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The world’s only psychic sidewalk pornographer, or how (I think) I know what I know

Frenchmen Street, October 2014. Photo by Ed Barnas.

Frenchmen Street, October 2014. Photo by Ed Barnas.

All year round at the smut stand, people ask me if I can do custom work online. I always say, "Yes, but in person is better." The would-have-been customers never ask for clarification, they just nod their heads knowingly. Of course it would be better in person. I KNOW it's better in person, to ask the questions and get the responses. I just don't know why.

Or I am hesitant to explain. Or I have tried to explain and it comes out all woo woo and I hear myself talk about it and I think, lady, you have drunk your own damn Kool-Aid. I imagine that I can tell things, deep things, by looking at people.

I can, but not the way people think.

I must be able to, otherwise I would not be getting the hit rate that I do. I would guess that at least 95-98 percent of the pieces that I have done on commission have been solid hits: decently to well-written pieces that the customer enjoyed. Of those, at least 30-40 percent are "oh my GOD, that was amazing" and 10 percent are jumping up and down and almost weeping. My hit rate is high, I think, although I have no industry standards to compare it to. I don't hang out in customers' bedrooms—a joking charge that frequently gets leveled at me—and I am definitely not psychic, since such a phenomenon does not actually exist.

So where does it from, the Sidewalk Smut? The actual content of their answers is there, that tells me some things, but not everything. Body language, spoken language… that's where it's at, that tells me what to do with the raw material, how to spin it in a way that is uniquely for them. I feel like it's all there, and I'm only just beginning to see what it is that I'm seeing.

Part of it is the way they approach the stand. Are they cautious and quiet, are they bouncy and excitable? Are they guarded and having to be coaxed into it, or have they stepped up and said fuck yeah! This doesn't necessarily determine whether someone is going to get hardcore or softcore, but it does go into it, and it does tell me a little something about how readily they are going to let me in, and how open they are to what might be in there.

How do they act when I talk to them? Do they maintain eye contact, especially for the more personal questions? If yes, then I feel like they own their own answers pretty well, that I can proceed with confidence down those paths. If no, then caution and/or delicacy, hints and roundabouts and maybe a few euphemisms or a flight of lyricism is the way to go on that particular subject, whether it's anal sex or toys or who is riding on top. If they speak clear and loud, or mouth the words under the noise of a busy street, or even in a quiet alcove lean in and whisper in my ear… all of these things tell me something.

Posture, too, just their body and how they hold it as we talk: this gives me something to work with. Are they calm and self-contained, or wired and throwing off kinetic energy all over the place? Do they shrink in as we talk—uh oh, do they really  want it, or did they just give in to peer pressure? Or do they bloom out into an open stance? There is shifting and growth happening there, they might be ready for more than they actually said.

These are the things that I think I see, as I flip through four seasons of the Smut Stand in my mind right now, as I remember countless hours of sitting there in the muggy midnight miasma of Frenchmen Street in New Orleans, or the cold August afternoons of Cowgate (Edinburgh's grottiest understreet), or the confused twilight of Cincinnati's Ludlow Avenue, or the bucolic England sun of Ludlow's Chang Thai courtyard. it doesn't matter where I'm sitting. I'm watching my customers' faces and bodies, watching their mouths form around words and thoughts and desires that they may never have said to anyone, let alone to a stranger with a typewriter.

I'm not sure what it is that I'm watching for, but apparently I know it when I see it.

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