April 13, 2006
Sex at the Skirball
When sexy authors like Erica Jong and Jerry Stahl get together onstage, you expect fireworks. But when I drag my friend Kay up to Skirball for the Writers Bloc conversation, the room is too bright, and Kay tells me Jong's blue-framed eyeglasses and gold necklace make her come off more Carol Channing than "sex goddess."
"Sex goddess" is how Writers Bloc founder Andrea Grossman introduces Jong, known for her 1973 literary sensation, "Fear of Flying." Now 64, Jong has a new memoir, "Seducing the Demon," which seduced most of the middle-aged women into coming tonight.
"Of course that's why I'm here," says a woman in a Princess Cruises pumpkin-colored pantsuit. "Her book had such a big effect."
"I wanted to see what she's up to now," adds the female half of a baby boomer couple sitting near us.
Two hipsters in berets and leather (Stahl fans?) complete the scene in the Skirball's Haas room.
Stahl wrote his own 1999 sexual memoir, "Perv -- A Love Story," and his first book, 1995's "Permanent Midnight," a memoir about his time as a drug-addicted TV writer, became a Ben Stiller movie. Kay finds heroin a tired literary cliché. But at the first mention of "sex" she perks up as a bent smile lifts one side of Stahl's mouth.
And we're off!
But instead of gland-to-gland combat, what we're witnessing is an intimate exchange -- sex talk in the salon. Jong, called by Grossman "a lightning rod for the last 30 years," comes off strong in front of a crowd. Stahl plays it self-deprecatory. The one-time creator of Penthouse Letters mixes the right combination of dirty talk and fawning to coax Jong into going for the water bottle. In her newest confessional, Jong writes about sleeping with Martha Stewart's husband. Stahl quips that he did the same with Stewart's husband.
"Martha's a sister," Kay whispers. "Erica shouldn't go around bad-mouthing her."
But she digs the quick, black-clad Stahl. He generously lets Jong bang her political gong to make points against fundamentalist anti-Semites and fixed elections. And when she mentions Justice Sandra Day O'Connor "worried about a drift toward fascism," Stahl says he slept with her, too.
"How was she?" Jong asks.
"Brittle," Stahl replies. "But rightward leaning."
He teases Jong into enticing us with a tale from "Seducing the Demon," about a British poet (her demon muse) whom she resisted with a sudden revelation: "I can't [sleep with] this guy ... he's an anti-Semite!"(Didn't Larry David do something similar on "Curb Your Enthusiasm"?)
Then, in keeping with a Skirball tradition, someone in the audience shouts out: "Can't hear you!"
"Sorry," Stahl says. "We're all getting old. Some go deaf. I just speak quietly."
This segues into what we came for: Jong taking on taboos.
Her next book? A study of her father's death. She says death and aging are taboo because we're in denial. But being 64 offers a unique perspective.
"Death starts taking everyone around you," Jong says. And at the same time, "your kids in their 20s become very needy. So here you are in between these two generations."
Sounds like a whole new area for her "to blow open," Stahl prods.
"We all end up a heap of chemicals and a black spot on the ground," Jong says. "Within a year there's nothing there except the words you left behind."
Aging and death. How the baby boomers have turned! Luckily, these two discuss elderly sex.
People with Alzheimer's make love, Stahl says, "like there's no tomorrow."
Jong describes nursing homes where bed hopping has become de rigueur.
"I'm thinking about investing in designer diapers," says Stahl, drawing laughs. "Seriously."
Wham bam, pass the Depends? By the time the gal in the orange pantsuit asks about Jackie Collins, Kay has heard enough.
"How about an interview with the Skirball landscape artist?" she says. "That's impressive work."
Hank Rosenfeld just helped Irv Brecher compete his memoir on aging and sex and Groucho Marx, called "Go for the Jocular!"