By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Hart continues to make a handsome living through featured appearances at adult clubs around the country--always billed as "Adult Film Star Tera Hart." "I make enough so I don't have to work all the time," she says. "And so I can keep my son in toys."
After a four-hour journey, speeded along by our pilot's hell-on-wheels driving, we pull up at the Sumner Suites hotel in Houston. It is here that I meet the legendary Christi Lake. I'm strolling down the hallway toward the hotel elevator when I come across a tall, angular woman in an electric blue one-piece micro-mini with knee-length boots and crystals sewn around the border of everything. Lake is hanging halfway out of her room, smoking a cigarette and tapping the ashes hither and yon. She is pretty in the way I remember every popular girl in high school being, with a minimum of individuality and a maximum of mascara and hairspray.
"Hi there," she says, with a perfunctory wink.
Lake would later explain that she has a compelling personal reason for appearing in support of Ray Hill. She'd recently been released from a Corpus Christi jail after being arrested and charged with promoting obscene material at an adult video store called--appropriately enough--The Adult Video Store. The raid followed a predictable law-enforcement formula when it comes to vice cases.
"I was signing my tapes and photos," Lake says, "when an undercover cop comes in and buys a copy of my latest movie. Less than hour later, seven or eight uniformed cops barge in, telling everyone to stay put and pull out their IDs."
Only Christi Lake and the clerk ended up in jail. Lake claims police seized more than $1,362 in cash, some of which was hers. Since she's a national celebrity and constant traveler, her attorney asked if he could appear in her stead on the designated court date. Lake hopes her case will be dismissed, since so many obscenity cases are designed to scare the business owners, not incarcerate the accused. At worst--she figures--she'll have to pay a fine.
She is clearly bitter about the incident, mostly because the plain-clothes cop who purchased the offending videocassette evidently was interested in more than just upholding the law.
"I was selling two different kinds of photos--all-nude photos I made before the store opened and topless Polaroids with me," Lake remembers. "The cop who purchased the 'obscene' tape also bought three naked pictures of me. Somehow, I don't think that was part of the investigation."
It's Friday morning at six in the hotel's dim hallway, and Jerry, A.J. Crowell's partner, is running from door to door, knocking on each one to awaken his female celebrities so they can appear on Stevens & Pruitt, Houston's hottest weekday morning radio show on "Rock 101," KLOL-FM.
Jerry is a short, red-haired, bespectacled man in his thirties who prefaces even the most innocent comments he makes in my presence with "Of course, that's off the record."
Just like Crowell, Jerry is working his butt off to make this ALF-Ray Hill benefit work. Unlike her, he won't provide specific details about his personal life, except to say he is married with children, lives in the suburbs, is a devout Christian, and previously operated a small newspaper in Dallas.
When Jerry fails to get anyone to answer her door, he returns to his hotel room, grabs the telephone receiver, and begins to call everyone's room.
"The problem is, none of these people are being paid to get up early," Jerry says sheepishly. "It's the same with minimum-wage workers--they've got no incentive to make the extra effort. You cure that easy--by making yourself identify with the worker."
Jerry retrieves from his memory bank an anecdote about a laundry business he once owned and his attitude toward a few workers he encountered sitting on the floor eating lunch. "You have to meet them on their own terms. You walk up to them and say, 'Que paso, man?' Then you tell 'em you don't have any lunch, and let them offer you a tamale. You say, 'Hey, man, I'm still paying on this $500 suit.' They're surprised. They'll pay attention to you then."
While Jerry is probably not as ethnically fluid as he imagines, he channels his nervous energy into an impressive mixture of grim determination and cheerleader enthusiasm. He is also a confirmed workaholic--a Sundown staffer informs me it's not uncommon for Jerry to start, or end, his workday at 4:30 a.m.
He manages to summon three guests to appear in the 7 a.m. Stevens & Pruitt show--Kayla Kleevage, Sophia Staks, and Vanity, a 24-year-old dancer who won Sundown's 1995 Adult Entertainer of the Year award.
The intelligence and toughness of most of the actresses and dancers I meet don't surprise me. Sofia Staks comes closest to fulfilling the stereotype most people hold of female adult entertainers as wanton airheads. After she decides during our first interview that I have a "cute laugh," she pinches my bottom once as I walk down the aisle, slaps it while we're standing in a truck stop, and blocks my entrance to an occupied restroom by jumping between me and the locked door, thrusting her breasts out like a pair of big, mean thugs (dare I say "bouncers"?), and winking at me lasciviously.