Part 43: Zachary Quill, Porn.
It's Sunday, September 13th, 2020. Outside my window, I can see that the smoke is as bad as it was yesterday. There are wildfires burning up forests, grassland and foothills from Washington State all down the West Coast. Winds shifted a few days ago, and we were overwhelmed with bad smoke. There is an eerie chill to the air, like we've been covered with a blanket of toxic fog. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has hired a climate change denier. His name is David Legate. I'm wearing a respirator inside my house, although our windows are shut tight. I'm hoping the mask will help my headache.
In the last blog, (42) I featured my mother's (Jan Svetlik) art and I wrote that I was worried about her. She lives in a part of Washington that has much more smoke than we do, and I hadn't heard from her. Yesterday, she got in touch. Her internet has been in and out. She thanked me for the mini "digital art show" in the last blog, and she corrected a quote from that blog. She told people, "Riley can teach you a lot about the music business, but don't give him money." She's said this many times: "I figured if they didn't listen, that was their problem."
Below is a painting by Jan Svetlik that happens to be her favorite, and mine, too. It's perfect for this blog. This oil painting is simply titled "Men". She had a slide of it, which David and I converted, but it looked a little rough, because many of her slides have "dings" and scratches. My friend and photographer Thomas Schworer painstakingly restored the image. Thomas also "stars" in this epic #43 blog/story about how I found and purchased my dad's porn book, "Homosexuality Through The Ages."
My mother said she used to go to all these funky bars in Porterville to look for inspiration. For this painting,"Men", she took her camera, and went into the back of the bar where the bathrooms were. "The whole room was filled with dirty fingerprints. Every surface was covered with them," she said, adding that the place already looked like a painting, the dirty fingerprints were like brushstrokes. Her agent, Howard Lichtner, drove up to Porterville from Ventura, and he bought this one and a few others before he died. This would've been the late 1980s. I wonder what happened to all the paintings Howard had?
Back to Hollywood in the 1960s for a moment. My Dad did three things (that I knew of) to make a living when I was a kid; He coached and managed aspiring performers, he worked as a cook in diners, and he wrote pornography and oddball sex books under the pen name Zachary Quill. While we were living in Hollywood, Dad didn't want to be seen working in restaurants, telling my mother he couldn't let anyone he knew see him working as a cook. So we were broke most of the time, and he devoted himself to the porn book thing, which I will document in the next few blogs. I have no idea how much money he made with this side gig. If foul language offends you, probably best to skip over these sections. I post these links on Facebook and I hope nothing gets me kicked off. Although perhaps that would be a blessing.
Around 2014, I had a conversation with my half-sister, Marion who I connected with in 2011. (Oct 29th, 2011 to be exact. But that's another story.) I'd been researching my father since the 1990s, and Marion had been searching for her biological father her entire life. Anyway, Marion had her own list about Riley's pen names and stage names she'd written up in an email. When I scanned it, my eyes were drawn to this part:
"Zachary Quill, Porn."
It was then that I first put these two "key words" together. I knew my father had written pornography. (Unfortunately, I came across it as a little kid.) What my brain didn't connect was the pen name with the porn writing. I knew the name "Zachary Quill" but not what the name was used for. Marion put them together, and I'm not sure why I never did. I guess the whole idea of looking up my father's porn books made me feel...icky.
I did an internet search. I entered "Zachary Quill, Pornography" and several books came up, some of them for sale, although a college library had one on Homosexuality in a collection. They seemed to be a series, a "Through the Ages" theme. That same book on Homosexuality was for sale. When I went to the website that was selling the book online, the book was $25.00, which was astonishing to me. I reached out to my book expert friend, Matthew Budman.
"Why are these books so expensive?" I asked Matthew. He told me it's because they're considered rare and out of print.
The other thing that blew my mind was the shipping price, which was close to the actual price of the book. Remember, I'm an eyebrow waxer. I'm not rich, so paying that for a paperback that was originally a couple of bucks was painful to me.
Then I noticed something. The original seller was in Seattle, only a short drive from my house. I wondered if they'd spare me the shipping fee and just sell me the book?
I'd never tried to purchase porn before, much less a sex book my father had written. It felt strange, but at least emails are fairly anonymous and a way to get the ball rolling. No pun intended.
Here's my original email exchange with the porn book shop.I’ve changed the name of the porn book store to “Peek-A-Book” because I thought it was a funny name, and to protect the innocent. I also changed the name of the guy who helped me. I’m calling the porn shop guy Randy. Randy will be in bold, I’ll be in italics. I also didn't include the phone number for Don.
This all happened on July 3, 2014.
I live on Queen Anne, you are on Capitol Hill. I want to buy a book and save myself the shipping, do you have any books by Zachary Quill? It says that you do on your website, and I am hoping you do have these paper backs in stock. I would love to buy what you have.
Yes, we have one Quill book in stock:
HOMOSEXUALITY THROUGH THE AGES: A Cross Cultural Report of Male Perversion
Los Angeles: Wiz Books, 1968
243pp.+ads., preface, illust. with b/w drawings. "This book traces the history of homosexuality through the ages, and it names names and gives evidence to support the author's contention: 'even you may be more of a queer than you think.'"
Trade paperback. Light shelf wear; light rubbing to covers. Very good
We are mail order-only; we don't operate a storefront or deal with walk-in trade.
However, on occasion, we've used a local colleague as a middleman, and I've tried to get in touch with him. Please confirm if you're interested in the above title, and I'll continue to try to reach him. Hopefully we can reach some common ground.
Just writing as a courtesy to let you know what we have, and that we're on it. May have to hold off until Monday due to the holiday, but early tomorrow or sometime over the weekend isn't out of the question. Will let you know.
Randy, for Peek-A-Book
Yes I am interested ... The writer is my father. My sister in Pennsylvania got the book, but shipping added 22 dollars to the price. If this can be done, would love to save the shipping fee. My father passed away some years ago and this book is especially interesting to me. I just discovered that he wrote this series. I will buy any others you have as well. Thank you!!!!
Sent from my iPhone
We'll get back to you Monday, I hope -- haven't heard back from our colleague, probably due to the holiday. We'll let you know when we can; for now, the book's on hold for you.
This is the only Zachary Quill book we have; previously, we have seen copies of two others published by Wiz Books (Los Angeles); both published from 1969:
WHORING THROUGH THE AGES.
CURIOSA SEXUALIS. The Sexual Habits and Customs of Mankind.
Also, GLOWING HEAT, published by Central Sales' Vibra Books imprint(Baltimore); this is likely fiction. All we have on this is an old sales record, so no further info.
You may have done some internet research; WorldCat lists holdings of two other titles:
Lesbianism through the ages (Wiz Books)
Heterosexuality : a new approach (Capri Books).
Have a good holiday weekend!
Randy, for Peek-A-Book
Glowing Heat? I didn't come across that one! I do know of the others, and thank you for listing the sellers. Have a great weekend.
Sent from my iPhone
This email exchange was the day before the Fourth of July weekend, so it took a day or two to find out where I could pick up the book. I didn't know porn book shops had "middlemen" and my imagination went a little wacky with this one. I imagined some dude with a trench coat waiting for me in an alley somewhere.
By July 7th, the whole thing was set up.
You can pick the book up the book on Capitol Hill; it's at 1423 10th Ave (between Pike & Union: the block south of Elliott Bay Books, same side of the street, just south of Neumo's). It's in the basement, down a ramp. Call first and ask for Don to arrange a time; he's in and out, but is generally in 10-11 am to 3pm.
The # is (206) 000-0000
The book's $25.00. I'll drop it off shortly.
Randy, for Peek-A-Book
You are so great!!!! Thank you. Also, thank you for finding the other book in the UK, I had not found that one on my own. I am off on Wednesday so I will do this then, but I will call first.
Ok. So I had to go down a ramp to a guy in a basement to pick up my Dad's porn book? Flipping open my laptop, I looked up the general area to make sure I had my bearings. Going to a porn book store wasn't in my comfort zone. No judgement on others, it's just not my jam. When I was a teenager, my mother called me a prude. I guess I am, sort of. On top of all that, the whole basement thing made me think twice about where I was headed.
I asked Randy how the “pass off” would work, and by noon, I had set up plans to meet the porn place “colleague” later that day. I was instructed to go to this slightly dicey block on Capitol Hill, and go down an old ramp located between two dumpsters under a tattoo parlor. Inside the store, I would meet the colleague, Don, who would have my dad’s book.
Desperate not to go alone, I called my artist friend, Thomas, who was between jobs and I knew he’d be free. Thomas agreed to go with me. Bespectacled and prone to wearing vintage bow ties, Thomas would give the errand an air of class. Maybe he'd come across as a visiting professor and this was our research. Perhaps we were studying old-timey porn books about homosexuality.
We showed up for the "pass off" at the agreed upon time, and walked towards the address. It was early afternoon and overcast, and the smell of garbage, wet paper, and stale beer permeated the air. I took a look around, and we noticed the tattoo parlor near a few large, graffiti covered dumpsters.
“I think it’s down there,” Thomas said.
I looked at the old wooden ramp leading down to the basement entrance and took a deep breath. "I would never go down there alone," I said to Thomas. Underground, in the dim light, we saw an old book shop, the sign was discreet, it read: Arundel Books.
“What a name for a porn book shop. I guess the name is like a plain brown paper cover over what is really inside,” I said.
“I know this book store,”
“You do?” I tilted my head and looked up at him, a bit surprised.
Thomas went ahead of me to the entrance. The smell inside reminded me of an antique shop or a storage unit in need of a good airing out. There were floor to ceiling used books everywhere. Wow, that's a lot of porn, I thought to myself.
“This bookstore used to be on 15th Avenue East, near my old apartment.” Thomas whispered to me, striding ahead of me to the back of the store. I had a judgmental moment wondering how he knew about such a place. He seemed like the kind of guy that would be uncomfortable in a place like that, but perhaps I was just projecting my own bullshit onto my good friend.
As I followed Thomas to a desk in the middle of the place, I saw the "colleague", Don, an elegant older man. A young woman with blue hair, a nose ring, and Doc Martin lace up boots (just like the pair I had in the 80s!) was working on a computer nearby. They both turned to look at us. "Hello," Don said.
Thomas began to chat with Don. "I bought a Robert Hass poetry book from you years ago, at the previous location." The two men started talking about poetry, the old neighborhood, soaring rents, and the fate of book selling.
Poetry? I glanced up at the tall bookshelves and took in some of the titles. This was not a porn book store, simply a used book store. All at once I was a bit more relaxed, although still wishing I was picking up some highbrow book of poems and not some old sex book my dad wrote.
I had to state my business, so I tried to sound cool, but I stammered a bit. “I’m... I’m here for the...uh...um..."Homosexuality Through the Ages paperback".
“Ah. Yes. The Zachary Quill.” The way he said it made it seem like Zachary Quill had written a revered work of literary genius. Suddenly, I felt less awkward. Don scanned a small pile of books, grabbed a small paperback, and handed it to me. The cover was bright green and yellow, with age discolored pages. I dared not flip through it in front of them, as much as I wanted to. I had no idea what was inside the pages. I was a little relieved that the cover looked pretty tame. I wondered if Don and his blue haired assistant read through it before I got there? What if it was a really offensive book? My father supported gay rights before it was cool, but he was born in 1918, he was a straight man (as far as I could tell, but you never know) and who knows why he wrote the book, or for what audience? It was the 1960s after all, supposedly the “sexual revolution”, but perhaps only a revolution for the benefit of straight men.
As Don and Thomas chatted, I looked at the cover, and then flipped the book over and read over the back of it...oh no. No no no no no!
Faggot? Pansy? Cocksucker? I felt a wave of shame move through my body, my skin feeling hot. I hoped no one saw the rush of blood to my cheeks. The more I tried to be cool and collected, the more freaked out I was about how I was coming across. I hoped the people in the book store hadn't read through these...terms... words... that we don't use nowadays, thankfully.
After I paid Don, the three of us chatted about rare books, and Don told us about how he once found a first edition, signed, William S. Burroughs book at the bottom of a crate at an estate sale. I was thankful for the change of subject. We talked about bookstore closures, and we realized that we knew the same guy who owned a place in Pioneer Square that was shutting down after many years. We agreed it was a shame. I thanked Don, and headed back up the ramp with Thomas.
As we walked up towards daylight, I opened up the old paperback and started leafing through it. We both laughed at the illustrations of men.
This one, below, is my personal favorite. Look how the driver's high heel boot curls around his boyfriend's ankle. Sweet. Just so you know, my mother didn't do these illustrations. I'm not sure who did, as no credit is given.
Besides the drawings, the book wasn't racy at all. It was my dad’s version of the history of homosexuality—just like the title said. The worst thing about it was all the old school terminology, and perhaps my dad had quoted some outdated psychology books. The preface was in my father’s own words, and he was defending homosexuals against the bigotry of the time, basically asking, “Why don’t you just leave them alone?” and criticizing the laws persecuting them. My first thought was that people who ordered this book were pretty disappointed, if indeed they were shopping for porn.
I handed the book to Thomas, and he stopped to read the first few pages.
“Wow, this book was written in 1969, a time when not many people were defending gay rights. Your dad might have written this before the Stonewall riots, or just around then. Pretty forward thinking.” Thomas said.
I was glad I brought Thomas on this strange trip—he had a way of pointing out sunny details. My father was born in 1918 and was raised in a repressively religious household. It was not only open-minded, it was brave to speak out at that time, even if he used a pen name to do so, and even if he did use the terminology of the day. To our ears in 2020 these terms are just cringeworthy, but I'm sure these were the words used in books written back then by psychologists. They really did make so many people's lives a living hell, those homophobic dumbasses hiding behind their bullshit PHDs.
It felt good to have this surprise essay, written by my dad, expounding on human rights and hypocrisy. For a moment, I held onto something—maybe a little tattered and yellowed, but a concrete start of putting together a more balanced view of my dad’s history. It didn’t erase all the lousy scams he pulled, or any of the lies he told. It was a small thing, this little essay, but indeed something I could be proud of.
Notice how my father included his "Encyclopedia of Folk Music" in the "author of" section.
That cracks me up. It's as if my father is saying, "oh, by the way, I also wrote this whole other thing, under another name, that has nothing to do with sex or porn."
This is my favorite part, below. Let me know if my photograph isn't good enough to read easily, and I'll redo it.
I'd like to see an end to "conversion" therapy in all states. Let's end this abuse. Here's an org called "Born Perfect" https://www.nclrights.org/our-work/born-perfect/
Here's a link to the Trevor Project https://www.thetrevorproject.org/survey-2019/?section=Conversion-Therapy-Change-Attempts