"The Porn Identity" by Mike Sager, as published in Playboy (Sept 2011)

I AM SOMEWHERE around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the Motrin finally kicks in—the electric pain scorching down the back of my leg settles to a dull burn; once again I can feel my foot on the gas pedal. The ache in my heart is another matter. I remind myself to breathe.

Three hours down, four to go, the best car my money can lease. The sky is big, blue and cloudless. The atmosphere is fragrant. My tunes are cranked, an inspiring anthem by the artist Milez called "We Have Hope." I've played it six or seven times already, or maybe 10. It might have something to do with the message of the song. Or it might have something to do with the fact that Milez is my son—it's something he recorded at the conclusion of a long holiday weekend in the house that used to belong to him and his family but now just belongs to him and his dad.

That I've left this particular part of my mission for last now seems prophetic. But then again, everything about this assignment has been weirdly synchronistic. There I was, suffering through the latter stages of a painfull divorce, a middle-aged man facing single life after 20 years with the same woman. A recovering cuckold, damaged goods, the male animal at his lowest. My ego was fractured; my money was earmarked for oblivion. A tornado of anger and resentment and powerlessness swirled through my inner space, turning everything gritty and gray. All these motherfuckers with their hands in my pants, massaging my misery, waiting for their gusher to come in.

For months now I've felt as if I've been operating on safe mode—dull and slow and monochromatic. I wander through my house, going from room to room. I don't know what the hell I'm doing. Putting scissors away. Emptying trash. Folding laundry. Making lunch. Changing passwords. Worrying about the future—college for my son, retirement for me. Retirement! I always imagined I'd grow old with her—in some ways, to be honest, the scenario didn't thrill me. At least now I get to sleep in the whole bed by myself. She used to take up three quarters of the damn thing, which was kind of metaphorical for my life with her—me sleeping on the itty-bitty edge of the big antique bed that had been in my family for 90 years.

And then, serendipitously, an e-mail arrived from the venerable Rabbit. They wanted to hire me—to track down retired porn stars. You're fucking kidding me, right?

At high noon the Mojave Desert shimmers in all directions. Twisted Joshua trees stand here and there like prickly, gawking townsfolk, stooped and wringing their hands, bearing silent witness to my tortured thoughts. There is snow on the mountaintops; sculpted ridges and balancing rocks landscape the middle distance—a tribute to nature's powerful and uncluttered sense of color and design. The intro to "We Have Hope" starts up again. I sing along with the chorus. I do have hope.

From the beginning it was clear that Asia Carrera was the golden ticket in this X-rated lottery. Half German, half Japanese, multiorgasmic, she was a child prodigy who played piano at Carnegie Hall twice before the age of 15—and then ran screaming to the dark side to escape the expectations of her overbearing parents. (Tiger moms, take note: This is what can happen when you push too hard.)

In her films Carrera is forever captured as she was in her prime: five feet eight inches tall, with geisha girl eyes, six-pack abs, a cheerleader's well-muscled ass, which, incidentally, she never gave away on film until she co-produced, co-directed, wrote the script and owned the rights. She appears to orgasm easily and often—in the throes of passion she is often moved to laugh. There is an aw-shucks quality to her afterglow. I'm not sure I've ever witnessed a porn princess—or anyone, for that matter—who appears to actually enjoy fucking more than Carrera.

There was only one problem.

She was said to be living in seclusion in southern Utah. Nobody in the industry had seen or spoken to her in years.

Eventually I found an e-mail address for her. We struck up a halting correspondence. She was friendly, but I couldn't get her to commit. Time short, I forced the issue: "Looking forward to seeing you next week!" I typed.

"You sure we can't do this by e-mail?"
"In person is better."
"C'mon., nobody ever won a Pulitzer for talking to porn stars."
"Look, I'm just a guy whose wife cheated and left. I'm sure I'm more scared of you than you are of me. I'll be gentle if you will."

And then—no reply.

Shit! In my state of emotional disarray had I revealed too much?

Twenty-four hours later she finally reconnected. "Wow, I had a dream that we hooked up, NOT kidding. Then I woke up and asked myself, 'Where the heck did THAT come from? The guy's married!' And now you tell me your wife has left you? Oh no! LOL"

LOL, indeed.

My journey had begun the month before with a visit to Kay Taylor Parker, best remembered for her highly charged incest scenes in the 1980 classic Taboo.

A busty redhead, she was known in her day as the prude of porn. With her British accent and air of innocence, she seemed a little too proper to he in fuck films, despite her 38DDs. She was 33 years old when she entered the biz. Workshop trained as a thespian, she was looking more for the acting opportunity than for the sex.

Parker came to prominence at a time when X-rated movies were as much political statement as erotic entertainment—actors took care to leave their clothes in a convenient pile lest the cops raid the set. During this era of bushy dialogue and pubes, Parker's films were shown in old theaters; often ornate and patronized primarily by adventurous couples and men in overcoats, everyone well spaced among the sears.

In all, Parker starred in fewer than 100 movies in this lifetime, which has thus far spanned 57 years. She is aware, she says, of having lived at least 152 other incarnations since her first arrival on Earth, as a female scientist in ancient Atlantis, a Star Being sent to this planet to help usher in the God-ing through Fourth Dimensional Ascension. For this latter distinction she has been called the Shirley Maclaine of porn.

On day two of my visit, Parker had just concluded my Body 'touch session. (She earns her living today as a spiritual practitioner.) I'd reclined on my back on a massage table, covered by a sheet, my arms exposed. She'd spoken out loud, seemingly asking questions of, and getting answers from, a higher source, pushing and pok ing at the meat of my forearm as if working a keyboard or a set of switches—I got the sense she was going through a sort of table of contents of my life.

There was something about my leaving my girlfriend to go to college at 18. There was something about my choosing to work nights instead of days to further my career—further confounding the same tortured relationship. There was something about my bedroom—specifically about the bed. It had belonged to my grandparents on my mother's side. They'd slept in it together for more than 60 years. Later, I'd had it lovingly enlarged by a craftsman. In the last throes of my marriage, my wife had woken up one morning and launched into a tirade about the bed and how she hated it. Not yet aware of the trite cause of her apparent mania, I thought nothing of following her wishes posthaste. With the help of my son and an electric drill, the bed was dismantled and garaged.

Parker focused on the bed, working the keyboard of my forearm, mumbling to her higher source. At last she found it. My soul splinter. There'd been a rape six generations ago on my mother's side, in the old country, Eastern Europe. A splin­ter of my soul had detached and crossed over. I was incomplete.

She tapped my forehead with her finger­tips, a maneuver of healing, she explained. Tap, tap, tap.

We sat on the couch afterward. I was drinking water as prescribed. The room was decorated with geodes, wind chimes and potted plants; we were attended by a number of vocal cats. Through the open, sun-filled window came the scent of sea air. The day before, within a few minutes of our first hellos, we were sitting on the sofa when she experienced a ringing sensation in her-right ear. She paused to confer with a force above—I believe it was the spirit of her mentor, Varon. There was a nurturing vibe about her; I think she felt okay about me, too. We shared our stories.

Now she wanted to know my birth date. She looked me up in a volume called Love Cards.

"You're a nine of dubs," she announced brightly. She handed me the book. "Read out loud."

"Humanitarianism, higher law, universal love, selfishness-...." I looked at her ques­tioningly. "What does dissipation mean in this context?"

Perplexed, she consulted an alternate guide, a stapled set of papers. "Very suc­cessful as writers," she read. "May be subject to hampering home conditions."

"Got that right," I said ruefully. "What about my love life?" At this point my dry spell had reached a personal record.

She consulted the pages, the book. She looked at me mournfully. "Perhaps you have some other things to do first.,"

"How big a part has sex played in your life?" I asked.

"I haven't had sex in six years. Even Ion-(Ter before that."

I looked surprised, I suppose. She is still attractive for a woman in her seventh decade. And there are still legions of fans.

"I've come to the realization that sex isn't all it's made out to be. Like everything, it's the spirit that's important. Whether we're self-pleasuring or interfacing with somebody else, at a core level it's really about a union with God. Or the divine, Or the creator. Or Fred—whatever we want to call that energy."

"Sex has become so hollow today—especially since porno is so huge on the internet. It leads me to believe that more people are sitting at home masturbating than engaging in intimate relationships."

Guilty as charged, I thought.

She looked at me gravely. "If we could all have sex in the spirit of communion with God, we'd immediately eradicate war on the planet. To me that's what the fourth dimen­sion is all about. It's about union, about communion, about.

She was interrupted by the sound of wind chimes; the cats started meowing like crazy.

The door swung open.

"Come in, come in, come in... Parker- sang.

But there was nobody there.

I followed Nina Hartley down a dark hall­way on an upper floor of a spooky-cool converted loft building. Her celebrated bubble butt, high and round and sheathed in black leggings, was doing its work ahead of me—to be honest, it put me in mind of a prized thoroughbred. (Her husband, Ira, also known as Ernest Greene, a porn pun­dit and director of bondage films, clearly thinks along the same lines: If you go to a dinner party at their house, Hartley might be wearing an apparatus called a pony-head harness.) Back in the 1980s Hartley's was known as the Best Ass in Porn. From where I was walking, it showed no signs of decline.

Hartley is one of the more outspoken porn stars, past and present. Her longevity and her status as one of the Erotic Eleven—she was arrested on obscenitv charges in 1993 after a benefit performance for the Free Speech Coalition—have conveyed upon her a sort of queenly status. She has the upbeat, ironic, rat-a-tat delivery of a cafi=! society intellectual, punctuated with a slight lateral lisp.

In our two days together she rarely took a breath, filling the air with genial patter, bright commentary and unconven­tional opinions—a lot of which make good sense. She described herself, variously, as "a sex-positive feminist," "a heterosex­ual butch dyke," "a gay man with female parts," "a bisexual exhibitionistic polyam­orous person, who is by nature emotionally monogamous."

Truly, her verbal skills rival her well-documented oral ones.

In some ways, you could say Hartley is an embodiment of the industry's own story arc. Curious about sex from an early age, the bookish girl took herself to see her first X-rated movie at 17 at an art house in San Francisco. The film was an adaptation of one of her favorite erotic novels, first published anonymously in 1887, The Autobiography of a Flea. The film version starred early porn gods Jean Jennings, Paul Thomas and John Holmes. In time, Hartley would meet or work with all of them.

Born into a radical Jewish family in Berkeley in 1959, Hartley is the daughter of a blacklisted local radio personality and his attractive brunette wife, whom Hartley credits for her ass. Hartley's ice-blue eyes are the heritage of her German Swiss dad, who went into free fall after being outed as a communist. The story is complicated; he ended up at one point finding employment as a short-order cook before mom became the breadwinner. Her par­ents were together 64 years; they worked hard on their marriage. Over time, Hart­ley explained, they did primal scream therapy, couples' therapy, group therapy, individual therapy, biofeedback, bioener­getics, tai chi and naked tai chi. At last they found their peace within the teachings of Zen Buddhism. They lived with others in a religious cooperative until recently, when her father died peacefully in a hos­pice with, his family by his bedside. Hartley has eight nieces and nephews, upon whom she dotes. Uterine fibroid tumors and a lack of interest have precluded her own career as a parent.

Hartley was herself the fourth and last sibling. She says she was a "semiferal child" raised with "benign neglect." Looking back, the business seems an almost obvi­ous choice for a lonely young girl who was born in the dark time after her father's fall from grace.

At 24 she entered her first amateur strip contest; she wore satin slippers and used a cream-colored vibrator as a prop—penetration was legal onstage in San Francisco in those wild, pre-AIDS days. She won $200 and a job in a live peep show. During each shift she had sex with a different woman on a rotating bed in a round room. Along the circumference of the room were booths. Each had a window, a chair, a wastebasket and paper towels. If the guy wanted to be seen, he could turn on a light in his booth.

Hartley started doing porn movies in the early 1980s, just as theatrical distri­bution was giving way to the VCR. The first straight-to-video films still boasted decent pay, large budgets and story lines. As video drove the X industry more mainstream with revenue in the billions over two golden decades Hartley crossed over as well. A nurse by education (danc­ing and adult-film work paid her nursing school tuition), she frequently lectures on sex and politics and has appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show. She has written a sex guidebook and produced numerous instructional videos, some with her husband. In 1997 Hartley starred in Boogie Nights. She was critically lauded for her turn as William H. Macy's unfaithful wife. (He finds her getting fucked missionary style on a sun-bleached and dusty drive­way, surrounded by a crowd of onlookers. Between thrusts, she chides him for embarrassing her by interrupting.)

At 52, Hartley still does several scenes a month to make ends meet—MILF stuff and girl-on-girl. Enthusiast sites on the web credit Hartley with appearances in more than 850 different titles, making her the George Blanda of porn. For nearly 20 years Hartley lived in a three-way union—two women and a man. Some people blow their money on a bad drug habit," she said, unlocking the door to her apart­ment. "I blew mine on a bad marriage." She led me into the great room. A bank of windows overlooked the city sky­line. The walls were lined with books; the top shelf was chockablock with martial-style caps—the shiny-billed type worn by police chiefs and military dictators. On an antique wig stand sat the pony-head har­ness, ready for duty. "When I first got divorced, I said I would probably end up alone with cats and fuck buddies," Hartley said. "1 never thought I'd be married again. Ever."

"I hear that," I said. Hartley regarded me piteously through her chunky square-framed glasses—magnified, her eyes were like twin sapphires. "It's tough in our soci­ety," she said soothingly. "We're supposed to marry for love. Your partner is supposed to be your best friend and your soul mate and the best lover you ever had. And that's supposed to last your entire life."

As a proud home owner will, she led me on a tour of her place. She showed me the kitchen, a bedroom, a bathroom and then the playroom. There was a stainless-steel stand-up cage (three feet square by six feet high), an X frame for flogging, a spanking horse, a bondage bed, a custom-rigged sus­pension pulley, countersunk floor rings for restraint purposes and a bunch of stuff I can't even venture to name. "For so many years I didn't understand anything about being in a healthy relation­ship," Hartley said, tidying up a row of knee-high leather hoots. "Things spiraled far out of control. It got to the point where I was lying, withholding and cheating. If I had been raised to be more honest and ethi­cal and not a liar; I would have been able to go home and face my ex sooner and say, 'You know what? I've met somebody. The rela­tionship we have doesn't work for me.' But I didn't know how to have that difficult con­versation. I didn't know how to stand up for myself. I didn't know how to operate from a position of strength. Instead, I lied."

Her words resonated. I thought about my own deceased marriage. There'd been a lot of lying. I've had trouble trying to figure out how my "best friend" could do me like that.

Hartley took a step closer and put her hand on my shoulder. We looked out the window, past the cage. The sun was set­ting over a green park; the sky was pink and orange.

"What are you doing for dinner?" she asked.

Amber Lynn glided across the high-gloss oak-plank flooring at the Viceroy Hotel, wearing a pair of gold Michael Kors pumps with four-inch heels and a short, stunning Alice + Olivia dress, the electric blue of which harmonized beautifully with the Caribbean blue of her eyes. Her silken blonde hair, expensively cut, floated back and away from her sculpted face. It seemed as though a spotlight was following her as she moved. I was reminded of one of those slow-motion dream sequences you see sometimes in mov­ies. Time stops—for the horny teenager, the 40-year-old virgin, the hapless divorce—as the lust object enters the room.

Lynn was known in her day, along with her friends Ginger Lynn and the now mainstream actress Traci. Lords, as one of the Golden Goddesses of Porn. Lynn was an original Vivid Video girl, though not a contract player. With her mid-1980s nimbus of blonde curls, this petite Melanie Griffith look-alike reigned over video's glam years of glossy box covers, high salaries and rock-star perks—limos, makeup artists, hotel suites, Peruvian cocaine, all of it at a time when the Reagan and Bush administrations were spending billions on wars against drugs and immorality.

On-screen, Amber Lynn was as tough as nails, a no-nonsense dirty girl known for her snarl; she seemed as likely to bite off a dick as to suck it. The bulk of her films were made between the mid-1980s and the mid-1990s. She has 373 titles to her credit, according to the web. After quitting porn, she worked for more than a decade as a featured dancer in strip clubs all over the United States and Canada, making as much as $25,000 a week, some of it in the form of $1 bills, hauled out each night in garbage bags.

After a run-in with the law, Lynn hit rock bottom and began the long process of turning her life around. Now 47 (48, according to Wikipedia and other sources), she's been sober for 11 years. She is a real estate agent, works as a personal recovery assistant, coun­seling detoxing drug users—some of them young porn starlets. As she sat over a seared-tuna salad and bubbly water; Lynn's story unfolded—porn's cautionary tale. Laura Lynn Allen grew up in Orange County, California, the daughter of a retired Air Force officer and his brittle wife. The couple had two boys and then a girl who died at the age of two of a previously undetected heart defect. Lynn was conceived as a "replacement child," she explained, picking at her salad. "My brothers and my family were very overprotective." The sadness of the child's death cast a deep shadow over the household. When Lynn was three, her father was discovered to have a sec­ond brood with another woman. There was a divorce. Lynn's mother had a nervous break­down and was institutionalized. Lynn was sent to foster care. There was physical abuse. When she was seven, Lynn reunited with her mother. Shortly thereafter, they were driving home on the interstate after a hol­iday vacation when high winds forced a cement mixer to jackknife in front. of the car. Lynn was thrown clear of the wreckage. Her mother was nearly decapitated; she died at the scene the young girl witnessed. "At that moment, part of me split," she said. "That's what children do. They kind of split emotion­ally so they don't suffer the trauma."

Lynn's father moved into his old house with his new family—by now he had four boys with the stepmom. In total, there were eight boys and Lynn. When she was 11, her father died from alcoholism and heart failure. Her step­mother carried on, seemingly as best she could. Entering her teens, Lynn was "a pudgy kind of bucktoothed" tomboy, by necessity one of the guys. Soon, nature took its course. "I kind of blossomed. I had this rocking little body. I started doing fitness modeling, bikini modeling and hot body contests.

"What I remember most is the way peo­ple would stare. Heads would turn. I kind of became addicted—I really got off on the attention. It was like, Wow, this is making me feel really hot."

She took a bite of her tuna and chewed, reflecting. "See, I grew up being known as Lynnie. Little Lynnie. I always felt small and unsexy in this name, always overpro­tected by my brothers. The replacement child trying to live up to the perfect mem­ory of the dead girl. So as I started to feel the power of being noticed by men, oh my God, I just wanted to shed this whole image of the broken little girl."

Venturing north to Hollywood, Lynn became a regular at rock clubs on the Sunset Strip. She partied hard. She lost her virgin­ity. She got an agent. She had her picture in Penthouse. Shortly afterward Lynn went to a "go-see" for a movie. She knew it was not a Hollywood film; the director was a well-known porn veteran. She was visibly nervous. He offered her a pipe.

Even though she was young, Lynn (and Lynnie, too) had plenty of experience as a par­tyer. "We drank. We did LSD. We smoked a lot of grass. We had pipes all over the house." So when the director handed her a glass bong, she took it without hesitation. "I remember as I was taking the hit, I looked down and there was a white rock on top of the bowl that was melting into the weed as it burned. And I thought, What the hell is that?"

A look crossed her face, which shows evi­dence of a surgeon's work. "I'll never forget the way it hit me the first time. It was like, Oh. My. God. Anybody who has ever free-based knows the feeling, especially if you've been an addict. It's as if the birds are singing. The light is brighter. All of a sudden I'm no longer this gangly nervous teenager. I'm sit­ting there going, 'Oh wow!'"

The next day, she recalled, "I wound up on a porn set."

When filming her second movie, she walked into a house and met porn legend Jamie Gillis, who would become her long­time partner and the love of her life. A week later, she met the Ginger Lynn—who promptly took her hand, led her outside to a chaise longue and made passionate love to her. It was her first experience with another woman. The two would remain close for years. "I remember one time when me, Ginger and Traci Lords were all on a set together. We were partying in our dressing room. And we started, like, competing over who was going to do what in the film—who was going to do more than the others. We were all kind of friends, but at the same time we were all competitive. We're all like, How am I going to beat these people? Because you know I'm the one who is number one." She smiled and shook her head abashedly, an OG telling war stories. "We all outdid ourselves. Like, I shot a DP, a double pen­etration, and Ginger shot a DR and then I think Traci shot... no, I didn't do a DP. Ginger did a DP, and I did...." She threw up her hands; her Donna Karan bracelets jingle-jangled. Who can remember?

The drugs and alcohol would continue for nearly two decades. "I started out drinking Ketel One and slicing off crystals of Peruvian rock," Lynn said. "I wound up broken down, drinking Kamchatka out of a halflpint stashed in the bottom of my purse, with my crack pipe stuffed in the lining of my jacket. By the time it was done I was a can't-get-myself-out­of-my-closet type of drug addict." And I thought I had problems.

We talked for hours. The longer we spoke the more beautiful she seemed. At. last, the restaurant was empty. I walked her out to the valet to get her car. "Amber Lynn was all the things Lynnie never was," she said as we waited in the portico. "For a while, that's all I cared about: killing off Lynnie. But now I've come full circle. I don't want to be Lynnie, but I don't want to be Amber anymore, either. I just want to be myself: "I look back on my time in porn, and I'm proud of what. I did, especially the charity stuff I did for the Youth AIDS Foundation. You can say what you want about porn, but back then we were rock stars; the rock star and the porn-star image began to kind of look alike. We were no longer a seedy little underground business. We were in every­body's living room. Anybody who was hip,

It was like the thing to have a porn collection. And if you collected anything, you had to have the top three women in porn—Traci Lords, Ginger Lynn and Amber Lynn,"

Her car appeared. I tipped the valet and opened the door myself. Lynn's amber-colored, perfectly toned thighs scis­sored open and closed. She caught me staring. I felt myself blush.

"Give me a call if you have any follow-up questions," she said coquettishly.

And then she was gone down the long driveway.

Standing before the limited offerings in my motel room closet, I consider the options for my big night out with Asia Carrera. It is late in the afternoon of my second full day in southern Utah. I'm determined to pull out all the stops. If you can believe it, my date tonight, this beautiful hapa cyborg and multiorgasmic member of Mensa, a veteran of more than 350 X-rated titles, hasn't been out to dinner with a man in five years.

From the moment she picked me up yes­terday in her aging SUV, her hair frizzy and pulled back, her mismatched workout suit stained with food, her figure a bit fuller than in the movies, we'd sort of clicked. If it were true that deep intellectual commu­nion could be included on the list of the fun activities that dwell under the rubric of sexual congress—if intense, revelatory sharing of intimate personal details by two consenting adults were considered a type of sex—you could say that Asia Carrera and I had been going at it like a pair of college kids: nonstop, all over town, all over her house, sitting, standing, eating, walking, driving.

We talked and brunched at Cracker Barrel and Denny's. We sat together for hours in her great room and talked and shared tears. She talked as she autographed naked pictures for me and my son. (I wanted a ceramic doll, but I was too embarrassed to ask.) We talked and ate dinner with her two children at IHOP. That was me completing the family picture, holding the hand of her blond-mulleted four-year-old son as we crossed the parking lot together. The older child, six-year-old Catty, is a miniature Asia. She held her own in the conversation, chattering away on a diverse number of topics, including the subject of her second-grade class, which she attends with kids who are two and three years older. (The school's principal wanted to skip her yet another grade, but Carrera worried about the social effects. It's hard enough it's a Chris­tian school and Catty is an avowed atheist.)

A brilliant and somewhat manic person­ality, with an IQ over 150, Carrera is the woman you'd like to be paired with when the end-times come—a glance through her bookshelves reveals a survivalist's bent for self-sufficiency. There is seemingly nothing she can't teach herself to do. She riffs on the geology of the surrounding area. The use of a weed whacker. The market for renovating and flipping houses. The several fortunes won and lost investing in Latin American stocks, the high-tech bubble and online gambling. The curious phenomenon of something called a pink sock, an unintended result of anal sex. And the fascinating clini­cal details of her easy-to-reach G-spot.

Born Jessica and raised on the jer­sey Shore, Carrera was the eldest of four kids. Her mom is German; her dad is Japanese—"a perfect storm of iron will and overachievement," Carrera says. There were dance lessons, piano lessons, spelling cham­pionships, math olympiads.

"An A-minus wasn't good enough. If I came in second place in the school spelling bee, my mom would be like, 'Why didn't you come in first?' I won more awards than anybody in my school, but it was never good enough. I tried to kill myself so often that it was seen as just a joke."

At 17, she ran away from home. "I was sleeping with people for a place to stay. I was seriously hungry. I'd ask my friends to bring me some Doritos. But I wouldn't go home. I was stubborn."

She was saved from the streets by a full scholarship to Rutgers University, which included room and board. For spending money she worked as a shot girl in a bar. One night the boss asked her to do a pri­vate party. She poured drinks, danced on the bar and came home with $350. It didn't take her long to do the math. She dropped out of college, got a nose job (they called her Big Nose all through high school) and started dancing and modeling. Eventually she flew out to Los Angeles and found her way into porn.

Oddly, the business proved a perfect fit for Carrera's rare type of genius. "I like being a workaholic, I like being a perfectionist. like being an overachiever—as long as I'm doing what I want to do. I was able to write all my own scripts, star in my movies, design my box covers and do my own makeup and hair—I even cut my own hair. I did freaking everything. And I would show up with my script memorized. I knew everybody else's lines too, so I could cue everybody if they forgot their lines without screwing up a take. The directors loved me."

Carrera vowed to leave porn by the age of 30 with a wad of cash. She followed her plan—for the most part. Bad luck with investments and an addiction to online gambling took her fortune. But at the age of 29 she met Don Lemmon, a fitness guru and nutritionist. Lemmon had approached her about being a spokesmodel for his male-enhancement product. With his long flowing hair and muscles, he was just her type.

Lemmon moved in with Carrera after three days. The pair was engaged after three weeks and married after three months. A few months later Carrera became pregnant with Catty. "It was such a storybook romance. It was just head-over-heels love. It was so amazing."

After Catty was born, the couple moved to southern Utah, a quiet place with good schools and low housing prices. Lemmon and Carrera figured nobody would rec­ognize her in a place where porn was essentially outlawed. And it turned out to be true, mostly—the few people who did recognize her were thrilled to find a kindred spirit in their midst. They bought a house and settled into an idyllic co-dependent, semirural existence.

And then, in the early morning hours of June 10, 2006, driving home from a business dinner in Las Vegas, Lemmon lost control of his Jeep. His blood alcohol level was found to be almost triple the legal limit.

"The last entry I'd made on my blog was all about how freaking great my life was and how it was like a Cinderella story. I wrote, liter­ally, 'My life is a fairy tale.' And then my next update was, 'Well, the fairy tale is over."

Carrera was 32 years old. And eight months pregnant..

"Every day I would wake up as though I'd been kicked in the gut, thinking, Oh my God, the nightmare is still real; he's still not here. I would take his urn down and just lie on it and cry and go, 'Daddy, please come home, please come home, please come home.' Catty would come over and she would cry and she would push me off the urn. I didn't want to upset her; she was only 15 months old. And I knew it wasn't good for me to be lying on the floor screaming in hysterics with a baby in my belly. I wasn't in a good place. I was completely co-dependent on Don. I hadn't driven a car in two years. I didn't even go to the store with­out him. I was scared of the whole world. I'm socially phobic. It was so hard on me."

That's when she found out Lemmon was broke.

Carrera went into labor two weeks early. For months, even before Lemmon's death, she'd been planning to deliver her child at home. She decided to proceed. "I set Catty up with her sippy cup, watching a Wiggles video in the next room. I tried to do a water birth in the backyard, but the water was fuck­ing freezing, so I'm sitting there thinking, 'This isn't relaxing.' Then Catty climbs into the pool with all her clothes on, so I'm contract­ing while I'm getting Catty into warm dry clothes. I called the midwife, and I was like, 'You know what? I guess it's time to go to the hospital..' But then I got on my knees over the birthing pad, and this little head pops out of me. I'm like, Oh my God! There's a baby down there. So I delivered him.

"And there he was. He was lying on the shower curtain and the towel, and I'm tak­ing pictures of him—he's still connected to me by the umbilical cord and I'm taking pictures. And then I've got pictures of Catty looking at him, like, 'What is that thing?' It was so cute. She was so small, looking at the baby, and there's little Devin, and he's like covered in ketchup and mustard.

"It's weird, but the whole ordeal of the birth was exactly what I needed to make me feel strong enough to be able to handle rais­ing two kids by myself. I thought, If. I can birth a baby by myself, I can do this without Don. I was like, I am Superwoman; I can do this. It was an incredible high."

Then, another twist: About a year later a statement came for a life insurance policy premium. She'd been bugging Lemmon to get one. Turns out he actually had. Due to the circumstances of his death, it paid double.

"Right now, my life is my kids, period," she said, standing by the fish tank at her house, feeding a giant one-eyed pacu named Pacu. "I don't have the time and energy to dedicate to a relationship. My kids don't have another parent. They don't. have other family here. They don't have anybody but me, and I'm a perfectionist workaholic. If that means putting my own needs aside, that's absolutely fine. I'm totally cool with that. It's as though Catty is the Asia that could have been if she hadn't been abused by her parents. And Devin is such a special little dude. I'm the mommy until they're 18. That's fine with me."

And so it is that the elevator clings open and I cross the lobby of my motel, which doubles in the morning as the all-you-can-eat break­fast buffet. I wave to the clerk behind the front desk; he's been so nice, this towering Mormon lad with a friendly smile.

Only right now he's not smiling.

The apple is gone firom his cheeks. Ile looks as though he's just seen a ghost.

Before I can react, someone links my arm. Asia Carrera now towers over me in four-inch fuck-me pumps. She is wearing a long blue floral dress with a plunging neckline; her cinematic 36Cs are on full display. Her hair has been carefully coiffed; her eyes are vividly awash in her trademark blue eye shadow and thick China-doll mascara—just like in all her photos.

Dumbstruck, I'm led through the automatic doors. I recover my wits enough to remember to walk her around to the driver's side.

"Just because I'm all dressed up doesn't mean anybody's getting lucky," she purrs.

"I feel like I'm already lucky," I tell her, buckling my seat belt. It sounds like a good line. But I think I really mean it.

Sure, I have some big-time hurt to get over. I have to find a way to finance the future for myself and my son—and to pay alimony for the next seven years. And I have to find a way to move on, to heal the wounds—presumably be able to trust someone again; presumably I'll want to share my life with another human being. still find myself crying at times; I still find myself spiriting around the house like a ghost, moving from place to place, trying to figure out where the fuck I'm trying to go.

But you know what? I'm going to be okay. Fuck my ex for fucking me over like that she'll be sorry someday, I'm sure of it. make more money. I'll love my son; already our bond is much stronger than it ever was. I'll turn the hurt I've suffered into wisdom; it will make me a better writer and a better human being. If Asia, Nina, Amber and Kay can transcend their various trials and miser­ies, certainly I can too.

"Did you see the face on the kid behind the front desk?" I ask Carrera.

"It's nice to know I still have my secret weapon," she says.

And off we go, in the direction of the set­ting sun—two grown-ups with lots of hurt and history to put behind us, doing the best we can to move along.