Glory Holes & The So 2010 Social MediaSunday, January 23, 2011
A few months before September 1991, I was called by Argentine-born designer Roberto Dosil. His firm, Praxis Design, was producing a beautiful brochure (one of the most beautiful I have ever seen) which was going to follow the process of the making of a single glass blown vase.
Coast Paper was celebrating 50 years of existence and had commissioned artist Edward Jolda of Andrighetti Glassworks to make 750 vases, one each for every employee of the company.
I was dispatched by Dosil to document the making of the vase. There were two methods available to me. One was to go on different days and, little by little record all the stages of the making of a vase.
For me that would have been cheating. I decided that no matter if I were being paid a rate for so many hours I was going to take my chances and stay for the making of one vase from beginning to end. There was always a possibility that the vase would break somewhere doing the process. I took my chances and Jolda did not break the vase in question that appears from beginning to end in Dosil’s lovely brochure.
The place of work for Jolda was hot and I took the pictures in the height of summer. To record the event I decided a small camera (a Nikon FM-2) was my best bet and I used Ektachrome 800 for the shots. I cheated and for the last shot (the second one here) I brought in the heavy artillery with my Mamiya RB-67 and took it with a bigger transparency. It was at Jolda’s that I found out that the adjustable cavity in which he inserted the work-in-progress was called a glory hole.
Of late these two words have been in my mind on a completely different topic that is not related in the least to vase making.
My thoughts, if I am to state them here in chronological order, must begin sometime in Buenos Aires around 1965.
While riding trains and subways, men, and they were mostly men, would suddenly appear at one end of the car and give us a spiel on some product they were selling. Usually they were the then ubiquitous plastic strips that men inserted on the underside of their dress shirt collars to make the tips stiff. We Argentines called them ballenitas (or little whales as the original ones had been made of whale bone). I remember that I made it a point, as did just about everyone else, not to look at these salesmen in the eye.
I used the same method when driving my VW beetle in Mexico City in the late 60s. While waiting at a traffic light we were bombarded by fire eaters, little boys selling Chiclets chewing gum and forlorn women, with a baby in arms, offering us lottery tickets. By the time I left Mexico City in 1975, when traffic in the freeways had begun to grind to a halt, there were young women offering oral sex while one drove bumper to bumper.
Again my method was never to look at these people in the eye. I have always used this method with big dogs that are likely to jump up on me to lick me. I have noticed that if you do not look at the dog, the dog will ignore your presence.
By then I felt guilty in making these poor street sellers non persons. I told my wife Rosemary about it who not only did not give me any comfort but she also did not offer any alternative method of dealing with them.
When we arrived in Vancouver I was astounded to find that you could buy gas for your car without having to communicate with anybody. It was really neat that after a long day of work I did not have to answer to anyone the perennial question, “How are you?” or “How can I help you?” It felt liberating not having to talk to anybody. I did not have to say goodbye.
I used to squirm in embarrassment when in those mid 70s I would take my family to a Keg Restaurant for a steak dinner (and that salad bar!) and our waiter would come up to us and in a most friendly manner tell us his name and that he or she would be our waiter for the evening. I was used to the stiff and formal Argentine and Mexican waiters. This was too much!
It was at about this time that Rosemary and I were invited for “after-dinner-drinks”. I was astounded that some people in Vancouver did not bother to cook for their guests and expected them to show up with full stomachs. I came up with the statement that Vancouverites were as cold as their tap water.
On the other hand I longed and did get some satisfaction during the late 90s when I met Argentines Nora Patrich and Juan Manuel Sanchez. We enjoyed the Argentine habit of drinking mate from a gourd. The method of pouring hot water into the gourd (which is full of the mate herb) and then to sip, one person at a time will do this until all liquid is gone and the mate has to be filled again) and passing it around would clash in North America. Several persons using one metal drinking straw (a bombilla) without being able to wipe it or clean it? Not acceptable!
Argentines Nora Patrich and Juan Manuel Sanchez
So for all the years that I have been in Vancouver I have noticed how we seem to withdraw from human contact. Years ago you might take you car to be washed in a place that hired people, at a minimum wage, to cheefully deal with ice cold water as they wiped and cleaned your car. You paid extra for that human touch even if you did not (or I didn’t) look at them in the eye. If you did you might have the obligation of having to tip them and even thank them. Now we have the touchless car washes. They must be better because there is no human involvement. I cannot wait for machine filled ice cream cones instead of the usual hand-filled scoop we enjoy now.
It was in the 80s, during the sexual revolution that preceded the appearance of HIV that Vancouver was all ablaze with a gay life that was in your face and quite gay (to use the original meaning of the word). It was in the late 70s that I had worked for a gay publication called Bi-Line. It was during that stint that I first heard the word glory hole. I soon learned what they were but always in a hush-hush manner. Sometime in the late 80s a woman, whose name I have forgotten, dressed up as a man and went into a glory hole establishment in San Francisco which was the Mecca for out-of-the-closet gay life. The woman (a sort of 20th century adventurer version or Sir Richard Burton gazing at the Kaaba in 1853) wrote about her experience for either Playboy or Penthouse. Whichever publication it was, it left me shocked for a long time. Our intrepid reporter did not have the necessary personal equipment to go through the experience but she did explain that men would go into a small stall (in Victorian times these booths existed and the peep holes in them were called glory holes) and insert their male member through the glory hole and someone, on the other end, would do the desired servicing.
What struck me about the glory hole was the paradoxical intimacy that was depersonalized.
That made me think of old Nympho-Marcia. At St. Ed’s High School in Austin, Texas the 9th grade and 10th grade dormitories (50s of us lived sleeping on bunk beds in a huge room with two story high ceilings) had a pay phone outside the door. It didn’t take us long to devise a wire, made from a coat hanger, that we would insert through the coin return. With a deft turn here and there we could use the phone to our heart’s content without spending any money. Marcia would call us on Friday nights. She talked sexy. She would lead us on and promise to meet us in the back row of the film theater down on Congress Avenue. She never did show up. We didn’t know it yet but we were pioneers in what has become known as either phone-chat or phone-sex. We could say things to Marcia (we used to call her obscene names and she would always rise to the occasion as much as we did) that we would not have even dared to even begin to say to our virginal girl friends (those of us, and certainly not me, lucky to have one).
It was also in these years that we would go to the other side of the city, by the University of Texas to have hamburgers in one of our day student’s cars (only day students and not boarders could have a car) and enjoy being served by beautiful waitresses in roller skates.
It was at St. Ed’s that in living in a dormitory for two years and then in rooms with three other and then one fellow classmate that I learned to stick my head out of the shell and become social. This has been and acquired pleasure that I have not ever let go of even though I find that it has become more difficult and perhaps even endangered in my contemporary times of 2011.
My friend Tim Bray an Android guru and a guru of XML and other goodies I have no concept of, has recently Tweeted: The term “social media” is so 2010. I felt like commenting (but I rarely do in Twitter), “How about anti-social media?”
Whatever bitter cynicism might have been conveyed by my comment, it would not have been given the time of day by anybody. There is no way it would have become “viral”.
If I have a Twitter account my excuse, I believe, is a valid one. It gives me the opportunity to study and watch how my world is changing. I am on facebook (and do remember that facebook is not to be capitalized!) for the same reason. My sole method for staying in facebook is by placing a short sentence in Spanish (why not?) to announce some aspect that has a connection with that day’s blog. I might just insert in my facebook status when I finish this blog: El agujero de la gloria y lo impersonal.
So much has been written about the impersonal nature of facebook and all those other so 2010 social networks. There is nothing that I can add here that I feel is fresh insight except my equating the concept of the depersonalized intimacy of the glory hole as a metaphor for what is happening to our world right now.
On Friday night I took my granddaughter Rebecca to Bishop’s. We were greeted by the hostess, the Portuguese maître d, by our server and we had many conversations with John Bishop himself. We talked on how Spanish manzanilla fino is called that because of its colour that is similar to manzanilla or chamomile tea. We talked on how Seville oranges are loaded off the village of Burriana on to ships headed for Scotland. We chatted with our neighbouring table. It seems that they were Rebecca’s mother’s bosses at work. I hear a woman at another table say El País. I knew that made her a Spaniard so I got up and enquired if she read the column by Arturo Pérez-Reverte in the venerable Spanish newspaper. She asserted that she did. When we left., Bishop, the waitress, the hostess and the Portuguese maître d bid us goodbye.
I thought that if I could I would go back to those days in Burnaby when my wife and two daughters painted the town red at the salad bar at The Keg. Would the waiter still talk to us in that easy and warm manner that I now so appreciate?
In this 2010 I do see some hope of remaining truly social and personal even though the names at the end of my hard-copy 2011 diary are reduced to a few of the many people I knew. Few will answer the phone if I call them. They all have Call Display. They know I talk too much. They are waiting for, they hope, for Twitterized phones that will go dead after 140 characters.”Why don’t you learn to text message?” they just might tell me if they indeed do answer the phone.
Another possibility is a phone version of the send-to-everybody Christmas/New Year’s form status e-mail.
“Hi Ian, John, Robert, Sally, etc (a special phone app would only mention in my voice that person’s and only that person’s name) I am well I hope you are well, too. I have psoriatic arthritis but I don’t have skin rashes. I do have inflamed pinkies and my doctor, Doctor Verdejo, says I don’t have gout. I am disappointed as I was going to buy a case of claret and enjoy the positive reasons for having gout. Goodbye.”
But that would not wash as we have (those of us who still have land lines have answering machines) voice mail and that, too will soon be Twitterized.
It reminds me of a conversation I once had with Western Living’s editor Carol-Ann Rule. She was explaining to me how she and her art director did not like my garden photography. “It is too indirect. It has too many corners which are out of focus or where you shoot through bushes. We like garden photos that are sharp from one end to the other. We don’t like to guess at what we are looking at. We want to know exactly what it is we are looking at.” I remember answering (and I have to admit that while Miss Rule was shocked, she took it), "If you had been William Shakespeare’s editor, his 154 Sonnets would have been reduced to one and it would have had a single line, “Let’s fuck.”
But first you have to look at them in the eyes. You never could in San Francisco's glory hole days.