Ben (tape recorder on): "Do you have a fear of mediocrity?"
Me (tape recorder off): "No."
Ben (tape recorder on): "Do you mean to tell me that you're not terrified of being mediocre?"
Me (tape recorder off): "With me, Ben, it's simply not an option."
Ben (tape recorder on): "Have you ever read any articles by Jim Knipfel? You should read him. He's a much better writer than you are. Well, I'm a much better writer than you are."
Since my book came out in the US last July, I have suffered dozens of humiliations. I have been described as "a handsome throw pillow", and "kittenish". My home has been described as "narrow" and "transient". My book has been described as "like Velveeta cheese" and "like Doritos Cool- Ranch Low Fat Chips". A journalism student at Columbia University said my heroine, Bennington Bloom, had a silly name. Her name: Shauna Grob. And a journalism student at NYU reported that I hate writing when I told her that I love it. Ever since People magazine got the hot scoop that I, like Ben, had, at one time, done phone sex, reporters have asked about little else. Once, one asked who my favourite authors were. I thought long and seriously and gave my list, adding Sydney Biddle Barrows in a funny aside at the end. Under my picture, in big letters it announces The Mayflower Madam as my favourite book and inspiration.
"Why can't you say anything intelligent?" a friend from my writing workshop says to me. "You sound like an idiot. Why don't you talk about writing?"
Worse than the reporters are the photographers with their little props and worn-out assistants. I cried for two hours in Sammy's Chinese restaurant when I saw a full-page photo of me lying on the floor with a dead fish propped up on my head. The photographer had convinced me to give it a try after his attempts to shoot me in a car-wash and in the rain on the very un-scenic Williamsberg Bridge had failed. Significance of the fish: none.
"That photographer should be executed for making you look like that," my agent says to comfort me.
A few weeks later, I saw a horrible photo of a pale and bloodshot Michael J Fox, swimming in his pool, looking pissed-off, and I thought, who could make Michael J Fox look bad? Sure enough - it was fish man. One photographer called the day after our shoot to say he was really aroused; and another, a girl of about 14, burst into tears when I wouldn't wear the long green gloves and fake pearls she had brought in her backpack.
My phone rings at 8am. It's Ben from New York Press waking me up to say that he just couldn't do it. What do you mean? I ask. He says he was up all night but just wasn't able to write the piece about me. He really tried to like my book but he just didn't like it enough, he realises that he was trying to interview Bennington Bloom not Jennifer Belle, and his premise that all women lie to their boyfriends hadn't held up well enough. He is really sorry for wasting my time. Psycho, I think. He'll probably be nought for '97.
Then a woman who works at my publishing house, who is also a friend of Ben's, calls me to say that Ben feels terrible because he really liked me and he felt like we were on a bad first date and everything he said came out wrong. He had decided to give up his career as an interviewer.
I had already called New York Press and asked them to send me any articles by him, and a man there snickered and said, "He hasn't written any in a very long time."
I had also already developed a huge crush on him. In the pitch darkness of Caffe Reggio, his white, pocked skin looked smooth, his dyed red hair looked almost natural, and his inane questions and pride at being 30 seemed charming. Who am I to complain if he hadn't finished reading my book? I am, after all, no Jim Knipfel. Like Dorothy Parker, I like men who think my work is mediocre. And I like anyone who wants to interview me. I even went out on a date with the man who called me the throw pillow. I don't claim to have anything to say. I don't call them. They call me. I just never say no. No tape recorder - no problem. No money - I'll buy lunch. No place to do it - how about my narrow, transient apartment? At least no one has called me fat. "Billowy", but not fat
`Going Down' by Jennifer Belle has just been published by Virago, price pounds 9.99Reuse content