Where on the spectrum of loyalty and betrayal does song begin? And where does it end? I think each writer has to decide this over and over.
Hello my name is Moc and today I have make my first sex on camera. Just for you @ 1stsexoncamera.com
Let’s try that again, he said, just read the card he’s holding.
The card? she asked.
Hello my name is Moc and today I make my first sex on camera. Just for you @ first-sexy-on-camera.com
Try it again.
Hello my name is Moc and today I make sex with cameras. Just for you @ first-sexy-cameras.com
Say it com, not cum—do you know what that means?
Hello my name is Moc.
Can you stop? I asked you a question. Cum—don’t you know what that means?
Cum means open your mouth and take what I give you. Cum means open your fucking mouth and take it.
Good. Do you know what the redlight means?
It means fuck. Means fuck till I cum.
Fuck means cum?
How much I say?
You said 5000 much.
That’s what I said?
That was their exchange—and, Cut!—unfilmed. But later they’d pretend they’d just met each other, when they began filming, when the redlight lit red.
O fancy pantsing you here, what’s your name, beautiful? do you want to go back to your house and get better—ak-vaynt-ed was their pronunciation?
ON, we’re rolling… .
Moc, “the friend,” his pardner holding the camera—having dealt with the lights and mic—holding the cuecards too, because the girls could never be trusted to remember: Say the website’s address at the beginning, repeat it at the end, www., with shotwad slopping from your face.
They were just passing through.
Who are you? the girls would ask him, would ask the pardner, Who is he?
He’d answer, I’m just passing through. Hanging out. Hanging. As if a gunslinger from a Western, a drifting private eye. Doing the circuit, the stations, making passes. The tiny villages off the highway. Little tiny townlets far enough from the capital’s allures. He could’ve been a bonafide desperado, a bonded dick—none of these women, these girls, had met an American before.
Have you ever met an American before?
She shook her head, they shook her head into smoky curls, into corkscrews—Say, No.
And though it was the same script every time, each fall was as unique as its fallen:
In each Location—as they called every town where they porned—the first thing they’d do would be to identify the raggiest regional newspaper, where were sold birds not yet caught and deceased grandmothers’ furniture and preowned cats, the paper most people used to wrap fish in, to wrap trapped Rodentia for placement outdoors and severed limbs too, in the hope of reattachment—their ideal a paper that informed on local gossip while providing annual photos of the mayor in a goofy folkloristic helmet slaying a marionette dragon at Carnivaltime, this being the news most preferred. With papers like that rates were cheap for double columns in inksmudged color and half or even full page spreads, but they always requested something small so as to seem special, unobtrusive—a small box relegated to the crossword’s classifieds, a clue.
He and not his pardner, who’d always ask to place it himself, would place this advertisement and the ad would say: We want girls 18 to 25. Must be nice.
But it said all this in the wrong language, in this language—“the friend” didn’t know the right language, he never would, the language things were in over here. That was the problem that was, at the same time, an asset—that he only knew how to speak what was not spoken too well by must be nice girls 18 to 25.
He was from—I don’t know where he was from—Ohio, where his mother lived, say. He was big, broad, and jangly in big fat stretched college sweats, always sweatshirts, always sweatpants (he didn’t like zippers, he didn’t like teeth). A whole wardrobe of that mottled blackswirled collegiate gray—a color that exists nowhere in nature. He was a beerdrinker with a beergut like he’d swallowed a keg but also swollen all around—beerwrists, beerneck, beerknees. Eight countries’ worth of change in his pockets. He wore sandals, never socks.
Strange—I was always hearing about the no socks whenever I asked about his looks—his toes were long, his feet flat, apparently he was bowlegged.
But I’ve heard other things that conflict.
That despite being baggy—“skin like a paperbag,” said one woman who introduced herself on a streetcorner on my first morning abroad, a girl he’d propositioned at a public pool—he was actually a trifle handsome. He was bald, not bald, balding, with black plastic glasses, with bluetinted metal sunglasses in the aviator style. Prescription, nonprescription. Never with a baseballcap, never without one, glasses resting on the brim, no glasses but a single studly earring. Hanging down from the cap a fringe of grayish white hair like an uneven row of incisors grown from the back of his head.
“The friend” always with a toothpick. “The friend” never with a toothpick. The ladies asking, Who is toothpick?
I’ve also invented a lot, for you, for myself.
After his mother remarried—a soybean farmer—he moved in with his ailing father: Sandusky, then a suburb of Indianapolis, and then New York for two years for film school. His father paid tuition, incidentals.
Imagine, two years of incidentals: Central Park swanboating through springtime afternoons into one night stands with women from the same hall, from adjacent dorms, with divorced faculty who’d loan him keys to Harlem—the next mornings the endless circling for an uncrowded bagel brunch, before a mile of museums to trudge, jamming to gentri-fi in Brooklyn, gentri-lo-fi in Queens, buying skank weed in Washington Square.
And his face was said to be a square, though wrung loose, spongy, and he didn’t shave that often, he didn’t have to—he shaved down there more than he ever shaved more north. When it came down to it, he wore no underwear so that his erection poked its hyperactive contour through the sweats. Jingling testicular pockets stuffed with coin. His cut cock was as hairless as a tongue. And had a tongue’s dimensions when flaccid. When it came down to it, “the friend” had only one language fluently—this speech emerging slickly before the punctuating cash.
Whereas his girls had many languages among them: they spoke Slavics like Catholic Polish, irreligious Czech and Slovak, and Hungarian, which is not Slavic, and Orthodox Ukrainian and Russian, which are.
Moc—which was or is her name, whether it’s a pornonym or not I didn’t know then, I couldn’t have—is a word common to all Slavic languages but with multiple meanings and in not two of those languages does it mean the same thing. In Czech, moc means “extremely,” “very,” or “much,” and in Slovak moc means that too, but it also means (I’ve been told, I have no way to gauge for myself ) “might,” or “force,” while in Polish moc means something like “might” as well, though I’ve been told it’s more accurately “strength,” or possibly “power.”
How do I look? they’d ask unclothed, disrobed from solo showers, embedded.
Look good? and, Good, “the friend” would answer from atop her, or from behind the camera if he’d let Yury indulge, Moc good.
Men had used guns and fountainpens previously. They shot hot bullets into the mouth of the enemy or wrote vast scrolling poems to denounce their close friends—and this was how a life was destroyed. Several ounces of dun lead in the skull or O your politics are as ideologically corrupt / as an autumn without pears. And only memory would remain until the last remembrancer, he who squeezed the trigger or wrote the rhyme, had perished himself, his memory gone with him—but then they invented the camera and nothing would be forgotten again.
Moc was then—Describe yourself.
Use your fantasy, your imagination—your sister as model if sister you have.
As blackbrown hair with streaks of blonder dye like the markings of an insecure woodland pest runover by a van on a highway also striped like her hair, eyes bluewhite—but raptured with revelry’s conjunctival bloom in the stills he took for his personal album, the tattered scrapbook “the friend” kept in the glovebox, along with the maps, Yury’s ammunition—just a barrette over 5’, converted from the metrics she gave, 105.821 lb. the same.
In her purse was an apple, at bottom the tobacco from a broken cigarette like a crushed finger.
And her phone, stored in it the last number she’d dialed or that had dialed her. (“The friend” kept boxes of new phones in the glovebox too—a new number sometimes each village, sometimes each trip.)
Her wiping up with a towel—having dumped the phone and apple from the purse to locate her lighter—was the last shot in her vid. A light for that comminute cig. Or to spark the mortal kindling around her.
But then the lens fluttered its lashes, blinked its cap—and she wasn’t there, she wasn’t only there:
Moc wasn’t at home anymore, Moc was home already.
Whereas “the friend” lived in the capital. An expiscatory expat who’d recently sunk the bulk of his inheritance from his father’s death back in Indiana (diabetes???) into a gorgeous old palace in the old city center. Wainscot for the halls, bespoke boiseries for the rooms, faux chambres set with arched fireplaces like windows—windows to flame, to hell—pastel friezes arched above the doorways depicting either nobles hunting a stag or a stag running away from a band of men intent on pinning it down, forcing it to admit what it really symbolized—Nature, innocence or freedom, art thou Christ?
The stag ran around and around the rooms, above the doors, insouciantly gallivanting mantels, gamboling sills, threatening to shatter the rosette and tulip moldings, the ceramic tiled stove. The parlor areas—there were perhaps three proper parlors plus two possible bedrooms he also referred to as parlors—he’d left flagrantly unfurnished: windy spaces canvassed with renovation’s remnants, plastering arras, blank tapestries of polymer sheeting.
Even the Master Bedroom, the only bedroom occupied, was bereft—just a sleepingbag strewn small on the floor like a leaf fallen from a crude fresco of trees (eastern wall through northern wall continuous). The bathrooms were highly ceilinged—with a stock of mints in each bidet—the hallways long and, since he didn’t use any of the unreconstructed salons they connected to, utterly pointless. Only parquetry buffing the reflections of chandeliers—and of the screens on every surface: in the Master Bed, the Master Bath, suspended above the elevator doors, screens for screening, for televisionwatching and movies, screens for editing, for web support and maintenance, screens for power failures and backups (hooked to a somniloquent standby generator), screens for screens in banks.
The main entrance to all this flaunted an anteroom entirely empty except for a single tabling entity—a mediumsized chest or toppled armoire cluttered with par avion and torn aspirin packets—that he called the piano though it was, in truth, a harpsichord. He never played it but sat on its stool occasionally and when he looked at the stool and saw, instead, a steeringwheel, he knew it was to time to get moving.
He was hardly at this home, however, and so did most of his living, as he did most of his editing—his editable living—in transit. On the road. Always being driven by that swarthy pard with the spray of sesame seeds across his face—potentially a birth condition—and breath that smelled of “pomace” (according to the dictionary of one interviewee—an evenbanged brunette with diacritic zits who contacted your correspondent about a week after he landed incountry—who gave Yury’s name as Ilgiz Irekovich, said he was partially Tatar and the father of her child).
Barreling in that bloodred van (all the interview subjects mentioned that, as red as blood), from borders as illegible as signatures, to checkpoints blurry like their stamps. While idling at a crossing, the joke was: Where’s the separate lane for the Americans? The guards kept the envelopes they were handed, sealed—they didn’t need to be reminded of their lines.
From goatweed town to village, the farther away the better, the better chance at gullibility on the part, and it was a part played, of the girl. Same gist, different oblast. But never getting so far from civilization—twin crowhaired Gypsy subjects stated that Yury had told them—that they’d lose their signals: their phone reception, a dependable internet connection (who were the sources for the rest of this? bartenders and barbouncers and disco DJs, an incompetent candidate for a regional legislature, the owner of a settlement’s only electronics outlet where Yury had bought brake fluid and nine volt batteries once, and, of course, obviously, local girls—girls who’d declined advances, girls with kasha teeth and bellies like pregnant dumplings who swore they’d refused “the friend,” who promised they hadn’t been refused by him—never a girl eventually filmed, never One who’d become a star).
Usually the morning after they’d met at whichever hamlet’s lone bar or wannabe club he’d call her whose number he’d tattooed dramatically along an arm in the midst of frenzied dancing—he’d call early to disorient, waking the girl only to do her the favor of giving her an hour, for her parents to clear out for work, for her to apply razor, makeup, brush (he and Yury slept in the van or, if awake, “the friend” would flip through last night’s polaroids).
They’d arrange an interview as if this were a professional engagement—this was a professional engagement—meeting for creamed coffees at the hamlet’s sole barclub reopened by morning as a canteen serving what can now be confirmed as a light but succulent Frühstück (when “the friend” wanted to persuade through intelligence he’d find the German word).
There he might ask straight out to see some identification. The other conceit was inducement: he might neg and argue and feign incredulity, convincing the girl it was her idea to show it to him—figuring if she’d spread her wallet, she’d spread something else.
It was only when he saw her sum that he solicited (with allowances, reportedly, for girls whose age of consent was within a year or two or three).
After this vetting the appointment might adjourn to the van, its wheels astride the canteen’s curb, where Yury, bleary, would buckle the girl up front and interpret the terms on the dash—explaining, or obscuring, the particulars involved, then guiding her hand to fondle the appropriate releases (“This is a translated contract, it says the same as it does in English,” except it doesn’t).
Though obviously an encounter like this was no guarantee, especially not when compared to an email—the prospects who’d responded to the ad, the pursued pursuing, seeking stigma with alingual typos.
That ad, being untranslated, flattered:
It said, If you can understand this you’re special and deserve to be treated specially, you’re the elect, lucky enough to give us an address and we’ll drive up direct, hump our grip up 18 flights of stairs to knock on your door (the elevators having been installed out of order)—you’ll open and greet us, you’ll hug us and kiss us, you’ve won us, we’ll ply you with substance in thanks, then strip and fuck you for posterity—with your husbands and fathers and boyfriends out belaboring the docks and hangars, ensconced behind their paleotechnic computer terminals the size of motelrooms, slobby in their pinching jeans and unironic tshirts, too tired to prevent or remedy.
You don’t have to leave your tower, which was an identical copy of the prior tower visited, you don’t have to leave your apartment, which was a perfect clone of the previous “flat”—a number of the females surveyed spoke a studious Anglo-English—you don’t even have to be sober, shouldn’t have to be sober again (the substances provided were vodochka, a nailbite of cocaine). If porn was concrete, these girls were cement—cement being the most important component of concrete, what makes concrete stick, what makes it bind, the rest is just sand, water, and air—without these girls, the porn would never adhere, the screens would go blank, the towers would crumble.
In winter, on a junket to a smaller burg whose snow and ice kept the populace indoors, “the friend” proposed to meet a girl vanside, parking that bloodbright mobile in the square by the townhall and plague column, by the manger and tree, by the monuments to horsebacked wars saddling generations with occupation. He drove the girl to her dacha—which was abandoned for the season—where they dressed a tripod in her clothes for a scarecrow, put a picnic blanket down and thawed the garden.
Another winter another dacha, but this dacha used yearround since the family had been evicted from their permanent residence for nonpayment. The girl’s deaf or blind or both deaf and blind grandmother was exiled to the kitchen, while Mama—laid off from her banktelling shift, home from selling knitwear in the market—joined in her horny self—no need to look at her ID.
However, all prospectives were made aware: if there were ever any parental or supervisory issues that rendered filming in their cinderblock villa or cottage not feasible, or just undesirable, “the friend” was prepared to relocate to virtually any area cemetery, junkyard, or gully and fuck in the back bay of the sanguineous van—amid the hubby spare tires and jutting jack, the encompassing external drives and menagerie of woofers and tweeters—with always newly purchased, still in its shrink plastic bedding rolled down: latex beneath her, latex inside.
They’d make do with the van instead of renting a room or putting up at a pension—but was this because the accommodations available were so horrible (the bedbugs scuffling, hatched from the sconces)? or because when a room was cheap, its trouble was free? As policy, shakedown money, to neighborhood operators or the mafiavory, never was paid. Yury kept a gun in his pants, the uncircumcised coming more naturally than feminine circumspection. This amateurishness, a voluble amateurishness, was their aesthetic, all of theirs.
And finally—after the rubber was removed to unleash another manner of voluble across a girl’s eyebrows—there’d be an outro Q & A, postmortem.
How much did you like it?
I liked it moc! very much!
Last session, “the friend” had mislaid the cards, and a vibrating pouch of dildos and lube, and so here he’d had to improvise—with bottoms ripped from pizzaboxes scrawled across with marker:
“My name is YOUR NAME. Today I had my first sex on camera.”
Say it, he said, waving the cardboard spotted with cheesegobs and grease.
My name is YOUR NAME, today I—but this peroxidized little sister of a girl he’d had the previous Easter was interrupted by a drip in her eye.
Just for you @, “the friend” prompted, and the sister, who’d been sororally recommended, repeated.
That day might have seen this girl’s first sex on camera, but not on film—nobody used film. Rather they used a format more indestructible, yet even more evanescent—Digital. “The friend’s” digit dangled at its largest size, glabrousized. Then shrank at 60 frames per second.
After the redlight was no light, was dead light, it was his turn in the shower. He toweled his cock dry, put it to sleep in the cinch of a drawstring.
Yury was packed.
By the time our peroxider had gathered her halter and mini and arose—she’d ascended—upon her pleather stilettos, “the friend” had seeped through his pants.
Joshua Cohen is the author of three novels—Witz, A Heaven of Others, and Cadenza for the Schneidermann Violin Concerto. Sent, excerpted here, is included in his collection of novellas, Four New Messages, forthcoming from Graywolf Press in August.
Where on the spectrum of loyalty and betrayal does song begin? And where does it end? I think each writer has to decide this over and over.