Rats make excellent pets. They’re smarter than hamsters and friendlier than cats, lower maintenance than dogs and livelier than fish. A rat will sit on your shoulder while you finish your homework; a rat could love you. It might not, but it could.
I’ve never owned a pet rat, but I was lucky enough to ratsit for a friend in the fourth grade. Old McDeadly was sweeter and more communicative than Jingles, my pet hedgehog, who was dour—although I would be dour, too, if I lived in a pile of piss-logged woodchips because my nine-year-old owner was not responsible enough for pet ownership. The two of them got along fine; rats are sociable creatures.
My vocal teacher sang jazz standards in local ensembles and wore ample, flowing gowns. I can picture her dabbing her neck with lavender, and I would not be surprised if she’d once been a groupie for Five Man Electrical Band or Chilliwack. For our lessons she would set up a karaoke machine and comment on my performance. She once paused the track to ask if I thought the statement “I hate racists” involved the same logic used by racists. When a friend of her son’s called and left a bawdy message (“wakey, wakey, hands off your snakey”), she kicked me out of her apartment for giggling too much.
Being on the internet—are you with me?—means saying what you think nearly as soon as you think it. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. You can spend three days workshopping a tweet or you can just tweet it; in the end it’s probably the same tweet. But there’s stuff you shouldn’t say, to Twitter or to anyone, because you don’t want to leave a record of ever having thought it; and there’s more benign stuff you shouldn’t say because it will nonetheless shame the you of two years from now, or the you of two weeks from now. That you is a different you altogether, and she needs her autonomy. She needs to be able to hate the you of right now.
Living and working alone, I sometimes think of “me” as a person in my charge. Sometimes I love me, but often I wish there were a way to kill her without actually having to die. Her head is rife with terrible and useless things that I have to wade through just to get to an idea—half the time just thinking feels like meeting the boss in a video game—and she’s a constant source of shame, prone to whining about her good fortune and sulking at the slightest inconvenience. I set rules for her, but she ignores them for months or years before life dings her in the nose and she remembers that I’m almost always right, or at least righter than she is, because if she had her way we’d be eating pizza for breakfast and masturbating on public transit. I try to move forward, but me always lags.
Yesterday a pigeon shat on me. I hope its whole pigeon family dies—but not of H7N9, because then I’d die, too. While the World Health Organization claims the latest bird flu is under control, a new coronavirus has infected 43 and killed 21, and a mysterious illness recently infected seven in Alabama, causing two deaths (though the whole thing may just be a coincidence). Should you be concerned? Probably not just yet. But I am. I get concerned if a guy coughs at the back of the streetcar. Before I started typing this sentence, I sanitized my hands.
Loneliness can kill you, and loneliness is on the rise. This week, The New Republic published a report on the dangers of isolation, connecting social stresses with genetic changes in the brain and citing a survey that found that one in three Americans over 45 claimed to be chronically lonely, up from one in 10 just a decade earlier. A New York Times article on the same subject, published the same day, mentioned a strong link between loneliness and dementia. In a May 2012 Atlantic feature, Stephen Marche notes that loneliness is not a function of your relationship status but the quality of your confidants. He also notes that fewer people report having confidants these days: in 2004, 25 percent of Americans said they had no one to talk to, up from just 10 percent in 1985.
The park near my apartment, which one TripAdvisor commenter describes as a “hipster and dog paradise,” used to be full of just friends and friends of friends. If you didn’t know someone you at least knew someone they knew, and they were probably in a band you’d seen one time. If you laid down a towel, chances are you’d run into someone within 20 minutes and they’d sit down and you’d have a drink. Nowadays I make appointments with friends to go work in the park on our laptops. The other day I was trying to transcribe an interview but it was difficult over the hollering of nearby kids who were skinnier and better looking than me. Younger, too. Everyone was younger. And I thought to myself, fuck them. Fuck everyone who’s old enough to drink but younger than me.
Solanas, who died 25 years ago today, generally touted the benefits of exterminating men. But for a bile-covered window into a particularly angry mind, her SCUM Manifesto is surprisingly relatable.
To err is human, but you should try not to err. If you suck at your instrument, practice. If your underwear is dirty, launder it. If everyone you’ve dated thinks you’re an asshole, stop behaving like an asshole. Only an asshole would joke about being an asshole instead of trying not to be an asshole. If you try and fail, that’s OK, though not optimal, since failure is by definition the opposite of the hoped-for thing. But if you don’t try, you are not a failure: you are a loser, and people should laugh at, not with you.
Chances are there are things you hope for and could reasonably succeed at. Maybe not big things like ruling a country, but definitely little things like cleaning your toilet, if having a clean toilet is important to you. If you want a clean toilet, and you are physically and psychologically capable of cleaning your toilet, and your toilet is still dirty, you have no one to blame but yourself and no joke you can tell will change the fact that you didn’t do something you could reasonably have done.
Wendy O. Williams killed herself 15 years ago this Saturday. She left presents for her partner, Rod Swenson, including noodles he liked and seeds for salad greens, as well as a few notes: “My feelings about what I am doing ring loud and clear to an inner ear and a place where there is no self, only calm.” Then she went out into the woods and shot herself.
Williams and Swenson had met over 20 years earlier, when she landed in New York and applied for a job with Captain Kink’s Sex Fantasy Theater (he was Captain Kink). They formed the Plasmatics, part punk-metal band, part art concept, and she was a spectacular frontwoman: a grunting, nearly naked force of id who could stand still in front of an audience as naturally as she could slice a guitar in half with a chainsaw. Her career lasted a decade, and when it was over she moved with Swenson to Storrs, Connecticut, where he built them a geodesic dome to live in. MORE
Mary MacLane’s I Await the Devil’s Coming is a declaration of loneliness, restlessness, and narcissism—the same angst that binds teenagers from the turn of the century to the age of Dirty Girls.
My parents were (and are) married, so as a kid I sort of figured I would get married in my 20s and live a stable domestic life, the same way I sort of figured there was a Christian God. At some point I realized that probably wasn’t going to happen, the same way there probably wasn’t a Christian God, and lo: I am not married, my life is more provisional than domestic, and both statements are much easier to verify than God’s existence. I don’t have many solid guidelines for adult life besides “eat a lot of pizza because you finally can” and “don’t become a killer,” and I’m not complaining: I love pizza, and I love not killing, and I also love living alone, with few obligations to anyone other than myself. I can do anything I want, but I’ll never know if I’m doing it right.
It’s vacation week all across North America. But I got news for you: drinking and fucking in a warmer place does not count as vacation. It’s more like Freak Week in which play becomes work, leaving you joyless and disoriented once work becomes work again and play has become sickening.
A real vacation should feel like nothing you’d normally do. Like being dipped in another life, even a shitty one. Better a shitty one, actually, because then you’ll appreciate your real life more once it’s over. Can you imagine how good the Carnival Triumph passengers who spent days on a burned-out vessel, lindy-hopping human excrement and shitting in red bags felt when rescue finally arrived? Way better than you’ve felt in years. But coming back from a good vacation is like being torn away from someone you love, except worse, because good experiences are dead forever while exes are usually still alive.
Like Nick Hune-Brown, who writes about kids of mixed-race heritage in the latest issue of Toronto Life, I am a “mixie.”But unlike Nick, I was not raised in a multicultural household. Our household was closer to acultural. Sometimes my babushka sings warbly Belorussian folk songs during our sporadic visits to the old folks’ home, and I’ve inherited a few salty proverbs that lead me to believe the Russians have as many words for “shit” as the Inuit purportedly do “snow.” My mom gives out lucky money each Chinese New Year and has an excellent eye for Asian décor—but mostly Japanese décor, and she is not Japanese. Other than that, we observe few traditions other than the ritual consumption of frozen pizza. We are more like a culture of three.
My parents aren’t much for tradition, but we make a few efforts: every Christmas we exchange gifts and my mom makes me turkey stuffing wedged between two plain chunks of tofu, just the way I like it. And every other boxing day (or so), my Uncle Victor and Aunt Holly host a Molotkow Family Brunch. I love the Molotkow Family Brunch, but ragging on the idea of a Molotkow Family Brunch feels more characteristic of us than the brunch itself. And I love Vic and Holly, but I feel a little weird about that, as though fondness were an inappropriate feeling to have about a blood relative. My parents’ friends have always been like extended family, but the only tradition we uphold is sushi.
All day, every day, I’m terrified of doing something that ruins everything for me, which makes it extra painful to watch people ruin everything for themselves. One of the worst examples of someone ruining everything for themselves is Lil Mama’s stage crash at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards. While Alicia Keys and Jay-Z duetted with “Empire State of Mind,” she climbed onstage and started bobbing her head expectantly at Jay, who patted her thigh and tried to ignore her; then she mimicked his stage movements until the song was over. Had the disparity in their careers been less pronounced (Lil Mama had one album and a handful of singles to her name), the whole scene would have been funnier; had Jay-Z and Alicia Keys found her gambit charming and novel, rather than rude and deeply insubordinate, her career may not have stagnated in the aftermath. Maybe it would have stagnated anyway, but at least she’d be remembered for something else.
My favourite love story is that of the philosopher John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor. Although she was married to another man for most of their relationship, they carried on a public affair for over 20 years. Mill, an early champion of women’s rights, considered Taylor his intellectual equal and credited her (effusively) as his collaborator. After her husband died, they married; and when she died, seven years later, Mill moved into a house by her grave in Avignon. “Five people came to his burial,” writes Adam Gopnik, of his death 15 years hence. “This was the one place he wanted to be, with Harriet, in the tiny cemetery outside Avignon, where he could rest beside the one love he had had.”
I first heard this story in grade 12 philosophy class, and it’s an ideal I’ve held since. I’ve always idolized couples who seemed to make each other better, or who inspired each other to make better work. I loved the notion of a perfect intellectual friendship with fucking—or at least comfort during the flu—and of a unified personal and creative life. Reading Sarah Thornton’s Seven Days in the Art World, I got misty-eyed at her account of Jerry Saltz and Roberta Smith: “When I asked the pair how it felt to be the king and queen of criticism, Saltz declared, ‘We’re just a couple,’ while Smith confessed, ‘We have an amazing time. We’re able to do as much as we do because writing doesn’t mean we have to be alone. We’re just totally in it.”
The world doesn’t need another Lena Dunham blog post, but this is just to say thank you. Thank you for running around on camera with no clothes on and wearing dresses that show off your thighs and for writing scenarios in which you have sex with great-looking people. I appreciate it.
I’ve heard women say that they can’t go anywhere without feeling gawked at and objectified. I sympathize; that sounds awful. But it’s not been my experience. Mostly I’ve felt ugly and embarrassed by my body and as though I have no right to a sexuality in the first place.
Sex is gross. I don’t mean that in moral terms; I just mean that it’s slimy and inelegant. The only things that make it not horrifying are the magic of human chemistry and that opposite mode the brain has where disgusting things become appealing. I like that about sex—it’s supposed to be gross, and it’s better that way, and any attempt to make it look clean and graceful is totally false and unsexy. That’s just my opinion.
One thing I love about Cabaret, whose 40th anniversary Blu-ray edition was released this week, is the way it does sex. (Sidenote: I love everything about Cabaret, so much that even the word “cabaret” gives me goosebumps, and when I re-watched it for this column I literally sobbed with awe.) The movie is all about sexual display, of course, but that display is grotesque. Sally Bowles, singing “Mein Herr” in that garter belt and that backless top, looks more naked than naked, and her lunges make me uncomfortable. When the Master of Ceremonies raps his cane against Helga’s ass during “Willkommen,” I feel like I’ve just streaked through a Bosch painting.
When I was a teenager I used to gawk at Hannah, an insanely great-looking girl from Vancouver with giant lips and teased ginger hair and an endless supply of excellent ‘60s dresses. I never had any contact with her; just stalked her Livejournal, where she posted photos of herself and her husband lolling around in twee living rooms and beautiful natural landscapes. He was just as attractive, in a Marc Bolan sort of way. They’d met on the internet.
There are assholes, who are bad enough. Then there are proud assholes, who are much worse: people like Tucker Max and Adam Carolla, who position themselves as antiheroes and get away with it, because there are plenty of assholes out there looking for an excuse not to change.
Jim Jefferies, the Australian comic whose first TV series, Legit, premiered on FX last week, is a proud asshole. His stand-up in a nutshell: love beer, hate women. He has bits about drugs and sex toys and prostate stimulation and he does some proselytizing against the existence of God–the most predictable, and least funny, part of his routine–but arguably the most significant motif in his work is how chicks are stupid and crazy.
In grade nine, I had a difficult friendship with a shaggy 10th-grader named “Ferdinand.” The problem was that we both loved the Smashing Pumpkins, but while he favoured Siamese Dream, I favoured Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. Mellon Collie was spiritual, I insisted. Listening to it was a healing experience. Furthermore, it covered the entire range of human emotions: anger (“Zero”), angst (“Bodies”), hatred (“XYU”), and the soft feelings associated with an internet penpal named Gypsy (“Galapagos”). That’s beside the point, he shot back. Siamese Dream is better. Billy Corgan says so himself.
He wrote in my yearbook: “Fuck your SP! You Don’t Know who Billy Is! Fuck off! Love, Ferdinand.”