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Sex on Returnable Sheets

“We were just saying we would volunteer to be fluffers for this scene,” says Bob. He and the art director are standing in the kitchen drinking Cokes.

“I don’t think it would make a bit of difference,” I say. “This has to be the most un-erotic environment possible. I could never do a porn.” I choose to deflect the implied compliment, moving over to the counter where three delivery pizzas lie waiting. It’s nine-thirty p.m., we’ve been filming the sex scene since five-thirty and we’re nowhere near done. The guys on the crew are coming down the stairs behind me. I grab a slice and head out onto the back deck, into the cool night air. All weekend I’ve been looking out over the amazing view of the city from the deck, during quiet times between scenes. I never get tired of looking at this city.

The cameraman takes his slice halfway down the stairs leading to the backyard, where he can be alone. He calls someone on his cell phone. His quiet words drift up to me. “Hey, I’m going to be late…I don’t know…okay…bye.” The director and the rest of the crew have joined me on the deck. We all stand silently with our slices of Marcello’s, all of us facing the view of downtown, the Bay Bridge extending beyond the skyline into the night, towards the dark hills of Oakland. There is only the quiet noise of men eating. From the houses on the hills above the Castro there is the sound of traffic and Saturday night parties. Music echoing over the hills, voices, laughter. Hearing them reinforces the sense of dissociation I’ve carried since the filming started; caught up in a strange little world outside my normal customs; the normal hours of my day job, my usual AA meetings at night, dinners with friends; everything has fallen away as I go about the work of pretending to be someone else in this house on 19th street.

I’ve been at the house since 10 am. The lead actor, the kid, sits behind me on the deck, munching his pizza. Both of us are introverted and we’ve had only the briefest of conversations. There are other actors and crew members I’ve known for awhile, from plays we’ve done together. Their presence is comforting. The director seems to believe in me, and has given me the role despite my complete lack of on-camera experience. I’m learning as I go along.

“Let’s get back,” the director says.

I eat a banana to clear some of the pizza taste from my mouth, out of respect for the kid, whom I have to kiss repeatedly during the scene. I keep my tongue in my mouth. Besides, he’s a smoker. I chew a piece of gum as I walk back upstairs.

Upstairs the bedroom is lit up like a ballpark at night. They’ve positioned three floodlights outside on the upper deck. They shine through the windows, across the bed. The bedroom still reads as dimly-lit on camera, where it counts. As the crew settles on the other side of the room, I perch on the edge of the mattress. I look at the floor, away from the harsh lights. The kid lies on the other side of the bed. We’ve removed our clothes six or seven times by now. Fortunately they’re only shooting us from the waists up. We can keep our underwear on. I look over at the others. I can’t help but notice there are more people watching than usual. The director, the cameraman, the lighting man, the sound man, the art director, the continuity girl, the director’s boyfriend, and the owner of the house we’re using.

“Nice sheets,” I tell the art director.

“Yeah, just don’t get anything on them, I have to return them.”

I laugh.

“I’m not kidding,” he says.

During the filming I open six or seven condom wrappers with my teeth. The first couple of wrappers take at least two or three bites. One small corner gets trapped under my tongue. I am feeling very un-smooth, a failed Lothario captured on camera for all eternity spitting tiny pieces of foil condom wrappers onto the floor, doing my best to avoid the sheets at all times. The director is kind enough not to yell “CUT!” in the middle of my fumbling. The kid lies patiently beneath me. I’d say he has the easier acting job at the moment. After one or two takes my fingers are coated with a slight film of lube, which only aggravates the problem. Somehow I manage a couple of good takes. By now I’ve accepted that whatever the mostly straight crew thinks of all this is totally beside the point.

Later, after our attempt at fucking fails, the script calls for me to roll over, sigh, and light a cigarette. Being an ex-smoker and someone who can become addicted to anything, anywhere, I’ve asked for some herbal cigarettes without nicotine. It’s my only high-maintenance movie star request. Somehow I only get two of them, so for the six or seven takes of me lighting a cigarette, I have to re-light each about three times. They certainly smell just like cigarettes. I don’t think the owner of the house is too happy with the air quality of his bedroom by now, but again that is beside the point.

Despite the lights and the quiet audience and the new sheets and the camera and my Midwestern modesty, the sex scene is my favorite, if only because my character, a morally ambiguous asshole, gets a second or two where the real guy underneath all the crap is revealed. And that’s why I love acting.

The director is happy. He comes over to my side of the bed, lies down next to me and puts his head on my chest. “That was amazing. That’s gonna be the most beautiful scene in the movie.” I can only take his word for it. He gets back to his feet. “Go home,” he says.

I put my clothes back on for the last time. The crew is out on the deck smoking. The director’s boyfriend is bringing beers up from the kitchen for everyone. A beer sounds so amazingly delicious right now, but I don’t do that anymore. Now that the scene is behind me I am exhausted, all the tension leading up to tonight is spent. I can barely manage a wave good-bye to everyone, but that hardly matters. I have to be back in the morning.

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