Monday, September 11, 2006

From: Snook (The Elder) at Home

Had one of those terribly depressing revelations the other day and--in spite of the pain it gives me to linger upon the event--it is, I guess, incumbent upon me to pass it on.

It happened thus ...

My wife (Lenore--you'll remember her) and I were invited for the Labour Day weekend to visit friends in the country. Which of course always leads to some small panic re. the matter of the cat, Thomas. My inclination on such occasions is to leave her (the cat) to her own devices--and, maybe, a half-bowl of rice al dente if I'm feeling particularly generous--so that she might be persuaded of necessity to give that other matter, the matter of the mice, the full extent of her attention.

(... Are you perhaps relieved to hear, gentle reader, that my inclinations where the treatment of house pets is concerned are never ever paid any mind? Yes? Well then hear this: t'cha to you and your pieties! That cat never gave me so much as a scrap for all the dinners I gave her, and don't think she wouldn't do the same to you for your trouble. Indeed, were you--as was my old friend John Parry--shrunken to the size of a mouse and made, thereby, subject to her feline whimsy for nigh on a year, I'd bet dollars to doughnuts you wouldn't think twice about force-feeding her a steady diet of naught until such time as she'd learned some respect ... But I digress.)

In any case, it worked out that I was spared the shame and embarrassment of hauling the little bag of fleas--tucked caterwaulingly away in her precious sea-foam coloured carrier--to the vet's to have my pockets picked to the tune of twenty bones a night. A neighbour, you see, had recently made it known to Lenore that she would be willing to look in on the creature any time we happened to be away.

One bird with one stone, anyway. A not entirely satisfying compromise, but a compromise.

So ... A convenient time was arranged for this obliging neighbour, whom we shall call Jude, to come up and see where everything was kept, and as Lenore was off working--most inconveniently--at the time, the task fell to me. I should say that I'd met the woman before this. Once. She seemed quite nice--though the conversation was only two minutes long, and, for my own part, I managed to pack into the exchange at least one considerable lie. Anyway, at the proposed hour, up she came and we went about the redoubtable task of mixing awkward chitchat with the more pressing business of litter scooping, favoured bits of string, and what inconvenient corners of the place the cat was likely to be found sleeping eighteen hours of the day.

Now, before I get to the gist of the story, it needs to be noted that by the standard of any generation prior to the last two, the décor of our apartment would be considered, I think, unremarkable (if a little anachronistic, obviously). The usual nonsense adorns our walls (where they aren't obscured by bookcases brimming with (sad to say) largely crap novels of the transgressive sort, unique and exclusive to the generations aforementioned): feeble, fading facsimiles of various deservedly-obscure artists' work, some original daubs foisted off on us by emotionally needy friends, photographs of the cat and the brats, a full-sized and framed Magna Carta, and rather a lot of brass rubbings ... Indeed, as I peruse this list it occurs to me that all of these things--with the notable exception of the last--are acceptable even now. But those rubbings!

They were all inherited, I'll have you know. Still, it is not from some misbegotten sense of obligation that our dining room now contains exactly six of them. They are there because I like them, one; and, two, the aesthetics of the thing require that they should be presented as a set. Any idiot can tell you why it would be wrong to put a monumental brass next, say, an Egon Schiele genital special, when it is possible to avoid such a match; it is, after all, not recommended that the stomach should be made to turn. Indeed, one runs the risk by so doing of seriously marring for all time the appeal to the observer of the pieces respectively.

Still, in spite of such considerations it has been my experience that the pious postures of Johns Bacon and Raven, Mary Bence et al, unmitigated by something a little more cheekily secular, create a distinctly jarring--i.e. too obviously Christian--impression upon the postmodern sensibility. And given that the dining room is the natural congregational point of the flat, it is just this impression which tends to be the lasting one ... And on this particular occassion--with Jude the cat-sitter visiting--I happened also to have a catalogue of Byzantine icons sitting open upon the table ...

And thus the journey from front door (where formal introductions were made) to dining room (where instructions were given) saw in Jude a considerable and very rapid shift in attitude; warmly awkward through cooly disingenuous is as close as I can get to describing it. In between relevant cupboard openings and instructions as to when the cat liked most to be brushed, I noticed her eyes--independent of her rigidly fixed head and neck--frenetically twitching from wall to wall.

"It's certainly very serious in here," she finally managed, tittering slightly. "Do you like this sort of stuff?"

"Oh yes," I said, affably, lighting a cigarette end I'd retrieved from a stinkingly brimming ashtray. "Don't you?"

"Oh yes," she replied--but in such a way as to leave absolutely no doubt in my mind that it was only a sense of what was fitting that kept her from shouting "No, you horrible man, I don't!"

"Good, good." I said, and hoped in turn that it might be taken to mean: "Damn your fine words, ye snaggletoothed hen! Repent! REPENT!"

The conversation twisted and writhed through the next ten minutes. So what do you do? Oh this and that. Cigarette? No thanks, I don't--oh, and I see you have a picture book here too ... Oh, oh yes. And so forth.

Then two remarkable things happened. Or, rather, one remarkable thing happened, and another didn't. What didn't happen was that she didn't ask me if I was, myself, a Christian. Which might not strike you as remarkable at all, but which is exactly my point: the question was hovering so close in the air that I could feel the feathers of its wings as they beat about my head. And yet it was never asked. But religion, you see--particularly Christianity--is the great outré of our age. Just short of incest, pederasty and anti-semitism; it has, ironically enough, been made to fill that part of the closet left free by the sodomites. It was not mentioned because it is not mentioned.

The remarkable thing that did happen was: in lieu of asking this question--that was eating away at the woman's spleen like ... like something that feeds ravenously and exclusively upon pedant's spleen--she decided to ask me if I was familiar with an early-Renaissance school of painters well-known for their depiction of Christ ... with an erection.

"Because," she said with dignity, and by way of explanation, "he was a man, you see."

Which, of course, is quite true. If only by half. (Or, if you prefer: it's entirely true, whilst also being entirely false.)

Bear with me here, gentle reader, for it very well may be that such is the advanced state of your affliction that the question doesn't strike you as being the very height of topsy-turvidom. A woman, abrim with do-goodery, enters a house only to find the walls awash with (roughly) Christian iconography. Not a Christian herself, she still defeats the urge to defer any understanding of the faith to the part of the second party (with whom she has only a fleeting aquaintance) and, instead, decides to broach the topic of erections.

I was long under the impression that the common perception was: there aren't any religious, there are only religious nuts. I see now that religious nuts might be the only thing spared the postmodern boot.