Pizzeria Bianco: “Great pizza for a great lady.”

I wasn’t gonna write this review because it’s truly unnecessary and not super important but I’m doing it anyway so bear with me while I start explaining something you probably already know in a truly roundabout fashion.

We'll start when my dad’s mom, my grandma Sylvia, died. I was thirteen. Her and my grandpa Sam were best friends with this other couple Sidney and Bernice, and Sid died within like 6 months of Syl, so naturally, Sam and Bernice grieved together. And we all know where that leads.

They were married in their apartment on Miami Beach when I was 16 or 17, judging by my hair in the photos. It wasn’t a legal wedding but they did have a rabbi come bless them and then they threw a party where I got drunk and had the old man band play Summer Wind by Frank Sinatra while I sang.


Anyway, time passed, they went on a lot of cruises, hung out by the side of a pool in Miami, had a very nice life together. In 2012 Sam died and shortly thereafter Bernice moved to Scottsdale, AZ to be near one of her kids. I had visited her all the time in Miami but by the time she moved to Arizona it sort of dropped off. I recorded an audiobook for her, and I called her on the phone plenty, but I just never prioritized getting out to Phoenix. I was talking to my mom about it the last time I was in New York and we decided to go. We planned a short trip, only 48 hours really, but we’d hang out with her the evening we arrived, the entire next day, and the morning before we flew out. 

Before we left I got a text from my mom—“Bernice wants to eat pizza. Figure out the best slice in Scottsdale.” So I asked twitter, and twitter told me, almost uniformly, that there’s this place called Pizzeria Bianco that’s in some strip mall in Phoenix and they make the best Neapolitan pies in America. Who would’ve guessed. I texted my mom this article and was like, "I think this is the place."

So I fly in, meet my mom at the airport, whatever whatever. I had intentionally forgotten my toothbrush because I knew that might be the only way to get me to finally buy a new one, so we're driving around having that New York Jew conversation about "I'm hungry are you hungry?"
"I'm not hungry hungry but I could eat."
"What are you in the mood for?"
"I don't care, really I have no preference."
"I don't know about burgers."
"How do you feel about chinese?"
"In Arizona? Never."
It could've been either of us having either side of it. We paused our lunch convo to stop into a strip mall that had a Walgreens to get my damn toothbrush. I ended up driving so far afield looking for a spot big enough that I wouldn't be scared someone might scratch our rental car that when I finally pulled into one we were across the parking lot from where the Walgreens was. That's when my mom was like, "isn't that the pizza place you were talking about?"

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I didn't take a picture of it, because like I said, I wasn't planning to write this review, so you'll have to settle for this screenshot of a map. Suffice to say, this is NOT what I expected the place that serves "the best neapolitan pizza in America" to look like. But we went in anyway and ordered three pies.

From left to right that's your classic Margherita, a Sonny Boy (a red sauce pie with hot salami and kalamata olives), and the signature Biancoverde (a white pie with fresh ricotta, fresh moz, arugula, and olive oil). If you can't tell from the pictures, these pies were fucking perfect. It's a rare thing in this awful world to experience a moment of perfection, and it can be a little unsettling. Ma Harvester and I looked from pie to pie, shocked, unable to speak for a few moments after our first bites. I have never in my life tasted a pizza dough this delicate. It was crisp and firm on the bottom, though there was still that nice elastic pull that a good bread has, but it was so light. The other ingredients were top notch. The red sauce on the Margherita was incredible. Lightly spiced so that the full flavor of the delicious tomatoes they use could really shine. The mozzerella tasted fresh and had a wonderful texture. The basil leaves seemed like they could've been picked moments before they hit the pie. The Sonny Boy had the same base as the Margherita, but with hot salami and kalamatas, both fantastic as well.

But the real standout was the Biancoverde. This is probably the best ricotta I've ever had. The moz and dough are the same high quality as on the other pies, and the absence of a sauce let the olive oil's round, green apple flavor really shine. Ma Harv, a master gardener btw, was really impressed with the quality of the arugula and claimed she had never had a white pie with arugula on it before. I was unsure, but she checked me, "I've had prosciutto arugula pies, but every white pie I've ever had was made with spinach or broccoli rabe. The sharpness of the arugula really makes for a nice contrast with the full rounder flavors of the cheese and olive oil." I'm still unsure if arugula on white pies is common or not so if you wanna @ me just to tell me my mom's wrong why don't you just go fuck yourself instead, huh? The important thing is that these pies were so good we had to bring them to Bernice. We got three more of the same to go and headed over to her place.

I'm really glad we got to eat them fresh out the oven, because they certainly suffered a bit in transit. Neapolitan pies are meant to be eaten fresh, but they were still good and Bernice didn't care, and that's the most important part of all this. I'll leave you with her review. Notice her start to talk shit about all the other pizza in Phoenix and then stop herself. That's because she's a classy lady who doesn't relish every opportunity to badmouth people for cheap laughs, unlike me, a jerk. Let's all be more like Bernice and less like me in 2018.

King Dough: "Did you ever want to eat bad pizza in the home goods section of a Target?"

Listen. I end up in all different parts of America that aren't New York all the time, and sometimes I end up eating pretty bad pizza in those places because I forget where I am or I hear a place might be good or I'm with a group of people and they want to eat pizza and who am I to argue? I ate a terrible quattro formaggio in a strip mall in Houston like two years ago after going to the opening of a contemporary Latin American art show at the MFAH with Becca. When we got to the museum I was still all revved up from the drive and then Becca went to a panel and I was wandering around alone and there's a James Turrell tunnel in the basement. (And if you don't know, which probably I wouldn't if I wasn't in love with an art historian, Turrell is the artist Drake ripped off for all the sets of the Hotline Bling video.) And there was no one else in there except for the security guard. I was like, "DUDE would you please take a video of me doing Drake's Little Teapot dance in here?"
And he was all "absolutely not."
So I was all, "c'mon man, my girlfriend is gonna think it's so cute and funny."
But he was like, "if I do it for you, I gotta do it for everyone."
Then I was like, "There's no one else here! No one will know!"
And he looked at me very seriously and said "I'll know."

Anyway, after that we got pizza and it was absolutely awful, but I didn't write about it then because I don't write about all bad pizza I eat. But every so often, there is a pizza parlor that's such a perfect storm of bad food, bad service, bad aesthetics, that I feel like I gotta warn strangers to stay away. And King Dough in Bloomington, Indiana is such a place.


I went to get lunch at King Dough with a friend who I believe wishes to remain anonymous because Bloomington is a small town and he doesn't need to be the recipient of any undue Midwest passive aggression. We were in the middle of running errands and right nearby. I didn't think pizza was a bad idea, it seemed quick at least. And I'd noticed King Dough on a handful of other visits. And besides, I've had some pretty decent pizza, or at least really fun and pleasant experiences, in pizza shops all over the place. But not so with King Dough. I didn't know what I was getting myself into when my Anonymous Compadre and I walked inside, and I certainly wasn't expecting to have my mind blown, but I didn't expect to be punished either.

The decor was a red flag right away but I'm a pretentious urban sophisticate so I just chalked that up to the quaintness of a college town. But like, if you're gonna disrespect that Dan Higgs drawing at least do it well, right? And I'm all for keeping holiday decorations in a place of business to a minimum (I've served six tours in the War on Christmas), but I was in a Target the other day buying shitty winter gloves and an ice scraper for my car because I didn't know where else to get both of those things in a city with no bodegas, and I literally saw almost that exact same display in their like, quirky tchotchke section. Maybe it's an ironic reference? Whatever it is, it's not working.


The menu was suspect for a few reasons. This is very expensive food for Bloomington. I think "Vegan Pile" sounds fucking gross as a name for a food. I find the "Kilmister" befuddling. (1. Capicola and fucking BBQ SAUCE? Why? 2. What is it about this pizza that is supposed to evoke Lemmy?) And as Becca pointed out, what kind of awful person thinks it's okay to cutely name something after the H-Bomb? But like, whatever, I guess. While that H Bomb reference lets on that the owners might be rockabilly (god forbid!) there are worse things in the world, and I was hungry. We ordered a Margherita and a Prosciutto Arugula pie to split, as those seemed like safe and hard to fuck up options. The place wasn't that busy so we figured even if it wasn't great we could eat and get on with our errands.

Little did we know King Dough had other plans in store for us. It took 35 minutes to get our two pizzas. 35 whole entire minutes. Longer than an episode of Seinfeld, shorter than an episode of the L Word, too long for pizza. The place had a wood oven, and feel free to fact check me on this, but I think a properly used wood oven cooks an entire pizza in like two or three minutes, right? So why did it take over half an hour to get two smallish pies in a restaurant that wasn't very busy and where half the people inside were already eating? I'll tell you why, because they don't know what they're doing. 

Our pies finally arrived though, and they did not look too good. Wood fired pizza is supposed to be slightly charred. The char adds a smokiness and depth of flavor to the pie that can't be achieved in a gas oven without burning. When I get a wood or coal oven pizza, I expect it to be a pretty dark in some spots. But like most good things, char is only useful in moderation. This pizza's crust was burnt blacker than the Sharpie mustaches on Ken Nunn's phonebook ads. It was burnt blacker than the cover of Smell The Glove. This crust was burnt so black King Dough might get sued by Anish Kapoor. (Just in case you're thinking I'm smart for knowing who Anish Kapoor is, don't worry. I literally typed "black paint that only one guy is allowed to use" into webcrawler.com to find out his name.) And to add insult to injury, this disgusting crust formed the border of a pizza that wasn't even cooked through all the way in the middle!


Look at that! You can straight up see bits of translucent, uncooked dough on the bottom of this floppy mess!

So now that we've established that this pizza takes forever to arrive and is poorly cooked, let's take a moment to talk about how much the ingredients fucking suck. The mozzarella on the Margherita pie tasted like fucking butter. The more I ate it, the worse it got. And it was drowning in a sea of runny, bland sauce. "But what about the dough?" I can hear you thinking. "The dough from which this place derives its name? Surely that part is at least palatable?" Well dear reader, I can't tell you how the dough tasted because it was either burnt to a crisp or nearly raw. I'll tell you this though, the parts of the crust that were edible tasted like they needed salt. When I asked my friend what he thought, he took a bite and chewed in silence for a moment before declaring "well, I've had worse pizza." That might be true for him, but I'm not sure I can say the same.

At the end of the day, the Prosciutto Arugula pie was at least edible. But you could put prosciutto and arugula on a turd and I'd probably like it, so that doesn't really count. It still was cooked poorly. The sauce still sucked. But the Margherita really stands out to me as one of the worst pizzas I've ever eaten in my entire life. And so, it's really an appropriate pizza to close out 2017--the year Prodigy died and Woody Allen didn't (prayer emoji that this awful old shithead finally drops in 2018), and Biff from Back to the Future II became president in real life. The pie at King Dough might not be the pizza humanity wants, but it is the pizza we deserve.

Mineo's Pizza House vs. Aiello's Pizza: A Pittsburgh Pizza Parlor Showdown

What's good, internet. Remember when I used to review pizza? Well I'm doing it again, perhaps just this once. Back in the saddle. Lemme give you some context:

Two years ago, a few months after my popular and charming NYC memoir was released, I moved away from Queens, NY, my ancestral homeland, to Austin, TX, a wonderful place to visit but terrible place (for me) to live. I ate very little pizza while I was there. Never found a great slice, though I did find an amazing bar pie (shouts to Li'l Nonna's), but I didn't care, I was happy and in love and I just ate pizza when I was back in New York.

Two month's ago, my partner and moved to Pittsburgh so she could do a PhD here, brilliant genius that she is. A few days after we got here I went to the pizzeria in my new neighborhood (not gonna name names), took one look at the slices, and ordered a gyro. I kinda decided that day that I just wouldn't eat pizza in Pittsburgh, but then my good buddy Justin Bender told me about a local feud and I realized I had to weigh in.

Well yesterday myself, Bender, and our friends Cindy and Miguel went and ate at both places and I'm here to report back. Bender is an old friend from WAAAAY BACK at this point, a nice Jersey Boy. He's played in a bunch of cool bands over the years and I recently learned that in the early 2000s he briefly lived in Virginia where he drove a puke green Delta 88 with vanity plates that said "SCUMDOG." Cindy is Cindy Crabb of Doris zine. She's been a frientor (friend/mentor) of mine for many years and we've always had an easy rapport and a nice time hanging out but Pittsburgh is the first time we've lived in the same place and had a go at being IRL day 2 day friends and I think so far it's going great! I initially met Miguel because he’s Cindy's partner, but I would say at this point we have a friendship in it's own right, which was easy to do because he’s one of the most charming, effortlessly positive people I've ever met in my life.


As we walked up to Mineo's, Bender told me what he knew of the rivalry. "So this place opened up in like, '58 or something. A long time ago. In '78 the kitchen manager got in a fight with the owner that they couldn't resolve, so he quit and opened up a new place like three doors down. That's Aiello's. We'll go there next."

I couldn't believe that this feud had been going on for almost 40 years. I was so giddy I could barely contain myself. Luckily, right then Miguel biked up (Cindy would be joining us a little later), and we headed inside.

I was immediately glad Miguel was with us because the first thing he said when we walked in the door was “woah, sick Four Loko clock.” I never would’ve noticed that Four Loko clock, but it truly was sick. It’s this kind of astute observation that is vital in a Harvesting Companion.


Right off the bat, Mineo’s looks like a classic pizza parlor. Orange formica tables, the walls are hung with pictures of a toddler, presumably related to the owner, posing as a pizza chef, 20 year old plaques and accolades, and press clippings from newspapers and magazines.

Bender was first up to the counter, and he order “a cut,” which is apparently what they call a slice here in Pittsburgh. The woman working the register complimented his sweater. “He made it. Very talented guy,” I interjected.

"Men used to do all the knitting until about the mid-nineteenth century. But then, ya know, the patriarchy…” she trailed off then pointed at Bender’s Coneheads button and said, “you from France?”
“No why would you think…” he began, but was interrupted.
“CONEHEADS. The movie Coneheads. They’re aliens but they tell people they’re from France. It’s a lampooning of American xenophobia.”
We both laughed. “It’s a band…” Bender started to explain.
“OBVIOUSLY,” the woman interjected. “You’re gonna have to be a little quicker on your toes if you wanna make it around here. NEXT.”
I ordered my “one cheese cut,” thoroughly charmed by the cashier knowing immediately that Bender and I were the kind of people who would probably enjoy a little kind-hearted ribbing.


Now let me just say, this isn’t New York slice. I think approaching it with different expectations is important. So, first things first, Pittsburgh slices are smaller than NY slices, but they’re also cheaper—$1.80 seems to be the going rate, and that seems like a fair price. Second, the ratio expectations are different. There’s more cheese and more sauce on the pizza here. Maybe it’s a Rust Belt thing.

I bit into my slice, though, and it was good. It had a spicier sauce than I would ever like in New York, but here, it worked. The cheese was plentiful and delicious—they grind their own mix of cheeses in house. The dough was crisp and salty but couldn’t support the weight of all that cheese. Not really a huge surprise and not really an issue for me. The reason a New York slice needs to hold up is because it’s meant to eat and walk. This slice is clearly an eat in affair. I took my dog for an hour walk in the neighborhood after we were done Slice Harvesting and no one outside on Murray Ave was eating a slice while they strolled around.

The crust, however, left something to be desired for me. The outside was crispy, but the inside, instead of being fluffy and cooked through, felt dense and wet. It was heavy in a way that didn’t quite work for me, but not a deal breaker.


Bender said he loved his crust, that it seemed to be gushing with olive oil, and that he appreciated that the sauce tasted like real tomatoes, but for him, the cheese at Mineo’s was the real thing. Miguel also liked what he called the “Ninja Turtle Cheese,” and also appreciated that the sauce was clearly made from real tomato and wasn’t overly processed. For Cindy, the sauce was the key. She liked that it wasn’t overly sweet. “I like it when you eat your pizza and it tastes like pizza rather than candy.”

Overall, the slice at Mineo’s isn’t the best I’ve ever had in my life, but it’s good, they use quality ingredients and clearly care about their product. The real reason I’ll come back though, is because it’s just such a perfect place. Between the charming counterwoman, and the classic pizzeria atmosphere, this is somewhere I felt very at home.


Aiello’s was a different story. Before I get into my review, I just wanna admit that going into this, I wanted to like Aiello’s better. First, the name makes me think of Danny Aiello and I love Danny Aiello. Second, who wouldn’t automatically side with the disgruntled employee who hates his boss so much he quits his job and then opens up a competing business literally three doors down? A jerk, that's who. But Aiello’s was, ultimately, a pretty big disappointment.

First of all, I hated being inside this place. Now, they were under construction, so it might feel like I’m not giving them a fair shake regarding ambience, but half the store was done and I really didn’t like what they were going for aesthetically. The menu was displayed on three giant flat screens, everything was glass or chrome in the same sort of disposable-looking futuristic nostalgia of like, a Steak n’ Shake or Johnny Rockets franchise. I just wasn’t feeling it, which would’ve been fine if their slice measured up, but it just didn’t.


This slice had something closer to New York ratios in terms of cheese::sauce::dough, but it still didn’t hold it’s own weight when I lifted it up. When I looked underneath, I realized it was because there was a seam in the dough that just led the slice to fall completely apart. This is unacceptable. A pizzeria, at the very least, should provide a doughy foundation to all their pies that is a solid, uninterrupted surface for the rest of the slice to rest on. No seams, no folds. Maybe a bubble is fine, but that’s it. Otherwise this dough had a great char and a great flavor, though the crust was too dense for my tastes, seemed raw in the middle, and looked like an ashy elbow. Maybe that’s just how they like it in Pittsburgh. The cheese was a fine quality. The sauce was a little on the sweet side, but I’m starting to admit that I kinda like that if the other flavors can balance it out. Eating this slice was not an experience I especially relished, but once it was done I remembered it fondly. 

When asked for their opinions, Cindy said “good char, but everything else was subpar.” Miguel said, “I can confidently recommend that people try this alcoholic Mountain Dew they serve here.” Bender said “it’s like they weren’t even trying,” and I tend to agree.

So the verdict is in. Regarding the feud between Mineo’s Pizza House and Aiello’s Pizza that’s been simmering in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood for going on 40 years, Slice Harvester falls firmly on the side of Mineo’s.

Regarding the Simon & Schuster Boycott and their cancellation of Milo Yiannopoulos’ contract.

I began this statement at the start of the year when Milo Yiannopoulos’s book deal had just been inked, but after watching Yiannopoulos’s islamophobia and transphobia validated by supposedly progressive blowhard Bill Maher over the weekend, and then reading Monday morning about his ultimately rescinded invitation to be the keynote speaker at CPAC, I felt newly inclined to add my voice to the chorus of those opposing him. I spent some time Monday revising the statement and by the time I was done, I read that Simon & Schuster had cancelled his book deal. Regardless, their initial actions and their repercussions are still worth discussing.

Simon & Schuster’s decision to offer Milo Yiannopoulos a quarter of a million dollars, which further legitimizes his national platform, is nothing short of odious. This sort of enabling behavior is intolerable, opportunistic, and unacceptable.  Simon & Schuster’s statement on the matter “we note that the opinions expressed [within our books] belong to our authors, and do not reflect either a corporate viewpoint or the views of our employees,” is a cop out.

Paying a neo-nazi a large sum of money is a political act. Increasing the reach of a cruel bully who has used his publicity and notoriety to target individuals for harassment is a political act. Validating the perspectives of an islamophobe/ transphobe/ white nationalist is a political act. Simon & Schuster should be held accountable for this decision. A full boycott of their books—for review by critics, for sale by buyers at bookstores and individual consumers—would send a clear message to the company.

Simon & Schuster’s argument that Yiannopoulos is entitled to this platform on the basis of free speech is based on a flawed understanding of free speech as a concept. Publishers reject books every single day for a variety of reasons, many far more banal than the author being a hateful demagogue who has used his meager fame to encourage the targeted harassment of marginalized people, especially black and trans women. Rejecting a proposal is not a form of censorship. (If it is, then most of my classmates in the creative writing class I took last year are actively being censored on a weekly basis. Some of them are possibly even being censored multiple times a week.) The idea that there are no ramifications for spewing garbage misunderstands that speech is not an individual act—it's dialogic, an interactive process in the public sphere. Our response to such vicious and violent speech should be a very loud and very clear no. 

As an author on the Simon & Schuster roster, I whole-heartedly support this boycott, though frankly, it may not be enough. Perhaps simply boycotting until the dissolution of Yiannopoulos’s contract is short-sighted. The entire Threshold Editions imprint, which has published work by Glenn Beck, Bobby Jindal, Rush Limbaugh, Dick Cheney, among others, both stokes the fears of and profits from the recently galvanized American Right.

Yiannopoulos’s presence on Threshold is not a coincidence. In an interview with Business Insider regarding his search for a publisher, Yiannopoulos stated “Threshold Editions at Simon & Schuster were my first choice, and I was thrilled they wanted me.” In a sense, Threshold Editions helped create the environment in which a Milo Yiannopolous could thrive, and they continue to expand his platform because it profits them directly.

Since publishing it’s first crossword puzzle book at the beginning of 1924, Simon & Schuster has worked on a business model of predicting market fads and quickly publishing books to correspond. It’s no wonder, then, that they offered to publish a memoir based on my briefly-popular blog, for instance. But this mission statement, to simply exploit whatever market is available to consume books, has led them down the unconscionable path of collaborating with a narcissistic bigot, and while this is never a good look, it is especially heinous in the current political moment.

During the writing of this piece, Simon & Schuster nullified Milo Yiannopoulos’s book contract. This is good news. It’s very heartening to learn that a white supremacist is no longer going to be given a substantial sum of money. However, Simon & Schuster didn’t cancel the contract because of Yiannopoulos’s hateful beliefs. They didn’t cancel his contract because of he defended racists, because he targeted black women, trans women, undocumented people, and rape survivors for harassment by his vitriolic fans. They cancelled it because he made statements that were construed as advocating for pedophilia, and that has alienated much of his right wing fanbase. (The irony of a man who wants to “defend women and girls” from the phantom threat of transfeminine bathroom assaulters admonishing the mainstream to be more forgiving of some pedophilia is not lost on me, but that’s the subject of another essay.) Simon & Schuster caved, not because of ethical issues, but because he is no longer as commercially viable as he was before these statements came to light. As Roxane Gay pointed out, Simon & Schuster did not act according to conscience, they acted according to commercial interest.

In a way, the rejection of Yiannopolous by CPAC and Simon and Schuster only confirms their commitment to the entire neo-nazi and conservative Christian platform -including white supremacy, transphobia, islamophobia—by using Yiannopolous to corroborate all too common homophobic beliefs that queer men are dangerous and prone to pedophilia. Yiannopolous himself might suffer a momentary setback but the agenda he supports is furthered. To be clear, he was removed to preserve the growing ‘alt-right’ not to thwart it.

The boycott of Simon and Schuster should stand until the dissolution of Threshold Editions in its entirety.


This piece was co-authored with Rebecca Giordano. The matter was brought to my attention by Tom Leger of Topside Press, who has been a key figure in organizing the boycott since the deal was announced. For a concise list of Yiannopolous's previous actions, see this list compiled by Bitch Media: https://bitchmedia.org/article/bad-things-milo-yiannopoulos-has-done-case-his-new-publisher-cares-just-kidding-they-totally

Eat, Pray, Shlub #10

WHAT’S GOOD MRR. Welcome to my tenth column. So much has been going on since the last time I wrote. Namely, I moved out of New York City for the first time in my whole entire life and now I live in Austin, TX. Weird, right? Everyone I know is excited for me, but also everyone is shocked that I would leave because I’ve always seemed like one of those people that would stay in New York forever—in part because of my personality, but also because I’ve always adamantly sworn that I would never leave.

Three other things I’ve adamantly sworn in my life: I would never like the Smiths, I would never be a vegetarian, the Dead Kennedys would be my favorite band forever.

Re: The Smiths. This is something I said when I only listened to Blanks 77 and the Casualties, the same era where I pejoratively referred to the Stooges as “too psychedelic.” Like one year later I was dating this Darkwave College Babe who I met at the Starbucks I worked at in High School and we were driving to the beach and the song “Ask” came on a mixtape in her car. Her cybergoth dreads were blowing in the breeze and I was deeply Puppy Doggin’ and all of a sudden I liked the Smiths. I rode that wave so hard and so far that I’m back to not liking the Smith’s again, but maybe that’s not the point, is it?

Re: Vegetarianism. This is also something I swore up and down in high school. Then when I was 19 I went on this zine reading tour with my right hand man Salvatore where the destination was a motherfucking debutante ball in Dallas that I had gotten us invited to because one of the debutantes briefly lived in NYC and we would do drugs together. ANYWAY, Salvatore is the son of a butcher and so he was a vegetarian. I didn’t get it and was like, “that shit is for hippies I’m gonna eat all of your dad’s prosciutto,” or whatever. Then we were in Dallas at the debutante ball on a ton of speed wearing these shitty thrift store tuxedos and carrying around a tub of DRUM tobacco like an amulet. I thought everyone would be freaked out by us because I had a mohawk and Sal had that Kevin Seconds thing where half his head was shaved, but mostly they had an easy time compartmentalizing us as the “friends from New York,” and that seemed to explain everything weird about us. The only thing that successfully freaked out the squares was when dinner came and Sal traded me his steak for my vegetables. People truly lost their shit and I became a vegetarian next day. I also am not a vegetarian anymore, though I was for years, but again, that’s not the point.

The point is that oftentimes the things I proclaim the loudest are the things that I end up ultimately doing and I think maybe part of why I feel the need to adamantly and publicly distance myself from them is because I’m actually getting myself used to the idea of maybe trying them out. Or something. Is that actually the point? I’m unsure. But this column isn’t called Making Points With Colin Atrophy, it’s called something different than that so fuck you anyway. As for the Dead Kennedys, I was like 13 when I decided they were my favorite band forever and I mean, come on.

Look, what I’m saying is I moved out of New York like four days ago as of this writing and an indeterminate amount of time as of your reading, because like, I don’t even know who you are or when you’re gonna read this. It could be any time after now or even before now because linear time is an oppressive concept that was made up by capitalism (more like CRAPitalism, am I right?) to bring you down and make you go to work on time. I drove to Austin in two days. I ate three bags of peanut M&Ms and one dozen oatmeal cookies that my mom made for me and put in a ziplock bag. I listened to approximately twenty hours worth of this horror story podcast that Imogen told me about and I consumed exactly Thirty Hours of Energy. In the end I arrived in Austin a day and a half after I left New York, almost to the minute. My girlfriend Becca had made me a homemade VEGAN chocolate babka to welcome me so if I had been harboring any doubts about whether packing up my apartment into the back of a station wagon and moving across the country to be her Professor’s Wife (which I wasn’t because she rules), they would’ve been set aside.

I’m eating a piece of that babka right now and listening to the Popper Burns tape I wrote about last month. Last night my old friend Ben Trogdon (of the ever exciting NUTS Fanzine, the new issue of which has an interview with fellow columnist Bryony’s band GOOD THROB) had an art show here and tomorrow night G.L.O.S.S. is playing and I’m very excited about establishing my new identity as a New Yorker, Elsewhere. Just now Becca made a joke about some NASCAR driver and I had no idea who he was and I got to act all befuddled like, “why would I even know about a NASCAR driver?”

So yeah, 2015 is closing out soon and I’m stoked and in love and I live in a new town for the first time in my life which is very exciting. You can still send mail to my old P.O. Box for now, it just might take me a little longer to get back to you. 442-D Lorimer St #230 / Brooklyn, NY 11206. And you can still email me sliceharvester@gmail.com and blah blah blah blah blah. I’m excited for my future columns to all be about me being confused by shit here and I hope you are too. No cops, no creeps. Peace in the taqueria. I’m out.

My interview from Cindy Crabb's new MASCULINITIES zine!

Friend and former Radio Harvester guest Cindy Crabb just put out this really cool zine about conceptions of masculinity and she interviewed me for it and I'm really honored to be included and also stoked that it's finally out and I can share it. I think these kinds of conversations are super important and I feel really lucky to have been given the forum to have one publicly.

I haven't read the zine yet. I literally just got it from my mailbox and texted Cindy like, "OMG YR ZINE IS BEAUTIFUL CAN I PUT MY INTERVIEW ON MY BLOG?!!?!!?," but I'm sure the other interviews are great. You should pick up a copy of it if you're interested. Cindy says she'll have it up on her distro website by Monday, so go buy it and other zines she's made and other zines she sells because she's amazing.

Anyway, here's the interview:

Cindy: What was masculinity like growing up?

Colin: I have a really contentious relationship with my masculinity, so I like the idea of this project. I wish there had been more resources like this when I was younger.
I grew up in a fairly affluent suburb of NYC, with a diverse public school. I didn't think about masculinity much when I was very young, but when I was a teenager, it got tied up with my substance abuse history in a really intense way. I started getting fucked up all the time when I was about 15, just smoking weed all day, and then when I was like 19 I started drinking all the time.
A lot of the social and societal discomforts I was medicating by being fucked up was this anxiety I felt around gender, masculinity, my masculinity, how to perform masculinity. I've been off booze for about two and a half years now. When I was 28, I quit drinking.

Cindy: What kind of messages about masculinity were you receiving?

Colin: I didn't play sports growing up, and that wasn't something that was made a priority. I remember my Dad got me a baseball mitt, and I never wanted to use it. And I remember one day telling him, "I'm never going to want to play catch with you." He was basically relieved because he didn’t want to play catch either, so being athletic wasn’t a paradigm that I had to butt up against at home, though I still do have anxiety around playing sports even now based on how unpleasant I found the mandatory, gender-segregated ballgames in school when I was a kid.
            My father drove a cab and didn't take shit, but he was in general pretty low-key.  His father was incredibly unavailable. I think about masculinity a lot in the frame of how it's been passed down through generations, and how the previous generations inform the version of masculinity today that's being put on me.
            Grunge was a huge thing when I was a little kid. I read about Kurt Corbain, read the liner notes for Incesticide where he pretty explicitly calls out bro culture and toxic masculinity in a way that, looking back, was super radical for something so mainstream. It just seems like the dominant culture in the 90’s was a little more gender ambiguous in ways it hadn't been before.  Or maybe it had been like that in the 70's with disco, I don't know.

Cindy: Yeah, it does seem to come and go. Like there was disco and then it got more traditional, and then there was Glam, and then it got more traditional, and then there was Grunge.

Colin: Yeah. Well, I grew my hair out super long when I was really young. I remember being at my Grandparents 50th anniversary or something, at this Eastern European, Jewish schlocky steak-house in the Lower East Side. I must have been 12 or 13, and my hair was down to my nipples, and I thought it was so cool. And then this old-world waiter thought I was a girl, he addressed me with a female pronoun, and I was so STOKED! I was like, "he doesn't know what gender I am, this is so cool.” I thought it was funny, and then I looked at my Dad, and he was bummed. But he wasn’t bummed that the dude had thought I was a lady, he had long hair in the 70s and him and his cousin Luke used to always get mistaken for women hitch-hiking. He seemed disappointed in me that I enjoyed being misgendered and I didn't understand why. My therapist calls this sort of thing micro-aggressions. Or like, I joined NOW when I was 13 or so, and I remember one Thanksgiving my shitty uncle Donny saw a NOW bulletin laying on the table in the hall, addressed to me, and he was like, “What’d you grow a vagina?” He actually said “vagina” because he’s this weird Christian who doesn’t curse. And like, that wasn’t a big deal, and neither was my father’s disapproval at the anniversary, but then these little tiny things end up adding up and making a clear picture for me that there are specific things I’m not supposed to do because I’m a guy.
            I was also really into dressing in drag when I was young. Just before and up until puberty. I remember wearing this slinky dress with these Jackie O glasses to see The Craft in the movie theater and I was like, 13 or so and I was scrawny so my body itself was kind of this neutral, genderless canvas and people would assume the gender based on the accessories, right? That’s why I was so into Judith Butler when I found her in college, talking about gender being a performance, because that’s how it had felt to me. And I remember at the time, the way that I thought about it wasn’t that I was doing any sort of transgressive gender play, what I liked was that I was tricking people. Like, I was undercover as a different person.
            And I stopped doing that around the same time as I started getting really fucked up, which is also the same time that all the micro-aggressions had finally crystallized into a clear picture for me of what behaviors were off limits. Probably also around this time actual violent reprisal for men failing to be masculine enough came into the picture too, though none of it was directed at me. But that was on the table. Kids started getting beat up at school for being faggots, excuse my language. It’s only now, looking back, that I can see the correlation between when I started suppressing all my instincts to be a gender freak and when I started mediating all my lived experience through substances. The other thing is that getting fucked up was like, an easy out if I acted weird. Like, I wasn’t a failure as a man, I was just stoned. I think if the culture had been different in regards to gender, I likely would have become female at some point in my adolescence. I didn't do that, though, because I didn't even see it as an option.

Cindy: Of course.

Colin: My introduction to punk was kind of crazy too. I brought home a NOFX tape a friend of mine had made me, and played it for my dad, and he gave me a copy of the first Dead Kennedys record. And both him and my mom were really into Gang of Four. So things that were rebellious for other people were not even remotely rebellious for me. But then when I was 14, someone gave me the first Bikini Kill record, and both my parents were like "What is this!?" and were freaking out, so I'm like Ok, here's something I can use to rebel. I finally have a thing that's not ok. So a lot of my politics when I was young came from a very cursory understanding of feminist issues. I remember thinking at the time that my life would have been easier if I was a girl. I had the political understanding that navigating the world as a female-bodied person was more difficult in a lot of ways. I didn't think it would be easier like that, but I had this notion that it would make more sense, my life would make more sense, if I were travelling through the world as a girl instead of a boy.
            I don't know if it's a great tragedy that I don't feel that way anymore. Because now, in this life I have, I love my body, I love being a man in the world. I'm fascinated by it, it's intriguing to me, it's interesting and it's fun. I like the clothes, I like being a dude a lot, and I'm very grateful for who I am. 

Cindy: Can you articulate more what do you find intriguing about it?

Colin: Maybe. All of this is going to be intrinsically tied to punk. Growing up punk in the 90's in New York was a pretty wild time for studying masculinity. Like I would go to see Blanks 77 on a Friday night, and see Anti-Product at ABC No Rio on Saturday, and then go see some New York Hardcore band on Sunday. And the way I would act and dress and speak, and even my posture would change, in these different places. It was something I did without thinking, but it was totally different. I felt out of place at the hardcore shows and I LOVED it. Well, I don't know if I loved it actually. Maybe I hated it, but I kept going, so there must have been something that I was into. Sometimes these days I describe my forays into the Sunday afternoon CBGBs Hardcore Matinee as being motivated by wanting to witness the spectacle of male violence, but I think that’s just me trying to seem precocious in retrospect.
Hardcore was so different from the Peace Punk and Street Punk scenes, both of which resonated with me way more because they were explicitly about either fighting injustice or partying, which were two things I liked to do. The NYHC scene was these huge dudes in camo cargo shorts, doing windmills and beating the shit out of each other. But at the same time there was this notion that - this is a thing that we share. This hyper-masculine bond of hardcore shows.
            I understand the response to the masculine aggression at hardcore shows - like "you can't do that. You have to make space for other people too." But at the same time, some people really needed those spaces and people to get that out with and be able to participate in violence with. Looking back on it, going to those shows was really a way to see into a very dark place, but it was also a hopeful place because it was clear that there was something almost therapeutic going on.
            I don't need that kind of catharsis, I never have, but I have known people who really did, and most of them came from much more violent backgrounds than me, and they needed to let it out somewhere in the world, and I think that was a really healthy, important outlet for those people to have. I don't know where the balance is.     
            I guess I'm at a place now in my 30's where I'm like -- do all places need to be inclusive to everybody? You know. I went through a pretty unfortunate folk punk phase in my early 20s and I didn't necessarily bring my hardcore friends to the neck bandana housepunk shows where I was playing a ukelele with my shirt hanging coquettishly off my shoulder. They would feel probably just as uncomfortable and awkward as I felt in their hyper-masculine spaces.

Cindy: I know what you mean. I had friends in the hardcore scene - female friends, and they hated riot-girl for trying to demasculinize it or stop the violence. They were like "these are our spaces. We need this!"

Colin: Right! And I say this as someone who never needed that, and who found it alienating.
            I also remember going to see a Barbara Krueger exhibit at the MOMA with my mother, and there was a print of some dudes fighting, and it said, "You construct intricate rituals in order to touch the skin of other men." And I immediately just imagined replacing that imagine with like, a pile on sing along at a hardcore show. There’s a certain intrinsic homoeroticism to a lot of those super-hetero, hyper-masculine spaces that I find really compelling.
             I think the problem isn't really the degree of violence in those spaces, but rather the degree of censure against those who don't conform. And I think it’s because the participants know they’re participating in something that could easily be construed as homoerotic, and because masculinity is defined largely by what it’s NOT rather than what it IS, they need to violently defend their straightness at all costs. The fact that all these men are shirtless and sweating and touching each other is only okay if they’re all straight, so anyone who punctures a hole in that reality is met with violent reprisal. I think that’s very dangerous and problematic, but I don’t think the consensual, cathartic violence of a hardcore show is bad or wrong at all.
            And you know, I still act differently depending on where I am. Like I went to the junkyard the other day, and the way I talked to those guys, the way I made eye contact, it was very different than how I would be at home or at a punk show.
            I love that in this world, there are all these spaces, and you have to learn the rules and you have to learn to navigate them. I think that's so fascinating and potentially this beautiful thing, where there's all these eclectic, different ways for people to see each other. I don't know. But obviously, there's the same problem, the censure of people who don't conform, which is actually super terrifying.
            I remember in high school I was at band practice and I was like "why don't you wear earplugs," and my bandmate was like "only pussies wear earplugs."  Neither of us were “like that,” but he said it because it seemed like a tough-guy thing to say, and I laughed.
            And I don't want that. That's not positive for anyone.

Cindy: How did you make the transformation from self-medicating around issues of masculinity and gender, to the kind of acceptance and celebration of who you are today?

Colin: I think that happened largely via my sobriety, which it took me a few years to even realize was something I wanted. In 2008 a really good friend of mine died. At the funeral, I couldn’t cry. Like, I went and I looked at his body in the casket and I had written him a little note and I slipped it in his shirt pocket and I wanted to cry so bad but I couldn’t. And then someone asked me if I wanted to go get a drink at the bar across the street and I had about 8 drinks in 40 minutes and when I got back inside it was like I had found the key to access my caged up emotions, and I was able to cry and it felt so good! That’s another thing about masculinity, the idea that we can’t be outwardly emotional. There’s just this idea that we’re not emotional, we take care of shit, not having any problems, not letting the little shit get to you. You know what I mean? Some of those things are good things, but taken to these extremes, they’re not.
            People came to the funeral from all over. On trains from Seattle, from places all across the country and across the world, like this huge dirtbag convention. Everybody was shitfaced. I went to a show that night at a bar that he used to work at. They were sad too, the bartenders, so no one had to pay for a single drink. Everyone was WASTED and people were weeping and punching out windows and freaking out, and I had this moment of clarity where I was like “Ok, our friend died from overpartying.” He had struggled with addiction for as long as I had known him. And the collective, community response to that was to just blot it out I guess, but like, this did not feel good.
            People had died in my community before, but there was something about this death that really hit home for a lot of people. For me, prior to this moment, being fucked up and never having a job and not giving a shit and rejecting capitalism and rejection of the shitty fucked up world was all tied up with getting super fucked up and being like “We don’t care about tomorrow we care about right now!” and like “We’re gonna live our lives how we want it, when we want it!” After my friend died, it stopped feeling like a life-affirming thing and just felt like we were all waiting in line to be dead.
            I think at first it had been a healthy outlet, but it turned from like this beautiful thing to this totally nihilistic thing. I never correlated the two till I was reading old journals a few years later, but I took my first ever “sober week” a few days after the funeral. It was actually like 5 days, and I was eating pills the whole time. But I didn’t drink! It was a big deal. I’d toyed with sobriety, I’d stop for a few days, just smoke weed. After the sober week eventually I stopped for 3 months, and then I stopped entirely.
            It wasn’t until I stopped that I even could pinpoint my reasons for wanting to just dull myself all the time. I didn’t have an understanding that I had these deep-seated gender anxieties, and that I had dealt with them by self-medicating. Also like, whatever masculine traits I felt I was not achieving, I knew what I did have was I could get so fucked up and still more or less take care of shit, and at least that was like, a solid, masculine quality. Like, I may look like a wuss, but I WILL outdrink you.
            Towards the end of my drinking I had started this relationship with my current partner, and I just acted really shady to her and a lot of it was centered around how deep in it I was with booze. I had been doing Support New York since waaaaay before I got sober, and all of a sudden I was doing processes for people who had done things that were similar to what I was doing in my own relationship in terms of being manipulative and untrustworthy. I realized this was super problematic, but didn’t do anything about it until my partner brought things to a head in this really intense way that I kind of forced her into via my own inaction, which just compounds the unfairness of the situation. Not only was I the architect of this heinous dynamic, but I was also leaving her responsible for dismantling it.
I think my shitty behavior in that relationship was rooted deeply in my alcoholism for sure, but equally in my masculine identity and socialization. A lot of it was about intentionally not being aware of what my emotions were because I didn’t want to deal with them. Making decisions that would affect my partner without her input, because I was a man and I could figure out what was best. Seeing that behavior in myself, realizing I was capable of it, that really made me want to quit booze forever because I could see how much pain I was putting my partner through and I didn’t want to be that sort of person. And then through the ensuing clarity of my sobriety and really interrogating my own life and motivations I started to piece together this story of myself as a little boy AND a little girl that I had stopped telling at some point.
Also Nevada, have you ever read the book Nevada? By Imogen Binnie? It’s a transwoman road trip novel, more or less. The protagonist, Maria, she leaves out of New York City and goes on a road trip, and meets someone in the midst of a gender crisis in a small town. It’s a great novel, and the gender crisis aspect of it struck a really deep chord in me. When I got it, I was in the process of acknowledging that I had a narrative tension in my own life. That was the beginning of me considering that maybe I have more than a general discomfort with gender in the culture, and in fact have discomfort about my own gender.
Cindy: Where are you at with your gender identity now?

Colin: I’m fine with who I am right now. Maybe someday I’ll be an old lady. For now, I take care of myself better. I eat better, I take vitamins. I take a holistic antidepressant. I feel more at home in my body than I ever have. I don’t know why. I think little stuff. Like I grew my hair long again and got my ear pierced. None of that is essentially “feminine,” like I have a pretty “butch” earring, but I think I’m being a little more playful with my masculinity. I do my hair up funny and wear a headband sometimes and dress and act a little more femme when I want to and don’t really think twice about it. I curtsy a lot.
Also having a writer friendship with Imogen has been really amazing. When her book freaked me out, I wrote her a letter and was like “Your book freaked me out! I’m in this gender crisis now. Don’t feel responsible for it. Actually, thank you. And I’d love to talk some stuff out. And, I think we’re very similar and would be good friends.” And she’s just been really warm and receptive in helping me parse a lot of this stuff. This was also after Laura Jane Grace came out and transitioned, and that opened the door to me thinking “maybe it’s not too late for me.” I think realizing it was a possibility for me at any time was helpful, because prior to that when I would think about transitioning, it always seemed like something that happened to people who were younger than I was. So even in my 20s when I had trans friends and knew it was an option in the world, it still didn’t seem like an option in my life.
            It’s like this, I barely smoke anymore, I smoke like 2 or 3 cigarettes a day, and I can leave the house without them. But there was a time when if I left the house and I didn’t have cigarettes in my pocket, I would start panicking, not because I needed a cigarette right then, but because I needed to have a cigarette there in case I needed one. Just having them there gave me an out. Laura, who is older than me, transitioning in her late 30s, that was like me having a pack of cigarettes in my pocket. I don’t necessarily need one right now, but I know they’re there and that’s comforting.
            And so I’m getting to a point within myself where this is an option for me, and it’s something I can start to do tomorrow if I want to. That just opened up a box that I’d locked myself into, and so then it became a thing where I had room to be like “there’s so much about being male that I like, and that I’m grateful for.”
            I actually do like my masculinity. I don’t want to destroy it. But I like the notion that I can feel like a girl and still maintain my male identity. How do I embody all my female role models, and all the incredibly powerful and rad shit that I respect and appreciate from the women in my life?
            A lot of my anxiety definitely comes from these essentialized notions of gender that I know are problematic. I was thinking about it a few years ago after I had written a letter to you. I was having a freakout and I wrote you about it, and I was thinking about how great punk is, and all these older people I could turn to as a resource, even though you and I didn’t really know each other, and how wonderful our community was, and I was thinking about all the people I had reached out to in various ways, and I realized that when I was having a crisis I either wrote you a letter or called Kimya Dawson, and when I needed advice about creative shit, I called Aaron or wrote to Eric Lyle. And I was like “oh, this is fucked up! I have very gendered roles for who I reached out to.” That helped me start to examine why I develop certain relationships in my life.
Being sober I was thinking about the fact that even when I was wasted and suppressing a lot of my gender stuff, I did do these types of gender play. One of the things I did was I had a pearl necklace, and about once a month I would get in the bath, put the pearl necklace on and I would drink my Ballentine out of a champagne glass and fake shave my legs like an elegant lady in a shaving cream commercial. I would listen to this Brahms tape and pretend I was Imelda Marcos or Cruella Deville, some vicious rich woman. It was a thing I would only do alone. And when I would clean my house, I would dress up like what I thought of as a rockabilly housewife. And when my cats were kittens they had repeatedly tried to nurse on my nipples, so I referred to myself as their mom.
            So when I started reconsidering my own gender, I thought about “what do I consider female?” and all the things were things that were nurturing. Like caring for myself. Whereas things like standing up to jerks on the street, these things were implicitly masculine. That’s something I’m trying to critically examine now, especially considering that most of my lived examples of people standing up to jerks have been women, yet I still somehow gender it as male.
Another person who’s had a big impact on me recently is Kiese Laymon. In his book "How To Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America," he has this one essay that's been really important to me, both in my personal life, and in the work I do. It's an essay that's a series of letters amongst a group of six black men, (the essay has six separate authors), all talking about masculinity and how it's confined and defined their lives. The first letter is from a straight identified man, Kiese is straight identified. Then the next letter is from a gay man, and then a transman, and then a man talking about being a childhood sexual abuse survivor, and a man who just got out of prison. They're all talking together about their own personal experiences and working on forming positive notions of black masculinity.
When I approached him over the internet after reading it and said, "Hey, your essay totally blew my mind. I been doing transformative justice work for a decade now, and I would really love if you would let us use this essay in our processes. I think it would be a really useful lens to look at masculinity and socialization through." He was basically like, "I have been waiting for someone to ask me that. Thank you so much."
I think what he's doing, this project of his, actively redefining what it is to be a man in this world; part of the point is that there is no universal notion of what being a man means. It's our responsibility as a community, as various communities, to create modern examples of what masculinity can be. The work he's doing in his community is really useful and beneficial to me, and to the larger community of men, in deconstructing masculinity and trying to build a version of it that will be beneficial and nurturing to the world, instead of violent and toxic. He's unapologetic about his being male, but understands the need for a recuperative effort on the part of men to basically everyone else.
            His work, coupled with the notion that I can walk away from it at any time, has a lot to do with my new-found comfort in masculinity and being male because I feel that there's positive work to do, in this body and as this person. Being male no longer feels like a prison. It’s a choice I’m actively affirming, rather than something proscriptive that I’m stuck with. And although the difference between now and before is almost purely ontological, it turns out that was all I needed.