Valeria Messalina, a descendant of Caesar Augustus, was born twenty years after the birth of Christ and raised in the court of the Emperor Caligula, who—as a practical joke—forced her to marry her second cousin, Claudius, a dimwit thirty years her senior. At their marriage, Messalina was eighteen, her groom forty-eight. Three years later, Caligula was assassinated, and Claudius ascended to the throne. Once she became empress, according to the historian Tacitus, Messalina fucked gladiators, dancers, soldiers—and anyone who refused her, she had them executed for treason. Slaves or senators, married or single, if Messalina said you were hot—you had to put out.
Talk about giving somebody performance anxiety. To cleanse her palate between studs and hunks and beauties, Messalina was famous for seeking out the ugliest man in the empire. Fucking him as a sort-of sexual sorbet. At the time, the most famous prostitute in Rome was named Scylla, and Messalina challenged her to a competition to see who could couple with the greatest number of men in one night. Tacitus records that Scylla stopped after her twenty-fifth partner, but Messalina kept going and won by a wide margin. The historian Juvenal records that Messalina would go slumming, sneaking into brothels, where she worked under the name Lycisca, gilding her royal nipples with gold dust and selling access to the aristocratic vagina that had birthed her son, Britannicus, the next likely emperor. There she’d work until well after her fellow whores had quit for the night. At the age of twenty-eight, Messalina hooked up with Gaius Silius and conspired to murder her husband; however, her plot was revealed to Claudius, and he ordered her execution. Messalina refused to kill herself, even as her mother begged her to commit suicide, the only honorable way to end her life. Roman soldiers forced their way into her palace, found her waiting in her garden, and killed her on the spot. All of this I told to Ms. Wright as we sat in my apartment eating popcorn and watched Annabel Chong fuck her way through 251 jizz-juicers. Groups of five. Ten minutes per group. Sock-soakers. Bone-beaters. The set decorations, the white fluted columns and splashing fountains, a historical re-creation of Messalina’s challenge to Scylla. The fake marble and Roman statues. The World’s Biggest Gangbang. A student in gender studies at the University of Southern California, with a grade point average of 3.7, this film was Chong’s tribute to Valeria Messalina. True fact. The top-selling porn video of all time: a feminist history lesson lost on countless willy-wankers. Watching, I asked: How is this any different from the Olympics? I asked: Why shouldn’t a woman use her body any way she wants? I asked: Why are we still fighting this same battle two thousand years later? Both of us eating popcorn. No butter. No salt. Drinking diet sodas. Our casting notice already running in a couple newspapers, a news item on a few Web sites. Pud-pullers and palm pilots already calling to get on the list. Our faces caked in avocado, pore-reducing, collagen-enriched masks. Hair combed with Vaseline and turbanned in towels. The bowl of popcorn between us on my sofa. The two of us belted in terry-cloth bathrobes. Ms. Wright says, “A take-charge gal like that Messalina was—she shouldn’t have let them kill her.” Only a few years after ordering her execution, the Emperor Claudius stuck a feather down his own throat. In A.D. 54, he was pigging out at a banquet, trying to puke so he could eat more, and Claudius choked to death on that feather. Hearing that, watching Annabel Chong get fucked, it was Ms. Wright who mentioned life insurance. Made me promise to look into a policy. Made me cross my heart, in case anything went wrong, I’d find her lost kid and hand over the insurance payout, plus whatever royalties from the video. She was still talking how she wanted to make her kid rich when I reached between the cushions of my sofa. Feeling between the popcorn kernels, the old maids, and pocket change until I touched slick paper. Right there, I handed Ms. Wright the paperwork for six policies. All they needed was her autograph. Total potential payout—ten million. Without her bifocals, Ms. Wright squints at the paperwork, her avocado mask crumbling, cracking, and flaking green crumbs. She holds the papers at arm’s length. Eyeing the fine print, she says. “Always one step ahead, aren’t you.” That’s why she pays me the big bucks, I tell her. My fingers plucking a ballpoint pen from between the sofa cushions. And Ms. Wright says. “That empress gal?” Autographing each life insurance policy. Nodding at the television, she says, “That Messalina, she should have just killed herself. . .”