How My Affair With Porn Was Born

Confessions of an adult-bookstore clerk

Photo by Jack GouldMonique leans halfway in through the doorway of my store to scope the attractive customers. Then he leans halfway out to take a drag on his cigarette. Monique is a man—a 6-foot, 120-pound, black transvestite. He seems to have his eye on somebody, but when I raise my eyebrows in suggestive inquiry, he starts leaning out again. "Oh, no, honey," he says. "He's too old."

Monique is just one of many acquaintances I've made while talking across the counter. It's business talk, mostly, but in this business, butt plugs, dildos, penis pumps, bondage, cock rings and strap-ons have become a big part of my vernacular. That doesn't please my mother. After paying me a visit at work one day, she repeatedly cried, "I feel so unclean!"

There is a plethora of smut shops along a one-mile stretch of Garden Grove Boulevard. Lots of people don't realize that, which is good news for those who do. The low profile may explain the survival of these businesses in what is supposed to be a conservative county. Then again, the fight against sex has historically faced long odds. These days, the entire adult-entertainment industry boasts some $20 billion in annual revenue, and its peripheral markets—which include exotic dancing, strip-o-grams, and, of course, the world's oldest profession—make it one of the biggest businesses on earth.

My store serves as the surrogate spouse and meeting ground for an endless stream of Orange County residents in need of a porn fix. And it's more and more mainstream, too, as such recent titles as Poke-a-man ($39.95) and Hairy Pottymouth ($17.99) suggest.

Anti-pornography lobbyists tend to blast the entire industry with generalizations that hold legitimate stores and businesses responsible for the actions of sex offenders. But the majority of my porn acquaintances do not advocate illegal behavior, and city codes require bookstores to adhere to strict policies about public lewdness. A bigger problem is that these laws often become license for some of Garden Grove's homophobic officers to harass male customers.

Bottom line, the people inside the unassuming brick building and the double-entendre "parking in rear" sign are doctors, lawyers, students, mothers and even some Orange County politicians. They exchange money, stories, and—occasionally—phone numbers.

THE MAKING OF A PERVERT

My journey toward porn aficionado began in adolescence when I used to sneak peeks at my brother's private stash. My fixation has grown and refined itself over the years. Now, I'm the seedy character behind the counter at an adult bookstore.

I remember my first time in an adult bookstore. I was living in Colorado Springs and had just turned 18. An unwashed recluse reading an old copy of Penthouse magazine stood behind the counter while I wandered around. Others were wandering around, too, and I soon realized I was observing the ritualistic, male mating dance known as cruising—a series of glances that results in a sexual rendezvous, sometimes in a motel but often in the restroom. I ended up in the video booth, where I finally learned the meaning of the term "rimming" that I remembered hearing once in junior high. Seeing it up close and personal—not to mention unscrambled—introduced me to a whole new life. My love affair with porn was born.

My first job in a porn store was at a small shop in Van Nuys. It lasted only one day. The manager fired me when I spent my first lunch break watching videos. He muttered something about me perhaps being "better as a customer."

Luck struck in Orange County, however, when I answered an ad for a "store clerk." The manager told me over the phone where I'd be clerking; images of gangbangs and flavored lubricants danced in my head. Walking into the shop on my first day, I took a deep breath and surveyed walls covered with 12-inch double dongs. I was home.

For two years, I have sold dildos in every imaginable size and vibrators with more force than a Black & Decker table saw. I've rung up piƱa colada-flavored condoms and spiked wrist restraints for elderly ladies and anal beads for men in three-piece suits.

JUST LIKE MACY'S

There's a moment of silence on the other end of the phone I've just answered, and I realize who it is: "Phone-a-Fuck." He calls the store every night and asks about particular titles while masturbating to the clerk's voice. There are sickos who actually think there's shock value in calling an adult bookstore and breathing into the receiver. By this time, though, no way—although, someone calling up and reciting passages from the Bible might make me flinch.

Face to face, the relationship between clerk and customer is rarely so graphic, but the atmosphere inside the store is riddled with sexual innuendo—not unlike the lingerie department at Macy's.

Most customers receive a "grace period" when it comes to inappropriate behavior inside the shop, including public lewdness, loitering and solicitation. Often the clerk warns the offender to "put it away" or face ejection. At worst, the police are called, and the customer is escorted out wearing handcuffs (pink leather "love" cuffs, $18.99). At best, the customer packs at least nine inches and is fairly attractive. These encounters rarely end badly—usually with the offender leaving red-faced only to return the next night and try again.

My first exposure to in-your-face exhibitionism came from a regular I'll call "Tiny." He chose to show me exactly how much he loved himself by standing in front of my register, dropping trou and getting busy in a matter of seconds.

Another time, I caught a man speaking into another customer's pants. Typically, he denied his behavior vehemently—and lamely—insisting he was "just talking" and "I dropped my pen." His "don't tell my wife" plea set him apart from the run-of-the-mill freaks. But then he blew it by threatening to call the police on me. Half an hour later, as I watched a cop write him a ticket for indecent exposure and public nuisance, I wondered if he asked them, too, not to tell his wife.

Sexual orientation is not much of an issue once a person passes through the doors of an adult bookstore. Gender identity loses its boundaries. The "girls" are often convincing, from their mannerisms to their clothing. Some of the obvious rush jobs are mesmerizing, however. Tip to cross-dressers: a brown wig, Nerf balls, a bomber jacket and 5 o'clock shadow do not a trannie make.

FETISHISTS ARE FAMILY, TOO

By now, some customers have become good friends who keep me laughing—like Monique when he's describing one of his lesser-hung sexual encounters. One patron even brought me a complete Thanksgiving dinner once because "porn doesn't take a holiday." Others confess their sexual desires and inhibitions when they no longer feel embarrassed about being in a bookstore. In porno veritas.

Sometimes these guys just need someone to talk to without feeling dirty. Sometimes they need someone to talk to because they want to feel dirty. I oblige when I can, but I had to apologize to the customer I was unable to assist (clerks cannot demonstrate penis pumps on the clientele) and the woman I had to hang up on during an impromptu phone-sex session (we have only one line).

But it's not just the customers. Anyone who chooses to work in a place like this usually has idiosyncrasies, too. One of my co-workers blasts trance music and gives the bird to the surveillance cameras while dancing. I caught another contemplating logarithms when the store was empty. A younger employee finds enjoyment slamming his body into the doors to scare unsuspecting customers. And another swears he can make a bong using just three ordinary items.

I SEE NAKED PEOPLE

The main attractions of a sex shop are the movies. Obviously, the caliber of porn-film acting won't win Oscars, but directors often strive for some artistry anyway. Bi-tanic almost reaches the status of American Beauty (American Booties, $23.99) or Saving Private Ryan (Shaving Ryan's Privates, $27.99). And, of course, we carry the classics—Debbie Does Dallas is stocked right alongside The Sixty-Ninth Sense: I See Naked People.

Thankfully, I have been able to bone up on different titles both to educate myself and to help finicky customers who don't want to spend another evening watching Dawson's Creek (Dawson's Crack, $36.99). Customers who want to dine in can take in a private viewing at the store. For that, the arcade provides a nice—albeit sticky—area to catch a movie. Rental memberships are provided for those who prefer takeout smut.

HOW TO CHOOSE A SMUT FILM

Developing a pornography program takes as much caution and consideration as developing an exercise regimen.

First recommendation: start slowly. Diving too quickly into concepts like golden showers and girls who butt-ball guys might leave a person comatose from overstimulation. Get used to the lesbians and movies with "plots" before partaking in the unbelievable. By then, chicks with dicks won't be so strange.

Second recommendation: temper your intake. Frequenting an adult establishment every night runs the risk of immunity and diminished libidinal response. Try to limit your fetishes by looking at still images first, such as magazines or box covers.

Lately, I've taken to looking at all the new trannie video boxes (Cocks 'n' Frocks, $49.99) to compare pre-op and post-op genitalia. I still cannot grasp the concept of actually cutting off the penis. Getting tits, sure, but amputation? That seems anti-erotic. Even I have a long way to go, I suppose.

CLOSING TIME

Monique returns to my store to make one last round before heading home. He certainly has a knack for snagging the cute ones. He's been cruising a hottie in a baseball cap who's busy browsing through the gay video section. Despite my persistent urging (fueled by my desire to see some live man-sex), Monique declines. "I already had my piece tonight, honey. I'm just window-shopping."

He follows Mr. Baseball outside, leaving me alone. Before closing my shift, I peruse a few monthly magazines and come across a pictorial featuring an elderly, bald woman and a tattooed, black midget.

Yeah, I wouldn't trade this for the world.

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