I was just finishing dinner Sunday night (first course was a piece of wholewheat toast with peanut butter and sliced tomato on it, second course was a piece of toast with peanut butter, peach preserves and a squashed banana), when my phone rang at 5:35pm. It was Rachel, the Village Voice sex columnist.
I asked her to call me back in two minutes, during which time I washed my plate and brushed my teeth and honed my questions.
The thing between Rachel and I had started innocently. Lainie Speiser, the yeshiva girl turned Penthouse publicist, emailed me 11/10:
And now here we were chatting away like two Jewish sex columnists who had never met.
Rachel's latest book is for the whole family, Jewish or goyish: Naughty Spanking Stories from A to Z.
Luke: "How do you know Lainie?"
Rachel: "I work at Penthouse Variations. She's totally cool. She's like, I'll send out this press release about you. I'm like, ok."
Luke: "How old are you?"
Rachel: "I'm 29."
Luke: "When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?"
Rachel: "I was just reminded at Thanksgiving that I wanted to be a geneticist, which sounded exciting when I was little, before I did any science. Then I wanted to be a politician. Then I wanted to be a lawyer and I went to [NYU] law school."
Duke: "You did undergraduate at UC Berkeley?"
Rachel: "I majored in political science and women's studies. I went to law school. Then I started writing porn [in 2000]. I started writing essays about buying my first vibrator. I wrote an erotica story about Monica Lewinsky.
"Then I left law school [just short of graduation] because I realized I didn't want to be a lawyer. Then I fell into a lot of the other stuff that I've done. People have just asked me to work on this book or just asked me to work at Penthouse Variations.
"I was in law school for three years. I could've graduated but I didn't because I sorta had a nervous breakdown. I just never went back. It was a difficult time. It was the hardest thing I've ever tried to do. I decided to just cut my losses and try to pay off my loans. I don't think I would be happy as a lawyer."
Luke: "What did your family want you to become?"
Rachel: "I don't think they had any expectations. They wanted me to take time off after graduating college [at age 20]. I thought no. I know what I want to do. I don't think my family loves what I do now but they know that I'm happy.
"I was 23 when I left law school. I owed $150,000. I took any jobs, day jobs, as a secretary and stuff. I was always writing on the side. This year I got this job as an editor at Penthouse Variations. I just started writing a column for the Village Voice. And I did this new book, Naughty Spanking Stories. All those things were things people asked me to do. Now I'm starting to do stuff that I came up with.
"This year, everything I've wanted professionally has happened.
"Carly Milne hooked me up with Cousin Stevie from Family Business (Showtime program). I interviewed him for a coming issue of Penthouse. They taped the interview for Family Business. About a month before, I'd thought I wanted to be on that show."
Luke: "Since what age have you worn glasses?"
Rachel: "I can't really remember not wearing them."
Luke: "Who's the blonde woman in your picture?"
Rachel: "Blonde with pigtails and a gold dress? We don't know her name. We just call her Pocahontas. She was at this Halloween party and I thought she was really pretty. My friends made me get my picture taken with her. I was like, no. I'm too nervous. She's so pretty. But we took the picture."
Rachel stands about 5'3".
Luke: "Would you ever pose naked?"
Rachel: "I have. For Onourbacks print magazine in 2000 and more recently for the website Thatstrangegirl.com under the psuedonym Tanya."
Luke: "You look different in these pictures. You look like you weigh more in these pictures."
Rachel: "They were at least a year-and-a-half ago. I've probably lost 20 pounds this year."
Luke: "How did you lose the weight?"
Rachel: "I had a dramatic breakup on Valentines Day. Stress. I figured I could either drink a lot, eat a lot, and sit around the house or I could stop drinking and be healthy and walk a lot.I used that as something to make me feel better. This year I've done more writing than in the rest of my life combined. Not drinking helps me."
Rachel is bisexual, though she's been heavily into girls the past few years. "I first slept with a woman when I was in college (circa 1994). Then I moved to New York in 1996 and that's when I more identified as queer.
"I had a story in Best Lesbian Erotica 2005 which is called 'The End' [it is about her Valentine's Day breakup]. It's not that erotic.
"I wouldn't write about someone [she's slept with] without their consent or I would disguise them to make them anonmyous. Sometimes people will ask me to write about them. I just had this sex date with Betty Dodson's [she's 75, he's 28] boyfriend Eric. I've never had someone say you can write about me like that."
Luke: "Why do you think most sex columnists are women?"
Rachel: "Because we're used to talking about sex. Every time I go out with my friends, male or female, it comes up. I would imagine that men in general aren't sitting around disecting their sex lives in the way a lot of women do. Some guys who write about it do it in a jokey way."
Luke: "What about the idea that writing about sex is unladylike?"
Rachel: "I've never felt ladylike, even before I was writing about sex. I didn't grow up with the idea that I was supposed to be ladylike. Someone who thinks that way wouldn't be reading a sex column anyway."
Luke: "Would you ever work as an escort?"
Rachel: "Not unless it was an unusual circumstance, for an outrageous amount of money, an Indecent Proposal sort of thing. There have been times when I've been financially strapped and I've considered various kinds of sex work."
Luke: "Do you have much of an urge towards self destruction?"
Rachel: "I do. I've worked overly hard to combat that. I could easily be someone who drank a lot."
Luke: "Are you prone to depression?"
Rachel: "I am. I have a depressive side of me and an optimistic side of me. I'm not out socializing when I'm depressed. I'm often blogging when I'm depressed. Blogging...is a purging and I forget that other people read it."
Luke: "How does being Jewish affect you and your writing?"
Rachel: "I almost want to say it doesn't. The times I notice I'm Jewish the most are when I'm confronted with people who not only are not Jewish, but have no experience around Jews.
"I grew up in Northern New Jersey. I lived in Berkeley. I've lived in New York. I've been surrounded not only by Jews but by people who've been around them."
Luke: "Do you believe in God?"
She giggles. "That's a tough question. Sometimes. I would like to believe in God."
Luke: "Can you see yourself having kids?"
Rachel: "Definitely. If I were more financially stable, I could see myself doing that."