Saturday, November 20, 2010

"Empty Promises"

So what is a dry hustle? Kristal defined it in two words: "Empty promises."

A guy doesn't get what he paid for. He got set up.

An easy version of a dry hustle would be: the mark approaches you. He thinks you're a whore. He gives you some money up front, because you have to pay the baby sitter, or you can't get into your apartment to retrieve some cool sex toys and outfits because you owe $X in rent, or your husband is there but if you give him enough money to go out and get plastered all night, then the place is free for a romp, etc. etc. Then you give the mark a phony address, or you never show up at the place where you've agreed to meet.

But Kristal would never deign to play a whore. That was beneath her. Her theory was, the man was more invested if you made him think you never do this kind of thing, have sex with someone you only just met. You're a respectable woman, and the only reason you're making an exception in his case is, a) you're really, really horny or b) you're unbelievably sexually attracted to him, or c) you're falling in love with him ("there's something about you, it's crazy, I've never felt like this").

The latter line is what you use on a man whose fantasies are not merely sexual but also romantic. This type of man is sweet and credulous, the most profitable kind. You can keep the scam going for days, weeks, even months; as the relationship deepens he's buying you presents and lending you money, while you withhold sex because you insist you want the moment to be special. Maybe you want to lose 5 pounds, maybe you're waiting for that perfect nightie to arrive in the mail. (Oh no! It's the wrong size! He has to wait some more because you have to exchange it! Otherwise your first night of passion won't be perfect!)  He'll wait because you've pledged your love for him, and it may be that he's fallen for you, too. As time passes, he is certainly going to get more and more tightly wrapped up in the story you've invented about your life.

He's lucky if he gets even a kiss.

And then...what else? disappear.

Kristal herself was a romantic, in her way. She dreamed of finding that perfect mark who was rich and willing to marry her. Love was beside the point. Maybe she wasn't capable of it anymore anyway. So romance for her would be a husband who was crazy about her, lavishing money on her every whim. In short, he would be a mark for life. How romantic is that?!

This is wicked stuff, and pretty hard to stomach if you really like men, which I do and did. Call it my fascination with the devious mind of a criminal.  But more, I liked the revenge angle: the prostitute turns the tables on the trick, taking his money and giving nothing of her body or self-respect to him. She no longer gets hurt. It's his turn.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Henry Miller & Me

It was a given, in the writing of DRY HUSTLE, that there were going to be some sex scenes. Duh. This meant I was going to realize a long-cherished dream of rewriting Henry Miller.

When I was entering puberty, my family (two parents, four kids ages 9 to 16) embarked on a trip to Europe, starting in Paris. Our babysitter was 18 and very uninterested in childcare (she quit mid-trip). What did interest her was racy books banned in the U.S. Henry Miller's "Sexus" was one of those. She picked up a copy in Paris, intending to read it before she went back home so she wouldn't be caught smuggling it past customs.

We took a boat from Italy to Greece. I shared a cramped cabin with her, in which I commandeered the top bunk. I woke to the sound of sniggering. Climbing down, I sawmy two older brothers perched on either side of the babysitter on her bed, looking over her shoulder as she read some book.

A few months after we returned, I became 12. I don't know if this is a symptom of pubescence, but around then I started sneaking into other family members' rooms to look in their drawers. I found a "marriage manual" (sex guide) in my parents drawer. It read like a science book and thus was unmemorable. Still, no one had ever told me anything about sex so it was a start. I rifled through my brothers' drawers. I found books about male sexual development given to the boys by my parents. There were gross cross-section illustrations of the male genitalia and descriptions of erection and ejaculation. Again, highly scientific and scrupulously designed not to arouse anybody.

My brother Denny was trying out photography, developing his own prints in a bathroom upstairs. I found a stack of photos of individual book pages. He must have photographed the "dirty" parts of the babysitter's illicit copy of "Sexus." I stole them. My brother could hardly complain that they were missing: he would be admitting to his own crime of possessing them in the first place.

Locking myself in my bathroom I assembled the pages in order and read. What the hell was this? What was a "cunt"? It wasn't in the big dictionary in the living room. What was a "prick"? It sounded sharp. Why were people always "coming" and never going? And what was "fuck"? (This is 1959, yo.) The writing was blunt, crass even, but the text gave me a feeling of arousal, which was also new and inexplicable. Therefore, these pages held power.

I pored over them incessantly. I managed to put all the pieces together and figure out what each word meant and what these characters were doing, also incessantly.

Later, I was able to bring a critical eye to the writer's style. It seemed repetitious and sort of flattening. I'm aware now that there are some lusciously poetic passages in Miller's "Tropic of Capricorn" and that he was a much better writer than the "dirty parts" would lead you to believe. But I found I preferred "Lady Chatterley's Lover," after I stole my mother's copy.

When I came to writing DRY HUSTLE, more than a decade later, it was my turn. On one hand, my approach to the sex scenes was influenced by the bold tell-it-like-it-is style of Henry Miller. On the other hand, I thought I could do better.

Whether or not I did, Henry Miller had already trumped me by being banned.