Wednesday, July 27, 2011

From Steve, With Love

Parisian Press

Like John Jackson’s Intensive Care, also published in 1972, From Steve, With Love aspires to be more than a dirty book, which is not to say it isn't plenty dirty. But if less than a classic coming-of-age story (pun not intended, but no doubt inferred), it's actually better than a whole lot of variations on that well-worn theme put out by mainstream publishing houses.

Hot for teacher Allan Carstairs, small-town Wyoming boy Steve Corey gets quite the extracurricular education from the handsome Shakespearian scholar. Their affair is discovered and Allan flees in disgrace, Steve sets out to find his lost love but instead learns how hard life can be for romantics.

With nothing to go on but Allan’s advice that Steve should get out of Levittsville as soon as he can and explore his sexuality in a gay-friendly like “San Francisco or New York or New Orleans,” handsome Steve quietly packs a suitcase and makes his way to the bus station. His unsentimental education begins on the late-night bus to San Francisco: He enjoys a little sleepy fooling around with a handsome stranger named John and wakes up in San Francisco to find his wallet and all his money gone – all except the $20 hidden in his shoe.

The avuncular driver directs him to an inexpensive hotel and assures him that work is easy to come by; sure enough, three days later Steve has a job at a seedy movie theater – it’s not much, but it keeps a roof over his head and food on the table… if only fat, lecherous, alcoholic manager Mr. Colt would stop leering at him.

Steve meets the handsome, charismatic Craig Merriweather, some seven years his senior and well on his way to financial security, while swimming at the YMCA and there’s instant chemistry between them. But after a fabulous night together, Craig fails to follow through on his promise to call. Three weeks later, Steve quits his job following a humiliating experience with Mr. Colt and lets himself be picked up by a nice-looking older man who’s willing to pay $25.00 for an hour of his time.

Steve’s trick, Nikos, turns out to be an aging male model (Steve spots him in cowboy drag on a billboard advertising a popular brand of cigarettes he coyly neglects to name.. gee, could Nikos be a Marlboro Man?) who’s seguing into a second career as a pimp. Within a few months Steve’s circumstances have improved substantially: He has a nice apartment in Pacific Heights, new furniture and enough regular clients that he doesn’t have to worry about money. He’s lonely, though… and Christmas is one hell of a depressing day.

Then he meets Robin, a cute guy his own age, while sunbathing in Aquatic Park. They move in together with the understanding that it’s nothing heavy or exclusive – they’re just friends with benefits long before non-judgmental terms were coined... and then it gets complicated: It’s almost Christmas again and Robin – who’s started getting serious with a guy named Scott – throws a huge party. And who should turn up but Craig? Steve and Craig get back together, but a lot has happened since they met and they have to reinvent their relationship if it’s going to stand a chance.

From Steve, With Love is exhibit A in the case for genre: From drawing-room mysteries to porn, genre fiction is written to formula, which stifles great writers but gives the next few tiers -- the good, the promising, the competent, the pedestrian but reliable -- a time-tested structure within which to work. In order to keep those sex scenes coming (no pun...), From Steve, With Love has been stripped of the agonizing conversations and angsty interior monologues that make so many coming-of-age stories all-but unreadable.

But Johnson, whoever he may be, isn't a total hack, and makes Steve’s picaresque journey from bed to bed more than an excuse for serial hook ups. Each relationship, however brief or pragmatic, forces Steve to examine the beliefs with which he was raised, make hard decisions about what really matters to him and recalibrate his moral compass accordingly. As Mary Poppins would never say, just a spoonful of naughtiness makes the moral reckoning go down, in the most delightful way.


And now, a curious aside: In 1985, a variation on From Steve, With Love's cover art turned up on the 1996 CD reissue of cult audio-collagists Peach of Immortality's perversely titled "Talking Heads '77" (1985). How'd that happen? Beats the hell out of me, but I'm looking into it. (Thank you, Ken!)

Things Never Went Right...

Gay Way
circa 1972 (no copyright)

This unhappy gay-boy story may be rooted in self-hating stereotypes, but its underlying theme -- that the price of child abuse, exploitation and casual, low-rent sex trafficking increases exponentially -- is shockingly toxic and painfully believable.

Randy is only 16 when Pete, his new stepfather, catches him jerking off to some dirty pictures and rapes him. Within a year Pete is selling his stepson’s ripe ass to every pervert in town and Randy’s mom has made it clear that she couldn’t care less. Randy eventually demands a cut of the profits and has accumulated a substantial nest egg by the time he’s 18. After an anonymous call to the police that gets his mother and stepfather thrown into jail, Randy movs to Hollywood and strikes out on his own and – not surprisingly – becomes the worst kind of hustler, rolling and beating up in a vain effort to quiet his inner demons.

Randy eventually gets arrested and sent to prison, where he learns some new tricks and decides to set his sites higher: Instead of hustling, he wants a sugar daddy or mama and he really doesn’t care which. Fortunately, Randy cleans up nicely and quickly gets a job at the ABC Manufacturing Company, where boss lady Marcia Banning looks like a good prospect, except that she’s already married. But her husband, Ralph, is kinda gay, so Randy gets to work. First he seduces/rapes Ralph, then takes him to gay bars and a gay party that ends with Ralph being gang raped; that, Randy figures, should convince him to leave Marcia. Which Ralph does… but he turns up at Randy’s door, suitcase in hand, just as Randy is scoring with Marcia’s secretary, Rose. She bears uncomfortable witness to Ralph’s last humiliation: Randy mocks him and throws him out, which is enough to convince Rose that she doesn’t want to stay either.

Ralph commits suicide, and Randy – whose veneer of affable normality lies lightly over a sociopathic inability to understand the way most people think and feel – puts the moves on Marcia right after Ralph’s funeral. He rapes her when she resists, and she retaliates by hiring a pair of goons to beat the hell out of him. When he turns to Rose for comfort she tells him to go to hell – she doesn’t know what he did to Marcia, but she can guess. “He had a stupid urge to cry like he hadn’t done since he was a kid,” writes Carter. “The last time he had cried had been the time his stepfather… raped him.”

Randy goes on to get drunk, pick a fight with a barfly that gets him thrown out, picks up a young guy in a nearby park (“there was always a faggot where there was a park,” he figures) and beats him to death just as a cop comes by on his nightly rounds. I’ll leave the rest to Carter: “There was only, suddenly, a quick, hot pain in the small of his back and it seemed as though he had suddenly become lighter, as if his feet had taken wings.
“Then he realized that he was falling, tumbling over and over into the damp grass.
Things had never gone right for him.”

Vic Carter's Things Never Went Right… is terrible porn, depressing and mired in the kind of day-to-day misery that's better than an ice-cold shower for inducing libidinal shut down. But it isn’t a bad book… in fact, it’s a pretty well-written chronicle of the making of a sociopath. The first few sentences are impressively vivid:

“The trouble began for Randy soon after his new stepfather, Pete, moved into the house. Randy hated him; hated lying in his bed at night listening to Pete and his mother fucking in the next room; hated the way Pete ignored his right to privacy and thought nothing of walking into the bathroom when Randy was using it; hated the way he sometimes caught Pete looking at him, as though they shared some really dirty secret.”

They nail a certain kind of teen unhappiness, a mix of restless fury and impotent frustration, while also hinting that there's something about Randy that makes him especially susceptible to negative influences. One might ask, for example, why Randy continues to leave the bathroom door unlocked after the first time Pete barges in while he’s taking a piss. And to his credit, Carter isn’t suggesting that Randy wanted to be sexually abused; he’s foreshadowing the desperate need for attention that drives the adult Randy to rash and brutal acts of violence. All that said, Things Never Went Right… is nevertheless incredibly unsexy and depressing, the polar opposite of a turn on – it’s a cold shower between covers that doesn’t even leave you feeling clean.

And what a cover! For the longest time I wondered why it showed Randy about to bash a girl over the head with a bottle of gin when there’s no such scene in the book (not that pulp paperback covers always go with the text inside), before finally realizing that the pretty, curly-haired person in the low-cut, belly baring blouse is supposed to be a guy. That’s how crude the drawing is, though the uncredited artist clearly took considerable care in his (I assume) rendering of Randy’s muscular torso and crotch.

I assume Vic Carter is a one-off pseudonym: He doesn’t seem to have written any other books and while it’s a surprisingly common name, none of the Vic Carters I’ve run across are old enough to have been writing in the early ‘70s. I hope one day to find out who he is or was; Things Never Went Right… isn’t an overlooked masterpiece, but it’s good enough, particularly considering the constraints of its genre, that I’d love to know where he came from and what became of him.

The Sexual Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

The Other Traveller/Olympia Press

The Sexual Adventures of Sherlock Holmes predated the K/S-driven birth of bonafide slash fiction by several years, which hasn’t stopped touchy-feelie true slash believers from going after it with knives honed and eyes all a-bloody.

I, who first read and loved the Holmes/Watson stories as a pre-teen and return to them regularly, don’t quite understand the brouhaha. For my money, writer Larry Townshend (whom the unpaginated first edition coyly credits as "J. Watson") is a fortuitous combination of no-nonsense pornographer and Holmes fan who's unafraid to rework the canon with both a twist and a certain sly sensitivity.

My guess is that beneath all the highly specific complaints about acts and attitudes, the problem lies largely with the fact that Townsend is a pornographer: In my experience, the slash community likes exquisitely refined feelings described in graphic detail and base fornication cloaked in a shimmering veil of euphemistic vagueness. I'm

London, 1881: Twenty-five year-old physician John Watson had just finished his training when he joined the Army Medical Department and was dispatched to the Afghan front as a field doctor. Though lucky to have survived the injuries he sustained shortly after his arrival, Watson returned home too enfeebled to establish his own medical practice and is now scraping by on a meager government pension in a city where affordable housing is an oxymoron. He's lonely, living in a depressing lodging house and more than a little worried about his future. 

A chance encounter with onetime comrade in arms (and bed) Stamford, who appears to have prospered in civilian life, sets his life on an unexpected course. Young Stamford, Watson learns over a genteel lunch, has become a high-toned procurer — sufficiently high-toned to quietly wait out the inevitable show of indignation when he suggests that the still-handsome flesh his old friend used to share freely could be the answer to his current financial difficulties. Once Watson has finished paying lip service to propriety, Stamford arranges a meeting with the client he thinks would be a perfect match.

"[W]e came here on business," Stamford says briskly to Mr. Sherlock Holmes (one of many lines lifted verbatim from Doyle that takes on a rather different meaning in this context), and once the business is concluded, Holmes and Watson repair to 221B Baker Street, where the undergarments soon fall where they may. It’s a testament to Stamford’s sound judgment that Holmes and Watson prove sexual soul mates, and within days they’re snuggling in their cozy front room while the great detective-to-be marvels that “a bit of buggery should so completely change one’s life.”

It's not long before Scotland Yard's Inspector Gregson appeals to Holmes for help in a conspicuously queer case of murder: An American named Enoch Drebber has been found dead in an empty house, clad in nothing but a pair of frilly, pale-purple ladies’ underpants, with no signs of violence upon his person. This is, of course, more or less the beginning of Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet, and the primary difference between the original novella and Townshend's pastiche is the sex of the young person cruelly destroyed by Mormon zealots.

In the former, the despoiled innocent is a lovely girl named Lucy, while in the latter it’s beautiful boy Lucius. In both, heartbroken lover Jefferson Hope arrives too late to save his beloved and instead devotes his life to vengeance, and in neither version does anyone feel particularly good about bringing him to justice.

This sad, brutal narrative segues into a sexed-up variation on The Greek Interpreter, in which Mycroft Holmes calls upon his little brother to untangle the (again) queer business into which a linguist named Mr. Melas has stumbled. Brought blindfolded and in chains from the basement of the Diogenes Club, Mycroft's home away from home, Melas, who's blessed with the lean, flexible “body of a gymnast,” tells this puzzling story: Hired on short notice two long days earlier for what appeared to be an ordinary job, Melas was blindfolded, bundled into a carriage with blacked-out windows and borne to God knows where. Once at his mysterious destination, Melas was ordered to mediate between new employers — Latimer and a man named Harold — and a naked, viciously abused Athenian named Paul Kratides. Melas' improvised efforts to get to the, um, bottom of the strange matter are dashed by the unexpected arrival of Paul, Kratides' delicate, handsome lover (in Doyle’s original, Kratides’ delicate, beautiful sister, Sophy). Poor Paul is sexually abused in an effort to get Kratides to reveal some piece of information to his captors and Melas, though compelled to participate the degenerate goings on, went to Mycroft in the hope that he could unravel the mystery and save Kratides and Paul.

Though too late to save Kratides, Holmes and Watson rescue Paul from The Roaring Bitch, a disreputable male brothel, and send him on his way with Kratides’ legacy — the deed to a private island resort that will support him for the rest of his life. Watson notes sadly that the relentless sordidness of this case cast a pall over his relationship with Holmes, who subsequently surrendered himself to drugs and debauchery, and that he soon after bought a medical practice in “an outlying section of London,” moved out of 221B and set up housekeeping with sweet little Jeffrey Phelps, nephew of the Percy Phelps Holmes helped in The Naval Treaty.

"I have referred to this period as my 'marriage'," Watson writes, and for the sake of apparent conformity, lithe, pretty Jeffrey agrees to wear women's clothing and play his wife. But the day-in/day-out masquerade creates a rift in their relationship, and when Holmes comes looking for Watson’s help one last time -- Jeffrey, conveniently, is away -- Watson makes his choice.

With The Final Problem looming, Holmes reveals that he has finally tracked down "the Caligula of London,"  a brilliant, amoral sociopath who uses his perverted sexual magnetism to seduce, destroy and control young men from wealthy, well-connected families.  His name is Professor Moriarty, and he has challenged Holmes to a duel of sexual superiority (it's impossible to keep the word cockfight at bay) that will determine who will continue to ply his trade and who must retreat into the shadows.

En route to the fateful rendezvous, Holmes and Watson have hot sex in a train car (immediately after Holmes has shed his latest disguise, the robes of a priest — calling all Catholic fetishists!), and after Moriarty and Holmes plunge together to their (presumed) deaths in the roiling waters of Switzerland's Reichenbach Falls, Watson accepts Jeffrey’s heartbreakingly graceful farewell, closes his medical practice and returns to Baker Street with Moriarty’s pale and equally devastated Swiss boyfriend, Friedl… and that’s how it all ends.

Born in 1930, Townsend is best known as the author of pioneering S&M how-to manual The Leatherman’s Handbook (1972) — also published by The Other Traveller — and its sequels, The Leatherman’s Handbook II (1983) and The New Leatherman’s Workbook: A Photo Illustrated Guide to SM Sex Devices (1984); he also wrote dozens of gay-oriented novels, some under pseudonyms and many under his own name and was lauded as an "authoritative but principled voice for sexual liberation" who championed extreme sexual practices within the context of mutual consent and respect.

I have no way of knowing the exact extent of  Townsend's investment in the Holmes stories, but I appreciate his keen eye for the suggestive phrase, like Holmes' offhand remark that Scotland Yard Inspectors Gregson and Lestrade are “as jealous as a pair of professional beauties;” sudddenly Townsend's notion that they're former lovers whose romance has curdled into bitter rivalry makes all the sense in the world.

And it takes no more than the addition of the phrase "yet prettiest" to turn Watson's description of the Baker Street Irregulars -- “half a dozen of the dirtiest and most ragged street Arabs that ever I clapped eye on” -- into a rather different sort of appreciation.

It's Doyles' Stamford who describes Holmes as "a little queer in his ideas" (a note for the pedantic: the earliest printed examples of "queer" in the gay sense date to some 30 years after A Study in Scarlet was published, but it could easily have been used much earlier within the insular London underground of male brothels, hot-to-trot telegraph boys, horse guards and slumming aristocrats). It's Doyle's Holmes who calls the Diogenes club as "the queerest... in London" and his brother Mycroft as "one of the queerest men," but it's Townshed who grabs that ball and runs with it.

And let's be honest: Hardcore Holmesians expend a lot of time effort attempting to wrestle the evident intensity of Holmes and Watson's relationship into a comfortably normative context, a task made more difficult by Doyle's conspicuous lack of interest in details. Not only did Watson's wound migrate from his shoulder to his leg (with one additional reference to an unspecified limb), but the stories' internal chronology forces attentive readers to conclude that Watson's 1888 marriage to Mary Morstan (The Sign of the Four) was actually the second of three: References to his wife both pre- and postdate Mary's death,  which occurred sometime between 1891 and 1894. It's actually easier to go with the gay scenario, which situates all the inconsistencies within the context of a fundamentally honest fellow trying to stand by a big, fat lie in the face of ever-increasing scrutiny.

Holmes' cold use of his lover to determine whether Drebber was suffocated during an act of oral rape is another sticking point (if you will) for fans who'd rather not believe that the man who worried about Watson facing a venomous snake in The Speckled Band (which by Watson's reckoning took place two years after he and Holmes met) would be willing to half asphyxiate him to prove a point. To which I can only say, back to Doyle:

"[He's] a little too scientific for my tastes," warns Stamford. "It approaches to cold-bloodedness. I could imagine him giving a friend a little pinch of the latest vegetable alkaloid, not out of malevolence, you understand, but simply out of a spirit of inquiry in order to have an accurate idea of the effects. To do him justice, I think that he would take it himself with the same readiness."

Sharp lad: As late as The Devil's Foot, which takes place in 1897, Holmes tests a mind-altering, plant-based poison on his dear friend and himself, condemning them both to the bad trip of all time. Sure, Holmes apologizes profusely after the fact, but does "I'm sorry" really cover a trip to Miltonian  hell? And not for nothing, but this is how the "platonic" pals wind up: "I dashed from my chair," writes Watson, "threw my arms round Holmes and together we lurched through the door, and an instant afterwards had thrown ourselves down upon the grass plot and were lying side by side, conscious only of the glorious sunshine which was bursting its way through the hellish cloud of terror which had girt us in." Not that there's anything gay about a sensual guy nap after two longtime companions have taken a mind-bending journey to the center of their minds.

The Other Traveller, the legendary Olympia Press' gay-oriented companion to its Traveller's Companion line, published several other Townsend novels, including polymorphously perverse science fiction tale The Scorpius Equation (in the future, fretting about gay couples will be so 3000 years ago and marriage will be a utopian group grope in which the right balance of gay, straight and bisexual partners guarantees fulfillment of everyone's sexual and emotional needs) and Run, Little Leather Boy (both 1971).

The Long Leather Cord

Pleasure Reader/Greenleaf Classics 1971

“Larry Townsend” (1930-2008), whose real name was Bud Burnhardt, was one of a handful of writers who used the throwaway medium of pulp erotica to explore a deeply personal erotic landscape at considerable length and depth. Long before Townsend found his niche with the how-to manuals The Leatherman’s Handbook and The Leatherman’s Workbook, he explored bondage-and-discipline fueled sexuality in pulp novels like The Scorpious Equation and The Long Leather Cord, the nonchalantly transgressive story of teens Chuck and Steve, who move in with their smoking hot dad after their mother and stepfather die in a small-plane crash.

Steve and Chuck quickly learn that he’s simultaneously involved with notorious Hollywood madame Beverly Wickersham and deep into gay S&M role playing with his boyfriend Bill. These revelations both open up worlds of erotic possibility and force the (inevitably) handsome brothers to make mature decisions about their sexuality earlier than the average youngster.

Townsend was driven by a black leather/submission and dominance kink but, like fellow pulp writer Carl Corley, he was a romantic at heart. His little leather boys wanted to be bound, beaten and besmirched, but less by studly strangers than by men who loved them… even if those men wound up being their fathers. Townsend’s “Leather Notebook” column dispensed advice to bondage boys for almost 30 years, first in Drummer magazine and then in Honcho, and he lived with partner Fred Yerkes for 44 years; their relationship ended with Yerkes’ 2006 death.

Townsend stood out from the crowd of pulp auteurs by virtue of his straightforwardly good writing: It wasn’t elegant, but it was clear, accessible and to the point. He dwelled on neither who-did-what-to-whom details nor on swoony emotions: You always know exactly what’s going on and how his main characters feel about it, but the story keeps moving forward at a brisk clip.

Highly ritualized sadomasochism is a specialized predilection, but Townsend managed to make it seem ordinary – not mundane, mind you, but well within the erotic parameters of the average, broad-minded adult (you know, the one with no interest in all-mod-cons dungeon play but susceptible to the rosy glow of a smartly but lovingly-spanked bottom) – without stripping it of its kinky kick.

See also: The Sexual Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Intensive Care

Parisian Press

Like John Jackson's From Steve, With Love, also published in 1972, Intensive Care is has all the marks of a serious novel that wound up in the hands of a sex-book publisher because no mainstream imprint was interested in a gay-themed book by an unknown writer.

The victim of a brutal sex crime, 20-year-old college student Tim Laird has been transferred from UCLA Medical Center to an upscale psychiatric facility at the request of his wealthy, self-centered parents. Tim can’t – or more to the point, won’t -- immerse himself in therapeutic rituals: He’s tortured by dreams that force him to relive his ordeal every single night, so why would he want to suffer through it every day as well? He swears he wasn’t trying to kill himself by overdosing on painkillers – he was just in shock and pain after surviving the traumatic assault and took more pills than he should have. And besides, Tim knows the real reason he’s been committed is that his shallow family saw an opportunity to put him in the hands of Dr. Greer, a psychiatrist who specializes in “curing” homosexuals.

Most of the staff toes the Greer party line, but there are exceptions, like “psychiatric technician” (whatever that means) Carl Greene, who’s assigned to look after Tim’s day-to-day physical needs. After spending some time with his young charge, Carl -- who's gay and sees sexual orientation as just one part of the unique confluence of desires, experiences, perceptions and influences that make up every individual's unique personality -- is convinced that there’s nothing wrong with Tim except that something horrible happened to him and he needs time to recover. Tim also has an unexpected ally in middle-aged staffer Mrs. Ryan, who administers the usual battery of psychiatric tests and comes to the same conclusion as Carl.

Tim wants nothing to do with Dr. Greer; he shows for his scheduled sessions but reveals nothing about what he thinks or feels. Carl is another matter: he gets permission to take him out on day trips, and each gradually opens up to the other. Carl shares his lingering grief over the death of Robbie, an ex-boyfriend who died in a car crash shortly after they broke up, and Tim finally tells the story of his ordeal at the hands of Al and Steve, whom he met in a bar. Whatever the inexperienced Tim expected, it wasn't to be tortured mercilessly in an isolated house where no one could hear him scream; escaping took the last ounce of strength Tim had. Sharing their darkest secrets allows Carl and Tim to look forward, and they begin making plans to move in together. All they have to do is hang on until Tim turns 21 and can check himself out.

But they underestimate Dr. Greer, who hates being thwarted: Two weeks before Tim's 21st birthday he forces Carl to take his unused vacation times and sets about breaking Tim. Greer torments, harries and goads the vulnerable boy into attacking him, after which Tim collapses into the refuge of a catatonic state. And that’s when Mrs. Ryan shows what she’s made of: She calls Carl, who in turn gets the usually apathetic Mrs. Laird on the phone and persuades her to start throwing her money around and and have Tim transferred to another hospital immediately. Revealing a strength of character no one imagined she had, Mrs. Laird not only does as Carl asks but gives his relationship with Tim her tacit approval. When Tim emerges from the cocoon of sleep, Carl is at his bedside, ready to take him away.

As I said at the outset, Intensive Care -- like a number of other “erotic” gay pulps of the 1960s and ‘70s -- isn’t really a stroke book. It’s a standard-issue coming-of-age novel whose main characters happen to be gay, and author Jackson (which I assume to be pseudonym) cleverly places a narrative damper on the hot guy-guy action by making Tim the damaged victim of sexual violence and Carl a mature man who realizes that a nurse – sorry, psychiatric technician -- should know better than to rush such a patient into potentially traumatic intimacies.

None of which is to say Carl and Tim don’t wind up doing all manner of things that go way beyond the parameters of patient-caretaker behavior, just that Jackson doesn’t dwell them. The average smutty-book buyer was probably disappointed by Intensive Care’s low lust-stoking factor, but four decades later it holds up surprising well. Parisian Press, a queer-pulp powerhouse, published at least two other novels by Jackson -- It’s Show Biz and From Steve, With Love -- in 1972; both share Intensive Care's better-than-it-needs-to-be qualities.

Tailpipe Trucker

Surree Limited, Inc/69 HIS

From the crude cover art to the "tell it like it is" title, George Davies' Tailpipe Trucker (published under the nom de plume) looks like a run-of-the-mill one-hander that trades on the appeal of ultra-macho men getting down and dirty together. So it's a quite a surprise to realize,a couple of chapters in, that it's actually a feature-length treatise on freewheeling sexual etiquette whose good horndog/bad horndog conceit will ring a familiar bell to those of us who  grew up with the moral lessons imparted Goofus and Gallant's adventures in the sanctimonious pages of Highlights Magazine.

Okay, that's an exaggeration. But swarthy Trag and golden-blond Bobby-Leroy "Curly" Calhoun,  long-haul truckers making their first run together, do have that "opposites instruct" vibe going. Trag has set himself up as Curly's instructor in the finer points of doing all things "trucker style," especially sex on the road, and Curly, an easy-going southerner with a sleepy drawl, at first seems content to defer his deeply contradictory lessons. Trag's macho self-image is closely bound up with his conviction that having sex with other men doesn't make him queer, as long as they're hitchhikers, truck-stop trawlers, hustlers or "fruitflies" who cruise highways in search of horny truckers and he abuses them verbally, physically or both. Neither does having an apparently encyclopedic knowledge of the roadside restrooms, hotels and truck stops were such "goddamn fairies" congregate, nor does driving bare-assed and jerking off in front of Curly when an overwhelming wave of lust rolls in somewhere between the last no-tell motel and the next finger-lickin' good latrine.

In fact, it appears that in Trag's estimation the only thing that does make you queer is treating your sexual partners with even a modicum of civility or entering into any kind of friendship with another man that goes beyond getting stinking drunk, roughing up fairies and chastely sleeping off long nights of debauchery in the same anonymous hotel bed... chastely except, of course, if one of the "just friends" is asleep and the other takes a little midnight advantage...

Trag thinks he knows Curly better than Curly knows himself and never misses an opportunity to say so, which is pretty much par for his deluded course, since he's under the impression that Curly is just like him only less so by virtue of being an unsophisticated hick. But Curly -- let's call him Bobby-Leroy from now on, because that's what he prefers -- is nothing of the sort: He figured out he was queer around the same time he realized his "little pecker" (which by all accounts is no such thing) was good for something other than pissing, and he's just fine with that. He's also a southern boy whose mama taught him that just because you grew up slopping pigs doesn't mean you have to wallow with them.

So Bobby-Leroy has some manners and puts them to use in situations that would probably make his mama faint dead away. He introduces himself proper-like to lot lizards and lunch ladies alike, washes up before getting down and dirty and doesn't hold with that "wham, bam, thank you Sam" stuff -- if someone shows you a good time, well, it's just plain rude not to reciprocate. Bobby-Leroy has Trag's self-hating number from the get-go, but keeps his counsel while slyly testing Trag in ways that reveal the parameters of his homosexual panic.

Near the end of the run, Trag takes a couple of days off to loll around a middle-of-nowhere hotel, while Bobby-Leroy does a little solo run to nearby Harper's Junction and picks up 18-year-old Mike Nelson, a fresh, unspoiled and lusty kid who's about to graduate from high school and has a real thing for truckers. It's love at first sight -- or first night, anyway -- and when Bobby-Leroy gets back to the hotel in Middleton (which is what the middle of nowhere is called) he finds that Trag has left him a surprise: A little hustler named Fred, gagged and bound to the bed for Bobby-Leroy's pleasure.

After untying Fred, who's no older than Mike and almost as sweet, Bobby-Leroy joins him in a friendly shower, gets the lowdown on how badly Trag worked Fred over and decides it's time for Trag's wake-up call. He advises young Fred to recruit some like-minded friends and throw an impromptu party on Trag's ass, which Fred does with no small measure of enthusiasm. And by the time it's over, that the mean mother-trucker has to face the fact that he is and and always has been queer as folk.

And there you have it: All's well that ends well. Bobby-Leroy -- who finally puts his foot down and makes it clear that he does not want to be called Curly -- gets Trag to admit young Fred has gotten under his skin, then hauls off and picks up newly-minted graduate Mike, with whom he hopes to enjoy many long, bare-assed hauls.

Without coming off like some sanctimonious defense of same-sex monogamy, Tailpipe Trucker manages to squeeze quite the array of messages between the sweaty sheets: Self-hating homos are a drag; that big butch daddy cruising roadside rest facilities might be as neurotic as the fancy fey boys keeping big-city shrinks in swimming pools and second cars; fidelity to someone special can be as hot and heavy as casual carnality; and a sleepy southern accent doesn't always indicate inbred idiocy or Deliverance-style perkiness.

The Number on the John Wall

The Number on the John Wall
Parisian Press, 1972

“The number on the john wall was mine. It was written in pencil. Underneath it were the words Call for exciting sex. Will do what you want. I had signed it by my first name, Jim.”

So begins quite possibly the most politically incorrect novel ever written two decades before the term “political correctness” existed. Jim Hinzer's The Number on the John Wall (Parisian Press, 1972) chronicles two very educational days in the life of blond, blue-eyed college student Jim, whose boyfriend Larry has just walked out on him.

Jim is devastated: He and Larry have been together for three years, since they were both 17, and Jim has only himself to blame. He drove Larry away by being a petty, jealous jerk. Miserable and at loose ends, Jim drags himself to Ed’s Coffee Shop, where he and Larry used to hang out. He never really noticed the graffiti in the men's room before, but with his "beautiful Larry" gone, the tangle of sex-oriented boasts, entreaties and come-ons leaps out at him. What the hell, Jim figures -- this is already the worst day of his life, so he might as well live dangerously. All Jim wants is distraction. What he gets is a crash course in the ways of gifted and talented youth, a cross-section of whom happen to attend a specialized school around the corner from Ed’s. Jim isn't sexually naive or inexperienced, but the kids who respond to his hastily scrawled come-on really blow his mind.

Jim’s first taker is lean, sinewy, 12-year-old Roy, a polite, white-blond cutie with dark-blue eyes and a big dick who declares himself “basically heterosexual” somewhere between the time Jim finishes sucking him off and when he asks for a friendly goodbye kiss. “I can’t do that,” says Roy firmly. “I’d have to reevaluate my entire behavioral pattern.” To say Jim is flummoxed by this “strange, pretty, gentlemanly boy” who leaves with a formal farewell and then gallops off down the street like the half-grown kid he is would be an understatement.

And there’s more -- much more -- to come, starting with giggling nine-year-olds Craig and Arthur, best friends curious as to whether “a man’s mouth is more satisfactory” than that of a girl, like Craig’s little sweetheart. Jim is suitably taken aback by the precocious demands of these alarmingly young, disconcertingly articulate boys who giggle about his “enormous phallus” and marvel that “its dimensions are considerably greater than [those of Craig’s] stepfather.” Hmmmm, therein lies an ugly train of thought that Hinzer sidesteps to focus on Jim’s discovery that they’re more virile then he ever imagined cute little boys could be.

A time out: This should be utterly appalling. The Number on the John Wall is the book you keep stashed so far out of sight that it might as well be on Mars, and a pseudonym was never more thoroughly warranted. And yet it’s kind of a shame, because Hinzer, whoever he was, managed to strike a tone that suggests Jim is less a reprehensible sexual predator than a good-natured kid who’s emotionally younger than he looks and doesn’t have a mean bone in his body – that's seriously accomplished writing. It helps that Hinzer gives Jim boundaries: He’s willing to blow the “pretty little cherubs” – after all, one is already being serviced regularly and the other is understandably eager to catch up -- but nothing more. And he really is curious about these precocious little prodigies, their weird little kinks and the strangely detached way they talk and think about themselves. After all, when the 12-year-old Jim discovered he could blow himself, he didn’t start gathering information and making charts: He just made himself very popular at parties. The Name on the John Wall is obscene without being particularly salacious, its dirty details described in the earnest manner of a high school science report.

And now, back to Jim. As he ushers out Craig and Arthur, giggling impishly as they speculate about which of their classmates will call next, 16-year-old Mike shows up at the door. Tall, handsome and in the market for a good straightforward fuck, he’s just what Jim needs to banish buzz-kill thoughts about his lost love. In fact, Mike is actually looking like potential boyfriend material until he makes it clear that he’s the good time that’s been had by all and doesn’t plan to change. He hangs around just long enough to tell Jim his next date, Kip, is the school’s “black beauty” and that if someone named Ingo calls, he should take a pass: That Ingo is just “too kooky.”

Genial Cote d’Ivoirian Kipling Keats Longfellow turns out to be another solid fuck, spiced up by blue-black skin and a posh anglo-African accent; after they’re done, Jim is ready to call it night. Which is, of course, when “Star” calls: The 14-year-old redhead just wants a shoot off, but the by the time Ace calls Jim has had enough and postpones their rendez-vous until the next day.

The blond, all-American looking 12-year-old Ace shows up promptly at 10AM, carrying a bag of rotten oranges with which he wants to be pelted. He also brings his own drop cloth, which he politely tacks up in the kitchen as Jim marvels. After Ace, Jim is expecting Frank, who turns out to be a graceful, gentle Native-American who pulls up in a silver Thunderbird and just wants to be licked from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head. Perfectly pleasant, though it turns out that “Frank” isn’t one of the gifted children at all – he’s just a handsome construction worker who’s been working on the new supermarket going up on Chestnut Street. A little lesson in not making assumptions, except that it worked out just fine so it’s not much of a lesson at all. The real Frank, a slim black-haired, brown-eyed and well-endowed 17-year-old turns up shortly after, wanting to be fucked to the Battle Hymn of the Republic. A little odd, but after the oranges Jim is starting to feel unshockable, which may be why Jim ignores Mike’s advice about Ingo and makes a date with him for later.

While Jim’s waiting, along comes Jimmy: He’s “nine years and three months” old, talks in a breathy baby voice and wants to play ”daddy,” which at first appears to involve nothing more than Jim (the fact that they share the same name goes unremarked, but it's a little creepy) pretending to be a horsie and letting Jimmy ride him around the room. It’s when Jimmy asks for “daddy's milk” that the game comes into focus. The exhausted Jim takes the path of least resistance (which isn't to say it's not exciting), but it's clear that he's not sorry to see Jimmy go. Jimmy's breezy parting remark about his promise not to tell mommy why she's not getting any daddy's milk packs a nasty wallop.

Ingo comes along soon after, and turns out to be an existentially bored Eastern European who’s done everything and is inured to it all... except the oranges, which Jim repurposes to thrilling effect. And then Jim is alone again with his unhappy thoughts: All that distraction, and he can still think of nothing but his beautiful Larry. So he picks up the phone and calls Binkie, an old friend… and what do you know? Larry is there, pining for Jim Awwww.

The Name on the John Wall appears to be Hinzer’s only credit, which may mean nothing more than that he worked under multiple pseudonyms. Or maybe it genuinely is a one-off; either way, it’s a true oddity, a singularly unerotic catalogue of perversity wrapped in a fairy-tale ending, at least for Jim and Larry.