Sochi and the “Putin Wants a Penis” Games

After the unexpected PR failure of the first new event, “Puppy Killing”, Putin games organizers nervously roll out the second group of new sports: the Putinathalon!

Welcome to Part Two of The Elegant Bastard’s preview of new sports debuting at Sochi’s Putin Olympiad (also known as the “Putin Wants A Penis” Games).  The first sport, Dog Destroying, failed to garner much public support but organizers have big hopes for the much hyped “Putinathalon” .

Like the decathlon and heptathlon of summer games fame, the Putinathalon is actually a collection of events, the main difference being that any number of separate contests can be added at any point by any on-site Russian president.

The rules for these contests vary but each must involve an identifiable phallic symbol being modelled in public. A phallic symbol is arguably anything that’s penis shaped – in other words, it’s longer than it’s wide – but purists have demanded that only traditionally masculine objects be included. Thus, rolling pins, sharpies and curling irons were not approved for these games. Instead, a competitor must successfully squeeze in his (right) hand any one of the following: an automatic rifle, a fishing rod, a paddle, a large dead fish, skis or a tranquilized tiger. Alternatively he may pose sitting astride what appears to be a very old horse or a photo-shopped bird of prey.

Whatever the phallic object, the subject must grip it tightly long enough for state media to take the appropriate pictures. (Photographers are expected to crouch and angle their cameras upwards, thereby adding height to the subject and length to the object.)

Note: There is no expectation that the competitor will actually use the object. In fact, those standing nearby would prefer that the subject not have the opportunity to let the object go off prematurely.

As we all realize, symbolism is a fragile art and to ensure that the penile does not accidentally become the puerile, certain mandatory exclusions have been imposed. No competitors are permitted from countries or races that allow men to grow taller than is absolutely necessary. In fact, to ensure symbol security, potential competitors must be exactly 5 foot 7 inches and hold a public position equal to but not greater than that of  … well … a Russian president.

All events require competitors to appear bare-chested. Some will also require the wearing of Speedos but a quick glance at similar Putin pictures already posted at Google Images (just enter Putin and “bare”) makes it clear that no one could possibly be offended. (There may, however, be a fair amount of giggling.)

Given the necessary restrictions, no one will be much surprised to learn that current Russian president, Vladimir Putin, is the only competitor and will likely take gold, silver, bronze, tin, lead and silly putty medals in each sport. Please note that the medals for these events will not be circular. A special assortment of ten inch long rods has been commissioned. It is unlikely that Putin will wear them around his neck.

At the conclusion of these new events, Putin is expected to announce that Russia’s current national anthem is to be replaced by that popular ‘70’s songs, “I Wanna Be A Macho Man” by the “Village People”.

You heard it here first! Tell your friends.

Those wishing to hear the original version of the proposed new anthem may find it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AO43p2Wqc08

Puppy Killing and other new sports at the Sochi Winter Olympics (1)

In which the Elegant bastard chronicles the smaller stories that are part of these, the Putin Ego Games

The Elegant Bastard’s Winter Olympic Games Report (1): My task is to provide ongoing analysis of the new sports Russia is introducing to these, the Putin games. The first, Dog Killing, will begin – like a few other sports – prior to the official opening. The unusual feature here is that organizers hope to have the entire competition wrapped up early as well.

This new sport includes three events:  Whole Pack Pumping, the Individual’s Elimination Round and, for younger viewers, Puppy Popping. The first will involve teams armed with light machine guns converging on those Olympic sites where groups of stray dogs gather to sun themselves and beg for scraps. Making every effort not to accidentally strike straight tourists, teams will fire carefully aimed bursts whenever they encounter suitable targets. Official scorers will travel with each team. Points will be awarded for greatest number of targets hit within the allocated time. There will be “only wounded” and “still whimpering” deductions.

The “Individual’s  Elimination Round” will focus on single dogs who enter journalists’ unfinished hotel rooms or who take “unsightly” naps at official venues. Competitors will initially be expected to use only pistols but, if necessary and with permission from any official, machine guns may once again be used. Games volunteers will accompany competitors and will have a supply of plastic bags in which successfully achieved targets will be stored. In those few cases where single small dogs have been taken down with machine guns, it is likely that hoses will be necessary to prepare the field for subsequent events and official visits.

The final sport is arguably the most difficult to master. Puppies are small and unpredictable targets, dashing in all directions in search of food and their mothers (all of whom will likely have been involved in the Individual’s Elimination event.) Competitors will be expected to take down one puppy per shot (officially referred to as a “pop”.) Bonus points will be awarded if one “pop” takes out two or more pups.

In keeping with the IOC’s expectations that Olympic sites and materials be recycled wherever possible, all weapons used in the three events will be sent to the Syrian government at the conclusion of the games.

As is expected to be true in all judged events, Russia will likely sweep the medals board.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/sochi-killing-stray-dogs-in-preparation-for-the-winter-olympics-9105046.html

(While the Original Elegant Bastard attends to the games, apprentices will post the regular pieces. Later today, a new way to deal with fitted bed sheets will be posted here.)

You Can’t Trust the Yak Meat

In which The Elegant Bastard considers the potential impact on our best laid plans of men with guns and rotten yak meat.

Somewhere in Nepal: They are in a tiny nameless village, and at six thousand metres, these two young European men are somewhere near the roof of the world. They have trekked here without guides and it has taken them ten days. Their destination is a gap in the mountains, a break in the high rock walls. Once there, they will be able to see the sun rise over some of the taller Himalayan peaks, among them Annapurna, whose name can be translated as “Goddess of the Harvests” or “the mother who feeds.”

That goal is less than hour’s easy walk away. But now one man lies helpless in a dark windowless cabin, his body wracked with fever and periodic spasms. He feels like he has been vomiting forever. They think he is dying. They may be right. And for now we are going to do the only thing we can do. We are going to leave them there…

Somewhere in rural Quebec: It is April, it’s cold and I am pacing back and forth in the lobby of a small inn. I have been here two days. When I have not been evading the trillions of tiny black flies who seem determined to be my friends, I’ve been muttering to myself and writing feverishly in a tattered notebook. Other guests seem to be getting nervous.

It began when my thesis advisor, a patient lady – who seems to have far more gray hair now than when we first met – suggested I give up the idea of writing “something new about phallic symbolism in Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” But I had spent nearly a year analysing countless dreary references to ghostly trees, drooping poles, unloaded guns and things that go pop in the night. I was too far beyond the reach of reason to give up now. The truth was out there and I needed to find it.

The only problem was that so far, “it” had proved elusive and I no longer had the time required to develop a whole new project. Either I articulated a thesis – now – or I started looking for what my friends and family were loudly and repeatedly describing as “a real job.”

Caught between their increasing noise and my own growing panic, I had grabbed enough overtime hours at a local warehouse to finance a do-or-die weekend retreat. A friend had recommended this tiny hotel far away from all distractions, mentioning as he did so the superb quality of its roast duck. And so here I was, and while I was clearly the popular choice as new lord of the black flies, I was also still thesis free.

I decide that even this state of isolation is not enough. As if to reinforce this thought, a phone rings, pots clang, a radio blares and a vacuum roars into life. I approach the front desk and the by now apprehensive manager. I tell him I want to go out and get lost. He nods. He seems to want that too.

He points out that other than the road leading to the highway, there are no real paths here. Outside is simply forest. No matter what direction I choose, I would soon be lost. He smiles and nods encouragingly towards the door.

I gather up my papers, my pens, my books, my bag and my boots and head for my waiting wilderness. He calls me back to ask if I want the duck or the pheasant for dinner. It seems I must choose now. When I say I can’t decide, he shakes his head, as if once again made weary by the ways of urban intruders. But no matter. He tells me he will set the proper wheels in motion. He adds that he will ring a large bell in a few hours to help me find my way back. He then wishes me a pleasant afternoon.

Soon I am a good distance off in the forest, tramping purposefully towards nowhere in particular and content enough not to care. The temperature has fallen and my flies seem have abandoned me. I am alone with my thoughts. I walk on, thinking. Time fades and as it does, ideas begin to come together. Months of fragments start to construct a possible whole. I feel myself on the verge of an epiphany. It’s working out as expected. My plans are about to bear fruit. If brains can be pregnant, then mine is about to give birth to septuplets!

I cheer out loud, punch the air and spin around to start the trek back to the inn. Five metres away from me stands a bearded man with a rifle. I had not expected him.

For a split second, I feel fear. Then I remember where I am and why I am here and I feel I want to chuckle. And suddenly the thesis I’d been chasing for a year springs fully formed and beautiful into my mind. I laugh out loud. The man with the gun laughs with me. He’s very large. So is the gun.

Now he gestures. He points to the rifle, to two bloody bags at his feet and then to me. He nods his head, and then shakes it. I realize he does not speak English. As I do not speak gun, we have a problem. He repeats the entire pantomime again and makes some sounds that are not language. I get the feeling I am supposed to make a decision.

While I consider the possible consequences of making the wrong choice, the manager of the inn comes tromping up behind the fellow with the gun. They shake hands and they hug. The manager uses sign language to send the large man a message. The large man laughs, shoulders his rifle, strides over and shakes my hand.

The manager now explains to me that my new friend – who is both deaf and mute – is a skilled hunter. In one bag are ducks. The other contains pheasants. I am supposed to pick the bird I want for dinner and pay him for whichever I choose. The manager had rightly if belatedly assumed that I might not understand the situation and had come to see if I needed help. I nod. The three of us walk back towards the inn. I have my thesis, my duck and a new appreciation of irony and chance.

Somewhere in Nepal: Of the two young men in the mountains, I know one well enough not to be surprised that he is there. After all, he had nothing back in France except a new degree, the offer of a well-paying job, the chance of an apartment in Paris and a wine collection already assembled on his behalf. Who in that situation would not rush to Bhutan? I assume that the young man with him is also there by choice. The only way to be in Bhutan “by accident” is to be born there.

My young friend is actually on a mission of mercy. His goal is to provide people in Bhutan with access to dental care, something that is now in very short supply. But since he happened to be in the neighbourhood, why would he not decide to climb thousands of metres in order to see the sun rise on a mountain?

He and his friend had been given some advice prior to their trek. Take a guide with you. Understand that conditions at this altitude may do harm to both the mind and body. Remember that if anything does happen, there are no clinics, no doctors and no reliable communication. Not even helicopters will be able to provide help. The air is too thin. This is a place far beyond the reach of logic, compassion, forgiveness or regret.

But all this advice is put aside. They are young, smart and in outstanding physical condition, exactly the kind of people who need to make love to mountains. They have done their research, weighed all the possible outcomes and they set out on the climb.

They reach this place after a long day; they are exhausted and hungry. As much as they want to see Annapurna, they also want a hot meal. Unbelievably they discover a small restaurant with some huts attached that can be rented for an evening. They will go on to their mountain in the morning. For now they will stop. My friend will stuff himself with heavily sauced yak meat and the two of them will take a room for the night.

He does not consider the possibility that the yak meat might be rotten.

And when it becomes evident that it is, things move quickly beyond the point where voluntary vomiting might make a difference. He can not uneat the meat. And so for three days he fights the poison, relying on the only tools available – his immune system and his will power. His friend is powerless to provide anything other than fresh water.

On the fourth day – three would have been too derivative, no? – he is able to rise from his bed.  He can feel his strength returning. They are running short of time so they shoulder their packs and move on. Soon they reach their destination and the two of them are able to look out upon Annapurna and be fed by her.

That is where we will leave them. If I can figure out the technology, I will share with you a picture I was sent. I wonder if your reaction will be the same as mine. I can admire the view; it is spectacular. But I cannot understand it. Annapurna is not my mountain. It is theirs. In much the same way, my parents and friends could respect – but not fully understand – my thesis. It was not theirs.

And so, Dear Reader, it makes no sense for me to wish you luck on your Annapurnas or success with your thesis statements. Your dreams will likely take other forms. However, there are two things I can wish for you. If you must encounter rifles, may they be held by friendly folk who only wish to offer you a pheasant. And if you must eat yak meat, may it always be fresh.

And as for you my young friend, who, while still in your mid twenties, has already lightly given away the glitter that mesmerizes others in exchange for a beautiful piece of stone and some faraway smiles, may I say how much I admire what you have already accomplished. You, Anthony, are a most Elegant Bastard!

This piece is dedicated to my young friend, Anthony, who has now completed his trek and returned to work on the “Happy Teeth Project”, an initiative he designed. Information about “Happy Teeth” is available at http://happyteethproject.org/ and if what you find there encourages you to make a donation, you may contact him via that site.

Those wishing to explore other existential musings might enjoy “Dances with Buses”. It can be found here: http://wp.me/p3cq8l-7A

Enough About Politics! Back To The Wine!

The Elegant Bastard acknowledges that many who read these posts are beneath the legal drinking age in their various jurisdictions. However, we force young people to pick their careers before they can have them, learn about cars before they can drive them and draw plans of bridges before they can build them. Why not introduce them to wines before they can drink them? In fact, when better?

I received an amusing letter yesterday. It commented favourably about a recent post concerning Toronto’s mayor but then concluded by saying to me, “Ok, we get it. You don’t like Rob Ford. Now let’s get back to the wine talk.” In other words, enough with the gripes. Get back to the grapes.

I agree! It’s time. For now there are no more mayors. With our corkscrews in one hand and our Riedels in the other, let us all go forth and together be wise. Here is the first of a series of reviews about white wines currently available in Ontario. (They are also likely accessible in other regions.)

Rabl Kittmansberg Gruner Veltliner (Austria) 2011, $14.95: When I first sniff a glass of wine, I do so with all the delicacy and finesse of a dog greeting a new best friend. My nose is not near the glass; it is in the glass. My inhalation is not subtle. It’s deep. I am a man looking for metaphors; let no one interfere.

As per usual, the first sniff of this wine suggests fruit. Is it apple-y? A tad. Pearish? A bit. Then the truth arrives. It’s peachy – the restrained suggestion of an under ripe peach that danced quite closely with an overripe melon while holding a flower in its teeth. (Yes, I know peaches don’t have teeth. If you’re going to be like that, go away.) The aroma is not at all cloying but I still worry. This much fruit on the nose might be a warning that the wine is sweet, and I generally do not like sweet.

Then another scent begins to manifest in the glass and now I get eagerly and noisily nosey. The epiphany strikes on the third inhalation. It is suddenly a bracing spring morning on the cobblestone streets of Old Montreal and I am there, breathing in the familiar odour of old wet stone.

The first tastes confirm my hopes. The fruit is mellow and almost rich but there is no hint of syrup.  The wine is dry but not at all puckery. There is no hint of the unpleasant astringency that turns so many away from white wines. Instead the combination of fruit and minerality gives the wine a balance rarely obtained at this price point. There’s even a hint of pepper contributing a pleasantly subdued “burn”. The taste lingers and seems to cleanse the tongue with each sip.

As many wines must, this one had to do duty a second night. One day later, it was still intriguing, not bad given that so many wines go flat within a couple of hours of being opened. Day one it paired with basil and lemon braised chicken; on day two its tangy undertones went well with a sage and tarragon flavoured smoked turkey and split pea soup.

When friends and I encounter a new wine, we will often assign it a “personality”. We decided that if this wine were a person, it would be a pleasantly witty and slightly acerbic dining companion (or an advisor of some sort) who arrives dressed in a sophisticated version of business casual. The talk would be all about interesting events and unusual people, with perhaps some wry political commentary tossed in to keep the mood light.  Were any business to be done, it would of course be dealt with successfully. (Professionalism always shows!) The two of you would then stroll together through the light rain to the nearest subway station where you would part, already looking forward to the next encounter.

Cheers!

(This wine is currently available in some Toronto LCBO locations. Its product number is 346007. Rabl is the producer. Gruner Veltliner is the grape and this was my first – but hopefully not my last! – encounter with this varietal.)

To the Reader: As Facebook attempts to deal with its unpleasant economic realities, it seems to be changing the way it serves its members. If you enjoy “The Elegant Bastard” and wish to know when new material is published, you should consider going to its Facebook page and “liking” the page ( not just a specific post.) You will then automatically be notified when new posts occur. Here is the link: https://www.facebook.com/theelegantbastard

As always, I love your comments. There are also two earlier wine pieces.  “All’s Fair in Love and Wine” is at  http://wp.me/p3cq8l-3M and “Of Red Wines and Dancing Partners” can be found at  http://wp.me/p3cq8l-23

Sticks Up The Bum, mr. putin!

A word of explanation: the Elegant Bastard acknowledges that this is the second consecutive post involving foreign objects being inserted in various body parts. This should not be regarded as a trend. The “fly up the nose” of the previous post was a committee decision, one made after more than one bottle of a good Ripasso. As for “Sticks up the bum”, that phrase came (as does so much that is wise) directly from the mouths of babes.

Oh mr. putin, mr. putin, mr. putin. What are we to make of you, eh? Here it was, a lovely Friday morning, one so sunny and so mild that here in Toronto we could all sit back with our morning beverage, gaze at the whimsical flurries of snow  and imagine a ford-free future.

And then you had to spoil it all by saying something stupid like, “Gay people will be safe at Olympics if they ‘leave kids alone’.

Now really, mr. putin, what was that all about? Did you grin at the image of outraged crowds rushing to all available microphones, ranting and raving about homophobia, your own abuse of children and your latest insult to the Olympic spirit? Did you smile and envision hordes of commentators spluttering in fury and waving the reports that completely invalidate your scummy accusation? Did you giggle in anticipation of the storm?

Look around, vlad. Listen carefully. It’s only one day later and – guess what – no storm. Where are the offended masses?

They’re walking dogs, vlad, or they’re watching football, or studying, or, in my case, prepping an upcoming post about some recently encountered white wines.  And why not? You’re the boy we’ve called “goof” once too often for there to be any chance we would take you seriously. Oh, there might be some minimal “analysis” or “commentary”. It’s a Saturday, typically a slow news day and something’s got to keep the ratings up. But most of us will, I think, just shrug our shoulders and see it as yet another bad vlad day. That’s how irrelevant you’ve become.

And in any case, mr. putin, we know you were not posing an argument. You were performing. For you as for Iran’s ahmadinejad, North Korea’s un (and recently its rodman), Syria’s assad, Toronto’s ford, and all the other piggy-eyed little chinless wonders who periodically find themselves on the world stage, it’s not about the content, is it? It’s about the noise. You are there to make noise and any noise at all will do. What’s fascinating is the motive, this question of what makes putin “tick”?

Just who are you, mr. putin? At first I saw you as a modern day Iago, that great villain from Shakespeare’s Othello. For readers who have yet to experience the play, here’s a brutally brief synopsis of Act Three, scene one. Othello, a Moor (and therefore non-white) has married Desdemona (quite white), the young daughter of a Venetian nobleman (very, very White!) All the affected and offended parties (largely white) storm into the palace to see who (or how many) will end up headless. Every Grand and not-so-grand Poobah is there. So is Iago (kind of pale grey or off-white). He is Othello’s servant and a truly nasty little man.

In the next few minutes, everyone – except Iago – gets to speak: the ruler of Venice, the Moor, some senators and even a teenage girl! Iago clearly feels this is an insult because as soon as the stage is empty, he struts, frets, threatens, pronounces, fumes, cackles and even adds an occasional mwahahaha to show himself what a big bad boy he is. He basically behaves like a poster boy for erectile dysfunction.

That’s more or less how I saw putin – Iago without the cool iambics. In short, he seemed to be the classic little man. Throw in a big case of penis-envy and you’ve got someone the NRA would love to get to know.

But that idea didn’t work. Oh it explained the most recent anti-gay slur and his unsubtle bullying of the Ukraine. But these acts were obvious and clumsy, akin to our ford’s attempt to toss a football or run a lap in the council chamber. The original Iago could be subtle when necessary, and putin doesn’t do subtle.

I next imagined him as a little boy wearing his daddy’s shoes and demanding to be allowed to sit with the grown-ups. His manners are so terrible, however, that he is banished to the children’s table in the pantry. Here, instead of throwing potatoes at his sister, he sells arms to Syria.

Whether little man or little boy, the key word here is “little”. It’s clear that putin, like our ford, feels his smallness. In one famous television scene, he and America’s Obama are sitting beside each other on a stage.  putin gets to his feet. Then Obama stands up – and up – and up, up, up. The look of absolute hatred on putin’s face is almost shocking. Rumour has it that putin’s photo shoots are arranged to ensure that no one taller than he is included in the scene. (Apparently this makes it difficult to assemble much of a crowd.)

Yet there was something about the “little” variants that still didn’t quite satisfy me. “Little” came close to expressing his essence but something essential was missing. I discovered the secret in Prague.

The Czechs are famous for puppet theatre. A year or so ago, I had the opportunity to walk through a showroom created by one troupe of performers. Here we could see the puppets at rest. They were all standing and with most, the strings were evident. But a few had the strings folded and placed neatly beside them. How then, I wondered, did they stand erect?

One little girl, clearly bursting with scientific curiousity, decided to find out. To the crowd’s horror, she slipped under the guard rope, ran up to an elaborately dressed puppet king and lifted his gorgeous robe. She then called to her mother, revealing the answer to all (who spoke Czech.) However, translations were made available and the whole room soon dissolved into multilingual laughter. What had the little girl said?

“Mommy. He has a stick up his bum.”

In fact, he didn’t. The puppet was simply mounted on a cleverly designed stand. Still, the little girl’s mistake was understandable. And as I reread the story of Putin’s gratuitous and boorish insult to visiting gay athletes and spectators, I am reminded of the little girl’s comment. It captures the missing piece of the putin puzzle  and is equally true of assad and ahmadinejad and our ford. They are puppets, caricatures of power, each held in place with a stick up its bum until its time for it to dance,  twirl, kick, or fight according to its masters’ dictates.

What part of putin made the comment about gay visitors – the Iago, the little boy, the man on a stick? It doesn’t matter. It’s noise. What can we do about it? I suppose it would be nice to expose those who pull the puppets’ strings or manipulate the stick. That would help. Oh yes, and one more thing.

 We could stop electing them to high office.

To the Reader: As Facebook attempts to deal with its unpleasant economic realities, it seems to be changing the way it serves its members. Whether the issue is capacity or shifting priorities, fewer and fewer people are notified when members post. If you enjoy “The Elegant Bastard” and wish to know when new material is published, you should consider going to its facebook page and “liking” the page ( not just a specific post.) Apparently you will then be notified when new posts occur. Here is the link:  https://www.facebook.com/theelegantbastard

 

 

What It’s Really Like Living In Toronto Under Rob Ford? Imagine A Fly…

In which the Elegant Bastard promises to avoid fat jokes as he explains to those unable to live in Toronto what it’s really like having Rob Ford as mayor.

Over the course of this thing we call life, others occasionally ask us to help them understand the essence of some experience we take for granted but that they are unable to share.   For example, I am a Canadian living in Toronto. Many are not so fortunate. I am therefore often asked to describe my world so that they might at least know what they are missing.

Examples are legion. A group of Detroit school children once insisted that I define and pronounce – repeatedly – that ultimate expression of our nationalism, “eh?”[i] (I understand they attempted a choral rendition when they returned home.) Two tourists from the UK loudly demanded that I show them dangerous bears or badly behaving Biebers and seeing neither, accused me of having deliberately hidden them. (I pointed out that we’d tried that with the Bieber but he kept getting loose and trying to sing.) And one unenthusiastic guest from New York  inquired as to whether we had anything to eat “up here” other than 1) wind 2) snow and 3) poutine (which she regarded as even less edible than the wind and the snow.) [ii] Add to these the usual stream of astonished “My God, just how big are your feet!” comments and it becomes clear that I should now be an expert at helping those who are busily trying to expand their minds and improve their educations.

Still, I do occasionally encounter a question I cannot answer easily. And by far the most challenging of these is also the one most frequently asked. To date, people from Paris, London, Chicago, Bruges, Vienna, Bratislava and something called Oxnard have declared their urgent need to know the answer to the following: What is it like having Rob Ford as mayor?

I can understand this curiousity. After all, the world has very few Rob Fords and they are all, not surprisingly, quite busy. Russia has its Putin[iii] but his hands are full beating up orphans, quelling pussy riots, harassing homosexuals and preparing to embarrass the entire Olympic movement. He can hardly be expected to run from one foreign city to another giving everyone a “Ford for a Day” moment. Dennis Rodman[iv] is America’s much taller version but he too seems to have landed a permanent gig pretending to play basketball for short North Korean dictators who are trapped in perpetual Bad Hair days.

That just leaves Toronto’s One and Only Original Ford.  And not only do we get to have him all to ourselves, we also have a spare in reserve! (Let’s call him Tweedledoug.) I fully understand that some of you may see this as completely unfair.  If so, I can only suggest that you play upon a key Canadian character trait – guilt.  If you first make us feel bad and then ask us very nicely, perhaps we would be persuaded to let you rent one of them for a while. I don’t think we’d charge much – certainly not by the pound[v]. In fact, a two-for-one deal is a strong possibility! And if you were willing to take Conrad Black, the CN Tower and the Maple Leafs as part of some overall package, we might even be willing to dispense with payment altogether.

Should you accidentally keep them all past the return date, don’t worry. Our other national trait will ensure you barely hear our protests for as you all know, Canadians are polite!

However, such complex trade negotiations are best left to others. You want the original question dealt with now and I think I have discovered a way to answer it effectively. You will, Dear Reader, be required to exercise a little imagination but having read your letters, I know that this will pose no problems whatsoever.

So, what is it like having Rob Ford as a mayor?

Imagine a fly. It is a very large fly, perhaps the largest you have ever seen. You are sitting quietly in your kitchen when you first notice it. You groan for you realize you have once again left the patio doors open, thus providing the creature with a window of opportunity.  Having achieved entry, it now flies in awkward and ungainly circles about the room, periodically bumping into walls and crashing into furniture. It lands and appears to stumble before it scurries off, first in one direction and then another, as if searching frantically for something. You notice a tiny puddle where it landed and you hope that it was there before.

The fly now spots a bag of icing sugar and instantly climbs upon it, buzzing excitedly and stamping its many feet in some bizarre version of a happy dance. But sadly (for the fly) the bag is sealed.  Now the buzz becomes louder, almost angry. It’s as if the fly is swearing. Suddenly it returns to the counter and stomps its way towards the window, trampling an innocent ladybug on its way. You notice another tiny puddle.

You are beginning to think it’s time you did something about the number of insects taking up residence in your kitchen. You are idly pondering whether or not to take a course in Effective Door Closing when suddenly the unthinkable happens. The fly flies up your nose.

In that brief moment, the once great world collapses inwardly upon itself and disappears. The planets are gone. The stars have disappeared. Asia and Europe have lost their romance and Africa its mystery. All is gone, all. Only two things remain: you and the fly up your nose.

You briefly wonder why it chose to do this to you. Was it cold? Was it hungry? Did it look up at your nostrils and imagine them to be two subway tunnels? But then you stop seeking understanding. What does “Why” matter when you have a fly up your nose?

Solutions begin to present themselves. Blow your nose. But wait! Blowing out requires first breathing in. What if you simply draw the fly in deeper? And nose blowing requires nose gripping! What if you accidentally crush your unwelcome guest? What’s the only thing worse than a fly up your nose? A dead fly up your nose!

An agony of indecision invades your entire being. Meaning is lost. So what that you have access to concert halls, opera houses and glorious shopping malls? Who cares that thousands of restaurants wait to serve your every need or that there are legions of pubs and bars and coffee houses dedicated to various forms of stress management? Forget the promotion, the deal, the bonus and the perks! What does life mean any more?  There’s a fly up your nose.

And as you writhe in helpless torment, you hear a sound. It’s a sinister new drone and it’s approaching fast. You close your eyes in denial; you grip your chair in fear. Nothing can save you now. A moment later you discover something much worse than even a mutilated fly up your nose. Its brother has arrived. A fraternity of flies is now camping in your nose!.

Nor is your situation helped in any way by the fact that three million other souls are also suffering, each with its own two-fly burden. Knowing the state of my neighbour’s nose brings me no comfort. In moments like this, I am my nose and my nose is me. A fly enters one nostril; love, sympathy, sharing and compassion instantly fly out the other. And even if I were that rare individual who could see past his own nose and gaze in brotherly sorrow upon yours, what practical good is such empathy? Are you expecting a helpful finger? It’s not going to happen.

In fact, a flies-in-the-nose epidemic like Toronto’s instantly proves false the notion that misery loves company. If anything, tensions rise dramatically. Approximately one third of the population either refuses to admit it has flies up its nose or claims to be enjoying the sensation. Another third is obsessed with denying any and all personal responsibility. They proclaim themselves innocent victims, undeserving of their flies. And the last third strides around the city, pointing sanctimonious fingers at others and chanting, “Who let the flies in? You let the flies in!”

Then, slowly at first, but soon with increasing speed, things fall apart.

And the low grey sky teems with grieving crows.
A brooding pathos in my dark soul grows.
Are there some who would stand and strike brave blows?
I won’t.  You see, there are flies up my nose.

And that, Dear Reader, is what it’s like having Rob Ford as mayor.

Any questions?

As always, please feel free to send me your comments. If you enjoy the post, by all means :share: it or :tweet: it. You could also print it, roll it up and use it to ward off furious flies.

Since the links in the footnotes are not hyperlinks, I’ve provided them here. The definition of “eh” can be found at http://wp.me/p3cq8l-6n

The piece concerning new Canadian snack foods can be accessed at the at the following: http://wp.me/p3cq8l-1K


[i]  For the definitive definition of “eh” and other small marvels of meaning, see The Elegant Bastard’s “Dictionary of Helpful Words and Phrases” here: http://wp.me/p3cq8l-6n

[ii]  For the answer to her crudely put question, see The Elegant Bastard’s learned treatise on the subject of potential new Canadian snacks. The piece is called “Do You Want Bieber Chips with That?” and it can be read here: http://wp.me/p3cq8l-1K

[iii]  Yes, I know his name is Putin, not Ford – but as Juliet reminds us, “What’s in a name?”

[iv]  See Juliet’s comment above.

[v]  I’m sorry. I said no fat jokes. But I’m only human. I made a mistake. Nobody’s perfect. I’ve apologized. That’s all I can do.

Of Angel Poop and the Meaning of Life

In which the Elegant Bastard avoids Guilt while finding truth in a handful of lima beans.

Perhaps there are 4 year olds out there who are precocious enough to consider hedonism consciously and fully, but I was not among them. Whatever moral understanding of the world I had at that age was simple and personal. “Good” was a largely domestic phenomena that included my parents, my grandmother, anything made of chocolate, “I Love Lucy”, sweetened condensed milk on toast, the Montreal Canadiens and on three days of most weeks, my sister. “Bad” was more widely dispersed and not so easily defined. It included the bully next door, my uncle’s cigars, the Evil Queen stepmother in Snow White, the Toronto Maple Leafs, my sister on the four remaining days, and something called Communists.

 As for true “Evil”, it consisted of one thing and one thing only. Lima beans.

I was not a picky eater. In fact, much of my parents’ time was spent making sure I did not eat everything too slow to escape my grasp. If it crawled, wriggled, chirped, hissed, sat dead on the ground or even went bump in the night, I tended to wonder what it would be like with a little peanut butter.

But not lima beans.

Nowadays they strike me as merely insipid – bland little legumes the colour of cheap bathroom tiles and with a mouth-feel like chalk mixed with wall paper paste mixed with harvested dandruff.  But to a four year old with a vivid imagination, they looked (and  likely tasted) like the fat little white grubs my father disturbed when he pitch-forked the back garden. I would not eat them easily. So powerful was my aversion to them that it remains the primary reason I have yet to visit Peru.

I was never a child to suffer in silence. The appearance of lima beans at dinner would unleash wails loud enough to awaken the dead and shrill enough to send them rushing back to the quiet of the grave again. Amputations before the age of anaesthetics were accomplished with less noise. So hysterical were my protests that my parents increasingly lowered their expectations. What began as a soggy spoonful became “just a few”, then three and finally just one, given more for symbolism’s sake than nutrition’s. Even then my mother would usually sneak it under my potatoes. I quickly learned to prod it out into the open and my practiced puppy–dog-eyes would then silently accuse her of betrayal. I would push the bean around the plate for a bit – like a cat might a mouse too-long-dead – and then, with a shuddering suffering sigh, I would fork it up and swallow it. This was not surrender or a bargain meant to ensure dessert. It was merely my first attempt at peaceful coexistence and it lasted until the next time the beans appeared.

Attempts were made to increase my consumption. One uncle offered me a penny for every five lima beans I would eat in his presence. But by then I was earning a dime or at least a nickel from the Tooth Fairy at fairly regular intervals and I seemed to have enough teeth remaining to ensure great wealth. When his economic arguments failed, other adults tried the “It’s good for you!” approach. Naive as I might have been at that age, I knew that those four words meant someone was going to force-feed me cod liver oil or stick a needle in some innocent part of my body.  My response was automatic. Whatever I could clench, I clenched. It would be one bean and one bean only.

For people of their generation, my parents had relatively enlightened ideas regarding child-rearing, so the lima bean issue never escalated beyond these and other sneaky variations on the “good for you” strategy. A few whimsical relatives even made a game of seeing who could put forward an argument that might convince me to take more than one of these sodden little objects into my mouth. Didn’t I want to be the next Rocket Richard? How was I ever going to become Prime Minister? What girl would want to marry me? But invariably one cousin or other would point out that while all adults in the room were lima bean eaters, not one had yet won the Stanley Cup or a seat in parliament. And my favorite uncle would then tousle my hair and point out that no girl would want to marry a “scrawny  wee bugger” like me even if I did eat lima beans. In short, a good time was had by all and no one ever tried to guilt me into compliance.

And then my father’s maiden aunt entered the lists and suddenly it was war.

She was well into her eighties at the time, and I sometimes wonder what would have happened to her if she lived now instead of in those years before we invented terms like Alzheimer’s and built the institutions those words spawned. In our world, she was a vaguely terrifying family myth who would periodically emerge from her bedroom and wander about the house, turning the lights and the stove on and off and talking to various pieces of furniture. My sister and I would watch from safe corners and giggle fearfully into our fists. She made our lives exciting and my mother’s life hell. She did both without motive.

That all changed one Sunday dinner. She watched impatiently as my mother served me my lima bean. Suddenly she stood and muttered something about the Lord. She took the pot from my mother’s hand and unceremoniously dumped a great mound of beans on my plate. The long tableful of aunts, uncles and cousins watched as my parents stared open-mouthed and I went into my defensive crouch. The battle began. According to eye witness reports, it went something like this.

Her first salvos had to do with children starving in India while nasty little boys like me wasted good food. I had no idea what “India” was. Perhaps that was where the communists lived. Apparently I told her that if I had to cross the street to get to India, I wouldn’t be allowed to go there on my own so she would have to give them my beans for me. I was then asked if I knew how hard my father worked so that rude little boys could have dinners they didn’t deserve. Again, I don’t think I really understood her. I knew my father did this thing called “work”. He went to “work” each morning and came home from “work” every night. He would spend dinner telling us funny stories about “work”. I am told I just looked at her and smiled and nodded and agreed that Daddy worked. But I did not eat my beans.

Now she brought in the big guns. If I didn’t eat my beans, Jesus and all the angels would be sad and I might never get to Heaven. My cousin tells me that a look of concern finally spread across my face. Perhaps this was because I had seen drawings of Jesus and Heaven in the colouring books at Sunday school. In Heaven, all the little children got to ride around on happy lions and live in a land of milk and honey. No mention was ever made of lima beans. Heaven was also filled with angels. Angels were big happy people with huge white wings like seagulls.  I liked angels and I suppose I wanted them to like me. Apparently I mentioned that fact to my inquisitor.

“Well,” said my great aunt, “if you want to go to Heaven to see the angels, you have to eat your lima beans because lima beans come from there.” She then raised her eyes in Heaven’s direction as if anticipating an immediate downpour of the things. Her momentary distraction gave one of my cousins a chance to lean towards me and whisper in my ear.

“Yeah, lima beans come from Heaven all right. They’re angel poop.”

That was it. Nothing in the world – not dessert, not money, not even promises of hockey glory – would force another lima bean between my lips. I was far too young to understand either metaphors or metaphysics, but I knew enough about life to know that if it something lived, it pooped. Therefore, if angels lived, they pooped too, and according to my older and much idolized cousin, proof of this was now sitting on my dinner plate.

I’ve no idea how the whole event concluded. I’m told that even my tormentor smiled before seeking comfort in her drug of choice, a cup of tea. I certainly did not rush from the table to spend some angsty hours musing on the dynamics of guilt or the role of pleasure in our lives. I likely just ate my dessert – a piece of chocolate cake – and then abandoned the adults (and the lima beans) in order to watch my cousins and their friends practice various dance moves while they listened to “Rock Around The Clock” and “Ain’t That A Shame” on the radio.

It was only years later that I understood the event and its significance. It had been the first time in my life that someone else’s version of Good and Evil had been turned into a club to be used on me. My great aunt had decided to add “Thou Shalt Eat Lima Beans” to the original list of Ten Commandments.  That was her right. Others may, with similar freedom, add, edit or delete at will. By all means deny yourself various actions or partners, live in anticipation of gloom and doom, refuse to wear this, eat that or pay whatever. And as long as what you do or don’t do in no way infringes upon the basic rights of others (and that includes your children)  you can stand on one leg and howl at the moon if you want to – even if it’s under my window! (Hey, I’m a tolerant guy!). Just don’t demand that I howl with you or that I feel guilty if I don’t.

It was also the first time I encountered the idea that pain must come before pleasure. Again, we are all free to establish arbitrary rules for our own guidance. You may have determined that Wednesday is “red socks” day and I can decide that if I don’t do my early morning 5k run, I can’t add maple syrup to my breakfast smoothie.  But you may not mock my sock selection, nor may I sneer at your butter-laden waffles and demand to see a sweat stained t-shirt as proof that you’ve suffered enough to deserve them.

In short, there is no moral link between lima beans and chocolate cake. And if someone tells you that there is, remember this.

It’s all a bunch of angel poop.

So begins an intermittent series of posts concerning Hedonism in this modern age. And I would like to turn to you, Gentle Reader, for help in arriving at a key definition. Tell me what you think Pleasure is and answer the following question: Can Pleasure be pursued? For now, Happy New Year!

(And as always, feel free to tweet, like, share or offer comments.)

Dances with Buses

In which the Elegant Bastard encounters a bus, signs his newest work of art and brings order to the relevant portions of the universe.

I had ordered a chicken. Those who arrange such things had promised it would be ready upon my arrival. It was therefore clear that I needs must shake off lethargy, seize the day – or at least what remained of the morning – and head out into the world now busily unfolding itself outside my window.

I considered what I thought were all relevant factors: the weather, the most pleasant route, the availability of good coffee along said route, the wisdom of wearing shorts in late September, the likelihood of encounters with maniacal dogs.  I glanced at the television and noted that while Syria was still being Syria and Nairobi had definitely become Nairobi, there was nothing really new I needed to worry about. I gathered up my shopping list, secured my wallet and my phone in the appropriate pockets, made sure I had my lottery numbers, donned my helmet and set off on my bike. Ahead of me stretched a row of green traffic lights. Things were underway and all was good.

I had not considered buses.

I never really do. They chuff and belch and fart their way along in the appropriate lane and generally ignore my presence. They are ungainly creatures, not much given to elegance, and when I come across one that is resting, it strikes me as something akin to a giant prehistoric cow, chewing its cud complacently and waiting to be driven somewhere. Coming up behind one in traffic can be vaguely annoying, rather like being in the supermarket express line behind a shopper with three too many items and a heavy change purse. I sigh and lean on the handlebars and wait for normal traffic to resume. Ah well. Tant pis. Let’s think of pleasant things. What wine with the chicken tonight? Or what was the name of that pastry shop in Paris, the one with the lemon macaroons?

So when the Don Mills 25 decided it wanted to dance with me, I was unprepared. The world shrank. Paris was gone and so were all the world’s macaroons. It all came down to me, one street corner and a twelve ton beast that apparently wanted to reach out and touch someone! It came up suddenly on my left, sped past and turned right. A leisurely discussion of alternatives did not seem to be an option, especially since the bus’s back door had grabbed my handlebar in passing and was now using it to propel me towards a rapidly approaching concrete post. I wrenched my handlebar further right, braked hard and leaned toward a gap between parked cars. Somehow my bike popped free of the bus’s embrace and came to a stop. I was on the ground, the bus was moving on, a woman was asking if I was all right and somewhere a dog was barking.

When a cyclist falls on asphalt, does he make a noise? Yes, Dear Reader, he does, and fortunately others decided to join in. In due course, we became a loud assembly, a group composed of me, my battered bike, a now parked bus with its hazard blinkers flashing, a bemused driver, a cynical transit supervisor, two sympathetic police officers and assorted members of a chorus who watched and muttered and nodded. Interviews were conducted, forms were filled out and statements were signed, proof yet again that, as a species, we are much better at and more comfortable with “afters” than we ever are with “befores”. Finally a general feeling that enough had been done took hold and the street corner began to clear. I was wondering how to get my bike to a repair shop when an older gentleman came up to me, grasped my shoulder and told me I was lucky that the bus had not had my name on it.

It was at that point that the absurdity of it all became more profound than Paris and more delicious than lemon macaroons. I began to laugh. How could I not? I had set out on a quiet quest for chicken and I’d been hit by a bus. Yet here I was, interrupted and delayed but quite unharmed. True, something had rumbled across my path and delivered me a glancing blow before moving on, apparently untroubled and uncaring. But how could it be seen as God or Fate. If Gods there must be, then I want them coming after me with fanfares and shields and spears. At the very least I want them equipped with thunderbolts. No God worthy of the rank delivers a message via bus! Fate might well choose to write our epitaphs with Time’s moving finger, but with a moving bus?

I even thought for a moment of the world’s terrorists, those random young men rushing about looking for the penises they never had and brandishing their Uzis, bazookas, missiles and other borrowed phallic symbols. How long would they love their various silly causes if they were sent out into the world to wreak holy havoc with a bus? Try shoving that down the front of your pants.

No, I was as I had been before:  entirely free and just a little more aware of that condition. Nothing malignant had taken aim at me. No force was either with me or against me. No fickle sickle had left its mark.  Of the two primary participants in our little street corner two-step, only I had entered with design, purpose and destination. I would leave with all of them intact. In fact, the bus had merely lurched; only I had danced.

And then a new and wonderful thought occurred to me. I wandered over to my still blinking partner and examined its side closely. There it was, a long straight scar where my bike’s handle bar had scratched the paint. As da Vinci had his Mona and Warhol his Marilyn, I had signed my bus!

An hour later and I had walked my wounded warrior to the repair shop. For the brief time that it took them to restore it to its previous perfection – and give it a clean and a polish – I sipped an Americano, finalized my wine list and used my phone’s internet browser to discover the location of a store selling lemon macaroons. On the way to the bike shop, I bought my lottery ticket and, moved by my love of all things ironic, some bus tokens.

As I sat myself back on my bike and adjusted my helmet, I suddenly remembered the Lone Ranger, an iconic figure from the myths of my childhood and I smiled at the memory. I wondered for a moment how I might look in boots and spurs. Then I shook my head and moved back out into my lane. I had places to go. And out there waiting was a chicken with my name on it.

Those attracted to this kind of existentialism might enjoy the argument that we all acknowledge our inner sluts. Read about it here: http://wp.me/p3cq8l-6l

On Justin Trudeau and the Demon Weed (Oh My!)

In which the Elegant Bastard examines the drug of choice for each of several Canadian political leaders.

I like to think that I have a real appreciation of both satire and irony. I love a good joke. I adore puns and I chuckle quietly for the rest of the day after hearing a good one. But never, ever, ever until now – for all my love of humour – have I been able to begin my day rolling on the floor laughing thanks to the morning news.

It all started with the seismic bulletin that Justin Trudeau, leader of Canada’s Liberal Party and son of a former Prime Minister, had smoked – the horror – marijuana – Out, damned spot! Out I say – five or six times – Oh keep him away from the children! – in his lifetime – Bless me Father… – including once in his own home – Barricade it! – when a friend – Satan? Where are you Satan? – passed him a – Get thee behind me – joint.

No less a moral leader than Canada’s Minister of Justice, Conservative Peter MacKay (who has always reminded me of Elmer Fudd) denounced Mr. Trudeau’s admission as evidence of a “profound lack of judgment”.  And since Mr. MacKay is the politician who famously spent $20,000 of taxpayer funds on 1) a trip to the Grey Cup, 2) a trip to a seafood show and 3) a trip back home from his remote vacation spot via a military helicopter, we have to admit that he is an acknowledged expert on profound errors – and, of course, on a different kind of “tripping” than the one apparently experienced by Mr. Trudeau!.

Canada’s Prime Minister, Stephen Harper – who always manages to look as if he is trying to disappear up one or more of his own orifices – clearly has no patience with even a hint “reefer madness”[i]. He displayed his normal distaste for anything he can’t find looking back at him in his morning mirror by sneering that Mr. Trudeau’s words “speak for themselves”. (That’s what other people’s words do, Mr. Harper, and you should try it someday!)

That Mr. Harper would respond with scorn is no particular surprise. He is adept at contempt, his most recent targets being the global environment, all those opposed to him selling the country to China and that inconvenient Canadian thing called a parliament.  He, too, is no stranger to questionable judgment, having raised con artists Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin to Canada’s senate before icing that particular cake with the appointment of Patrick Brazeau, a recent addition who has since been charged with sexual assault. And given that his philosophical  “bros” include Conservative Toronto city counsellor, Doug Ford (linked in the media to drug dealing) and the Conservative mayor of Toronto , Rob Ford, reportedly a “crack head”, Mr. Harper might want to stay as far away as possible from discussions of “judgment”.

Really, the poor man! Imagine the stresses of leadership. In fact, anyone who looks like Mr. Harper does in this picture (http://www.pixdesk.ca/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/Stephen-Harper-Cowboy-Outfit-Stampede.jpg) might want to consider trying a little judicious cannabis use. (Take two tokes and call us in the morning.) He might even want to consider making the whole Tory party 420 friendly; Ottawa would at least be a happier place to work.

The Conservative fear of Mr. Trudeau and their subsequent efforts to belittle him have come dangerously close to making them a national joke. They started by flaunting a picture of him sporting a scruffy hippy-ish moustache, and then learned it was a “Movember” effort. Next came the PR disaster rising out of their attempt to portray him as preying on charities for gain, only to have the nation discover that the complainants originated with Conservative party hacks. I am now waiting for them to re-spin Trudeau’s boxing match with Brazeau under the headline “Trudeau Seen Assaulting Aboriginal Leader”.   They will see the marijuana news, whatever its source, the same way dogs see bones or other dogs and will react with about as much finesse. And by doing so, they will once again demonstrate how far away from the Canadian main stream they have drifted.

I grew up in the same era as many of Harper’s cabinet, caucus and cronies. As I see him sniff disdainfully at Mr. Trudeau’s actions, my mind wanders back to my university days. Essentially we had those who did a lot of weed, those who did some, those who did a little, and those who drove to Quebec every Friday morning to get the “BIG” bottles of beer.  Among our favorite pastimes was heading to the pub where we would order rounds of draft and – as a macho rite of passage – steal the emptied glasses. (The pub knew, pretended it didn’t, and factored the cost into the drink prices.) And before Tory apologists start going on about weed being illegal and booze being nothing more than good ol’ boy Friday Night stress relief, the drinking age was then twenty-one. Sadly, we were all criminals.

As time went on, our preferences changed and mild political stereotypes emerged. The NDP crowd – loud and hairy – stayed with beer out of what they called “solidarity” – with whom or what was never clear. The Liberals abandoned  the ubiquitous Mateus Rose and Blue Nun and gravitated towards slightly better wines; they were urban cool, you see, and Beaujolais went well with polo shirts and boot cut jeans. The Tories headed for the scotch bar as soon as they could afford both it and the dark blue three-piece.

Weed, grass, Mary Jane, Ganja, dope, happy herb – whatever it was called – receded gradually into our pasts, emerging from time to time when the children were away and the time seemed right for a discrete after dinner giggle! (That’s right, Dear Reader – exactly what Mr. Trudeau and his party did in the privacy of his home and not, as Toronto’s current mayor prefers, on camera and in the middle of Main Street.)

Interestingly, as I look back on what Mr. Harper would regard as these misspent moments of my youth, I realize that I “toked” with or observed the toking antics of a boisterous crowd that now includes three CEO’s, several respected artists, an ambassador, two philanthropists, dozens of successful legal and medical professionals and – my favorite –one current member of Canada’s Conservative “inner” circle. Many apparently still indulge, and with about the same frequency as Mr. Trudeau.

In short, however we may all feel about decriminalization and/or legalization or marijuana, we are unlikely to get our political shorts in a knot because Mr. Trudeau has occasionally and privately “passed the dutchie”, even if he did do so from the left hand side. We are much more likely to come down hard on those who speed, evade child support, drive while over the limit,  scam their insurance companies, or pour themselves a third martini on an empty stomach,  real social crimes that can have consequences for others  and which occur – according to some – more often than pot smoking.

As a teacher, I strongly oppose the use of marijuana by all who are under the (admittedly arbitrary) age of eighteen. I also oppose with equal fervor their use of cigarettes, alcohol without a parent present, Red Bull, French fries, tanning salons and diet pills. Since several of these items are legal, it should be obvious that my feelings have to do with healthy minds and bodies, not some fuzzy laws the courts keep telling us are not valid. I support decriminalization and have not made up my mind regarding legalization but I do lean towards it.

Therefore, when it comes to political decision making, Mr. Harper, you need to understand that when I enter the voting booth the next time, I will not be wondering if Mr. Trudeau is “one toke over the line” with Sweet Mary. I will be  thinking of the damage you have done to our international reputation, your use of public funds to purchase thinly veiled political ads extolling the virtues of notoriously unsuccessful job training initiatives, your mockery (and disembowelling) of environmental protections, your contemptuous attitude towards parliament, your little-boys-wanting-big-toys love of obscenely priced fighter jets, your adoption of a Tea Party “Say anything!” approach to campaigning and most of all, your unrestrained addiction to the Tar Sands. I am sometimes surprised you aren’t found crawling towards them with a straw.

If I do vote for Mr. Trudeau – and I may – it will be because I find his candor, his energy, his cooperative work ethic and his thinking out loud to be a refreshing change from your anally retentive and secretive micro-managing. Grey flannel was never a personality style, Mr. Harper, until you made it so. And it will be because if anything really important is going to pot, it is this country under your rule.

Power is a far more dangerous drug that marijuana ever was, Mr. Harper, and I am tired of your addiction.



[i]  “Reefer Madness” and “Assassin of Youth” are two mid-1930’s propaganda films that “document” the dangers of marijuana. They are masterpieces of accidental humour and are easily available.

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

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.

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 

 

 

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”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Letter to whistleblower Edward Snowden

In which the Elegant Bastard objects to Edward Snowden’s use of poetry even more than to his politics.

No, Mr. Snowden, no! This will not do.

I might sit idly by while you do your imitation of Deep Throat and dabble with your nation’s laws and make a play for media stardom and great wealth – others have done far worse – but when you seize upon one of the great heroic poems and try and turn it to an epitaph for your increasingly sad and puerile little tale, Patience sits up straight in her accustomed place on my shoulder, says “Screw this noise” and orders me to rant.

You say, Mr. Snowden, that, “I am unbowed.” Your use of “unbowed” is no accident. It is one of the most moving moments in William Ernest Henley’s, “Invictus”. Henley wrote the poem as a teenager in the 1860’s after losing his leg to tuberculosis of the bone. Imagine the thoughts racing through a sixteen year old boy’s mind as he faces the sure knife and uncertain anesthetics of that era. Imagine his thoughts when a few years later, the other leg contracts the same disease. Fate was not done with him. In his middle years, he would lose his beloved daughter, Margaret Emma – the inspiration for Wendy in Peter Pan – to meningitis. Each time he was able to raise his bloodied head  and move forward.  His words – “I am unbowed” –  become an existential anthem, a barbaric YAWP . Mr. Snowden, in your mouth, they become a whine.

In fact, let’s take a little stroll through that short poem and compare it to the experience you have chosen for yourself.

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,

Mr. Snowden, look around. You are not in a “pit” or a perpetual “night”. You are in Moscow’s International Airport where the Putin government, having used you once, apparently has no desire to use you twice. Moscow may not be your destination of choice but I think it transcends the desperate ambiance and inadequate facilities found in a nineteenth century British hospital.

I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

As an atheist and an existentialist, I struggle with notions of God and soul. Still, as a curious man, I am often intrigued by others’ arguments concerning the existence of either. They speak of faith and of the need to be guided by something greater than personal comfort, profit, ease or health. Proof, it seems, is in the suffering. Lot, Job and Abraham demonstrate this in the Bible; Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Oskar Schindler and the Standing Man in Tiananmen square demonstrate heroic suffering in our own era. Each faced death for something greater than Self.

Again, Mr. Snowden, you are sleeping on waiting room chairs and eating whatever the vending machines can offer. That may be tough, but it ain’t no existential threat, now is it. Nor does there seem to be a line-up of those seeking to murder or martyr you. In fact, until your most recent outburst, we all seemed to be in the process of forgetting you, especially since Mr. Obama seems as bored with you as Mr. Putin. (Yes, CNN still loves you – you poor man!) So it`s a little early to claim to be “unconquerable”. (Especially since Daddy is apparently negotiating optimum terms for your surrender as I write this.)

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Mr. Snowden, you have not yet stopped wincing. You are turning wincing into an art form. True, many in the American media are hurling nasty words at you, but that is their habit. Sticks and stones, Mr. Snowden, sticks and stones. And since many of them seem to feel that you have broken their nation’s laws – which you admit – and endangered national security – which you argue is less important than moral issues – what did you think they would do? Send chocolates and flowers to Moscow? But bludgeoned? Oh come! Bieber has been bludgeoned. Baldwin will be. You haven’t even been spanked. As for complaining about the “clutch of circumstance”, no one shoved you in a box, flourished the duct tape and forced you to Moscow.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

Wrath and tears?.Were you a 16 year old young man who had survived an undeserved ordeal, only to find it returning, I would be moved to weep for you. But this is not the case. You are an articulate and educated adult. You claim to be outraged by the systemic abuse of human rights by the government expected to defend those rights. To address this, you deliberately broke laws and endangered what others regarded as necessary measures. You claimed this abuse was secret; others argued that safeguards were in place. In short, you are right smack dab in the middle of what most would call a debate, one that you began. There’s been some wrath but no tears and as for “the Horror of the shade”, well, Death seems as bored by the whole business as Obama so let’s try to be a tad less hysterical.

I have not yet entirely decided whether I personally approve or disapprove of the action you took that precipitated your current condidtion. I am, however, beginning to find you tiresome. More and more, you strike me as a person with an “i” who dearly wants an “I” and more than anything an I. Your bio suggests a life of flitting here and there in search of a convenient cause. And you would not be the first to use such a cause to arrange a painless and temporary crucifixion as the first steps toward a guest shot on “Piers Morgan Live” and a condo on Fifth Avenue.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

It is in this last stanza that I find the greatest lie. In its first two lines, Henley announces his determination to go forward, to accept the uncertainties and pains that life brings to all of us. He notes that the expectations placed upon him are high and that he must acknowledge his own sins and possible punishments. You, Mr. Snowden, for whatever reason, have set yourself above the law and placed your own morality above what we sometimes term “shared values”.  This is your right as a free person in a democracy. What you face now are simply consequences – expected and deserved – unless in your paradigm you feel you have achieved a higher status, one transcending the reach of the nation’s or God’s laws. If so, you have greater issues to deal with that the comfort provided by waiting room seats in Moscow.

And given your current situation, the last two lines are simply ironic. You are now the tool of The Guardian, a source for writers seeking lucrative stories, a plaything to be used as Putin slaps around Obama to score points back home, and yet another stick Ecuador’s Correa will use to beat up the US to deflect his people’s attention from the ongoing crisis that is Ecuador. From this I suppose will come some benefit – a book deal certainly (though the book tour might be necessarily limited in scope.)

But you are not Henley, Mr. Snowden. And “Invictus” was not written for you.