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In Military Trade (now updated to include an expanded photo insert!), Steven Zeeland, author of Sailors and Sexual Identity, The Masculine Marine, and Barrack Buddies and Soldier Lovers, brings together an edgy, enlightening, and richly entertaining collection of voices with a passion for servicemen, including:
The Ballad of Vulture Dick
These days, most civil-military cruising takes place on-line. Bill, a spunky forty-nine-year-old construction company owner and barband rock and roller, meets his Army boys the old-fashioned way, in a Pacific Northwest adult video arcade so David Lynchian that the red lights that burn over the (glass) doors of occupied booths are shaped like pinecones. It was in this place that he used to consort with Dick, a military chaser murdered by a soldier whom he drugged and raped.
Bill: I was born in Montgomery, Alabama. I never really saw much of my father until I was about fifteen or sixteen. My father's a good man, but he's a very stern, strict man, and he has a very hard time showing any sort of affection to any of his male children. None of us have met his expectations. He and I actually had fistfights.
Growing up in school, I never had too much trouble dealing with my sexuality. I figured out when I was twelve or thirteen that I wanted boys. Gay roles were very stereotypical back then. And I didn't like that. Because to be gay in Montgomery in 1966 you had to be a screaming queen. If that's how somebody wants to be, that's fine, but that's just not who I am. I love to suck dick, I love to fuck, but I'm not a queen.
My view of military guys in the 1960s was probably that they were pretty much off-limits, and if you tried to make an approach that you would get your lights punched out. I was also pretty much against the Vietnam War. I never really gave muchthought tothe military guys at that point in my life. I liked the long-haired hippie look.
When I was eighteen years old, I moved to Birmingham. I met a gal there from Atlanta. The band I was in was playing in a battle of the bands contest. I got her pregnant and we got married. She died of peritonitis of the intestines when she was six months pregnant. I went on a drinking bender that lasted for about eighteen months. I started smoking a lot of pot, and I got caught. I spent two and half years in the penitentiary for possession of marijuana in the state of Alabama.
There was a lot of institutional homosexuality in prison. Guys that normally wouldn't play on the outside—they come in and swear they'll never do it, and two months later they're seeking you out.
While I was in prison, I met another musician. We started the first rock band ever in the penal system in Alabama. We got to go out and play on Saturday nights. Of course the guards took all our money, but we were just so happy to get out that we didn't give a rat's ass. So anyway, Lee was from the Seattle area. When I got out I decided to come here, and ended up staying. I formed a rock band, got married, had a little girl. She's twenty-four now, so she's not little anymore.
I liked sex with women, but women wanted eternal commitment. If you say, "Honey, I really just want to be friends but I'm tired of your box," the bitch is gonna pick up a skillet and knock you in the head with it. That's just not something that plays out well with women. Guys, on the other hand, want fifteen minutes of a relationship, and then they want to move on. I want something in between.
Until the early 1980s my preference in men was still the long-haired musician type of look. I quit being in a band, though, because I wanted to be a stable provider with a strong financial background for my daughter. I formed a construction company. And one of my friends said, "Bill, there's this [adult bookstore] in Tacoma. You should check it out. There's just absolutely the hottest men you've ever seen." This was probably sixteen, seventeen years ago. I went down there and my eyes absolutely hurt the first time. I'd never seen so many gorgeous Army men in my life.
The bookstore is in an area that's sort of known for its nefarious activities. You've got a tittie bar at one end. You've got massage parlors. And then you've got a bunch of sleazy motels, where everybody goes for two-hour sex. At that time you had three adult bookstores; now there's only one.
The first time I did an awful lot of looking, but I just didn't get anywhere. A couple of weeks later my curiosity and my penis got the better of me and I traveled back down there. I met this [other cruiser] named Dennis, and we were chatting. I turned around and three really gorgeous men walked in. He said, "Oh, they're Rangers." Because they had that high-and-tight haircut. And I said, "I don't care if they're Martians, they're gorgeous." He said, "You're new here. They came in here together. You'll never get anything." At this arcade there was a little game room where you played—oh, back then it was Pac Man. So one of these Army guys played a game next to me, and I was playing my game. He said, "How does this place work?" I said, "I don't really know what you mean. This is only my second time here." He said, "I heard it was a good place to get your dick sucked." I said, "Well, I've heard that you go back and watch a fuck flick, and if you want company you leave your door unlocked or slightly ajar." He gets up and disappears. I finish up my game, and decide, well, I'm going to venture back there and see what's going on in this snake pit.
I walked to the back. They had pictures of what was playing in the different booths. And this same guy comes right behind me. I could see off the reflection [from the display case] that he was looking at me. I was really nervous because I thought maybe he was going to beat me up or something. He goes in the booth and leaves the door wide open. I'm sitting here at this marquee just as long as I possibly can. And then I turn around and he's standing in the doorway. I decided it was my move, so I went in there and had just some extraordinary sex.
I came out of the booth, and Dennis—the guy that had said, "Oh, you'll never get anything"—is standing there. If looks could kill you would be talking to a corpse right now.
I thought: it just doesn't get any better than this. So I went back to play my video game, and about five minutes later one of his Ranger buddies comes up and tugs on my sleeve and inquires, "Do you want to do me now?" I ended up going back with him and the third one to the barracks.
In my fantasies driving back, I was thinking, well, I'm gonna be the slut that services all these Army boys. But apparently they sort of like used me as a vehicle to make it all okay to do whatever it was that they wanted to do among themselves.
I have to say, I'm forty-nine years old, and that stands out as the ultimate sexual experience I've ever had. Maybe that's what cemented my affinity for military guys. And with the exception of a few [periods when I've been in] relationships over the past fifteen years, I tend to make it down there every Saturday night.
For the longest time it was really pretty wide open. You could do whatever you wanted to do. Then the health department used the AIDS crisis as an excuse to try and shut this business down. They weren't successful in forcing them out of business, but they did make them take the solid doors off, and put on glass doors, so the police or health department or whoever can see in there. Which is not necessarily all bad. I've found that people are pretty resourceful. When you throw an obstacle, they're pretty good about resolving that obstacle. And now actually the glass doors sort of attract a brand of people that are a little bit exhibitionistic and/or voyeuristic. And so it's a different clientele. The sad thing is that there's probably a lot of basically really shy straight Army boys that would come in and play if there was a bit more privacy.
Zeeland: What can you do now with the glass doors?
B: Well, you're not supposed to do anything in the booth. But you can make eye contact. If I see somebody I like, I leave a note on their car: "You're hot as a two-dollar pistol. If you'd like to party...." Sometimes the note's a little more graphic than that.
I've had several of the Army guys that have responded to my notes say that they felt that was very cool, because they didn't feel threatened. They said they would have probably rebuffed me if I had tried to strike up a dialogue with them in the bookstore, where they might be seen by some of their friends or something like that.
Z: But you don't actually have sex in the bookstore?
B: Sometimes you do. I can't say that I've never had it. It is exciting, but it would be so embarrassing to have a cop's flashlight shining on you when you've got a mouth full of somebody.
Z: They come through and shine flashlights?
B: Periodically, yeah. You can buy crack cocaine on any corner, children are being murdered, but they're going to protect us from people masturbating. I'm just so glad to live in this country. We're so well protected.
Z: How many Army guys are we talking about since 1980? And what percentage would they be out of your total sexual encounters?
B: Oh my Lord. [Laughs.] Well, probably 75 percent of my total. And I'd say ten or twelve a year. So sixteen years, about 160? 200? And I'm still HIV negative.
Z: Were a lot of these encounters anonymous, where you didn't talk at all?
B: Yeah, it is more of the anonymous, wham bam I'm gone. Fortunately, some of them, in second and third encounters, we do develop more dialogue.
Z: Do you usually meet up at the same place?
B: I typically get a motel room. Because I have no desire to see my name in the paper for lewd and lascivious behavior. And it's hard to have a dialogue in a peep show booth.
Z: Physically constraining, too.
B: Oh yeah. Good God, you kneel down and you stick to the floor. They get a shovel to pry you up. I don't think so!
From time to time they make the bookstore off limits to these guys. And so then they have to really risk a lot to venture there. But they're horny, so....
[Opens up laptop computer.] I tend to be very organized. These are some of my encounters, and a couple that I would like to encounter. Let's see. [Scrolling through notes.] "Red Chevy, Washington plates now, met about one year ago, earring left ear"—I gave him a ten. "Oklahoma, Ranger, hung and hot. On a scale of 1 to 10 he is 20." This one comes in, and I just thought, oh, there's no way anybody will get this. So he goes back and he's watching a movie. I'm in the booth across from him. The next thing I knew I turn around and his pants are down and he's showing me his ass. And so I flopped out St. Peter and waved it at him. He looked and smiled, and he followed me out and we went back to my motel. I'm so disappointed, that he hasn't looked me up.
Nathan, I had a relationship with him for about a year. "What a doll. I will sure miss him when he's gone." He's gone.
Zak from Tennessee. Zak was another funny one. The first time I left a note on his car, he yelled, "Fuck you, you fag motherfucker!" And then, two or three months later, he said to me, "You still wanna suck my dick, mister?" Go figure!
Buddy from North Carolina. I left him a note on his car a year and a half ago. It was a very naughty note. Something to the effect, "You're hot as a two-dollar pistol and I want you to come and fuck my face all night." I told him a place to meet me and he drove in there and just totally flipped out; I guess he thought the note was from a woman. So I just drove off. He didn't follow me or anything. And then about a year later I saw his car again. It's just this little evil streak in me. I left another note. And I'll be damned, he showed up at the motel room. He was ready to play. A couple months ago he said, "I really like this. You've made me gay." I said, "Well, Buddy, I don't really think that's right. Those feelings were there. Maybe I'm the catalyst that brought them to the surface. I wish I could accept credit. If I could make people gay, I would simply walk through Ft. Lewis, lay my hands on this one, lay my hands on that one." I'd have my harem, but it's not that easy. I think I've given him a little bit of a comfort level. He's married. See, a lot of these guys are married. Which is really strange to me. What's their excuse? It's not that they're not getting sex.
Z: Have you noted any preferences in what they want to do sexually?
B: More guys are bottoms. I don't know if it's a universal thing with men, but I would just guess that the strong homosexual fantasy entertained by men in general is to be fucked, and maybe feel what it's like to be a woman, or be dominated. It's somewhat of a disappointment to me, but I've learned to cope really well. I like a big butch man to just throw me down and have his way with me. But it doesn't break my heart if it goes the other way. And if you continue a sexual relationship with these people. usually you can turn the tables and get what you want to. You just have to play it out and talk.
[Back to scrolling.] I don't remember this one from South Carolina. Some of them I haven't actually scored yet, but they're just—if I see them in the area I sometimes make a note, and then if you see them again.... This is another one. Paul from Montana. This one's funny! I met him, and he was really standoffish at first. And then—I've carried a concealed weapon for about six years, and he is actually the first person that's ever spotted it. He says, "You've got to leave your gun in your car." I thought, what the hell; he's a little guy, so I figured I could probably overpower him, unless he had a weapon. So we got in his station wagon. The first time I just gave him a blow job. And then two months later, he started coming back for a weekly fucking. He went to Korea. He came back about a month ago. I've only seen him once since he got back. But what a transition.
Let's see. Marty was a lot of fun. Cute little Army Ranger. "The libido of a rabbit. Could not get enough. Dropped out of sight. Probably got transferred."
B: I'm at a stage in my life now where I would really like to be in a relationship. I'm seeing a counselor every two weeks to try and figure out why I'm not in one. I really want to be in one. And I don't know if a relationship will work, because when you're used to this high-volume method of procuring, it may or may not be possible. I feel okay about what I'm doing now, but it's just not fulfilling all the emotional needs in my life. My counselor said that if I've got this thing for Army dudes, that I need to try and meet 'em in someplace other than a bookstore or a tittie bar. "See if you can't develop a dialogue and conversation, get to know them and have them get to know you. And see where it goes."
About five years ago, I was in a relationship with an Army Ranger that lasted a year and a half. I met Ray at this same bookstore. He was a big Polish kid. Blond, blue eyes, 200 pounds, just solid as a rock. The night he came into the bookstore all the queens were chasing him. And I was in one of those moods where I thought, "Oh, he's probably straight. I'll never get it." So I was just playing my videos and minding my game. And he struck up a conversation with me. We just started talking. Didn't do anything that night. We met a couple of weekends later, didn't do anything then either. And the third time he says, "Do you want to go have some fun?" So we did.
He was into kinky stuff. He sort of introduced me to my first sadomasochistic experience. When he was like fourteen or fifteen, his uncle and his cousin, who were seventeen and eighteen, had tied him up and basically raped him. So we acted out numerous variations of that scenario. I'd never, ever done that. I fantasized it, but I almost thought that maybe some things one [had] best keep in the fantasy mold. I didn't want to get so jaded that I'd have to go sit on a fire hydrant for my next rush. I just was afraid of S&M. And I'm still a little cautious about it. Having sex with somebody and paddling them and saying, "You're a naughty boy," that's one thing. But I don't know if I'm ready for the slings and the dungeons and all that. I might like it too much.
Z: Apart from good sex, what have Army Rangers come to represent for you?
B: Well, first, they keep themselves in such good physical shape. Rangers have sort of a cocky attitude. They like to be looked at. They are absolutely the best, and they know it. But there's also a camaraderie between them that is just unbreakable. One of Ray's friends was totally straight, and he walked in on us doing the big nasty. And he didn't say a thing. That kind of loyalty just really impressed me. So I think it's a combination. There's the physical stimulation, but mentally there's that strong sense of honor, and self-respect, and respect for your fellow soldier that I really envy and like. And I see ... lacking, I guess, in civilian life.
Z: Has it been lacking in gay civilian life as you've experienced it?
B: Yeah, I think it's lacking in that, too. One of the quotes on your Web site—somebody said that Marines looked exactly the same as the clone that you would find in the gay bar, except for their integrity. Something to that extent. And I've found that to be quite true about Rangers.
I've been clean and sober for fourteen years. I only go out once a week. Because I do think that cruising can be every bit as addictive as any drug. Unfortunately, some of my friends are caught up in that. Night after night after night. I just don't want it to spin out of control. I enjoy certain aspects of the hunt, and the good sex that follows. But I feel kind of good that I've reached an emotional security within myself to want to pursue a relationship. I like myself better now than I ever have in my life. So therefore I think it would probably be easier for somebody else to like me. If you're selling a pile of shit, it's going to smell like a pile of shit. Queens can be really tacky to one another. Downright vicious. I once had a guy run into my car because we were both after the same trick.
I had a really unusual situation last year. A friend of mine named Dick unfortunately earned the name of "Vulture Dick." He was an older gentleman, very debonair. Well-dressed. And I don't like older guys per se, but I thought to myself: If I can look this good when I reach this guy's age.... He looked so distinguished. Almost like a stage actor, or royalty or something. And Dick would cut you off—if he saw something he wanted, he would mow you down. Dick had another bad habit which led to his demise. He liked methamphetamine. And that can push you over the edge, and really cloud your judgment. To make a long story short, Dick picked up a young Army boy who had just had a fight with his wife. He took him back to his house. He got the kid really drunk. While Jamie, the kid, was passed out, he tied him up and raped him. When Jamie regained consciousness, he struggled to break free, and ended up hitting Dick pretty hard, and killed him.
I had to go to the trial. I testified for Jamie's defense. And it was very hard for me, because Dick was my friend. I'd had coffee with him, and we ogled the same tricks. But I just felt that he had really crossed over the line. When you drug and rape someone—that's your fantasy, that's not theirs. I was really sorry that he was dead, but I felt like he did it to himself.
Jamie got acquitted. It was a very unsettling situation to have to go through, but I felt really good that I did it. I think that if we as gay people want to be respected, that we need to be willing to admit that sometimes people within our community do things that they shouldn't. And it's just best to deal with that head-on. There's a lot of resistance. I talked to a [gay newspaper publisher] friend of mine. I tried to get him to publish an article, asking for anyone with any input to come forward. And he didn't want to do it, because he didn't want to air gay people's dirty linen in public.
For many years I thought I lacked courage. My testifying at that trial was an example of standing up for what you believe in spite of whether or not it's popular. Living an openly gay life is something else I'm glad I did. And I've noticed that personal courage in Army Rangers. I find that really admirable. If that could be taught to more of us as a general populace: honor, and dignity, respect for your fellow man, and willingness to lay down your life for one of your comrades. In a country where everybody sues everybody and everybody fucks everybody over, that kind of camaraderie is just absolutely incredible.
The chief battle I've had to fight in my life is to just learn to like and believe in myself. To learn to leave substance abuse alone, and realize that I'm not the horrible person that my father told me I was. But I am happy with myself. I've changed the things that need to be changed, and I'm working on other changes. And I think that maybe that mind-set, that Rangers seem to have, to succeed at all costs no matter what the obstacles are is a good example to follow.
Ray, the Ranger that I had a relationship with—one time I took him to work at my construction company. We got to the job site, and I said, "Ray, I want you to go into that room and tear that wall down." Then someone called me. I was on this call for like ten or fifteen minutes. When I got off the phone, I thought, oh, I didn't tell the kid where the hammers were, or where the cats' paws were, or nothin'. So I go in this next room. He had torn that wall down by hand and foot!
He told me later that he thought it was a test. He said the Army did things like that to see what their problem-resolution ability was. I mean, he kicked the sheet rock out, he kicked the studs out with his feet. I fell in love with that man right there.
Posted October 6, 2005