Why does erotica always seem so unerotic? Is it because, as the philosopher (and C cup) Raquel Welch once noted on Johnny Carson, the mind is the largest erogenous zone? Welch's remark, coming from a stunning but presumably retarded poster girl for shredded rawhide bikinis (she was starring in One Million B.C. at the time), was taken for a profound observation. Which, in fairness, it kind of was. Doesn't most of the really crucial stuff go on inside your head?
Seen in the streaming light of day or even, for that matter, in the penumbral seediness of the sad shops that hawk overpriced "marital aids" all those leather and latex and rubber and wooden toys seem as uninspiring as Pinocchio before Geppetto blessed him with the breath of life. Anyway, what is the singular of erotica? Eroticon? And what might an eroticon be?
It's a question without answer at the softcore Erotica USA, a show for EVERYONE, as advance publicity claims for a porn convention that bustled into brief existence at the Jacob Javits Convention Center. Just four blocks south of the city's former tenderloin, where the letters XXX are now a neon memory, crowds of people have lined up to pay from $30 to $150 for an outing that Screw publisher Al Goldstein says "I never thought I'd experience after 30 years underground."
It is, as the Times pointed out, the first X-rated major convention in New York. And, while Rudy Giuliani grumbles that it's a "big mistake" for Javits to contract with "Erotica-whatever-it-is," officials there countered that it's not their place to "make moral judgments on the rental of space based on whether or not we approve of an event's content."
If that content seems tame by contrast with some of the city's less heralded fetish gatherings, it's still a bright moment in a city where Puritan sackcloth has largely supplanted the varied colors of sleaze. "Putting it on is no problem. You just powder up. It's taking it off that's hard," explains hostess Victoria Vega of her skintight blue latex mini. At the end of a long sweaty work day, "rubber has a tendency to cling."
Compared to Gramma Funk, Vega is so overdressed she might as well be wearing a nun's habit. "Recording artist, presenter, MC" Funk has turned up in an almost bottomless leather bustier. "More?" she asks the amateur photographers clustered around her pneumatic person on opening day. "You want more? You want front? You want back? Then baby's got back for you."
Erotica USA exhibitors range from booths selling sex videos to the inevitable erotic chocolates (Miss Boob, $8 apiece) to Tower Records to AT&T cellular service ("What is phone sex, Monica?") to distributors of specialty magazines (Pain & Punishment, Heel & Toes, Queens of Mean) to surgeons hyping bigger, better versions of Miss Boob. At Bungee Sexperience, Annie McMaster hitches her arms and feet into the stirrups of an elasticized sling as Shaena Steel slides between her legs, pantomiming the experience of "weightless sex." Over at the Leatherman, salesman Jerry Gergesko finishes racking the usual chaps, vests, harnesses, and tapered leather jackets, then sets up a series of electrified devices that might best be stocked on a shelf warning: Kids Don't Try This at Home.
"This Folsom Box has a multichannel pulse," Gergesko says of a shock device that, in unfriendly hands, would have Amnesty International in a panic. "We try to be helpful and give good information. If you're buying a cock ring and you've never used one, we'd tell you to get the leather one with the adjustable snaps rather than the chrome ring." Why? "Well, it's easier to get on and off." Similarly, the Folsom Box can "take a while to get used to what you're doing. I've had it used on me, so I know what I'm talking about."
User-friendly is almost a mantra at Erotica USA. "I have a lifestyle interest in fetish," says Fred Katz, owner of the 11-month-old latex and rubber outfitter DV8. "I remember my first experience of going into a fetish store and how nervous I was. Everyone working in our store is a fetishist in one way or another. We opened because we wanted to be a good rubber resource." At MekTek Design, Sal Abruscato touts the durability of his bondage benches and thrones and confesses that Home Depot is his second home. "All of my pieces are made using good materials birch, oak, and nickel studs that I get from a place that's been making them since the 1880s. If people are going to get serious with my stuff, I don't want it to fail."
Failure is not a welcome word at Erotica USA, certainly not among the many, many models who've had themselves surgically reengineered. Sitting at Dr. Brad J. Jacobs's booth, Julie Cedillos is promoting the benefits of breast enhancement. "After my daughter was born, I lost all volume in my breasts," she explains, idly kneading two bloblike demonstration implants one saline, one silicone. "I got silicone myself. It feels more pliable and natural." But isn't silicone subject to horrible debilitating failure? Hasn't even Pamela Anderson had hers removed? "They have never, ever proved any link between implants and lupus or autoimmune disease," says Cedillos. "It was just a big scam that silicone was harmful. Women just have to educate themselves." Or not.
Meantime, Ingela, a one-named model whose physical appearance could be described as falling somewhere on an arc between Betty Page and Jocelyne Wildenstein, is nearby obliging every passing shutterbug with shots of her phenomenal . . . well, endowment is not technically the correct term. Her add-ons, let's say. "I was a C cup to start with," Ingela says with just a hint of a Teutonic accent. "But I enhanced it up one size and then another. I did it, you know, because I'm a vain person and I like to look good. But it's also for business, too, yes?" And is there a downside? "Well, the downside is that it's hard to find bras." Then again, says Ingela, cupping one mammoth breast in each of her palms, "the upside is that I don't really need them anymore."
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Village Voice's biggest stories.