By Chris Lane
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The arrangement didn't last. They began bringing home gangs of young thieves, who gathered around Berrent "like I'm Fagin," he said. "I'm not Fagin!" He moved out, but not before getting to know his roommates and coming to a new understanding of women in porn. Looking dispassionately at these women for perhaps the first time, Berrent realized most of them had begun having sex at an early age, had gotten pregnant, dropped out of school and were now in the sex business, struggling to survive. The sex business promoted more sex; sex caused problems.
Knowing the trajectory of a life of sex, Berrent felt pity for his roommates, and he felt responsible. As he saw it, young girls were having sex because sex was everywhere -- on television, in magazines and newspapers. And it was everywhere because Hustler had knocked down the barriers. Berrent spoke as though Hustler had discovered sex, as though no one would have discovered their bodies if not for Hustler.
"I wasn't the only one," he confessed, gravely, "but I helped change the morals of the country."
He resolved to make amends. Not being the type to preach abstinence, he hoped to help people already affected by sex, namely unwed teenage mothers. Had he been a millionaire, he might have donated a few million to the cause, and let it go. Instead, great innovator that he was, Berrent hatched a plot that he thinks could bring a fortune every year.
Running a rental service for video cameras out of his car, Berrent recalled his days of shooting photos on porn sets. How nice it would be, he thought, for parents to have photos of their children's birthday parties, as well as video. So he bought a gizmo that could make photos from video, and one night eight years ago, began using it himself to make a poster for his son from an MTV video. The result was so impressive that he was sure children would buy such a thing, in huge quantities. He did his market research, going to playgrounds and asking if kids would buy posters with scenes from music videos. They all said, yeah, and Berrent foresaw huge sums of money. Surely, the music groups would donate their share of the royalties to a good cause. Berrent began conceiving a tremendous program for teenage mothers, one that would offer daycare, school and job-training for hundreds of thousands. The mothers could even earn a wage rolling the posters. Berrent christened his foundation "Kids Helping Kids."
All hope soon died when Berrent discovered technical problems in transferring video images to the printing press. But then several years ago, he read about a new technology and he tracked down the only printer in the area with that technology.
Performance Printing is one of the largest printers in town, and Butch Ellis is a clean-cut fellow in charge of company growth. When Berrent showed up about a year ago, Ellis just wanted him to go away. Berrent wouldn't go away: He talked and talked, and when Ellis began listening, he began to think there was something in this idea. Sure, computer-to-plate technology could print video images, and sure they could crank out posters of music videos. Maybe children would even buy them. But the real value that Ellis saw was how quickly this could be done -- why, within hours after the Super Bowl, posters could be on sale showing the game's greatest play, frame by frame. Ellis was sure people would buy that. Doing such things with presses across the country, he said $100-million-a-year revenues were "definitely attainable."
In developing with sample posters, Performance has invested $10,000 so far. The company has agreed to finance the start-up printing costs, if Berrent can establish the charity.
The stated mission of SEARCH is "to respond to the needs of the homeless by providing opportunities to change their lives and enhance their dignity and self-worth."
Berrent hobbled in on his cane, looking like he had slept on a bench. His eyes were bleary. His blue blazer was covered with dandruff. There was about him the unmistakable odor of cat urine. Sandy Kesseler, the executive director, had required him to wait two weeks for an appointment. She showed up half an hour late. They sat down across a conference table, Berrent leaning on his cane and Kesseler sitting with her hands folded, patiently smiling.
Berrent began with his life story. He even explained the derivation of his name. Kesseler didn't seem surprised that he had been a pornographer; she said she talks to 250 people a day who have lost their jobs. Berrent told her about the terrible effect of Hustler on himself and our world. He told her about the great technological strides in printing, and he showed her a poster. "Cute," she said. He said his program could be expanded across the country all the way to Vegas. She said, "We'd better keep you out of Vegas." He said he can raise $100 million a year. She smiled and said, "I'll bet you can do anything you set your mind to."
He'd like to funnel the money to her, he said, if she could develop a job-training program for teenage mothers. Kesseler said the shelter was quite busy at the moment. Perhaps she could refer him to someone? She stood and held out her hand.