Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Bomba and the Celestial Aspect

For any that may not have noticed, The Big Penis Book, from Taschen -- natch -- is now out in a new edition, and in 3D! I bought a copy of the first edition, in just 2D, for my beloved A., just a couple of Christmases ago. It's proved popular with houseguests. The book is pretty much exactly... well, what it sounds like. It's not just porn, though it certainly is that (so any sensitive soul who might be ill prepared for what even I must admit can be quite a shock, pray do not click on the link to Taschen's page provided here. The curious are doubtless going to be unheedful of this warning, but hey, I tried to tell you, didn't I?) Actually, the editor, Dian Hanson, a Seattle native, despite not knowing how to spell her name -- this being America, damn it -- has done the world a genuine, if never to be widely appreciated favor in not just lovingly reproducing these photographs, but in also tracing, when and wherever possible, the men who made them. The text, believe it or not, is quite fascinating. How else, for example, would one learn the whole rather sordid, but ultimately cheerful story of dear David Hurles, the man who, for over 40 years, made Old Reliable Studio a watchword in hot shots of recently paroled hoodlums, tattooed thugs -- when tattoos were still exotic and sexy in an ugly way -- in and out of their underwear, and a whole world of criminal cuties who were willing, for a nominal fee and whatever they could boost from poor David, to get naked, get busy and flip the cameraman the inevitable bird that became his trademark shot? Dian Hanson's big book is full of such interesting research, interviews and profiles. No lie, it makes for a really engrossing read. (Come for the penis, stay for the story, I always say.)

Of the three copies of the new edition that we got into the bookstore, one has already been stolen by some brazen little pisher who waltzed right out the door with it while security happened to be looking the other way.* Saw it on the security footage, after. Little bastard. The two remaining copies are still on display, face-out, in the photography section. We have one regular customer, other than me, on whom we have come to count to buy at least one of everything gay, though his tastes tend to fiction and his interest is usually more strictly literary and historical. Still, when I next see him, I do intend to practice a bit of the hard sell, ahem, on this one. It really is that good. Doubtless, if I don't buy the other copy, and really why would I just for the 3D effects, it will eventually end up on markdown table some day, having been thumbed to pieces, back in some almost secluded corner, behind the diet books and next to the laminated calculus charts. We did however sell a few copies of the last edition to more than me, so here's hoping.

Besides recommending the book, I mention it here because, inevitably, so long as it is in the bookstore, even if we kept it wrapped in cotton bunting and boxed under the counter, someone, some one individual, would sniff the title out for no other or lesser reason than to denounce it, in no uncertain terms, for the corrupting influence and eyesore that it so obviously, outrageously, is. I would bet against the reelection of Obama before I'd bet against this. After twenty-five years working in bookstores of every description and in cities up and down the west coast of the United States, the one fact that I can absolutely guarantee, as sure as the maxim that sex sells, for every salacious or suggestive book ever put out for sale, there is someone looking to find it so as to express their disappointment and outrage in finding it in their "favorite bookstore." It matters not a whit that this individual, like as not, will be unknown to the staff and management, or that she has no history, if known, of ever having spent more than will assure her of a free parking sticker while she pops in to use the facilities. The moment the offending volume is spotted, the bookstore in which she stands will be her "favorite bookstore," where she's shopped all her life, the bookstore to which her sainted parent first brought her to buy her own first Bible, and where she now brings her innocent grandchildren -- despite the decline of the neighborhood -- to shop for home-schooling materials. No more! Not with that kind of filth right out where anyone might see it, if they but looked.

While the legions of such decent people may have thinned over the years, you may trust me that, like the poor, the disapproving will be with us always. I outline the lady above roughly, but she need not be married, or a grandmother. She need not even be a she, though this is rare, as the gentlemen, in my experience, tend to reserve their outrage for politics and the outlandish lack of this or that hatemonger's latest screed on the display tables. Even if it can be shown to be there, it will never be in sufficient quantity to compete with all the books that are "stacked sky high" by authors not at all to the gentleman's liking. It's a conspiracy, you know. Nevertheless, now and again, one of fellows will not much like porn either. It happens.

If their numbers may have declined, at least in the larger, Northern cities, one should not assume the politics of the decent people too far. Just as likely nowadays, the citizen keeping watch over the moral influence of dangerous books may as well be wearing Birkenstocks or pink Crocks as high heels or orthopedic shoes. The red face of indignation may just as likely be seen to be tethered by a long gray braid to the the neck of a hemp poncho as it is to be expected rising above pearls or a bow tie in a spiffy tartan. All the outraged actually have in common, whether they themselves have breed or no, is a profound and abiding concern "for the kids."

It is the little ones, you see, so many nowadays inadequately supervised, who may see whatever it is in the bookstore, on how ever high and remote a shelf, that will ruin their innocence. The one book that may have that unhealthy "influence", you may rest assured, at least according to these united sons and daughters of the Pure Republic, that one book will surely find the one child who might otherwise have been the next Gandhi, or Billy Graham, or President of these United States, were it not for the "influence" of... well, big penises, and in 3D, yet.

It is never prudishness that prompts these people. Do not presume. Inevitably, while registering a complaint with the proper or improper authority, the point will be made that while no disrespect is intended to the kind of sick, perverted, damned soul who might enjoy that kind of thing, the concerned citizen's only interest in bringing this potential horror to the attention of the management is an honest concern for the delicate sensibilities of others, children first, foremost and always of course --

for we must save the children, mustn't we?

-- but also the elderly, who's old fashioned ways are not as ours, and the feeble-minded, who are so easily led, studies have shown, all unknowing, into gross indecency, the religious who may be blinded by their cruel Gods, the marginal, potentially dangerous fellows who need no more than the sight of two dimensional, let alone three dimensional genitalia, his or hers, erect, aroused, or otherwise, to be tipped into rape, murder and inappropriate touch at the number seventy-one bus-stop.

It is always of others we must think. Remember that. Censorship is invariably a selfless act.

It's that word, "influence," that defines the problem. How to define it? Like pornography for the esteemed Associate Justice, it has only to be seen to be known, despite the definition being subject to all manner of interpretation. Yet, it is inevitably in anticipation of, rather than in response to any influence felt that books are taken from bookstore or library shelves, mostly. It is the PTA mother whose child has yet to know of the existence of Huckleberry Finn, who fears the influence of that detestable word. It is the radio preacher who has himself never set foot inside the Baltimore Museum of Art who organizes a protest again the influence of Robert Mapplethorpe's ass riding a bullwhip. It is almost always the true, if chaste lover of the human form who fears the influence of vulgar depictions of gross sexuality, when happened upon in a bookstore, potentially by... well, somebody less open minded.

Managing a LGBTQ bookstore presented unique difficulties in this regard. A number of our regular women customers objected, for example, to being in an otherwise friendly environment that nevertheless was riddled with dicks: male nudes and semi-nudes featured in posters and paintings, on bookcovers and photo-essays, porno pictures on the covers of many, many magazines, dicks to the left of 'em, dicks to the right, dicks, dicks, dicks, dicks, dicks. Many the times a faithful lesbian patron, coming to the cash register with a stack of Naiad mysteries, would complain of having been visually assaulted by all this cock, and would ask why this had to be so? It was a fair question, and one with which I was not unsympathetic, despite my own obvious fondness for cock. "Don't we deserve," she would ask on behalf of herself, her partner and her sisters generally, "a place where we can feel comfortable shopping?" Indeed. My only answer, however, was the same to these good women as it was when a number of faint-hearted, yet loudmouthed queens, who, discovering a plush vagina puppet, or a coffee-table-book of female nudes, etc., would shriek in horror and insist on storming out: Leben und leben lassen, meine Damen und Herren, live and let live, 'cause we all just gotta get along to get along.

For more than one generation, Tarzan simply was Johnny Weissmuller. He may still be accepted as the best of the movie Tarzans. Only fair. He was in perhaps the best Tarzan movies. He was not however my Tarzan. That would have been Ron Ely, or even better, for reasons I could not have explained at the time, Mike Henry. Weissmuller was an olympic swimmer and still an impressive athlete, at least when he began his movie career. Never did anything for me though. Now Ron Ely, on TV as Tarzan when I was a lad, and in color, now our Ron was a different story. And Mike? Mike was something of a lox as an actor, frankly, but that hairy sonofabitch, in loincloth, was well neigh perfection. We may all of us with an eye for such things, even before we knew why or what it might mean, have our own Tarzan. But Johnny Sheffield was my Boy, or rather Bomba was and will always be.

Nobody much remembers Bomba. Johnny Sheffield was a child actor who played Boy to Weissmuller's Tarzan in a whole raft of Tarzan movies, with more than one Jane, I might add, though that mattered to me as a boy not at all. This was a cute kid. He did pretty good for a kid, in those movies, and it couldn't have been easy, working with that wretched chimp, getting rescued from rubber crocodiles every other shot, wearing a miniature loincloth in front of a studio full of adults every day, at ten, eleven, twelve years old. Rather horrify thought, that. Now imagine what it was to finish puberty wearing that thing. Johnny soldiered on. Then the most unlikely thing happened to this boy, something that seems to almost never happen to child performers, he grew up to be beautiful. When Sheffield got to be too old to be Boy anymore, he got recast, barely, as Bomba, yet another jungle white boy from the pulps. He starred in a number of Bomba pictures, and even had a very brief stint as Bomba on TV, right around the time that all the old Tarzan movies came to Saturday afternoon television. Eventually, Bomba ran it's course and Johnny Sheffield, by all reports a genuinely nice guy, retired from show business, had a family and went on to other things. He just died last year, bless him, and he lived long enough to experience the happy nostalgia of a generation of fans who sought him out at conventions, and presumably online, to tell him how much those old shows still meant to them. Nice.

For me though, the sight of Johnny Sheffield as Bomba, in a leopard skin loincloth, the perfection of his smooth, endearingly all-American beauty; all buttery young muscles and thick wavy hair and bright, light eyes, burned deep into some as yet unexplored corner of my developing consciousness and left a permanent mark. Bomba, for me, you see was a very real influence.

In his great Dictionary, Johnson's poetic first definition of the word reads "Power of the celestial aspects operating upon terrestrial bodies and affairs." I realize the good Doctor did not have my preadolescent, sexually illiterate, dirty little boy mind in mind when he offered that definition of influence, but I now think it both perfectly lovely and perfectly apt. (Talking about stars after all, wasn't he?) It was, I now see, the truly celestial aspect of Johnny Sheffield's boyishly handsome, bright, open face, his stocky, athletic young body and his then all but unspeakably rare, all but complete nudity, right there on on the glowing, 42 inch, black and white screen of our RCA television that first exposed me to the mesmerizing influence of masculine beauty. With the more mature charms of Ron Ely and Mike Henry-- not to forget the small miracle that was Little Joe Cartwright's ass in those fitted trousers, among other wonders of the era -- ever and ever recurring as I grew and grew, though I may never have suspected this at the time, I was coming to find out what I would look for thereafter, the rest of my life no doubt, when I looked for perfection. (It is no kind of irony that while I fell most ardently in love, in college, with a dancer with curly hair, bright, light eyes and a smoothly muscled, stocky little body, I ended up shortly thereafter in love with and married to a big, handsome black man. Even at nineteen, I evidently had the sense to recognize all kinds of perfection when I saw it, and go with the best to be had. Wise choice, if I do say so myself.)

Who can honestly describe all the influences, biological, parental, environmental, aesthetic, inherently sexual, and otherwise, that go into making us who we are? Can we honestly enumerate now even those best remembered in anyway meaningfully as anything other than so many instinctive guesses, vaguely remembered feelings, family stories, the accrued impressions of the always lost childhood?

I grew up in an age in which pornography, at least of the kind to which I might have responded with anything other than boredom or distaste, was simply not available to me, for good or ill. Yet even the harmless entertainment of Saturday afternoon reruns of already quaint jungle adventures could be turned to the purpose of exciting a specifically sexual response, well before I even recognized that that, indeed, was what it was. Had I had access to more explicit materials, believe me, I have no doubt I would have sought them out. Later, when the opportunity came, I certainly embraced it. Now, was I better off for never having seen an actual picture of an actual adult's penis until shortly before, Heavens be praised, I quite nearly got at a few? Maybe. I don't know. What I feel pretty confident saying is that I wouldn't have minded looking, if I had had the chance.

To a large extent, I was shielded from many of the particulars, good and bad of adult sexuality throughout my childhood. My parents were and remain a rather shy and endearingly prudish pair, at least before their children. That still seems best to me, but then again, what else would I know? Meanwhile, it is worth pointing out that it was the responsibility of my parents to see to it that I was raised according to exactly their standards and with their values and that I still turned out exactly as I am. I like to think that that was a good thing, and that despite their hurt and confusion back in the day when I announced myself as gay, at all of thirteen, they have come by now to appreciate that everything they actually meant to teach me, they did. What they taught me had everything to do with love, and respect, and a healthy curiosity about life. What I now know about sex, and my own sexuality, I learned largely on my own, as most people do, or did back in the day. Might have been easier otherwise, but I'm fine with how it all worked out, thanks.

This business then of policing the influences to which innocence is exposed, so long as the responsible parties are in fact the parties responsible, may indeed be considerably more complicated in the modern world than it was back when I was a horny kid dreaming about running away to the jungles of Culver City with Bomba, to live happily with Ron and or Mike in a treehouse, and contemporary parents have my sincere sympathy for what must be an increasingly difficult job. They do however have resources and a vocabulary and a wider experience, most of 'em, than was available to my folks in the Sixties and Seventies, and that seems to me an altogether good thing.

As to policing the access of adults to materials that, it is still quite true, perhaps even the majority of citizens might find personally offensive, well, that my darlings, is quite frankly just the price to be paid for living in an advancing civilization. I will never get the chance to actually say this to any of the concerned citizens I encounter at work, but if you're really so worried about the influence of books like The Big Penis Book in 3D, or beautiful Bomba in a loincloth...

Move to Utah.

*The thief was captured on Friday, 05/27/11, when he returned to the store to steal home decor magazines, and George Platt Lynes' Male Nudes. Congrats, Security Team.

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