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 clich├ęs, 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.