Tuesday, October 07, 2008

A Night to Remember: Amorous Travels in Time and Space, episode 4

Cliffhangers—yeah, they keep the pages turning, but there is a downside. Sometimes all the suspense leads to a disappointing denouement—a ho-hum crash at the bottom of the drop--which is just what I’m afraid will happen in my penultimate LA Book Tour blog entry. Because now I am actually getting to the “climax” of the trip I’ve promised for so long, the part you’d definitely have to write home about if you had understanding parents…. But no more mystery, gentle readers, it’s time to tell all about my visit to Dr. Susan Block’s Speakeasy.

Dr. Suzy is a sex therapist, TV and radio show host and all around “peace through pleasure” personality. She’s running for Vice President and would definitely make America a better place than Sarah Palin! She’s also a Yale graduate and a good friend of the awesome LA-based erotica writer, Stan Kent, who has often enjoyed Dr. Suzy’s firm hand when he appears on her show. It was Stan who introduced me to Dr. Suzy and helped me get an invitation to talk about Amorous Woman on her radio show. I’m trying to get a link to the show, which aired through Blog Talk Radio, but it hasn’t been posted yet. I’ll let you know when I get that information!

But the show itself is only half of the story. The drama and darkness around it is what got my heart pounding, but then I am easily aroused. What am I talking about? Well, I’d briefly considered renting a car to have my own transportation after my sister returned to New York on Saturday, but ultimately decided I’d be much less stressed out if I relied on cabs—I probably did end up saving money that way as well. However, that meant I’d need a cab back from downtown LA after midnight on Saturday, which was also a bit stressful to contemplate. All this to say, there were some question marks on how I’d get home that night. However, I handled this the way I’ve dealt with most of my book promotion activities—I didn’t really think about it until the time arrived.

I did gather a few phone numbers of cab companies and felt all ready to go when my brother-in-law pulled up in front of the Speakeasy address on a deserted warehouse district street at 10 pm. I innocently pulled out my cell phone to call in to the official number to have someone let me in through the gated door--only to have my first shock of the evening. For some reason, my cell phone had gone wacko and was only showing letters when I tried to punch in the proper phone number. Now, I’m barely able to manage the basics of a cell phone and this really threw me for a loop. My sister wanted to get back to her hotel to get some sleep before a fiendishly early flight, Dr. Suzy was waiting, and I needed some way to get in touch with a cab to get home because I sure wasn’t walking the fifteen dark and scary miles! After about twenty frantic minutes, we rebooted the phone and it was back to normal, but I was already sweating, although I no longer had to worry about showing up early.

We were let in by a smiling woman with a Dalai Lama pendant and led upstairs in an old-fashioned elevator. Or maybe I should call it a time machine, because as the creaking doors opened, I was inside Dr. Susan Block’s world—there’s no other word to describe it really, because it certainly wasn’t the LA of the Beverly Hills Hotel, Starline Tours and Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. The Speakeasy was altogether different, a cavernous loft space that seemed to exist in another dimension—New York City in 1969 perhaps? The smells and sights were straight from the flower child era, the vast, funky eclecticism reminded me very much of the Bowery loft where my sister first lived in 1983 with a collection of bohemian artist friends.

The Speakeasy is many things all at once: part museum, part art gallery, part party space, part living quarters for Dr. Suzy’s laid-back and wonderfully friendly group of pleasure-loving peace-niks. I was cordially welcomed and given a tour of the place by Mar, who also assured me he could call a cab after the show and it wouldn’t require reserving an hour in advance as the Magic Castle-recommended cab company had warned (whew!). In fact, none of Dr. Suzy’s crew drove a car, which confirmed my suspicion that the place was in fact located in some alternate version of NYC.

I was definitely not in a familiar world and yet it was very familiar, too. In many ways, Hollywood and Beverly Hills were “dreams come true” in that places existing only in my imagination were suddenly real. Dr. Suzy’s headquarters was similar in that regard—it was the kind of place we all imagine erotica writers live in or at least frequent for the wild sex parties they shamelessly lift for their next not-so-fictional story. The walls were hung with huge paintings with erotic themes. Glass cases housing arty dildoes were arranged here and there. Countless tapes of past shows with provocative titles were filed on shelves. Superannuated video cameras hung from the ceiling like Christmas ornaments. In fact, it’s always holiday time at Dr. Suzy’s—the bar area has a Christmas tree year round, and of course there’s a bondage cross, a necessity for any happening get-together (I don’t seem to have a picture although I thought I took one—perhaps the spirits wouldn’t allow it?).

In the back was a huge kitchen, obviously equipped to cook for a crowd, and only from here were the lights of LA visible. Huge, old-fashioned meat grinders were fixed to a butcher block table, an entire library of spices filled one wall. Back in the timeless, windowless darkness, I saw some samples of the special pleasure chairs Dr. Suzy designed and sells on her web site. Believe me, they’re even more interesting in motion!

And of course there was Dr. Suzy’s famous bed where she interviews guests for the TV show. I was amused to see the Yalie memorabilia—for God, for country and for Yale, indeed!

The tour was compelling enough that I pretty much forgot I was nervous about being on the radio and before I knew it, I was hooked up with my headphones and microphone and Dr. Suzy was introducing me as tonight’s guest on the show. I have to say this part was the true highlight of the day. First of all, Dr. Suzy has the sexiest voice ever and it was a pleasure to listen to her. Secondly, she clearly had read my book and seemed to have genuinely enjoyed it---which I understand is not very common with hosts (I love Jon Stewart, but would bet he’d only read one of the books by the people he’s interviewed in all the shows I’ve seen). Her intelligence, curiosity and generosity were so very obvious throughout and she made me feel relaxed and interesting (which is key as a host, even if it’s not true). I may not have had the easiest path of book promotion ever, but my radio show hosts have been amazing women!

We got only one caller, a man who was interested in hooking up with an older Japanese woman, and again I was impressed with how Dr. Suzy handled his questions with acceptance and humor. It turns out the show went for 90 minutes, but the time certainly went by fast. Before I knew it, we were off the air and taking our commemorative photos—it would truly be a night to remember!

Mar called the cab, which arrived within ten minutes as promised, and he led me down the back way to the street, flashlight in hand. The unlit stairway felt like another jolt in time and place—now we were in a tenement in 1870s New York or perhaps the set of the movie Scrooge. I kept waiting for a ghostly hearse to drive past us, the driver called “Merry Christmas, Guv’ner.” Once on the street, we spied the cab waiting and I dashed inside with a final thank you. An older Asian man with an expressionless face sat in the driver’s seat. He looked friendly enough, but never smiled. The windows were all wide open and at 1 in the morning, the desert air was moist and cool. After a few blocks, the driver stopped his car in the deserted street and got out. Okay, I was a little bit…concerned. Why were we stopping? But he only meant to raise the windows for my comfort—apparently this could only be done by pulling the window pane up by grabbing the edge with his hand and pulling!

We rolled on through the night, passing lumps of bodies lying on the sidewalks, streetwalkers in mini-skirts posing on the street corners. To be honest, this real and gritty Bladerunner part of LA was just a little too close for my liking, but soon enough we were back on the freeway, racing toward familiar neon-lit Hollywood. The driver pulled up in front of the Magic Castle Hotel and I handed him two twenties, this time my generous tip was from the heart. The night clerk cheerfully handed me my complimentary bottle of chilled water and, still talky, I mentioned I’d been on a radio show. He acted mildly impressed, but didn’t ask more.

I walked past the pool, up to my second floor room, passing through a group of other guests huddled on the stairway smoking and drinking in their own impromptu celebration of life's sensual indulgences. I let myself back into my room and nibbled on the Andes mint that had been left by the turn-down service. Never had I been so glad to be “home.” There’ve been a few times in my life when I’ve been alone in threatening places after dark and I remember them all very clearly—I’ll remember this one, too. But it will be mixed in with a traveler’s wonder at glimpsing another place and in this case another time as well. I do think every erotica writer has a Speakeasy loft inside her head waiting to stage the next edgy adventure. I had the opportunity to step right into it in the flesh and be part of it for a few hours, if only on my own safely voyeuristic terms.

It was a journey I I never thought I’d take—but I’m glad I did. Thanks again, Lydia!


Jeremy Edwards said...

Donna, your powers of description are truly amazing! You've evoked every facet of the experience so expertly that—clichéd though it sounds—I feel as if I'd been there.

I am eagerly awaiting the archived Dr. Suzy show!

[Wow. My spamword, pjtmmmeq, is my longest one ever. And that's also a record number of sequential m's, if I'm not mistaken.]

EllaRegina said...

Again, wow!

Have you considered writing noir? Erotica/noir? You really know how to set a scene.

Loved those "Dr. Seuss ironing board" pleasure chairs...

Don't stop! More! More!

And I cannot wait to hear the show!

Donna said...

Hey you guys, thanks. I was nervous about this one as I'd set it up as something big. I mean, it was big for me, being out alone in downtown LA after midnight, kind of like that movie Something Wild--I think that was the title. I'm the nerdy Princeton girl...but then Dr. Suzy went to Yale, so there you go!

Craig Sorensen said...

Hear, hear to what Jeremy and EllaRegina said. This was an absolutely wonderful tour; I felt like I was along with you for the ride.

Anonymous said...

I'm really looking forward to hearing the show too!

I can understand how such an event was "big for [you]." I have felt the same way in similar situations and am glad it worked out safely for you.

And to echo what has already been commented here, your descriptions of the Speakeasy were fabulous!