Thursday, June 26, 2014

Fecal Fretting

A Thousand Clowns
Yesterday morning I noticed a big pile of dog shit in front of the driver’s side door of my car.  It made me so angry, I almost yelled “Whoever let their dog shit in front of my house needs to clean it up right now!”

In case you were unaware of the origin of the background image of this blog, it’s a photo still of Jason Robards from my favorite movie A Thousand Clowns.  His character in the film is totally bemused and hilarious (in the way that many people’s hilarity is fueled by an acute dissatisfaction).  In the movie, he yells something every morning when he’s walking down the street, like “Neighbors, I want to see you out on the street for volleyball in ten minutes!”  That must be where I got the idea to yell out a message to all the houses in the neighborhood, but I am glad I didn’t act on my impulse.

But who did let their dog shit near my car like that?  I felt so much anger and also shame for not having a picture-perfect house like some of them on our street.  We have this completely unprovoked feud from some fairly new neighbors, and I was/am convinced that the poo was on purpose, from their dog.  Once when we were eating dinner, we saw the male half of our hostile neighbor couple walk his dog to our house, pause a minute, and walk back up the hill to his own house.

The thing is

1:  Our neighborhood is lousy with stray dogs.  There are so many strays they have their own way of life; I have seen more than one dog stand on the curb, wait for a car to pass, then cross at the cross walk.  It could have easily been a stray whose poo it was.

2:  I sort of like poo, in theory if not in practice.  It’s gross, funny and taboo.  I even wrote a 20 page paper in grad school about all the often perversely sexual references to shit in Dante’s Inferno.  If this topic seems like a stretch, let me assure you that I had A LOT of material to work with. 

I was so upset about this dog shit because I’m already so anxious and high strung.  When I felt myself wanting to call out my neighbors by yelling at the top of my lungs (and I leave the house at 6:15 am so I would have been waking a lot of neighbors up), I felt sort of sorry for myself.  I wish I could be a guileless child again, suggesting to my dad that I scoop up the shit for $1, happy to have money and the stomach to do something gross.  Or else, I wish I wasn’t stuck on my hometown, L.A., and could just be some kind of artist out in Iowa or Minnesota, or live in the New York City that’s depicted in Curious George cartoons, where everyone understands what George is saying, even though it’s gibberish, and there are Samba groups playing at opening nights of exciting exhibits at the natural history museum. 

Even if the shit didn’t come from the neighbors’ dog, I am very distressed by the animosity between our two families.  I speculate on it, thinking that they don’t like us because we have a kid, or that’s my car is too ugly, or that we don’t have a little built-in deck on which to store our trash bins, or even that our Calla lilies in the front of the house look dead-ish sometimes, or that I’m not physically fit, like he is (Armani Exchange called, they want their mannequin’s outfit back, jackass).

I just want to be able to laugh at dog shit again.

Dante's Inferno

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Do Strong Women have any Use for Disgusting Men?, PART II: Bukowski

The writing and persona of Charles Bukowski is in the same category as Vice Magazine for me:  I appreciate some of his work purely for its brilliance, and I also appreciate aspects of his persona for the way he conjured up an equal playing field of dissipation for both sexes (much in the way that Vice lets both male and female participants explore and write about equally revolting topics).   For the sake of this discourse, It’s helpful to divide women into 3 categories

Pretty women
Ugly Women
Women who are ignored by society all-together

This third category, and Bukowski’s enthusiastic exploration of the inner and outer lives of these women in much of his semi-autobiographical works of fiction, is what gives me my soft spot for him.  The women in this third category are women who it’s hard to look at or sit next to on a bus, usually.  They’re the type who often suffer a personality disorder, some kind of overreaction to eye contact perhaps.  These women are often stunningly outfitted, like gypsies, adorned with necklace upon necklace and earrings tangled in with their wild, tangel hair, sometimes with little smudges of dirt on their arms– these are usually abstracted women.  The type I’m thinking of is an alcoholic, probably a cigarette smoker too, which in my town of Los Angeles, is a leprous affliction, akin to barfing on a baby’s head, when such a woman is smoking at a bus bunch and there is a child anywhere in sight.  (aside:  lest any part of my description of these outcast women sound derogatory, I want to make clear that this is a group of women I am very familiar with, and not through any phase of slumming.  My mother is one of these women, as are her friends.  These are women who have often tried my patience, but I have also appreciated sharing such uncommon experiences with them as feeding 20+ stray cats as a park in San Pedro where assholes go to ditch their pets).

Bukowski, before he got famous, was also hard to look at and most likely someone who would be avoided on a bus or sidewalk. 

But there are intelligent women who love Bukowski’s writing – that was something I wanted to know more about.  What was the draw there?

Consequentially, one night when we were living in Philly and it was so hot there was not a chance I could even sleep for a moment, I found Bukowski’s novel Women in our bookshelf and finished it that night.  The next day my husband was a little shocked that that was the Bukowski book I’d started with, because even some of the hornier, devoted fans think that book crosses a moral line.

Women is the story of Bukowski meeting women, developing bonds with them that he never maintains, and then moving on to new and different bonds with different women. 

The expectation of a female caretaker, a surrogate mom, is an important trait forced upon us.  But Bukowski likes women who can match his alcohol tolerance and who often unpredictably abandon him for days, in the manner stereotypically reserved for the fathers who go out for a pack of cigarettes and never return.  Several of his temporary girlfriends depart without saying goodbye—a narrative generosity on his part to unquestionably accept women to need the same unsteady and often hurtful soul-searching that men in the Siddhartha mold embark on with well-wishes (“Good luck finding your true meaning in your valuable life).

Sexist as much of his prose may be, 1) he learns to excellently eat pussy from a girlfriend at the novel’s beginning and remains proud to show off his skills (good for him!), and 2) His unquestioned acceptance of women who display the same wild trait as him is in some sense a form a feminism.  His horniness and the literal filth of his body are not written of as his exclusive right as a man; instead he accepts filth, sexual aggression and dissipation in the women in his life.  This is an unhealthy but not worthless gesture of equality, as well as a welcome refusal to buy into a sanitized version of human nature. 

The fact that he attacked and smacked his wife, completely unprovoked, in the documentary “Bukowski:  Born into This,” makes any whole-hearted praise of his work impossible for me.  Any cause and effect of this situation, rather than her beating the living shit out of him in return, is an unsatisfactory outcome, but of a victim of violence is often not able to react.

Forgetting this scene, if possible, I can still manage to tolerate Bukowski’s open-minded admiration of traditionally beautiful women, yes, but an equal appreciation of the women that hold no noted place in mainstream society.  

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Do Strong Women Have any use for Disgusting Men?, Part One: Vice Magazine

 Before it was bought out by Viacom, Vice Magazine held some attractive qualities for me.  

On the minus-side, there is some sort of business or personal partnership between the magazine and the American Apparel clothing line -- their clothes and advertising are one of my biggest cultural pet peeves.  I HATE the type of T&A used in their ads, the barely legal and unhealthily skinny women, so blandly counter-culture (wow, she has tattoos and is mixed race, what a powerful political statement!), so passé.  These ads are on the back of every monthly issue of Vice, and pretty much typify what I hate about the magazine – a bunch of paint-by-numbers edgy fashion shoots of women engaging in mildly deviant behavior.  

However, there used to also be really interesting articles in Vice; I still remember one from a few years back about the porn king of Mexico, and it was fascinating to learn about this popular porn in which traditionally unattractive non-actors screwed and the films were really popular.  The word “vice” suggests deviant behavior and immorality, and at its best, the magazine and it’s dvd’s have used an amoral voice to write exposes and conduct interviews free of a hidden agenda or latent judgment – realistic, truthful portrayal of fringe cultures and previously unknown global horrors, related without any outraged editorial asides.  The "Vice Guide to Travel" dvd is even somewhat revolutionary:  young people traveling to other countries to expose dangerous rituals and realities that I can only assume most of us here in the US of A knew nothing about beforehand.  One of the episodes, TheRadioactive Beasts of Chernobyl, is of reporter Shane Smith “hunting for mutant wolves in Chernobyl’s Red Forest – the area that got the highest doses of radiation after the nuclear disaster in 1986.  Another Vice reporter visits the slums of Rio and gets shot at.   “Bulgarian DirtyBombs” is about some Vice journalists attempting to buy nuclear warheads in Bulgaria and having no problem locating sellers of these devastating WMD’s (as George Dubwa liked to call them).  “Gypsies of Sophia”  is a tour through the fetid garbage dump Bulgaria’s Gypsies are forced to live in (synopsis and photo courtesy of the ViceTV site): 

While I get frustrated at the recorded and obnoxious repackaging a genuine lived moment experiencing vices first-hand that is Vice Magazine, I do appreciate the cultural relevancy of much of their investigative work, which was so brave on the part of the journalists who explored these ugly pockets of Earth at the risk of personal harm.

Then there’s the funny side of Vice.  Especially when Gavin McGinnes was one of the main writers, Vice was a compendium of some of the funniest and crassest observations of vice-filled trends infiltrating casual sex, current trends in lightweight-deviance (like pretty women crouching to pee in public places).  Most popular, and funniest, is the  “Do’s and Don’ts” feature of what’s hot and not, lauding the fashion sense of a fat man asleep on the subway with his balls hanging out of his pants, for instance, and lambasting a pretty Eastern European woman whose cleavage is wearing an Armani Exchange shirt and a false butt.  These are not actual examples, but they capture the gist.  The rightfully revered Do’s and Don’ts feature is/was (before the buy-out) the type of reading that I laughed out loud to.  I don’t appreciate the writers’ consistent criticism of a proud set of hairy armpits on a woman, but …. I usually just feel sorry for these quip-writers for not having experienced the erotic experience of smelling and nuzzling the downy paradise of a confident woman’s hairy armpit.

This crass humor is at the heart of my examination on whether these men’s appreciation/over-scrutiny/infantile fascination with the female form is advantageous to the powerful woman.  My decision is that there is something helpful to us girls in the inclusion of wild women in this publication.  There are/were woman staffers just as adept at writing disgusting and original gross-out articles.  The article, “OVUM EASY, PLEASE:  IS VAGINAL DISCHARGE THE BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS?”, for example, documents one woman’s mission to prepare he vaginal discharge as one would prepare a breakfast of chicken eggs. 

There is a place for feminism in this often purposely degrading magazine, in that the female staffers are allowed all the disgustingness of their male counterparts.

I recall reading an article by Vice writerAmy Kellner, recounting the time she excitedly approached her interview withradical riot grrrl band Bratmobile.  The the summary is that the members of Bratmobile, clearly coming from a good place, let Kellner know that they dislike Vice, putting Kellner in the position of having to defends her magazine.  She didn’t want to do this; yes, she was raised a riot grrrl, a true Bratmobile fan for years, but she did not want to have to pretend to dislike Vice, a magazine whose editors hade never censored her writing.

My final impression of Vice Magazine is that it’s often a celebration of unabashedly offensive humor about every embattled facet of society, including Black people, women, gays, the mentally and physically challenged.  However, it is a magazine whose staff abounds in members from each of these traditionally vulnerable subcultures, in an inclusiveness that suggests offensive humor as a means of normalizing differences in people that currently cause avoidance and discomfort in mainstream society.     

Though it’s hard for me to admit to the possibly culturally therapeutic benefit of such cocky and intentional shock value, it seems to reveal a clear faith in women to buck the demure and supportive role of traditional gender roles.  It’s irritating to flip through the pages of a hackneyed photographer’s “artistic” photo shoot (Richard Kern and Terry Richardson, you shits, I’m looking at you), but it’s nice get to the next page (this is in the bygone Vice, mind you), where Lesley Arfin is wistfully recalling fist fights and promiscuities from her youth, or, in the fiction issue, to see the profusion of female fiction writers including the widely respected Mary Gaitskill.

In summary, then, I have to say (with a ton of qualifiers) that I feel Vice in some ways contributes to the feminist cause, or, more accurately, to a version of feminism focused on a woman’s right to make the worst possible choices if it so pleases her.  In its glorification of vice, the magazine to some degree supports a recklessness, even a death wish, and in fact several friends of Vice (artist and frequent contributor Dash Snow, for instance), women are allowed to play Russian Roulette as well, if it so pleases.  While it is brutal to have reached an age where the meaninglessness of it all has become so obvious, it is, in its own way, good for women to be able to join in the nihilistic cult that is Vice.

Monday, June 16, 2014


The Tramp patiently waiting for Sweetheart Redux posts to return

I'm on hiatus from my beloved blog, due to trying to save up my ideas for pieces to submit elsewhere, as well as for a paper zine.  Please feel free to send me submissions of writing or art, which I will gladly publish.  TTFN xoxo Robin