Wednesday, July 16th, 2014

The Legend of Poison Jim, the Mustard King


In the Museum of Chinese in America, two blocks north of Canal Street in New York City, a small, illuminated tile informs visitors that “sometime before 1865,” a Chinese American squirrel trapper known as “Poison Jim” found the mustard plant “growing weedlike in the Salinas Valley.” By selling the seeds, he “unintentionally turn[ed] mustard into a commercial crop” in the United States. A textbook published in 2010 repeats the story, with Poison Jim making and selling mustard until it “became a major California product.”

“Poison Jim Chinaman” was first documented by the little-known writer Owen Clarke Treleaven, who published a six-page story about him in a 1919 issue of the Overland Monthly, a magazine serving middle-class readers a diet of human interest pieces and folksy caricatures of the American West long after its wildest years were behind it. Writers glibly peddled stereotypes about the multiethnic fabric of frontier societies; the issue in which Treleaven’s story appeared also included an article on “Queer Korean Superstitions” and a poem called “Loleeta—An Indian Lyric.”

According to an old stagecoach driver, Leagan, whose yarn makes up most of the narrative, Poison Jim earned his nickname for having “more luck than anyone else ’round here mixin’ poisoned grain to kill off ground squirrels.” But when wild mustard overtook the valley one spring, threatening wheat production, Jim knew what to do: He rounded up a hundred Chinese laborers who swiftly set about clearing the fields, drying the plants, and storing away the threshed seed. When the mustard crop in South Africa failed later that year, a French condiment manufacturer, having gotten wind of a large harvest of mustard seed, showed up in San Francisco to buy Jim’s stock for thirty-three thousand dollars. With his earnings, Jim purchased a small ranch but lived modestly. Several years later, a drought blighted two consecutive grain crops, intensifying already strained conditions in the local “Indian village.” When a dispute erupted there over a stolen sheep, the owner who went looking for it opened fire, killing a man and a young mother. “Then,” Leagan recalls, “we saw what ‘Poison Jim’ was made of.” He stoically gathered up the murdered woman’s baby, then returned four days later to distribute fifteen thousand dollars worth of provisions to the sick and hungry throughout the entire valley.

Leagan’s story takes place “’bout forty years back” from the time of its telling—roughly 1880. If it’s difficult to imagine a Chinese squirrel trapper escaping public scrutiny for decades after suddenly striking it rich, that might be because it didn’t quite happen that way. According to James Perry, a curator and archivist at the Monterey County Historical Society, “Poison Jim, as far as our records relate, never existed.”



Meet the Palestinian Women's National Football Team

VICE Sports and Budweiser meet the Palestinian Women's National Team as they prepare to challenge a men's team to see how football can bridge cultural divides and combat conventions that discriminate against women.


Ask Polly: You Are Not Uniquely Fucked

allaloneHi Polly,

I’m 29 and have been through an enormous amount of shit that is both situation-specific and universal; I am not unproud that I’ve made it this far, considering. I’m in therapy and have been off and on since I was eight, looking for a way to beat back some severe depression and find good reasons to keep doing normal people things that actually feel excruciating. I’m on some meds now that make me not feel like I’m walking around without any skin, but I know that’s just about getting level and now I’ve got actual work to do. I just have no idea where to go or what to do next.

I’m committed to not being a sadsack asshole anymore, and I’ve learned so much. I’m trying to stay away from both tepid and unhelpfully intense relationships that remind me of my fucked up childhood. I’m looking for ways to dive deep and be okay with metaphorical heat and darkness and actual solitude and uncertainty. I want so much to hold on to what I like about myself—my bravery, my depth of feeling, my brutal, nasty intelligence—while also learning to be an actual regular person who can do things like enjoy basic times of friends without boozing myself into maudlin unbearableness, or getting so discouraged at my job that everyone wonders what I’m even doing there until I get fired. It’s like I keep figuring this shit out, and then forgetting it immediately.

I guess, I just can’t find a good middle ground about anything? When I imagine what my “best life” is, it’s only possible through a time machine. I don’t want to write, or be a writer, I want to have already published a barnstorming first novel at seventeen that made me universally adored and celebrated. I don’t daydream about meeting a good dude and making it work, I lose hours imagining having never met the asshole abusers or lukewarm Mr. All Wrongs. I’m so lonely, because I’m never as kind or gracious to myself as I am to my friends, but every chance I get to make a connection, I cock up with try-hard nonsense or totally losing my shit. I try to make plans, try to remember that good people with good lives have to work for them, but I almost always feel like I have missed the boat for any of the normal stuff people do or enjoy. I want to want things for myself, but can’t follow through on anything, like I already think that I’ve failed and should just bow out, or second guess if I really want those things or can make them work until opportunities have sailed right on past.

This attitude made more sense, I guess, when my dreams were so big they were laughable. I’m barreling down the road towards middle age, the time to become a child prodigy or set myself on the path to run the world or start an epic hundred-year romance are gone. I’ve tried to lower my expectations for myself, to accept that my big dreams, or even normal-sized ones, aren’t in the cards, but I can’t shake the sense that what I want and what I can achieve are so far apart that even tiny things feel beyond reach. 

Writing to you feels like a cop out, because it seems like you’ve addressed all of these things before. But seriously, how do you love yourself? How do you accept your flaws and strengths and offer your best to others while trusting they will make allowances for your worst? How do you be a person? I’m struggling here to make any reasonable plan, or even take a simple positive step, to being happy and whole.

I know there’s no secret, and I don’t really want to live in a Jules Verne novel, but seriously, how does someone actually get to a place where they can combine and use all the good advice they’ve been given, and just live a life?


I Need A Meaning I Can Memorize


It's funny that I should stumble on your letter today, because I'm sitting down for the fiftieth time to write an introduction to a potential Ask Polly book, and I'm pretty sure that I'm going to fail, yet again, to come up with a clear, coherent message, a MEANING TO MEMORIZE.

Because you can't sell a book today without a short, snappy, memorizable meaning. I'm not sure you can sell anything without a zippy message attached to it. Literary agents, publishers, publicists, talent bookers, lifestyle magazine gurus, opinion page honchos, network executives, TV producers, studio heads, investment analysts, local politicians, world leaders, archangels, God, Yoda, Darth Vader? They all want a concise, coherent, provocative, urgent, necessary, salty-sweet message-nugget, and they want it delivered from the head of the Great and Powerful Oz, flanked by flamethrowers aimed at the sky.

At the very least, they'd like you to smile a little more often, and flat-iron your hair.

Helpful, regular people might say to someone like me (or you!), someone with enormous expectations and weak follow-through and brutal, nasty intelligence and a tendency to dive into maudlin unbearableness, "So, smile more and flat-iron your hair, for fuck's sake. What's the big deal?"

What do we say to that? Because "Smile and flat-iron your hair" is a meaning we can memorize, right? Just hide your wishy-washy self behind the fucking curtain, aim the flamethrowers at the sky, and speak into the Mr. Microphone with the All-Powerful Deity effect turned on. This is what our skin-deep, tl;dr culture appears to want from us: distilled three-second tidings. Slap your long-winded ass in a saucepan on medium heat until the confusion and the second-guessing burn off, but so do the complexity and the unanswerable philosophical questions and the soaring but somewhat vague epiphanies.

Instead of reading like a cry for help, though, your letter sounds almost like a mission statement. Because, even though you feel isolated and lonely, even though you've drawn circles around your so-called "bad" behaviors and said, "I need to do less of this," even though you're ready to get on the "right" track and start feeling happy and "whole," you also paint a pretty compelling portrait of how it feels to be a complex person in a world that embraces forced smiles and simpleton wisdom and bulletproof solutions, a world that kicks the wishy-washy and the maudlin to the curb. In some ways, your letter sounds less like "Here are my many fucking problems" and more like a kind of rallying cry for complicated, sensitive, brutally smart human beings who crave a meaning they can memorize but who are also severely allergic to memorizable meanings.

Likewise, I think I'm struggling to write a general-purpose introduction that encapsulates the kind of snappy, three-second messages that signal a saleable product for the same reason I struggled to tolerate annoying jobs and half-assed relationships and passive-aggressive friendships when I was your age. I got all weird and wishy-washy or I cocked up with try-hard nonsense or I totally lost my shit. I knew that I should smile more and flat-iron my hair, but even thinking about these things made me want to show up unshowered and ramble incoherently about all of the reasons everything in the world was bewildering and wrong. Somehow KNOWING that there was ONE right answer only made me want to offer up five hundred wrong answers instead.

Right now, you are the living, breathing manifestation of five hundred wrong answers. Your letter, if you reread it with the right spirit of appreciation, is a paean to wrong answers. READ MORE


The Inevitability of Space, Time, and Acquisitions

"While the talks between the two companies have thus far been considered friendly, people involved in the discussions said that Mr. Murdoch is determined to buy Time Warner and is unlikely to walk away." — The experience of truly cheating Death comes with an awareness, a soft, white noise that never quite recedes wholly into the background, that one has not acquired a permanent injunction barring further contact, but merely extracted a non-binding promise—an intimation, really—that while the evasion was fair play, the momentary lapse will be remedied in the fullness of time, the enabling loophole closed, completely and utterly. So Death circles, endlessly, the curve unbroken.


Bloodfeast: The Nutella Bacon Burger

NB2"Bloodfeast" is a new period foods-themed recipe column.Happy Period Day, everyone! Time to roll out the fanfare of cheesy carbs and whatever gluttonous pleasures you lovingly reward yourself with during your moment of bloodspill. Whenever it is my own goddess moon time of the month, I crave A BIG ASS BURGER. I like to call this ritual, “Blood in, Blood Out.” I’ll go to In-N-Out for some animal style or hit up a greasy spoon diner, it doesn’t matter. Red meat and melty cheese dance in my eyes like emoji hearts.

This last time it was period burg time, I wanted something sweet to go with my savory… simultaneously! Enter, Nutella.

Nutella was pretty much a staple in my house growing up. We’d smear it on regular white bread and eat it for a snack. And now I’m about to put it on BEEF. Did you know that one of the original names for Nutella was “Supercrema”? That’s right. Supercream! Giovanni Ferrero, the man who also created THESE delicious balls of magic, came up with this delicious hazelnut spread back in the days when chocolate was too expensive for everyone to afford. What a saint of a man. I wonder if he’ll roll around in his grave after reading this recipe.

Nutella Bacon Burger


1l b grass fed ground beef (makes about four burgs)
4 slices sharp cheddar cheese
1-2 sweet onions
½ cup nutella
1 teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1 egg
⅛ cup almond flour (optional for binding)
1 teaspoon garlic powder
8 slices bacon
4 brioche buns (if you want to get fancy because “Brioche” just makes you sound even more legit but any bun will do)
½ tablespoon of butter
½ tablespoon of olive oil

Caramelize Onions
Lately I’ve been super obsessed with caramelized sweet onions and have been putting them on everything, so it was only natural they’d make a cameo on this burg. First, peel and slice your onions. Heat a saute pan over medium heat, then add the butter and olive oil to the pan, making sure every inch of the pan is well-lubed. Once the butter starts sizzling, but not burning, toss in the onions. Mix them around so they are evenly coated in the butter/oil, then turn down the heat a bit and let them start to brown. Make sure to add a little bit of butter if needed so the onions don’t stick and burn. The thing about caramelizing these onions is that you will need to let them take their sweet (no pun intended) time. Let them bathe in the pan, relaxing, like they are at the Korean spa.  READ MORE


"I'm ashamed of you. You're what’s wrong with this country." — Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, not incorrectly, to executives from companies that manufacture or market e-cigarettes.


Vashti Bunyan, "Across The Water"

Just another Diamond Day is 44 years old, and Vashti Bunyan has a new album coming out October. Time: Is it just a dumb lie???


"[REDACTED]: the new word that will make your life slightly simpler, forever." — Is it "death?" Maybe "money?" Or perhaps it's "Vitamix" or "delivery laundry," but that's two words, hmm. I've found that the word "no" is effective for making life simpler; but in rare cases, "yes" works too.


New York City, July 14, 2014

weather review sky 071414★★ An indecisive follow-up to the sweeping storms of the night before. Morning was humid gray. A couple crowded into the niche between the turnstile fence and the MetroCard machines to kiss. The air was close and still. Paulownia leaves sprouting from a traffic-calming planting bed found enough breeze to wiggle on, and then a puff of wind delivered a raindrop just below the corner of the mouth. That was all the rain, for a while. The gray became glaring, up on the roof. White edging showed, and a little blue, until it was too bright to read in. Then it darkened and dimmed again. A shower passed, carrying a harbor smell to the Upper West Side, and another arrived. Both were unspectacular.


Q: "Will Camu Camu Be The Next Amazonian 'It' Fruit?."

A: Eh.


The Pull

I interviewed Saul in 2011 for a project about sex addiction that never came to fruition, at least in the form I had originally envisioned. A sixty-something native of Bensonhurst, he had the most delicious speaking voice, which I dare describe as a potion of equal parts Jewish, gay, and old-school Brooklyn. But it was his untapped authorial voice that moved me to develop our conversation into a monologue, unburdened by an interviewer's questions, and strung together into a reflection on the intersection of sexuality, religion, and identity in the 1960s and 70s.

I didn’t have sex until I was already out of college, and was a social worker. I decided I wanted to have sex with men. I said, “I’ll try this and see,” and I went with hustlers who were—some of them were attractive, but it didn’t go well because they were on 42nd Street, and it was a very degrading area and it was only about money. And then I realized it’s really not what I wanted. But I started with the hustlers, because that was what was available. It was before Stonewall. So that was what you did: You went in a dark area. You can go to a bathhouse, which I didn’t do; you could go to a movie house, which I didn’t do; but you could go to 42nd and pick up people who were…that way, so that’s what I did.

I only got my information through reading gay novels like City of Night, and things like that, and I might take notes on that and use that as a reference. But that’s a novel; that’s not really historical, so it just didn’t fit when I would go to 42nd. The way I’d approach people was not…they did it in the novel—but they don’t do that in New York City that way, like saying, “Are you a hustler? How much do you want?” That’s what I got out of these books.

The first experience wasn’t very good, but I figured nobody knew about it, so… And I had some people that liked me, some hustlers that I became their regular customer. They liked me very much. They had girlfriends on the side, so, um, like once, one guy said, “You’re the only gay man I allow. I’ve broken off with this because my girlfriend doesn’t want me to do it, but I keep you—you’re the last one.” So I was sort of a privileged character.

Even if they couldn’t perform—some of them were on drugs, you know—I would just leave the money and not have sex with them. I felt good about that, that I just…the guy was so out of it, you could see. So I would leave the ten dollars and go. But we went to the shitty hotels, flea-bitten hotels. That’s where these hustlers would take you. The rent was so cheap, it was five dollars for the night, and I’d say I wanna have sex—and he’s already out, he’s on the bed sleeping, and drooling a little bit, and their noses all red from the drugs, you know. But I paid. Even where it was not dirty and filthy you could still get sick. This hustler had a beautiful apartment with fish tank and beautiful bed, you know, just like—and I caught parasites from him.



A flash flood warning has been issued for New York City and the surrounding areas:

Now the flood was on the earth long enough to be annoying. The waters increased and lifted up the refuse piled along the curb, and it rose high above the earth. The waters prevailed and greatly increased on the streets, and the garbage moved about on the surface of the waters. And the waters prevailed exceedingly on the earth, and all the high hills under the whole heaven were covered, except in parts of Brooklyn, where the hills are higher still. The waters prevailed fifteen cubits or whatever upward, and the sidewalks were covered. And all flesh died that moved on the earth: birds and cats and squirrels and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, except the rats and the pigeons. All in whose nostrils was the breath of the spirit of life, all that was on the dry land, died. So She destroyed all living things which were on the face of the ground: both man and cat, and every creeping thing except rats and pigeons. They were destroyed from the earth. Only Noelle and those who were with her in the mildly tourist-y brunch spot remained alive. And the waters prevailed on New York City for a whole day or two.


Meet Me in Rio

The English Gentleman is on Leave. We see him prepare for his trip visiting the tailors of Savile Row and commissioning the bespoke pieces he will need before heading to Rio. The five pieces he will need are: a multi-pocket and versatile wool travel jacket, a lightweight Cool Wool dinner suit, wide leg Cool Wool trousers in the season's bright colours, a navy blazer and a cream suit with patch pockets.

Find out more at and Savile Row London.


“You know what makes me want to cry? I think whoever the next Facebook is, why would you ever start that company here in the United States?” — Heather Bresch, the daughter of West Virginia senator Joe Manchin, and C.E.O. of the Pennsylvania-based pharmaceutical giant Mylar, who is "reluctantly" acquiring Abbott Laboratories in order to re-incorporate in the Netherlands where it will pay an eventual tax rate in the "high teens," rather than the 25 percent it pays now.


What Happened When We Gave Our Daughter My Last Name

invisible girlOn a snowy morning in college, I sat up on my futon, stared out the dorm window, and nudged my boyfriend Chris. “What would you think about our children having my last name?” I asked.

“Sure,” he said, still half-asleep, “Why wouldn’t they have your last name?”

I was probably too shy then to show my relief.

Time passed. We split up for a year, got married ten years later and then, in our mid-30’s, found ourselves with a babe on the way. We didn’t know girl or boy, but we had already re-decided that our babe’s last name would be my last name. Mixing up convention had always mattered to me. Chris also liked the sound of it better, with his last name as a middle name.

It didn’t feel revolutionary to us. It felt normal.

At four months pregnant, when people asked if we’d chosen a first name, we shared our last name choice instead. Neither of us expected any drama. Our far flung and nearby communities had always been open-minded. That’s why the shockwave shocked us.

My younger brother started it off by asking me how Chris felt about being emasculated. He was joking, and he did apologize about it later, but I couldn’t help wonder if he somehow represented all the men who might feel emasculated by our choice. My mother, always a supporter, just sighed. “Well,” she said, “Just be ready for the responses. Your child might have some trouble on the playground.”

Trouble on the playground?” I laughed.

She started to explain, backing right back into the conservative Catholic upbringing she’d spent years amending, that the others might tease her/him for being different. I lobbed back that if that’s the worst thing my child gets teased for then we’re doing okay, and then she asked how Chris’s parents felt about this choice, as if we needed permission from them. But, after twenty minutes of back and forth, she had launched herself over to my side, huffing and puffing her best you-go-girl speech. “You’re right! Why shouldn’t your child have your name? You’re the one who actually has to give birth.”

As my belly grew, the comments got even stranger. I had secretly hoped for no reaction, for our choice to be as common as saying, “I went with the mustard instead of the ketchup.” No reaction would mean something good, right? That women in this country are, for example, no longer considered the property of men, even in name. That archaic systems are truly collapsing. That we can reclaim language that was formerly used to control us.

But it seemed, at least to me, that using a woman’s last name for a child threatened everyone. An older woman asked me if I was doing this to make a point. Why was all this doing perceived as mine, not my husband’s as well? At a party, a peer told me she was “diehard Obama” and then argued that her only real concern about using a woman’s last name is that you risk the ease of preserving lineage and historical records.

“Really?” I kept responding. READ MORE


Pity the Incoherent Youngs

zefronYoung people, it seems, "have totally incoherent political views" that "don't make any sense." How very Millennial.

For instance, "something interesting happens when Millennials start making serious dough. They start getting much more squeamish about giving it away." Like "69 percent think the government should guarantee health insurance… 55 percent are 'unwilling to pay more for health insurance in order to help provide coverage to the uninsured.'" Not at all like other, presumably older people. READ MORE


Sympathy for the Comcast Rep from Hell

Above is eight solid minutes of empathic pain. It is a recording of a calm, polite caller, Ryan Block, attempting to cancel his Comcast service. The representative, by the time the recording starts, already sounds angry: He demands, again and again and again, to know why Block is leaving Comcast for a smaller provider, to know what it is that he—that Comcast—can't supply that this other company, this obviously objectively inferior company, this loser company, can. Just tell him what he did wrong, he says. Just explain to him. Just make him understand this stupid mistake.

The rep sounds, when he demands to be convinced of something that is both his company's fault and none of his company's business, like an abusive partner; that is how I interpreted this call, anyway, the first time I heard it. Judging by Twitter, where people are sharing similar experiences, many others did too. (One of the last times I dealt with a cable company, Time Warner, it was to try to reinstate an account and associated email address that had been removed for days because a young rep insisted there was "no other way" to transfer the decades-old account from my deceased father to his spouse, my mother; a few weeks later, moving apartments in New York, I realized that here, as at my family home, as at my last apartment, I had no other option but Time Warner, who I then called and have been paying ever since. That's why people hate monopolies.)

But overnight my sympathies shifted: If you understand this call as a desperate interaction between two people, rather than a business transaction between a customer and a company, the pain is mutual. The customer service rep is trapped in an impossible position, in which any cancellation, even one he can't control, will reflect poorly on his performance. By the time news of this lost customer reaches his supervisor, it will be data—it will be the wrong data, and it will likely be factored into a score, or a record, that is either directly or indirectly tied to his compensation or continued employment. It's bad, very bad, for this rep to record a cancellation with no reason, or with a reason the script should theoretically be able to answer (the initial reasons given for canceling were evidently judged, by the script, as invalid). There are only a few boxes he can tick to start with, and even fewer that let him off the hook as a salesman living at the foot of a towering org chart. The rep had no choice but to try his hardest, to not give up, to make it so irritating and seemingly impossible to leave that Block might just give up and stay. The only thing he didn't account for was the possibility the call would be recorded. Now he's an internet sensation. The rep always loses. READ MORE


Perfume Genius, "Queen"

Believe it.


New York City, July 13, 2014

weather review sky 071314★★★ Sun emerged, or part-emerged, and dried out the dampened gray morning. The shade was bearable, but the open areas were distressing. It was hard to guess who among the pedestrians had been out exercising and who was just walking around in exercise wear, glazed with sweat. Scrawny ears of corn were packed in ice outside the supermarket. The sun slipped all the way around the thin remaining clouds and struck full in the face like an insult. The clouds recovered; the sky darkened. Then it brightened again, and as it brightened the rain started falling, fine and dense, with pale floating bits in it like snowflakes. Shadows sharpened and reflective surfaces gleamed, while the rain still fell. If there was a rainbow, it stayed out of sight behind the buildings on Broadway as the shower finally subsided to splatting drips. Again the clouds came back, again the sun returned, just in time to play havoc with the contrast on a video call. Then the clouds once more, the sunset few patches of bleached pink. Something black–a bat?–flittered back and forth across the dimming sky outside the window. The night air was thick and unliberating. People arrayed themselves on the sidewalk to eat their sour treats from the chain frozen-yogurt shop. Lightning pulsed in the distance. At bedtime, the storm hit with a smashing sound of rain, louder than the air conditioner, followed by lightning too bright for the blinds. The wind drew sounds from outside and inside the building at once, like breaths on a monstrous low-pitched harmonica.


Sean O'Neill, "Vienna"

Gorgeous song, gorgeous video, familiar sound, unfamiliar name.