KROSS: Speaking of Catcher in the Rye, I fell over that book today while making out with a female dandy for a series she’s shooting on spec. I’m in Kentucky. People leave their books on the floor here. She seems like the kind of person who would like Catcher in the Rye.
LEVIN: What’s a female dandy? And why Kentucky? Not that there’s anything wrong with Kentucky, but it seems an unlikely spot to shoot a movie. Then again, I’ve never been there. Anyway, shooting on spec, huh? The thing that’s strange to me about that is that I guess I walk around with the assumption that all such films are shot on spec (by the way, what do you like to call “such films”—I feel really dorky using that phrase—but “porn” is a fraught word and “adult film” seems somehow condescending like “young adult literature” or something), and that all such films get distribution. Is that inaccurate? Like, does anyone ever make a movie where a star has sex and then fail to get distribution? Do I just not understand the phrase “on spec”?
KROSS: It’s in Kentucky because that’s where the Director/Producer/Lead Actress/Female Dandy resides. Her name, aptly, is Tucky Williams. She wears a nice top hat and a tie, and she is a very good kisser, and a player, which makes her a dandy. If you’ve ever read The Art of Seduction you’ll know what I mean. I keep telling people it’s not a porn (that’s what we call them, so now you can lay that confusion to rest), but then when I say it’s not a porn, people say, oh, what is it then? And I say, it’s called Girl/Girl Scene. Then they say, that’s a porn, and we start over. It’s a series shot for a lesbian audience. There is no sex, but it’s implied that it happens in the storyline, and I’m Tucky’s love interest, or at least one of them, because she’s a player, and that’s why I’m falling over things kissing Tucky. That’s how we met actually. I was interviewing her when she was on the red carpet and we started making out. Very few porns are shot on spec. I can think of exactly one, actually.
LEVIN: I’ve never read The Art of Seduction, but a top hat; that’s pretty dandy. Anyway, that movie doesn’t sound porny to me. Well, I guess it sounds “softcore,” if that’s still a word. It sounds like the late night Cinemax of my 1980’s youth. Skinemax we so cleverly called it.
Kissing. My contention is that there are objectively good kissers and bad kissers, and bad kissers sometimes luck into kissers of questionable taste who mistake them for good kissers, but even kissers of questionable taste will, when all is said and done, prefer the kisses of objectively good kissers. People fight with me about this. Can you back me up here? And just to be clear, I’m not saying I think there’s only one good way to kiss; more like there are countless bad, or even just less-than-good, ways to kiss, most of which are dominated by a common theme of inattentiveness, I think.
KROSS: If you think Skinemax sounded lame back then, imagine how terrible we feel that we still use the term now. You’d think someone would have improved on that over the years. But this project isn’t quite that either. The writing is good and we don’t show boobs. Although I keep trying.
Kissing: I keep falling in love with my male talent, or Hollywood people, or a more immediate example would be this dandy, who taunted me with a text just now that said “prove it, straight girl” and said she’d come to the hotel right now, and I kicked myself, because I’d just taken sleeping pills and settled down into bed, because she gave me an early call time and I’m still on West Coast time. And so I said she wouldn’t be saying that tomorrow. But maybe I’m all talk like she says. I’ve only had sex with straight girls up until now. Not entirely true, but mostly. But I think definitely tomorrow. And if she really lovestrikes me after that then I’m fucked, because she’s a dandy, and dandies by nature are players. But she works nicely into your kissing question. Because she can kiss. Not just camera kiss, but kiss-kiss, like make you close your eyes and forget the stuff on the other side of them kind of kiss. Most people can’t do that. I don’t think it’s that bad kissers luck into kissers of questionable taste. I think its that bad kissers occasionally luck into partners whose mouths fit well with their own, but of course any perceived skill that may come from this is only the helpful leg up they get by having complimentary parts. A truly good kisser can make any kiss good as long as the person on the other side (the kissee) lets the kisser take the reigns. Far too often the kissee just can’t do it. These things make me crazy.
LEVIN: So: You and Tucky. How’s it going, now that you’ve had your good night’s sleep?
KROSS: We’re gonna have to edit Tucky’s name out of this, because after a restful night’s sleep, that totally happened. I could spend ten pages telling you all kinds of shocking and amazing things that I learned about lesbian sex vs. two straight/bi girls trying to have lesbian sex, but I’ll save the world all the gory details and just say these three things:
1. When she said she brought a bag of candy, I made an (admittedly lame) joke about white unmarked vans, only to realize an hour later that candy is lingo for all manner of battery powered and phallic shaped things. How widely recognized this term is I do not know.
2. I thought “the fireball” was her favorite piece of candy, until two hours later I realized it was her girlfriend, who she said was kind of a slut, right about the time she was doing something she definitely didn’t learn in choir practice.
3. Lesbian sex is girl-squared. So I’m pretty sure I was asked what I was thinking mid orgasm.
Footnote: I love her.
LEVIN: We’ll cut her name for sure. “The fireball” is a great nickname for one’s girlfriend. Especially if she’s a redhead. It’s got all the edge of “the firecrotch” with none of the word crotch’s nasty aftertaste. That’s such a bad word, isn’t it? Crotch, I mean. It’s a pervy-teacher word. A funny uncle-ism. Sounds like itch. So then you (I) think itch and crotch, itchy crotch. Not what I want to think when I think of that area.
KROSS: Crotch is a terrible word. The hard C and the short syllable and raunchy softness of the O. All bad. That’s why I liked Billy so much in Hot Pink. It was the word Corpse at the beginning of the story. Your choice of words in the character’s narrative really fleshed it out in such a short amount of time. And I like dogs, but god it was amazing how much you de-animated him.
I’m unsure of the fireball’s hair color, but I agree red would be fitting. She got the name from the aerobic activity she invests in her sexual encounters. My ex’s nickname was “the hate plow.” He also has good cardio endurance.
LEVIN: The Hate Plow! Who knew you were such a sap, Kayden Kross? Not I.
My last question for you this morning is: There’s anal, there’s oral—why doesn’t anyone call a handjob “a manual”? Or “some manual” or just “manual.” Or, slangwise, “a manny”? Or do they?
KROSS: You do bring up a point with this manual business. I’ve heard it referred to as “manual manipulation” but I’m pretty sure every instance of this use involved the scientific study of chimp sexuality. Sometimes they call it a handy. We even say vaginal, but we’ve shortened it to vag (vaj), and we only really use it with descriptives in a hurry. A common use would be something like “that bitch is no joke—she does double vag.” And then said bitch, being no joke, would say that specifying any number beyond one is just splitting hairs.
LEVIN: Maybe I’m crazy, but porn doesn’t seem that hard to break into, what with all the niches. Like, it seems near-impossible to get wildly successful at, but I always thought that even I could do a porn if I really wanted to; that somewhere out there there’s someone willing to pay a big-nosed, squint-eyed nerd to have sex on film at least once. That I could find that person on craigslist or something. And then, if I were some kind of geeky dynamo, I’d have a movie to use as a calling card. Is that wrong? Is my whole backup plan fucked?
KROSS: You’d be amazed at what we look for in male talent. It’s always changing. It used to be one thing and one thing only—a working dick. Most guys think they can do it but the test is to tell them to drop their pants and get it hard right then and there. You set a timer for five minutes. If they can’t do it before the clock runs out they lose. But then around 2000 Viagra hit the market and we suddenly started caring about things like looks. Then we over-saturated the market because we had an unlimited supply of male talent, then we started caring again about sexual performance. Now we care about acting too. I requested someone I wanted to work with a few months ago and the producer said, “Yeah, he has a big dick, but he can’t act.” While porn acting is a joke, we are apparently trying to make it less of one.
So if you can act you’re totally in business! But don’t expect to get rich off of it. The niche Internet sites usually only pay guys $100-$300 a pop. We have the distinction of being the only legal industry that pays women significantly more than men.
LEVIN: Drop their pants and get it hard in five minutes using any means necessary—e.g. manual manipulation—or just, like, their minds?
$100-$300 is not a whole lot of dough. What’s the big-time rate look like?
Also, I’m curious: what makes a porn star a porn star, rather than just someone who’s in some porns? That’s got two angles on it, that question:
1) At what point is one recognized as a star by the industry (e.g. does it have to do with number of films made, pay, or being featured in something in some way, or what?)?
2) The (probably) harder angle: what does it take to be a porn star, rather than just someone who’s in some porns?
KROSS: Manual manipulation is allowed in the rulebooks but it’s the mental part that knocks them out of the game. Most guys can’t get there under pressure. Big time rate for men is around $1500 per. The guys who make real money have all started their own video lines though. Starring in them is just a perk.
Porn stars go from being performers to actual industry recognized stars a number of ways. The fastest is to come in under a contract with a major studio. That’s the route I took. Others are to come in and shoot hard and often with all of the studios and deliver a reliably strong performance in a variety of types of scenes. That’s what Sasha Grey did. Then there are the girls who come in and for whatever reason the fans just can’t get enough of them from the start. An example would be Bibi Jones. And finally, there are the girls who do some things that I’m convinced take a Mad Libs page to even dream up. The easy way to tell who is a star is generally the same as in Hollywood—look for the performer’s name in or near the title. What does it take to be a porn star? Sometimes not much. I think at some level you really have to love it, but maybe not always. You have to have something the fans and other performers can connect to. Reasonably good looks. A clean STD test every 30 days and to-and-from set transportation. Two forms of ID.
LEVIN: $1500. That’s good money for a day’s work.
KROSS: I’ve been having this discussion continually for years: can you read books on Kindles or Nooks or whatever the fuck? I can’t do it. I get angry. The friends I have kept agree. What’s your take on this? I figure about 8% of the enjoyment I get out of reading stems directly from the turning of and dogearing of the pages. Another 1-2% is the smelling. There is also the post enjoyment where I add the book to my massive bookshelf and it looks even more stately. My books are sectioned like this: The best go in the middle at eye level, the next best go to the right and left at eye level, the eh, but I finished it go to the levels above eye level, but not the highest level, which is reserved for this sucks so bad I couldn’t finish it. The shelf is 16 feet long and 12 feet high. You’ll be happy to know that The Instructions had prime placement. Unfortunately you couldn’t tell because it was duct taped because I read the majority of it in a sauna in Bulgaria, where the spine melted, and I bought it in South Africa, where it cost 290 rand, but it looked like it cost 290 dollars, and I had a good time letting people believe that, especially after I put it in my checked luggage on a domestic flight and American Airlines beat it to shit. I went to the desk with my (your) heavily badgered book and I said to the woman, you see this? This book cost me almost 300 dollars, and look what you did to it. Then I pointed to the price sticker. She didn’t budge.
LEVIN: Kindles: mixed feelings. I don’t use them—I have the same love for print that you describe, and I have a really hard time concentrating on stuff on screens—but a lot of the people I know who do use them, especially older folks such as my parents, seem to read (or at least buy) more books than they did pre-Kindle. And I think it’s good to read books, so… and when it comes to the way my work looks on those devices, McSweeney’s has done a pretty great job with it on the iPad and iPhone, so maybe if Amazon comes around to figuring out how to make the stuff look that good, I’ll have even less hesitation. At least that’s what I tell myself. I may in fact be a dyed-in-the-wool print-supremacist, though. Electro-bigotry might be in my blood. We’ll see.
I used to rock a similar love-based system of shelving books, but then I got too old and faded, and now it’s like: here are the alphabetized novels; here are the alphabetized short story collections; here are the alphabetized anthologies; here are the alphabetized nonfiction books; here are the oversizeds and graphic novels and art books; here’s the McSweeney’s shelf. In boxes on top are the poetry and less-frequented nonfiction (I just moved, had beautiful shelves built, thought they’d be enough, and they weren’t quite enough).
KROSS: I’m curious—do you ever pass people out in the world who are carrying your book around? Do you say anything? If you’d caught me carrying it around with the duct tape and the pages falling out would you have been angry?
LEVIN: I have passed people in the world who are reading my book. Coffeeshops a few times, and once on the L. Especially nice have been those times when they were deep into it, past the 2/3 point, and not looking up. I haven’t approached any of them, though; I liked to think that I’d be interrupting something if I did. That said, I doubt I’d approach someone who was carrying the book. I can get awkward fast if I’m on the approach for some reason. Not as much when I’m approached. Had I seen you with my book duct-taped along the spine, though, I’d have either tried to pick you up by making some stupid offer to replace the book, or, more likely, walked away and kicked myself for not trying to pick you up with a stupid offer to replace the book, and then, later on, regardless of whether I’d tried to pick you up or not, I’d have found myself sucking on a lonely cigarette near a filthy window, wondering how the book had ended up so beaten and bruised, and why I hadn’t just asked you how the book had ended up so beaten and bruised.
KROSS: I judge people by their books. Do you? I cut people out who buy their novels in grocery stores. They are the trash of the literary world (the books, not the people (but sometimes the people, but it’s really only a very weak correlation, if any)).
LEVIN: I don’t cut people out who buy their books at grocery stores, unless they exclusively buy their books at grocery stores, and it’s not even so much because they’re reading only what’s available at grocery stores as that it means they don’t like shopping at bookstores, which are the only places I enjoy shopping except maybe chocolate stores, or ice cream shops if buying ice cream counts as shopping. And people who complain about me smoking. I cut those fuckers out quick. And talk about shitty kisses! There’s a huge correlation between people who complain about me smoking and people I don’t like kissing. Maybe they taste it on me and lose some measure of oral grace, but I suspect not.
KROSS: Bookstores! Yes. The best shopping out there. They’re my big excursion on rainy days. What sections do you hit first? Amazon changed the way I approach book buying in the past couple of years, though. Once I click on one book I get ten more suggestions and then I’ll follow the wormhole for days. Does this happen to you? Or are all of your book purchases done in person? I can definitely appreciate the added value of feeling the book, thumbing the pages, dropping in on the character’s conversations before committing.
LEVIN: Amazon is a thing I don’t do. This is in large part because I really like finding stuff in a slower way. But it’s also because I fear that if I start using Amazon to buy fiction (I bought a re-issue of the original DSM off Amazon once, back in 2001 or 2002—impossible to find anywhere else at the time, and I thought I wanted to write about the DSM; also I’ve bought gifts for people on Amazon, but that’s it), I’ll enter the wormhole you mentioned—I’ll just buy way too much fiction. It’s all too available there. I can’t remotely afford to purchase every book I want. Better I let what’s physically in front of me choose for me.
As for the sections at bookstores I hit first: new release fiction, non-new-release fiction, graphic novels/comics. Those tend to be the only sections I hit, actually. I read very, very, very little nonfiction. I don’t read that many graphic novels or comics, either, but only because I can’t afford them.
KROSS: When you were a newly published author did you run frantically from bookstore to bookstore signing copies so they couldn’t be returned? There’s something enterprising and headstrong about the whole approach. As I understand it, the same rules would technically apply to porn DVDs. The reward system doesn’t give me the motivation to do it though.
LEVIN: I’ve signed books at a lot of bookstores, but not for the reason you mentioned—though it’s not a bad idea, and maybe I should get on it. I reallylike booksellers is the thing. I think a lot of people don’t even know about booksellers, assuming they’re just book cashiers or something (they sometimes are at the bigger chains), when, especially at the indie shops, they tend to be extraordinary readers (often writers as well) who really care about books, who love books, and consider it their mission to help you, as an individual with his or her own personal reading history and preferences—to help you find books that you, personally, will love. And they’re good at it. At least in my experience.
I just did a reading last night at Book Cellar in Chicago—such a killer place. Every last person on staff knows of what they speak, and they’ve figured out a great angle to survive the post-Kindle world, I think: in addition to their awesome selection of titles, they’ve got an impressive wine/beer-bar plus pastries and coffee. The same staff who sells books works the bar, too, so it doesn’t feel like a tacked-on Starbucks or something.
LEVIN: I think I drank one vodka too many tonight because I went to the grocery store to buy paper towels after the bar, and ended up getting a pint of Ben and Jerry’s, which, really, who needs that on a lonely Wednesday evening such as this one? Not me. But I’m on it. It’s called Rocky Road-ish because that’s what it is, and honest advertising in ice cream is a rare and beautiful thing. Still, though. Something sad about a weeknight pint alone. If I’d been thinking straight, I’d’ve gotten a chocolateless kind, so I could share it with my bird. But then maybe that’s worse, a dude who chooses the flavor of his Wednesday night pint according to its capacity to be ingested by his pet. Unless the dude surfs. Somehow, if the dude’s a surfer, then it’s not sad at all. It’s noble and sweet. I’d buy such a dude a muffin no sweat. Though who wants a muffin after ice cream? Probably someone does, but no way that someone surfs. Fuck that guy. He’s a jerk. Probably keeps snakes. A real snakekeeping jerk. Dumb tattoos, too.
KROSS: I like that everything is rewarded with muffins. If your options for lonely pint-eating are weeknights or weekends, definitely take the weeknights. But I think chocolate kills the pet species. Something to think about. I switched to mangoes because my rabbits are friendlier under those conditions, and also because mangoes are heaven and don’t affect the bottom line of the nude career. While there is a niche for the pint-eating variety of lonely girls on weeknights, it’s a small one.
LEVIN: The ice cream was ultimately a little disappointing, but it got me good and sleepy, which is helpful. I’ve been waiting for a Parisian to come visit me for nearly two months now, and she’ll be here tomorrow, which is amazing, but that level of amazing after all that anticipation is the kind of thing that gets me feeling joyous and thus hypersocial, and that can lead to silliness, so I figure it’s better I do what I can to monk out like a dorky writer guy in advance of her arrival and just kinda… long. One more night. Half a pint left. Sleep early I will, and make sentences like Yoda. Mangoes and I—I get real picky with those things. Cubed, I can’t do it. Thin slices the long way, though? Very good stuff. Especially when cold. Worth the weird lipbumps. Rabbits scare me a little.
KROSS: My last blog happened to highlight how mangoes are either perfect or completely lame so I know what you mean. And as for rabbits, I wish you’d consulted my rabbit knowledge before the scene in Frankenwittgenstein with the two lovebirds on the porch. You missed one of the most spectacular things of the mating world. Males do back flips when they orgasm. They go at it hardcore for about 15 seconds then they flip themselves into the air and fall on their backs. My friend used to have a male and I had a female and we’d put a blanket over her and let the him do dirty little acrobatics while we’d laugh so hard our retainers would fall out. This may be more insight than you need though, both in terms of rabbit mating rituals and my personal motivations in life.
LEVIN: I just checked out your mangoes blog. Now I wonder if I don’t like cubed mangoes because they’re cubed or because they were somehow fucked up before they even got peeled. The only person who ever gave me mangoes on the steady was my mom, and she’d cut them the thin, long way—maybe she knew how to pick mangoes, whereas few others do, and those others only happened to be cubers.
I like back-flipping rabbits. Thing is, though, there’s two things: 1) I had a fairly traumatic episode with rabbits when I was a kid. My mom had always told me that if you touched a baby rabbit outside, its mom would smell you later, figure you for a predator, and abandon the rabbit. And one day there was this baby rabbit outside our house, and I told my mom I touched it, even though I hadn’t, and I told her I was worried the rabbit’s mom would abandon it, and I got really upset, so my mom said we could take the rabbit in. So she got a bucket and we went to the rabbit hole, and she pulled the rabbit out and put it in the bucket. And then she saw there was another rabbit in the hole, and she figured she’d spoiled the whole den (is it called a den?) by getting her predatory-smelling hand all over it, and so she grabbed that one, too. And then there was another, and another… eventually, there were, if I’m not mistaken, eleven. We brought them inside and placed them in an old fish tank. We had no idea what to feed them—they were babies, and they needed mother’s milk, I think—but I’d seen Bugs Bunny, and so had my mom, so we gave them carrots and lettuce, which they didn’t eat. By the next morning, all but a couple of them were dead. The living ones were sniffing around the dead ones and trying to kinda snuggle into them for warmth (at least that’s what it seemed like). Anyway, I’ll spare you the rest of the story, but it involved me launching the two living ones into a forest preserve from the side of the road, which was my mother’s idea, and pretending to believe, for her benefit, that all they needed to survive was the forest… 2) I was smoking a cigarette outside my parents’ house in high school, and I’d taken some acid, and I noticed these three rabbits in the yard, and I sat down and watched them. One of them started fucking another one while the third one looked on. Then there was a sound—a swaying branch or something—and the rabbits who were fucking stopped moving, like completely froze, then kinda looked around, saw the coast was clear, and started fucking again. For a few seconds. The third rabbit—the onlooker—came along, then, and either chased off the first male or just took his turn (the male who’d been doing the fucking didn’t backflip or anything), and that first one took up the second one’s former position and watched. And then there was a noise, a freeze, more fucking, another switch-off. This went on for a couple or three more passes—the freezing, the partner-switching—before I quit watching because I was too freaked out. It might have been the acid—it must have at least partly been the acid—but these rabbits, they came across to me as totally mechanistic, despite being made of meat and bone and fur, and despite having eyes. And I had this thought that they were only watching themselves; that they had no real agency. That, rather than really participating in what they were doing, they were merely giving witness to what they were doing. Which observation inevitably turned reflexive and launched me into a pretty bad trip.
KROSS: I do hope you found the back flipping rabbits. I had a few die on me during my rabbit breeding days too. Here’s another annoying rabbit reproductive bit: the mothers sometimes eat the babies. So for all you know you saved that whole litter from certain cannibalism.
LEVIN: I did not find any videos of backflipping rabbits. My googling came up with any number of hits, but none of them showed rabbits fucking, and few of them even featured genuine backflips—it would be, like, some rabbit getting vaguely harassed with a piece of food or a poke or something, and then kinda just rolling on its back. I didn’t know they ate their young. I thought was just a myth about hamsters.
I’m looking at your Wikipedia page right now, and it says you started dancing for pony-money, which is probably the best motivation for doing anything that I’ve heard in a month. It’s so good, in fact, that part of me suspects it’s made up, that you made it up, that it’s some kind of brilliant persona stroke, like, I don’t know—Hemingway’s supposedly attributing famous Fitzgerald quotes to himself or something. I don’t expect you’d tell me if it were made up, and I’m cool with that, but just so you know, I’m at the coffeeshop right now, and I’m looking all around me, and if anyone in here—even the crime-beat reporter shvontz who’s always yelling on his celly—if any of these folks were to tell me they’d done anything in order to earn pony-money, I’m certain I’d buy him or her a muffin in a second. Maybe even a bagel. So if you ever find yourself hungry and walletless and near a coffeeshop, my advice to you is to find the dork in the hoodie and overwrought glasses (probably sitting way back in the back), and tell that dork your tale. You, Kayden Kross, will be hungry no longer.
So whether it’s true or not, though, did you end up getting the pony?
KROSS: Not only did I get the pony, but there was enough leftover money from that first night of semi-nude entertaining to trailer him to his new home and buy him a pink blanket, because small things are not emasculated by colors the same way. What people never question me on is why I went back the next night if I made all I needed the first night. Unfortunately there are no follow-up heart-wrenching stories. The answer is it beat the real world.