Who was using whom, or doing what to whom, may have been unclear, but one activity was obvious and explicit -- on Thursday, Tom and Suzi Wahl consummated their marriage once again, this time on their living-room couch, with witnesses watching and cameras rolling. The performance drew KMOV (Channel 4) and KTVI (Channel 2), several freelance video teams for HBO and national tabloid-TV shows, KMOX (1120 AM) and even the stuffy Post-Dispatch, though the paper's reporter and photographer skipped the seminar and waited on the front lawn to see whether the authorities would show up and raid the joint. Didn't happen.
The question of when sex becomes news is answered differently depending on the medium. For "Short Cuts," the Wahls' latest escapade surfaced earlier this month. It was just too weird that the couple was suing to get their money back from the St. Charles police after their July 31 seminar for "undercover" St. Charles police was stopped. The Wahls were told they were going to be arrested, but no charges were filed, so they wanted their payment for services rendered returned by the cops ("Short Cuts," RFT, Aug. 9).
When the Wahls did their seminar about a week later in St. Louis County, they were busted for misdemeanor prostitution. With charges filed and an impending "news" conference, sex became news at the Post-Dispatch. Apparently there was some consternation about whether and how to cover the event. Managing editor Arnie Robbins says it was a "joint decision" by him, public-safety-team leader Patrick Gauen and reporter Tim O'Neil to show up to see whether arrests were made but not to enter the house to watch the sexual theatrics. O'Neil camped out on the front lawn of the Wahl home, deciding not to enter the house for apparent personal and professional ethical reasons, considerations that do not encumber "Short Cuts."
"When they said they were doing a public thing and they were going to invite media, we figured it would be out there," says Robbins of coverage of the Wahls. "We did everything we could as a family newspaper to write the story in a way that raised an issue, because there is an issue there, and did it in such a way that it wasn't a 'tee-hee' story. We tried to reflect that by running it at the bottom of the 'Metro' section and treating it in as serious of a manner as we could."
On the morning of the Wahls' planned performance for the media, the P-D did a "Metro"-section piece, on the front page but below the fold, headlined "Couple Want Public to Judge Legality of Their Sex Seminar." Of course, when referring to the RFT ad the Wahls used, the P-D referred to it as being in a "free newspaper." At least they didn't refer to it as a "free fish wrapper." The headline on Friday's page B-3 piece was a winner: "Police do not stop couple from performing sex before reporters." Does that suggest reporters performed sex afterward? By themselves?
Though there was action to be viewed in the Wahls' living room, it would be a stretch to call it erotic, unless your sexual fantasies include watching two people get naked as you stand next to John Auble and Jamie Allman. The 60-year-old Auble, chin in his palm and a world-weary look on his face, watched the goings-on as he sat on a piano bench. When asked his reaction, the KTVI reporter offered: "I've been to three county fairs, and I've never seen this."
Out on the front lawn, another veteran media type reflected that in the previous week he had been on the Mississippi River with Al Gore, covered George W. Bush at a suburban school appearance and now this. To that, a wizened reporter asked, "Which is better, covering two people fucking each other or covering two people who want to fuck us all?" Another wistfully recalled, "Thirty years ago in the fraternity house, we would have paid to see this."
The Wahls displayed fellatio and intercourse, each performed with running commentary by either Tom or Suzi about proper technique. At the end, when Tom sat on the couch and Suzi straddled him, facing his feet, Tom provided narration. "In this position, you can go for a long time, and with practice, you can reside in a place that is just below orgasm," he said, then added, "I want to talk a little about what happens after the orgasm. I don't feel a particular need to demonstrate an orgasm for you."
An inaudible sigh of relief filled the room.
After the deed, Tom talked about how men should try to stay awake after orgasm, resisting the male "snore-mone," the male hormone released after orgasm that often induces sleep. Then he said something that, we hope, will never be uttered by any public official in River City: "That pretty much concludes the content that we'd like to cover in the seminar, so we're going to put our clothes back on and have a question-and-answer session."
At that point, KMOV newshound Allman returned from outside to ask some questions. On the Paul Harris Show the next day on KTRS (550 AM), Allman admitted he had split for a bit to make some phone calls: "At that point, it was 2:30 in the afternoon, I'm a reporter for a CBS affiliate, and I'm standing there watching two people go at it, and I thought, this doesn't fit with my general idea of what I should be doing at that time of day."
KMOV decided not to air anything about the seminar, though Allman says he may pursue the entrapment angle of the Wahls' St. Charles incident.
For the authorities, it appears sex morphs into crime when money changes hands. But Wahl is banking on federal rulings, or a lack of rulings, on a California case that found that people who perform sex for money -- in front of a camera, for example -- are not prostitutes. If the St. Louis County prosecutor presses the case against them, the Wahls say, they plan to sue the county and prosecutor "for everything they're worth."
So the Wahls have only begun to screw with the system. The next step they're talking about involves renting a "theatrical venue" and doing their seminar for paying customers, probably for about $15-$20 a person. They've been on talk radio in Florida and Boston. Local TV news in Los Angeles aired the story, and tabloid-TV shows Inside Edition and Extra have packages planned. The Wahls say they've been contacted by a producer at Late Night with David Letterman.
The BBC requested video of last week's exhibition, but this isn't the first time Tom Wahl has spurred interest overseas. When Viagra became legal in England, he was interviewed about the effect of the pill on erectile dysfunction. Even the BBC shies away from showing erections, so Tom says they got around that by showing the "towel test," demonstrating that his pharmaceutically enhanced erection held up a towel. If this continues, local media will be searching for their own ways to cover up what they report.
LET HE WHO IS WITHOUT GIRTH CAST THE FIRST STONE: Whatever Leonard Slatkin meant to say in the current issue of Classic FM magazine, it must not have come out right, because the headline in the Times of London read: "Cover Up, Conductor Tells Fat Fiddlers." The former conductor of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, who now waves the baton for the BBC Symphony Orchestra, was quoted last week saying that female musicians should not wear sleeveless attire because "you don't want to see much flapping about." That's not all he said. "Then there's the problem of women in trousers. If you're slightly heavy in the rear end department, it does not look too good." The comments caused a stir, including a discussion on BBC radio, which aired locally on KWMU (90.7 FM). The Guardian stated that Slatkin, "who admits to being a stone overweight himself, said his views were not meant to be confined to women." Joan Smith, in a Guardian column headlined "His Mouth Is Too Big," blasted Slatkin in part because, "as an American, he comes from the world capital of fat, a country which proves conclusively that excess avoirdupois is not a female monopoly."