The phone has been ringing all morning. The line is backed up to the staircase. The woman signing autographs at the Sweden video store on The Block is wearing something clingy and polka-dotted and everybody can't wait to embrace her.
"See this guy?" says Sam Greenberg, pointing to a man whose arms are laden with erotica. "He's been in line four times. He's bought the pictures; he's bought the magazines; he's bought the calendar; he's bought the videos. I don't know what else to sell him."
He'll come up with something. Greenberg, owner of the Sweden video store, has already thought of a lot. He's expanded his Baltimore Street emporium from one floor to two and, in honor of the grand opening, he's brought a young lady named Christy Canyon here from her home in Los Angeles.
Everybody in the business says Canyon, 24 years old and a six-year veteran of the skin trade, is just about the hottest thing in porno videos these days.
"Four-to-1," says Greenberg, who should know. "She sells 4-to-1 over any other girl today."
You want evidence? Check the endless line of guys in Saturday morning's glum rain on The Block. Check the wall display behind Canyon with the title covers from her latest videos, a few of which can actually be printed in a family newspaper: "Sex Asylum," "Holly Does Hollywood" and "I Dream of Christy."
Now Canyon has a new movie about to be released, called "Passages," which she says is going to be a classic.
"How long did it take to shoot?" someone asks.
"Four days," she declares.
"Plus one day for exteriors," she explains.
She says this without breaking stride. She is sitting on the second floor of the Sweden video store, at a little desk with a line stretched down the hall in front of her. In the line are men who know her work and approach her as one would approach an old-time movie queen: respectfully, reverently, seeking her autograph on magazine photos, posing for pictures with Christy sitting on their laps, chatting with her for a stolen moment at a time.
"I loved you in 'A Portrait of Christy,' " says a fellow in a University of Maryland sweat shirt. He says it in the same tone of voice his grandfather might have said, "Oh, Miss Bergman, I loved you in 'Casablanca.' "
"Thanks," says Canyon, exhaling a puff of smoke from a Benson and Hedges and then smiling with even teeth. "How should I sign this?"
"How about, 'To the love of my life. I'll wait for you always.' "
"Beautiful," says Canyon.
Sam Greenberg says he's paid her $10,000 to sit here this morning and greet her fans. The porno business being what it is, this is considered reasonable money. In a time of dread over various communicable diseases, the country's gone into a sexual shell. For some, porno videos are considered the next best thing to being there.
"What's happened," says Greenberg, "is like a revolution. Years ago, you couldn't have guys lined up like this. Now look at 'em."
He's talking about a sense of shame. Those who once went to The Block looked as if they were making a deal on the black market. An air of sneakiness pervaded, where no one made eye contact. Came the video revolution, though, and people began casually bringing into their homes the kind of stuff that used to be sold only under the counter.
And so an air of good cheer pervades the Sweden video store. There's joking along the line, and men who do not know each other chat casually about Christy Canyon videos they've seen, and Canyon greets each of them with bighearted cheer.
"Remember this?" one fellow asks, holding up an issue of Penthouse magazine in which Canyon was pictured.
"Oh, Gawd," Canyon says.
"How tall are you?" asks another guy.
"I never weigh or measure myself," Canyon says.
"You like shrimp?" asks a third.
"Can't eat it," she answers. "It goes right to my Armenian hips."
All of this talk seems relaxed and unaffected. She says she got into the porno business after running away from home. She'd gotten out of school, was doing bookkeeping for her father's accounting business and suddenly left home.
Broke, she reluctantly took a boyfriend's suggestion to try porno acting, made a few movies, went into retirement, got back into the business and suddenly found her career taking off as the rest of the country was chilling out sexually.
"AIDS?" she says, as though surprised by the question. "Oh, everybody's very cautious in the business. We make the guys bring in reports from their doctors. No one in the business has died, you know. John Holmes? Well, yeah, but he got AIDs from drug abuse."
She reaches out a hand and knocks on the wooden table. The line in front of her stretches back to the first-floor staircase maybe a hundred feet away. To these men, she is not just a movie star but a fantasy sexual surrogate in a dangerous season.
"Do you remember your first film?" a man in line asks her now.
"No," she smiles, "but I bet you do."
She smiles at him, and he beams back as if meeting Marilyn Monroe herself.