He knows they’re young and, better, that he’s old.
He shares his distance from them like a joke.
They love him for it….
They see him as an object, artifact, that time
Has ploughed criss-cross with all these lines
Yet has a core within that purely burns.
“Auden at Milwaukee” by Stephen Spender
Who is Simon Sheppard? The “erotica king” of San Francisco. An editor, columnist, award winner, delightful elder lecher (I know the feeling, mon frère). That his writing receives accolades from Felice Picano and Gavin Atlas speaks for itself.
The hook, “A Retired Writer in the Sun” grabbed my sensibilities. This short provides that the “Witch of Capri,” an aged, retired writer of gay erotica, suffers the intrusion of a young interviewer intent on getting to the core of who, what, when, where this “old queen” is, has been, may continue to be. The young man, Quilty, is told, “I’d beg that many of us who write dirty stories do it, at least in part, in an attempt to master lust. Not to overcome it…” Quilty, the youngster, could not restrain his hard-on against the “…laser-like desire [from the old writer] that went straight to his cock.” …I am a writer, you know [said the Witch]. Many things that should be true, aren’t.’ He looked directly at Quilty’s crotch. ‘Would you like help with that?'”
“Just remember to say, Quilty,” with which the Witch ends their encounter, “to quote me to the effect that the current state of erotic writing is lamentable. Lamentable.”
I believed somewhat that the truth had been told. Believed more that the old Witch had just lost his muse, had just lost his interest, had just ceased to feed on the new writers, the new dirty storytellers who—whether the Witch knew it or not—carried on in his stead, celebrated his, the Witch’s passion.
“Two Bikers in a Room at the Motel 6″—one of whom rides a Suzuki, of all things—who encounters a jeaned/leathered, slightly skuzzy biker—a Harley man, a hetero—who, well, likes it through the backdoor, as they say. “Okay, fag,” Duane [the Harley man] rumbled, “let’s see how good you can fill me up.”…Trev, the Suzuki boy, gritted out, ‘You take it, you fuck.’ Where had that come from? Virginia Woolf would have been appalled.”
A delightful read, “Marcos y Che,” of an imagined love affair between “Che” Guevara and a masked, always masked fellow revolutionary. Sheppard unabashedly provides—in the voice of a struggling writer, the protagonist—a slushy, poorly written, not-worth-a-second-look account of the imagined affair: “Che had slid his hand down to the front of Marcos’ fatigue pants, where his dick stood at attention…” At attention! The struggling writer, reflecting on the visage of Che and his fellow revolutionary in a sixty-nine position, takes out his own dick and, well, just prior to orgasm, “…imagined writing an essay on ‘The Artistic Responsibilities of the Horny Leftist Fag in Times of Resurgent Bourgeois Authoritarianism.'”
One of my favorites, “Lorca,” gives us Federico Garcia Lorca; a poet, a tortured queer shot dead days before the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. The story, though, gently told, presses against a older writer’s contemporary infatuation with an office-supply clerk—his nametag reading “Federico”—and the visage of the poet himself, nearly a century before, celebrating his flesh, his ease of comfort within the confines of a secluded pond where, yes, his fate awaits. “There will always be those who hate the beautiful young men.”
Onanistic shackling, the delight/regret of barebacking, immigrant boys aboard ship sailing toward the promise of America, a forty-something internet voyeur hooking up with a nerdish kid for phone sex—each story so different, so unique in their content; all exposing the depth and breadth of Sheppards’ skills.
Sheppards’ metaphors are sublime. “And then, without a word of warning, he shoots his load, salty as the Pacific, abrupt as a storm at sea. Or something.” And another: “And then Nick was filled with cruelty, too, cruelty and desire, plunging himself, without lubrication, into Billy, his lust implacable as the tides. He felt himself enveloped, plunging into darkness, into light. Shining silks from the Orient, gold from Eldorado, none of it could match this plunder. Nothing.”
Sheppards’ pairing of oldsters with youngsters is a recurrent theme. My favorite back-and-forth: The boy observes, “A big, strong hand came down on the back of my head, forcing me further onto his big, stiff dick. ‘That’s it, you overeducated little fuck [said the oldster]. Show me you understand what life is really about.'” “…Well, [the youngster concludes] that seemed like more of a philosophical challenge than I was up to at the moment, but I did my level best.'”
I suspect, like Spender’s conclusions about Auden, Sheppard “…shares his distance from them (the youngsters) like a joke. …Yet has a core within that purely burns.”
Reviewed by George Seaton