“Confessions of a Flesh Eater” or “My Right to Eat Meat”, Part Two

In which the Elegant Bastard speculates, confesses and neither demands nor offers an apology.

 I suppose the first answer to the “Why eat meat?” question – and one of the simplest – would be to acknowledge my status as a living organism requiring protein. However, I hate – and reject – such reductionism.  Referring to meat as protein is like referring to wine as grape juice gone bad, to a Lamborghinis as metal, plastic and rubber powered by fossil by-products, to Notre Dame as a pile of organized masonry with an attitude problem. Besides, I do not eat meat for protein. Protein I can get from slaughtered beans or some seriously tormented and camouflaged version of tofu.

In fact I will admit that meat is not essential to my survival. I could get by without it if I had to. I could also make do without satellites, leather furniture, and Brooks Brothers. But choices and the ability to make them are an important part of what makes life exciting and us human. If necessary I could survive (I suppose) by breathing whatever air is available in Wawa or even Pittsburgh. I just happen to prefer the air in Paris, especially if it’s infused with the aroma of a little bœuf en croûte.

However, the fact that consuming meat is not essential does not mean the action is itself unnatural. Consider our primitive ancestors. They could have just strolled casually along some primeval pathway, thinking great prehistoric thoughts while nibbling a few berries here, some mushrooms  there (the ones that didn’t kill Uncle Urg) and handfuls of various greens just about anywhere . Not only were these foodstuffs available, they were largely non-violent. Whatever person-eating plants may once have flourished, they had long since vanished into extinction. (I’ve seen the cave paintings.)

Yet for some reason our earliest ancestors felt an overwhelming need to hitch up their saggy furs and confront great beasts that came equipped with tusks, claws, talons, teeth, unpleasant smells and other ways of inflicting pain or early death. They did this solely in order to shove large uncooked bits of these animals into their mouths – without the benefit of gravy or artistically arranged side dishes. To me that goes far beyond simple curiousity or some early manifestation of latent colonialism. Deep down inside First Man, something awakened, saw a squirrel run by, drooled involuntarily and immediately started muttering, “Got to get me some of that!” The chase was on.  One does not chase zucchini.

I suppose it is possible that the attraction of meat is in some way symbolic or even atavistic, but I have trouble accepting that. Do I eat meat in order to return to my pioneer roots and to those lives lived four generations ago? Does something in my sinews want to experience again the aching back of the harvest or the tired legs of the hunt?  I do not think so. If true, would I not feel a similar need to darn a few socks or churn some butter or at least read by candlelight? And would I not be more likely to be cleaning a rifle than polishing my sous vide machine?

My grandmother might remember a day when chickens came from eggs, lived in coops and were ready to eat when they achieved a certain weight and the axe leaned sharpened in the barn. Now chickens come from Loblaws, live in styrofoam and are ready to eat when they grow a barcode and are reduced to half price.

Guests at the table speculated that in the “mouth feel” and texture of well prepared meat we encounter a certain sensuality that no fruit or vegetable could ever provide. Our flesh overcomes the flesh of the Other, encountering a succulent and rich resistance that then yields and parts softly as our teeth insist upon penetration. Rich juices or perhaps even a bit of warm blood moistens our lips and sits glistening on our chins. Hands lift bone-in morsels to waiting mouths. Elaborate meals – even vegan feasts (I’m told) – always have a touch of the erotic to them, but surely such pleasant and private carnal fantasies are easier with rib steak than with radishes.

As for the idea that my love of meat is some repressed and shameful form of speciesism, I reject that. I feel no need to declare my superiority by smirking at a grilled pork chop and thinking “Gotcha Pig.”  I have never stood outside a slaughterhouse loudly singing “Hey, He-ey, Good Bye!” Maybe there are those who pull the wings off chickens for reasons other than paying homage to Buffalo or the Super Bowl, but I am not among them. I refuse to step on earthworms, I release house flies and wasps back into the wild and I will occasionally allow the spider its web. My dog does not stoop and scoop; I do.

And yes, I understand that the raising of animals for food requires enormous amounts of land and energy and there are likely more efficient ways of feeding the masses. First, however, I do not “feed”, I dine. Further, if that kind of dedication to efficiency and restraint is to become the rule, then let’s keep in mind that the cotton clothes on our backs, the leather shoes on our feet and the perfect flowers on the dinner table must all go the way of the dinosaur – as must cars, private gardens, most perfumes, single family homes, inexpensive paint, air conditioning and hardwood floors.

Perhaps the “Eat Meat” impulse emerges from my culture or stands as a relic of my Depression era father’s pride. Meat on the table was proof that the man of the house was a person of substance, capable of protecting and providing for his family and his guests. Or maybe it honours my mother’s impressive ability to turn the cheap and the tough into the tender and the tasty. It could also be the on-going accumulation of meal-based rituals: Christmas was turkey, not turnip; Easter was lamb, not lima beans; a university rite de passage was mystery meat, not vague veggies. Yes, birthdays were cake – but only after the hamburgers and the hot dogs!

There is one other reason and I feel it is unanswerable. Simply put, I like meat. Meat tastes good.  It provides me a moment of sensory pleasure, the reward for a day well done or it offers solace for my bruised and bloodied ego when the world has been unkind. And if my love of meat is not even that logical, is nothing more than a careless preference or a semi-conscious habit, so what? I am no monster made only of my appetites, no noisy villain deserving punishment and censure. I am sufficiently green, I am almost always humane (though I do sing in the shower) and I pay my taxes with minimal fuss and only a few curses. I smile at (most) children and will even watch Canadian TV. Most importantly, I allow others their petty foibles without judgment. I am – and this is key – a quiet carnivore. I choose to eat my meat in peace and without guilt. I claim to deserve no more; I will accept no less.

I know that others seek a different path. I say to them, “Munch madly and be happy!” I simply ask that they worship their gods quietly and leave me to mine. If they will not, if it is war they want, then I suppose it is war that we shall have. They will fire frozen peas and brandish carrot sticks. I will respond with chicken balls and sharpened wishbones. They will argue that Einstein’s vegetarianism likely led to the discovery of relativity. I will point out that if Eve had left the damn apple alone and just sent out for a bucket of the Colonel, we’d all still be in paradise.

And we will all end up looking a little silly, no?

Chew on that!

“Confessions of a Flesh Eater” or “My Right to Eat Meat” (Part One)

In which the Elegant Bastard encounters the guest from hell and a question regarding his right to consume whatever fellow creatures fail to escape.

It may be a reflection of my general approach to life, but people have often felt a need to ask me questions. I can recall returning home from a wildly successful track meet in grade three, itemizing my triumphs – I had not run the wrong way even once! – only to have my overly pragmatic mother say, “That’s fine dear, but where are your shoes?” (I told her they were likely with my also absent coat, in retrospect not the best possible answer.) In that same year, the angry parent of the local bully asked me what had compelled me to bite his son’s fingers. (He did not appear to find it necessary to ask why his son’s fingers were often found in places where they could be bitten.)

Some questions were motivated by kindness:  “I see. So someone who loves you actually said you could wear yellow?” (I answered in the affirmative, having not by then fully mastered irony.) Others demonstrated either patience or stoicism: “I am assuming there’s a reason we’re in Moose Jaw?” (There was. Everyone else fell asleep and let me drive. What did they think would happen?) Occasionally, I could feel the presence of a mild antagonism, such as Significant  Other’s recent query concerning exactly what I had hoped to achieve by introducing a third cat in to a residence already equipped with two dogs.

I have myself often taken up the questioning role. “Explain to me again,” I asked my eldest one warm afternoon, “how the simultaneous availability of water and a large red balloon compelled you to search for a window directly above the one vice-principal you already knew was nervous?”  His answer made no real sense but that was not the point. The question, not the answer, matters. It is only via questions that we can understand how it is that we are able to live in a world with smart phones, bubble tea and occasionally soggy vice-principals.

None of this, however, made me any less annoyed when She turned on me her patronizing gaze and oleaginous voice and asked me why I ate meat.

(For purists among you, I will stipulate that however you might wish to define “meat”, I use the term to refer to any formerly living animal that is now 1) dead 2) cooked 3) served and 4) incapable of reversing conditions 1, 2, and 3.) There are further stipulations. Prior to being dead, that which is “meat” does not require me to 1) breed it 2) catch it or 3) contribute in any other way to it’s becoming “meat”. Finally, it should not at any point in the process be an animal capable of turning me into “meat”.

The questioning She had arrived uninvited with an old friend. He explained that she had also arrived uninvited at his home just as he left for my dinner party. I smiled and said she was welcome; he smiled and seemed to breathe a sigh of relief; she smiled and immediately began to demonstrate why all her arrivals were likely uninvited.

It started with the sorrowful and suffering gaze she directed at another guest’s new Gucci shoes. “So beautiful,” she murmured, “but so paradoxical when one thinks of the many poorly shod children in the city.” She apologized immediately, smiling shyly and informing us that she had always been cursed with too deep a sensitivity for those less fortunate than she. A pity, no? Ah well.

Judging Gucci owner’s stare to be indicative of a rapidly impending homicide, I started to open what I knew was the wonderful (and calming) pinot grigio a third guest had generously donated. Our Lady of All Sorrows expressed her sincere wish that so wonderful a wine be organic, for if not it would stimulate one of her incapacitating migraines. Not organic? Ah well.

Then perhaps I had a mineral water, artesian if possible, and bottled in glass, not plastic. She had, you see, the rare ability to smell plastic, a condition that made her life a struggle to be bravely borne. Only plastic? Ah well.

At this point the other guests stampeded to the balcony where they collectively took up smoking.

This allowed me uninterrupted access to her views on a variety of topics. On music. She found the classical genres to be so unfairly Eurocentric. On electric cars. She used only public transit to minimize her carbon footprint. On vacations. She intended to volunteer at Habitat for Humanity and would I like to make a contribution to the cost of her Rwanda trip?

Was she leaving soon?

No.

Ah well.

Through it all she maintained the kind of facial expression that promises she will perform at the very least a virgin birth – or even two – before the end of the evening.

By now desperate to reboot what had been intended as a celebratory evening, I mentioned that the evening’s menu included several guests’ favorites, including prosciutto, scallops and chicken. She then turned to the gentleman she had arrived with, slapped his hand playfully and called him a naughty boy for not mentioning to me that she was vegetarian. Again the suffering smile.  She would just have salad and perhaps a little bread – if I happened to have some that was gluten-free?

It was much later, I think during the chicken course, that she looked around, ensured all eyes were on her, and launched in best torpedo fashion the question she had held in reserve.

“Why do you all feel compelled to eat meat?”

Had she asked why we felt forced to push old folk to the ground or children over a cliff, she would have sounded less judgmental. The unspoken sub-text flashed around the table. “Why, Gluttons, do you tear at innocent flesh, worship your own arrogant species and betray the oneness of Nature?”

“Because I can!” was on the tip of my sinful chicken-loving tongue when I paused. More, I noted that my fellow carnivores had all paused with me. Along with the confit of pork, a question had arrived at the table. It demanded an answer. Why the hell did we eat meat?

I will be back, Dear Reader, when I return from the butcher’s. It isTuesday, the turkey thighs and the beef cheeks are in, and on occasions that momentous, Time waits  for no man.

Of Cheez Whiz, Wonder Bread and the Cuban Missile Crisis

In which The Elegant Bastard examines all available worlds and makes a choice.

I spent much of my eleventh year either under my desk at school or in my basement at home, waiting to be carbonized.  This was a consequence of living in Goose Bay, Labrador during the international hissy fit known as the Cuban Missile Crisis. “The Goose”, as it was known to those trapped there, was an isolated community and a major military airbase. It was, therefore, a likely target if the U.S and the then Soviet Union each decided to – as my grade 7 social sciences teacher put it – “Nuke each other’s ass.” (He was not a renaissance man.).

So, periodically and without warning, we would have air raid drills. In the midst of a recess game or a mathematics lesson or a family dinner, a choir of sirens would scream a sudden warning that missiles from a far distant world were even now hurtling down at us. Adults would curse, children would cry and cats would run in crazy circles. If at school, I would climb under the same desk as Sarah, whose freckles I had learned to love. If at home, we would follow our parents down to the cellar, making sure to close the basement door behind us. (We did not doubt the saving powers of plywood desk tops and plasterboard doors.) Then, stowed away in our hiding places, we would await the world’s dark whirlwind.

I was home alone with a minor flu one Saturday morning when the warning sounded. My bedroom was originally a dining room and had a connecting door to the kitchen where the entrance to the cellar was located. I shuffled obediently in that direction and then stopped. Sitting on the kitchen counter were the two things I loved almost as much as Sarah’s freckles: a loaf of Wonder Bread (which Howdy Doody promised me would build strong bodies eight ways, and Howdy never lied!) and a jar of Cheez Whiz.

Everything consumed on “The Goose” had to be brought in by air from the rest of the world. This meant that real cheese and real bread, in fact most kinds of real food, were rarely available. Wonder Bread and Cheez Whiz were about as good as it got and here they were looking straight back at me.  Ignoring my impending incineration by malevolent faraway Russkies, I took bread, butter, cheez and The Hardy Boys: Footprints Under the Window  back into my bedroom, shut the door, drew the curtains, turned on the light and settled down into the comfort of my bedcovers and my artificial night. Perhaps I wondered if Russian children had Cheez Whiz. How long the sirens went on that morning I cannot say. I had stopped hearing them.

I am now years and miles away from `The Goose`. It is 9 a.m. and I have the day free. The television is on. Something called a Blitzer with manicured hair and impossible eyes is launching urgent words at me. Somewhere something has been destroyed by someone and this modern day Wolfman is tearing at my morning calm, barking words and images that repeat and repeat while my coffee cools. He is joined by another set of hair and eyes and together they promise to watch the crisis unfold and keep me informed. I sense that there is no knowledge I can gain here and certainly no action I can take, but I watch for fifteen minutes, long enough to realize that for all their bass wufflings I have not been informed, merely annoyed. This shows in my posture and my jaw. Significant Other reads these signs and responds with the usual remedy. I am given a shopping list.

I bundle up and I head out. The snow has started and the traffic responds with horn blasts and shouted comments about various peoples’ mothers.  I leap over a slush bank, skid across an icy sidewalk and push open the door of “The Meat Department”. I am greeted by name and assured that yes, the chicken thighs are in and yes, the veal cheeks I ordered for next weekend’s party are coming Wednesday. The woman to my left enlists me in her struggle to choose between bison or beef. The gentlemen to my right remind me that the Maple Leafs suck and so we sigh. Melted snow puddles itself on the floor.

It’s a small warm store with subdued lighting, nose-seducing smells, wonderful things-in-jars and a chalk board displaying the name of personalities banned forever from the premises. Rafael Nadal has been added to the list. I nod and suggest the entire CNN news team join him. This gets general support. I pick up my thighs and prepare to pay when I notice that they have a Spanish ham I loved in Paris and have periodically dreamed of ever since. The cost suggests it travelled to Toronto in business class.  I stare and tap my lips and rub my chin and fold my arms. I do not speak. There is no need. The 50 gram package is already on the counter, elegantly wrapped and added to my purchases.

The snow has intensified and the wind has picked up. I stop to check the weather on my iPhone. It tells me it is snowing. At the same time, all around me, screaming from their sidewalk boxes, headlines warn me that Pakistani cricket, European soccer and Italian politics are all falling to the ground. The same crowds  in the same cities are yet again punching impotent fists at grey skies and chanting the old slogans. One Greek politician has apparently punched another, three times.  Bond prices, air quality and teenage morality are at new lows. A woman and her Blackberry walk by and I can hear the news. Words fall around me like so many end zone fumbles and I decide I do not need any of them. List in hand, I face the storm and walk for thirty minutes, bowing into the wind.

“Crescendo” is a small store dedicated entirely to oils, spices and vinegars. Its windows are fogged so I am not surprised by the crowd I find within. I enter and transfer about three centimeters of accumulated snow from my head to its floor. Amphorae line the walls. In one I find pumpkin seed oil, in another raspberry balsamic. From a third comes the powerful aroma of white truffles. Still more people arrive and soon small conversations weave themselves into the displays.

It’s always easier when everyone is talking the same language.

I have one more stop, two kilometers away so I push back out and I burrow towards the downtown core. I am no longer really walking; instead I need to raise each foot and lurch forward, a tiresome process and a long one. A fire truck screams by followed by a second and a third and the whole city block seems a nightmare of snow and slush and sound. More sirens and ambulances turn on to Jarvis, disappearing towards some crisis. The sidewalk is deserted.

So I am surprised when I encounter the happy crowd inside the Loblaws store that now occupies the old Maple Leaf Gardens. Two elderly women are selecting chocolates, pointing and nodding at some, shaking their heads at others. A young man selects a white baguette but at a glance from the woman beside him puts it back and selects a whole grain sourdough. A gaggle of snow-bedecked teenage girls strolls by, one of them tossing a blood orange to another. Three opera singers wander through the vegetable aisles singing La Donna e Mobile. I gaze up at a wall of cheese and think instantly of the wall of crutches abandoned by those who were healed at St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal. I gather up my arugula, my Greek yogurt and my two pomegranates and head for the cashiers, pausing just long enough to pick up four cognac truffles.

Then I return to the white world.

And I fume. The streetcar takes an hour to arrive and an hour to travel the distance normally covered in fifteen minutes. It`s jammed with people, backpacks, buggies and cell-phone conversations. Despite the outside temperature, it`s hot.  Still, I am heading home. Then I remember. Onions.  I was supposed to buy onions. I cannot go back out. I will not. I text the problem to S.O., grab the nearest pole and close my eyes, hating everything around me until I hear my stop. A text message arrives. “Need anticipated. Just head home.” I do.

Outside my building is chaos. Traffic is at a standstill; snow plows belch smoke but are helpless due to an accident; buses slide to a stop, transfer hordes and then cannot start again; people are everywhere. Shouts. Horns. Another siren somewhere. A CP24 television camera crew barges toward the crash scene. I push my way past and a few minutes later I am home.

No comment is made as I babble my frustrations and lurch about the apartment, closing curtains,  and turning on lights and even shutting off today`s version of Obama in mid-speech.  Nor is anything said as I spread what I`ve purchased across the kitchen table, mumbling on about the world being way way too much with us. I am not told to calm down or grow up or snap out of anything.

Instead there are nods and I am given two bags,

In the first is an onion.

In the second I find a loaf of Wonder Bread, a jar of Cheez Whiz and a hardcover copy of The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet`s Nest.

 

 

 

 

 

Gun Control and the Legend of Griffin Dodger

In which the Elegant Bastard broadens the Gun Control debate by turning his attention to a little known tale.

Let’s call him Griffy Dodger. And if there is a Griffy Dodger out there somewhere, he has so much more to worry about than my use of his name in this fashion.

Griffy did and did not play well with Others. If Others viewed play as a cooperative endeavor, an exchange process in which everyone in turn could bat or catch or jump or cackle loudly, then Griffy would run away in search of Hide-Behind places. If on the other hand, Others were content to act as pawns or marbles do, then Griffy did very well indeed – superlatively in fact – and a silly but cute little smile would spread across his always well-washed face. The more passive the other players, the happier our young Griffy. (This was a good thing really as Griffy could be a tad rough.)

His toy of choice was a hollow plastic bowling pin he`d rescued from a bankrupt Pins’R Us franchise. He had always been attracted by the grandly hollowy thundery `THWOP` it made, especially when it tumbled all together with the other pins. However, carrying around ten plastic pins while searching for good Thwopping grounds quickly became inconvenient. So he set out to recreate the sound more efficiently.

Nature versus nurture theorists are no doubt now asking themselves why a young person like our little Griffy would fall in love with Thwop. It is hard to really determine the answer to that. True, his father was reknowned within the family home for his enthusiastic Thwopping, so much so that the cat developed a nervous tic and chose to live most days in the basement with some sympathetic mice. His mother Thwopped more casually, borrowing her husband’s pin as she did not have one of her own. I suppose there are those who would point to this evidence as a conclusive indication of the cause of Griffy’s habit, but I should point out that the hospital in which our boy was born is built on land once occupied by a bowling alley.

Griffy had eventually found an answer to the “How to Thwop conveniently and with impunity!” conundrum.  By far the best strategy was Thwopping passers-by vigorously and repeatedly on their heads with his pin. Some heads produced a more hollow Thwop than others, a much desired feature and one that was commonly found in those who were most often passing by his favorite street corner: CNN news anchors, IOC officials and Boards of Education Administrators. Griffy was soon a happy Thwopper.

One may not, alas, assail the self-important very long and very soon enormous crowds of huers and criers (HACS) were raising an enormous hue and cry, particularly in the sister cities of Hollywood and Washington, where there really isn’t very much else to do. Individually and in chorus, the HACS  pointed out that in addition to their total devotion to Art, Justice, Boss and Chanel, they had long lectured others about the dangers represented by uncontrolled access to plastic bowling pins. “When,” they woefully whined, “oh when will the world just accept our omniscience?”  They would then hiss sneeringly – there is no other way to hiss; go ahead,try it! – that this was all the fault of right wing fundamentalist Ten Pinners who were not only conservative but generally both funny looking and badly dressed.

Ten Pinners took immediate umbrage and responded that if the nation`s founders had not wanted people to bowl, they would have invented neither varnish nor garishly coloured short-sleeve shirts. Pins, they pointed out, were referred to everywhere in much of the nation’s great literature. Told that wrestling magazines and sewing patterns were not really great literature, Pinners became even more incensed and accused HACs of playing with words.  Anti-pinners, they snarled, were  simply unpatriotic left-wing intellectuals terrified of any activity involving balls.

Griffy kept on Thwopping.

By now, so many celebrity HACS had leapt on the anti-plastic-pin bandwagon that there was little for the latecomers to gain. No-one wanted to interview any more of them and what point is a principled stand if no one wants to photograph you taking it? Fortunately, chief editors soon noticed that all of Griffy’s Thwoppings took place in the morning, after the sun had risen. Spin that, they ordered their writers! And they did.

Griffy was therefore a bit startled to read that Thwopping was his protest against the Eurocentric control of the concept of the work-day, or his passionate and painful plea against lunarphobia, or his demand that traditional elites acknowledge diversity and allow common folk to flourish in their darkness of choice. This new anti-sun movement became wildly popular. Thousands were soon refusing to work during the day and were instead scurrying out into the night to rush from bar to club to theatre and back, bravely and unceasingly making their political voices heard! Griffy kept on Thwopping.

In truth, Griffy Thwopped during the morning because he worked afternoons at a fast food chain that insisted its employees champion certain family  values concerning the nature of marriage. They were also required to help stir up a genocidal war between cows and chickens. He was necessarily a busy boy! Left to his own devices, he would Thwop around the clock. And why not. He felt good with his pin in his hand.

The HACS noted they were losing their interview edge and decided to lean heavily on the incumbent president who would once again be running for the “IamSoMuchCoolerThanYou”  party. Eager to appease, he ordered the immediate replacement of all plastic bowling pins with smurf-like substitutes and appointed a Pin-Tzar to oversee the process. (It was a Recess appointment.)

In response, the by now quite nervous  “IamSoMuchHolierThanYou” party made all the predictable accusations. In short order thereafter came the ranters and the conspiracy theorists and the masters of the sarcastic arts. Within days, both  CNN and Fox were able to raise their advertising rates. Nor was there much chance of the uproar settling down in even the distant future. Already the Holier than You side had discovered yet another burning Bush at the side of the road and the Cooler Folk were preparing to rally around a maniacally grinning hero who had been bidin`his time for a few years already.

And what of Griffy?

Eventually the uproar died down. His sources of plastic bowling pins had dried up, but he was able to purchase  a plastic pastry roller from PiesR’Us. He then transferred to the morning shift at work and stole from his father a flashlight so powerful it could turn night into day.

 

 

The Ugliness Of Justin Bieber

 

In which The Elegant Bastard decides that Barbie and Ken are not the worst the world has to offer.

I have twice used the word “Bieber” in articles posted to this blog, most extensively in Do You Want Bieber Chips With That? [i] His status as a pop phenomenon made my use of him legitimate and, given my readers’ responses, appropriate. In neither article was my subject (or my target) really Justin Bieber. He was simply there, a handy symbol, an easily used allusion.

His name will not be used here again.

There’s an innocuous plastic quality to the “Justin Bieber” product, and it is evident in the manufactured hair, the manicured features and the molded lyrics of the songs. To encounter it was to finally know what happened to Ken after he left Barbie. Mattel would once have loved to own the Bieber ©.

I do not think that would be true today.

As long as the Bieber wasn’t really human, it wasn’t truly offensive – annoying to some perhaps but not fundamentally sick-making. Left in the hands of the worlds’  tweens, it would eventually disappear with the obligatory whimper. Greater crimes than his have been committed in the name of music.

That all changed recently. Bieber’s wish that Anne Frank “would have been a belieber” exposes a disturbing and all too human core corruption. It goes beyond mere arrogance. He imagines himself as “more” than her. She, he hopes, would have followed him.

I suppose given the chance, she might have. Had she remained just a little girl, she might also have loved Sinatra, or Anka, or the Beatles, or ‘N Sync or Mumford and Sons. But Anne Frank is no longer just a little girl. She is a symbol of courage, innocence, faith and love. She is a warning against the power of hate and the cruelty of war. She stands high upon our moral landscape and reminds us of the need to hold on to what makes us really human. For him to suggest she might “belieb” in him is akin to Nike petitioning to have the swoosh engraved on the Washington Monument or a politician suggesting not that he believes in God but that God believes in him. It’s wrong in so many ways.

Some of his fans recognize this and are trying to undo the damage. We are being told “he’s young” and “at least he knows who Anne  Frank is.” I don’t buy that. We demand much more of our everyday 19 year olds than his apologists seem to expect of him.  Everyday – at work, at school, at play, with family, friends and in the larger world –  they get the message that certain things are bigger than they are and that being a real person means accepting that. That’s why they study, work part-time, love their mothers, help their friends and, sometimes, go to war. Bieber doesn’t get it and so, no, even if he knows her name, he doesn’t know who Anne Frank is.

His managers may also be worried. Millions of his fans have read and loved The Diary of Anne Frank[ii] and their reaction may not be universally forgiving.

All the recent loud noise concerning Bieber’s rudeness to neighbours, late arrivals at concerts and barely restrained impulses towards violence really can, I think, be attributed to what I assume are the pressures of a frantic life coupled with materialism gone mad. And who knows what any of us might say while thousands of adoring voices scream our name.

But this wish came in a moment of repose at the end of a quiet hour. He had time to think before he wrote. It speaks far more of the man than of the moment.

And what it says is ugly.



[i]   http://theelegantbastard.com/2013/02/14/bieber-chips-with-that/

[ii]  First published in English as Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl

One Too Many Phallic Symbols?

In which the Elegant Bastard accomplishes what both the UN and the CIA have failed to achieve and retires from the scene with all appropriate humility.

Apparently Justin Beiber has a small monkey he likes to play with when he is far from home. Ah, boys and their toys. I think it nasty of the German authorities to deprive the boy of his monkey when he arrived with it in Munich. I mean really, what is the child to do between performances. Hopefully they were gentle when they took it away and will be just as gentle when they return it.

The little Bieber has not been the only young victim of recent monkey-related misfortune. I am of course thinking the similarly sad tale of Kim Yong Un – he of the perpetual Bad hair Day – who, it is rumoured, has no little monkey at all. Well no wonder the boy always seems so upset. Perhaps if we all chipped in together and got him one, he wouldn’t need to play with missiles any more?

http://petslady.com/articles/german_officials_grab_justin_biebers_monkey_video_62537

 

Cry Pity for Gargantupeds

In which The Elegant Bastard urges others of his big footed tribe to join him in leaving their sorrows in the closet and to come out Stomping.

Most of us now live in politically correct communities.

Here we have no obesity, no lazy folk, no bald guys, no bad boys, no dumbies, no pet owners and no Christmas. Instead we have persons of size, the alternatively motivated, the comb free, the morally challenged, the differently “wisdomed”, animal guardians who walk around with little plastic bags in their hands and, my favorite, Winter Holidays (if you happen to live in the appropriate hemisphere).

The tall no longer need to hear the wit-deprived ask about the weather “up there”. The short are no longer asked what they and their six brothers really wanted to do with or to Snow White. The bald no longer have to “polish it up for us”. No large breasted woman is told how fortunate she is to have a built-in tray on which to rest small objects. No one’s disabled, no one’s nasty and no one ever ever fails. If Evils of any sort do exist, we have all agreed not to speak of them by name.

Are there those who remain unenlightened, who wander about in their own dark, refusing to believe that  “compete”, “win”, “earn” and “best” have been replaced by “differently”, “alternatively” and “otherly”? There well may be but if they are wise, they do so quietly.  The Gods of Happy Clappy and Hippy Dippy are jealous gods and they carry big not-so-inclusive sticks!

Yet as this spirit of Undifference sweeps across the land, loading us all into one giant Procrustean bed where we will all learn to play well with others, one group is left behind. And upon encountering members of this last lost tribe, the legions of the Variously Abled raise their chins, look down their noses and curl their upper lips. For here in the beige halls of Brave New World, there are none to cry pity for Gargantupeds.

I am one of these and have been so since birth.

I am not sure when I first realized I was different. Perhaps it was when I turned five and saw my mother turned away from the Childrens’ Shoe department at Montreal’s Eaton’s. She was told to take me over “there” where they might have “something” suitable. Or it could have been the time I kicked back at a bully (with spectacular results!) and my father was subsequently told by my principal to “have those bloody great feet of his licensed!” I can remember entering a Toronto friend’s home one fine summer’s day, only to have his smiling brother ask me to leave the skis outside. Even my own uncle, a sea plane enthusiast, once opined that while I might not ever be able to walk on water, I could likely one day land on it. Certainly by the time I reached adolescence, I was fully aware of my own Gargantupedia. I had crossed far beyond the bounds of normal and stumbled around my world on  feet sized 13 and a half (47 in Europe.)  Even my best friend, after a day spent fruitlessly searching for new sneakers, suggested I give up and just wear the boxes his came in.

As parents do in cases like this, mine assured me that the steady stream of comments was motivated by the jealousy of others. I smiled silently in response to this – Gargantupedians always smile silently – but I did not believe them. Had I been overly sized with respect to some other bodily appendage, I might have bought that fiction. But in the hierarchy of highly valued human parts, feet come very near the bottom. We struggle for big muscles, are made maudlin by big eyes, gaze surreptitiously at big breasts, flaunt big bulges, encourage big hearts and call upon others to give us that big smile. Not only in the male world does size matter. Big rules everywhere, except in the kingdom of the feet!

This prejudice is evident even in our language. We are never asked to lend a helping foot.  We congratulate no one for hitting the nail on the foot. Armies are not armed to the feet,  friends never cross heir feet to wish us luck, and no one ever learned a poem by foot. Our society stands condemned by its own common utterances.

A few friends tell me there are logical reasons for this unfair treatment of feet and by extension, the differently footed. Things would change, they tell me, if we reached for the heavens with our feet and ran like hell on our hands. Yet even in activities where feet are essential, they are ignored. A large group of young women I observed paying rapt attention to Christiano Ronaldo in the World Cup assured me that they were not watching his feet. I can pick up a dime with my toes and yet, Dear Reader, you would be shocked to discover how few people ever want to see me do so!

One colleague tells me it’s all about fear. I reject this. What fearful things can feet do? I cannot pick a pocket with my feet. I cannot shoot a gun. I could, I suppose, start stomping things indiscriminately but this would inspire more hilarity than horror. Of all the great monsters in our world, the only one we laugh at is – you guessed it – Big Foot.

Another suggests the culprit is the classical hero, Oedipus the King, for as we all know, the name “Oedipus” means “swollen foot”. Would anyone, my friend points out, want to get really close to a guy who might at any moment indulge in unrestrained father-bashing or mother-marrying?

Most, however, simply ignore my efforts to highlight the plight of Gargantupeds. I am patted on the shoulder, offered a stiff drink and told it’s all in my head. I wonder for a while if they are right, if in fact there is no conspiracy, no deliberate attempt to break our spirits and shove us into society’s closet, an almost empty place now that virtually everyone else has come out.

Then I went to Paris and discovered the horrible reality first hand.

It had been a good day. I had strolled though Notre Dame, lingered in the Louvre and decided that the Eiffel Tower did indeed tower. I’d had innumerable cups of coffee, all of them too small. Now it was time for the real pilgrimage, my own journey to my own Lourdes. With shopping bags in one hand and wallet in the other, I made my reverent way to the world’s ultimate department store, Les Galeries Lafayette.

The crowds were enormous. Fewer people go to Mecca. I could understand this better than most, for I knew that here in this temple to commerce I would find the world’s largest shoe department. Here I would finally find my fit. My True Faith would be welcomed, heart and body and soul and sole. All my saints could be found within: Sargent, Ferragamo, Bally, Westwood, Nichols, Choo and more. Great hoards of other worshippers streamed around me. Euros flowed like wine and prayers were murmured.  Finally an Armani-clad and Prada-shod priest approached and asked if he could help me. I took a calming breath and spoke.

“Could I see something in a loafer, size 47?”

He stared at me. I saw his lip twitch. He called another over. They looked at each other, at me, at my feet and at the sky. They shook their heads. It was not possible. A 45 perhaps if one had been sent to them in error but this, no. This was too much.

They did not scoff. They did not sneer. They even seemed to offer the kind of Gallic pity normally extended to those allergic to wine or foie gras. But the ultimate outcome was clear. There was no room for Pharisees in their church. I had been mocked in Montreal and teased in Toronto but here in Paris I was doomed to go barefoot.

I am home now but one cannot undo an epiphany. I must respond. Will I do so with bitter tears? Perhaps, and I may add to that loud wails. However, I will go further. I will also do what so many have done before me when they uncovered evidence that society had deliberately and with malice targeted and maligned their Otherness.

I will accept the fact that I have done nothing wrong, that I do not deserve this treatment, that I need not feel shame. I will remember that a strangely dressed lady came to me in a dream to tell me I was born this way.

I will have justice. I will demand my rights. I will step forward knowing in my heart what the down-trodden have always known.

Somewhere out there, there is someone I can sue!

Do You Want Bieber Chips With That?

In which the Elegant Bastard rejects the concept of edible nationalism

Canadians are a very resourceful people.

We understand that our signature politeness can get a tad dull, and so we have created hockey loyalties as ferocious in tone and as capable of producing mayhem as any other religion practiced anywhere. We understand, too, that North being North, we will have more snow than making angels and snowpersons requires,  and so we have convinced millions of foreign others that the most wonderful thing to do in winter is come and spend enormous amounts of money to play in our snow. (There’s room for them, of course, because we all go south. Sneaky, eh?) And we are generally aware of the fact that as a people we are shockingly unaware of our own and the world’s history, but we have cleverly laughed so loud and long at Americans looking for icicles in July, French in Toronto or polar bears anywhere that our ignorance has by and large escaped notice.

As well, we rise to challenges. For example, upon discovering that our venerable CN Tower was no longer the world’s Tallest Ugly Thing (TUG), we sat down – likely in focus groups (again, we are polite) – and looked at our alternatives. Having only the world’s third TUG in our midst did not sit well with either the patriotic or the phallically obsessed but what could we do? Watering it to make it grow did not seem an option. Adding to it was just so déjà vu. We could have demolished it and sold it chunk by chunk as souvenirs but really, would you want a piece of it in your living room given where it’s been?

Instead, we added the “Edge Walk” and set about convincing thousands to spend hundreds for the right to dangle hands-free 356 metres in the air while wearing a red suit bright enough that should they fall, we will all be able to track their progress to its crimson conclusion.

Proving yet again, Dear Reader, that if you sell it, they will come! (And if fear or nausea prompts participants to lose anything more than composure, it will all be blamed on seagulls or, if the winds are strong enough to reach North York, pigeons, neither of which can be sued.)

Yet inevitably there are those who will seek to profit from the talents of others, who will use and abuse the most precious elements of a nation’s character to serve only Mammon. We had all thought that such jingoistically justified greed was the private preserve of political parties, NHL teams and the International Olympic Committee, but we were apparently deceived. Charging ahead to the front of the wave-the-flag-for-money line is Frito-Lay and their shrill new shill, Martin Short. Apparently they have determined that all Canada’s previous accomplishments need to be capped by one more – our own chip flavour – which, they burble enthusiastically, we get to choose!

What astounds me is how little they know about Canadian diversity. Let us assume that Lay announces the new Canadian chip flavour will be poutine, or maple syrup or tortiere. (They would be wise to have Short make the announcement as he is the smaller target.) Immediately Anglo voices would sputter that once again we were all being forced to kowtow to Quebec and won’t people just please please remember the Plains of Abraham? Quebec would respond with Gallic sneers, condemning such blatant stereotyping and demanding that the matter be referred immediately to the United Nations – which they’d belong to if only the rest of the country would just see things rationally. All other varieties of the Canadian hyphe-nation would reject the choice as evidence of rampant neo-colonialism and would insist that everyone else submit immediately to equity retraining.

Do we really want this chaos to occur primarily for the benefit of Frito Lay, a corporate entity whose only claim to fame is its success in encouraging millions of people to be much larger than they really need to be?

Still, assuming the new flavour is chosen carefully, some good might possibly come of all this. It would depend on what secondary benefit could be derived from the end product and how widely distributed it would be. It is therefore in a truly utilitarian spirit that I make the following suggestions. I encourage other Canadian readers to add to the list.

(The rest of you can go get your own freaking flavour and by the way, we are not all polite!)

Pine flavoured chips would likely be an instant hit, especially if ground pine needles were incorporated into the mix prior to frying. Imagine the benefits for millions. Are you stuck in a hot car crammed with Happy Meal addicts or a small elevator stuffed with the unhappy and un-deoderized? Rip open the chips and you are instantly in the middle of the Great Canadian Pine Forest! Bliss!

Tar Sand Chips would also do well, particularly in Alberta. And since they already breathe tar sand affected air and drink tar sand affected water, eating the stuff is really just the next logical step.

Whiskey and tobacco flavoured options would allow those who desire such things to indulge their habits safely and without endangering the rest of us. True, those who chose this snack would not smell very nice but they don’t anyway so there remains a net gain.

Hockey flavoured is another deserving candidate. The recipe would again be a bit demanding – equal amounts of sweat, broken tooth enamel, leftover Don Cherry wardrobe errors and ground up money – but this would go well with socially sanctioned beer guzzling, the primary reason people watch the game.

We shouldn’t overlook Canada’s beleaguered animal symbols, some of which could use a little positive media spin. Moose and Canada Goose chips spring to mind. Beaver flavoured would be a runaway best seller, especially if wood fibres were blended with the other ingredients. The final product would at least be good for the Canadian colon, itself an endangered species.

And then there’s the obvious – Bieber chips. These would be the easiest sell imaginable. They’d be beige, noisy and utterly tasteless.

Hopefully my modest efforts here will spur others of my tribe to answer the call. And perhaps if Frito and Marty discover their error they might turn their corporate and comic talents to providing Canadians with the chance for real change. For example, they could offer us the choice of a new snow colour, its current whiteness being basically boring, far too bright and absolutely impossible to keep clean.

 

 

 

 

Closely Watched Bums

In which the Elegant Bastard discovers that even on a crowded bus, Life’s Lessons can be Learned!

The number of synonyms available for any particular body part varies in direct proportion to the amount of interest that particular part arouses. Butts, therefore, have acquired an enormously long list of names, especially when you compare them to the much overlooked fingers, arms and esophagi.

But not all synonyms for the gluteus maximus are equal. “Asses”, for example, get kicked. “Backsides” are smacked or simply sat upon. “Buttocks” are of interest only to medical professionals. (Come on, when did you ever hear someone wishing to get a feel of that “buttock”!)  And no one has had a “derriere” since 1982.

Bums, however, are beautiful – round and cheekily perfect globes that can fire the spirit of Columbus in us all. Let them dance and the watchful mind stops; let them rest and it’s the mind’s turn to dance. If, as the poem tells us, Cortez really did stand silent upon a peak in Darien, doubtless his eagle eyes had spotted a New World Bum close by. Robert Frost tells the world to take the “road less travelled by.” I am sure he wanted to write “Bum”.

Have you noticed, Dear Reader, the similarities between digressions and obsessions? No? Consider it.

So when two of the nation’s twenty-somethings boarded the same crowded bus as I and came to stand a short meter from where my eyes were scanning the New York Times – and then turned their backs – I immediately confronted Plato’s fundamental error. He tells us – with a certain degree of smugness – that the “Perfect Forms” exist so far away that mere imperfect human beings (like us) may never see them. Well, Plato old boy, that might be true of Perfect Truth and Perfect Beauty, but not of Perfect Bums. A pair of them, each tightly Levi’d, had arranged themselves so close to me that Diana Ross’s old lyrical commandment to “Reach out and touch somebody’s hand” was in danger of being instantly rewritten.

I did not drool. No, I tell you that I did not drool. My interest was not at all lascivious. I am simply a lover of art in public places and felt it would be almost disloyal to that cause to turn my eyes away. Besides, they were clearly Canadian Bums and I am Canadian.

So, apparently, were most of my fellow travelers, for I noticed many of them were intent on being as patriotic as was possible given the limits imposed by good manners and various unimaginative laws.

Still, one fellow did seem unmoved. Youngish, a little chubby and unhealthily pale, he sat rigidly behind me, muttering strange words, his head bowed and his hands firmly grasping a slim black rectangle. I could not say he was fondling the device for thumbs have little fondling ability. But whatever thumbs can do, his did, and they did it with the same devotion my eyes were giving my two nearby icons.

He, however, did not see them. Instead he appeared to be calling up app after app, each to be toyed with briefly and then banished, another then taking its place. And as he browsed, his legs vibrated up and down. One of his knees seemed imperfect for it clicked as it quivered. The Bums could have been on Mars for all that he would know. As if to make up for his slight, I turned my attention back to them.

Their presence was innocent. Nothing about their owners’ poses or behavior suggested that they intended to arouse interest, comment or anything else. They were simply there, a momentary gift bestowed on all of us by an exuberant Nature so very clearly pleased with herself. “Behold!” she cried to us, and we all obediently beheld, all of us but clicking boy who was checking out the time of day in world capitals.

Eventually the couple moved to the rear doors and disembarked across from a shopping mall. The traffic light was green for them – how could it not be? – and this gave us all one last chance to watch them ripple across the sun dappled avenue before our bus rumbled into motion and took us away into shaded suburban streets. As we picked up speed, I turned my attention back to the Times and its attempts to keep me informed about who was killing whom wherever.

But I caught one last glimpse of the head behind me, bent low over his black box. He had apparently located a GPS app and was now busily trying to discover where he was.

As a devotee of a political grouping called The Mushy Middle, the Elegant Bastard despairs when his own city is in the grips of any form of political extremism. Those also suffering under the rule of moronic mayors might enjoy this explanation of whose fault it really is: http://wp.me/p3cq8l-1B