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California Dream

A nice Jewish boy with an Ivy League degree tells his parents that he has moved to L.A. to make porn. An excerpt from the memoir American Gangbang.

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“Hey, come off it, you can tell me,” I said. “Do you have some coffee addict coming to lay on your couch every Wednesday and Friday? That sounds weird.”

“Enough. I assume you’re just being fractious.”

“Yes, David, I am just being fractious,” I replied to my father “Just totally fractious. You have me figured out.”

He sighed. “So. To what do I owe the pleasure of your call?”

“Nothin’ much,” I said nonchalantly. “Just that I’ll be sending you a check in the mail quite soon.”

“Is my birthday coming up so soon?” He laughed.

“No, Dad,” I scolded him. “Don’t you remember that grand that I borrowed from you way back?”

“Yes, of course,” my dad said, his voice darkening. “For your—movies.”

“Exactly!” I said. “Well, I can finally afford to get it back to you. Isn’t that cool?”

“Very much so,” my dad said, guardedly. “Now, if you ever need any money, like, say, if you ever decided to go back to school, or something of that order, I want you to know you can always depend on me and your mother—”

“You’re missing the whole point,” I said. “I’m calling to tell you I don’t need to borrow money from you anymore! I thought you’d be happy.”

“I am happy,” said my father. “Maybe.” He paused. “What are you doing for your money these days, if I may ask?”

“Same old, same old. You know.” I paused, then picked up the word and tossed it at him, like a tiny little bomb. “Porno.”

“Ugh,” he sighed. “I can’t quite reconcile myself to the knowledge that this is what you want to do with your life.”

“I want to be an artist, Dad, and—”

“Yes, yes,” he said irritably, “we went through this whole line of reasoning once before. Yet for some strange reason, I still haven’t been able to see what porn’s got to do with art.”

“That’s because you don’t have my vision,” I said smugly. “No one does.”

“Then tell me. For the love of God, tell me. What special things are you doing out there in California, that makes videos of people having sex become art?”

“I just—I mean—” He had me there. “Well, right now I’m concentrating on making money. And believe me, I’m making it.”

“Perhaps your artistic goals have been proven slightly unrealistic?” said my father.

“Money’s where I’m at right now!” I bellowed. “But I’m still on my mission. You just wait, I’m going to put something together really soon.”

“All right. Calm yourself. Don’t yell at me. I’m still your father.”

“I’ll speak how I darn well please,” I grumbled. “I’ve got a mind to send you a tape of my recent work, so you can screen it for your clients.”

“Don’t,” my dad said, calmly. “And I’m saying please.”

“Well, then why don’t you just trust me? I mean, Dad, seriously! You wouldn’t believe the place that I’m living in. We have a huge pool, and a giant refrigerator, and the view? It’s spectacular.”

“California’s always been one of the more beautiful states,” my father said, patiently.

“Man, I don’t believe this. You should be proud of me! Hell, Dad, I made almost two grand this week. It’s the easiest money in the world!”

“How long do you need to do this?” he asked. “How long?”

I sighed, long and deep. I held the phone at arm’s length and looked at it. But then I brought it back. “Look. I really have no fucking clue, Dad. Maybe for a while. Maybe not.”

“And then what? Got any plans? Teaching nursery school, perhaps?”

I laughed, in spite of myself. “I may have placed myself out of that job.”


“Can you just have faith in me, Dad? Can you trust the person I am?”

“I do trust you. I love you. But sometimes I really wonder.”

“About what?”

“If you’re doing as well as you say you are.”

“Gee, thanks for the consult,” I said.

“Free of charge. Family rate.”

“OK, deep pockets. I guess I won’t be sending you that check, then?”

“No, no,” he said, calmly. “By all means. Send the check.”


I called my father, to discuss the new frontier, the open road.

“David,” I said, “you’re just not going to believe what I’ve come up with now.”

“Let me sit down,” he grumbled.

“Ever heard of a penile implant? I’m seriously considering getting one. Very minor operation, from what I hear.”

“For the love of God. Ellen, get in here! Your son’s completely lost it!”

“Kidding, Dad,” I said. “My Johnson’s fine. Actually, it’s quite large.”

“What a terrible thing to joke about,” he groused. “Ellen. Go away. Off the phone. Crisis averted.”

“No,” I said. “Actually, I’m moving on. Leaving porno.”

“Excellent,” my dad said, still breathing hard. “Finally, you’ve come to your senses.”

“Yep, I’m ready to become a contributing member of society.”

He coughed, perturbed, probably suspecting I was still joking.

“Would you mind me asking what led you to this grand decision?”

“I’m just done with it, I guess.”

“You should have been done with it years ago,” he grumbled. “Never mind. What does your future hold? School, perhaps?”

“I’m thinking more in terms of Thailand,” I said, relishing the smack of the word in my mouth. “From what I understand, there’s a fasting program going on there. Deep in the jungle, centered around eliminating waste from your digestive tract by mechanical means. Quite expensive, of course, but very cutting-edge.”

“Ellen,” called my dad, “I’m sorry, dear, I need you back. I’m going to faint, so you’ll have to talk to your son.”

“Sam,” my mom said, picking up the phone, “what are you doing? Why are you torturing your father?”

“I’ve done nothing, Mom,” I said. “I told him I was quitting porn, and he just went crazy.”

“Well?” my mother asked. She waited. “Is it true?”

“It is,” I said simply.

“When are you thinking about ending your job?”

“Pronto. I’m training this new guy, and when he’s ready, I’m out.”

“And then? What will you do then?”

“I’ll leave L.A., for a while at least. I just don’t really want to be here anymore. I don’t want to be around it.”

“Feel like telling me why?”

“It just—well, porn wasn’t what I thought it would be.”

My mom sighed, then laughed. “Nothing ever is.”

Excerpted from American Gangbang by Sam Benjamin. Copyright © 2011 by Sam Stern. Reprinted by permission of Gallery Books, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

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I visualize Tablet’s commenters as they, like Sam’s parents, wheel themselves over to the hospital and have brain aneurysms.

Verificationist says:

Sam, how boorish to make us read all this dialogue without once mentioning an actual title, so we, the faithful readers of Tablet, can judge for ourselves whether your time was well spent.

Of all the parental conversation topics you could dream, this has to be near the top of the “most hilariously awkward.” My folks had it easy, by comparison.

Must be nice to “produce” porn. Instead of having parentals fork over $$$ for tuition for those expensive fun degrees, you should be out /starring directing porn and making $$$ to pay them back!

Hopefully this story is his first step on the road to Teshuva. I hope he learns and grows from it all. Good luck, Sam.

Kathryn Hanley says:

If I may posit an alternate title – Lazy Man’s Research Project.

My concern is not so much for the pornographers but for the so-called actors who must think that they are making a noble gift, that, on some level, they are saving others from having to go through the same exploration and very kinesthetic search for a soulmate (or to give up the hope for one). Imagine having people have access to your O face but having no idea when they were seeing you?! At least if you run into an ex-husband or ex-girlfriend you know they have something on you, if they’re the type that’s into combat not manners.

I admire your piece of work, regards for all the good articles .

Sheldon says:

I just finished reading American Gangbang, and unless I missed something, nowhere does the author mention in it that he is Jewish (he only mentions that Luke Ford is a convert to Orthodox Judaism).

In addition, Benjamin’s view of porn is quite ahistorical – there has been lots of porn films that embody progressive values, but he acts like he’s the first to think of that.


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California Dream

A nice Jewish boy with an Ivy League degree tells his parents that he has moved to L.A. to make porn. An excerpt from the memoir American Gangbang.

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