Thursday, January 31, 2013

the marriage of ammonia and a tire fire?

As a kid I was a finicky eater. There were lots of things I wouldn’t even try. They didn’t look good, they didn’t smell good. Something. Gradually as I grew I allowed myself to be cajoled into trying new things, and, what do you know?, some of them I liked. I tried new things on my own. Sometimes secretly. And if I liked those things, yay, I could cross another fear off my food anxiety list.

There are a few things I’ve tried repeatedly. Beer. I’ve never yet been able to get past the bitterness of beer. I think I’ve forced myself through half a glass of beer, but I’ve never made it all the way to the bottom. I can get down vodka straight but I can’t swallow the most praised lager. Gin is pretty nasty, too. Ditto tequila.

I can enjoy some wines. And fruit drinks that mask the alcohol with sweetness and sparkling flavors.

Eggplant? If it’s cooked pretty darn thoroughly. Okra? Um. I had some deep-fried okra on our last road trip and it was okay. But I couldn’t quite finish what they’d put on my plate.

But I’m not really finicky anymore. If I don’t like it, I don’t have to clean my plate, although I usually do when I’m hungry, even when doing so isn’t a pleasure. I don’t refuse to taste anything. I’m game.

So when I saw an item on the breakfast menu at our resort in Hawaii, an item I’d never heard of, I asked about it. It’s popular with the Japanese, I was told. Popular, huh? Well, if it’s popular I can probably eat enough to stanch my hunger. I like sushi. I like rice. I tolerate tofu.

Let’s turn to Rachel Herz for a description of the dish (excerpted from Herz’s book, That’s Disgusting: unraveling the mysteries of repulsion):
Natto is a stringy (the strings can stretch up to four feet), sticky, slimy, chunky, fermented soybean dish that the Japanese love and regularly eat for breakfast. It can be eaten straight up, but is usually served cold over rice and seasoned with soy sauce, mustard, or wasabi and can also be garnished with green onion, fish flakes, raw eggs, or radish. The latest figures show that over 14 billion pounds of natto are produced annually for Japan’s population of 127.9 million people. Aside from its alien and complex texture, natto suffers from another problem – odor – at least for Westerners. To me, natto smells like the marriage of ammonia and a tire fire. … [T]here is not a Westerner I know of who at first attempt can get natto into their mouth.

I got natto into my mouth. One or two beans, I think. But, yeah, it was pretty weird. A bowl full of small red beans with yellowish threads running through them. Pick up a bean and the attached thread stretches and stretches. Like mozzarella cheese. Only, it’s not cheese. What is it? According to Herz it’s some sort of fungus. I don’t remember the smell. Except that there was nothing attractive about it. I turned to the egg, thinking at least I could have egg with my rice. I cracked the egg. The inside was raw. Raw egg? Raw egg is yucky enough. I’m losing interest in natto pretty fast.

I ate the rice. And there was probably some miso soup or something. Maybe I broke down and ordered pancakes. I forget. When I read Herz’s description of natto the mental picture of those beans on my breakfast table was immediately available.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

FACT, a book of poems by Glenn Ingersoll


50 short poem poems

by Glenn Ingersoll

The poems are philosophical, humorous, and often conscious of themselves. The book is small enough to slip into a pocket, handy for those moments stolen for contemplation or distraction.

sample poem:

I am trying to think up
a good poem. I would like it to be good
to make up for all the offenses
of bad poems. Though I suspect that's
too much to demand from my simple skills.
Even a really good poem would be able to atone
for little of the intolerance, torture, and warfare
conducted in the name of poetry.

poems from Fact have appeared in Exquisite Corpse, Lilliput Review, Shampoo, Fish Drum, and Fish Dance, and other places.

Go to Alba for four Fact poems.
Go to Shampoo for seven Fact poems.

You can read Steve Masover's response to Fact at his One Finger Typing.

Jim McCrary says, "Glenn Ingersoll is a big poet. It is always good to see what he has to say." Read more at Galatea Resurrects.

As well as a review, the poet Jim Murdoch conducted an interview with me on his blog, The Truth About Lies. Roughly summing up, Jim says, "As a body of work [Fact is] thought-provoking and deals with many aspects of the nature of poetry." In the interview Jim asked about the title; I responded: "The poems did not think of themselves as fiction." Check out the post.

The poet Jan Steckel created a Fact page at Jan says, "I loved this little chapbook ... My husband and I cracked up reading its little masterpieces to each other."

price: $5 from the publisher
$6 from me - it's signed & includes a thank you card (while supplies last)
[Fact is currently out of print; neither the author nor Avantacular has copies for sale.]

Avantacular Press
Andrew Topel, publisher
1239 6th St
Orange City FL 32763

you may also direct inquiries to the author

Glenn Ingersoll
2015 Cedar St
Berkeley CA 94709

[updated 20 June 2019]

Monday, January 28, 2013

overheard at the bookstore

Two elderly ladies at the counter. The younger (65?) is asking if the clerk can recommend books similar to the ones she likes. And what does she like? "I've read everything by David Sedaris and Augusten Burroughs," she said.

A taste for cranky, funny gay writers?

Sunday, January 27, 2013

pile of reading

Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth
I can only take this in small doses. The voice sounds like a million New York Jewish comedians I’ve heard before. I don’t like the narrator. This is not to say that the book is bad or that I don’t find it funny. I sometimes find it funny.

Gulf Coast: a journal of literature and fine arts vol. 24, issue 1, Winter/Spring 2012
Poems, essays … why is it I always stop dead at short stories?

Disclamor poems by G.C. Waldrep
I worked my way through the anthology representing poets of my generation, Legitimate Dangers, and I mostly didn’t care. It wasn’t that the writing was bad, exactly. No. I just found so little that interested me. Waldrep was an exception. I didn’t copy any of his poems out, but I did make a mental note to look him up. I’m only a few poems in.

A Death in Brazil: a book of omissions by Peter Robb
I bought this one from Robb himself when he read at the travel bookstore near my house (bookstore, sadly, has since closed). I started it a couple weeks ago, got fascinated, got interrupted.

Persistent Voices: poetry by writers lost to AIDS edited by Philip Clark and David Groff
Paul Mariah, poetry mentor to this poet when an acne’d tyro, is included in this anthology. I’m glad it exists.

Push Open the Window: contemporary poetry from China edited by Qingping Wang, Sylvia Li-chun Lin and Howard Goldblatt
I’ve read a lot of poetry in translation from Chinese ancients. They are quite different from the new guys. Fine with me.

Bite by Amy Dentata
This is a chapbook I picked up at SF’s Queer Open Mic last Friday.

March Hares: the best poems from Fine Madness, 1982-2002 edited by Sean Bentley
Over the years I picked up a few issues of Fine Madness, an all-poetry review. When I saw they’d put together an anthology I was delighted.

That’s Disgusting: unraveling the mysteries of repulsion by Rachel Herz
A pop science book. Sometimes in pop science books I feel like I’m reading about the way undergraduates take tests.

Something Good for a Change: random notes on peace thru living by Wavy Gravy
I took Kent to Wavy Gravy’s one-man show at the Marsh in Berkeley for Kent’s birthday. Wavy Gravy is an ex-hippy, comedian & clown, and peace activist. I enjoyed his show so brought this book home from the library.

Secret Lives of Ants by Jae Choe
Choe is a Korean scientist who studies ants. I like ants.

Of Woman Born: motherhood as experience and institution by Adrienne Rich
Adrienne Rich had seriously mixed feelings about being a mother.

Moomin: the complete comic strip by Tove Jansson
Jansson is a Swedish Finn who writes and draws the adventures of the Moomin Troll family. The stories are light and sweet with just enough mishap, jealousy and misunderstanding to keep things moving.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Bringing the war home

[T]he number one route of pathogen introduction to North America is … via military personnel. Military personnel who have been posted to various hot and chaotic climes do not undergo any medical screening if they don’t complain of sickness prior to returning home. Typhoid fever and hepatitis are regularly brought into the US by soldiers who return from being stationed in Afghanistan and Iraq.
So it’s the heroes who are putting us at risk?

Tourists, it seems, are pathogen introduction route number two.

Illegal immigrants come in after ill winds.

source of quote: That’s Disgusting: unraveling the mysteries of repulsion by Rachel Herz

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


Big numbers!

“We have ten times more visiting microbes in our bodies than human cells, and there are about seventy-five trillion human body cells.”

Visiting? I’m pretty sure the majority of microbes in our bodies are no less visitors than I am a visitor to America. The land itself may not have created me, but I’ve never lived anywhere else.

“Many of the bacteria that live inside of us are very friendly. … Mice reared without any germs in their bodies never fully develop their intestines.”

Microbial life was the original life on Earth. It is still the dominant form. One might say we are an extracurricular project of microbes.

source of quotes: That’s Disgusting: unraveling the mysteries of repulsion by Rachel Herz

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

word of the day: twinky

context: "[T]he Twilight phenomenon activates ... intense [negative] passions among the Comic-Con crowd ... it's telling that many of the same folks who pitch a fit over a couple of twinky, sparkly boy vampires ... hav[e] no problem with ... naked girl vampires and sexually depraved demons ..."

twinky (see twink)

twink: An attractive, boyish-looking, young ... man. The stereotypical twink is 18-22, slender with little or no body hair, often blonde ... A twink is the gay answer to the blonde bimbo cheerleader.

The definition is via the Urban Dictionary. There is no definition for twink at or at (unless it's hiding in their "unabridged" version).

I first heard “twink” not long after I came out, age twenty, and was at my twinkiest, I suppose. This was mid-80s. Not long after I heard it for the first time I think an older gay man (30s? 40s?) called me a twink and I felt insulted. Or maybe he called a friend of mine a twink. I don’t really remember. But “twink” didn’t sound like a compliment to me. I wasn’t really sure what it meant, but it sounded belittling, dismissive. Was it derived from “twinkle”? That sounds like a version of a gay slur. (Or a camp term of endearment?)

When at some point I wondered aloud about the word’s etymology, I was told it came from the Hostess Twinkie, which is long and firm and full of cream. That, at least, was funny.

So here it is twenty-five years later and for the first time I come across “twink” in a non-gay context. The author of this book on the San Diego Comic-Con is married to a woman, but clearly his life experience has been informed by gay culture. Although he’s my age he takes for granted that his readers will know what “twinky” means. It’s not a typo. He didn’t intend to write “twinkly.” You wouldn’t say, “twinkly, sparkly.” That would just be redundant. And the shirtless, hairless torsos of the youthful stars of the Twilight series display the qualities of twinks so the word is apropos. Nor would it be a surprise that the sexual objectification of the idealized youthful male body might make the nerdy straight boys of Comic-Con uncomfortable.

source: Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture: what the world's wildest trade show can tell us about the future of entertainment by Rob Salkowitz

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Tyron Garner, civil rights hero

In 1998 Tyron Garner and John Lawrence were arrested and charged with the crime of engaging in homosexual conduct. This conduct, the police reported, occurred in the bedroom of John Lawrence’s apartment. Mr Garner and Mr Lawrence did not believe they had done anything wrong. When contacted by gay activists the two men were willing to fight in the courts in order to prevent what had happened to them from happening to anyone else. Their case was resolved at the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003. The decision in Lawrence v. Texas invalidated all sodomy laws for being unconstitutional intrusions into citizens’ private lives.

Just three years later Tyron Garner was dead “of complications from meningitis.”

Challenging sodomy laws had been tricky. People were not being arrested for breaking these laws, unless they were people easily pushed around, working class or worse. When such charges were leveled the defendants typically just wanted the hassle to go away and would pay a small fine and move on. When gay activists heard about the arrest of Mr Garner and Mr Lawrence they reached out to them as quickly as they could. The two had to agree to pursue what would likely turn out to be a long drawn out court case, one which would expose their personal lives to public scrutiny. If they had begged off, we would not have seen the end of sodomy laws in 2003. Lawrence v. Texas opened the way for much greater and faster progress for the gay community.

John Lawrence worried about how the case would affect his job. He was mostly closeted at work. Tyron Garner was less worried about that; he seldom had fulltime employment. At the time of the arrest Mr Garner was the sole caretaker for infirm parents. Neither lived an easy life, though Mr Garner’s was more troubled, with intoxication and domestic disturbance arrests on his record (both before and after the sodomy case). The attorneys expended much effort keeping their clients out of the media eye. The case was not about them in the end, it was about the private love lives of every American.

I am grateful that both Mr Garner and Mr Lawrence stood up for themselves, and, ultimately, for all the rest of us.

Sadly, when Mr Garner died, he was virtually anonymous.
[Tyron] Garner’s death [September 11, 2006] was received mostly with silence in the media, including the gay media. His family did not have enough money to bury him or cremate him. Calling Garner’s contributions to the gay community ‘immense,’ Kevin Cathcart, executive director of Lambda Legal, appealed to that community for funds to defray disposal and funeral costs. Two weeks after his death, $200 had been raised. For weeks, the civil-rights hero’s body lay in cold storage in the Harris County morgue. Finally, in mid-October, with only $25 more having been donated, Garner’s brother released his body to the county for cremation (at no cost). The family wanted to place his remains in a modest metal urn, instead of a plastic bag, and run a proper obituary in the newspaper. But they needed $200 more for that and didn’t have the money. There was no memorial service for him in the gay community. There was no funeral, period.

Lambda Legal has created a scholarship in Mr Garner’s name: The Tyron Garner Memorial Fellowship for African-American LGBT Civil Rights . “This fellowship will be a paid legal internship awarded to a law student or recent law graduate to work in any of Lambda Legal’s five offices …”

source: Flagrant Conduct: the story of Lawrence v. Texas by Dale Carpenter

Friday, January 11, 2013

If the police read your diary, it’s considered publication

Back in 1998 in Houston police officers entered an apartment in response to a report of a black man waving a gun around. In the bedroom of the apartment the police were shocked and horrified to find two men engaged in anal sex (or, as one of the two witnessing officers later equivocated, oral sex, maybe?); certain such pleasures had to be illegal (and peeved, no doubt, at finding no guns) the police arrested the men.

There are lots of cruel absurdities in the campaign against the gay. These days most of the noxious rhetoric comes out of the mouths of Republicans, that party having become the default representative of racists, homophobes, and misogynists. Example:
Harris County [Texas] GOP chairman Gary Polland … told the press that the state sodomy law was not unconstitutional and should not be repealed. … “We think it would definitely send the wrong message and signal a continuing deterioration of morals in our society,” he stated, asserting that privacy was not an issue in the case because the sexual conduct of the men became public when police entered the bedroom.

Yes, I bolded that last clever gambit because, c’mon, it’s just so fun!

Lots of people have “evolved” on gay matters since 1998. Current Secretary of Defense nominee Chuck Hagel was spouting off in the U.S. Senate about the evils of homosexuals back in 1998, but now he’s assuring the BLT with G community that he’s fully in support of something-having-to-do-with-gays-but-don’t-ask-too-closely. President Obama’s spokesfolks claim that Hagel will be carrying out the president’s policies, which are totally pro-gay, don’t y’know, and 1998 was ever so long ago. Maybe Mr Polland, too, has evolved into a new humanity, who knows? Is he up for a post in the administration?

The Supreme Court evolved back in 2003, overruling their 1986 anti-gay ruling in Bowers v. Hardwick, with Lawrence v. Texas thus throwing out all state sodomy laws. Lawrence was one of the men arrested in what GOP chairman Gary Polland then considered public space.

source of quote: Flagrant Conduct: the story of Lawrence v. Texas by Dale Carpenter

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Constipation = Masturbation?

I’d read before that in the late 1800s there was a lot of hysteria about sexuality, masturbation in particular being considered a dangerous scourge (because everybody secretly knew they were doing it?), and that Kellogg’s Corn Flakes was originally invented in order to (somehow) prevent masturbation. Why Kellogg thought cereals might be helpful in the anti-masturbation fight I don’t recall. I mean, who can remember all the dubious notions that underpin modern life? So when I came across this explanation, that constipation could be a sexual thrill, I had to blink:
Constipation was judged to excite the nerves of the pelvis and encourage insalubrious behavior; both Sylvester Graham’s eponymous cracker and John Kellogg’s breakfast cereals were part of the effort to ensure regular, healthy bowel movements that would not cause undue stimulation to sensitive bits of the anatomy.

Puts a different light on those nice ladies pushing Ex-Lax on TV.

source: Straight: the surprisingly short history of heterosexuality by Hanne Blank

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

The Human Genome Project

In his new DNA USA: a genetic portrait of America (2012), Bryan Sykes remembers the hype around the Human Genome Project:
All you needed to know was the DNA sequence and everything would flow from that. This was pure hubris … ten years and billions of dollars later, the Human Genome Project has achieved very little as far as alleviating or even untangling the suffering caused by disease. The claims of ten years ago that we were about to witness the greatest medical advance since antibiotics have proved, thus far, to be thoroughly hollow.

Hm. Yes. I’m remembering the hooplah. Ten years ago, was it? Really.

Techno-hype. What else was going to completely upend the status quo? Personal computing? The paperless office? The internet? Twitter?


Is that all there is? Then let’s keep dancing!