August 26, 2007

Nice n’ Sleazy

Back in 1991, I was in pretty rough shape. No job, marriage on the rocks, days mostly spent staring at the floor in a drunken stupor.

      Then one morning in late fall, I got a call from a friend of mine. He was a lawyer, and said he had a job for me.

      Well, not a “job,” exactly—more of an assignment.

      See, he was working on a copyright case that had slid from funny to skeevy. There was this nudist, right? And he’d shot a bunch of home movies of his nudist family doing nudist things: eating lunch naked, watching TV naked, playing cards naked, going to various nudist camps and beaches to hang out with other naked people. These, then, he sold to other nudists through ads in the backs of nudist magazines—respectable publications designed to present nudism (or “naturism” as they prefer) as a clean, natural and healthy lifestyle.

      In many ways, it was a very different world back in 1991. In many ways it wasn’t.

      So, well, wouldn’t you know it, but some creep got his hands on these tapes. Then he made bootleg copies and began selling them to other creeps through ads in the backs of the sleaziest, nastiest porn magazines.

      Here’s the deal. The pervs who bought the tapes weren’t much interested in seeing flabby fifty year-old naked people experiencing a natural, healthy lifestyle. Nope. See, the fact that the nudist with the camera had a nudist family who went to nudist camps with other nudist families implied that he and these other nudists had nudist children—some of them very young.

      To put it another way, the ads the creep took out in the porn mags usually included a variation of the line, “tiny tits and tight twats”—a code phrase for kiddie porn.

      Needless to say, the creep was selling way more copies of the nudist’s home movies than the nudist himself was. In fact, the lawyer told me, the bootlegs could even be found on the shelves of some of Times Square’s biggest porn shops. (David Dinkins was still mayor at the time, so Times Square still had some life to it.) Needless to say, the nudist wanted to put a stop to it all.

      To help their case, the lawyer needed solid proof that these tapes were being sold openly in porn shops. What he wanted me to do, then—figuring, I guess, that I looked like someone who could walk into a seedy porn shop without drawing too much attention—was go to Peepland and see how many of the bootlegs I could find, purchase them, and bring them back to his office.

      Of course at the time I didn’t have the money to drop on bootleg porn, so I put on my dirty trench coat and swung by his office, where he gave me a list of the serial numbers I was supposed to look for, and an envelope full of cash. With those two things in hand, I headed down to 42nd Street.

      He was right about one thing—I fit right in. I thought it was pretty damn funny, actually, how many of Peepland’s lunchtime customers really were wearing dirty trench coats.

      Back in the day, Peepland was second only to Show World. It was a cavernous, brightly-lit, cement-floored warehouse of pornography, all of it neatly displayed and broken down into specific categories that would put Kim’s Video to shame. In three corners of the store, men sat perched atop ladders to keep an eye open for any would-be porn thieves.

      Given how big the place was, together with the complex arrangement of categories (B&D, interracial, gay, gangbang, etc.), I was surprised that I was able to find the bootlegs as quickly as I did (they were in a sub-subsection of “Amateur”). I was able to find well over half the titles on the list I’d been handed, so I gathered them together—six or eight tapes in all—and carried them up to the raised platform where a cadre of cashiers waited.

      That’s when I started feeling kind of dirty—walking to the counter with a huge stack of “kiddie porn.”

      But I shook it off. I had a job to do. Besides, these tapes weren’t for me—they were for a friend of mine, yeah. And who cares what these people think of me, anyway? None of their goddamn business what I do in the privacy of my own home—what’s more, I’m sure they’d seen far, far worse upstairs, where the shows took place.

      I placed the stack of tapes on the counter.

      “I would like these, please.”

      The Indian fellow behind the counter began ringing them up.

      “Oh—” I said, “and if you would, please, I need a receipt.”

      A few minutes later, with the tapes neatly wrapped in the dead-giveaway non-descript brown paper and a chest full of that warm feeling that comes with a job well done, I exited Peepland and headed back to the lawyer’s office. I handed over the tapes, the receipt, and what was left of the cash, and he tossed a few bucks my way for my trouble. Then he slid a piece of paper across the desk toward me.

      That’s when I learned that the job wasn’t over yet. Not exactly, anyway. I thought the paper I was signing was simply a legal document stating that yes, indeed, I had gone to Peepland and bought these things off the shelf. It was more than that, though—in signing that document, I was giving the law firm permission to order more tapes through the mail in my name, and have them shipped to my home address.

      “We can’t very well have them shipped to a law office,” my friend told me. “This guy doesn’t know we’re investigating him. That would give everything away.”


      (I really do need to start reading documents before signing them.)

      “Don’t worry,” he assured me. “We might not even have to do that. This is for just in case.”

      I went home and resumed my drinking and floor-staring. Then, sure enough, about two weeks later I went downstairs to check the mail, and found a small, hand-addressed package waiting. I didn’t recognize the handwriting or the return address, so I brought it up to the kitchen table and opened it. Inside was an unmarked VHS tape. I looked in the envelope for some indication of what it might be, and saw a piece of paper. Unfolding it, I saw it wasn’t a receipt, but a hand-scrawled catalog. There were no names, no titles—merely descriptions of the other tapes this guy had for sale. It spanned the lowest, darkest, most unimaginable depths of pornographic possibilities—kiddie porn, animal porn, shit-eating. The description that struck me most was “An 80 year-old woman tied to a chair and beaten nearly to death!”

      Yes, I guess there’s a market for that someplace.

      The more I read and re-read the catalog, the more worried I became. This thing came to me at home. The package had my name and address in black magic marker right there on the front. My fingerprints were all over it already.

      I picked up the phone and called the lawyer.

      “Hey,” I said, “the tape just arrived—and I want to get this thing out of my apartment as soon as possible.”

      “That’s great,” he said. “Whenever you like.”

      “Yeah, fine—” I said. “But let me ask you—what happens when the FBI agents kick in my door ten minutes from now, and find kiddie porn in my apartment?”

      “Well,” he said, “that happens, just give us a call. We’ll back you up.”

      “I should hope so.”

      Then he added, “I mean, we’ll charge you for it—we’re running a business here, after all.”

      I knew I was doomed.

      I considered the tape, the envelope, and the disturbing catalog all sitting out there in the open. Then, doomed or not, my curiosity got the best of me, and I brought the tape into the other room, where I popped it in the VCR.


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