Purity and Danger and Foreskin

Posted by Madam Bubby

 

I was born into a world where baby boys were routinely circumcised, whether they were Jewish or not. Hygienic purposes. (These were also the days when nurses wore caps, which were later deemed to be unhygienic. Go figure.)

These were also the days when women at least in middle class white America were knocked out in order to give birth. Babies were kept in rooms behind windows, often in incubators even if they weren’t under five pounds, held up for viewing like specimens by nurses in crisp white caps. (I am remembering the episode of the birth of Little Ricky on I Love Lucy, which corresponded to Lucille Ball scheduling a caesarian section for the birth of her son, Desi Arnaz, Jr.)

 

Ricky in the hospital waiting room, from I Love Lucy
Ricky in the hospital waiting room (Source)

 

It's like anything that resembled the nitty gritty raw materials of sex and blood and birth and death was hidden, sterilized as much as possible. Dirt was disorder. Sex was dirty unless it produced babies, but giving birth to those babies was a disordered process that required forceps and scalpels and anesthesia to control it, get it out of the realm of actual living.

 

Scalpel

 

And of course any type of sex other than what took place behind closed doors in a missionary position for procreative purposes was generally deemed dirty and disordered. Thus LGBTQ persons themselves were deemed by the general population as irredeemably dirty, unless they could cleanse themselves and rejoin the pristine world of Father Knows Best, itself but an idealized fantasy.

Mary Douglas in her seminal book Purity and Danger explored this primal desire to contain dirt and disorder, like the way we still keep our basic bodily functions of urination and defecation in a toilet which is supposed to be sparkling clean and in a room that is also supposed to be sparkling clean. The toilet itself is an image that contains in itself this fraught tension which informs our attitudes toward sexuality and even to parts of the body that one uses to express that sexuality.

 

Purity and Danger cover
Purity and Danger cover

Scrubbing a toilet

 

Thus, that foreskin had to be brutally cut off, to cleanse, make pure, the member of an appendage would make its appearance and its role sexual act even more exciting, promising deep, dark, rich scents and that pungent but also enticing smegma.

It revealed the mystery in order to contain it. When I experienced sexually a man who was uncut for the first time (in the bathroom, and in the shower, ironically), which could imply he was somehow more complete, even “holy” which word can also mean complete, I experienced mystery. And in that mystery, glory, and by glory, I am thinking of not a vague disembodied entity or feeling in the clouds, but physical reality itself charged with an energy that creates and propels the orgasm but also encompasses it.

 

Images from The U.N.C.U.T. Club of L.A. & Club Mandom 1: Blue Collar Cheese Factory
Images from The U.N.C.U.T. Club of L.A. (top) and Club Mandom 1: Blue Collar Cheese Factory (bottom)

 

His phallus contained on it a boundary, and it’s through crossing boundaries one grows, changes, lives, dies. I could experience at that time a fullness and as I said above, a mystery that transcended the rigid binaries which result from treating sexual, in fact, all human experience as something we have to dissect with scalpels and pull apart with forceps.

I’m not advocating for an end to circumcision, as it is a boundary-crossing, consensual ritual of initiation for males in many cultures, but, significantly, also a source of horrific pain and suffering for so many, especially women and girls who are circumcised in order to completely suppress their sexual desire, eliminate it like it is indeed something dirty and thus disordered. They in essence are forced into becoming objects only defined by what the culture deems as purity, but at the same time depriving them of living as full, complete persons.

Yes, there’s dangerous realities we do need to contain, as a virus plagues the world and we must first try and control it, then eradicate it, by amplifying up to the nth degree our bathroom rituals of cleansing and purifying. But our complicated, messy, exciting and ultimately glorious sexuality can and should become for humans both dangerous and pure, exploding the tension in that binary if only for a moment. A holy moment.

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Odd People and Incidents on Public Transportation Redux

CTA train, Chicago

I was reading a piece lately about some rather deplorable conditions (bedbugs, ew!) and raunchy actions (primarily sex) on Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) trains. The evidence originated from those who should know, the operators of the trains.

Now I am a regular rider (both by choice but also because of financial constraints), and I have noticed some odd behavior lately, and one could possibly attribute some of the aggressive behavior to the polarized climate of stress since the last election, but let's face it, the transportation is for the public. And no one in a public environment is ever completely placid and uniform, despite the presence of certain social etiquette mores.

I won't discuss the panhandlers or persons who sadly are suffering from some form of mental illness, specifically, as they, regardless of their individual backstories, have always been a constant presence on the subway. I will instead focus and comment on the more odd, and one even charming, people and actions I have noticed through the years.

A heavyset African guy plugged into headphones was falling asleep. His head gradually ended up on the shoulder of a young woman sitting next to him. She actually responded nicely, gently nudging him, and I heard her say, “You were falling asleep.” He looked dazed and immediately shut his eyes again. This falling asleep on people is not uncommon; a former coworker of mine told me she did the same, and she told me the nice elderly woman next to her just let her rest that way through most of the journey. I have never fallen asleep on anyone on the subway, though I have often through about resting my head on the chest and shoulders of a few hot guys here and there on various trips.
 

Two men leaning against each other on subway train

One rush hour, on a particularly crowded train car, a woman began flossing her teeth. I think this action ranks with the bedbugs. People were so jammed in and in obvious discomfort that this action went unnoticed, though a heard a few tsking sounds here and there. Ew!

I overheard a woman (and yes, I was listening), overall rather in coarse in clothing and flat of voice, firing someone. Yes, on a cellphone, and yes, on the subway. The corporate jargon words and phrases I heard included, “I don't think this position is working out for you.... as a manager, I've felt the need to discuss what is going on with you recently.... you are just not a good fit for us right now.” On the subway? Come on! Where is the sense of proportion, boundaries?

I've noticed these three incidents involved boundaries. People are doing actions in public that one normally does in private, either at home in the bedroom or the bathroom, or in an office.

And speaking of boundaries, I must admit, I've never seen any overt sexual activity on the subway, and I really don't remember any particularly passionate public displays of affection. But then, I don't take the CTA that late, when more of these incidents might occur, the results perhaps of intoxication other factors that cause one to break taboos.

And lately, because the majority of the riders are plugged into phones (perhaps the new conventional subway behavior), certain actions tend to stick out more, even a conversation. For example, I overheard a heated conversation between high school boys who looked like conventional nerds with big thick glasses, 90-pound weaklings who would get sand kicked in their faces by jocks, about obscure astronomical data. Something about orbits and velocity. Really advanced math. Well, in a few years, these kids will be making the big bucks and never have to ride the subway again.

Still, in my subway observations and musing, I would rather fantasize about the more conventional hot young business guys in their tight dress pants and gleaming brown derby shoes or the rougher types in athletic gear freeballing.
 

Manspreading guy in athletic gear

People on the subway have come a long way since Ethel refused to ride it in blue jeans when she had to take Lucy, vaguely disguised as a beekeeper, to the silversmith. Lucy had somehow gotten a loving cup/trophy stuck on her head.
 

Lucy on subway with loving cup on her head

But that's so much interesting than staring at a phone screen, eh?

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Lucy Ricardo on I Love Lucy: A Criminal!

Lucy Ricardo

I so hope I am not outing myself even more as an “eldergay” with the topic of the blog this week, but I do like to think Lucy, especially as Lucy Ricardo on I Love Lucy, will remain always funny, even as broadcasts of that show are now making their way into interstellar space.

Situation comedies, like most art forms that move in time, require suspension of disbelief, but after some inspiration from the inimitable datalounge website (which bills itself as “serving up this steaming pile of Gay celebrity gossip, politics and pointless bitchery since 1995 (were you even born in 1995?) Go ahead. You know you want to..."), this idea really hit me … if one pretty much voids the suspension of disbelief required for Lucy and (in most cases) her accomplice Ethel to get involved in so many zany madcap predicaments, plus interpreting their antics through a fear-ridden mindset characteristic of so many 21st century persons (especially helicopter parents) … Yikes!

Yes, Lucy Ricardo is pretty much a “serial criminal,” with Ethel (usually) as her accomplice. Now, Ricky and Fred were also involved in a some of the business, but Lucy was the mastermind.

Some examples, mostly from memory (oh, I hope, dear reader, you are impressed), which may make you recall some of your favorite episodes:

Lucy often, quite often, commits white collar crime; for example, she purposely wrote a postdated check to pay for the costumes and props for the operetta her women's club is putting on. She does get caught (the check bounces), but not by the cops, but by the company she wrote the check to, who hauls and rips away everything as the performers continue to try and save the show.
 

Lucy the Operetta

I do remember her doing the whole postdated check thing in another episode, and even more brazenly, she charges exorbitant amounts at a grocery store (including the neighbor's groceries), after Ricky, weary of her financial crimes, hires a business manager. Lucy thinks the business manager will take care of it at the end of the month when he goes over her monthly grocery allowance (well, not really, it does end well, but not in the way one expects it to).

More variations of white collar crime: And in Monte Carlo, when she is in Europe, she gets in trouble for passing counterfeit money. (And she also tries to get across the France-Italy border without a passport, but that's another category.)

And to get to Europe financially, she and Ethel concoct a raffle for a fake not for profit, Ladies Overseas Aid. The FBI and the cops are really on to her in this one …
 

Lucy and Ethel's fraudulent raffle

Lucy is guilty of assault and imprisonment: for example, in one episode, with the typical theme of Lucy trying to get in the show, after losing the required weight under much duress, she ties up the woman who was supposed to be in the chorus line at Ricky's club in a broom closet so she can be in that show.

Lucy is guilty of property damage: ah, so many instances, but I remember one specifically. After a falling out with Fred and Ethel, she and Ricky try and purposely break the lease so as not to have to pay it off. After purposely making noise and even making prank phone calls to Ethel (another crime), they decide to have Ricky's band rehearse in the apartment late at night; the noise and stomping causes the ceiling to collapse on Fred and Ethel.

Lucy is guilty of theft: ah yes, the infamous let's steal (with Ethel) John Wayne's footprints from the famous Hollywood Walk of Fame by Grauman's Chinese Theater. She is pretty much out of control in Hollywood trying to meet celebrities, and her crimes include much breaking and entering, including leaping over a fence to steal a grapefruit from Richard Widmark's yard. She also tried to sneak into Cornel Wilde's hotel room.
 

Lucy and Ethel attempting to steal John Wayne's footprints

Lucy is guilty of creating public a public disturbance: many others, but in this case, the act was a stunt to get some money (they landed a job advertising some movie called “Women of Mars”) because she and Ethel lied about the amount of money they could give to a hoity-toity acquaintance's charity, but they go to the top of the Empire State of Building, scream at people in gibberish, and point what looks like stun guns at them … oy veh!
 

Lucy and Ethel as Martians at the Empire State Building

Lucy is guilty of threats to safety on public transportation: On the train home from Hollywood, she keeps pulling the emergency brake, for various reasons, but it turns out that this criminal act is not as horrible as the jewel heist going on.
 

Lucy pulling emergency brake

Lucy is involved in the Mob (not really but … ): And, right before she and Ricky (and later Fred and Ethel) move to Connecticut, she, Ethel, and Fred disguise themselves as mobsters in order to keep the deal from closing (because Lucy and Ethel don't want to separate) and end up terrorizing the owners of the house to point where the husband gets out a shotgun. Yet it is implied by Lucy at one point earlier that Fred is “packing a rod.”
 

Ethel, Fred, and Lucy: 1950s Gangsters

And I am not recounting all, yes, all the episodes where her crimes occur.

Yes, I know it was a comedy show, a parallel universe, but I just wonder if someone in today's angst-ridden culture (I am not denigrating the valid concerns persons possess about gun control, terrorism, property rights, public safety, and white collar crime) watched some of these without knowledge of the show's context and genre, what they might think.

Lucy Ricardo, I do love you, but even in the 1950s, you might have gotten locked up (which did happen a couple times on the series … oh, I could go on and on).

But in that parallel universe where problems become miraculously resolved in half an hour with commercials, the deus ex machina (in Lucy's case, often her husband) descends to make everything kiss and make up/all right/and all manner of things shall be well.

Some of our retro studs in the world of Bijou Video weren't exactly perfect citizens (and not only because they were having gay sex, illegal in many United States jurisdictions when they appeared in their movies)… check out some of our flicks where they, at various levels, bend and break the law, including Drive, Boynapped, Star Trick, Greek Lightning, The American Adventures of Surelick Holmes, and Crime Does Pay.

(For more specific information on the I Love Lucy episodes, I highly recommend The I Love Lucy Book.)

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Grow Up! Sleep (And Do Other Activities) in a Bed!

I've heard so many random comments about how some people need to and never graduate from college student physical student sleeping structures. Think futons, mattresses on the floor, twin bunk beds. A friend of mine was actually completely repelled by a person who now makes good money (first “real job” after freelancing) who is still sleeping on a mattress on the floor. (And apparently doesn't suffer from back problems, like one friend, who would be sleeping in agony on most conventional beds.) 

 

Futon on floor

I guess maybe the whole adult bed issues ties into marriage. You know, the marriage bed, and dowry chests often contained linens and other items to furnish the bed. And this bed would be for the couple only, a major rite of passage, as for many centuries siblings and unmarried family members routinely slept together in the same bed. Why? Most people were poor. Privacy was lacking. Bedding was expensive. 

Of course, in the United States, most young adults live with each other, cohabit before marriage. In fact, I even remember when I was living in the dorms, the sign when a guy and a girl (two guys was of course taboo at that time) began to cohabit was the double bed. Sometimes two beds pushed together, and usually in the guy's room. Apparently the guy's dorm was a more acceptable place for sex than the girl's dorm. The few times guys even visited the girl dorms was for let me eat with or even fix dinner for you in my room. Sexist, oh yes! 

I've often wondered if a certain type of bed makes better sex. I mean, some bed sex fantasies involve frills and canopies and flowers but also rough sex. Really rough. I think of those bodice-ripper historical romance novels, where the guy who ends up being Prince Charming, but not after some often an often mind-boggling I love him, I hate him, I love her, I hate her, and the result of this confusion is a heroine deflowered before the wedding, sometimes on the same bed where she ends up after the marriage. 
Bodice ripper cover art


In contrast, the man-eating, predatory Sue Ann Nivens on the Mary Tyler Moore Show ended up doing the deflowering on her indescribable bed. We see this bed in one episode, where the WJM-TV gang congregate to comfort her when she realizes her sister will be staying in Minneapolis to host a rival cooking show. Erosville, USA. Cupids, flowers, pink satin. It vibrates. And when the climax occurs (and in Sue Ann's world, her climax is the goal), the florid theme from Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet sounds forth. 
 

Sue Ann Nivens' bed

I'm not entirely sure how LGBTQ persons fit into this dynamic, because for ages they were banned from participating in traditional heterosexual rites of passage. In the days of the closet, when lovers had to present themselves as “roommates,” I'm sure a double bed would more than raise eyebrows. But then, those were the days when heterosexual icons Lucy and Ricky had to sleep in separate twin beds after the first season of I Love Lucy as a double bed was too risque. 

I just bought some bed risers for my futon frame. I sleep on a futon, which used to be on the floor, then on a low wooden frame, then on a black metal sling frame (still low). Now the sleeping structure resembles a bed, at least the height. Have I grown up? Maybe, but the best sex I've had occurred on the floor of a van. 
 

 

 

Hot nude guy in front of van

 

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Weird People on the Bus

 

 

I Love Lucy subway image - woman wearing a vase on her head on a train with passengers staring at her


I've noticed lately there's almost a cult on youtube of people filming antisocial behavior on public transportation. The range of antisocial behavior is wide, but of course obvious brawls accompanied by foul language are almost sure to go viral, or at least get multitudinous views. 

Not surprising, this trend, in a world where senior citizen middle school bus monitors are brutally scapegoated (the Karen Klein incident) or where a girl is brutally attacked by her peers (not in public, but the video was disseminated on the Internet), and her attackers are even thrilled when they end up on the news after they get arrested (see the Lifetime movie, Girl Fight, based of course on a true story). Overall, these incidents (and many others) point to a disturbing pathology of voyeurism and narcissism. 
 

Karen Klein on bus - video stills

I'm not necessarily espousing the view of many “Make America Great Again” people who support the (ah, so ironic given my opinion here, the vulgar boor "President") where American was supposedly a kinder, gentler (maybe the word is genteel), less narcissistic place in their white bread 1950s. But in the days when one got dressed up to go outside (remember, Ethel Mertz would never wear blue jeans on the subway), one wonders if one's clothing might somehow reflect or even monitor one's behavior. Of course, one can act like a brute in a suit (again, look at the vulgar boor), but still, I wonder. 


I do wonder how many fights occurred on buses in the 1950s. But then, one couldn't just immediately whip out a phone and film them for posterity. 

Cell phone footage still from CTA bus fight

But when one takes “public transportation,” and in Chicago, that means the CTA (Chicago Transportation Authority), one is exposed to a vast array of people and their behavior. And in Chicago, especially, where “public transportation” is considered to be the province of lower-status people, there's a stigma. 

 

Crowded public transportation


One takes the bus only when one is too poor to own a car, or disabled, or old, or very young, or non-white. And one only takes it when one's car breaks down. And it's almost like if you own a car, even in densely populated areas where you don't really need one, you've made it. And the high-end developments going up almost always contain garages. 

And in Chicago, certain bus lines are stigmatized in the stigmatized CTA system and those who take it. The number 36, Broadway, carries a reputation for being the bus “weirdos” take. Yet that bus goes through an area of Chicago, Uptown, an area especially hard hit by the lack of governmental funding for certain programs released mentally disturbed people onto the streets from shelters and other facilities. 

I'm not certain which other routes carry this stigma, and I don't want to overgeneralize that buses in underserved areas carry passengers who are necessarily more dangerous or “weird.” Well, there was the woman on one bus on the South Side who claimed to be a bike; see this photo. 
 

Woman riding on bike rack on CTA bus

Anyway, I've been taking the CTA for a long time (for multiple reasons, and I fit some of the stereotypes of those who take it), and I've seen much, but an incident that occurred on the number 81, Lawrence bus, (which travels through one of the most ethnically diverse areas in Chicago) stood out. 
 

Number 81 Lawrence CTA bus

I was waiting for it with my friend from out of town. We had just returned from the casino. We saw a frowsy older woman (maybe sixtyish) with very short hair and very thick round coke-bottle glasses practically leap in front of the bus as it pulled into the terminal; yes, she leaped right in front of the yellow line. The sign tells you to not cross that yellow line. The bus driver, a heavyset African-American woman, yelled at her, harshly, claiming that she had almost hit her as the bus pulled in because she crossed the line. I got the sense this woman takes this bus regularly and always disobeys the sign, and may have been almost hit previous times as the bus pulled in. I heard her respond snarkily to the bus driver, “I have to be the first on the bus.” Uh, OK ... 

Yes, she was, and she sat down and pulled out what looked like some kind of Christian fundamentalist tract from one of her multiple bags (yes, a cliché, but watch for multiple bags, and I don't mean newly minted bags from a recent shopping trips to Macy's or Bloomingdales). My friend (we were sitting a couple of seat pairs behind her) saw she had made many notes on one of the pages. The theme of the tract was the usual societal decay apocalyptic doom end of the world scenario, and my friend later told me he was able to even decipher one of her notes on a section of the tract: It's the television, the source of evil. 

I must claim, though, based on what I said about these viral videos, she may not be that far off track, but I imagined her sitting in her tiny apartment wearing a tin foil hat monitoring the Satanic messages coming in from a test pattern. 

But then, and this is where her behavior became really bizarre and offensive, a young Hispanic woman got on with a baby in a stroller. The woman with the baby pulled down the disabled seats right in front of the weird woman so she could get the stroller out of everyone's way. The weird woman proceeded to hold her nose. She then retrieved from one of her multiple bags a small, sample-size container of Lysol and spray it around her. 
 

Lysol

I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. My mouth remained open. Shock. 

Weird woman exited at Pulaski and Lawrence, not exactly a high-class area. In fact, it looked rather overcrowded and depressed. Gentrification had not arrived. Many people were thus waiting for buses. 

And no, I did not film this incident. I'm not sure what conclusions I can draw, but I get the sense, other than that the woman was obviously disturbed, that perhaps she was one of the people who lived around Pulaski and Lawrence in the sixties or even the fifties when the area was white, and I think, predominately Jewish. And she was still living there. But the world changed around her. She couldn't embrace the change as positive and took refuge in a reality that could be safe only by through segregation and scapegoating. 

And this disturbing dynamic is still occurring as youtubers film and view videos that show “the other” as someone or, more accurately, something, to be mocked and dehumanized by not only physical strangers, but by millions, even billions of impersonal, invisible voyeurs. 

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