Did you know that until a few decades ago there existed a secret gay language called Polari?   More properly a cant, Polari is thought to have originated in East London as a private means of communicaton among gay men.

In the old days — meaning any time before about forty years ago when being gay in any open sort of way could get you locked up or worse no matter how famous and important you were — Polari allowed gay and bisexual men to communicate with each other in safety, without the straight world knowing what they were saying.

along with Hugh Paddock, the actor Kenneth Williams somewhat popularized Polari in the late 1960s in the UK through his character on the BBC radio show Round the Horne 

The code’s vocabulary was somewhat tilted toward the practical:  parts of the body, times of day, words for sex and words covering social matters.  It included quite a bit of backslang (English words in reverse) but also borrowed in a loose way from various romance languages, particularly Italian and certainly a decent amount of nonsense.  Here’s a sample sentence (via Wikipedia)

As feely ommes…we would zhoosh our riah, powder our eeks, climb into our bona new drag, don our batts and troll off to some bona bijou bar. In the bar we would stand around with our sisters, vada the bona cartes on the butch omme ajax who, if we fluttered our ogle riahs at him sweetly, might just troll over to offer a light for the unlit vogue clenched between our teeth

which translated is

As young men…we would style our hair, powder our faces, climb into our great new clothes, don our shoes and wander/walk off to some great little bar. In the bar we would stand around with our gay companions, look at the great genitals on the butch man nearby who, if we fluttered our eyelashes at him sweetly, might just wander/walk over to offer a light for the unlit cigarette clenched between our teeth

There are certainly older men still living who can still speak Polari — though in a few decades this may no longer be the case.  Here are two such men, Stuart Feather and Bette Bourne:

Bourne in particular is pretty unsentimental about the language and its purpose:

So it’s good to have your own language, and those things are not … they’re forced.  They’re forced upon you by circumstances, they’re not just invented as a camp joke.  They’re very practical.

I have various feelings about Polari — reverence and respect for the ingenuity and survivorship of those who used it, sadness that all first hand knowledge of it may be lost (though there seem to be some attempts to preserve it), surprise that I’d never heard of this language before.  But I think I’ll take a cue from Bette and focus on gratitude — mostly for the fact that it’s no longer required for survival.


The infinitely disgusting horror of the tulip [UPDATED]

Today while digging a small trench into which I was to transplant some salvaged lavender, I happened to glance over at a massive red and black tulip.  Have you ever done, this?  If not, here is what you will find at its flowery heart:

The naughty bits of the tulip in my yard

My brother Ben, possessed as ever of a particular kind of excellent timing, recalled the sentiments of the Slovenian psychoanalytic Salvoj Žižek on the subject to tulips as vagina dentata. 



My friend Hannah responds to this with a link to Sylvia Plath’s poem Tulips, in which the hospital-bound Plath engages in a lengthy hallucination/fantasy involving a bouquet of tulips brought to her by some well-wisher, but which she transforms into a monstrous presence:

The tulips turn to me, and the window behind me
Where once a day the light slowly widens and slowly thins,
And I see myself, flat, ridiculous, a cut-paper shadow
Between the eye of the sun and the eyes of the tulips,
And I have no face, I have wanted to efface myself.
The vivid tulips eat my oxygen.


The tulips should be behind bars like dangerous animals;
They are opening like the mouth of some great African cat,
which all got Hannah and I talking on the social mediaz about this thing with tulips:
H:  I want to take Zizek to the Georgia O’Keeffe museum and leave him there. Haha! !!!
Me: Yah he has some issues.
H:  whereas Sylvia Plath – no issues there. haha! 

Me: perhaps over-identification with or hostility towards nearby tulips should be added to the DSM
H:  there are some pretty good lines in that poem that would be good crazy blog comments when written in all caps…
H:  THEY HURT ME aaaaaah
The infinitely disgusting horror of the tulip [UPDATED]

Church: some feedback


Dear Church,

Having by now experienced well over a thousand of your services, meetings and gatherings and having over the several decades of my life participated in no small number of your rites, initiations, sacraments and ceremonies, I’ve got some feedback for you:

Let us begin with the bad:

  • Does anyone like pews?  Hemorrhoids.   Lack of circulation to the legs.  Not great.
  • The pipe organ is a questionable instrument — more interesting architecturally than musically .  Granted, your average pipe organ must be quite difficult to replace or decommission, but all good things must come to and end.  It’s time.
  • Most of your buildings seem to be too large for the crowds they attract.  Perhaps they were built for a time when more people were interested in you.  I would consider downsizing — perhaps all the excess real estate could be used to house the poor?
  • It often seems that you would rather your members adopt the worldview of a person from the 15th century — what with all your contextless talk of the supernatural.  I’m afraid that this has become a problem for me because I happen to be sane.  (This probably bears some relation to the previous point.)
  • I am alarmed that you’ve been complicit in such a panoply of acts of racism, sexism, homophobia, cultural genocide and exclusivism.  Might I suggest that you consider renouncing violence in all of its forms and become less of a dick?
  • Honesty seems to be hard for you.  Take the Bible for instance — a  book I believe is somewhat important to you as an institution.  Can we all admit that there’s a ton of crazy and evil stuff in there that should be disregarded and denounced?
  • Please define the following words since you use them so often.  Alternately, please admit that like me, you don’t know what the fuck the following words mean:  God, soul, miracle, heaven, hell, prayer, angel and spirit.  I could go on.

And now, the good:

  • I would like to congratulate you on your influential role in western civilization, music, art, philosophy etc…  Sure there were blips: purges, witch hunts and the like.  But overall, I’d have to credit you with doing more good than harm.
  • You’re faithful, I’ll give you that:  you flung your big wooden doors open when I was born, gave me friends, helped me fall in love, caught me when I fell out of it.  You’ve never left me — and I’m sure you’ll help me die.  This sounds flippant but I mean it.
  • Jesus: worthy of followers.  Every religion needs a main character and one could do a lot worse.  From you I learned about a man obsessed with healing, poor people, justice and the end of the world.  Three out of four ain’t bad right?
  • Bread.  Wine.  Water.  You’re at your best when you keep it simple and keep the food coming.
  • You seem to traverse cultures pretty well which is more than be said of most institutions.
  • Potlucks.
Church: some feedback

The rocket of the self


To a sub-hypomanic aspiring polymath like me, life is an arcing parade of aspirations, goals, and might-have beens — other identities that never quite came to fruition or were discarded before being allowed to develop.  But lest such a notion come off as entirely depressing, let’s regard this possibility as not as any sort of evidence of lifelong disappointment but instead as the proud contrail of a personality — a rocket of the self, that must burn up the raw fuel of other potential selves and shoot them out at the world in a great arc while the true self lurks always just beyond the horizon of understanding.

All of which is to say I’m now going to make a list of all of the things I once wanted to be when I grew up.  I’ll go back as far as I can people:

  • at age 3 I began to wish I were an opera singer — I used to wear a towel as a cape and sing at the TV (that explains a few things.)
  • I wanted to be a car wash attendant … or so the grainy photographic evidence would suggest
  • From quite early on (I was born in Europe to American parents and would sometimes fly over the Atlantic as a little kid) I wished to be a commercial aircraft pilot
  • I wanted to be a policeman for about two days in elementary school.
  • As a young teenager I wanted to be Gary Gygax (inventor of Dungeons & Dragons) or a similarly famous RPG designer.
  • I wanted to be a doctor, because I though it was respectable.
  • I wanted to be a PhD in something and teach that thing.  Maybe it’s because my father did this.
  • I wanted to be a historian.
  • Also, a philosopher.  My role model was Bertrand Russell, also David Hume.  Now there was a real philosopher.
  • I wanted to play the following sports (in order of when I wanted this and the intensity of the desire:) hockey, baseball, soccer.
  • I wanted to be a cook.
  • I wanted to be a Republican Senator.
  • I wanted to be a US Marine.
  • I wanted to be a famous writer (emphasis on famous.)
  • I wanted to be all of the following kinds of musicians (and to be fair I actually was some of them if that counts): classical pianist, blues pianist, jazz pianist,  electronic producer, composer of musicals.
  • I wanted to be a poet.  I did this for a while but my poetry became lost and/or wasn’t any good.
  • I wanted to be a civil rights attorney, a intellectual property attorney and/or an immigration attorney.  I’m sometimes told by others that I would have made a good attorney.
  • I wanted to start a nonprofit organization (mission undefined — once I find a mission I might still do this)
  • I wanted to be an actor
  • I wanted to be a software developer.  Mission accomplished on that one.
  • I still (despite what Dorian Corey might say) want to change the world in some way.
The rocket of the self

If you shoot an arrow and it goes real high

Extreme wisdom from Dorian Corey, born Frederick Legg, who featured prominently in the great 1990 documentary film Paris is Burning, and died of complications from HIV/AIDS in 1993.  She literally had a skeleton in the closet, but she’s right on here with the makeup wisdom:

I always had hopes of being a big star
and then I looked …
as you get older you aim a little lower
and you say well, yah I still might make an impression.

Everyone wants to leave something behind them
some impression, some mark upon the world.
And then you think —
you’ve left a mark on the world if you just get through it.

If a few people remember your name:
then you left a mark.
You don’t have to bend the whole world —
I think it’s better to just enjoy it.
Pay your dues, and enjoy.

If you shoot an arrow and it goes real high?
Hooray for you.

If you shoot an arrow and it goes real high

Ginsberg: don’t smoke

Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/edenpictures/

When I was 19 or so, I remember watching Allen Ginsberg in his corduroy jacket on the Today Show promoting his book Cosmopolitan Greetings which had just come out.  I had just come out too — at least to a few people — and had taken to wearing second-hand army jackets and carrying around a shoulder bag with a big pink triangle on it, at least while I was away at college.  Ginsberg just sat there, somewhat wild-eyed, cornered on the gaudy set, grandfatherly-but-suspicious, suffering through an interview with Bryant Gumbel or someone like that.  The distain and incomprehension on the interviewer’s face were lacquered over by politeness and a kind of forced reverence, but I knew as if by a sixth queer sense that the reason why this old dude was making Gumbel nervous was that at any minute he might rip off his frumpy jacket and the collared shirt underneath and run in madness and ecstasy around the studio banging together his wisdom sticks.  This began a so-far-lifelong affinity for the man, the beats, and all of that. Here he is banging those sticks, with maybe the most famous poem from his last collection… Put Down Your Cigarette Rag 

Ginsberg: don’t smoke

pantheon part 1

Here’s the first in what I hope will be a series of posts in which I simply barf up a bunch of images of some notables who have influenced me (in one way or another, usually for good) during the course of my life.  Everybody gets a sentence or so … to be continued …

Julian Assange, Mercedes Sosa, Dennis Cooper, William Gibson, Joe Orton, JRR Tolkien, Vladamir Nabokov, Elaine Pagels, Desmond Tutu
pantheon, part 1

From left to right, top to bottom:

Julian Assange:  n years trapped in a crappy embassy in London because … truth — jacked up by the CIA but (to use Shirley Chisholm’s moto) un-bossed and un-bought.  Seems to be getting tired, but wouldn’t you be.
Mercedes Sosa:  Cambia lo superficial, cambia también lo profundo, cambia el modo de pensar, cambia todo en este mundo
Dennis Cooper:  obviously queer-insane, sings my song, NSFW, high all day long <– probably none of this is true.
William Gibson:  made me want to be a coder so I could help give birth to his worlds
Joe Orton:  Before his tragic end at the hands of his boyfriend, made plays that make my body malfunction with pleasure and glee — also spent several months in jail for defacing Her Majesty’s library books in excellent ways.
JRR Tolkien:  If I could swap worlds.
Vladamir Nabokov: the Lionel Messi of words — if Messi played two sports.
Elaine Pagels:  The only books on theology I’ve ever read that have been impossible to put down.
Bishop Desmond Tutu: A good man, a brave man, a funny man.

pantheon part 1