IF WE WERE POSSIBLE— Christ, what a thought! — it would have to be in some other continuum strung out in time between Lost In Space and Planet of the Apes—
the original, not the remake—
where my love like giant Noma bulbs leaks Red Green Blue pure Christmas colors onto snow; it would have to be
suspended in aspic somewhere in affect between Keir Dullea (lusciously preserved in the vacuum jar of his Paco Rabanne space suit in Kubrick’s ground-breaking 2001)
and Kate Hepburn (magnificent!) shocking the children with jewelry hung from her nipples teeth clenched, then through a narrow slit launching the swift arrows of her repartee in the ’68 screenplay of Lion in Winter.
And while we’re on the subject of me, Have I ever told you I hate being a venomous frog? It is so frightfully inconvenient at times! Like now, when you say
(standing marooned in my bog, drowning in your MacIntosh, squashed hat bobbing with corks)
“I mustn’t leave my guest too long—”
(Meaning I must dance the hootchy-cootchy elsewhere, baby)
And I outlash with a crack of my bull-whip tongue
(That very same bullwhip tongue seen in slow unfurling motion, eternal trope, in the seven o’clock reruns of Animal Kingdom whose subject is the tranquility of nature)
“No we wouldn’t want that, would we?”
not want —would no — would that—oui oui — ?
Oh mon enfant. Blathering’s a lonely task The daily struggle to be astoundingly original so — cliché.
I don’t get your surprise, any more than I get your stiff malodorous socks. Just for me? Such tendresse!
Waiter, gimme the soup doo jour!
And that Entray of the day!
And a littledisgust, on the side
just enough to whet the appetite!
Your sunken totem face no longer worrisome since they took AIDS off the list of acceptable romantic endings
Your muzzy teeth a craft project tombstones glamorous in fake fur rammed haphazardly into the rim of your jaw, as though to commemorate— what?
Recess? Mass burial?
Gimme a break!
This coffee's cold!
Your lips are white and pasty, darling. Grams of guilt-ridden chems, Seasons of serendipity! Avail yourself, please do, of some Colgate and my handy multi-tool travel brush!
And your pubes! Mon dieu! The rusty steel wool pads I use to attack, to scrub and scrape the cast iron pan would more sweetly accommodate my shameless kiss, the nuzzly nestling of my cheek!
Your reek of ether, sour sweat, defeat Your much-vaunted Apollonian line astray, your plump-loaded historical brushes uncontained.
Your staining of me bleeds.
You are my wizened future, Apparition, Ancient Mariner asthmatic, baying at the festooned threshold,
Alone alone, all all alone!
I’m the bride, the groom, I’m Eleanor of Aquitane!—is nothing beyond me?— I’m the unseen wedding room all a-quiver, stinking with white lilacs,
Alone on the wide wide sea!
Gimme that old college try! Gimme that opium dream, And a prolonged attack of the vapours! That's the spirit, honey! Now that's what I call poetry!
Hungry out of habit, I’ll rise to your bait, I’ll take a bite, But you are no more lust-slaking than a blackened pan of chocolate cake mixed at three A.M. with my old man hands, and baked,
then picked over with impatient fingers, black cake scalding, steaming, crumbling out of the black pan wolfed down in close-up, kitchen lights catching all my best angles as I suck in blasts of soothing frigid air to guard the vault of my mouth
Heartrending pictures taken seconds before tragedy strikes!
WAKING UP ON MY SOFA THIS MORNING, fully-clothed and irradiated by apocalyptic levels of over-enthusiastic sunlight, is the somewhat unpleasant start to my day. You may think that’s because I would naturally want to wake up in bed, which is correct. But the sofa is my bed; the unpleasant start is due to something that is happening today which is not yet fully with me, which is playing hide-and-seek at the edge of my consciousness.
I cough, I blink. I have sore, dry eyes, and a coffee-and-cigarette hangover—a raw throat and a headache that only coffee and cigarettes can heal—and pressing through the dull ache is a nagging, vague thought of a task or an appointment, an obligation that won’t leave me alone. Something insistent and inescapable, like a plucky four-year-old determined to find his way home after mommy left him in the Mall, by the fountain, with a note pinned to his collar. The four-year-old isn’t howling yet, but he will be.
It’s definitely not my birthday. I know that. I won’t have to feign excitement at getting just what I wanted, too tight and in burgundy. The sun is so blazingly, hellishly bright in my living room that I’m squinting. My head splits in two. Give me a break, Mr. Insufferable Fireball of Happy!
Not even a foot away from where I’m lying is my desk, a long, low sheet of thick, tempered glass on chrome supports; on it two monitors and, sharing the same plate, half of a dry, curled-up cheese sandwich and a half-pack’s worth of cigarette butts. There’s a corded mouse, a corded keyboard and speakers, and two external drives; there are four cigarette packs, three of them empty, torch lighters, a can of butane, three Bic lighters, two of them working, and an assortment of mugs half full of cold coffee.
And dotted across the landscape of my desk —which is really a dining table—there are clusters of miniature skyscrapers, entire miniature city centers of cigarettes stood up on their filter ends which have burned away like that when I found I had no ashtray, and it seemed impossible to get up, walk to the kitchen and get one.
Mugs half full of cold coffee make great ashtrays.
I chose this dining table as my desk because it’s a spacious twenty square feet, giving plenty of breathing room for monitors, books, papers—or at least there should be. But through an odd glitch of the magnetic pole, or an obscure form of Tourette’s, everything on the desk has gradually shifted and inched and crammed itself together at the very front left corner. I’m becoming convinced that my apartment is gradually listing, tilting downward on the east side, as though I’m stuck in an amateur, low-budget re-enactment of the sinking of the Titanic. The monitor, the ashtrays and the cups and the pile of unopened mail are all just one nudge, one sleepy sweep of the arm away from disaster.
Certain nights when I’m working, I feel the cords conspiring against me. I think they’ve been reading Boy Scout rope-tying manuals when I’m not looking. The speaker cord tangles and altercates with the keyboard cord, so the keyboard doesn’t quite reach as close to me as I need, and should I stand up too quickly, their abandonment issues are triggered. The cord for the mouse, who I suspect is the leader, attacks my ankle and in my attempt to extricate myself I drag it off the table to the floor, where it pops its cover and ejects two double-AA batteries like astronauts abandoning their mission.
I’ve remembered now. It’s tax day.
TAX DAY. Beside the left monitor on top of the pile of unopened mail is a large manila envelope filled with my bank statements. I have six years of unfiled taxes to complete, the Canada Revenue Agency wants forty-thousand dollars, I have fifteen cents in the bank and I have to reconstruct my income and expenses from 2012 to 2017.
I look at the envelope. And I whine a little.
Like this: WHHHHIIIIIIINNNNNNNNNE.
Whining is my “warm-up,” the scales and arpeggios, the “unique New York” tongue-twisters of my anxiety, because I have to know that when anxiety is in full flood, I’ll be technically capable. Method whining, sense-memory whining? None of that sloppy, touchy-feely business for me. A good, technically solid whine, and hit the mark ten times out of ten.
Now the debate: Cigarette or vape? Vape or cigarette? This is a two-day-old problem, and, honestly, to call it a debate is just silliness. I’m lighting a cigarette—vaping makes me cough.
But I need java before any meaningful tax-filing or full-throttle whining can happen, so I stagger to the kitchen and discover that the bread dough I mixed at 2:30 AM has completely overflowed the two-liter measuring jug and has started to form a leathery crust. It looks like a sad, deflated baker’s hat, or the skin on a pork shoulder.
Honestly, it looks like a Claes Oldenburg that you can bake and eat, thereby pre-empting any world-record-shattering sales, and then shit out again as a one-off iteration. Put that in your catalogue raisonée.
I divide the dough in half and tuck both pieces into loaf pans, like two plump little newborns, just barely catching myself before I mist them with “Go Green!” all-purpose household cleaner instead of oil, then I cover them tenderly with plastic wrap.
I pour boiling water over the grounds in my French press, French press it, fill a mug with it, and whisper to the mug of it that, somewhere, as unlikely as it seems, milk exists.
I’ve been at the computer for two hours, but I am not “doing my taxes”. I have not “made a start” on my taxes. I have not even opened the envelope with my bank statements. I am smoking and watching Act One of a stunning production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute on YouTube, with steam-punky, mysterious animated set designs by the South African artist William Kentridge.
This reminds me of Mozart’s struggles and the tragedy of his end. Mozart died suddenly, at thirty-five, with his life in disarray, with his wife doubting his fidelity; died hopelessly in debt because of his extravagant tastes, his poor money management, his concerts that were successes of prestige, but not profit, and, scholars suspect, because of gambling and sexual promiscuity.
I have no problem with gambling.
I look up Kentridge in Wikipedia (The Encyclopedia You Write Yerself!™) and find we’re exactly the same age. He’s a lifetime, dedicated, seriously important world-class artist since adolescence, and, as the son of highly respected activist lawyers who represented victims of apartheid, he makes subtle yet trenchant political and social statements through his work.
I reflect on my current condition as an aging, unknown blogger teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, the son of a helmet-haired narcissist and an alcoholic itinerant shoe salesman with a secret second family, then I write a grandstanding, pretentious, but actually pretty good review of the production. You can read the review, below, if you can endure the grandstanding. Please be sure to tell me how good it is.
My only reservations are that the production was staged at the Théâtre de la monnaie, which seems to mean “Theatre of the Small Change;” and that the audience has either been instructed not to clap or even move because the production is being filmed, or they have all drunk cyanide-laced Kool-Aid and are actually dead.
Queen of the Night’s aria, as she knocks high “F” out of the park? No detectable pulse from the audience. Flatliners napping.
Pamina sings “Ach, ich fühl’s“? Collectively, they couldn’t even fog up a mirror.
OK, right now it’s 2:08 PM, and I think of my friend who is helping me with the taxes even though it makes him behave like he’s smoked a pipeful of crack, and I want to huddle in a corner and scream, “Why can’t you just help me THE WAY I AM?? Why do I have to IMPROVE the way I behave?”
Even imagining this scenario fills me with dread, because it’s substantially a new version “you heard the vinyl, now see the live show” of the time he cut me out of his life. I already owe him two-hundred eighty bucks for the copies of my book he purchased for me so I could approach Indigo, the bookstore, and that I gave away to casual, petty-criminal acquaintances who won’t even read it, because I’m scared to approach Indigo and even more scared of the acquaintances.
I can still redeem myself and start on the taxes if I start NOW! I can! I CAN!
It’s time to have a quick gander at the New York Times. I read an in-depth piece about antisemitism in Germany, and how it’s never really gone away, just lain low waiting for its next chance to poison the hearts and minds of entire nations.
It never has to wait very long.
In Germany, young Jewish professionals are advised not to advertise their Jewishness, bullying of Jewish kids at school is ignored, and the furthest-right political party uses Islamophobia to drive a wedge between Muslims and Jews, so that everyone’s suspicious of the wrong people, the inherent, centuries-old antisemitism of Christian Europe is ignored and the whole problem can be marginalized and attributed to radicalized immigrants. This is a handy way for antisemitic Germans to deny that they are the problem.
Kind of like how this post is a handy way of ignoring my problem, which is procrastination and owing the tax man forty-thousand dollars!
Yes, David. Your problem with back taxes is exactly the same as Jews who have joined an antisemitic, German right-wing political party because they’ve been hoodwinked, distracted by their vulnerability to the antisemitism of a few unrepresentative immigrant Muslims.
On the other hand:
I forgot to download treats from Creative Whatsit, the site that offers me free graphic design assets every Monday. So I download two fonts:
which are handsome display fonts which I don’t need and will never use after this instance, and an assortment of botanical vector drawings.
Check out these members of the Myrtle family!
Still wandering, confused and dazed, in my metaphorical bathrobe down the wrong lane of the online expressway, past the off-ramps marked “Completed Tax Returns and Happiness, next seven exits! Bear right!” I’m suddenly distracted by oncoming traffic, that sidebar you might also enjoy that lists other New York Times articles that you should be reading instead of the one you already are.
And I’m torn. Should I investigate why Game of Thrones was a disappointment, which I knew it had to be anyway without viewing it because, hello??!! Fantasy??!!Meaninglessdrivel??!! or should I read about Robert Mnuchin, father of Steve?
Robert Mnuchin is an art dealer, he is eighty-nine years old and a Democrat, and he tears up as he refuses to talk about his son, Steven.
(You may recall that Steven is the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, the embarrassing mansplainer who told Maxine Waters, Chair of the House Financial Services Committee, to “pound her gravel” [sic]. This goes a long way towards explaining his father’s tears.)
Robert Mnuchin is also the man who recently purchased the Jeff Koons stainless steel sculpture —“Rabbit,” see below—on behalf of a mystery buyer, setting the record—$91 million— for the price of a work of art by a living artist.
Here is the sculpture, with Jeff Koons himself, back in 2009, processed as “oil painting” with FotoSketcher and then according to my special patented Photoshop “let’s appropriate, then mess with, this image” method which can be extended to fill as many hours as you want to waste:
Jeff Koons is kinda sexy, or is it his billions that take him from Pee-wee Herman to Hot? He is definitely kind of kinky looking. I would very much like to fuck around with Jeff Koons and I would even pay him for the privilege. I would like to be lying naked on a pile of banknotes in the middle of his California King-sized bed in the master bedroom of his penthouse. Jeff Koons has got to have a penthouse, right? Do you have the phone number of his gallery?
That takes the fuckin’ CAKE. Can you believe the nerve of Jeff Koons taking MONEY from ME, a still-gorgeous-and-no-one-can-believe-I’m-a-pensionser- but-still-when-it-comes-down-to-it PENSIONER? What a scumbag! Yeah, go out and oppress another sexually delusional, gold-digging POOR PERSON, OK?? Mr Ninety-one Million Dollar Bunny?!??!!
Mr Koons, like Bill Kentridge, is exactly the same age as me. I reflect for a moment about Jeff Koons, his millions and kajillions, his jet-set life printing money by blowing up dollar-store toys and recreating them in condo finishes and about the devastating, shiny, subversive simplicity of his art.
And I reflect on me, the mere plaything of a Revenue Canada apparently staffed by mercenary sociopaths—thugs, really—who do nothing but make snarky, passive-aggressive remarks about my missing six years of back taxes and their phantom forty-thousand dollars. I still have not started my taxes. I still have not opened the envelope with my bank statements in it.
Maybe me, Jeff Koons and Bill Kentridge should all get together at the hooker Harvey’s at the corner of Jarvis and Gerrard, across the park from me. Jeff could make a stainless steel replica of a burger and sell it for $100 million; Bill could knock off some quick, socially-relevant charcoal drawing animations of the hookers who hang out at Harvey’s and make it into an opera set; and I could cry.
Because, stick with what you know.
The Robert Mnuchin article leads me to an article about 80’s superstar gallerist Mary Boone, who made then-unknown artist Julian Schnabel into an international sensation, and who is currently serving a thirty-month prison sentence for tax fraud.
In an article bristling with dropped names of the art world, one anecdote stands out. It concerns Larry Gagosian, he of the legendary gallery. Gagosian for a brief time lived in L.A., sharing his house with artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, with whom he’d become friends in New York.
This was around 1981. Also sharing the house was a woman Basquiat was dating, a singer with a record contract and, because Gagosian had lost his license and his buddy Mr B. couldn’t be trusted behind the wheel, she also doubled as their driver.
“Hey, Madonna,” they’d say to her, according to the article. “We need to get to Sunset.”
Madonna. Abso-fuckin’-lutely true.
Currently eating fondant icing with a spoon fork.
Sometimes the simplest things are the most profound. Then, there’s me eating fondant icing. The recipe is: A bunch of icing sugar in a bowl, a little milk, then mix it up. I think you should probably cook it, for the full fondattitude, as they say, but I didn’t because that would have delayed the onset of the eating.
Eating the fondant icing was the point, not nit-picky accuracy or food safety. Take a chill pill, my little Miss Pauline Kael with fingers in the pies of Julia Child!
I made the video with Filmora, a video editing app which is way more fun than Adobe Premiere Elements but just as powerful. It costs $59 USD, which I don’t have, so I used the free version that slaps a big watermark on it.
But I don’t mind. Ever since Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce forgave my sixty-thousand in credit card debt in exchange for me tattooing their logo around my anus, I’m pretty amenable to being a brand ambassador.
I used a number of effects, and the learning curve wasn’t too steep. The bit that looks like wonky VHS tape or a TV on the blink is intentional, so make sure you don’t get annoyed and toss your monitor across the room!
Heavens to Betsy! That I should be the cause of you cracking the screen of your, etc etc.!
Things that annoy me about Trump today: He threatened Fox News because they had Pete Buttigieg as a guest. He basically said that Fox would have some ‘splainin’ to do, which is not common in a democracy, and kind of what the Nazis said in Munich, just after the Beer Hall putsch, when they shut down the last free press.
Imagine the POTUS being so threatened by someone who doesn’t even have the Democratic nomination yet that he posts this embarrassingly sulky Tweet:
They asked Liz Warren to go on Fox, too, and I’m quite disappointed that she got all snippy and declined. She thinks that would legitimize them, but in fact, like Pete’s publicist said, you have to meet the people where they are. She missed an opportunity to win over the hearts and minds of people who I suspect would really have been open to her message of economic social justice.
But I guess she was too busy scrubbing the Ovaltine mustaches off her local constituents’ faces with a moist napkin. Take the friggin’ pickle out, will ya, Liz!?
Trump is pardoning war criminals. He has already pardoned a soldier who killed an Iraqi detainee, which the ACLU has called “endorsing murder.”
Like most things he does, he’s keeping just barely within the law and/or his rights as Prez (aka finagling), so you have to finagle a bit yourelf to call him on it. (This, by the way, is how Trump forces us to descend to the sub-basement to deal with him.) He probably thinks that Iraqi’s don’t count as people, much like he condoned roughing up “criminals” by the police, because—well, because they’re criminals and in his mind they have no rights. I await the news that Melania has added an extra padlock to her bedroom door.
Trump has a “funny” name for Pete Buttigieg. He calls him “Alfred E. Newman [sic].” The spelling of MAD Magazine’s mascot’s name should be “Neuman,” so he can’t even get his puerile name-calling right.
Because name-calling highlights Trump’s world view and maturity level and suitability for office most succinctly, I find this the most annoying of the three things.
Why is it that the letters that should most demonstrate compassion are in fact strip-mined of all care and humanity?
I receive a letter from the Bank of Montreal, addressed to DAVID JOHN RODDIS, telling me what I already know:
Bank of Montreal has received a demand notice. The Bank is obligated and must comply with this demand notice.
Agency: Canada Revenue Agency Total amount: $41,917.15 Accordingly, the following action has been taken: Funds Frozen Funds Remitted: $0.00
Yours truly BMO Representative.
Now you’d think, seeing that Bank of Montreal rarely writes to me since they grew up and left home, that they’d up the intimacy factor a little bit, show that they remember. This vibe of “just walk back into my life,steal a beer, put your feet up on the coffee table, then ask for forty-thousand so you can take your girlfriend to the double feature at the drive-in and a cola at the A&W” takes me just a little too much for granted. It cuts.
After all I’ve done for you, “BMO Representative.”
I really should make an effort and open the envelope with the bank statements.
Reading about Jeff Koons, and figuring out whether he might get all dom and alpha-male and have raunchy, round-the-world artist-sex with me if I bribed him, leads me to his website. There I find an extensive list of his works, including a version of a drawing by eighteenth-century Rococo artist Jean-Honoré Fragonard.
All Koons does is stick a big, convex blue mirror in the middle of an ink-jet print of the Fragonard, so here’s the original Fragonard. It is surprisingly NSFW:
“Gimblette” referred to a donut-shaped biscuit, but it salaciously refers to quite something else in this piece, which umistakeably, pornographically portrays a little girl pleasuring herself with her spaniel’s tail. Here is the beginning of art historian Patricia Simons scholarly piece, wonderfully titled, “PUPPY LOVE: FRAGONARD’S DOGS AND DONUTS.” You’ll have to pay to read the rest, and be my guest.
Lazy entitled white heterosexual German males from the former East Germany are mad at the brown immigrant people who have taken all the jobs. Except the brown immigrant people have done nothing of the kind. Lazy entitled white heterosexual German males from the former east Germany also have been deserted by their females, who under Communist rule at least bettered themselves, gained independence, then got the hell out when the Wall came down. So now the guys are wondering who is going to find us wives?
(I’m back to the New York Times. This article click-baits me into thinking it’s blaming Angela Merkel for the malaise of East German males.) Lazy entitled white heterosexual German males from the former east Germany are a noisier, more infantile version of males everywhere these days. Germany, like the U.S., like Canada, needs immigrants right now. Who will pay the taxes to support social democracy otherwise? Who will take the jobs everyone else is too high and mighty to take? Who else will serve as a scapegoat?
So these disgruntled man-boys are, of course, all voting for extreme right-wing, anti-immigrant political parties, because thatworked so well in 1938.
I decide I want to comment on the article:
“Build a wall and save democracy from toxic masculinity, from the invasion of lazy, entitled white heterosexual males!”
but I discover that the comments for the article are closed.
The Angela Merkel angle? She’s a self-made woman, an East German who bettered herself, in spades, and got out. And as Chancellor she was a daily affront to the East German males, a slap in the face. If she can do it, why can’t you?
Who will find me a wife?
It’s now 7:29 PM, I’ve spent almost eight hours on this post and I’m feeling really guilty, which is usually the sign that I’m going to buckle down and do what I’ve been putting off doing all day, i.e., my six years of delinquent taxes.
When I go to the kitchen to make coffee I discover the little unbaked loaves all leathery and sunk in the bread pans, because during ten hours of being abandoned they have risen, lost hope and collapsed.
I’m horrified, like the protagonist in a Barbara Gowdy short story who’s left her kids to suffocate in a locked car as she runs off to fuck some stranger in a motel room. After a long summer day of grappling on a chenille bedspread, bathed in the hot, slippery juices of my self-centered lust, I’ve returned to the appalling tragedy and resulting insanity that are the fruits of my life’s single, unforgivable lapse.
I think I’m going to make those cinnamon rolls from “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice,” which means I’ll need to whip up a big batch of fondant icing. Loblaw’s is still open and it’s a beautiful spring evening, so I can walk there, and maybe even buya vanilla bean.
Yes, gentle readers, today’s theme is “disasters, real or imagined” and to kick off, I must apologize for my absence from these bloggy parts during the last few weeks. You know how much I crave your attention, and the very quickest among you will therefore deduce that only the very choicest disasters Contents: OneAcme Premium Fuck-Up (keep refrigerated until use) would prevent me from lying naked on my front lawn, under the ever-judgmental eye of Joyleen, Timbercreek’s Tenant Total-Compliance Manager and unofficial red-hot mama, and wallowing in it.
Well, right you be, and this particular chunk of premium personal disaster, which thudded into my life like a chocolate-covered cluster of Santa’s leftover coals, managed to glom together:
The calculator-wielding gremlins of the Canada Revenue Agency, who for some reason has wanted my response concerning six years of unfiled taxes, and for which I have apparently discarded all of my receipts and records, and resorted to the sleazy low-ball strategy of assessing me at over forty-thousand owing, garnisheeing my pension then freezing my bank account;
And the task of placating and managing two pissed off potential roommates, pissed off because I promised the room to a new one, then got cold feet and backtracked, promising to continue renting my room to the current one, then changed my mind again and promised it for real to the second one, then backtracked again and sort of, kind of, promised both of them that they’d probably overlap and it would work out OK for a month, though secretly wishing the first one would storm off in a huff and solve my problem for me.
So you see how all this could sideswipe one’s delicate creative process.
I will not spare you the update, which goes:
I am finally preparing my delinquent tax returns, aided by my long-suffering buddy, a former corporate tax lawyer, who has taken his duties so much to heart that he is literally gasping for breath during our phone meetings and bombarding me every minute with over-determined, lengthy text messages about the exact percentage of my bedroom that can be used as a business expense but only during neap tide and in years that are divisible by three, and saying huggy stuff like, “You might be in serious trouble!” so that my brains plop out of my ears in chunks, like boiled cauliflower, with the stress. Check!
And what was the other one again?
Of course, the roommates: I figure I’ll just let them both believe they’re exclusive occupants of the room, set up a webcam on June first and sell tickets to my new reality show on YouTube. Because they can’t hate me any more than I already do. Can they?
Oh, yeah—I think someone, I have no idea who, has the keys to my apartment. It’s always good to keep a potential disaster in your back pocket, just in case life starts jumping in the puddles and singin’ in the rain.
Nip that in the bud!
I am constantly reminded that there are some goals I won’t achieve, qualities that will elude me no matter who I pay or what I practice; and though it makes no difference what the cause might be, you can blame it, if you like, on brain cells now walking with canes or too many distracting, shiny objects in my field of vision.
One of these elusive qualities is relevance.
In case you haven’t been paying attention, or have just wandered in by mistake while searching online for a homemade poultice that will improve your bad temper, know this: I will never be relevant.
Waiting for timely commentary from me is like being bathed in the attenuated light of a supernova that exploded two billion years ago, around the time that we were single-celled plankton just beginning to figure out how to torture each other and smirking behind the reinforced windows of our gated plankton communities at the plankton wannabes, the plankton rapists and murderers, the hungry and undeserving plankton, and above all the loser plankton who didn’t realize they were supposed to be born rich plankton and thought they’d just rely on the kindness of algae.
Didn’t work then. Doesn’t work now.
So it happens that I am the last lonely voice in the blogosphere responding to the supposed catastrophe that is the loss of the roof—the roof, mind you— of Notre Dame de Paris, that saucy little French tramp of medieval cathedrals. This disaster, I will add, resulted in the loss of not one single life, which, let’s be honest, is kind of major underachieving for the Catholic church. You’re not going to win hearts and minds with that kind of complacency, Holy Fathers! Take those choirboy dicks out of your mouths and focus!
For if this, the loss of just a centuries-old roof and some resulting bruised French egos, is a disaster, what should we call the religion that caused Notre Dame to be built?
Here’s a “religion of love” whose First Crusade alone was responsible for over a million “infidels” slaughtered—who knows what the numbers might be when we reckon with the extirpation of pagans and “heretics” (by the Inquisition, who put Galileo under permanent house arrest and executed Giordano Bruno); those slain during four crusades, the “witches” burned at the stake, the toll from religious wars, the forced conversion and genocide of native peoples and Jews?
The Holocaust alone, at six million victims, is beyond comprehension, and that is only a drop in the bucket of the atrocities committed in the name of Christianity and its hippy-haired, anemic Prince of Peace.
Think of those souls lost to us: the artists, writers, scientists and philosophers who never walked the earth and whose genius might have transformed our destiny beyond recognition. Think of the brilliant ideas snuffed out, the awful silence which sublime music might have electrified. Think of the great loves, the life-changing friendships, the Alexanders and Hephaestions, the John Cages and Merce Cunninghams, that never happened.
So, I ask you, why? Why the great affection for and allegiance to this Shriners’ convention of maniacs? Why the weeping and wailing from Parisians who cannot all of them, I reckon, have attended Mass that regularly, practiced what was preached, or successfully avoided coveting their neighbour’s wife, ox, Renault or Le Creuset enameled bakeware?
Yes, Notre Dame is an iconic landmark, but so is the Chernobyl exclusion zone. And at least land denuded and rendered sterile by a nuclear meltdown doesn’t peel your skin off in shreds while telling you it’s for the sake of your everlasting soul.
Denuded land wouldn’t delude itself like that.
Some argue that, despite its little failings like mass murder, the Church was at least a repository of “knowledge” during the Dark Ages. True enough, if you don’t care whether your knowledge contains any facts, and if you put high store on the ability to illuminate manuscripts or to determine the number of angels on the heads of pins. But in that case priests were nothing more than a class of scribes, which would have existed in some form or another; and besides, the Renaissance replaced the weird fairy tales of Scholasticism with its revival of Classicism and its change of direction towards the observable, the logical and the open-ended.
The truly useful and advanced knowledge that had existed in the classical world—that the Earth was round and even the measurement of its circumference; the engineering marvels of aqueducts; knowledge of crop rotation and irrigation—had already been swallowed up by Europe’s collective amnesia. All the Church provided was more classy busy work, the single approved pastime of the era that didn’t involve creative use of cow dung or lancing boils.
The French must be forgiven for their utter lack of dignity around the Notre Dame fire. They spend so much time worrying about the purity of their culture and not bathing that they end up a little low on genetic variety and a little high on insecurity and neediness.
They over-react a tad.
They suspect, rightly, that they are mostly crashing bores who distract us with eye-popping fashion, caloric desserts and post-structuralism. These are all fairly useless finials on the curtain rod of culture, but hey. One secret of success is to get there first and write all the rules, taking care to ensure that the rules highlight your strengths.
The primary French strength is writing, then following, the rules.
Not for the French that messy, roll-up-your-sleeves,in-for-a-penny-in-for-a-pound British amateurism, that let’s have a go,make do or mend, it’ll all come out in the wash attitude with the lashings of ginger beer and the hearty slaps on the back.
No way. The French are not on board with a bit of cello tape and a bobby pin and who cares as long as it works; the French would not conceive of baking croissants at home, or attempting a five-star Michelin dinner. Too much is at stake, and if the result cannot match the original, why make the attempt? Muddling through just for the fun of it is simply not a thing.
Take the French Revolution, for example. They can’t just have a nice unruly protest, get some concessions, hire back the useless aristocracy to run their former stately homes as care-taking staff and costumed tour guides and then be done with it. Oh, no.
The French are either/or thinkers, rigorous intellectuals, and once the aristocracy are brought low and thoroughly humiliated, the revolutionaries must rewrite the rules. They will wipe the slate clean, and in its place substitute a new and perfect society, which just happens to be more rigid and intolerant than the one it replaced.
Rules, in other words, rules and perfection, enforced by the new tyrant who used to wash your underwear or resole your clogs, will replace the concept of justice.
That episode is affectionately known as “The Terror.”
For perfection is all very well and commendable when it’s Fauchon: Rows of exquisite concoctions in a bakery window with every dollop of ganache glossy as lacquer, icing sugar stenciled just so and a platoon of strawberries standing identically at attention.
Not so great when your tendency to perfectionism leaves the pâtisserie and runs amok in the real world, building instruments of torture and preparing concentration camps. Society’s perfection is a fascist fantasy, populated with happy workers and rosy-cheeked peasants whose memories have been wiped clean and replaced with the party line; perfection must cram many-faceted, multifarious human beings into an assembly line of identical, dutiful square pegs, and truth reverts to the medieval format, “because I say so.”
Fascism can be understood as turbocharged bureaucracy, with electrodes as back-up when computer says no fails. And the French are the ultimate bureaucrats. They’ll guillotine a cartload of nuns as soon as look at ya if the civil code says atheism’s the flavor of the month (renamed and shoehorned into the calendar like an ugly sister’s foot into a Louboutin pump), for they apply the same exacting standards to their citizens as they do to their pastries.
Then, like, just throw it all out and another king.
Muddling through or perfection? The English, muddlers from way back, developed a free-wheeling, uncodified system of common law, law created on the fly by judges, and by which future judges would be bound—so long as the facts of the case were similar.
This puts great store on the judiciary as the source of law and justice, and the idea that we would limit the discretion of judges is one we find suspect (think of how offended we are at the rigid “three strikes” laws and minimum sentencing guidelines of the United States).
We even developed a second discretionary system, the law of Equity, to rectify the inevitable injustices that might occur by applying precedent.
To keep everything ship shape we enshrine top-level concepts—inalienable rights and freedoms— in a constitution or charter, and trust judges to interpret the law according to these principles. Constitution above statute, above equity, above common law. Two systems of discretion, but ultimately trumped by codes and charters.
Quel horreur! Discretion! Interpretation! Where are the rules?
The French opted for a civil code, a nailing down of law, much like the Constitutional originalists in the States would like to nail down its meaning strictly according to “original intent” of the Founding Fathers—slave owners and misogynists and “well-meaning” perpetrators of native genocide in a pre-technological society.
Similarly, Republicans would like effectively to do away with judicial discretion simply by stacking the Supreme Court with right-thinking, pun intended, judges. This ensures that any possible discretion will be the correct, pre-determined flavor.
And this brings us to Québec’s Bill 21, “An Act respecting the laicity of the State.”
Bill 21 could be considered the province of Québec’s version of the medieval sumptuary laws, which set out what colors and textiles might be worn only by the aristocracy, and what was permitted to the peasants.
Bill 21 hides its true intent behind a veil of equality and religious freedom, while banning any form of religious expression by anyone in a public service job, and especially anything that covers the face. This applies equally should you present yourself to receive a service and need to be identified.
In effect, it bans clothing. Clothing. A law that dictates what you can and cannot wear.
By a neat coincidence, these face-covering religious symbols just happen to be worn only by Muslim women, which leaves them with a distinctly oppressive choice: Follow their religion by quitting their jobs and staying at home, or venture out in public and break the law, subjecting themselves to the disapproving glances of the “pure laine” (“pure wool”, meaning direct descendants of the original French settlers in the province).
Forgive me if I recoil ever so slightly at the concept of “purity” raised in tandem with race or heritage, and if the means to achieve “freedom of conscience and freedom of religion” is applied selectively.
(In theory, the ban also extends to turbans worn by Sikhs, but by a twisted, obscure logic these particular non-whites, being males, are spared the spotlight: Partly because they’re non-white and therefore don’t really merit the attention, partly because turbans don’t cover the face to render the wearer anonymous, and partly because—well, they’re men, and we don’t want to push our luck, you know?)
It is the business of the state, the Act declares, to maintain a secular society, and this means that certain public expressions of religion are banned. These are, apparently an intolerable intrusion on the sensibilities of the non-religious.
Of course. This is why the good, secular people of Québec make like so many Nosferatu’s and shield their tormented vampire eyes from the sight of church steeples; and should those church doors be open on a Good Friday, I plug my ears against the invasive assault of the St Matthew Passion of Bach, which must threaten my very sanity, not to mention I keep bumping into lamp posts and parked cars because of the sensory deprivation.
This is why I welcome the burning of Notre Dame de Paris, and my only regret is that some snowflake apparently called the fire brigade in an act of wishy-washy accommodation.
Is our inalienable freedom respected, by default, by non-intervention? Or is freedom state suppression to prevent offence? If so, whose offence will take precedence?
For your answer, I suggest you look to the graven image of a naked man nailed to a cross, an object which holds pride of place above the chair of the Speaker of the Québec National Assembly and has done so for nearly eighty-four years. This crucifix was affixed in its current position by Maurice Duplessis, the conservative premier of the time, in 1936, around the same time he first referred to the Assembly as “Le Salon de la race;” that is, the Assembly of the pure French.
But isn’t this a religious symbol intruding in an intolerable manner on the secularity, the “laicity” (a word straight from Revolutionary rhetoric) of the state?
Not at all, for Chapter 4, Section 16 of Bill 21 states:
“This Act must not be interpreted as affecting the emblematic or toponymic elements of Québec’s cultural heritage, in particular of its religious cultural heritage, that testify to its history.”
Assemblée nationale du Québec, Bill 21, “An Act respecting the laicity of the State,” 14.6
In other words, we are white and we are Catholic, we are descendants of white Catholics, we are pure laine, and the crucifix is part of our history, not a religious symbol.
Crisse de tabarnac, ça c’est fucké!
Look to another bill, Bill 62, the “religious neutrality” bill put forth by Québec Justice Minister Stéphanie Valée and passed in 2017. This provided that women wearing the niqab or burka would have to request and be granted official accommodations to access any of hundreds of public services, from bus rides to libraries to health care, or be forced to unveil. Vallée explained that such accommodations would have to be considered on a case-by-case basis, and precedent would not be created by any accommodations granted. The Québec Superior Court suspended this particular section of the bill twice, pending a legal challenge
This is neither neutrality nor justice. This is an aggressive act of racism and religious intolerance. This is not truth. This is the argument from authority, because I say so.
This is fascism.
If we want to perfect society, it is obvious that we will have to admit whose perfection we’re talking about; admit that these bills have nothing to do with religion, but with race: with protecting Québec’s pure, white wool.
Pure laine. In my mind, that phrase conjures up an inescapable and chilling vision of the pure white hoods that veil the faces of the Ku Klux Klan.