One Present

Well, it’s that time of year again. Debra (the dear!) reminded us that it is time to start our Christmas shopping. As I never tire of proclaiming, I am not Christian, so in principle Christmas does not apply to me. But Mammon demands His sacrifices too, and if I don’t feign caring for others by getting them presents they might see me for what I am, and then where will I be? So here is another rerun, except that I have eaten too much oatmeal and not enough pats of butter, and am in no condition to be blogging. Also, I predict this will be a less nice entry than usual. Reader discretion is advised. (Update: Boy howdy was this entry a mistake.)

Fortunately, Debra not only reminds us of our duties, but offers up practical solutions. When Travel Penguin (the dear!) asked his readers for their wishes, Debra’s answer was straightforward: another year of good health. If I had the power, that is the one wish I would have for all of you.

But of course I don’t have the power to do any more than wish. Although arguably less catastrophic than 2021, 2022 was a pretty bad year. Too many bloggers had to deal with serious health issues this year: Willym, RJ, Cookie (no weepies!), and probably others who are not coming to mind immediately. Lots of bloggers had people close to them get sick or die. Mr Peenee comes to mind here; his friend Special Agent Fred is sick and now Peenee is trying to raise funds so his friend can pay bills. America!

None of this should come as a surprise. None of us are getting younger, and as we age we are more likely to get sick. Certainly that has been my experience offline. My inner four-year-old is pretty unhappy, though. Reading blogs was supposed to be my entertainment! I was trying to escape from the dire reality of existence, and boy howdy it backfired hard. Sometimes I think I should have taken up macramé. I am not even sure what macramé is, but I would have been spared the curse of human connection if I had adopted it (unless, of course, I made the mistake of joining a fiber arts group).

Wow I am callous and self-centred. People whose blogs I have been creeping for years are suffering, and I am sitting here moaning about myself? Yes, I guess that is exactly the case.

I am not angry at people for getting sick. I just want people to be healthy, and feel upset when they are not. Intellectually I know that people suffer, but I don’t want the bloggers I read to be in that group.

Moreover I feel helpless. I am an outsider, lurking in other people’s lives, and at best I leave snarky, often hurtful comments in their blogs. In principle I can contribute some money when there are fundraisers, but for stupid reasons that is awkward. So then what? I leave unhelpful socially-awkward comments on their blogs? I disappear like the rest of their fair-weather friends? There are not good answers here. If I was willing to develop enough emotional intelligence to be genuinely supportive, then that would be a different story. But it is not.

(My inner four-year-old would like to remind you that reading blogs was supposed to be fun, and if I wanted the heartbreak of loss I could have cultivated relationships in real life.)

Thus, my Christmas wish for you: I wish that you could all be healthy and well. Then we could all sidestep these painful situations. Alas, that is not how reality works. Merry Christmas.

P.S. In fairness, I suppose I should note that not everything in 2022 was bad news, although even many of the good news stories involved pain. Blobby hurt his foot, but recovered . Similarly Michael54 was in treatment for prostate cancer, but his treatment appears to have worked. Dr Spo was in danger of losing health insurance, but pulled something together. Sassybear recovered enough from his gut issues that he was able to say goodbye to Roger. I guess Maddie got a new job too, which is good news. Also CB played the lead in his Christmas play, and Travel Penguin and WickedHamster paid Mitchell and San Geraldo a visit.

Valkyries

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?

A Most Austere Prayer

Let us pray:

O Father, who art in Heaven,
Rescue us from worldly temptations
Such as fresh bread
Purchased from a good local bakery
Sliced and toasted golden brown on the outside
And the ruination of a soft pillowy crumb within,
Slathered with softened butter and preserves,
Or topped with an egg fried Spanish-style
In a quarter inch of olive oil
Until the edges are brown and crispy.
O Lord, rescue us from such temptations,
That we may focus on carrying out Your will.

O Father, protect us from the deviancy of pasta,
Whether noodles or extruded into shapes,
Whether coated in a rich cream sauce
Or a tomato sauce infused with herbs
Or just some garlic sauteed in olive oil
Or even boxed fluorescent orange mac and cheese.
O Lord, cast pasta away from our mouths
That You may speak the gospels through us.

And potatoes, O Holy Father, potatoes!
Those high-glycemic apples of the underworld.
As the Grace of Your only Son’s blood sacrifice
Rich in tannins, with signifiers of blackberries and red currents,
Underscored with notes of dried red florals and salted dark chocolate,
Hath cleansed mankind of our sins,
Thus we ask for Your Grace and Strength
In resisting finely mashed potatoes whipped in buttermilk
Or oven-baked potatoes broiled until crispy on top
Or potatoes chopped and fried with onions and herbs
Or even potatoes zapped in the microwave
Served with sour cream and pepper
But most of all from chips,
Nasty chips !
Nasty perditious chips !
The Prince of Lies whispers in our ear
That one chip will be enough,
That one taste will be enough,
But as with all sins, O Lord,
One sin follows another
Until the entire bag is empty.
Close our ears to these lies, O Father!
Make these susurrations as discordant as chainsaws
As children screaming in restaurants
As neighbors renovating the apartment upstairs
So that we may not be tempted
By salt and vinegar chips
By dill pickle chips
By hickory smoke chips
By sour cream and onion chips
By those ketchup chips they sell in Canada
By cracked pepper chips
By any potato chip of any flavor anywhere.
Already potatoes led our Irish brethren to famine
Please Lord, do not allow them to claim another soul.

O Father, spare us from tortilla chips also,
Whether salted and plain
Or loaded up with sour cream
And refried beans
And salsa
And salsa verde
And guacamole
And grated cheese melted under a broiler
And maybe olives on top.
As Your Son resisted his three temptations in the desert
May we resist the temptations of loaded nachos
And thus carry out Your Will.

We look to You, O Lord
And place our hearts and souls in Your Care.
Please lend us Your strength
That we may be well prepared
For St Peter’s measuring tape
And St Peter’s bathroom scale.
Shield us from temptation
So we may join You
In our eternal reward:
Plates of steamed green vegetables,
Half-scoops of cottage cheese,
And on occasion
Bits of stale dry Melba toast.
Amen.

Windfall of Misery

From time to time (such as while preparing the last entry) I find myself looking through old posts, and I run across comments from somebody no longer active in the blogosphere. This time it was some comments from Jean-Paul at myhusband&i, who suddenly shut his blog down a year ago. At one point, JP was one of my most loyal readers and commenters. I was certainly not as loyal to him, but just like everybody else I loved his blog and his witty storytelling and the Spanish Onion and Cruella and most of all the love JP had for Guido, his tall gorgeous hairy Spanish talented chef husband. JP was unafraid to declare his love for his husband out loud, and that devotion infused every entry. Maybe somebody disliked JP or his blog, but you would not know it from his large and devoted readership.

JP’s blog is gone, but he is not forgotten, and from time to time I see him comment on somebody else’s blog. Once I made the mistake of replying to one of his comments, which probably just irritated him and/or scared him away. Nonetheless I miss JP and I miss his blog, and when I see his handle these days I feel a stab of emotion. This often makes my inner four-year-old and upset, which result in internal conversations that go something like this:

“I wanna read JP’s blog!!”

“Sweetie, JP took his blog down from the Internet. But there are lots of other blogs to read. Why don’t you read Willym’s blog? Sometimes he posts those funny sock puppet videos. You like sock puppets, don’t you?”

“NO! I don’t wanna read Willym’s blog!! I wanna read JP’s blog!!”

“You don’t want to read Willym’s blog? Oh, that will make Willym so sad. You don’t want Willym to be sad, do you?”

“… n… nnno…”

“Then let’s read Willym’s blog so he won’t be sad. Oh look! He posted about Linda Ronstadt! Yay!”

“… ok… but…” (lower lip trembles)

“Come on, little guy. Let’s see. Oh look! Gilbert and Sullivan! Parkinson’s disease! Let’s read so Willym won’t be sad!”

With a certain amount of distraction and emotional manipulation, I can usually move past the emotions and back into the numbed resignation that is the best we can hope for in life. But then last week I read the news and my inner four-year-old had a meltdown. I’m talking a full-blown, at the grocery store, other shoppers looking away awkwardly, on the floor, shrieking screaming wailing meltdown, the kind often referred to as “the most effective contraception in the world”:

“No! It’s not fair! NOT FAIR!! NOT FAIR!!!”

“Sweetie, I know you’re upset, but it’s time to get off the floor now.”

(Arms and legs flailing, knocking boxes of pasta off the shelves) “Noo!! NOOOOOO!!! Guido DIED and it’s not fair!!”

“Come on, kiddo. Let’s ge–”

“NO! NO NO NO!! Guido DIED and now he’s NOT HERE!! It’s NOT FAIR!!!!”

What am I supposed to say? My inner four-year-old is correct. It isn’t fair. As much as I want to join my inner four-year-old on the floor we have to get the damned groceries and pretend like everything goes on just as it did before. Life isn’t fair in any way, but how do you tell that to an inner four-year-old? What can you say that makes anything better? No wonder we make up comforting stories about people looking down upon us from happy afterlives, their pain and suffering over, waiting for us to join them (provided we are subservient enough and stay on God’s good side by accepting the blood sacrifice of his only Son). Without those stories what do you have?

There’s an excerpt from Dan Savage’s book The Commitment: Love, Sex, Marriage and My Family that comes to mind at times like this:

When I can’t sleep — something that happens at least three nights a week — I sometimes just sit and watch Terry sleeping. He takes a breath, there’s a pause, he exhales, there’s another pause. What, I wonder, would I do if this man stopped breathing? Can the day-to-day misery of being alone be worth the risk of being absolutely shattered if Terry should die before me? If Terry were to die today, if a knock came at the door tonight, if some stranger arrived to tell me that I would never be able to speak to Terry again, or hold him, or look into his eyes, or smell him, or listen to him breathe — just writing these words makes my stomach hurt.

Being single visits a kind of constant, low-intensity misery on a person — at least on a person who doesn’t want to be single. Coming home to an empty house, not having anyone to confide in, facing illnesses on your own — being alone hurts, but people can get used to it. But being in a long-term relationship doesn’t spare you from all that day-to-day pain. It just banks it. Every day I’m with Terry, every day I’m not alone, a little misery gets put into a savings account, where interest is compounded hourly. The day Terry dies, all the pain I avoided when I was with him will be paid out all at once; I will suffer a windfall of misery. I imagine the pain would feel literally like being torn in two. Maybe that’s what people mean when they talk about “one flesh”?

(pages 119-120)

Is this true? I don’t know. Savage doesn’t know either: knock on wood, his swimwear-modelling husband is still alive and well, and hopefully will remain so for a long time yet. Who knows? If Terry does die before Dan, then maybe things won’t play out this way at all. Regardless, this metaphor of a bank account of misery resonates with me deeply. I have not had an intimate partner die and am probably a psychopath who doesn’t feel empathy anyways, but I have felt weaker forms of that connection towards animals (very) few humans. I have felt that windfall of misery upon learning that an animal I have bonded with has died, especially when that animal died under unpleasant circumstances. A human who has been relatively close to me in life is currently dying of stage four cancer and I can feel that payout coming due. In many ways I consciously avoid getting too emotionally invested in people or animals or projects or organizations these days because I can see what is inevitable, and low-intensity misery seems preferable. Other people look back at past relationships with fondness and gratitude; I tend to see the pain, especially when my own bad conduct has played a part in hurting others. It is better to be a rock, or an island.

Some of you are shaking your heads at me now, because of course I missed the backstory: yes, Guido died of cancer, but he had been diagnosed with cancer years ago, and JP started his blog partially in response to that diagnosis. I did not learn this until preparing for this entry, and I suppose this is supposed to be the redemptive arc I am supposed to use to comfort my inner four-year-old: yes, Guido got sick and died, but it’s because Guido was sick that JP started his blog, and wasn’t his blog delightful to read when it was around? Sure, I guess, except not. It is great that JP’s blog existed as an artifact of his marriage, but in no way does that make it okay for Guido to die. I would have much preferred JP’s blog never having existed if Guido was still here and healthy. From the outside, it seemed that JP and Guido had a great relationship. They were still young and still in love and still having sex with each other, and if they could not live happily ever after what hope is there for the rest of us? It’s not fair. Sooner or later, death is inevitable, but that doesn’t make it fair.

Of course, JP is not the only one who has experienced loss recently. John Michael from Open a Window, and Agnes Goldberg-DeWoofs both lost their partners to COVID, and Mildred Ratched is dealing with a lot of grief after her mother died. It is unfair to play favorites, but Guido’s death still hit me hard.

I don’t know how other people process grief, and I certainly don’t pretend to understand what Jean-Paul is going through these days. I imagine people who are more emotionally mature than me and my inner four-year-old handle grief in more emotionally mature ways. Certainly I did not have to go through the day to day as Guido was in the last stages of his life. (Pardon my French, but fuck cancer.) But it is hard to imagine that JP is not grieving. I doubt JP will read this (and it will be plenty embarrassing if he does), but just in case: thank you for your blog, we miss you and you are welcome back whenever and in whatever capacity you want, I’m sorry Guido died, your relationship with him was an inspiration to many of us, and I hope you (and all the other people who have been dealing with grief) have strong supports you can lean on as you grieve and heal.

God Hates Drag

Unless you are a heathen, you are probably familiar with the classics: Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Genesis 19, and of course Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20:13. In addition to endorsing incest, these passages from the Good Book have long been used to oppress gays and lesbians.

But the Bible is full of treasures, and while reading a (sadly, secular) book called Solomon Gursky Was Here I was alerted to another one (p. 230-231):

One evening Mr. Nicholson, having quite forgotten his wife’s presence, covered Ephraim’s hand with his own to guide him in a penmanship exercise. Ephraim, fully aware that she was there, contrived to draw his head closer to Mr. Nicholson, their cheeks blushing. Mrs. Nicholson spoke out: ” ‘The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are an abomination unto the Lord thy God.’ ”

Mr. Nicholson’s eyes filled with tears. His lower lip trembled. “That will be sufficient for today, boy. Now you run along and see that you make yourself useful to Mrs. Nicholson.”

The young Ephraim Gursky is learning to read and write from the kindly Mr. Nicholson, who just happens to have the hots for his teenaged student. (For some reason, nearly everybody — man or woman — who runs into the young Ephraim Gursky develops the hots for him.) Mrs. Nicholson, wise to her husband’s unnatural desires, recites the above passage, which I had never heard of before. But sure enough, it’s Deuteronomy 22:5. Most of you are more Biblically literate than I am, and have probably run into this passage before. It was completely new to me, particularly in the context of oppressing the LGBTQ+ community. In my defence, Deuteronomy is not exactly the most plot-driven book of the Bible. But in all my years of living in this wretched state, you would think somebody would have thrown these verses around even once? Am I really that oblivious?

The context of this quotation is so weird. As far as I could tell, Mr. Nicholson was dressed in a perfectly masculine manner: pressed J. Crew slacks, Derek Rose boxers, maybe a nice button down shirt from the Gap, socks from one of those monthly buying clubs they advertise during podcasts. Yet Mrs Nicholson pulls out these verses, and not Leviticus or Genesis 19 or any of the other greatest hits. This scene was set in the 1830s or 1840s. Is that how people of the day oppressed homosexuals? Surely they had access to the classics too. It is entirely possible that the author was being intentional about the Bible verse being off-target, but I did not catch the significance. Or maybe Mr. Nicholson wore an earring in that ear? That could explain the verse for sure.

Even if these verses were off-topic ammunition for homosexuality, they make God’s opinion of crossdressing pretty clear. Aren’t there all kinds of Drag Queen Storytime events that make evangelicals itchy? Strictly speaking, these verses would not have been appropriate fodder for discriminating against transgender people, given that transwomen are women and thus presumably should wear women’s clothing, but lots of drag queens are cisgendered. Also, some women wear trousers and some men wear War Paint makeup. There are lots of targets for this particular verse.

The more I think about it, the more strongly I feel that I have just been oblivious. But now I am aware, and you are too. Let us all be very careful the next time we tune into catty Drag Race recaps on Maddie’s blog, or the next time Sixpence posts some charming video of a genderbending country music star giving us a tour of his tiny New York City apartment. Also let’s remember that clothing is strictly gendered, and be careful to abide by those gender rules. We would not want to jeopardize our immortal souls.

New Zealand Public Service Announcement

Well, the happiest time of the year has passed, and Christmas season has come to an end. (Don’t give me that. There are many adjectives that might be used to describe my tiny readership, but “orthodox” is not one of them.) Let’s return to the blogging mines by examining a New Zealand public service announcement you may well have seen already, given that it went viral six months ago.

(Content note: at one point there were innocents (Willym, Maddie, maybe others) who at one point visited this blog. The below video may not be appropriate content for them. Such readers may want to seek permission from a parent or guardian before proceeding to watch.)

This PSA blew my mind when I first saw it. It is so strange.

Firstly, this is a government public service announcement for a website called Keep It Real Online. That in itself is not so strange, but the PSA is genuinely entertaining. When was the last time you saw a government PSA that was genuinely entertaining? Many government PSAs try, but the vast majority end up being (as the kids say these days) “cringe”.

Secondly, this government PSA is using sex to sell a message about… sex. Isn’t that supposed to be illegal? It is well and good to use sex to sell beer and shampoo, but since when are you allowed to use sex as a lever to educate people about sex?

Thirdly, and maybe most significantly, look at what the PSA is not saying. Even though this ad is commenting on the consumption of pornography by children, it is not trying to ban porn or even saying that porn is bad. As Sue says, “We usually perform for adults, but your son’s just a kid. He might not know how relationships actually work.”

It turns out that there are many activities — investing in real-estate, playing contract bridge, listening to rock-and-roll music — that are appropriate for adults, but which you would not want your 10 year old doing unattended. Young brains are still growing and maturing, and children often lack the life experience to put these activities in an appropriate context. This PSA is putting porn in the same category, as an activity that requires context to appreciate without harm.

Can you imagine such an ad running in America? Just think of the backlash from assorted concerned moms of America, who by day loudly proclaim that pornography is ruining America and ask “who will think of the children?”, and never ever search for pegging or cuckold videos late at night. They would be organizing maskless protests and making angry phone calls to their senators if any government was to suggest that porn should even be allow to exist.

There is a fourth thing. It consists of only two words, but they are important: “No judgment.” (Can you imagine a PSA with those words airing in America? Holy cow.) The idea that kids are going to find porn, and that it is better to give them context for what they are seeing rather than punishing them for their curiosity is inconceivable. What kind of parenting is that? How do you build up a culture of vindictiveness if we went around saying “no judgment” to children? What’s next? Dismantling the prison-industrial complex because retaliation is less effective at keeping us safe than rehabilitation? Holding police officers to account for arbitrarily inflicting force on black people instead of rationalizing how the black people in question deserved their brutality for not being compliant/subservient enough? This slope gets real slippery real fast.

I’m not trying to say that this PSA is perfect, or that the associated educational campaign is perfect (there is a lot of “stranger danger” when they talk about grooming) but something is very strange in New Zealand. Maybe it is because they live upside down and all the oxygenated blood rushes to their heads, but I do not know that I have ever seen frank and honest messaging like this coming from a government agency. Maybe things are changing everywhere and I am just out of touch?

There is also a good podcast about the campaign which is worth a listen: Pornography awareness ad reaches millions around the world.

Old Lurker, the Queen of Giving

It appears that the latest fad is to bestow presents upon our fellow bloggers this season. And what better time than during a pandemic, when our wallets are already stretched thin? There is nothing Baby Jesus likes more than credit card debt. Still, one must maintain appearances, and who am I to go against the flow?

Sixpence has dealt with a lot of isolation this year. Maddie got him a car, but if he is to venture outside he still needs protection.

Maddie has had a tough time too, but not as tough as figuring out what to buy for the queen who has everything. But surely everybody can use a new pair of shoes?

Dear Debra has been doing a heroic job of entertaining us, so she is due for some gourmet treats to satisfy her sweet tooth.

RTG and Anne-Marie have patiently been waiting for a vaccine, but once things are back to normal they would probably enjoy a cultural adventure.

I know Willym is into culture and stuff, so what better gift than some music for his ears?

Let us not forget the Duchess Deedles and her green thumb. I had hoped to find some living plants to cheer her up, but all I came up with was a packet of potential. May her new hobby prove fruitful.

Poor Steven is another tough one to shop for. Fortunately Jimmy (the dear!) recently posted some video which inspired the idea of some handcrafted art.

I have no good idea of what to send Jimmy. Some yuppies for his neighborhood, maybe?

I do know Sassybear likes comic books, so how about some movies featuring his favorite characters? Or maybe a different movie?

I also know RJ is into art, so how about a nice wall calendar to inspire him all year long?

Let’s not forget Dr Spo. He is not doing much driving these days, but come January 20th the plandemic will be over and he will be commuting to Mesa and his office. Maybe he is due for some new wheels?

As usual, I have left a lot of people out. Some of you are tough to shop for. Others have been naughty. JP has not blogged for a while so I do not remember his likes and dislikes. Regardless, there are lots of stocking stuffers for all of you to enjoy.

Dear Santa

No, I have not forgotten. You made it abundantly clear that I have not been eligible for your services for decades, and certainly my conduct this year has only dug the hole in my Niceness credit rating deeper. And from one fat, judgemental bastard to another, I get it: rules are rules. But a lot of the people in my corner of the blogosphere are decidedly Nice, and you have gifted several of them some pretty terrible things this year. Sure, I read their blogs and comments, but that isn’t their fault, and it is no reason to punish them for my naughtiness.

So consider this a petition, fat guy: how about gifting my fellow bloggers some good things for 2020? Save the lumps of coal for the one who deserves it.

As always, it is dangerous to list specifics, knowing that I will omit people. But my niceness credit rating is ruined anyways, so here goes:

  • Please gift John Gray some better health so that he is not run down from his job all the time. Please help Dotty fit into her new household (no more weeing in the house!) and please keep Winnie and the other animals healthy and happy. Please gift John some handsome, muscular, well-hung bedfellows who will treat him kindly and give him hot sex.

  • Please ease off the stressors Dr Spo has been facing this year. Dealing with whatever medical complaint he faced really wore him down, and now his mother’s poor health is making things worse. Please gift him some serenity, and gift his mother some healing energy so that she can at least go home for Christmas. Please gift him some administrative staff he likes and who will stay in the office for a while. Finally, please gift him lots of hot sex with Someone.

  • Please help Fearsome and Shawn sell some houses so he can get his new futuristic truck. More importantly, please continue to heal his arms so that he is not in physical pain, and gift him as much hot sex as he would like with Better Half.

  • Please help RTG heal from his surgery, and deal with whatever new cardiological issue has come up now. Please keep Anne Marie’s stomach healthy. Please gift them both with hot sex or at the very least gratifying porn.

  • Please help Sixpence adjust to his new digs and his new longer commute. It sounds as if his move was positive overall, but it was surely stressful. Also please gift him lots of hot sex with HuntleyBiGuy and his other paramours.

  • Please gift RJ with a boyfriend. He is dealing fine without one, I guess, but it is time, and it is not good that he feels like a third wheel at social gatherings. Also gift him lots of hot sex with aforementioned boyfriend.

  • Please gift Michael54 with some serenity at work. “The Kid” has really done a number on Michael’s well-being. Even though the kid sounds Naughty please find somebody who can get through to him and start healing the hurt that is making him hurt others so wantonly. Also please gift Michael some clarity in dealing with Other Michael in a way that benefits his well being. Also hot sex with whomever Michael54 feels is appropriate.

  • Please gift mrpeenee better health this year. He has been through a lot with dental troubles and other health scares. Please gift him with as much hot sex as he would like (not necessarily from you).

  • Please grant Poor Steven some calmness around his mother’s condition. It is good he found a better nursing home for his mom than the awful one she went to earlier, but it still caused Poor Steven a lot of stress, so please gift him with a better 2020. Thank you for helping Steven find in-person social gatherings to attend. Please gift him some (safe!) hot sex as he goes through his exploratory phase, possibly with a new boyfriend.

  • Although she does not have a blog, Deedles is Nice and we all love her and her comments, so please gift her with good blood sugar this year, and please give her good mental health in addition to hot sex with Balder Half.

Lots of other bad things happened to people this year. There have been suicides. Blobby got injured a few times. Cb’s dad died, and he had a stressful time dealing with the estate. Other people seemed to have good years, but that is no excuse to give them coal in 2020 (and not everybody blogs about their struggles). Please Santa give them good years as well, and lots of hot sex.

P.S. Naturally, I forgot someone I had intended to include: Sassybear, who had a nasty series of health emergencies all in a row, and who also dealt with the suicide of his blogger buddy David. Not cool, Santa. Please give Sassybear good health this year, lots of companionship from his dogs, lots of Green Lantern paraphernalia, and hot sex with his boyfriend and spouse.

(And yes, I have forgotten others, too. My apologies.)

Crucified

Okay, fess up. The following video ended up on my hard drive, and I want to know which one of you put it there.

I know it was one of you because music videos don’t end up on my hard drive unless one of you posts a video to your blog. My computer is too old and slow to play Youtube, so at that point I have no option but to download your video to watch later. Well, now it’s later and now I want an explanation and possibly an apology.

Grossing Out the Boys

Today’s self-indulgent blog entry comes to you courtesy of Lindy West, from an essay entitled “You’re So Brave for Wearing Clothes and Not Hating Yourself!”, published in a book titled Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman:

I was the girl kids would point to on the playground and say, “She’s your girlfriend,” to gross out the boys. No one had ever sent me flowers, or asked me on a date, or written me a love letter (Beth literally had “a box” where she “kept them”), or professed their shallow, impetuous love for me, or flirted with me, or held my hand, or bought me a drink, or kissed me (except for that dude at the party freshman year who was basically an indiscriminate roving tongue), or invited me to participate in any of the myriad romantic rites of passage that I’d always been told were part of normal teenaged development. No one had ever picked me. Literally no one. The cumulative result was worse than loneliness. I felt unnatural. Broken. It wasn’t fair.

This was also my teenagerhood, except in my case it was entirely fair, and I did not go to any parties in my freshman year. Outside of a brief interlude in my early twenties (when I pursued a woman and was pretty terrible to her) it has remained the same since. Either my gaydar (or more precisely, romantic-dar) is so broken that I don’t pick up on these signals, or — more likely — I have never been the target of them.

The book is worth reading, by the way.