Monday, June 25, 2007

what’s new

Friday I bought the new issue of Volt, Jack Morgan’s chapbook Your, and The Book of Boy Trouble, an anthology based on the mini comic Robert Kirby & David Kelly had been coediting.

Kent was taking the day off work. I suggested we shoot some pool. Afterward we stopped in at Pegasus. At $7 Morgan’s chapbook was the most expensive chapbook I ever bought! (I think I bought a broadside – one poem! – for 10 or 15 bucks once.) I haven’t read the chap yet. I’ve read at it. A line or three here, there. I bought it cuz I’m curious about the feller, what with the odd business about the Trainwreck Union that bubbled up on my blog a few months ago & Jack’s enthusiastic blogging. He’s got a nice eye, too. Your is the first publication of Morgan’s own Stormy Petrel Press. Jack and I have been to the same reading at least twice. Though we’ve emailed I have yet to meet him. But I must have seen his face. I guess the more mysterious he becomes the more curious I become.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Papa Ron’s reading

from the diary: “Sunday 2/14/88

“Went to Papa Ron’s this eve. For the poetry reading. Just about everyone in the room got up and read. Some good readers – tho’ not enough good writing. Too many droned on and one with long poems. Nice to see Lew and Amy, and Jeni was there brought by Cath. Also JJ who seemed a bit peeved by the lack of audience reaction to her work. There was a guy name Mark – last name don’t know – whose stuff was very good; some nice punch-lined stuff. I got a good number of compliments on my reading. I read twice – once in the beginning when there were only five folks and at end I got to finish over shouts of ‘Closing!’ Quite a number of folks. And just about all of them read.”

Papa Ron’s was a little cafĂ© across the street from the junior college. Mom was sometimes letting me borrow the car so I was able to attend evening events outside Sebastopol without her.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007


At Monday’s reading I scored the last issue of the Dishwasher zine. #16 has been eight years in the making. “The cover page,” Pete writes, “was printed in 1999. This sentence was composed in 2007. … After I first started working (and procrastinating) on #16, I went and quit my fifty-state mission, got married, moved abroad [Amsterdam], and wrote the book Dishwasher: One Man’s Quest to Wash Dishes in All Fifty States. … Some of the covers sat in an attic in Portland OR, others in an attic in Pittsburgh. The remainder, the ones that sat in a shed in New Orleans, would later sit under flood waters for several weeks.”

#16 includes a story about working the dishpit of a cafeteria, dishwasher related excerpts from miscellaneous books (from Sidney Poitier’s autobiography we read how Poitier’s first audition was abruptly shut down and he was cursed, ‘Just go on and get out of here and get yourself a job as a dishwasher or something.’), memorials to two friends and fellow dishers who died along the way, and “18 Arguments Against Raising the Minimum Wage Refuted.” One of my favorites is the one that goes Most minimum wage workers “are teenagers [or] college students” and don’t “really need the extra money” they would get were the wage increased. As Pete retorts, “People who work shitty jobs for shitty pay don’t do it for charity. They do it precisely because they need the money.”

It was nice to meet Pete. After he read from the book he entertained questions. Mine went, “I noted how, as you were travelling around the country, you would stop in at the homes of some of the people who would write to you.” I don’t know that that was a question, actually. But he responded, looking straight at me, “I wrote back to every person who wrote to me.”

I guess I was wondering if, had I written to Pete, I would one day have picked up the phone and found he was calling from a nearby pay phone about to visit. Would I have managed to be a charming host? Or is my suspicious, antisocial hermit self too big an obstacle?

I see Pete's myspace page already has 1100 friends.

I’m not sure what issue of Dishwasher was the first I discovered. Perhaps it was #4. It looks familiar. Someday I'll run onto the box where I've stashed 'em.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

what’s new

Every so often I’d wonder if Dishwasher Pete had put out a new issue of his Dishwasher zine. I hadn’t for a long time seen one at Comic Relief, which is where I’d picked up the last few issues. So I was delighted to learn a couple weeks back that he’s got a book out. It’s from one of those big New York publishers that he would sometimes mock in the zine. I found Dishwasher the book in the little bookshop near Northgate.

Usually a book comes home and joins a pile, a read-it-soon pile sometimes, too often a someday pile. I’m reading Dishwasher now.

When I bought the book the clerk asked me if I was a TAL follower. When I looked puzzled, he said, “This American Life.” Oh yeah. The public radio program. I like TAL. But I mostly forget it exists. And, I don’t know, much as I like it, there’s something about committing yourself to listening to somebody play out a story for you … it’s … I don’t make an appointment for radio. So Dishwasher Pete has done stories for TAL and the book includes some of those, apparently. And it includes writing he did for the zine. I now know his last name: Jordan. Dishwasher Pete never signed his last name. Pete will be in Oakland on Monday at A Great Good Place for Books. (Check his schedule of events to see when he will be in your town.)

While I was browsing the bookstore I came across a mini-comic, Service Industry by T. Edward Bak, and saw the protagonist worked as a dishwasher, so I bought that, too.

I worked as a dishwasher once. I hated it. One day when I showed up to work I found somebody else doing my job. The boss didn’t have the courtesy to call me up and tell me not to come in. Walking out, furious, I kept telling myself, “You hate that job, Glenn. You hate that job. Be glad you don’t have to do it anymore.”

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Creative Writing Class with Richard Speakes?

from the diary: “Friday 2/5/88

Among other classes I “signed up for Creative Writing with Richard Speakes, which meets Monday eves at Analy. Don’t know which room – for room number on my print-out all it says is Analy. Helpful, so helpful.”

Analy is the high school in Sebastopol, the town where I was living.

2/12/88: “I dropped the Creative Writing class cuz it was gonna be too much.”

Friday, June 08, 2007

Mists of Avalon

from the diary: “Thursday 1/28/88

“I’m farther than midway thru Mists of Avalon.”

When I worked Christmas 1984 at a bookstore in Santa Rosa I remember Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Mists of Avalon was a bestseller. It looked interesting – a retelling of the King Arthur legends from the perspective of the women, particularly the previously-imagined-as-villainous Morgan Le Fay. In Bradley’s version Morgaine (as she spells it) represents the pre-Christian religion of the British Isles and Arthur the ultimately victorious new religion. Also a therapist had told me there was a nice bedroom scene in which Arthur and Lancelot get sweaty.

The book disappointed me. Reading random excerpts (thanks to Amazon’s “search inside” feature), perhaps it was the prose that bored me. I don’t remember the bedroom scene being a thrill either (I couldn’t find it via an Amazon search).

When Kent saw I was about to write about Mists of Avalon he enthused. So, for those for whom the book worked, here is an essay Bradley wrote concerning her thinking. Among other things she says, “The Romans never got over their dismay and disbelief at finding Celtic tribes ruled by women; they insisted on calling the war-leaders of the tribes the ‘Kings’ and never were comfortable with their client queens. …[W]hen Christianity came to the Empire, with the third-century Christian Fathers and their completely neurotic insistence on the evil of woman (Jerome and Augustine went far further than the most repressive of the Old Testament writers about women's wickedness), all the elements were present for fertile cultural conflict.

“This was what I saw in the Arthurian saga, with the emphasis on those mysterious figures, the Lady of the Lake and Morgan le Fay. … When I read Malory [author of the earliest King Arthur narrative, Morte d’Arthur] I noticed specially that Morgan le Fay, and the Lady of the Lake (with her many "damsels") were frequently portrayed as Arthur's friends and allies -- but equally often as his antagonists. … [I]f Malory disapproved so much of these women, why did he not simply expunge them from the mythos, as he did with so many other elements of the ancient Celtic folk-tales that he grafted on to the doings of his 5th-century historical hero chieftain. My theory is that he could not, because in the originals, now lost, Morgan and the Lady of the Lake were absolutely integral to the whole story and it was unthinkable to tell tales of Arthur without also telling tales of the women involved. This whole thing took place in a Celtic milieu, after all, where the women were integral to the whole thing. … [T]hey were at the heart of the whole cultural and religious shift at that time, from Goddess-oriented, female-validating religion to God-oriented, Middle Eastern/Oriental woman-fearing religion.”

Thursday, June 07, 2007

History & Utopia

from the diary: “Tuesday 1/19/88

“Am reading book of political essays: History & Utopia by E. M. Cioran, dense but kinda gripping.”

I recently had lunch with the poet Spencer Selby and he pushed me to read a book of aphorisms by E.M. Cioran. “He says everybody’s a hypocrite! And he’s right!”

The name sounded familiar. And it turns out I have read Cioran. January 1988. A book of essays.

The essays in History & Utopia were written in French, Cioran’s second language (Romanian being his first). The translation is by poet Richard Howard. Courtesy here is a passage (it’s on page 61):

“Knowledge subverts love: in proportion as we penetrate our own secrets, we come to loathe our kind, precisely because they resemble us. When we have no further illusions about ourselves, we retain none about others; the unspeakable that we discover by introspection we extend, by a legitimate generalization, to other mortals; depraved in their essence, we rightly endow them with all the vices, which, oddly enough, most of us turn out to be unfit for or averse to ferreting out, to observing in ourselves or others. … Let us beware of those who subscribe to a reassuring philosophy, who believe in the Good and willingly erect it into an idol; they could not have done so if, honestly peering into themselves, hey had sounded their depths or their miasmas; but those – rare, it is true – who have have indiscreet or unfortunate enough to plunge all the way down to the bottom of their beings, they know how to judge man: they can no longer love him …”

Is Cioran saying that it is not possible to love something (or someone) that has hateful aspects? Does he mean that a person who has poked into the horrors in his own being cannot honestly love – can neither love himself nor others? Only the ignorant (the innocent?) can love?

I think it’s silly to say we loathe others “because they resemble us.” It is more plausible to flip that and say we love others “because they resemble us.” Though I can’t say I know what “love” means in either formulation. I have never chopped off the head of anyone, but I have certainly imagined such a fate for my enemies, and I’m OK with that -- a little self-conscious about admitting it but sure that I’m far from alone in the imagining, even among pacifists. Does that make me “depraved in [my] essence”?

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Torch Song Trilogy

from the diary: “Tuesday 1/19/88

Torch Song Trilogy by Harvey Fierstein. Quite good.”

Torch Song Trilogy started out as separately written one act plays. They were gathered up. Hence “trilogy”.

The trilogy had a successful run on Broadway (it won Tonys). And Fierstein found funders to make it into a movie. He starred. As a drag queen Fierstein is not pretty. For a chanteuse he has a voice gratingly gravelly. He is, however, likable. He’s a likable presence. It doesn’t look like he pays anybody to run his myspace page. Isn’t that likable? So so likable.

Considering how recently I’d read the source material I don’t remember having an opinion on its translation to the screen. If I’ve read the book and it’s made into a movie, I have an opinion.

I saw the movie in a multiplex in Santa Rosa. It was out of focus. I didn’t rush out to the lobby and demand a competent projectionist because I didn’t want to miss anything. I am curious to see it unfuzzy. But I was kinda lukewarm on it the first time. It didn’t help that the main love story ends tragically.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Shah of Shahs

from the diary: “Tuesday 1/19/88

“Excellent book on terror and dissolution of Shah’s reign in Iran: Shah of Shahs by a Polish journalist.”

When I was in 8th grade the Shah of Iran fled the country he had ruled with an iron fist. He was ill with cancer and President Carter did not even allow him into the U.S. for cancer treatment. The Ayatollah Khomeini flew home from his exile in France to a tumultuous welcome in Tehran. The Western press seemed consternated by the popular embrace of this ascetic priest, the fervent rejection of its playboy and seemingly liberal (in the context of the Middle East/Central Asia) ruler, the Shah. The U.S. was losing the staunch ally it had created. The Iranian Revolution led to the Iranian Hostage Situation when Iranian student revolutionaries stormed the U.S. embassy and made prisoners of the diplomats there.

Years went by and I still had little idea of who the Shah was. I got some detail on the overthrow of the democratically elected Mossadegh government (coup help courtesy CIA), which led to the installation of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi as Shah or King, when I read Endless Enemies (see DIR 2/27/07). But what was so terrible about Pahlavi?

Reviewers love to quote from Ryszard Kapuscinski’s book. One review grabs this chilling paragraph describing the Shah’s enforcers, the secret police, the Savak:

“[The] Savak meant, above all, torture of the most horrible kind. They would kidnap a man as he walked along the street, blindfold him, and lead him straight into the torture chamber without asking a single question. There they would start in with the whole macabre routine—breaking bones, pulling out fingernails, forcing hands into hot ovens, drilling into the living skull, and scores of other brutalities—in the end, when the victim had gone mad with pain and become a smashed, bloody mass, they would proceed to establish his identity. Name? Address? What have you been saying about the Shah? Come on, what have you been saying? And you know, he might not have said anything, ever. He might have been completely innocent. But to Savak, that was nothing, being innocent. This way everyone will be afraid, innocent and guilty alike, everyone will feel the intimidation, no one will feel safe.”

After describing a man nabbed at a bus stop (he utters a few disparaging remarks about the state of things -- perhaps of nothing more political than the state of the weather, which is unpleasant on this day), another review quotes this ‘graph: “For a moment, for just an instant, a new doubt flashed through the heads of the people standing at the bus stop. What if the sick old man [the one arrested] was a Savak agent too? Because he had criticized theregime (by using ‘oppressive’ in conversation), he must have been free to criticise. If he hadn't been, wouldn't he have kept his mouth shut or spoken about such agreeable topics as the fact that the sun was shining and the bus was sure to come along any minute? And who had the right to criticise? Only Savak agents, whose job it was to provoke restless babblers, then cart them off to jail."

All properly horrible. Sounds like reason enough to tear down the bastard. Another reviewer gives us this, “The Shah left people a choice between Savak and the mullahs. And they chose the mullahs...It is not always the best people that emerge from hiding...but often those that have proven themselves strongest, not always those who will create new values but rather those whose thick skin and internal resilience have ensured their survival." [Amazon reviewer's edits]

How did that turn out?

Monday, June 04, 2007

Collected Stories of Gabriel Garcia Marquez

from the diary: “Tuesday 1/19/88

“Finished Collected Stories of Gabriel Garcia Marquez -- many which [were] very good, [a] few not.”

I have not yet fulfilled my ambition of reading a Garcia Marquez novel in the original Spanish. Maybe I should do a short story.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Poetry & Pizza poets

Al Young and Mary Mackey read Friday night for Poetry & Pizza. Al Young has been serving as California’s poet laureate. Mary Mackey has several novels and books of poetry to her credit. Both knew how to hold an audience.

Each brought a stack of books. I bought Young’s latest, Coastal Nights and Inland Afternoons, and Mackey’s Breaking The Fever.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Steve Gilliard

I am sorry to learn that Steve Gilliard has died. Steve’s blog has been one I visited regularly. He’s long been on my blog roll. Steve impressed me with his passion – I loved it when he got pissed off at Bush’s dangerous (& frequently deadly) bullshit. Steve knew a thing or two (several times what Bush is capable of) and I was happy to have opportunity to see him lay it out.

How to Have a Lifestyle

from the diary: “Sunday 1/10/88

“Last night I read: How to Have a Lifestyle by Quentin Crisp. A very unique person to be sure. Very valuable book cuz no one else I know (or have read) looks at the world the way he does. I can’t describe it.”

I remember watching John Hurt’s BBC TV adaptation of Quentin Crisp’s autobiography, The Naked Civil Servant. The local PBS affiliate ran The Naked Civil Servant during Gay Pride Month. They did that for years. There weren’t many films they could show, I guess. There are more now. I remember being bothered by Crisp's determinedly hopeless search for the “great dark man” who would complete him – it was hopeless at least partly because no man sexually attracted to men would ever qualify. One of my earliest gay friends, a doctor in San Francisco, loathes Crisp. “He’s everything we’re trying to prove gay people aren’t,” he would insist. But I was intrigued. I admired Crisp’s bravery in presenting his hennaed hair and painted nails (and toenails) to a Britain often hostile and occasionally brutal.

There are number of Crisp quotes at The Quotations Page, including these:

If at first you don't succeed, failure may be your style.

The English think incompetence is the same thing as sincerity.

For flavor, instant sex will never supercede the stuff you have to peel and cook.

Besides the Wikipedia entry on Crisp (which has an engaging bio), there are two comprehensive sites worth checking out, Crisperanto and

Friday, June 01, 2007

Conversations with My Elders

from the diary: “Wednesday 1/6/88”

Yesterday I quoted the first part of this paragraph. The second of “my two latest reads” would be “Conversations with My Elders -- interviews with (now deceased) figures in entertainment who were gay – George Cukor, Rock Hudson, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and others. Conducted by Boze Hadleigh. I wonder how you pronounce his name?”

At the time I read Hadleigh’s book of interviews I didn’t really know much about his interview subjects. Have I even seen a Rock Hudson movie yet? If I have, it’s slipped my mind. So I can’t say as I know much more about the folks Hadleigh talked to. I liked reading interviews, though.

There seems to be some skepticism about the authenticity of the interviews. Are these old Hollywood hands really going to divulge details of their personal lives to a stranger, even a pretty young man who promises not to publish the interview until after the subject’s death? The entry on Hadleigh at Wikipedia addresses this gently, “Hadleigh cites powerful personal or Hollywood connections that helped him to contact the interviewees. However, his books do not feature photographs of him with his subjects nor did he have tape recordings of his interviews.”

I found two of Hadleigh’s celebrity interviews online -- one with Sal Mineo and one with Jodie Foster.

In the interview with Foster Hadleigh never asks outright if she’s gay, though when he first hints at the subject she insists she doesn’t talk about her “sexuality”. Curiously, “it wouldn’t make sense.” Here’s some back-and-forth at the interview’s end:

Hadleigh: Rumors … linked you romantically to Kelly McGillis, your co-star in 'The Accused.'

Foster: There are always rumors. Um, Kelly has since been married. Nowadays, people wonder which side of the fence you're on until you get married.

Hadleigh: And often afterward. In the past, gay performers, such as Rock Hudson, married straight for the sake of their screen images.

Foster: Yeah, and that goes on today. I think marriage should be based on love, but in Hollywood it's really based on what it does for your career. I also think marriage doesn't mean obtaining a contract. The length and quality of the relationship is what matters.