Saturday, March 31, 2012
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.
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.
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.
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.