Swelter 11

Down into the bowels of pop culture, a late-night taping of the Robin Byrd pornucopia cable show, passing abandoned theater marquees emblazoned with manifestoes of the fringe: "Many can bear adversity, but few can bear contempt." Out of the cab, the admonishment taking on a prophetic ring, a gang gal on the street being most insistent: "Give me some money, honky, or I'll cut your fucking dick off and jam it down your mama's throat." Fleeing into Byrdland, the usual union technician nodding off at the video panel in the shit-hole studio. A tiny, middle-age French woman negotiating the incessant clamor of the four-dollars-per-minute Byrdian sex line ("These people are so mean and crazy after midnight"), Byrd's fans turning ugly with the inevitable costly wait on hold. Several stars of erotica having bailed out, Byrd killing time with an evangelical monologue ("If you're home alone masturbating, remember that you'll always have me") as two anxious strippers, a boy and a girl, wait in the wings. Beside the "wall of shame" bulletin board, the muscle boy clutching his crotch as if he has to pee ("Jesus Christ, my dick's going to fall off") and making trade talk with the New Jersey girl-next-door type, the whole scene hopelessly banal.

After some squaring off with the monstrous Byrd over some protocol infraction -- bitches will be bitches -- it's show time, the great woman behind the camera ("Oh, that's so hot when you touch yourself") as the female dancer obligingly spreads her ass cheeks for the camera. The degradation of show biz steadily escalating during the male segment, the kid unveiling a cock ring -- attached an hour beforehand according to Byrd's edict of proper hotness -- his member painfully swollen. Afterward, the proud strippers joining Byrd for a brief chat, behaving as if they're doing the Tonight Show, a brief thong bikini not quite covering enough of the hostess's obscenely enormous ass. From there, bathetic phoned-in questions ("Do you go both ways?") pouring in over the transom, the cash register of porn singing a merry tune. As always, Byrd wrapping things up with her trademark "Bang Your Box" number, the female stripper patently uncomfortable as Byrd sucks on her nipples. Struck, yet again, by the lonely hell of New York, the atomized horror that would allow for a blatant hustler to profit so handsomely at the great well of human misery.

The sex-on-a-budget tour wrapping up in the East Village, where human life is cheap, and yet resolutely conscious of being a walking, talking, self-created, and oftentimes self-delusional metaphor of artistic realization. An evening in cutting-edge central, a private loft serving double duty as a tawdry performance space, monologist Amanda Vogel proving that whininess, despite considerable appeal, still does not qualify as an art form. The truly horny Vogel, a thirtysomething creature embodying the intense desperation of the New York prowl -- so much time, so few viable men -- railing against the male taste for uncomplicated young flesh: "I'm older and there's a few flaws now, but do you know how many skanky cocks I had to suck to learn how to do it right?" A good point, Vogel dodging a stalker in the audience -- maybe she's a tad fabulous -- and ruinously crossing the battle lines of the sexes: "How many of the men here are afraid of my sexual sophistication?" Naturally, no hands raised, the gentle art of cocksucking being a prized talent. Unfortunately, Vogel inspiring the same lack of enthusiasm with a plaintive question: "How many of you men would go out with me on a date?" Even in the modern era, a man's got to draw the line somewhere.

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