 200,000 copies since its 1987 paperback reissue by Graywolf Press. She lived by two rules -- tell the truth and don't do anything you don't want to do -- and set an international swimming record for people over 80.

Leif Ueland retains potent childhood memories of his great-aunt. "She looked totally like, I don't want to say a witch, but a slightly crazy woman with wild hair and a deeply lined face. Unlike other adults, she'd be right down at your level, holding your hand, inciting passion even with little kids."

Overhearing her talk about another writer one day, it dawned on Leif that books were created by people, and he rushed upstairs to begin work on "a go-cart novel." As he grew older, he found her literary prowess intimidating, "but on the other hand, for most of her life she was just eking by, struggling with cash."

He thought it best to do something practical, like his father, an executive at Honeywell (now retired). So after graduating from Blake School, he majored in business at Washington and Lee University in Virginia. "I thought I would work until I was 65 and then do something I liked," he said.

He lasted two years in insurance, became a ski bum and wound up in a West Coast writing program he financed by monitoring daily TV broadcasts to scour material for "Later With Greg Kinnear."

"The uncertainty of my writing life still makes that practical part of me crazy," he said.

Ueland also worries that people will think he is a sex-crazed dog. "I loved being on a bus for six months that was basically a rolling women's locker room," he said. "The flip side is, when you write a book about yourself, people will think this is you. It's one side of myself -- my most neurotic, my most clueless, at the most sexually clueless time of my life. But it's not a complete picture."

-- John Habich is at jhabich@startribune.com.









Accidental Playboy
by Leif Ueland

Leif Ueland was diligently pounding away on his bestseller, focused on literary success to the exclusion of all else, when he got the call. Did he want to sign on as the chronicler of the search for the Playmate of the Millennium? Did he want to spend six months on a tricked-out bus full of eager, curvaceous girls-next-door? Did he want to sit down and chat with bunny candidates, armed with Playboy credentials and a digital camera? Did he want to partake in the ultimate male fantasy and get paid for it?

Leif Ueland was a Los Angeles-based freelance writer struggling with irregular income, sexual dysfunction and low self-esteem. Did I mention that he was hard at work on a less-than-certain "bestseller"? It was a hard sell, but Ueland signed on as Playboy.com's "Fearless Reporter."

To hear him tell it — and that's what you will do if you tuck into "Accidental Playboy" — it was nothing more than a strange twist of fate. Time and time again, our Fearless (read, hapless) Reporter pleads for sympathy. "What was I doing here?" he cries at a gentleman's club in Portland; "Who am I kidding?" he exclaims as judge of a bikini contest in New Orleans; At the pinnacle of his transformation, Ueland throws a video-linked birthday party for himself in his hotel in Athens, Ga., and choreographs a collection of scantily-clad beauties feasting on cake from his bared chest. "What had happened to me?" he wails in conclusion.

They say fact is stranger than fiction. But it isn't always. These are great stories. Stories to tell your friends, new acquaintances, and hungry fans waiting for a daily dispatch on the titillations of a warm-blooded male. But they are no crazier than the average fantasy conjured up by the suggestion of a bus full of Playboy bunnies. What distinguishes Ueland's account from the sum total of his six-month's worth of dispatches is his candid self-portrait as a guy who really doesn't know what to think about sex.

Apparently, five years of involuntary abstinence punctuated by romantic dead-ends and weekly therapy sessions can undermine enthusiasm for an assignment with Playboy. Ueland, who writes easily about sex, anatomy and erotica, was initially unnerved by the mandate to do so.

"What if next time you see me I'm calling myself Phallus and waxing on about some woman's very-above-average breasts?" he implores his shrink before embarking. "What if there is a serious pig within, just waiting to get out?"

As his tale unfolds, it becomes clear that Ueland's fears are not entirely unfounded. He is soon calling himself the mini-Hef and discoursing freely on chi-chi's, hot-house flowers and precome. He heaves himself over his inhibitions and his job description to re-invent himself as a serious nude photographer. By Detroit, he is staging solo shoots in the back of the bus and reveling in his newfound arousal. Something has gotten out, and it's fair to call it Phallus.

Still, our reporter never succeeds in convincing us that he is a serious pig. It takes six months for him to finally make it to bed with a candidate and he has divulged too much along the way to suggest that he is entirely cured of his reservations about sex. Perhaps the finest passage in Ueland's sometimes monotonous tale comes when he discovers guilt as the root of his complex:

Going for runs in the evening, the way women walking alone will hear the rapidly approaching footsteps and whip their heads around, their faces filled for a moment with terror. Or growing up with a sister, watching her dating emotionally arrested guys, stupid guys, mean guys, dangerous guys ... Or women friends who have had a sexual experience involving too much alcohol and something less than consent ... Even bathroom graffiti — who writes it? Who walking among us feels compelled midshit to scribble out that thought about women being whores or all loving it in the ass? And in the same vein, those moronic letters I get from readers: "I want pussy" and "send me porn." Who are these men?

"Accidental Playboy" will not be the bestseller Ueland once wanted to write. It is raw, novice and a little too faithful to the chronology of a cross-country quest. Some of the anecdotes are amusing, but many are unexceptional. Ueland's writing style also wants some restraint (please, fewer italics and exclamatory disbelieving asides!!). One sometimes wonders if he writes to an internal checklist of obligatory puns, devices and rollicking adjectives.

That said, Ueland often turns a beautiful phrase: models walk "slowly, a step up from slow motion, a speed that if it were on a blender would be labeled delicious;" the million dollar search bus draws satellite news vans in every city, "parked at haphazard angles around the bus, seemingly poised to mate with the thing."

Moreover, Ueland's sense of humor is sharp, when stripped of its italics and printed "ha-has." He drifts through a celebrity party at Hugh Hefner's mansion snapping photos and encounters Drew Carey: "He can't stop laughing, is going to swallow his tongue, and I don't know CPR. I must get away"; Ben Affleck: "regular guy hanging out with his boys, not talking to women"; and even the grown-up kid actor from Witness, who is "spooked by my request ... like he really is Amish and has never seen anything like this before."

Most importantly, Leif Ueland, the "shy-guy" who asks in the dedication to his parents that they not read any further, has shown himself to be a Fearless Reporter, in a sense any reader can appreciate. He has posited himself as the most freakish exhibit in a display of American cultural perversity. So hats off to the Accidental Playboy (and thongs and tight T-shirts as well).

     Elizabeth Kiem (eckiem@yahoo.com)



Highway to heaven

A shy, uptight journalist talks about the months he spent aboard the Playboy Miss Millennium bus, searching the nation for the ultimate Playmate.

By Suzy Hansen

Dec. 17, 2002  |  When Leif Ueland took a job as the Internet writer and photographer for Playboy's Miss Millennium search, working under the nom de guerre "Fearless Reporter," he hadn't had sex in five years. "There were some drunken half efforts, failed moments, but really nothing that could be called sexual union," writes Ueland. But then: the Playboy bus. This laughably large, sleek black vehicle stopped in parking lots across the U.S. -- Portland, Albuquerque, D.C. -- attracting hundreds of beautiful young women, each with big dreams of stripping down. It was Ueland's job to tell their stories, take their pictures, and see if their dreams came true.

The ultimate male fantasy? Perhaps for some, but not necessarily for Leif Ueland. A neurotic, hyper-self-aware Minnesota native descended from a long line of strong feminist role models, Ueland at first found the idea of spending six months with Playboy hopefuls unsettling, vaguely predatory, maybe a little sad. But in the course of the adventures he chronicles in "Accidental Playboy: Caught in the Ultimate Male Fantasy" -- including some desperate pit stops at his therapist's office in Los Angeles -- he discovers a not so surprising (to us), but unexpectedly lovely (to Ueland) thing: Desire can be fun.

Fortunately, Ueland's past inhibitions have no effect on his writing. "Accidental Playboy" is a wonderfully unguarded, almost sweet book, especially at its tawdriest moments (often also its most awkward). Playboy die-hards, those who send the Fearless Reporter boozy late-night e-mails, tell Ueland that he's the luckiest man alive. But what we see -- between the forays to strip clubs -- is a tortured, self-professed nice guy fumbling across the country in the company of many women, his conscience and ultimately his own happiness.

Ueland spoke to Salon from an airport in Chicago.

You were working on what you call The Bestseller, your novel, when you went on the Playboy bus. At what point on the trip did you realize that you had a new book, a very different one, on your hands?

One night when I went out in Portland with a woman named Eve and her boyfriend. At the end she said something like, "Someday you should write about women who can't leave men who aren't good to them." It's funny, that's when it really started to feel like I was in a book, and so from there on I thought: "As long as this keeps up like this, it's a book."

Did you get the impression that a lot of these women felt like Eve -- that they were looking for an escape?

Absolutely. If you're in New York or L.A., you get used to being around people who "got out," and it seems like it isn't hard to do that. But there are a lot of people back in the rest of the country who are looking for something more than their current life but feel trapped for whatever reasons. So this bus coming through town ... frequently, it was like, "Take me away."

Wait, let's back up and start with you. What were you like before this trip? Did you even read Playboy? Did you frequent strip clubs, ever date strippers?

You know, I was purely a prostitute guy.

Of course you were.

No, not at all. Even when I was describing being in a strip club in the book -- I really was not familiar with that before the trip. Growing up, like every adolescent, I had my visual connection with Playboy or Vogue or the lingerie section in the Sears catalogue. That's a rite of passage. But no, it's not like I even had a subscription to Playboy. I'm not a porn person. I'd never met a stripper before.

And bikini contests were new to you too, apparently -- though, as you noted, judging them is a surprisingly uncomplicated task.

Yeah. Right. I mean, I went to a theater school when I was a kid. My favorite sport is ladies' figure skating.


Well, I do have normal guy things.

And you also had all of these strong feminist relatives. What did your family think of the whole thing?

It really goes way back to my great-grandmother and my great-aunt. My great-grandmother, at least in Minnesota, was really in the vanguard of [feminism]. These two great-aunts of mine said that, given the times we live in, Playboy 50 years later is almost a quaint, kitschy thing. I don't think it was their first choice for what they wanted me to do. Forceful, amazing women around is something that I grew up with. It takes you a while to realize that not every guy has that same outlook.

You seemed like you were more the type to be protective of women and wary of men who might ogle them. Is that true? Did you really feel like a dirty old man when you first set out on the trip?

I did. About the whole question of taking advantage of people ... just taking their pictures and putting them on the Web site. These women are just blindly signing these releases. I was definitely like, "What are you doing? What are you thinking?" So as I went along, I either became corrupted or I thought: "Far be it for me. They are getting something out of this."

I imagined that before you went on the trip you sat around with your friends, had a few beers, and speculated about how many women you would sleep with. Or at least all the hot women you would meet. Is that right?

Absolutely. Guys are going to elbow you and say, "Oh, dude ..."

But did you personally expect to?

I was so not dating at the time, so I was the only one who knew how comic it was that I was going to be on the Playboy Miss Millennium bus. I probably did have this fantasy version of what it was going to be -- all these glossy Playmates coming to the bus. But the reality was that it was not that clichéd. It was secretaries taking off on their lunch hour and coming by the bus.

At one point did you notice that you were starting to feel more comfortable with the whole thing and looking at the women differently?

The first time I'm in the back of the bus, these three young women strip off their clothes and are basically jumping around. That's when I'm really uncomfortable. And then when I bring a woman, Daisy, out into the center of the bus -- that's the first time I enjoyed taking a photo. I wasn't feeling like "I'm a complete pervert" and I just enjoyed taking the woman's photo and was trying to get a better photo.

Eventually you get so comfortable with it that you knew how to tell them to pose, how to distort and contort their bodies, all that.

It was like that photographer's banter that's so perfectly parodied in "Austin Powers." There were times that we really felt we were trapped in that world. You end up saying these cheesy things.

Like what?

There's a scene when an extremely sexy woman, Kandi, comes on the bus and later my boss tells me that I actually said something, kind of unknowingly, like "That's great!" Or "Hot!"

"Yeah, baby"?

"Way to go!" I don't know. But my threshold for embarrassment is unbelievably low. I'm still mortified that I was even in that situation and was egging the whole thing on.

But it sounds like Kandi had that effect on everyone. I mean, what was the deal with Kandi?

There are certain people that give off an animal vibe. Who knows what it is. With her it was women and men. And it was so unintentional, she was so not trying to. It just made everybody unsettled and she was like, "La di da di da."

You mentioned feeling cheesy before and it seemed as if Sophia -- the publicity person for Playboy who also rode on the bus -- was always monitoring your cheesiness. Did you have to give in to cheesiness if you wanted to be a part of the spirit of the whole thing?

At a certain point, I just had to go with it. But Sophia was always there to mock me. She was a great sidekick. She really applauded my transformation and was a fan of mine. She was reassuring me that I wasn't as bad as I thought I was and that I should go with it. But she was definitely getting her digs in along the way.

I actually thought that you would end up getting involved with her.

Yeah, if there's a movie that will probably be what happens.

It did seem likely in a movie-ish way: I spent six months with Playboy Miss Millennium candidates, but much to my surprise, fell for the behind-the-scenes, bookish girl.

She's just a great modern woman.

What about Vegas, the real dirty old man of the bus? He's the only fictional character in the book.

There were some legal landmines that I had to get past. Some problems with Playboy and some other fears from Warner Books. There are other male characters in the book, who I don't talk about, and then Vegas, the fictional character.

But I also wondered whether you created him as your alter ego, or maybe the dirtier side of you, or the dirtier, raunchier guy that you wanted to be.

I was obsessed with the idea of a Vegas, this sort of anti-doppelgänger. I felt like I came of age in the '80s, when pornography was so under attack and it was all about boundaries and political correctness. As kind of a sensitive guy who had a feminist background, I felt like I took that all way too far. And here was a guy who just was oblivious. Or was he oblivious?

So the scene in the strip club, during one of the bikini contests when you and Vegas cheered them on -- where the girl was pouring oil on herself -- that scene is true?

Yes, it was the most down-and-out bikini contest. I mean, I'd never seen a bikini contest, but this one really was so tawdry.

What were they doing that was so weird to you?

The Playboy bus is like the multimillion-dollar upscale version of titillation, so it was beautiful to see the squalor, the lowest end. I mean, it wasn't like there were bad things happening. But it was this really stripped-down bar; this contest was going on for dirty cash in the cash register.

Yes, $72, right? You were really into that contest. It seemed like one of the first times you were really enjoying yourself.

I felt like this one woman was this performance artist or something. It was so hard to figure out why she had the full-on dark jeans and a dark shirt and was pouring oil on herself. At a bikini contest. All I could figure was that she knew what she was doing and was mocking the whole thing.

You couldn't see through her top?

No, I mean, she was just making her clothes heavy.

You had all these interior monologues throughout the book -- you're thinking about these women and wondering where they're from and what they're about. And then at one point you stop and say, "Maybe I'm just thinking she has a really great ass." Was there some point where you turned that voice off?

For me, that really was some kind of mini-epiphany -- there is a cheesy factor that you can't escape, something about men and women coming together and sexuality and all that. It's animal and a little embarrassing. It's that thing -- when you say things in the bedroom it's OK, but if someone outside heard them you'd be mortified.

How did you control yourself? Lots of times you were in these small spaces with naked women, taking pictures of them. And they flirted with you.

That really was an issue. I started off that trip so disconnected from my own libido ... and I'm not saying that to make the story work. That really is true. I'm an example of extreme self-consciousness. But you can only be so self-conscious and be sexual. As I kind of let go a little bit ... there is a scene where I'm taking a woman's photograph and ... I don't even know what to say ...

You finally became aroused.

Yeah, absolutely. That was a pivotal moment. I'm thinking: "This is so low, so kind of trashy, and what is going on here?" On the other hand, well, what else are you going to feel? She's naked, we were creating the sexiest image possible.

Right, because before you were worried why you weren't getting turned on. In the very beginning.

And I really do think it was because I was excessively self-conscious and excessively worried about not wanting to offend somebody.

What did the woman think? Did she notice that you got turned on?

That's the thing. I think, absolutely. Yeah. Um, I mean, hopefully.

Got it.

Right. It was in the spirit of the moment. Usually, photo shoots are lighting people and makeup people, and there's financial pressure involved. But this was intimate.

You were in a lot of weird locations.

It really came to a crisis point when I was at a birthday party in a hotel room [and detailing what was happening for the Web site]. Being so aroused with a woman there was a really bizarre situation. And they were taking photographs and it's all posing but ... that was the point where my brain started short-circuiting over the whole thing. You're there and you're like, "Well, we're naked, we're against each other." Your brain is saying, "This is sex." And then, "This is work." And I didn't know how much further I could push messing with my mind.

You did have a breakdown moment in Detroit too, where you just started hysterically laughing on the street.

That's true, too. The day after posing this woman and taking her picture -- the absurdity of it hit me and what had become of me. I just started laughing so hard, and crying. Then you become aware of the fact that you look like a crazy person.

Did any of these women get upset with you? In the end, did you offend anyone?

There's a scene that got cut out because it came too late in the story. I end up in my hotel room. I wanted to take someone ... you know, I had a hotel room that had really great light --


Yeah, I know. But there was this very sweet, attractive 18-year-old candidate, and I said, "Do you want to come up to my room and take photographs and do you want to bring someone along?" I was thinking she might bring Sophia, but she said, "No. That's fine. Let me just tell my mom."

Oh no.

So I said, "Why don't you bring your mom?" OK. So this woman was naked under sheets. I was posing the sheets around her. I have to say, those were my best pictures. And her mother was saying, "Isn't she a beautiful baby?" And I'm thinking, "How far will this mother -- who seemed like a good, level-headed mother -- go?" I felt like I was the one who would be putting the brakes on.

For the most part though, in the book, it seemed like a happy time for all. At one point you're in your room with some woman and you write, "Who knew it could be so fun to throw macadamia nuts all over the room?" Whee! I pictured the whole thing in slow motion. Was it really that fantasy-like and silly and joyful? Or was that the alcohol?

Definitely, it was one of those boozy late nights where everything becomes funny. And egged on by alcohol. We were full-on rollicking. I'm sometimes still amazed how all that stuff played out. It felt fictional.

I guess in a way all these women are living out their "dreams." And you worked for the dreammaker. But you must have seen a lot of sad cases too. It couldn't have always been positive.

Of course, and that's what I allude to ... In the book, the people that I'm picking out to deal with are the most fun and quirky and interesting. The other side was depressing ... so many young women who are already divorced or already married and have a kid or two at 20, 21. The ones I talked to tended to have a sense of humor. But the ones who thought they were going to a job interview, that was always a little sad.

Well, you said that about Eve. You were interested in her and then you were disappointed when she said her biggest thrill would be to be in Playboy. What did you expect?

She just seemed ... very bright and funny. I'd been thinking that maybe she'd want to do it for the money but it really wouldn't mean anything to her. When she did say that, I was kind of surprised. I never could totally understand.

I thought it was interesting when you met one local stripper and she drove this really nice car and had a nice house and cooked for friends all the time and was taking French lessons and planned to move to France. She made a lot of money and was living this great, full life much like the one you'd want to lead.

I know, she had this really idyllic life. At times, you catch yourself looking down on this lifestyle and then you realize, "Well, her life sure sounds better than mine."

Yeah, it occurred to me too. So, you slept with how many?

Two. There was a lot more making out, though.

And then -- this is another story that got cut out -- there was this woman who had been on the German pairs figure-skating team in the Olympics --

Oh, wow, your perfect woman!

I know. I have that skating thing. She had a serious boyfriend. But she really felt like we hit it off. I met her boyfriend at a party later and he said, "Oh my God, you really got to my girlfriend." She was somebody who I thought could be long-term.

But it was this pleasant thing of the trip: I felt my sexuality was restored and I was able to walk away from that and not feel bad. And she did have this boyfriend and he seemed like a good guy.

How has this changed you in terms of the type of women you're attracted to? Has it? Are you more open now? It's five years later, of course.

After this, I ended up writing for Nerve and Playboy about the sex industry. I ended up with a soft spot for people in the sex industry. They are outcasts, and they're very nonjudgmental because everybody judges them. I'm probably more open-minded, but I haven't dated any strippers or anything.

But do you find yourself sizing women up with the mind of the Playboy photographer?

Certainly when I was on that bus. It's a slippery slope once you start looking at people like that. Nobody is perfect. I think people are really beautiful in general. And I still love taking people's pictures and I love people's faces.

Once and for all it confirmed to me that there are so many things, as a guy, that you're supposed to feel a certain way about. One of the big ones is that if there are a lot of women around, you're supposed to sleep with a lot of women. I really realized on that trip how much I don't enjoy sex unless I do connect with somebody. It feels like that's an embarrassing admission because I'm a guy. You know what I mean?

Of course. I'm sure some people, especially women, would think that makes sense, some might think that it's sweet, and some would think it's bullshit. But this trip drove that home for you?

Yeah. My therapist was like, "Oh, you're screwed."

At the same time you do credit this experience for loosening you up, helping you to enjoy all things sexual a bit more.

I do. I am so Scandinavian, Midwestern. It's an uptight background. It's such a perverse idea that I had: that if you desire somebody, it's something to hide. That there's something to be ashamed of about desire. I'm definitely a lot better about that and it's a healthy change.

So you weren't "permanently damaged" at all, were you? You did worry about that at one point.

It is an interesting question: Is there a point of no return? It's like people who join religious cultlike sects. It did make me think about the idea of changing your core person and whether that's possible. Toward the end of the trip I was just letting myself go. In D.C., toward the end, I started to get creeped.

You still feel you're a "nice guy," whatever that means.

Yeah. Somebody I know was talking to Christie Hefner and saying about me, "He's the kind of guy you'd want your daughter to date!" I'm a painfully nice guy. Nice guy to a fault.

Well, you're no Hugh Hefner anyway. You gave it a go, but ...

He has the Midwestern thing too. And I think he had a fairly serious religious background. I did feel that connection -- that I was having a small version of his experience.

What's he like?

I was just around him at those parties at the mansion. On one hand, I do applaud the guy for creating his own world. He does live by creating the world he wants and realizing he doesn't need to go along with the sheep. That said, I'm utterly amazed that this is still amusing to him, that it's still satisfying 50 years later.

When I see him at the party and it's like, "Oh, we're doing the bunny dance again," it's just a small example of his entire life. He would be an interesting guy to talk to, and he must be a very bright guy, but it seems like he's jettisoned that for the life of frolicking.

Many do. You saw a lot of celebrities at the mansion. What was that like? We actually had an interview with Bill Maher up yesterday and he mentioned his affection for the mansion ... and he was one of the celebrities you saw there, right? What was he doing again, something with tequila?

Body shots. The parties are like a 13-year-old boy's fantasy: The ratio's in favor of the guys, the women are all really pretty. And in this case there are celebrities. But it's a lot of C-level celebrities. You know, Weird Al Yankovic is always there.

And Bob Saget, right?

Yeah, and Scott Baio. They're the 2000 version of the guys who used to hang out in the '70s -- you know, like Jimmy Caan and those guys ... now James Caan's son hangs out there a lot.

And so, in the end, were you happy with Miss Millennium?

They picked these twins ... Playboy is always a little behind the curve of what's hip. Apparently, there was a day when they were in the forefront. Now, they're embarrassing. Their effort to leap on the Latin American explosion came a couple years after Ricky Martin. Getting the twins for 2000 -- it was so hokey. Those were women we never saw on the bus. It felt like Playboy just went to a modeling agency and got them from there. But I don't know.

I like the idea that we looked for the Playmate of the Millennium and didn't find her. You know -- she's not out there! Time to shut it down!

About the writer
Suzy Hansen is an assistant editor at Salon.





by Leif Ueland






The call, when it comes, is nothing more than an amusing bright blip in the dark tempest of my depression. The phone rings and, as is only natural under the circumstances, I'm terrified. What if it's someone I owe money to? Or worse, someone with whom I have an emotional tie? I'm a writer, in the midst of writing what I darkly tell everyone is a bestseller, and understandably I'm averse to distraction.

Ah, the gay, romantic pleasures of the writing life—a succession of perfectly turned epigrams dashed off on Odeon cocktail napkins while some working girl whom Hemingway has sent over purrs dirty French limericks into my ear. So good, it's almost cliché!

The reality is, it's seven at night. I'm washing a sinkful of dishes, dressed only in my musty old bathrobe. The bestseller is, after nearly a full calendar year. . . well, it's not done. As far as quantity of writing, I've long since written the length of a novel. Who knew I'd keep writing the first several chapters over and over and over? I didn't.

In the last twelve months I've earned a grand total of two hundred and fifty dollars. To pay the bills, I've liquidated the stock portfolio I prudently built up in my youth, money I imagined going to a down payment on a house. I have, in essence, robbed a child's piggy bank to pay for the dream that seems to be slipping away. Worse than that, these were funds accumulated while suffering the ultimate humiliation: modeling kiddie underwear. Where was I?

Right, phone ringing, me screening. Out of the squawking answering machine comes the voice of a good friend, Max, who is in a much worse place than I and thus fair game for a conversation. To make a medium-length story short, he was hit by a bus. He was hit. Not his car, his person. To him, with his one hundred thousand dollars of hospital debt and looming bankruptcy, my two hundred and fifty dollars in income looks huge. How can I not take his call?

A year ago, Max and I came up with an idea for a television show, which we pitched around town, though we had neither agent nor lawyer, and we now get a kick out of watching our ideas crop up on the shows that happen to be produced by the very same executives we pitched to. So these calls usually pick up my spirits, albeit in an embittered way.

But this call is different. Max has heard of a job. The details are sketchy, but from what he's picked up. . . something about Playboy . . .traveling around the country. . . a search. . . Miss Millennium . . .Playboy's website. . . writing. . . photography. Max thinks I'm a natural.

Here's the cruelest aspect of the writing life: Even in a joking spirit, it's difficult to listen to Max talking up this opportunity. The mere act of considering a side job feels like a betrayal, and with it comes a queasy stomach—it's sort of like a priest picturing life without the collar.

And yet, Max and I are laughing. As I heroically continue on with the dishes, we're cracking each other up at the thought of me on this trip, whatever it is. The right person for the job, it would seem to us, would be a writer/actor who was about to take a part on a soap opera when he received the call. Instead of playing Phallus, the roguishly handsome investigative reporter on As the Universe Expands, he takes the Playboy gig, churning out prose like, "Next up was Tina, who like Daphne before, and Alexis before her, also had above-average breasts. Very above average."

The fact is, I've never been the Playboy guy. To wit, that twohundred- and-fifty-dollar windfall was payment for a piece I wrote, "Trials of a Gay-Seeming Straight Male." And with lines like, "Though I'm incredibly heterosexual, I can't resist sucking the occasional cock," I have a hard time envisioning Hugh Hefner appreciating my worldview, even if that line was facetious.

While I have no intention of getting into it with Max, "gayseeming straight male" is not even accurate. The fact is, I'm not especially sure about the male thing. That's not to suggest these are the words of a woman trapped in a man's body. But I'm not ready to state they're the work of a man trapped in a man's body, either, at least as currently defined. I don't really know how to explain it, other than the hesitancy I experience when faced with the male/female option on a form. I feel other.

As for sexual activity, I've been a nonparticipant for longer than I'm willing/able to acknowledge. Long enough that of late I feel comfortable in suggesting I've reclaimed my virginity, become a virtual virgin. Actually, if I'm really going to spill it, virtual virgin's not accurate. The truth is, I've started to think it's something worse, having to do with that word that begins with an I and is the least frequently uttered word in the male vocabulary.

Me cavorting with Playmates—it's the proverbial fish-out-of-water story. Sort of like Arnold Schwarzenegger teaching kindergarten. . . or experiencing childbirth! That's what I'm hearing-sexually desperate confused me. . . cavorting with Playmates! As Max and I continue goofing on the idea of my chronicling a Playmate Search, I'm struck by the irony that this is a job I might actually have a good shot at getting.

That "Gay-Seeming Straight Male" piece was written for nerve, a website that is highly regarded in the Internet community, particularly the erotic Internet community. I know from an inside source that Playboy.com has been actively poaching nerve's writers. And then there was my previous writing job, coauthoring a book about MTV's Road Rules. My background sounds dangerously similar to this Playboy gig: writing, photography, travel.

I've finished the dishes and am wiping the tears of laughter from my eyes, trying to bring the conversation to a close so that I can get back to struggling to write my bestseller, when Max asks, "So what should I tell my friend? Are you interested?"

My journal from this day only makes passing reference to the conversation, a sentence amid paragraphs of writerly woe. Understandable, really. First, friends-whose-friends-know-a-guy leads are as likely to pay off as discarded lottery tickets, especially when the job in question is one I imagine every normal male writer would go to extreme lengths to land. Second, I have no intention of giving up on the novel. Third, there's no way I'm descending to the world of shehad- very-above-average-breasts writing. Not with current life expectancy rates and lack of convincing evidence for reincarnation. And yet. . . Miss Millennium. The title alone is so rich, so historic, it would be difficult to dismiss it outright. I mean, if Lewis and Clark called up looking for a writer-photographer to chronicle their expedition, would I say without a moment's hesitation, No way. I've got a bestseller to write?

"I don't know, Max. Fine, I guess, maybe, I don't know, whatever."




ARTICLES by Leif Ueland







Everything But the Gerbil

Keanu Reeves and David Geffen never married. The Go-Go's didn't simultaneously overdose. A woman my cousin's friend used to work with didn't have a bump on her face that grew bigger and bigger until one day a mass of baby spiders popped out. A friend of your friend's friend never brought home a little dog from Mexico that turned out to be a rat. Richard Gere never — well, we'll get to that. Urban legends, seductive though they may be, are just that: legends — popular, unverified stories assumed to be historical.
     What's not a myth, and can be easily corroborated, is that an individual once sought medical attention to have an "oven mitt" removed "transanally." In layman's terms, that's a "potholder taken from the ass." Not only that, but subsequent examination of said someone revealed internal tearing that "was probably caused by a wooden stick used to forcefully introduce the glove through the patient's anus." That event actually happened. I'd rather not say how I know, but, well, there was a lot of alcohol involved, a dare involving a steaming pot pie, and the ensuing need to remove the item without burning my hand.
     Kidding aside, the mitted one lived in Bulgaria, was a twenty-year-old male, and was treated at the military hospital in Sophia. A full discussion of the medical issues raised by the case is available in the Journal of Emergency Medicine (Jan-Feb 1999). A listing of that paper, along with a brief abstract, can be viewed online through the National Library of Medicine's exhaustive MEDLINE database, catalogued under its index number, 9950383. The point is, rectal foreign objects (RFO's, also known as rectal foreign bodies), as even the most cursory research reveals, are a documented fact of life.
     The healthy mind naturally struggles to accept the reality of the retained RFO, and the visual evidence accompanying Dr. David W. Munter's e-medicine article, "Foreign Bodies, Rectum" (www.emedicine.com/emerg/topic933.htm), may raise more question than answers. The X-ray reveals a lower torso — the outline of a lower spine, hip and pelvic bones — along with what is best explained by the image's caption: "The patient attempted self-removal [of vibrator] with a pair of salad tongs, which also became lodged, resulting in two rectal foreign bodies. Multiple attempts at self-removal are typical in patients with rectal foreign bodies." The image, stupid as it may be, is immortalized, but could it really be called typical?
     In a 1986 Surgery magazine report, Drs. David B. Busch and James R. Starling tabulated the RFO's that had been referenced in scholarly works. They found 182 cases. According to their research, the most popular object to emerge was a bottle, cleaning up with thirty-three entries (one with attached rope). Running a respectable second were vibrators, at twenty-three mentions, followed by the vibrator's cousin, the dildo, with fifteen. The last object to achieve double-digit status was the stick/broom handle, with a perfect ten. The remaining melange included virtually everything except a rodent (the gerbil story, according to the journals, is, in fact, myth): a frozen pig's tail, a kangaroo tumor, pool cue ball, snuff box, and a variety of fruits and vegetables, including a plantain (with condom). Perhaps Mark Twain said it best: "Man is the only animal who blushes. Or needs to."
     More arresting still, Busch and Starling's tabulations represent only a fraction of cases: those that make it into medical scholarship. No one has attempted a survey to determine the cumulative frequency of retained foreign bodies encountered in emergency departments (ED's) or among the populace at large. I had to ask a grand total of one doctor before hearing an eyewitness account. He recalled his first day of ED rotation, when he noticed a man in a hospital gown, perched "owl-style" in his chair and looking incredibly uncomfortable. "Two hours later," the doctor said, "I saw a bloody, Zip-locked specimen in the pathology outbox, labeled 'one baking potato.'" This single doctor's subsequent RFO encounters on one lone ED rotation included two spoons, one butter knife, and a coil of copper wire, all of which, he said, "made for fascinating X-rays." This led me to a conversation with an X-ray technician, who responded to my query by saying, "Are you kidding? We have a drawer full of our favorites."
     But the fact remains: no one has any idea how common the RFO is.
     The cumulative effect of this research is enough to give even the hardened journalist vertigo, instilling the sense of a great conspiracy at large: our fellow citizens are internally stowing anything they can get their hands on — an assemblage of objects that one paper cited as "limited only by the human imagination" — and, in the process, making themselves into human junk drawers. The urge to joke is almost irresistible: "If anyone has my car keys, or all those socks I lost — keep them." Even doctors must remind each other to avoid mirth, as Dr. Munter writes: "Physicans should refrain from making disparaging or comical remarks concerning the nature of the problem," but in the end it is not a laughing matter. The activity provides challenges to the medical community beyond fighting the giggles.
     First among them, according to a report by the National Center for Emergency Medicine Informatics (NCEMI), is that patients often "will not volunteer that any object has been inserted," creating the unique situation where patients are withholding the information most pertinent to their diagnosis. Also a concern: normally the easiest type of examination, rectal exams can be dangerous for the medical professional because sharp objects, including knives, are often involved. When patients do confess to what has occurred, NCEMI points out, they often "give outlandish explanations such as having sat or fallen onto the object." From the medical perspective, there's a qualitative difference between accidentally sitting on a bottle of perfume and taking on the bottle intentionally, followed by a prolonged period spent attempting removal with another object, like a back scratcher (article No. 3738771). The latter scenario is much more likely to have complications.
     Once an RFO is diagnosed, treatment is also unpredictable. As one doctor suggests, there are only slightly fewer approaches than objects. Most often, treatment can take place in the ED. Patients are sedated to ease rectal spasms and encourage dilation, allowing the doctor to, "slowly insert as much of your gloved hand as possible to grab the object and gradually extricate it," as NCEMI puts it. When manual removal is impossible, doctors improvise, employing everything from toy suction-cup darts (for light bulbs), to plaster (in the case of jars, filling the jar, with a tongue depressor in center for a grip), to soup spoons. Tools from the delivery room have also proven effective; both forceps and vacuum extraction appear in the literature. The latter, as reported by doctors S. O. Johnson and T. H. Hartranft, "provided a safe, cost-effective method of glass foreign body removal by the transanal route."
     In cases where the object is successively removed in the ED, doctors must be on the lookout for patients to "elope," discounting possible complications and the need for a follow-up exam. Where ED removal has been unsuccessful, surgery may be required, including possible laparotomy, in which the abdomen is opened to give the doctor the access necessary to push the object gently toward the rectum. In cases of colon perforation, mortality rates climb dramatically. When there is extensive damage, a colostomy may be required. Some incidents are beyond help, including the man who employed a shoe horn rectally and bled to death, as well as an apparent suicide victim who introduced a bullet to his colon, fired from a gun.
     Medical journals are clear that the trend of anal eroticism is "increasing," has resulted in "increased" retained RFO's, and, as Dr. Munter concludes, that "their occurrence is expected to continue to rise dramatically." But one issue that receives little mention is why — as in, why are so many people sticking things up their butts? The only journal that dares touch this issue, Archives of Sexual Behavior, points out that, "the recent liberalization of attitudes toward sexuality has brought with it the desire by some individuals to seek alternate methods of sexual stimulation and gratification, among them an exploration of anal eroticism."
     That reference to liberalization only speaks to acceptance. It leaves unanswered the question of whether this is a case of mankind, the restless explorer, discovering a region of previously uncharted pleasure, or if the growth of the retained RFO is symptomatic of a shift in the populace's psychology, a possibly telling breakdown in what Freud identified as the second stage of infantile sexual development: the anal phase.
     The tantalizing "why" may go unaddressed, but the medical community is explicit about the consequences of RFOs. "Because of the potential complications, rectal foreign bodies should be regarded seriously and treated expeditiously." From this, it follows that, "Patient education of the dangers inherent in the insertion of objects into the colorectal area should be more prevalent." And yet, because of the odd nature of the RFO — really, it's as unbelievable as folklore — it's no stretch to imagine this could be a stealth crisis facing our society: running rampant, but too stupid to be believed. Ludicrous as it seems, the time may have come to confront the culture's love of placing things up their behinds and raise public awareness of the practice's inherent dangers.
     It's difficult to imagine such a campaign taking place, no matter how widespread the problem, but it's worth noting that an ideal mechanism does exist for educating the public — something better than affixing warning labels to every object smaller than a breadbox. Television network NBC is home to, in their words, "the longest-running, most comprehensive and powerful public service campaign in the media landscape," one which "has received numerous awards, including the prestigious Peabody and Emmy Awards."
     Simultaneously, they have the fortune of airing the critically-acclaimed hospital drama ER, a show that has incorporated the retained rectal foreign object into multiple plot lines over the years, always to comic effect (and thus arguably adding to the problem). It's a fortuitous coincidence, and all that is missing is the message, which could be taken verbatim from Dr. Carey Martin's writing on the subject:
     "If you know you have a foreign body in your rectum, or think you do, seek medical help to remove it as soon as is practicable," an ER actor would sensitively intone, adding, "If you engage in erotic play, then use a vibrator or erotic toy designed for the purpose of insertion into the rectum. These items usually come with a flange to prevent them from slipping into the anus."
     Cue thought-provoking theme music, shooting star logo, and tag line: The More You Know.



I am sitting on her lap as she plays with my hair. I've got a longish late-70s do, and the strands are blond and baby-fine. She runs her fingers through them, massages my scalp.
     She is a beautiful girl, probably sixteen, with white poreless skin, full eyebrows, a disarming stare and the naturally red lips for which Snow White was famed. At our performing arts school, run by a renowned theater in the Midwest, we wear black karate pants and gray t-shirts with a bluebird on the front, but she has cut a small V in the neck of her shirt. It's thanks to the V and the way her arms are raised to work on my scalp and the angle at which she is holding my head and the fact that she isn't wearing a bra that I can see her breasts, study them, without worrying that I'll be caught.
     Her voice is smoker-gravely and she speaks with flawed grammar and an ease with profanity that to my suburban ears is very cool.
     "Leif, you're not going to be one of them, are you?"
     I laugh, it tickles.
     "Huh? Are you? Leif? Listen to me. Promise me. You're not . . . won't . . . be gay. Promise me."
     I turn back to her. Inside the shirt, her nipples have stiffened, extended.
     My cheeks flush deeply, feverishly.
     "I promise."

I am apparently not the straightest-seeming guy you could ever meet. I don't know what it is about me -- my pierced ears and pageboy haircut, perhaps, or maybe I'm just too clean. For whatever reason, my heterosexuality is frequently called into question. It happens all of the time. A total stranger will approach me, usually in a straight bar, and say "My friends wanted to know if you're gay or straight?" I feel like I'm in a Kafka novel as adapted for the screen by Woody Allen. How am I to respond? If I say I'm straight, isn't that exactly what George Michael used to say? And if I indicate that I am a practicing heterosexual, won't they then assume that I am headed toward an inevitable sexual epiphany, akin to the great John Cheever's? Most recently I joked, "I'm totally straight, but I can't resist sucking the occasional cock." It certainly ended the conversation.
     When I told a good female friend I was writing about the topic of my misunderstood sexuality she said without a second's hesitation, "Oh yeah, everyone thinks you're gay." To the best of my knowledge I'm straight, but the question is hurled at me so frequently that I'm beginning to think everyone knows something I don't.
     Sometimes, if there's a point, I'm willing to go along and play gay. Last summer, I was doing research in a Carnegie library in a small Midwestern town, a place best known for hosting the national lumberjack championships, when I noticed an adolescent boy between rows of books fixating on me. Taking in his delicate features, ivory skin and black clothes, I thought to myself, town loner, doesn't yet know he's gay, feels a connection with the effeminate stranger.
     Not wanting to interrupt my work, I was relieved when he disappeared. Fifteen minutes later, though, he was back and bearing a gift. Blushing to his ears, he presented me with a scalding café latté from the town's new and only gourmet coffee joint. There was no point in explaining the misunderstanding, so while I drank the coffee, we cryptically discussed the difficulties of being different, talked around the terrifying subject. Gay-and-understanding-me encouraged him to hang on until eighteen and then get the hell out of town.

Until being sworn to heterosexuality by that suburban Snow White, the possibility that I might be gay never even occurred to me. I'd always had girlfriends -- from the vixen in first grade who, after some discussion, let me go so far as kissing her index finger, to the girlfriend in seventh grade who sanctioned a visit to "second base." I spent more time wondering if I was a vampire.
     Only in high school, when a trusted older friend and homosexual told me, "One morning you just wake up and you know," did I start to suspect that homosexuality was not a question of choice. This was an explosive, frightening thought, with one unavoidable implication: I might be gay! Me, the kid with all the girlfriends, the reacher of second base, the suburbanite with loving parents and a great family, I might be, I might . . .
     That was the beginning of a lot of adolescent soul-searching. But even now when I replay every kiss, grope, or penetration of my first thirty-two years, all I see are females. Even leafing through the scrims behind my countless solo sexual efforts, I only come up with women, just one depraved fantasy after another. Granted, throw dreams into the mix and we may have something there; I am willing to concede that I may have had a handful in which it suddenly dawned on me, "Hey, that's no woman, that's the guy who fixes my car!" just as I would have to admit there have been relatives, minors, family pets, inanimate objects and a brief but very kinky cameo by a genderless character who called himself Satan.
     The doubting continued until one morning in tenth grade when I woke up soaking in what I initially misdiagnosed as a bed-wetting relapse. As the dream came back to me I felt something akin to what Zora Neale Hurston described as the pride of finding a first pubic hair when I realized that though the vision had not been Farah, it was a woman, and a relief on so many levels.
     Finally, at seventeen I had a serious girlfriend. Fellow neophytes, we would fall deeply, crazily in love, lose our virginity together and be a couple for the next seven years. Like all males, I couldn't wait to tell my friends after the first time, and was thankful that the issue was apparently settled, but mostly I was just overwhelmed by the power of emotional and physical love that converged when I was with her. It seemed it would vaporize me. I have to think that those feelings at least make me bi.

To be frank, I am sick to death of this topic. I have been suppressing my homosexuality for so long it cuts too close to the bone. Just kidding! The fact is I don't particularly mind that what everyone's really trying to say is, "Leif, you are a gay man in denial." What drives me crazy is that they say these things with an air of not having their own secrets, aspects of their own sexuality that don't conform to whatever the cookie-cutter conception of normal sex is.
     I feel a strong bond with my fellow gay-seeming straight males. I especially treasure the virtual queens who exhibit the mating habits of the homo sapien heterosexual. Strange as it may seem, there is such a category. I'm tempted to propose we all start a club or a support group and print up t-shirts that scream, I LOVE THE VAGINA EXPERIENCE!
     I prize my gay-seeming straight male friends so much that when one of them crosses over to gay-seeming gay male, as not infrequently happens, I go through a little mourning, realizing as I do that they have just made it a little harder for the world to buy my sexuality. Most recently it was an old college friend. Talk about gay-seeming -- tall, handsome, former male model, voice well-suited for the fading matriarch of a clan in a Tennessee Williams play . . . He announced recently that he was divorcing his wife and was not, in fact, straight. In hindsight, there was always something forced about his collegiate stories of female conquest, like a teenage boy feigning enthusiasm for the taste of beer. I think I wanted to believe almost as much as he did.
     I feel the same way about the other side: straight-seeming gay males. I sometimes go to a dance club where they are everywhere -- young guys I could swear were straight, except for the fact that they are all kissing each other. A woman I'd brought once cut in on such a couple and started making out with one of the guys. He took a pause and said, "You know I'm gay, right?" To which she responded, "Of course."
     The shocking thing is that I think of myself and all my mixed-signal comrades as the normal ones. I wonder about everyone else, all the people who seem compelled to keep their mannerisms, interests and selves marching in step with the mores expected of their sexuality. How scary is that? And to be honest, I harbor the sneaking suspicion that my team represents the future, when the masses, including homosexuals, come to honestly accept the full range of sexual nuance.
     In the meantime, I think I know what might help. There's a scene in a movie, or perhaps it was a comedic sketch, where the obviously gay character is accused of being gay. He nervously laughs, "Well, well, if I'm gay, well they're going to have to change the definition." Maybe what my people need is a new definition, a nice user-friendly label. Something that says, "not gay, but not straight in the way to which you're accustomed, and maybe not even willing to rule out the possibility of being gay in the future." I've been using "gay-seeming straight male," but since that's unwieldy, perhaps we could go with the abbreviation: GSSM. I guess that would be pronounced "jism," as in "No, I'm not gay, but I am jism." On second thought, maybe labels are not the answer.


A Fly on the Wall of a Sex-A-Thon

Our reporter lost his heart at the Houston 500.

  "I can't believe I'm going to be fucked by five hundred men!"
     There are, presumably, few women on the planet who are in a position at this moment to utter those lines. It is Friday night, the eve of the gangbang that is being promoted to world as the
Houston 500. As luck would have it, I am among a select group hanging out with the woman who answers to the stage name Houston. We're on a big bus owned by Metro, the adult video company producing the gangbang, and we're heading for a dance club on Sunset Boulevard where Houston is supposed to make her second personal appearance of the night.
     "I can't believe I'm going to be fucked by five hundred men!" she repeats.
     It's not a statement that calls to mind an obvious response. Fortunately, I don't make the mistake of trying to get her to look on the bright side, say something like, "Well, look at it this way, at least it's not a thousand!" Among the very many weird aspects of such an evening, the fact that I am the one struggling to respond to
Houston's statement ranks high on my list. I don't know a lot about eve of gangbang protocol, but my intuition is that she should be at home, surrounded by friends, or at least her professional handlers — agent, manager, publicist, gynecologist, someone. Instead, that select group that I refer to is really just Houston and me.      So, not knowing what the hell to do in a situation like this, but feeling that the woman deserves somebody doing something, I try to make myself useful. When she breaks her last cigarette and looks like she might panic, I run out and get a fresh pack. When she breaks a fake fingernail and seems intent on fixing it, I track down some Crazy Glue and do my best to reattach the thing. When she decides that the outfit she is wearing is not right for the club we are heading to, I pick out something new and assure her she will feel more comfortable in it. When she is not breaking things or struggling with indecision, Houston actually seems to be doing amazingly well, considering, and I tell her so. We drink cocktails without ice as I try to find a decent radio station. When a song comes on that Houston likes, she sings along in a powerful, impressive voice. Occasionally, she begins responding to questions though I don't ask any. She comes from a loving family, is well-educated, was never molested. She got into the business in her mid-twenties, instead of eighteen, which she thinks is why she isn't messed up like so many of her co-workers. And yes, it's very hard to carry on a relationship, but she would like one, with somebody intelligent. Later, we have a drink in the basement of the club. It occurs to Houston that the last time she was at this place she was on a date. And no, it didn't go well. She had had a few drinks and ended up doing a series of back flips in the middle of the bar. Back flips? Yes, and apparently the back flips kind of freaked her date out. I can't tell if she is serious or not. She is so nonchalant about the information. Apparently she also does backflips on stage, when she headlines at strip clubs. Flips? On stage? In heels? Naked? Absolutely, she tells me. "And what do the guys think?" I ask her. "I don't think they actually know what to think. They're always a bit in shock." She had already established that she wasn't what one might expect from a gang bang participant, but this stuff about the back flips . . . Eventually, her publicist and a couple friends show up, so — citing my responsibility to cover a gangbang in the rapidly approaching morning — I say good-night. Houston holds out her hand to shake, but I wrap my arms around her and give her a big hug. I kiss her on the cheek. I can't help it. It's the back flips. I'm a fan.

"Amateur or Pro?"
     These are the first words I hear a fellow human utter on the morning of the gangbang. It is
eight a.m., so there's a sleepy moment of incomprehension before I get it and mumble, "Reporter." I drive off to the media parking area, fighting the urge to yell out the window something about that flight attendant down in Mazatlan, an effort which I impartially believe must have earned me at the very least semi-pro status, but the moment is gone. After picking up my press credentials, I make my way around to the back of the studio where the amateurs and pros are lining up. The line at this hour is about thirty deep. Doctors, lawyers, MBA's, CPA's they are not, though at first glance they are not as bad as I was fearing, not a string of circus freaks out for their first sexual experience. Still, at best they have the down-on-their luck look of drug informants you see on police detective shows. Up at the front of the line have clustered a group who somewhat haughtily inform me of their pro status. They have the self-anointed air of the cool, like the kids at summer camp who are in their second year and know the ropes. They consider the amateurs with derision. "Yep, the trailer parks are empty today," they joke, looking back over their shoulders and chuckling at the sight.
     I can't help thinking that if these boys are pros, they need a better union. One of them is wearing the Members Only jacket I donated to the Goodwill ten years ago. Another looks kind of elfin, with white hair and beard, an accent I took to be gay Transylvanian and a mini-toiletry bag, the kind airlines give on transatlantic flights. He lurches back when anyone tries to touch the bag. Number one in line is the class clown. He was going to be one of first five guys or forget it, joking that any later is too messy, "Can I get a clean-up on aisle five?" He was going to come out at three in the morning, to be sure he was number one, but then he remembered, "Hey, this is the porn industry, no one shows up on time." Number One even has prior experience at a gangbang, "It was all right for the three minutes I fucked her. Easiest money I ever made." Leaving the porn stars to their yucking, I drift back to the amateurs, whose ranks are steadily growing, and only then do I appreciate how much personality the stars exhibited. Many of the amateurs won't talk to me. I feel like a parole officer. I ask one guy if he plans on keeping in touch with
Houston after the event and he soberly informs me that he has no illusions about their relationship. Another guy, in an effort to explain why he is here, tells the story of how he was on the same freeway offramp with some porn star twice and it just seemed like such a coincidence, he couldn't pass this up. Uhhh, what?
     One of the big questions I had obviously hoped to answer in coming here was, What kind of guy participates in a gangbang? But these guys are too much. The pros were at least weird guys with senses of humor. The amateurs are that other breed of weird guy, guys who you can't relate to at all and if you joke around with too much might cut your throat. Why do I get the feeling they all hitchhiked over here?
     I retreat to relative safety inside the studio where, true to the form of any video or film production, the primary activity is waiting, while unseen people tend to things that are never revealed.
     Except for the set, the studio is dark, cavernous. There is nothing in the facility that isn't nailed down, as though tenants have a habit of leaving in the middle of the night. The set itself though actually looks good. Going with the
Houston 500 theme, the production designer has created an auto racing mechanics shop. It looks like the set they might build for Tim Allen if he ever switches from home improvement to car repair. There is also a small grandstand, just big enough for the fans of a very rural high school football team.
     After a lot of milling about — including my own thrill-seeking gesture of eating from the craft services table — we get a sign that something may soon happen: the fluffers arrive. Fluffers, for those who don't know, fulfill an integral roll in the gangbang. Not to give innocent gangbang fans a there-is-no-Santa-Claus moment, but all five hundred men do not get to have a complete love-making session with
Houston. Neither Houston nor anyone else could actually survive that. Instead, the fluffers — sportily dressed in white T-shirts, black leggings and knee pads — are enlisted to help bring the men to that point where they will hopefully be able to pop during their fleeting moments with the star. Fluffers: the unsung MVP's of a gangbang. Even more than the participants, I'm dying to know why the hell anyone would be a fluffer. It's all the work, with none of the glory, nor the money.
     The first fluffer I pull aside begins mildly shaking soon after we begin speaking. Strangers make her nervous, she explains. At the risk of frightening her further, I mention that she is about to meet a lot more strangers, and in a much more intimate fashion. "Oh that," she says, "No, that don't bother me. It's talking to strangers. I can fuck all day. It's just talking makes me nervous."
     The next fluffer I interview is equally confused by my questions. She also seems to consider nothing more natural than spending an eight-hour day blowing strangers. Not only that, but this fluffer keeps asking me to explain so she can get it straight. "So, you ask me these questions because you are trying to understand what I am thinking? Oh my god, that is so weird." The fluffer even stops a passing
Houston 500 participant to tell him about this unusual thing I am doing. It turns out that the participant, Number Eleven, just happens to be her husband. That's right. I don't even bother asking them if this isn't a slightly unusual place to find husband and wife. I don't want them to look at me funny.
     Number Eleven, as it turns out, strikes me as one of the saner people I have met this morning. Eleven, who is a pro, is a big strapping guy, dressed in Adidas pants, who stretches out his hamstrings as we speak. I've never met anyone who actually throws the javelin, but were I to, this is what he would look like. He tells the story of his first shoot, some fifteen years ago. A big production, big-time director, and a scene with two cute actresses. All great, except nothing happened. He couldn't perform. The director escorted him out the back door, and it was years before he would try again. Eleven is philosophical about the dilemma — he says that it can be a struggle, that everybody on set gets stressed when the lead can't get it up. Then he and another pro standing nearby get into a discussion of whether a noisy set or a quiet set is better for performing. The other pro is saying he likes it quiet, something about not liking to hear laughter, which he worries is directed at him. Eleven respectfully disagrees. He needs noise, I hear him saying as I walk away, lots of dirty talk, lots of You-whore-this and You-whore-that.
     Finally, the bulk of the participants have filed in and there is movement on the set. A man with a megaphone calls all participants to the stage. The man is none other than porn legend, porn forefather, Ron Jeremy, just as short, pudgy and homely as he is on video (as he would be the first to inform you: "If it weren't for porn, I wouldn't get dick, let alone ladies"). Ron quickly goes over the rules: be a gentleman, no fingers, no sex with the fluffers (participants all boo), and most importantly, wear those
Houston 500/Metro T-shirts!
Houston steps out on set for her press conference. Photographers, videographers, reporters all surge in before I realize what's happening. Left without a clean camera shot, I climb up on a cement barricade. Houston is wearing a bright red jumpsuit tailored to her size-one figure, which she has unzipped to reveal her over-stuffed breasts. Her bobbed blonde hair has been enhanced with a long, elaborate wig that was probably used for some naughty period video about the court of Louis the XIV. And, apparently realizing her make-up would not stay on, she has opted to put on less than the usual porn star garishness. All in all, she actually looks very cute and for a moment I realize that, yes, I would.
     Which is just the moment that
Houston sees me standing over the scrum. Her face brightens into a huge smile and with both hands raised high she gives me a big "yoo-hoo" wave. The other press briefly look back, wondering who the hell the guy on the barricade is. And what can I say, Houston is my girl.
     Reporters start in with questions.
Houston responds to the one about how she prepared for the event with a lot of running and a lot of dildos. Some of the press chuckle. A tall, square-jawed chap who I have the sneaking suspicion is the proud owner of an Ivy League diploma, manages to miss Houston's facetious tone and asks her to follow-up on the specifics of her dildo regime. She looks at him like he is unbalanced. He then comes at her with this humdinger: "Would you consider yourself a promiscuous person?" Houston smiles radiantly and rolls her eyes in a way that is both perfectly bemused and dismissive, the only legitimate response for someone about to fuck five hundred men.
     I pick a funny time to realize I've never actually in person watched someone else having sex. The fluffers are standing at the back of the set with numbers one through fifteen, all chatting away amiably, and we in the press are carrying on as if we are at an office Christmas party. And then, suddenly, a hush falls over the room. The press all leans forward. The participants in the bleachers lean forward. One of the fluffers had dropped to her kneepads and gotten to work. In that instant, a charge seemed to run through the room, an animal awareness on everyone's part of something both primal and taboo. It passed. The press moves forward, starts taking notes, snapping pictures. The video crew moves in for shots. The other fluffers all go to work, and the participants who don't for the moment have fluffers take matters into their own hands, self-fluffing as it were, but totally unconsciously, like seasoned craps shooters shaking the dice. My consciousness of seeing something I have never witnessed before disappears like a smoke-ring in the breeze. And then it is time for
     Naked except for knee-high black boots, she climbs up on her gangbang throne, a padded Lazy Susan mounted on a stack of used tires. Over the megaphone, the director calls for the first "dick" to come out. One by one, the boys assume the position, begin thrusting away, and try their darndest to pop in the allotted time, which isn't easy. I didn't clock it, but it couldn't have been more than sixty seconds before the megaphone is back with, "Okay, Dick, that's enough. Next."
     We watch
Houston have sex, repeatedly. At times she cracks jokes, other times she seems to be getting off on the experience, but most of the time she just looks like someone at work. In between men, she squirts herself with copious amounts of lube and makes frequent changes in position, on her back for one man, on all fours for the next. After every five dicks she gets up and is toweled off. The only time she shows any temper is when there is a delay in between men, or when the director forgets to watch the clock. "Okay, that's enough," Houston growls. One onlooker said of the event, "It's so preposterous, so over-the-top, that it becomes abstract. I'm sure she wouldn't call it sex." There's something to this. The lights, the set, the guys in T-shirts and shoes — part of the reason that it all isn't more weird is that it's so obviously a media spectacle. It would be more disturbing to walk in on two people at a party having sex than watching Houston fuck five hundred.
     And yet, her friend, I know, has a hard time watching. And I, as her fan, am none too thrilled myself.
     I see some reporters making their way around to the back of the set, so I follow to check it out. A small group, including an enterprising janitor, has gathered at the set's fake window to watch the scene from behind. The fluffers are working away, with diligence reminiscent of a crew on a Habitat for Humanity project. I see Number Eleven in there, the javelin thrower, and can tell from his face that things aren't going well. Looking south I see the problem. He's about as hard as a licorice whip, but he has taken matters into his own hands and is furiously self-fluffing while he paces in tight circles and takes big cheek-puffing breaths. His furrowed, panicked brow is that of a husband and father with his livelihood on the line. A fluffer drifts back to the window to take a breather. I ask her how its going and she jokes that everything's backwards, meeting the dick and then the man. She asks what I'm up to and I tell her reporting. She looks suggestively in the direction below my belt, then looks up, asks whether or not I'm going to give it a try. Not today, I say. Got to work.
     I'm distracted from this touching exchange by a flurry of movement. Through the milling Houston 500 T-shirts, I catch the back of a big guy taking
Houston from behind. He is flailing away, a piston gone out of control. I realize it is Number Eleven. Houston looks crushed under his weight. I remember what he said about dirty talk, but it seems like he needs even more: dirty fantasy. This man is acting out taking her against her will. I realize I need some air and on my way out, a reporter stops me to say that I look like I'm about to be sick. He's right. I have that over-stimulated, nauseous feeling I associate with amusement parks. The fresh air slowly brings me back to Earth.
     Coming back into the building, I nearly stumble over one of the pros from the first group to go at
Houston. He has that unreal look of people on the cover of porn boxes. We in the press were calling him Mr. Nair and making jokes like, "So, do you think he rents or owns his tanning bed." Then I hear him say that he wasn't just in the first group, he actually was the first. I immediately think of the other big talker, the guy who had said he was going to be Number One. Turns out Mr. Nair bribed him, because he couldn't get it up. I ask about the bribe, and he is momentarily hesistant to tell me what it cost him. He's worried about the legal ramifications, but he can't resist.
     "I gave him a Viagra. Yeah, I knew another guy had one who didn't need it, so I got it from him and gave it to Number One for his spot."
     I return to the set where one of the gangbangers is in mid bang. This character is putting on a show. He's in full control, taking his time. At one point, he seems to be going for porn slow motion. The guy even breaks the sacred rule and takes off his
Houston 500/Metro Video promotional T-shirt. And with seconds to spare, he pulls out and theatrically pops on Houston. Big beaming smile and still relatively erect, the guy is hamming it up for the encroaching cameras, behaving like a wide-receiver who just brought down a Hail Mary in the end zone. Except that, aside from black shoes, black socks, and hiked-down black underwear, he is naked.
     I leave the showboat carrying on, intending to go interview three young women who recently showed up. They look like they must be in college, maybe in an actual sorority, and they are making disbelieving squeamish faces. But before I get to them, I start to recall something. The showboat, I know him, or he looks familiar. And then I remember. I don't know him, I interviewed him. He's one of the pros. He is Number One. Or, that is, he was Number One before he traded his coveted position for Mr. Nair's black market hit of Viagra. Of course, that explains everything.
     I find myself having strange urges. Not to sound like Mr. Sensitive, but I honestly consider going out and giving
Houston a hug during one of the clean-up sessions. I just start to feel that after a certain amount of gangbanging, the champ deserves one. But then I think about the reality of the situation. Houston is so in the "must-get-record" zone that any sort of reminder of the outside world might be annoying. She would probably tell me either to contribute to the tally or move along.
     I think about Glenn Close in The Natural, standing up in left field as a silent gesture of support to Robert Redford. I climb up on the bleachers, take my place in the stands, surrounded by T-shirted, pantless men who happen to be playing with themselves. This isn't the answer either. I'm no Glenn Close.
     And so I decide it is time for this reporter to hit the showers. With only ninety-eight down, I feel certain that I just don't fit in at the gangbang. I understand that
Houston got herself into this whole thing, that she made the calculated financial decision to do it and that all I have seen is part of the bargain. But still, does a gangbang have to be like this?
     Many of the boys who can't pop during their allotted time give up their position, shuffle around to her side and then finish themselves off. The result cascades over her torso like paint from Jackson Pollack's brush. But I can't help thinking that Jackson Pollack had more regard for his inanimate canvas than the participants do for her. The woman could jump up from the gangbang, haul off a couple perfect back flips and no one would know to applaud. In fact, the dicks probably think they should be getting the ovation. It's just too much.
     The following day, I actually run into Ron Jeremy (a sentence I never thought I would write). Six hundred and twenty, he tells me. The final tally, six hundred and twenty. She hit five hundred and said keep on going, finally finishing up at
7:30 at night. And, Ron adds, he was the final pop. Not only that, but he had the participants all count down from ten and popped on zero. "I'll tell you," Ron says, "It wasn't easy, after being on my feet all day." Impressive indeed, but not quite in the same league with fucking six hundred and twenty men.