Friday, May 25, 2012


These backers all made donations to to my campaign to republish the gay adults-only novels Man Eater and Night of the Sadist in a tete beche (two-in-one) edition and I want to thank them all for their generosity and faith in a project that is not, shall we say, the kind of thing everyone would have been willing to get behind. They are: Julian Arcila, Michael Ausiello, Jami Bernard, Adam Birnbaum, Grace Carley, Jack Cheevers, Rachel Chelius, Chris Cooper, Dennis Cooper, Barbara Cramer, Sofie Day, Derek Botelho, Donna Dickman, Jill Enfield, Allie Finkel, Martha Fischer, Ken Fox, Tom Gillian, James Gracey, David Gray, Michael Prenez Isbell, Jacez, Bill Kennedy, Emily Ann Klotz, Jason Knowles, Karen Krizanovich, Kevin Lally, Robert Lang, Terrill Lee Lankford, Jennine Lanouette, Vanessa Torres Lautenbach, Scott Levine, Bruce Levinson, Frank Lovece, Mary Lugo, Don McGregor, Henry McNally, Amy Monegro, Christopher O'Neill, Timothy Paxton, Thomas D. Phillips, Pikachu, Carlos Pisco, Alex Porter, Kate Robinson, Shade Rupe, Arlene Sidaris, Steve Simels, David Singer, Kevin I. Slaughter, Gavin Smith, Raven Snook, Jack Taylor, John Walsh, Tony Whitfield, Bret Wood and Paisley Yankolovich.


The Boy Avengers, Boys Behind Bars, Chamber of Homos
The Concentration of Hans, From Steve, With Love, The Gay Haunt, Hot Asset!, The HIS 69 Artist's Sketchbook, Intensive Care, The Long Leather Cord, The Male Maulers, Man Eater, The Master of Monfortin, Murder One, The Number on the John Wall, The Pile Drivers, The Sexual Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Tailpipe Trucker, Things Never Went Right…, Three Ring Sex Circus, Two, the Hard Way, The Wisteria Club

The Pile Drivers

Don Taylor
PEC/French Line, 1970
Let's start by saying that this is one relentlessly ugly little book that thoroughly lives up to the punishing implications of its title and is way nastier than the essentially meaningless cover line -- "old science practiced on a young boy" – would suggest (unless you take "young boy" to mean "child," which it doesn't). It's also bracingly graphic about the sheer messiness of certain kinds of sex, which could be spun as an earthy corrective to antiseptic porn fantasies that set up eager virgins for the same kind of rude shock that awaits mothers-to-be steeped in airy fairy babble about the exquisite beauty of childbirth.

But I don't think that's what author Don Taylor had in mind: His writing drips contempt on every level, from his characterization of protagonist Julio as a silly, mincing gold digger-turned- self-hating "nympho fag" to his decision to let a homophobic cop describe the miserable conclusion of his journey into degradation. The relentless fixation on what Dan Savage so vituperatively dubbed santorum is of a piece, as is Taylor's freak-show conflation of homosexuality, filth, deformity and perversion (sorry zoophiles, but bestiality is just nasty).

Set in some anonymous small city, The Pile Drivers opens with slim, golden-haired Julio Amherst on the brink of a great adventure. For two long years he's been working for an electronics firm, saving his cash and his ass so he can go to Acapulco and snare a rich, handsome playboy who'll support him in the manner to which he hopes to become accustomed. Julio's buddy Lorne tries to persuade him to try husband hunting closer to home: Who knows what might happen to him in (shudder) Mexico? And high-level engineer Harold Barnhart has been eyeing Julio absolutely forever; yes, he's disabled -- there's something very wrong with his twisted back -- but he's also a highly respected, self-made multi-millionaire at the age of 35. "I can't stand cripples," Julio shivers. "I can't stand the thought of their touching me."

Unfortunately for Julio, Barnhart happens to overhear that last dramatically delivered remark. Already a seething mass of resentment -- having your spine was shattered at the age of 12 after being gang-raped by bikers will do that – seeing haughty, pretty little Julio prancing around on his "faggy legs" and declaring his shallow, frivolous contempt for anyone less physically perfect sends Barnhart right over the edge. By the end of the day, he's concocted a plan to bring Julio to his knees, both literally and figuratively.
Julio quits his job that Friday, and Saturday morning he's on the curb with his suitcase, trying to hail a cab. What a fortunate coincidence that Barnhart happens to be driving by and offers him a lift to the airport… oh, it's not a coincidence. And Barnhart isn't taking him to the airport. Maced, gagged and trussed up tightly, Julio is instead taken to Barnhart's isolated weekend home, a remodeled farmhouse in the mountains whose unprepossessing exterior belies the high-tech wonders inside. Barhhart, who wants to establish his own TV franchise, has actually built his a state-of-the-art TV studio from the ground up; all he's waiting for is a UHF license. And it quickly becomes clear that he's onto an ahead-of-the-curve concept: Reality TV. Hardcore reality TV.

The house is completely wired with hidden cameras, and Julio is about to be dragged into the spotlight. Harold taunts, beats, humiliates and eventually rapes him viciously, capturing it all on video. Every aspect of the experience is excruciating for Julia, including the flashback it triggers to his brutal father's incestuous abuse the realization that it marks the end of his dream of parlaying his virgin ass into financial security. But worst part is that Julio is totally excited by being brutalized and aroused by the beast who just kidnapped and sexually assaulted him, and he hates himself for it.

The following day is no better: The long, hot shower Julio hoped would make him feel clean again doesn't and one of Barnhart's spy cams captures him pleasuring himself, which results in double punishment. First he has to do it again in the living room – Barnhart wants a better quality image – and then he's subjected to torture by the aforementioned flexible fiber-optic camera, forced to watch its painful tour of his insides in real time. And once again Julio is betrayed by his own body – the experience is as thrilling as it is painful and grotesque.

That brings us to the book's halfway mark, at which point Taylor introduces a new player: Unkempt, unwashed, unshaven hillbilly hermit Christopher Crustman, a sinewy off-the-gridder who lives in a cave with bedmates Clarissa and Jenny.... at least, they'd be his bedmates if he had a bed. As it is he keeps them penned in the yard, which is fine by them since Clarissa is a duck and Jenny is a burro. Crustman accidentally catches a glimpse of Barnhart's naked boy toy, and happy though he is with Clarissa and Jenny it occurs to him that a piece of that might be mighty nice.

Not that he thinks there's a chance in hell that Barnhart's cute little boyfriend is going to risk losing his sugar daddy…oh, but Julio isn't Barnhart's boyfriend – he's his captive. Crustman knows there are laws against that kind of thing, and by knowing Barnhart's secret he's able to effect a dramatic shift in the balance of power shifts. Now Barnhart is the helpless one, unable to stop Crustman from moving in with his menagerie and using Julio -- who has no say in the matter – in whatever way he sees fit .

And to Julio's horror, the filthy old hermit excites him too, though after Crustman is done Julio is physically ill. "Oh, God," he whispers to himself. "I'm turning into a nympho fag." With hopelessness comes a strange serenity: Julio accepts his enslavement and drifts through the days in a fog of lust and self-loathing punctuated by moments of unexpected clarity. He still finds Crustman repulsive, but sees a shining sliver of goodness in his devotion to his animals, Hand feels something like pity for the brilliant, tormented Barnhart, humbled by an ignorant, backwoods degenerate.

Julio's captors, meanwhile, are locked in a quiet but dead-serious struggle for dominance, and Crustman is winning. He cements his position forcing Barnhart to screw Jenny and taping the whole sorry spectacle. The thoroughly humiliated Barnhart tries to kill Crustman but it's Julio who actually does, albeit accidentally: He just wanted to scare the old pig, not open an artery with that shard of broken glass. But kill him he does, and then passes up the opportunity to escape while Barnhart is off burying the body. If that's not Stockholm Syndrome I don't know what is, though the term wasn't coined until three years after The Pile Drivers was published.

And now the end game comes into view: Barnhart thinks Julio's murder of Crustman is a sign of undying love, but Julio, hollowed out by the horrors he's endured, is beyond caring about anything except bringing the whole miserable situation to an end. Evincing a practical intelligence that would have surprised even him just a couple of weeks earlier, Julio carefully watches Barnhart as he tinkers with his, un equipment, and the minute Barnhart leaves to spend a day at the office Julio goes to work on the wiring, connecting the in-house video players directly to the transmitter.
When Barnhart gets home, Julio suggests they watch some sexy videos, which go out live to and create quite the stir as old folks, TV salesmen, housewives and FCC flunkies turn on their sets and get a real eyeful – who thought they'd find themselves watching a donkey show on the TV? By the time the FCC watchdogs converge on Barnhart's house, the place is crawling with police, press and paramedics, Julio – sexually mutilated beyond repair by Barnhart -- is being bundled into an ambulance and first responders are still trying to make sense of the situation: They swear they heard Julio begging Barnhart to cut him to ribbons… suffice it to say that he's as thoroughly unsexed as it's possible to be.

Granted, there's a certain thematic inevitability here, but good God Almighty, what possessed anyone to write or publish it as gay erotica? My gut is that "Don Taylor" was a straight hack who'd been around the block and banged out (just stop; I don't want to hear it) The Pile Drivers for a few hundred bucks, pouring it full of every drop of poison festering in his homophobic soul. I could be wrong, of course; if anyone knows anything about the pseudonymous Mr. Taylor (who to my knowledge never wrote another book), I'd love to hear it.

Content issues aside, The Pile Drivers ranks among my favorite vintage paperbacks on a purely tactile level, thanks to the ballpoint pen notations that drag down its resale value but connect it to someone's long-ago life in a poignantly visceral way. How much would I love to know the back story behind the two numbers scrawled on the back cover: No area codes, just Kenny at 479-0630 and Frenchie's Cab at 529-9750. Frenchie's? Really? And there's more hidden inside, at the top of page 113: No name, just a number: 449-6792. If these pages could talk, those numbers, scribbled hastily on a paperback whose wraps were clearly soft with use long before they were vintage are a vital voice that bridges space and time and a thousand other things, a smudged, inky reminder from the past that times change but people don't.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Three Ring Sex Circus

John Maggie
Trojan Classics, 1973

Talk about a carnie come on: What kind of sexual contortions could lithe, limber and exhibitionistic trapeze artists and acrobats master if they put their minds to it and how cool would it be to watch? That's Three Ring Sex Circus' spiel. What it delivers is a little less salacious, but considerably more interesting.

In 2012, running away to join the circus is as quaint an idea as riding the rails as a hobo. But in the 1973 there was still a viable travelling carnival circuit; it was on its last legs, but still the last port of call for semi-functioning junkies, freaks and down-and-outers, including girls who danced… sorry, "danced" in clandestine cooch shows where the action was way raunchier than anything you could see at the average go-go bar. Three Ring Sex Circus unfolds against the backdrop of a rapidly vanishing world whose stars were scrambling for berths in Las Vegas and on TV variety shows. As to the rest, well, they just melted into the purgatory of no hopers.

The touring Prince Royal Circus and Side Show does 200 performances in seven months, bringing a smorgasbord of animal acts, aerialists, clowns, acrobats, rides and games to small towns and cities across the US. Two multigenerational, European family acts are locked in perpetual competition for the spotlight: The German-born Vollenweiders, high-wire artists whose TV savvy has made them household names and the elegant Flying Kopkes, a troupe of trapeze artists. Twenty-two-year-old Mike is torn between them: He's a Vollenweider by blood and would never abandon his family, but he's so impressed by the artistry of the Kopkes' trapeze work that he spends every spare minute working with them. Or is he just trying to avoid dealing with his sexual identity issues? People are starting to wonder why handsome Mike doesn't have a girlfriend; the answer is that he's starting to experiment with other guys. Something's got to give and the close quarters of carnie life mean it's going to give sooner rather than later.

And then love walks in and clarifies everything: Mike has an accident in the ring, a minor mishap that could just as easily have been the dividing line between before and after. And roustabout Jerry, an rootless orphan who thrives on carnie comraderie and the hope that one day he'll get the chance to do motorcycle stunts in the ring, offer some first aid assistance, casually breaching the divide between circus royalty and the faceless peons who pitch tents, set up rides and man midway attractions.

A week later, Mike and Jerry get together to hang out, and by the end of the night it's clear that they're on their first date and it's going to end in bed, even though the sum total of Jerry's same-sex experience is a little drunken grope and tickle. And that's all it takes to make Jerry and Mike a couple, complete with post-coital dreams of a future together.
Come morning it's clear that things aren't going to be easy. Jerry's trailer mate, wily drunk Jonesy, saw them in the act and starts making vague noises that sound an awful lot like blackmail, while Mike's old-world dad and macho brother, Paul, turn up the "find a girl, it's your family duty" heat. But Mike and Jerry's next rendezvous seals the deal: Each recognizes the other as his soul mate… all they have to do is work out the details, starting with getting their own trailer. And amazingly enough, that works itself out: A fire consumes both Jerry's old trailer and the inconvenient Jonesy, a bit of serendipity that sows the seeds of poisonous doubt – Mike couldn't have torched the place, could he?

While they await delivery of their new trailer, Mike bunks with his family and solicits sex with strangers, while Jerry's temporary berth with animal wranglers Valerie and Ken Simpson turns into a kinky three-way romp. Even after Mike and Jerry's rolling love nest arrives, tensions remain: Each suspects that other has strayed and won't fess up. A three-way with the try-sexual Stan Kopke helps clear the air, but Jerry gives in to on-the road temptation one time too many, and when Mike catches him in bed with a girl it looks as though their fine romance is over.

But only a fool counts love out: Jerry gets a chance to strut his motorcycle maniac stuff in the ring and Mike comes to his senses while watching his the man he loves putting his life in the line. Jerry and Mike both acknowledge that they're going to have ups and downs, but they're in it for the long haul.

Three Ring Sex Circus (written as Three Ring Circus, the title under which appears in another Trojan book's list of upcoming novels)may well have been sold on the dual hooks of acrobatic sex and the fame of The Flying Wallendas, a German-born family troupe of aerialists who specialized in high-risk, TV-friendly stunts, like the highly-publicized wire walk across Georgia's Tallulah Gorge patriarch Karl Wallenda, then 65, did in 1970. Even if it wasn't, author Maggie's Vollenweiders are clearly the Wallendas and The Kopkes bear more than a passing resemblance to the Italian-born Togni family, aerialists who also made the transition to TV and movies in the early '70s.

No one will ever mistake Three Ring Sex Circus for great literature, but it's more considerably interesting than it has to be, both because its vivid depiction of day-to-day backstage life at the circus is startlingly vivid and because its primary concern isn't hot sex, though it delivers enough to justify the cover price. It, like the equally surprising Boys Behind Bars (1973), is about negotiating the terms of a relationship under, shall we say, trying circumstances.
So kudos to author "John Maggie" who, given the low esteem in which adults-only novels were held, could have earned his check by knocking out formulaic smutty fantasy – imagine what you could do with a guy who can touch his heels to the back of his head… But no; he delivers hotties who can't keep their hands off each other, then gives them inner lives. They're bound by family histories and social constraints, but refuse to be defined by them; they're young, impulsive and secretly insecure in all kinds of ways, but when push comes to shove, they decide to take a chance on love, conventions be damned, and commit to the work that comes after the honeymoon. That's bucking both the 'anything goes' zeitgeist of the '70s and the 'small town on wheels' culture of the circus and makes those boys cultural radicals. Yay.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

His Brother's Keeper

Rick Tulane
Trojan Classics/GX Inc., 1977? (undated)

Today's word is "twincest," the subject of this good-natured – in fact, positively breezy (breezy, not sleazy) -- novel about 16-year-old twins Barry and Gary, separated when they were barely a year old and raised on opposite coasts. Each is vaguely aware that he has a brother he's never met, but neither has any idea he's a twin. What happens when they finally meet is a riff on the subtly (all right, none-too subtly) salacious observation that gay couples often look sufficiently alike to be brothers.

Surfer-boy Barry Richards lives in Laguna Beach with his hunky dad, Kyle, wonderful stepmother, Mirium, and cute, 14-year-old half-brother, Kirk. Barry is a good kid who has plenty of friends and isn't prone to serious trouble – Mirium and Kyle can barely keep a straight face when they have to give him a talking to after a silly prank involving masturbation on a surfboard within full view of a public beach. Of course, Kyle and Mirium have no idea that Barry's started fooling around with other boys, including his best pal Billy and not-so-little Kirk who, believe me, didn't have to be asked twice.

But they're not hopelessly lax parents, either: After Barry gets caught at a pot party, Kyle pulls some strings without letting his son entirely off the hook. Barry won't have to be remanded to the juvenile authorities (thank goodness the chief of police is a pal!), but he will have to spend his summer vacation at Nevada's Mark Faire Summer Academy for Boys. On the plus side (make that the other plus side, since the whole thing is shaping up to be a win-win), Kyle is willing to let Kirk go along – he and Mirium couldn't be more delighted that their sons are so close.

Meanwhile, in Manhattan, Barry's brother Gary is getting into his own scrape. His puritanical stepfather, Tony, catches Gary and his tall, dark and handsome stepbrother, Ashley, going at it great guns and reacts, shall we say, badly… so badly that he has a stroke and nearly dies. Nearly, but not quite, and when he recovers sufficiently to tell Gary's mom, Nan, what he saw, well, that's the end of Gary and Ashley's smoking hot summer plans. Worse still, 18-year-old Ashley tries to paint Gary as the natural-born fag and himself as the chump who just went along for the ride. Bitch.

The upshot: Ashley packs his bag and hits the road, while Gary gets packed off to, yes, the Mark Faire Summer Academy for Boys to straighten out his head. The thing is, it really isn't a good place for anyone to get anything straightened out. But for gay teens looking to get some below-the-belt action in between swimming, horseback riding and other wholesome fun in the sun, well, it's just about perfect. And for Gary and Barry (plus sweetly precocious Kirk, who's determined not to miss out on what the "big boys" are getting up to), it's sheer, unadulterated nirvana.

It doesn't take long for the twins to find each other; after all, aach is stunning and together they're heart stoppers… it doesn't take long for word to get around about dreamboats like that, especially dreamboats with 11-inch cocks and fewer inhibitions (not to mention sweeter temperaments) than the average Tijuana whore. It's head-over heels love at first sight for the boys, and yet they're still sufficiently considerate to keep Kirk looked after and make sure Kirk's new little friend, Roger Wentworth, isn't left out in the cold. My God, these boys are shining saints in some heaven of gentle, all-inclusive, guilt-free underage fucking and sucking. And the minute meet they vow that they'll never, ever again let anyone separate them.

The story's only complications, such as they are, come straight from the Hayley Mills playbook: Before Barry and so each can get to know the parent he doesn't, which works out fabulously for Gary – Kyle needs little persuasion to succumb to his hotsie-totsy son's advances – while a few hours with the homophobic Tony and high-strung Nan make it clear to Barry that there's no place like home…. his laid-back SoCal home.

To recap, it's all so wrong and yet it feels so right, because there isn't a mean bone in His Brother's Keeper's body. No one is heart-broken, shamed, cast out or tarred with the white-hot humiliation of sexual self-doubt. Not only are Barry, Gary and Kirk nice kids with healthy, benevolent libidos, but they're surrounded by horny-yet-sympatico adults perpetually prepared to share their hard-earned experience but always careful not to pressure or coerce their teen charges into anything for which their unprepared.
As sexed-up, fundamentally verboten fantasies go , His Brother's Keeper is astonishingly sweet, driven by the promise that doing lewd things doesn’t have to put you on the express ramp to hell. What matters, it suggests, is how you do those things you do, and that entering the garden of earthly delights with a fundamentally generous spirit and unsoiled mind is the key to walking out unsoiled and with head held high.

This may all sound mighty airy fairy, but step back and have a think on this. What is it that separates filthy smut from classy erotica? The answer is nothing more or less than tone… it's less what your characters do than how they do it, and Rick Tulane's trampy teens rush in guided by open-hearted curiosity and knee-jerk mutual respect: They’re game for anything, including folks who aren't quite as game as they are. So in the end, what can you say but 'God love 'em?'

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Male Maulers

Lawrence Leclerc
1971, PEC/French Line

Twenty-two-year-old American art student Carl Hume loves everything about studying in France -- his instructors, fellow students, the beauty of the countryside -- everything except the fact that he can't walk down the street without being visually groped by men of every kind. Apparently La Jolla wasn't quite such a hotbed of homos, and Carl just isn't used to feeling like a Christmas ham in a kennel. In fact, the whole business is so embarrassing that he's rethought his decision to spend the holidays alone in Nice rather than at home and returns to his hotel to pack. Won't his parents be surprised and delighted!

And they no doubt would have been, had Carl not been drugged and abducted from his room at the charmingly shabby Hotel Hermitage the night before his intended departure. He wakes up bound to a bed in a country house he later learns is in Cannes, where a man who introduces himself as Rouge (and yes, he's a redhead) explains gently that Carl was kidnapped on the orders of Le Cartouche d'Acier ("tool of steel"), a procurer who runs a chain of brothels and occasionally fills special orders for super-rich clients with very specific tastes. Carl, says Rouge, has been sold to a sleek playboy with a yen for pretty virgins.

Carl can't believe what he's hearing: He's a human being, not an object. The hotel staff will call the police when they realize he's disappeared… so will his family when they fail hear from him. He's American, God's sake – things like this don't happen to Americans. In Europe, yet. Rouge leaves it to the boss to set Carl straight on all counts: Flesh is a commodity like any other, says Le Cartouche. He has an inside man at the hotel who carefully removed all traces of Carl; the gloomy little letter Carl wrote to his parents and decided not to mail – the one that could be taken for a suicide note – has been posted; things like this do happen to Americans and this thing has happened to him. If Carl has any sense at all, he'll do as he's told sooner rather than later.

Which Carl does – having seen the scars crisscrossing Rouge's back, he decides that being raped and degraded is better than being raped and degraded after being lashed within an inch of his life. And to his utter humiliation, Carl discovers that he kind of likes it… in fact, after two weeks he's stopped worrying about whether he's turning into a "real and true fag," and made his peace with the fact that he's pretty into sex with other men. Which is a good thing, because once Carl's playboy is done with him, Le Cartouche puts him through a couple of weeks of additional "training," bleaches his hair, rechristens him "Sandy" -- no doubt for the name's all-American, sun-and-fun loving connotations -- and puts him to work in one of his whorehouses.

Over the course of the next year, Sandy-Carl is moved from one French Riviera brothel to another for various reasons: Regulars get bored with l'Americain blonde, staffers take a dislike to the golden boy, petty jealousies ruffle the house hustlers' feathers. And then, a couple of days after Carl-Sandy has been installed in Le Cartouche's house in Nice, he spots a familiar face among the customers: Chet Barnes, a yacht crewman he knew slightly back in the US. Though Carl-Sandy briefly considers trying to contact Chet and plead for help, his hand is stayed by the sudden, devastating understanding that he can't go home again: The Carl Hume who left Southern California for a continental art school education is well and truly gone, his body snatched by a dead-eyed whore. Sandy-Carl even goes out of his way to inform Le Cartouche that he almost crossed paths with someone who knew him in the previous life that seems so impossibly long ago.

Sandy's loyalty gets him nothing except another transfer, this time to Menton, where he's assigned a series of clients who want special services (no doubt by way of reminding him that things can always be worse). Sandy-Carl does what he now knows is the only thing he can do. He rolls with the punches, the last of which is being sold to Yugoslavian pimp Petro Bosansko, whose Italian Riviera brothels are a step down the ladder from Le Cartouche's: The accommodations are less luxurious, the clients rougher and the hours more punishing.

Bosansko starts him off in a bordello in Ventimiglia, then moves him to San Remo, Imperio and Savona before finally putting him on a boat to La Spezia, home to what's rumored to be the wildest house in the Yugoslavian's chain. And it's during the trip that Carl-Sandy surrenders to the muted despair that's become his default state of mind and quietly throws himself into the inky water. But even suicide can't free him from whoredom: He's picked up by an Italian smuggling ship and raped by a hunchback who nearly bites his dick off, thrown overboard to drown and "rescued" yet again, this time by a Tunisian ship whose crew is itching for some entertainment. Or maybe it isn't Tunisian… it doesn't matter: "Well Carl," he whispers to himself as he assumes the position, "you wondered how you would end your days."

Wow. Who'd have guessed from the cover copy – "Passion bound by ties of silk – a new twist on Gay Paree!" – that what waited inside was a descent into the maelstrom, chronicle of ever-escalating misery that isn't even driven by the punitive cliche that there are no happy endings for queers, because Carl isn't even gay. He's just a sexually inexperienced kid whose decision to study abroad was clearly less about schooling than the desire for experience.

And for that naive hubris he's raped, forced into prostitution and conditioned to pretend he enjoys sex with the men who buy him, the alternative being brutal punishment. Placed in that context, Carl's "revelation" sounds more like a desperate psychological defense mechanism than a blinding moment of self-awareness, a retreat from the daily miseries of a situation he's powerless to change and one of his temporary keepers says as much (if only to himself):"Sandy's lovely brown eyes, one of his most attractive assets, had contained glints of bright intelligence when he arrived. [Now] they were more like the eyes of someone whose mind was constantly preoccupied by matters of very little importance." I don't know who Lawrence Leclerc was or is, but that's a sharp bit of writing, albeit a real downer in a porno novel -- nothing ruins a good sexual fantasy like being reminded that happy hookers are vastly outnumbered by exploited teenagers, desperate drug addicts and brutalized victims of sex trafficking. It's also truly remarkable in a book written at a time when "openly" gay men kept one foot in the closet, the 19th-century belief that prostitutes were nymphomaniacs (hence the term "daughters of joy") was still widespread and everyone knew it was impossible to rape a man.

The larger point is that like many other novels published by gay-porn houses (including the equally misrepresented Hot Asset!), The Male Maulers is a more complex and sharply observed piece of writing than it needed to be... in fact, its complexities are at odds with its apparent intentions. For all the frequent and graphic sex scenes, it's anything but a cheerful celebration of homosexual pleasures. But it's also not a finger-wagging warning that the express lane to hell is marked "Man Love;" Carl is less a martyr to his own deviant desires than a little American lamb beset by decadent foreign wolves. Change some pronouns and do a pair of global find and replaces (Carla for Carl, "cunt" for "cock") et voila: You have "The Female Maulers," a cautionary tale about the perils awaiting incautious coeds far from home and parental oversight.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Chamber of Homos

Guy Fawkes
PEC French Line, 1970

A gay gothic in the tradition of Peter Tuesday Hughes' far superior Master of Monfortin, Chamber of Homos deposits sexually naïve male nurse Sander Beach, desperate to raise $25,000. to keep his wastrel brother, Martin (a hospital administrator caught with his hand in the till), out of jail, into the lap of the wealthy, perverted Kratzner family.

It probably goes without saying that the Kratzners – from recently crippled, tranquilizer-dependent patriarch Matthew to his brood of squabbling legitimate and not-so-legitimate sons, are demanding, selfish and driven by the ever-corrupting love of money. And sex, of course, which provides the slender story with plenty of…. shall we say oomph.

Poor Sander – inevitably known to all as Sandy – of course has no idea what a testosterone poisoned quagmire awaits at the Kratzner estate on Bald Mountain (which seems to locate the story in northern Oregon… not that it especially matters). And don't think "Bald Mountain" as in Fantasia; think "bald mountain" as in smutty dick joke. Sander reports for duty shortly before Christmas, only to have Kratzner inform him that for the next week or so he won't have his own room – he'll have to bunk in the old gaming room because Kratzner's sons will be visiting for the holidays, along with the various boyfriends Kratzner neglects to mention but who considerably increase the head count. Once the brood flaps off back to the misbegotten caves in which they roost for the rest of the year, Sandy can have his pick of bedrooms. That doesn't sound so bad, right?

Well, enter the heirs apparent. Julius is a compulsive drinker and ass-grabber built like a college athlete fast running to fat, and his friend Gene; Julius is despised by all his brothers because he has a knack for wheedling extra money from their dad. Julius is convinced that Gene has hot pants for his lean, white-haired brother Manny, who arrives with his lover, plump bottle-blond Monty, but is always up for some side action, in part because Monty is given to drinking himself into a stupor on a nightly basis. Hans, the chubby brother, shows up with hunky boyfriend Carl, whose hair is a deeply unnatural shade of black, while surgeon Bernie, a broad shouldered drunk with "a shock of salt and pepper hair," turns up alone – his boyfriend, interior decorator Dion, is due to blow in later.

Fritz, who has a startling white buzz cut, is with his red-headed boyfriend Gerald (another one who's no stranger to hair dye); black-sheep Max parachutes in with a bleeding shoulder wound, apparently having busted out of jail, and is followed by Don, the last of the brood; he's a slender redhead (presumably real) in a leopard-skin coat and has an ugly sense of fun. Whew! Given that one of the boys eventually confides to Sander that they all learned the ropes of being homos by spying on their dad's liaisons with sundry servants, Matt appears to have risen to his conjugal duties with admirable vigor. The contingent is completed by family attorney Morris Blount, a tall, handsome, lanky fellow with curly grey hair who immediately finds himself on the horns of a dilemma: His first loyalty is to the Kratzner family, but if Max really is a fugitive, Morris stands to be disbarred if he fails to turn him in. So yeah, it's a full house: Seven brothers, five brides and an attorney, in addition to Matt, his "colored retainer and bodyguard" Nicholas, butlers Peter and Rube (occasionally Ruby; whether that's a typo or an inconsistent alternate term of address I couldn't say), chauffeur Herman, factotum Silas, cook Marvin and his assistant, Andy, and God knows who else – the Bald Mountain house is vast.

Not that the details matter: The gist is that everyone is after man-sex newbie Sander, and most of them aren't very nice about it. None of the Kratzner boys likes being thwarted and some – like Don, who half-seduces/half rapes him within hours of his arrival (the lesson apparently being that you underestimate mincing queens in leopard coats at your virtue's peril) – are downright nasty. Don is also of the kiss-and-tell persuasion (of course he is), so by the time Sander comes downstairs for breakfast the next morning, is reputation is in roughly the same condition as his sheets. Manny sagely remarks, "Christmas just gets merrier every year," while Bernie quietly suggests that Sander should keep his door locked and bolted from now on, and should never, ever let his guard down.

Good advice that Sander quickly has occasion to put to use: Don, who's been drinking since before Sander crawled out of bed, attempts to assault third-floor butler Rube, and when Julius intervenes, Don turns on Sander. This time Sander manages to flip Don over his shoulder, then returns to his room, locks the door, has a slug of bourbon – it isn't noon yet, and to all appearances he's the late starter -- and prepares to take a shower. Once again, probably needless to say, he isn't even undressed when he overhears something going on in the room next door. Turns out that jealous Julius called the Manny-Gene situation right, and since Gene is quite the talker, Sander learns all kinds of interesting, if not necessarily useful things, notably that what God gave Man o' War had nothing on what He saw fit to bestow on Manny. No wonder the cleansing power of hot water proves insufficient to wash away Sander's dirty thoughts about the handsome Rube. And then the storm to end all storms blows up, stranding the whole hissing, spitting, clawing kit and caboodle of them on Bal Mountain until further notice.

Fortunately, Sander has now gotten the lay of the land (in all senses of the phrase), and wastes no time getting to know poor Rube, who turns out to be the good time who's been had by all the Kratzner brothers and not because he wanted to – old man Matt told him in no uncertain terms that refusing any of them would mean his job. And if he loses his job the next stop will be prison – Nicholas was railroaded by a previous employer, and Matt got him out to serve as a diversion for his boys. The only person who's ever stood up for him is Nicholas, probably, Rube says, "because we're both colored." Sander is appropriately horrified, and so is Bernie, who's shaping up to be the black sheep of the Kratzner clan, which is to say that he's the only one with some kind of conscience and rudimentary empathy.

Soon after, Sander has the misfortune to hear Matt abusing Nicholas and threatening to get rid of him and find a new nurse who isn't such a stuck up prude. That doesn't sound good, and it takes on a distinctly ominous cast the next morning, when the storm knocks out the electricity. Next thing you know, Sander is fending off Gerald – who, taking a cue from Don, is hammered before breakfast – and Hans. A little party strikes Manny and Gene as a good idea, as it does lat(ish) arrivals Monty, Morris, Fritz and Julius. Eight to one being bad odds in any game, Sander's soiled virtue is once again at risk. "You dirty, filthy beasts," he wails as they have their way with him. This time Sander is rescued -- a little late, to be sure, but long before the Kratzner pervs are done – by Marvin, who gently walks him to the kitchen and rustles up good slug of apricot brandy. Bernie meanders in and advises Sander to get the hell out while the going is good – or at least not so bad – but then Peter suddenly falls ill and dies, Rube disappears and it's too late for goodbyes. Oh, and Marvin drops another bombshell: There's a monster in the basement, and if that's where Rube is, then it's time to start cutting losses. Marvin isn't the only one who knows about the monster, either. Or at least, not the only one who knew. A couple of years ago, Monk, yet another butler, heard him shuffling around in the boiler room; but Monk burned to death while smoking in bed, so there's no asking him now. And there was a college kid named Bill who worked at the mansion for a while and took off like a shot after he saw something in the basement.

That night, Sander drifts into a troubled sleep, and is awakened by Matt's voice ordering Nicholas to tie him up. Nicholas rapes him, and then reties him back to back with the battered Rube – the Kratzner boys are going to have fun tonight! But before they do, Rube spills the whole story of what's going on. Rube, it turns out, is the only child of the late Erna Kratzner – Matt's fair-skinned boys, all seven, are his, but not one was Erna's ad the family's millions were hers. Matt thought he was the only one fooling around with servants – like Peter's mother, a maid named Emerald – but Erna was a nymphomaniac who got busy every time he was out of town. She left everything to Matt, but stipulated that he could only leave it to his children. And that means Rube is the only legitimate – albeit illegitimate – heir and all the other bastards want to kill him, though not until after they're done screwing him and that nosy nurse, Sander. And just when just when it looks as though things can't get worse, in comes the monster, his face hidden within the kind of hood that 40 years later would have gotten him shot on sight in Florida. Except that he's not a monster – what monster wears sneakers? He's the missing Monk, who unties Rube and Sander – he's going to have to retie them, he says; he can't protect them physically because the untreated burns he suffered two years earlier have left him "like a steer with its hide ripped off," but he can give them some time together. And so Rube and Sander wash up, enjoy a couple of hours of warm, sweet passion, and wait for Matt and his buggering brood return to torture them. Which they due, only to be stopped in their filthy tracks by the arrival of the naked, burn-scarred monster of Bald Mountain, who wraps up the sturm und drang with a snub-nose revolver.

Well, that was a little somethin' somethin.' Not sure what, but something both kinda sorta gothic and sorta kinda creepy --- all that raping -- and seriously, major league silly. Oh, and the "monster" is a horribly burned black man – suck on that… all you gimlet eyed eviserators of hackneyed cultural tropes: We're doubling down on the monstrosity hand because Monk is both African-American and handicapped. Let's just say that Chamber of Homos is no Master of Montfortin, by pasticheur extraordinaire Peter Tuesday Hughes, a writer who really knew how to grab genre tropes by the balls and squeeze 'em till they sang.

Which isn't to say it's uninteresting: Killer-queen Don is a nice subversion of the sissy stereotype: He may be slim and partial to femmy fashions (come on – you want that leopard coat, even if you'd never buy it for all the right reasons), but in bed he's all butch – Sander crawls away from their encounter like someone who's just been rolled over by an asphalt spreader. Neither Rube nor Nicholas has an ounce of either Stepin Fetchit or noble negro in him; they're no better or worse than anyone else caught up in the Kratzner-family maelstrom of monstrosity. They're just who they are; their faults and virtues are their own. Ditto Sander and Rube's relationship: It's not fetishistic – Sander is too new to having sex with other men to have started fixating on things like screwing black men – and it isn't rooted in master-slave clichés: It's pure attraction sparked by mutual adversity, and the book's brief epilogue makes it clear that their bond has staying power. It's not the stuff of conventional happily ever aftering, but it's resilient and satisfying, a nice little surprise at the end of a novel that isn't exactly trying to excel.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Hot Asset!

George Kiva
Surrey Press, 1974

WARNING: The last few paragraphs include photos of another edition of Hot Asset! that features hardcore images. If you're reading this blog, you can probably deal with it, but I mention it in the interest of not catching you by surprise.

"Hot Asset! is the story of Terry's hot ass, and how completely he used it for fun and games," promises the meretriciously misleading one-page introduction to this novel by George Kiva (Things Never Went Right…). Suffice it to say that, like Things Never Went Right…, it's more on the order of a sexually explicit Book of Job than a cheerfully smutty one hander: In his search for love, 14-year-old Terry Brunner – the story's first-person narrator -- is sexually assaulted, humiliated, taunted, shunned and tortured. All he wants is a relationship -- he's not a shameless little boy hussy -- and he's used and betrayed at every turn.

It's hard to imagine anyone wanting to do anything but cry for young Terry when he's finally delivered into the hands of the monstrously misguided Dr. Stone for behavioral modification by electroshock aversion therapy, Terry's brave, unspoken declaration that he's finally learned he can take anything the bastards dish out notwithstanding.

Reprint: American Art Enterprises, 1991
Back to the beginning: The last paragraph includes Terry is an ordinary kid; nice looking – nothing special, but clear-skinned, mop-haired and slim – lives with his parents, grandmother, bratty younger brother, Cleaver, and brainy older sister, Gladys. After an off-putting bit of childish experimentation within the cozy confines of a closet when Terry was seven – his little friend Toby urinated in his mouth while they were playing doctor – Terry has had no interest in fooling around with other boys.
But that changes the afternoon a sudden downpour drives Terry and his friends Paul and Ronnie into the "clubhouse" -- an unused garage Paul's older brother, Charlie, has accessorized with movie posters, playing cards and scratchy, red-velvet sofa – and Paul suggests a game of strip poker. Scrawny, risk-averse Ronnie bails when he's down to his shorts, but Terry stays and gets his introduction to a brave new world of blow jobs and mind games.

Paul soon persuades Terry to take a day-trip into Philadelphia and let his pal Mr. Feldman snap some porno pictures of them together; they're just for pervy Mr. F's private use, Paul promises, and Feldman won't show either of their faces. Plus he'll pay them $100.00 apiece – that's a lot of money for young teen in the early '70s.

Paul also lets Terry in on a secret: He's part of the "T Club" – six boys, including his brother and classmates Joe Getty, John McPhillips, Larry Turpin and Jim Russell – who meet on Tuesdays and Thursday to have orgies in the clubhouse, and Paul promises to recommend Terry for inclusion as soon as one of the existing members drops out. Terry toughens up enough to arrange a little accident (a tripwire is involved) for Joe Getty in hopes of filling his slot in the T Club, but his little ploy backfires – Joe spots him lurking near the scene of his accident -- and Terry is instead blacklisted by the very renegades who are his best chance of acceptance.

Someone more experienced and less emotionally needy than Terry would have pegged Paul for a manipulative user in a minute, but it takes Terry longer. Even when everyone from Principal Vearling to the Reverend Watson starts pawing Terry's hot assets -- for one awful moment it even looks as though his own father wants a piece, though that turns out to be a false alarm – it doesn't dawn on Terry that Paul might have something to do with it.

It's only when he learns that he's on the cover of a glossy porno magazine called The Suckers -- as is Paul, his face as carefully obscured or cropped out of every shot as Terry's is front and center -- that he realizes Paul is s manipulated, selfish little creep. And by then he's acquired a nickname – "Coverboy" – and been handed over to Dr. Stone, who believes that heavy-duty meds and aversion therapy (think Alex's "treatment" in A Clockwork Orange) can teach the gayest little gay boy to get it up for girls.
Eventually driven to attempt suicide, Terry finally flees and – once again putting his trust in Paul -- makes his way back to Mr. Feldman. The deal Paul has brokered: Terry will star in a porno movie for free and Feldman will get him a houseboy position with Eddie Leiber, and enthusiastic buyer of his wares. At first it looks as though Terry is once again getting screwed in every way: Making the movie is agonizing, Feldman shoos Terry away with nothing but the bus fare needed to get him to his new employer's home – a downtown hotel -- and Leiber turns out to be a cripple.

But surprise, surprise: Leiber – left paraplegic by a wound sustained in Vietnam -- is also handsome, greets Terry like a genial host rather than an entitled buyer, and overall seems pretty decent -- even allowing for the fact that he knows Terry is chicken, and desperate chicken at that. Leiber is paying for sex and doesn't pretend otherwise: He has a maid to clean, a nurse to bathe him and hotel kitchen to deliver meals. But he also wants friendship and knows that to get thatyou have to give it; Eddie in fact turns out to be the one good thing that's happened to Terry in the last year: He talks to him like a person, rather than handling him like an object.

And Paul manages to ruin that as well: When he learns that the Brunner family is offering a reward for information about Terry's whereabouts, he narcs on him.So that's how Terry winds up strapped into a monstrous, 20th-century medical excuse for a chastity belt, heavily medicated and locked in a miserable psych ward run by Dr. Stone. Pretty much the ultimate downer (anyone who managed to get a thrill or two from Terry's more lurid sexual adventures no doubt by this point feels as though submerged in a metal tub of ice.

So let's call it resolved: Hot Asset! is no cheap thrill. But having persevered with Terry through the tortures of the beautiful and the damned, it's hard not to rally around his declaration of self: Terr's circumstances could hardly be worse, but his resolve is awe-inspiring. He's been guilty of naivte, to be sure, but only because he leads with his heart and trusts in the kindness of strangers, a trust whose repeated violation fails to make Terry cold or cruel or opportunistic.

"That night as I lay in my new bed by the window, I tried to see stars in the sky but could see nothing but blackness," Terry says as Hot Asset! draws to a close. "I tried to move my body, to get my hand down under the shield, to pull the corset away… but I was unable to accomplish anything.

"Feeling highly frustrated, I thought of Eddie Leiber paralyzed in his wheelchair and suddenly realized that this was the way Eddie was, that he felt the same way, that he was incapable fo satisfying even the most basic urges. Just as suddenly I began to cry, not for myself, but for the Eddie Leibers of the world.

"I knew than that I could stand anything Dr. Stone had to offer, however horrible, because I had to get back to Eddie somehow. I had to tell him that I knew how he felt, and that I had felt the same, however briefly.

And that's the Hot Asset! sucker punch, the icy-hot dagger straight to the heart that transforms a kind of mean, kitchen sink saga of blue-collar, queer teen misery into a rallying cry as at odds with the book's cover photo of some dishy bleach-blond trash reclining on a gravel-topped roof as it is with the 'step right up for underage thrills and chills' intro.

Like Kiva's relentlessly grim Things Never Went Right…, Hot Asset! is anti-porn, a coming-of-age story in which life runs vicious roughshod over a boy four years too young to so much as drink, vote or be drafted… hardly a far-fetched observation given that the Vietnam War was still raging when Hot Asset! was written and it's mentioned explicitly in the text.
But its vivid potency is undeniable: Terry Brunner's story is a tragedy lightened with a spark of hope and his personal trials speak to the experiences of a generation of gay men who fought for the little shots of happiness that came effortlessly to straight couples.
Unlike Kiva's vivid but hopeless Things Never Worked Out Right… , Hot Asset! ends on a hopeful note: Terry has been disappointed, betrayed and brutalized, but he never for a moment doubts that he's a gay boy on his way to being a gay man. And when every hand seems raised against him, Terry stands fast. His last words are these:
"…I had to tell [Eddie Leiber] that I loved him and if he would let me, I'd spend the rest of my life sucking [his] magnificent cock."

Set aside for a moment your personal feelings about cocksucking (note that I'm not asking you to forget, a far more difficult thing): The sheer power of Terry's resolve to be true to his desires and devotion to those who love him freely and without reservation is a powerfully liberating thing, a force to be celebrated rather than censured.

And in a brutally conflicted book like Hot Assets!, it's little short of a miracle, a flower on a dung heap.
Hot Asset! has proved to have remarkable staying power for such a remorseless downer of a book. In addition to the original Surrey Press edition -- which I've never seen but would love to own -- and the 1991 edition pictured at top, there was a third in 2000. Published by Tri-cite/Star Distributors' baldly named "Gay Erotica" line, now priced at $5.95 to the second edition's $3.95 (I'm guessing the first probably set readers back $1.75, the average for an adults-only paperback in the early '70s), with a cover that renders the title without an exclamation point. The punctuation is back on the first inside page... not that anyone who happened to catch sight of it wherever it was being sold a mere 12 years ago is likely to have noticed, any more than they would have the fact that the next page claims it was reprinted with the permission of "Surry" House, Tri-cite/Star's photo cover being what it is.

The legal disclaimer regarding the age of the cover models -- they're "18 years old or older" -- seems rather sanctimonious in the context of a book bulging with ads for phone-sex lines where you can chat one-on-one with sexy she males or get double-teamed by frat brothers like the ones on the full-color back cover. Between the lucky lad whom someone probably thought vaguely resembled Risky Business-era Tom Cruise perched uncomfortably on what night be a headboard, with a giant bar-code block printed over his fully clothed crotch, and the naked "frat boys" by whom he's flanked, clearly ready to fulfill a promise sufficiently obscene that I'll leave it to your imagination, the image is utterly and I assume unintentionally hilarious.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The HIS 69 Artist's Sketchbook

Surrey House, 1972

Though labeled "Volume One" on the inside, I've never seen a trace of a "Volume Two," which surprises the hell out of me, since one-name artist Adam's covers for the HIS 69 line -- then only a year old -- appear to have been hugely popular. So what reader wouldn't have wanted an oversized (8"x11") collection of frontal nudes, many variations on those cover images? And for $3.00, when the price of a single novel was $1.95?

Beats the hell out of me, but poor sales is the only reason I can think of, unless Adam -- who alludes to an upcoming second volume in his one-page intro -- had some kind of quarrel with Surrey House. And that seems unlikely, given that he continued illustrating for them through the '70s.

To be fair, there was a lot of going on going on in New York in those days. But still, isn't the Adam story just too porno perfect? He also purportedly thinks "one of the best phrases of his day is, "Let it all hang out!" I've always been curious about Adam's identity, and haven't been able to find out a thing about that, either. Except of course for the aforementioned intro, which sounds roughly as plausible as most HIS 69 plot lines.

Adam claims to live in Greenwich Village (of course, because that's where artists live), and says that if he weren't so serious about his work, his studio "could easily turn into nothing more than another New York City Action playhouse." He's "built up a really fantastic photo and sketch collection of some of the greatest studs on the East coast," and okay, he isn't so serious that his studio doesn't turn into a New York City playhouse some of the time.
Of course, if it weren't for time-lapse shutters that collection of photos would be considerably less robust, because, yes, "it isn't unusual for yours truly to get a bit carried away and join the fun."

But to give Adam his due, he's a terrific artist and his pencils are actually much more appealing than the versions that made it onto books, in large part because of the endless variety of sickly pinks, greens, tans and blues used on HIS 69 two-color covers. This (right) is one the line's two house formats; if you're curious, you can see the other here, on the unexpected genre-twister Boys Behind Bars.

Unlike many of the artists hired by adults-only publishers, Adam's anatomical rendering is excellent and he can actually draw faces, which is more than can be said for the much-collected Tom of Finland. In all, The HIS 69 Artist's Sketchbook is an attractive adjunct to any collection of '70s gay porn... would that you could still buy it for $3.00. And if anyone has a lead on the elusive Adam, I'd love to know.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Boys Behind Bars

Benjamin David
Manhard Books/Surrey House, 1973

Sluts in the slammer stories are the sugar cookies of smut: Dependable, basic gratification. When you buy a book called Boys Behind Bars, you know what you're getting, even before the back-cover blurb spells it out: "Take one detention cell and fill it with horny boys and something is going to happen… fast! As quick as his faded uniform was stripped from his body, he was thrown face down, and held there… until every boy in the cell had it!" Except when you don't… Benjamin David's apparently formulaic adults-only pulp is something altogether stranger and more moving than you'd have any reason to expect.

Sweet-faced, 16-year-old Tod Custis, a math prodigy from Champaign, Illinois, wafts into Dorm 3-C, St. Elmo's Reformatory (named for the 3rd-century martyr associated with luminous electrical sparking) on a cloud of sleazy tabloid celebrity: The smart money says this slim, brainy newbie, convicted of killing his parents, is no match for eleven hardened delinquents aching for a piece of his famous and no-doubt cherry ass.

The smart money, however, is wrong. Custis is tougher than he looks -- way tougher – along with more ruthless, disciplined, devious, sex savvy, manipulative and image conscious, which is where self-taught rocker Billy Joe Winslow, a handsome blond with violet eyes and a knack for tailoring prison rags so they show off a fellow's manly assets, comes into the picture.

Within weeks, Custis is in a position to do cushy time: He's got power, privileges and Winslow, a great lay, good time and kindred spirit. But staying isn't an option: Born into poverty, incest and abuse, Custis caught a once-in-a-lifetime break when a teacher spotted his gift for math and lost it to his degenerate biker dad, Rod. Rod caught his wife with her lover, beat them both to death and staged the crime scene to implicate Custis. Smart by nature and brutalized from birth, Custis has been plotting revenge for a long, long time, but Winslow has thrown him for a loop. Blindsided by something that seems an awful lot like love, he lays his cards on the table – he doesn't want to leave St. Elmo's without Winslow. Common sense says that smalltime offender Winslow should stay put, serve his penny-ante time and walk away free and clear. But it's not about logic for him, either, so that's that.

The escape goes smoothly until their getaway car blows a tire, but fate is in a benevolent mood: A silver Mercedes materializes out of the two-lane darkness, with rich, horny, drug-addled hippie poet Yseult Homann-Potter at the wheel. She not only gives the lost boys she dubs her "lambs" a lift to Chicago, but installs them in the deluxe digs she shares with her twin brother, Tristram (how creepy is that?) and introduces them to life in the divinely decadent lane.

And this is where Boys Behind Bars takes an unlikely detour, leaving the high-octane, couple-on-the-run highway for the thorny back roads of relationship work. It's going to take a whole lot of negotiating if the fairy tale romance that blossomed in the hothouse of St. Elmo's is going to survive in the real world. Who'd have seen that coming?

Custis and Winslow are no strangers to using what they have to get what they want: When Yseult puts the Eastern sex-as-divine-ecstasy moves on Winslow in the car, he figures he's paying for the ride. Custis picks up the rent by indulging the besotted Tristram – a luxury apartment overlooking Lake Michigan is the last place anyone will be looking for a pair of underage fugitives – always figured finding his father would involve screwing his way through the kinky local biker scene for as long as it took.

But damned if love doesn’t turn out to be a game changer and double damned if Custis and Winslow don't rise to the challenge. They drop the depersonalizing reform-school convention of last names for Tod and Billy Joe, and when jealousy threatens to drive a wedge between them, they talk it out; mutual vulnerability replaces the cock-driven one upmanship that used to get them hot and they escape the numbing effects of selling themselves to strangers by retreating into the piercing intimacy of cuddling. Can you say "world-class WTF?"

Except that in retrospect, author "Benjamin David" plays fair. Instead of trying to sell the idea that love transforms the Custis of Dorm 3-C – to all appearances a sociopath who uses sexual humiliation to establish authority, keep would-be alpha dogs in line and get his rocks off in the process – David transforms the reader's perception of Custis. The turning point is during Winslow and Custis' escape; Custis steals a terrified Baptist boy's car and stashes his bound, naked and whimpering hostage on the back-seat floor of his own vehicle. What he doesn't do is abuse the vulnerable youth, because the fact is, Custis was never a sociopath... just a pragmatist tempered in a particularly hellish fire: He lies when there's no upside to telling the truth – no one will ever believe he didn't kill his parents, so why bother – uses sex as a weapon because it delivers maximum return on minimum effort and exploits weakness to further his own ends. People get MBAs for mastering the same skill set in graduate school. The kid on the floor is naked because Custis needed a change of clothes and tied up on the floor because as long as he's back there he's not siccing the police on Winslow and Custis' asses. When the lovers are forced to ditch the car for a new ride. Custis' last thought is that Duane's junker will stay warm long enough that he'll be found before he freezes.

That's kind of subtle for porno, and makes you feel okay about being glad the boys get a happy ending. They may not wind up being happily ever after, but once Tod has had his face-to-face with his dad – whom he chooses not to kill – he and Billy Joe walk away from the fancy digs, perverted bikers, lost souls and wealthy wastrels willing to do anything to feel something and hit the road, heading West to face the future together.

I've never run across another book by "Benjamin David" and have no idea who he is or was. But anyone who can stir together couple-on-the-run clichés, vicious vivisection of '70s-style let-it-all-hang-out self-indulgence (a mere three years into the decade, remember), hellbound nihilism a la Jim Thompson, raunchy sex and the conviction that love can motivate a pair of throwaway teens to transcend the kind of deprivation that grinds strong men into the dirt to produce a thoroughly readable pulp novel is okay by me.