I was part of a crew that sold sex gadgets and erotic lubricants. Our clients were stores like Adult World and Lusty Life Book Shop. Jack Tanner, the sales manager, was a functioning alcoholic and also a sadist. “I’m a practicing sadist,” he would often say, apropos of nothing in particular.
These were pre-Internet days and the easiest place to get stroke-books, dildos, or Baron Blackthorne’s Stay-Hard Cream was a sex shop, so business was brisk. I made money but wasn’t sure I could stay on the job. Unless you were an unabashed libertine you would gradually begin to feel covered in slime. During a typical sales call you would stand patiently to one side while the proprietor rang up a stack of magazines with titles like Big Baby and Diaper Boy for a customer with the grizzled beard and fat belly of a tug boat captain. You would try not to think about this guy in his apartment, wearing a baby bonnet while being jacked off by a low-rent hooker.
My last day on the job I was at Moderne Books in Boston’s Combat Zone, showing a new line of butt-pluggers to Frank, the sweaty manager. A young couple came in—a couple so attractive and well scrubbed that they could have stepped out of a soap commercial. He was slim and handsome, with glossy chestnut hair. She was a redhead with the face of a starlet. They were dressed like hicks—he wore an army jacket, she had on a cheap plaid coat—but they still looked great. I moved aside to let them approach the counter. Did they need directions? Certainly they had not come here to buy something. I had never once seen anyone fresh and young and beautiful in a porn shop.
“Can I help you?” asked Frank.
“We’re down from New Hampshire on our honeymoon,” said the young man. At this utterance the bride took his arm and crushed herself to him, smiling filthily.
“Been here three days,” the man continued, “and we still can’t find this sex game a buddy told me about.”
Frank ran a hand through his greasy hair and stifled a belch. “You mean a table game? We got one called Fetish Monopoly. Is that it?”
“No,” said the young man. “It’s called Fucky-fucky, Sucky-sucky.”
Frank’s eyebrows leaped up. “Hey, that sounds like a good one! I wish we did have it, but honestly I’ve never even heard of it.” He turned to me. “You guys carry anything like that?”
I shrugged. “Sorry. We specialize in creams and apparatus.” You swine, I almost added. But who was I kidding. I was holding myself above a dirty-book store manager and a young couple in rut when I had in my hand a sample case that would have delighted a Parisian pimp. It was time to get out of the business.
That night I wrote an eloquent letter of resignation, a wasted effort, of course, but I was young and infatuated with style. In the morning I drove to the office and gave the letter to Jack Tanner. He read it while standing next to the hissing coffee machine. I think he stopped after the first sentence—“I can no longer toil as a purveyor of filth, and so resign from this foul endeavor, effective immediately”—and skimmed the rest, two long paragraphs of snooty moralizing. “Leave your samples,” he said, dropping the letter on the table. In the outer office I gave my sample case to our secretary, who received it indifferently.
As a memento I kept a set of ben-wa balls I had earlier pilfered from the supply cabinet. Years later I offered them to my first wife as a jokey birthday present, and she threw them away in disgust.