A Cock-Eyed



One of the few percs of falling into the Theoretical crowd was receiving complimentary copies of a tacky gay men's mag called In Touch. Inside the pages of"I.T.," one might see pictures of one's friends, and, occasionally, ones self, in the clublife feature. "Clublife," at the magazine's front section, covered art openings, street concerts, house parties turned into street concerts, gay porn awards, and any event sponsored by people named Van Tyne, Marquette, or Jessum.


Getting that monthly copy of In Touch didn't exactly make one feel like a star. The stars of those pages had names like Jack Hammer and Charlie Cheeks. (The motto of its editor, Jim Yousling, was, after all "Quiet Good Taste, Plus Dicks.") But despite his rep as the Prince of Pervs, Yousling's passion for "Clublife" was downright cultural, creating a record of the bands, performances, and outfits that comprised our Bohemian weekends and nights. And it did help one feel, if not like a star, at least like a glimmer.

It was one of those effortless graces that seemed to fall from Yousling like leaves from a tree. In print and in person, he was unfailingly funny; all at once clever, crude and cute in a way that neither belittled anyone nor seemed egocentric. Perfect observations for every occasion seemed to automatically light on his brain, and slip, like some luminous lubrication, into whatever social engine he'd concocted. He hosted innumerable parties (the best being his annual Cinco de Mayo fling), afternoon bashes, his river rafting weekends, always with the best mix of the pretty, the witty, and the slitty-eyed. They were the best places to fall in love, if only for a few hours. I once met a boy with Carey Grant eyes and a buzzcut who followed me for an hour repeating, "Wanna have butthole babies?" before puking and passing out. Sigh. Such devoted community-building, earned Yousling the easy allegiance of L.A.'s marginal party army.


Then, Yousling got FIRED!


Jim's firing was over a Hollywood scandal. For years, he'd had free reign to make In Touch a mixture of the hip, the hot, and the camp, which distinguished it from its leather-bound competitors. (You hardly saw a joke printed in that leather rag Drummer, much less a photo of Annette Funicello, Jim's favorite performer in the history of entertainment). A former film student and celluloid hero-worshipper, Yousling loved nothing more than to mix homos with Hollywood, and so published a collection of naked-movie-star photos which he had bought or borrowed from one of his endless contacts.


More than photos, these were grainy black and white snapshots, but they showed familiar 50s film star faces -- and weenies. In one, a distinctly drunk-looking Aldo Ray (a forgotten Columbia Studios second-string hunk) held both arms toward the camera as his whopper flopped in the same direction. Other poses were more artsy, like George Maharis on a mattress wearing a cigarette, a smirk, and a great natural build. But a splayed leg, full-frontal pose of 70s action star James Caan caused the trouble. Caan's handsome jaw, squinty eyes, and the trademark mole just above his upper lip were unmistakable. The generous, pendulous dong thrust lensward was an unexpected credit no one would want to deny.


Caan denied it with a T-Rex lawsuit. Claiming that the model was an imposter and that Caan's reputation and livelihood had been harmed by appearing in a gay erotic magazine, his lawyers claimed several million dollars in damages. They named Jim Yousling and the publishers of In Touch, who, of course, repudiated and fired Jim as fast as they could. (As if they were saying, "Jim, the porn-purchasing poofter public doesn't want dicks with good taste, they want dicks that taste good." Or look like they do. You know.) Yousling's years on the magazine, his visionary touch of queer spirit and humor, his conjoining of substance and fun with those boring boner shots -- all of this was being taken away with the flick of legal brief. And with it went our free copies and our chance to appear in a slick dick mag. Losing our dubious status hurt. Watching our friend being taken down (if not out) wounded.


Motivated by affection for Yousling, outrage at his cowardly publishers, and disgust at the homophobic James Caan, (whose dick was probably nowhere near so big or succulent as his look-alike's) I decided to do something to mark Yousling's passing from In Touch and our mailboxes. A party? No. A funeral? No.


It would match his humor, and G-d knows it would allow our rowdy Boheme entourage to converge and squeeze a little more fun out of this nasty collisions with adult reality. Besides, high-jacking such a determinedly stuffy heterosexual custom to celebrate our own "cock-eyed optimist" seemed fitting.


For weeks, I worked with uncompensated but feverish glee -- conniving, scripting and producing -- and assembled a program of entertainers for the event, which I booked after hours at my work place, the old Silver Lake quarters of A Different Light bookstore. That store, awash in dilapidated charm, consisted of two long book- lined rooms under high gabled roofs, which, that night, held an overflow audience. The invitation, cribbed from a 50s film illustration, showed a Roman Gladiator squirming away from a pointed spear. The headline read "The 'Spit' is for a Roast -- Help Us Commemorate the Demise of an Out-of-Touch Magazine!"


First on the program, emcee Philip Littel "interviewed" Ray Webster, still art director at In Touch , Yousling's best friend and his former lover. (The devilishly handsome actor/writer Littel was also a former Yousling amour, along with much of Hollywood). Through videotape and a series of scripted pauses, we contrived a "satellite hook-up" with Webster, stuck in New York that night. (The puckishly handsome Webster died of a sudden and unexpected HIV-related heart attack within three months.)

Littel ushered on the best acts underground LA had to offer. Among them, Tomata du Plenty and Fayette Hauser doing one of their series of improbable historical skits; a blonde and bouyant Regina Oh! singing an old Tessie Brewer number about how "Magazines are Magic for Lonely People" in a voice as big as her billowy golden skirt;

the reclusive Vampira,

dolled up for the

evening and impersonating

an outraged member of the Glendale

P.T.A. who'd found copies of

Yousling's magazine

"under the mattress of my

14-year-old SON!";


Mary Lou Vozza, dressed in sweet-old lady drag; Stella the KXLU dj, dressed as her eternally glam self;

Our own artist-maniac

John Fleck,

a halo of pipecleaners wobbling

over his brow,

descending upon the

crowd as a falsetto-voiced

Virgin Mary

to bless the banished editor

on his new quest and

mortal challenges

in his life after I.T.



At the top of the event, appearing in footed flannel pajamas (to assure the crowd of his total surprize) Yousling himself announced that he had been kidnapped and hauled to this bizzare convocation. "But luckily," he said, pulling out an endless roll of computer printout, "I brought the Story of My Life. In detail." In his twangiest Mid-Western voice, he proceeded to recite a tale of good breaks, good taste and good dicks. He'd been freshly peroxided that day at a "male blonding" party, so -- maybe he knew...


To close, I lead a song I'd rewritten to the tune of the ancient and wholesome TV show whose starlet Yousling so loved:


"Whose that swinging party guy who's life is so carefree?

J-I-M! Y-O-U! S-L-I-N-G!!!


Handsome and well-mannered and he writes pornography?

J-I-M! Y-O-U! S-L-I-N-G!!!


He's so cool. Ain't no fool. A nicer smutster there could never be..."


Entertainers rotated from audience to podium. Among that theatrical tribe, it seemed that indeed all the world was a stage; it really didn't matter how small, or who watched. We'd expanded our subversive, temporary takeover of the Friar's Club ritual for our Prince of Pervs, whose smile reflected throughout the room. Applause scattered in the night, along with the crowd.

Nothing much changed as a result of our revelling. If In Touch made a settlement with Caan, we never heard about it. (We never heard much about Caan again anyway; his big screen career waned to occasional scuffles on the six o'clock news). In Touch got more and more out of touch, a return to bland blond boners and tumescent Latin boys who insisted they were straight. Jim worked in advertising and did graphics and continued to hang with this equally handsome and much younger boyfriend, Kyle Brackett.


It began to feel that there was less and less of a scene to drop out of, and a few other obsessions than bad music and secondhand smoke entered my life. Some of the arty-party strs left for Miami before AIDS wakes became particularly nasty reunions for our crowd. (They would continue with cruel irregularity.) At the one of the earliest of those dreary occasions, I saw Yousling for the first time in a year or more. His dark curls were shaved close to his head, and a silvery stubble shown against his skull. He'd broken up with Kyle, who'd dropped out of sight leaving rumors that his health had cut out on him. Across the room, a younger kid jabbered to the producer among us about his rock video costuming, then bit his lip, remembering where he was. "My G-d," I said to myself. "Turning 40 and gray is one thing, but what's a coffin doing in the middle of the party?"


Looking somewhat enveloped in a leather jacket, Yousling gave me a hug. His eyes flit everywhere but to mine. (Avoidance was big that year -- lots of people were symptomatic but quiet about it.) He fished a flask of Bushmills whiskey from his back pocket and held it up for a moment. "To everyone," he said, swigged, and handed me the bottle. I stared at its wet neck, already wondering what germs might be on it that the alcohol would not kill.


Neither Yousling nor I said a word to acknowledge the wrecking ball that was crashing through our playground. There was no glib comment he could make, no witticism that could light on his tongue. Not in this situation. He just smiled. His old smile was still as ready as ever, but somehow not quite in focus, as if its original version had been xeroxed repeatedly, deteriorating its contours and definition.


Careless camaraderie beat my contagion anxiety. I tipped the flask, felt a burning, and heard my rasp repeat his.


"To everyone."



-- Stuart Timmons

(c 1997, all rights reserved)


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