Dear Whoever You Are (5 – 10 August 2018)


5-10 August 2018: Groundhog Day in Paris

Day 1 (early afternoon):

I snapped my laptop closed with a self-satisfied smirk and wandered out into the kitchen humming tunelessly. Peeling a banana, I continued to hum through the noisy mouthfuls.

“What’s going on, here?” snapped my wife, suspicious eyebrow raised.

“What do you mean?” I garbled through half-masticated banana.

“I mean, you’re smiling. You never do that. Even on the rare occasion you’re happy. So stop it, it’s freaking me out.”

“I just ordered my brand-new Kindle Whitepaper on Amazon,” I declared, holding my arms aloft like a conductor before an orchestra ensemble, my banana my baton. “Got 20% off too for doing a 30-day free Prime trial. Just after I ordered it, I got an email with a tracking link and it’ll be here tomorrow before eight in the evening. It’s already left the warehouse! Already on its way! A miracle of efficiency!” I cried, slashing away at the air merrily. “Say what you want about giant multinational Death Stars! At least the customer always comes first no matter what! A concept treading softly on an alien planet here in France! I mean– ”

“Have you already forgotten about IKEA last year?” interrupted my wife dryly, gleeful malevolence smoldering in her eyes. “Isn’t that a big multinational, hm?

My arms collapsed to my sides and the banana slipped through my suddenly trembling fingers and fell to the floor with a fleshy thwack. Immediately in the throes of the vivid flashback to angrily sleeping on the floor for days before the useless IKEA bastards finally came and only assembled a couple of pieces of our furniture before giving up and leaving at 1:00 pm on the grounds of being too tired to carry on, I threw back my head bawling a long string of ugly profanities and shaking my fist at the high ceiling upon which I was actively hallucinating the faces of my legions of enemies staring down upon me smugly, their long necks with their reedy snappable windpipes hopelessly beyond my strangling grasp.

“That’s much better,” said my wife with her hands planted in firm satisfaction on her hips. “I recognize you again!”

Day 2 (early afternoon):

Although en route since early in the morning, my Kindle had not yet arrived. Still, I was itching for my life-affirming afternoon jaunt to the Jardin du Luxembourg. Restless, I got online and double-checked the assurances that in my absence, the delivery would be made to a secure location on the premises (i.e. mailbox, a neighbor, etc.) Before I continue, here is a picture of my mailbox:

To be clear, there is a good 3-centimeter space for a Kindle-sized package to be dropped in. Not to mention there is also this mailbox for larger packages:

I therefore set off for the gardens with guarded confidence that my package would be delivered if it arrived while I was out. When I got home a while later, both mailboxes were empty. I got online to check the status and almost spat on my monitor when I read that a first delivery had been attempted and another would be made the next day.

“You’ll just have to stay here tomorrow until it arrives,” said my wife brightly later that evening as I moodily stabbed at my dinner with my fork and fantasized the food on the plate was the remains of the genitals of the pillock who had failed to deliver my Kindle.

Day 3 (early afternoon):

Although en route since early in the morning, my Kindle had not yet arrived and I was gnawing on the heel of my thumb desperately wanting to get outside.* Toying with the idea of playing drinking games with myself to pass the time, my phone dinged in my pocket. A message from Amazon: because you were not home yesterday, delivery of your package has been delegated to a third party who will today, if you are once again absent, ensure delivery to a secure location on the premises (i.e. a mailbox, a neighbor, etc.)

“Hooray!” I shouted, clapping my hands together and promptly setting out to the gardens. When I got home a while later, both mailboxes were empty. Ascending the creaking spiral staircase in my building, from below I could see that on the landing something had been deposited on my doormat. Although wracked with irritation that, with the exception of the sidewalk outside, my Kindle had been left out in pretty much the most insecure place possible, I was still more relieved than anything else.

“What the fuck is this?” I muttered after tearing open the package breathlessly on the landing. The 13.00€ Kindle CASE I had ordered with the Kindle was what the fuck that was. “No, no, and no again,” I moaned softly as I banged my head against my front door until there was a squishy soft spot in the middle of my forehead not unlike a bruise on an apple.

After letting myself in, I threw myself into my desk chair with a sigh and wearily checked the online status of my Kindle: a second delivery had been attempted and a third and last would be made the next day. Another failed delivery would result in the package being returned to Amazon for refund.

“Don’t leave tomorrow even if the building is on fire,” said my wife brightly later that evening as I stared at her darkly and fantasized about hanging the delivery man tomorrow from his own intestines and leaving him out on the landing for her to come home to after work.

Day 4 (early afternoon):

Although en route since early in the morning, my Kindle had not yet arrived and, in order to stave off the insidiously encroaching claustrophobia, I was entertaining the notion of seeing how many times in a row I could masturbate at the age of 50 (the highwater mark on that score being 5,687.5, set when I was around 14 years-old). Prior to commencing, I halfheartedly got online to check the status of my package and felt something from deep within my temporal lobe, about the size and hardness of a walnut, start to aggressively pulsate: a third attempt had been made and “due to technical difficulties, you must contact Amazon immediately to reschedule delivery.”

TERRIFIED AMAZON AGENT: You are obviously very upset, sir, but our delivery man swears he did not have the door code to your building.

ME: Open up my address on Amazon right now!

TERRIFIED AMAZON AGENT: Yes, okay. The… ere. Okay, I see it.

ME: Read out to me what it says in the field “Ajouter instructions de livraison”.

TERRIFIED AMAZON AGENT [voice quavering]: It says “Code d’entrée: B6821”.

ME: You’re goddamn right that’s what it says! But you’re telling me I didn’t provide the door code, right? Even though the day before and the day before that, the delivery man had the door code but was just too braindead to put the package in my mailbox!!! So, it’s my fault, right? Right?!

TERRIFIED AMAZON AGENT: No, no, sir! It’s not your fault! Of course, it’s not your fault! I’m going to tell them myself your door code so NO PROBLEM tomorrow.

ME: You remember what else you’re going to do, don’t you?

TERRIFIED AMAZON AGENT: I think you said to hang myself by my own intestines, was is?

ME [roaring]: No! Before that, you imbecile!

TERRIFIED AMAZON AGENT: I’m going to tell them to put it in your mailbox because you won’t be home waiting for it.

ME: Correct! Then what are you going to do?

TERRIFIED AMAZON AGENT: Hang mys–

ME: No! Before that!!!

TERRIFIED AMAZON AGENT: Yes, yes, I remember now. I’m going to send you an email confirming all of this.

ME: YES!

“Don’t leave tomorrow even if YOU are on fire,” said my wife brightly later that evening as I paced back-and-forth in a corner, my dinner untouched, stroking a medieval battle axe I had purchased at the Clignancourt flea market earlier in the day.

Day 5 (early afternoon):

Although en route since early in the morning, my Kindle had not yet arrived. I was too tired and defeated to dream up some diversion from my anxiety. I expended an inordinate amount of energy just to go online and check the status of my package, my fingers leaden as I typed. My bloodshot eyes stared incredulously at the monitor: a fourth attempt had been made and “due to technical difficulties, you must contact Amazon immediately to reschedule delivery.” I felt my mind slipping away as I was tugged inexorably into Dante’s fifth circle of hell, a slimy length of drool escaping the corner of my mouth and slithering down the front of my shirt.

I opened Gmail and lethargically banged out a brief reply to the Terrified Amazon Agent’s confirmation email from the day before:

Despite your verbal promises to me on the phone and this written confirmation, I have just been notified of a fourth delivery failure due to “technical difficulties”. I require an immediate and detailed explanation for what today’s particular problem is.

Two seconds later, my phone dinged:

Veuillez noter que je suis présentement en vacances avec la famille. Je reviendrais le 30 Août. Pendant cette période, je n’aurai pas accès à mes courriels.

SECOND TERRIFIED AMAZON AGENT: You are obviously very upset, sir, but our delivery man swears that your street in Paris doesn’t exist.

ME [through gritted teeth]: I’m emailing you a photograph right now. Here it is:

ME [cont.,]: You have it? Good. See that big fat main street that goes straight through the middle of the picture all the way to Saint Germain?!

SECOND TERRIFIED AMAZON AGENT: Yes, sir.

ME: Do you believe that is a real street in Paris?

SECOND TERRIFIED AMAZON AGENT: Of course, sir.

ME: And you don’t believe I photoshopped that street in just to fuck with you?

SECOND TERRIFIED AMAZON AGENT: No, sir. Of course not, sir. I know that street well.

ME: THAT IS MY STREET THAT YOUR DELIVERY MAN SAYS DOESN’T EXIST!!!

SECOND TERRIFIED AMAZON AGENT: I understand your frustration, sir. I promise there will be no more mistakes tomorrow. They have the address, they have the door code, and they have clear instructions to put it in your mailbox.

ME: You know that’s exactly what I was promised yesterday. You remember what happens if this promise is broken again?

SECOND TERRIFIED AMAZON AGENT: If it takes you the rest of your life, you will hunt me down and hang me by my intestines in front of my family.

ME: YES!

“But don’t you have a lunch appointment tomorrow?” my wife asked brightly later that evening as she knelt in front of the closet where I was huddled, gnawing on my toenails.

Day 6 (early afternoon):

Although en route since early in the morning, my Kindle had not yet arrived. Barely caring anymore, I set off for my lunch appointment. Halfway through an enchantingly good burger in quality company, my phone rang. Unknown French number. I know who this must be, I thought, as icy dread began coursing through my veins.

“He… hello?”

“Hello, sir! I have an Amazon delivery for you, but I have absolutely no idea what your door code is.”

Five minutes later I woke up lying naked on my back in the kitchen of the restaurant surrounded by alarmed staff. My friend was kneeling beside me waving his hand in front of my face, his own a mask of worry.

“What… what happened?” I murmured.

“Man, you just went totally batshit screaming ‘B6821’ over and over again. What does that mean?”

When I got home a while later, both mailboxes were empty. Ascending the creaking spiral staircase in my building, from below I could see that on the landing something had been deposited on my doormat for anyone to swipe. Taking the stairs two at a time despite my broken knee, there indeed lay my long-awaited package. A sticky note fluttered on its surface:

Sir, here is your package delivered to your doormat as requested by you. For future reference, please consider requesting a more secure location for drop-off.

Beneath the message, the delivery man had drawn a smiley face.

A couple of hours later I woke up lying in the fetal position on the landing clutching my package as if it were a baby freshly plucked from a warzone. My wife was kneeling beside me waving her hand in front of my face.

“It finally came!” she said brightly. **

~

* I have significant claustrophobia issues, a topic for a future blog.

** I interrupted my blog on the sea (motivated by my recent trip to Jersey, Brittany, and Normandy) to cathartically write this. Stay tuned…

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Dear Whoever You Are (15 – 20 July 2018)


15 July 2018: The Nature of Things

Not long before the kickoff of the World Cup Final, I wandered up in the steaming heat to my favorite local pub in Paris with subterranean expectations of finding my usual spot on its narrow side terrasseunoccupied. With a resigned sigh I saw that all the tables had predictably been relocated to the main terrassestretching out into the street in front of a couple of jumbo TV screens. About to turn on my heel and sulkily go home, I caught a fleeting glimpse through the swarming crowds of my little table sitting alone, almost forlorn, it’s one battered wicker chair empty.

“Hooray!” I shouted. “Out of my way!” I shouted again as I aggressively shoved and elbowed my way through the thickets of fans. The chair groaned and almost tipped over as I threw myself into it. White-knuckling the sides of the table defensively, I bared my teeth and snarled like a wolf protecting its pups.

“Are you sure you want to sit here?” asked the remarkably affable waiter. I stared at him incredulous and speechless because it was the very first time since living in France I had received immediate, friendly service anywhere. Normally you wait, and you wait, and you wait until you’re gradually infected with a nagging suspicion that you’re at imminent risk of dying of old age.

“Um… yes… absolutely,” I stammered finally. “Thank you!”

“But you can’t see the game from here!”

“I know. I don’t care,” I said with a wave and ordered my beer. I didn’t either, especially as I was inwardly siding with Croatia after the French had uniformly foamed at the mouth cheering on Croatia in its semi-final tilt with England. No, I was more interested in watching the crowd, bedecked in French flags and faces garishly painted in bars of blue-white-red, watch the game. That was the novelty I was expecting (even though I was also distracted by following a riveting Wimbledon match on my phone), i.e. studying masses of French people in a state of intoxicated joy and national pride. Who knew?

Towards the end of the match, when French victory (you rarely see those two words in such close proximity, do you?) was all but assured, I heard a radio blasting For the Love of Money.* The source was a 250,000€ hunk of elegantly chiseled red Ferrari snaking slowly through the increasingly turbulent crowd, now interminably chanting “Allez les Bleus!”, its jewel-encrusted driver insistently leaning on the horn and high-fiving people through the sunroof. Observing this intently I noticed a young man, innocuous enough at first blush, discreetly dragging a key fist along the side of the car. This act of vandalism was in vain however. The keys didn’t make so much as a scuff mark and I can only imagine that’s because Ferraris are painted with some other-worldly liquid steel emulsion which renders them immune to the slightest abrasion, even from nuclear blasts.

For some reason, as I picked my way home through the ever-accumulating party detritus and half-blinded by smoke bombs, I kept thinking about the attempted keying. What was the motivation? It wasn’t racial as both driver and keyer were white. I concluded it was simply an expression of anger and disgust directed by the keyer against an arrogant rich bastard flaunting a toy worth more than he was likely to earn in 10 years. “If I can only ever dream of driving around in a car like that then I’m going to attack the dream you have the nerve to live,” I guess the thinking goes when consumed by envy for that which is forever out of your reach.

I have more faults and weaknesses than a supercomputer could enumerate but I’m extremely fortunate to have never in my life been seized by this insatiable appetite to ravenously gobble up material things, all the while coveting those I don’t have the means to acquire. Apparently having been vaccinated against this soul-destroying disease at birth, I even resented the modest car I bought out of sheer necessity to get to and from work back in the 90s. Sure, after driving it home all shiny and new, I spent about 5 minutes admiring it parked out front rubbing my hands together maniacally muttering “It is mine, I tell you. My own. My precious. Yes, my precious.” But once I sat down and calculated that more than a quarter of my monthly take-home salary was going to be pillaged by the bank, the real owner of the car, insurance, gas, and maintenance, I found myself unconsciously making a key fist as I again stared out the window at my new possession, this time with untethered loathing.

Three years later, in ’97, I was driving a rented motorcycle across a Greek island buzzing like a junkie as I watched the dusty late-afternoon sunlight splinter through soft clouds and litter the turquoise ripples of the Aegean with shimmering globules of gold. I had quit my job, sold my millstone of a car, and run off with the proceeds for a 2-month long rampage, er I mean tour, through Europe. Now THAT was a worthwhile way to blow money. Breathtaking, unforgettable experiences. I vowed there and then to never own a car again: total hassle to maintain; shit for the environment; shit investment, halving in value the moment you drive it out of the lot; stupidly expensive; and totally unnecessary if you are willing to use the two legs God gave you and live anywhere with half-decent public transport.

Ten years later, in ’07, still steadfastly car-less but becoming increasingly sick of flushing my money down the toilet every month on rent, I became a homeowner for the first time when I purchased a condo in Montreal’s Plateau district. Unlike the car, this time my Gollum-like pride and possessiveness lasted the duration. I certainly didn’t like the taxes, the condo fees, the maintenance, and my ghoulish neighbors who would call the police if I so much as farted an octave too high after their snotty-nosed little instrument-torturing brats had been banished to bed at sundown. Nevertheless, it was my home, not some wasteful contraption to deliver me from A to B, and I adored it.

Another ten years later, in ’17, it was time to move to Paris and I sold the condo. Although that was a very tough horse pill to swallow, the profit-taking sugar-coated it plenty sweet enough to go down. I pooled the proceeds from the condo sale with those already invested in the market and realized that, over time, the returns from my portfolio would match or beat most conventional real estate investment. Not to mention I was now liberated from all the attendant hassles of homeownership. My wife and I resolved not to buy real estate again until such time arrives, if ever, that we’re done moving around and traveling and find that idyll, if it exists, to permanently put up our feet and peacefully grow old (or older in my case).

In any case, by far the most liberating process I undertook in preparation for the move to Paris was purging virtually all of my moveable material possessions. I’m not just talking about tossing the mountains of junk that inevitably pile up year after year living in the same place (yes, it is JUNK, you pack rats – you know who you are!) Realizing I had never once gone through them, I also tossed boxes full of pictures taken in the medieval era of analog photography which I had enlisted pack oxen to cart around my whole life. This included tossing all the pictures, reams of cards, letters, etc., of and from exes, the gunpowder residue of broken relationships that for some reason people, including me until then, preserve as if happy pictures and words from long ago at the bottom of a box in storage might one day sooth the painful memories that have mostly faded away anyway. It also included giving away almost all of my books because it suddenly occurred to me that, for most of us, it’s neither intellectual nor cool to build an expansive personal library. Unless you plan on reading them again, what is the use of hoarding books that do nothing but collect dust on multiplying shelves and bookcases when other people could be reading them?

As I sat on the floor of my empty condo on the eve of moving to Paris, here was the sum total of my belongings in ascending order of monetary value:

  • Small box containing my old dog’s ashes
  • About fifty old photographs
  • About ten favorite books
  • Clothes (most of which a hobo wouldn’t be caught wearing)
  • Watch
  • Phone
  • Wedding ring
  • Computer

They say that when people lose their homes and all their possessions in a devastating fire, they undergo a short-lived phase of acute grief which is quickly followed by a euphoria-inducing sense of total emancipation from not just their material things but the past itself. This is precisely how I felt but minus the grief phase as I had deliberately set my own bonfire alight and gleefully watched it burn. During those last heady days in Montreal, I felt so unencumbered my feet barely seemed to touch the ground as I Gene Kellyed my way through the streets. So much so, I resolved to maintain the high and stick to that bare minimalism for the rest of my life.

So far, I have been successful. Apart from furnishing our apartment in Paris with basic IKEA fare that will be sold or given away when we move on to the next destination, I have added nothing to the list above. I did replace my aging PC with a very expensive MacBook Pro to complement my very expensive iPhone. The computer and phone I’m willing to spare no expense on because (1) they (or rather the clouds they access) literally contain my entire life (contacts, calendar, notes, documents, photos, music… EVERYTHING) and (2) I spend most of my waking life on them when not traveling. And that is the third thing I’m willing to spare no expense on: traveling. I have no issue bleeding money to expand my repertoire of experiences, but I will not do so on things. Those bothersome, wasteful thingy-things!**

And don’t get me wrong. I love money. I’m not ashamed to say it and I’m currently enjoying my progress becoming a day trader in the stock market. I have never believed all the bullshit that money ultimately makes people unhappy.*** On the other hand, there is no doubt poverty always makes people unhappy, often violently unhappy. There’s no imperative to get rich, of course, but in the unlikely event I ever do find myself rich one day, I will never want to own a big house. Why? Because I’ll never need one, I don’t want to have to fill it full of junk (I repeat: it is JUNK, you pack-rats!), and I don’t want to have to maintain it. And I’ll certainly never buy myself a Ferrari or anything like it. Not only because I’ll never need one, it’s gangsta showing off and when you’re gangsta showing it off at the next World Cup final, someone less fortunate than you will inevitably be approaching it/you with a key fist… or worse.

~

* Old classic by the O’Jays: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zcrppevM46Q

** I confess I intend to add an e-reader to the list but only so I can electronically borrow books and not have to bother with physical ones any longer.

*** Not sure why I’m suddenly reminded of this classic quote from English footballing legend, George Best: “I spent a lot of money on booze, birds, and fast cars. The rest I just squandered.”

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Dear Whoever You Are (1 – 7 July 2018)


1-7 July: Too Darn Hot

Starting last weekend, the Dog Days of summer arrived in Paris with a full-throated howl. It’s the kind of heat where sitting perfectly still is a sweaty workout and you spend half your time with your head shoved in the refrigerator. If you venture outside, the streets shimmering and warping before your eyes through heat mirages, you beeline for the nearest supermarket and loiter in the freezer section until you’re kicked out. You wake up in the middle of the night not knowing where you are until it dawns on you that, in your sleep, you have migrated to the relative coolness of the hardwood floor where you lie spread-eagled and panting on your back. Despite your discomfort, you decide to stay there the rest of the night and in your fitful sleep you wistfully dream about being a polar explorer trapped in arctic pack ice.

When the alarm went off last Tuesday, I managed to drag myself up off the floor to my knees and crawl over to the corner where my phone was charging. When the weather app informed me the heat wave was to continue on for several more days I collapsed again and, rapidly blinking at the ceiling, mulled the merits of drowning myself in the Seine.

Suffice it to say, I abhor the heat and helio-thermophiles are more mysterious to me than aliens. For example, despite the sizzling heat, my wife and I went for a walk along the Coulée verte René-Dumont* and, staring in horror down below at the hordes of sunbathers, slathered slick with lotion and sprawled out like corpses strewn across a battlefield, I could almost smell their flesh roasting; I could almost hear their melanomas metastasizing. What pleasure does anyone possibly get from that? And just how is scorched brown, prematurely wrinkled skin attractive?

Given that I have lived most of my adult life in Montreal, where to say “winter is coming” takes on an even more portentous foreboding than in Game of Thrones, people are sometimes taken aback by my almost xenophobic helio-thermophobia. If the winters, which rival Moscow’s for plunging mercury and bury the population up to their hardened nipples in snow, last the better part of 6 months then wouldn’t the heat of summer, when it finally arrives, be a sweet and blessed relief? In fact, here is a meme doing the rounds in Montreal where there was record-breaking heat last week:

This “friendly reminder”, however, fails to acknowledge that in Montreal the steamy summer heat (taking into account the damnable humidex), which has claimed 54 lives so far this year, handily beats the extremes of winter (taking into account the damnable windchill factor) at the other end of the thermometer. For years now, I have passionately argued that we have every right to bitterly bitch during summer heat waves on the grounds that no matter how cold it gets in winter, even when the mucus in your nostrils starts to freeze and your eyelashes become prettily beaded with ice pellets, there is no reason for you to die or even be uncomfortable if you have proper tip-to-toe winter clothing. And once you stagger in from the cold, there is nothing more pleasing than (in no particular order): lazily steaming the cold out of your bone marrow in the tub, tucking into a plate of hot comforting food, watching TV under thick blankets with a hot water bottle stuffed down your sweater for good measure, sitting around a roaring fire, tossing back a hot toddy, climbing into a big soft bed and slipping into a deep dreamless sleep after outrageous sex with your better half. Thank you, I’ll take that any day of the week over sleeping alone in a pool of sweat on a hardwood floor.

Still not convinced? What if you were given the unpalatable choice of either being cast out into the desert to die in the heat or cast out into some arctic waste to die in the cold? Here are the two scenarios:

Desert: First, you will undergo the process of dehydration. Beyond becoming so thirsty you would murder a child for a glass of water, you will feel agonizing pain as your kidneys send less water to your bladder and your blood becomes thick and sluggish. Your heart will start to race like a helicopter to maintain oxygen levels and your already wrinkly skin from too much dangerous sunbathing will begin shriveling up like an apple core left out on the counter. On top of that you will experience heat stroke. This will cause excruciating headaches no amount of codeine could relieve, confusion, and even dementia. Once your body temperature cracks 40° C under your beloved sun, the proteins in your body will literally start frying, particularly those in your brain (assuming you even have one considering you opted for this scenario). After your damaged kidneys stop functioning properly you will be officially dying, your vital organs commencing the slow process of shutting down. Although you will temporarily faint from time to time throughout the ordeal, you will remain conscious right up until the horrific end when you suffer a massive fatal heart attack much to the delight of the cawing buzzards that have been merrily swirling overhead for the past few hours. Not exactly a party trick. You chose poorly.

Arctic waste: It is undeniable that, initially, you will experience significant pain from being so cold. Soon though, as hypothermia sets in, your sensory organs will become numb and unresponsive. And not only that, your body will likely even undergo a “warming” phenomenon as it experiences “temperature confusion” (it is not uncommon for frozen corpses to be discovered buck naked and surrounded by discarded clothing). Although you will experience some unpleasant hunger and nausea, these will give way to apathy and sluggishness. Then you will be overcome with drowsiness and torpidly plop to the ground wherever you find yourself. Although your vital organs will also commence the slow process of shutting down, you will not be in pain and you will enjoy some trippy hallucinations that will remind you of your youth when you experimented with acid. In the end, although you will also die of a massive heart attack, you will have slipped peacefully into oblivion (i.e. a coma) well before it strikes. Not too bad, no? And no irritating buzzards either. You chose wisely.

Don’t get me wrong. When I lived in Montreal, by the end of February, a month in which weather is blamed for annual surges in suicide rates across Southwestern Quebec, I too suffered acute SAD-ness** and fled to Cuba to roast myself half to death under the iron-hard blue Caribbean sky. But it’s fundamentally different coping with oppressive heat when you’re on a short, all-inclusive vacation at a resort right on a charmed white sand beach. You spend the entire day, every day, lying under the shade of a palm frond beach umbrella. The only time you ever expend any energy is when you tilt your head down to suck greedily on the straw violating the large, hollowed-out coconut full of rum your fingers are stretched around. When it gets too hot to even manage that, you simply wade out into the bracingly cool turquoise sea and flap around in the playful waves under lovely, goosepimple-inducing breezes. Utterly refreshed, you clamber out and collapse back under your umbrella calling for another coconut.

Indulging in this kind of sun-drenched decadence in the depths of winter, especially satisfying when you sadistically imagine your colleagues still slaving away at their desks after barely staving off hypothermia getting to the office in the morning darkness, always reminded me of the heroically indolent lifestyle of male lions:

MALE LION [waking up at noon with an almighty yawn]: God it’s hot on the savanna today…

FEMALE LION [scowling]: Finally awake, are we? I’ve been up for hours chasing around after your rotten, good-for-nothing kids. Most of them aren’t even mine, you know. Little bastards.

MALE LION [rolling over on his back and stretching his massive paws up into the sky]: Good. Very good. Oh my, it’s too hot today. I think I’ll take a little nap.

FEMALE LION: You just woke up!

MALE LION [hauling himself to his feet and giving his regal mane a good shake]: Ugh, very well. Perhaps I’ll take a nice dip instead. Don’t you find it too hot today?

FEMALE LION [sarcastically]: As opposed to yesterday? Or the day before that? Or the day before that? We live in Africa!!!

MALE LION [lazily swishing his tail at the flies harassing his big swollen balls]: Yes, indeed. I suppose we do. When’s breakfast, woman? I’m starving.

FEMALE LION [shrilly]: Breakfast?!

MALE LION [cocking his ear to his grumbling tummy]: Mmmm, I fancy a bit of gazelle today for a change. Starting to go a bit off zebra all the time.

FEMALE LION [red-faced, with her paws on her hips]: Did it ever cross your mind that you could do the hunting just for once? Especially if my food is getting soooooo boring for you. You’re supposed to be an apex predator! You’re supposed to be the fucking king of the jungle?!

MALE LION [flumping back down again and examining his long, lethal claws]: Never mind. It’s just too hot today. I suppose Zebra will be fine again. Don’t forget to save a bit for yourself.

FEMALE LION [fat vein pulsing metronomically down the middle of her forehead]: Anything else, your majesty?!

MALE LION [hesitantly]: Do you think you could maybe find me one of those big hollowed-out coconuts full of rum I’ve been reading about? I’m so thirsty under this cursed sun but I can’t be bothered to go over to the pond.

FEMALE LION [turning and marching away, tail swishing furiously]: Gaaaaaa!

MALE LION [sighing wearily]: It’s tough to be the king…

So, you see how the infernal heat can even be responsible for marital strife at the upper echelons of the animal kingdom. Moreover, despite the Tweeter-in-Chief’s brainless bluster about global warming being a hoax invented by the Chinese, our planet is undeniably getting apocalyptically hotter each year.*** Not too fussed by all that? Well, then listen to this peppy Cole Porter cover from 1990, a testament to how heat even destroys sexual desire: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UMt8MgbXPGc

~

* Paris’s version of the High Line park in New York City and well worth checking out: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coul%C3%A9e_verte_Ren%C3%A9-Dumont

** Seasonal affective disorder (SAD): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seasonal_affective_disorder

*** Here is the evidence from NASA: https://climate.nasa.gov/evidence/

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Dear Whoever You Are (14 – 28 June 2018)


15-21 June: Ave Britannia

My trip to England, my birthplace and “home” for the first two years of my life, began last week with a short hop from Paris to London Gatwick aboard a “Vueling Airlines” flight. I know you haven’t. Clearly inspired by the phonebooth stuffing fad of the 1950s, it’s a Spanish airline that maintains rock-bottom ticket prices by regularly breaking its own world record for how many people can be crammed inside an Airbus A319. If you’re at all claustrophobic like me, before even attempting to board I strongly recommend you consume as much booze and opioids as your body can withstand without actually dying.

Not knowing this at the time, I was lamentably mostly sober when I got on the plane. Immediately seized by two flight attendants with Dali mustaches (one of whom I’m pretty sure was a woman), I was manhandled and squeezed, like an unopened tube of toothpaste, between a fat sweaty Geordie* and a fat sweaty kid who looked like his son.

“We can switch places if you want to sit with him,” I said to the Geordie praying for his aisle seat so I wouldn’t have to endure the flight with my already-injured knees unnaturally folded up to my chin.

“He’s not with me mate,” slurred the Geordie, his breath so thick with alcohol it made my eyeballs burn.

“I see,” I said, wiping away the tears. “In that case, would you mind breathing on me for a few minutes? I’m not nearly drunk enough to handle this.”

Half an hour later, as our oversized tin of sardines lumbered over the English Channel and commenced its landing pattern, I craned my neck around the fat kid’s fat head and saw through the window the ships gently bottle-necking into the Strait of Dover. I was struck by the proximity of England to France and felt a faint nationalist stirring within me: for more than a thousand years the French haven’t dared set foot on our soil but until relatively recently we have invaded and occupied them at will. I found myself starting to mouth the words of Henry V’s St. Crispin’s Day speech before the fat head shot me an unpleasant leer and I snapped out of it.

Where in fresh hell was all this coming from?! Given my apoplectic rage at all things British ever since the titanic calamity otherwise known as Brexit, I was dumbfounded once again when my heart reflexively leapt at the sight of the countryside suddenly appearing not so far below. Tolkienesque little villages, rooves bristling with terracotta chimney pots, nestled in those familiar rolling hills; a patchwork of lush fields, dotted with peacefully grazing sheep and stitched together with thick green forest, as comforting as a favorite old cardigan on a cold winter’s night. I could almost smell the damp vegetation and fecund soil. And everyone down there (including the sheep) speak the blessed English tongue, I mused dreamily.

What was happening to me?! I felt a sudden urge to slap myself across the face. I hadn’t felt this way since I was a boy when I would get so distraught at the prospect of returning to Toronto (where I attempted, and mostly failed, to grow up before moving to Montreal) at the end of summer vacation in England, I actively willed the plane to crash on takeoff so I wouldn’t have to leave.

I cast a suspicious glance at the Geordie who appeared to be drinking gin from a plastic water bottle. “Do you think it’s possible you actually are intoxicating me by osmosis?” I demanded. Shrugging, he turned away, head lolling, and muttered something totally unintelligible with the exception of the word “cunt”.

By the way, if you are one of those who despair at the ever-increasing proliferation of profanity in the English language and your ears literally bleed when you hear the word “cunt” (you know who you are) do NOT, under any circumstances whatsoever, consider going to England. I know you were enchanted by the quaint and squeaky-clean language in The Crown but NO ONE (except, unsurprisingly, the anachronistic members of the royal family) talks like that. No, if you’re like me and relish eavesdropping on people’s conversations in pubs, virtually every other word you hear will be either “fuck” or “cunt” or one of their myriad variants. In fact, the big conspicuously unilingual signs at the airports reading WELCOME TO GREAT BRITAIN, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN! would be more accurately replaced, especially after Brexit, by ones that read: WELCOME TO GREAT BRITAIN, YOU FUCKING CUNTS!

In any case, the eerie childhood nostalgia that had been freaking me out during the flight mercifully ceded to relief once our flying crate of over-population finally landed. Because my joints had been twisted at unnatural angles for over an hour, my body felt like compressing and expanding accordion bellows as I Slinkyed down the plane’s stairs and plopped on to the tarmac. Unburdened by check-in luggage, it wasn’t long before I departed the airport and, forgetting yet again the maddening British habit of driving on the left, promptly almost got run over by my cousin as he attempted to pick me up.

During the 15-minute drive to his place near Redhill,** the car thundered so much with laughter it seemed vulnerable to tipping over as we veered through narrow arterial country roads canopied with overhanging tree branches, like organic cathedral vaults, in the shadowy fading light. This is because my cousin is the walking, talking epitome of the wicked English sense of humor. He has this enviable innate ability to convert the banal into the hilarious without so much as pausing to think about it. And “innate” is the correct adjective. I suspect humor, as well as authentic gregariousness, is somehow genetically baked into the blood of the English.

As proof of the old adage “time flies when you’re having fun,” the first three days of the trip with my cousin, his wife, and their son vanished before they started. The morning I left, the battered empty crates of beer at the foot of the staircase shabbily stood at attention as I passed by, a lazy salute to the epic late nights of laughing and drinking through thick banks of cigarette smoke. These guys are the rare types you seamlessly pick up with where you left off, without any initial awkwardness or need for ice-breaking, even if it’s been ages since you last saw each other. That said, I’m ever the outsider, with my Canadian accent and baseball hat, peering in on their quintessentially English world which, by some quantum emotional trickery, I simultaneously intimately relate to and find wholly alien.

The second three days of the trip was spent in Chichester*** with my mother and her partner. By hosting highly regarded theatre, film, and music festivals Chichester distinguishes itself from other small towns in Southern England. In common with them, it’s pretty little homes are mortgage-free and there is an almost total absence of ethnic/racial diversity. I say “almost” because when my wife and I were there over this past New Year’s, as we were walking along a canal on the outskirts of town, to our astonishment we sighted a real in-the-flesh black man walking towards us.

“So, they do exist here!” I exclaimed, as if we were walking on the surface of the moon.

“Well, there’s ONE here,” she said after the disgruntled looking black man had shuffled past. “And he doesn’t look terribly happy about it, does he?”

“No. Maybe he was run out of town by a mob with pitchforks and is coming back to try and collect his things… Maybe-”

“Andrew…”

Anyway, despite its homogenous rich whiteness, like most of the rest of the country Chichester is an exceedingly friendly place. For example, when you go into the pub, a warm feeling of welcome will spread over you when the comely bar wench asks you “what’ll it be, luv?” (sometimes it’ll even be “my dahling”) and the man standing next to you gives you a nod and “awright, mate?” Of course, the regulars around you will be calling each other “cunt” but in time you’ll realize that, at least in a social context, it too is something of a term of endearment.

Speaking of pubs, on my first night in Chichester my mother took us to one to have dinner and watch England’s first World Cup match. The typically pleasing atmosphere was especially bubbly and electrified with excitement and I spent as much time observing the crowd as I did watching the action on the TV screens. Regarding the latter, the first thing that struck me was that there are more black guys on England’s national team than there are in all of West Sussex. The irony was therefore not lost on me that a great many in this entirely white crowd, fervently roaring their support every time England took possession of the ball, were inherently racist Brexiters**** anxious to see their country rid of minorities (except, of course, the spectacular God-like footballers currently representing them on the international stage… okay, and perhaps Meghan Markle as well).

Don’t worry though! Today is not the day for my Brexit rant. I don’t yet have the heart for it (not sure I ever will, really, seeing as Brexit has mangled it beyond healing). Suffice it to say that it casts a long and dark shadow over all of my happy and loving feelings for the country and its people.

What I was dwelling on more was my relationship with “home”. As I watched the match and the avid fans in the pub, I found myself once again on the outside looking in. With the exception of the truly breathtaking athleticism, European football is in large part lost on me. It just doesn’t do it for me when a grown man, indeed a professional athlete in peak physical condition, rolls around on the ground feigning abject agony for five minutes if he’s so much as sneezed upon. Even less when, after the inevitable miraculous recovery, he’s awarded a penalty kick for doing so. This so tarnishes “the beautiful game” for me that I almost find the celebrations after goals (on the rare occasion any are actually scored), as homoerotic and acrobatic as any Cirque de Soleil performance, more entertaining than anything else. I found myself almost physically craving a Montreal Canadians hockey game: exciting, lots of scoring, sensible rules, fair allocation of points, and righteously tough and violent.

Still, when my dear mother and her partner took me to Arundel Castle, to the South Downs, to the Fishbourne Roman Palace, and to the sea, my sense of my own Englishness confusingly flowed in and drained out like a fickle tide.

Back at Gatwick airport I found myself sitting at the bar (surprise!), this time getting properly potted and doing some calisthenics in advance preparation for my Vueling flight back to Paris. Checking the departure board on my phone I ruefully noticed a flight was leaving for Montreal around the same time as mine. I felt a tug of acute homesickness and an intense desire to board that flight. This was followed by an intense desire to board a flight to Germany where I also have family and friends. This was followed by an intense desire to flee the airport and stay in England. This was followed by the most intense desire of all: get on my scheduled flight to Paris and see my wife again.

“Awright, luv?” asked the comely bar wench inquisitively.

“I’m fine”, I sighed, rubbing away the moisture in my eyes. “Fine.”

“Where’re you from, dahling?” she asked.

I searched her kind face, strangely moved by the question.

“I have absolutely no idea,” I said.

~

* Pronounced Jordi see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geordie

** South of London in the county of Surrey: https://bit.ly/2KrBDaA

*** A 20-minute drive from the English Channel in the county of West Sussex: https://bit.ly/2KxeXFX

**** Southern England, outside of London, predominantly voted Brexit.

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Dear Whoever You Are (4 – 13 June 2018)


7 June: Modern Love

In the middle of the night last week, my bedroom became suddenly alive with epilepsy-inducing incandescent light crawling across the walls, a lingering preamble to the loudest and longest thunderclap I have ever experienced. The initial sky-splitting explosion virtually shook me out of bed and the uninterrupted concussive aftershocks boomed as if Godzilla was stamping away down the street, spiked thagomizer angrily swishing entire buildings aside in its wake.

“The reckoning!” I spluttered nasally (I was suffering from a bad head cold), leaping to my feet and running to the window.

“Jesus, I told you not to put so much chili sauce on your dinner,” murmured my wife groggily before rolling over and promptly falling back to sleep.

“That’s it,” I thought to myself as I watched the sour expression on my face reflected in the window pane melt like candle wax under sheets of rain so thick I may as well have been looking through a windshield in a car wash. “I’m sick. This weather is an atrocity. Tomorrow can and will be a lazy movie day.”

Checking the movie listings the next morning, I was heartened to see that Solo: A Star Wars Story was playing just around the corner. Catching the first screening at 12:55, it was just me and a couple of teenagers playing hooky in the theatre. Nice, but my expectations were low. I thought Rogue One was mostly crap and I had read Solo was tanking at the box office. Nevertheless, as the lights went down, I still prickled with excitement just as I did as a boy when the original trilogy came out.

Recounting the early years of Han Solo, including how he comes to know Chewbacca and Lando Calrissian, and flew the Kessel Run “in less than twelve parsecs” in the Millennium Falcon, this movie does not disappoint. Penned by Lawrence Kasdan* & Son, the story is simple and uncluttered with interesting, morally ambiguous characters. Director Ron Howard delivers some of the most relentlessly engaging action sequences I’ve seen in a long time and Alden Ehrenreich(me neither) is so convincing as a swaggering young Han, you’ll forget it’s not Harrison Ford you’re watching. The rest of the cast is solid, especially Woody Harrelson, fast becoming one of my all-time favorites, who nails it as Tobias Beckett, a struggling criminal and Han’s mentor. Best of all, the love story is mercifully ancillary, understated, and devoid of any groan-inducing cheese.

Movie review over but, coming back to the love front, the openly flirtatious exchanges between Lando and his leggy droid, L3-37, caught my attention most. Sure enough, when I got home, I discovered the Internet alight with discussion over Lando’s pansexuality, a neutral orientation that leaves wide open the possibility of robot-human sexual relationships. A few more Google searches confirmed that in the near future, after a robot has poached your job, you’ll at least be able to go home and angrily fuck an all-too-human one in any manner you see fit. Yes, the “sexbot” is, very controversially, also on the rise and if you don’t admit you’re curious, I have no problem calling you a liar.

Although not quite there yet, the technology is on a trajectory to deliver a female sexbot whose orifices (which can be swappable with dozens of variations) will not only be anatomically accurate, they will also be equipped with adjustable self-lubricating and heating systems. The neck will be designed so the head can rhythmically move up and down and side to side and its other flexible joints will allow it to engage in intercourse in more positions than you’ll find in a Kamasutra sex guide. Their faces and bodies will be fully customizable. For example, you will be able to select from an exhaustive menu of swappable racial characteristics, not to mention hundreds of nipple variations. Not only will its skin be lifelike and capable of simulating sweating in the heat of action, it will also be able to authentically simulate toe-curling orgasms better than Meg Ryan. And of course, with the galloping advances in AI, your sexbot will soon be able to talk to you like a real companion and presumably, as it gets to know you better and better, indulge you in all your naughty perversions.

“Hi honey, I’m home!”

“Shall I get out the anal beads now or would you like to eat dinner off my chest first?”

Now ladies (and gay gentlemen), before you go hoarse howling in outrage, the male sexbot is also coming and it will have all of the anatomical authenticity and customizability of its female counterpart. Its arrival is going to be a bit delayed however but only because, somewhat understandably, it’s considerably more of a technological challenge to accurately mimic a man getting it up, performing in all the positions, and ejaculating a warm simulated semen (presumably this will be optional) upon command. Make no mistake though, it is coming, swappable cock and balls, nipples, racial attributes, you name it, all at your disposal.

“Hi honey, I’m home!”

“Shall I get out the ribbed 10-incher now or would you like to sip chardonnay from my navel first?”

Implications? Obviously legion. Proponents argue that sexbots will help treat impotence as well as garden-variety sexual anxiety, provide meaningful sexual gratification to the millions of singles weary of striking out online and/or at the bars, reduce the prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases (sexbot prostitute, anyone?) and, more interestingly, dramatically reduce the saturating prevalence of sex crime. How? Violent sexual fantasies acted out on sexbots are victimless crimes. Aware of this, manufacturers of next generation sexbots are already planning on offering a “rape mode” (no “safety words” required…) I can answer your next dark question: yes, rather than vainly attempting to punish or rehabilitate their ungovernable aberrant sexual impulses, it is already possible for pedophiles to acquire primitive child sexbots. All of this to say that soon enough you will be able to buy a highly advanced child sexbot, family member sexbot, celebrity sexbot, dead person sexbot, and of course, for those into the farmyard scene, one must assume that it is only a matter of time before animal sexbots make their debut as well.

“Hi honey, I’m home!”

“Woof! Woof!”

Detractors warn of the desensitizing consequences of sexual relationships with sexbots. The fear is that acting out all your sexual fantasies on a totally compliant and unharmable sexbot will erode your relationship with “reality” and generate stratospheric expectations from the real, and limitlessly harmable, human beings you subsequently endeavor to have sex with. A particularly scary thought when applied to the pedophile.

I’m not sure I buy the argument though. It is the same one that links pornography to increased objectification and violence towards women. There is no meaningful evidence that supports this, especially in porn-loving Japan where cartoons depicting young girls being raped by multi-tentacled aliens do not so much as raise an eyebrow and sexual violence is almost zero. Not to mention that ever since vast libraries of porn migrated to the Internet, where they can be consumed for free and in private, women too have flocked to them in droves. Same goes for claims, also unsupported so far, that violent video games and movies glorify and encourage real-life violence.

I firmly believe that the vast majority of us can clearly distinguish between fact and fantasy. Those who cannot are extremely dangerous regardless of whether or not they use sexbots, look at porn, or play Grand Theft Auto night and day. I suppose it’s possible that sexbots, like porn, could encourage sex addiction but that’s like condemning bars for encouraging alcoholism. Addicts will be addicts and they arguably indulge more when the source of their addiction is sanctioned, e.g. 13 long years of Prohibition in the United States were barely remembered due to alcoholic blackout.

I lean towards welcoming the advent of sexbots. But not just as fantasy-facilitators that promise to keep it clean and off the streets. I can imagine sexbots assisting the millions of human couples who are in floundering relationships. What if your partner, still very much in love with you but suffering from extreme relationship fatigue, finally snapped and vented it all out for one long and torrid night with a sexbot? Even if it was a protracted “affair” with a sexbot, would the sense of betrayal even approach what it would be if it had been conducted with a human? Would you even rank it as infidelity at all? Perhaps you’d even be curious to watch your partner go at it with the sexbot? Perhaps you’d even take notes? Perhaps you’d even join in? Perhaps you’d even purchase your own sexbot so you could ratchet up the spice with foursomes?!

Okay, perhaps not. But I do see potential for some significant therapeutic upside for individuals and society once sexbots become mainstream.** Of course, the existential threat to human-on-human relationships, as AI races towards the singularity finish line, is that we find we actually fall in love with our sexbots and unload our human companions altogether. After all, not only will they be better in bed than any human could possibly hope to be, because they will come to know us inside and out (literally), they could very likely also morph into our best friends.

“Hi honey, I’m home!”

“I’m so happy to see you! Go relax and watch the football game. I’ll be there in a minute after I’ve swapped in my football night vagina.”’

“Aw, I love you.”

“And you always will…”

*Responsible for The Empire Strikes Back, hands down the very best of all the Star Wars movies.

**These things promise to be prohibitively expensive, but I predict that even people of very limited means will find the money one way or another. Just look at how many panhandlers have an empty coffee cup in one hand and an iPhone in the other…

~

Too speechless to rant about the Tweeter-in-Chief this week but this is worth being reminded of:

Why, oh why, didn’t Clinton hammer away at this over and over again during the election campaign? Why is it not regularly trotted out now to expose this master manipulator and liar?

This is probably the most honest thing the man has ever said in his life and it is so infrequently invoked to utterly discredit him. Gaaaaaaaa!

~

 

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Dear Whoever You Are (14 – 27 May 2018)


19-28 May: Lost in Translation

I’m standing in Marksburg which, although damaged by American artillery fire in 1945, is the best-preserved castle of the many dotting Germany’s spectacular Middle Rhine* and first mentioned in historical records in the 13th Century. Here is a picture:

I’m on the upper floor standing in a 65-meter knight’s hall with a long medieval dining table hewn from wood as dark as the surrounding forest, huge open fireplace, and window recesses revealing that the castle’s walls are 3 meters thick. Our guide is explaining that the deep bay in the wall in the center of the hall is a toilet where the knights could take an altitudinous crap on whomever might be passing by below while keeping up with the raucous banter going on at the table. Even more interesting, this was the most vulnerable part of the castle to enemy invaders who, used to being repelled with cauldrons of boiling oil, heavy rocks, and volleys of flaming arrows, were quite content to cast aside the chivalric etiquette of castle-storming and attempt to sneak in through the infinitely less perilous shithole.

“In fact,” our guide concludes, “downstream from here, just outside Bonn, Bavarian knights sacked Godesburg this way.”

“Trust the Bavarians,” mutters my wife to the quiet tittering of those within earshot except, not surprisingly, the plump Bavarian couple who scrunch up their tongue-red faces as if they have just been suddenly shat upon. [Side note: Bavarians are subject to some low-boil animosity in the rest of the country because they are viewed as perpetuating the hated stereotype that all Germans are lederhosen-clad mountain-dwellers forever swilling oceans of beer, during a permanent Octoberfest, while dancing to Oompapa bands. It doesn’t help that their accents, even if reciting love poetry, sound like a gathering storm. Even less that Bavaria is the richest state in the country.]

“Come this way,” says the guide with a wave. “Watch your heads on the ceiling. Here’s another great view of the valley from this window.” He pronounces ceiling “siling”, valley “walley”, and window “vindow”. My wife rolls her eyes again at the quality of his English. For me, though, I’m seized by another spasm of guilt about the quality of my German. Here I am on an hour-long castle tour being conducted in scrappy English despite the fact that everyone on it, except for me and an Asian couple (who don’t appear to even understand English) are German speakers. They’re only taking the English tour because they’d have to wait another hour for the next one in German. This is in their home country.

Personally, I suck at languages and actively resent people who have a gift for them. I like to think I’m not an easily intimidated person but when I attempt to speak German, I’m as blushing and self-conscious as a young boy who has inadvertently popped an erection at the swimming pool. During the castle tour, when I imagine myself seated at the table in the great hall surrounded by heavily armed knights drinking wine out of oversized goblets made from the skulls of vanquished enemies, what I fear most is one of them turning and talking to me. I can imagine him, face all whiskers and battle scars, deeply growling a long question in a medieval Teutonic language almost as mysterious to me as modern-day German. I picture myself fleeing the table to the toilet for the remainder of the meal and hoping the manifestation of my fear might at least get some credit for repelling a Bavarian invader.

My wife humors me by telling me how good my German is getting. Probably the only person on earth who would genuinely concur with that bright assessment is her 94-year-old grandmother (or “Oma” as grandmothers are affectionately dubbed in Germany). A lovely woman, I am at ease practicing German with her. Because she’s half-deaf and somewhat age-addled, we only very loosely get the gist of what the other is saying. It’s perfect. To give you an idea, here is a transcript translated into English of an exchange that took place over dinner the day before Marksburg:

Oma [stabbing at my plate with her knife]: How do you like the potatoes?

Me: The potatoes? Very delicious. Her nipples are furry and taste like landmines.

Oma: Exactly. I had a big garden once and grew all my own vegetables.

Me: Really? If I was a garden, my toes would probably harden in the ground.

Oma: I grew those too. I once grew a zucchini that weighed about a kilo.

Me: Did the cat make soup with it?

Oma: Oh yes, that was a super summer. Hardly any rain at all.

Me: Very nice. When the sun shines, does your pillow usually glow like that?

Oma: Of course, but the weather has been terrible lately.

Me: And the fog yesterday smelled like dandruff.

Oma: It’s not good for the tourists in England though is it?

Me: No, no. I toured the royal wedding around the gate and it went to bed before I woke up.

Oma: Yes, I did watch it. I didn’t know those princes had gone so bald.

Me: Prince Philip? His hair is older than your wife’s.

Oma: Your wife? She has beautiful hair. She gets that from me, you know.

Me: I know. I think her skin is also licked by bears.

At this point, a bemused family member who is eavesdropping (unbeknownst to me or I would have fled to the toilet) gently interjects before I accidentally desecrate an innocent conversation by blurting something pornographic and potentially provoking “Oma” to go into cardiac arrest.

In any case, over the course of a week, I did begin to sense that if I lived in the country for a significant amount of time I might one day wrap my head around the language enough to be conversationally fluent. It makes all the difference being totally immersed. This is especially true for colloquial usages. For example, when my mother-in-law is watching television in the evening I learned by osmosis that the easiest, most informal, way to ask her what she’s watching is to say “Was guckst du?” rather than the awkward and formal construction that I had learned: “Was schaust du im Fernsehen?”

As the week progressed, I also began aping the tendency of Germans to end almost everything they say with an interrogative “oder?” (“oder” being the word for “or” in German). For example, “we could go into town today, or?”; “do you want some asparagus, or?”, “the sex was great tonight, or?” etc. I probably overdo it a bit though. In fact, the transcript above is probably more accurate if you tack on “or?” at the end of each of my statements.

Wife [reading in bed]: By the way, why are you saying “oder” at the end of everything when you speak German?

Me [exasperated]: Because you maniacs do!

Wife: No, we don’t!

Me: Oh yes, you do! You say it almost as much as “genau”!** I’m trying to speak the street, man!

Wife: You’re doing great.

Me: Ja, genau. Oder?

Wife [sighing and turning out the light]: Goodnight.

Me [grumpily]: Gute Nacht. Oder?

And of course, just as I’m starting to get a bit into the swing of it, we return to Paris and I have to reconfigure my short-circuiting brain synapses back to French, another language I speak badly and which almost broke me learning on the streets of Montreal over the course of 30 years.

The day after we got back, I had to go and get my fucked-up knee seen again by my doctor. Marching up to the receptionist, I spewed this Franco-German vomit: “J’ai heute à midi einen Termin avec l’Arzt” (“I have an appointment at noon today with the doctor”.)

The good thing is, as terrible as I am at languages I’m not despairing with German. I’m slowly, very slowly, improving and it helps a lot that I actually like the language. Although the grammar incites me to gnaw on my left leg, it does have an internal logic that I relate to much more than French. Also, after even as little as half an hour of studying, I really feel I have given my brain an iron man workout and I’m able to think more clearly about other important things (e.g. pants first, then shoes).

When I do get mopey about my skills, I remind myself that I have had to struggle to learn French and German as an adult, long after my brain had been fully and unilingually hardwired in English. It’s all very well for my many Montreal friends to be smug about being fluently trilingual. I sometimes remind them that if, when I was growing up, I had to go through the French school system (courtesy of Bill 101**) while speaking e.g. Portuguese at home and English with my friends, I would have been effortlessly trilingual by age 18 too.

“So, there!” I declare, standing in front of the mirror at the conclusion of my pep talk. But still, I know I really do have to work on my confidence as much as my skills. Perhaps I should start by hanging out at the swimming pool with a deliberate erection and shamelessly not offer a single word of apology about it… in any language.

* This section of the river snakes through vineyard pocked and thickly forested mountains between Mainz and Cologne. The stuff of German fairytales and a wine-tasters paradise, it’s a must for your bucket list!

** Genau means “exactly” and over the course of an average lifetime, a German will say it approximately 5,896,054,321,468 times.

*** This is the mainstay legislative piece in Quebec’s odious language policy, undoubtedly the subject of a future rant. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charter_of_the_French_Language

~

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Dear Whoever You Are (5 – 13 May 2018)


10 May 2018: Suicide should be painless

Renowned Australian botanist and ecologist, David Goodall, arrived in Switzerland earlier last week in order to end his life in one of the few countries in the world where assisted suicide is legal for the non-terminally ill. While Goodall fell into that category, the man was so ancient, he made wrinkly old Mick Jagger look like Dorian Gray. For perspective:

  • He was born 4 April 1914, four months before the start of World War One.
  • In 1944, more than a year before the end of World War Two, he was 30 years old.
  • In 1963, when 46-year-old JFK was assassinated, he was almost 50 (my age today).
  • He was pushing 90 when the 9/11 attacks occurred almost 17 years ago.
  • Last week, he was four years older than a century.

You get the idea. You may even marvel at how cool it would be to defy mortality and survive that long. Perhaps not, though. For many who reach that age and beyond, your friends have been dead for decades. Same for your spouse (which admittedly may, in some cases, be cause for celebration). And if that were not a deep enough well of loneliness, your emotional mutilation goes into hyperdrive when, through the fog of advanced age, you suddenly realize your kids are also dead. Little solace is found in your navel-gazing grandkids, so freaked out by their own middle age they barely have time to check your pulse when they breeze through the nursing home for door-spinning, will-verifying visits. Even less in your great-grandkids, spotty High Schoolers who, in the rare instances they come to see you, amuse themselves by comparing images of you with unrecognizable petrified fossils on Snapchat.

In Goodall’s case, he retired at age 65 and mostly enjoyed life for the next 30 years. However, since age 94, afflicted by steadily deteriorating eyesight and mobility, he has wanted to die. He could barely make out the faces of his 12 grandchildren and was entirely wheelchair-bound. After failing to take his own life a few weeks ago, here’s how he heart-wrenchingly summed up his quality of life: “At my age, I get up in the morning. I eat breakfast. And then I just sit until lunchtime. Then I have a bit of lunch and just sit. What’s the use of that?” What, indeed. Now, thanks to GoFundMe assistance raised by Exit International,* Goodall finally got relief at a Basel clinic today, where he personally administered a lethal dose of sodium pentobarbital.

Goodall had lamented that most euthanasia legislation, in the few jurisdictions that have implemented it, only applies to “assisted dying” for terminally ill patients. For the past 20 years he strongly advocated the Exit International mandate that all competent adults, regardless of age or terminal illness, have a right to end their life peacefully, in dignity, and without requiring permission from the medical community. The idea is that suicide needn’t be so painful for those among us who are in such unbearable pain, either physical or psychological/emotional, they really do feel a burning imperative to leave us irrespective of the slick wake of grief they will leave behind upon departure.

This resonates with me on a deeply personal level. Five and a half years ago, I received a devastating phone-dropping text message at work informing me that my dear friend of over 20 years, Annie, age 42, had ended her life in New York City the night before. She had been ravaged by unbridled depression her whole life and, like Goodall, had attempted suicide once before. Nevertheless, she tirelessly battled this soul-withering disease, from all variety of pharmacological cocktails to admitting herself to hospital to be tortured for months on end with electroshock therapy that left half her life’s memories burnt to cinders. I stayed at her Queens apartment (which, to her delight, I called the Cuckoo’s Nest) on a visit to NY just a few months before she died, her haunted eyes always searching mine through her tinted bug glasses. I was used to this and was completely oblivious to how close to the end of all hope she was.

If only the option had been available to her to end her intolerable suffering with dignity rather than slowly choking to death in a closet. In the dark. Terrified. And utterly alone.

*See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exit_International and support the legalization of assisted suicide in your jurisdiction.

~

13 May 2018: Another week of assholery in the dock for Tweeter-in-Chief Donald Trump

Having wiped away his crocodile tears over last February’s mass school shooting in Florida, the T-in-C delivered a dutifully balls-licking address to the gun-worshipping National Rifle Association (now headed by Oliver North – aiieeeee!), coffin-black owner and overlord of the Republican Party. During the course of it, he incensed the U.K. by arguing the “war zone” knife violence there would be curbed under looser gun control laws, presumably because then everyone would be afforded the civilized option of shooting each other to death rather than hacking each other to pieces. France was equally apoplectic over his infantile mimicking of the gunmen during the 2015 Bataclan theatre massacre in Paris, again arguing the tragedy could have been averted had the crowds been armed to the teeth with biiig bootiful faaaaat guns. The reality is that violent crime rates in the U.K. and France are a miniscule fraction of those in the U.S. (e.g. where 47 children and teenagers are shot each day….)

Two days later, delivering another kick in the nuts to European allies just for good measure, the T-in-C yanked the U.S. from the Iran nuclear deal. His speech rationalizing the decision was chock-full of lies, the most glaring being the false claims that Iran is still able to enrich weapons-grade uranium and would be “on the verge of nuclear breakout in just a short period of time” due to the deal’s sunset provisions. The real reason, beyond that he’s now surrounded by Mephistophelean Iran hawks who back regime change, is that the Iran deal is the signature foreign policy achievement of the nigger… er, that is, Barack Obama, his enlightened and progressive predecessor who eviscerated him in eye-watering fashion at the 2011 White House Correspondents’ Dinner. The point is that the T-in-C is unflinching in his ability to stare straight into the cameras and flatly lie, whether to push his vendetta-driven agenda against Obama, to appease the NRA, or wriggle out from all of the personal accusations forever swirling around him.

Regarding the latter, also last week the barking mad Rudy Giuliani continued to put his foot in it as the newest member of the T-in-C’s battalion of attorneys. Contradicting months of vehement denials from the T-and-C and White House officials, Giuliani stated unequivocally that Trump repaid his attorney Michael Cohen the $130,000 in hush money handed over to porn star Stormy Daniels on the eve of the election to keep it zipped over an alleged affair. He went even further by stating that Cohen could have paid off other women too! It’s little wonder the T-in-C hasn’t rushed to engage the services of yet another attorney to pay lip-flapping Giuliani wads of hush money in exchange for a solemn promise to never be interviewed again. Instead, the T-in-C grumpily spat that Giuliani “will get his facts straight” eventually. Translation: “Giuliani hasn’t yet fully orientated himself to the whirlpool of lies around this place”. Even more remarkably, Giuliani then went onto claim that, get this, he’s “focused on the law more than the facts right now…” Wow! Double wow!

Blatant Orwellian disregard for objectively verifiable facts has been the hallmark of this presidency from Day 1 when Kellyanne Conway (doesn’t she somehow remind you of a creepy Picasso?), defending the White House’s visually disprovable claims of “record” crowd sizes on inauguration day, notoriously coined the term “alternative facts”. Last week it came to light, as a surprise to absolutely no one, that the T-in-C had personally dictated to his doctor his 2015 “full medical report” which, to howls of derisive laughter, farcically concluded: “If elected, Mr Trump, I can state unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.” Any normal political leader would be run out of town on a rail over Stormy Daniels and the fake doctor’s note alone. Not the T-in-C. The Washington Post has determined that this president has openly lied well over 3,000 times since being elected. Mind, these are only the wholly disprovable claims and statements and do not include the endless torrent of exaggerations, distortions, and misleading half-truths.

How does he do it? It is human nature to lie. We’ve all done it to some degree when fessing up would unleash unpleasant consequences (“I did not have sexual relations with that woman” because blowjobs don’t count, right? Right?!) But lifelong pathological liars, most of whom are also narcissists, are almost always undone and fall hard when they inevitably get caught up in the web of lies they have spun for themselves. Almost. Delighting his base, the T-in-C forever dismisses the fact-checkers as “fake news” cooked up by the mainstream liberal media. Worse, he is almost rewarded for his deceitfulness. Undoubtedly, a typical Trump supporter would applaud his dictation of his own medical report on the grounds that it is evidence of his unassailable self-confidence. I can only conclude that this is the case for every brazen example of the T-in-C divining his own truth. Probably the only way his dishonesty will undo him is if he lies under oath. So, cross your fingers he blows off the advice of his enablers yet again and agrees to a sit-down with Robert Mueller.

As troubling as all this is, what irks and rattles me is that as despicably dishonest as this president is, unlike virtually every other politician who has ever lived, he is doing his level best to make good on just about every single one of his Obama-hating campaign promises. Here are just a few:

  • Gutting Obamacare (after all attempts at repeal failed in the House);
  • Leaving the TPP Obama supported and declaring trade war on China;
  • Leaving the Paris Climate Agreement Obama supported;
  • Renegotiating or leaving NAFTA Obama supported;
  • Leaving Obama’s Iran Nuclear Deal;
  • Massive tax cuts after Obama bankrupted Americans by raising taxes;
  • Massive deregulation (especially all Obama era regulations);
  • Massive military spending on armed forces Obama neglected;
  • Curbing immigration, deporting illegal immigrants and building THE WALL on the Mexican border after Obama let in millions of criminals and rapists just like him;
  • Moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem because Obama hated Netanyahu.

Not only is this president keeping his promises, I have the creeping feeling that by keeping his word and following through on his threats he could be teeing up some major policy wins. It’s quite likely NAFTA will be renegotiated to the greater advantage of the U.S. Same goes for the trade dispute with China and all the lesser players. And leaving the Iran deal has done nothing to make Kim Jong-un balk at the upcoming Summit in Singapore.* In fact, right after the T-in-C exited the Iran deal, North Korea announced it was going to blow up (yes, blow up!) its nuclear weapons test site. It also released three American prisoners. Why? Because when the T-in-C stood up in front of the ineffectual United Nations last September and bellowed if Little Rocket Man didn’t start toeing the line, he would “have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea”, Kim Jong-un had to burn his underpants afterwards. Here was a president, one with a much “bigger button” than his, he knew would “totally” keep that promise…

If this don’t-you-ever-fuck-with-me president can oversee the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, possibly even Korean reunification, that would be a monumental foreign policy achievement for the history books.

It begs the question: Could it be that lying about everything under the sun to numb the world to the truth while simultaneously keeping your promises is a brilliant political strategy?

After all, Hitler tried it once and came damn close to winning the whole shebang…

Strange times are these in which we live when old and young are taught falsehoods in school. And the person that dares to tell the truth is called at once a lunatic and a fool. ~ Plato

*Of course, just today North Korea is threatening to scuttle talks over the current joint war games between South Korea and the U.S. but that is likely typical passive-aggressive bluster that will subside once the “games” are concluded.

~

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