I sat in the car for several minutes, just watching the crowd slowly file into the bookstore. I wanted to join them – a part of me even felt like I deserved to join them. They were there to see Ron Jeremy, the plump porn star who was in town to promote his new autobiography, The Hardest (Working) Man In Show Biz. It wouldn’t have been completely bizarre for me to stroll inside and take a seat next to Ron. After all, I had devoted a year of my life to helping him write his book. But I also knew that doing so would’ve been a little awkward. It was Ron’s moment in the spotlight, and there was really no point in my being there. I couldn’t escape the feeling that I was like a surrogate mother who had decided to crash her kid’s birthday party.
It’s difficult to say just how much credit I deserve for Ron’s book. I wasn’t technically the ghostwriter, as Ron did graciously agree to give me a byline. But at the same time, calling myself a “co-writer” might be a little too generous. A co-writer implies a shared partnership, and I doubt if that’s something that Ron, even with his charitable nature, has any interest in. It is his life story, and I mostly helped him give it some kind of narrative structure. But even so, it’s unsettling to watch one of your books get unleashed on the world and feel like it doesn’t really belong to you.
Of course, I’d be lying if I didn’t claim at least a small surge of pride when the freakin’ New York Times gave it a glowing review, and what’s more, name-checked me several times. Not only is it my first book review in the Times, I’m pretty sure it’s my first book review in which the words “big” and “penis” are used in the same sentence.
Since the review came out, I’ve been getting congratulatory phone calls from friends and family, and I’m never quite sure how to react. A few of them have even asked me to autograph their copy, and while I’m happy to oblige, I usually wonder if I should sign my own name or Ron’s. More often than not, I just try to avoid the subject entirely. “It was just a job,” I’ll tell them. “It doesn’t really have much to do with me.” But I’m only human, and if they push hard enough, I can be easily coaxed into a rambling monologue about “what Ron is really like,” or even an anecdote or two from Ron’s colorful past.
But sometimes I worry that I’m losing all perspective. It’s too easy to forget that these are somebody else’s stories. Have I become so immersed in Ron’s life that I no longer have any concept of where his life ends and mine begins? Do I even know the difference anymore? I’ve become accustomed to talking and writing about Ron in the first person. When you get too comfortable with personal pronouns, it’s only a matter of time before you start confusing your written memories with your actual memories. Any trace of emotional detachment is out the window, and pretty soon you find yourself having casual conversations with friends and saying things like, “That reminds me of a funny story. When I was shooting What’s The Lesbian Doing In My Pirate Movie?, we ran out of lube and I had to run out to CostCo to pick up a box. Oh man, if you could’ve seen the look on the checkout girl’s face. Priceless!”
A few months ago, I was asked to take part in the Writers With Drinks reading series in San Francisco. I considered reading from one of my own books, but there was a small part of me that wanted to share a few juicy excerpts from Ron’s book instead. When it comes to crowd-pleasing tales, you really can’t do much better. I even have a wealth of material that never made it into the final version, and some of it is pretty wild stuff. Working with cross-dressing porn directors in New York, co-stars who put metal spikes through their balls, and at least one story involving Sammy Davis Jr. and a bowling pin. (Don’t ask.) I could do twenty minutes alone on Ron’s decision to abstain from porn on Yom Kippur. (For the record, he still directs girl-girl scenes during the High Holy Days.)
But in the end, I decided against it. Ron’s book was already getting plenty of attention without my help. And more importantly, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be his literary stand-in anymore. His stories are all hilarious, sure, and filled with enough guaranteed laugh lines to make most writers salivate like Pavlov dogs. But even if some of the words belonged to me, the content was still borrowed. Every time the audience laughed, I would know that the laughs were meant for somebody else. It’s one thing to be a whore, it’s quite another to become the literary equivalent of Rich Little.
These are the thoughts that went through my head as I drove down to San Francisco and sat in my car outside of the Virgin megastore. I’m not sure how long I waited there, trying to muster the courage to walk inside and at least stand silently in the background. It might’ve been nice to watch Ron greet his fans and talk about the book that, even if I was never openly acknowledged, was at least partly my doing. But I couldn’t bring myself to make that leap. It still seemed like asking too much. And I knew, at least in the back recesses of my mind, that I secretly hoped Ron would invite me onstage with him, and we could take turns reading from his book, like dueling banjos but without the inevitable sodomy.
Instead, I drove back to Sonoma and met with friends for a late-night cocktail. I told them about skipping out on Ron’s reading, and they agreed that it was probably for the best. After finishing far too many scotches, somebody finally asked what I knew was coming eventually.
“Tell us a Ron story.”
“I really shouldn’t,” I said.
“Oh, come on,” they insisted. “Just one.”
“Well, okay.” I took a deep breath and launched into one of my favorite tales. “The year is 1978. Ron’s at the infamous Plato’s Retreat sex club in New York, washing his penis in the restroom sink…”
My friends giggled. They already knew how this one ended, but they listened intently anyway. I suppose I should’ve felt like a failure. Once again, I had caved to the pressure and became the surrogate mother who didn’t know how to let go. But it occurred to me that maybe, in at least a small way, I really did own a piece of these anecdotes after all. Not publicly, of course, but at least in these private moments, surrounded by people who understood the difference, it didn’t feel so much like stealing. I finally understood what it must be like for those writers who collect folklore, or devote their careers to translating Russian novels. The stories may not have originated with me, but after spending so much time with them, studying their rhythms, learning them inside and out, I was better than most at telling them.
My friends laughed at each well-timed punchline, as they always did. Somewhere down in the city, Ron Jeremy was probably getting a similar reaction to that very same story. But while he was surrounded by dozens of adoring fans and reporters clamoring for his attention, I was with a small gathering of friends who treated each story like a shared secret, one that could only repeated in hushed conversations in the dark corners of a bar.
And somehow, that seemed exactly as it should be.
(This story originally appeared on TheNerouvBreakdown.com)