Monday, May 12, 2008
The Man from C.A.M.P. excerpt by Victor J Banis
The Man from C.A.M.P. by Victor J. Banis: When I wrote THE MAN FROM C.A.M.P. in 1966, I little suspected that I was writing something that would come to be regarded in time as a "classic." I was simply having lots of fun and thumbing my nose while I was at it at a few of the blue-noses then censoring what we could read, especially what we could read in terms of gay fiction.
My little adventure enjoyed great success, in large part as I later realized because it was a different kind of gay novel. So far as I know, Jackie Holmes, the eponymous secret agent, was the first protagonist in gay fiction to be openly gay and proud of it, and the book ended happily at a time when most gay novel ended in doom and gloom. The success of the book and its 8 sequels was a major factor in creating that gay publishing revolution that swept the country over the next few years and in part contributed to a growing sense of community among gay males, and ultimately to the events at Stonewall.
The C.A.M.P. novels went on to become cult symbols as well. They are still selling nearly 40 years later, and I still hear from readers telling me how much they enjoyed them. In 2004, 3 of the books (The Man From C.A.M.P.; Holiday Gay; and The Son Goes Down) were reissued by Haworth Press, and when Haworth Press divested itself of its fiction titles in 2008, the rights were picked up by MLR Press, who will be issuing yet another edition in fall, 2008.
I thought it would be interesting, then, to show how I first introduced THE MAN FROM C.A.M.P.
The Man from C.A.M.P.
MLR Press (reissue) (Fall, 2008)
The bar did not, at first sight, offer a very appealing picture. Not even the dimness of the lights, which left the interior in near darkness, could manage to lend any sort of charm to the battered counter, or the stools with torn plastic hanging loose. The floor was covered with sawdust and debris of various sorts.
The customers, too, might have been described as debris. Some bars catering to homosexuals employ a certain discretion, and that discretion is often imitated by the customers. Neither The Round-Up nor its patrons could have been given credit for such thoughtfulness. The photos pinned to the walls, pictures of nearly nude young men, mostly body builders, identified the bar for what it was, a gay hangout. The patrons were as easily identified.
If the two men who had just entered found the bar and its customers peculiar, they themselves were regarded as not less peculiar by the inhabitants of the room. Not that they were particularly odd themselves; rather, it was their air of normality that made them seem out of place in The Round-Up. Neither of them gave any indication of being homosexual, or “on the prowl.” It might have been that they were police – they had an official air about them – but the patrons of The Round-Up were quite familiar with the more devious tactics employed by the vice squad of the local police. This was too open an approach, and that possibility was quickly dismissed.
The two stood inside the door for a few minutes, allowing their eyes to adjust to the dim light. Of the pair, it was the one trailing behind who aroused the most interest on the part of the people at the bar. Ted Summers was the proverbial tall, dark, and handsome. Not quite forty, he offered an appearance that was a confusing, and attractive, combination of age and youth. His unruly hair, once jet black, was now flecked with gray, and his face had a tan, leathery quality that evidenced the fact that he had been around a bit. He had, in fact, been around a lot, and his years had been action-filled, first as a heroic young marine who had come back from the service sporting numerous medals, and later as a rugged, highly-regarded investigator for the U. S. Treasury Department. His body, however, was the same body that had belonged to the young marine. Tall and powerfully built, he was every inch a man’s man, easily a match for any of the muscle boys whose photos were displayed on the walls.
His companion, on the other hand, might have been taken for an accounting clerk in some small office. Lou Upton was only a few years older than Ted, but he was already balding, and showing a tendency toward fatness, especially around the waist. He was not, never had been, the perfect physical specimen. But behind the quick gray eyes, exaggerated by the thickness of his glasses, was the mind of a top-notch policeman, a representative of the world police organization, Interpol.
With a nod toward his companion, Upton led the way to one of the booths that lined one wall. They seated themselves and sat in silence until the pimply-faced bartender had taken their order and returned with two beers. By this time the newness of their arrival had begun to wear off, and the others in the bar were losing interest, returning their attention to one another.
“Seems like a funny place to contact an agent,” Summers said in a low voice, sniffing as he glanced around the room
“Jackie’s an unusual agent,” Upton answered him, downing a healthy mouthful of his beer.
“Who is she, anyway?” Summers wanted to know. “One of your people?”
“You’ll find out in plenty of time.”
Summers frowned at the answer. “I don’t think I like this whole set up. Hell, I’ve been with the force long enough to be filled in on details. I don’t like being treated like a security risk.”
“I didn’t know you were being treated as such,” Upton replied.
“I’d say so. No one’s told me the first thing about this, except to tag along with you. I don’t know what we’re working on, or who this Jackie is, or anything else.”
“You’ll find out,” Upton assured him. “In…”
“In due time,” Summers finished with another frown.
They fell silent again, drinking their beers and occasionally glancing around at the growing crowd of homosexuals. With few exceptions, they were all the loud, flamboyant type known among their own people as “swishy.” Summers continued to feel uncomfortable. He had known one or two homosexuals in his day, who had been all right guys, but they had been the careful type, the ones you could never identify. These people were something different. He instinctively leaned away each time one of them passed near where he was sitting, as though afraid of contamination.
Upton, on the other hand, seemed quite unperturbed by the setting or the people around them. He smiled from time to time, more to himself than anyone else, as though he were enjoying some private joke.
They finished their beers, and Upton signaled the waiter to bring them two more. Summers looked at his watch impatiently.
“She’s late, isn’t she?” he said aloud. “I thought we were to meet her at ten, and it’s after ten thirty now.”
“Jackie will be here,” Upton promised him, still quite patient himself. “When the right moment comes, contact will be made”
“I’ve got to go unload some of the beer,” Summers said, standing. “Never could hold that stuff very well.”
“I’ll save your seat,” Upton answered, with another of his puzzling smiles.
Summers edged his way through the Saturday night crowd that was beginning to fill up the bar, heading for the rear. Beyond a dingy curtain was a narrow hall, with doors opening into the Ladies’ and Men’s rooms. He smiled to himself as he passed the door marked Ladies, wondering which of the male customers at the bar used that door, and entered the other.
He had just stood up to the urinal when the door opened behind him and an effeminate blond stepped up beside him. For a moment Summers ignored the newcomer, thinking instead about the mysterious Jackie whom they should have met an hour ago.
He was suddenly aware of the fact that he was being stared at. He glanced angrily sideways. The blond, short and slender, was looking him over brazenly, an irritating smile playing upon his lips.
“Nice,” he said simply, raising his face to wink at Summers.
“Knock it off,” Summers snapped angrily, stepping back.
“Don’t turn away, Mr. Summers,” the blond told him quietly. “It gives us a good excuse to stand here and talk.”
Summers froze instinctively, despite his rather awkward position. “You know my name?” he asked, staring in surprise at the still smiling homosexual.
“I know quite a bit about you,” the blond assured him. He glanced meaningfully downward as he added, “Although they left the nicest things out of the report.”
Summers blushed and stepped back to the urinal, leaning close against it to prevent any possible observation of his endowments. “But who the hell…?” He stopped in mid sentence and his jaw fell open. “Oh, no, you can’t be…”
The blond nodded. “Umm-hm, I’m Jackie.”