Born Under The Lily, I Grow Under The Rose

A nattily dressed Indian heart surgeon enters a dimly lit, run down East London flat, walks into the kitchen, opens the ancient-looking refrigerator (empty of all shelves and contents), steps in, and shuts the door behind him: “A funny thing has happened to me recently and it has to do with London, said Dr. Venkata Lakkaraju to the sold out audience in attendance for his keynote speech at the 32nd Annual Meeting of Indian Cardiothoracic Surgeons, held at the Park Plaza Westminster Hotel. If two weeks pass and I don’t visit London, that is, if I don’t physically put myself inside of the city, not just bide my time during a layover at Heathrow, I have these very vivid and quite uncomfortable dreams where the city itself – anthropomorphized into various denizens of all different races and sexes -harangues me, humiliates me, and then brutalizes me. I won’t bother you with any more details from these dreams, but I will tell you that when I wake up from these dreams I’m in a most foul mood, one that lingers with me throughout the day, whether I’m performing surgery or not. Sometimes I’ll be in the middle of surgery and I’ll be thinking that I have to get back to London, right now, but I can’t, because, obviously I’m in the middle of surgery, and I’m not going to say I lose focus or become absent-minded, but I definitely become short with those around me, or uncommunicative and sullen, which are not the best frames of mind to be in when you’re performing a transmyocardial revascularization. London is home to my favorite French restaurant, my favorite Spanish restaurant, and my favorite German restaurant. London also happens to be the only city I can get away with not wearing my glasses. In London, for some reason, I can see. What I miss most about London when I’m not there, however, is the French-Canadian Quarter, also known as New Montreal, which is little known and almost impossible to find, as it is not on any map. Ask a cab driver to take you to the French-Canadian Quarter, if you dare. While I cannot divulge the exact location of New Montreal, I will say that it is located somewhere underneath Dalston. Access is invitation only. How do you procure an invitation? I can’t tell you that either, as one is simply sent to you. How do they decide who they want to invite? Again, I’ll have to plead ignorance. It is magnificent, though, this city under the city, which is really nothing more than an immense artificial biosphere, complete with historic landmarks and ports, all fashioned in a surreal tribute to the city’s unique heritage. I have been to Montreal and I prefer this simulacrum to the real thing. The moment I step out of the elevator I feel at home. I have, for lack of a better word, incredible chemistry with the French-Canadian immigrants of London, so much so that it makes me wonder if in my past life I was not a Quebecois myself. There are so many wonderful little touches that I won’t be able to catalog them all during the scant amount of time I’ve been given to speak. Let’s see, there’s the flying canoe that whisks across the skyline at noon and midnight at the sound of the Clock Tower’s chiming bells; the skating rink at the Old Port of Montreal where you can watch skates – sans skaters – doing half-axels and toeless lutzs; the Jean Béliveau impersonator whom you can visit at his home and watch as he answers his fan mail; and the reenactments of the Battle of the Thousand Islands, just to name a few. Why am I telling all of you this? Because, as I found out during my last visit to New Montreal, a disproportionate number of its citizens are suffering from a type of heart disease I do not recognize, and which is lethal if not treated immediately. Therefore, I am moving to New Montreal, in order to help in any way I can. Some of you, because of this epidemic, will be invited to join as well, although I cannot say who. To those who do make the journey New Montreal, however, I ask one thing and one thing only: if you see me, please do not address me by my given name. I will no longer answer to Venkata. As of Monday morning my new name is Guy. Guy Penfield. If you do not use this name I will not answer you. I will pretend as if the me you are addressing no longer exists. Je me souviens, que né sous le lys, Je croîs sous la rose. ”

Marcuse

“Technological rationality reveals its political character as it becomes the great vehicle of better domination, creating a truly totalitarian universe in which society and nation, mind and body are kept in a state of permanent mobilization for the defense of this universe.”

No Surface All Feeling

A young Japanese man wearing a black suit, white shirt and black tie walks into a church, opens an empty coffin, lays down, and closes the lid: “After being told that he had inoperable anaplastic thyroid cancer Shinji looked back on his short life and decided that he had not lived it to the fullest. He immediately made plans to do all the things he wanted to do, like mug a Sony executive; have sex with ten prostitutes in one night; punch his father in the stomach as hard as he could and not apologize (and not only not apologize, but after punching him in the stomach calmly sitting down for a bowl of ramen while his father was still writhing in pain and/or gasping for breath); do the dash and dine at Hatsusaka’s, the city’s most expensive sushi restaurant; surreptitiously replace a Warhol in the National Museum of Modern Art with a painting of his own; and sing Manfred Mann’s Earth Band’s cover of ‘Blinded by the Light’ (which he vastly preferred to the original Bruce Springsteen version, something he would have never admitted were it not for his death sentence) verbatim and note for note at his favorite karaoke parlor. That he accomplished all these things was astounding to his friends and co-workers, who gathered at Shinji’s wake to first speak in hushed tones about their former colleague’s dedication and passion and then to loudly and drunkenly vow to do the same with their own lives, whether they lived under the cloud of a terminal diagnosis or not. That none of them retained their convictions going forward was to be expected, although Shinji’s cousin did attempt to make good on his promise to himself by grabbing cotton candy out of little girl’s hand and rubbing it into her face, an act he immediately regretted and spent the rest of his life trying to forget, to no avail, as the sound of her incoherent bleating would haunt him and ring in his ears until the day he died.”

A Minor Architect

A man in a grey overcoat, having been thrown out of his apartment by his exasperated wife, is walking alongside the section of the Berlin Wall that oversees his neighborhood when he sees a large crack in the Wall, and, upon further inspection, notices that the crack opens up just enough for him to slide through to the other side, and so, with undue haste, the man looks around, puts his hands in his jacket pockets, and quickly steps through the opening, only to find that he has just stepped into East Berlin, not out of it, and watches as the crack quickly starts to disappear, taking the view of West Berlin with it: “After being told this story by his friend Gunther, Konrad decided to take the long way home and visit the site of the story’s setting. Arriving at the spot he found a small peephole carved into the Wall with the word ‘Look Here’ scrawled above. Konrad put his eye to the peephole and saw another eye staring back at him. Konrad blinked and so did the other eye. When he got home his wife asked him where he had been. Konrad took off his coat, sat down at the kitchen table, took out his pipe, filled it with tobacco, took a few puffs, exhaled and announced that he had seen the other side and that it looked no different than their own and now that he was privy to this information he felt as if a weight had been lifted off his shoulders. He told his wife that he had never felt freer in his life and that it was as if he had just gotten back from travelling around the world at the speed of light. Konrad’s wife waved away the cloud of smoke encircling her and asked him if he had been drinking again. Konrad told his wife that he may or may have not had one or two drinks, which, as a man, a working man no less, was more than his prerogative, it was his right. Konrad’s wife then asked him to please take out the trash when he got a chance, a request he refused, prompting his wife to tell him to leave the apartment immediately, which he did, but only after putting on his jacket as slowly and theatrically as possible. Once outside, Konrad decided to take a walk along the Wall.”

We All Love Peanut Butter

A white van with a cartoon peanut painted on its side drives slowly down a crowded street at night, stop, reverses, and parallel parks between a red compact car and a blue four-door sedan: “I’ll try your new peanut butter but I want you to know right now that as soon as we start walking that way towards the place you say you have the peanut butter I’m trying some new peanut butter whether this is one of those pranks or stunts or not. Do you hear me? If we start walking over there and you tell me that you’re filming all of this and that this is some kind of prank where you walk around asking random men if they would like to try a new brand of peanut butter just so you can see how many men will say yes then that’s your problem and not mine because as far as I’m concerned you came up to me and asked me if I would like to try your peanut butter and I asked you if you were serious and you said yes and then I asked you if you were serious again and again you said yes, so as far as I’m concerned you are serious about me trying your new peanut butter, so if we start walking over there and you tell me you were joking I’m just telling you right now that I will not accept the fact that you are joking and I will try your new peanut butter anyway, whether you like it or not, whether there are cameras following you around or not, okay, they can watch or try to help you, that’s their business, my business right now is that you walked up to me when I was minding my own business and you asked me if I wanted to try this new peanut butter and you’re wearing a shirt with some kind of logo for a peanut butter I’ve never seen before and I said yes because of course I do, because I love peanut butter, and there’s not a man on this street who would say no and if there is I want to know who they are because that wouldn’t make any sense when someone like you, wearing some kind of official peanut butter shirt, walks up to a man and asks him if he wants to try a new brand of peanut butter. I don’t know any man who would turn that down, which is why if this is some kind of prank or stunt or you are just curious to see how many men would say yes to trying some new peanut butter then the joke is one you because you don’t need to go out and ask me what is, really if you think about it, a stupid question, because of course the answer is going to be yes. I can’t imagine many men who would say no except for a few, and the men who would say no are probably just nervous that they have an allergy to peanut butter and they just don’t know about it or they’re nervous they’re going to follow you and you’re going to take them somewhere and throw them in a van and have your buddies kick the shit out of them. So I understand why some men would say no but what I don’t understand is why you would go out in public and ask men if they want to try some new peanut butter when you already know the answer, so I’m going to assume that you’re being on the level right now and that you really do want me to try this new peanut butter because you saw me and I struck you as the type of man who liked peanut butter and that’s all this is, because I’m telling you this again, right now, that if this is some kind of joke then the joke is going to be on you because I’m trying some new peanut butter whether there’s a new peanut butter to try or not, because you asked me if I wanted to and I said yes and I asked you twice if you were serious and you said yes, so now I’m going to try some new peanut butter one way or another and I don’t care if there’s a camera crew with you. Like I said, they can watch or they can try and help, but either way this is happening and it’s about to all happen right now, so I really want you to think about what you’re doing, because the moment we start walking in that direction there’s no going back, and no, I’m not stopping, not until I’m done with my peanut butter, and if that means you have to go buy some peanuts and mash them up until you’ve created your own new peanut butter then so be it, that’s what’s going to happen, I’m trying your new peanut butter just like I said.”

Olde English

A bearded man wearing a brown cardigan sweater watches as a Mexican woman in a maid’s uniform carries a small boy in her arms; watches as she changes the boy’s diapers; watches as she places a plate of scrambled eggs in front of the boy; watches as she gives the boy a bath; and watches as she leaves the house and takes the boy for a walk in his stroller: “Mary had been dead for only a year and a half and no one was talking about her, and Robin doubted if her memory would have much staying power. Mary, his wife, the mother of his son, was not someone who demanded attention; indeed, it seemed enough to merely say her name to get the full import of how ephemeral she truly was and always had been. Her relevance lied purely in the precise and schematic way she had gotten pregnant, given birth, and then died shortly after. He knew that his son would slowly progress towards complete identification with him (achieving this, of course, only with the help of a therapist who would provide the boy with the means of accepting the natural hierarchy in the least subversive manner possible) and then, when the time was right, how he would acquire a girl of his own, preferably one similar to his mother. Without a mother (the very concept seemed redundant and wholly inconvenient) Robin and the boy would be able to enjoy their lives to the fullest, all leading up to the day when the boy would start to separate, a complacent set of distancing actions which Robin would facilitate and which the boy would see through as futile, setting up their ultimate reconciliation. Nothing would trouble or challenge Robin except for the infrequent flashes of his deceased wife’s face in his memory, her expression one of refusal and bewilderment that she should have been rendered superfluous to the very being she helped create and usher into the world. Robin would see to it that there would be no disturbances in the boy’s absorption of his established values and dominant assumptions. What Robin hoped for was that the boy would find a girl who would support him unconditionally and who had no visible life of her own, or, if she did, kept it completely to herself. He also hoped that the boy would never see through the illusory process by which his life acquired such plenty or subject the foundations on which the whole paternal edifice rested to anything more than a cursory analysis.”