John Rechy's City of Night
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I was pricing a bunch of gay books the other day. Mostly lesbian mysteries a surprising large genre, flourishing so well that I priced a bunch of hard covers at $3.00. 100 Years of Gay Erotica, an anthology of sexy stories about gay gays was the odd man out.
We've had the book before but this time I wondered if I'd enjoy reading any of it. There wasn't a introduction or preface to serve as a compass. Not even an editor, that being credit to "Book Sales, Inc. Staff." Clearly a gay friendly employer.
Figuring it'd rhapsodize broad chests and digress into celebrations of sucking straight male cock I priced it and shelved it.
But I did feel an odd yearning to read something celebrating slick and fervid bodies, tongues, buttocks and cocks. Thinking back the last erotic work I could remember even skimming was The Story of O a more analytical than sexy French novel. Peering further back I remembered reading Genet, also French (hard to believe I used to read literature not originally written in English). However happy Genet was to have a man hump his mouth the novels are really about the power of Genet's will and imagination to recreate the world in his own image. Which is why I read them (and delighted to be reading Miracle of the Rose in jail where I barely escaped rape).
When at seventeen I awoke to the crushing delight of lovely boys I bought a few sex books. The Joy of Gay Sex hadn't come out. I sure don't regret its absence. The prudential precautions weren't needed back before AIDS. Admittedly I did get the scabies and hep but most people went downtown and let the city cure the occasional bout with VD. And the books clean accommodation of variety tends to take the frisson of surprise out of things.
Kraft-Ebbing's Psychopathia Sexualis was my first purchase. It was (maybe still is) a famous early listing of case histories of sexual difference and deviation. Richard von Kraft-Ebbing was one of the first people to gain an inkling of transsexuality. Not that that caught my attention. I was looking for the good stuff. The book was serious, plodding reading, no good stuff. The case history of the gay guy who could only be sexually excited by elderly men is the only case I remember. A big shock to the young pedophile that I was.
I also grabbed a couple of books by Eberhard & Phylis Kronhausen, big name sex therapists of the 70s. One was another collection of case histories. They bored me. Another was a selection of salacious stories from the last couple of centuries. There were a few gay stories, at least one about a pretty blonde boy. I think it was something that used to be falsely attributed to Wilde. The overwrought Victorian prose didn't keep it from seeming pretty exciting.
John Rechy's City of Night was my young self's big novel. Rechy became a hustler and wrote about it. Sex was always implicit but the book was thick with it. The novel refers repeatedly to lights on Times Square that spell out FASCINATION. Willfully I made Bowie's Fascination conform to the book. And when I finally made it to San Francisco and stood there on Market Street looking at a neon sign flashing FASCINATION over and over again I felt like I'd somehow come home.
I read City of Night repeatedly when I first discovered it. Shrewdly I've never read it since. As my ear for prose became sharper and unforgiving I could dimly remember Rechy's sentences were stiffly florid and bore a weight they couldn't really support. I'd rather have my silly recollected treasure than what I'd acquire now.
Escaping the bland boredom of home, the terror of my father is tightly entwined with the easy ecstasy of nude boy beneath me. Not that it was all that easy. My first two attempts were anything but successful. I could blame one on liquor and the second on a queen tossing ice on my back when I was in bed with his roommate. Thankfully I didn't let that stop me. And I can really think of a better emblem of getting out of what could've been Hell than a supple, smooth, compliant body.
Sorry I'm so behind on everyone's journal. Charles and I have been spending lots of time together. Not a hard choice, y'know?