Wednesday, October 24, 2007

WRITTEN WORD 9 - Penthouse

There had been a message from someone named Sly from Penthouse on my answering machine. Sky’s words were slurred on the tape. But I caught “Marcos” and I caught “payment.”

I called him back and he said to come right over. The office was near Lincoln Center. I’d been there once before because another editor at Penthouse had bought rights to the Imelda Marcos chapter of the book I did with Max Vanzi on the horrors of the Philippines in Marcos’s last years when his and Imelda’s old friends Nancy and Ronnie Reagan had become the Marcos’s counterparts and sponsors. The Marcoses had gone wild sending out death squads through the archipelago, convincing tens of millions of Filipinos that with Reagan in power the Americans would, if needed, come out of their big Philippine bases to kill Marcos enemies.

Sly – dark, long black hair, black suit, black shirt – was sniffling as only someone who has just had a line or two can sniff – and was so edgy I thought Dexedrine as well as cocaine.

We had just about sealed a deal whereby I would spread Penthouse money around to secure a tape mentioned in our book when it occurred to him to ask if it was video – without video the conversation took another direction. The tape was of Marcos in the presidential bed talking and talking in a voice that reminded you of W.C. Fields, talking love and sex words to a Hollywood girl he had put on the government payroll – then singing love songs in his Illocano dialect – a great scandal in the Philippines. Someone had bugged the bed and I’d heard the tape and knew where to get a copy.

Sly went off to the men’s room, came back sniffling – said let’s go downstairs, meaning a plush bar in the building. Since there was no video tape he said he’d give me $5000 – at that time a rare sum for a magazine to spend – if I would give them an update of the Philippines story complete with all recent developments, such as the money pouring into the regime from sex tours and child prostitution. And I was saved for a time from hunting up further hack work.

I did write a piece. I flew out to San Francisco to get filled in by the New People's Army exiles in Berkley – bringing the Philippine horrors up to date. And I was paid. And, as I expected, they decided not to run it, not even in their foreign editions – for Penthouse was very right wing and I had noticed that, just as Sly almost forgot to ask if the tape were video or audio,he entirely forgot to ask if the piece he was buying would be pro or anti Reagan.

I used the money to spend the summer on the hunt not for what went wrong and led to cruel death in Southeast Asia that year but rather what had happened many years back that accounted for the darkness and violence in the present in the seemingly proper Wasp family from which I came.

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