Conversations of Desire

I am writing this in a public square. It is Saturday night and post-secondary school has just started, so there are swarms of young people out partying. I am sitting on a bench hoping nobody will beat me up and that I won’t catch COVID. A few benches away some young men were discussing young women they found attractive. It reminded me of yet another missed milestone in my life.

I am aware that people (particularly young people) engage in such conversations, but I have never actively participated in one. Back in the Cambrian era when I attended high school, a few people attempted such, and I had nothing to contribute. Once somebody asked me what kind of women I liked, and I could not articulate anything — not because I was trying to hide anything, but because I did not have a rating system in my head. When I was seventeen or so, I was asked whether I had ever fallen in love. I hadn’t, and I received a look of disbelief in response. “It should have happened by now?” my associate asked incredulously.

Clearly such feelings intensified among my peers as I entered university. I had a job (can you imagine?) on campus, and my coworkers would frequently admire the wildlife. Occasionally I would serve a tall, conventionally attractive young woman, and my coworkers would express astonishment that I wasn’t drooling. By this time I suffered occasional unwholesome thoughts about my Numeric Computation professor, but this conversation never came up.

With the advent of political correctness and increased co-ed workplaces, I am sure such conversations have migrated away from the workplace and to private friend groups.

During my one and only intimate relationship two decades ago, the topic of sexual attraction did come up. My ladyfriend at the time knew that I was intrinsically disordered before we became A Couple, but aside from assurances of her attractiveness, the only other crush I remember admitting was Salman Rushdie. (Let’s just say that Midnight’s Children resonated deeply with me.) In retrospect, that particular crush was as ill-advised as my relationship, which crashed and burned in ways I regret to this day.

A few years ago I had an acquaintance with whom I would occasionally walk. I had no serious intentions of being more than a conversation and walking partner with her, but she may have been misreading my intentions. The subject of sex and relationships came up, and I admitted that although I might be interested in maintaining a small number of sex partners, I had no desire whatsoever to ride the relationship escalator. Shortly after that she stopped returning my emails, and although that conversation was probably not the primary reason she dropped communications, it may have been a contributing factor.

Other than that? Nothing, really. Over the years I have attended a few groups at the Lurkville LGBTQ+ centre, and although the topic of sexuality has come up I have never participated in a discussion of sexual preferences. Once in a while others have disclosed their sexual histories, and others have remarked on people they find attractive on TV shows, but I have not made such disclosures and I probably won’t. I can’t think of a conversation when others discussed real people they found attractive in the same way the young men this evening were.

Admittedly, I have used this blog as a confessional, and from time to time I leave lecherous comments in your blogs. Although it is uniformly true that you are all handsome and/or pretty, much of the time these comments are intended to be more playful than serious. Even if such comments were serious, blog interactions feel qualitatively different than in-person dishing sessions. My guess is that such sessions are a common rite of passage for many people, but I was too oblivious in my younger years to participate in such, and am too antisocial now. I can imagine that it is therapeutic to admit one’s crushes in a peer group, but I guess I’ll never know.

Burden on Society

This entry isn’t really about sex, and thus does not belong on this blog, but since it concerns this corner of the blogosphere here we go. It does involve me being intrinsically disordered though, so maybe it is not completely out of place.

As I have declared several times before, I am a Poor. This has a lot to do with my employment status, or lack thereof. Thus far this year I have had paid work for a grand total of two (2) days, which is not exactly paying the bills.

In addition to being frequently unemployed, I am fairly unemployable. It is not difficult to see why this might be the case, especially for those of you on whose blogs I leave comments. Up to now I have bounced around and made enough money to keep going. But those gravy days have come to an end, and now I either have to find something that can pay the bills in these inflationary times or I have to make plans for when my savings run out.

Here’s the problem: working seems awful, and as the months drag on I feel less and less able to tolerate it. In addition to my own basket of mental barriers and brokenness around this issue, you folks are not helping. I have been observing how the residents of this corner of the blogosphere like their jobs, and it is disheartening.

I can think of two bloggers who currently enjoy their work: John Michael (who recently started a new position) and Maddie (ditto). CB also started a new job but I don’t know whether he likes it. Maybe Dr Spo tolerates his job, but he is upset that he will never be able to retire.

The rest of you? Many of you (Travel Penguin, Sassybear, Michael54) are explicitly counting the days until you retire. Several others (Jennifer from Sparrow Tree Journal, Robzilla, Jon from Delargo Towers) seem trapped and unhappy in jobs or job environments they dislike. John Gray is planning to leave hospice work and retrain as a counsellor. A few of you don’t talk about your jobs much, but when you do it is usually in the context of stress and drama. I do not know how Blobby feels about his job in general, but the last few months have seemed rough for him.

Then of course there are the retired people, who uniformly LOOOOOVE being retired. They get to take art classes and travel and observe the buskers trying to scratch out a living on the streets below them. That’s fine, I guess: they worked hard and put in their time, and now they get their reward. Being a Poor, retirement is not in the cards for me, unless you consider being unemployed for months on end a form of retirement. But it is clear to me that none of the retired would go back to work unless they were forced to.

I mean, it is not as if anybody is explicitly telling me that working for a living is awful and that I should just give up and become homeless. My unwillingness or inability to get work is squarely on my shoulders, and should not be influenced by what I read in other people’s blogs. But it certainly feels hopeless more days than not.


As usual, this is all my fault.

Although I am not exactly happy about it, over the years I have been growing more resigned to accepting of the prospects for my sex life. Lots of people (even ugly people! even serial killers! even Republican senators!) manage to have sex with other people occasionally, but it does not look as if this is in the cards for me. I mean, there are options, but they are out of reach. It is possible that I could score if I promised to pay money and wear a paper bag over my head, but that would require more disposable income than I have. If I had that kind of dosh I should be paying for therapy, not carnal indulgences.

Then, of course, there is my paranoia. The rest of the world may be over HIV as thoroughly as it is over COVID, but I’m not.

But I was a fool. Perhaps, I foolishly thought, I could at least hope for some close contact? A few hugs, perhaps? Maybe if I promised to wear two paper bags over my head? It is not as if I need much company from other human beings. For the most part, I don’t even like other human beings! But even misanthropes crave touch sometimes, and the prospect of a lifetime of untouchability gets disheartening. So I held out hope. What a fool I am.

You know what happened next. God The Divine Feminine A collection of random genetic mutations subject to selection pressures decided to teach me a lesson. So now we have monkeypox outbreak, and hundreds of men who have sex with men are suffering from painful, sometimes disfiguring cases of the pox. Way to go, me.

Monkeypox is not an STI, and it is not limited to men who have sex with men, but that is how it is spreading, and it’s growing fast. After two years of COVID restrictions people are tired and want to party. And now monkeypox has come by, and it is feeling like another plague.

I am definitely worried about catching monkeypox, but I do not know that this is even my worst worry. My worst worry is that monkeypox will develop a reputation as a gay plague, and then it will start spreading to the straights, and then the straights freak out and then Ron Desantis rounds us up and sends us to quarantine camps. Idiots like the one Huntley and Sixpence documented are not helping.

I am being hyperbolic, of course. Desantis won’t be president until 2024, and until then he only can round us up if we are in Florida (sorry, Jimmy). Unless monkeypox becomes endemic in the gay population, this particular plague should be done and forgotten by then. Furthermore, I am fully aware that now we are bored of COVID the media machine has found another target for our anxieties. But at the rate this virus is spreading, I remain worried.

Dan Savage is recommending that we all moderate our sexual activity for a while, so that this monkeypox outbreak has no place to go. I don’t think that is going to work any better than “two weeks to flatten the curve” did: in order for it to be effective we need to act in collective solidarity, and we are clearly not willing to do that. I have been reading some collected posts about the early days of AIDS (see here ) and the similarities are disheartening. Certainly the way that some people defied public health and deliberately patronized bath houses knowing they had AIDS makes me queasy, even though I can sympathise with some of the underlying emotions. I hope we have learned since then, but I am not confident of this, and I worry we haven’t. I worry the straights will look at us and conclude that we learned nothing from HIV, and therefore are irredeemable.

Thankfully, there is a vaccine that probably works? So maybe there is some hope we vaccinate ourselves out of this mess. Given the poor vaccine distribution thus far, I am somewhat gloomy about this, but we can hope that public health learned something from COVID. (Har har.)

It is not clear to me how quickly public opinion could flip against us. Certainly there has been an anti-LGBTQ+ backlash for a long time, but I genuinely thought that most people (even most people in red states) tolerated gays now. Certainly corporations seem to love the gays, especially the respectable ones with good incomes. How many instances does it take for straights to get infected with monkeypox before public opinion flips? We all thought that we were safe from being used as a wedge issue (thanks for taking over, trans people!) but in these tumultuous times who knows what will happen?

And, of course, it is my fault. Sorry everybody. I hope the consequences are not too dire.

Boy Next Door

The Skanks paid me a visit over the weekend. They told me to write this entry and have not stopped harassing me about it since, so against my better judgment I am giving in. It is a good thing Gay Pride month is over, because there is a lot for me to be ashamed of.

Despite what you may have heard, I am not yet homeless. (That is not the shameful part). In fact, I have lived in the same place for several years. (That is also not the shameful part.) The area is not considered the nice part of town (how could it be when I live there?) but the homeowners, renters, Poors and Destitutes who frequent the area coexist, and although there is sometimes loud drama from drug addicts and those frequenting the nearby soup kitchen, I do not consider it overly unsafe.

On my street I have some neighbors, and this is where the trouble begins. The place where I rent a room is beside a multi-unit dwelling fronted by a barber shop. Several of the apartment dwellers have lived there for years, and in particular one burly, bald, middle-aged goateed fellow lives on the second floor walkup. Sure enough, he has caught my eye for years, and thus the shame begins.

I do not know much about him. I believe I know his name, and he has a job that has some strange hours — he leaves at one or two in the morning, returns in the afternoon or evening, and then (I guess) sleeps the rest of the day until he has to work again. I rarely see him. Sometimes if I am sitting on the front porch at one or two in the morning I will see him leave for work. (I will neither confirm nor deny deliberately sitting on the front porch at one or two in the morning for lecherous purposes.) During the seventeen months of winter Lurkville suffers each year, I sometimes see him shovelling snow when I am shovelling snow. Once or twice we have said hello to each other. (I will neither confirm nor deny subsequently requiring long showers to purge my mind of unclean thoughts.) Once or twice he has worn a sleeveless shirt, and I saw that he has a tattoo on his shoulder — I think it is a depiction of a playing card. He used to drive a tiny Smartcar to work, but I guess it broke down because now he drives a small SUV. Some time ago I saw a small teddy bear sitting on his dashboard. The teddy bear was clad in a Harley-Davidson T-shirt, confirming that he is unambiguously straight.

Mostly I am embarrassed at sneaking lecherous glances at my neighbor, but really I should feel a lot more shame. The Bible’s position on this is clear, as  both Exodus 20:17 and Deuteronomy 5:21 illustrate (emphasis mine):

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.

But even from a secular perspective, my dissolute behavior is an abomination. I know hardly anything about my poor neighbor and yet I objectify him, thus contributing to rape culture. Straight men are fearful to walk outside alone because of people like me.

Some might argue that straight men harbor similar fantasies about “the girl next door,” and although that is unfortunate (and often goes too far into outright harassment), I suppose that in a society without arranged marriages some of this behavior must be tolerated if we are to propagate the species. But I have no such excuse. Honestly I am like the dog that chases cars; I would have no idea what to do if I caught one.

At this point some of the bad influences in my comments section might encourage me to “strike up a conversation” or “get to know him better” or other such predatory behavior. While couched in platonic language (“you can just be friends”) I am as aware of the tropes from educational videos and fantasy stories as the rest of you. It is important to note that such tropes are fictional, not real life. There is some valid criticism that despite living here for years I do not know my neighbors, but such efforts at community building should be engaged with a pure heart.

In addition to my neighbor being straight and completely uninterested in my existence (I am a Poor, after all), he also is not around much any more. For much of the week his SUV is absent from the driveway, suggesting that he has a different place to spend the evenings. Maybe he has a place to crash closer to his work, or maybe he has found a girlfriend and stays at her place during the week. I would like to think so, anyways. It seems that he has a difficult life even without people like me creeping on him, and I would like him to be well.

There, Skanks. Satisfied now?

Pride Uniform

I have skipped Lurkville Pride the past couple of years. But like a fool, I wandered through the celebrations again. That feeling of alienation I complained about has just intensified. Plus there were crowds, and few people were wearing masks and I am a scaredy-cat who does not feel comfortable in crowds even outdoors, so I skedaddled away right quick.

It was just as well. I felt out of place and I looked out of place. Nobody wants the Poors crashing their parties, and I was underdressed. I did not have a T-shirt with a clever slogan. I was not festooned in rainbow accessories — not even a cheap rainbow lei. The latest trend appears to be people wearing their flags as capes (I suppose these people never watched The Incredibles?). Thanks to a meme Sassybear posted I took a quick crash course on pride flags, so I was able to recognise some of the memberships. There were lots of trans flags, of course, but also lots of nonbinary and a surprising number of ace flags too. I did not wear a flag — it is not as if grouchy old incels get a flag (or do they?) — and I doubt I would have been welcomed into the Big Gay Tent if I had.

If nothing else, my wander through Lurkville Pride taught me something: there is a uniform one wears during Pride, and it is a social faux pas not to wear it. I don’t even own rainbow pasties, never mind a full outfit. That’s my fault, of course, and even as a Poor I have enough disposable income to address this. It is also clear that this is some kind of internalized homophobia (“Why does everybody have to be so flamboyant?? Can’t we just be normal?” as if I am in any way normal), and I am already a spectacle in other ways, so doffing rainbow gear and looking even more ridiculous should be no issue. The question is whether I want to bother, and the answer is probably negative. If I want to participate in social gatherings I have to follow social norms, and if I am not willing to do that then I have to stop bellyaching.

Memorials for Anne Marie

About one year ago today (I think May 27), this corner of the blogosphere lost one of its prominent members. Anne Marie in Philly (aka Warrior Queen aka Carebear aka AM aka Anne Marie Gunther) died suddenly. Usually “died suddenly” is a polite euphemism for “committed suicide”, but I doubt that was the case here. I am not sure of the cause of death, and it is none of my business, but Anne Marie had been suffering poor health in the months leading up to her death, and my suspicion is that they led to a medical emergency.

Anne Marie was known for her political opinions, knitting, surviving cancer, surviving a bad first marriage, fierce loyalty to her ingroup, appreciation of hirsute ginger men, allyship to the LGBTQ+ community, and dainty ladylike demeanor. In addition to being a prolific commenter she had her own blog at From My Brain to My Mouth. Her sudden death shocked the community. Tributes to her rolled in. I have compiled the ones I know of in this post. No doubt I have missed several; if you know of others feel free to add them in the comments (but be aware that WordPress marks any comment with multiple links as spam, so you may want to put at most one link per comment).

Memorials are a funny thing. Some people get many memorials. Others get none. Memoraials tend to fade over time. I expect a few people will post about Anne Marie on this anniversary, but I expect that fewer will commemorate her next year. Four years from now many of our blogs will probably be defunct. Nine years from now I worry some of these bloggers will also be defunct (although I hope this is not the case). There is a platitude that says that Anne Marie is not gone so long as she is remembered, but that just delays the inevitable. We all fade away, and life goes on for those left behind. This is an artifact documenting that, at one point, Anne Marie was remembered.

This listing is not in any particular order, other than Todd’s entry.

Memorials Soon After Anne Marie Died

Todd at arteejee: Saturday Morning Post: To My Dearest Friend

John at Going Gently: Anne Marie

Ron at Retired in Delaware: Anne Marie of Philly Warrior Queen

1st Man at Two Men and a Little Farm: The Loss of Anne Marie in Philly

Dave at Riding On: Eternal

Maddie at A Day with the Mistress Borghese: Into the Fabulon

Urspo at Spo-Reflections: Threnody for a Warrior Queen

Bob at I Should Be Laughing: Goodbye My Friend

Debra at She Who Seeks: “Saturday Night Protest Party”

Jay at WickedHamster: Sadness

David at The Adventures of Travel Penguin: Sunday Sadness and Five Lessons

Jennifer at Sparrow Tree Journal: Saturday stuff

Sixpence at (Lo) Imprescindible: She Hated Nazis

Michael at My Secret Journey: I Have No Words for This, But I’ll Try

Sean at Idle Eyes and A Dormy: A smaller world and Mournings are hard

JM at Open a Window: So Shines A Good Deed

Robzilla at I Hit Midlife, Is This My Crisis?: A Saturday Night Wake/Dance Party

Mr Shife at Confessions of a Dumb, White Guy: Random Acts of Shifeness – June Updates

Fearsome and Shawn at Fearsome Beard wrote many tributes over the year. Some are here and some are in the next section.

On JoeMyGod, there were several comment threads memorializing Anne Marie. I know of two, but there are probably others: Overnight Open Thread 1, Overnight Open Thread 2

Reminders of Anne Marie

Throughout the year circumstances or belongings prompted several people to remember Anne Marie. Here is a selection of their posts:

Fearsome and Shawn posted about Anne Marie several times:

Uptonking at Wonderland Burlesque remembered Anne Marie several times as he reviewed alternative recordings of pop songs: Who Did It Better? Swayin’ To The Music (Slow Dancing), Who Did It Better? The Loco-motion

Sixpence dedicated his post Mayor Pete to Anne Marie.

Dr Spo received a posthumous birthday card: Curious things about the house #73

Michael reread one of Anne Marie’s old comments: Three Months Later.

Arteejee Memorials

Of course, this corner of the blogosphere did not just lose Anne Marie. Her husband Todd (aka RTG aka arteejee) died on Jan 25. Todd’s sister-in-law announced his death in the comments of his blog. He was also in poor health, suffered a fall, and then his heart gave out.

There were fewer memorials to Todd, and it is unfair to include them here as opposed to their own post, but that’s the way it goes.

Maddie from A Day With the Mistress Borghese: Arteejee

Sean from Idle Eyes and a Dormy: Unmotivated but moving along

Urspo from Spo-reflections: Spo-reflections on a Saturday Shingles Shot


Let’s close with some music videos, in the spirit of Saturday Night Dance/Protest Parties.

Although Anne Marie loved much of the music from the 1970s, she disliked ABBA. This has turned into a bit of an in-joke amongst those who remember her. I appreciate the joke but I feel that forever associating Anne Marie with ABBA is unfair. She liked all kinds of music, and if she happened to exercise improper taste with respect to a famous disco group, then so what? There was a lot of other music to choose from.

RTG posted “Time” by the Alan Parsons Symphonic Project a couple of times following Anne Marie’s death. I have been listening to it a lot this year.

Anne Marie posted Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” in one of her final dance parties. It wasn’t 70s disco but reflects how many in the community felt about her:

Happy Birthday Walter

Today (May 12) is Tio Walter Hernandez’s birthday. You might remember him from Tio Walter, I Knit A Man,, or maybe something else. Walter tended to start a blog, write furiously in it for a brief period, and then drop it.

My understanding is that Walter has ascended to Twitter Utopia, where handsome, mostly-unclothed men tweet videos of themselves every day. I still miss him in this corner of the blogosphere. I liked his voice. I liked his comments. His life was pretty different from mine, and (as with most bloggers) he probably would not like me much if we met in real life, but I appreciated him. It did not hurt that he is (a) handsome and (b) a person of color. You know I love all of you, but let’s admit it: with a few notable exceptions (whom I am tempted to enumerate, but won’t) this corner of the blogosphere is a pretty Caucasian space.

Happy birthday, Walter. I hope you are healthy, that you got through the pandemic okay, and that you are doing well now. (I hope the rest of you are doing okay too, even if it is not your birthday.)


You know how I was boasting about reading an 1100 page fictional defence of Catholicism? I was lying. The book was only 1072 pages. It is entitled The Father’s Tale by Michael D O’Brien. I was shoplifting some excerpts from it the other day that resonated with me, so now you suffer.

The plot goes something like this: Alex Graham is an introverted, conveniently-widowed bookseller who lives in the wastelands of Canada. He is a believer but not exceptionally pious. He rescues some children from drowning in a river. Then he learns that one of his sons (who is studying in Oxford on a scholarship) has gone missing, and may have gotten involved in a mystical cult (no: not Christianity, a different cult). Increasingly worried, Alex decides to travel to England to find his wayward son. He does not have much travel money, so he takes out a loan at a rapacious credit union, putting up his bookshop/house as collateral. Through a series of extraordinary (one might say divine) coincidences, Alex repeatedly gets close to contacting his son, only to find the shadowy cult has moved on. In this way Alex chases the cult from England to Finland to urban Russia to remote Siberia. Then some other things happen, but most of them are not relevant to the excerpts here.

The first set of excerpts happens on pages 283 and 284, when Alex is in Finland. At his hotel, he decides to absorb some culture by visiting a Finnish bath house — oops, sauna. Poor Alex absorbs more culture than he bargained for:

He was about to lie down flat on his back when a door opened and three women sauntered in. They were in their thirties or early forties, heavily made up with crimson fingernails and blond hair of an unnatural hue. They were carrying drinks in their hands, they were talking loudly, and they were stark naked.

Alex decided not to lie down.

The other guests appeared not to notice the new arrivals. The women sat together on the bench opposite Alex and continued their discussion, which he now realized was being conducted in German. They eyed his towel as if it were obscene. The situation was so completely alien to his experience that Alex was for a moment paralyzed with astonishment. In the aftershock of a total inversion of cultural norms, it took him a second or two to regain control of his eyes. He got up and left.

Later, in his hotel room, Alex reflects on the experience:

The scene in the sauna had taken him totally by surprise and was now indelibly imprinted on his mind. Yet the sight of the red-taloned Valkyries had little power to inflame him, for what he had witnessed was absurd and sad, a symptom of a society that had lost its sense of mystery. If it had been merely a three-dimensional pornography, a kind of virtual reality of hot cavorting pagan flesh, he would have been morally offended. But now, in retrospect, he was most disturbed by the banality of the women’s demeanor. The situation appeared to be, for them, completely normal. Strangest of all, it was asexual — or at least the Europeans in the sauna had treated it as such.

Alex’s desires had always been well within the range of the natural. Yet he now felt an inexplicable disgust, for the sudden and unexpected cornucopia of female bodies was not in essence feminine, not womanly in any way that awakened the heart’s deeper longings. Why all this pink flesh? he wondered. Why the desperation to return to the bacchanal in the forest glade? Did these women think their overexposure was attractive? If they had ever known real love, would they have unveiled themselves to strange men? The sensation of attracting male eyes would have been revealed to them for what it was: an adolescent concept of sexuality, bereft of love, and in the end bereft of genuine passion. Then it struck him that perhaps they did not think about it at all.

There is so much richness here. One could write a dissertation on these paragraphs, but if you are lucky I won’t. On the surface this is a familiar, banal, story of North American embarrassment around European cultural norms. But it interesting to me how thoroughly Alex is convinced that it is their cultural norms that are perverted, “a symptom of a society that had lost its sense of mystery.” Meanwhile, the Europeans in question experienced their nudity as “banal” and “asexual”. The interpretation of the red-taloned Valkyries as hypersexualized is Alex’s interpretation, not theirs. But it seems that Alex conflates cultural norms with moral ones.

Then there is the issue of the male gaze. “Did these women think their overexposure was attractive?” Well, maybe, but it is not clear that they entered the sauna to attract the gaze of conveniently-widowed booksellers. It is fascinating to me how Alex interprets this display as being put on for his (or perhaps the other male bathers) benefit. What other possible reason could there be for women to put their bare skin on display? Here we see the seeds of the “Well, if she didn’t want to be assaulted she should not have dressed like that” argument.

The word “overexposure” is telling here. How does one define overexposure? Boobies? Nipples? Belly buttons? Why do we not define ankles and elbows as overexposure? Long-time readers will be familiar with my ongoing struggles against tufts of chest hair. Let us not forget that our friends in the Taliban have different standards of overexposure than we do; but for some reason North American standards are correct and those upheld by the Taliban are not.

It is also interesting that the nudity “had little power to inflame him”. This is surprising to him, if not to me. It can be interesting to learn what boobies and pubic hair and penises look like, but I have heard it said that banal nudity is not arousing the way bulges and curves and occlusions are; clothing and potted plants inflame our lusts by hinting at the goods without revealing them.

It is also worth observing that before the Valkyries entered the stage, Alex shared the sauna with a number of male patrons, all of whom were also stark naked and none of whom inflamed his passions. But then again, “Alex’s desires had always been well within the range of the natural.” He was not some pervert sneaking peeks at the pink flesh of the other men with whom he shared the sauna. These men did not have to worry about whether their overexposure was attractive, and Alex would not have questioned whether they had ever known “real love.” Here we see the necessity for strong sexual and gender segregations. Sauna nudity might be tolerable in heterosexual, same-sex populations, but it is important not to confuse things with homosexuality and gender confusion lest we inflame lustful thoughts. Those Republican legislatures are not oppressing sexual and gender minorities; they are upholding natural standards necessarily to live with virtue in the world.

Most interesting at all is the final line: “Then it struck him that perhaps they did not think about it at all.” Is this a sly joke at Alex’s expense? Maybe the author is observing that Alex was the only one taking offence at the Valkyries, and that it was neither a cultural nor a moral offence to others. I go back and forth on this, but my tentative conclusion is that the author, as well as Alex, are judging the Valkyries harshly. After all, Alex describes the situation as “absurd and sad, a symptom of a society that had lost its sense of mystery”, as opposed to a symptom of a society that had lost its sense of mystery because mixed-sex sauna nudity was neither absurd nor sad. But I could be wrong about this.

That ought to be plenty of excerpts and dry textual analysis for one blog entry, but there was another (rather long) excerpt that caught my eye. This takes place 231 pages later, on pages 514-515. By this point Alex is in Siberia. His train has been attacked by ecological terrorists, and he is currently staying in a poorly-heated cabin inhabited by two priests — one Orthodox, one Catholic. He is trying to get some rest, when his thoughts start to drift:

Images began to course through his imagination again, fragmentary and unobtrusive at first, then growing in power. Words of love, memories of love. Followed by a wave of loneliness. Followed by images of Carol’s grave under a blanket of hard snow. Jamie and Hannah Colley swept over the lip of a dam. A bullet fired through a man’s skull. A stab of fear. Then, surprisingly, a jolt of lust. The red-taloned Valkyries of the Helsinki sauna opened the cabin door and walked into the room, talking loudly, stark naked.

Alex’s heart suddenly pounded, his head snapped back, and he struggled to push the thoughts away. “Stop!” he murmured blearily, trying to bring himself fully awake. But the hot drone of carnal desire would not go away. So vivid were the images now cavorting in his mind’s eye, and so different were they from the sacramental love he had known, that he felt sickened. He wondered where the thoughts had come from and why they had appeared at this moment. Like all men, he was no stranger to this particular battle. In the past he had always been able to defeat the temptation by a stern effort of the will, by increased prayer, and by marathon walks along the heights of the cold and utterly sobering Clementine hills. He rarely drank coffee, and then only in the morning, sparing himself the insomniac struggle at night, when such images were most likely to appear. He usually slipped into sleep either praying or reading dry tomes, the most notable quality of which was their soporific effect. No such books were now at hand.

He found his rosary and prayed it. This helped, but within moments of completing it the Valkyries returned. Ignoring them as much as he could, he thought he should read Scripture but realized there was no light. He got up, paced back and forth in the dark, repeated his wife’s name lovingly, prayed for her soul, remembered, remembered… but the remembering ignited residual passion-memories that shifted his imagination back to the more immediate passions now leaping about the room.

It was ridiculous! At his age! Why were the images so powerful, and why was he having such difficulty ignoring them? It was all in his mind, of course, fueled by his imagination. Fueled also, he supposed, by the increased loneliness of his journey through this strange land and by his long distance from his home, where passion was never permitted to enter except in the refined and licit form of poetry or symphonies. He told himself that whatever the cause, its power over him was augmented by his fatigue. Long past was the virility of youth; safely constrained were the surges of hormones that once had threatened to reduce him to the level of a beast. Grace, sublimation, physical exercise and the equally determined exercise of the mind’s authority — these had always succeeded at keeping lust at bay. Where had all that moral strength gone? Was it gone?

No, it was not gone, he told himself. Tearing the socks from his feet, he strode to the door, threw it open, and stepped outside. Coatless, barefoot, he took three paces forward into a snowdrift, inhaling the frigid air in great angry gusts. With gratifying speed, lust and its maidservants disappeared. Shivering with chill, he shook his head and grimaced. “You’re not an old man yet, Alex.”

Whoops! It appears the red-taloned Valkyries had some power to inflame him after all. Fortunately, “he was no stranger to this particular battle”, and overcomes his lustful impulses by running out into the Siberian winter barefoot. I have never experienced a Siberian winter, but I imagine this is… not conducive to foot health. Nonetheless, this seems to be a simple application of the advice in that old faithful passage Matthew 5:27-29; better to lose one’s toes to frostbite than to think lustfully upon a Valkyrie and have one’s whole body cast into Hell.

In my last entry I expressed skepticism at how tall blonde Brody Green and dark brooding Seth Waters kept themselves pure while waiting for plucky heroine Jenna Jones to make her decision. Fortunately, men with self-control have tools to deal with this, and the rest of us would be wise to learn them.

As a sinner, the implications of this passage boggle my mind. Poor Alex has been widowed for years, and out of fidelity to his wife and chastity for the Church he has not masturbated since? I remember similar struggles against lustful thoughts back when I was fourteen, but I have long since given up hope for salvation. Longstanding readers will recall my premature relief at age curing my lustful nature, but sadly it was short-lived. I also find myself shaking my head and saying “How ridiculous! At my age!” Incidentally, conveniently-widowed Alex Graham is in his late forties during the events of this novel, which is more than enough time for his hormones to have settled down.

I have always been suspicious of poetry and symphonies, and this passage helped me understand why. Perhaps as a harm-reduction strategy those who are weak in spirit might turn to them, but they are clearly capable of inflaming passions too.

What impresses me most about this is the mental fortitude Alex Graham must have developed over his life as a believer. Having attempted to resist lustful thoughts I can assert it is not easy; how much stronger must he be to resist? Mind you, he has good motivations to resist: as a Catholic he goes to confession, and I imagine enumerating every time one masturbates gets real embarrassing real fast. Without such incentives, is it any surprise that namby-pamby universalist belief systems lose out to the strong and disciplined souls Christianity churns out?

The French Solution

No, this is not about that horrid Marine Le Pen. Rather, it is about straight people and their fiction. I made the mistake of picking up a book entitled Sunset on Moonlight Beach by Sheila Roberts from a little library, and it is insufferable. Every ten pages I want to fling the book across the room, because straight people are also insufferable. (#notallstraightpeople, I guess?) Seriously — the book I read before this was an 1100 page fictional defense of Catholicism, and that was much more pleasant to read than this.

One of the subplots of the book centres on plucky heroine Jenna Jones, who is a massage therapist and manages a rustic hotel and is on town council and still has energy left over to mope over her tedious love triangle. In one corner is tall, blonde real-estate agent Brody Green. In the other corner is dark, muscular, brooding Seth Waters, a guest at her hotel with a troubled past. Oh noes! Two handsome men are pursuing her and she doesn’t know whom to pick! Brody (Brody??) is so successful and thoughtful and respectful, and everybody in town thinks he and Jenna are a couple already. Seth has overcome his troubled past, and although he doesn’t have steady work he’s the one who makes Jenna’s nether regions tingle. Both of these men are upstanding masculine figures who faithfully wait for Jenna to decide and never go any further than passionate kissing. No doubt they never think about other women or even touch themselves at night. Whatever will Jenna do?

Ugh. Why do straight people make everything so complicated? More specifically, why do American straight people make everything so complicated? The French have this figured out. French people know that some people make good life partners and some people make your nether regions tingle, so a good fraction of them have both wives and mistresses. Respectable, financially-successful Brody can be the wife, and brooding dangerous Seth can be the mistress. Problem solved. But noooo. Jenna Jones spends pages and pages agonizing between the two, neither of whom she has even slept with! Insufferable.

Look. Ideally all parties would explicitly (if begrudgingly) agree to this arrangement. Already Brody and Seth don’t like each other, so it is not as if Jenna’s arrangement would make the blood much worse. People get used to parents-in-law and the spouses of divorced exes; if Brody and Seth can’t like each other they can at least tolerate each other. But even if the arrangement is implicit and unstated (which as I understand is common among the French) it might not be a terrible solution. I do believe “cheating” is a thing, but cheating is not about sex; it is about violating trust. So the closer Jenna can get to maintaining trust (either by being explicit or because there is an implicit understanding) the further away she would be from cheating.

I have not finished the book, and since this is book four in a series, I bet Jenna won’t make up her mind by the end. I will probably finish the book, though. Dr Spo says that to Stoics the obstacle is the path, so I guess am obligated to finish the book regardless of my feelings towards it. Even if Jenna does finally make up her mind, I’m pretty sure her solution will be unsatisfying, because Americans choose The One and then have lifelong marriages and never even glance at other sexually-attractive people. Infidelity might be okay for the French, but that kind of thing doesn’t happen in America.

Toaster Oven

A little while ago my toaster oven stopped working. Now, I know what you are thinking, and you’re mostly correct: I cannot really cook, and it is foolish to for anybody to let me near a kitchen. Compared to me Mitchell is the head chef at a three-star Michelin restaurant. (You’re right. I shouldn’t exaggerate. A one-star Michelin restaurant for certain, though.) Nonetheless, I am a Poor, and when you are a Poor you learn how to put together meals sooner or later, or you go very very hungry. So I was baking potatoes and my toaster oven was working, and then I was baking potatoes and it wasn’t.

Now, I know what you are thinking, and you are right about that too. I don’t own a toaster oven. The oven in question is an appliance in the house where I am renting a room, and thus it does not belong to me. That made its unfortunate demise all the more distressing.

Now, I know what you are thinking, and this time you are wrong. I never received a toaster oven, either for being recruited or for recruiting others. Truth be told, I am not even clear on the rules around this, so I knew it was time for some Internet Research.

Internet Research concludes that the toaster oven meme is Ellen’s fault. (Are we still allowed to talk about Ellen? I thought she was cancelled?) The website womansplains that the toaster oven was a recruiting prize for Ellen’s friend Susan, during the famous coming out episode of the sitcom. This website includes a standalone (!) MP4 of the episode. Melissa Etheridge makes Ellen sign a bunch of papers to register as a gay, and then Susan receives a toaster oven. This explanation answers many mysteries, but prompts more:

  • Are toaster ovens just for lesbians?
  • Where does one download or otherwise obtain this paperwork?
  • How does one arrange for Melissa Etheridge to file the aforementioned paperwork for you?

There are, however, other explanations for this practice. For one thing, people mix up toasters with toaster ovens. For another, some people interpret the meme as allegorical; once you have been toasted you can never be plain bread again. It might also have something to do with the prizes banks occasionally award for opening an account.

It may be the case that toaster ovens are SUPPOSED to be just for lesbians, but as always, gay males have engaged in cultural appropriation. By 2010 Bob from I Should Be Laughing was awarding a toaster oven to Ricky Martin. This is bizarre in a number of different ways. First of all, why does Bob have a warehouse full of toaster ovens? Secondly, in the Ellen episode the toaster oven went to Susan, who was doing the recruiting. Now it appears we are awarding toaster ovens to the recruited? That seems like a lot of toaster ovens. No wonder the thrift stores are full of them.

I have to wonder whether modern recruitment gifts have evolved since 1997. There are a lot more kitchen gadgets available now. Perhaps modern recruiters receive air fryers? Instant pots? Some part of me hopes that the rewards are tangible and not just Amazon gift cards. On the other hand the question may be moot; thanks to Lesbian Erasure I am guessing the recruitment rates for lesbians are worse than the Jehovah’s Witnesses. (We can all hope that they are more successful than the Shakers.)

In my case things worked out okay. I was planning to venture to the thrift store to buy a replacement, but then one of my housemates (who is mechanically/electrically inclined) got fed up and just fixed the thing. So I can once again burn potatoes, to the chagrin of all those I live with.