Civil War Fantasy and My New Book, “For The Love of Samuel”
“For The Love of Samuel” is my latest work of erotic gay romance, a story of love lost and love found, set in contemporary New York City and Fort Lauderdale. After a series of romantic missteps, Billy Veleber, a fifty one year old aging gay man living in Manhattan, is given the chance at eternal youth and meeting the love of his life through the magical prowess of the dog tag of a long dead Civil War soldier, Samuel Evans, the “Samuel” of my title.
So where did l get this idea from?
Well, l’ve been an amateur Civil War buff since l was a teenager and read a magazine article, “If the South Had Won the Civil War.” It wasn’t the battle strategies as much as the war’s larger-than-life qualities that intrigued me. Over the years, l’ve been to Civil War battlefields, both North and South, including Gettysburg, have visited the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, PA, and The Museum of The Confederacy in Richmond, collected numerous books on the subject, became a devotee of Matthew Brady who created war photography, subscribed for many years to “Civil War” magazine, and have collected numerous memorabilia, works of art, and trinkets depicting the great conflict of The War Between The States
In my readings l discovered two little known facts: that the idea of dog tags originated with the Civil War on a haphazard basis with soldiers having their names and infantries engraved on coins; and that Walt Whitman, the celebrated author – though not in his time – of “Leaves of Grass” who led an openly gay life for his day, served as a volunteer nurse at the Armory Hospital in Washington, D.C., where he cared for injured and dying Union soldiers.
I used the dog tag, Whitman’s hospital service, the romance of the valiant soldier, and other facts from Whitman’s personal life and combined them with that eternal theme of humanity – the quest for everlasting life – to come up with the fantasy premise of my novel: that certain dog tags were bestowed with the life force of their long dead owners and, provided its present day wearer had or had had love in his life, these magical relics would return their wearer physically to the age of the soldier whose dog tag he now possessed died. Most Civil War casualties died in their twenties from infection, the result of their war wounds.
When my story opens in 2012 in Manhattan’s West Village, Billy’s life is one train wreck. His long-time lover and mentor, the older Gus, has been fallen by a stroke, abruptly ending his career as one of Manhattan’s leading neurosurgeons; and the hospital Billy worked at as its marketing director has gone bankrupt, leaving him to take a lowly copywriter’s job at a two bit ad agency.
Billy goes for a job interview in Chicago where he hopes Gus and he can start new lives; and to attempt to rekindle an affair with his former meth head lover Mitch who now lives there with his enabling parents. But both his interview and reunion with Mitch, a hopeless addict, go nowhere.
Killing time before his flight back home, Billy visits a thrift shop in Halstead in the heart of Chicago’s Boystown where Tad, its young clerk who suffers from cerebral palsy, recites the magical history of the dog tag he himself wears after Billy tells him of his own plight.
“You sound like an educated, sophisticated guy. You ever hear of Walt Whitman?” asks Tad.
“Sure. Leaves of Grass. He was gay “
“Yea, but what most people don’t know was that he served as a nurse during the Civil War in the hospitals in D C. where he lived at the time working for the government. And some of these dying soldiers he took care of him gave him their medallions – ”
“Their dog tags -”
“Yea, their dog tags as a thank you for taking care of them, many of them just before they died. Well, good old Walt had a handsome Irish lover, a trolley car conductor named Peter Doyle who Walt left a few of these medallions to when he died in 1892.”
“Okay. And …” I say waiting for the punch line.
“Doyle had a couple of fuck buddies, Horace and Gustave. He gave them two of the medallions, and an amazing thing happened. When they wore the medallions they gradually became – became young again, the age the soldier whose medallion they wore died.”
“They didn’t give you eternal life but as long as you wore them and you had love in your life, eternal youth was yours till the day you died.”
“Fucken unbelievable. But how does that connect with you and your lover David?”
“Well, these medallions were passed down from one pair of gay lovers to the next for generations. Most were nameless, but then they were those like Oscar Wilde, Noel Coward and Tennessee Williams who used the medals only on occasion because they had public personas to become young men for their own young men. Who knows, maybe these experiences inspired them to write Dorian Gray and Sweet Bird of Youth. Then there was Rock Hudson who hoped they would cure him of AIDS. You know how that ended. How my David came about them he never told me but he was convinced the spell they held would somehow cure me. You see, most people with CP don’t make it to their fifties. All you see is my withered leg but there’s a lot of other shit going on inside me the docs can’t fix.”
“But you look, you look like you’re twenty – “
“Twenty one to be exact. The age my soldier Samuel Evans died. Dave’s medallion belonged to a soldier who died at twenty two. So we put them on, and within a few days we were young again. Young with Dave’s trust fund and we thought time forever after.”
“But it didn’t cure you of your CP.”
“No it didn’t, and that devastated David more than me…I tinkered with fixing people’s laptops just to keep my brain occupied but Dave, Dave lost all ambition and took to drugs. Heroin.”
Tad’s eyes begin to tear up.
“We were together ten beautiful years when Dave just couldn’t deal with losing me, my CP biological clock was running down, and one day I came home to find he had OD’d. He left a simple note, ‘It’s better this way.’”
I begin crying too.
“I was ready to OD myself but couldn’t … So I came here about three months ago and took this job…Now the docs can’t do much more for me and I’m constantly in pain. Billy, I turned fifty this May. It’s time I gave up my medallion to someone who can benefit from it, maybe better than Dave and I ever did.”
Tad lifts his medallion from around his neck, gets up from his stool and, walking ever so slowly to me, his face grimaced in agony, grabs my hand and places it in my palm.
“Someone with love in their life. Someone like you.”
After several plot twists, Billy puts on the dog tag and begins his strange and fascinating odyssey as a young virile gay man, and explores “For The Love of Samuel” for himself.
Spirituality in an Erotic Novel? Damn Right!
Being brought up a Lutheran and now a devout agnostic, l didn’t plan to have a spiritual side in my latest erotic gay novel, “For The Love Of Samuel,” and l’m still surprised where it came from. Simply put, my book is a story of love lost and love found, set in contemporary New York City and Fort Lauderdale, where an aging fifty one year old gay man, after a series of romantic missteps, finds in the magical prowess of the dog tag of a long dead Civil War soldier a chance at eternal youth and the love of his life. The dog tag will not bestow eternal life, but as long as its wearer has or have had love in his life, he will physically become the same age as the soldier whose dog tag he wears died, in this case Samuel Evans, my fictional soldier who dies of his war wounds at twenty one.
As my protagonist Billy Veleber begins his transformation over the course of one weekend from middle age to youth when he puts on the dog tag, he experiences a not un-God like empowerment as he visits a local bathhouse:
I’m in the sauna with nothing on but my steel cock ring. And my boots. I never venture in barefoot. STD’s are one thing – catching athlete’s foot or Legionnaires Disease can be a bitch.
I let the steam overtake me, as sweat drips down, like the mighty Congo, down the crease in my chest, down my abs to my groin and my legs, down my shoulders and back to the crack of my ass. I celebrate and rejoice in my man stink.
I’m alone at first but then they come, one by one, the lame and the fat and the jock, the young and the old, the pretty and the homely, as they come to worship at my feet. Who cares what they look like in the shadows of the steam? They’re all a blur like the condensation on the sauna door.
As the perfect suitor, I let them suck me and rim me and feed off the sweat of my body like those cannibalistic kids did to that poor character in “Suddenly Last Summer.”
And as the perfect host, I let them bathe and nourish in my cum, and feel my stiff, thick dick deep inside them.
All those years of benign contentment with Gus, I almost forget the axiom that drove me, ruled me as a gay young man:
To be desired is to be loved, and to be loved is to be worshipped.
If that’s true, my penis, my beautiful born again penis, this weapon of empowerment and pleasure and lust and wonder is their new God.
Who says God is dead? He’s right here in all His glory in the sauna room in Manhattan’s Chelsea Baths
Later in the book, his first night in Fort Lauderdale in a shabby motel, Billy begins to regret how he is wasting this gift, that he repeatedly describes as Samuel’s “life force,” as some non-stoppable sex machine, and even invokes the Christ figure concept:
Where am I going?
What is all this?
Ever since I put the medallion on, I’ve used men and they’ve used me.
Have all I become is a fucking machine like the ones you can buy from the online sex toy stores?
Did I inherit the life force of that brave young soldier who died so long ago just so my penis can become a carnival side show?
I may look twenty one but this medallion of Samuel’s did not buy you life eternal, so no matter how I figure it, the real me, the middle aged me, doesn’t have a lifetime to find the real love, the true and honest love of another man.
Maybe if I yank this damn thing off my neck, I’d wake up and smell reality for what it is.
That most of us never find anyone.
But I can’t, IT won’t let me, the image in the mirror of a virile, yes, fucken handsome young man named William Conrad Veleber.
I need to find a job, something, but without an ID with a smiling 21 year old Billy and not a tired 51 year old William, I’m nowhere.
Sure, I can become a rentboy and I’m damn certain I’d be good at it.
But I owe Samuel, my Samuel, in a fucken strange way my Christ – and I’m no religious freak – who died so I could live the most coveted part of any person’s life over, more than that.
Abandoning Manhattan, Billy flicks off to Fort Lauderdale where he meets that love of his life, Dare, an ex-New York City cop who was thrown off the force after he was caught attempting to rape one of his male arrests in the back of his squad car, and who now is the mastermind behind a giant theft ring fleecing older wealthy gay men. Dare knows nothing of Billy’s ruse, and when the police get wind of his scheme, and Dare is forced to flee to Bayonne, New Jersey and his sister’s house, Billy must also hide from the law and does that by taking off his dog tag and in the space of a few days becoming the old Billy. When he eventually finds out where Dare is hiding, he grabs the next Amtrak back to New York but realizes he must re-become the Billy Dare knows. He puts on the medallion a second time and has a spiritual experience:
This time it’s not just a super charged caffeine jolt that hits me like the first time. . Suddenly… my heart is beating so hard it’s going to pop out of my chest or just stop from sheer exhaustion, I gasp for breath, as I fly around the room, my arms wings, and Dare and I are pressing as close together as any two human beings can, till I can feel my bones shattering inside me. I look deep into his eyes as he stares deep into mine, and at that moment, at that very instant, I know I have seen God.
To paraphrase my own character, God is not dead but very much alive in my book of erotic gay romance, “For The Love of Samuel.”
Drug lmagery in My New Erotic Gay Romance, “For The Love Of Samuel”
I do not profess to condone drug use or exploit its imagery in my latest work of erotic gay romance, “For The Love of Samuel.” l only wish to describe it for what it is, based on own personal experiences, and offer a honest, unvarnished portrayal of its users through one of my book’s secondary characters, Mitch, a composite of addicts l have known. Drug use also plays a pivotal role in some life decisions made by my protagonist, Billy Veleber.
The drug in question is crystal meth or Tina, rampant throughout the gay community which, either smoked – ”being in the clouds” – or injected – known as “darting”or ”slamming” poduces a prolonged euphoric high and extreme sensuality, releasing any inhibitions. When two guys who are into one another use it, their heightened destination is “homoheaven.” The drug is particularly Insidious since unlike other drugs such as alcohol, nicotine, cocaine and heroin, which are physically addictive, meth is psychologically addictive which makes it that much harder a habit to break.
Meth use comes into prominent play in two critical points of my book. ”Samuel” takes place in 2012 in New York’s West Village. Fifteen years before Billy, my protagonist, had left his meth head lover Mitch for a stable life with a much older man Gus, one of the City’s most successful neurosurgeons. However, by the time my story begins, Gus had suffered a stroke, ending his career, and Billy finds himself in a dead end job. He decides to go for an interview in Chicago in the hopes they can start a new life there and leave New York. But Billy also knows that his ex lover is now living in Chicago with his very enabling parents and with Gus no longer able to have sex attempts to rekindle a relationship.
When they rendezvous at a local bar Billy, the aging fifty one year old is struck how little Mitch has changed in fifteen years. But it also becomes quickly evident that Mitch is a hopeless addict …
Sidelines is engulfed in techno sounds and ironing board body twinks, most young enough to be my sons. I venture to the back bar where we’ve agreed to meet and have just ordered my diet Coke when Mitch appears, a vision in black.
A tight button down black long sleeve dress shirt, smart black tapered slacks that fit his still slim, trim body like a condom, and, oh, that handsome rugged face with the Roman nose and shock of thick black hair lightly slicked back with a slate gray goatee teasing his chin.
And my dick.
I want to hide in a hole when he sees me, grins, struts over with that sexy quasi goose-step strut of his, forefeet up, heels down, wraps his arm around my shoulder and with all those young humpy guys giving us sneaky side glances, drills his black devil eyes into my baby blues – both of us being 5’7 makes it easy – and deposits his lips on mine, as I instinctively rub my bearded chin against his goatee. It’s as if we were all that time ago meeting for another one of our all-night weekly romps. Christ, we’re already into foreplay mode.
I can tell in an instant he is flying high. But no matter. Outside of a few more deep creases in his face that only accentuate his manly beauty, he is time stood still.
“You know, fucker, I’ve missed you. But hey, you’re a married man now, to a doctor yet. Yep, Rugby, you married well.” His nickname for the rug of fur that envelopes my body.
I can’t take my eyes off the chest hairs peeking out from his shirt, unbuttoned I know for my sake, just pass his collarbone, but he senses my lust and reaches into my tank top to touch my right nip.
“You fuck,” I say playfully. He presses his crotch against mine as some homely twink – if you’re going to be gay, you better have a big dick, be pretty, or have money, otherwise go straight – moves away from the bar so I can retrieve my coke.
Mitch already knows my little tale, Gus’s fall from grace, my own, and my job interview tomorrow at Kraft from our texts so there’s no need to waste time on talk.
I gulp down half my Coke and hand the glass to him to finish it off.
“You know where it is,” I ask referring to Villa Toscana.
“Hey, Rugby, I’ve been a townie for a while, remember?” and I follow him out of Sidelines, his goose step strut of utter huspa keeping my hard-on intact.
“So how’s the folks?” I ask, trying to make small talk. I know he had lost his job at Young & Rubicam where we had first met as lowly copywriters – when you’re on Tina your attention span is about thirty seven seconds – soon after we had parted ways and he had come to live with his parents here.
“You mean my enabling mom and dad whose basement has become my gay bachelor pad and who think the world of their druggie son even if I’ve been in and out of rehab twelve times?” He laughs. Then his voice suddenly grows cold sober. “You know I need the stuff to feel good about being with you. It – it has nothing to do with you. It’s me, fucked up former altar boy me.”
He grabs my hand and gets silly again.
“Besides I learn about some new dealer or two every time I go in. Hey you know Rugby, you never rely on just one dealer in this game. Always gotta keep cultivating, keep cultivating.”
“But don’t you worry about the future?” I regret what I’ve just said. I had vowed no theatrics tonight.
“Rugby, you worry too much. My parents won’t be around forever. As their only boy, I’ll inherit their house and whatever else they’ve got. Making a living is for the unadventurous, present company excluded of course. Even if you married well.”
“And what do you do for money in the meantime?”
“The typical odd jobs. Like playing bagman for one my dealers…”
“Aren’t you taking all the risk?”
“Why? I ain’t carrying any cash. This is the twenty-first century, Rugby. They pre-pay with Pay Pal now. And there’s always pimping on Rentboy. You wouldn’t believe how many of these twenty something twinks will pay for a real man.”
“But I thought you needed this,” grabbing some of my own chest hairs.
“When it comes to dough, I don’t care if the guy is bald-headed and on chemo.”
Back in my room, we relive our ritual dance by softly rubbing one another’s nips which are hardwired to our dicks. As if they needed any help. I slowly unbutton Mitch’s shirt and savor that hairy chest and abs not as densely furry as mine but manly all the same, as he pulls my tank over my neck and throws it on the floor. Then he unbuttons his sleeves and throws his shirt on the bed, that glorious body, Michelangelo’s David. I slowly rove my lips across his chest and abs and lower myself for the prize when he pulls me up.
“Wanna slam like the old days? I just smoked a little before I came over, kinda like Tina foreplay.”
“No, you know I’ve been a good boy. Besides I’ve got the interview 10 a.m.”
“So you don’t to fidget around like you got a vibrating dildo stuck up your ass…”
“Or sound like Chatty Cathy with a knot in her cord,” I chime in.
“I know. I know, the schmuck interviewing you will ask you about your job skills and before you know it you’ll be giving him a lesson in the history of public relations.”
Mitch reaches into his pocket and pulls out an eyeglass case.
“Mind if I…”
“No problem,” I answer, and as he moves over to one of the bed stand lamps I see his arm in the light, riddled with track marks. He slips his narrow belt off from his slacks while I go to the bathroom feigning a piss. It’s not that watching him dart bothers me, hell we did it dozens of times in the old days.
I just don’t want to be tempted.
While in Chicago, Billy encounters a shopkeeper who gives him the dog tag of a long dead Civil War soldier whose wearer, if he has or has had love in his life. will become physically twenty one again, the same age the soldier, the Samuel of the title of my book, died. After a series of plot twists when he returns to New York, Billy puts the medallion on and is transformed in a matter of days from a tired, pouchy 51 year old man to a raging stallion.
With Gus no longer in his life, Billy abandons NYC for Fort Lauderdale where he meets forty two year old Dare who becomes the love of his life. A disgraced ex New York City cop, Dare runs a thief ring fleecing wealthy older gay men. But when the cops get wind of his scheme, Dare flees to Bayonne, New Jersey, and his sister’s house; also wanted by the law, Billy changes his appearance by taking off the dog tag and becoming the old Billy again. When he finds out where Dare is, he decides to take the Amtrak back home and tell him the truth about his real identity.
But he must appear as the young Billy Dare knows, and the sensations he experiences as he puts the dog tag on a second time are not unlike what a meth user experiences “slamming” or injecting the drug intravenously:
This time it’s not just a super charged caffeine jolt that hits me like the first time. Suddenly, Mitch and I are naked and erect and mainlining one another, shooting one another’s veiny hairy arms up with Tina, and I can feel the shit coursing throughout my body and my brain like molten gold. My heart is beating so hard it’s going to pop out of my chest or just stop from sheer exhaustion, I gasp for breath, as I fly around the room, my arms wings, and Mitch’s face morphs into Dare’s and there we are pressing as close together as any two human beings can, till I can feel my bones shattering inside me.
I look deep into his eyes as he stares deep into mine, and at that moment, at that very instant, I know I have seen God.
Some readers may unfairly criticize me for glorifying what is an ugly insidious habit. But just like the Harvey Weinstein casting couch scandal which was kept under wraps for decades, meth use is like a plague within the gay community, and the only way we may eradicate it is to take it out of the shadows and begin talking about it. I hope my book “For The Love Of Samuel” will help initiate that conversation.
New York’s Gone But Not Forgotten Leather Scene and “For the Love of Samuel”
My latest work of erotic gay romance, “For The Love of Samuel” is a story of love lost and love found, set in contemporary New York City and Fort Lauderdale, where an aging gay man who loses his lover to despair is given a chance at eternal youth and the love of his life through the magical prowess of the dog tag of s long dead Civil War soldier, Samuel Evans.
My book opens in 2012 in Manhattan’s West Village where my protagonist Billy and his older lover and mentor Gus, once the dynamic duo of New York’s colorful leather scene, gone by the time my book begins, are now leading broken lives. Gus, once one of New York’s leading neurosurgeons, has bercome the cruel victim of a stroke, and Billy who ran the marketing deoartment for one of the City’s major health centers, is left to grab a lowly copywriter’s job at a two bit ad agency after his hospital goes bankrupt.
My book is as much a story of humanity’s never ending search for eternal youth and true love as it is a bittersweet salute of to that leather scene l lived as much as my characters during its heyday of the eighties and nineties.
True, you can still find vestiges of the Sleaze Factor and echoes of the glory days of the seventies, eighties and nineties in Manhattan’s new Eagle, which opened shortly before I moved to Florida in 2002, or Fort Lauderdale’s Ramrod leather bar, rechristened the Gearshaft in my book, both of which play prominent roles in “For The Love Of Samuel.” But for real authentic sleaze you’d have to take a time machine back to New York City’s West Village Sleaze Alley threesome, the Spike, the Eagle and the Lure.
For anybody in the leather/levi scene of decades past and living in New York, visiting these bars on a Friday and Saturday night was a given. You wouldn’t just visit one of them even if essentially the same guys frequented all three. You’d have your early evening beer at the Rawhide in Chelsea (for those of us who came in from the ‘burbs parking in the West 20’s was saner). But by 11ish you were trotting your levied ass (or bare one if you were wearing chaps under your trench) down to West Street. The streets were dimly lit and kinda scary to be honest, but you didn’t care. You were butch (with no shirt under your leather jacket on a 10 degree NYC January night so your tits were all perky for your grand unveiling in the bar) and about to enter Manhattan’s Butch Zone. The “S” bars were all within reasonable walking distance of one another, so making the circuit was easy even with the wind blowing in your face.
And when you’re Saturday night horny, four or five blocks in sub-zero weather means nothing. Remember these were the days long before you were able to connect naked in your bedroom on the web.
While the other bars of the triumvirate were a bit kinder when it came to dress code, at the Lure it didn’t matter what you looked like; if you were wearing sneakers or, Jesus, after-shave or cologne, Mr. Bouncer would turn you away.
And once you entered these temples to sleaze, there was no place, I mean NO PLACE, to move except against another sweaty body in bars the size of the men’s section at any Macy’s. The smell of man-drenched arm pits and chests, beer-laden piss, even carcasses (The Lure, in the heart of the now chic Meat Market, was once a meat packing warehouse) was everywhere. While it was nice to socialize with some buddies, cruising was the main reason you were there in this world before 24/7 cybersex. And even if it was more illusion than reality, these holes had the dingy, dreggy look as if they had been there from the early days of NYC’s pre-gay liberation when being queer meant belonging to some truly secret society of men, not a sub-cultural demographic dissected by Congress and wooed by Corporate America.
On Summer Sunday late afternoons from 4 until about 8, the Sleaze torch was handed over to the Dugout at West and Christopher. There, sweaty men, half naked men flooded the corner, searching for the one last fling m two of the weekend before Monday morning reality came crashing down on all our respective little shitty worlds.
If they hadn’t become victims of the real estate boom that transformed this abandoned sector of New York into a new Soho, (though I understand it’s still called the Meat Packing District), NYC’s gay sleaze alley might still be with us. But alas, that was not to be. While City dwellers and tourists can still point to places like the Eagle or the Ramrod, it just ain’t the same without the West Village threesome, smelly corners of the world that every leather/levi bar today, whether it realizes it or not, is seeking to emulate, replicate, recreate.
In 2015 I visited New York City for the first time in thirteen years, and one afternoon took the subway from my two hundred dollars a night hotel in the garment district down to Sheridan Square and the West Village, my old stomping grounds. Christopher Street, the catwalk of my youth, was now more trendy than sexy, and where my seedy hangouts, the original Eagle, the Spike and the Lure, once catered to the whims of the leather/levi crowd, high rise condos sliced into the sky. The crumpling West Street piers, the site of decadent night time liaisons, were now a sleek urban park, complete with a jogging trail and tourist ferries.
Ah, if only the sidewalks could talk
But as they say, you can’t go home again.
I’m just hoping some gay historian had the smarts to save the “Don’t Flush for Piss” sign in the Spike’s john that said it all before everything came tumbling down.