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The Service

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Arlington, London, 1972
(price: 1.75; 136 pages)

dedication: For Desmond Elliott

The blurb on the back:

Steve is having a beautiful Monday afternoon. He has been looking but all out wonderful all day long. Hair: clean and close to his head as if he has just stepped out of a shower. Face: bright and assured enough to sell a Ford car to a Chevrolet salesman. Body: couldn't be better because Steve is only as good as his body is and today Steve is Mr Red Corpuscle on Parade. Cha Cha Cha. Steve loves Cha Cha Cha music. Cha Cha Cha music is the only good thing which Steve remembers from his childhood. Steve didn't like his childhood very much. He probably would've liked it better if he hadn't had to spend it with his parents. Steve was always mad to get out in the world and grovel in the good, cheap life. Cheap as in dirty. Cheap as in low. Cheap as in humpy. Steve gets seventy-five dollars a night as a hustler working out of a service - The Service. Seventy-five dollars certainly isn't cheap but the reason why Steve gets such a high price is that he looks and acts and talks and performs with an incredible air of a good, plain, basic cheapness. Steve is Good Cheap. An example of Bad Cheap is the client whom Steve goes to call on at an hotel on this beautiful Monday. Steve goes out on a call from the Service and he meets this guy who decides not to pay him. It's not that the guy doesn't have any money. The problem is that the guy knows Steve from someplace before and he refuses to pay up. That's Bad Cheap. Steve remembers the guy from before, too. He also remembers him as one of the world's worst cheapskates. And the only other thing we can tell you about this strange encounter in an hotel room on a beautiful Monday is that The Service is a family novel.
Viscount Norwich writes: 'I read it at a sitting ... real merit... the plot is a new one - a situation surely worth investigating however distasteful many people may find it... a work of artistic merit ... the blurb gives a good idea of what's inside. So people who read it and are shocked really can't complain.'

opening lines:
Steve's thing, which couldn't exactly be called a date because it involved the green stuff, and couldn't exactly be called an appointment because it had to do with business below the belt, wasn't until six o'clock.

The cover proclaims it as a 'strange novel', but I can't help feeling the strangest thing is having Viscount Norwich (that's John Julius Norwich to you and me) giving it that endorsement. 'A situation surely worth investigating,' he says as though this is going to lift the lid off the hypocritical double-standards of our benighted society.

So what precisely is this 'situation'? Well, it's that everyday experience of a male prostitute going to meet a customer, only to find that the client is actually his own father. You know, it's a rites-of-passage thing. We've all been through it, surely. No? Just me, then?

Actually, despite having a plot set-up that even Ibsen would have baulked at, this is a very entertaining little piece. Mr Menegas uses the situation to explore a father-son relationship quite convincingly, and his celebration of gay sexuality is endearingly frank. The only thing is I'm not quite sure why it's written as a novel, when it would have made a more effective stage-piece: it's a double-hander with the action almost entirely confined to a single hotel room, and - with a running-time of just under an hour - could have been a controversial hit for the period.

That's not to say, though, that there's any failure here. In fact, it's quite an achievement, a book written in a hip early-Seventies vernacular that doesn't irritate the hell out of me. Here's a passage, selected literally at random, in which the hooker considers what he's going to do about the situation:

Maybe call Mom and tell her Daddy's a fag. But that would involve listening to her ooze. Can't have Little Miss Chip Dip doing that. Open-faced like a sandwich, that's what Steve's Mom was like. Chopped olives, shredded nuts, white kid gloves, and the goddamnedest loyalty to the biggest turd in the world. News that hubby balled with his own kind when she was off playing Country Club would very possibly blow a fuse in her mind, but then, on the other hand, she might just whisper 'Drexel,' 'Spode,' 'Corning Ware,' and 'Fieldcrest,' puffing away on her Life. No, he'd leave that quarter alone. (p.41)

I don't know much about Peter Menegas, except that he's American and that this was his second book, following on from Jacklove (1968). I assume that he's the same person as the author of Mrs Bad Gun (1975), The Nature of the Beast (1976) and The Doll Hospital (1987) - but they all sound like very different books somehow. Fine looking young man, though:

Peter Menegas


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