Is That a Rod in Your Pocket?

A surprisingly exciting visit to the Museum of Glass.


1801 E. Dock St., Tacoma, 253-284-4750 or

for days and hours

I got hot at the Museum of Glass the other day; I never knew it could be like this. I'd always assumed glass art was something musty and slightly kitsch: something my grandmother might give my mom for Christmas, right along with the cheese log and Almond Roca. It was even worth the trip to Tacoma to be so awakened—which, let's admit, is something you say about as often as "I'm looking forward to that dentist appointment" or "Hey, did you catch Becker last night?"

Yet the Hot Shop continues to taunt me.

Housed beneath the erect, 90-foot stainless steel cone that rises from the museum's roof, the Hot Shop is a kind of performance, stadium-style, that allows you to watch the artisans blow glass while a host with a microphone takes you through the process and answers your questions. The Hot Shop is a chance to see artisans holding long poles shape glass by repeatedly poking it into ovens. The Hot Shop is staffed with lean, young men putting their "rods" into "glory holes."

Now, I consider myself fairly informed, but it's a jolt hearing a middle-aged man with a microphone repeating "rod" and "glory hole" ad infinitum to a bus-load of senior citizens from Santa Fe. Yet not a blue hair popped out of place. Was everybody else so well schooled in glassblowing? It became comical, surreal. I felt like Beavis and Butthead—"Huh-huh, he said rod." I imagined glassblowers' porn: "Yeah, heat my rod. You like that big, fat glass, don't you?"

I can't be teased like this for long, and I have no sense of shame, so after the performance had ended, I called one of the young artists over. I knew it was a crude question, I said, but honestly, could he please tell me if it was just an old glassblowers' joke that all these terms were so sexual? Or did some clever 20th-century gay glass aficionados adopt the words for recreational usage?

"Well . . . what do you mean?" he answered.

"You know—that's a rod," I said, fearlessly pointing out his co-worker's, ahem, tool, and following its course into the fiery receptacle. "And that's a glory hole. . . . "

"Well, if you know the origin of the term . . . ," he said, then stopped to turn the tables on me. "Do you know what it means?"

Do I know what it means? Honey, please.

"Of course I do," I said.

"So, then . . . "

"Wait a minute," I said, needing to be sure. "What do you think it means?"

He shifted uncomfortably for a moment. This was getting ridiculous.

"Um, you know," he said. "I hear that in San Francisco . . . in the bathrooms . . . "

"Right," I said, wanting to hear his unique attempt to complete the thought but needing a definitive answer. "So is that how you got the name for the glassblowing stuff, or was it the other way around?"

The guy sheepishly excused himself to get back to work—"'Glory hole' has been around a long time," he said in parting, which cleared nothing up—leaving me limp and unsatisfied.

So send your snooty letters protesting my d飬ass頩gnorance, tell me how the terminology is hundreds of years old and translated from the Italian (as the unamused receptionist at the Pilchuck Glass School informed me the next day; glassblowers need to lighten up), but I know something furtive and lusty is afoot here: This Saturday's evening of glass art and demonstrations at the museum is called Night Blow.

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