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

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!