Frankly, My Dear, I’d Rather You Kiss Your Own Ass

In which the Elegant Bastard explains his decision to decline certain opportunities to pucker up!

Few things can cause alarm like the sudden tears of a child, and yet one thing is certain. Nature ensures that we will all encounter them.

Toddlers go splat. Forward and backward, they all fall down. Every parent and all passers-by learn to know and dread the sound of puppy hands slapping down hard on concrete, brick or asphalt when legs still very new misstep themselves.

A sudden silence ensues as the startled child confronts this newest fact of life, and then the long and building wail begins. Next come the cries – intense, and mixed with short gulping gasps for air.  But soon the shuddering abates and the volume diminishes as the parent, having instantly and expertly scanned palms and knees and head for blood or bites or bruises, picks up the fallen explorer and starts the comforting stream of silly words: “There, there … not your fault … bad bad sidewalk … Make it better.” The last is accompanied by a long and noisy kiss applied to whatever body part is hurting – and noisy it must be, for as mothers everywhere will assure us, only loud and sloppy kisses have any therapeutic value whatsoever.

Years ago, my neighbor’s son, aged three, accepted just such a bit of first aid to his injured palm, and then asked his mother whether she would apply the same remedy had he fallen on his bum. She, a notably brave woman, assured him while she retied his shoe (the culprit in this affair) that of course she would. Grasping this promise to his breast as adults might a policy from Prudential, he happily ran on ahead.

Equilibrium had been restored, the journey along the previously offending pathway resumed and I was able to stop laughing within a matter of three blocks. Such is our recuperative power. Very shortly after each fall-down-and-go-boom episode in life, we saunter on our way again. We learn to get over falling over. Perhaps that’s why we are always so surprised when it happens again and again.

Our response to these unanticipated moments evolves with us. Consider my neighbor and her child. In twelve years or so, another fall may occur. Rather than tears, this will likely elicit a loud “Shit! That hurt!” Rather than hugs and noisy kisses, the immediate parental response will now be something along the lines of “Will you please watch where you’re going – and your language.”

But the painful interval will be brief. The slightly embarrassed adolescent will make a pleasantly apologetic joke and the slightly remorseful parent will buy an apologetic beverage or inexpensive t-shirt. These are kisses of a sort. The cause will be corrected and life will resume. By then he will be adept at getting over falling over. There will be no more cries of “bad bad sidewalk”.

Brief wails are entirely appropriate immediate responses to the sudden and undeserved treacheries we experience during our journeys. In the same way the sidewalk betrayed the child’s trusting feet, the hammer strikes the thumb. The knife or the needle bites the flesh. The five-star resume secures no interview. Now the shooting pain that once could only fashion itself into tears finds its way out in words: “Crap!” “Fuck!” “God Damn!”

I’m sure that somewhere there is someone studying why in these moments we tend towards the excretory, the sexual and the divine in our utterings. Do moments of unexpected pain make us long for the remembered satisfaction of the excellent bowel movement? The intense orgasmic peak? A miracle? Or do we just need an explosive burst of sound to somehow reassure ourselves that we are still here and to summon a friend – or even just the dog or the cat – to listen to our momentary rant. I really don’t know. However it helps, it helps. The moment passes and all is well, or as well as it can be. We change our grip on the hammer, learn to hold the knife more efficiently and edit the resume. Almost unconsciously, we get over falling over.

Or at least most of us do.

However, there are some among us who wail willfully well beyond childhood. Theirs is not the startled exclamation but the practiced cry, prepared and polished in anticipation of its use. It becomes their on-going conversation with the world. They have fallen on their bums. They hurt.  It’s not their fault. It’s ours. Someone – preferably everyone – had better pucker up and kiss it better. Now!

Should we kiss it better? Sometimes the answer must be yes. Our common humanity demands that we always try to staunch the gaping wounds, reattach the limbs, clear the land mines, hug the bereaved, and reassure the defeated.  On more occasions that we would like to admit, we should feed the hungry and house the homeless. And yes, when sexism, racism and all the other hatreds that bedevil our world emerge, we need to face them down, even if it costs. To dismiss these cries is to lie down with Iago and breed strange beasts.  However, for the others, for those who embrace an easy victimhood as an alternative to a little sweat, learning or truth, my answer is no.

I collect narratives. I always explain that I may use them in an essay. In return I provide a coffee or a drink or a meal – and an ear. I have gathered here a selection of recent encounters with what I would call professional toddlers. In all cases like these, I am pucker-proof. (All were originally first-person accounts.)

There was the 23 year old “activist”, so busy protesting just about everything that he had no time to work. He proudly showed me a video of him screaming profanities at Toronto police while he danced in front of them grabbing his crotch. He had successfully managed a false disability claim but complained bitterly that he deserved more. Oh, and his parents didn’t understand him.

There was the mother whose son had been caught plagiarizing three times in one semester. In the last episode, he had physically coerced another student in to writing the paper. She accused the panel of racism. The presiding assistant dean, herself a person of colour, objected, only to hear herself called an “oreo” and a “wannabe whitey”.

There was the 88 year old World War Two veteran who asserted loudly and profanely that he couldn’t live on his four pensions since the government kept wasting his tax dollars on “frogs” and “lazy immigrants”. And was I one of them Jews? I looked like a Jew. He paused. Or a Polack.

There was the young man who explained to me that he had every right to scream death threats at his sister who had dressed immodestly and spoken casually to a Hindu boy at school. I pointed out that his religion called for conservative dress by both genders and that even as we spoke he was attired in a “wife beater” t-shirt and jeans tight enough to make walking painful. He responded by claiming that I didn’t understand his culture , just like that “faggot” prof who failed him in calculus … and was I going to get him another beer, or what?

There was the woman who explained that she was encountering systemic discrimination at a (normally absurdly liberal) Toronto university where her pursuit of a doctorate in literature was being hampered by 1) her refusal to read books written by dead white males, which, when accepted, was followed by 2) her refusal to read books by any males whatsoever, which, when accepted, was followed by 3) a refusal to read novels written by anyone since novels were Eurocentric. Her thesis would be based on her own stories, written in response to her own unique struggle against the discrimination she encountered in this cruel cruel world. Her appeal is pending.

There was the very large woman who argued vociferously that she would have stopped smoking years ago if those big corporations or that greedy government had told her it was bad for her health. And she wouldn’t need her sidewalk scooter if those big corporations (and that greedy government) hadn’t been allowed to sell potato chips and supersize drinks to the innocently unsuspecting. And … oh, and I was to get her a third frappuccino (with Splenda) while she motored outside for a ciggie. She’d be right back. (Later that day I saw her deliberately drive her sidewalk scooter into wet cement because she felt the detour provided (with a ramp) discriminated against her. When the concrete workers loudly scolded her, she accused them of what she called “fattism”.)

To all of the above, and to the student who failed to study and blamed the failing grade on intolerance of his sexual orientation, to the bus driver who refused to drive until that “rude” passenger who commented (politely) on his incessant cell phone use apologized, to the woman who abandoned a full shopping cart in a narrow aisle when asked to stop “testing” so many grapes, to the guy who for five minutes berated the young barista into tears for running out of soy milk, to the “misunderstood and alienated” young man who blared his L.L.Cool and Moe Dee hate while sprawled across three subway seats in front of two elderly standees, and to the self-appointed “community leader” who demanded that all change their ways so that he need not in any way change his, I want to make one thing clear.

I really have neither sympathy nor patience to offer you. It’s time to grow up and stop blaming the sidewalk.

And if you can’t, well then, if it must be kissed, I can only suggest that you kiss your own ass.

Quietly.

Once again, please feel free to comment, “tweet”, “share”, “like” or mutter imprecations. And if you are in the mood for another rant and feel the same way about constant spitting as I do, you might enjoy the post at http://wp.me/p3cq8l-6J

On the Naming of Children

In which the Elegant Bastard makes the argument than in one very important way, your children are not your children.

I once had a car I named Jake.

Jake was undeniably a presence in the lives of those who knew him. Painted in nine different colours – leftovers found in my buddy’s dad’s auto shop – he was held together by spot welds, wire, duct tape and prayer. He regularly transported whole tribes of us between Montreal and Toronto and while he did so we could see the highway surface passing beneath us, for Jake never really had what could properly be called a floor. He was nonetheless a chick magnet par excellence and when I sold him, I suppose I sold a little part of me. But he finally broke down beyond the powers of mortal intervention and I dumped him in the wrecker’s yard.

And I once had a lobster I named Fred.

This was necessarily a short relationship. Six of us had bought live lobsters and the overall plan was dinner. However, we started racing the ugly but tasty little critters and Fred kept winning. As I was awarded a vodka shot each and every time he won, I cheered him loudly, mightily and with even a bit of a developing slur. When he lost I dumped him in the pot. Fred was a good lobster. I wiped my fingers after with a HandiWipe.

I had every right to give my car and my dinner whatever inoffensive name I wished. But now Kanye West and Kim Kardashian have named their child North, creating the full name “North West”. And I, fervent atheist that I am, would happily bring Hell into existence for the sole purpose of condemning these two egos to its fires. What’s in a name? More than these self-obsessed little minds could ever understand.

“But parents have the right to name a child anything they want.” some might whimper. No they do not. In fact – and here I think most parents would agree with me – parents have no real rights at all. They have only duties, a million of them and more, and all aimed at one goal: the successful emergence of a child that transcends its parents and creates its own life as a happy and autonomous being. Giving the child a name like Jermajesty, Audio Science, Messiah, Moon West, or Hitler does not help that process along.

As hard as it might be for the fame obsessed to grasp, Kahlil Gibran was right when he wrote, “Your children are not your children. /They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself./ They come through you but not from you,/ And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.” A child is not a parent’s possession. If it were, it would die when we die or be disposed of in our wills or auctioned off to the highest bidder. And before anyone offers up the argument, “I made my child”, well, no you did not. A child is not a Lego kit or some piece of engineered infrastructure. We, as parents, set the process in motion, but once it’s started, then depending on our belief system, it’s all in the hands of God or biology.

Parents who recognize the essential but nonetheless limited nature of their role tend to choose baby names with care. At some level – rational, emotional, or instinctual – they understand that the naming of the child is really the first step towards its eventual freedom, the first feather in a pair of wings. The act acknowledges the child as a separate being. It is for that reason that I am uncomfortable with suffixes like “Junior” or “the Second” and  “the Third” being attached. Immediately the child’s own name becomes both a potential trap and an on-going challenge – and in the case of a parent’s fame or infamy, a near-insurmountable hurdle. Still, naming a boy John David Smith III is imposing less of a burden than that inflicted by has-been actor Jason Lee on his son, “Pilot Inspecktor”, or by someone called Bear Grylls, apparently famous, who named the first of his litter “Huckleberry” and the second, “Marmaduke”. Out there somewhere is also a little lass saddled with Reignbeau. She will spend the rest of her life hearing people say, “Could you please spell that again?”

A child can easily set aside add-ons like “Junior” and a number, at least in the wider world. Out there, names like John or David do not carry any specific burden, whatever they might mean within the family. In other words, Mr. And Mrs. Smith, JFK zealots, can safely call their son John and see in him a future president. The world sees only John Smith. Calling him John Fitzgerald Kennedy Smith is perhaps two steps over the line.

The same is true of names that have strong associations with religion. Children named Mary, Mohammed, Abraham, Jesus or Fatima will not automatically be compared to the original. If so, I would be in considerable trouble since my names can be associated with one scary arch-angel, an unfortunate saint, three mediocre emperor-kings and at least two well-known serial killers. But names like Messiah, Emperor, Christ and Resurrection are always going to get in a child’s way.

Names can certainly be unusual. Among my happiest friends and acquaintances are people named Kentucky, Paris and Spring. (All of these were middle or third names.) Ideally, however, every child should have the opportunity to find its own path and to create its own successes and failures. We are each supposed to be our own work of art. Burden a child with names like Truth, Bonaparte or Kindness and watch him struggle like a pinned butterfly as everyone he meets wonders how far from the original he has fallen.

Some parents, both celebrities and the not-so-famous, argue that unusual names help their children become independent. If so, it’s the equivalent of tossing a child into a pool in order to teach it to swim (after first tying a weight or two around its neck.) I have trouble with the idea that naming a child “Tu” when its last name is Morrow will somehow promote anything other than a sincere desire to one day hurt the parent! What does a boy named Beretta do when the item he is named for is part of a mass murder. How many times will Vader be asked what it’s like on the Dark Side? How quickly will little Carrion be nicknamed Maggot? And what if Handsome and Pretty are not?

Any parent who names a child Banana, Justice or Kia (in memory of a favorite car) betrays the child in a pathos drenched attempt to validate him or herself. How small must an ego be if it needs to cannibalize the dignity of an infant Other to satisfy its own hunger for attention? The star maker machine needs constant stoking, I agree, but a child is not a fuel rod. Bestowing names like these makes a child a slave, something to be dumped or wiped away when it’s no longer needed.

A woman I met recently has the right idea. She lives in a house she calls Camelot. She talks to her flowers and names them too. Her roses are called Daisy and her daisies Rose. (She loves telling people she has just met that she needs to go out and deadhead the girls.) Everyday she walks her Irish wolfhounds, Elvis and Eiffel. (They have a puppy named England.)

But her children are named George, Mary, Patrick and Dianne.

Of Vladimir Putin and Rob Ford: Brothers Under Our Skin

In which the Elegant Bastard argues that boycotts and demands for resignations are not enough.

I doubt that many of you need to be told who Vladimir Putin is, but readers not fortunate enough to live in Toronto the Good may wonder who this character called Rob Ford might be, and why am I suggesting that these two sad little men are in some way siblings. More, why do I firmly believe that Olympic boycotts and mayoral resignations will do nothing to address the issues associated with each man, both of whom are nothing more than symptoms, festering growths  on the surface that distract our attention from the breeding germs  at work beneath our shared skin.

Robert Ford, the mayor of Toronto, does not so much move around the city as much as he lurches, stumbles, and oozes. Reportedly a failure in nearly everything he has ever attempted (other than running for mayor) and seemingly a classic example of self-loathing mixed with self-hatred, [i] he is a seething and obese ball of platitudes, prejudices and panderings, all designed to keep his legion of haters –  often called “Ford Nation” – submissive, obedient and ready to leap to his defence.

His role in their lives is important. He embodies and celebrates their failings, calling them in from the margins and placing them vicariously alongside “their boy” at city hall. Let him mouth his racist and homophobic (or, in the case of cyclists, cruel) comments. He merely says out loud what they are terrified to say in whispers for fear of censure. Let him wander aimlessly and apparently intoxicated along the wrong stretch of a Toronto street festival, where he is filmed and ridiculed far from his panicking handlers. His followers will morph him into a “hard working boy” letting off a little steam – just like them! He is the little man of the little people and those who think he will be easy to remove are politically naive. For as much as he may be one Torontonian’s nightmare, he is another’s wet dream.

Mr. Putin is cut from the same bolt of cloth – albeit a much smaller piece. An authoritarian and petulant narcissist, he would be a sad and silly figure on the international stage –  if only he had less oil and fewer nuclear weapons. As is, he repeatedly gives the world reason to roll its eyes and wring its hands.  This past year or so, he’s been quite a busy little boy.  He has in off-hand and almost cavalier fashion supported the brutal Assad regime in Syria. He has used Russian orphans as a political tool against the United States. He has established bureaucratic networks that assault and/or imprison all who protest against the increasingly undemocratic structure of the Russian state. And he has allowed virulent homophobia to be enshrined into law, even to the point where it threatens to profane the upcoming Sochi Winter Olympics.

But his pathos becomes more evident than his politics when Putin attempts to show us the man that he would like to be. Among many many other carefully created images and anecdotes, we get “heroic” pictures of him crouching beside a (tranquilized) tiger, posing in a (stationary) race car, sitting bare-chested upon a (walking) horse and wearing a hockey uniform in the company of real (and much younger) players prior to a game.[ii] His overt need to have his masculinity validated at every possible location becomes first ludicrous, then wearisome and finally, troubling. He is a man in search of his own penis and world affairs are apparently a means to that end. (Mr. Ford must make do with a mere city.)

Just as there are childhood issues behind the accidental and self-abusive buffooneries of Toronto’s Rob Ford, so too are there multiple dynamics at work creating the putative super-hero, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. But whether he was made by the horrors of post-war Leningrad, the fact that he was born to doting older parents, the relative poverty that meant he was raised as a slightly built skinny child in a neighbourhood of violent toughs, or the Soviet hierarchy that condemned him to impotent decades of mindless bureaucratic tasks when he wanted so badly to be a spy, [iii] this “leader” – who proudly claims to have been a childhood “thug” – seems somehow incomplete as a person. Small wonder that he “despises” the comparatively elegant and confident Barack Obama. We need only look at a recent picture (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/08/world/europe/obama-cancels-visit-to-putin-as-snowden-adds-to-tensions.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0) of the two together to perhaps understand the real reasons a gleeful Putin will keep Snowden safe in Russia. Obama has not even unfolded to his full height and he already towers over the vengeful little man beside him, the one whose face shows the strain as he tries to puff himself just one centimeter higher.

Yet just as Fordian bigotries appeal to the weak in Toronto, Putinian myth-making resonates in a Russia where many remember and long for the superpower status of bygone decades, the time when the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics stood toe to toe against the Yankee behemoth and nearly won the Cold War. Putin is their manufactured poster boy, the man who tweaks American and European noses at will and gets away with it.

It is this essential similarity – the ability to siphon political strength from the weakness of others – that makes a Ford or a Putin so difficult to defeat. True, the actions of each appal us – and rightly so. Offended at every possible level, we call for the resignation of the puerile mayor and a boycott of the Olympics so dear to the heart of the pathetic president. But these strategies will not work.

Many of my friends are calling passionately for action against the Sochi games and I share their anger. But I cannot support a boycott of the games. It would be a dramatic gesture, yes, but not much more. We would be “seen” to act, but others – our athletes – would pay the price of our “action”. No cost would accrue to us. It seems unfair to let others bear the brunt of our outrage.

A boycott may also backfire. Action creates reaction. Outrage breeds counter-outrage. Is the Russian response to a Sochi boycott likely to be the nation turning against Putin en masse and wagging a remonstrative finger at him, saying “Now look what you’ve done!” Or is it more likely to be a nationalistic and xenophobic slam right back at us – and the lionization of Putin into the Hercules he so clearly needs to be. What then might be the fate of Russian gays and lesbians when they face not just discrimination in the Duma[iv] but energized anger on the streets?

This power of counter-outrage is evident here in Toronto.  It is one of two forces keeping the grotesque little mayor politically alive. Every time angry voices demand his departure, equally angry armies thunder back, calling Ford’s attackers “leftist losers” and Ford the “BEST MAYOR EVER”. As I write, posted comments in response to his allegedly drunken appearance at the street festival are running in his favour! He may very well be re-elected next year.

The other force keeping both men in power – and it too argues against boycotts and resignations – is the political powers arranged behind Ford and Putin. Each man is a puppet. Ford is the front man for a powerful right wing cabal that loves the appeal he has to a large segment of Ontario’s voting population. They hope that with his “Nation” and their marketing, a right wing government in Ontario, in concert with its federal cousins in Ottawa,  will start removing a lot of the “anti-business” regulations that currently restrict their unfettered (and unprincipled) version of capitalism. A man named Tim Hudak – a slightly better dressed Ford clone who expresses the same hates but with more syllables – is even now busily being groomed to take power at the provincial level.

As for Putin, he is nothing more than a desperate move made by desperate men seeking to protect and enrich themselves. As President Boris Yeltsin began to fall apart, his backers elevated the unknown Putin, even though he was seen as “kind of small”, because he would be loyal, not to Russia, but to them. It is Russia’s oligarchs and its emerging upper class that manipulate and maintain Putin now. Even if we savage Sochi, they will be relatively unscathed. If anything, the fallout might enrich and empower them further.

Ford and Putin are assailable, but there will be a cost. If the villains in Russia are more the billionaires in their mansions than the bigots in the streets, then our actions need to be directed at them, a move that could cost us revenue, investment and growth. There would be political scandal when the degree of our own governments’ complicity in Russian corruption – including Putin – becomes evident.  If Ford is to be brought down, he has to be made a political liability rather than an asset to those financial and media forces who benefit from his polarizing presence. Our mockery must be directed at them as much as him. Again, there will be costs as unsavoury links are revealed. Still, if we want there to be a fight, it is up to us – and not our surrogates – to pay the price.

I am not counselling radicalism. I am far too comfortable here in the political mushy middle for that. But if we are truly outraged at what is happening in Toronto, Russia and so many other places in the world where gestures calm anger and allow business as usual to go on, we need to move away from feeble “shows”. We need to rise from our couches. We need to bare our teeth and show our claws and run the risk of wounds. Otherwise we may as well remain silent, for no successful wars were ever fought with noisy fireworks set off by unpaid and unwilling mercenaries.



[i]  For an admittedly somewhat biased but nonetheless fascinating story of how Mr. Ford became what he is, see http://www.torontolife.com/informer/features/2012/05/15/rob-ford-the-weirdest-mayoralty-ever/

[ii]  For more of these quite accidentally hilarious images, go to http://www.theatlantic.com/infocus/2011/09/vladimir-putin-action-man/100147/

 [iii] For a riveting biography – decidedly unauthorized – of Putin, see Masha Gessen’s much admired The Man Without a Face,available here (http://www.chapters.indigo.ca/books/the-man-without-a-face/9781594488429-item.html) or at Amazon.

 [iv]  The Duma is the Russian parliament

The Secret World of Spitters, or, “I spit, therefore I am…”

In which the Elegant Bastard offers what he feels can be the only sympathetic explanation for the behavior of those unable to refrain from spitting messily and repeatedly wherever the rest of us want to walk.

Whatever it is the world waits for, I do not think it waits for these. They stand in a rough circle just outside the school fence on ground infested by weeds and punctuated by ant hills. They are seven in number, all male. Two are so skinny as to be threatened by the passing breeze, three are too hefty to be healthy and the last two are short enough that any observant male knows that inwardly they bleed.

They have attempted to play the peacock but do not do it well. Their hair is lacquered into stegosaurus spikes, their jeans are playing dangerously with gravity and their slouch, intended to intimidate, only brings to mind a dying tree I need to hurry home and transplant.

They do little except spit. First one, and then another, and then a third, as if some strange baton is being passed. There is a pause and then it goes around their little circle yet again. I think about the synonyms for “spit”: gob, hoick, hork, hock a loagie. None of these are elegant terms or even pleasant on the ear. Nor does the act itself convey any suggestion of skill or real purpose. Just hork up a ball of mucus-laced saliva and fire away! This is not the stuff of Olympic glory. So why do they persist?

I can recall my mother spitting on an iron to ensure that it was ready. My father would spit upon his handkerchief before wiping the remains of some unfortunate bug from the windshield of his prized Rambler. But  each of them was expert at all tasks and never had to spit a second time.

I begin to wonder why these young men spit so obsessively, so sloppily and so often. And since I have a curious mind, fifteen minutes left of lunch and a memo to avoid reading – all that is necessary for serious scientific research – I decide to observe and listen. The (edited) transcript is as follows:

 “Don’t furk with me! Pffft! She what?” Hork! Pffft!

“Furk you.  Pffft. She did. You furking calling me a furking liar? Hork Pfft!

“Wow, Dude, you’re furking with my head!” Pffft! “Furk me!” Hork! Pffft!

“Hey, Furk head,” Hork Pffft! “Give me a furking fag.” Hork. Pffft!

This dialogue repeats as more or less an endless loop, the “she” referring to either women they don’t know or cars they don’t have. They then move on to new subjects: gays (all furking losers); women (all furking whores) and even the weather, which is predictably furking bad. Accompanying these verbalisms is endless and sincere crotch scratching. Add this to the repeated feigned (I hope!) grabs or knee thrusts at the crotches of others in the circle and one has reason to be thankful that saliva is the only bodily fluid being expelled.

They sense my presence and turn. I see their faces. If sneers were were works of art, these seven are collectively the Louvre. Finding me unimportant, they turn back to each other.  Hork. Pffft!

There is a kind of ritualistic element to it all, a kind of silly dance but without the Cleesian wit and subtle grace. Each will angle his head to spit behind or to the side, never directly at the male he addresses. The phlegm is directed downwards. Hands are in the belt loops or the sagging waistband. On rare occasions, the spitter will face forward but the spittle will land between his own feet. I sense there is an element of aggression here, linked in some way to the head butting contests between great horned beasts, only without the horns.

I am reminded of the opening scene in Romeo and Juliet when the servants of the rival Montague and Capulet families come together, and wonder how it would go in this context:

 “Do you spit at us, sir?” Pffft!

“I do spit, sir!” Pffft!

“And do you spit at me, sir?Pffft

“No, sir, I do not spit at you, sir.” Pffft! “ But I spit, sir!”Pffft

 And so on, ad infinitum …

If there is any resemblance to events in the animal kingdom, it would perhaps be to dogs endlessly marking territory, an action notably lacking in grace or heroic potential and lasting only until the next dog. Even the ants seem unimpressed.

What, then, does the winner – if any – win? I look around. There are no women about to be impressed, and if one walks by, the spitting stops. No praise is offered by peers. No one compliments another’s loagie: its size, its colour, the sound it makes when it strikes the ground. There doesn’t even seem to be a verbal trophy given for accuracy, as in “Hey, Dude, Firking Cool! Ya got that ant.” Hork! Pffft!

If there is no contest, perhaps there is an intricate pattern outsiders cannot discern, an ancient shared secret valued only by the group, and requiring the careful saturation of a specific piece of ground in a specific way. Are my casual and profane eyes rudely invading some tribal rite? (That thought disappears when one of the tribe puts his finger alongside one nostril and fires a ball of snot on to the sacred ground. There are no protests.)

Are they simply soggier than others of their species? Do some males just suffer from the accumulation of excess liquid and therefore require more frequent excretory moments than the rest of us?

I understand the need of an athlete to spit after a long contest or an extraordinary feat of endurance. But other than the effort spent in spitting itself, the only athleticism I’ve seen here is the raising of cigarettes to lips, followed by the tins of “Red Bull”, and once again the cigarettes.

I realize, too, that it is not only this group exhibiting this behavior. In configurations of two or more – in parking lots, in subway stations, in shopping malls, on streets, on beaches, in parks and even in shared hallways – they spit, and spit and spit again. What can it mean for surely it means something?

The bell rings. Lunch is drawing to its close and I realize I need to rush to both class and a conclusion. Then suddenly, as I crumple up the unread memo and turn towards the school, a vague epiphany nibbles at the edge of my consciousness. I shake my head. But yet? No! Still …? And I wonder if you, Dear Reader, have also even briefly entertained the same suspicion.

Let us review:

  1. The act of public spitting occurs largely in male-only groups.
  2. The presence of women or authority figures inhibits performance.
  3. The words “expectorate” and “ejaculate” have eerie similarities.
  4. The associated vocabulary, the attendant hand gestures and the crotch fixation have obvious overtones.
  5. Participants face each other in a circle.

I arrive at the school’s front door. Behind me I can hear the group of seven raise its voice in a raucous high-pitched lingering … cheer. I tell myself that I am wrong, that despite the evidence, nothing amusing or ironic is happening beyond the fence. They are simply spitting.

But grinning as I am, I do not turn around.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Mayor’s Guide to Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

To assist mayors, would-be mayors and office managers everywhere, the Elegant Bastard patiently explains why people do – and do not – bring their genitals to work with them!

As the last song finishes at the concert of your favorite star, do you rise from your seat and sound your approval with an enthusiastic fart? No?

Do you stalk the squirrels in the closest city park? You don’t?

Do you enter hotel lobbies and rearrange the chairs into patterns more pleasing to your eye? Never?

Neither do I.

Nor did I pee in the Fountaine de Mers in Paris, regardless of an urgent need. I did not – hungry as I was – mug the little old lady in Vienna and dash away with her sachertorte. And even in the midst of a mid-morning shower when I suddenly realized I was late for an important interview, I did not rush naked and dripping to the bus stop. I put on my shoes first.

So how is it, Dear Reader, that you and I are such constant models of restraint? What wisdom do we possess that prompts us to voluntarily set our own needs aside? Paris had no signs saying “Please do not piss in the fountains”. Prague saw no need to post notices asking hungry tourists not to assault pastry possessing seniors. Nowhere in Toronto’s public transit system will you be formally notified – in writing – that clothing is required. And I doubt that the squirrels in your city come equipped with stencilled “Do Not Molest” collars. (And if they do, you might want to consider relocating.)

It seems that most of us understand that certain rules of behavior do not need to be hung up upon the wall. They are obvious. Yet the mayor of San Diego, Mr. Bob “I’m a Hugger” Filner, claims that the charges of sexual harassment he faces are to be blamed on that city’s failure to provide him with proper information concerning the nature of “unwelcome sexual advances”. How, Bob wonders, can he possibly be held responsible for unknowingly crossing some arbitrary line in the sand? “Look,” he seems to say, arms spread wide in contrite surprise. “There are no signs! They never put up signs!”

Well, Bob, perhaps you have a point. Perhaps, overwhelmed by the stresses related to your job, you just assumed that a woman’s breasts were an office perk, like a stapler but softer. Or in the spirit of brotherly love and compassion, you just felt a need to reach out and touch someone. Is it your fault that San Diego foolishly keeps all its STOP signs outdoors? And maybe we should also offer sympathy to New York’s Antony Weiner? I doubt that anyone posted anywhere a notice reading “No Sexting Until Elected.”

Clearly, remedial action is necessary, and the Elegant Bastard, ever mindful of his weighty responsibilities regarding the moral education of lesser souls, has not only agreed to provide a simple six-part guide concerning sexual harassment in the workplace but has also promised to provide it free to mayoralty candidates all around the world.

One: Understanding Why People Bring Their Genitals to Work: As a mayor, you will need to be aware that while objects and people are both found in offices, they are not the same. For example, if I choose to bring cookies to work and place them in a public spot with a sign attached saying “Help yourself”, you are free to do precisely that. I may one day bring fresh apples or a case of bottled water. These are optional objects. Crunch yourself silly or slurp ‘til you burp.

However, when I bring my buttocks, my breasts or my genitalia with me to the workplace, I do so because it is not really possible for me to leave them at home. They are with me necessarily.They are not accessories. It is therefore unwise to assume that their presence means I am offering them to you instead of butter tarts.

And you should not assume that any reference to non-human objects is acceptable. If I have pictures of my children on my desk, by all means tell me they are sweet. Do not offer to help me make another. Asking me if you can borrow my Harry Potter is acceptable. Dumping your stained and ragged copy of The Joy of Sex in my lap while breathing heavily is not. Praising the colour of the mittens that I knit at lunch will earn you a smile. Offering to show me your other body parts in need of warming will likely result in your parts and my needles achieving instant intimacy.

Two: Sexual Harassment via Eye Contact: Invariably, mayors encounter people and some have even learned to speak when doing so. This leads us to the issue of where to direct the eyes while conversing. Since eyes are considered the window to the soul, face-to-face contact is the safest and most useful strategy. It suggests intelligence, honesty, respect for others and even a certain poetic spirituality, especially if you avoid drooling while gazing. Chests, buttocks and crotches cannot properly be regarded as windows to anything you need to see, and mainstream religions will resist your efforts to declare them holy. Claiming to be the founder of a new cult will not fool anyone.

Three: Sexual Harassment and Touching:

It is possible you might feel that ass-slapping is a common way to offer congratulations or encouragement and that your role as a city manager entitles you to motivate others any way you can. However, you need to remember that few – if any – of your duties will be performed on the volleyball court or the football field. As well, a quick look at relevant “You Tube” videos should make it clear that while even pro-basketball players engage in public ass-slapping, they have yet to start ass stroking, fondling, pinching and kneading – at least in public. Finally, just accept the fact that not even a last second winning goal in the Stanley Cup final would justify nipple-tweaking, crotch grabbing or pelvic thrusting. It therefore seems logical that you avoid such actions altogether and restrict your efforts at physical contact to the occasional hand shake, remembering, of course, to let go.

I will concede that hugging or patting is not always “lewd and improper behavior”. Still, it is best to be safe. If you must hug, why not arrange to have trees of the appropriate size scattered about the office and the city? If you must pat, rent a friendly dog. If necessary,you could periodically pat your own ass. Or stroke it. Or fondle it. It’s your ass. That’s the point!

The ultimate solution for real touch-addicts would be buying an inflatable sex doll and keeping it in your office closet. As long as you remember to close your door, turn up the music, and indulge only during lunch hours, you will likely be safe. The other major advantage of these toys is their inability to hire or pay for lawyers.

Four: Sexual Harassment and Terms of Endearment: It has been my experience that many people come with names already assigned. Efforts to replace those names with terms like “Honey”, “Tootsie”, “Studly”, “Cupcake”, “Woody” or “My Little Strudel” will likely encounter some resistance. Your peers may point out that they were not hired because of their sweetness, their curves, their bulges, their crumbly texture, their hardness or their lavish icing. A quick glance at their job descriptions should convince you that they are right. And referring to them with terms like “Bimbo” or “Tight Ass” will likely result in many new names for you, among them “The Accused”, “The Convicted” and “Inmate 2136421”.

Five: Sexual Harassment and Comments about Clothing: Some people appreciate a compliment when they wear a new or expensive or symbolic article of clothing. And most will respond well to comments like “That green matches your eyes” or “What a lovely scarf”. Go beyond that and you could stray on to shaky ground. This is likely because as a mayor, you are expected to focus your attention on issues like lowering tax rates, repairing bike lanes and creating new jobs. If your constituents do want you involved with porn at all, they will likely want you stamping it out rather than making more. Whistling at someone’s jeans, hollering “Sexy!” at the sight of a short skirt, suggesting that Fridays be made underwear free days or responding to someone’s new jacket by whispering that your favorite hobby is sucking polyester should all be regarded as actions that are career limiting.

Six: Sexual Harassment and Headlocks: San Diego’s Mayor Filner apparently put one of these on a female staffer whom he then led around the room while discussing city business. One wonders how he would have responded to her grabbing his testicles and leading him to an open window while discussing the effect of gravity on falling objects.

Mayor Filner’s actions prompt me to make the following suggestion to potential office seekers. If what you are thinking of doing to another person is normally an action performed by a professional wrestler, a masseuse, an exterminator, a terrorist or a surgeon, take a deep breath, a large drink and a running jump – alone! The outcome will likely be less painful for all concerned.

Let me close with one last piece of advice. Careers in the public service are not for everyone. Being a mayor – or any office holder – means tip-toeing through potential minefields on a daily basis. If, despite my efforts in this handbook, you still believe that your sexual advances will always be welcomed, you might wish to choose a career in prostitution rather than politics. The hours are about the same, many of the duties are similar and you will rarely be required to make long speeches.

 

Of Demons and the Death on Camera of Sammy Yatim

All of us battle the demons, whether we are boys with baseball caps and knives or men with uniforms and guns.

We are deep in a Toronto night. The video begins without sirens. I notice their absence.

Men and women dressed in black and armed with guns move back and forth or stand outside an eerie yellow haze that cannot properly be called light. Another figure, an apparent man-child, half in black and half in white, moves back and forth within the stopped streetcar.

Now I hear the sirens. They seem faint and far away, muted voices rushing to the scene, noises in the night.

The video images are vague but I am the parent of young men, and in Sammy’s posture I can see what might be arrogance mixed with fear – that, or the failing struggle of someone much too young to keep the demons in or out alone. But whatever else I see, I see a boy. For all that he may be spewing foul words or waving about a knife, he is a boy. He is one boy. The calling sirens still sound distant.

I was not in that streetcar on that street. I do not know who lost the struggle first. I know that shots rang out – first three and then six more – and Sammy was no longer there. I notice his absence and I peer closer, searching. He is gone. The boy has disappeared. The remaining men and women mill about, as if not certain where they are or what they’ve done or what they are to do.

The noise now finds its power, and it grows. Its howling invades the night, rising and falling and pulsing. It does not feel as if it came closer; only that it grew louder. It seems to be rushing everywhere at once and for a moment, I can almost believe that it is gloating.

Some will be disappointed with the video. They came to it because of media warnings that promised it was graphic. They wanted horror, obtained with a free ticket and savoured in their own homes. Let’s have some blood, some louder screams, and just a little crying please? But there was none of what they wanted.

They do not see the horror that is there for them to see.

When the man with a gun killed one boy with a knife, those nine bullets ripped a hole in the walls of our world. They left a tear large enough that, as  Sammy slipped away from us, the demons could enter, dancing with others of their tribe, screaming out the news of their victory and madly rising higher in our now much darker sky.

 

 

The Elegant Bastard’s Dictionary of Helpful Words and Phrases, Part 3

In which the Elegant Bastard explains the power to be found in the appropriate use of words like “Um” and “Ah” and “Er”.  Neat, Eh?

What began as a simple question – How many English words are there? – ended up taking me the better part of a day to determine and the outcome was at best ambiguous. Answers ranged from about 150,000 to just over one million, depending upon what constitutes a word, whether compound words and multiple meanings count multiple times and whether or not words invented by acknowledged geeks – skeuomorphism? – needed to be considered at all.

I also discovered that an absolute answer, while no doubt fascinating, would be irrelevant to what appears to be the primary function of language today – the confusing of others. The Empire of Babel, Dear Reader, has now spanned the entire globe. And the very least we now have pyschobabble, ecobabble, econobabble, edubabble, sociobabble, obamababble, boehnerbabble and baby babble, the latter being the only variant ever evolves  in to something making sense.

It wasn’t always this way. One can easily imagine a far distant pre-word era when woofs and grunts of various lengths and tonal variations were enough to get around. Given that career choice was limited to being predator or prey, resumes and interviews were pretty much non-existent and therefore the ability to tell articulate lies remained an undiscovered art.

There then followed an age of few words that all had very precise meanings. Life was just as violent as before but social relationships had emerged and caves needed decorating. Even with these advancements,  middle and upper-class cavepersons probably managed to get by with less than a dozen; “eat”, “drink”, “mate”, “fire” and “run like hell” come immediately to mind. At this point in human history, “eat” and “drink” were likely interrogative, “mate” and “fire” imperative and “run like hell” communicated by mime.

The development of urban culture, competing civilizations and effective antacids expanded the number of necessary words exponentially. Now we had thousands of pasta varieties and even more ways of killing people. The emergence of conversation added the need for sophisticated slang vocabularies and some of the more popular body parts acquired hundreds of words dedicated solely to them. The birth of government required elaborate words that meant very little while the development of political correctness spawned words that meant nothing at all. “Run like hell” has remained pretty much what it always was. However, the number of things from which one needs to run like hell has grown to include plague infected squirrels, reality shows, Russian presidents and in much of North America, the mayor.

(“Run like hell” no longer necessarily means the sweat provoking stampede over large tracts of ground while screaming. It can now be achieved by drawing the curtains, turning off the phone and conducting extensive research into European vodka or South American flora.)

However, none of these uses of language answers our species’ primary need: differentiation. How in this enormous and teeming world can we ever make ourselves special?  Some do this by creating esoteric and deliberately abstruse vocabularies that use language to impede or prevent understanding. In this way, a teacher’s complaint that he or she had to spend the weekend making up a test translates into two days spent creating a differentiated and criterion referenced summative assessment tool that serves as a gateway indicator. Special, no?

Interestingly, some of the original woofs and grunts have remained with us and, surprisingly, they can convey meaning just as and sometimes more effectively than their more complex progeny. In today’s edition of “The Elegant Bastard’s Dictionary”, I attempt to provide an exhaustive list of these very short exclamations that function primarily as emoticons or hesitation devices. Again, I ask for no reward other than your promise, Dear Reader, to use them wisely, widely and primarily with other people.

Ah: Expressed in a short, sharp fashion, the word means “Eureka!”  or “I understand!” or “I accuse!” Traditionalists would insist that upon uttering this exclamation, one should leap from one’s bath and run naked through the streets, preferably somewhere in Greece. Less doctrinaire logophiles will permit the substitution of enthusiastic fist pumping or finger pointing.

Ah(2): Expressed in long, drawn out fashion and accompanied by an elegant  finger placed lightly upon the chin, the word essentially means that the utterer has no idea what is going on but would die rather than admit it. The removal of any clothing in this situation would be an attempt to distract the listener’s attention.

Arg: Sometimes pronounced “Erg”, this exclamation expresses anger or pain. At its loudest, it means that special and intense combination of pain and anger experienced by someone applying a hammer vigorously to the thumb, Canadians trying to understand what’s wrong with Justin Bieber  or anyone using Windows 8.

Aw: Used alone, drawn out and moving in pitch from high to low, it is the appropriate response to the cute actions of other people`s pets and children. Used as a short sharp outburst followed by “Damn” or “Crap”, it refers to the actions of one`s own pets and children.

Eh(1): A Canadian expression and likely genetic in origin, it’s use at the end of any sentence expresses the speaker’s confident assumption that the listener will agree with whatever has just been said, as in “Nice day, eh?” Used properly, it also means that the speaker can name four provincial capitals and sing most of the national anthem.

Eh(2): Used on its own, it replaces “Pardon me” for those who are syllabically challenged. The speaker is able to name three provinces and hum the opening line of the anthem.

Eh(3) Its repeated use in a short period of time suggests that the speaker may know his own name but should likely not be asked to hum anything.

Er: This exclamation suggests some degree of moral anxiety or confusion. (For real confusion, see Ah(2)) Uttered as a response to your question as to whether or not an article of clothing makes you look fat, you may safely assume that the article in question does not make you look thin and the persons responding are worried they might hurt you.

Er(2): If pronounced “errrrrr” in the same context, then you are enormous and the persons responding are  worried that you will hurt them.

Ew: Used as a brief and unemotional single syllable, it suggests that your listener is mildly offended or seriously bored by whatever you have just said. It may be followed by a request that you perform some task requiring you to leave the room and/or the country.

Ew(2): Lengthened to a two-syllable sound with the stress upon the first syllable and pronounced “eee – uuu”, it refers to dogs with no shame, living organisms with more than four legs, or anything with polka dots.

Ick, Icky, Yuck, Yucky: These are used to refer to substances (or situations) that are unpleasant, especially to touch or taste. Of more importance is the fact that they are mostly used by those who see themselves as “cute”. As they will also use expressions like “itsy-bitsy” or “teenie-weenie”, they should not be left unsupervised near pre-literate children.

Oh:  Used briefly, it acknowledges an understanding of something previously unknown. As such, it is often followed by “Thanks”, “Really” or “Hell”.

Oh(2): Extended, as in “Ohhhhh”, it suggests a profound and usually unwelcome new understanding. There will rarely be thanks and “Hell” will be replaced by much stronger terms.

O: This reverential form of address should be used when conversing with any divine being that is in the same room as you and powerful enough to cause inconvenience.

Umm: The speaker is making a choice, usually between two very pleasant options. Would you prefer to sample the coconut gelato or the green apple? Would the world be a better place if all of Antony Weiner disappeared forever or just the bits he flaunts?

Uh: Said briefly or drawn out, it means that the speaker is watching whatever you are doing and is hoping that you come with an “off” switch that can be accessed before it’s too late.

As always, Dear Reader, I hope you have found our time together useful. Again I would like to stress that I will accept no material reward for my efforts. However, those who want to express their gratitude in an appropriate fashion may do so by signing my petition demanding that anyone using the word “awesome” be forced to watch televised fishing programs every day for a year.

As always, feel free to “like”, “share”, “tweet”, or comment.

 

In Praise of Sinful Pleasures or Acknowledging Your Inner Slut

In which the Elegant Bastard points out the advantages of having a good long chat with one’s inner slut.  

I can be perfect for only so long.

Eventually the strain will show. My fingers will begin to twitch, my molars will grind, and my eyes will look about, perhaps searching for anything cute to kick. My smile – taut, and holding as if glued in place – will tremble. A sneer will threaten at the corners of my lips. I will resist for as long as I can, but if the grumblies are gathering, the snarlies cannot be far behind. I soon will be combustible.

Somehow I will avoid ignition. Most of us do. We try to push away the feeling that we are forever standing at attention. We concentrate on being green enough, and smart enough, and parental enough and cool enough. We strive to be multicultural, we pop our multi-vitamins and we multitask like mad. And we generally manage to stumble through life on emotional auto-pilot.

But when that control falters, when the warning lights begin to flash, we panic. We pull back from unauthorized acts and suck in unsavoury sounds. We look for the always present judgmental eyes. We are in a no-fart zone and our claim that pressures are building will earn us no sympathy. Woe to those whose social sphincters fail them.

We may try to divert ourselves. Memos get sent, the calendar is updated, the bills get paid, the light bulbs are changed and so on down the take-my-mind-off-my-life list until you snap yourself out of the trance and realize you’ve just dusted the dog. It then chases the cat, the kids take opposing sides and you wonder if you could just vacuum seal the entire group. But you can’t. The noise of your failure is all around you and it goes downhill from there. You are falling groaning into guilt.

It is at that points like these that we reach for our “pick me ups”, our sedatives, our “tranks” of choice. It might be “Big Bang Theory” reruns, or another night spent watching Indiana Jones running from a rolling stone, or listening yet again to 2 Live Crew practicing dirty words. It could be gummy worm ice cream, truffled mac and cheese or a triple G and T. But whatever we may turn to, it brings no real pleasure. Good chocolate used in this way is chocolate wasted!  Even as we tell ourselves that we deserve our little treat, something deep within us whispers “No!” And we sigh, for we know the truth. There is no place to go to escape bad guilt.

Bad guilt is life’s nasty little gift. It starts when you first discover there’s a wrong way to tie your shoes or do long division or eat pasta. You learn that there’s a wrong sport to play and a wrong way to play it. Then you discover there’s a wrong subject to study, a wrong career to choose, a wrong party to support, a wrong person to marry. Guilt’s moving finger points and its voice won’t go away: “Not Good Enough!” “Wrong, wrong, wrong!” “Guilty, guilty, guilty!”

 And you groan.

Bad guilt is the kind your mother hoped would make you clean your room, be nice to your sister and become Prime Minister. It makes you pay most of your taxes. It forces you away from the eight-or-less express lane when you have nine items. It denies you carrot cake. It pops up when you think, say or do the wrong thing and again when you don’t think, don’t say and don’t do the right thing.  It stomps around the intimate rooms of your inner brain, mocking the pictures and kicking the furniture. Then it beats you with the whips that it forces you to make.

Fortunately, there is an alternative. The imaginative among us can get off the bad guilt treadmill if we want to very much and we try very hard. You start by getting in touch with your inner slut. Oh, don’t be silly. Of course you have one. You just haven’t let it out to play in a while. Once released, this powerful and essentially naughty persona rushes into the limbic system, grabs bad guilt by the scruff, stuffs it in a environmentally unfriendly bag, seals it with duct tape, tosses it in a closet and slams the door. Then it turns, looks at you, grins an evil grin and blows you sexy little kisses. And you giggle. Welcome to Good Guilt!

I know, Dear Reader, that some of you may be questioning this strategy. You will reasonably point out that “inner” is often kept inside for a reason. Best to keep it locked away in there where it can not cause embarrassment, cause acne or lower property values.. But such reasoning is fallacious. Not everything that lies hidden out of sight is necessarily evil. What about a leprechaun’s pot of gold? What about inner beauty. And  just where do they keep the caramel in Caramilk, eh? Why can’t your inner slut be just as sweet?

Perhaps the reluctance has more to do with the sexual connotations the word “slut” usually carries with it. But I am not counselling rampant sexual excess – unrestrained flash mobs chorusing “Wham, Bam, Thank You Ma’am and Sam”.  I’m not necessarily talking about sex at all, and certainly not of massacres, or gluttony, or anything else rapacious. If I were, I would be saying that it is quite all right to manipulate others, making them instruments to be used for your own enjoyment. It isn’t and I’m not.

What I am talking about is simply indulging our inner sensualist, that happy sluttish imp that savours some modicum of pleasure for pleasure’s sake. Why then use the word “slut” at all? I do so because the word adds a necessary dimension. Our most potent little pleasures must be those we know will elicit judgmental frowns. They must not be “deserved”. They must have about them just the faintest scent of sin.  We must take our delight the same way Alexander took the world: by choice, by force, and because it was there! If bad guilt bends our backs and saps our strength, Good Guilt lifts our heads and helps us build our empires.

The expected tasks and the prescribed chores and the assigned worries will wait. For a while I will be at the spa, eating cookies while I have a pedicure; or in front of the television, watching royal babies enter life; or heading off on an unnecessary jaunt to Montreal, perhaps first class; or eating a second Ritters Sport square; or having a second nap on the good couch; or buying and refusing to share licorice-flavoured toothpaste; or ordering a strangely complex coffee at a cafe farther away than it needs to be. Concerns about money, time, calories and good taste will be tossed away. Do not be misled by my soft tones; this is my rebel roar!

Why indulge in these pleasures? Because I can! Did I earn any of them? Not in the least! Then isn’t there guilt? Of course there is – that wonderful lingering shivering guilt that comes with a smile. “I am so bad,” you whisper to yourself. “Yes you are!” responds your inner slut. You smile and offer the world one proud chocolate dipped finger.

Now those urgent voices chanting “Wrong” and “Guilty”  are reduced to a feeble “tsk, tsk!” or a silly “tut, tut!” with only the shaking of disdainful heads or the elevating of arrogant noses to add a little drama. But these are ineffective and impotent acts. We are now in the land of Good Guilt. Here we rule. Here there are no whips, or, if there are, they are consensual and they come with mounds of fresh whipped cream.

We cannot stay here long; we all know that. Duty calls. But it is a wonderful place to visit, and we return to the real world restored. We take with us a new smile and a new strength. The issues and the causes and the people that depend on us will once again gather around our feet. They will notice, however, a difference in our posture, a spring in our step, a sparkle in our eyes. They will sense that we are free in a way that wasn’t true before. They will not understand it when we smile, giggle, and blow them sexy little kisses.

Those wishing to read more about the saving power of pleasure may do so at http://wp.me/p3cq8l-3S

And, as always, feel free to comment, criticise, “share”, “tweet” and ask for the locations of stores selling licorice flavoured toothpaste.

Of Rolling Stone, Maggots and the National Anthem

In which the Elegant Bastard considers what appears to be the new American national anthem and decides that he would much rather they keep the old one.

“Lean to the left; Lean to the right! Stand up; Sit down! Fight! Fight! Fight!”

Do you remember that chant, America? I do. On autumn Friday afternoons we would buy our way out of afternoon classes and gather on our ramshackle bleachers to cheer on our football heroes. And about every ten minutes or so, the cheerleaders would strut out to the track – hands on hips, pompoms ready – and when their leader gave the signal, the chanting would begin.

“Lean to the left; Lean to the right! Stand up; Sit down! Fight! Fight! Fight!”

It was wonderful in that context. Now, things are different. Something more than a football trophy is at stake.

It’s been an interesting news week. We had flailing arms, frothing mouths, pointing fingers and pounding fists. We had marches and vigils and crowds and parades. We had media everywhere, tossing out misleading headlines, filming crying eyes and screaming  mouths and throwing in enough  inflammatory bits of speculation to keep everything bubbling .  Then, in the evening, near identical sets of polished faces and sculptured hair sat on panels to “tut tut” and “tsk tsk” in predictably confrontational “discussions”. Organized outrage was on another big roll; it was a nation-wide case of choreographed flatulence.

And now, before we even have a chance to clear the air, there’s a whole new drama. Out of the way, Mr. Zimmerman. Mr. Snowden, stop whining. It’s all about Rolling Stone magazine and it’s “fluffed and buffed” cover photograph of alleged Boston Bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

“Lean to the left; Lean to the right! Stand up; Sit down! Fight! Fight! Fight!”

The Right Hand Rant:  How dare this radical smut-filled rag offer such disrespect to the victims of the Boston marathon tragedy? How dare it glorify and glamorize a terrorist and a murderer by placing him in a spot normally occupied by teen idols and rock superstars. This tears at the nation’s moral fibre. Those who read this or profit from it are anti-American and greedy traitors! ( And godless! We mustn’t forget godless!)

The Left Hand Rant: Freedom of the press is one of America’s most precious traditions, a cornerstone of its democracy. Rolling Stone has always been a symbol of cutting edge and responsible journalism. Its fearless devotion to truth was epitomized by its award winning interview of convicted serial killer, Charles Manson. Those who can’t see this are right wing red necks who need to get with the times and go with the flow. (Now play with your guns and get over yourselves.)

What’s wrong with this? All of it really, but the worst threat is also the most subtle.

Those who defend Rolling Stone by pointing out the fundamental role freedom of the press plays in creating and maintaining the essence of America are on solid ground. So are those who argue that displaying the smouldering pretty boy charms of Tsarnaev on the cover of the iconic entertainment magazine elevates a terrorist to the stature of a Bob Dylan sex-god and denigrates the suffering of his victims. But as will inevitably be the case in a society that only listens to itself when the screaming starts, both sides go too far.

“Lean to the left; Lean to the right! Stand up; Sit down! Fight! Fight! Fight!”

Rolling Stone defends its actions by claiming that all they are doing is maintaining their “long-standing commitment to serious and thoughtful coverage of the most important political and cultural issues of our day.” Oh please! This is just silly, and anyone who has followed the magazine even intermittently over its history knows that. The brainchild of a maniacal, manipulative and media-savvy 60’s radical, it brought together what one critic called “stock, shock and schlock” and made it profitable. The Manson interview, seen as edgy in its more innocent historical context, would be dismissed as sensationalism today. The new cover’s caption, claiming that the article will show how Tsarnaev “became a Monster” – Oooooo! – suggests that nothing much has changed. (And by the way, Rolling Stone, what happened to innocent until proven guilty?)

Another obvious argument against Rolling Stone’s attempt at noble self-justification is both the choice of picture and its placement. Past media images of Tsarnaev tended to be far less attractive than this posed photo. The story is one of several in the issue yet it makes the cover.  Why use this picture in that place? There can be only one reason. Sales! And sales, sadly, have to be a concern for a magazine that has reportedly been slipping pretty steadily since its glory days. That picture is where it is for the best and basest of all capitalist reasons. A woman I spoke to today sniffed that what Rolling Stone has done was no different than maggots with dead flesh.  I would disagree. When maggots feed, they do not claim they are dining.

“Lean to the left; Lean to the right! Stand up; Sit down! Fight! Fight! Fight!”

Still, Rolling Stone’s sensationalism is not the real issue. More dangerous is the deliberate encouragement of polarization in American society. And most dangerous of all is the rise of impotence!

In response to the Zimmerman verdict and the Snowden … whatever that was, we had streetscape after streetscape filled with placards and chanting and grotesque faces thrusting themselves at television cameras like lovers to each other’s bodies. And afterwards, nothing. These were gestures, moments of strutting and fretting, tales of sound and fury screamed aloud by idiots. Even as catharsis it was feeble.

And now, in response to the Rolling Stone photo, we will have boycotts. Oooooo! That means that people who never buy the magazine will now loudly proclaim the fact that they are not buying it. Stores that barely sold any – or none – will now point out that they are selling none. An equally impotent act will be accomplished by the other side. Those who normally buy it or have it delivered will simply draw attention to their purchases, perhaps dispensing with a paper bag or by reading it ostentatiously on a bus.

And that will be that. Gestures. No bang. Barely a whimper. If your lovers loved like that, you would push them out of bed.

None of this is activism. None of it is profound. Yes, the images and sound bites of your marches and your mewlings will be gathered and broadcast, but this will be, like Rolling Stone, commercialism – not potent political philosophy. You will be camera fodder only, something to be used. The media and its pundits will profit enormously and they will do so by encouraging this schism they foment in America.

Perhaps if Americans put aside the “My way and only my way” posturing and choose to come together (over coffee, tea, or beer) and talk (no yelling, drooling, or spitting) things out on common ground (pubs are good; so are churches), things would change. Everyone would give a little and get a little. Daily life would be less stressful.  The evening news might get tad boring but would that be such a bad thing? (We can always get North Korea to do something entertaining.)

And politicians would have to do more than stir up hate to get elected. That last American presidential election was less a smear campaign than it was a sneer campaign, and that’s really dangerous.

Let’s all listen to the old chant one more time:

“Lean to the left; Lean to the right! Stand up; Sit down! Fight! Fight! Fight!”

It makes a grand football cheer, I agree.

But as a national anthem, it sucks.

 

Since it seems to be Rant Day, here’s a link to a short story concerning my encounter with an aggressive vegetarian: http://wp.me/p3cq8l-49

As always, feel free to “share”, comment, “tweet” or buy coffee.

 

 

To My Royal Baby Not Yet Born

In which the Elegant Bastard converses with an unborn child, vows to clean up his room and urges others to do the same.

Well hello!

Aren’t you the Royal little wonder! No, don’t worry. You’re not late. That big old world out there will stop whatever it is doing when you arrive but until then, it will be business as usual. For now, be as comfortable as you can and enjoy these final noise-free hours.

I do not mean to add any pressure to the life you are about to lead, but you have suddenly become rather important to me, all the more so since you are not mine in any conventional sense. What with all the recent media baby hoopla – you’re not the only one making an appearance – I am more than usually aware of your impending arrival. And for the very first time, I am also aware of the fact that when you eventually assume your crown – and we all assume our crowns, little one, even when we don’t want to – I will very likely no longer be here. Your world will lack that certain something special that is me. That fact concentrates things wonderfully.

Like most, I tend to postpone the issue of legacy. What kind of world I will leave behind doesn’t really occupy my mind the way it should. After all, every day is a brand new day and I have places to go and things to consume and people to annoy. I’m here and now; I’m flash, I’m fire; I’m boom, boom, boom. How does merely the potential existence of anything, let alone something that will initially do little more than wail, feed, poop and play with its toes, mean anything at all to that process?

It seems to all be wrapped up in this idea of handing over. I am suddenly aware of the baton in my hand, of the noise of a crowd, of the thudding of feet behind me, of a shortness of breath within. Ahead I see nothing really distinct, just shadows really, but that baton needs to be handed over, and the only thing I do know is if it touches the ground, it will break. Would that be fair? Royal baby isn’t even here and already I have broken the baton.

Yet while I am talking to the idea of you, I am glancing at the news of the day as it streams across my 18 inch screen. A recent verdict in a murder trial is causing two groups of racists to call each other racist. Musicians are telling us where they won’t travel, former secretaries of state are keeping the potential base sweet by playing to one family’s tragedy while ignoring another’s, ex-jurors are trying to sell books, and “protesters” are looting a department store. A far away state is gearing up for its newest temper tantrum. The deaths of twenty two children in a food poisoning incident are being used by politicians as a reason to call protest strikes and by mobs as a reason to burn buses. Everywhere there are people causing crises, people caught in crises and people cashing in on crises. Is this a baton you want? Ah, right, I forget. You can’t hear. It is not for you to answer that question.

It’s strange. Yesterday, the news was much the same, and all I could hear was a friend’s voice telling me it was time for a martini. Today I know that you are coming and all I can hear is my mother’s voice telling me to clean up my room before I leave the house.

Pondering that, I walk over to my living room window and look out at the big world stretching away as far as a cloudless sky permits. Across the street I see a new kindergarten school nearing completion. The third fire alarm of the week sounds in the subsidized housing complex next door. Adolescents are happily flirting with each other while taking a break from their summer jobs in a new Target store.  The haze in the air is almost visible. Two friends are walking up the driveway. One waves. The other is carrying a tray containing six pints of golden raspberries. Only babies are more beautiful. I go to the wine cellar and take out the bottle of Sauvignon Blanc.

Do you see, Royal baby, the problems you are causing me? I might – might – if I devote enormous time, energy and thought do something about the local haze and the desperate fires in the building next door. But what about the obscene noise issuing from the news stream, the daily resume of sorrows and deaths and the cause of far too many cowardly afternoon naps? Yet what else can I possibly do? And why? I didn’t ask for a crown, you know. I really didn’t.

No, that won’t work. I didn’t give it away when it came, either. And it certainly needs a good polishing. I can’t promise it will be much brighter when you get here but I’ll see what I can do.

For I don’t suppose it really matters what mother’s Royal baby you are, and whether you arrive in Afghanistan, or China, or America or Toronto or yes, in a much-photographed hospital ward in the center of the world in London. All babies are Royal babies; all are deserving of our loyalty and love.

So here it is, little one. I will do what I can about the near-by fires. I will contribute to the fight against the local haze. I will look daily at the kindergarten and the laughing teens to remember one reason why I make this vow, and I will think of golden raspberries and white wine to remember the other. My mother was right.  I need to clean up my room before I leave the house.

And I further promise that whenever I can, I will remind others that we all had mothers and we all have rooms and so the house needs lots and lots of cleaning. And by doing so, Royal Baby, I will remain true to this pledge I make to you today – that I will be, as long as I am able, your loyal Elegant Bastard.

Toronto, June 17, 11:11 a.m.

Please read and, if you find yourself nodding, then “share”, “tweet” or smile at any pregnant lady you might see.

A reader more observant than I noticed a similar theme in a piece I wrote in a more tragic context. “A Child, Waiting for His Father, was Murdered Today” is my response to the death of young Martin Richard, killed in the Boston bombing. As Jim, a Christ Figure in Twain’s Huckleberry Finn suggests, we must not waste children. I concur. Those wishing to read the earlier piece may do so here: http://wp.me/p3cq8l-3o

 

 

The Taxonomy of Cyclepathic Behaviors, Part Three: Those Crazy Cycle Dudes!

The Elegant Bastard is a proud cyclist. Here he comes to the aid of his community by identifying those of his own tribe whose actions imperil us all. His motives are entirely altruistic and have nothing at all to do with the fact that he’s just come back from a long ride and he’s royally ticked off!

By and large, cyclists are reasonable people. We understand our place in the world and we behave accordingly.  If, for example, we find ourselves beside a passing bus, we do a bit of instant risk analysis. In our favour are things like a rapier-like wit, dynamic genes, devilish good looks, a beautifully modulated voice and a strong pomade. The  only thing the bus has going for it is the fact that it is a bus.

We immediately understand that God, Truth and Beauty are all on our side. However, having promised our mothers not to bully lesser beings, we let the bus go first. As it rumbles past, childishly farting its fumes in our patient faces, we might offer it a subtle farewell salute. (As this involves only one hand and indeed, only one finger, it cannot be regarded as unsafe.) But nothing more extreme.

Sadly, there are a few members of our tribe who have never quite acquired this elegant minimalism. Perhaps they suffered some hereditary malfunction. Perhaps they were unloved. It may even be the result of one taco too many.  I know there must be some cause and that I must therefore strive to be tolerant. It is this humanitarian impulse – and the failure of society to accept “Because I wanted to!” as sufficient justification for homicide[i]  – that motivates me to live and let live.

Nonetheless, I can still warn others.  To this end I append the following list of aberrant behaviors found within the cycling community. For clarity’s sake, I have avoided using medical terms. And while I think I could with accuracy simply refer to them as “Moron A”, “Nitwit B”, “Idiot C” and so on, that option lacks any helpful specificity.

A caution before you begin, Dear Reader. The word “you” will appear frequently. I mean no disrespect to you personally. Since it is possible that the misguided souls I refer to might be among those reading this, I have chosen to address them directly.

The Stop Sign Challenged: Dear Cyclepath. You may have noticed that we have spent considerable time and money erecting Stop signs and traffic lights. Strangely, we do not regard these as optional. Nor have we added clever little graphics to indicate that the order is directed solely at cars, pedestrians and badly behaving dogs.  We really do mean you. What’s that? I see. You’re right. Mr. Obama does not have to stop at traffic lights. And if you are a visiting head of state using a bicycle for reasons of security or austerity, please have a note from your mother indicating that this is the case.

The Sidewalk Obsessed: Most of us are not troubled by compound words. A snowball is an globe fashioned from  … you guessed it … snow! (See how easy this is?) A beachfront view will necessarily include water. Similarly, the word “sidewalk” should not prove difficult. It sits at the side of the road and people walk on it.

But you point out that you are physically able to ride on sidewalks, that they even “look like” roads.  This is faulty reasoning.  “Can” does not necessarily imply “should”. “Look like” does not mean “is the same as”.  Now do you understand why people don’t put broccoli on wedding cakes, why I say you appear to be intelligent and why no one was really pleased with those five dollar bills you made, even if they were prettier than the real ones.

It’s all about definition, and you, therefore, will not ride your bicycle on our sidewalks.

 (And if you really do think “breakfast” is what happens to cheap televisions, then where you ride your bike will be the least of your worries.)

I Am My Own Lane: If you are Santa Claus, the Pope or the protagonist at a large funeral, you may have a traffic lane all to yourself with our blessing. However, if none of these is true, please share.

Signal? What’s a signal? It is customary to advise others of sudden changes in direction before – not after or during – a three lane shift to the left. And while we agree that normal turn signals are boringly conventional and offer you no creative outlet, wild and original gestures made at high speed only suggest that you are either too friendly or badly in need of rehab. Neither is a statement relevant during rush hour.

To Spandex or Not to Spandex: As you decide whether or not to wear this miracle fabric while cycling, we would ask that you keep a few things in mind. Its ability to stretch is finite. It keeps no secrets. It is not supposed to hurt you or terrify onlookers. Here’s a helpful tip. If you resemble Botticelli’s “Venus” or Michelangelo’s “David”, wear away. If the artwork that comes closest to capturing your essence is Holbein’s last portrait of Henry VIII, might we suggest restraint?

Those who Smoke while Cycling: “You’re right. It’s my problem. I totally get it.  Just because I don’t smoke and cycle doesn’t mean you can’t. Hey, a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. Yup. Oh look! You’ve tossed that nasty butt away. There now. Don’t you feel better? Can’t you feel your lungs start to … . Ah. I see. You needed that hand to hold your beer.”

Those who Text while Cycling: As long as what you are texting is titled “Last Will and Testament” and I am your heir, I have no issue with this activity.

Those who Text and Smoke while Cycling: Given your likely life span, who cares?

Bells and Whistles: We all like surprises. Wrap yourself up in a box and we will open you. Wear your Putin mask on Halloween and we will scream. But we would like you to observe closely the next time you see a fire truck or an ambulance. Notice that they do not creep up behind motorists, tap them on the shoulder and whisper “Excuse me.” Take this as a clue. If you are coming up behind us or passing on the left, ring the damn bell. Yes, we know they sound dorky.  No, we are not going to buy you a siren.

Weavers Seen in Heavy Traffic: “Look, he’s on the right … the left … the right … in front … behind … ahead … under … oh.

But I’m Only Going One Way: Roads are wonderful things and even the Romans understood that they work best when everyone is going in the same direction. In our far more complex society, we have determined that some of our streets will be designated “One Way” and we get to choose which way that is. In your own home or some of our more casual pubs, feel free to set off in your own directions. On our streets, however, we like our cyclists to be like our lemmings. Accept your lemminghood and go in peace.

But you say you are no lemming. You are a lone eagle. Well then. You do not need a bicycle. You need a cliff.

Look Ma! No Hands! Oh please. After watching Nik Wallenda walk across the Grand Canyon Gorge on a tightrope, do you really think we are going to be impressed when you cycle past hands free? Set aside youthful arrogance and learn to tell the difference between those things that are virtually indestructible and those that aren’t. In the first group are brick, stone and asphalt. In the second we have skin, teeth and necks.

“Would you mind if … “Version One: Occasionally as I sit innocently outside my favorite coffee shop, cyclists will abandon their bikes unlocked against the fence beside me. As they rush in to the wine store next door, they will call over to me. “Would you mind just watching my bike for a moment?”

I have no real problem with this as long as my duties are clearly understood by all parties. I will watch you leave.  I will watch the bike as it slides to the ground. I will watch as the three gentlemen with the pickup truck load it into the back. I will watch as they drive off together into the sunset. I will watch you jump and yell when you return.

To ensure that there is no confusion, I have had the preceding printed on small attractive cards. Please take one.

Would you mind if …” Version Two:   On occasion, I entertain. This generally involves having people enter my residence. As the living space in question is on the twenty-fourth floor, it should not come as any great surprise that there is no front garden, back garden, side garden or garage. Thus, when you ask if I would mind you bringing your bike in with you, the answer will be the same as if you had asked permission to bring in your car, your pet alligator or your mother the kleptomaniac.

Post Cycling Rituals: Rene Descartes died in the 1600’s, long before the first bicycles made an appearance. Had bikes developed earlier or Descartes been born later, “I think, therefore I am” would quickly have been followed by “I cycle, therefore I shower.”

This brings us to the end of our list. Lists are wonderful things. Anyone seeking an orderly mind and a well regulated existence would do well to peruse those that come along, especially ones that seek to improve the overall quality of life by identifying those things that interfere with that achievement. And what is the worst that could happen?

You might find yourself on it.



[i] This restriction holds in Ontario and most civilized jurisdictions. Still, those of you spending time in Florida are advised to take nothing for granted.

 

Parts  One and Two of this posting can be found at  http://wp.me/p3cq8l-5B and http://wp.me/p3cq8l-5S 

 

 

Sunday Morning Coffee 5: the Elegant Bastard’s Dictionary of Helpful Words and Phrases, Part Two

In which the Elegant Bastard continues his crusade for transparency and honesty in the definition of modern words and phrases. In deference to last week’s outraged comments (see the definition of “outrage” below), this list is alphabetical. Motivated readers are welcome to submit suggested additions. Others are simply asked to enjoy:

Creationism: A philosophy first popular among fundamentalists seeking to deny the idea that they descended from apes, it is now gaining popularity among apes trying desperately to deny that creationists descended from them.

Diet Soft Drinks: These sugar-free beverages were widely assumed to be effective aides in the battle against excess body fat. New reports suggest that they accomplish this by killing those who use them.

Fast Food: The word “fast” is popularly assumed to describe the speed of service. More accurately, it refers to the rate at which the calories contained find their way to whatever body part you wish they would avoid.

Guerrilla, Insurgent, Jihadist, Mujahideen, and Survivalist: To some extent, all these words originally incorporated elements of heroism and self-reliance. None necessarily involves violence. However, if recent self-referential and media use is examined, they now collectively refer to groups of young men with unfortunate personal habits who spend far too much time in each other’s company.  Their primary activity seems to be the growing of badly maintained facial hair. When television cameras approach them, they crowd together, invent short chants and pump their right hands, leading many to speculate that the world would be a quieter and safer place if they discovered other things to do with their right hands.

Another distinguishing characteristic is a tendency to fire guns into the air. It’s difficult to know exactly what this action accomplishes but it is likely best regarded as ejaculation for the sexually challenged.

A third and rather messy habit is their tendency to kill themselves and each other. Many would accept – or even welcome – this with a “Boys will be boys” shrug. Sadly however, they also tend to target those they seem to fear. This includes children, anyone praying, the unarmed, the elderly, women, some statues and those who shave without permission.

The Elegant Bastard’s only suggestion is one made to the media. The terms in question being of honourable origin and notoriously difficult to spell, why not abandon them entirely and use the shorter alternatives available. Might I suggest “thug”, “bully”, “coward” or if more syllables are really necessary, “inadequate”?

Idol: Once an object of worship carved primarily from stone – or, for the broken-hearted, ice cream – the term now can be used to describe teen males who are 1) generally blonde 2) acne free 3) able to at least hold a simple tune and 4) unable to complete puberty. While there is apparently no truth to reports that listening to their music can cause early onset diabetes, it is generally accepted that these young men are not to be trusted with fast cars, hair gel and – in foreign countries – pet monkeys.

Left Turn: In cycling, a signal accomplished by extending the right arm and then bending it at the elbow until it forms a 90 degree angle. However, since any bike signal has the same effect on some drivers as red capes on bulls or blood on sharks, most cyclists simply avoid them and offer up short prayers instead.

Outrage: Driven by the masses of new participants attracted by The Martin-Zimmerman case, the Edward Snowdon silliness and now the Asiana pilots’ names hoax, “Being Outraged”  is now the number one participatory sport in America. It requires no real logic, no noticeable training, no opposing players and best of all, no sense of responsibility. All that is really required is a mouth that opens.

Racist: The definition remains the same; it’s the scale of things that’s changed. For years, the sanctimonious assumed that racism was a phenomenon peculiar to religious conservatives, the southern states and the Republican Party. The fact that long before his trial and even before he was charged, millions took one look at George Zimmerman’s photograph and instantly declared him to be a racist invalidates that assumption. If racism denotes a judgement based on skin colour, the term can now be applied to many liberals, a number of Democrats, most of Hollywood and the entire NAACP. Who would have thought equity was something to be achieved via irony?

Reality Show: By now one of the world’s most popular oxymorons, it refers primarily to outrageously contrived competitions that offend logic, decency and all of the natural sciences. To determine the intended audience for these productions, simply delete the first two syllables of “oxymorons”.

Vodka: A substance Significant Other maintains will shortly play a pivotal role in domestic life if 1) the Duchess doesn’t have that kid, or 2) the Duchess has that kid, or 3) I write one more definition.

Noting that our focus has now twice been the definition of words, some readers have asked me to define the term, “Elegant Bastard”. The process of doing so will begin soon. In the interim, the George Zimmerman trial ended yesterday and the Elegant Bastard is both happy to be proven wrong (so far) and saddened to be proven right. The post in question can be accessed here: http://wp.me/p3cq8l-5K

Those who missed part one of “The Elegant Bastard’s Dictionary of Helpful Words and Phrases” can find it here. http://wp.me/p3cq8l-5q  Newcomers are advised to read it first.

Of Bicycles and the Taxonomy of Cyclepathic Behaviors: Part Two

In which the Elegant Bastard spokes fun at a few myths regarding cyclists, refuses to hug vegetation and declines a starring role in other people’s fantasies.

Those of us who have evolved beyond the need for four wheels and claimed our spokes would all agree on one important fact: a bike alone doth not a cyclist make. The same may be said for spandex clothing, irritating bells, clumsily positioned water bottles and the four letter words needed to deal with badly parked cars. Any of these, properly used, can be a wonderful accessory but none is essential.

The first thing really necessary for successful cycling is dirt. Fortunately, dirt is readily available and can be found underfoot almost everywhere. Urban dirt in its original condition is rarer but can be accessed in tangled ravines, forested hill sides and grassy margins. Here can be found a species of cyclist that plunges and pumps and sweats and terrifies small wildlife. Do not assume, as I once did, that they are lost and simply need clear directions to the nearest road, or that local governments have taken an imaginative approach to the punishing of criminal behavior. They do this because they like it. And why not? Those who would sniff disparagingly at them should keep in mind that there are other folk out there who like large snakes, fried liver and Michele Bachmann. Who’s crazy now, eh?

“Dirt in its original condition is free. It’s only when someone starts calling it real estate that problems begin.” T.E.B

I prefer paved dirt.

Since many of you might live in cities that take their paving seriously, I should mention that here in Toronto, “paved” is a relative term. We are a tough breed. Comfort and safety are both anathema to our wild inborn spirits and we prefer to punctuate our daily lives with as many opportunities for disaster as possible. This explains not only the state of our roads but also the outcomes of our municipal elections. That being said, I still prefer paved dirt if for no other reason than the presence of paving implies the possibility of direction and therefore, destination. And destination is the other essential element in cycling.

Once upon a time, our predecessors lived in a very simple world. All of Life as they knew it occurred at Point A. It was there that they would sit in their caves stoking the fires, wearing bits of vegetation and eating whatever didn’t manage to run away.

Then came the fateful day when one of their number – perhaps growing tired of the same dreary wall paintings or the overall smell – marched out into the world beyond and discovered Point B. Life as we know it was instantly born. Point A was no longer enough. All around that once small world a new cry went up: “To B!” And since they were not by nature a philosophical bunch, no one thought to pose the alternative, “Or Not To B?” Within days, roads were born, travel insurance was invented and McDonalds came into being.

It is this concept of destination – a preferred Point B – that fuels my need to cycle. Contrary to various urban myths, I do not cycle only to cycle any more than I eat to eat or drink to drink. I cycle to achieve my definition of Point B. Yet there are those who attempt to find in my pedalling some higher and nobler motive.

“Toronto will become a world class city when it abandons an obsession with cars so strong that one begins to think it is sexual in nature.” J.T.

Some suggest that I cycle to escape the modern world, its hectic pace and its rampant consumerism. Instead I choose to seek out verdant spaces, rolling hills and oxygen spawning trees, in the company of which I can rest my tortured soul. Others salute my dedication to the environment and applaud my decision to reduce my carbon footprint. And finally there are the fitness gurus who hold up for emulation my obvious commitment to personal health and well-being.

As much as I admire the Romantic Movement and regard fairy tales as narratives necessary to the survival of western civilization, I’m going to have to reject any role offered in these fictions. I am a city boy, born and bred. Put me anywhere without smog and my lungs threaten strike action. I do not actively dislike trees but I also feel no compulsion to hug them, an attitude that may change if they ever invent one that grows good wine grapes and/or inexpensive caviar. And as for exercise, sorry folks, but I’m chasing rich food and fine wines, not chiseled abs or anything remotely cardio-vascular. When I am on my bike, I am not looking for Arcady, Nirvana or Eden. I am looking for Starbucks, Walgreen’s and a good dry cleaner.

In short, cyclists tend to be real people in search of real goals. Our concern for Nature, health and a happy life is a cause we share with pedestrians and yes, responsible motorists. We are not hippies, weirdos, anarchists or fanatics. It is time that wannabe world-class cities acknowledged that fact and shared their roads accordingly.

“It is wise to approach sweating cyclists cautiously. You might be dealing with a cyclepath.”

However, it is with sadness that I must admit that there are those members of the cycling community who exhibit one or more of the various cyclepathologies that plague our species. In the interests of maintaining the health and well-being of society in general, I will provide a list of the most dangerous conditions in Part Three.

Part One of this series can be found here: http://wp.me/p3cq8l-5B

And those wishing to read the true confessions of an unrepentant City Boy may do so at “Bubble Time in the Big City.” It can be accessed here: http://wp.me/p3cq8l-3X

Finally, if you enjoy Elegant Bastard posts, please consider “sharing”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Tragedy of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman

In which the Elegant Bastard argues that seeing and hearing are not necessarily worthy of believing.

Sometime in the near future, a Florida jury will render its verdict in the Trayvon Martin – George Zimmerman case. That verdict will be largely irrelevant. Truth and Justice long ago left the building, disgusted by the muck and mud being trucked in by the armies of special interest.  The case is now trapped in the centre of a screaming crowd so vast it would have filled the Roman Forum, where, thumbs down , it would have stood and cheered the death of both protagonists.

The Martin-Zimmerman case is a carefully choreographed and scripted spectacle. Was Zimmerman a man suddenly in danger who therefore had the right to defend himself? Or was he a racist? A drop out? A man with a history of violence? A failure who strutted his little-man walk around his gated community, drooling over the idea that he was the original American hard-ass, worthy of respect and deserving of his balls? Who knows anymore – and in much of America, who cares.

Was Trayvon Martin the world’s cutest and most innocent ever teenager, targeted by that nasty fat  white man when all he was doing was spending his time helping old ladies and loving babies and grinning photogenically? Or was he just another pot head, a jewelry thief, an unstable and oft abandoned man-child, a cracker-hating racist with a growing fascination with guns, an angry young man serving out his third school suspension in one year. It doesn’t matter anymore.

What matters are the needs of the duelling narratives.  

We have the Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton Good Parents` Narrative, a tear-stained many-hankies story of life-long love and oft declared devotion. Their “Mother’s-love” and “Father’s pride” sound bites have featured prominently in media reports.  It’s a marketable angle and it sold. No mention is made of the fact that Trayvon lived with and was fed, housed, clothed, schooled and disciplined for most of his brief life by another woman, Alicia Stanley, a lady being kept far away from the camera. No one mentions that “Mother’s Love” is seeking financial compensation for her son’s death or that “Father’s Pride” is rumoured to be preparing a multi-million dollar civil suit following the criminal trial. There are dollar making machines out there – book deals, speaking tours, and more. But this potentially lucrative narrative needs perfect grieving parents and perfect grieving parents need a perfect dead child. No wrinkles, please!

Then we have the Race in America political narratives. The day the case first broke, long before anyone was arrested, demonstrations broke out in cities across America. To any observer, they seemed well-planned, a bit choreographed and big on rhetoric. (Does anyone remember the threatened “Million Hoodie March”?)  Black Democratic Leaders and the NAACP fulminated, the usual activists breathed the usual fire, professional media manipulators manipulated, and thousands – or hundreds – or dozens – it was never really clear – shouted their approval: “Zimmerman is guilty.”  “End Profiling Now!” “Justice for Trayvon!” “Am I Next?” And on and on and on.

The Politics of Race in America is both Big Politics and Big Business. Rhetoric aside, many groups and individuals have a powerful and vested interest in keeping groups divided. Fanning hatred, resurrecting feelings of victimhood, pointing accusatory fingers and creating guilt have many times proved themselves to be effective ways of raising profile, gaining political office and generating dollars. Outrage is forever sexy. Truth is … whatever. Yes, it works far more effectively if the marketed anger is squeaky-clean virtuous; it should not be tainted. Trayvon must be nothing less than saint and Zimmerman nothing more than sinner. It is for this reason that we have watched commentators tie themselves in knots trying to explain away Trayvon’s racist utterings while at the same time castigating his step mother for suggesting Zimmerman was not motivated by race. It is why conservative commentators attacked the “white Hispanic” label some applied to Zimmerman by arguing that those who used such a term were themselves racist.

We cannot forget the Save Our Guns narrative. Now the dynamic changes. Now the story is a tale of prowling delinquents, possibly armed, of drug deals gone badly, of possible threats to the great god Property. Enter that law-biding-just-tryin`-to-help-the-folks-at-home-good-old-boy-George, out there keeping a neighbourly (armed!) eye on things, and what happens?  The poor boy’s rolling on the ground fighting for his life. Oh Mr. and Mrs. America! Can’t you just feel the fear?

This narrative can be more flexible. Zimmerman’s heroism need not be as perfect as Trayvon’s virtue. The story is really the concealed danger lurking everywhere in gated communities populated by people able to afford good guns. That Trayvon wasn’t armed was initially inconvenient, but now they have text messages suggesting that he was “fascinated” by firearms. Good enough. That’s a wrap. Not perfect Zimmerman; Perfect Fear.

Let’s not forget the Your Right To Know media narratives, proof again that America’s biggest White-Black problem is not race. It`s media driven false dichotomies:  Left vs. Right, Good vs. Evil, Red vs. Blue and so on. It’s the hand-wringing “Oh My God No!” stories constantly pushed by the news media and then manipulated by competing power brokers. Nothing sells more ads than crisis, conflict, hate, war, disaster and tears. It’s Ryan vs. Biden, Spy vs. Spy, Superman vs. Lex Luthor and now, Trayvon vs. Zimmerman. Gray is only good in dress slacks.

And of good or evil, which sells better?  That’s easy. If the Second Coming of Christ coincides with riots over a Zimmerman verdict, the CNN lead will be, “Suspicious birth in Bethlehem. Now back to Florida and our main story. Over to you, Wolf!”

One last narrative is worth a mention. Since the story broke, aging and has-been “stars” have been all over it, finding a way to use one side or the other to get their faces back in front of any camera anywhere. Cher, Roseanne Barr and Spike Lee are among the worst offenders with the latter two tweeting Zimmerman’s parents’ address, resulting in a deluge of hate mail and threatening calls. In Lee’s case, absurdity was the order of the day as he gave out the address of the wrong Zimmerman family. The much-frightened and angry elderly couple promptly sued.

What happens after the jury retires sometime today will be at best accidental justice. There will likely be rioting in either case as rioters are more about excuses than causes. And all over America, people will continue to shout or plead or demand or pray for a certain verdict. It will not matter to them whether the outcome is true or false. They have a necessary narrative to defend and they don’t really care what Zimmerman did or did not do or who Trayvon really was. They need the verdict that brings their chosen narrative to a successful close. Whether they need to hate or they need to believe or they need to feed the greed, they will let nothing interfere with satisfaction.

As for the rest of us, we need to remind ourselves of what we already know –  that often, when we turn to what we are told is news, we are encountering well polished sales pitches, complete with practiced tears, orchestrated outrage, rapidly assembled crowds, deftly prepared sound bites and carefully concealed motives. We will be asked to shed a tear or shake a fist.

Much better, I think, to leave the crowded forum, eyes dry and hands in our pockets. We can then take an invigorating walk while we examine what we’ve been given. We can unleash our inner sceptic and let it do its necessary work. (We should remind ourselves that this is necessary practice since we still have the Hernandez, Tsarnaev and Holmes trials coming up.) This reflective process will not be as noisy or exciting or cathartic as what’s going on back in the arena, but it will be decidedly more elegant.

And Truth and Justice might just then stand a chance.

We will return the “The Taxonomy of Cyclepathic Behavior” soon. For those interested in the impact of well-shaped bums on GPS fanatics, the answer may be found at http://wp.me/p3cq8l-19

 

 

The Taxonomy of Cyclepathic Behaviors: Part One

Before launching into his erudite and long awaited dissertation regarding aberrant bicycling behavior in urban areas, the Elegant Bastard will pause to explain how he came to acquire his own spokes. Careful readers will peruse the endnotes before proceeding.

It began in a happier and simpler time. I was breezing through my 30’s more or less on auto-pilot and I wasn’t really looking for anything involving sweat. As for “exercise”, well, I could operate a cork screw without assistance and by carefully pushing the right buttons in the right sequence, I could make a pizza appear in any room in 30 minutes or less. On days when that seemed insufficient I could drive by a gym and think intense gym thoughts. I had considered doing more but fanaticism has never really appealed to me.

Then came that day when the Province of Ontario and I sat down to do battle.

I had been summoned by letter and had spent a few days preparing that best of all defences, a good offence. I arrived and laid my cards on the table. I wanted an end to place names like Wawa, a ban on neon blue or rose pink hair colour and the immediate deportation of Don Cherry. They wanted my driver’s licence.

To be scrupulously fair, there was cause. I had twice in the previous year suffered two unexpected grand mal epileptic seizures. I maintained that the first was my response to the planned renovation of the Royal Ontario Museum and should properly be regarded as aesthetic criticism rather than a medical emergency. Ontario nodded and said, “I see.”[i] It then went on to point out that in addition to Wawa and Don Cherry, the province was home to large numbers of children, all of whom it valued and wanted to preserve. My continuing possession of a fast moving object weighing over 1200 kilograms was inexplicably seen as counter-productive to this goal. (A clear example of the aforementioned fanaticism but I decided this was not the time to mention that. I politely responded, “I see.”)

As is usual, we ended with a compromise. I handed over my licence and they promised to consider deporting Mr. Cherry to Wawa.

In relatively short order, this chain of events led me to board something called a bus. I immediately discovered a few facts. I did not own this vehicle. Therefore I would need to share it. Next, it insisted on going places I had no need to visit. Further, despite polite requests, significant throat clearing, soulful whimpering and dramatic foot stomping, it would not stop at my front door. Instead, it insisted on taking me to the street corner occupied by the home of the world’s largest dog, an excessively fanged creature as yet unintroduced to the many joys of a vegan diet.

As I tend not to suffer in silence, my transportation troubles soon spawned a number of proposed solutions. Most notable among them was an off-spring’s suggestion that I take up roller-blading. Not only would I be able to get around, I could also lose a little of that … um … well … er … extra weight. I pointed out I could instantly lose 120 pounds by dropping him from The Will. He responded with a thoughtful “I see!”[ii]

That led to Significant Other’s hasty suggestion that I consider a bicycle. It made sense. In a previous millennium, a friend had stored a bike in our garage and I had often looked at it as I drove in and out. In that sense I was already a veteran. Yielding to this logic, I bought one.

The last steps in my transition from motorist to cyclist were reasonably smooth and almost without trauma. The rose garden really did need thinning out and none of my favorites were amongst the casualties. My neighbours grew used to my “I am going to die” screams as they went about teaching me the complex art of steering. As for the raccoon with whom I had a close encounter, I am sure he eventually managed to descend from that very tall pole and I can only hope that in the intervening years he has discovered the calming effect of vodka martinis.

End of Part One.

In part Two, the Elegant Bastard will respond to certain cycling myths.

In the interim, those wishing to read about the Elegant Bastard’s heroic and successful struggle against the biggest of the big banks may do so here: http://wp.me/p3cq8l-58


[i] In Peter Cameron’s wonderful novel, Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You, the protagonist makes the following observation: “Whenever anyone tells me ‘I see‘ I think they’re really saying Fuck you.” The Elegant Bastard concurs.

[ii] See endnote 1