Monday, November 29, 2004

Quote of the Day

He brings Howard Jones to my darkness.

--Maz Fusion

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Prognosis: Soused

Having endured three emergency dentist appointments, two sets of x-rays, and the ominous suggestion that something “just doesn’t look right” in my right maxillary cavity, I decided on Thursday night that the most reasonable course of action was to get very, very drunk. Coincidentally, James had just emerged from a brief period of scholarly seclusion, so I instructed him to meet me at the Café post haste. As it turned out, James had his own reasons for wanting to get very, very drunk, and by closing time that is precisely what we were.

When I awoke the next afternoon, and for the first time in four days, I was not in pain. Although not gone, the abscess had decreased significantly in size, as had the extent of the swelling that accompanied it. To my mind, this called for immediate celebration, and more drinking, which transpired at a fair to middling party hosted by two graduate students in English. The high point of the evening occurred when, in an effort to mingle, I ventured into one of the apartment’s two bedrooms and rudely interrupted a reading of W.H. Auden’s poems. Feeling shamefully uncultured, I quickly excused myself and retreated to the kitchen, where I kept company with the other philistines in attendance.

Today, I started taking my prescribed course of antibiotics and am hoping for the best, which in this case may well be a root canal.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Pain

No, not that kind of pain. The title of this blog entry refers to the experience of waking up at six o’clock in the morning in complete physical agony, which is how I began my day. Near as I can tell, I have developed a facio-cranial infection that may possibly involve an upper tooth or a lower sinus cavity or some mysterious grey zone between the two, which has been slowly festering since Monday. My first approach to the problem – ignore it and it will go away – didn’t seem to work especially well, so I spent most of this unexpectedly long day trying to procure the attention of a doctor or dentist on extremely short notice, both to no avail.

I was first rebuffed by my dentist, whose office has apparently had to downsize so radically that it no longer employs either a receptionist or an answering machine. Can you remember the last time you dialed a phone number that did not eventually redirect you to voice mail? No? Well, let me remind you of what it’s like: the phone just keeps ringing and ringing and ringing, without so much as a hint of explanation. After calling several times over the course of the day – Is she on lunch break? In surgery? High on nitrous oxide? – I fell into despair, having belatedly remembered that my dentist is a New Yorker by birth and has quite probably returned to her native land to celebrate Thanksgiving. Fuck.

I was subsequently turned away from the McGill drop-in clinic on the pretext that I had arrived too late: i.e., one full hour before the posted closing time. I couldn’t help but notice that there was only one other person slouched in the normally crowded waiting room, afflicted, presumably, with some entirely pedestrian ailment like the common cold or genital warts, but this fact was lost on the heartless and logic-deficient receptionist who dismissed me from the clinic with a wave of her hand. I left planning the lawsuit I would posthumously file against my alma mater, the proceeds from which shall be used to start a foundation for poverty-stricken graduate students with abscesses.

My final measure and last resort was to call Info-Santé, the twenty-four hour health services hotline that is one of perhaps three good ideas the Parti Québécois implemented during their last term in office. Of course, this required my spending forty-five minutes on hold, during which time I was free to speculate about the true nature of my condition. What if I’m having an aneurysm? It seems implausible, but these things do happen to people. I mean, look at REM’s drummer. I bet he didn’t think he was having an aneurysm, being a famous rock star and all. But then he had one and they rushed him to hospital and he nearly died and they put pictures of his CAT scan in the band’s tour book. Or maybe a stroke? I have been on the Pill all these years and now I’m paying for all the sex I used to enjoy so freely with a fatal blood clot. Or what if it’s cancer? Ohmigod, that’s it – when I finally see a medical practitioner they will sit me down and tell me I have a sudden-onset brain tumour and have only three weeks to live and that it’s my own damn fault for being a smoker. In exchange for pain medication, they will force me to sign a waiver that allows them to display a colour picture of my disease-ravaged corpse on cigarette packs to be sold throughout the country with a caption that reads “Smoking kills graduate students.” Or...

NURSE: Allô, Info-Santé...
V.H.: I’m dying, aren’t I?
NURSE: What are your symptoms?
V.H.: Cancer. I have cancer.
NURSE: I recommend that you see a dentist tomorrow.
V.H.: I prefer to be cremated.
NURSE: I can give you the number of a dental clinic if you wish.
V.H.: I have to write a will. Do you offer a will-writing service?
NURSE: What is your postal code?
V.H.: At least I won’t have to pay back my student loans. That’s something.
NURSE: Thank you for calling Info-Santé!
V.H.: But what does it all mean? Allô? Allô?

Monday, November 22, 2004

Minutiae

At this moment, there are exactly 2064 emails in my Inbox. This is in addition to the 1813 messages in my Sent Items folder, and perhaps 1500 others that are scattered throughout twenty carefully labelled subfolders. Worse, the total number of emails represents less than one year of academic detritus, having accumulated since I last cleared out my folders in March.

Good grief, what has become of me?

It wasn’t so long ago that I thought of email as an almost magical form of play. I wrote long, drifting electronic letters to friends the world over. I sent missives of absurdist dialogue and dada poetry to people I had never met. I engaged in endless written foreplay with present and potential lovers, luxuriating in the feel of words meant for paper or the dark.

Now, I write memos and schedule meetings and collect calls for papers for conferences I could never possibly attend. I negotiate; I clarify; I follow-up. I thank people in advance for their time and encourage them to contact me at their earliest convenience. I am cyborg in the sense of a mule and its cart, and there is no technological revolution in sight.

It is, without question, Monday.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

The Week in Review

Had dinner at Indian restaurant with goateed lung specialist. Felt increasingly self-conscious about smoking habit; went home early.

Attended usual number of long and futile meetings.

Had dinner with Atomic at her place; was regaled with amusing anecdotes about Afghan elections, toxic moonshine, and Iranian morality police.

Stood up to asshole landlord.

Treated Ada to Chinese palm reading for her birthday. Haggled with palm reader for two-for-one deal; learned I will live to be at least 80 despite smoking habit and bear five children.

Discovered that I am a descendant of neo-Protestant evangelicals. (See below.)

Began reading Zuleika Dobson.

Attended Ada’s birthday party. Got blindly drunk, heckled DJ, and had best plate of 4:00 AM poutine I’ve ever eaten.

Consoled equally drunk friend who was reduced to tears by her inability to get a date in eight months. Struggled and failed to find comforting words; offered shoulder to cry on instead.

Woke up with hangover after night of bad dreams. Briefly reconsidered value of existentialist philosophy. Decide to stay in tonight.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Footnotes

Very late last night, I learned that I am a descendant of radical neo-Protestant evangelicals. I discovered this fact while reading a Master's thesis by Bojan Aleksov, which I happened across during a particularly ambitious web-surfing session. I was aware that my paternal grandfather had belonged to a religious sect that had broken away from the Serbian Orthodox church sometime in the nineteenth century, but other than their name – Nazarene – and a few stories I’ve heard from my father and aunt, I knew virtually nothing about my grandfather’s religious life. My previous attempts at further research have been largely unsuccessful, as there seems to be no historical record of the sect nor common knowledge of them among the former-Yugoslavs I’ve talked to. Until last night, all I have found is a wall.

According to Aleksov, the Nazarene movement was founded in 1831 by a Swiss pastor named Samuel Frölich. From Switzerland, the movement spread to Alsace, southern Germany, and eventually to the southernmost reaches of the Hapsburg Empire, which at that time included the Serbian province of Vojvodina, the area in which my father’s family later settled. A peasant sect, the Nazarenes bear certain resemblances to both the Russian Dukhobors and central European Mennonites: e.g., they refused to perform military service; they rejected the authority of the state and of state-controlled churches; they refrained from voting, and so on. Aleksov writes:


In both Hungary and the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, the Nazarenes were perceived as a kind of social movement of the oppressed, as their ethical and religious perfectionism prompted them to strongly criticize the prevailing religious and political order. Their national and social origins and the potential for such movements' expansion provoked extremely severe persecution from both the Austro-Hungarian and Serbian and later Yugoslav kingdom. 1.

As peasants, my father’s family left few traces of their history behind. There are a handful of photographs, fewer letters, and no bourgeois tradition of genealogical preservation. For years, my aunt has tried to construct a simple family tree, but despite her best efforts the line extends only as far as my great-grandfather. Even my grandparents’ lives remain somewhat mysterious to my father, who left Yugoslavia when he was eighteen and has only his own and his siblings’ early memories to draw from. These include vague recollections of my grandfather’s refusal to take up arms, even as invading Nazi forces murdered those closest to him; his repeated imprisonment by the post-war Communist regime; and the absence of music on days of religious celebration, a silence my father remembers as being especially stark in comparison to the boisterousness of rural Orthodox revelry. But in the absence of a larger historical narrative, these memories have remained fragments at best, quietly separate from those of their village neighbours and undocumented by Yugoslav scholars.

Having read Aleksov’s short thesis, I suddenly have a frame for the stories I’ve been told, and a far richer sense of two generations of lives that preceded my own. I understand now why my grandfather eventually abandoned his church, and why my father nearly starved in the years after the war, and why my grandmother always wears a black headscarf in the pictures I’ve seen of her. I also understand why my father was raised, for all intents and purposes, as an atheist, and why I was as well. And I know how much it will mean to my father to be able to understand his father just this little bit more, even though he’s been dead for over twenty years and his small, two-room house is falling down and no one lives in it anymore or likely ever will.


1. Aleksov, Bojan. “The Dynamics of Extinction: The Nazarene Religious Community in Yugoslavia After 1945.” MA Thesis, Central European University, 1999. 19 Nov 2004. http://www.c3.hu/~bocs/teza.htm


Thursday, November 18, 2004

Quote of the Day

I feel like I am in a bad relationship with an academic institution, except with none of the passionate sex that makes fucked up relationships worthwhile.

--Madame D.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Vila's Book of Etiquette: Chapter One

At the Green Room with James last night, I found myself thinking about the etiquette of washroom sex, or more precisely the general lack thereof. After drinking two beers in rapid succession I made my way to the women’s washroom at the back of the bar, which contains two toilet stalls, one of which was temporarily out of service. The other stall was of course occupied, so I leaned against the adjacent wall and waited. After several minutes, I looked under the door to verify that that the stall was, in fact, in use, and noticed one set of biggish black boots pointed in the usual direction and a second, smaller set of strappy silver sandals pointed toward the back wall. Why is it only when I have to piss like a demon that I find myself stuck in line behind horny couples or coke addicts?

Faced with a lengthy wait and that ridiculous moment when the couple finally emerges to make their flushed and awkward exit, I returned to our table and tried not to drink more beer. After a respectable amount of time had passed I headed back to the washroom, where two young Francophone women were now touching up their make-up. They had been present when the couple departed and bitched at some length about their insensitivity to others, as well as the condition in which they had left the facilities. My bladder cramping, I ventured into the functional toilet stall and saw a used condom and three perfect drops of menstrual blood on the floor, which required a near-acrobatic level of dexterity to avoid stepping in. After some careful arranging of wool skirt and tights – both hand-wash only – I managed to take a successful piss, thinking throughout that the worst job in the world is almost certainly that of the bar janitor. Can you ever really get paid enough to deal with the full spectrum of human bodily fluids on a nightly basis?

With this experience now behind me, I have formulated a simple code of etiquette for washroom sex, which I may lobby the city to have posted in all public drinking establishments. The rules are as follows:

1. Do not under any circumstances have washroom sex if there is only one functional toilet stall available.

2. Washroom sex should not exceed five minutes. Anything longer than a quickie is best reserved for the private sphere; tantric sex is expressly forbidden.

3. Do not piss, bleed, come, or female-ejaculate on the toilet seat. Other people have to sit on it when you’re done.

4. Carefully dispose of used condoms, latex gloves and/or dental dams in the feminine hygiene products receptacle that is located behind the toilet.

5. Do not moan, holler, or scream for mercy. It makes single people feel bad.

6. Women should not fake orgasms -- everyone waiting in line will know that you are and will have no choice but to comment.

7. Limit post-coital cuddling or smoking to a bare minimum, or take it outside.

8. Please don’t use up all the toilet paper.

Thank you—the Management.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Interlude: Some reasons why I love my friend Arit

Because she takes amazing pictures

Because she gets drunk off two beers

Because she’s always curious

Because we talk about art but not as critics

Because she knows how to make gibanica

Because she and her boyfriend had a rough couple of years but still love each other to death

Because she comes over for iced tea late at night

Because she’s the smartest woman I know

Because she’s seen me at my worst and didn’t go away

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Eureka!

I’ve got it – male prostitutes! But of course!

Picture it: “Martha, darling, it’s Vila. I’m feeling like a blond tonight – is Jonathan available? No? Oh, but David’s on call? Mmm, no, too sporty... What about Paul? He’s really quite lovely – is he an aspiring filmmaker? Or Tom perhaps – he’s so deliciously boyish. But are you quite sure he isn’t gay? Oh, he’s bi – perfect! Are you still running your two-for-one special? Fabulous, darling, then I’ll take two... and throw in a pack of Du Maurier while you’re at it.”

So why is it that (heterosexual) male prostitution never took off? Restrictive social mores? Lack of disposable income? A dearth of imagination? I would think that in a truly egalitarian society, women would possess the inalienable right to buy sex just as men do. Wouldn’t they?

Sunday, November 07, 2004

As good as my word

Okay, last time I promised to write about something more entertaining than politics, and in deference to my loyal readers I have decided that the subject of this post will be my sex life, which is by any measure a laugh riot. I have recently been enjoying the subtle pleasures of celibacy, which has, among other things, deepened my relationship with my cats, reduced the amount of laundry I have to do each week (also conserves energy!) and may yet bring me closer to God. However, since as a biological female I am apparently within spitting distance of my sexual peak, I am considering taking a slightly different approach to the matter. As in my last post, I find myself weighing several possible options:

1. Have sex with considerably younger men.

Since entering my mid-thirties, I have noticed that I have become suddenly quite popular with the under twenty-five set. During the summer months that now feel so achingly distant, I was practically besieged by men in their early twenties, as well as one strange boy who couldn’t have been a day over nineteen. (*shudder*) My friends tell me that I should find this inter-generational attention flattering, though I’m having trouble feeling anything but mildly disturbed by the earnest come-ons of Gen Y. How can someone who hasn’t been beaten senseless and left for dead by life be even remotely interesting? More to the point, isn’t suffering the font of all sexual passion?

2. Look up old flames.

I recently came into possession of the last known coordinates for Nathaniel, a man I met on an internet mailing list and went on to have a two-year long quasi-affair with. Nathaniel lived in Chicago at the time, and after a lengthy correspondence I decided to throw caution to the wind and visit him, sight unseen. When I arrived at O’Hare airport, I found myself being welcomed to the Windy City by a stunningly beautiful mid-Westerner who was so very generous with his hospitality that he insisted I share his bed, which was really much more comfortable than the sofa. To make a long story short, Nathaniel wound up moving to an intentional community in Virginia – seriously – and soon after that we lost touch. Now, I soberly debate the merits of re-initiating contact with a man who spends his days making hammocks and is probably hand-fasted to a woman named Rainbow anyway.

3. Start dating.

In nineteen years of sexual activity, several of them reasonably promiscuous, I have never once been on a date. I have hung out, chilled, befriended, drank, hooked up, even picked up (once), but not dated. While the concept sets off my authenticity issues in the worst possible way, I am being strongly encouraged by friends and therapist alike to give this particular form of social intercourse a try. I suppose I shouldn’t knock it ‘til I’ve tried it, right? Having said this, I have been closely observing my friends who do date and most of them aren’t getting any either, which is hardly a gushing testimonial. It does seem to make for amusing blog posts, though, which is something.

4. Rediscover my bisexuality.

Well, there is that drawerful of sex toys that have just been gathering dust – and it’s a political statement!

Hmm, maybe it’s time for a poll?

Friday, November 05, 2004

The Red and the Blue

So what the hell happened? I spent some quality time with the pundits today, and near as I can tell there are three possible explanations:

1. The U.S. is divided along religious lines.
2. The U.S. is divided along cultural lines.
3. The U.S. is divided along an urban/non-urban fault line.

I’ll admit to being intrigued by the last explanation, which conjures up ghosts of Weimar Berlin or Milosevic-era Belgrade: the oppressed volk rising up again the decadent cosmopolitans whose cities are fatally infected by promiscuity, homosexuality, and, that old stand-by, Jewry. (Hey, that’s my kind of town!) Though I will decline to extend the analogy further by speculating about the nature of fascism and its applicability to the present case, I am nevertheless amazed that these bogeymen still retain their power, and that they remain, almost a century later, so persistently emblematic of the urban condition.

Of course, the cranky old Marxist in me can’t help but note the omission of class as an axis of division, not in the vague cultural sense that most political commentators employ the term but in the more traditional and distinctly un-sexy sense of lived economics. Allow me to briefly pontificate:

It occurred to me yesterday that the Democratic party once relied on trade unions to reach out to working-class voters who were otherwise beneath the radar of the political elites. For decades, unions provided both the ideological and institutional structures that are required to mobilize large numbers of economically-marginalized citizens, as well as authentication of the Democratic party’s commitment to their issues. The loss of hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs during the last decade and the attendant decline in union membership means that these citizens, whose prospects for economic advancement are now in the hands of Wal-Mart Inc., have been cut adrift from the Democratic party. In the absence of a Plan B on the part of the Democrats, what institution was ready and waiting to step into the void? The Church, maybe?

Which brings us to the fundamental problem. If you’ve ever spent time with factory workers, or army guys, or the generically (as opposed to the bohemian) poor, you have likely noticed that they’re not always the most politically correct lot. They don’t drink mocha lattés. They often smoke. They sometimes make jokes about women and homosexuals that you might find offensive. And they’re not particularly receptive to globalization or to the ethnic communities that represent said globe. There are exceptions, of course, and in many cases it is the exceptions that rise through the ranks of union leadership to become discursive intermediaries between the workers on the shop floor and the latté-drinking politicos. As my father once said to me, “you have to know how to talk to these guys,” and this is, at root, the primary role of the intermediary. In the absence of class politics, however, there is nothing much to talk about, and without a union, there is no organized structure to facilitate the conversation.

Somehow, the Democrats seem not to have noticed that their own economic policies over the last thirty years have decimated their base of support, and they appear genuinely bewildered by the trouncing they have just received at the polls. With any luck, when they are exhausted by the orgy of self-flagellation that has almost certainly already begun, they will roll up their shirtsleeves and get to work on a Plan B. That is, if it’s not already too late.

Okay, I’ll stop with the politics already. In fact, I promise to write about something entertaining like music or movies or sex next time. (Speaking of Weimar Berlin...)

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Dear America,

Are you insane?

Sincerely,
Vila H.

Ah, shit...

Election night at Thomson House. I am, despite my best intentions, drunk, and MSNBC is all but calling it for Bush. CNN is being somewhat more cautious, but even so it's not looking good. For a minute there, I actually thought Kerrey might win.

I wonder what the world will be like four years from now?

Monday, November 01, 2004

Atomic, where are you?

Are you still in Tehran? Will you be home soon? It's Monday night and we miss you.

CNN Stories

I first began watching CNN in an obsessive manner in the early 1990s, when two separate wars raged in the former Yugoslavia with a third still to come. I would force myself to watch every minute of available video footage of the conflict, which became progressively more gruesome as the years wore on – all rotting corpses and dead children and wailing, devastated women who eerily resembled members of my family or myself. I could never quite tear myself away from the television screen but sometimes I would put my arms around my knees and cry, regardless of which side the bodies belonged to or what historical justification their murderers presented. This happened less often over time, and by the end of it I almost didn’t cry at all.

In the weeks and then months following September 11, 2001, I developed the unfortunate habit of keeping CNN on in the background at nearly all times of the day and night. I wouldn’t actually watch it most of the time, choosing instead to adopt a more strategic approach: I’d turn the TV on and go about my day, and as I passed from the kitchen to my office, or from bedroom to bathroom, I’d glance at the screen in case something terrible had happened. If regularly scheduled programs like Crossfire or People in the News were on, or if the station was running a commercial, then everything was quite probably okay and I’d continue with whatever I was doing. If, however, I saw the red “Breaking News” graphic in the corner of the screen, then there was a very real chance that everything was not okay and this therefore required immediate investigation. I kept this up for almost a year; then, like the rest of the world, I moved on.

After the break-up, in the first numb weeks of 2003, the Ex generously arranged to stay at his boss’s place while I looked for another apartment. Alone in the shell of our home, I studiously avoided sleeping in our former bedroom; instead, I’d bring blanket and pillow to the shitty grey sofa we had bought at the Salvation Army and which our cats had instantly torn to shreds, and would endeavour to find sleep in front of the TV. Movies and television serials were too engrossing to rely on for this purpose, so I would set the volume to low and drift off to the quiet drone of CNN. At some point, I came to associate late-night reruns of Moneyline with Lou Dobbs or Newsnight with Aaron Brown with a strange kind of solace: the talking head as constant, murmuring companion. That the head was talking in urgent tones about another war in Iraq or nuclear tests in North Korea or terrorist attacks in Chechnya didn’t particularly matter; by the time the opening motif for Daybreak had sounded, I was fast asleep.

Lately, with coverage of the American election in full, repetitive swing, I have on certain days neglected to turn the television on at all. I’m not missing anything, am I?