October 2018

The Interview


Exercise your franchise.

 

Last Friday i was interviewed for a couple of hours by an excruciatingly young British scholar named Mike Nott.  I find it shocking that there are now people with doctorates who look like handsome high school students,  and this one is writing a biography of Thom Gunn.  He was in town tracking down as many as he could of the people here who knew Thom, concentrating this trip on non-academic  folks who knew him as a friend rather than as a fellow scholar.

And since Thom was so promiscuous, there were quite a lot of us even though, as we were the underground and are dying off, finding us was problematic.

So how did i know Thom?  Well, i spent the summer of 1974 in San Francisco, studying Spanish in the daytime and, since at that time i was in my twenty-five-year gay phase, sampling the gay scene at night and on weekends. Of course i went to the Polk Street Fair, the only gay fair at that time because the Castro and Folsom street fairs were yet to open.  Thom spotted me there but was unable to swoop on me before i vanished into the crowd.  Later that evening, though, he saw me at a gay bar on Folsom Street and picked me up.  I took him to my summer rental apartment, where we had an unwholesome good time.  Sometime during the evening i asked him what he did, and he said he was a poet, at which point i changed the subject since i’d already seen a lifetime of bad poetry written by poets who weren’t.

I’d told him that i was planning to move to San Francisco the following summer, so he gave me his number and asked me to look him up when i got here.  A couple of weeks later i returned to Midland, TX and my job as Acting Chairman of the English Department.  We had decided to change textbooks for our freshman Introduction to Literature, and so i started reading new textbooks to try to find something better.  One included a poem i quite liked, “The Cherry Tree”, and when i was sitting there savoring it,  a little bell rang.  I raced to the library and sure enough, it was he, my Thom Gunn.  And yes, i had an MA in literature, but modern poetry was an area of least interest, and Frost was as late as i had got.  Besides, in 1974 Thom was only beginning to be recognized in this country, which only moderately relieved my embarrassment.

Anyhow, i moved to San Francisco in June of ’75 and quickly reestablished contact with Thom.  I was eager to talk about his work, and we did to some degree, but i was quick to learn that Thom lived a highly compartmentalized life – the scholars and fellow poets in one section and in the other the men he’d befriended for purposes outside academia.  He introduced me to MDA, and we tricked a couple more times, but it became apparent to both of us that we were not really all that compatible in bed.  So the friendship became platonic but close enough that he kept supplying me with MDA until i was well enough established in the city to have my own candy man,  umm, men.  In September, 1978 Thom introduced me to his house guest from Boston, a man named Allen with whom i immediately hit it off.  We wrote letters to each other throughout the fall, i spent a week with him in Boston after Christmas, and upon my return home i called him up and proposed.  He said yes and joined me in San Francisco six months later.

For the next ten years, we saw Thom frequently, mostly at parties that we and Thom gave but also on other occasions.  After Allen died, i was feeling a bit sorry for myself because after he came down with AIDS, Allen had made our lives rather difficult owing to his brain damage, so Thom invited me to dinner at which another guest told (as Thom knew he would) of the horrors he was going through as caregiver of his lover with AIDS.  Turns out, i’d had it easy because this other guy’s totally demented lover had tried, with near success, to kill him.  So yes, Thom was a great friend to me and i saw him at Zazie for lunch about once a month for the rest of his life.

There was one event that affected me profoundly, about which i’ve sometimes wondered whether i made the right decision.  After Allen died in 1988, i was his executor, and as i was going through all his stuff, i made a significant find – a slim bundle of letters from Thom to Allen.  Oh wow, i thought, and immediately read the one on top.  It was superb, but by the time i got to the end of it, i was feeling a bit slimy.  So i called Thom, told him i’d found his letters and was feeling guilty over reading one of them and was hoping he’d give me permission to read the rest.  He said yes, with one caveat, that i burn the letters after reading them.

Well look, i’m no great scholar, but i certainly know that scholars studying a major author are quite eager to get their hands on his letters, and i remember that many great writers have left explicit instructions on their deathbeds that their letters and unfinished manuscripts be burned, an injunction that is routinely ignored. And thank goodness.  After all, if Virgil’s friends had burned the almost-complete Aeneid as he requested,  we’d be missing one of the greatest literary masterpieces of all time. Likewise Kafka, etc. etc. etc.

So i was torn, but after i’d read and reread the letters with great delight, i realized that my desire to give the letters over for scholarship wasn’t quite as strong as my desire to obey the request of a dear friend, their author, so i recycled them.  And have waffled for decades over whether i made the right decision.

The letters, after all, were of great significance to me, let alone their value to researchers.  See, Thom had met Allen a couple of years before he met me and had been tricking with him whenever they were in the same city.  They also corresponded.  And one of Thom’s letters described his tricking with me. He said a number of nice things about me, but he had to point out a major flaw:  unlike the two of them, i didn’t have a leather fetish and worse, the only leather item i owned was a leather jacket that i wore only as bait.  But since he’d had us both, he knew that Allen and i would be perfect for each other as sex partners.  So he gave a dinner party and invited us, suspecting that nature would take its course and i’d invite Allen home with me.  It did, i did, and we hit it off so well that we lost track of time and Allen missed his flight home.

So yeah, i owe Thom a lot, which reinforces my feeling that recycling those letters was the right course.

And besides, now that i’ve sat for that interview, i’ve made a contribution to scholarship to compensate for not saving the letters.  Off the hook?  No, i should have written “partially compensate”.

Meanwhile, i’ve discovered that windows can be just as interesting as doors.  Here’s one on Coleridge St.

Window on Coleridge St.

 

 

 

 

 

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Trophies

White supremacists chug milk, Colbert quipped, “Because for white supremacists, lactose is their only form of tolerance.”

 

Winner of this month’s Spinmeister award, Blake Fischer of the Idaho Fish and Game Commission, who got his fifteen minutes of fame by posting a photo of himself posing with a family of baboons he’d just killed, which set off a bit of a firestorm among baboon huggers and such.

Here are some quotes from an article in the Washington Post:

“Fischer didn’t apologize for killing the baboons but said in his resignation to [Idaho Governor] Otter that he “recently made some poor judgments that resulted in sharing photos of a hunt in which I did not display an appropriate level of sportsmanship and respect for the animals I harvested.”

“Fischer and his wife also killed a giraffe, a leopard, an impala, a sable antelope, a waterbuck, a kudu, a warthog, a gemsbok (oryx) and an eland.

Ummm, i thought oryxes were nearly extinct or something.  Just checked and yep, they’re classified as “endangered”, so you better go out and harvest one quick while you still have the opportunity.

He (Fischer) went on to say, “I didn’t do anything illegal,” he said. “I didn’t do anything unethical. I didn’t do anything immoral. … I look at the way Idaho’s Fish and Game statute says we’re supposed to manage all animals for Idaho, and any surplus of animals we have we manage through hunting, fishing and trapping.”  [What, i ask, do Idaho statutes have to do with slaughtering a slew of animals in Africa?]

“Harvest” and “manage” remind me of reading decades ago about people “controlling” coyotes…with strychnine.

And finally, the Fischer Flap reminds me of Walter Palmer, another American trophy hunter notorious a few years ago for killing Cecil the Lion.

And of California Fish and Game Commission President (now ex-president) Daniel Richards a few years earlier sneaking off to Idaho to kill a mountain lion assisted by guides, a pack of dogs, and a snowmobile so he wouldn’t have to walk far.

What is it about trophy hunters?

 

Meanwhile, here’s a new one in my Garage Doors series, and yes, it’s really a loading dock but i’m counting it as a garage.

 

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The Copy Editor on Drugs

“Nixon is starting to look better and better by contrast these days.” – John Yoo

Oh, am i tapdancing around the room or what!!!!  I just caught that genius, Yuval Noah Harari in a misspelling.  And what makes it even richer is that, to be precise, i just discovered that Harari and i shared the same misspelling.  See, what happened is that while i was wallowing in fear and delight in his second book, Homo Deus, i read the word “Mitteleurope”, which i knew from studying German.  However, i realized that my definition, that it referred to a region somewhere to the right of Germany, was imprecise, so i DuckDuckWent it to learn more.  Their list of hits began with the line, “Including results for mitteleuropa.”  Hmmmm.

Then to my astonishment, the first hit on “Mitteleurope” was way down at the bottom of the first page, in an article from The Guardian. The next hit was on the second page, in an Amazon ad.  I scrolled down a few more pages and found no more instances.  It was virtually all to “Mitteleuropa”, most particularly the articles in German.

Ha!  What this suggests is that “europa” came into the vocabularies of me and Mr. Harari from an audible source and that we somehow, since the final letter sounds the same in German, misspelled “europa” as “europe”.  But now i at least will never again misspell “Mitteleuropa”.

Oh, and the plot thickens.  When i checked to see whether “copyeditor” had become an accepted spelling and discovered that the process is not yet complete, i blundered onto this delicious morsel:

THE SLOT: What Exactly Is a CopyEditor?

opy editors check written material, usually as the final step before it is set into type, to correct errors in grammar, spelling, usage and style…

 

I mean, folks, if you’re gonna put something out on the web to get people to look at your copy editing site, you really, really ought to spell everything right.

Meanwhile, regarding the drugs reference, i can’t write on drugs even though the OCD quality of many of my posts would suggest that i’d been toking.  However, i did take advantage of California’s legalization of marijuana last January, waiting a month to show i wasn’t a jonesing addict and then going to the closest outlet.  It was a clean, well-lighted place with a vibe rather upscale for Mission Street, and the goods were displayed attractively.  What i found absolutely delightful was the packaging.

We’re not talking some bud stuffed into a small plastic bag.  No no.  This stuff is just plain marketed.  I haven’t opened the jar containing my recent purchase yet, but a close examination through the glass shows that it contains five buds.  Lotsa packaging for five buds.

Oh, and i must reassure my beloved baby sister that i’ve not become a monstrous stoner in my old age because it took me from February to October to smoke my way through the first eighth of an ounce i bought.  Nowhere near enough to be called a stoner, but definitely enough that for the entire period i’d have pissed hot.  (OK, “piss hot” entered my vocabulary only recently, and i’ve been just dying to use it.)

Here’s the new purchase beside the box the jar was in.  Love the witty name for this variety.

Durban Poison

And yes, i had to Google “Durban Poison“.

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Italian

“People who believe in the hi-tech Noah’s Ark for the rich should not be put in charge of the global ecology, for the same reason that people who believe in a heavenly afterlife should not be given nuclear weapons.” – Yuval Harari

 

Yes, i’m studying Italian and have bit off more than i can chew.

Let’s back up some and wonder why in the world at 77 years old and half dotty, i am taking up an intellectual endeavor as challenging as learning another language.

Part of it, of course, is that i just love languages, ummm, at least Indo-European ones.  And i’ve studied Spanish, French, German, and Dutch enough that i can get along marginally in all of them although none is even close to fluent.

There are three other languages that particularly interest me – Frisian, Catalan, and Afrikaans.  Frisian has the advantage of being rather close to English and even closer to Dutch, but the disadvantage of having only 400,000 speakers of the primary dialect, which makes it highly unlikely to be useful unless i move to Ljouwert.  Worse yet, Frisian is distinguished by its large number of vowel sounds….all the standard pure sounds plus every imaginable diphthong and even some triphthongs, a language that is warbled rather than spoken.  Considering that my weakest point in language acquisition is the sounds and that my hearing is failing, Frisian is clearly off my plate.

I’ve found Catalan fascinating ever since when i was in London and heard the guys next to me in a bar speaking and discovered that even though i was on the brink of understanding them, i couldn’t quite comprehend.  Finally, i broke down and asked.  They laughed and said that they got that question continually and that often people would edge closer and closer until their ears nearly touched the speakers’ lips before giving up and asking.  How little it takes to fascinate me.  Unfortunately, while there are about ten million speakers of Catalan, they are concentrated in Catalonia and its adjacent regions, so it wouldn’t be useful unless i moved to Barcelona.

Afrikaans absolutely delights me.  I joked with my Dutch friends, tongue deeply in cheek, that their language was halfway between the hideous complexity of German and the radiant simplicity of English.  Well those damn Boers did the same thing to Dutch that the Dutch did to German.  See, instead of having six words for “the” like German, Dutch simplifies that to two, likewise stripping out most of the German’s inflections.  Afrikaans uses only one word for “the” and takes this a giant step further by dropping the inflections that the Dutch retained.  Consequently, Afrikaans is pretty much completely analytic.  At dinner one evening our table was joined by a South African friend of the others and, shamelessly showing off, i remarked to them that Afrikaans has only two irregular verbs.  The Boer left me breathless by asking with a straight face, “What’s an irregular verb?”

Of course he knew since he had learned English, but what a delicious response underlining the near absence of them in his language.  (Actually, the only two irregular verbs in Afrikaans are their words for “to be” (wees) and “to have” (hê), which are irregular only in that their infinitive is not the form used in all conjugations, as is normal.  For example, “wees” is conjugated in all three persons, singular and plural as “is”, which means “is” and sounds like English “us”.

Here’s a table setting up interesting comparisons:

Afrikaans Dutch English German
ek is ik ben I am ich bin
jy/u is jij/u bent you are (sing.) du bist/Sie sind
hy/sy/dit is hij/zij/het is he/she/it is er/sie/es ist
ons is wij zijn we are wir sind
julle is jullie zijn you are (plur.) ihr seid
hulle is zij zijn they are sie sind

But i digress, and anyhow, Afrikaans is out because South Africa is too far away.

But why, since it’s not a language that i was particularly interested in, am i studying Italian?  Easy.  My wonderful Spanish teacher has gone on strike and is on a wild fling teaching Italian instead.  And since he’s such a good teacher, fascinating polyglot (he also teaches a class in Yiddish), and entertaining man, i’m stuck studying Italian.  About half the class are people like me.  The other half are people with Italian roots so embarrassed by their inability to speak the language that they’re doing something about it.  It’s a great class, and it’s so exciting that by the time each session ends, i’m exhausted.

So why am i complaining?  See, when Armando announced that he’d be teaching Italian instead of Spanish, i thought, being half-competent in Spanish and French, it would be sort of between them.  Oh silly me.  What i’d not taken into consideration is that it is closer to the Vulgate than Spanish or French and is thus more highly inflected.

I remember fondly kidding my German friends about the utter ridiculousness of having six words for “the”, so you can imagine my horror when i discovered that Italian has five words for “the” before masculine nouns (il, i, l’, gli, and lo) as well as an additional two before feminine nouns (la and le).  Also, Italian forms contractions of common prepositions with articles, so to the above list we’ll need to add the following:  nel, nella, nei, nelle, al, alla, ai, alle, dal, dalla, dai, dalle, del, della, dei, delle, sul, sulla, sui, sulle, and coi.

And then, when Spanish forms plurals by simply adding “s”, there are three pages of rules for creating the plurals in Italian.

That’s just stuff out of the first couple of weeks, but to make matters worse, when i broke my back back in June and could no longer ride the Segway, getting to class meant taking the 24 Divisadero bus and then transferring to the F Market streetcar, for which i simply didn’t have the strength at first and the will power later, so i missed a month of classes before i finally dragged myself back.

And we all remember from our undergraduate days how excruciatingly difficult it is to catch up in a class when you get behind, particularly a class in which you were already struggling.

I always did well in language classes, but in this one i’m probably the least proficient person there. But hey, the only harm is to my pride, and at least i’m now able to pronounce understandably everything on an Italian menu.

Late note:  A kind reader got back to me and triggered an Aha moment.  But wait, i thought, how come all the southwest American and Mexican cities were named “San” something since the conquerors were Spanish rather than Italian. Oh, of course, they were first and foremost Catholics, so all  the saints had Italian names. To think that since childhood i’d thought that San Antonio and later San Francisco were Spanish rather than Italian.

Meanwhile, my jaw dropped when i saw this can in the ice trough at a garden party.  Then i grabbed and guzzled it with fond memories.

Budweiser and Clamato

I never dreamed i’d see this concoction in a can, but it was a great favorite in Texas bars in the seventies although they just poured a mug about a third full of tomato juice (Clamato being too expensive), filled it with draft beer, and called it “Red Tap”.  I loved it.  When i told Californians about it years ago, they refused to believe that even Texans would drink such an atrocity.

 

 

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