For our 15th anniversary, The Best American Erotica 2008, I asked all the BAE authors, "What inspired you to write your story in the first place?"
Writer Joe Maynard wrote me a letter with the best behind-the-scenes story of all. It's all about how he came to test-drive a "male masturbation toy" called the Fleshlight, when he was given a demo model on assignment by a mercurial magazine editor — with rather impossible expectations...
Joe Maynard, on “Fleshlight”
Funny you should ask about the circumstances in which “My Date with Fleshlight” was written.
It begins simply, as these things often do. A Bostonian woman who’d previously published my work, moved to New York and was working for an erotica magazine here.
We‘d gone out to a movie together, and had a couple of those aesthetic discussions over cappuccino that you have with other aesthetes in your field. I was happy this new artistic ally that had moved to the city.
One day she called me to say she had a product, the Fleshlight, and asked me to write a product review. At this point in our relationship, the Editrix and I were friends. Sure, she’d published a couple of my stories in Boston. But that was Boston. This New York assignment was closer to home: the assignment that would turn our relationship professional.
The story I wrote was pretty much exactly what happened while testing this product. As you said to me, “you don’t hear a lot about men doing this!” and that jibes with the fact that it wasn’t something I would normally do. I was happy with my girlfriend, “her cute little ass cupped inside a pair of velour bikini panties,” as the story goes.
It’s simple to find sex, but finding someone you love— that’s magic. The point of sex is ecstacy. Being in love is the drug, sex is the needle. So I found the whole situation of fucking a cold piece of plastic absurd— even if it was “space-age” plastic.
My editrix only wanted two paragraphs, but being the conscientious artiste that I was, I wanted them to be the best paragraphs ever written. I was taking a writing class at the time, and James Salter had given us a talk on the idea of getting a notion of some sort, and stringing beads onto that notion—using the notion as a string that holds a pearl necklace together— never articulating everything inside each pearl, yet “being the string,” and penetrating, then absorbing, whatever the interior of each bead had to offer.
You know, suck the pearl dry and move on.
So, geek-like, I struggled with my squeamishness regarding inter-elemental sex, my fears that I’d write a piece of boring crap, and I meditated on the wise words from the great author, stringing my friggin’ beads.
One day it just all came out. Probably not exactly what Mr. Salter had in mind, but potent, pearl-sucking pages.
I faxed it in, and the next day, I called Editrix for her editorial imput. I thought she’d tell me she laughed her ass off, that the joke was a home-run, that my intricate subtleties articulated a flavor never-before tasted. It would be as sure as a baby pearl sings its beauty-song to the mother clam, and the fruits of our first “professional” encounter would produce the first-ever two-paragraph sex product review to win a Pulitzer prize.
Perhaps it was too close to deadline time. Maybe it was because I didn’t simply say how great this fine product was: “You’ll never enjoy fucking a plastic sponge as much as you will the Fleshlight.”
But instead I was honest. I let people know what it really felt like. Her response, lackluster, was something like, “What’s this? I just wanted a couple paragraphs.”
“Fine,” I said, “This is just the way I work. It’s my process.”
I suggested I could change it for her and then later rework it for Juggs, or Nerve.
“What?” she shouted. “You’re giving it to someone else? This was an experience I gave you! Our experience! Not Nerve’s!” She said I was ungrateful and totally unprofessional to even consider publishing it anywhere else.
“What the fuck was that?” my boss asked.
“I think she dumped me.”
“Who, your girlfriend?”
“No, my editor.”
Later, I sent her the requisite two ‘graphs, but I’m not certain she ever used them. It was overshadowed by our break-up.
I tried to remember the good times. Her initial call— “I think I have something for you to test drive.” Her “Did the Fleshlight arrive yet?” the day it came. Her “How was it?” the morning after I fucked the sponge.
I roamed the streets despondent. Every porno shop seemed to be “our” porno shop. Every blow-up doll was our relationship: a lot of hot air that in one prickly moment explodes in your face!
With due love and respect for sex industry,
Photo of Joe from LaMama Poetry Archives
One of Joe's poems composed on dollar bills: Ducky Doolittle's LiveJournal