I MET HANS TURLEY a few years back. He taught one of those required English Lit period courses, with a reading list that baffled: Defoe, some Foucault, once-popular 17th-century women authors, and some kinda sexy stuff about maids. These classes were notoriously crowded with all manner of people who couldn't decide on a major, and figured they could read books, so....

At one point during an analysis of Shamela, Hans sighed, set down the book, and suggested that everyone who hadn't read any part of the novel please leave and not come back until the final. About half the class got up and wandered out. After that, things got spicier. It was spring quarter; Hans demanded we hold class outside so that everyone could smoke while arguing about what Foucault was trying to say, and everything we read had something to do with somebody getting some, or desiring a little, by backdoor means.

By the end of the class, I was impressed by these things: Hans spent a period riding cross-country in a convertible Cadillac, doing window-dressing for a wig manufacturer; Foucault could be quoted and decontextualized almost as readily as the Bible; the novel is a fairly recent invention; Parliament Lights 100s are the only cigarette with the patented recessed filter; and there was a reason ladies were not invited aboard pirate ships.

Hans also had the best Bad Job stories of anyone I know. In the '70s he worked at a porno movie house on First Avenue in Seattle. Keep in mind that the ticket-taker gets to sweep the theater floors after the movie. Since it was the '70s, his friends would stop by after the discos closed and bring him pills. When pressed on how long he was enslaved at this house of sin, Hans will admit, "Long enough to call my mother and tell her what horrible new job I had been forced to accept. About four days."

It is easy to see why expectations were high for Turley's book Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash: Piracy, Sexuality, and Masculine Identity. Besides introducing a younger generation to the smooth Parliament filter, Hans also revealed that literature could be really spicy, if one was patient enough. His new book immediately states that it is not another history of pirates. Rather, it locates the pirate in popular culture and history, and examines the pirate image that emerges. Turley holds up and twirls around this outrageously masculine anti-hero that embodied society's worst nightmare, yet became the vehicle through which many authors and historians expressed their socio-political ideals.

Pirates captivated the public's imagination, as evidenced in the highly profitable reproduction of sensationalist pamphlets documenting pirate trials. This aggressively flamboyant, and at times, cross-dressed figure bucked societal norms both economically, by robbing merchant ships, and socially, by exclusively hanging out with other tough guys. As portrayed in writings of dubious historical accuracy, pirates existed in homosocial societies quite happily, in opposition to the law and middle-class standards of land ownership and marriage -- much like, Turley points out, the "sodomite," another sexual and economic transgressor appearing in 18th-century pamphlets and thought.

Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash gets juicy at this point. Finding that "homoerotic affection... can displace normative desires for property and by extension middle-class stability," Turley's pirates make sense in hindsight. It is much more intriguing to be led there by all the sordid back streets and alleys that Turley finds in his extensive research. He sidesteps the shock value of headline-type writing, and allows readers to unwrap for themselves the sexually transgressive gifts of the 18th and 19th centuries.

The titillating stuff gradually builds, until there are two pirates in love on the page, as in Defoe's Captain Singleton. Interestingly, the aptly titled Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash was written over the course of two years spent teaching at Texas Tech in Lubbock, Texas, which is, Hans baldly states, "the worst place in America." When asked what the students were like, he told this story. In the middle of a brutally silent discussion, he asked his usual "Okay, who has read the book?" Everyone got up and left, except for one student, an older woman who burst into tears. The finer points Turley makes are lost on someone unwilling to read the whole book. What interests him, both in class and in his book, is not easily transferred to Popular Culture flashcards.

Turley got out of Lubbock and now drives a convertible Chrysler LeBaron around rural New England, accompanied by his partner, Steve, and their dogs, a Chihuahua/Pekingese and a bulldog. Currently, he is at work on a biography of Rochester, "the Filthy Poet," who appears in Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash as another "rogue" displaying his power "through an anarchic refusal to bow to any conventions -- sexual or cultural."

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