R A L P HVolume Seventeen
The Review of Arts, Literature, Philosophy and the Humanities
Late Fall, 2002
The Folio is the print version of
RALPH: The Review of Arts, Literature,
Philosophy, and the Humanities
It comes out every month or so, and contains what we believe to be some of our best on-line reviews and articles.
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Reviews may be reprinted by anyone, for any purpose whatsoever --- outside of the obviously mephitic ones --- but should include information that readers can find us on the web at the address given above.--- A. W. Allworthy
Shy Bladder Syndrome
Your Step-by-Step Guide
To Overcoming Paruresis
Steven Soifer, et al
(New Harbinger)You're having the time of your life at the office party but it's time to take a pee and you go into the bathroom and shut the door and you can hear all those people in the other room laughing and singing and because they are so near --- even though the door is shut --- for the life of you you can't, well, pass water. You have paruresis, also known as SBS [Shy Bladder Syndrome] or, for the poetic paruresistics, BBS [Bashful Bladder Syndrome].
So what to do? Well, we live in 21st Century America, so you
- Make contact with the International Paruresis Association, and
- Go to www.shybladder.org so you can find a support group.
And how will your support group support you? You'll be given a "pee buddy," a former, or, if you will, a reformed shy bladder person. He or she will arrange "pee dates" with you. This is not my always vivid imagination creating this --- it's right here in the book.
And so when it is time to go a-voiding, your buddy will be there, but, well, not right there, at least not at first --- he or she will be in the other room or down the hall or outside, but far enough away --- proximity is the problem --- for you to successfully do what has to be done.
If all goes well, the next time your buddy will be a little closer --- perhaps just down the hall. The next time, he or she will advance even further, perhaps be outside the very bathroom door. And then: you'll find you can be relieved while you are in the same room with your buddy, and, by transference, sooner or later, you'll be able to take on the bathroom on the main floor of Grand Central Station.
Sounds straightforward --- but for people with SBS, these steps are vital. For not being able to take a piss when others can hear you, or are close by, as you can imagine, is a royal pain (it's also embarrassing, and potentially a danger to one's health).
§ § §
This slim volume, Shy Bladder Syndrome, is over-
the- top in fascinating information: where does SBS come from? Usually some trauma associated with childhood. How do the workshops work? Lots of telling of stories of friendships lost, of trying and trying and not succeeding, of being so ashamed that one was unwilling to leave the house.
There are also testimonials,
I think the workshop was so successful because it emphasized graduated exposure therapy.
I was totally unprepared for the overwhelming, genuine caring and concern that literally poured from the gathering.
And then there are some genuinely surprising facts:
- According to an IKEA survey, the primary reason people work at home "is to avoid having to use a communal bathroom;"
- Different strokes for different folks, even historically: Herodotus tells us that in Egypt, "women stand erect to make water, the men stoop;"
- "Europeans, in general, detest U. S. public restroom designs [where] the standard design for stalls are sides and a door that start one foot above the floor and extend only five and a half feet in total height;"
- In England, it was found that "fully 96% of women don't sit on the toilet seat;"
- One of the most worrisome problems for a SBS person is the Department of Transportation requirements for mandatory drug testing. This, for them, is the worst nightmare possible (it has to be done before an "authorized" representative of the testing company.) The IPA has suggested that alternative procedures would be allowed, such as "blood, hair, saliva, patch, or catheterization."--- Joe Finney
My Fine Feathered Friend
(North Point)Those who make their home in New York City are passing strange. They live in tiny dark hovels called apartments. They brag when they find a room for under $3000 a month. They've been in a massive traffic gridlock since the days of brass hubcaps. The sun barely shines, and casts a perpetual yellow-grey fried egg color over all buildings and faces.
To actually see the sun, one is required to pass over to New Jersey (for the poor) or to Long Island (for the rich). To see a tree, New Yorkers ride in a hole in the ground --- a subway --- to a place called Central Park where they can sit on crowded benches and get harassed by panhandlers.
Citizens of that city consume, daily, enough air-borne filth so that their lungs compare favorably to those who mine coal, mercury, or uranium. The ritziest street in Manhattan is called Park Avenue --- although there is no park except in the middle of the street which is primarily home to several hundred thousand rats who live and frolic in the greenery. The biggest town dump is called a "Kill" which pretty much says it all.
Compared to anywhere else in the U. S., New Yorkers pay double for their food, triple to park their cars, and quadruple for a cup of coffee. To get away from the city, one either has to go through one of five carbon-monoxide storage facilities known as tunnels, or ride over one of seven vertigo-inducing bridges.
After the events of 9/11 --- there is often a pause and a prayer before people venture to the upper stories of the 100 or so skyscrapers in the city. Upper floor rentals in Manhattan have fallen to less than a half of those of offices in the lower floors. Yet to demonstrate their chutzpa, all the plans proposed by the New York Port Authority on the site of the old World Trade Center feature one or more towers of 80 stories. As far as we can see, this will become the location of choice for corporations who are willing to sacrifice their future health and safety for pretty views and ghetto-style rents and dangers.
§ § §
People in New York cultivate thousands and thousands of dogs and cats to decorate their streets, but are astonishingly illiterate about other animals of the world. Proof of this is the discovery of a chicken (a chicken!) in the back yard of one of the columnists for the New York Times. Immediately, Chicken --- her nom de plume --- became a folk-hero. Articles were written about her (where she came from, how she got there, what she ate for lunch). Photographers with $10,000 cameras arrived to get her picture. Chicken's step-father, William Grimes, the restaurant critic for the New York Times, became a pop personality --- all over a commonplace and fairly dull looking Australorp.
Grimes and his wife live in Astoria, which is over the bridge or under the river from Manhattan. Astoria is the location of choice for warehouses, dismantled cars, rendering plants, and grime (and a couple named Grimes). Apparently Chicken escaped from a nearby poultry execution factory and, knowing a good spot when she saw it, moved in and started laying eggs.
"I didn't know a hen could lay an egg without a rooster," confesses our narrator. Obviously he's no Okie from Muskogie. In any event, he took his new-found foster-parent duties seriously, studied up on chickens, wrote some articles about Chicken for the Times which, needless to say, heretofore had never had a farm report except on the financial pages. Lo! ... Chicken became a star. It apparently, doesn't take much to excite city slickers. It's what we newspaper people call a man-bites-dog story.
Let it be said that the author shows an appropriate enthusiasm for his new-found career in animal husbandry. He determines that Chicken is a Black Australorp, first cousin to the Black Orpington. He gives us a brief history of the breed, and a brief history of the role of chickens in American life. He even has his mother in Texas send him some scratch --- and not the folding kind. This Chicken Care package being sent from Texas might be considered overkill, for even in the wastelands of New York, there are granaries. It's not unlike you finding a newborn babe on your doorstep and having your mom in Milwaukee FedEx a couple of warm baby bottles filled with formula.
§ § §
In the interests of fair disclosure, I should tell you that I've been raising chickens --- in the city (not New York) --- for the last twenty-five years. I can also report that no photographer from the Times ever knocked on my door to capture the profile one of my White-Crested Polish pullets (which are far more photogenic than some silly Australorp).
In fact ten years ago I got cited by the city fathers for having roosters in an otherwise respectable neighborhood. We went to trial, the cocks and I, I lost, they got sent out to East County Siberia --- and now I have a misdemeanor on my rap sheet. I even had to promise that I would take a two-year hiatus before taking up chickenry again. At least they didn't assign me six months cleaning up the Augean hen-houses out there at Foster's Farms.
Despite my colorful experiences, if I were to follow in Grimes shoes and send off a manuscript to North Point Press about the many funny birds in my back yard --- waxing lyrical about their industry, vigor, color and caginess --- I am guessing that editors wouldn't be pounding on my door to publish my feathery tale. I imagine it's all in who you know.
§ § §
My Fine Feathered Friend is what we in the business call "an easy read." If it sells well, it becomes another farmyard animal of note: a cash cow. It's printed in soothing wheaten type on classy paper, complete with little chicken drawings. It runs $15 for 85 pages which works out to 17.6 cents a page. But for such a wee little tome, it's a hotbed of misinformation. His mother's scratch is, as he reports, a mix of milo, corn, and oats. But you don't give scratch to chickens for all three meals. If it's a hen, you give it laying mash --- not so it'll get laid (roosters not necessary), but so it will produce eggs. For chickens, scratch is like candy. They go nuts for it. To dole it out with every meal would be like your giving your kid Hostess Twinkies for breakfast, lunch, and supper.
Grimes tells us that before the mid-nineteenth century, chickens in America were primarily for fighting, and stuffing pillows, not for eating. This is a cockamamie story. A look at any historical account of life in Colonial America would easily disabuse him of that notion. If the pilgrims were eating turkey with Indians in the 17th century, they certainly were at the same time roasting, frying, fricasseeing, boiling and baking chicken.
He says there was a general chicken mania in the country, starting in 1845. This is so and many breeds --- what we chickenheads call "the fancy" --- were imported at that time, including the Cochin from China.
They were enormous, and their egg-laying ability astounded the British,
he tells us. I can report on the size of Cochins from personal experience. Many years ago, before I got nabbed by the chicken police, I had two fine black-and-white barred Cochins. Cochins do look to be huge. I gave one of them to my good friend Elmo who, one day, drunk and disorderly, murdered my baby, defeathered her, and consumed her entire, the creep. He reported that she was nothing but skin and bone: "Scrawniest little bastard I ever ate," he complained. I was not amused.
Grimes tells us that "Ulisse Aldrovandi, a sixteenth-
century Italian scholar and chicken fancier, described Asian chickens 'clothed with hair like that of a black cat...'" He speaks of them with awe, as if they had somehow disappeared from the face of the earth. The breed is known as "Silkies." They are a much-beloved if especially stupid member of the fancy. I have several of them that I have smuggled into my back-yard. They're covered with what appears to be hair. They also have black skin under their fluffy fur suits, and a jewel on the front of their little bone heads instead of a comb. They are a sight to behold. § § §
Grimes' book ends sweetly and sadly. Chicken disappears one day while he's off sneaking into some restaurant: that's his job, apparently ... to eat with a bag on his head (at least, that's what we gather from the photograph on the back flap). His hen never returned.
Grimes wrote an obit in the Times --- Old Ochs must be turning over in his grave --- and tells us that the disappearance is still a mystery. He and his wife go through the Kubler-Ross stages: denial, bargaining, anger, et. al. Since there was no mound of feathers left behind, he suspected kidnapping or worse --- a result, perhaps, of the bird being "the most photographed, most talked-about chicken of our time."
It may be simpler than that. A chicken's worst enemies, after humans (we eat 2.5 billion of them a year) are coyotes, foxes, skunks, raccoons, 'possums, raptors, and dogs. I doubt there are many coyotes, foxes, skunks, 'possums and raccoons in Astoria --- at least of the furry variety --- but there are dogs of all descriptions.
One day I was sitting at the window of my garden, admiring my Cochin who was standing there, posed between steps, appearing just like a baby dinosaur (they are the creatures' last surviving kin on earth). A stray German Shepherd jumped into the yard, grabbed Bigfoot (that was her name) and, in an instant, snapped her neck. He then jumped the fence taking his supper, my baby, in his mouth, leaving howling me behind. There were no feathers, not even blood; only me in a brown study with the memory of my fine feathery friend who had done no harm to anyone, who had regularly presented me with a new fresh baby for breakfast every day of the week.
By-the-bye, if you are interested in real chicken lit, there's a new book out from Lyons Press called Living with Chickens. It's by Jay Rossier. It contains everything you could ever need to know about raising chickens, even in the big city.--- L. W. Milam
I am a 21yo M offering a $50,000 reward to help me take my life back.
If you are a Time Traveler who has the Dimensional Warp Generator #52 4350a wrist watch, the XK memo replica or similar technology I need your help.
I must return my mind to my former self so that I can take back my life which has been destroyed by the evil aliens. They have done Terrible, Terrible things to me starting with nanaprobe tracers, mind-transducers that she slipped into my food, and now I am fighting and dying of CJD.
I have known two others who were messed with by these same evil beings, returned to there former self, foiled their schemes and successfully taken there life's back.
If you can help please email me at:
The Many Lives
Of Noah Greenberg
(Pendragon Press)In 1928, Max Schachtman and a number of other comrades were expelled from the US Communist Party for heresy: they had been guilty of reading articles by Leon Trotsky, and of raising questions about the increasingly arbitrary rule of General Secretary Stalin.
The group came to be called "Trotskyists" but some --- Schachtman especially --- went much further than Trotsky in applying Marxist analysis to the USSR itself, and in asserting that socialism was incompatible with police state practices. Schachtman became an influential figure in democratic socialist circles, such as they were in the USA. He was also famous for demolishing CP spokesmen in debates, an exercise that became easier, through the 30s and 40s, as the Communist line became more and more palpably absurd, as well as self-contradictory.
Schachtman's associates and disciples included such writers as Dwight MacDonald, Irving Howe, James T. Farrell, Harvey Swados, and Michael Harrington. They also included a young New York activist, who was a self-taught musician, named Noah Greenberg.
Noah proselytized for Schachtman's socialist organization while working as a machinist and, during the war, as a merchant seaman. He continued to work in the merchant marine after the war, reaching the exalted rank of third refrigerator engineer on a banana boat, and took part in National Maritime Union politics.
But all the while, his private passion was music. When not shipping out, he did odd musical jobs as a copyist, as an occasional piano teacher, and, most importantly, as a choral conductor. At various times Noah conducted choral groups of Locals 22, 91, and 135 of the ILGWU, thus combining unionism with music. He also conducted amateur groups, and, in the late 40s-early 50s he developed an intense interest in early music. Somehow, out of this melange of semi-
professional work, Noah organized a little group to sing and play Renaissance music. After casting around a bit for a name, they hit on one with a nice ring to it: "The New York Pro Musica".
The NYPM was blessed with terrific musicians and in Noah it had a combination conductor, musicologist, manager, and promoter of great musicianship and superhuman energy. Their local concerts (originally at the 92nd St. YMHA) went from strength to strength; their production of the medieval Play of Daniel at the Cloisters became a New York institution; and within a few years their concert tours and recordings catalyzed a phenomenal revival of early music. By the mid-sixties there seemed to be, as one of the NYPM members put it, little Pro Musicas on every campus in the US. The group toured in Europe as well, where their influence added to an early music revival that was already under way.
James Gollin tells this exhilarating story well enough, although the book could have used better editing. It is good at recreating the excitement of the NYPM's early days, and at explaining the sheer effort that went into making it a success. The group's musical quality was necessary but not sufficient for that success, which depended critically on Noah's formidable abilities to organize, promote, network, schmooz, and raise money. In the end, he paid for his frantic schedule with a fatal heart attack at age forty-six. Nothing costs nothing.
The conjunction of Left politics, the shop floor, banana boats, and the Early Music revival tickles one's sensibility; they have, I think, deeper connections than the author himself realizes. Schachtman's group, which by the 50s had become the Independent Socialist League, was both independent-minded and intellectually rigorous, rather in the spirit of Karl Marx himself in the previous century. When class analysis made plain that a new exploiting class was expropriating the fruits of labour in the USSR, well ... this had to be faced. Unlike the morass of propaganda and sentimentalism in which the conventional, pro-Stalinist Left wallowed, the Schachtmanites believed in telling it like it is. Likewise, authenticity was Greenberg's lodestone in performing old music: he aimed to play it like it was.
By the way, a Marxist analysis of the Soviet Union is still invaluable for explaining what happened there, and in the societies which have replaced it. As for the Greenbergism --- well, this year just try to count the number of concerts that were performed, CDs that were released, or amateur groups that met to play music from Medieval to Renaissance to early Baroque. And while you are at it, pass me down my krummhorn.
I have loved the sound of those Renaissance wind instruments (or "buzzies" in early music jargon) since I first heard them in NYPM recordings. A few years ago, I finally took up one of them myself --- actually a rauschpfeife, which is a straight krummhorn. To hear me play it is to know why the instrument went extinct.
The story carries a bittersweet implication about what Left politics in the US came to in the end. Maybe Mike Harrington's book The Other America had a small effect on the domestic programs espoused by the Democratic Party in the early 60s. Otherwise, the Schachtmanites all together had about as much influence on the politics of this planet as they did on the orbit of Ganymede. I remember who Max Schachtman was, and now you do, but that is about it.
In the introduction to "Pied Piper," Gollin quotes Jesse Simon, a veteran of the old days as follows:
I knew dozens of the people who were around in those days --- politicals, labor people, intellectuals. We were all going to make the world a better place. But the only one who really left the world a better place than he found it was Noah, with his music.--- Dr. Phage
[GREAT POEMS OF THE PAST]Love & The Flowers
Darling there is a worm in your flower
Among other things
And the sight of his gray face
Brings to mind the night
On a slow trolley
Beating down the tracks to Madrid
I saw a young man of wit and determination
Eating a wild red carnation.
Love and the flowers
And such a past is not too easy to forget;
Sometimes I think it gets too soon too late ---
And sometimes I think of the terrible dark space
Lying between stars and petals.
There is a worm in your flower darling
And your mind like mine
Is growing tattered
And the flakes of night come drifting down
And I do love your old bones too dearly.
Love and the flowers
And age drawing on like a shawl.
It seems to me the days are coming shorter
And the sun takes such a crooked path
Down to the crooked sea.--- Jeremy D. Colon
Portrait of a Burger as a Young Calf
The Story of One Man, Two Cows,
And the Feeding of a Nation
(Harmony)It all happened at a McDonalds. Author Lovenheim was waiting in line to buy a Happy Meal for his daughter, contemplating a Teenie Beanie Baby --- a cow named Daisy. And instead of thinking, "Why am I putting all this trash in front of my beloved child?," he thought, instead, "Where are all these hamburgers coming from?"
Thus the Muse burst upon him at that moment: "What would it be like if we were to take a cow, any cow, and follow it for its entire life-cycle, from its incubation to its death, from gestation to hamburger? That would be a kick, wouldn't it?" Thus Portrait of a Burger as a Young Calf was born.
Lately, for some reason, we hapless reviewers have found ourselves knee-deep in addle-pated histories-in-
miniature. In the last year alone, I found myself spending some time --- not too much, mind you --- with a complete and enervating exegesis on castration. There was, too, an exacting examination of humanity's and history's views of the common penis. (We didn't finish that one either.) Yesterday we received one about the mirror in all its permutations, which we might give a try, since we have always been fond of watching ourselves embark on the daily rot of ages as reflected back at us from that peep-hole just above the sink.
Now we have a portrait of the would-be hamburger on the hoof. Despite a powerful feeling that McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy's, Jack-in-
the-Box represent a truly malign force in the New America, I was willing to give Portrait a fair trial, but then Lovenheim chose to slip a stink bomb in the first few pages (he tells us that he has no olfactory nerves) --- an abortion performed by means of a jack with chain inserted into the womb of a moaning cow named Darla, with bits and pieces of the aborted twin calves being yanked out, pieces of hoof, parts of head, sections of belly --- and suddenly I remembered that I had almost forgotten an emergency appointment with my podiatrist. In the days thereafter the book sat glumly on my bed-table, bringing to mind Groucho Marx's remark about the book that once you put it down you just can't pick it up.
I hope you will excuse me for not following through on this one, gore and all. I did take a peek at the last chapter, but gave up (again) when I got to the kill-floor and they were cutting away the cow's face and cutting off the legs and tossing them "into a blue barrel labeled INEDIBLE." If you are nuts to know where your hamburgers are coming from, my sour words should not keep you from hurrying out and getting this one. From what little I read, it's obvious that Lovenheim is in love with careful detail, melding stomach-churning descriptions with a frosty language --- a reporter in love with nothing but the Facts, Ma'am.
By the way, while all this sawing apart is going on in the meat-packing plant, the author finds himself salivating, uncontrollably. We can forgive this, but we cannot forgive him for high-jacking the title of our favorite coming-of-
age novel for this turkey ... I mean, this bull.Pages in book --- 260
Pages read --- 52--- Lolita Lark
Treatment of MortalityA lot of what we are turns out to come down to us from our parents. No surprise, really. Without our parents, we wouldn't be here to wonder about it.
Medewar treatment of mortality works like this. First, bear in mind that everything in our genomes was passed down in this way ever since the first cell, and has developed its particular combination of traits due to selection. Selection just means differential success in passing on genetic information to the next generation. Our particular genes (and therefore we ourselves) are the outcome of that selection over many, many, many generations.
Now, since selection means nothing more than differential reproduction, it simply doesn't work at all on traits expressed after the age of reproduction has past. So, there has never been selection against forms of the genes which code for products that just wear out after reproduction is over. And there is no selection for products that last any longer. We could be built of longer-lasting parts, but that would not pay off in the game of selection.
In fact, longer-lasting parts would probably be costly (in terms of energy) to fabricate and that would diminish the energy available for reproduction, so there is probably selection against building organisms out of unnecessarily durable parts. [This interpretation is charmingly called the "disposable soma" theory.] Consequently, of course our parts all wear out after reproductive age. And they all do, at various rates, as you and I notice.
AHA, you say, there is a logical circularity in this argument. Why is there the decline in reproductive ability with age? Doesn't this phenomenon itself smuggle in the concept of ageing? But natural selection explains this too. You see, in the wild scarcely any animal lives much beyond the years of peak reproductive activity. Most animals die of starvation, predation, or infectious disease in what we would call youth or early middle age. In nature, death scarcely ever occurs because of old age. So, there has never been selection to maintain the machinery of reproduction, much less the machinery of survival and good health, beyond the earlier ages at which virtually all animals die anyhow.
Hence, the very existence of survival into old age is an artifact of civilization. It has been enjoyed by ourselves (and our pets and zoo animals) for only that last few seconds of evolutionary time --- far too little time to affect the structure of our genes.
So there it is: old age itself is an artifact of civilization, like literature, antibiotics, Heathrow Airport, the World Wide Web, and patio furniture. Darwin wrote of natural selection that "there is grandeur in this view of life." Speaking now that I am an artifact myself, like my lawn chair, it comes to me that there is a sense of humour, of sorts, in this view of life as well.
The evolutionary view of mortality has clear medical implications, but they are none too cheery. Since our somatic machinery is all built of shoddy parts, like a Ford Taurus, all our parts start wearing out at about the same time. Fixing this one part or that other part will not save us from mortality.
The way the organism as a whole ages is hard-wired, so to speak, into the way all the parts interact with one another, the organism's entire physiology. The total physiology of some animals does permit longer function than others, but this is no help to us, because we are constructed the way we are. In other words, the only way to live as long as a carp is to be a carp.
--- Dr. Phage
The review that inspired this article can be found at http://www.ralphmag.org/BN/briefs.html
And the Remarkable Nature of Smell
(Norton)You think that some people stink more than others? You're probably right --- and if you are "European," you stink more than most:
Japanese of the 19th Century, when first exposed to European traders, described them as bata-kusai --- "stinks of butter." People of European or African ancestry do have the largest armpit or axillary organs, often so densely packed with glands that they look like sponges under the skin. People of Asian origin have smaller organs or no armpit glands at all. In Japan, 90 per cent of the population has no detectable underarm odor, and young men who are unfortunate enough to belong to the smelly minority can even be disqualified from military service on that ground alone.
Remember that old saw, "No-one knows what the nose knows." Well, according to Lyall Watson, it's all true. Your nose has strange and wonderful powers, mostly hidden in a place that rarely shows up in Gray's Anatomy. It's called "Jacobson's Organ," it lives just inside your proboscis, and --- in union with the "normal" smell sense --- it gives us a second dimension, a double sense of aroma. And it is primitive: Jacobson's Organ connects directly with the lower, reptilian brain.
Watson is a fun writer, and this book is filled with more than you would ever want to know about noses, sex, perfumes, plants, and stink. Trees and bushes --- even rice plants, if you will believe it --- communicate through smell (mostly ethylene, which "is commonly released by plants under stress.") Victorians had a "love seat" which allowed a couple to sit "close enough to talk to each other" and not touch, but, as he points out, it was a "pheromonal piece of furniture, putting a suitor's armpit within inches of his intended's nostrils."
The armpit is a veritable hive of stink glands. "They are closer to other human noses than the rest of our apocrine centres" --- apocrine being those parts of the body that make possible bacterial decomposition, which turns hormones into pheromones. In the armpit,
Apocrine glands are heaped up, two or three to a follicle, covering a patch the size of a tennis ball, coating the long underarm hairs with their oils, vaporizing easily in the warmth, dissolving and spreading with the help of sweat glands that keep the whole area moist and bacterially active.
Schizophrenic patients have their own characteristic odor. German soldiers during WWI said they could sense the presence of the English across no man's land "by their smell." The English said the same about the Germans --- the word "Kraut" came from "the perception that they lived on, and smelled of, sauerkraut."
In the days of the Romans, adulterers were punished by having their noses amputated. The temperature of your mucosa rises by 1.5 degrees Centigrade immediately after intercourse, making us wonder about scientists hanging around congressional couples long enough to stick thermometers up their hot little noses. Wine-tasting is almost impossible for those who are having too much such hanky-panky: it's called "honeymoon rhinitis." Tiger urine --- sprayed backwards as a marker --- is so smelly that the Sanskrit name for tiger is vyagra, "the name derived from a verb root meaning to smell." As Watson points out,
This sheds an interesting new light on Pfizer's recent best-selling drug for impotent men, which is being marketed, with or without knowledge of Sanskrit, under the brand name of Viagra.
There are few nasal items that Watson misses. One such turned up in Marshall McLuhan's Understanding Media. "Until the coming of missionaries in the seventeenth century," he says,
the Chinese and Japanese measured time by graduations of incense. Not only the hours and days, but the seasons and zodiacal signs were simultaneously indicated by a succession of carefully ordered scents.
Like Watson, he says that the sense of smell is "the root of memory and the unifying basis of individuality." (His chapter on clocks is called "The Scent of Time.")
If you're into passages, nasal or otherwise, and if you're a devotee of aromatic minutes (as well as minutiæ), stick your neb into Jacobson's Organ. Any writer who can range from (or raise a) stink to etymology deserves our love. In his chapter on distasteful smells and symbiosis, he says that we react negatively to ants and wasps because of their characteristic aroma of piss:
It smells quite strongly of someone else's urine --- hence the wonderfully expressive old word for an open anthill, a pismire.
Proboscis, by-the-bye, comes from the Greek "Pro" --- before, and "boskein" --- to feed. As we used to say, when we were young and uncouth, You can pick your friends, you can pick your nose, but you can't pick your friend's nose.--- Leslie Winterhalter
[PARADOX OF THE MONTH]
There was a great drought where the missionary Richard Wilhelm lived in China. There had not been a drop of rain and the situation became catastrophic. The Catholics made processions, the Protestants made prayers, and the Chinese burned joss sticks and shot off guns to frighten away the demons of the drought, but with no result. Finally the Chinese said: We will fetch the rain maker. And from another province, a dried up old man appeared. The only thing he asked for was a quiet little house somewhere, and there he locked himself in for three days. On the fourth day clouds gathered and there was a great snowstorm at the time of the year when no snow was expected, an unusual amount, and the town was so full of rumors about the wonderful rain maker that Wilhelm went to ask the man how he did it.
In true European fashion he said: "They call you the rain maker, will you tell me how you made the snow?" And the little Chinaman said: "I did not make the snow, I am not responsible." "But what have you done these three days?" "Oh, I can explain that. I come from another country where things are in order. Here they are out of order, they are not as they should be by the ordnance of heaven. Therefore the whole country is not in Tao, and I am also not in the natural order of things because I am in a disordered country. So I had to wait three days until I was back in Tao, and then naturally the rain came."--- From The Nature Writings of C. G. Jung
©2002, North Atlantic Books
The Rejection Slip Blues
When I sent out the package to literary agents, I put this at the top of the first page:
A note to thoseIn the letter, I laid out the story of my book, A Geezer in Paradise. I said that it "tells of my days and nights in the very lowest reaches of Mexico as a dyed-in-
given the unenviable job of
The Daily Slush Pile
the-wool Geeze." I gave them a run-down of its history, its appearance as gossamer bits and pieces in The Sun, RALPH, and salon. I included a selection of the high points of reviews I had cadged for other works over the years, and included four sample chapters of Geezer.
I enclose a SASE so you can tell me if you are interested in it [I concluded]. Since I am almost seventy years old, please hurry.
I culled literary agents' names from the bible of the industry, The Literary Market Place. There are over 500 agents in the United States, but I restricted myself to those who said they charged "No reading fee." The 362 who fit this category got my letter, addressed to "The Slush Pile" --- that fecund region, the mythic dark corner in agents' and publishers' offices inhabited by hundreds perhaps hundreds of thousands of unsolicited manuscripts dumped atop ever-
growing heaps of other unsolicited manuscripts, filling the desk-tops, spilling over onto the floor, cascading past the doors, stacked up thirty or forty deep in the hallways so that people can barely pass to get to their jobs. So much naked hope these manuscripts represent --- waiting patiently to be read by the newest, youngest, least experienced, and probably most bored of the editorial staff. § § §
My friend Margot knew Philip K. Dick, the sci-fi writer, author of "The Minority Report," "Blade Runner," "Total Recall." She tells me that in a corner of the room above his desk he had glued the many rejection slips he had gotten over the years. She said they covered the better part of two entire walls. He had them right there where he worked, so that he could look up at them, know the chances, remain humble.
After sending off 362 copies of my package, and after two months, I have gotten back, so far, 207 written or printed rejections, 21 e-mail rejections, a few kind regrets, and a very few invitations to send the entire manuscript.
The rejection slips fall into four general classes: the scrawl, the cold no, the warm no --- and the (yay!) "please send more."
The Scrawl is always slashed across the top right-hand corner of the original letter of inquiry. It's usually "No," or "Sorry," or "No thank you," or "Not for us." The Vines Agency uses a 4-point rubber stamp advising me that my manuscript did not meet their needs at this time. Another scrawl snarled, "Not for me & yr mass mailing, FYI, is not an asset." The signature was illegible, so I had no way of responding with a Hate Missive.
Printed letters of rejection range from a brief cold "No" to the two-page warm, friendly, I-would-
if-I-could- but-I-simply- can't. The prize for the most picayune of the former goes to Marcia Amsterdam, with a note the size of a calling card, telling me that Geezer "doesn't meet our present needs." Ruth Nathan comes in second with a hand-written, Xeroxed quarter-page "So sorry --- no new clients at this time." Harold Matson gets a third for the same message but first prize for the concluding adverbial twist: "Thanks for thinking of us, nevertheless." Robert Madsen's response, 1 in. by 6 in., also had syntactical difficulties:
We've reviewed your submission, however, regrettably, it's not deemed appropriate that this agency represent it.
Angela Rinaldi's rejection slip was bordered in funereal black and was the most artful. Peter Rubie wanted to be sure that I would not "take this rejection as a comment on your writing ability because it is not intended to be one;" then he went on to suggest that my writing induced a certain lassitude:
Alas, I can only properly represent material that excites me or interests me, and unfortunately your material didn't do that.
Trafalgar Books told me they only handled equestrian writing, and Jeanne Fredricks said that she was "not taking fiction." Thanks, Jeanne. Cherry Weiner opined that she had a "very full list" but invited me to meet her at a conference even though she stated, in proper cautionary fashion, "Listening to me lecture is not enough." She attached some syntactical convolutions of her own:
I really need to have time on a one-on-one with you to have actually asked for your manuscript.
Blanche C. Gregory, despite my sending along a postage-
paid return envelope, informed me that she was not the right agent for me, and, moreover, she had "disposed of the material you sent us" without so much as a by-your- leave.
The Balkin Agency had a four-part rejection checklist, which seemed to me to include the entire written repertoire:
Sorry we don't handle fiction, poetry, drama, children's books, computer books, software, or articles.
Just to cover their bases, or their asses, they also included a check space that said, again from the literary ennui department, "Sorry, this just doesn't turn any of us on."
Jane Jordan Browne of Chicago sent along a check list as well, including one that quite turned my head around even though it was not addressed to me: "There is too much competition for your book." I could use a little of that. J. J. John Hawkins & Associates send us a form letter, I swear, a printed form letter that said that they would "personally like to thank you for sending in your query," and that
it is obvious much time and dedication has been spent in preparing your proposal and manuscript.
It is indeed a worthy creative endeavor and one that will get a lot of attention.
But not from them.
§ § §
In her form letter, Charlotte Gusay in Los Angeles got a bit peevish, advising me that "We have received your UNSOLICITED package/material here in our office." She then turned quite bossy, told me that I should submit, "a one-page query letter with a self-addressed stamped envelope." It ended with a paragraph, also in bold, headed, "Read and Heed" with specific instructions on the proper submission form.
Some came back hiding behind the quantitative rejection stance --- too many unsolicited manuscripts, not enough time. New England Publishing Associates faces a veritable mountain of manuscripts, "1200+ a year." The Henry Morrison Agency was even more mountainous: they get "40 - 60 queries a week," 2,000 - 3,000 a year.
In the self-serving department, Robert H. Lieberman found my writing to be "witty and funny" but was, unfortunately, "busy promoting my own novel The Last Boy." He sent along several promotional plugs in case I wanted to snap up a copy.
Susan Herner very much appreciated my thinking of her but said that my letter had arrived "at a rather chaotic time in my life as I am moving both home and office to Connecticut."
Since I've been in my home for twenty four years and in my office for close to fifteen, I hope you can empathize with the amount of sorting and packing I must do.
I do, I do, being a bit of a mover myself --- and I was thinking that getting out of wretched Scarsdale and taking up with Connecticut was possibly a step up the career ladder, although I was unhappy that she was too flush with papers and packing to take a gander at my submission.
Richard Curtis sent a brief "I'm sorry," and then turned around and invited me to purchase his How to be Your Own Literary Agent for only $16.95. "The Author Development Agency," on the other hand, mailed me a ready-to-
be-signed printed agreement. They would read all 227 pages of my manuscript for $300.
B. K. Nelson, another pay-as-
you-pray that had managed to slip through my bullshit- protection filter said I should send the whole kaboodle with "a non-refundable evaluation fee of $375" to "determine if my manuscript is saleable." If it was "not finished," they would do an even more exhaustive study at $5 a page.
The same company was also kind enough to send me their "Speaker Directory" which included Don Crutchfield, "Hollywood Private Investigator," Candace Watkins, available to speak on "Transexuality," Arlene A. Eve "Cht." doing "Past Life Regression," Holly Lefevre --- Holly Lefevre! --- on Fashion, Chef Armand Vanderstigchel, an expert on "Chicken Wings Recipes," and, finally, Robert W. Bly. I almost sent off for Bly for I have a deep affection for his male bonding scheme but, alas, it turned out to be some other Bly --- one who would "Jump Start Your Consulting Career" to help me "Earn $100,000+ a Year."
§ § §
And then there were --- sunt lacrimæ rerum --- the hand-written or typed, thoughtful, and mostly appreciative letters of regret. With the cold rejections, we can sneer, "Their loss!" or "Who would want to work with Charlotte Gusay anyway?" But the appreciative ones: perhaps they smart so because success comes and perches on our shoulders for a moment ... and then up and flies away.
It's the poignant knowledge that we've found a soul-mate, someone who had the wit to read and react ... and then return all this hard work with sincere regret. So it takes you up for a moment, and then, a second later, dumps you on the floor.
Along with the agents, I had sent out copies of the manuscript to a few likely publishers. Poorly Xeroxed "we-don't-read-
out-of-the-blue- submissions" dribbled back from the likes of Random House, Farrar Straus Giroux, and Little, Brown. But the slush-pile lady at Viking- Penguin allowed as how the writings were "charming" and the University of Washington Press said, with their letter of regret, that they were "wonderful vignettes:"
Believe me, it was a delightful interlude from the turgid prose we are required to review.
Agent Ruth Cohen said, "I like what you say, I like what you write, I wish I could help." Mary Brown of New York sent a long letter, summarizing each of the chapters I had mailed, including "Happy Bird Day," which
celebrates the arresting quality of children and appreciates friends who, even though they work for you, love you nonetheless, and extols life because it is so fine and short and yet indestructible.
I enjoyed reading them all...but I cannot represent you at this time.
Candice Fuhrman said "Your humor is much appreciated," and Henning Gutmann said, "There is a certain kind of ass-kicking and death-defying humor in your writing...[but] I don't see how I could sell it to a commercial publisher."
Of them all, the ones that most turned my head (and broke my heart) came from Jody Rein in Colorado, and The Robbins Office.
We loved your stories here at Jody Rein Books, Inc., and we loved your cover letter. I wish I could be your agent, but I can't. Your stories are original, fresh, and damn hard to publish and sell. I'm usually very adamant about the fact that a good agent can be a good agent anywhere in the country --- in eight years as an agent this is the first time I've ever said this: I think you need someone in New York. I think you need an agent who is having lunch with editors every day, and over lunch can mention you and your work and pitch your stories personally in a manner that I can't on the phone or in e-mail. You need just the right match in an editor, and I think that match is going to be made in a face-to-face meeting or an unscheduled conversation.
She then went on to suggest five agents, and concluded
I'm sure you will find a good agent and enthusiastic publisher with little trouble, and I wish you all the best.
Great letter ... but no cigars: no nibbles whatsoever from any of the five.
The last, from Summer Ostlund at The Robbins Office --- a real, full-time, well-known, well-respected agency in New York City --- asked for the full manuscript. Then, after six nail-biting weeks (my nails, not theirs), "I was particularly impressed with the work's honesty --- you've captured the lives of a simple, hard-working people with humor and poignancy."
That said, I am going to disappoint both of us by saying we are not the right representatives for his work.
Oh, woe. I'm getting out of this stupid writing business forever. You hear me? --- I'm getting out now! I will not put up with this rejection nonsense any longer. Work and write and sweat and slave and pull these words out of the hot beast of fire and then send them out and from 364 mailed out there are a couple a hundred or so who even bother to write back and say "Sorry," and then there are a few who say, "We're very sorry," and then there are these soul-grinding eat-em-
up-spit- em-out excruciating "You-are-a- great- writer-but- sorry" near misses. This is something up with which I will no longer put. You hear?
Except ... those three agents out there, still holding onto the manuscript, no word so far. And the two University Presses. And that dratted miserable disgusting humiliating irresponsible egregiously wretched gut-wrenching heart-robbing Jesus-bitten hope. Which drives us ever onward in this ridiculous foolishness, so that every time we open the mailbox, or every time the telephone rings...--- Carlos Amantea
[The following item appeared in the NB. section of the TLS for 27 September 2002]Following the story of Clive Birch and the literary agent who amuses himself by laughing his way through the slush pile (see NB. September 13), we have received many plaintive letters from fellow sufferers. A writer with an extensive collection of rejection slips is Carlos Amantea, of California. Author of a number of published books, he has yet to find an agent willing to represent his latest, A Geezer in Paradise. The excuses Mr Amantea has received are varied.
One agent, regretting that she had "a very full list," invited him to a conference to listen to her speak, but cautioned: "Listening to me lecture is not enough." She added a riddle for Mr Amantea to ponder: "I really need to have time on a one-on-one with you to have actually asked for your manuscript."
Another agent suffered from a similar syntactical deficiency: "We've reviewed your submission, however, regrettably, it's not deemed appropriate that this agency represent it."
J. J. Hawkins & Associates sent a form letter saying they would "personally like to thank you for sending in you query. It is indeed a worthy creative endeavour and one that will get a lot of attention." Not from J. J. Hawkins, though.
At least these responses were made on a literary basis. Susan Herner replied that Mr Amantea's book had arrived at an inconvenient time, "as I am moving both home and office to Connecticut. I hope you can empathize with the amount of sorting and packing I must do." Robert H. Liberman couldn't take on A Geezer in Paradise because he was "busy promoting my own novel The Last Boy." Considerate to the last, he told Mr Amantea where to buy a copy.
The Seminal Guide
To Ashtanga Yoga
By the Living Master
Sri K. Pattabhi Jois
(North Point Press)This Yoga business is not for the faint of heart. First, according to Sri K. Pattabhi Joisyou, should stay away from certain fleshly delights: no messing around with the Vital Bodily Fluids. Know thyself, because if you don't, you'll have to come back for rebirth in what Jois calls "this sapless and despicable world."
Always tell the truth unless it is "unpleasant;" if it's not pleasant, shut up. Also, never "cheat someone with sweet words." And don't talk so much, because "speech related to mundane matters destroys the power of the tongue, and shortens our life spans."
So, instead of going around getting laid, and blabbing, especially about getting laid, practice Santosha. This is "keeping the mind focused in a single direction, always being happy, and never feeling regret for any reason."
It's OK to have sex with your wife, but only at night --- but know that night isn't what you imagine it to be:
If during the night, the breath is felt to be moving through the surya nadi [the right nostril], then that is to be regarded as the daytime, and during that period, copulation and the like are not to occur.
Also, avoid hanging around with crumb-bums, what the author refers to as "undesirable or uncultured people."
Food? No veggies, because by eating vegetables, "diseases expand." So what can you put in your mouth? Wheat. Milk. Ginger. Mung beans. "Half-churned curds," whatever that is. And, gack, "snake gourd."
The practice of Yoga should be in a place that is "spotlessly clean and level, have windows, and be suitable for smearing with cow dung." I'm wondering, as I am reading this, what would my sweet Granny Eugenia, armed with Dutch Cleanser and Ammonia, say to this "cow dung" business. (In India, it is considered a cleaning agent for floors. Can you imagine packaging it in a box with a picture of a contented pooping cow, labeling it "Happy Cow Floor Dung-Flop Clean-Up?")
§ § §
There are over sixty yoga positions described, complete with photographs. Included are such tongue-twisters as Pindasana, Padangushtasana, Paschimattanasana, and the baddest of them all, Baddha Padmasana. Surya Namaskara is good for curing "leprosy, epilepsy, and jaundice." Janu Shirshansana ameliorates burning while urinating, semen loss, and diabetes --- but one should be careful to avoid "excessive coffee drinking, indiscriminate movements [and] the sight of bad things."
Exact directions may fuddle the inexperienced. For Marichyasana C, one must sit "in the same position as Marichyasana B," then
stretch the left leg out, press the right foot to the right buttock, as in Marichyasana A, straighten the chest, turn the waist toward the right, bring the left arm around the front of the right knee, twisting the left hand and arm around toward the back, bring the right arm around the back and grasp the left wrist with the right hand, straighten and turn the waist fully, doing rechaka and paraka as much as possible.
If you don't get it, don't sweat it. Just get a Guru. "Yoga should never be learned from reading books or looking at pictures, " says the author of Yoga Mala --- complete with its sixty-six photographs.--- S. A. Lindblad
[YET ANOTHER LETTER]
Dear Lolita Lark:
My name is Kara Fiess representing the non-profit college organization of Campus Crusade. We are producing a CD-ROM we intend to distribute for free to 50,000 in-coming freshman on several hundred campuses in the fall. The CD-ROM is a web friendly exploration of the spiritual and paranormal world. We sent you a letter on 7.1.02, requesting permission to archive this page/s:http://www.ralphmag.org/snake.htmlfrom your site onto our interactive CD-ROM. However, we currently have not received your reply.--- Kara Fiess
§ § §Hi Kara:
RALPH is published by the Reginald A. Fessenden Educational Fund, Inc., a non-profit, tax-exempt organization which operates on a very very small budget. Most of our work outside of our internet publishing consists of helping prisoners --- both with books and with on-site assistance --- and of giving direct aid to organizations that help disabled children in other countries. All of our employees are volunteers.
The Forms 990 that the Campus Crusade has filed with the IRS for some reason are not available online [it would help if you could tell us where we could locate them] but we were able to track down "The Great Commission Foundation of the Campus Crusade for Christ" in San Clemente which helps fund your CCC International. The form was filed with the IRS in Ogden, Utah on 6 November 2001.
That organization shows gross income for the most recent fiscal year of $3,043,717, along with assets of $3,684,012. Gifts from the last three years total $7,214,682 --- including "gems/jewelry" with a value of $516,667.
In your letter, you state:
There is no pool of profit from which to pay royalty money.
This may be so, but for a minor branch of CCC to show assets of over three-and-a-half-million dollars and gifts of over seven million dollars in a single year shows a prosperity that we here in our small service organization can only dream of.
You say you want to put one of our reviews --- Lost in the Land of Faith, Hope and Venom --- out on a CD-ROM that you're preparing to give more publicity to Campus Crusade. We have a much better idea. We suggest that rather than trying for more publicity, that you donate a portion of that largess to us so we can, in turn, further help the very poor and the very disabled.
For instance, one of our projects is assisting a group that works with disabled children. The Piña Palmera, a service organization in Oaxaca, helps children who have learning or physical disabilities in one of the poorest areas of Mexico. We give some money to them every year --- what little we can spare --- but we also send them orthopaedic equipment, including wheelchairs, braces, crutches, and children's incontinent devices.
Think about it. Instead of creating a CD-ROM to garner more assets for CCC --- you can make it possible for us to help a five-year-old girl with braces on her little legs, a twelve-year-old boy who is spastic and cannot speak in whole sentences, a sixteen-year-old girl with muscular dystrophy who cannot feed herself, a twenty-two-year old man with high-level spinal cord injury --- one who will never be able to walk again, never be able to work again, will never be able to hold his wife and two children in his arms ever again. You and your organization can join with us to help the dozens and dozens of suffering poor who have no family to care for them, who have no one to bind up their wounds, to tend their needs, to give them loving charity.
Consider the half-a-million dollars worth of jewelry owned by your organization through the Great Commission. I suspect you or CCC are in no great need of rings, silverware, tiaras, diamonds, necklaces, and the like. Think of converting this into cash and donating it to us: think of what more than $500,000 could do to help those who could not in a hundred years hope for help from any other source. For as you know, from your study of Corinthians, Charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up...And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity...
Charity is not puffed up with diamonds, brooches, and other trinkets, Kara. The greatest love, as you well know, is charity. Help us with these poor, innocent, suffering children --- the ones that will never be able to help themselves. You, and your Lord, and your wonderfully prosperous organization will all be the better for it.--- Lolita Lark
§ § §The Folio is published by The Reginald A Fessenden Educational Fund, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. Monies in excess of subscription rates are contributed to various good works, such as the Prison-Ashram Project, the Prison Library Project, and a rehabilitation center for the disabled in Southern Mexico. We also give direct assistance to several Mexican families in the Tijuana area who have been pushed to the edge of financial disaster by recent partial closings of the border. All contributions are tax-deductible by determination of the IRS and the State of California.
San Diego CA 92176
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