While Colum and Jason were off gallivanting with hotties dressed like video game or manga characters at the Toronto ComiCON (I assume that’s what you do, but I don’t know because I’ve never been), I am stuck here in chilly Northwest Ohio watching my phone like a hawk waiting impatiently for a photo of Jason Eisner (director of Hobo With A Shotgun) to come through my text.
Luckily, I have a bit of sexy vintage sleaze I picked up from Creeping Hemlock Press to occupy my mind; Campus Tramp by Lawrence Block writing as Andrew Shaw.
Campus Tramp was originally published by Nightstand Books back in 1959, when Harlan Ellison was editor (yes, the Harlan Ellison) and Block was still at Antioch College. In fact, he had just been expelled, much to his own delight, just before the book was published. Block, and the other authors writing for publishers like Nightstand, was shirking the conventions that characterized the 1950s exposing a sexual revolution bubbling just beneath the clean cut all-American surface that would eventually define the 1960s.
Creeping Hemlock Press’ reprinting of this softcore pulp smut was timed just perfectly, whether intentional or not, because it seems as if some conservative figures want to take us back to an era of sexual repression. I whip this book out in public (hoping there are anti-women thugs nearby) to say “I enjoy sex. I enjoy reading about it. And there isn’t a goddamn thing you can do about it!” But we’re not here to talk about my politics; we’re here to talk about vintage trash, right? I use “trash” in the most complimentary way, of course, because I like trash!
Remember when you graduated high school and you couldn’t wait to get to college and lose your virginity? No? Already lost it in the back of a Buick 3 years earlier? Well, teenagers weren’t always total sluts like they are now. Back in the 50s, most women actually kept their hymen intact until they were in college and sometimes they even waited until they got married. Hard to imagine waiting that long, isn’t it? Hormones blazing like a California wildfire…
Campus Tramp opens with high school graduate Linda Shepard in transit to Clifton College in Ohio. Linda is a supple young virgin excited to get her cherry popped by “The next man whom she wanted.” The first man that strikes her romantic fancy is Don Gibbs, a bohemian free spirit and editor of the Clifton Record (just like Block was for the Antioch Record). The beautiful Linda has no trouble attracting Don’s interest and she is more than enthusiastic to finally shed her virginal status, but everyone knows how hard a woman can fall for her first and Linda smacks right into the concrete face first.
She becomes fixated on Don and her life starts to revolve around only him. The more she loses herself and her identity in the relationship, the more he tries to pull away eventually severing all ties completely. Linda feigns recovery from her heartache, boozing it up and engaging in meaningless trysts with other boys on campus, but she still can’t shake her love for Don. Linda has a ways to go before she finally hits rock bottom and when she gets there she faces a grim realization. She’s got nothing left but a bad reputation and boozed soaked memories.
As the blurb on the back cover of Campus Tramp suggests, this book can be “read as a time capsule from the eve of the sexual revolution traversing taboo topics like homosexuality and abortion, or just a retro sex romp.” For this reader, it was both. You experience firsthand—Linda our mind and body–the backseat romps, anxious and clumsy groping, and (my favorite) good ol’ nipple pinching. As you would expect, there are several passages to get the blood rushing to your groin, but there is a serious, dark side to Campus Tramp.
Campus Tramp isn’t just a series of steamy sexual escapades; Block also deals with the inevitable guilt and regret that can follow irrational, spontaneous decisions made by a girl on the cusp of womanhood. While it may be socially acceptable for her male counterparts to act promiscuously, Linda must learn that, as a woman, she bears greater responsibility. Block is accurate in his portrayal of the struggle young women face to balance a natural sexual desire with rational caution and I think there is a bit of Linda in every woman.
Block includes another controversial topic in Campus Tramp; homosexuality. The scene in which this revelation occurs is a good opportunity to include some sizzling girl on girl, but concludes as an important lesson in finding personal strength in the face of adversity and prejudice. You might read this scene one-handed, but it is also a nod for progress. Hell, Linda is practically saved by gay! I hope that doesn’t spoil anything. Surely you want to read the nipple-pinching, chest-heaving, knee-knocking sweaty goodness for yourselves, right?
Since I burned through this in just a day, I’m back to watching my phone, anticipating a photo text of Jason Eisner… sigh.