I Hope You Bought It for the Article...

All the Nudes That Fit

People ask what I do. I say write. They ask what. I say articles. They ask where. I tick off a few places. The Chronicle, Elle, Self, Seventeen, GQ... While all this seems enough to impress the person asking, invariably it is the following response that is the showstopper: Playboy. Yes, it's true. Not only did I write for Playboy, but what I wrote - a profile of a centerfold (May '94) - will, I'm certain, overshadow any further achievements I might inadvertently make in the remainder of my lifetime. It's true. I could say I've won a Pulitzer (I haven't), I've written an award-winning screenplay (working on it), and my novel is on The New York Times best-seller list (well, actually it's on the top shelf of a kitchen cabinet). Wouldn't matter a lick. I don't care if the listener is a hardcore feminist, a drooling teen boy-man, or my Aunt Barbara. All anyone wants to hear is the centerfold story.

Well, I'll tell you. But only if you hear out the whole story of how it came to be. Don't think of it as preface, friend. Think of it as foreplay.

It began in late '92. I wrote to an editor at Playboy, asking for work. I like to think it was skill alone that caught his eye, but I have to admit we do have a couple of mutual friends in the business and that couldn't have hurt. Peter's response to that initial query ("I'll write anything!") netted a response suggesting I try submitting little things to the "After Dark" section, a collection of funny anecdotes.

My attempt at this - mainly taking the list of super-hot item titles from the menu at Thai Kitchen and suggesting they'd be great porn movie titles (for which I devised plots and theme synopses) was politely refused. I decided that Playboy was not my destiny and let it lay.

Several months later, when, for reasons totally unrelated to naked women, my life was beginning a fast descent from the hopper (where it had rested comfortably for years) straight into the sewer, I encountered a bright spot. Peter the editor called and asked me if I would be interested in reviewing several "instructional" sex videos. You bet I would, I shouted in a most professional manner.

For the better part of a month, to the growing suspicion of my UPS man, I began receiving boxful upon boxful of the "helpful" tapes, discreetly wrapped in plain brown paper that virtually screamed, "This is a package o' smut!" When I had amassed around 50, I settled in for critical viewing.

Upon watching the 30th tape, I was forced to stop. I couldn't function normally anymore. One day, my roommate arrived to find me sitting on my bed watching a couple float through outer space, copiously copulating, while some British woman read the Kama Sutra in the background. Oh yeah, I was wearing 3-D glasses at the time (they were included) to better help me appreciate the special effects.

By this point, nothing was what it was supposed to be anymore. I could not mix up tuna fish without thinking, "Where have I heard that squish before?" A trip to HEB filled me with fear. Would I get busted for thumping the melons, scrutinizing the zucchini? Certainly I would turn down the spaghetti aisle and discover a naked couple in some exciting new position doing it to the blow-by-blow "clinical" narration provided over the P.A. by the Cap'n of the seafood department. And back at home I worried that I would finally do it: I would plop my kid down in front of101 Dalmatians only to discover too late I'd accidentally put 101 Ways to Give Head in the VCR.

Though I stopped 20 tapes short of completing the task, certainly I had acquired an education nonetheless. The bulk of my learning came from the Better Sex series, a set of nine tapes advertised in many mainstream publications. Each tape starts innocently enough. Fashion criminal and director of the Better Sex Institute Steven Kapalo appears and waxes on about his dedication to sexual education, services, and products. That's products with a capital dollar sign, folks. Because five of the tapes - the explore-your-fantasy portion of the series - contain snippets of numbered fantasies. You have a chance at the end of these tapes to order the full, uncut fantasy. Get it?

Anyway, out of all my viewing, my three favorite scenarios came from Kapalo and company. There was the couple in Volume One who needed to spice up their sex life. These purported real lifers were a publishing magnate (she) and a commercial pilot (he). Someone had tipped me off that the "pilot" had appeared in a number of less-than-educational sex films. But so what, I thought, even pilots need pastimes, right?

In the segment, he has just flown in from Hong Kong and boy, are his arms tired. But his dick is wide awake. We watch as he calls her and they do it on the phone. Then they get together and really do it. Cut to a faux studio and teary-eyed testimonials, and who can help but feel not only educated, but enlightened and inspired as well? (Added bonus: I no longer fear flying!!)

Then, in Volume 5, we have Sex With Animals. I thought, "Bestiality? No way! That stuff is illegal!" Back up. Look at the title again. That's sex with animals. In this case, the beast in question is a stuffed jungle cat. A scantily clad babe gets off on the first thing that ever "saw" her naked. Now that she's grown, he is her "leopard man." Meowch.

But the creme de la creme (and pardon the connotation there) is in Volume 6, Fantasy Number 22. In "Lunch for Three," we are warned that plans to try this at home should include paper plates. Cut to a couple enjoying an elegant meal in a field. She is his oyster, he is her breadstick. In the background, a violinist is struggling to figure out how his instrument works, no doubt wondering all the while where the hell the music is actually coming from.

Anyone who has seen any porn will know immediately, based on his goofy hat, his bad haircut, and his baby face (can anyone tell me why babyfaces always have the biggest breadsticks?) that it's not going to take long for this guy to ditch the Stradivarius and start fiddling with his organ instead.

Sure enough, before you can say Annie Sprinkle, food starts flying. And plates and tablecloth, and finally, clothes. You can guess the rest. And if you're like me, you're thinking, "Try this at home? Geez, paper plates would be the least of my problems."

I wish I could share more with you. I want the world to come and see what I've seen. The lingerie modeling between a couple of overweight, badly tattooed, badly made-up, middle-aged, overly hairy humans featuring a gold lamé Speedo-style over-the-shoulder leotard on him - Bukowski goes to Frederick's. The creative vocabulary: his pelt of masculinity; the million-dollar spot. But you want to hear about The Centerfold.

For reasons I still can't exactly pinpoint, that first story never got published. But Peter didn't forget me. Again he called, this time in late 1993. Again I credited my deft writing. Again I secretly suspected some other factor. Like after reading what I'd sent before, he felt like he needed to afford me a therapist.

Peter told me that Playboy had selected a young woman from Houston to be the May centerfold. He offered me a job. All I had to do was fly to Houston, get enough information to briefly profile her, and oversee her filling out the flip side of the big picture, which for those who do not know is a questionnaire completed in the Playmate's own handwriting. Yes, that's right, the bulk of my job was eliminating spelling errors, coaxing clever answers, and above all, seeing that her penmanship was neither too fluffy nor too scrunchy. In black ink. Medium point pen. In exchange, I got a hefty fee and a most-expenses paid stay at the Wyndham Warwick, a place I recommend all of you visit once before dying.

Back then, I was waitressing occasionally at the Velveeta Room. Word got out (via my own big mouth) about this assignment. A certain comic - whom we shall call "Hank" - immediately began begging. He wasn't the only one. I really do believe that guys really believed that if I would just take them along, Shae (as she was called) would step into my suite, take one look at my companion, strip, and - at least - begin posing. No dice, I told Hank, I already had a date named Roscoe.

And he had a camera. Not a Funsaver disposable number like Hank bribed me to take along, but a video camera. And with her blessing, Roscoe videotaped the entire interview. God, it was slow going. Draft after draft of the questionnaire we would do a misspelling, forget a word, skip a question. Crumple, toss, begin again.

Though the raw footage could turn an insomniac into Rip Van Winkle, Roscoe's eight-minute, edited version is pure genius. It begins with me on the plane, pretending to talk on the air-phone to Hugh, back at the mansion. Cut to me meeting Shae. Shae giggling. Me interviewing Shae. Shae giggling. Shae writing. Shae giggling. Me looking older and fatter than I otherwise would have. Shae giggling. Cut to Roscoe, apparently disinterested, sitting on the couch, reading the paper, the subtext screaming: what kind of man could just sit there? Cut to a close up of the paper, subtext now nodding knowingly: Why of course he doesn't care about her, he's reading Hi and Lois. Shae giggling. Cut to the completion. Shae holding up questionnaire and reading her answers. Cut to me on the plane, again chatting with Hugh. (Edit out pilot voice-over insisting all passengers - meaning me and Roscoe, the only ones left - must deplane now!)

Now I'm no Quentin T., but here is where I must apply the flashback for you. Because as it turned out, Shae was light but not stupid. And she was a damn good actress. We had informed her of Hank's desires. When she held up that list of answers, she looked straight at the camera, and every response that gushed forth from those stung-by-a-hundred-bees lips of hers had something to do with H.

Favorite pastime? Watching long-haired Jewish comedians. Life goal? To one day get a date with Hank. Turn-offs? Guys who aren't comedians. On it went. It was beautiful, Oscar-quality thespianism.

Back in Austin, Roscoe and I showed the video after hours at the club one night. The drooling comedians sat snug against the boob tube and clung to her every... well, they watched, anyway. Just as they began to lose interest (it was growing clear she would not remove her clothes), BAM, the delightful Ms. Shae went off about Hank. I lie not when I say that the man, no stranger to great humor and deep irony, chose to overlook these things and shed at least one tear as he embraced the fantasy and held it as true.

As I say, I doubt I'll ever top the experience, at least in the eyes of others. Perhaps my gravestone should read: She Was in a Playboy Centerfold. Technically, it's true. As for Hank, if you ever visit his house, step over to the TV, turn it on and hit play on the VCR. I guarantee you that tape is waiting, all cued up to his favorite part.

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