Now this old guy is old money, you can tell. The kind of money that bought a dozen very good suits on Savile Row in 1956 and is going to get every damn cent’s worth out of them. He’s a little old gent, well into his seventies, but wiry and strong, all decked out in a tweed suit, a smart green waistcoat, matched silk tie and pocket square, fob chain, and a spotless green homburg — the whole production – and he’s striding down the road like he’s being charged by the foot.
In his left hand, he’s brandishing a stout silver-tipped walking stick, and as he gets closer, the man can see that his other hand is cradling the end of a smallish house-brick which he has tucked into the crook of his elbow. It’s a perfectly nice brick – red, quite new, but with a couple of chips out of the near end. The brick has a piece of bright red string tied around it with a careful knot. The string loops down toward the old man’s knees and then back up, the end clutched in the same hand as the walking stick. The string dances and jiggles as the old man waves his stick at young people and rapscallions.
So he harrumphs up to the bench, stops with a crunch of gravel and an excuse me, young man, dreadfully sorry, do you mind? so the man says, yes, of course.
The old man rests his walking stick up against the bench, takes the square out of his pocket and brushes a speck of dust off the bench, leans over, still cradling the brick carefully with his arm, flicks a few leaves off of a patch of grass in front of the bench, replaces the pocket square and plops the brick down right in the middle of the patch of grass. He looks at the brick, moves it a bit to the right, loops the string around his shoe and tucks the end into his pants pocket, then settles back with a sigh of contentment to survey the view.
Now, the man has just about finished his sandwich, all except the dried up crust at the end, so he looks at the brick and thinks, why not? so he goes would your dog like a bit of my sandwich?
The old man looks round at him and says, I beg your pardon?
Your dog. Would it like the last bit of my sandwich?
I don’t have a dog, young man, says the old gent, his eyes boggling out a little.
Sorry, says the man, I just thought, and he points at the brick.
The old man looks down at the brick in front of him like he’s never seen it before in his life. He says, that, young man, that is a brick. You can tell from the fact that it is a damn brick. Does it look like a dog to you?
Well, says the man, it’s got a string tied around it.
The old guy is up out of his seat now. I hope, he says, that you are not suggesting I don’t know the difference between a brick and a dog? He grabs his walking stick and he’s waving it in the air, big random swings.
It’s all too much for the other man, and he bolts for it, shedding crusts and papers as he goes.
The old guy reaches down and picks up the brick.
“That fooled the little fucker, Fido. Good boy.”
[Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec – Old Man at Celeyran]
Hello kiddies. It’s a scorcher down here today, and that means margaritas. Tonight, I’m off to see Chekhov. In celebration, therefore, music!
I love my iThings, but the iMessage bug is making me grumpier than a bulldog with one ball.
I use iMessage to chat with my lovely friend Sandra during the day.
At the moment our conversations seem to consist of three or four messages in a row from me (as I realise that none of the messages I sent in the last hour have been delivered, turn iMessage off, reset my network settings, turn iMessage on, and resend the messages that don’t, upon reflection, sound dumb, stoned or needy); followed about ten minutes later by seventeen from Sandra (as she realises that none of her messages have been delivered, stares at her phone in puzzlement for a good six, seven minutes, turns iMessage off, resets her fucking network settings, turns iMessage on, and then resends every single message because self-editing is not amongst Sandra’s skills); followed by one message from me responding to whatever actual content there was in Sandra’s messages; followed by about two dozen from Sandra explaining how she’s changed her mind about three quarters of the stuff she said in her first lot of messages; followed by a few minutes of normal chatting, an hour’s gap, and repeat.
Also, young people.
Young men should stop wearing their jeans so tight it distorts their buttocks and makes them pointy and lumpy at the top and all flat at the bottom so it looks like they go down to their knees, because no girl really wants to fuck a boy who looks like he has a pointy, tumorous, shelf-bum. And they should either shave or grown a beard, none of this manky tufts in odd places and lines shaved into the side and a mustache that looks like they knitted it out of their nose hair and cat dander. I’m in Hong Kong this month, and I swear, dears, if I find myself stuck on the footpath behind one more kiddie who’s walking, wearing headphones, head down and typing on a Samsung, I’m going to push the little shit under a bus.
Also, too, Republicans. Dickheads.
[James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) – La Vielle aux loques]
David Dunlap has a lovely and very sad article over at the New York Times about the imminent destruction of I. M. Pei’s Terminal 6 at Kennedy International. Dunlap’s last few paragraphs perfectly sum up the stupidity of what is happening.
I flew National a bit during the 70s, while Keith and I were busy destabilizing pro-Batista groups in Florida. I was, even then, a seasoned traveler, but stepping inside that building was a joy, a moment that felt like movie-stardom, like the eye of the camera had followed me in through the doors and into a filmic new age, a shiny world peopled with pert stewardesses and loose boys in tight pants off to catch their big break and movie starlets and dapper-suited businessmen and, of course, the obligatory nuns. There were always nuns. They were usually lugging a guitar, although I did once see one with a tuba on a little trolley.
Everyone would check in early and then lounge around looking gorgeous, watching the earth and its luggage go by. And let me tell you, Pei’s Sundrome was where it was at. I once snuck a sneaky joint in a utilities closet with Truman Capote and Liberace – they dated for a while in the late 60s, and so the only thing thicker in there than the smoke was the cloud of bitchiness that oozed out of both of them. Another time, I wandered into the men’s bathroom by mistake and found out far more about Gore Vidal’s taste in rough trade than any woman needs to know. I swapped lipstick colors with Jackie Collins and had carnal knowledge of a young David Cassidy behind a plant holder. I watched Russian spies pass information to Arab sheiks, and once saw Walter Cronkite passed out in a pool of vomit on the stairs, with a party hat on his head and a funny whistle stuck in his mouth, so that every time he breathed he made a sad, warbling farting noise. The staff had discreetly covered him with a blanket and arranged a few “Do not disturb” signs around him. So considerate.
And yet, with all this, I never missed a flight, except the one time that Truman held an impromptu party airside in Departures that lasted for a week. I had been on my way to Florida to meet with Castro, and ended up being twelve hours late because I couldn’t pull myself away from Lady Bird Johnson’s stash of quite extraordinary coke. People were buying airplane tickets just to go to the damn party. I am told that someone managed to smuggle a small donkey through luggage inspection and Phyllis Schlafly spent several hours riding around on it, shouting “I am the Queen of the May” and flashing her boobs at everyone.
Castro – without the fake beard and therefore almost unrecognizable (he had been flitting in and out of Miami for years pimping his cigar export business) – wasn’t amused when I eventually showed up at Miami International, but I offered him some of Bird’s coke and he perked right up. Bird laughed herself silly when I told her later.
In his article, Dunlap quotes from a letter from Pei’s partner Henry N. Cobb to the CEO of JetBlue, and the response that Cobb received:
In January, Mr. Cobb made what he called a “last-minute plea for reversal of this death sentence” to David Barger, the president and chief executive of JetBlue. “Conserved and reanimated, the Terminal 6 pavilion would further strengthen the distinctive identity of JetBlue as a sponsor of design excellence and an effective advocate for a sustainable future,” Mr. Cobb wrote. “I. M. Pei joins me in thanking you for your consideration of this request.” (That’s as close as Mr. Pei would ever get to joining anything resembling a fray.)
Mr. Barger said in reply, “While I share your passion for classic terminal designs, I have concluded the time has passed for the pavilion building to serve any functional purpose.” Mr. Barger went on to express his gratitude to Pei Cobb Freed “for your influence on JetBlue’s first decade” and concluded:
I personally commit to advocate for a permanent display of the pavilion photographs and other architectural artifacts so future generations can continue to appreciate the beauty of Terminal 6 and the uniqueness it once brought to J.F.K.
Because a photo display and a chunk of ceiling stuck on the wall somewhere over a travelator between the toilets and the fucking Pandora store is clearly an adequate substitute for being able to appreciate the beauty and uniqueness of Terminal 6 by actually visiting it. All those memories torn down, leaving us only memories.
What an arsehole you are, Mr Barger.
Whether Pei’s building makes your loins warm or not (and it makes mine feel positively frisky), destroying something so well made, so representative of a time in our history, should be unacceptable.
That JetBlue and its engineers and managers were unable (or unwilling) to come up with a way to retain this building, and construct the facilities they need around it and through it, betrays a shortsightedness that would make me nervous were I a JetBlue shareholder.
I hope (in vain, I suspect) that Mr Barger might wake up one morning and find Shame perched on the end of his bed, staring at him with fear and loathing in its eyes – a little like waking up next to Michele Bachmann – and he will feel the shame of knowing that he is, and was, a grey numbers man, a nothingness who always took the safe route and failed regardless, a little man who never had the balls to make a visionary decision.
Images: George Cserna / Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library Columbia University, and Pei Cobb Freed and Partners
I apologize that I’ve been quiet recently. There hasn’t been much posting because every time I sit at my computer and start to write, I have an overwhelming urge to repeatedly slam my face into my keyboard, and frankly ten pages of:
does not make compelling reading (even if it is more coherent, incisive and factually-based than anything Megan McArdle has managed to write in the last ten years).
I’m going to try and get my mojo back with a post about things that have enabled me to survive a month in which it seemed like everyone in the world had turned into a raging dickhead except you and me (and honestly I was a little bit dubious about you and me).
First – geekery! A new Doctor Who trailer with lots of recycled stuff, but a few intriguing new glimpses of pyramiddy goodness.
I think I might be a little old for Matt Smith, but it would be nice to add a fourth Doctor’s notch to my bedpost. Anyway, you never know, he might be interested in a woman who’s almost as old as his character. Read the rest of this entry »
As I have mentioned before, I try very hard not to read anything that David Brooks writes, just in case my brain becomes so revolted it tries to crawl out my ears.
His most recent excresence, however, is so appalling, such a pile of unthinking horror topped off with scads of twaddle masquerading as sympathy, that I can’t leave it alone.
The fiscal crisis is driven largely by health care costs. We have the illusion that in spending so much on health care we are radically improving the quality of our lives. We have the illusion that through advances in medical research we are in the process of eradicating deadly diseases. We have the barely suppressed hope that someday all this spending and innovation will produce something close to immortality.
Obviously, we are never going to cut off Alzheimer’s patients and leave them out on a hillside. We are never coercively going to give up on the old and ailing. But it is hard to see us reducing health care inflation seriously unless people and their families are willing to do what Clendinen is doing — confront death and their obligations to the living.
My only point today is that we think the budget mess is a squabble between partisans in Washington. But in large measure it’s about our inability to face death and our willingness as a nation to spend whatever it takes to push it just slightly over the horizon.
My dears, this story, being a religious story, is almost certainly not suitable for children – unless, of course, you have the sort of troublesome child who could stand, every now and then, to read a few well placed words about the wrathful vengeance of God (or Gods, depending on your preference).
The other day, I referred to an incident involving Chris Christie and Ann Coulter, but fobbed you all off in favor of cake. However, I am not one to ever renege on my promises, explicit or implied, and so I will sit down to tell you the story. I do warn you – it is a long, dark and convoluted tale which contains scenes of a most distressing nature, and which I suspect will be told with every sign of relish and conspicuous attention to detail. Some of this is very serious, but there may be the occasional bit of whimsy and a little sprinkle of mucus to lighten the mood.
That’s religion for you.
Those of you of a weak or panty-waisted nature and those who complain about any story longer than 140 characters (but I repeat myself) should get out now. Off you fuck.
If you are still with me, check the bedrooms to make sure no one has kidnapped your kiddies in the last ten minutes, pour yourself a drink and sit yourself down in your comfortable chair, and I will tell you all about the 2010 Annual Fair at the Convent of St. Fidelis of Sigmaringen in Spokane.
The Convent of St. Fidelis of Sigmaringen, as any local will tell you, usually in words of less than two syllables, is the Chapter House of the Little Brown Sisters of the Gaping Maw. The Sisters are a mendicant order and, every day, be it frostily gloaming or nice and sunny, they sally forth from the Convent into the steep, narrow, and crooked streets of Spokane. There they devote themselves to doing all kinds of good and giving works among the degraded population of this impoverished area of Washington state.
The Convent is a towering, gambrel-roofed thing, walled off from the world, a curiously joyless collection of spires and tiny windows that looks as if it has a permanent grudge. Just imagine Dick Cheney in building form and you’re pretty close. It nestles into the edge of the Spokane River, somewhere on the outskirts of town among a number of the crumbling, worm-eaten factories that litter the waterfront, factories abandoned since the joint FDA/CDC raids back in 2007-8, and only now beginning to show signs of a sluggishly revived existence.
The river is quite close to the Convent, its water lapping sleepily at the shore and at the low black reef near the edge of the river and sometimes, at night, at the bricks at the base of the Chapel wall, there beneath the Sisters’ sleeping cells.
The Annual Fair, or Annual Fête as it used to be known before Americans unanimously decided that foreign words were scary in about 2001 and we had to change it, is the Sisters’ major fundraising event, and often quite entertaining. It is always frightfully British, you see, which takes me back to my childhood (only without the emotionally-crippled mother and the twice-monthly early -morning bedroom visits from Mr Snuggles).
There’s always a Tilt-A-Whirl, often manned by a gap-toothed adonis in a torn undershirt with gold-dusted abdominals and taste for frottage. There are donkey rides and cake stalls and even a coconut shy, although I have always thought the coconut shy to be the worst thing at a fair because if you win you get a fucking coconut. The Sisters sell vegetable produce and jams and fake relics of St Fidelis that they have made, and my friend Jane Robinson always dresses up in a turban and charges $2 for Protestant Palm Readings – she just tells everyone they are going to hell. There are sack-races and egg-and-spoon races, and if you sneak around the back of the Refreshments stall, you can smoke the finest Afghanistani opium sold by dark and furtive houris who speak only the tongue of the blue-eyed fishers. $76 for two hours of transitory cosmic enlightenment is quite a good deal really.
2010 was the centenary of the foundation of the Convent of the Little Brown Sisters by Father Brigham Howard on April 30, 1910. Brigham was my great-uncle, and the black sheep of the family, sent away from Cambridge years before I was born on account of his nefarious and unspoken-of deeds. He had arrived in Spokane in 1909, a thirty-something blond-haired charmer with a contagious smile and a heavy hand with the Blood of Christ, at the head of a group of 15 stunning, curvaceous and quite fervently religious young Catholic nuns. Within a few months, Brigham had purchased land and been elected as a County Commissioner, and construction of the Convent was well underway. Brigham was very active in Spokane life, and many people came to listen to him preach and or to deliver brown paper bags to the Commissioner’s office. However, the Sisters were rarely seen. They lived as an almost entirely monastic order, spending every day in service to their god. Brigham himself, I am told, seemed to grow old very quickly after his sixtieth birthday, his body breaking down within weeks as he retreated more and more into the Convent. He was, of course, buried in the chapel.
Early one spring morning, soon after Brigham had died, all of the nuns came out of the gates of the convent. There were 24 of them by this time, Brigham having actively recruited from within the more more buxom-and-brunette section of the local population. They were all still beautiful, although among the original 15 there were some about whom it might be said there was a hint of something sullen and almost piscine around the gills, an extra little girdle of fat around the middle, that taken together made one think of wallowing or, perhaps, of eyes peeping above the surface of a waterhole.
The Sisters each wore a simple white dress, each carried a basket, packed with vegetables and the flat-eyed, white fish they had caught in the river the evening before. Each Sister knocked on a door, at a factory or a house, introduced themselves and proffered gifts appropriate to the particular resident, as they have every morning since.
You can imagine that the Fair (yes, I’m getting back to the Fair – I told you there would be conspicuous attention to detail) is therefore quite an important part of the Spokane social calendar, and for the Centenary, the Sisters had pulled out all the stops, inviting all sorts of special guests.
Late in the day, I was walking through the Fair with Sister Bertram and Ann Coulter – Ann and I are old friends, although I do get tired of her constant whinging about how no one “gets her as parody”. What can I say? Ann is a good looking woman with a taste for the wrinklies and sometimes Grammy likes a hate-fuck. I don’t let her talk.
Sister Bertram is the Mother Superior of the convent, although she transferred here only recently from the Arkham convent. I don’t dare to tell her, but she smells a bit like a lobster. A raw lobster, of course – I wouldn’t mind if she smelled like bisque. I have always been a little suspicious of her – there is something unblinking to her eyes that I find most disconcerting.
The Fair had been a success. The Archbishop had managed to make his opening ceremony speech without calling anyone a whore, Pastor Huckabee had been dunked into the three-throws-for-10-dollars slime pit dunking machine at least fifteen times during his half an hour shift, Condoleezza Rice had broken her ankle in the greasy-pig chase, and several youngsters were copulating frantically in the shadow of the chapel after eating one of Grammy’s special strawberry and cream cakes. All that was left was the special closing event in the chapel and later, if all went well, the ceremonial stoning of the adulteresses in the parking lot of the next-door Seven Eleven.
Over to our left, the carny was enticing Chris Christie onto the Tilt-A-Whirl for “just one spin”, even though the ride was deserted and dusk had already begun to trickle into the spaces between the tents. Christie was clearly unwilling, but there was a photographer nearby and so he gingerly shoehorned himself into the tiny seat. The carny swung down the retaining bar and then, the bar not clicking into place, bodily reached into the car, lifted up an armful of Chris, popped the bar under and let all that stomach flop down again. The carny walked over to start the ride and pressed the start button, giving me a huge wink as he did. I rolled my eyes at him. As we continued on towards the chapel, I could see the light from the setting sun strike Christie each time he was whirled around, feel an odd, electrical burr in the ground below my feet, a vibration that seemed to increase slightly as the ride began to spin faster.
We were almost the last to arrive. The nuns were all seated in a semi-circle around the chancel, around the glittering black stone tablet that covered the corpse of Brigham Howard, with all the townspeople gathered behind them in their pews. Sister Bertram nodded to us and went over to stand before the grave. Pastor Huckabee and Ms Rice were seated on a row of chairs in front of the altar along with various local dignitaries. As Ann and I came in, the Pastor gestured to the seat next to him. I shook hands with him and murmured some pleasantry as I sat.
Sister Bertram voiced, at length, her thanks to everyone for the successful day. She was scrabbling in the pocket at the front of her dress, and as she spoke she drew out a little black statue, no bigger than her hand. It was human in shape, but where it glittered in the red sunlight streaming through the barred windows of the chapel we could all see the curve of its long head, the rubberiness of the knots of thick, ropy stuff that curved out from its jaw. The thought that it looked like a Cher action-figure rushed into my head, but I quickly dispelled it.
I had seen the like of the statue only once before – in Egypt during the war, clutched in Hermann Göring’s fat sweaty hand as he boarded a plane for Berlin which had I arrived far too late to stop.
Now Sister Bertram had ceased waving it in the air. She knelt and placed it on Brigham’s grave and it made a sharp metallic click as the two stones touched.
I looked at Huckabee with an expression of alarm on my face. He peered at me vaguely as I made frantic signals with my eyebrows towards a heavy gold candlestick that was sitting on the floor near his foot. I was distracted then by a high pitched cry of fear coming in to the chapel from outside, the sound dopplering each time the Governor was whisked past the door. At the same time, that electric buzz seemed to ratchet up a peg and spread to the air, making the chairs vibrate and my false teeth ache.
A young sister, her eyes now a gimlet green and staring lidlessly, her lips slack and drooling – a little like Peggy Noonan first thing in the morning – handed Sister Bertram a book. I could see it was the hideous Necronomicon of the mad Arab Obama Alhazred, the edition published in the eighteenth century by Carolus Steinberg – the one with the fold out diagrams and the pop up orgy scenes where you can twiddle a paper knob and make the devil rut harder or the eyeballs pop out of the sinners’ skulls. Sister Bertram began to read.
Then I felt something press against my leg. I looked down and, thankfully, it was the candlestick. I clasped it firmly and nodded thanks to Huckabee. For a moment I simply held my breath and waited. Eternities seemed to elapse. As Sister Bertram read, some of the members of the crowd began to stand up and call out as a nauseous fishy odour mounted over the room.
Sister Bertram slammed the book shut and cried out, “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.”
While she was still wiping the spittle off her forehead, Huckabee leapt to his feet, shouting, “Hold there, you monstrous strumpet of hell”. He started to advance on Sister Bertram, but found himself swung around from behind, one arm and then the other clamped in two hellish grips. He gazed into the dead eyes of Ann Coulter and Condoleezza Rice. Both were suddenly bloated and green, their skin mottled and flaking. It was just like the paintings they both keep in their attics had been simultaneously seized and stabbed right up from top to bottom.
Huckabee spluttered at them, “What are you doing, you vile harridans?”
When they spoke, one into each of his ears, their voices were as one voice, low and dark and sultry, and echoes struck off the walls like drips of dark water.
“The dark moon Yuggoth is in alignment with the earth. In his house at R’lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming. You will couple with us both, and the Old Gods will arise.”
Huckabee looked frightened then. He let out a whimper that bounced from wall to wall, mingling with the choked wails that still filtered through the chapel door from outside.
It was time for me to do something. I stepped forward, the look of fear again on my face, but with the candlestick brandished in one hand. A look of relief flashed over Huckabee’s features and he struggled and managed to break his arm away from Ann Coulter for a second. His expression didn’t have time to change to one of surprise before I whopped him on his stupid fat skull with the candlestick and he slumped to the ground, bleeding from his temple.
Good heavens dears, is that the time? I’ve been invited to a late supper with George Clooney and I do want to get there before he bogarts all the coke. Besides, you should all be in bed by now, happily procreating for when god comes with his terrible hunger.
I’ll have to finish this story later, I am afraid. Is next Saturday night good for you?
[Cross posted at Balloon Juice.]