We all have a White Whale to follow. It's high time to get to sea.
Philip Flaxen, who strips past his jockstrap on the Internet for manluv.com, acquires a rare gift - a book that transforms his life. With it, he sparks with a famous author, whittles away at a new craft, swims with an odd circle of new acquaintances and is swept up in mayhem. Philip leaves the world of the Porn Nazi and enters the realm of crisp possibilities - great expectations and dark secrets that unravel over deep waters. Follow this whodunit as Philip Flaxen turns idolater and never looks back - a tale of Internet strippers, back street murders, Provincetown glitz, New York City nightlife and a love story for the ages. If you liked "No Irish Need Apply" and loved "Bobby's Trace," you will absolutely adore "Turning Idolater." Life is filled with serendipity, pleasurable and bracing, but on the fringes and in the heart, life can be a very bloody business.
It was a small tub in a tiny bathroom, but it served Philip Flaxen well as he prepared. All craftsmen attend to the maintenance and condition of their tools. Chefs hone knives. Hacks change cab-oil on a schedule. Writers look to their quills; and painters care for their horsehairs and camels. Diggers sharpen pickaxes and none but a preacher can fill the fount with consecrated drink. Thus, it was with Philip Flaxen as he plunged his hands between his legs lathering the tool of his trade and, although changing the oil might be less scintillating, the honing of this particular tool gave Master Flaxen pleasure beyond measure.
The bubbles welled in massive peaks, like whip cream, almost eclipsing young Flaxen in a world of cleanser as he finished off. Nevertheless, his emerging better nature prevailed. Wineglass in one hand, he reached for a book with the other, his deep, black eyes intent on the words, not tools now, unless these were considered some additional craftsman’s artifact. Here in the pages was a new world, as foamy as his tub; he was under the prow of the Pequod as it ported its master in pursuit of the Great White Whale. The words may have been from a shelf above Philip’s normal mantel, as he had never finished high school, and in fact never pursued any white whale of education — not even a white elephant of a diploma, but this book was magic to his eyes. The words may not have had keen meaning, but they had rhythm — the beat of the waves; and aroma — the smell of the sea. The pages dripped with foam and he turned them like a capstan, weighing anchor. The margins puckered beneath his pruning fingers, but he didn’t care nor did he wonder. He was tripping beyond the bubble bath, out on old Nantucket wharves. Therefore, when the alarm clock buzzed, reeling him to shore, he flinched. The wineglass tipped turning the suds burgundy and the book nearly swam back to sea. However, Philip caught it before the plunge, diverting it to dry-dock, in this case, a mat on the bathroom floor.
Philip rolled his eyes. He had an evening ahead. It wasn’t difficult work. It didn’t require a Master’s degree to sit at a computer and wait for requests from an invisible audience. He wished that Sprakie was better heeled. They could have rigged up one of them home cams so he wouldn’t have to haul his ass across town to manluv.org. Hell, some of those set-ups could have made the tub his workplace. However, he couldn’t be so particular. Manhattan rents were exorbitant and he was living in Sprakie’s place not by royal decree, but by near-charity. He did pay his share, or near it, but as long as he followed his roommate’s rules, he could luxuriate in the bubbles, sleep on silk and keep his employment across town.
Philip sighed. He would have preferred to keep sailing in Nantucket. The words were tough, and he needed to read each passage twice, but he savored them like a fine corned beef on rye. He wished he could delve beneath the waves, because he knew there were deeper meanings swimming there, but there was hope. The man who had put him onto this book was a generous trick, an old gent who wanted nothing more than to stroke off before a live stripping twink. There were such freaky fetishes about, but Philip was over eighteen. Hell, he was twenty, almost old enough to drink. His roommate nagged him about such tricks — the old geezers who just wanted to recall their long lost days. Sprakie also warned Philip that a few went beyond harmless voyeurism. Some might explode like a firecracker and cause you infinite harm, sweetie. However, Philip didn’t think that Sprakie, that is Robert Sprague, would follow his own admonition. Sprakie was the wildest hoohoo in Philip’s acquaintance, and had proved to be a valuable guide into outrageous waters.
Philip hoisted himself from the tub careful not to drip bathwater on the book. He didn’t have many books, at least ones with words only. He smiled at the binding as if it were a candy box with plenty of samples left. Standing before the steamed mirror, he dried off, keeping his own peerless figure in sight. What that old geezer must have thought, he mused. That was a pacific trick. The man was grateful both with money and a shower of grizzled kisses, which Philip could have done without, but as long as things didn’t get too kinky, he supposed it was a kindness — like a charity visit to the old folks home. Then the man gave him — the book. What’s this? Philip asked. What’s it look like? chuckled the geezer. Philip opened it. It had an aroma about it like nothing he had touched before — electric and deep. His eyes scanned the illustration engraved on the page. A huge bump spouted water from its head and aimed at an old-fashioned ship. It was about something called Moby Dick and some guy named Herman Melville penned it. Both were beyond Philip’s ken, but somehow, as the pages turned under his tidal hand, he was hooked — or harpooned, if you will. Call me Ishmael? Then, the call to the planks and rigging.
Philip dried off and glanced at the clock. He had better get his ass in gear if he was going to be on time. He wrapped the towel around his toolbox and sought his flip-flops. It was a short trip through the common room (he could never come to call it a living room) to his own small cubby. The apartment was cluttered from necessity. The kitchen was a mere counter with a half refrigerator, two cabinets, a two-burner stove and a toaster. It barged into the common room, the only room with a full window and small enough to accommodate a couch and a chair. There was a Murphy bed in the closet for guests, and Philip had slept on it when he first moved in, but it was a pain in the ass to open, so he slept in a converted closet.
Sprakie’s room once had a window, but the man of the house insisted on making the room wall-to-wall bed, of which the canopy and Arabian valance blocked any sunlight that could have managed an appearance through the barred window that lurked behind some plywood. Philip had to rattle through this bedroom to get to his small cubby. Small, but it was his. By real estate value, his six by six (if it were that) would fetch $500 a month on a good day, but Sprakie let it go for $250 and a third of the utilities. A bargain. The only drawback was when Sprakie entertained — that is, went on the clock. Philip would need to fade to the streets then.
What to wear? Not a huge variety in his clothes stack, which mushroomed in the corner laundry basket. Philip wondered if he had anything clean. The launderette on Avenue A was a pain in the ass to use — all those quarters and little boxes of soap, not to mention the stink. At one time he could flirt with the local hustlers there (it was a good pick up point), but lately the place was filled with haggard old Puerto Rican housewives and skuzzy, green haired Goth girls from the West Village. He reached for his favorite shirt — a turquoise silk affair that favored his curly shock of hair. He sniffed the armpit and choked.
“I have to get to the laundry this week,” he muttered. “Shit.”
He threw the towel aside, grabbed a reasonably clean jock strap and holstered his assets. His underwear was clean, because he was too exposed to the public to have otherwise, but his shirt was a problem. So he ventured into Sprakie’s boudoir, to the dresser that slept under a tumble of oriental silks and aromatherapy candles. He poked about the top drawer — no shirts. The second drawer was more promising. He shook out a golden golf shirt. Nice. Sweet. Philip couldn’t remember when Sprakie wore this. Still he slipped it over his head. It fit like a glove. Most of Sprakie’s duds fit him, but Sprakie would have a fit when Philip borrowed his clothing. This was an emergency, after all. Wasn’t it? No duds — no work. No work — no rent.
Philip strutted to the mirror, clearing away a pink feather boa.
“That’s the ticket.”
He shut the second drawer, but decided that perhaps the bottom drawer held an even better choice. His fingers poked around until it stroked a delightful, satin number. He pulled it out with a snap, and as he did, something came flying from the back and across the floor, slipping under the bed.
“What the fuck,” he murmured. He reached under the bed, his fingers spidering over the traveling knick-knack. He winced. What the fuck? He snapped his hand back. In it was a gun. Not a two-fisted rootin’, tootin’ firearm, but a pearl-handled ladies’ pistol. At first, he thought it was a starter’s gun, but Sprakie wasn’t a runner. Philip sniffed it as if he could detect a firing.
“I better ask him about this.” Then he thought better. He shouldn’t be poking around in Sprakie’s dresser, even to purloin a shirt. The neighborhood was shitty, so he supposed Sprakie kept it for protection, and, in true Robert Sprague fashion, he would want a pearl-handled, purse size affair, something that was fashionable at a mugging — a pretty cap gun. Therefore, Philip shrugged, shoved the gun back into the bottom draw and covered it with the satin garment that no longer held his interest.
“Oh shit,” he said. “I’m going be really late.”
He dove for his jeans, his wallet, and his easy-off loafers and prepared to emerge from this fifteen-hundred dollar per month rabbit warren. He stuffed the book in his backpack, hit his pocket for change, checked for his Metro Card and scooted through the door into the ratty old hallway. Locking the door and securing the bolts, he scurried past the solemn portal of the old lady next door. He felt her eyes though the peephole as she always monitored the hall’s comings and goings. Philip flipped her the finger as he descended the stairs, down three flights, and then over the broken tiles into the foul, urine soaked vestibule. That stink always matched the first breath wafting in from Avenue A. Philip just closed his eyes and imagined the Nantucket wharves, which transformed the slum into a harbor — the tenements into tall-ships. No wonder Sprakie had a gun in this shit-hole. Shouldn’t everyone? Wouldn’t Ahab?
His watch stopped. Battery needed changing. Philip had to rely on the street signage and the charity of others for the time. The digital displays increased as he trotted through Greenwich Village, and a good thing, because the charity of others was scant. In any event, by the time he reached the Subway, he was already a half hour late. He debated the issue at hand — subway or bus. They both would get him to Times Square, and a bus was waiting, but he feared the evening rush hour traffic. Therefore, he whipped out his Metro Card and plunged into the abyss taking the stairs two at a time, not that it would matter if there were no trains in the station.
The West 4th Street station was always a busy stop, and at evening rush hour, it was a monster — hot, humid and redolent of foot odor. Most travelers were heading home — tired and weary from a day of rasping bosses, heavy pushcarts, lousy customers and a host of information age combustion. Philip plowed his way through the crowd, swiped the turnstile and prayed for a short wait. The uptown platform was as thickly lined with commuters as the downtown one was, but somehow Philip knew that there would be three downtown trains to every uptown one, but it was better than getting stuck in traffic.
He leaned over the track hoping to feel the hot blast of an approaching train. The air was still — noisy, but still. The downtown train had screeched into the station, its doorbells tinkling and its computerized voice singing West 4th – Watch your step.
C’mon, he thought, moving back to the station wall. He considered the line of crap that Sprakie would hand him for being late. That would be amplified when Sprakie beheld the golden golf shirt. Philip chuckled. He wasn’t afraid of Robert Sprague, but a Sprakie hissy fit could mean missing a meal or even being locked out for the night. However, the streets held no fear for Philip . . . anymore. As he bounced his backpack off the wall, he noticed a young thing sprawled on the bench — a student, perhaps — N.Y.U., or at least from the way he consumed his book, Philip thought it must be. In his slouch, the student brushed the sweat from his curly brown hair. His black rimmed glasses made him appear scholarly. Philip imagined that this guy wasn’t really reading his book, but was using it as a ploy to gaze at the surrounding travelers. Every so often, he’d peep askance and then dart his eyes back to the page. Philip wasn’t impressed. In fact, he considered whipping out his own book as a springboard. My book’s bigger than your book. However, the subway was a crappy place to read a precious work with golden binding and clean white pages. After the near miss in the tub, Philip didn’t want to chance a drop into station crud.
Yes, Philip thought. This guy’s cruisin’ me. It wasn’t his imagination. He knew the call of the wild, and since he had the tools of the trade in evidence, there might be a chance that he could be fed later. Supper was always the short meal. There was usually not enough fixings in the half fridge to constitute a meal. Breakfast was cereal and perhaps an egg. Lunch was some toast, or if the spirit moved, peanut butter and jelly, but supper was always up for grabs. If he was lucky and there was a cash spike at work, he could get a hamburger, but supper was sometimes an every-other-day affair. Sprakie sometimes treated, and of course, if this young college student was interested, he might buy Philip a full course meal as prelude to an evening of passion. So, Philip winked.
The hurricane of the uptown train blew over the platform. Philip would need to finalize the deal in transit. The passengers jockeyed for seats and poles and overhead bars. There was an almighty crunch, but Philip was a master. He managed to pin himself and the edge of his ass against the college student, who smiled an apology and tried to juggle while reading his book.
Watch the closing doors, came the mechanical voice, followed by three chimes. The train chugged uptown.
Philip used ever contour of motion to press himself against the student, who grinned a knowing grin. He knew what was apace. Hadn’t he started it? Philip shrugged, but returned the smiled — one that irradiated the car. Even the Pakistani lady, who stepped on his foot, returned that smile as if she was the target of his attention.
Timing was an issue. When they reached 23rd Street, Philip twisted his head over the student’s book.
Quantum physics? Give me a break. You’re reading quantum physics in a speeding uptown train pressed between the sweaty masses? “Interesting.” Philip smiled again. “N.Y.U?”
“Good,” Philip said. “You can drive the train then.”
The student chuckled. “I don’t think anyone’s driving this train.”
34th Street. The Pakistani lady moved away rushing for a seat. A wave of passengers surged out, while a third as many shoved in. Philip almost fell. Not really. It was a surefire maneuver. The student caught him.
“Thanks. My stop’s next.”
“Oh,” said the student. He frowned. He fumbled around his jacket pocket. He managed to grab an index card, and then grappled for a marker. Philip was ready on the spot. He always kept a marker near at hand in the outer slip of his backpack. He whipped it out with rapier speed.
“Thanks,” said the student, who closed the book using it as a slipshod desk. He scrawled a shaky note, and then returned the pen. He slipped the card into Philip’s pocket and smiled. While down there, he groped and Philip was already trying to decide whether he would have the prime beef or the swordfish.
Times Square. Watch your step.
“Bye now,” Philip said, mission accomplished.
“Later . . . but if not tonight . . .”
Philip tapped the side of his nose and went with the flow onto the platform. The doorbell bonged three times.
Watch the closing doors.
Philip turned and saw the soft eyes of the student. He wasn’t reading now, or at least not Quantum Physics. He was now studying a different course of engineering and Philip Flaxen was masterful at steering this craft ashore — as masterful as Ahab on his poop.
Philip waited until the train was sucked further uptown before he peeked at the index card. It was a courtesy to ignore the machinations of the deal until the interested parties were quite out of range again.
Philip hummed, and then trotted along the platform to the stairs. He had forgotten just how late he was going to be. Funny thing about being late. After the first half-hour, it might as well be two hours. The consequences would be the same. However, his colleagues — his fellow craftsmen, were all on the clock, neatly scheduled and posted on the Internet at anticipated hours. The regular customers would be thoroughly pissed if they saw that the Flaxen One was due for display at 6:00 PM and wasn’t unveiled until 7:00 PM. It also meant a pile-up, and a drop in tips. Someone else would sponge in Philip’s tip bowl, and that meant another hungry night, or shortfall in carfare and a long walk. Philip hastened the pace.
It was hard to rush in the rush. When he popped out of the subway beneath the neon godlessness of Times Square, he tried to jaywalk to avoid the bustle, but this meant dodging the taxis. Still, the wide expanse of 42nd Street as it swept westward from Broadway was his lifeblood. It was noisy, garish and fraught with every aroma from sausages to sewer exhaust. Still, the world exploded into a million colorful lights and unmitigated promotion. Pedestrians walked in buffalo clusters — a human herd against traffic and signals and caution, each destined for their own slot in this dizzy city of the eight million.
Philip rushed across 7th Avenue and, on the other side, the hustle was less. He drifted between parked cars and street vendors heading toward the crappier side of the island. He spotted a digital clock sign that told him he was later than he thought. This inspired him to a gallop. He began to sweat, and now worried about the borrowed shirt. Sprakie would have more than a fit if it had sweat rings — those ugly little armpit smiles. Suddenly, he spied a cop. He broke out into a walk. It was a natural, but unnecessary precaution. The policeman could care less about a slinky faggot running to his job, but Philip wouldn’t chance the law following him to his place of employment. It was legal . . . at least he thought it must be by now. However, the last two mayors had cracked down on the neighborhood, proscribing anything construed as obscene. Late, he would be. Trouble, he could accept it. However, he wasn’t about to invite the fuzz to the party and chance a fine or even an eviction. Even though his salary here was a trickle (mostly tips), it was better than the alternative, which he knew was illegal.
Clearing the cop’s sight line, Philip picked up the pace, and then darted down 49th Street. Between 9th and 10th Avenue, the street was lined with parking garages and warehouses. Three-quarters down, between the Cross-Town Parking Center and Gutman’s Furniture Storage was a doorway. It wasn’t marked, except with a number 1456-A. Philip looked both ways, and then pressed a buzzer over the squawk box.
“Who?” came a voice over the box.
“Let me in.”
Long pause. Philip banged the door, and then pressed the buzzer again. Finally, after another punitive pause, the door lock buzzed and Philip pushed his way into the foyer’s darkness. He was in for it and he knew it.
"TURNING IDOLATER" by Edward C. Patterson is a bountiful catch. The author can turn a phrase and is ever ready to give the reader those perfect details that put one right in the scene. Take the opening, for example, where we find our protagonist, Philip Flaxen, in the tub caring for the tool of his trade, just as... "Diggers sharpen pickaxes and none but a preacher can fill the fount with consecrated drink." But Philip is not a man of the cloth nor a blue collar worker. In his trade, Philip wears no collar and more often than not, no clothes at all. Well, yes, our Philip is a gay Internet stripper. This, by itself, for the uninitiated like me to get a peek into the world of gay Internet porn, would be story enough. But if you've read any of the writer's other works you know that he can thicken a plot and cook up a stew like few others. A fishy stew it is, in the case of "TURNING IDOLATER."
As we rub-a-dub in the tub with the Flaxen One, there is our very first surprise: Philip is a reader. And what we discover in his hands, after dutifully lathering and diligently honing the tool of his trade, is not just any boy-gets-boy dime-store romance, but we watch in wonder as he dives into a whale of a story. He's reading no less than Herman Melville's masterpiece, "Moby Dick." The author soon lets us in on the fact that this is a very newly discovered pleasure for our young protagonist. The gift of this rare, first edition book has caused him to stretch his mind. Although, this is Philip's first immersion into the depth of the literary arts, he takes to it like a fish to water. But like Ishmael, he doesn't realize that there's been a sea change and that this voyage at sea he thinks he's signed up for becomes a swim for his life. Because out there at sea--now you see him, now you don't--is a giant whale that's about to pull him and Ahab down from the Pequod into the briny deep.
"TURNING IDOLATOR" is a wonderful interweaving of Melville and Patterson. And just when you think that Patterson left Melville somewhere moored at a dry dock, he brings him right back, and pulls you along into his roiling sea of words. At times I was lost as the writer threw out a red herring here or there. And there were times when I wished for a dictionary to navigate my way through all the colorful, but to me unknown, words and names of the gay world, such as twink, hoohoo, pacific trick, or Kinzie 6. (Perhaps an idea for a new book?)
In "TURNING IDOLATOR" The writer draws his characters lovingly. Philip, on this, his most important voyage of self-realization, is filled with the energy of the very young. The author gives him an infectious lust for life and adventure as he dives into this fresh sea with the vigor of a junior sailor. You'll cringe as this innocent, unable to trust his own perceptions, blunders and blusters into this new world of seasoned old salts, trying on new words to fit his new clothes, misspeaking, misunderstanding, and at times--like a fish out of water wishing to return to the murk from which he came--spouting the phrases of his Internet porn past. Thomas is imbued with such decency and dignity; everyone should have a friend like him. And I absolutely adored Sprakie as he dances and prances, twitters and struts his abundance of queenly feathers. To watch him walk the gauntlet, a Provincetown annual gay ritual, is a joy to behold.
Reading "TURNING IDOLATOR" is listening along with Philip to... "a song he knew, the one beckoning him to coast over the waves and scoot across the pristine sea." Even as you fear that the Flaxen One is lost in the vast ocean of his own confusion ... well, if you've read "Moby Dick," you know that "The Rachel" is on her way.
By Esmerelda Luv (Seattle, WA)
I never saw the ending of this who-dunnit coming until the puzzle started falling rapidly into place at the end. Even now, I am still in shock over who did it, even though the clues were scattered throughout the story. I believe what made this story so successful was Patterson's ability to make the reader like each and every individual in the story, see who they really are and think "I know him, he couldn't do this!" But then, realize, after the fact, 'Yeah, he could.'.
Philip, forced out of his family home, gets a job at a porn site on the internet Where he meets his future flame, TDye. The story then flows with romance, broken hearts, multiple killings, restoring books, and excerpts from 'Moby Dick' until it climaxes with an explosive ending and fades into a warm glow. The author did an excellent job of tying up the loose ends and leaving the reader thinking, "Wow."
This book was full of emotional surprises throughout it's pages. There were times I laughed out loud and times when I needed to have the kleenex handy. When the characters had a serious moment, it was time to close the door, mute the stereo and focus intently on the words displayed on my Kindle.
Patterson has become an author I look for. Whenever I see he has a new book out, I'm in line to buy it. I'm not gay, but I like people, and his characters are likeable, full of spirit, going places and when they decide to go do something. . .I won't be left behind!
Literary Fiction for the Internet Age
By Todd A. Fonseca (Minneapolis, MN)
Emotionally distraught after finding male pornography in her son's room, Philip Flaxen's mother shares her discovery with her husband. Ashamed and disgusted with this revelation, Philip's father disowns his son, kicks him out of his only home, and warns him to never return. Philip turns to his only friend, Robert Spraque - "Sprakie" - who takes him into his apartment. Sprakie introduces him to the seedy world of adult internet sites where Philip can get work by "baring it all" in order to stay off the streets.
Online, Philip encounters a "customer" different from his normal patrons - this client is well educated, articulate, and thoughtful. Intrigued, Philip breaks all the rules to meet this man face to face in hopes of kindling a romance. As it turns out, Philip's admirer is an extremely successful though considerable older author. A May-December romance ensues yet both men struggle with their very different backgrounds and social strata. Each consider whether they should turn idolater or leave love behind. Meanwhile, a series of cold blooded murders involving Philip's acquaintances occur and neither Philip nor his lover realize that their choice for love is also a life or death decision.
In "Turning Idolater", Edward C Patterson has create a novel best described as contemporary literary fiction. Inspired and anchored by Melville's "Moby Dick", Patterson explores the social mores impacting two men drawn to one another yet kept from complete commitment due to the fabric of their very different backgrounds and colliding realities.
Through Patterson's lyrical prose and keen understanding of the human condition, he creates characters so real I felt as if I was reading a memoir. Frequent reference to literary classics and intricate and loving descriptions of priceless book restoration invite the reader into a contemporary equivalent of a Jane Austin novel. Fans of Patterson's work will certainly enjoy Turning Idolater.