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Archive for the ‘Biography’ Category

20140829_204721In Atlanta, I felt my first twinge of homesickness; I reckon it’s because I was back in the Deep South, in a city I’ve visited many times, and saw many familiar business names and the like that I hadn’t seen in a long time.  Mancrack (who as you may recall provided the art for my Lammas column) was my hostess, and I got to meet a number of readers both at my Liberty On the Rocks event last Monday, and in private on the night before.  Another interesting thing about Atlanta was that three of the attendees at my event were running for office; perhaps that indicates a strong Libertarian Party in Georgia, but one way or another I think it’s very important that politicians (of any political party) hear about sex worker rights, so I’m really pleased and I’m hopeful for similar attention to future events.

While you were reading last Tuesday’s Tour Diary, I was en route to Tampa Bay, where I stayed with my friend Kelly Michaels.  Since I hadn’t heard anything from any of the people I had contacted in the area, I was expecting just a quiet week of visiting; however, while I was in Atlanta I was emailed by Tampa-area reader Hotlix, who absolutely would not hear of this, and beat the bushes to attract more attention to my visit.  Kelly hosted a potluck supper and discussion group at her house Friday, and Buttons Berry advertised it on SWOP Tampa Bay’s Facebook page; in all eight people in addition to Kelly and I showed up, and it was absolutely one of the best events of the whole tour.  Besides the quality of the participation, everyone really made me feel like a rock star; so much so, in fact, that I was a little embarrassed by it.  I’m really happy to be reaching so many people that they come out of their way to see me; three of them made a two-hour (one way) drive from Orlando in Friday afternoon traffic!  As you read this I’m in New Orleans, but everything I’m doing here is private; the Tampa Bay event was therefore the last public one of the tour, and I couldn’t have wished for a better sendoff.

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A restaurant is a fantasy–a kind of living fantasy in which diners are the most important members of the cast.  –  Warner Leroy

Due to the high cost of hotels and gasoline, it was absolutely imperative that I keep my food costs as low as possible on my tour.  The great majority of the hotels I chose had free breakfast, and many generous people treated me to dinner (either at restaurants or at their own homes), but that still left quite a few dinners on my own.  Obviously, I ate a lot of fast food because it was cheap, but I knew I’d quickly become bored if I ate at the same places too often (even Waffle House or Steak ‘n Shake).  So fairly early in the trip, I hit upon the idea of visiting fast food places that were unique to the city (or at least the region) where I was staying; not every city or state has such places, but many do.  A few of these have begun to spread out from their native soil, but I did not include any regional chain (like Popeye’s or Sonic) which has become national or at least semi-national.  I ate at most of these during the tour, but there are a couple I knew from previous experience:

Braum's logoBraum’s  This chain is limited to Oklahoma and a few nearby parts of neighboring states by the fact that all of its dairy products are produced from its own private dairy herd near Oklahoma City.  Their hamburgers are good but not outstanding (similar in quality to In-N-Out), but their milk is the best-tasting I’ve ever had and their ice cream products are top-notch.  Braum’s restaurants all include a small grocery store.

Bud's Broiler logoBud’s Broiler  There are a number of local fast-food chains in the New Orleans area (such as Danny & Clyde’s and the New Orleans Hamburger and Seafood Company), but Bud’s is the most distinctive with its mixture of sloppy-but-delicious charcoal-broiled burgers, po-boys, fried pies and the like.  A local favorite for decades.

Cook-Out  This chain is based in North Carolina, but also has locations in South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia.  All the food is grilled outdoor style, and though Cook-Out logoI didn’t find the flavor especially outstanding the portions are generous and the menu is notable both for its extent and the flexibility of combinations allowed.  The hand-dipped milkshakes are as good as those at Frostop, though not quite as good as those at Braum’s or Steak ‘n Shake.

Cosmic Pizza logoCosmic Pizza & Steak  I stumbled upon this unpretentious little place in Warwick, Rhode Island (near Providence Airport) simply because it was close to my hotel, and I’m glad I did; they have a huge menu featuring Italian dishes, fried seafood, Philly-style shaved steak sandwiches and more, and take pride in their ultra-low prices.  And they’re so friendly it actually constitutes another reason to visit besides the delicious food and budget-friendly pricing.

Five Guys logoFive Guys  This Washington, DC chain with an extremely simple menu (burgers, fries, drinks) is spreading along the Eastern seaboard, and will probably be the first one from this list to go national.  Some people call it the country’s best burger, and though I wouldn’t go that far I will say it’s exceptional.  Five Guys has a similar cult following to In-N-Out, but IMHO is more deserving of the reputation.

Harold's Chicken Shack logoHarold’s Chicken Shack  This legendary South-Side Chicago chain, praised by many Chicago rappers, is as no-frills as it gets and very inexpensive, but delicious and has a distinct flavor different from the typical American fast-food fried chicken such as Church’s or Kentucky.  Wikipedia says there are also franchises in Detroit, Milwaukee, Las Vegas, Madison, Dallas and Atlanta.

In-N-Out logoIn-N-Out Burger  Many Southern Californians praise this place to the heavens, but I’ve never quite seen what the fuss is about.  Don’t get me wrong; it’s a good burger, but IMHO it can’t hold a candle to the offerings from Frostop, Steak ‘n Shake, Five Guys or Nation’s.  One notable feature is the “secret menu” of things one must already know about to order.

Milo's Hamburgers logoMilo’s Hamburgers  This Birmingham, Alabama chain is Grace’s favorite, and though I’ve only been there twice I will eat there again next time I’m in Alabama at dinnertime.  The chief distinguishing characteristic of Milo’s is its secret sauce, which according to the company’s website was developed by what we would today call “crowdsourcing”.

Nation's Giant Hamburgers logoNation’s Giant Hamburgers  This San Francisco Bay area chain is, as you might expect, noted for the colossal size of its hamburgers; I was incredibly hungry and could only barely finish one.  They’re really tasty, too.  The chain is also noted for its pies, but I’ve never eaten one so I can’t vouch for them personally.

Prince’s Hot Chicken  For such a highly-acclaimed eatery, Prince’s (whose sole location is in Nashville) is amazingly divey; one sidles through the crowd to the window, orders and pays, and then waits.Prince's Hot Chicken  And waits.  And waits.  But damn, it’s good, and very hot!  While waiting I chatted with an older gentleman, and when I told him I had ordered the “hot” (as opposed to mild, medium or extra-hot) he shook his head sadly and told me that he used to be able to eat the hot, but now couldn’t take it any more.  Let’s just say it made my nose run, and that I was reminded of it again the next day.

Skyline Chili  Skyline Chili logoThis Cincinnati chain is unique in that it doesn’t serve burgers, chicken or any other fast-food staple, but rather a thin, homogeneous chili sauce with Greek spices.  One can order it atop spaghetti (with lots of grated cheese), hot dogs or even potatoes, but these only serve as carriers for the delicious sauce.  Definitely worth going out of one’s way for.

Tops Bar-B-Q  Tops Bar-B-Q logoDespite the excellence of this  Memphis chain’s food, it is surprisingly inexpensive; even their sweet tea is superior.  If you like barbecue, you owe it to yourself to try Tops when in Memphis.

This list is not meant to be remotely comprehensive; just the opposite, in fact.  If you have a local favorite which isn’t known outside your region, please add it in the comments!  Anything from single-city to single-region fast food chains are welcome, but please don’t nominate a chain if it’s known in more than, say, 15 states, or if a basic meal there costs more than about $10 per person.  Sit-down casual places are OK if they are in the fast-food price range.  I’ll probably be doing a lot of on-a-budget traveling in the next few years, and I’d love suggestions on where to have a yummy, unique but inexpensive dining experience.

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purple laptopIf you read Saturday’s TW3 column you already know that within minutes of arriving in Raleigh on the 17th, I was chatting with Rachel Mills on her spreecast, LiberTea.  Rachel and I were introduced by veteran libertarian activist Angela Keaton, and liked each other immediately; she generously offered me her guest room, which made the interview a lot easier since I was already at the studio!  She later mentioned that she was learning photography, and asked if I’d model for her; I of course said yes, and I’ll be sharing some of the other results soon.  FYI, I don’t use glasses to read; I’m nearsighted, not farsighted.  However, I believe in artistic license.

On Monday, my book reading at The Internationalist was rained out; the downpour was, in fact, so heavy that water started coming into the store, but luckily I was wearing sandals so I was able to help out with a mop without risking falling on my arse on a slippery floor.  They were very apologetic, but as I told them nobody can help the weather; besides, as I’ve written before it’s the odd experiences that make a trip memorable, not the ones that go exactly as predicted.  Still, it was nice to get a good book reading in at Flyleaf the next day, and I got to meet two more regular readers.  Eros Guide is currently based in the Raleigh area, so another highlight of my visit was meeting with several members of the staff to discuss not only the work I’ve been doing for them the past few months, but also the future in the current climate of hysteria.  And on a more mundane note:  I’m now back in the South, so I can get sweet tea at restaurants again!

Generally, I haven’t been doing public events on the day I arrive, but that was not so in the Carolinas; I left for Charleston on Thursday morning, knowing I had an event there at 7 PM.  Everything went well, though; I arrived in Charleston exactly on schedule and was delighted to discover that my Priceline-booked hotel was not only on the same street as the restaurant where my Liberty On the Rocks appearance was to be held, but also directly on the route I’d take to Atlanta.  It took me only a few minutes to reach the place, and the group was small but very engaged and highly enthusiastic; it was also one of the quieter venues.  In fact, “quiet” is a good word for my stay in Charleston; on Friday I was able to spend the day catching up from comparatively-hectic Washington and Raleigh-Durham, and getting myself ready for the last two stops before the home stretch.

The tour’s nearly over, but you can still catch me in Tampa or New Orleans; if your city is within a few hours’ drive of those (or between them), you can still send an email asking me to visit, though obviously it’s pretty tight now.  Your request will be more likely to be doable if you can make the arrangements yourself (in other words if it’s your store, club or whatever).

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O sweet and noble lad, be not aggrieved!
Pray, lift thyself from off the cursed ground!
Thy travels long have left thee most deceived;
there is a sanctuary to be found.
 –  Pop Sonnets, “YMCA”

Police militarization has finally entered the sleepy consciousness of mainstream America due to the Ferguson, Missouri protests, but of course libertarians have been talking about it for decades; nobody has talked about it more, nor more eloquently, than Radley Balko.  Today’s first video is from a tiny town in Georgia and was, until Radley called attention to it, posted on the front page of the official police website; it’s a short, disturbing look at the modern police mindset and the image they want to project to the public.  Radley also provided the links above it.  The second video is a satire of out-of-control “sex offender” laws contributed by Robert King, and the links between the videos are from Scott Greenfield (“enough”), Michael Whiteacre (“RIP” and “hobby”), Rick Horowitz   (“koinkydink”),  Mark Draughn (“perspective”), Saladin Ahmed (“sonnets”),  Clarkhat (“Vikings”),  Lenore Skenazy (“farmers”), Popehat (“never call”), and Cop Block (“seriously”).

From the Archives

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To seek in the bright sky a place for freedom and unrestraint.  –  Liu Rushi, “On the Kite”

The gender roles of traditional Asian cultures were even more rigid and uncompromising than those of contemporary European cultures, but harlots have always stood outside of the limits their societies set for “good” women.  Where “good” women were expected to be chaste, whores were promiscuous; where “good” women were expected to be meek, whores were bold; where “good” women were expected to be ignorant, whores were well-educated; where “good” women were supposed to be submissive, whores accepted or rejected clients as we pleased; and where “good” women were prisoners of convention, whores flouted it.  And despite the feminist claims that men prefer women as ovine as possible, and that the patriarchal system is set up for men’s benefit at women’s expense, yet men have throughout history sought out the company of (and paid high prices for) women who were not only their equals, but often their superiors.  Like other courtesans, Liu Rushi ignored the rules her society set for “good” women, but unlike others she often ignored the rules it set for any women.

Liu RushiYang Ai was born in 1618 to a poor family of Zhejiang province, but her exceptional looks and intelligence allowed her family to sell her at the age of eight to the courtesan Xu Fo for training in the profession.  She learned so well that Xu was able to place her as a concubine to the prime minister, Zhou Daodeng, soon after she turned thirteen; however, Zhou died a year later and his widow threw her out of the household.  She sought out the famous poet Chen Zilong, whom she had met at Zhou’s house a few months before; he took her in as a concubine and the two fell in love and exchanged many poems.  Unfortunately, Madame Chen was just as jealous of her as Madame Zhou had been; when Chen went to take the Imperial Examination in 1635, she abused the poor girl so terribly that she fled back to Xu Fo, who now owned a brothel.  When Xu married in 1638, Yang Yin (as she now called herself) took over the management; she was already famous as a poet and painter by this time, and published three collections of poetry between 1638 and 1640.  But though she was doing well financially, she craved the stability of marriage; when a regular client named Song Yuanwen kept promising to marry her but never followed through, she is said to have thrown him out in a violent tantrum.

It was during her time as a madam that her androgyny began to assert itself; though her romantic poems were conventionally feminine, she also wrote in a masculine, “heroic” style and often left the narrator’s gender ambiguous.  In letters she favored gender-neutral terms for herself, and her calligraphy is distinctly masculine, using the “wild grass” style.  Her gender-bending behavior reached its zenith in 1640, when she decided to marry the famous scholar and poet Qian Qianyi.  She travelled to his home in her boat, dressed in men’s clothing, and asked Qian to give her his opinion on one of her poems.  He told her the poem was excellent and asked to see more, but before she left she made sure she let him see the small (bound) feet which left no doubt as to her sex even if he had been fooled at first.  The combination of her writing and her intriguing behavior captured his attention, and they were married in 1641.  Though she was only his concubine, they had a formal ceremony and he treated her as though she were a full wife, despite this being considered improper.  He gave her the nickname Hedong, which she often used in her writing thereafter; it was one of about twenty different names she used at different times and for different purposes.  The name by which she is best known, Liu Rushi, came from her continuing habit of cross-dressing; she would sometimes go on errands as her husband’s representative while dressed in his formal Confucian robes, for which people nicknamed her “rushi” (“gentleman”).

Rushi had finally found the stability she sought, but it was not to last long.  The Ming Dynasty her husband served collapsed in 1645, and she had become so deeply patriotic by that time she actually tried to persuade him to martyr himself by committing suicide; instead, he surrendered, served as an official to the new Qing regime for five months, then quit and joined the resistance.  Liu Rushi joined him and the two were active in the movement for over a decade thereafter; much of Qian’s poetry from the 1650s depicts her as a courageous Ming loyalist.  But in 1663, her life started to spin out of control.  First, the Qing finally crushed the last Ming resistance, burning her husband’s enormous library in the process; she was so aggrieved she took Buddhist vows.  Qian’s spirit was broken, and he died the following year; his creditors and enemies then began to hound Liu Rushi for money.  Alone again for the first time in decades, too old (at 46) to return to her former profession and deeply bereaved by the loss of both beloved husband and beloved cause, she was pushed over the edge by the legal persecution and hanged herself in 1664.  But though her life ended in despair and tragedy, her own poetry and that of her husband had already made her a legend; the historian Chen Yinke’s said she “embodies the independence of spirit and freedom of thought of our people”, and others have called her “the most respectable prostitute in Chinese history”.

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crazy PhiladelphiaAfter leaving New York City, I expected the drive to Philadelphia to be rather easy…and it would have been, if not for the legendary badness of Pennsylvania highway design and signage.  See how I-276 appears to intersect I-95 there?  Yeah, that’s what I thought, too.  Only it doesn’t; there isn’t even a sign to mark the place they cross, nor any instructions such as “use US 13 to reach I-95″.  If one doesn’t already know how to get from one to the other, one will find oneself west of the city wondering what the hell happened and calling one’s husband for directions.  Furthermore, even those highways which are labelled properly often don’t connect properly; one may have to exit and drive for miles on surface streets (complete with traffic lights) to get from one interstate highway to another it supposedly connects to.  Oh, and please don’t suggest I get a damned GPS unit, either; every time someone uses one of those screwy things to give me directions it takes me miles out of the way through a maze of turns instead of just plotting a direct course; on the day I’m writing this I was literally given GPS directions to a business that led me to a completely different part of town than the one the business actually occupies (fortunately, there was a similar business in the vicinity of the incorrect destination, so I used it instead).

Grumbling aside, I had a good visit to the city; the group at Liberty On the Rocks was undeterred by heavy rain, and we had a lively discussion which was actually joined by a sex worker who just happened to be in the cafe at the time.  On Thursday I drove down to Washington DC, stopping briefly in Baltimore for a TV interview on the local ABC affiliate (I understand it will be part of an investigative series).  From there I went on to Alexandria, Virginia, the Washington suburb where the Woodhull Sexual Freedom Summit was being held; I’ve written my thoughts about the conference in a little more detail for Eros Guide.  While I was there, Cathy Reisenwitz kindly invited me to stay at her place; it turned out to be very conveniently located, a straight shot down one long street to the convention.  I touched base with some activists I already knew, met some folks I hadn’t before (including Melissa Gira Grant and porn performers Nina Hartley and Buck Angel), attended an informal group discussion of Lawrence vs. Texas and similar sexual freedom cases, and even sold a few books before zooming down to Raleigh, North Carolina for a podcast that evening.  The details of that, however, can wait until next week!

The tour’s nearly over, but you can still catch me in Charleston, Atlanta, Tampa or New Orleans; if your city is within a few hours’ drive of those (or between them), you can still send an email asking me to visit, though obviously it’s pretty tight now.  Your request will be more likely to be doable if you can make the arrangements yourself (in other words if it’s your store, club or whatever).

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MEDION DIGITAL CAMERAOn Saturday, August 2nd I drove into the Boston area; hotels in the city itself were so outrageously expensive that I actually stayed a little west of Framingham and, other than on Monday, restricted myself to that area.  Everyone I talked to warned me that the traffic going into Boston would be bad even if I were going in the opposite direction of the commute, so on Monday morning I decided to drive up to Salem for the afternoon and then go into the city from there.  My motive was twofold:  first, the suburbs to the north of Boston are largely residential, so I figured the traffic wouldn’t be as bad inbound from that direction; second, it seemed a shame to come so close to the site of the definitive American witch hunt without visiting it.  Of course, it was very touristy, but that really didn’t bother me; in some ways it reminded me of the French Quarter in New Orleans (another mixture of serious history and tourist traps).  My plan was a success; it took me only half an hour to reach the neighborhood of my speaking venue from Salem, and had I not blundered into a traffic jam by taking the wrong exit I would’ve been an hour earlier than I had planned to be.  Even with the error I arrived an hour before showtime, found a parking place literally across the street and thus had plenty of time to prepare.  The presentation went extremely well; I think it was among the best yet, and the bartender (who had no idea who I was before I got up to speak) was so engaged by the discussion that he bought a book and asked about my website!

Since I had nothing in particular planned for Tuesday, I took that night’s hotel in Providence, Rhode Island and went on a walking tour of H.P. Lovecraft sites on College Hill (yes, this is my idea of fun; you may laugh if you like).  I then checked into my hotel and ate dinner at a little mom-and-pop counter-serve restaurant called Cosmic Pizza and Steak, which I discovered quite by accident.  I’m very glad I did; the prices were very reasonable, the portions large (and delicious) and the people were extremely friendly and welcoming.  The next day I drove over to Hartford, Connecticut, where I planned my approach to New York and had dinner with the blawger known as Gideon.  He and several others suggested I park outside the city and take a train in, and a little research showed me the ideal spot was Metropark in Iselin, New Jersey, which cost me only $9 a day and $20 round trip for the train (and best of all, was on the way to my next stop in Philadelphia).

Manhattan subwaysSome of you may be surprised to hear that this was actually my first trip on a full-scale train; there are no commuter trains in Louisiana, and I’ve never taken a trip on a long-distance passenger train, either.  But that situation was corrected while I was in the city, because I took subways every place I had to go unless it was close enough to walk.  One of Tracy Quan’s friends was kind enough to offer a spare room just off Broadway, and when I went to dinner with Tracy and Melissa Ditmore on Friday evening I decided to walk to the restaurant; it was a lovely day and Manhattan is pretty narrow, so it only took me an hour to get there.  On Saturday I read to a packed house at Bluestockings Books on the lower east side, and answered questions for hours; afterward, I went out with regular reader Susan and another reader who prefers to remain incognito, and didn’t get to bed until almost 3 AM.  Finally, on Sunday I spoke to a group of woman journalists at the home of Jillian Keenan; Tracy was there as well, and with her help I discussed the general awfulness of reporting on the topic of sex work.

I don’t mind admitting that I was very intimidated by New York; I was worried about its size, its population density and its expense.  But a little careful planning and a lot of help from good people negated most of the real issues, and as so often happens the others faded into insignificance once I got to experience the reality rather than focusing on my own preconceptions.  Now that I’m past the most expensive part of the tour I can breathe a bit more easily; however, I still haven’t quite reached my funding goal yet so if you haven’t yet contributed, please consider doing so this week!

Here’s my tour schedule, which is now pretty tight; if your city isn’t on the list, but it’s within a few hours’ drive of another city which is on the list, just send an email asking me to visit.  Your request will have much more impact if you can actually make the arrangements yourself (in other words if it’s your store, club or whatever).

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