Okay, there is a reason this headline, “Worker Sues Over ‘Phallic’ Dumplings” caught my eye. Seems as if a former bartender in an upscale Manhattan Chinese restaurant is suing the restaurant alleging her coworkers, “made giant penises from the dumplings they served to customers.” She claims she, “faced a constant stream of sexual harassment and phallic food.”
I’m not making light of the working conditions this woman had to contend with or that sexual harassment takes many forms and should not be tolerated. But, I have a strange enough sense of humor that the very thought of a huge phallic dumpling makes me smile a little. Especially when it evokes a comedic moment from my past.
Back in the hippy-dippy world of the 1960s I was a serious student of history at one of California’s state universities. For relief and something totally different I was also an art student concentrating in pottery. If you’ve ever spent much time around people in the arts you know that creativity comes out of some pretty minds. I’m not sure if Grandma Moses was a little twisted but if you consider her to have been an artist, she probably was.
While hanging around the art department at Cal-State Fullerton I got to meet lots of very different people who were all trying to find their way in the art world with something that was unique to themselves. One fellow who was working on his masters in ceramics had selected as his master’s project the perfection of a series of wheel-thrown free-standing ceramic fire places. Another was creating a series of slip poured objects that all had a sexual sensitivity to them and employed low-temperature glazes producing colors not usually found in pottery studios of that period.
The potter I remember the most however, was a guy who was simply known as Little John. He was small, thin, hyper-active, fully bearded, long-haired, and always wearing thoroughly mud splattered bib overalls.
Little John was also working on his masters and his project was the creation of musical instruments made from clay. When he hit on an idea the drying racks in the studio would rapidly fill with his prototypes. Suddenly would appear ceramic guitars or ukulele, bodies for bongo and drums, xylophones and other percussion instruments, etc. But, the thing/s most memorable were his wind instruments, specifically flutes and whistles in the shape of the human penis. Naturally they came in different shapes and sizes and just as naturally Little John referred to them as “skin flutes.” I can’t remember if any of his other instruments actually produced music but the flutes did. After each firing, he and some friends would commonly take over the exterior courtyard and put on a “pottery penis performance.”
I really enjoyed the strangeness of all this but I always wondered what was going through the minds of the older part-time women who signed up for Ceramics 101 thinking they would be surrounded with cute little bud vases, cream pitchers, and clever coffee mugs. Can you picture a 70-year-old, grey haired, grandmother, looking up from her coiled pot project and being surrounded by dozens of unglazed phalli staring at her? The thought still makes me smile.