Thursday, March 10, 2022

Send Photos/State Preferences

Send Photos/State Preferences, by Marshall Ford
July, 1974  Dell Books

Well friends for once we have one of those sex-themed and photo-covered PBOs from Dell, and it isn’t a goofy comedy! Send Photos/State Preferences (the “/,” by the way, appears on the title page and spine, but not on the cover) is much better than the other novels I’ve read in this unofficial Dell line, like Black Magic and Michelle, My Belle. However this is not to say it isn’t funny; in fact it’s often hilarious, but this comes through the humor of the various situations. It’s just not a lame sex farce like those other books, and comes off like a masterpiece in comparison. 

One reason for this is that author Marshall Ford is a better writer than those other sex PBO authors. He only published one other Dell PBO, 1970’s Memoirs Of A Sensual Youth, which also would be considered one of this unofficial Dell line. Both books are copyright Ford, however the Catalog Of Copyright Entries outs “George Blaire” as the real name of Marshall Ford. There’s actually less known about Blaire under his real name than there is about his “Ford” pseudonym (which isn’t much, to tell the truth). Blaire published only one novel under his own name, a 1971 Lancer PBO titled The Split End, another sleazy yarn with a photo cover, one centered around football, a la Special People. (And which got a cover blurb from Swank magazine!) But that’s it; there are no other novels under either name that I can find, and Blaire would appear to be a total mystery so far as the publishing world goes. 

The reason I went to the trouble of researching him is that he’s a gifted writer, and it’s suprising to find that he only turned out two novels. But then this is similar to how I felt after reading Blue Dreams, a novel that Send Photos/State Preferences has many similarities with; the author of that novel, William Hanley, was another who demonstrated a lot of talent but who didn’t go on to publish much else. Of the two novels, I’d have to prefer Blue Dreams, but they are similar in that they both concern men who attempt to get a first-hand view of the “sexual revolution.” One difference here is that Send Photos/State Preference is written in first-person and is narrated by a younger man than the protagonist of Blue Dreams; he’s also single and thus freer to, uh, indulge without any consequences. 

Another difference is that this novel is played more for laughs than Blue Dreams (even though that novel was very funny). I know, earlier I said Send Photos/State Preferences wasn’t a comedy, but it really is laugh-out-loud funny at times, and for the first half of it I couldn’t believe how much I was enjoying it. But Blaire plays things mostly on the level, unlike the farcical vibe of those other Dell PBOs. However at 251 pages it ultimately comes undone and it’s about fifty pages too long for its own good, with a bit too much padding and go-nowhere digressions. If Blaire had whittled the book down a bit he would’ve had a much stronger novel. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to always complain about books being “too long.” I have absolutely no problem with long novels…so long as the length is warranted. Take Colony, for example; I wouldn’t have minded if that novel went another hundred or so pages, even though it was already damn long. 

The crux of Send Photos/State Preferences has to do with our narrator, Bill, a blond-haired 28 year-old “groovy stud” who puts an ad in The Greater New York Crotch, a weekly newsletter filled with sex articles and personals ads. Bill has a fiance, but he puts the ad in the paper due to a bet he makes with an obnoxious co-worker named Howie. It all starts because our narrator voices his opionion that the so-called “sexual revolution” has been overhyped by the press, and the ads in “the Crotch” are probably all fake. Howie tells him to put his money where his mouth is and put an ad of his own in; if Bill meets five girls through the ad then he’ll owe Howie a hundred bucks. So clearly we have here a bird’s eye view of personals advertising in the era before the internet, but it’s of course overdone for the sake of satire. For, as expected, our narrator will get a lot more than he bargained for. 

Actually, if this novel is anything to go by, all one had to do to get laid in New York circa 1974 was just put an ad in one of these sleazy papers; Bill’s phone rings off the hook night and day. And every single woman he meets through the ad is a hotstuff babe just looking for some no-frills fun. So either something seriously changed in women over the following decades or the novel’s just taken to extreme proportions. I’m guessing it’s a combo of the two…and as a single guy in the early days of the internet I too was pretty certain that most of the female personal ads were fake. As an aside, many years ago I worked in marketing at and as I recall the male subscribers vastly outweighed the female ones. I’m assuming it was probably the same in the pre-internet era as well. 

But then that wouldn’t make for a fun novel. So Bill, who starts his story one month after he placed the ad, hinting at the misfortune that ensued, takes us back to the beginning as he places the ad. Blaire was certainly familiar with New York as he brings the place to life with one seriously jaundiced view. Most of the humor in Send Photos/State Preferences is from Bill’s sarcastic asides about life in Manhattan. This random part, where he orders lunch at the office, demonstrates what I mean:

This is the humor that carries the novel; that and the wild scenes Bill soon finds himself in. This is first evidenced when he enters the Crotch offices in the East Village, a dingy dump, and is propositioned by the rail-thin hippie girl behind the counter. A curious thing about Send Photos/State Preferences is that Bill will spend a lot of the narrative fending off horny women. This is not to say he doesn’t get lucky, and quite often, but he spends just as much time turning down a sure thing. This will only be his first such instance, but one can’t blame him, as Blaire makes this particular girl sound rather unpleasant. She does not however represent the type of women Bill will soon be meeting. She also messes up his ad, neglecting to state in it that he’s interested in women only, and she puts his real phone number in the ad, even though Bill wanted to use his office number. 

So basically Bill’s ad states he’s a “28 year-old groovy stud” who is looking for a good time, with no particulars around the gender he’s seeking a good time with. He finds this out when his phone rings early the next morning and a gruff male voice asks him, “Do you take it up the ass?” This caller will plague Bill through the rest of the narrative, even though Bill makes it clear from the get-go that he’s only interested in women. It’s through this that Bill learns of the mix-up at the paper. In reality I’d assume that such an ad would be ignored, but what happens is Bill gets called by a variety of horny freaks…and every single woman he meets is a hotstuff nympho. So yeah clearly the book is fantasy, but it wouldn’t be much fun otherwise. 

This also sets up another recurring joke in the narrative. Bill has kindly old neighbors who sometimes watch his cat for him and invite him over to dinner. Bill keeps hanging up on this initial caller, but the guy keeps calling back undeterred. Finally a frustrated Bill answers the ringing phone with “Look here, you filthy cocksucker,” only to discover it’s the kind old lady next door on the other line! She and her husband will often run into Bill’s new friends at the most inopportune moments, most notably when they happen to come out of their apartment just as one of Bill’s callers pulls off her coat in his doorway to reveal she’s wearing nothing beneath. Perhaps the bigger shock to these old immigrants is that the girl happens to be black. This sequence is probably the highlight of Send Photos/State Preferences, but also takes the novel in a different direction than the reader might initially suspect. 

For the girl, whose name is Lee Brooks, ends up becoming something more than just an anonymous hookup. While Bill will have flings with a few other girls, Lee is the one his thoughts will keep returning to over the hectic week in which the novel occurs. It starts with Lee being one of the first to respond to Bill’s ad; she has a “cultivated voice” and says, “I just hope you want to fuck half as bad as I do.” But she hangs up before a meet can be arranged, and Bill spends the next day thinking about her – despite the high volume of calls he’s receiving in the meantime, and even though she hasn’t told him a thing about herself other than that she wants to get laid. When she shows up at his door unannounced, Bill is struck momentarily speechless by her beauty: “You’d elbow a dozen Racquel Welchs out of your way to get a good look at her.” Lee mistakes Bill’s speechlessness for racism: “I guess I should have told you about this terrible skin condition I have.” 

An interesting thing about Send Photos/State Preferences is that it gives an unexpected look into interracial relationships in the mid-1970s. Bill comes off as very forward-thinking in this regard; so far as he is concerned, Lee Brooks is the most beautiful woman he has ever seen, regardless of her race. He does however inform us, “The plain truth is that I’d never had sexual contact with a black before.” Later in the novel Bill will even come to Lee’s aid when Bill’s fiance comes in upon them mid-screw and starts referring to Lee as a “thing.” (Another recurring joke is that Bill and Lee keep getting walked in on when naked.) However Lee has experienced her share of racism, and thinks Bill is yet another white guy who will turn her away because she’s black. In a rage she shows off that she’s naked beneath her coat and screeches: “You wouldn’t want your lily-white prick inside me!” This of course is the exact moment Bill’s neighbors come out of their apartment. 

Bill pulls Lee into his own apartment and quickly dispells any notions of racism on his part, but here we come across the curious revelation that Send Photos/State Preferences won’t be as explicit as some of those other Dell PBOs, particularly Making U-Hoo and Sexual Strike Force. In fact, initally the act occurs off-page, but later Bill brings us up to speed that he and Lee engaged in a literal all-night session, with details on some of the more memorable moments. The next morning Lee is gone without a note and Bill suffers from a “purply, puffy, and tender appendage” thanks to the all-night bang-a-thon. There are two repercussions from this: Bill will find himself thinking about Lee even more than previously, and Bill will also find himself so sated from the sexual olympics that he has no real interest in the other sexy women who begin trying to hook up with him. 

This is of course something that elevates Send Photos/State Preferences above the “stroke books” of the day, which had full-bore explicit sequences in each and every chapter. Blaire isn’t so much interested in the sleaze – though there is quite a bit of it – than he is in developing an unexpected love story between his narrator and Lee Brooks. The only problem is the novel gets a little too bloated with digressions as it goes on, and the plot with Lee is often overlooked. But it’s due to his long night with Lee that Bill turns down the next hot woman who shows up at his door, a “cock-crazy nymphomaniac.” This is another funny part, as Bill’s called her over “just to talk,” and the woman agrees to this, but as soon as she gets in the door she tries to have sex with him. 

Bill succeeds in fending her off, but this leads into some of that page-filling I mentioned. The “suicidal nympho” damages some of Bill’s wall as she storms out, and this entails a lot of stuff where Bill hires a contractor. Later on there’s more repairman material when Bill rips his phone off the wall, sick of the incessant calls, and has to get it fixed, with even more page-filling about a guy from “Ma Bell” who comes over to test the line. Meanwhile Bill does at least remember to get laid: the only other woman besides Lee that he ends up having sex with is a married cougar-type who arranges to meet Bill at a hotel (where she regularly takes her men) and engages him in “one of the greatest screwings of all time.” 

There’s another part where Bill starts to have sex with yet another married woman…but this time while her husband is watching. This part reminded me so much of an earlier trash novel I reviewed on here, but I can’t remember the title. Bill initially thinks it’s yet another gay caller, but the affable, wealthy-sounding guy on the other line says that he’s just looking for someone to bang his wife. So Bill heads over to their posh apartment on 2nd Avenue, has a few drinks – of course, the lady is another beauty, but I should mention too that Blaire doesn’t much exploit the ample charms of his female characters – and just as he’s about to start getting busy he realizes that the husband has snuck into the bedroom…and is giving play-by-play directions. I know this same thing happened in another novel I read here, but can’t recall which. Bill doesn’t like this and takes off, with another humorous finale where the husband politely asks if he can take Bill’s place – ie, if he can have sex with his own wife! 

Bill himself comes off as an interesting character, mostly due to his acidic commentary. He’s a wannabe writer of “whodunits,” and is currently working on a novel titled Coffin Full Of Gold. There’s a funny part where, inspired by his new activities, he decides to sex up his manuscript, adding in mentions of “full, ripe breasts” and whatnot. He also finds himself writing a blow-by-blow description of his long night with Lee Brooks, which is another indication to himself of how much he’s thinking of her. But as stated earlier, if Blaire had focused on this alone the novel would have been stronger. As it is, there’s just too much padding in the last quarter, and while some of it’s funny, some of it is just overdone for the sake of a lame punchline – like when the Ma Bell repairman answers Bill’s phone on a lark, only to discover it’s his own wife on the other end, calling for the “groovy stud.” 

What’s worse is that we get no real resolution. After pining over Lee for so long, she shows up just as abruptly at Bill’s door again – this tme while he’s naked – and we get another all-night session. But the racial differences thing seems to be an issue, with neither of them sure how far they can go in an actual relationship. Blaire leaves it a question by novel’s end, and I’m only relating this due to the unfortunate scarcity of the title. Instead the finale is given over to another of those overlong joke setups; long story short, Bill’s loudmouthed office archenemy Howie ends up meeting that gay caller who has been plaguing our hero, with an unexpected outcome. We leave Bill where we met him, some weeks after the ad has both benefited his life (his meeting of Lee) and also ruined it (like when he accidentally called his mother “Whore,” thinking she was that nympho calling him again). 

Overall I enjoyed Send Photos/State Preferences, but I felt it just was a little too padded. It’s a lot better than the other novels I’ve read in this unofficial line, though, so I’d still recommend it to anyone interested in well-written and humorous ‘70s sleaze.

1 comment:

Johny Malone said...

Women are sensitive to trends. In those years it was fashionable to be unfaithful, to be a sexual adventurer, and well... Then the upper echelons got scared and changed the orientation of things.