©Jack Fritscher. See Permissions, Reprints, Quotations, Footnotes
SHARING MEN WHO DON’T ALWAYS
Written in 1981 and published by John W. Rowberry, who had been the Drummer editor after me, when he left Drummer and became a packager of magazines for George Mavety’s Modernismo Publishing
David R. Hurles, who is Old Reliable, and I met in June 1975 through Jim Stewart, the photographer who had come out with me and David Sparrow from Kalamazoo. Jim eventually moved South of Market because David Hurles lived South of Market, at 10th and Mission, on the second-floor front, facing catty-corner across to the Doggie Diner, in one of those old wooden buildings with linoleum on the floors. The place reeked of poverty, but David who was the manager kept it clean. Location is always everything, and the 10th and Mission location suited David’s recruitment of tough young men from the tenement hotels South of Market, from the bus station a few blocks away, and from the Old Crow bar even closer on Market Street where the hustlers hung out in that strip between the Old Crow and the triangular building to the east with the corner sign that read “Flagg Brothers” and was eventually used as the interior of the apartment for Tom Cruse and Brad Pitt in Interview with the Vampire, which Anne Rice had written when she lived in San Francisco’s Castro district. By 1978, David was moving from apartment to apartment in San Francisco and then back and forth between San Francisco and Los Angeles where he finally settled, establishing an incredible relationship with the mentoring Bob Mizer, Athletic Model Guild (AMG).
Actually, David and I talked on the phone, two or three times daily, in long and deep conversations for six months before we finally discussed meeting face to face. It was the 70’s when everyone was fucking everyone, so we decided to meet at his apartment for sex, but five minutes into it we were both laughing, and that was all there was to that, because what we had going instead was the kind of endearing love that is total friendship. In March 1977, before I became editor of Drummer, David and I even bought a house together.
I recognized his genius as a person on the phone and as an artist the instant I saw his photography of his hustlers shot in black-and-white photographs, in color transparencies, and in 8mm and Super-8 color movies. He printed his own black-and-white photographs in his apartment, and his movies, like my own films, were little 4-minute reels that could go on for as many reels as needed but were mostly short and to the point. This discipline came about because film for the hand-cranked silent movie cameras came only in 4-minute reels. Both of us learned to edit in the camera as we shot, in order to save time on the very difficult Super-8 editing machines. All the movies of the 70s were silent movies; sound did not enter gay erotic culture until video cameras entered consumers hands late in 1980 and 1981.
David had for some years, since the 60’s, been dealing with sound by making erotic audio tapes of his hustlers spilling their guts for fifteen bucks, telling their verbally abusive fantasies of what they liked to do to queers. He sold these very popular tapes with photos and sometimes his movies through his mail-order company called Old Reliable, which was a folk-term back in his native Ohio, for a trusty penis that never failed to perform. David was a bit put out that no gay magazine or paper would print his work because it was so scary, so real, and went deep into a part of gay fantasy and gay culture that most nice gay men did not want to acknowledge.
Actually, I found him very Genet, very Pasolini, and years later when a crew from a French magazine arrived to interview him about his work, I wasn’t surprised. He was living at the real edge and the real bottom of sexual society glamourizing and romanticizing the very kind of tough boys who had threatened him as a boy himself, the kind of boys who would wrestle and punch, and be bad. David was not a writer, but the writer his work was most like was Sam Steward/Phil Andros who also was into tough punks, rough sex, and tattoos.
When I became Drummer editor, I needed material to fill the issues, and David seemed like a treasury. He was doubtful and full of stage fright when I first went through his photographs to select pictures for Drummer. I also thought that transcriptions of his hustlers’ tapes might make for some interesting column inches, so I convinced David to let me take copies of several of his tapes to my friend Steve McEachern, owner and founder of the Catacombs, because by day Steve ran a transcription business out of his 21st Street home. Turning his spoken tapes into the written word was tricky, because actually spoken conversation is different from the written version of conversation, but that was my contribution to delivering up his sex project into the art of magazines. David Hurles as Old Reliable was a hit the minute that Drummer __DATE hit the street, because he peeled back the bourgois layer of gay life and dared expose the fact that danger is a huge part of forbidden gay sex. David once told me about himself , “Terror is my only hardon.”
Over more than a quarter of a century, our lives have gone in and out of sync during literally thousands of hours on the phone. Once David asked me to make an audiotape with one of his hustlers, XXXXXX, titledXXXXXXX, and another time, after I had shot my own video of the two Adams Brothers, David asked me if he could handle it as an Old Reliable release, because he said I was able to catch the two of them together, whereas most Old Reliable videos are solos in which a very real young tough interacts with the video camera behind which is David Hurles who is the camera.
Old Reliable videos are legendary as erotic jerk-off material as well as documentary events–something many people might not think of–chronicling as they do actual street hustlers who are paid to spill their guts after a lifetime of people telling them to shut the fuck up. Our combination of work on “Corporal in Charge” is a great example of our interconnectedness. (He often gave me for my birthdays hustlers fresh out of prison or the military.) Some people think that David Hurles is the model for the genius pornographer, Solly Blue, in my epic novel of San Francisco in the 70’s, Some Dance to Remember. Whatever. He is the dearest friend. --Jack Fritscher
©2003 Jack Fritscher
SHARING MEN WHO DON’T ALWAYS
Streetboys, ex-cons, and hustlers. Terror is my only hardon,” Old Reliable says. “Nothing beats looking up at a tough young streetwise punk straddling my chest, flexing his muscles, and talking nasty to me. Sure it’s dangerous. Nobody in his right mind should bring roughtrade into his house and put himself in a compromising situation. I’ve been raped at knifepoint and robbed at gunpoint. I’ve been stripped naked by a 19-year-old blond ex-con who fucked me till he got off and then marched me around my apartment with the palms of my hands on my shoulders prisonstyle while he made me rifle my drawers for cash.”
Old Reliable is in his early thirties. He’s a cherubic brown-blond, blue-eyed junkfood addict who rarely ventures out of his LA apartment. He hardly needs to. In 1975 he invented the better mousetrap, and the World began beating a path to his door. “Judy Garland and me,” he says. “This is the apartment-hotel where she used to bring the roughtrade she liked to have fuck her senseless Ain’t Hollywood grand? LA may not be the center of the universe, but it sure is center ring of the circus.
Reliable rises to pour more Coca-Cola. The Coke always goes in the glass before the ice: it foams less.
“I must be crazy to be in the business I’m in. If the Moral Majority, which is neither, doesn’t get me, then the hustlers will. But then my business is my pleasure. How many guys can honestly say that? To be perfectly real with you, in a world that grows increasingly unreal, I must tell you: Terror is my only hardon. I used to think this was weird; but lately the headlines and movies prove that terror sells. And what sells in America is always what excites people the most. America’s into terror, Think of the hostages, movies like Jaws and Halloween, the election of any Republican. It’s an axiom of art: the mix of beauty and terror.”
Attractive danger is Old Reliable’s product. He recruits tough streetmales to make audio tapes for mail-order sale to an international clientele of men who prefer, in their wise concern for the safety of their persons and possessions not to hit the bricks themselves to pick up a piece of lower-class trash who will do anything they want--or he wants--for fifteen bucks on up. Enter Old Reliable and reality. Old Reliable refuses to script his authentic tapes. He turns his boys loose with a blank cassette. What they confess to and brag about is the stuff wet dreams are made on. Lots of men, with a yen for nasty talk, enjoy beating off listening to Old Reliable’s men admitting, in slow southern drawls and heavy streetlingo, that they’re fuckin’ righteously into abusing fuckin’ fags.
Once a man discovers the performance-reality that Old Reliable produces, he becomes a sucker for these hot “social documentaries” that ivory-tower sociologists would give their right nut for. Reliable realizes the socially redeeming value of his work. But that’s accidental to his purpose. His reason for being, he realizes, happens when a guy listens to these tapes on his car stereo, on his cassette next to his pillow, or on his walkman while sitting in a sleazy neighborhood on a busbench watching the danger-boys cruise temptingly by. Sex, Old Reliable figures, ought to have a verbal soundtrack.
“I’m an outlaw,” he admits, “artistically, politically, even philosophically.” Reliable is attractive enough to make a pickup in any gay bar in the world; but he frankly eschews sex with gays. He prefers sex with men. Not that he feels superior to gays. “It’s ironic. Just as the media accepts the word gay, homosexuals realize that gay has reduced itself to mean no more than the lifestyles of the disco clone and the political activist. That does not, by any stretch, represent the extraordinary range of queerness.” He smiles. “I think it was better before we divided ourselves into rich gays, poor gays, city gays, female gays, etc. I think it was better when we were all just outlaws.”
Knowing the danger of Old Reliable’s lifestyle, the very lifestyle that gives him access to a reality that is heart of the contemporary young urban male American experience, one wonders about the chances of his longevity. Are his forays into the hustling demi-monde a kind of living by the sword?
“I’m homosexual,” he says. “But like many queer men these days, I find homosexuality is more than designer jeans and LaCoste. Maybe I’m reactionary.”
Actually his erotic tapes are an art form reminding men of the kind of men they originally came out for--before studios like Colt laundered masculinity into a spruced-up parody of mannikins and modelles.
“No man alive, I dare say, ever came out to go to bed with gays. Men come out to bed other men. Heterosexual is not better than homosexual. Yet if you check out, and really listen to, the so-called gay values of who’s so-called hot, you see that the straighter the guy’s appearance the bigger the throb. That says everything about what guys deepdown want. That says everything about the deepdown levels at which I mine my work. Sometimes guys buy my tapes and get scared.”
Old Reliable believes in being careful of what you wish for, because he finds you usually get it.
“When I was a kid in Cincinnatti, I wrestled with tough kids and didn’t get hurt. They respected my brains; I respected their strength. I could watch fights without taking sides. Boys told me their secrets. Today they still do. I was free back then to not be one-of-the-boys while enjoying all the protection and privilege of being with the tough guys. Sounds like my situation now. I used to get my pals to wrestle. Crotch-to-crotch. Stripped to shorts. Twelve-year-old cocks curiously against each other. One guy, when we weren’t wrestling, was always strutting and telling me how tough he was and how he could really whip me if he wanted to. When I think about it, those experiences were like dry-run for the way my sexlife and my artlife are today. Maybe that’s the point and secret of my tapes: LA reality isn’t too far from Cincinnatti fantasy.
Old Reliable is generous to his boy. Sometimes to a fault. They call him “Dear Old Dad” and he melts. A hustler gets fifteen to twenty-five bucks for sex, another ten or fifteen for the half-hour tape, another twenty or so for photographs. That’s sort of the standard package. It varies greatly with the look and talent of the toughie. Some guys return for free. Some, for bigger bucks.
“These young men serve themselves up ala carte.” Old Reliable spreads some of his distinctive-style camera-verite pix across his blond veneer coffee table. His eye sports a small mouse. His lower lip is slightly puffy. “Kenny, last night, for instance, came over for twenty bucks worth of fun. Let me say that Kenny was my type and cheap at twice the price. I offered him during the scene another ten for some attitude-posing. Another five for his fancy presentation of his butt for some fancier rimming. And so on.” Old Reliable smiles like a cat accustomed to eating canaries. “By this morning, Kenny had earned himself $85.”
Old Reliable hardly minds paying for it. His auditions of these boys assures Old Reliable Cassette Company’s customers that they’re getting The Real Thing. No wonder Old Reliable himself has a refrigerator stacked full of liter bottles of nothing but Coca-Cola. For every true artist, his work must also be his life.
“Hollywood,” Reliable says, “is the city of performances. Everybody here is paid to perform. I pay to go to a play where actors strut their stuff for a group. So what’s different about paying my little streetactor Kenny for a one-on-one performance? It pays his rent. It keeps him from robbing somebody.” He looks around his apartment. Outside, a Southern-California fountain, reminiscent of grander times, babbles under a motionless palm. “Of course, they always sooner or later rob me. That’s one of the reasons I rarely go out. Everything in my apartment turns over, through burglary, at least once a year. Am I complaining? Hardly.”
Old Reliable’s fifth-floor apartment is early St. Vincent de Paul. Fans of his photography can watch the possessions change as they study the backgrounds of the pix of his young studs. The lamps, the chairs, the sheets are all familiar.
“This place is not exactly my choice of style,” Reliable says with no apology in his voice. He’s not a faggot living the designer life. “Most of my customers live in very nice middleclass homes. I had,” he asides, “three address changes from Washington, D.C., for instance, just as Carter left office. Anyway, if a man lives in a comfortable home, he can’t bring back a street hustler where everything they see is temptation. This Salvation Army junk hardly tempts anybody. This illusion keeps me safer, although there is the constant problem of the camera, the tape recorders, the tape duplicator, the color TV, and the video camera and recorder. My work requires electronic equipment and, of course, that is high on the burglary-robbery hit list. So far I haven’t gone down in a hail of hot lead.”
One wonders if Old Reliable’s customers realize the extent of the dangers he faces to produce his erotic art. That knowledge that the danger is as real as the tapes, that none of his work is scripted, might add to the erotic, exotic intensity of smoking a jay, greasing up the palm, and turning on the tape cassette.
Old Reliable founded his cassette mail-order trade in the middle of the night. This was before home video. Erotica was silent and he thought to give sex a voice. He sat up in bed, sort of a Jizz Slinger, thinking, “You ain’t heard nothin’ yet!”
“Actually,” he says between answering the constantly ringing phone, “I always got turned on at the baths back then listening to men fuck and moan in the next room. I jerked off hearing my roommate getting into S&M and fistfucking. I loved the panting crunching sound of myself and my partner wrestling. And I could, and can, cum listening to a hustler or straight man tell about his exploits: fighting, doing sex, rough-housing, keeping cool in the slammer. Sex isn’t silent. Sex involves all the senses. I like the sight, taste, and smell of action. So why not the fucking sound of it?”
Old Reliable’s style is the style of men he recruits: a direct drive to real, painful, penetrating, curled-toe orgasm. The men he photographs and tapes are from the lower class. outlaws, young men from broken families, reform school, prison, drug addicts, bikers, all of them living day to day, often on the street, or with whoever will take care of them, male or female. Most identify themselves as straight.
Old Reliable’s style is also the style of the men who patronize his tapes, men reacting, perhaps subconsciously, to their upbringing. Like Old Reliable, who dares to extend himself out into the mean streets to front for them, they have, if their purchase-power is any statement, similar tastes. “I like,” Old Reliable confesses, and the truth of all this is in his work as much as in his present shared confidence, “the smell of sweat, armpits, cock, asshole, and balls, I like muscular, hard bodies. I like men doing things that our middleclass parents always thought of as dirty: spitting, cussing, even fucking women. Sex is beautiful and compelling, but I prefer it on the seamy side. I would rather sniff the armpits of a tough young Mexican boxer after a fight than climb between clean sheets with a Colt model.
“For my tapes, I basically use men who haven’t grown up with middleclass restrictions. I encourage them to be as honest as they can. I let them say whatever spills out of them--from nice to nasty. They tend to tell secrets and spill their guts all over the tape. Most of it is what some people regard as seamy, not just sexual. Some talk of violence and hate and prejudice, of sins venial and mortal, of omission and commission. Most of them are pretty worldly whether they’re 18 or 38, What is dirty changes a lot and keeps changing.”
What Old Reliable ends up with on his erotic tapes is something really important and unique in contemporary American popular culture.
“What you hear on my tapes is more than suck and fuck and rim. It’s also sweat, piss, hardcore masculinity, strength, attitude, lack of pretension. These men haven’t been conditioned the same way as their listeners. Most of them love the chance to say anything they want, and for money, and they come off with a seething intensity that can’t fail to move the listener.” Old Reliable hits down neat the last of his glass of Coke. “How often,” he says with all the passion of an artist with a vision, “do we get to hear someone say what he really thinks and feels? The men of these tapes can do just that--because I release them from any judgment on what they say. After they leave my apartment, after I get a little ripped and listen to the tape, I just share the street-gifts life sends to me.
He smiles his deceptively boyish smile.
“I’m sharing people who don’t always wear clean underwear,” he says, with those who do.”
©1981 Jack Fritscher