Report from the 2008 LA Book Expo...

PIC: Tony outside of the Book Expo

During the recent Book Expo, the annual book publishers convention, writers of every stripe descended upon the cavernous halls of the LA Convention Center to hawk their wares and network.  This could mean anything from “writers” like Alec Baldwin or Ted Turner signing hundreds of copies of their latest galleys with inscriptions to Sally in Saratoga Springs or Mildred in Mankato, to the hustlers and dreamers who paid a hundred dollars in the hope that they would get some of their copies of “Curing Cancer with Yoga and Massage” into the hands of a sympathetic agent or publisher.  My experience at the BEA was a little different from that.

PIC: The Holiday, NYC

When my first novel, “Digging the Vein” was published in 2006 by a New York ultra-independent called Contemporary Press, the launch party took place at “The Holiday”, a notorious St Marks Place dive bar.  My wife, Vanessa DJ’d.  She did this by slipping a five-dollar bill into the Holiday’s jukebox.  The launch was attended by a pretty enthusiastic bunch of drinkers, drug fiends and psychos. As well as the staff of Contemporary Press there were also handful of friends and well-wishers, and some of the biggest waterbugs I have ever seen.  A highlight of the evening was when the barman drunkenly collared me. He had coincidentally read the book.  He told me:  “Listen, man, that scene in the motel where you’re, like, throwing up in the toilet and shit – I could really relate.”

PIC: Tony at the signing table.

Digging the Vein’s follow-up, Down and Out on Murder Mile was recently acquired by Harper Perennial for a November 2008 release.  I suddenly found myself sharing a roster with the likes of Sebastian Horsley’s Dandy In The Underworld (a memoir of a life dedicated to narcotics, Saville Row suits, and dalliances with prostitutes) and the books of Josh Kilmer-Purcell (the artist formally known as Aqua, a drag queen infamous for the goldfish that lived in her glass bra, and some really improbable heels).  So I wasn’t going mainstream just yet.  In fact, when they signed Dennis Cooper (“The most dangerous writer in America” according to the Village Voice), I started to wonder what might happen if they ever got the Harper Perennial authors all together in one room.  (Side note – this might prove difficult. When I showed up at Sebastian Horsley’s launch I discovered he had been barred from entering the US on the grounds of moral turpitude, which impressed me no end.  Too immoral for the US?  That must take some doing.)

(PIC: Dan Fante and Tony O'Neill)

When Carrie Kania, the woman responsible for signing me invited me to Los Angeles for the Book Expo, I was understandably excited.  It was my first time in the city I had once called home for almost 8 years.  My last residence there was the Mark Twain Hotel, a roach ridden hell-motel on Wilcox Avenue, where I mostly shot heroin, attended the methadone clinic, or took the metro to Macarthur Park to score.  Now Vanessa and I found ourselves ensconced in the Biltmore, a vast, historic hotel downtown with black and white pictures of old guests like Shirley Temple, Mickey Rooney and Clark Gable adorning the walls.  It was a brief walk from John Fante’s old neighborhood of Bunker Hill, and around the corner from a market where four dollars would buy you a delicious taco and a 40oz bottle of Mickey’s Big Mouth.

(PIC: The Biltmore Hotel)

Los Angeles is a city of surreal juxtapositions, and I experienced many during my return trip there.  One enthusiastic woman who approached me at my book signing read the back cover, and unperturbed by the promise of a book seeped in street life, methadone addiction and crack abuse asked me sweetly if I’d dedicate a copy to her thirteen year old granddaughter. 

(PIC: Vanessa O'Neill, Slash and Tony O'Neill)

I met guitar god Slash at a signing table just down from mine, and we exchanged books.
SLASH:    “So, what’s your book about?”
ME:        “Well, uh, there’s a lot of dope and fucking in it.”
SLASH:    “Cool!”
Another guy approached me, to get a book signed.  I looked at his name badge I noticed he had added the letters “MD” after his name in scratchy handwriting.
“So, are you a real doctor?”
He leaned in real close, and whispered “Well, that would depend on what your definition of reality is.”

But no, despite of the many scenes like this, the going didn’t truly get weird until I mad it to the Harper Collins party at 20th Century Fox Studios on Saturday night.  The weirdness wasn’t about the setting itself: the sea of fake paparazzi, the Marilyn Monroe impersonators, the fact that the party was taking place on a pitch-perfect reproduction of Mulberry Street.  No, it was the bizarre mix of people.  Look!  There’s Dr Drew chatting with Muriel Hemingway.  Uh, did someone slip acid in my vodka tonic?

(PIC: Tony and John Landis)

So Vanessa and I started making the rounds, having a series of increasingly strange and drunken conversations with people.  Dr Drew and I had a brief chat about drugs, rehab, Theolonus Monster’s Bob Forrest, and recovery (“So, you’re clean now?” Dr Drew asked me.  I took a gulp of my vodka tonic and said, “Well, that would depend on what your definition of clean is…”).  John Landis and I talked about William S Burroughs; (“I went to dinner with William and David Cronenberg, back when David was doing the Naked Lunch movie.  He was an odd guy.  Didn’t want to talk at all. Which surprised me.  He just wanted to get drunk.  Once he was drunk though, he seemed perfectly nice.”)

(PIC: Jerry Stahl and Tony)

“Oh shit!” said Vanessa, at one point, “There’s Jerry Stahl!”
And indeed, there he was.  Being a huge fan of Jerry’s work I was trying hard not to come across like a stuttering fan boy.  But Jerry was as cool and as kind as I could have hoped for.
“Man, you must be used to all of this.  I mean the movie stuff.  Have you been on this lot before?”
“Oh yeah.  You see that toilet over there?”
“I got busted shooting up in there, once.  I was working as a scriptwriter for Moonlighting at the time.  Bad scene, man, bad scene.”

(PIC: Ron Jeremy and Vanessa)

It was right after meeting Jerry that I caught Vanessa’s eye.  She was frantically gesturing for me to join her.  When I did I found her deep in conversation with – oh God, she’s deep in conversation with Ron Jeremy.  Ron was busy signing one of Vanessa’s breasts, looking like – well - he looked like Ron Jeremy.  Which was pretty fucking strange in and of itself.
“This is my husband, Tony.”
Ron looked up from Vanessa’s breasts for a moment and said, “Oh, hey Tony.  Nice to meet you….” before he got back to work.  I took a picture.  One for the family album.  So I share a publisher with Ron Jeremy.  That was a wild but of news.  As we were hanging out, Ron invited us to a party in the Valley.

“A lot of people from the industry will be there.  It’ll be fun!  There’ll be a pool and a lot of naked girls.  It’s not an orgy or anything!  Just a get together…”
Just then Carrie arrived.  She didn’t seem entirely surprised to see that we had found Ron Jeremy.  By way of introducing himself, Ron offered to sign one of Carrie’s breasts, too.  I began to realize that Ron Jeremy signed breasts in the same way that you or I might shake hands.  I started to wonder about all of the breasts across the world that have felt - at one time or another - the lascivious caress of Ron Jeremy’s sharpie. 

“Hey Tony,” Carrie said, “How’s it going?”
“Uh, Ron Jeremy wants us to go to the Valley with him for a porn party.”
“Great!  You gotta go!”
“Really?  I mean… what if we get stuck in the valley at a porno actress’s house with no way of getting home?  I mean, what if Ron gets laid?  That’s gotta happen, what – once, twice a day?”
“Then get a cab!”
“From the Valley?  It’ll cost a fortune!”
My resolve started slipping.  Then my publisher started digging around in her purse, and shoving twenty-dollar bills into my hand.
“As your publisher I insist you go!”
“Oh shit.”
I took the money.  I guess I was researching my new book tonight.

(PIC: Ron, Vanessa and friend)

Later Vanessa, Ron and I are cruising towards the Valley.  There is a crash, traffic is snarled up for miles, horns honking hopelessly, and many people cursing in may different languages.  Ron is driving up the service lane.  “It’s cool, if the cops pull me over they usually just want to take a picture with me, then they let me go.”  Ron is listening to a strange late night radio station that plays slow, romantic music and were a silky voiced DJ reads love notes over the air:

This one goes out to David in Redondo Beach, from your little snookie puss, Martha.  I’ll never forget the weekend we spent in Rome, big daddy.  Whenever I go to Olive Garden, the wind will whisper your name…

As this is happening, Ron is giving me some tips on turning on a lady.  “You don’t just stick your finger in there, Tony.  You got to tap it.  Tap-tap-tap on the outside like you’re checking a wall for hollow spots.  It’s all in the tease! Tap-tap-tap!”

“One More Night” by Phil Collins comes on.  Ron cranks the volume and bops his head dreamily as Phil implores, “I’ve been trying so hard to let you know… let you know how I feel…” Soon we are at the place.

(PIC: Ron introduces himself)

The house is on a suburban street that is packed with cars, and alive with the rumble of distant music.  As we cruise past groups of people arriving at and leaving the venue, Ron is already getting recognized.  Young men (and women, in incredibly short skirts) scream “Ron Jeremy!” and give us the thumbs up, whooping in approval. You see,  Ron is someone who has transcended the porn industry.  He is a renaissance man, a singer, an author, and a figurehead.  Sure, there are other porn stars, like Jenna Jameson, Traci Lords, or John Holmes who have done this, but not to the extent that Ron Jeremy managed it.  People who have never witnessed the spectacle of an on camera double penetration still know Ron Jeremy.  He has reached a level of fame that many dream of, but few actually achieve: he has become famous for being himself.  Like Paris Hilton, Marilyn Monroe or Britney Spears, Ron has reached the status of an icon.  Within the porno industry, Ron Jeremy is a demi-God. 

Inside the house it is pandemonium.  The first thing I see is an enormous pair of breasts, coming straight for us.  They are attached to a blonde woman with an impossibly tiny waist and, yes, the biggest breasts I have ever seen.  She introduces herself by popping one of the breasts into Ron’s mouth.  Suddenly the place erupts in the glare of flashbulbs, as approximately twenty men of various shapes, sizes and nationalities start furiously capturing this moment for posterity.  Ron is incredibly congenial.  He takes the nipple out of his mouth, and introduces the woman to Vanessa and I. 
“Do you guys wanna feel my breasts?”
Vanessa and I look at each other for a moment.

(PIC: Ron and friend with rising crop)

I have to confess, despite my years in Los Angeles (the spiritual home of fake titties) this is my first time squeezing an enormous breast implant.  To complain about their artificiality is to miss the point.  The whole point of breasts like these is to create something artificial, hyper real.  They are PERFECTLY artificial.  I think of “A Rebours” and conclude that if Husymans were alive and in California he too would have enormous fake breasts.  And then we go to the bar.

“I love your nipples!” the girl squeals at Vanessa before we move on, as if she is commenting on her shoes.  I look down and her hand is squeezed down the front of Vanessa’s corset.  Well, these are the risks when you are married to a writer, I guess.

Ron does the rounds of the party, while Vanessa and I hit the bar and gawk.  The back patio is in a cloud of marijuana smoke.  Noting that we too have insomnia, depression, upset stomachs, we partake in some of this legal-in-California miracle drug.  How civilized!  “My compliments to your doctor.” I tell the guy who passed the pipe to us.  The key, we soon discover, is to look for camera flashes.  Every few minutes it would start, as if Lindsay Lohan had just entered the house.  Following the flashing lights you arrive at a scrum of onlookers and photographers as they watch a girl spreading her pussy, and listening patiently to the cries of: “A little wider baby!”, “Put your finger in your ass!”, or “More pink, hon!” from the crowd.  Over the course of the evening Ron would keep rejoining us, introduce us to the girls, and sneak us into rooms where the action was happening.  A girl in a red plastic minidress posed for pictures with Ron before turning her attention to me while waving a serious looking riding crop with a pink heart at it’s tip.

(PIC: Vanessa and friend)

“You should spank him!” Ron laughed.
“Ooooh!  Let me spank you!  Come on!”
Does this shit happen to Jonathan Safran Foer I wondered?  Ah shit, when in Rome…
“Hey!  No fair!  I hit your wallet!”
“No… no, seriously… that was perfect.”

(PIC 1: fun at the party PIC 2: a deeply shocked Tony, ha ha)

The porn people were particularly interested in Vanessa, as she was the only non-porno actress in the party.  I started to wish that her corset had come fitted with a padlock, as so many people had attempted to open it up during the evening.  At one point we were in a scrum of guys watching as a huge breasted redhead went down on a brunette who had shaved her pubic hair, and then had an intricate reproduction of a pubic patch tattooed right where the hair used to be.  A guy in a wheelchair, straining his neck to see looked up at Vanessa and, “Hey baby, you should join in!”
“Not tonight.  Tonight I’m a voyeur,” she laughed.

There are a few hours of such goings on before Ron asks, “You wanna go to The Rainbow?”   After another round of squeezing a girl's breasts to see how firm they are we are off.  On our way out a girl walks an enormous Collie into the room, which seems like a strange omen for where things might end up going in that house.  We all ride over to the Rainbow with a guy involved in All Media Play, the company responsible for a hardcore movies based on a number of classic American TV shows.
“We did, uh, well the Brady Bunch.  That’s a big hit at the moment.  We also have I Dream of Jeanie, Bewitched….” On the radio, Jennifer Rush is singing “The Power of Love” while the Brady Bunch guy (and occasional hairstylist) tries to navigate the tricky situation of whether a girl he met at the party is saying she wants to fuck him, or she wants to fuck him while her husband watches.  This calls for Ron’s expertise.
“What did she say exactly?”
“She said ‘We’re going to the Rainbow too.  If you need a ride you can catch one with us.’”
“Oh yeah.  He’ll be watching alright.”
“Shit.  That’s what I thought.”

(PIC: The Brady Bunch porno)

I tell Ron about the porno movie I was in back in my heroin days in LA.  It’s a story that made it into “Down and Out on Murder Mile”.  I was paid 50 bucks to show up to an abandoned hospital in Boyle Heights in a doctor’s outfit to be in a movie called “Snatch Adams”.  My deal was that I had to walk past a gangbang in the doctor’s get-up, make notes, and then walk on as if this kind of thing went on every day.
“Did they offer you more to take part?"
“Not me.  They offered my friend Speedball Eddie 50 bucks to be in a gangbang.”
“50 bucks!  Nah, they musta just needed him just for the pop shot, you know?  Did he do it?”
“Nah.  We had pressing matters to attend to, like getting high.  Anyway, if you’re waiting for a pop shot from a junkie…. I mean it could take all day.”
This cracks Ron up.  “Junkies and porn.  It’s a different world, right?”
“Not tonight, I guess.”

(PIC: Snatch Adams)

Ron starts telling me about a reality show he just finished up in the UK called “The Farm”.  He was on there with Flavor Flav, Lionel Blair (a perma tanned tap dancer who presented “Name that Tune” in the UK in the 80’s) and Keith Harris with Orville the Duck.
“Orville the Duck?  The green puppet that sang ‘I Wish I could Fly’?” I was furiously thinking, “How come I never saw this?”
“Yeah, that’s the one!  Orville won you know.  The little bastard just beat me!”
“What did you guys have to do?”
“Just… live on a farm.  Then the public vote people off.  I almost had it!  Second place, man.  That fucking duck won.”

(PIC: Keith Harris and Orville the Duck)

I smiled wistfully, thinking of my childhood afternoons sat in front of the TV watching “The Keith Harris Show”.  “I loved Orville when I was a kid.”
“That’s exactly why I lost!  All the Brits love Orville!  Like, listen man-“
He patted the director of the Brady Bunch porno on the shoulder.  He was still staring, perplexed at his phone.
“It’s like… it was like if it was an American show, and I was up against Captain Kangaroo.  I mean, come on!  How the fuck am I supposed to stand a chance against fucking Captain Kangaroo?  Oh, look guys, this is where River Phoenix OD’d!”

Ah yes, we were passing the Viper Room. Years ago I had played here with a band, supporting a hero of mine, Wayne Kramer from the MC5.  I injected a speedball in the toilet and puked all over myself.  Too much coke in there.  I was so fucked up I didn’t even get to see Wayne Kramer play.  By the time he was onstage, I was passed out in the back of a taxicab on my way to Pico-Union to meet a crack dealer.  I don’t have many regrets in my life, but that is definitely one of them.

“So,” Ron said, turning to the back seat as he pulled up on Sunset, “What did you guys think of the party?”
“Wild, man.  Totally fucking wild.”
Ron shrugged.  “I thought it was kinda tame myself.  Right?”
“Oh sure,” the Brady Bunch guy said, “Totally fucking bogus.  Too many dudes.  Not enough action.  Wish I’d stayed at home.”

(PIC: The Rainbow)

They were serious too.  I started to wonder what a wild night out for Ron Jeremy might look like.  The Rainbow itself would turn out to be nothing like a disappointment: with Ron Jeremy we were treated like royalty, whisked around from room to room, and witness to the frenzy of activity that an appearance by Ron can create in Hollywood.  Cameras flashed, and an endless parade of girls lined up to receive a breast signature from Ron.  At some point in the evening we were all dancing to “Sweet Home Alabama”, and this was one of my last clear memories of the night.  After that its breaks into fragments.  But there, on the dance floor, yet another young girl approached Ron and receives her own special benediction from the Pope of the Porno industry.
“Where are you sitting, honey,” Ron asks, shooting her a sly grin.
“Right over there,” she simpers, pointing to her table, “Where will you be sitting later?”
“On your face…”

I guess Bukowski got it right.  Shakespeare really never did this…