Chicken: Self-Portrait of a Young Man for Rent

Overview

In the spirit of Mary Karr's The Liar's Club or Kathryn Harrison's The Kiss, here is the unforgettable memoir of a season spent walking the razor-sharp line between painful innocence and the allure of the abyss.

On Friday afternoon in late Hollywood August, I'm seventeen-year-old freshmeat, just arrived to start my college career at Immaculate Heart College. David Sterry was a wide-eyed son of 1970's suburbia, but within his first week looking for off-campus housing on Sunset ...

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Overview

In the spirit of Mary Karr's The Liar's Club or Kathryn Harrison's The Kiss, here is the unforgettable memoir of a season spent walking the razor-sharp line between painful innocence and the allure of the abyss.

On Friday afternoon in late Hollywood August, I'm seventeen-year-old freshmeat, just arrived to start my college career at Immaculate Heart College. David Sterry was a wide-eyed son of 1970's suburbia, but within his first week looking for off-campus housing on Sunset Boulevard he was lured into a much darker world—servicing the lonely women of Hollywood by night.

Chicken—the word is slang for young male prostitute—revisits this year of living dangerously, in a narrative of dazzling inventiveness and searing candor. Shifting back and forth from tales of Sterry's youth—spent in the awkward bosom of a disintegrating dysfunctional family—to his fascinating account of the Neverland of post-Sixties sexual excess, Chicken teems with Felliniesque characters and set-pieces worthy of Dionysus. And when the life finally overwhelms Sterry, his retreat from the profession will leave an indelible mark on readers' minds and hearts.

About the Author:
David Henry Sterry has worked as an actor, a marriage counselor, a screenwriter, a comedian, and an athlete. Also the author (with Arielle Eckstut) of Satchel Sez: The Wit, Wisdom, and World of Leroy 'Satchel' Paige, he lives in San Rafael, CA.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A cross between Midnight Cowboy and Boogie Nights, this tell-all memoir of a Hollywood Boulevard-heterosexual-teen-boy-male-hustler in the 1970s has all the makings of a week's worth of Jerry Springer shows. Emerging from a slightly dysfunctional upper-middle-class family of British emigres (where father was domineering and distant, and mother's female friend turned out to be her lover), teenaged Sterry fled to a Catholic college in Los Angeles and found himself working for an escort agency as well as attending classes and dating a nice girl. While the material here is fascinating, Sterry doesn't seem to trust its basic appeal and relies on a gimmicky, Hunter Thompsonesque prose style "I can do this. Woman's pleasure. Loverstudguy" to pump up the volume. This same lack of trust shapes the tone of the book. Attempts to shock fail, as when Sterry is hired at an s&m costume ball, because he portrays his clients as bizarre rather then empathetically displaying their humanity. The book's climactic, Midnight Cowboy-esque scene, in which Sterry gets violent with one of his few male clients and finally quits the life, may feel good for the wrong reasons. Sterry's book is an easy but not an insightful read. (Feb.) Forecast: An NPR syndicated feature and four-city author tour may draw aspiring Dirk Digglers or Mrs. Robinsons to this title from among literate vicarious thrill seekers, but it is unclear how many of them would be caught carrying it around. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
No one gives strippers a chance except magazine writer turned autobiographer Burana, who just happens to have been one before her more "respectable" job came along. In this enthralling joy ride of a first book, Burana details the life of a stripper on the road, from the g-strings to the wigs. The book was born of the retired stripper's desire to confront her somewhat sketchy past head on. After laying out the necessary materials to be a fully functional stripper and taking a refresher class on pole dancing and other such duties, she is ready for the road. Through her nonjudgmental view, the reader becomes intimately connected to the life that Burana struggled to get away from for so long and is now squirming to get back into. Her own love of stripping or perhaps the power attached to it is easily conveyed in her gentle and honest prose; even the most conservative naysayer will be curious about this taboo job. If Burana is the class of the sex-worker industry, Sterry is the crass. This startlingly annoying memoir about a "renaissance" man's early foray into the prostitution scene of 1970 Los Angeles offers little in the way of decent prose. Not only is the writing sloppy and uninspired, it serves less to further the story and more to bolster his narcissistic view of himself. Although recounting the sexual escapades of a misspent youth has the potential to create an interesting read, this book falls short in the absence of an actual point. Sterry doesn't even try to feign a revelation, while his attempts to prove he can love without money just serve to reaffirm his shallowness. Maybe he should take some lessons from Burana in writing with heart rather than with sexual body parts. Rachel Collins, "Library Journal" Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A walk through one young man's accidental year of teen prostitution in 1970s Los Angeles.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060528515
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 2/18/2003
  • Edition description: REPRINT
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 5.12 (w) x 7.96 (h) x 0.68 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The Tall Sexy Man & The Nun

Children begin by loving their parents,
after a time they judge them, rarely, if
ever, do they forgive them.
-- Oscar Wilde

I wasn't molested as a child. No one beat me with a coat hanger. I was never burned by my evil baby-sitter's cigarette. I grew up in neighborhoods where kids played ball, swung on swings, and rode merry-go-rounds. Santa slid down my chimney, the Easter Bunny hid chocolate eggs in my yard, and the Tooth Fairy left a quarter under my pillow.

A rosy patina of relentless suburban niceness shimmers on the surface of my childhood: roses swimming gently in beds, summery smelling freshly mown grass moaning, golden leaves falling like floating autumnal coins; the taste of cold waterymelon and the lick of a soft cloud of ice cream cone; toboggans and hot chocolate; Fourth of July fireworks and Tom Turkey Thanksgivings; Cream of Wheat mornings and Cat in the Hat nights.

You were happy where I grew up, and if you weren't, you had the decency not to mention it. I don't remember ever seeing a black person, except for the maids who magically appeared in the morning to clean up after us, then disappeared on the afternoon bus.

Into this brave New World came my mother and father, English immigrants from Newcastle, land of lily-skinned, thick-skulled, black-lunged, Broon Ale-swigging Geordies, escaping a land as hard and cold as the coal you're not supposed to bring there.

My mom and dad became American citizens theinstant they could, and we bad a big party to celebrate, with sparklers twinkling atop a red-wbite-and-blue sugarlard-icing United States flag-covered cake.

My parents are in many ways embodiments of the American Dream. They came to this country with nothing but the clothes on their backs, and after twenty years of hard work, sweat, and sacrifice, they were getting divorced, totally broke, and having nervous breakdowns.

On Friday afternoon in late Hollywood August, I'm seventeen-year-old freshmeat, just arrived to start my college career at Immaculate Heart College. Sister Liz, a wimply nun, checks me into school. She reminds me of the Singing Nun from my childhood. Only she doesn't sing. She tells me they don't have any dorms. I'm shocked. In exile at boarding school, I'd decided to go to college early; Immaculate Heart was the only place that would take me without a high-school diploma. Never dawned on my sixteen-year old brain to ask for help with the application. Or, for that matter, to ask whether IHC had dorms. I didn't ask. After it was deicided that I would live with my mom in L.A., no further arrangements had seemed necessary. But things change so quickly sometimes.

I have no place to sleep, and all I have is twenty-seven dollars, so I call my father. He says he's having a cashflow problem. I'm confused, because my dad lives in the large lap of luxury. He seems anxious to get me off the phone, and I can hear a woman who's not my mother in the background.

"Whatever --" I manage to mumble. Then I hang up.

I consider calling my mom. I quickly reject the idea. The fact that her young lover has clearly replaced me as the man in her life is just too much to swallow.

I ask Sister Liz if they have a place for me to crash. She says they're not insured for student crashing, but as a last resort, if I need a place to sleep for the night, she could possibly try to arrange something, although she'd really prefer not to.

"Whatever --" I manage to mumble again.

I store my bags. I walk out of Immaculate Heart College, seventeen, no place to sleep, twenty-seven dollars in my pocket, and an angry beehive in my skull.

The weight of it sinks me to the curb, my head coming to rest in my hands. Six months ago I was guzzling rotgut and smoking angel wings at boarding school. Now my American Dream family's exploded like a land mine in a bomb shelter, and the shrapnel is flying thick and fast all around me.

IHC sits high atop a hill looking down on Hollywood, its superstar billboards looming over thick boulevards crammed with large cars. As a sweet breeze blows, the Lost Angel Siren sings her beautiful melody to me, and I'm sucked toward that voice no man can resist.

Next thing I know I'm strolling down the hill into Tinsel Town, swallowing my pain like a poison pea pellet, and replacing it with what I intend to be a peacocky strut. I'm working hard to perfect my strut.

My hair is brown, thick, and deep, my legs have my mom's muscles, and I come with long feet and big hands, nuthugging elephantbells, a too tight T with a Rolling Stones tongue licking the world, and red high-tops. One green sock, one blue sock.

I have no idea where I'm going, or what I'm doing, but as I bust my strut into the gut of Hollywood and float over the sidewalkstars, I feel for no reason that it's a good day to be alive, with these palm trees waving at me and the afternoon sun bathing on my face in this new place, my past back there, and my future right in front of me on the Boulevard of Dreams,

I walk all the way up Hollywood Boulevard to Grauman's Chinese Theater: past turistas snapping shots; wannabe starlets sparkling by in miniskirts with head shots in their hands and moondust in their eyes; rowdy cowboys drinking with drunken Indians; black businessmen bustling by brisk in crisp suits; ladies who do not lunch with nylons rolled up below the...

Chicken. Copyright © by David Henry Sterry. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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