Everybody’s FREE to FEEL GOOD

By Josh Eliot

 

Free and easy is how I’d describe the good ole days in San Francisco (1980 - 1988). I embraced the idea of that kind of world, even though living in 1980s San Francisco was like being in a bubble, you really felt the world would be a better place if that euphoria spread outside the Bay Area’s borders. You couldn’t go anywhere in the city that wasn’t sexually charged, lust was in the air. I can’t imagine San Francisco being as free spirited today, I really hope I’m wrong.

I moved to San Francisco at 17 from Rhode Island, and after my stint at the San Francisco Art Institute and prior to starting with Catalina Video, I worked mostly as an insurance claims clerk. At age 19 or 20 I worked on the 32nd floor of the 50 California Street Building in the financial district, opening mail, typing, filing and assisting the claims adjusters. The office was 60 / 40 with the majority being gay men in their late 20s. The office did not have a general manager at the time so the person in charge was a supervisor named Jackie. Jackie loved gay boys and never passed up hiring one when they walked in the door for an interview. My first Friday, Fritz, a claims adjuster, walked up and told me: “Work is over for the week and for the last hour everyone hangs out in the break room.” Jay, the other clerk, nodded and said, “Everybody drinks vodka screwdrivers, except for me because I’m not 21 yet, but Peter will sneak us some.”

Talk about free and easy! I’m sure home office in New York would not have approved of such behavior, so I’m not mentioning this major company’s name. Sure enough, Peter and Fred, two claims adjusters, were pouring vodka and orange juice when I got into the break room where everyone drank and socialized. The gay guys would hold court while the straight ladies ate it all up! Mostly everyone took the train to and from work so there weren't issues with driving. Peter did sneak Jay and I our drinks and I’m sure Jackie knew we were lying to her when we said we were only drinking orange juice. Everyone left work for the weekend on a “high note.” This went on for weeks and only ended when a new general manager was assigned to the office. Our Fridays hit a road block.

As weeks passed, I grew closer to the guys at the office, especially Fritz and Fred. Now on Friday’s directly after work, we all went to Sutter's Mill, a gay bar in the financial district where everybody was in a suit and tie or office attire. It was fucking hot! I equate it to a uniform fetish, but it was a three piece suit fetish! Very sexy. I used my friend’s Rhode Island ID to get into bars until I was 21 and it always worked, always. Sutter’s Mill really was a site to behold, the place was packed and more often than not the adjusters would hook up and leave with some hot number. By 7:00pm the place was dead so we would normally head over to the Castro for dinner and more drinks.

 

Josh Eliot at 17, 50 California St., Sutter's Mill

Josh Eliot at 17, 50 California St., Sutter's Mill

 

Fritz was really courting me and I fell head over heels for him. We had regular dates and hook-ups for months, but it was like pulling teeth for him to ever say we were “boyfriends.” He was the ultimate free spirit with “hippy-ish” behavior, like not being able to put labels on things. It was annoying as all hell and after a while his free and easy attitude was turning me off because I wanted acknowledgment of our relationship. The situation was complicated by the fact that he was secretly still in love with his current roommate Sam, his ex-lover that he never got over.

Fred, on the other hand, was a fun party boy who lived in Marin County and commuted over the Golden Gate to work. My frustration with Fritz led me to acting out and I started doing things I never would have if Fritz had only acknowledged and nurtured our relationship. Every now and again Fred and I had occasional hook ups at a little motel on the avenues. I knew whenever he offered to drive me home from the bar on Fridays it was because he really wanted to drive something else home. I always said yes to that ginormous Italian sausage and made sure to keep it a secret from all the others at work, because everyone knew I was seeing Fritz (everyone except Fritz, evidently).

 

Josh and Fred (L) and Josh, Fred and Fritz (R)

Josh and Fred (L) and Josh, Fred and Fritz (R)

 

One summer, Fritz was back-packing across Europe and it just so happened my brother was flying me to England to watch tennis in Wimbledon with him. When Wimbledon ended, I met up with Fritz and we traveled through England and France. I imagined that this would be the turning point in our “relationship” from fuck buddies to something more. We had some great, romantic times but once we got to Nice things fell apart. The entire trip he kept disappearing into bars' back rooms and I really hadn’t said anything. This was my last night before heading back to England to fly home while he continued through Italy. I wanted to stay in but he wanted to go to Blue Boy, a gay bar. When we got there, upon entering, this really hot bouncer was staring me down. Fritz and I danced, drank, and had a good time until he disappeared into a back room. When he came back to the table I was pissed and went off to the bathroom. In line I looked over to the bouncer who again was staring at me; he motioned me over. I walked over to him and he said something to me in French. When I spoke back in English he just reached down, pulled me into him and started making out with me. He then pulled me over to the bathroom line in front of two private bathrooms. The door opened and he pushed me in with him. It was intense, he was hot and hungry and we had full on sex! People were pounding on the door and he yelled back at them in a rough streetwise tone, which made things all the more hot! Afterwards, I went back to the table and told Fritz exactly what happened to get a reaction and make him jealous. He told me he thought it was great and was happy I had that experience. That was the final straw for me, I couldn’t believe he was not upset and ended things with him there and then. We were done.

I was bitter and distraught when I took the sleeper train back to England. My heart was broken but I was determined to put him out of my thoughts. Shortly after returning to England I went to a pub for a stiff drink where I met three guys from Scotland. They were all handsome, but I particularly hit it off with the shaved headed one. They took me with them to the nightclub Heaven where we danced and drank the night away. From Heaven, we all took a taxi to their apartment in some really random part of London. I was finally free of Fritz, and because of my recent behavior and the fact I went home with three Scottish guys, some would say I was easy. Like the song says: Everybody’s FREE to FEEL GOOD and I was back to doing just that!

 

Blue Boy in Nice, Heaven in London

Blue Boy in Nice, Heaven in London

 

 

Bio of Josh Eliot:

At the age of 25 in 1987, Josh Eliot was hired by Catalina Video by John Travis (Brentwood Video) and Scott Masters (Nova Video). Travis trained Eliot on his style of videography and mentored him on the art of directing. Josh directed his first movie, Runaways, in 1987. By 2009 when Josh parted ways with Catalina Video, he'd produced and directed hundreds of features and won numerous awards for Best Screenplay, Videography, Editing, and Directing. He was entered into the GayVN Hall of fame in 2002. 

 

You can read Josh Eliot's previous blogs for Bijou here:

Coming out of my WET SHORTS
FRANK ROSS, The Boss
Our CALIGULA Moment
That BUTTHOLE Just Winked at Me!
DREAMLAND: The Other Place
A Salty Fuck in Saugatuck
Somebody, Call a FLUFFER!
The Late Great JOHN TRAVIS, My POWERTOOL Mentor
(Un)Easy Riders
7 Years with Colt Model MARK RUTTER
Super NOVA
Whatever Happened to NEELY O’HARA?
Is That AL PARKER In Your Photo?
DOWN BY LAW: My $1,000,000 Mistake
We Waited 8hrs for a Cum Shot... Is That a World Record?
Don't Wear "Short Shorts" on the #38 Geary to LANDS END
How Straight Are You Really?
BEHIND THE (not so) GREEN DOOR
The BOOM BOOM Room
CATCHING UP with Tom DeSimone

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Down and Out in Paris and London: Where the Gays are Not Out

posted by Madame Bubby

Ok, George Orwell. I had to read Animal Farm in grade school, 1984 in high school, and of my own volition, I read and even identified with the main character the infinitely dreary Keep the Aspidistra Flying (yes, nerdy guys with aspirations to writing and other academic pursuits really shouldn’t try to escape their heteronormative lower middle class roots). And, more significantly, I even snuck a read at my dad’s worn copy of Down and Out in Paris in London.
 

George Orwell
George Orwell (Source: idmb.com)

Supposedly based on Orwell’s own experiences, this book, written in 1933, narratives the life of a down and out academic/artist type who out of necessity has to take first, a job as a dishwasher in a hotel and then a restaurant in Paris, or plongeur (sounds like plunger, very apropos). Then, arriving back in England, he ends up in the heart of “tramp” culture (homeless persons) and suffers from the futile attempts of both government and private institutions to either contain or reform the organic connection between poverty and society.
 

1930s Paris
1930s Paris (Source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-14372195)

When I read it as an adolescent, I was more fascinated by the seedy details (especially about food preparation, as in, let’s wipe the sawdust off the toast dropped on the floor so the hotel guest can get the breakfast quickly), the suspense that occurs as the persona struggles to obtain basic necessities, and even the threat of and eruptions of violence.

Yet, now, re-reading it, I noticed the author’s virulent homophobia. Yes, definitely a product of the time and place, but even though it isn’t a main theme, it shows up at various cringeworthy points in the narrative in language of contempt or titillation. Orwell assumes this underbelly of society at that time is the place where such persons can pursue their “perverted” desires, which in most cases exploitation of the even less powerful.
 

Down and Out in Paris and London book cover

For example, in recounting his experience as a dishwasher at a hotel in Paris, he titillates, but does not give details, about the “old debauchees who frequented hotels in search of pretty page boys.” The “French episode,” of course, focuses more on illicit heterosexual sex; it’s a given that most of the men will have “mistresses.” Yet, and for Orwell this fact is an indictment on the condition of poverty, no one seems to be married, except for the couple who deceptively sells packets of pornographic postcards to tourists. Deception, because once the buyers open the packet, no dirty pictures, but instead pictures of common Parisian tourists destinations. And the buyers of course are too embarrassed to complain!
 

Men asleep on Southwark Bridge
Men asleep on Southwark Bridge (Source: http://www.workhouses.org.uk/lodging/)

In the “English episode,” however, the attitudes of contempt and disgust toward homosexuality really come to the fore. The persona in his journeys among the tramps ends up at some place called a “spike.” These prison-like places (inmates are locked in for the night) apparently served as shelters for the homeless population during this period. He gets an involuntary roommate for the night in a room with no beds:

About midnight the other man began making homosexual attempts upon me – a nasty experience in a locked, pitch-dark cell. He was a feeble creature and I could manage him easily, but of course it was impossible to go to sleep again. For the rest of the night we stayed awake, smoking and talking. The man told me the story of his life – he was a fitter, out of work for three years. He said that his wife had promptly deserted him when he lost his job, and he had been so long away from women that he had almost forgotten what they were like. Homosexuality is general among tramps of long standing, he said.

There’s definitely an awful truth here, but it’s not the dynamic of same-sex sex occurring in prison or prison-like settings. It’s his view that such relations are perverse, and as Orwell later argues in the book to the point of a tirade, that the lack of stable relationships with women drives these men to such antisocial acts. What’s kind of queer about this account, though, is that the persona doesn’t attack the guy or even kill him; he ends up forming a sort of bond, however forced because of the situation. But then, the fact that the guy is definitely not an effeminate type but really a manly man out on his luck makes such bonding acceptable.

Later, in one the awful cheap lodging houses where the persona spends the night, he encounters an extremely drunk older gent who claims to be in the same social class as him, an “old Etonian” or “public school boy,” that is, someone of the more genteel class with an education. The social bond does not occur here, because the guy is too drunk to even offer him his cherry brandy, and the other occupants of the room yell at him to go back to his bed and shut up. The older gent keeps talking to himself, muttering, (quite tellingly given the persona’s reflection on the incident) “M -- , you are past redemption,” before finally passing out, and thus giving the persona time to write a description and an assumption rooted in a stereotype:
 

Common lodging house
Common lodging house (Source: http://www.workhouses.org.uk/lodging/)

He was a man of about fifty, with a refined, worn face, and, curiously enough, quite fashionably dressed. It was queer to see his good patent-leather shoes sticking out of that filthy bed. It occurred to me too, that the cherry brandy must have cost the equivalent of a fortnight’s lodging, so he could not have been seriously hard up. Perhaps he frequented common lodging-houses in search of the “nancy boys.”

Yes, here is the stereotype. Wealthy drunk “old queen” slumming and exploiting the effeminate types who are probably selling their bodies to survive. Yes, that exploitative dynamic was definitely occurring, but the author reveals an almost laconic contempt for this person, in fact, anyone in the sexual underground of the period. Apparently, in this case, they are too queer to be redeemed from a world sullied by a hopeless cycle of poverty that degrades human self-respect and dignity, as the narrator is so intent on exposing in this book.

The word queer, for Orwell, true again to his time and place, doesn’t equate with LGBTQ; for him, it means anything, yes anything out of that ever elusive and illusory life of Father reading the paper and Mother sewing and the dog and two children playing in the living room in front of the fire, what he claims in The Road to Wigan Pier is a rare place of goodness and security in a world built on various forms of exploitation. For him, it seems the exploited will only find salvation in a future utopia, which somehow will take the raw materials of the Industrial Revolution and shape them into a world of infinite leisure devoid of any contact with the dirt and chaos and violence and perverted gay sex of Down and Out in Paris and London.

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Queens and Rough Trade: The Enigma of James Pope-Hennessy

posted by Madame Bubby

London in 1974 was a turbulent place. The 1970s inflation global crisis was in full swing, and thus the average Briton was suffering more than usual difficulties in making ends meet. Disillusionment with the welfare state was beginning to show, and the monarchy, not immune to criticism but still beyond the reach of the tabloid culture, was viewed as either dowdy and out-of-touch or useless and decadent (compare Queen Elizabeth to her sister Margaret).

On January 25, the New York Times laconically reported that James Pope‐Hennessy, the writer, died in a hospital of injuries received in a knife attack at his home. He was 57 years old. The police said they believed he was the victim of a gang that raided his house in Notting Hill. His valet escaped from the house and raised the alarm. Mr. Pope‐Hennessy was found bound and gagged with knife wounds and head injuries.
 

Pope-Hennessy murder headline

James Pope-Hennesy was gay, or rather, using the term more suited to his cultural milieu, homosexual. Born on November 20, 1916, the son of an army general and an author, he was most famous for his still seminal biography of the current Queen’s grandmother, the indomitable Queen Mary (yes, the ship was named after her, and her fabulously jeweled tiaras will soon become the properties of Kate and Megan). He began writing after choosing not to pursue, like most males of his class, an education at Oxford.
 

Queen Mary book by James Pope-Hennessy

Lately some interest in his career has resurfaced, as notes he made while researching his famous biography have been published by another Royal historian, Hugo Vickers. In these notes, James reveals a detached yet deliciously insightful perspective on who were the celebrities of that day and those who interacted (or didn’t) with them.
 

Book - The Quest for Queen Mary

For example, his description of Queen Mary’s mother, Princess Mary, Duchess of Teck, a granddaughter of Geroge III of American Revolution fame (Fat Mary; she was, unusually so in a day where one mostly burned off calories despite a high calorie diet) waving to the adoring crowds. The Duchess of Teck with her popularity and tireless charity work, as well as her spontaneity and love of children, made her a kind of proto-Diana without the physical beauty:
 

Princess Mary, Duchess of Teck
Princess Mary, Duchess of Teck

The eye-witnesses recall the Princess’s quick, graceful movements, despite her bulk; the nimble way she stepped from a carriage, the easy gesture with which she would give her hand to be kissed. It was part of her charm that she herself made jokes about her weight and would allow small relatives to test it on her velvet-covered scales…

Or, his description of the Duchess of Windsor, which one could argue is horribly elitist, remains quite vivid, and given James’ penchant of detail, accurate in its evocation of her unique appearance and personality:

I should be tempted to classify her simply as An American Woman par excellence, were it not for the suspicion that she is not woman at all. She is, to look at, phenomenal. She is flat and angular and could have been designed for a medieval playing card. The shoulders are small and high; the head very large, very large… the expression is either anticipatory (signaling to one, “I know this is going to be loads of fun, don’t yew?") or appreciative – the great giglamp smile, the wide, wide open eyes, which are so very large and pale and veined...
 

Duchess of Windsor
Duchess of Windsor

All in all, he evokes in words a non-PC world long-gone, of which the Queen is perhaps the last representative, of shooting parties, armies of servants, German princelings, hyphenated last names, gilding, and real, painted, yes painted, pictures that hang in actual homes, not museums or galleries. And lots of smoking and drinking.

But all the while, despite his success, he was drinking and spending (he mentions in his notes of knocking out two Blood Marys in quick succession, and that was just the beginning of a long, long day and evening) prodigiously, and apparently, picking up rough trade or other unsavory characters. Despite the originality of his writing style, his personal life seemed to have followed the pattern for many well-heeled gay men of that time, split between the grand (and one might say campy) artistic and café society circles and the sexual underground of back alleys and dark bars.
 

Gay London, 1950s/1960s

And, to add another layer to the portrait, he went to Mass. He was staunchly Catholic in a culture that moved in his lifetime from the establishment Anglican of the deeply religious current queen, her mother, and grandmother, to a secular nihilism.

By the early 1970s, despite his social and literary successes, James was broke, and he had lost his somewhat dashing good looks (I find the photo of him by the campy gay photographer Cecil Beaton enticing), but he had just gotten a cash advance for a new book on the late Noel Coward (one can see a confluence in this paragraph of three “old queens.”) James’ killers assumed the money was in the house, but they were wrong.
 

Younger James Pope-Hennessy
Younger James Pope-Hennessy

After the murder, over the next few days three men were arrested and charged with the murder.  They were: John James O’Brien (aka Sean Seamus O’Brien), 23, Ladbroke Grove, Edward John Wilkinson: 22, Arlington Road, Southgate Terence, Michael Noonan: 25, Tisdall Place, Walworth. They eventually stood trial and were each found guilty of murder and burglary.  

But it turns out that these guys hung about in the rough trade or rent boy set of those days, “Dilly Boys.” O’Brien had been living at Pope-Hennessy’s flat for a few months prior to the incident.  He had been in a sexual relationship with both Pope-Hennessy and his valet Leslie Smith (who also lived there).  In fact, Pope-Hennessy and Smith were both users of the ‘rent boy’ scene in Piccadilly.
 

A Dilly Boy
A "Dilly Boy"

And what was even more humiliating, it turns out that James did not die of actual stab wounds, but from choking on his own blood from a lip wound suffered in the attack.

According to Smith, he was lying on the floor with three men standing over him.  One was hitting him with a ‘wooden thing’ whilst the other two were holding him down by his arms.  He then heard one say “Kill him, Chris,” and “You are going to die."  Standing over him with a knife, one said, “Do you want this in you?"

Smith escaped, but by the time he returned with the police, the perpetrators had fled.

James’ legacy as a writer remains untarnished despite his frankly sordid end, but one wonders in these days of unsafe Grindr hookups, social media shaming, and Instagram if something of the schizophrenic split between talent and celebrity and public and private James suffered has resurfaced, but in a more virulent way.

I think the appeal of James to me is his way with words, painstakingly detailed but not pedantic, which really stands out in a time when reality becomes a nanosecond photo or a quick video on a smartphone. James struck, in his life and in his death, to the heart of realities that were built on illusions. Can we do the same?

Sources:

James Pope-Hennessy, Queen Mary

Hugo Vickers and James Pope-Hennesy, The Quest for Queen Mary

https://scepticpeg.wordpress.com/2017/07/12/the-soho-connections-murder-of-the-royal-biographer-1974/

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Sex on the Train Redux, This Time in London

posted by Madame Bubby

I've written about this phenomenon before, the ubiquity of sex on trains, but this time it made international news.

A man, his boyfriend, and another man enjoyed a threesome (some sources say orgy, but does a threesome qualify as an orgy? That's a whole other issue) on the London tube on February 18, 2018.

Nicholas Mullan, George Mason and a third guy (his face pixellated and thus unidentifiable) engaged in a variety of sex acts, which they filmed (something of a shift from the usual filming of violence on public transportation). Mason is a porn start of sorts, and advertised the video as “Complete on live sex at front of general public on subway train!,” reads the description for the video. "And there are lots of normal members of people watching in disbelief. Genuine naughty Brit lads suck n f*ck uncooked and don’t.”
 

George Mason
George Mason

They just pleaded guilty to one charge of “outraging public decency.”

It occurred on the long and busy Northern line on the Underground, between the Leicester Square and Waterloo stops (these stops are in densely populated areas of London). (And apparently the Northern Line seems to attract sexual activity, according to vague gossip on sites such as Datalounge. I used to take that line often when I studied English literature in London in the early 1980s. Sex workers frequented the King's Cross stop, a pretty raunchy area during that time, but I don't remember seeing any sex on the trains. Hmm… )
 

Leicester Square Underground stop

And here's the clincher: another gay man, who saw the porn video online, reported them, claiming that “it overstepped the mark and was morally unacceptable,” according to the story on Pink News.

Now, I know many of my gay friends would laugh this off, or maybe make catty, campy comments, like I would have asked to join in, or, how big were the schlongs? I bet the supposedly outraged passengers were really getting off too, I can imagine the number of growing bulges on that train, if I were there, I would have laughed, yada, yada, yada. Ah, such bravado.

That may be a fun reaction looking at the incident from distant time and space, but as an actual physical spectator, perhaps the boundary crossing between sex and danger in this case could have been more an act of narcisisstic voyeurism than an aesthetic choice, as in Peter de Rome's 1972 short film Underground, sex on a moving subway car in New York City.
 

Stills from de Rome's Underground

Image from de Rome's Underground
Images from Underground, part of the collection The Erotic Films of Peter de Rome

I make this distinction, because public sex does not necessarily imply an audience of willing or unwilling voyeurs, and Mason claims he made the scene to encourage the fetish object of his fan's desire: him. In the de Rome film, they filmed the act, itself, in an empty car, contrasting the fantastic intimacy of that act in a public space gone private with an image of crowds of people in occupied cars. The bifurcation here is intentional, mediating the danger element, but also, by framing the sex act with this image, both blurring and expanding the boundary between public and private social spaces rather than, in the George Mason video, ruthlessly and crudely mocking it.

Mason and Mullan face fines, curfew, and even jail time.

And I don't think they will be filming an actual jailhouse sex video.

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