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.


hElTeR-sHeLtEr: Pandemic Pastimes #3: Photoshop flânerie

depict Hollywood icons in coronavirus-inspired joaillerie

ELIZABETH TAYLOR, FAMOUS FOR HER SCREECHY untrained voice, stunning beauty, stilted “acting” and appetite for husbands and substances both licit and il-, in the parure gifted to her by Richard Burton—Liz and dick, dick and Liz! we sighed, with some justification—after their first date, hence the nickname, “The Grope Diamonds.”

Modeled after the novel coronavirus—but an old version, so, the first-draft or maybe galley-proofs coronavirus—by famed Montreal jeweler Auguste Ponce-de-mon-cul, they were worth, oh, I don’t know, how big will make you gasp? Three hundred kajillion? Done, three hundred kajillion dollars, which was only a week’s salary for our hot-to-trot temptress.

That’s why she threw them back in Dick’s face, settling instead for a good old bender on Southern Comfort, which is what she actually wanted in the first place, then a huge drunken row in which they laid waste to an entire floor of their hotel. True love!

The gay community is grateful to Taylor for her early and brave advocacy for AIDS patients, also for being so chock full of chemicals she was, actually, for a few years, considered a last-ditch experimental treatment. Did you see her hug Rock Hudson? Yeah, there you go, so she tried.

Photo by Karsh, I very much doubt. But someone who had their Brownie ready before she did the throwing back.


Helter-Shelter: Pandemic Pastimes #2: Cultural Vandalism

make political statements by repurposing great art works.

“Maxime Bernier explains his vision for Canada’s future.” Art appropriation by David Roddis. (after Gustave Moreau, “Helen at the Scaean Gate,” c. ?1880)



Helter-Shelter: Pandemic Pastimes #1: Boredom Eating

a big bowl of icing is the most tooth-tingling, palate-numbing meal I can devise. This morning.

I’m Not One Hundred Percent Sure That Pandemics Bring Out the Best in Me

horizons shrink, waistlines expand, and Americans find freedom in the most unlikely places

in Ohio, protesters against the coronavirus lockdowns shout through the doors of the legislature

THERE AIN’T NO ONE IN THIS WHOLE wide world angrier than a white American CoronaZombie told they can’t go to their vacation home. “Let my people go! Tell old Pharaoh—“Naw, he sounds Muslim—tell Alex Jones instead!”

I’m conflating, maybe even extrapolating, a bit. The rather freakazoid people above are in Ohio; the people who can’t go to their vacation homes, well, there may be others, but as far as I know they are the white people of Michigan, whose governor, a Democrat and a woman, Gretchen Whitmer, has enacted just about the most rigorous stay-at-home orders in the US.

She’s had to, because apparently Michigan generally and Detroit specifically have extremely high rates of infection, the brunt of this borne by, and I hope you were holding your breath because, of course, black people.

African Americans, many of them being the people who have the jobs that keep society moving during a lethal pandemic, the fast-food workers, the health care workers, the grocery store staff, the front liners in essential businesses, have, of course, got it covered about who is going to get that fuzzy end of the coronavirus lollipop.

But the white people, the angry outraged spluttering CoronaZombies, have grabbed their rifles, their bazookas, their automatics and their semi’s that the Founding Fathers explicitly recommended—“… the right of the people to keep and bear Bazookas, shall not be infringed;” it’s right there, in fluent goose quill— and they are mad as hell and not takin’ it anymore in front of wherever Gretchen hangs out, and they are chanting “Lock her up!”

Gretchen Whitmer is called “that Michigan woman” by the Adolescent-in-Chief, Trump, who never met a broad unwilling to toss him her panties while pole-dancing that he could relate to. And it must be said: For Gretchen to be in power as a woman seems well-meaning but asking for trouble. But to be a woman in power and a Democrat seems more like just carelessness.

By the way: You ever notice how they’re never chanting “Lock him up”? This just occurred to me. Like, it’s never a guy, is it? Have you ever seen or heard the MAGA crowd chanting to lock up a guy? I think I’m on to something, don’t you?

It’s a special chant reserved for the gals, which is, I guess their way of making them feel special. Like buying the little lady some Godiva chocolates and a set of sterling silver handcuffs for Mothers Day.

So “lock her up,” meaning get the women barefoot and in their kitchens, stop them being so uppity, and get them off our backs!

This is not only misogynist but problematic in another way. You see, I have this theory that it shows maturity — remember maturity? Yeah, neither do I — when someone in their teens, or twenties, or even beyond, stops rebelling against parental controls and realizes that some of the advice is actually helpful and sensible.

One day, sick of the emotional effort of being contrary, and deciding that kicking and screaming while pounding your fists and heels on the floor looks a tad undignified, you have a satori.

The clouds part to reveal a chorus of angels and you hear them singing that the advice you found so hateful is not just offered so your parents can annoy you with a demeaning reminder that you’re a helpless, wet-behind-the-ears, financially dependent walking fetus who wouldn’t know to come inside when it’s raining and who can’t figure out how to press the “ON” button on the microwave. It’s meant to save you the heartache of repeating the same mistakes until your forehead is flatter than Saskatchewan and you’ve lost all that time.

And, to your amazement, because you’re now mature, you just go ahead and follow the advice, because now that you’re a grown-up you no longer worry so much about what other people think.

You don’t have to mimic your peer group. You don’t have to prove how cool you are, because now, without even noticing your own coolness, you actually are. You don’t have to “fit in” any more. Other people can fit in with you, instead. You’ve earned it.

You’ve discovered that, although there are seventy-eight buttons on the microwave, one of them for “popcorn” which unfailingly burns popcorn, so that everyone from Orville Redenbacher to Thomas Keller advises, “For the love of god, whatever you do, DON’T use the ‘popcorn’ button,” all you actually need is three buttons: the one for “Beverage,” a second button to choose one minute, four minutes or ten minutes, and “ON.” Microwave popcorn, pizza pocket or twelve-course tasting menu for your instructors in the George Brown College Culinary Arts Diploma course, this is how it works.

But not for the CoronaZombies. They’ve learned and earned nothing. These guys, and of course it’s mostly guys, are still in an embryonic state of helplessness, because women are their slaves, but in reality their mommies, so, stuck in eternal resentful, thwarted adolescence, they automatically rebel.

Their sense of adult, independent manhood is so tenuous, so fragile, that to follow a woman’s advice, even the advice that will save them from catching and/or spreading a potentially fatal disease, is to them tantamount to sitting once again in that highchair while she goes, “And here comes the airplane into the hangar ooogie boogie mumsy wumsy puddin’ pie!” with that spoonful of Gerber carrots.

So they take out their dicks—oh, fine, excuse me for living, guns and cars—and assert their masculinity. It’s all such a tedious, predictable shit show.

I went out of the apartment to shop for groceries during the past couple of days. I do-si-do’ed around the few people I encountered on the sidewalk, and I stood in line, six feet in front of me and six feet behind me, to enter the grocery store.

It was a sunny day, with spring being all coy about putting on her make-up and peeking around the corner in nothing but a towel. The day felt calm and there was a big world happening, bigger, at least in that moment, than anyone’s problems. There was no one complaining. There were no guns or crazy demos.

That’s because Canadians still retain the idea of the social contract. We still understand that we are not just individuals as islands of magnificent solitude and self-contained rights. Because we have universal healthcare, and revere that we have it, we still understand that we work together, through our government—which is us, because we elected them to do what we wanted—to achieve what we could never accomplish on our own. For the proof of that, I cast a glance south.

As always we have our watered down, hearts-not-in-it, bargain basement versions of the American neediest cases. We have a guy called Derek something, an actual member of the Conservative Party of Canada, standing in a field questioning whether our Chief Public Health Officer, Theresa Tam, “is working for us or for the Chinese,” a disgusting and defiantly racist comment that is universally rejected and reviled.

(There is no equivalent to the Fox Network run by Canadians, by the way. Our media, apart from one or two outliers, are firmly mainstream, and any news anchor who attributed any validity to that question or denied its racism would be fired the same day. Just ask Don Cherry.)

A comment rejected and reviled—but not by the erstwhile party leader, the gutless Andrew Scheer, who blushes and giggles like a trainee geisha when he’s asked if he will condemn the remarks.

Scheer demurs. He waffles. He prevaricates. He breaks out in more nervous dimples than a newborn baby’s butt having its first diaper change by Dad. He does everything it’s possible to do with words except answer the question or condemn the remarks.

Once again, a woman in power is targeted by whiny, insecure, immature males who just don’t know how to deal with her, and who are tacitly given the seal of approval by their wimp leader who’s scared that conservative voters won’t play with him at recess if he condemns racism and misogyny.

The only flaw in my theory about women being the targets of male rage would appear to be that Justin Trudeau also takes a lot of similar flak. But in the minds of the Conservatives and the usual gang of online incels, Justin is a woman. So my theory lives on.

We then have another guy, who I theorize will not be picking up a Governor General’s Award for logic any time soon, noting that the number of Covid-19 cases is nowhere near what was predicted, so that he questions whether all this freedom-squashing sheltering in place was necessary.

Dear Stupid Person: The reason the number of cases is lower than predicted is that we did shelter in place and it worked. Just exactly how flat does my forehead have to get?

Little Miss Shirley Temple Black CoronaZombie: the fuzzy end of the lollipop.

I DO RATHER LIKE THAT THERE’S a Democratic Governor of Michigan called “Gretchen.” This is really only the second time I’ve heard that name, the first instance being as the protagonist in a famous song by Schubert, “Gretchen am Spinnrade” or “Gretchen at the spinning wheel,” which he wrote just a few moments after he was born (child prodigy). Unfortunately, no sooner had he scraped the grape-jelly-like afterbirth residue off his velvet smoking jacket than he lost the fucking manuscript in an Uber.

Jeezus, dude! No way are you getting that iPhone!

“Das ist sooooo wie mir!” was his only comment, as the little show-off Schnozzler scrambled to write the whole thing out again from memory, this time competing with his friend Felix Mendelssohn who had himself just lost the entire score of the incidental music to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in a London cab a week before.

“Alvays I am immer making ze big vergessenses when my Fanny is distracting me,” Mendelssohn added, gazing at his firm, really quite toothsome bubble-behind in a huge, Baroque gilt-framed mirror. But of course, he was referring his Schwester, Fanny. “Fanny,” as you know is the diminutive of—

What is Fanny the diminutive of? Seriously.

Let’s reverse engineer this.

So “Peggy” is a diminutive of “Margaret.” So then, by analogy…

Take the “f” of “Fanny” and change it to two letters previous in the alphabet in the non-dim version. So, “D.” Then, change the “a” to “e” and then the “g” in “Peggy” represents the doubling of the third consonant, so “n.”

Ladies and gents, the mystery is solved. Felix Mendelssohn’s sister’s actual name was: Dennis Mendelssohn.

I know that Dennis isn’t really a Jewish name, but don’t forget the horrible anti-Semitism in 19th-century (not to mention 20th- and 21st-century, also this afternoon) Germany. They obviously called their only daughter “Dennis” to give her a big leg-up in society, which is extra fortunate because, if you look up any pictures of her, Dennis, that is, you’ll see she is keine Ölgemälde, not even an oil-painting-by-numbers by your six-year-old.

But getting back to Gretchen and her spinning wheel. This song is a setting of a scene from Faust, which is easy to guess because Germans have two pieces of literature: “Faust” and “Mein Kampf” and it’s a toss-up on any given day which one they prefer.

I don’t recall anyone called Gretchen in Mein Kampf, do you? Well, there you go, Faust it is.

Goethe wrote Faust; he’s kind of like the German Shakespeare, but more efficient. Germans are all about efficiency. Why have Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe both sweating buckets getting all those plays ready for the Globe when you can have an all-in-one? Goethe is the laptop where the screen comes off and turns into a tablet, of German literature. You could probably read Kindle books and make phone calls on a Goethe as well, knowing the Germans.

However, Goethe’s most famous achievement is writing the slogan for Audi, “Vorsprung durch Technik” which means “We’d spring some work on you, but technically there isn’t any.”

German is a member of the portmanteau family of languages, like Welsh, where a single word can express the universe. For example, it you wanted to say, “If you’d like to cry little pearly teardrops about the fact that there’s no work, maybe we could get together on Wednesday, please and thank you, bitte, but only if it’s together, I’m too shy on my own!” then the word for that would be:

« das EsGibtKeinArbeitAlsoMöchtenSieDiePerlenTränenTröpfchenVielleichtAmMittwochZusammenMachenAberNimmerAlleinIchBinZuvielSchüchternDankeSchön-tum! »

Then a native German speaker would add, “Sieg Heil!” Germans say “Sieg Heil!” at the end of every other sentence, which means, approximately, “Doesn’t life just suck donkey testicles?” Obviously this is formal, so they would probably preface this with something like, “Guten Abend, Gnädiges Fräulein!” (= “We could have a good evening if one of us brought some goddamn condoms or are you happy with just frottage?”)

Germans can be a bit of a downer. But at least there’s Beethoven, except he was honorary Austrian. If you want to really get up a German’s Nase, remind them about Beethoven. They’ll have das Konnipchen. Probably with a big Stein of Bier.

Germans ultimately are nice people, if you legislate that, and fairly harmless as long as you don’t let them anywhere near a munitions factory or someone who’s not blond. Or food! Don’t let a German anywhere near food! Good grief! What were you thinking?

Anyway, I didn’t mean to get all literary and intellectual on you. It’s a bit early for this, right?

THOUGH I LOVE TRAVELING IN the US, love Americans — the honest to god, warm and welcoming, sit-a-while-and-have-some-pie, passionate and outspoken, above all, decent, and, heaven knows, never boring, Americans that I meet whenever I visit—I thank god every morning that I was born Canadian.

Because in Ohio, as in Michigan, and probably the Carolinas and maybe even Virginia and Georgia, everywhere I look, Americans are always riled up about freedom.

Americans have the doggone craziest ideas about what freedom entails.

Americans are not just automatically obeying orders to shelter in place! They are not about to be told what to do, not after they dumped those boxes of Lapsang Souchong in Boston Harbor.

Americans love the idea, their idea of freedom, so much so that they have invented new kinds. As a Canadian, I can only shake my head in envy, and genuflect with respect, for Americans are the cutting edge when it comes to freedoms no one else enjoys.

The freedom to die of Covid-19: “Hell, no! You ain’t gonna quarantine MY ass!” “It’s just a plot to take away our liberty!” This includes the freedom to infect others. Remember others?

The freedom to go bankrupt: “Ain’t my fault if you can’t afford your heart operation!” “I want to choose my health care, until I get fired…” “SOCIALISM! We’ll be no different from North Korea!”

The freedom to flaunt one’s ignorance: “The earth is flat, AIDS came from a lab in the US, Hillary’s pizza parlor, vaccines kill!”

The freedom to shoot and be shot. “Nothing is more important than no background checks, not even my children’s lives.”

The freedom to start everything from scratch: “Rugged individualism! Self-made! I didn’t use the roads, the electricity, the library, the supply chain, the groceries, the fuel, the railroads, the college, the ideas, the advice, the loan from my family, the grant, the tax cuts!’

The freedom to ignore science: “You’re not gonna tell me that that huge contraption is gonna fly through the air?! It must weigh a million tons! I don’t believe it just cause some elite scientist says it!”

It’s interesting how the pandemic has changed one thing, however; one intensely satisfying development that was instantly pointed out by every progressive with a direct conduit to NBC or a WordPress blog.

Everyone’s happily taking trillions of dollars in aid.

No one’s complaining about “socialism.” Two trillion rabbits out of two trillion hats, two trillion of the money that “just isn’t there” for healthcare, Universal Basic Income or affordable housing. That is, when only the disadvantaged need it. Just isn’t there, until you need it.

Things I have baked, cooked, or bought, then eaten, by myself, in the past month:

  • Two loaves of no-knead bread; two loaves of whole wheat sandwich bread, six purchased croissants, a box of donuts, a box of Timbits;
  • A pack of Twinkies and a pack of those pink cakes with coconut on them (Dolly Partons? Hello, Dollies? something about a dolly, anyway);
  • Five batches of chappatis;
  • Two mix-in-the-pan cakes from the New York Times online;
  • An apple cinnamon cake that serves twelve;
  • Eight boxes of Kraft Dinner;
  • A bowl of buttercream frosting that was meant for the cake;
  • Burgers, French fries and onion rings, with mayonnaise, all homemade;
  • Three batches of peanut butter cookies, two batches of blondies, five batches of shortbread;
  • can, forgive me, Julia, for I have sinned, of Chef Boy-ar-dee ravioli and one of chili (the chili wasn’t entirely bad, the less said about the ravioli, which smelled like the hallway in a long-term care facility, the better);
  • Countless pouches of microwave popcorn (Beverage; 2; ON;)
  • And tonight I’m making chicken Divan, a casserole of chicken breast and broccoli bathed in a cheese béchamel sauce made with whipping cream.

Coronavirus has more than one trick up its sleeve to kill me. I see that now.

Luckily, I smoke cigarettes. Because studies currently underway in France apparently indicate—and I’m not making this up—that nicotine may protect you from infection with the novel coronavirus.