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.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

In Praise of Sinful Pleasures or Acknowledging Your Inner Slut

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

I can be perfect for only so long.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 And you groan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You might find yourself on it.



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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gay Marriage, or “What’s in Your Closet, Bob?”

Part 1: In which the Elegant Bastard and Bob discuss whether Gay Marriage is Icky, Contagious or a threat to Resale Values in Iowa.

Dear America,

You and I may have already met but allow me to introduce “Bob”.

I know that his name and the obvious subject of this letter will lead a few to assume “Bob” needs no introduction. For them, the name and context would have instantly conjured up the image of a chubby, middle-aged mid-western white guy with a beer in one hand, a gun in the other, a child on either side and a wife we can’t see because she is in the kitchen. There is likely a dog, also chubby. And if this image comforts you and aligns with your planets, so be it.

However, truth be told, Bob may or may not actually be his real name.  In fact, Dear Reader, you may eventually need to become comfortable with ambiguity since Bob may or may not be chubby, may or may not be white, and may or may not drink beer, or be overweight, or love football, or live in Iowa. In fact, Bob may not even be male.

What we do know is that Bob, his children (Bob Junior and Bobette) and his wife (Bobawa)  and likely his little dog ( Rob) do not approve of Gay Marriage. Our task is to determine why this is so and then, in the true spirit of Diversity, determine whether to accept Bob’s arguments or look elsewhere for a solution.

I will admit, America, that I found Bob’s insistence on discussing this issue a little strange. After all, if Salima weds Fatima or Dick elopes with Dan, it should really only concern me if 1) I am paying for these weddings, or 2) I am God or 3) I happen to actually be Salima, Fatima, Dick and/or Dan. If none of these conditions hold, then my polite inner Canadian will no doubt whisper to me that my primary duty is to shut up and butt out. However, let’s hear what Bob has to say.

Bob has apparently decided that Gay Sex is “icky” and Gay Marriage will inevitably lead to Gay Sex. This may be true. In fact, Bob, Other People Having Sex (OPHS) generally is icky to uninvited observers. That is why OPHS tends to take place indoors, at night and behind curtains. In other words, Bob, you would have to work really really hard to actually see married Gay Sex (and that nice policeman who does the late night neighbourhood patrols might not understand why you need to) so why bother. Much easier to stay home and watch porn. Of course if next door newly-weds Larry and Barry decide to install floodlights and go at it rabbit-like on your front lawn, we will understand your objection. When this happens, let us know.

Bob now decides that arguments based on sexual aesthetics might not wash so we are moving on to concerns based on maintaining both family and property values. But here, too, there are problems. Surely family values must be set by individual families. You cannot insist that I watch “American Idol” with my children; I cannot insist that you watch “Big Bang Theory” with yours. Your spouse works; my common law partner does not. We are vegetarian; you are carnivores. Your walls are beige; mine are light green. Bob, mi casa no es tu casa.

Property values are another matter, but ever since the first reports came out suggesting that an influx of Gay couples actually boosts house prices[i], I am frankly amazed that recession-hit towns aren’t begging them to move in and start the renovations NOW! Besides, if neighbourly behavior really impacted property values, Bob, weed whackers, rap music and large reptilian pets would all have been banned decades ago.

I knew we would ultimately come to the next concern and here we are. Please won’t somebody think of the children!

Simply put, Bob wonders if the she-bop shenanigans of neighbours Beryl and Cheryl will confuse the emerging sexual identities of Bob Jr. and little Bobette. In other words, he is worried about contagious homosexuality in the same way that any parent might worry about mumps or measles. The fact that studies have shown that parental sexual preference has no impact on the choices made later by their adult children[ii] only increases his worries, especially since those very same studies remained mysteriously silent on the impact of Neighbour sexual preference! (Everybody loves a conspiracy, eh?)

Is Bob’s concern legitimate? Let us assume that adult sexual identity is contagious if it occurs between 35 and 50 feet away from impressionable children and only if the “germs” have to pass through two intervening external walls. Let us further assume that 5 % of the adult population in America is naturally gay. Finally, we will take as a given the fact that `natural` homosexuality was invented by communists at the start of the Cold War – say around 1950. We will use these assumptions to track the hypothetical growth of the feared Gay tsunami:

If, in 1950, the first subversive Gay Anti-American Sex Pair  (GASP) was infiltrated into, say, Smallville, then by 1965, the time it would take those born in 1950 to begin regular sexual activity, an additional 15 % of the population would have been infected. By 1980, GASP would grow to 45%. The takeover would be complete by 2010. As it is now 2013, Bob needs to accept that if Gay sex is communicable, not only will Bob Jr. and Bobette definitely be gay, Bob himself and Bobawa already are.

I sense we are now moving closer to the core of Bob’s concern. He believes that even if Gay behavior isn’t contagious, it is sinful and allowing Gay marriage means encouraging the growth of sin in the community. If true, this is indeed a troublesome notion and it deserves the same thoughtful consideration we have given Bob’s other arguments.

Let us begin by understanding the nature of sin. Sin occurs as the result of free choices we make. Eating, breathing and drinking are not in themselves sinful since we have no free choice in the matter. However, if we choose to fricassee our mother-in-law’s yappy poodle while inhaling cheap drugs and drinking bathtub gin, we have definitely committed several sins!

Now comes the difficult part. Bob and many of his buddies say that being Gay is a sin; ergo, it follows that people are Gay by choice. If this is so, then Bob’s argument becomes quite strong. However, we must be thorough. To determine if such actions are committed by choice, we must now ask Bob to select any one or more of his best buddies and go test this hypothesis, preferable behind the afore-mentioned closed doors and closed curtains. If neither Bob nor his closest friends are able to rise to this challenge, then we will have to assume that being Gay does not occur by choice and therefore cannot properly be call Sinful!

We’ll wait for you here, Bob.

(End of Part 1. Part 2 will be posted Wednesday)

 

Cry Pity for Gargantupeds

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

Most of us now live in politically correct communities.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Somewhere out there, there is someone I can sue!

Of Red Wines and Dancing Partners

In which the Elegant Bastard encounters two very different ladies: Signargues Cotes Du Rhone Village 2009 and Chateau du Trignon 2006

Let me begin with a digression.

I was sitting on a bus. I often am. Across from me sat (or squirmed or bounced or ricocheted) a young woman, perhaps 19, with pink and purple hair, four visible piercings, the body of a tattooed snake emerging from the thigh of her cut-offs (and yes, everyone on that bus was wondering what the head of the snake was up to) and what had to be twenty different colours of nail polish. Her gyrations seemed planned, responses no doubt to whatever kind of music assaulted her brain and controlled her limbs. She was garish, loud, and yes, absolutely delightful. I smiled and for a moment, envied youth.

Yet I had to wonder what the grand dame sitting beside her, a sombre suited matron all in black, thought of the do-it-to-the-music-hormone-hostel sitting beside her. This lady, at least sixty but possessing that ageless quality that makes such guessing futile, exuded a calm elegance that stretched from the perfect silver hair to the tips of shoes that probably cost about the same as the bus. No one had to be told that the tip of the cane in her hand was gold. This lady could have taught the Queen to wave.

I think all who watched waited for Her Solemnity to turn slowly sideways and deliver a withering glare at the chaos in the seat beside her, the kind of stare that would turn pink and purple instantly to black. But this did not happen. Instead, as we neared a stop, the older woman reached out a hand and gently tapped iPhonia on the knee. Immediately the younger woman calmed, gathered all the parcels scattered around both of them, and when the bus stopped, she dutifully followed what was by now clearly an affectionate grandmother off via the front (of course) door.

This brings me to two new wines. (Stay with me – you’ll see!)

A friend had phoned in a state of semi-hysteria to tell me that for all our wine travels of the recent past we had ignored the Cotes du Rhone. He made it sound as if we had learned long division and somehow never mastered multiplication. Clearly something remedial needed to occur.

Conversations with the more knowledgeable quickly revealed that the name Cotes du Rhone applied to a vast sea of wine, ranging from the so-so to the So-this-is-what-heaven-is-all-about in quality. There is a northern Rhone wine region and a southern, each with fiercely passionate partisans. Above the basic pool in the southern Rhone stood Cotes du Rhone Villages, sixteen communes allowed to attach village names to their labels and by so doing (supposedly) guaranteeing higher quality. Ranked still higher are the “appellations”, names that eliminate the designation “Cotes du Rhone” entirely. In the southern Cotes, easily the best known of these is Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Not far away, however, are the well-regarded and less extravagantly priced vineyards of Gigondas! After a quick trip to our Mecca – the Queen’s Quay all-brands LCBO – we ended up with a Cotes du Rhone Villages Signargues 2009 (Signargues is the commune) at $15.95 and a Chateau du Trignon Gigondas (2006) at $29.95. School was now in session!

The Signargues came first, paired with a ham-goat cheese-fig comfit appetizer. None of us were sure what to expect with “first sniff” and so we were taken aback with the “in your face” exuberance. Immediately my mind flashed back to iPhonia. There were brash hints of plum, cherry, chocolate and, according to one taster, grilled ham and cheese. (Keep in mind said taster watches the Oscars religiously and is therefore given to moments of irrationality.) In the mouth, this medium bodied wine was reasonably soft, quite fruity, and yet very lively, dancing all over the tongue and lingering long after it was swallowed. It played with the ham, made love to the goat cheese and kicked the fig comfit’s butt. iPhonia’s snake would have writhed in ecstasy.

The Chateau du Trignon did not just come to the table. It “arrived” and sat there quietly and elegantly. From the “first sniff” we knew this was something different. This grand dame did not climb into our nostrils and dance for us. We had to work, swirling and sniffing and waiting and swirling and sniffing again. Slowly the nuanced nose revealed itself. Ultimately this wine was far more subtle. It was silky and paradoxically robust, intense but not heavy. There were plum, raspberry, cocoa, coffee, and even hints of the candied peel normally found  in fruitcake. Dinner was a complex lamb stew, a dish with many heavy flavours, and this wine had no difficulty making friends with that. However, it chose to keep its clothes on.

Both wines were worth their prices, especially the Signargues. It is potentially a wonderful house “plonk” and would go well with interesting but not overwhelming dishes. The Chateau du Trignon would flatten lighter flavours. I would keep it for robust stews, roasts or strong cheeses. And quite frankly, those of you who love the “big” raisin-laden excess of a California Cab, an Australian Shiraz or an Italian Amarone might not be impressed.

Ah, young kaleidophonic  lady on my bus, I will remember your colours and your bling, and on light occasions when the world is in a frivolous mood, I will wonder who you are dancing with … or for. Perhaps I might reach for you.  But on those greater occasions when weighty matters are under consideration and wise minds are moved to converge, I hope you will forgive me if I call upon your grandmother and inquire if she is free.

(Note to others in Ontario: Both wines discussed here were Vintages selections and are available only sporadically.)

Do You Want Bieber Chips With That?

In which the Elegant Bastard rejects the concept of edible nationalism

Canadians are a very resourceful people.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Closely Watched Bums

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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