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Setting the Bar for Smut

Every Saturday night Steve "Pudgy" De Rose turns the Twisted Spoke into a porno house.

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A few minutes before midnight on Saturdays, a busboy tapes garbage bags over the windows of the Twisted Spoke in preparation for Smut & Eggs, the bar's weekly pairing of dirty movies and late-night brunch. Sometimes only a few people show up, but on a recent Saturday the mostly young, mostly female crowd was two deep at the bar. At the far end, sitting by himself and drinking beer from a short glass, was a tiny, trim 50-year-old who goes by the name Pudgy. As people passed by he handed them printouts with information on the double feature of French flicks he'd programmed for the evening: Prisons Tres Speciales Pour Femmes, aka Jailhouse Sex, from 1982, and Parties Fines, aka The Education of the Baroness, from 1977. "Some nights I'll go really nice, really genteel," he said. "Tonight I'm weaving to the other side, because a women's prison movie is gonna have some harsh scenes in it."

Smut & Eggs debuted in April of 1998. The event wasn't Pudgy's idea, but he was one of its earliest and biggest fans. "This was heaven for him," says Twisted Spoke owner Cliff Einhorn. "He's a porn aficionado. He's completely, unabashedly into it." The second time Pudgy attended he brought in a smutty remake of Some Like It Hot called Girls on Fire, one of the more than 300 videos he keeps at his west-side home. He says the bar staff asked him 75 minutes later if he wanted to be the official Smut & Eggs curator; he accepted. Pudgy started bringing in the hard stuff and a neighbor caught a glimpse through the bar's windows and called the vice squad. Management asked him to tone it down until they figured out a solution. "They said--pardon my French--'Don't show anything with dicks,'" he says. "I had to go home and pull a two-hour soft-X film off the library." The following week the garbage bags went up.

The bar pays Pudgy in beer, but he says he'd do it for nothing. He lives with his parents in the house he grew up in (they don't know about his collection) and says he lives off investments from a trust fund he inherited from his godfather in 1987. He knows of two other people who program similar shows at bars in Chicago: he says one of them is gay and the other would deny doing it. Even though he doesn't have to worry about the opinions of wives, bosses, or coworkers, Pudgy's a bit reticent himself. "I'm not keen on admitting that I have a collection of erotica anymore because of the political climate," he says. "But at the same time, the opportunity to share the collection with other people, I would daresay this goes to the core of most collectors of erotica. In a more advanced society, I wouldn't be one of the only three people doing this."

Pudgy, who's real name is Steve De Rose, started searching out porn in 1974, after he graduated from Weber High School. "I'd get a Sunday super transit pass and go downtown to the Monroe Theater, which was a dollar-fifty hall showing soft X," he says. On one visit the theater screened High School Fantasies, his introduction to hard-core. "Most people don't remember the first explicit movie they saw. I definitely remember the first." But Pudgy didn't become a full-fledged enthusiast until 1986, when he ran a tiny business that maintained pinball machines. "Our machines were in taverns and theaters like the Bryn Mawr, the Milford, and the Rockne on Division," he says. "And guess what kind of movies the Rockne was showing? So once a week I would get to go in and collect from the machines, and I would stay for 90 minutes and watch." At the same time he started writing stories for graphic magazines, "the kind with the spread shots, but they needed some content." He was paid in videotapes, some of which contained as many as four movies.

A good chunk of the videos in Pudgy's collection came from purveyors on the Internet, some of whom he hooked up with through online exploitation-movie forums. When he selects a film for Smut & Eggs, Pudgy always makes a point of including his source in the program notes. "I feel it's important, because it's not like I'm saying I bought these from a vendor on Maxwell Street," he says. Prisons Tres Speciales, for example, was purchased from Shocking Videos in Hinton, West Virginia; there weren't any credits on the tape, just a title card in the box, so he researched the cast and production credits through the European Girls' Adult Film Database (egafd.com). He includes that sort of information on his handouts, along with a basic synopsis of the film: "Guess where an inmate has her temperature taken? (Yes.) Deduce how the female warden uses her riding crop? (Yes again.)"

Porn isn't Pudgy's only interest: he's a member of the Chicago Beer Society and the Central Electric Rail-Fans Association and has a collection of more than 1,300 LPs. (He's also a regular on the cable-access kiddie dance show Chic-a-Go-Go.) But if there's anything he finds as arousing as erotica, it's soccer. He says he attended all but three Chicago Sting games between 1983 and 1988, kept statistics for the Chicago Power for six seasons, and currently writes and publishes a quarterly soccer zine called Incendiary Words. He claims to have played midfield and forward for a local Polish team in high school and for a team called the California Sunshine, part of the second incarnation of the American Soccer League, during a brief stint out west in 1981. He says his nickname--which has nothing to do with porn or his anatomy--was given to him by his teammates, who chose it because it "sounded Brazilian."

Although he says he has a VW Beetle painted in the team's colors parked in his garage (the car the team used for promotional events), Pudgy doesn't have any pictures of himself in uniform. There's very little information available on the second American Soccer League, which collapsed in 1983, but most sources indicate that the Sunshine folded in 1980, the season before Pudgy was supposedly hired. He thinks there's a possibility his team might've played in a lesser league and simply appropriated the name. "A lot of the history of professional soccer in the U.S. is lost in the dark mists of time," he says. "I can't explain the discrepancy."

Pudgy says the main reason he does what he does is to show that porn can rise to art. Hard-core, he says, was harder in the 70s, and more interesting. Porn nowadays consists of "some 19-year-old who sucks cock and gets wide on camera; repeat six times and there's your video. In the past they tried to do something different." A film like Behind the Green Door, which starred Ivory Soap girl Marilyn Chambers, is "stunning." A lesser-known film he shows every year called Bachanelle "would be excellent to show at the Landmark or the Music Box, because it's just--wow, it's out there." The Pasolini film Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom, which uses pedophilia to comment on fascism and has been shown in art houses, is in Pudgy's collection, but he says he'd never bring it to the Twisted Spoke. "I'm not above shocking people, but I don't want them to lose their dinners."

The other night, after a long wait caused by technical problems, Prisons Tres Speciales finally appeared on two of the three TVs above the bar. The music on the sound system stayed on, but Pudgy said the crowd would be able to follow the story. He insisted there was one, including a surprise ending he wouldn't give away ahead of time. "I like to bring movies that make reasonable attempts at plot and character development, in addition to the explicit sex," he said. Prisons had plenty of girl-on-girl action and men in uniform wagging their sizable equipment. "She's going to get fisted!" Pudgy yelled out during one scene. "He's going to get all five fingers in there--that's something you wouldn't see in an American movie in 1982. . . . There's four fingers. . . . Oh my god--that's it! She's getting fisted!"

Later on, as a man in detective garb stood center screen and came on two women to his left and right, Pudgy got in on the act. "And there's one squirt for you," he said, turning in one direction, then another, pointing his fingers. "And there's one for you. And then I'm going to come on you!" The bar was nearly empty: only five men and a woman remained. "When was this made?" the woman asked. "1982!" Pudgy replied. She nodded blankly and turned back to the screen.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/A. Jackson.

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