The Life: Playin’ Palin, My Love of Sports, and Living to the Fullest On My Own Terms (2015) by Lisa Ann

I first became a fan of Lisa Ann after listening to her appearance on “The Morning After…” podcast (Episode #33 with Damien Fahey – 02/01/11 – it’s on iTunes), a program that featured conversations with comedians and porn stars. Many times the porn starlets came off as quite ditzy and vapid, and then there was Lisa Ann; she was articulate, funny, engaging – the perfect girl to hang out with who just happened to also do porn. The episode ran longer than usual as it seemed everyone was having such a good time (she gave a terrific rundown of the kits she would assemble to use once on shoots and then dispose of that showed her true professionalism and intelligence); that was when I made a point of listening to her podcasts and following her on Twitter (@TheRealLisaAnn). While I can’t claim that her filmography interests me, I liked hearing what she had to say with her sly sense of humor and unique perspective on life and her career. I leapt at the chance to meet her during a featured dancing engagement at Vanities in September 2014 in Columbus, Ohio, and she couldn’t have been sweeter or more approachable. It was one of the few times I’d ever been to a “gentlemen’s club,” and I made sure to stock up on singles and fives (and a few twenties); somehow I left with no cash (I guess the “make it rain!” rant got the best of me), but boy did I have a great time!

 

Photo: Lisa Ann’s bodyguard – Chuck Pennington (me!) and Lisa Ann
 
 
Autographed to me – in person!
 
Lisa Ann retired from the porn industry in December 2014 in a handwritten letter that she posted on social media. “It felt so personal to me,” she shyly admits. “The idea of sharing my handwriting with the world was a new level of intimacy.” For someone who had shared every intimate part of her body for the world to see for over twenty years, sharing her handwriting was what made her nervous? But I get it – it was a transitional time going from a faux intimacy (porn) to sharing something from truly behind the wall of armor she had built to protect herself. Now she has put more pen to paper (so to speak) and written The Life: Playin’ Palin, My Love of Sports, and Living to the Fullest On My Own Terms, chronologically covering her first forty-three years, going from being a child from a broken home to a rebellious teen, stripper, porn star, married woman, business owner, talent agent, and now Fantasy Football radio host? If it were a movie you’d never believe it, but Lisa Ann lays it all out there with good humor peppered with raunchy (yet not trashy) stories of her unusual life and career in a most entertaining tome.

I admit that I wanted to read Lisa Ann’s book for all of the outrageous stories I was sure it would contain, and on this count she doesn’t disappoint. From vengeful strippers peeing on the costumes of rivals to playing den mother in a house of unruly porn starlets (they track mud into the house when they are barefoot and drunk, FYI) to negotiating sex acts for a performer with her parents presiding as her managers, Lisa Ann has seen it all even if she hasn’t done it all. She doesn’t claim to be immune to drugs, but she is very clear at pointing out that she was not and never was a prostitute, outlining the difference very clearly between an adult performer and a paid escort. She confirms that many girls did both, but that was not the path she chose. She never calls herself an actress, which is fair; but she leaves little doubt that she was a true performance artist, enjoying the attention and response from the crowd just like any other performer. She refers to herself and other porn performers as “talent,” which again is accurate; it takes talent to be able to perform in such scenes and not get burned out or appear stale on camera. Lisa Ann doesn’t glamorize the work so much as lay the truth out there, sharing the “very empty, very lonely void all porn stars feel and can’t deny.” At the same time she admits to enjoying performing sex acts on camera, only a few times feeling ashamed or regretful over the content of a shoot.

She shares several cautionary tales in which she trusted the wrong people and, at various times, was drugged, attacked, and robbed, but she learned from each experience. “Trust NO ONE, especially the girls,” she was advised by a kind bouncer who looked after her after some dancers laced her joint with Angel Dust and she blacked out. “Work, go home, and mind your own business. Save your money and make a plan to get out. The money is addicting and it will change your life – whether it’s for the better or the worse is on you.” It’s one of many close calls she describes, each aiding in their way of developing her character and resilience. She never plays the victim card or wallows in any depression for long; there’s too much out there for her to do to allow self pity to come a-knockin’.

“I started to really look at my body as a business,” Lisa Ann states, explaining how while still a teenager she made time to exercise, eat well, and maintain a beauty routine, sometimes investing thousands of dollars a month! It isn’t cheap or easy to be the living embodiment of fantasy, but, as she concedes, “This is a business investment.” While she doesn’t mention any cosmetic surgery that she had done specifically for her career, she does relate that one of the first things she wanted to do after retiring was to get her breasts reduced. “I was starting to feel self-conscious about them,” she confesses as she assimilated into working for Sirius on the radio. Lisa Ann went from her body being her business in movies and dancing in clubs to using her voice and mind on the radio, where what she looked like didn’t matter at all! Her brain was what made her some enemies in porn (she had no problem whistle-blowing on safety regulations being ignored or negotiating for more money or control), and now it was exactly what another industry would value in her.

“Money was the key to my independence,” she writes, explaining how much money she could make as a stripper when she started out as merely a high school grad. Her drive to be financially independent and successful propelled her not to rest on her laurels but to keep trying harder within her industry to succeed. “I was constantly fighting for my rights in a business that wanted the girls to believe they had none,” she says about being in adult entertainment, but doesn’t that statement apply to so many other industries as well? This is where Lisa Ann’s story is one that anyone – male or female – can possibly relate: haven’t we all been in jobs where we feel undervalued, underutilized, and replaceable? “Porn went from loving and celebrating women to treating them as disposable things,” she states, reflecting on the change in the industry from the ’90s to today. To me, I see a similar change in other industries as well, one where seniority and relationships no longer matter – everything and everyone is a number. When faced with this, Lisa Ann went forth to cut a new path, venturing into producing and directing her own films and even managing other models for a time. There is a lesson there for all of us, no matter our career.

Her ascent to mega stardom playing the porn parody version of former Alaskan governor Sarah Palin in 2008’s Who’s Nailin’ Paylin? was a perfect example of opportunity meeting up with preparation; Lisa Ann had returned to porn a few years prior as one of the most in demand MILFs around (Google it if you don’t know the acronym), and in retrospect it seems like it was all leading up to this one chance that could be a real game changer – and boy was it! Though she was grateful for the opportunity at playing Palin, she’s firm that her personal beliefs are the polar opposite. “I would never in a million years support Sarah Palin’s politics,” Lisa Ann confirms, adding, “Palin’s message had no place in the world I lived in – a world of free sex, sexual preference, and a shared desire for marriage equality.” Still, demand for feature dancing gigs as Palin in tailored suits skyrocketed, and Lisa Ann picked up the gauntlet and ran with it.

Her popularity brought about mainstream recognition as well as opportunities for more revenue streams, something that made many others in the industry quite jealous. “Porn is like high school with drugs and money – and all the wrong people have both,” she candidly states. “Porn is the perfect home for those with addictions and a variety of social issues. It is competitive and spiteful, filled with gossip, haters, and unhappy people. Over the course of my career, I learned that the more people didn’t like me, the better I felt.”

For a book so comprehensive, it’s interesting that Lisa Ann doesn’t tell her “coming out” story, the one where she tells her mom and dad about her career in the adult industry. “My parents will never forgive me for doing porn,” she clearly states, and other sections describe her estrangement from her dad and her on-again, off-again relationship with her mom; clearly they weren’t thrilled with her career of choice, but I was curious to read how she broke the news to them, how they reacted, and how it changed her relationships with them (which were strained anyway). I also wonder if her relationship with her older brother ever improved; there is a cute picture of the two of them from her late teens where it shows that she wasn’t the only looker in the family. Sibling relationships fascinate me; I have no relationship with my brothers at all, but I know of other people who are thick as thieves with their brothers and sisters. This is one area in which Lisa Ann is holding some cards close, which is understandable considering that her family didn’t sign up for any of this.

You don’t need to be into porn to get something out of Lisa Ann’s story, though it would help not to be squeamish about some of the more explicit details she is incredibly open about divulging (her sex preparation regimen, opinions on lubricant, “money shot” feelings, etc.). The behind-the-scenes info on what it is like to perform such private things in front of a camera is all there to read (and it’s incredibly entertaining and humorous), but there is a deeper story around it about a small town girl from Pennsylvania determined to get out and do big things. They may not be the kinds of things most of us would ever consider doing, but Lisa Ann emerges as someone who is her own best invention, delightfully unrepentant for her porn past while heading into a new career. I don’t know that she wrote the book to be so empowering, but that’s just what it is.

**** out of ****

  

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A Key to the Suite (1962) by John D. MacDonald

Somehow I always find myself returning to John D. MacDonald, and for good reason; I haven’t been disappointed by one of his novels yet. I was attracted to his work by the mysterious titles and lurid artwork, but shortly after reading my first MacDonald novel I sought out every other book he had written, always in vintage paperback form. I’ve been inching my way through them ever since, rationing them in a way, knowing that once I’ve made my way through all of them that there will be no more.

A Key to the Suite hails from 1962 and is about a man on a mission; Floyd Hubbard has been assigned to evaluate the performance of Jesse Mulaney, an upper level manager in the sales division of a company, while at a convention full of free flowing booze and girls. Mulaney’s a hack and knows it, and the writing is on the wall for his exit from the company. And so he has engaged a high-class prostitute, Cory Barlund, to seduce Hubbard and make a big, embarrassing scene in front of a lot of people to destroy his credibility in the hope that it could help save Mulaney’s job. But things don’t go as planned (do they ever?), and it all comes down to a showdown with the person who has the pivotal “key to the suite.”

 

back cover
 
I love a story with a scheming hooker, and Cory Barlund is one for the record books. She is at the convention posing as a reporter, but her striking beauty catches everyone’s eye. One of the few convention wives attending comments, “You know, that girl comes on slow. She builds. The more you look, the more you see. Floyd, only a woman could know what kind of a total effort that takes, all the time and thought and care.”

Cory is no pushover either, only agreeing to the framing job as a favor to her madam and after approving of Hubbard. When another person in on the scheme suggests an extra pay day for a tumble, she wryly replies, “Try me again in ten years. By then I may have lost the freedom of choice. That’s supposed to be the standard pattern, isn’t it?”

We learn more about Cory’s background and why she took up the trade, blaming it on a cheating former husband who infected her with syphilis while she was pregnant. She says that it “turned my baby into an idiot. It’s over five years old now. It will never speak or walk or recognize anything or anyone. I have one child, defective, institutionalized.” Her harsh words here go way beyond what I think any woman would ever say about her offspring; it’s a shocking stance though and definitely paints a picture of the kind of woman Hubbard is dealing with. “After the divorce I was trying in an amateur way to prove to every man in the world that I was more useful than every whore in Havana.” Mission accomplished, Cory!

  
No one describes women like John D. MacDonald, and here is an excerpt of when Hubbard is watching Cory out by the pool and she approaches him:

  
 
It may seem like I’ve given a lot away, but trust me when I state that there is a lot more where all of that came from. There are sex scenes written in such a stylish way that it is possible for one not in the know to read them and not be explicitly clear on what is going on! There are also a lot of characters for such a short book, and some have names that didn’t fit the gender I would’ve thought (Cass is a man, Cory is a woman, etc.), but the book is a real slice of corporate life right out of the “Mad Men” era. I found myself wanting to know more about the characters and hoping for the best as it sped on towards an inevitable and violent conclusion.

I was struck by how dated and yet contemporary the novel was, and in equal parts. The stereotypical “good old boys” who are woefully under qualified for positions but are appointed due to their chutzpah are still the types we see today in businesses (and in public office), but the women in the novel are nothing more than wives, whores, or eye candy. It’s a reflection of the time in which it was written, to be sure, and of the environment at the convention. Still, the novel is a quick and exciting read, with just the right amount of spice to keep it on the right side of the sleaze border.

**** out of ****

inside cover teaser

The Case of the Weird Sisters (1943) by Charlotte Armstrong

The strange title and cover art drew me to The Case of the Weird Sisters, a vintage thriller by Charlotte Armstrong, a familiar name as I have other paperbacks written by her with similarly intriguing artwork. Though this is a 1965 paperback reissue via Ace Books, I was surprised to find that the novel was actually originally released in 1943! The artwork is typical pulp that doesn’t really bare any resemblance to the novel within; the sisters aren’t triplets and don’t look alike. Oh, and one isn’t green either.

The story begins when Alice Brennan, a young secretary, agrees to marry the much older (but rich) Innes Whitlock. Alice doesn’t love him, and she’s quite honest about marrying him for his money, but Innes seems to be fine with it as long as she is a good little wife who cooks and cleans. They make an unexpected trip to the home of his three older spinster half sisters, where he lets them know that he is engaged and will be taking over their financial affairs; they collectively have squandered their inheritance, and Innes is done with bailing them out. After knowingly serving their brother meatloaf containing veal (it used to make him terribly sick as a child), Innes and Alice are stranded at the home of the three sisters until his illness passes. And that’s when unfortunate events start happening, as it appears that one of the sisters is out to murder her brother rather than have his fiancée stand to inherit his fortune.

What is interesting is that each of the three sisters has a disability; Gertrude is blind, Maud is deaf, and Isabel is missing an arm. Whether this makes them “weird” as indicated in the title is something that I wouldn’t say is accurate, but that appears to be the intent. It’s refreshing to read about differently-abled people that aren’t sanctified and can have serious personality flaws, something the political correctness police frowns upon nowadays whether it is true or not. They are also referred to at times in the novel as “cripples” as well, a pejorative term not used in today’s more enlightened and polite society.

There is another aspect that is very much of its time and unfortunate: the description and characterization of a Native American named Mr. Johnson. He is of course called an “Indian” and further described as “not a Negro” but having “a flaring line from his nostrils to the tip of his nose that [is] both foreign and familiar,” possessing “dirty fingers” and that he “belongs in the barn,” and described as having a foul “Indian” smell. Sometimes he is just referred to as “the Indian” and nothing more. Most of this kind of talk is in the narrative, not things the characters say outright. There is the implication that one of the three sisters is carrying on with Mr. Johnson and as such she must be “lustful, horrible, disgusting” and having “no moral starch in her.” Mr. Johnson’s ethnicity makes him game for ridicule, and this novel is an unfortunate document representing a popular sentiment of that time.

There are a few coincidences in the plot that defy reality, such as the fact that a former college professor of Alice’s, MacDougal Duff, who is an amateur sleuth, just happens to be renting a room in a guesthouse on the property. Now that’s convenient, isn’t it? Mr. Duff had lost contact with Alice, but here he is renting a room in the home of one of her future in-laws in another town. Of course he and Alice team up to examine the clues and interview the sisters, and their discussions contain some excellent deducements that help to solve the mystery. 

I finished this novel in a day, finding it more entertaining that I had expected despite my reservations once I learned just how old it was. Gone was the expectation of some tawdry moments or rough language, but the basic story and outline of the plot holds up remarkably well. I was able to finger the culprit before the ending, but I didn’t expect just how everything would unravel. Let’s just say there is a strange fact about the Whitlock house that is revealed nonchalantly early on in the novel that figures into the climax, one I certainly never saw coming. This is exactly the kind of mystery novel I like, and it’s a testament to Ms. Armstrong’s skill that it is still a page turner more than seventy years later.

*** out of ****

 

Back of the 1965 paperback reissue

 
Teaser on the first page
  

Slam the Big Door (1960) by John D. MacDonald

It’s awful that it took so long for me to finish this little book. I sent a spare copy to a friend so that we could both read and discuss it, and he finished his ages ago. Oh well, it’s done now.

This is my forth MacDonald novel, and it was originally released in 1960. It has all the elements of the other MacDonald novels that I like: deft descriptions, snappy dialogue, unpredictability. It meanders a bit halfway through, but it is still a good read even if I’d rate it as the lesser of the author’s works that I’ve read to date (my favorite being Where is Janice Gantry?).

The story is about recent widower Mike Rodenska visiting old war buddy Troy Jamison at Jamison’s place on the beach in Florida. While visiting he uncovers a plot to take over a land development of Jamison’s that is about to go belly up while also dealing with Jamison’s caring but absent wife, spoiled and bratty sex vixen of a stepdaughter, and a whore from Jamison’s past. Mike steps in to try to help Troy, but the man is hell bent on destroying everything with his alcoholism and penchant for a certain woman who led him down a similar path years earlier.

My favorite parts of the novel involve Mike and the wayward woman that his buddy Troy just can’t keep away from, Jerrana Rowley. MacDonald has a way of painting a picture that would surely infuriate women today with how cutting his observations could be, as the women in his novels tend to either be Madonnas or whores.

This is the way she is referred to after maybe five years of hard living, going from place to place before re-entering Troy’s life again. The initial description of her wasn’t flattering either, but this latter synopsis is particularly vivid and biting. And yet, the character of Jerrana still has a bit of charm in her dialogue and doesn’t come off as completely rotten.

This is another description that made me take notice. In this scene, Mike goes to Jerrana’s cheap and foul bungalow looking for Troy. This is how he describes the state of the place.

What exactly does “female” smell like? I’m sure there are many people who know, but to put that adjective between burned food and urine? Classy.

The novel reaches a rather satisfying conclusion even if it does wrap itself up a bit too easily. Still I enjoyed it as decidedly second rate MacDonald, which is still better than most first rate anyone else.

**/ out of ****