Chicken: Self-Portrait of a Young Man for Rent

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9780060394189: Chicken: Self-Portrait of a Young Man for Rent

I walk all the way up Hollywood Boulevard to Grauman's Chinese Theatre: 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 briskly in crisp suits; ladies who do not lunch with nylons rolled up below the knee pushing shopping carts full of everything they own; Mustangs rubbing up against muscular Mercedes and Hell's Angels hogs.

It's a sick twisted Wonderland, and I'm Alice.

Here is a story like no other: The unforgettable chronicle of a season spent walking the razor-sharp line between painful innocence and the allure of the abyss. David Sterry was a wide-eyed son of 1970s 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 a 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.

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Review:

David Henry Sterry's account of his nine months as a male prostitute in Los Angeles could easily have been unrelievedly sordid. Instead, because he relates his bizarre adventures in the boy-toy trade with dark wit and considerable compassion, it proves to be that rare walk on the wild side you can thoroughly enjoy and not hate yourself for in the morning. The frank descriptions of his "dates" range from wickedly funny (two women hire him to clean their house dressed in nothing but a see-through black apron while they have sex with each other) to baroque (at a costumed orgy, he performs various acts with "Tinker Bell" while "Peter Pan" whips her) to extremely disturbing (one client has him dress in her dead son's clothes, then vomits after their encounter). It all seems sadly, even touchingly human, thanks to Sterry's matter-of-fact empathy for his disturbed customers. He's tougher on his parents, depicting them as essentially abandoning their 17-year-old son to the streets, but even here he sardonically steps back for the bigger picture, labeling Mom and Dad "embodiments of the American Dream. They came to this country with basically nothing but the clothes on their backs, and after twenty years of hard work, sweat, and sacrifice, they were getting divorced, totally broke, and deep in therapy." Passages like that give Chicken its bite; the book gets its soul from Sterry's nuanced portrait of his growing anguish as the work takes him to increasingly scary places, physically and emotionally. --Wendy Smith

About the Author:

DavidHenrySterry 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, California.

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