hElTeR-sHeLtEr: Pandemic Pastimes #8: Psycho parasites

find ways to make 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.


hElTeR-sHeLtEr: Pandemic Pastimes #7: Basic Beethoven

Wrestle with your idol on a clapped-out keyboard

Bagatelle in G, Op.126, No. 1
Andante con moto, Cantabile e compiacevole

Spot the missing E-flat and win… absolutely nothing.

hElTeR-sHeLtEr: Pandemic Pastimes #6: Marvelous Movies

break out the Night Fever nostalgia, but don’t forget: Cranky is where it’s at, baby

I LOVE “SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER” (1977) AND NOT JUST because I’m a 65-year-old, gay, former disco bunny* (though that nostalgia certainly is a factor). I love it because it is one of the great movies of the 20th century. Yes, you heard me right. If you haven’t seen it, see it; I guarantee it’s not what you expect.

*former disco bunny: Thank your lucky stars that I was blessed with enough self-loathing, thanks mom, to realize that what the world most needs right now is nothing like another sixty-five year old fag with his ass hanging out of leather hot pants prancing down Church Street in thigh-high gladiator boots, so that the rest of the gay community can show their “solidarity”, i.e. rolling their eyes so that only the whites are showing and snickering, “she hasn’t looked good in that since, well, NEVER;” Or worse, “Why can’t gay men just suck it up and dress like Fred MacMurray in ‘My Three Sons’ so straight people will TOLERATE US?” It’s OK guys, I’d rather, and do, prance up and down my living room instead, though this often involves a bottle of gin, Donna Summer CDs and maudlin fake suicide notes in my Secret Diary. And don’t worry about the fake suicide notes, as long as there’s even the possibility that I might be the centre of attention for even a gnat’s lifecycle, I’m safe.

What I love about this movie is its rawness and its sometimes shocking honesty, because the disco dancing and the glitter are not the whole point nor are they just empty set decoration or filling in time. They speak to aspiration, to the sense that “there’s gotta be something better, something beautiful in this life, but how to find it?”

This movie finds it, or rather, by the time it reaches its tender and moving conclusion—(an ending that refuses to tie up the loose ends, a deft touch), it finds the seed of something that we hope will grow to be beautiful.

The disco is the imaginary kingdom where Tony rules, where for a few glorious hours on a Saturday night he’s not a loser: an underpaid employee at a hardware store or the son who can’t live up to his older brother’s vocation of priest. On the dance floor he’s an unchallenged star, not the put-upon de facto head of a broken household, the unwilling focus of two generations of neurotic energy. No wonder he craves a new identity.

I love Saturday Night Fever for the way it captures an era, but it does more than that: it perfectly summons up the restlessness, bravado-masking-fear, and vulnerability of adolescence-on-the-cusp-of-maturity, particularly macho male adolescence with its wild bipolar swings from aggression to arrogance to uncertainty.

Its musical score by the BeeGees is the nostalgic, concentrated essence of disco, a much misunderstood and maligned musical style. Disco was gay to rock ‘n roll’s het; solipsistic sentiment vs. preening entitlement.

Above all, disco was a romantic style. Like a tiny after-shock of the Romantic movement in art and music of the 19th century, it wallowed or it soared, nothing in moderation; above all it had Sehnsucht— longing—for connection, grandiosity and guilt-free sex, it wore its heart, and a few other body parts, on its sleeve, and its throbbing beat and schmaltzy chord progressions masked the ache of loss at its core; even, with hindsight, tragedy, in light of what was to come… This score, together with the Bee Gees’ masterpiece, “Guilty,” forever, in my heart, mind and soul, are the seventies.

The heart and soul of Saturday Night Fever is the character of Tony, in Travolta’s break-out, star-making performance. Travolta is nothing short of genius in this role; the way he inhabits and realizes this character—the moral centre of his group of friends, the cock of the walk who realizes how abysmally he treats his sexual conquests, and who is made to reckon with this by a strong woman who, by her refusal to be just another conquest, effects his change from boy to man—is, well, iconic. It’s a role that he could never surpass, and doesn’t need to. But every single performance in this ensemble movie is just about pitch perfect.

Karen Lynn Gorney, as Stephanie, the only woman who can match Tony on the dance floor, who re-awakens in him the idea that there is a bigger, better world to aspire to, is every bit Travolta’s match, though for whatever reasons her career never topped this particular role and she left acting for nearly twenty years. Her climactic scene with Tony is essentially Tony’s attempt to date-rape her, a struggle from which she barely escapes.

I don’t want to sugarcoat this: It’s a shocking scene and the stakes are high enough—another character dies in the unraveling of the plot, after all—that you are genuinely afraid for her.

Tony, after a distraught night of solitary angst, seeks her out at her home, and it’s not at all certain what her response will be. I know in cancel culture it’s one strike, you’re out, and, as a male, I’m not qualified to pass judgment on what a victim of attempted rape should or should not do.

But in this particular universe, Tony is allowed a moment of, not quite forgiveness, but a period of probation, a second chance where he will befriend a woman instead of “conquering” (abusing) her.

And what moves my old guy eyes to dampness at that point is this: She has every right to reject him, but she doesn’t.

Not doing what you have every right to do is normally my definition of “class,” but this is way, way more than just class. Stephanie looks beyond his violent act, sees his pain and, through claiming her inner authority and re-writing the rules of their friendship, redeems him.

This is Hollywood at its best: touching, funny, real, tragic and ultimately transcendent. Whatever your situation, wherever you live, whatever your age, Saturday Night Fever will speak to you about the possibility of love and self-respect in a world that does everything it can to crush both.

I hope they put it in the time capsule for the aliens to find; it’s that human.


The pandemic lockdown is making me distressingly positive. It’s an interesting experience, but then, so would walking down Yonge Street in pink rayon tights, high heels and nipple rings be an interesting experience, which is to say that interesting experiences are easily cooked up but not always entirely comfortable or mandatory. Still, it’s one more under my belt, though I don’t necessarily recommend it.

Oh, and I suggest NOT putting “no limits” in your online sex ad. There’s always one limit you never counted on, and you can’t always wiggle out of the handcuffs and ball gag without someone calling the fire department.

Which is another interesting experience.


After being so positive and Obama-like (yes, David, you’re just like #44, except for the being black, the Yale education, the brilliant legal career, the highly-praised memoirs, the creation of the beginning of universal health care for the desperate citizens of the US and the eight years of class and taking the high road as President of the United States; you’re just like Obamawithout the Obama) I hate to be cranky—but…

Oh, who am I kidding.


I have a new phone. And as all of you know, these days we barely remember our own numbers let alone everyone else’s, since we’re effectively on permanent speed dial thanks to “smart,” excuse my hollow laughter, devices.

So why, in the name of Thomas Alva Edison, Alexander Graham Bell and every other saint of technology who became famous on the backs of the five hundred thousand unnamed scientists who came before them and did the actual work of discovery,

do all my friends insist on texting me


so that I have to text back,

“Hi, who is this (new phone) <nervous apologetic titter>!” ?

If this isn’t you, sorry to lump you in with the other white trash.

(and I specifically mean just white trash; I exclude POC because they are usually brought up more strictly and tend to be more politely behaved, even though the irony of that is that they are taught to be polite so they can get along in a racist white society by not making waves, out-whiting white people in politeness and deference, which turns out to be a tragic awakening for them when they eventually realize it’s not working and the only thing that will break white hegemony and racism is burning the fucking house down, which I would encourage POC to do, and please can I be next after all of you light your matches.)

Thanks for hearing me out, you’ve been Awe-sooooooooome!

PS: To the person who texted me just the words “Stouffville days inn” this morning, can I respond by saying:

“Well, a very happy Stouffville days inn to you, too! Murgatroyd McGraw! You—cracker!”


hElTeR-sHeLtEr: Pandemic Pastimes #5: Coltish Captions

Play “Honey, I Mixed Up the Captions!” and Wait Until You See How Much Precious Weighs Now It’s Jaw-dropping

I TRUST IT WILL NOT BE A HUGE surprise to you if I confess that—and, I beg you, please, stand another six feet away from your priceless collection of Blue Mountain pottery, lest your startle reflex should cause you to knock over the display cabinet—I’m kind of lazy.

Yeah, majorly. We’re talking Governor General’s Award for Lazy, a Genie and a Gemini, a Lazy Webby, maybe even a Pulitzer (but not Lily). In fact, with my level of expertise, I can do diddley-squat all day with both ambitions tied behind my back and without even a statutory lunch break.

Which makes perfect sense seeing as diddley-squat all day is my statutory lunch break.

Yet once every decade or so, give or take, a morning dawns when I find myself inexplicably filled with pee, vee and spunk—should one of those guys from Leolist ever turn up, maybe even drenched in them— and ready to prove there’s a reason, even just a biological one, for me to exist.

On such an auspicious morning of robins and daffodils, I might awaken—or, “come to” as I like to characterize it—as I did this morning: still wearing yesterday’s clothes, a litre of Kawartha Dairy strawberry ice cream leaking into the pillows, butter tart crumbs clinging to the corners of my mouth, and with a scratchy, oily sensation in my lower back which I at first assumed was an outbreak of atopic dermatitis, but turned out to be a grilled cheese sandwich that I made around 4 AM then didn’t eat because I dozed off. (“Dinner.”)

Never mind—it’s a new morning! The sun turns its hot, shining face to me like a woman in the desperate throes of menopause, my heart sings an entire Handel opera, including the soprano and counter-tenor roles, all the repeats in the da capo arias and a couple of encores; and I even manage to find a sock; only the one, please note, and why it’s dangling from a denuded branch of the Christmas tree I leave up all year so it’s ready, I really couldn’t say.

Betimes, as I sip my coffee and reminisce about those adventure vacations in the rain forests of Gstaad, it may transpire that I get ambitious and think of posting a new piece here on my blog, the entity I spend most time with, which is why I think of it as my bitch-mistress—(bastard-master?)—of six years.

But before I can close the curtains, after briefly opening them to check whether it’s really daytime or if, in fact, I’ve only been unconscious for five minutes; rev up the Bodum and commit to yet another three thousand words of idiosyncratic, bolshie, left-wing political commentary, or snarky take-down of some Hollywood star now familiar only to myself and a few geriatric cases receiving end-of-life care—my Buddhist training kicks in.

Enlightenment cracks open my skull with its unshod hoof, and I think: “Fuck it. Fob them off with the captions thingy.”

Whoah! Thanks, Enlightenment! That was close!

Here, then, is “Honey, I Mixed Up the Captions!” an almost offensively puerile game I devised for myself way back when I was desperate to avoid any practical activity, for example, leaving the apartment to earn money, and around the time I was starting to admit that just staring slack-jawed into space while chain-smoking was not quite fulfilling its promise as a life strategy the way I had anticipated.

At the very least, I hope this brainless diversion will see you through yet another twenty-four hours of coronavirus lockdown; or, as the Canadian media, the Prime Minister and our Chief Public Health Officer gently explain, “The way your remaining allotted days are always going to be from now on until you die of sorrow.”

Playing this game is simple. Find one of those sites that purveys gossip, or aggregates weird stories, the kind of site where the headline is something like “Twenty Most Awful Lands That You Should Never Travel To Number Six Will Make You Gasp;” and underneath are linked images, as though for related, “you might also like…” articles, one of which is always about Princess Diana and/or her wedding dress— but these are not, in fact, articles.

These, like the Twenty Most Awful Lands, are “sponsored,” meaning they are only there to stay out of the rain and sell you stuff, i.e., clickbait. And because you have the attention span of boiled rigatoni, you start engaging with the clickbait.

And now you find yourself transported to a magical dream world that out-nevers the most pixie-dusted, Tinkerbell’d Neverland that Disney’s fevered imagination could conjure up.

Here is an alternative universe where Susan Boyle’s new career as stick-thin, platinum blond porn princess is not only the next, eagerly anticipated step along her life’s path, but its most happy culmination; you are newly fascinated by the tacky marital dramas of long-forgotten soap opera stars the way Madame Curie was once fascinated by isotopes; and all of your internal organs have turned into a southern-style Bar-B-Q of pre-cancerous tissue for the parasites harbored by ten foods you must stop eating right away THEY ARE KILLING YOU.

Now the game potential reveals itself, for as you examine the images and captions more closely—eureka! By the simple exercise of switching the captions around, you are crying hot salty tears of hysterical laughter, because, seriously. Right? It’s like shooting whales in a bidet.

I want to make this more challenging (I’m so very much all about respecting your intelligence), but because I am a late-stage boomer who caught the tail end of the Summer of Love—which means whenever I see a Young Person wearing bell bottoms, a paisley shirt from GAP and a tie-dye headband, I hear my mother shrieking “Roll up the windows!” then briefly pass out—I rebel against rules, albeit in a helpful, fawning way. So I suggest the following parameters:

  1. Use the images and captions from that one page only;
  2. Don’t use any image or caption more than once.
  3. Extra brownie points for the most salacious and/or sophomoric laughs you can provoke.

But you don’t have to use up all of the pictures and captions on the page—it doesn’t matter if you have some orphans left over. It doesn’t have to work out exactly, like, it’s not chess or a Rubik’s cube or something.

Jeezus! Who are you, the caption game rules-Nazi? Lighten up, Mistress Suck-Out-All-The-Fun!

Here are my results for today. Enjoy.

If that’s—even a word.

“Honey, I Mixed Up the Captions!”


hElTeR-sHeLtEr: Pandemic Pastimes #4: Hoaxy Haute

reimagine the partnership of Hubert and Audrey in a time of plague

Audrey, never tawdry, in Corona Givenchy.

IT’S NOT THAT AUDREY HEPBURN wasn’t talented. It’s just that her talents, at least, the talents that we first think of when we think of her at all, had nothing very much to do with acting.

With the right script and direction Audrey could without question rise to way-better-than-average. Her range was limited, which is kind of like saying that diamonds are just diamonds, and not rubies or a pair of Adidas, and within that range she could sparkle. She was a fizzy drink that refreshed, intoxicating but leaving no hangover, and just foreign enough to signal sophistication without any philosophical baggage, like thinking.

But, like many Hollywood icons, and despite an Oscar for her very first film and several other nominations throughout her career, she was not thought of as a serious actor. She was a product, a concept: innocent gamine, vulnerable woman-child—as an example, refer to her casting as the eponymous heroine in “Gigi,” Anita Loo’s stage adaptation of Colette’s delightful, because so very much not innocent, story of burgeoning young womanhood.

(Transformed into a Lerner and Lowe musical, which must have seemed like a good idea at the time, Gigi received its obligatory Hollywood mangling with Leslie Caron in the title role instead of Hepburn and Maurice Chevalier as “the old roué,” a.k.a. the leering, dirty uncle that everyone avoids at your family reunion in the trailer park.

“Sank ‘evven—for leetle garls!” croaks Chevalier in the musical theatre repertoire’s most regrettable song, as pedophiles around the globe call up their chemical castration supervisor for an emergency double dose. Only the cardboard-brained and lead-soul’d executives of MGM, and the sensibilities of North Americans, could make Colette’s worldly-wise tale, a nostalgic, light-hearted romp washed in mauve and garnished with violets, into something like state-sponsored sleaze.)

From Sabrina to Funny Face, the young Hepburn, often paired with wrinkly-as-a-sharpei aging male leads like Fred Astaire or Humphrey Bogart, is all wide eyes and petulant pouts; feisty, for sure, yet don’t believe for one second she won’t succumb to the next Cary Grant-looking diamond thief or other generic, dashing international playboy (or age-inappropriate perv) whom fate parachutes onto her path.

And all garnished with that suave, strangely artificial British-accented voice, like one of E.T.A Hoffman’s mechanical dolls trying to speak while stifling a yawn.

Hepburn had studied seriously to be a dancer, which explains why I press my palms to my face and curl up my toes while crying with embarrassment during the “Beatnik” dance sequence in “Funny Face.” That actually rather charming movie musical is also where she demonstrates that she was as close to utterly tone deaf as you can get without having been tipped out of a Jaguar E-Series while cruising the Autobahn.

In this movie, Hepburn plays a mousy bookstore employee who is “discovered” by fashion photographer Fred Astaire and whisked away to Paris by him to be a fashion model (and, presumably, to empty his male bedpan and remind him who he is). And I promise you that her tentative, breathy, just-under-the-correct-note singing is nothing at all like torture, for I am aware of at least one international covenant making torture an offense against humanity.

The most famous aberration, of course, was her casting as Eliza Doolittle in the movie version of “My Fair Lady,” the classy and classic Lerner and Lowe musical which had been Julie Andrew’s ticket to deserved super-stardom on the Broadway stage.

Julie could out-act Audrey while wearing a strait-jacket and ball-gag, and to compare their singing abilities would be akin to weighing the relative merits of Joan Sutherland and a kazoo, yet Audrey-the-gamine, at the time an established star to Julie’s newcomer and therefore the bigger box-office draw, was thrust forward like a hostage, decked out in the finest camp Cecil Beaton could perpetrate.

All this so that Audrey’s singing voice could be dubbed by the ubiquitous Marnie Nixon, invisible lifesaver to the vocally challenged.

Did I say, “decked out”? Yes, indeed, Murgatroyd McGraw, because the basic Audrey Hepburn package would not be complete without my mentioning that, with her exquisite beauty and stick-thin figure, Audrey excelled at—modeling does not express how completely she understood and became what she wore, most notably the altogether new simplicity of the couturier Hubert de Givenchy’s uncompromising style.

He met Audrey in 1953, shortly after he’d presented his first collection in his own fashion house, when the actress borrowed several looks for her film “Sabrina.” This was the beginning of a beautiful friendship and even collaboration between the two, a perfect encounter where each was teacher and student, a magical symbiotic feedback loop of designer and muse.

Hepburn’s effortless perfection in understated yet modernist Givenchy tailoring gives her signature performance in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” its lingering, mysterious air of malaise. The hat! The sunglasses! The tantrum! It’s as though Hepburn’s emotions, following the laws of physics, boil faster at cooler temperatures under the sustained pressure of severe lines and hats the size of a bathroom sink.

This gives her breakdown scene a shocking effect which is verging on distasteful: like seeing a well-behaved little girl suddenly vomit all over her white pinafore, then jump face-first into the mud. Holly Golightly, I beg you: please regain your icy composure, or I’ll have to cancel our reservations at “La Coupole.”

I must also give a couple of stars for “Two For the Road,” an interesting late-career flic in which she and screen husband Albert Finney reminisce about their failed marriage in a series of flashbacks. Yet the one and only scene that I remember vividly is a party scene in mid-nineteen-sixties swingin’ London where Hepburn—no longer the gamine and at her absolute peak of beauty—stuns in a Sassoon asymmetric haircut and what I swear must be a metallic Paco Rabanne mini-dress. In her instinctive contest between acting and style, style always pins acting to the mat.

“Wait Until Dark” I include here as one of those gimmick movies, obviously the result of a bunch of film execs sitting stony-faced while a writer pitches them, “You see, there’s this blind chick alone in an apartment while some thugs try and find a bunch of heroin! It’s— Miracle Worker meets White Heat!”

How could you not be salivating at the thought of watching a beautiful, defenceless style icon being tormented by a bunch of thugs? The only way this could get better is if the audience members were blind, too.

In her later years, Hepburn became an advocate for children as Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF, traveling worldwide to help and raise awareness for the plight of children living in dire poverty. And though I probably should, I can’t suppress the thought of an imaginary encounter in which dozens of Ethiopian children press around her, worriedly asking why she’s so thin.

Hepburn died of cancer in 1993. Her adoring son described her in his memoir as “an angel on earth,” and for once I believe the hype.