Equivalent Amounts of Effort

Why are we doing this when we could be doing—that?


BEHOLD THE ADEPT! HE WHO HAS mastered the ancient art of milk pouring while spinning on a stool. And I know what you’re thinking: Must. Have. Exquisite. Milk-Spinning Stool. NOW!

Never mind the lockdown, there’s no need to leave home! You can be an armchair traveler and stool spin-arounder because, thank you, Toronto, for being a multicultural world on a string. We whiteys, patronizing imperialists down to the last atom of our dying breath, can appropriate your “exotic” local customs, sanitize them of meaning and turn them into something picturesque we stick in the living room beside our vibrating sectional from The Brick. (“Oh, that’s—different!”)

Seeing as anyone who can afford to live in Toronto without replacing two meals a day with expired pancake mix from the local food bank is making at least a quarter million a year, your stool problem, and I wish that didn’t sound the way it sounds, is easily solved. You can without the shadow of a doubt buy a similar, or even nicer, stool at Morningstar on Yonge Street. Guaranteed.

Morningstar, to you non-Torogensians in the readership, is a hangar-sized, sandalwood-scented paradise of over-priced brass knick-knacks, bell-festooned sandals that never break if you are carried everywhere in a rickshaw, and giant acacia wood dining tables hand-carved by adorable third-world children who take turns cutting each other’s limbs off so they can get a bigger tip while begging.

And it has existed forever. Do you understand what I mean by that? Really? It is the different-colored-skin hating, the teenagers making fun of their elders, the subjugation of women, the problem of evil, of exotic stores. Forever. It has never not been on Yonge Street, in Toronto.

This is the store that your great-aunt Cosmic Light, formerly Zelda, who hasn’t shaved anything since Expo ’67, used to patronize to buy her incense holders, brightly colored silk table runners—shocking pink is the navy blue of India, said Diana Vreeland, in a turn of phrase I will almost certainly pass off as my own, though the response be ever “Diana who?”and statues of Ganesh.

(At least Hinduism, with its cuddly-murderous animal godkins, is unashamedly upfront about the preposterous imbecility of religion, and brings with it absolute cartloads of eye-popping exoticism. I know I will be excoriated for laughing at Hinduism, and I would be suitably ashamed of myself if Hinduism contributed at all to world peace and progress, instead of being featured in headlines such as “Thirteen killed in Delhi as Hindu and Muslim groups clash.” No matter how cute its wacky gods, Hindus apparently are right up there in hatred of anything that’s not themselves, making their religion second to none in holding mankind ransom to the gullibility of its least evolved members.)

Cosmic Light claims she cooked vegan for twenty years, but the only real benefit, if it can be called that, is she can throw together some hummus and pita crisps on a couple of days’ notice, and is there anyone who sincerely enjoys hummus?

Is there anyone, anywhere, who walks into a living room, falls to his knees on the orange shag carpet before a coffee table laden with dips and cries, “Oh, thank merciful heaven! For I have been drooling onto my linen Nehru jacket with yearning for yet one more grainy, bitter dollop of hummus on my cracker! Away with your pheasants under glass and steak tartare, let me crack my molar on an unsoaked chickpea, for the love of god!” ?

Morningstar have a going out of business sale about twice a year, then they change their mind because they do so well with the sale. Maybe sign up for an alert?

Any way you slice, or pour, it, this gentleman has the talent. That’s what I get from this GIF from Imgur, a most annoyingly-named site whose moniker sounds like an ex-smoker saying “I’m good, thanks, and you?” through a stent in his esophagus. But what use the talent without the hard slog?

Correct, and I’m guessing that, what with classes in graduate-level physics so that he can understand the velocities and forces at work here, as well as archery so he can improve his aim, plus ballet classes so he can pirouette without getting dizzy or losing his balance, plus advanced tailoring in order to make his silk tunic and not forgetting daily circuit training to keep his weight at a manageable level, this guy has clocked up close to, I don’t know, how many hours will make you gasp? Twenty-thousand? Done, twenty-thousand hours of training!

With the equivalent of twenty thousand hours of training in all those disciplines, this man could work miracles of miraculous magic! He could invent a chemical you spray into the sky to turn missile-carrying drones into a rain of rose petals and fennel pollen, or an injection into the earth’s crust that would cure climate change, or bleach you could inject into your veins, or make the pandemic just—go away! Just disappear.

Just like if we stopped measuring Trump, stopped listening to his speeches; stopped sharply intaking our breath; stopped turning up to the press conferences, stopped donating to his phony charities; stopped going to the morning briefings in the Oval Office; if people who’ve never seen the inside of the stock exchange stopped saying, “but the stock market is booming,” if people who’ve never been in the same room as a person of color stopped saying, “but you have to admit, there’s too many illegals,” if we stopped asking questions as though we expected answers; stopped huffing with outrage; stopped putting him in the headlines, following his executive orders, looking for the grain of humanity hoping for anything we could relate to—

—if we just shunned him like a poisonous reptile, like an unflushed toilet, shunned him like a fucking continent’s worth of disgruntled Amish shunning their gay son, Trump would just disappear, too. Pouf!

He only exists because we counted him.

Our adorable milk-pouring gent, this milk-pouring stool-spinner of a man could change the world with his vast skill set; he’s like Einstein and Horowitz and Wayne Gretsky and Ada, Countess of Lovelace all rolled into one, but he’s swirling around on a stool (a carved Indian stool that India exported then imported back from Morningstar, but, in the end, still a stool) and pouring milk from a pitcher into a glass. For an Indian wedding in Mumbai. Bless him, Ganesh!

Twenty! thousand! hours! <Gasp!>

GAIA GOES TO HER DOCTOR. “Tell me, please, I can take it. Don’t hold back. What are the test results?”

The doctor says, “Well, little blue planet, I’m afraid it’s bad news. You’re crawling with humans! I’ve never seen an infestation like this one!”

“What nonsense!” screams Gaia. “I demand a second opinion!”

“OK, says the doctor. “I know it’s your pet project, and I hate to be the one to break this to you but—all right, I’ll say it. No one has ever been totally on board with spiders. Sure, you’re Gaia, eternal nurturing spirit of the Earth, but are you sure you’re marketing this right? Let me give you some pointers.”

MY EX-ROOMMATE, ON THE RARE occasions that he would get out of bed, pull on his hundred-pound knapsack filled with all his worldly possessions and run the one-minute mile to the benefits office for his disability cheque, then back again, was also keen on juggling. Keen in its sense of, if there was nothing else to do, he would grab his juggling balls and juggle quite impressively until he dropped one, which was when he tossed the second ball.

Then one day he showed me an online video of a man juggling five balls who could get each ball to drop onto a xylophone so that he played “chopsticks.” Perfectly, every note, with admirable rhythm and even a sense of “swing.”

And I thought, “With the amount of effort and focus and concentration and agility he’s built up in order to perform this trick he could be playing the Transcendental Etudes of Franz Liszt on a Steinway concert grand at Carnegie Hall.”

This particular ex-roommate—you thought I was done with the roommate shares, didn’t you, now that I’d published volume one of my memoirs? Oh, baby, I am far from done. Those memoirs only take you up to Day Three. There’s enough material inside this dried up old sea sponge of a brain to keep me dining out at KFC through this lifetime and the next thousand, even if half of those are spent crawling around my own kitchen cupboards while I attempt to gas myself with insecticide—

—this particular roommate came along as the “Bonus Roommate From Hell! Collect Them All!” I get for thinking it would be, maybe not a great idea but at least a doable idea, to let a random stranger whot I met online, and who I’ve spent approximately half a day with in total, stay with me for three months because he seems like a regular, normal, sane, random stranger with a job. I mean, what could go wrong?

This is when I should hear the opera chorus in my head chiming in,

What could go wrong?
(What could go wrong)
What could go
what could go
what could go
what could go
What! Could! Go!—

This is the “Violetta clears her throat” moment, “Sempre libera! kek kek,” when the cellos play something ominous and she finishes off the Champagne all by herself at two AM, and you know she has like another seventy-six minutes to live.

Regular, normal, sane, random stranger tells me the day before he’s to move in, “Oh, by the way, I’m bringing a friend with me as well,” and agrees to pay my entire rent for three months for the inconvenience.

Did I say inconvenience? Allow me to change your perspective on that one! I don’t discover until two months have passed that regular, normal, sane, random stranger has forgotten to tell me he’s on parole from a two-year prison sentence for insider trading and other serious financial fraud. He pretends he’s paid the rent for three months, but hasn’t. Because he doesn’t really have a job. Because, you know.


I don’t want you to lose patience with me for my being naive. I was born in a gentler, more innocent time, when the winters were colder than my mother’s inner thighs and my dad raised a secret second family in Peterborough. This is why I’m becoming more and more convinced I should pay attention to the “online, random, have known for four hours” bit more than the “seems sane, what could go wrong?” bit.

Maybe I am a cockroach already, just one who can type and can make a show of being human, who greets you with “Good evening, ladies and gents!” instead of the cockroach translation, which is : “Slke3udfiljewr,k ewruwei )(^&*()$%&^%&%&!” This just occurred to me.

The primary mistake-roommate got sent back to jail towards the end of the three months, partly for telling his parole officer to, and I quote, go fuck herself. This did not make her less angry that he’d violated his parole, which had as one of its conditions—and imagine me clutching, then pulling down, my full-size replica “Last Supper” tapestry onto the marble terrazzo flooring as I faint with the surprise—a suggestion that he not commit fraud.

Being Italian he had to sing his final protracted death aria, calling me so I could hear him screaming incoherently about his innocence just before being handcuffed and dragged from the parole office. One down, one Free! Gift! Roommate! to go.

FGR had all the worst qualities of all spoiled children, ever, crammed into one handy forty-year-old body, but, call me Mr Lucky Pants, rarely pulled together the concentration needed to deploy them. I mean, he’d still need someone to push the button on the microwave for him, so nix that. Right? Life is way hard.

Can you juggle just one ball?

Is that even juggling, or just “random tossing that you attempt to catch”?

TRUMP CALLS OUT THE TROOPS. Is it to stop people protesting that he’s killing them by ignoring a pandemic, or to stop people protesting that he’s killing them, African-American version?

Trump supporters arm themselves with conspicuously visible legal firearms, make costumes and elaborate signs, organize protests so they can vent their outrage and prove that their liberty (“doing and saying anything you want anywhere for any reason at any time and fuck you if you don’t like it”) has been taken away, pull on their army fatigues and get into actual army tanks and shout conspiracy theories through megaphones, while wearing masks—just not the masks they’ve been told to wear.

Like teenagers determined to ruin their lives by doing the opposite of what their parents tell them, these brain-dead, put-upon citizens of the richest, most viciously self-centred, self-indulgent nation on the face of the planet will not be told what to do, even if, scratch that, especially if it’s to help someone else.

Doing things that are hard, that you don’t want to do! What’s that all about! Helping others? I mean, how would they know that the other person deserved being helped? Right?

I’ve no doubt they do email blasts, create online newsletters, rant on Twitter, phone in to Tucker Carlson, or whatever it is you do to Tucker Carlson, make up petitions, write letters to the editor, start Facebook Groups, because all this is easier than putting on that mask, the mask that infringes their liberty because they were told to wear it. You get that?

Justin Trudeau, rather than recusing himself—declaring a potential conflict of interest, standing up and walking out of a room—decides to field a month of predictable (and to a degree, justified) outrage from the Conservative Party of Canada, a media castration, his wife and mother under suspicion, also his finance minister, the possible disintegration of a worthwhile Canadian charity, a criminal enquiry leading to more huffing and puffing from the CPC, more questions, Trudeau’s supporters once again disappointed, embarrassed, and feeling like fools—all of that is easier and more desirable than standing up and walking out of a room.

How could Trump have made himself the surprise hero of the hour, kept and even educated his supporters, won over many of those who are undecided, saved a million lives, redeemed himself, conquered the world? By following the science and keeping his mouth shut. Trump becomes the new Jesus Christ, for less effort than it takes to type covfefe; in fact, for no effort at all. None.

What can I say? That’s men for you. Writers, directors and megastars of our personal blockbuster movie. The moronic, pitiful self-styled experts in everything. Don’t read the manual. Just tinker and tinker until something breaks.

In the speculative fiction cult-classic “A Canticle for Leibowitz,” a group of contemplative monks living in a post-apocalyptic future are the keepers of some blueprints, and, completely unaware of their meaning or how they were produced, dedicate their lives to replicating them as sacred documents.

With agonizing precision, day by stultifying day, they color in the blue sections, by hand, so that only the perfect white lines of the blueprints remain.

What’s left unfinished is passed on to the novitiates.


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