Obscenely early. A shooting day, so I headed to the set. As I pulled my Tesla out of the garage, I saw a skinny old dark-skinned Asian guy wearing a plain white tee and cargo pants in my rearview. Had I called the gardener to come early?
But this gardener had the wrong tools. I rolled down my window and asked what he wanted. He didn’t answer. His hands were behind him, like a kung fu master. His hair was cut very short, his face deeply lined. Squinting and blinking, he resembled an Asian Clint Eastwood.
I repeated my question.
“I’m Herbert Lin’s father.” He brought forward his hands, one of them gripping a sizable revolver. He pointed it through the window, inches from my face.
“Tommy Kok,” he said.
Tommy Kok was Herbert’s stage name. He was the mope who got stabbed to death by Ryan Driver on set over at Lust Definition DVD. Driver led the police on an all-day chase, and when he was cornered in West Hills, he threw himself off a cliff. I’d met Tommy once, before he started out. He told me I was his idol and that I was living his dream: doing porn and fucking hot girls. I told him to chase his passion. Don’t let anyone discourage you. Isn’t that what you’re supposed to say? Oh, and I introduced Tommy to one of the directors at Lust Definition.
“I’ve got to go to work now,” I said, my hands up. “People are expecting me. If you shoot me, you won’t get far.”
“I want to ask you some questions,” he said, thumbing the revolver’s hammer. “If you leave now, I’ll just come back tomorrow. Or tonight. Or the next day.”
“That would be tomorrow too.”
He jabbed the barrel of the revolver, hitting my left temple.
“My face!” I shouted, rubbing the side of my throbbing head.
“You don’t need a face for what you do.”
I wished I had some fucking neighbors. Bad enough I had to work with so many of the drug-addled. Worse that there could be a completely psychotic mope waving around a prop samurai sword waiting to kill someone on set. I didn’t want to come home and blog to my tens of thousands of fans that I was afraid of getting my brains blown out in my new 6,000-square-foot home in Woodland Hills.
“Get in,” I said. “I’ll answer your questions if you put away the gun.”
And so we drove to the studio. Me and Tommy Kok’s father. Me and this armed, angry dad. Hadn’t done the angry dad drive in almost fifteen years.
“I’ve seen your films,” he said. “The Legend of Jon Bamboo.”
Ah, my magnum opus. The plot goes: three beautiful babes (Sunrise Flowers, Hannah Rose, and Brooke Lee James) follow a treasure map that leads to an island castle off the coast of San Diego where I, the reclusive, titular, and preternaturally well-hung Asian lover resided.
“It’s based on a true story,” I said. “Do you know the legend of Dick Ho? He was supposed to be the first Asian male porn star in the seventies. Said to be longer than John Holmes! The Legend of Jon Bamboo won a lot of awards. Best guy-girl and FFM threesome 2012. I’m proud of that film.”
“Shut the fuck up!” he shouted, loud enough to make me pee a little.
My hands, at ten and two on the steering wheel, began to shake. “I only met your son once. He said it was his dream to do what I do. I think we should let kids pursue their dreams, no? This was my dream. I mean, not this, with you in the car with a gun, but—”
“Herb was a smart boy. He was going to college at UCLA. He was an engineering major.”
“My parents were similarly skeptical,” I said. “Then they saw my house and my cars. Now my mom calls every week to make sure I haven’t caught a disease yet.”
Tommy’s father shook his head. He wore white gym socks with black shoes. Never a good sign. Several very long whiskers sprouted from his Adam’s apple. Grooming is so important. His lack of grooming and attention to conventions of fashion should have been immediate red flags.
“My son did whatever you told him to do,” he said. “I found out from one of his friends that he went to Las Vegas to see you at your smut awards show. He drank with you. You gave him advice. You gave him a contact to the porn company. You told him you started out as a mope.”
I was hoping he didn’t know all that.
Back when I was in high school, my dad kept a locked suitcase in his closet that I pried open with a screwdriver. Inside, I found a VHS tape of a movie that starred Peter North. I thought: I’m going to be that guy. So I worked on my body. I was naturally well endowed. School wasn’t my thing. I had lots of girlfriends. After graduation, I moved from Monterey Park to Van Nuys to be closer to the studios. At first, I’d be one of the tuggers in a bukkake, or the guy cheering the couple on while they fucked in a college dorm party scene, or the dude who stood around in a mask in a BDSM. Mainly, I was the guy who uploaded videos on the website, and cleaned the set afterward. Lube gets all over everything.
Needless to say, with Revolver Dad by my side, I wasn’t feeling sexy as we pulled up to the set, a warehouse by the Van Nuys Airport. I was scheduled to film two scenes. A boy-girl and a mommy-daughter threesome. We got out of the car, and I headed for my trunk to get my yoga mat and saw that Tommy’s dad was waving his gun around like an iPhone.
“Jesus Christ!” I said. “Put it away!”
“Relax, Howard,” he said, sliding his gun back beneath his waistband.
The fucker used my real name. He had really done his research. I warned him not to use my real name in front of the crew and especially not in front of my sexy co-stars. Inside, the director, Mack Sinner, was in the kitchen, getting some coffee, while the crew was messing with the lighting on set in the loft space upstairs. We all know that set well, the bed with white sheets. The second floor windows had a nice view of the runways, but no need to marvel at that—we weren’t shooting the view.
I told Mack I had a visitor.
“I’m Jon’s dad,” Tommy’s father said.
Mack looked pleasantly surprised. “This doesn’t happen often. Parents visiting the set. Jon never mentions his family.”
“I bet he doesn’t,” said my hostage-taker.
My balls were officially feeling like empty coin purses. “Give me a thirty-minute warning before we shoot,” I said to Mack.
Mack again looked surprised, but this time, not pleasantly so. The thirty-minute warning was industry-speak for “I need to pop a boner pill.”
“You okay, JB?”
“I’m fine,” I said. “Just had a hot date last night that lasted until morning.”
Mack shook his head with admiration. “This guy gets as much pussy as the country of China,” he said to Tommy’s father. “You should be proud of him.”
A look of nausea scrolled across his face.
I disappeared into the dressing room, unrolled my yoga mat, turned on some slow ambient EDM, dimmed the lights, lit some aromatic candles (lavender), and sat cross-legged on my mat in the middle of the room. Tommy’s father perched on the folded-up futon and looked around before fixing his gaze upon the framed Game of Death movie poster on the wall (one of the producers bought me that for my last birthday). I wished now that it was one of Bruce Lee’s more benignly titled works, like Enter the Dragon or The Green Hornet. I shut my eyes and did some abdominal breathing exercises.
“This is my routine,” I said. “Otherwise, I don’t feel sexy.”
“I expected more drugs. And more junkie whores.”
“It’s still early in the day.”
“Don’t think you can joke your way out of this.”
I opened an eye. “Why are you here? Why do you want to expose yourself—so to speak—to this world that you hate so much?”
“I want to understand what my son was thinking.”
“He probably wanted to have sex with beautiful women. Most people can’t. Like you. No offense. I’m guessing you can’t sleep with, like, thirty different good-looking women, over a hundred times a year. Porn isn’t calculus.”
“I didn’t even know he had sex. He never had a girlfriend.”
“Then you didn’t know your son as well as you thought you did,” I said. “My dad doesn’t know me at all. It happens. No use dwelling on it.” I realized how bitter I sounded, how insensitive I was to his loss. “I’m not going to tell you how to mourn your son’s death,” I added.
“I could have done more,” Tommy’s father said, his eyes filling. “He didn’t like going to church. He stopped talking to me because I made him go. Maybe I shouldn’t have been so strict.”
“Don’t be so hard on yourself,” I said. “What happened was a tragedy. The guy went nuts and your son was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I can’t imagine what you’re going through. There’s nothing you could have done to stop it.”
“What I keep coming back to is that he met you.” He unlatched the cylinder on the revolver, fished single bullets out of a cargo pocket, and began loading the weapon.
No breathing exercise was going to help now. I envisioned my guts splattered all over the dressing room, and my dad, whom I hadn’t spoken to in at least a decade, telling my mom with a shrug, “I told you something like that would happen.”
A knock on the door. I opened it a crack. Mack’s assistant, Cherry. She handed me the release form on a clipboard. I signed and returned it.
“Mack said to give you the thirty-minute warning.”
“Thanks,” I said, shutting the door. I reached into my dresser drawer for my emergency pills. I turned up the lights to view the expiration date. Still good. I popped one with a swig of water.
“If I could turn back time and make it so that I never met him, I would,” I told Tommy’s dad. “Is that what you want to hear?”
“Is she a performer?” he asked, nodding at the door.
“Cherry? She wants to be. If she toned up a little and maybe cleaned up the complexion, she could be making good money already.”
“She looks barely eighteen.”
“Clock’s ticking. Once she gets started, she’s going to look thirty in like six months, and then there will be another hundred eighteen-year-olds ready to take her spot.”
“How do you live with yourself?”
“By cashing the checks.”
“If I killed you right now, would anyone miss you?”
Maybe a few. I tried not to keep too many close friends. My mom still loved me, I thought. My fans might miss me. But what were they going to do? Hold a candlelight vigil for their favorite porn actor? Laud my contributions to the cum-munity? I’d long thought of myself as a service provider, except the service provided wasn’t necessarily a net positive for society.
The sword murder-suicide was a crime felt throughout the industry. Some houses started hiring additional set security. Others required applications and background checks for every last person near a porn star. Too bad no one thought of a way to stop a crazy from showing up in my driveaway.
“What does your father think of what you do?”
When I told him what I was doing for work after high school, I was driving him home from his food truck. He worked that truck by the airport for thirty years so that I could do whatever I dreamed would make me happy in life. He didn’t expect porn to be on that list; hard to blame him, really, for the way he reacted. He clubbed my ear while we were on the I-10 East and said he would never speak to me again if I kept doing porn. He claimed he had never seen pornography in his life. He claimed he never masturbated. My honesty triggered a spew of his dishonesty.
“You think I’m the criminal here?” I said. “You think that just because you think what I do is a sin that I’m in the wrong? You’re the one with the gun.”
“Why would my son be so stupid to want to be like you?” he said. “I look at you and I see an uneducated person. I see someone who goes to the gym all the time but never studied in school. I see someone who has no family and lives in a big house counting his money. I see someone lying to himself that he’s happy with his pathetic life.”
“And who the fuck are you? What have you done other than spawn some loser-ass mope?”
“At least I’m honest,” he said. “I have nothing left. My only son is gone. My wife has left me. I have nothing.”
We seethed in silence. I anticipated the next door knock, my call to go to work. This was going to be the least pleasurable scene ever.
“You’re one of the first,” he said.
Media always asked about that. I didn’t like talking about it. I was one of the few Asian male stars in the American industry.
I got my start because there was a demand for AMWF (Asian Male White Female) in Asian countries. A lot of my early work featured me fucking while my face and wang were blurred to get through the Japanese censors. The Japanese also really liked their rape, so I had to pretend to strangle girls while they fake-cried and screamed as I was inside them. Awful work. Worst of all, I’d only get paid $200-300 per scene! A dark period in my career.
Then The Legend of Jon Bamboo happened, and I took off. People actually wanted to see me fuck in America. And I did enough movies and met enough stars that they wanted to work with me. They knew I’d fuck them respectfully. I’d made enough money so I could say no to the BDSM and rape fantasy stuff. When you’re nineteen or twenty, you can sort of fake your way through that shit. You can stay hard forever. Not so easy when you’re thirty-five.
In summary, I wasn’t James Deen or Johnny Sins, but Jon Bamboo was doing pretty well for himself.
Tommy’s dad stepped up to me until our noses were almost touching. “What if you’re one of the last? Then no one would want to be like you anymore.”
I realized I wasn’t afraid. I had achieved what I’d set out to achieve and everything that had come since was extra. And yes, I was a little disappointed. I grew up wanting to be Peter North, but now I knew that I could never be Peter North or Johnny Sins or James Deen. I could only be one of the Asian guys. I had my small moment in the sun and that was it. I’d succeeded, but at the same time, I’d failed. Sure, I couldn’t enjoy some things because of the career I’d chosen: a relationship with my family, a normal love life. But I did the best I could with what God gave me.
“If you’re going to kill me, just do it.”
“Aren’t you ashamed of who you are?” Tommy’s father said. “You do the BTSM. You choke and hit women.”
“BDSM,” I corrected. “And I lightly slap and fake-choke. Nothing more. It’s all consensual.”
“You spit on them.”
“How much did you enjoy your research? Did you jerk off to it?”
The mouth of the gun kissed my forehead. And then finally, the knock on the door.
“We’re ready, Jon.” Sindee Vuitton, one of my good friends in the industry. She came up around the same time, and we’d filmed lots of scenes together. We dated for a year. When she started, she skyrocketed to fame as a barely legal. Now, ten years later, she was twenty-nine and a MILF. Sometimes they even asked her to do Mature. On a normal day, I never had trouble keeping it hard for her. Her husband is a chef, nice guy—we played golf sometimes. Her three-year-old son was super cute.
“Come on in, Sin,” I said. Tommy’s father wheeled his weapon behind his back.
“Are you okay?” she said, peeking in. “I heard you needed thirty minutes.”
“I didn’t take it,” I lied. “Come in. Meet my dad.”
“Oh hi!” Sindee said, shaking the gunman’s free hand. “Pleasure to meet you, Mr. Bamboo.”
“He likes the bondage porn,” I said.
Sindee’s eyes widened.
“It’s a Japanese thing,” I added.
She smiled, smacking me on the arm. That was our inside joke. It took her about five years of working together for her to remember what kind of Asian I was.
“What the hell are you doing here?” Sindee said to me. “Go out with your dad. We could have rescheduled.”
“I came to see you,” I said, locking eyes, hoping she’d see that something was wrong. “So what do you do?” she asked Tommy’s dad, missing my unspoken message.
“I’m a postal worker.”
“Of course he is,” I blurted.
He glared at me.
“Why don’t you stay here, Pops? I’m not sure you should actually see what I do.”
“Oh, I do,” he said. “I want the full BTS. I love the behind-the-scenes videos.”
Sindee laughed. “Your dad is a perv.”
Even with Sindee, the scene was a struggle. Took over an hour. My erection lasted too long, and I couldn’t finish. She looked distracted; I looked distracted. Mack kept asking if I was okay. Everyone kept asking if I was okay. I wasn’t fucking okay. Fucking okay was standing over there in the corner, watching me, waiting to blow my brains out.
Afterward, downstairs in the kitchen, a robed Sindee took my sweat-soaked self aside. “I’m sorry I touched your hair,” she said. “I know you don’t like that.”
I hadn’t even noticed.
“You must be so sore,” Sindee said.
“You too,” I said, shaking my head. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be. You know you can always talk to me, right?”
I checked over my shoulder to see where my tormentor was. Mack was showing him our dungeon set and complaining that my inability to cum had caused him to be behind schedule. I pulled Sindee close and muttered: “He’s not my dad. He’s Tommy Kok’s dad. He’s got a gun. He thinks I got his son killed.”
Sindee smiled and nodded as she eyed Herbert’s father. “Fuck,” she whispered.
“Son!” Tommy’s father shouted from the dungeon.
“Dad?” I looked for sharp objects. Nothing but cheese knives. “Let’s go get some lunch.”
“I’m not hungry,” he said, walking over.
“I need some food before my next shoot,” I said. “And I need to shower.” I hugged Sindee goodbye. “Call the police,” I whispered in her ear.
“I think Sindee should have lunch with us,” Tommy’s father said. “I’d love to talk to your friend.”
And so there we were, in my dressing room again, waiting for burritos to be delivered from El Pollo Loco. Behind closed doors, I told Tommy’s father that Sindee knew who he was.
“So it looks like you’ll have to commit a double murder today,” I said.
“You should know, Mr. Kok,” Sindee said, “that Jon had nothing to do with your son’s murder.”
“Shut the fuck up and sit the fuck down, whore!”
“Don’t talk to her that way,” I said. “Is that the type of Christian language you use to speak to women?”
“Women do what men say in my church.”
“So church is just like porn.”
“You corrupted my son!”
“You didn’t support him! You think that just because you feed a kid and send him to school that that makes you a father? No. You have to support what will make your son happy. When he was old enough, he’d learn all on his own that the world is shit. He didn’t need you to tell him too. All you had to do was say: go be happy. I love you and I’m proud of you. Did you ever say that? I bet you didn’t. My dad didn’t.”
“Stop it!” Sindee cried out. “Both of you. How is this going to help, Mr. Kok? We can’t bring your son back.”
And that was when Tommy’s dad crumpled on the futon and began to weep. He rested the gun on the dresser and covered his face with both hands. He began to release clenched sobs.
Sindee sat next to Mr. Lin as he cried. I felt bad for him and racked my brain for more memories with Tommy that I could share. He said he hated college. He was glad to be away from home so he could meet women. He flunked out of freshman year. His story was a lot like mine. That’s why I kept talking to him. That’s why I gave him an in. I couldn’t say that I made the right choices. All I could say was that they worked out. Tommy made me feel better about those choices.
“He wished he didn’t have to choose between you and himself,” I said. “He told me this. In my suite. While we looked over the Bellagio fountains. He was a good person. I could tell.”
Mr. Lin was in full-on ugly-cry-face mode now. I’m not 100% sure that was a real memory of Tommy. It seemed like something he might say. We did look out over the Bellagio fountains at the AVN awards that year. At least that part was true.
The doorknob started rattling and Mack and Cherry asked what was going on. Sindee and I locked eyes and an understanding passed between us. I swiped the gun and stuffed it in the dresser while she unlocked the door, letting Mack and Cherry in. Before Mr. Lin realized what was happening, I threw myself onto him. Something in the futon frame snapped and it folded flat under our weights, and I held Mr. Lin’s arms down against the mattress. He was just a frail old man who didn’t weigh much more than the women I worked with. I waited for him to stop struggling. I was sitting on his chest like I was the girl on top, and Mack was holding up one of his dungeon paddles, ready to use it. The El Pollo Loco delivery guy appeared in the doorway with our burritos.
How did one even begin to explain a morning like this?
I drove Mr. Lin home. A real memory of Tommy in Las Vegas returned. “He said you always wanted to own a restaurant, but you could never get the funds together. He said you were a good cook.”
For the first time that day, Mr. Lin smiled. Sheepishly so. “Then we had Herbert,” he said, his voice phlegmatic.
When I dropped him off in front of his house in San Gabriel, he got out of the car, looked at me, his lower lip trembling.
“Thank you for telling my boy what he wanted to hear,” he said.