Idols by Dennis Cooper
SeaHorse Press, 1979
I couldn’t get up from my chair because I had a gigantic erection.
Dennis Cooper was a name I’d heard again and again by the time I was in my final semester at Oberlin, but I’d never given his work any of my time until I stumbled upon his book Idols in the stacks of gay literature at the school’s immense, vaginal, Brutalist main library. The cover of the thin volume, featuring the slickened back and cushy ass of some young Adonis, looked pleasant enough. At the check-out desk, I felt a bit like I did when I bought copies of XY at the local Borders when I was a young teenager— exposed and sheepish, titillated yet ashamed, though I was already a well-known homosexual by the end of my time in college. My physical and emotional sensations did not correspond to my status, which unsettled me further.
But I sat down in the main student study area anyway, cracked the laminate spine open— it was clear the book hadn’t been checked out in years— and began to read.
By the time I got to the poem titled Mike Robarts (page from a porno novel I wrote at sixteen), I could feel my cock swelling against my bikini briefs. I was only a few pages in, but felt like I’d been reading for eons. It was an experience akin to waiting for gay porn to appear on my parents’ dial-up internet connection as a high-school student, masturbating as idiotic-looking twinks slowly materialized on the oversized screen of a Compaq Presario.
Mike Robarts shuttled my desire towards peak:
“I said to Mike he was beautiful. He looked embarassed and said not to be weird.” I remember an incident when I was with my friend Josh in his room when we were around 13. Somehow dick sizes and sexual stuff came up, and I put my hand on his thigh, and smiled at him, which sent him screaming.
Things between us were never really the same after that, and it marked my first realization that there was no way I could just approach my objects of desire so casually, or as casually as I was wont, at least until I was older.
“Stan grabbed him and held him against me, his head steady, and I licked all over his face [...]
I ran my hand down into the front of his trunks and pushed them off. I felt him there and squeezed his balls.”
Perhaps my teenage dream of taking revenge on all of the beautiful boys who ostracized me was not necessarily typical, because I never really wanted to kill any of them, just have sex with them. (Yes, I was one of the weird boys who lingered too long in the locker room, gazing longingly at milky thighs and butts and abdomens, mostly when their owners couldn’t notice me doing so).
Of course, though, Cooper’s narrator and his friend Stan drown Mike. “I carried him to the pool deck and kissed his dead mouth and put my cock up his cool quiet ass again and again. I told myself I was glad I was drunk.” My mouth slightly agape, my dick erupted from my briefs and pulsating against my left thigh, I had to read the sentences a few more times. I worried for a few moments that I might be a necrophiliac, and felt pathetic, then sad. Then I put the book down, waited a few more moments, and went to one of the usually-abandoned third-floor bathrooms of the library. The orgasm was probablyone of the better solo efforts I ever achieved.
What remains important for me about Cooper’s book is not only that it led me to Bataille and Jean-Luc Nancy (among others), but that it taught me that a small piece of writing can allow for a complex and multitudinous and simultaneous outpouring from the head and the heart and the loins.
While I had suspected as such before sitting down with Idols, it was the first book that evidenced this more holistic unity to me. I readily admit my work bares little to no resemblance to Cooper’s, but the lesson imparted by my first encounter with his oeuvre remains one of the most important to my own ideas of what I think writing should do.
Sorry, third floor bathroom stall, and an extra sorry to the kid shitting in the stall next to mine.