IN 1799, IF MY MEMORY SERVES me correctly, a soldier dude helping Napoleon annoy the Egyptians as much as he would soon annoy Beethoven—
—in five years’ time Ludwig van B, in an excess of brotherly enthusiasm brought about by the Aufklärung (Enlightenment), will dedicate his ground-breaking Symphony #3 to Napoleon, but when Napoleon declares himself Emperor in 1804, Beethoven, never Mister Half-Way when it comes to dramatic gestures, scrubs out the dedication with such violence that to this day there is a hole in the title page of the manuscript—
—this soldier of 1799
Napoléon avec cinq cents soldats Marchant du même pas…
stubs his toe on a big chunk of rock with writing on it. Just picture how dashing he is, how comme il faut, how mignon, marching in perfect formation with all the other soldiers and then he stubs his toe on this chunk of rock, at which point he shouts
« TABERNAK! Crisse de chunk of rock! Esti d’épais à MARDE !! »
which, roughly translated, goes:
Holy fucking chunk of rock! By the body of Christ, this is some dumb-ass shit!”
and he and all of the soldiers fall down like French bowling pins.*
* [The soldier was one of the first in line when they were calling for volunteers to relocate to the newly-founded City of Québec, where for the remainder of his life he hung out at Le boeuf sur le toit, a local strip club, holding forth about Muslims and about how nobody understood him and how he once gave Napoleon a piece of his goddamn mind, at which point his drinking companions would say,
[« Sure you did, Patapan! Now, finish your poutine, the whores are waiting and there’s at least one area on your dick without a syphilitic sore!! »
[Then they would all go, « Flânflânflân Flânflânflân !!», which is French for uproarious laughing. Be sure to get the circonflex accent and the stupid, just-so-they-can-be-different angle brackets right or the French will throw a hissy-fit all over you and jail another Muslim school-teacher for wearing a hijab. Anyway, getting back to 1799— ]
Quel désastre !
The chunk of rock was actually a stele made of granodiorite—which, you will recall, is a phaneritic-textured intrusive igneous rock similar to granite, but containing more plagioclase feldspar that orthoclase feldspar, sorry for over-emphasizing the obvious—and on this stele—which is basically a slab serving as a monument—were three inscriptions: in hieroglyphics, in demotic, and in Ancient Greek.
The soldier, after checking that the stele was too big for his man cave back in Paris, told Napoleon, who told the archeologists, and here’s the thing. No one had been able to figure out Egyptian hieroglyphics, not even medical secretaries or pharmacies tearing out their powdered wig hairs trying to read doctors’ handwriting. Egyptian hieroglyphics were another deal al-to-gether.
But then the archeologists realized that the texts were saying the same thing. Right? It was the same text in three different languages, and they knew Ancient Greek. So they realized they could use the Greek version as a kind of cryptography key to figure out hieroglyphics for the first time.
And that was when the chunk of rock became the Rosetta Stone.
Many white people are in the same relationship to racism as the French archeologists were to Egyptian hieroglyphics. We lack the key, the way in to understanding racism, because it’s all Greek, or, I guess, Egyptian hieroglyphics, to us.
That’s why I’m providing this randomly-continuously updated Rosetta Stone of Racism. These are articles and videos which have vastly improved my understanding of the problem, and above all of the experience, of racism in America.
I hope they will help you, too, you well-meaning, self-absolving, head-in-the-sand-burying, privileged, racist white person.
I say that first to me, then to you, with so much love for both of us, despite our bad-faith good faith, and with so much hope for our improved humility leading to a better world.
Save me from myself, please! As I descend into a possibly terminal state of Toxic Earnestness
Hello. My Name is David and I’m—earnest.
Thanks, David! booms the twelve-step Greek chorus.
I’m an earnest, virtue-signalling piece of old jute carpet woven by cheerful, appreciative, highly-skilled and adequately-paid native workers in a tropical paradise that hasn’t been invaded by white, oil-industry-beholden kakistocrats.
I can’t remember the last time I fulfilled my self-mandated mandate for this blog, viz: make shallow, no-effort fun about stuff no one gives a flying frig about, starting with, and possibly limiting itself to, my personal life.
As I write this, a mouse scurries from underneath the shoe rack and across the multicolored painted floor of the entrance to my apartment. I shout OH!, which is my older-gent version of a schoolgirl shriek, and the mouse, I assume as shocked to see me as I am him, scurries back to its lair, or whatever mission control is called in the mouse plan for human gaslighting and assimilation.
I don’t know if it’s worse to spot him or to realize that he’s probably been scurrying about every day for fourteen years without my spotting. Either way I will soon be camping out on the balcony, eating vegan food cooked over a tea light and seasoned with my tears of self-pity while I encase my body in black electrical tape.
And when I head to the kitchen to bake oatmeal cookies—which is the beginner version of take my book to Glad Day Books, the only remaining gay bookstore in possibly the world, which I am lucky enough to live two streets away from but haven’t approached with my book in two years—I interrupt a pair of cockroaches rehearsing their tight-rope walking act on the edge of the counter.
One of them, Gaston, for they have recently auditioned for Cirque du soleil, sports a handlebar moustache and is riding a unicycle, rather skillfully I have to admit; while his partner, Fifi, navigates the zucchini peelings and garlic skins with heel-to-toe poise and even a sexy sway of her thorax, while brandishing a parasol worthy of anything no longer permissible by Colette.
But enough of this frivolité, this flânnerie! Soon you will judge me shallow, too good-time-Charlie, when in fact I’m at the nadir of the scale that goes from Ooh! lala! at the top to Lacan deconstructs Crime and Punishment at approaching zero.
I’m newly-qualified Mister Suck Out All the Fun, garnished with stale, hard-as-stone glacé cherries. But who will believe me, who drags around a glee-filled menagerie; me, the Doctor Dolittle of diatomaceous earth?
Now, please be aware that it’s quite possible no one will ever see it. This is the downside to posting anything on Medium that’s not a Pulitzer Prize-winning piece of investigative journalism from The Atlantic, or a raucous discussion of how Liz Warren is actually Lizard Warmonger, an alien tasked by her overlords to make sure millennials have something to whinge about that’s not just another version of they had to push the button on the microwave themselves. Anything between those two poles is either too good or not good enough.
Damn! And just when I’d settled on a lifetime of mediocrity!
To date, my piece has received one clap. Claps are the currency on Medium and they are not “likes.” Either the person doesn’t realize that you can give up to fifty claps if you like a piece, and can any of you take a hint, or they do realize and their one clap is like when you give a nickel to the server as a tip: just rubbing the poor schmuck’s face in the fact of her indifferent service.
Her indifferent service that is probably the result of her poor pay and working conditions so the chef-owner can drive his Aston Martin from Prospect Park back to his condo on the Upper East Side.
And you dare to give her a nickel? You probably masturbate while reading Mein Kampf under the glow of a Nazi lampshade, you hooligan!
To further promulgate my earnestness, I should also do a reading from my book on Facebook live. I could do a reading of my Canada Day ode, now that Canada Day is like a distant memory, and to up the stakes I could announce the reading with ten minutes’ notice so no one attends.
Honestly, I don’t know why I’m not Head of PR for the Decorative Gourds Panel or the Small Mammalian Pest Board. I probably just missed their frantic, competitive calls while my phone was accidentally set to “airplane mode” for six months.
Or should I go to Home Hardware and buy roach powder and steel wool so the roaches will dry up and be cut to smithereens inside and the mouse will die a similarly agonized, undeserved death when all he was trying to do was live his ordinary mouse life?
Eat random food, scurry, leave droppings, make rustling sounds inside the radiators, terrorize the big mouse who shouts OH. That is the typical mouse day-planner but I can’t just let him be.
And I know what you’re thinking: I cannot possibly fill my jug of altruism from this rusty, dribbling spigot of random wokeness. To gift my circle of influence with the full litre of feces-tainted run-off, I have taken on the education of my fellow white people, who I don’t even really like very much anymore.
In fact, after an eternity of Covid-19 seclusion watching white Americans declaring their freedom to be imbeciles, churning out the coronavirus and infecting all the smart people, plus a month of race riots while the same white Americans run over protestors with their Sherman tanks, I hate white people.
I hate white people.
White people look funny. All of their skin is blue and transparent, like foreskin, except when they “tan,” when it looks like pork cracklings that have been irradiated in a particle accelerator.
They put raisins in the potato salad, their children weigh seven hundred pounds by the time they achieve puberty and they wouldn’t know an opera by Richard Strauss from a pair of stone-washed denim pants that they iron. White people ruin everything they touch, starting with Arctic ice caps and ending up somewhere around dwindling zebra herds.
White people think they own the planet and they decide who’s human, which is white people. They deep fry their hair and put conditioner on the chicken, they say “y’all” in public like it’s a real word, until you want to projectile vomit onto their Pillsbury dinner rolls.
White people make anemic art that’s all about white Jesus. Who wouldn’t want to crucify white Jesus? Gimme some wood and some nails! Look out, white Jesus! King of the White People, you bloodless, welfare-grabbing hippy, you fragile, babbling white-tard! I will cheerfully pound the nails through your delicate white hands while whistling Dixie!
White people can’t see anything but white people so they bulldoze through life, theirs and yours, casting off candy bar wrappers that smother the rain forests; and when that’s accomplished they tunnel right through the Earth to the other side out of nothing more than hunger and boredom. The Earth is in danger of snapping in half and all just so white people can pollute the oceans, then farm fish.
It would hurt white people’s feelings to be honest and rip a fish off a hook, but they’ll hang a black man up on a hook and peel his black skin off, one inch at a time.
White people are liars who celebrate their lies. They tell you their shit smells like hybrid tea roses, so they can smear it over whatever they want you to read from the Book of the Month Club. Their sweat glands have atrophied, because for generations they have had others do their filthy work, and they lie when they profess their innocence.
White people’s hands are soft as newly-butchered veal and exude the sickly-sweet odor of indigenous corpses; their breath puffs out of their mouths in stale, harsh puffs redolent of the rum they traded for slaves.
White men have hairy, disordered scrotums and, hidden somewhere in their beer bellies, tiny dicks for producing brainless white babies they can ignore, and white women’s vaginas are like swollen toothpaste tubes squeezing out blue-eyed, mint-flavored white babies that don’t even deserve to be skewered on a pike-staff. I wouldn’t even offer them as hors d’oeuvres, three white babies on a plate with peanut sauce.
That’s what I think about white people these days.
Maybe it’s the Karens who did it to me. You know, entitled white ladies from the suburbs, the ones that sprang up after the war, exclusively for white people. Black people were specifically excluded. However, the Karens are not satisfied with that full, three-course meal, plus dessert and valet parking, of exclusivity. No. They need to know that the child’s plate with the fish fingers, and the gluten-free options, and the pizza with pineapple and a dipping sauce, that they have first dibs on all of those as well.
So they pack their fat asses into their Gap jeans and stick a hand-embroidered sign over their tits that reads, “Don’t Bust My Freedom” or “It’s the Chinese Whom Did It,” because the Chinese people are the same as the Chinese government, just like Trump’s imbecility and lack of empathy is every single last American, right?
They appropriate the right not only to celebrate their tacky taste in architecture, thankfully hidden behind a concrete barrier, but their self-imposed idiocy. They reserve the right to catch the virus, and to spread it, and do you know why?
Karen lives close to a hospital, Karen has a car. Karen has someone to help with her kids were she to get sick. Karen has a big house that’s not crowded. Karen lives near a park, in a safe area. Karen has private healthcare. Karen is healthier generally. She eats well. She doesn’t worry about being hungry, she doesn’t go to a food bank.
Black people are the anti-Karens: frontliners in many essential jobs, having on average lower income, on average more likely to be unemployed and therefore with no health care. They do not have choices. Black people cannot make themselves into idiots in a game of one-upmanship. Compared to Karen, their lives are about surviving.
They are what the Karens need to measure themselves against. Karen can flaunt the fact that she has the “right,” that is to say, the choice, to decide her own level of risk. And she can reassure herself that, whatever else happens in her life, she is not black. The planets are in the correct orbits.
And they take their matching children on a walk. If the kids are lucky they’ll get to carry the assault weapon, an absolute necessity in case a mob of two black people walks by, paying no attention to them and singing Amazing Grace.
Don’t rain on Karen’s parade, because her common sense dried up with her ovaries, so now she’s just a tomatillo husk of hard, sour resentment. There isn’t enough shark collagen on the planet to plaster over those worry lines caused by black people existing.
Do you worry that there are women called Karen who aren’t useless wastes of white skin in a Range Rover? Here’s the deal:
Karen: if you’re a Karen who doesn’t match the characteristics of Karen, we’re confident you’ll survive.
Karen: If you’re a white woman calling someone Karen, look in the mirror.
Karen: If you’re a black person calling someone Karen, you will probably help someone, just not Karen.
Karen: Fun fact: Men can be Karen!
Male Karens are the guys who want Straight Pride, crave pity as murderous incels, or scorn the idea of gender non-conformity when they hang around locker rooms.
Which makes it all the more puzzling when he sneaks out of the house every Friday night while his wife is at Waxing Academy so he can get pegged by, in his sad but revealing terminology, a “chick-with-a-dick.” The heart wants what it wants, and it shall have….!
I want to go to Medium and see if anyone has commented on my piece about racism. But I so very much want to be the perfect ally that I’m stressed that I got the tone wrong, or that I’m patently virtue signaling. A black person could justifiably take me to task on my white privilege in grandstanding about racism when I haven’t had the experience.
I have had the experience of being called fag, but that is not the equivalent of being murdered in the streets. Though some gay people have been murdered in the streets.
(To be honest, I’m terrified that I will discover, to my permanent disgrace and permanent banishment, that I entered a hypnagogic state and sleep-wrote something salacious about “BBC” just before I face-planted on my keyboard.
(This is not something white guys get to say about black guys, if there was any doubt in your mind while cruising on Grindr. Something to do with, I dunno, reducing black men to a racist-sexual stereotype? Who knew!)
And I’m dreading some emotional exchange with white guys who are livid that I would presume to educate them, a challenge I have yet to really come to grips with, because angry white men already know everything, and never shut the fuck up about it in case they lose the focus for ten seconds.
But surely it’s possible to win hearts and minds with the truth? And if it’s not possible, what are we doing this for?
You see what I mean: I make a perfectly valid point, I sense your sympathetic response, then—I end a sentence with a preposition!
My piece on Medium, maybe even this blog, is like farting in an elevator, then running out. It’s a futile prank, because the elevator’s empty.
But I, at least, will have a bloody good white-guy laugh about it.
What white people talk about when they talk about racism…
… We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us …
—from the order for Morning Prayer, Book of Common Prayer, 1662 (Anglican Communion)
I’m atheist, by the way. I needed you to know that.
“I’m Not Racist!”
EVERYWHERE I WANDER, I HEAR THE white person’s anxious mantra:
“I’m not racist, I’m always nice to blacks!”
And my eyes roll back in my head like the fruit on a one-armed bandit after you’ve plugged in your food allowance for the month and are just getting the rent cheque changed into tokens.
I’m not especially Boomer-woke-guy, but years make up, somewhat, for innate wokelessness, that sense common to all Boomers that back in my day, and pry the CDs out of my cold, dead hands, and get a university education so you can get a well-paying job. Age has given me perspective, just not around those things.
But when you say “I’m always nice to the blacks,” I cringe, because I know what that looks like. Awkward culture signaling; you extolling Spike Lee or explaining how sympathetic you are to Black Lives Matter if only they weren’t so angry all the time; when you just gotta play some hip hop and be someone’s bad-ass bro. Trust me, appropriation isn’t approval, and no one’s interested in your approval, anyway.
So I want to talk to you white guys, specifically white straight guys, because I’m a white gay guy, so I have a bit of an advantage. Or perhaps I mean a bit of a disadvantage, which is an advantage.
I so wanted that to work out better.
Here’s the deal: I have all the privileges of being male, and all the privileges of being white, and at the same time I’ve had a taste of what you we call oppression, because I’m gay. So: less than, invisible, not a real man, all that kind of thing.
And please: I’m not comparing my experience with that of black people. It is not a competition of misery and injustice. My experience is entirely different, except for that one aspect of oppression, which, going out on a limb, here, is something straight white males have zero experience of. You have not been denied housing, been denied the right to marry, been bullied, shunned by your family, called a pedophile, beaten up or killed, because you are white and heterosexual. There are no hate crimes against white straight men.
So I’m hoping that the white male part will give me a way to talk to you, some credibility, and the fact of my experience of oppression will at least allow me not to be just another white straight male trying to figure out what oppression must feel like.
Kind of like a double agent, but without the trench coat and all of the standing under street lamps looking like Humphrey Bogart.
When white people say I’m always nice to blacks I see you – by which I mean us – being kind out of noblesse oblige. You’re slumming it, being nice when you could easily be not-nice, and you’ll be watching to make sure the recipient is suitably grateful.
When you explain how nice you are and how the problem must be coming from somewhere else, you display your racist, blinkered perspective that barely makes it to the end of your nose, because this discussion is, you may be astonished to hear, not about you.
When we talk about racism we cannot factor in our individual actions of niceness (whose purpose is less about being inclusive and more about assuaging our anxiety). We run onto a bloody battlefield with a single bandaid. It won’t do. Our niceness, designed to touch only the surface, is only potent enough for white folks, white dilemmas.
Our gentility is not helpful because it cements in us our idea that racism has nothing to do with us, that the problem is with extremists: avowed white supremacists, neo-nazis, the far, far right.
They are a huge symptom of the problem, obviously, but so are we, because even doing our absolute bleeding-heart-white-liberal-SJW best, we can’t escape the benefits we enjoy. White supremacy is the air we breathe and the water we drink and the After Eight mint with our cup of coffee.
Our life path is smoothed with white privilege like the path that royalty walks on, swept constantly by invisible hands, so that not even a grain of sand remains to irritate our privileged toes.
We’re talking about systems, laws, institutions that perpetuate injustice, even if we’re “nice to the help.”
NOTICE THAT EACH DAY, EVERY BOUNDARY of the unbelievable and the never-before-seen gets pushed and massaged and stretched further. The reality of unidentified soldiers of mysterious armies assaulting citizens of a democracy—making explicit the idea the pundits and the influencers have been building towards, that protest is inherently criminal—starting now, this new reality made explicit either fills you with outrage or, as your minds become anesthetized with disbelief, becomes an idea you are resigned to and passively accept; the new normal.
But the outrage requires doubling down on protests; it requires rejecting the alternative truth, believing what you see; and what’s terrifying is that you might not manage to get there; not after you’ve demonstrated a thousand times that you’ll believe anything, facilitate everything, no matter how blatantly false or inhumane.
When did it all begin? The world looked at the inauguration and saw empty space; Trump told us it was the greatest attended ever. You laughed, but the softening up had begun. It wasn’t long until you had “shithole countries” and “infestations;” the press as “enemies of the people” and “a perfect conversation” with the Ukrainian president.
Americans witnessed twenty-two (it might be more, I lost count) women accusing the President of sexual assault, and nothing happened. There was the ridiculous cant of “the President cannot be indicted,” despite legal expert upon expert explaining that that is not law, but simply convention.
You had Trump declaring that “he can do anything he wants,” a declaration of autocracy in a country supposedly guided by the rule of law, a statement which elevates the President to a class by himself, above the law, above the people. Next thing you know, the Department of Justice is doing the President’s bidding, punishing “enemies” and rewarding sycophants; most recently firing Geoff Berman, a DA in the process of investigating Trump’s campaign financing irregularities. Surely nothing suspicious there!
But I understand. Pushing back at everything is exhausting.
Drained and resigned, cynical and passive: exactly where they want you.
“A Great Day!”
OF ALL THE EVIL THINGS TRUMP HAS SAID, the most evil is: “This is a great day for George Floyd.”
“This is a great day for George Floyd.” Donald Trump, this white man, in theory the most powerful leader of the most powerful country in the world, doesn’t consider with what pain and shock the grieving family must hear this statement, or how wildly inappropriate is his tone of parental condescension, as though Daddy’s explaining, in words of one syllable so you’ll understand, his brilliant solution for saving the family picnic from the rain.
One hears nothing remotely like empathy, not that any was expected at this point. There’s no gravitas, which anyway for Trump means pretension and pomposity; no sense of the significance of this moment, on either a personal or national level.
He is utterly vacant, a blank slate, empty of memory and intent, past and future, without regard for anything except the world’s attention on him, in this place, in this moment.
He appropriates the family’s, and the nation’s, grief; he fondles it with his dirty hands and decides it plays well as a banal greeting card: “To a wonderful dad! Congratulations on your great day!”
This is the sermon in the misfortune trope, that Hollywood moment when we’re taught that the wretched man who died randomly at the hands of a cop didn’t die in vain. He helped bring about—change! It’s a great day!
We would find it repugnant to even form the thought, but Trump, well-wadded with stupidity, makes the assertion with a village idiot’s gusto.
Well, why stop at one great day? Try this thought experiment:
Let’s someone kneel on Trump’s neck, until he begs for mercy, begs in an agony of physical pain and the spiraling panic of breathlessness. Let Trump beg until he’s at his last breath, then, in extremis, squanders his last breath. Let him beg for mercy, and then refuse him mercy.
Think, in this experiment: “You are less than human. I refuse to hear you. You are nothing.” Then finish the experiment.
A great day for Donald Trump.
White Supremacy, White Guilt, White Privilege
White people bristle with indignation because all lives matter; what they mean is white lives matter more, though they bristle with even more indignation when we offer that translation. How can anyone now doubt that black lives are considered expendable, that they do not matter?
Why shouldI feel guilty? I hear white people saying. And I say to you, white guys: Show me.
Show me one sentence, one speech, anywhere at any time, when white people have been given “Feel guilty!” as the prescription for this sickness. Go ahead, try and find one.
I state unequivocally: No one, not one person, not a single news anchor, minister, politician, academic, Member of Parliament, Representative, Mayor or City Councillor, not even the family of George Floyd, has asked white people to feel guilty.
That’s our white people’s fragility, our distaste at feeling any negative emotion. We don’t like to “feel bad,” we don’t like being “shocked.” That’s another effect of privilege: Having the dirty work, the field work, the emotional work done by others. We’re that white piece of paper that, in a Japanese proverb, more easily shows the dirt.
Oh, you might feel guilty. But that’s your shit. In fact, unless you start to take action about the injustice you’ve witnessed, it’s just a manipulative ploy. That way the attention is back on you, frail (but secretly enraged) white person, because you’ve been made to feel bad. And feeling bad is something we’ve traditionally outsourced.
You’re the victim! Brilliant!
No black person is asking white people to feel guilty. What they are asking is for white people to become aware of and admit their privilege, because nothing will happen if we don’t. The following list, quite a famous one by Peggy McIntosh dating from 1988, may help.
Nothing Good from Murder
A nice white lady from the American south is on Twitter, and upset that there is rioting. “It’s a terrible thing they did, those policemen, and I hope they get hauled on the carpet. But this rioting is not the way to get your opinions across.”
She’s trying her best, the nice white lady. She’s genteel. And she is so far removed from any experience that would make her understand why there are riots or demonstrations that she could be from a distant star.
Because angry protesters are not trying to sell us their opinions. They are overflowing with the rage that up until now has been tamped down, the righteous anger that was withheld because black people thought if they played the game, they’d beat the game.
Being dignified. Well-mannered. Whiter than their white oppressors. Surely that would win people over. Prove your equality, earn your rightful place. Play by the rules, be so white that even white people can’t be that white.
But the day comes when you witness one more murder by one more indifferent cop, and something breaks. You realize your folly: that there is nothing you can do to justify your existence or to make yourself human in the eyes of those for whom you are always the slave class. There is nothing to correct because the hatred comes not from anything you have or haven’t done, it comes from the fact that you exist at all as black. You realize that no one with the power to help will even pay attention until you burn the fucking house down. You boil over.
All right, you say. So we’ll burn the fucking house down. Have it your way.
There is nothing good that can come out of the murder of another black man by cops. Nothing. Refuse the attempt to pin a narrative of triumph to a sordid tragedy. That is just more white niceness. I doubt that George Floyd sought to be a martyr. I think he wanted something more difficult: just to live an ordinary life in the United States of America. Nothing can give his murder meaning, redeem it, wipe away the tears, no outcome was worth his life. There’s no sermon in the bullets or tenderness in the bloodied hands.
That’s how this civil war has been waged, one murder at a time. What’s changed is the evidence: clips on cell phones, eye-witnesses. Black people have lived with this every day for entire lifetimes, for generations, and we refused to see it, but now there is irrefutable evidence.
White guys: Feel guilty or don’t feel guilty, no one gives a damn. Don’t make this about how bad white guys feel. Stop feeling guilty and start taking responsibility.
Listen to the leaders in the black community, to your black friends and coworkers, to find out what to do. Stop trying to figure this out, because you can’t. Stop proclaiming your innocence, because no one cares.
Stop the pose of being angry; behind the facade of anger lies our grief in our complicity. Listen. Listen with humility, with open mind and heart, to someone else’s experience.
Then we will learn what those in need say they need, and why.
TODAY, MAY 26TH, 2020—AND I’M sorry to be insensitive, but, pandemic notwithstanding—today is a gorgeous summer day in Toronto, a day when the natural world, intoxicated, pushes itself to extremes of display.
Heat vibrates over the sidewalks, tulips stand shriveled in their dried-out beds like saints burned at the stake; the sun blazes in a glassy blue sky and the earth explodes with blowsy, funky growth.
Who am I to quibble about the season? No one will understand my misgivings: that it’s a hot summer day on May 26th, when it should have been a day of gentler sun and breezes perfumed with lilacs just blossomed; a day animated with robins bobbing and listening, bobbing and listening, on grass green as unripe limes; a day when you could still smell last night’s rain; a day in spring.
That’s just the way things are now.
Now we live alone, the way we always wanted to. Didn’t we? And there would be no time for social interaction anyway. Our schedules are full. Once every hour, on the hour, Alexa exhorts us to wash our hands for twenty seconds, paying particular attention to the base of the thumb, around the anatomical snuffbox.
We do not touch our faces, our lips, nasal membranes, ears or eyes. Those await the touch of a child or a dog or a friend or lover, in a near future that’s held teasingly just out of reach. Our lives are colored like the dreams of fairy tale princesses:
As we ache for someone to arrive who will touch our faces, we sleep like death. Every hour drags one hundred years in its wake. One pale hand clutches a rose, white for innocence, red for lust.
We’re disturbed by thunder in the night, a commotion like distant war, and we huddle by the tower’s window, hugging our knees, watching as the trees of the forest, stretching to the horizon, bend and flatten with the force of the gale, spring up again to their full height as casually as the soft bristles of a brush.
We play solitaire, and for once we really mean it. Queen of Hearts receives Jack of Spades. Done, start over.
What is solemn becomes trivial; what was intimate becomes public ritual. We say goodbye to loved ones at funerals attended in Zoom chat rooms; we say hello to virtual fuck buddies as we masturbate, with astonished abandon, in Zoom chat rooms.
We press our cheeks to the flat screens: “Goodbye, grandma, ashes to ashes and dust to dust…” or “Fuck YEAH!” depending on the circumstances; and the screen burns down to darkness. Where did everyone go?
We still retain a sense of decorum. We do not masturbate with astonished abandon at funerals as we say goodbye, at least, not yet. But you never know.
I’m not ruling anything out at this point.
That’s just the way it is right now. Goodbye, grandma; fuck yeah.
And we are baking bread. Bread! The litmus test for our self-esteem. We are the same bunch of cowed serfs who gave up bread during the Salem witch hunt of the anti-carb craze—I saw Goody Roddis with the ciabatta!—we are the consumers who’ve never bought anything but white sandwich loaves, the lowest of the low. White trash bread.
But now we plan our days around nurturing sourdough starter and perfecting our autolyse and oiling the tired joints of the stand mixer. Now we understand baker’s formulas and we push the fifty-percent hydration. We long for the Maillard reaction, but honestly, any reaction would do.
We look at our loaves that burst, crackling like static, from our home ovens and we pause to admire the reddish-gold hue, the paper-thin crust (of course, because we threw handfuls of ice cubes into the inferno when we opened the oven door, fell upon the living, breathing dough, which shrieked like a mandrake and we wrestled it into submission, pinned it to the pizza stone and slammed the oven door shut.
(We watched its first moments writhing in hell through the narrow pane of glass, watched it grow silent, then stiffen with resignation until, satisfied, we moved on to other tasks. Wash your hands, said Alexa).
The dough is now bread. A loaf. This is a miracle. Having admired our success—we live alone now, remember?—we don’t wait until the bread has cooled. We want comfort, so we rip open the hot loaves with our bare hands, like a lioness, on the deranged edge of starvation, rips open the belly of an antelope.
We slather the gummy, still-steaming crumb with salted butter and cram it into our mouths until we are choking with comfort. Then we cry, because it wasn’t as comforting as we expected; then we rip and slather and cram again, desperate to believe that this next time will click, that satisfaction is a simple measure of quantity.
We are a bunch of heartless, grieving, self-absorbed, butter-slicked, overwrought, overweight narcissists, that was before the pandemic, but now we are barely contained chimeras. We’re psychopaths with translucent skulls, ordering submachine guns and anthrax from the dark Amazon that exists in the nightmares in which we boil our pets and rape our loved ones and crash our car into the daycare centre, right through the plate glass, just so we can hear the screams.
We have forgotten how to have conversations, though, to be honest, not many of us were into them in the first place, unless they were conversations about what are you going to do for me or about how he gonna get what is fucking coming to him.
But at least we’re alive. Aren’t we?
I PASSED THE DAY IN THE company of a homeless friend, while he told me about how Saddam Hussein is staying at the same crowded city shelter on Lake Shore Boulevard. He also recounted how THEY abducted him last year, and, after taking him to Mount Sinai Hospital, implanted microphones in the soles of his feet.
And I have just—so many questions about that.
How is Saddam doing, is he manscaping more, and does he have any regrets? Is he OK with the lasagne, does he spend his days sitting on a patch of urban beach, skimming stones? Does he have a WMD with him, as a souvenir, and what flashes through his mind, just before he falls asleep?
What’s interesting on the sidewalks that I could be listening to? Are there sensors that direct our feet one way or another? Is it like a traffic system for pedestrians? Does a sneaker sound different from a pair of Oxfords, and how? Do the ants cry out when they see the shadow descend, or does it just reverberate through the borg mind, a slight ripple of fear dispersed until it’s tolerable, like our fear?
Are these implants why you can walk out of your house at three AM, with the streets dead and empty and then be run down by an eighteen-wheeler, driven by a drunk man, the only other person awake in the city?
That happened to another friend of mine, and he survived. More than survived, you’d never know he’d been run over by an eighteen wheeler driven by a drunk man at three AM. And I wanted to ask him, what is it like, is it like Tolstoy describes it in Anna Karenina:
“… she was terror-stricken at what she was doing. “Where am I? What am I doing? What for?” She tried to get up, to drop backwards; but something huge and merciless struck her on the head and rolled her on her back. “Lord, forgive me all!” she said, feeling it impossible to struggle. A peasant muttering something was working at the iron above her. And the light by which she had read the book filled with troubles, falsehoods, sorrow, and evil, flared up more brightly than ever before, lighted up for her all that had been in darkness, flickered, began to grow dim, and was quenched forever.”
Tolstoy could imagine being run over by a train, something huge and merciless that strikes you on the head, could imagine the panic and moment of regret that every suicide feels in those final moments of clarity, when the bravado has flipped to indecision, when they would turn back, but gravity won’t loosen its grip.
My friend who escaped just smiles. There’s something changed about him, something set or sunken in his face, the shock of not being dead, perhaps. He’s stopped taking drugs. He doesn’t live downtown anymore.
I never called him once during his long recovery, but he came to visit me.
IT’S THE END OF OUR SUMMER DAY in May, and I’m sitting on the balcony, having a smoke with my homeless friend. We tried to have sex, but despite my best efforts, he was distracted. Usually no one appreciates a blowjob more than a psychotic homeless person. I had to stop and ask him.
“What’s up, you all right?”
“There’s this guy’s apartment over on Oak Street, I was there the other day. I looked around and there was my aunt’s door, and my cousin’s TV and a bunch of flowers I was supposed to get, and I realized, that was really my apartment. Why did they give it to him? It’s so fucked up.”
It is fucked up, I say. It’s fucked up and it’s just not right.
We’ve had a light supper: “chunky soup” from a can, though food described as chunks is not congenial to me, it is harrowing. Still, we ate chunky potato soup with bacon, and I made a salad, grated carrot and apple and raisins and peanuts, very seventies, very Kensington High Street and Biba. He heated up the soup for me, I made the salad for him.
We’re smoking a cigarette and we’re just in each other’s company, quietly, and I think:
I’m totally calm. My mind is at rest, there’s nothing to figure out or pressing. Every immediate problem is solved or awaiting a response.
The balcony, facing east, enjoys the benefit of a mild breeze. I’ve rescued the plants I never planted by watering them and promising I’ll plant them tomorrow.
I’m alone in the apartment, and no one can come here without my invitation. I’ve received the Canadian government’s emergency financial help, CERB, and I have no worries about money. My rent is paid two months in advance, and for the first time in six years, I’m not in a panic.
Two young men recently told me “you’re beautiful,” and, what’s more, demonstrated that they meant it.
I love Beethoven and I learned to play the Opus 126 Bagatelles on the piano, and I can really play them, it wasn’t just an affectation.
My book is approved for distribution, it’s literally perfect, every word chosen by me, the cover just as I imagined it, not so much as a comma out of place.
This is the most rare and precious thing: A moment of absolute peace and contentment.
find ways tomake fellow pandemic lock-down sufferers feel better about being human
AND YOU THINK YOU’VE GOT IT BAD. SPARE a thought for the above widdle fishie, he said, anxiously using an embarrassing, childish locution to mask the horrors to come. I was thinking of calling this post, “I tossed my cookies so you wouldn’t have to,” but then I would have had to say “SPOILER ALERT” and you might have missed out on the fun.
Humans have got it bad, to be sure. First of all, there’s that waiter who twisted the lime wrong for your vodka and tonic. Injury is piled onto unbearable injury by the handicapped driver who took the one remaining parking spot. Selfish. That’s what amputees are, selfish.
Not to mention that venal little shit, the Provost of Harvard, has just upped the sales tax on the entrance essay and professional volleyball scholarship for your daughter, who would actually prefer to go to waxing college, but it’s all about your bragging rights at the country club, and the real pisser is you’d only just finished saving up for the “Class Valedictorian Special”.
And now to cap it all, little Johnny gets kicked out of private daycare for urinating in class. How was he supposed to know that Cindy wasn’t into it? Another budding Andres Serrano bites the dust! #WarAgainstUrinators is my new hashtag on Twitter, and I can’t even fathom what kind of SJW-Feminazi-Trump Basher would be offended by a little harmless non-consensual golden shower action during Show and Tell.
Seriously? I think you should sue.
However, humans have an amazing facility for bouncing back, which we do by contemplating the situations of those worse off than ourselves, then doing absolutely nothing to remedy the disparity. What, does it say “social worker” on my forehead? I didn’t think so, but thanks for confirming.
I therefore now ask you to put aside your prejudices against parasites, which are nothing like immigrants—immigrants are worse. It’s just lucky for you and me that we sprang fully formed out of the sacred lands of the Mississauga, like Erda in the Ring Cycle, which anyway you’ve always thought was one of the synthetic fabric options on your Samsung washing machine, the three-thousand dollar model that still makes too much noise.
Without further avoidance, meet Cymothoa exigua, but you can call it Mr Cy, or, actually sometimes Ms Cy, for short. You have to be flexible, because this species of parasite can change sex if there aren’t enough females around. That’s right! There are no incels in the Cymothoa exigua population, as you will recall, and that, Murgatroyd McGraw, is the reason.
Nowhere to stick your dick tonight? No problem! Put down that baguette that you’ve hollowed out and stuffed with Philadelphia Cream Cheese, get together with Brad and Biff, toss a fish pellet, and the loser is Mr ManPussy for a Day!
A quick zipless fuck, crown him queen and Down-low Dan is off to make you a sandwich, scrub the toilet and tell you how wonderful you are, except you’ve already fallen asleep. Now, this is living, bro! High fives, if we have hands, and I’m not entirely sure that we do!
Cymothoa exigua is a parasite who—and I’ll just say this quickly to get it over with—using its front claws, severs the blood vessels in a fish’s tongue, causing the tongue to atrophy from lack of blood. The parasite then replaces the fish’s tongue by attaching its own body to the muscles of the tongue stub.
Once C. exigua replaces the tongue, some feed on the host’s blood and many others feed on fish mucus. This is the only known case of a parasite assumed to be functionally replacing a host organ.
When a host fish dies, C. exigua will detach itself from the tongue stub after some time, leave the fish’s mouth cavity, and can then be seen clinging to its head or body externally. It is not fully known what then happens to the parasite in the wild, and I must give some credit, plus my eternal thanks, to Wikipedia, “The Encyclopedia You Write Yerself!,™” for displaying the C. exigua page when I accidentally looked up a random word while reading a Kindle Unlimited.
There, there. At least you can stop worrying about COVID-19 for a few seconds while you mull this over, and no need for the Hallmark card—I assume, as I generally do, that you appreciate my being one day closer to dribbling saliva and egg yolk onto my bathrobe in the public ward of the Sunset Lodge with just this to show for it.
I’ll post something more pleasant next time. Promise. Once we stop crying.