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.