Of Racks and Tines

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My friend, Michel Dupuis, would have loved to put a .306 round through his neck, but season is over. The deer can sense it when the season is over. Its like we’re friends again – until next October, that is. If you hunt off-season, you are a schmuck because of the consequences of getting caught – a five grand fine, the loss of your firearm and hunting licenses and the confiscation of your gear – your truck included.

But a hunt is something one has to experience at least once in a lifetime. Or bea. Hunter, like me and Michel. It is not just the kill, it is the whole thing – the prep, the drive through the wild, the chill, the bivouac, the buddies, the booze, the wait, the click of the bolt hitting the round in the chamber, the shot, the leap-back of the stock, the jarred shoulder, the pinging ear, the frightened scampering, limping flight in the brush, the trail of blood, the carcass, the drag over the cold hard ground, the hitching up and the skinning and cleaning, the packaging and the venison in the freezer for a whole year.

It is a heady thing but if you haven’t experienced it, you’ll never know it. Are we hunters bad? Maybe, but if I kill for meat, I do not think I am being cruel. I take my time and try my best to get the animal with one shot at the right spot. He doesn’t know what hit him. I have never had a doe run injured through the brush and get torn to pieces by coyotes.

Don’t you eat mutton or chicken? Just because you get someone else (the butcher) to do the killing for you, that is moral and my killing a whitetail isn’t – does that make sense?

That buck in the foreground is a 12-pointer, six on each side, each point being one tine on his rack. Eventually the whole rack will fall off and regenerate.

The time of the year a buck sheds it’s rack depends upon his age. If he is old, he will shed in December. This one still has his rack, which means he is young and will shed in spring (anytime now, that is). It figures, since the rack seems fully developed.

The antler grows back through summer and by fall, it is fully grown, ready for the inevitable locked horn fights for pussy in the October mating season. And as he ages, the buck will grow more and more tines every year and by the time he dies (if he is lucky enough to die of old age, that is) he will have a 16-point rack.

Its really crazy – we salivate over and kill them in the fall and now they amble over trustingly and we feed them carrots.

This one didn’t budge though. He had a kinda world-weary, been there done that, ‘seen it all’ look in his eyes. I whistled, clicked my tongue, snapped my fingers, clapped my hands, fell to my knees and begged him to come over and have the carrot I was waving at him and maybe take a photo with me but he said,” Shove it up yours. Carrots, carrots, carrots, ugh! Don’t you m—-er f—-ers have nuthin else to bring? Get me a hamper of pears and blueberries and I might think about it. Now scoot. Lizzy, over there, says season is over but she likes to get it on in spring. Scram.”

I could identify with that. Why does sex have to be confined to a season?

E Pluribus Multis (Part-3)

New Phototastic Collage

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Trump looks upon the Norwegians as ideal immigrant/citizen material, a sentiment even your friendly neighborhood white guy in America feels deep within but is too polished to admit. A white American would rather have a white Christian Anglo-Saxon European as an immigrant.

I understand that sentiment all too well. Why, my nation of birth – India – wrote the original encyclopedia on it. You wouldn’t believe the level of racism, bigotry and intolerance that exists within the hearts of a sizeable percentage of India’s majority Hindus. Indians worship the color white. It is the only country in the universe where “Fair and Lovely” – a phony skin cream – is the top selling cosmetic.

Roman citizens firmly believed in pretty much the same thing as Trump and his deplorables – that they were racially superior to the rest of the world. To the Romans, Hispanians were hotheads, Greeks were slippery, Egyptians were other-worldly, Phoenicians were greedy, Persians wore too much perfume and the Nubians(Sudanese) were plain dumb. The Romans too (like Trump) had their ideal immigrant material – the Greeks. Just as Trump sees Norwegians – and by extension, all white Europeans – as equals, so did the Romans see the Greeks as equals.

There were exceptions in Rome too though. Some immigrants made it big, really big. The great Septimius Severus (145-211AD) was born a brown-skinned son of Libyan immigrants. Historians unanimously hailed him as one of most effective Emperors that Rome ever had. Perhaps he wasn’t as white as some of his marble busts make him out to be. Rome those days just wasn’t as color conscious as America is today.

One does not have to look far to see that modern America too has had it’s Septimiuses – Barack Hussein Obama, for example – to much of the outside world, one of the best Presidents America has ever had.

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Let’s look at other similarities between ancient Rome and today’s America…..

Take the geography. Rome had a natural fortification to the north – the mountains of Cisalpine Gaul (Swiss Alps today) sat like a motorcycle helmet at the very neck where the ‘leg’ of Italy joins the rest of Europe – the only land route in and out. Over the centuries, the Huns, the Goths, the Gauls and the Vandals tried their best to move battalions over the rugged 3000-metre, snow-bound mountain passes and by the time the exhausted, frost-bitten grunts got to the other side, the well-nourished Roman Legions were waiting. On the other three sides, Rome had vast seas – the Tyrrhenian in the west, the Adriatic to the east and the Mediterranean below. Thus, Roman citizens remained untouched by direct land-based invasions for a millennium, before they finally gave in – weakened by the comforts of a good life – to the Huns.

Likewise, America is secured by the Atlantic and the Pacific. It has docile puppy dogs, Canada and Mexico, on the other two sides, both acting as impregnable buffers. America has never had to defend itself against a direct military invasion. I suspect American citizens are at a stage similar to Rome in 400AD, bloated by conspicuous consumption and an obese, spoon-fed, couch potato, reality TV-soaked populace that gets easily spooked by rumors and fake news and has absolutely zero stomach for a real fight. Who knows who America’s Huns shall be but as history shows, it is only a matter of time.

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Special interest groups and rich donors – not the citizens – have always decided who was going to rule in both, ancient Rome and present-day Trump America.

Politics has always been the road to personal wealth. The American EPA Secretary, Scott Pruitt, exploits his position to benefit the oil oligarchy in the US and systematically degrade the environment to his benefit. Two thousand years back the Roman quaestor, Hadrian, curried favour with Emperor Trajan to help friends and relatives forcibly acquire property from ordinary citizens and sell influence.

Hadrian eventually succeeded Trajan as Emperor. During his reign, he had columns and monoliths erected proclaiming that he was the best, most popular, most effective Roman Emperor ever. He even got his Bithynian male servant and lover, Antinous, deified into a God and then built a city called Antinopolis in Egypt, in the boy’s honor. Some reports suggest that Antinokins got drunk during an orgy on the Nile and fell overboard the royal yacht and drowned. Others say that in fact, Hadrian had the boy thrown overboard when he caught him giving one of the Praetorian Guardsmen a blowjob.

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Both, Rome and America, have constantly and deliberately heightened their security concerns to distract attention from domestic challenges and to spy on their own. Enough circumstantial evidences exist that point to conspiracies within most of America’s history-shifting events :- the assassination of JFK, the case for war in Iraq and in the same context, even 9/11 itself.

Ancient Rome too was rife with conspiracies. Marcus Aurelius’s son, Commodus, warded off multiple assassination attempts until he was finally strangled to death in his bathtub. Commodus was played by Joaquin Phoenix in Ridley Scott’s 2000 film “Gladiator”. Russell Crowe’s General Maximus was a fictional character, though.

Both, Rome and America, had very very itchy fingers. They actively fomented wars which could easily have been avoided. America has had it’s Guatemala, Nicaragua, Vietnam and the ongoing Iraq, to name just a few. In fact over the past hundred years, there have been American ‘boots on the ground’ fighting to secure it’s hegemony somewhere or the other at almost all times. Rome too fought so frequently that it’s citizens did not see beyond one continuous year of peace at a time for nearly the entirety of it’s 1200-year existence, from 800BC to 400AD.

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After the assassination of Julius Caesar and the blood bath that followed, Octavius came to power as Rome’s first Emperor in 43BC. From a Republic, controlled and administered by the Senate, Rome switched to an absolute monarchy. The Roman Senate (a group of around 400 rich and influential wheeler-dealers) ceded all it’s influence to the Emperor. Rome’s elite were reduced to currying favor and lobbying with the Emperor, turning themselves into yes-men. The quaestors, generals and governors increasingly began to use the loot from their foreign conquests to influence the Emperor’s decision-making and through it, shape Rome’s domestic policy. Rome’s elite had their own influential king-makers : the Ciceros, the Catilinas, the Catos, the Macedonicuses, the Brutuses and the Cassiuses.

I see the same thing happening in America. There are the Kochs, Mercers, Murdochs, Adelsons and a cabal of Jewish billionaire donors who have had American presidents by the balls for decades.

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Exactly as in ancient Rome, there really is no democracy left in America today.

Public policies no longer reflect the preferences of the majority of Americans. If it did, the country would look radically different in so many ways. I am a Canadian who lives in Canada and therefore forgive me if I am off the mark, but take a look at the list of stuff that could happen if America was a real democracy…….

  • For starters, the one who won 3 million more votes would be President. Campaign finance would be strictly controlled. Gerrymandering and the consequent disenfranchisement of blacks and minorities would no longer decide elections.
  • The wealthy would be taxed more, so that when the vet came home all shot up, there would be better rehabilitation for him.
  • Those who take their Lord’s name in vain (the so called American Christian evangelicals) would retreat into their screw-ball churches and nut-job pulpits and cease to be a force in politics, ushering in an age of tolerance and the gradual acceptance of LGBTs, immigrants and minorities.
  • Gun control laws would be much stricter.
  • Paid parental leave would be the law of the land, public colleges would be free and the minimum wage would be higher.
  • Abortions would be accessible without question, because it is the woman’s right to decide whether she should have the baby or she shouldn’t, regardless of the circumstances that led her to get knocked up.
  • And lastly, that typically American urge to waste money ‘building democracies’ in other parts of the world by force would be drastically tempered since ordinary Americans are sick of that.

Oh, I forgot……marijuana would become freely available.

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E Pluribus Multis (Part-2)

epluribus

America’s “E Pluribus Unum” (Out of many, one)

Note the eagle, that’s leadership; the arrows (strength) and the olive branch (peace)

The language : Latin

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SPQR

Ancient Rome’s “SPQR” – Senatus PopulusQue Romanus (The Senate and the People of Rome)

Note the same eagle, arrows and the olive branches. And language.

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You have to admit, the Americans lack originality. They do have the 13 stars in their motto that’s different though. Maybe signifying that they are fucking dreamers? I think I know what the stars signify – someone hit the eagle on the head and he’s seeing stars, like in those Elmer Fudd comics.

The Roman SPQR standard on the other hand has the moon in place of stars, telling the world that it’s reach encompasses not just the earth, but the moon as well. Now that is impressive.

But the similarity in concept and import cannot but strike one as unusually close. If you have been paying attention, in Part-1 we started looking at just how close.

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Let’s talk about the first thing about ancient Rome and modern America that strikes one as being identical – slavery & civil rights…….

When Alexander the Great (356-323BC) died, some historians thought that he might actually have been poisoned.

At the height of his campaign in Persia, he shipped 500000 captured Persians as slaves back to the slave markets of Thrace and Babylon and the wealthy slave traders there were mighty pissed. “Wo, wo, take it easy, dude,” they screamed,” You’re ruining the price structure.”

After his Persian / Indian conquests, Alexander returned with his troops to Babylon and held a drunken binge in a palace that the great NebuchadnezzarII had built two centuries prior. The drinking party was in honor of Arkad (a wealthy Thracian slave trader).

Obviously poor Alex didn’t choose his friends wisely. After a fortnight, he developed a mysterious fever and never recovered from it. Some experts say that Alexander’s drink may have been spiked with hemlock or hellebore by Arkad’s men, as retribution for starting a decade-long glut in the slave trade.

But I digress.

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The slavery that we constantly like to condemn today was actually wholeheartedly sanctioned by the Bible.

There’s no ‘dog whistle’ that President Trump likes to employ. The Bible – especially the Old Testament – legitimizes and organizes the treatment of slaves and lays down rules and regulations under which one must ‘ethically’ treat slaves.

Hebrew slaves held special status in the Bible. The Jews were the ‘chosen ones’, remember? The Bible decreed that Hebrew slaves had to be released after 6-7 years of service, but under certain conditions only. A foreign (non-Hebrew) slave had no such rights however. He belonged to the owner’s family for life, period.

Biblical texts go into excruciating detail – they outline recommended sources of slaves, the legal status of slaves, the economic roles of slavery and the ‘legitimate’ types of slavery that one must practice.

The Bible made slavery an institution. So, before we pillory the American whites for what they did to black African slaves, let’s remember that they just did what the ‘Holy’ Bible told them to.

Here are some examples of Christian ‘piety’ and concern for civil rights for you. Note how they are different for Hebrews and non-Hebrews…….

HEBREW SLAVES

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Leviticus 25:39–55:39

If any Hebrews who are dependent on you become so impoverished that they sell themselves to you, you shall not make them serve as slaves. They shall remain with you as hired or bound laborers. They shall serve with you until the year of the jubilee. Then they and their children with them shall be free from your authority; they shall go back to their own family and return to their ancestral property.

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Exodus 21:2-6 New International Version (NIV)

If you buy a Hebrew servant, he is to serve you for six years. But in the seventh year, he shall go free, without paying anything. If he comes alone, he is to go free alone; but if he has a wife when he comes, she is to go with him. If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the woman and her children shall belong to her master and only the man shall go free.



NON-HEBREW SLAVES

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Ephesians 6:5–6:5

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ.

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1 Timothy 6 New International Version (NIV)

All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered. Those who have believing masters should not show them disrespect just because they are fellow believers. Instead, they should serve them even better because their masters are dear to them as fellow believers and are devoted to the welfare of their slaves. 

In short, it is disgusting. The sanctimony of the Bible disgusts me. I want to scream,” Is this what your God wants you to do?”

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True to their ‘glorious’ Abrahamic tradition, the other two stooges – Islam and Judaism – have also organized and legitimized slavery in a similar fashion. The Holy Quran in fact made slavery so du jour that no one batted an eyelid over it. The Prophet Mohammad himself was a multiple-slave owner, some whom he put in certain ‘circumstances’ that left him no choice but to marry them. Thus his wives, Saffiya and Maria had been his slaves and a male slave, Zayd, he adopted as his son. (I have to admit though that he treated his slaves really well and freed most of them before he died).

Judaism too had a ‘rich’ history of slavery but I have had it with these three Abrahamic phonies, so I’ll change the subject.

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Slavery thrived in ancient Rome too, in the form of a sprawling transnational business enterprise that would put today’s globalists to shame. It is estimated that one out of three inhabitants in ancient Rome was a slave. They lived their lives in segregated hovels just the way black folks live in the inner-cities of America today.

The only thing different between Rome’s slaves and America’s 16-17th century slave trade and today’s American downtrodden is that Rome didn’t discriminate. You could be a white guy captured in Germania or Anatolia or Hispania or Britanniae and it wouldn’t make any difference. You would still be a slave, treated exactly the same way as the Nubian from Sudan or the Mauritanian. Your ass was grass, plain and simple.

Ancient Rome existed at a time before the ‘color prejudice’.

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E Pluribus Multis (Part-1)

New Phototastic Collage

SPQR – Senatus PopulusQue Romanus (The Senate and the People of Rome)

E PLURIBUS UNUM (Out of many, one)

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For the Romans it must have been natural to use Latin.

For the Americans, it seems like an effort to sound profound, that borders on the ludicrous. Besides, it sounds extremely phony, especially in today’s context. Maybe Trump refers to it when he looks for the cheeseburgers on his bedside table.

Out of many cheeseburgers, only one left”

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When it came into existence – circa 800BC – it was just a small town that was little more than a village (population 150), by the banks of a river that was little more than a stream one could easily wade across.

The village didn’t begin with any grand plans of being an empire that – in the course of a thousand years – would stretch through three continents and secure within its borders the lives of roughly 100 million free citizens and 30 million slaves.

And the stream never imagined that resourcefulness and engineering would divert nearby streams to join it’s flow, turning it into what is today the turbulent Tiber.

By the time it grew to it’s mightiest in 200AD, Rome would be constantly fighting wars of conquest and quelling rebellion in it’s distant outposts, expending in today’s dollars – trillions, in order to sustain it’s hegemony.

And all the while back home, tax collectors, judges, senators, policemen, firefighters, medicine men, carpenters, builders, farmers, accountants, poets and historians – they would be going about their orderly lives, free Roman citizens, blissfully comfortable in the thought that those wars could never touch them.

It wasn’t really a picture of harmony though, by today’s standards. Ancient Rome was in a state of ‘controlled barbarism’. Rich businessmen sponsored ‘Munera’, reality shows held live in vast amphitheaters where on weekends, citizens brought their wives (and some even their children) to watch hand-picked slaves slash, bludgeon and stomp each other to death.

A vastly different level of morality reigned in ancient Rome. Roman housewives had their Nubian slaves beaten to death for the slightest of infractions. If you didn’t like the looks of your new born female child, you considered it a curse that had to be exterminated. You smashed her head against the stable door and threw her into the rubbish heap.

If you were a plebeian (commoner) and to your great dismay your friendly neighborhood quaestor (Senator) took a fancy to your nubile teenage daughter, you had a choice between letting him take her away in exchange for a tip off ten talents and a job in his stables or you faced the prospect of hard labor in the arsenic-laced gold mines outside town – and your daughter got raped anyway.

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And while the citizens within the walls of Rome lived their lives in that quasi-barbaric state of peace, it was quite another world outside, around the fringes of the Empire, a very violent environment of treacherous mini-empires and vassal states that were perpetually squabbling and then forming alliances with the intention of marching on Rome and burning it down to the ground.

Invasions and conquests in those days were quite ‘comprehensive’, designed to ensure that you wouldn’t get any more trouble from the other guy. You didn’t just put an arrow through him and loot his livestock. You wiped him off the face of the earth. You burned his cities and temples down. You raped his women and then killed them. You threw his children into large burning pits. You took the able-bodied as slaves and worked them to their deaths building your monuments and aqueducts. You reserved the worst treatment for the leaders of the conquered lands who refused to fall in line – you had hot molten lead poured down their throats while they were still alive.

Oh yeah, it was a brutal world. The bloodshed – if it were to happen today – would leave every man, woman and child in the conquered territories with Stage-5 PTSD, while turning most of them into paranoid schizophrenics. And in turn, those invading troops would be suicidal wrecks suffering from acute moral injury.

It speaks to the adaptability of the human mind that that didn’t happen. Rome still exists, at the heart of a mediocre, though moderately prosperous, Italy in the midst of a continent of stable, prosperous democracies, none of whom suffer from any consequences of two thousand year old invasions.

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The analogies between ancient Rome and present day America are startling. Just for fun, let’s compare the two at the height of their hegemony – Rome in 200AD : An empire that stretched from The Azores in the west to the mouth of the Tigris in the east and Scotland in the north to Nubia(Sudan) in the south, with 20% of the world’s population as its subjects. And let’s compare that with America in the present day, virtually unchallenged……

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The similarities between the two are striking. Rome started in the 9th Century BC as a lawless haven for the indigents and the unwanted from nearby Carthago, Neapolis and Syracusa. Likewise, America began with the puritans and exiles who came over because they were just as unwanted in Britain. Both empires started with the disenfranchised jetsam and flotsam.

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Even the mysteries behind the rise of Rome and America mirror each other. How did a small village in central Italy manage to grow into a 4-million square mile empire, bigger in area than Europe? Likewise, how did a little village named Jamestown on the banks of the Powhatan, Virginia (which in fact marked the start of the British Empire) overtake Britain and ultimately grow into the world’s most powerful nation? Exactly what is it that set the two apart from the rest?

Will America too fade away like Rome and barely exist, a shadow of it’s former self, another mediocre developed nation, struggling to stay economically afloat?

Take it easy, in spite of my awesome intellect, I don’t have the answers to everything.

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Romans and Americans have always had an overblown – almost cringe producing – sense of nationalism. Like the Americans today, Romans thought that the sun rose and set with them and that they had a God-given right to dominate and rule over the rest of the world. Philosopher-Emperor, Marcus Aurelius, once exhorted his citizens thus……,” When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive as a Roman – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love and to conquer, as a Roman.”

American Presidents tell their citizens things that are very similar in essense, though they attach a prayer to their rhetoric every time….. “God bless America and the American people,” they cry out at the drop of a hat, multiple times when they are delivering a speech. Isn’t God supposed to be all-pervasive, all-knowing, everywhere at the same time? Isn’t everybody on earth blessed? Why should God specifically stop to bless America and Americans?

I know of no other nation’s leaders who continuously and repeatedly, in public at home and even while they are visiting other countries, invoke God and entreat him to come forward and bless their country and people. It’s simple. Those leaders simply don’t think it is necessary to invoke Jesus or God whenever their eyelids bat.

Or is it because America’s God starts his daily blessings with the letter ‘Z’ and by the time he reaches ‘A’ (for America) it is time for some sex and he simply forgets to bless America afterwards? No worries there. When it comes to sex, even American Presidents are most understanding.

But that was Rome and this is America – two peas from the same pod.


(to be continued….)

Being Among Equals

Carwash

There’s something about manual labor that is very satisfying – it happens inside a ‘zone’ that is almost exclusively manly. After all that is the way that most of us men folk lived for hundreds of thousands of years.

When I first came to Canada I worked at a car wash – the ones they call “Lave auto à la main” –  where the cars are washed, soaped, rinsed, wiped and then polished by hand, instead of those joints where you simply sit inside your car and allow an automated system to take over.

My parents back home would have been scandalized if they had known how I was earning a living. My dad would simply have shut down his ears, not wanting to know of it. But there I was – washing, spraying, soaping, polishing – my coveralls and boots soaked right through, the skin around my fingers and toes permanently creased from continued contact with water.

But I had no choice. Actually I did – if we wanted to downsize and move into one of those roach-infested hovels in La Salle or Saint Michel, boroughs of Montreal that are inhabited by street gang members. So instead, I went to work. I did six months in that carwash and a year night shift in a downtown all-night cafe, before I finally got a break that had something ever so faintly to do with my university degree – certifying aircraft engines.

Both, the carwash as well as the cafe were back breaking. But during that period I felt a certain brotherhood, a kinship that I hadn’t ever felt before. There was something ‘tribal’ about manual labor. It was a sort of macho brotherhood of men who were constantly laughing and joking about sex, swapping raunchy cellphone photos, boasting about ‘conquests’ and gyming (going first to the gym after work).

At the carwash, the owner/foreman was a grim swarthy Albanian guy in his late thirties named Agon who laughed only when you told him a dirty joke. Agon had flown the devastated Vlora with his mother in 1997 at the height of the Albanian Civil War, when members of the SHIK (Albanian Security Service) had broken into his home and taken his dad away, never to be seen or heard from again. At the carwash, Agon would hiss under his breath when a comely young lady drove in, “Anyone who doesn’t leave that broad’s car to me, I break his legs.” But for all his bluster, Agon never played foul or short changed us our pay.

At the cafe, the owner, Ben, was cursing us out all the time. Why the fuck haven’t you cut the tomatoes yet. Who the fuck is going to clean out the toilets. What the fuck are you staring at me for, go mop the fucking floor, its dirty. Butt out the fucking cigarette and get back to work. You take fucking ages with your toilet break. Did you wash your fucking hands? I don’t want you kneading the fucking dough with fucking poop on your hands.

But when my wife and baby boy came in one day to see me for something, it was not the same Ben who went out to greet them. By the time they had sat down, he had laid out a banquet for them on the house with his own hands.

Hard labor was good for a simple, inquisitive and overactive mind like mine. It was a relief from stress. It temporarily shut down the constant movie running inside my head that looped round and round endlessly, it’s main theme – other’s expectations, obligations, guilt, anger, rebellion and the fear of failure.

The days were long : 10-12 hour shifts, peopled with almost 100% immigrant labor, most of whom were well educated even before they had arrived in Canada and almost all of them refugees waiting to be accepted and working for cash to supplement the welfare dole they received. The cafe had quite a few Masters of Science and Arts and I met even one PhD in the carwash – an Iranian earth scientist who specialized in petroleum geology.

There was also a meritocracy I noted, in manual work that I did. When you are doing hard labor, the reason why you get paid is a simple one –  you are either capable of the job or you are not capable of it. If you are not, there is no way you are going to get hired. Who you are, where you come from, what language you speak or what the color your skin is – they don’t matter. All that matters is how thinly you can slice the onions or the tomatoes and how many potatoes you can peel in a minute or how fast you can unload those heavy crates of cabbages from the delivery truck that is blocking half the sidewalk. Or how quickly you can finish wiping down a car that has just been rinsed.

Even now, I still feel a kinship with folks who work with their hands linger within me. When I am at a Tim Hortons, I tip the girl at the counter generously. At work, when I pass by a member of the janitorial contractor who is replenishing the toilet paper at the men’s washroom, I never fail to say “thank you for keeping this place so tidy”. If at a restaurant, a waiter comes forward to clean up a ketchup spill I created, I stoop to help with a “I am so sorry I had to make you do this”.

Even now, I remember Ben’s words when I first came to work for him….. “You need to leave that university degree of yours outside the door when you come to work. In here, we are all equal….”

 

The Zane Grey Puzzle

‘Bertie’ is clearly legible but whom did he present the Zane Grey to that Christmas in 1951? Was it ‘Jasmine’, or ‘mommie’? Or was it Jammie or Tammie? It’s clear the name ends in ‘mmie’, but I’m unsure of the first few letters. A sibling’s present to another perhaps?

Making the assumption that a woman perhaps wouldn’t enjoy reading Zane Grey, I would guess the receiver was a white male. Again, assuming Zane Grey was read by the young, I would pin the receiver down to a white male around 17-25. The stoic, curtness of tone suggests that both, the giver and receiver were in a farming community. They are therefore white, male, today around 85-90.

Why white? For one, around 1951, Canada was just as racist as America and for the love of me, I just cannot picture a Canadian (or even American) black presenting another black a Zane Grey novel, the author being known for stories that glorified white settlers.

The tone in the words is cold, curt even. Maybe back in 1951, folks were that way. But the times couldn’t have been hard. Like the US – untouched by devastation – Canada’s arms, petroleum, heavy engineering and ship building industry had benefited economically from the war. The Canadian economy was booming.

WHOGAFA?

I bought the book anyway. Heck, it costed me $1 at Nova, the secondhand book store down by the river. I love Zane Grey and besides, the book has a certain antique value. Who knows? I might be able to sell it on Ebay for $5000 in a coupla years.

Am I not exceptionally smart? In the spirit of James Bond’s now famous words of introduction – I am Bong, Spunky Bong.

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Acronym explained:-

WHOGAFA : Who Gives A Fuck Anyway

 

When Daphne Du Maurier ended and Crime Fiction began

IMG_2813(Edited)

Remember Satyajit Ray? Steven Spielberg? Tom Hanks? Nana Patekar? Frederick Forsyth? Le Carre? A.R.Rahman? Okay, I’ll stop there. These folks have one thing that’s common to them all – they stepped across the line in to genius territory and when the next film or book bearing their name comes out, I make sure I go for it. I don’t wait for the reviews. I don’t have to, I know it is going to be worth every penny I spent on it.

Likewise, I am sure you have drawn up your own list of “the infallible” – folks you swear by, whose work you’ll stop at nothing to experience.

This loyalty transcends – there was a recent Kent Monkman exhibit at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. I didn’t stop to read a review of his paintings, I just went for it. Again, I am enthralled by Smirnoff Cranberry – a mildly sweet drink with 30% alcohol that kinda opens up my grey cells, makes them think of outrageous possibilities that otherwise would not exist in my dreary Walter Mittyish world. It’s the same thing – I would take anything that Smirnoff dishes out.

Getting back to books, there’s one name I have decided belongs right up there among the stars, one who delivers the same titillating joyride that all those gents in para-2 (and Smirnoff and Kent) do – Phyllis Dorothy James (1920-2014).

Doesn’t strike a bell? Perfectly understandable, she is known to us crime fiction lovers as simply “P.D.James”. I am reading a posthumus work by P.D. James – Sleep no more – and I am loving it.

Her writing style harks back to the 1920s’ and 30s’ Agatha Christie, but it is more ‘psychological thriller’ than straight whodonit. In fact she is more Daphne Du Maurier than Agatha Christie. Dark gothic mansions, treacherous half brothers, stone-faced butlers, murderous cousins, daft uncles… that sort of ambiance.

Besides, with PDJ you already know ‘whodonit’. Knowing who the culprit is from the start can present a puzzle for mystery fans. But PDJ has a knack that makes you say ‘who gives a fuck who the murderer is?’ PDJ’s forté is in how the whodonor did it. You could call her writing a “whereandhowdonit”, I guess.

And it’s the style – there is none of that good and evil crap that most crime fiction ultimately wants readers to see. PD’s style is sardonic, cynical and darkly humorous and that get’s to you. There’s pain, rejection, lovelessness and despair. You end up placing yourself in the murderer’s shoes and actually empathizing. There are no serial killers, no axe murderers, just folks like you and me – ordinary decent respectable citizens who are driven to do the unthinkable – kill.

In the book’s foreward, Peter Kemp says that James “takes the golden age of crime fiction of the 1920s and 1930s, deepens it emotionally, complicates it morally and psychologically and gives it a second golden age.” Add to that a murderer who never gets caught, it seems to resonate in today’s vigilante ethos.

The plots in “Sleep no more” are exquisitely crafted. In “The Yo-Yo”, a retired judge recalls how, at age 13, he witnessed a murder and lied to police to protect the murderer. It’s not the only instance in this book where a child hides evidence.

“The Murder of Santa Claus “ is set in an English manor house, Christmas of 1939. A boy of 16 is spending the holiday with his wealthy uncle who also happens to be an obnoxious guy. The uncle had invited the boy to his home for Christmas because he was toying with the idea of leaving everything in his will to the lad, when he is killed. Here too the murderer gets away, because the author considers it a just execution.

But the short I identified with the most (note that I didn’t use the word ‘enjoyed’) was “The girl who loved graveyards”. A girl whose mother died while giving birth to her, left by her father to live with her cold, psychologically sadistic grandmother, at 10 and what follows from then. It hit close to home.

Hit close to home for sure – I was three years older at 13 when my father saw it fit to dump me on an aunt who was cold and resentful and stopped just short of actual physical abuse – all because his marriage to my mother was breaking up and he thought abandoning me at the hands of folks who didn’t give a flying fuck about me was a great way forward in my upbringing.

After every vacation, I would clutch my mother’s hand and not let go as she stood with me at the rail station and intoned, “It’s only for a year or two more, dear. It’ll be over before you know it and then you’ll be out of school and we’ll be together again and you’ll look out for me and I’ll look out for you…” I vividly remember looking into those pleading eyes that begged me for an adult response. They said, “Please, say this is okay and you’re fine with it…” A similar kind of mind fuck is in this P.D.James story. But I digress.

The author’s talent in fleshing out her characters is awesome. Her characters seem to leap out of the pages at you. Take Rodney Millcroft, in “Mr Millcroft’s birthday”. Here’s how the author speaks of him….

”Rodney Millcroft was a consultant dermatologist with a large and highly lucrative pratice which caused him little trouble. His patients rarely called him at night, never died on him and since they were as difficult to cure as they were to kill, he had them for life…”

And here’s her description of Vera Pelling, a character in “A very desirable residence”……

”…..Vera Pelling, the Junior Science Teacher, poor girl, was such an unattractive bore that there weren’t many alternatives open to her. Vera Pelling is the living refutation of the theory of those women’s beauty and fashion magazines, that any woman – if she takes the trouble – can make something of her appearance. Nothing could be done about Vera’s pig-like eyes and non-existent chin….”

I usually switch between genres while I am reading. That means reading multiple books at the same time. Kinda like having your spicy fish curry and rice and at the same time dipping into the sweet mango chutney to refresh the flavor. At the moment, astronaut Scott Kelly’s “Endurance” is the mango chutney and the main course is “Sleep no more”.

“A very desirable residence” is as far as I have gotten. There is still one story left in “Sleep no more” but I am taking my time reading it. Crime fiction can get to you after a while.

And thank god I have the ‘mango chutney’ to freshen me up. Even in reading, it pays to have a Plan-B.

The Corrupted Heartland

Excerpt :

“…What I did know is that there was something very different about us – all of us who lived in the Jacksons and all those ‘hollers’ of middle America.

Other people didn’t live the way we did. They did not wake to the scream of neighbors fighting. They lived far away in beautiful little home with manicured lawns where policemen came around with smiles and waves, never with the intention of loading someone’s mom or dad in the back of their cruiser.

Whenever Mom got arrested, neighborhood porches and front yards filled with spectators. There was no embarrassment in waving to them as the cops carted your mother off.

It was a common scene in the neighborhood. There were levels – mild screaming attracted a smattering of cracked shutters or peeks through the shades. If things escalated a bit further, bedrooms would light up as folks awoke to see what the commotion was all about. And if things got really out of hand, throngs would be there to watch the cops drag away someone’s drunk dad or unhinged mom to the lock-up…..”

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It is now two years that the world has woken up to a hitherto hidden entity known as “The Trump Base”. It has come to define a very specific kind of people – those who have Pillsbury cinnamon rolls for breakfast, Taco Bell for lunch and McDonalds for dinner. They rarely cook, even though it’s cheaper and healthier. They just don’t want to take the trouble. They don’t go to work because it requires them to wake up at 5am in the morning. And when they do, they get fired for taking 30-minute bathroom breaks, five times a shift and find it much easier to simply live on the dole. The only exercise they get is the games they played as children, amidst junk-filled backyards. If they see someone jogging outside on the street, they are probably at a military base or in college some place far far away.

They are essentially unhappy, pessimistic folks who are convinced that it’s useless working hard because the ‘system’ is rigged against them. They are scared, confused and angry that the government is not doing enough to help them. They call themselves evangelicals but studies show that church attendance is the lowest among their kind.

They blame large businesses for closing shop and moving overseas, even when they would have done the same thing if they were running those companies with employees that behaved the way they do.

The author speaks of growing up as one of them – dirt poor. He pillories his own people for being a bunch of uneducated, angry, pessimistic and lazy losers. Talking about rural and middle America this way is like breaking a social taboo and that takes courage.

The author spent most of the first 20 years of his life deeply embedded in this cesspool. He worked in their farms. He dated their calico-skirted daughters. He camped, hunted and fished with their sons. He listened to their political rants at the local diner and truck stop. He winced at their racist, bigoted jokes and epithets that were said more out of ignorance than animosity. He watched the town he grew up in turn from a robust economy with well-kept properties into a ghost town with shuttered businesses, dilapidated homes and a run-down infrastructure.

Hillbilly Elegy is the story of how one hillbilly manages to break out and cross over to the other side – the one that is filled with enlightenment, financial stability and a harmonious home. In excruciating detail, he records growing up, with a heroin addict mother with revolving door boyfriends, his father having given him up for adoption.

And then fate steps in. It shows him a way to finance his personal development – he joins the US Marines and then uses the GI Bill to subsidize his university education. It gets him to a scholarship at Yale Law School and a future filled with unbridled prosperity. But perhaps the real elegy is in the way fate introduces him to a woman who is far from a hillbilly’s idea of what a life partner should be – an enlightened classmate named Usha, born to first-generation Indian immigrants.

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J.D.Vance and Usha Chillikuri on their wedding day (Image courtesy:Google Images)

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In fact, fate takes charge of the author when he is just five. With a mom who does not know up from down most times, it places him in the care of loving grandparents who encourage higher education (even though they are hillbillies themselves).

There is considerable sensitivity with which the author describes in heartwarming detail his life growing up in the care of his “Mamaw and Papaw” (his grandparents who actually raised him). He credits them and not his own parents for making him what he is today. “Don’t listen to the losers. Always remember, you can be anything you want”, they relentlessly drilled into him. Unfortunately both of them were not alive to witness his eventual break-out and crossover – to “the other side”.

Strangely, in all of the 250 pages, the author seems to have no opinion on race. Perhaps not so strangely after all – not a long time back, he used to be a rural white Anglo-Saxon Christian. And rural white Anglo-Saxon Christians in America love to listen to their standard bearers (the Rush Limbaughs and the Sean Hannitys) blow their dog whistles – on how gays being allowed to marry are a threat. Blacks protesting the killing of their unarmed friends and family are a threat. Hispanics doing the cheap labor on their farms, taking away their jobs, are a threat. The black president was a threat. Muslims are a threat. The Chinese are a threat. Women wanting to have the choice to abort are a threat. The college-educated are a threat. Scientists are atheists and therefore a threat. Everyone who isn’t just like them has been sold to them as a threat and they’ve bought it hook, line and fucking sinker.

In deep-red America where he grew up, the white Christian god is king, figuratively and literally. Religious fundamentalism has shaped most of their belief systems. And systems built on a fundamentalist framework are not conducive to introspection, questioning, learning, or change.

The author appears not to have noticed that most rural Christian white Americans are racists who believe that their white god made them in his image and everyone else is a less-than-perfect version, flawed and cursed. They are no longer the white hood-wearing, cross-burning, lynching kind of course. They are people who deep down in their hearts truly believe that they are superior because they are white. That non-whites are the color they are because of the sins of their past generations and blacks don’t have dark skin because of evolution; they have dark skin because they are cursed. God cursed them for a reason. If god cursed them, treating them as equals would be going against god’s will, wouldn’t it?

By the size of their rallies, you might get the impression that they are a minority, but the fact is that most of them like to stay home and watch and cheer on. And vote. And it doesn’t mean that they want a Nazi-style Final Solution. They just want the blacks, Hispanics and Asiatics to live on the ‘other side of the tracks’ in every manner possible.

Unfortunately, even though racism plays a huge part in the plight of today’s Hillbilly White America, the author fails to acknowledge it in any significant way. However, his marriage to a non-white Indian and her acceptance among his hillbilly family is perhaps a blazing example of the positive turn that bigotry can take when things get personal. (Remember Dick Cheney’s change of heart when he found out that his own daughter was a lesbian?)

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Hillbilly Elegy has been accepted and devoured appreciatively by not only the white coastal elite but also many of the author’s hillbilly friends back home in the ‘holler’. (At least the ones that can read).

I understand that the acclaimed producer-director, Ron Howard, has procured the movie rights. I wonder who will play Usha – Priyanka Chopra?

Always stop at a second-hand book store

Visiting Nova, the riverside second hand book store has it’s upside, specially if you collect books as a hobby. And if that store is situated in an upscale neighborhood, you won’t believe what people are capable of throwing away.

I am always on the lookout for very old books and guess what, I have a shelf full of ‘em – books printed around the turn of the 19->20th Centuries.

Take the War and Peace for example. It says it was printed in 1905, so this book is 113 years old already. And guess what I found inside – a bookmark from that age!!! It is so quaint that it is absolutely amazing. I got the book for $2 and I am willing to sell it, along with the bookmark for $5000, in crinkly green smackeroonies (no negotiation please). Just spread the word, okay? (I hated reading Tolstoy anyway).

And to anybody making plans to steal it, I’ll have you know I used to work for the ITBP when I was in India and I have a Mauser automatic with a pearl handle, a hacksaw that is specifically meant for cutting through bone and a Dobermann Pinscher named Hagar who is scarier than the ones you saw in “The spy who loved me”. Oh, I forgot the pinch of Plutonium-210 crystals that are dying ta spew alpha particles into anyone who comes close. (Remember Alex Litvinenko?)

What about Byatt’s “Possession”? I found this absolutely sweet gift card inside that said, “To Mom, Love, Brian.” No dates on it. That sounds curt, I said ta myself. I cannot imagine a gift card to a mom that does not have the word “dearest” in it.

At least he hand wrote the word ‘love’. Moms are everything, aren’t they? Moms make me mellow. Moms make me good. Thinking of moms make me cry. Except some moms, the young ones who come to the primary school next door to pick up their kids, they turn me on. I am a dirty old man, I am. We have a fraternity.

Maybe Brian had a mom who left his father for the mailman and he reconnected with her only after he had grown up, thus the lack of attachment. But thanks anyway, Brian. I’ll cherish your little card but you are a fookin jerk for not wanting to keep the book with you. I still have my mom’s postcards from 1975, for crying out loud. They are dog-eared and the fountain pen ink has smudged, but I still sense the feel and the smell of unconditional love in them.

Maybe he was her stepson. Oh, yeah, that must be it. Stepson…hmmmm…… She musta bin his father’s fifth wife. Maybe she had been his age – young, coquettish, flirty and just maybe they had a fling too – when Dad was out, mowing the lawn. Might explain the topic of the book and the contrived coldness in the tone of the card. What do you thinka that?

Then there’s A.J.Cronin’s masterpiece, “The Citadel”, which a Madge appears to have presented to a Bob sometime in 1947. No specific date, just March 1947. That’s a bit odd. If you’re giving someone a birthday present, wouldn’t you mention the exact date? (The copyright page says it was printed in 1945).

Probably cousins, this Bob guy and this Madge broad, but I would guess they were brother and sister-in-law. Polite, not overly affectionate, stand-offish even. Perhaps they had had a fling when Dick sailed to Europe on work on the QE2 or maybe Dick was in the marines and just got posted to Hono Lulu. So now Bob and Madge decided to bury it so Dick wouldn’t end up getting hurt.

But it had been delicious while it lasted. Take that day when Bob came visiting to ostensibly check up on his little sis-in-law if she needed anything while Dick was away. Bob had always been flirtatious and Madge was what we Bengalis like ta term the “shundor dekhte shali”. And he was the better looking one, so let’s face it – she had a crush on him. This time, Madge sensed that he was goin to go through with it.

He had kissed her at first – not the usual brotherly peck on the cheek though. It was his tongue that she let intrude into her mouth, after some token resistence. He had held her to him and pushed her gently to the sofa where she had sprawled while he knelt and undressed her and then went down on her. Dick had never performed oral sex on her. Oops, that sounded like a pun, dinnit? Giggle. In any case, Bob’s ministrations were absolutely ecclectic and resisting him didn’t even enter Madge’s mind. For the first time she experienced an orgasm that felt like the climax in Wagner’s “Gotterdamerung”. She was delighted when he didn’t stop but kept on pleasuring her as her spasms subsided.

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Nova fills my library. It is a charitable organisation that collects second hand stuff that are left on their door steps and sells it to finance soup kitchens and homeless shelters around town. In winters specially it needs all the help it can get. Nova is run by volunteers who are courteous and seem like they enjoy what they do. These volunteers are invariably rich retirees from the neighborhood, who have time on their hands and would like to make a difference.

Thanks, Nova, for making me a happier and …. a hornier and more imaginative individual.

Waiting for the Angels to Fall

There was a time when this man was revered to the point of hero worship, by American investors, banks and just about every greedy capitalist that existed in New York, when every stockbroker wanted to be Bernie Madoff. When he spoke, everybody listened. His voice had a tone of calm reassurance and authority.

Bernie Madoff could do no wrong. Until he stole $50 billion from his investrors, that is.

History has repeatedly shown that we are most often hurt by those that we least expect to hurt us. More than 90% of all the cases of child sexual abuse for example are carried out by those whom the victims felt close to.

Lance Armstrong, Bill Cosby, Jerry Sandusky, Jimmy Saville, Larry Nasser…the list goes on and on. It almost feels as if the more you trust someone to do the right thing, the more is the likelihood that that individual is plotting to hurt you.

When we think of evil, the people that spring immediately to mind are Hitler and Stalin (maybe even Rupert Murdoch, Robert and ‘Becka’ Mercer too). They are the in-your-face evil but in some weird way, they are easier to live down. They are the satan you know. You have nailed them down. You are on your guard with them.

But the Bill Cosbys, the Jimmy Savilles and the Bernie Madoffs? They are the evil we did not see – until they emerged, like some macabre password-protected worksheet inside the Excel file of our lives. Since organized religion decrees that God oversees everything, I suppose he is the one who has had the password all along.

Take Bernie Madoff. He had to know that the very first audit by the DTCC (Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation, a regulatory body within the US Government that monitors stock transfers), would reveal his ponzi scheme. Yet he went ahead and stole $50 billion from his investors’ funds and led a lavish, jet-setting lifestyle. He had to have recognized where he was headed – prison at the end of it all. And yet….

Take the husband of the current US Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, billionaire Richard DeVos. He runs Amway, a consumer goods distribution company which is nothing but a thinly disguised ponzi scheme. It is a matter of time, before the Amway empire comes crashing down, obliterating the futures of millions who have invested into it’s promise.

So what do we do now? How do we create an early warning system for fallen angels, in the way “Rusty” Schweickart and his B612 Foundation is working to detect rogue near-earth objects?

Truth is that we cannot. You don’t know if the professor who is being nice to you may be having two red-haired undergrads chained in his basement whom he sexually assaults at will and eventually intends to strangle after he is done. You don’t know because he is nice, knowledgeable, supportive and a terrific teacher.

Which brings us to the ones who as of this moment, in the context of personal virtuosity, could do no wrong – Barack Obama, Dalai Llama, Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders, Tom Hanks and ………… the one whom we have invested all our trust on at the present moment…… Special Counsel Robert Swan Mueller III.

Oh yes, we are all precariously hanging on for dear life, by a single string that Bob Mueller has around his waist as he tried to negotiate that negative 60-degree incline on the Eiger. It’s a thread that has a name to it – integrity.

We trust Robert Mueller. The world trusts Robert Mueller. The world has trusted Robert Mueller ever since he won his Purple Heart as a Marine and then won a 100-0 vote in the US congress when his term as FBI Director was being extended beyond the statutory 10 years.

Robert Mueller’s personal integrity is so far above and beyond question that even his antagonists – the Trump Swamp – have refrained from any direct criticism of him so far. There is not a single blemish on his long and distinguished record. Robert Mueller is untouchable, impregnable.  He is so far beyond our pale that I am sure whatever conclusion he arrives at in the end – even if it exonerates Donald Trump – it will be one that we will go along with

In his on sphere of activity, Bernie Madoff too enjoyed a similar reverence. “Leave all of it with Bernie. He’ll do the right thing,” were the last words one his largest investors spoke in a halting voice to his children who were gathered around his death bed.

That’s right. Leave it all to Bob Mueller. He’ll do the right thing.

Will he?