Monday, May 13, 2024

In Defense of Yummy Cheese


"Nobody cares about your CHEESE!"

This is a direct quote from someone at the West Seattle Farmers' Market many years ago. I feel pretty confident in suggesting that the woman who shouted this at the harmless looking cheesemonger was not well. I don't know that. I'm not a doctor, but that was definitely my impression at the time. She crazy, poor soul. Now maybe she was a vegan and an anti-dairy activist of some kind? That's possible. If so, she really didn't follow up with any sort of supporting arguments, or try to persuade any of us not to buy cheese. She just shouted at the cheese-person and then moved on. It was quite startling. Nobody moved for a good few seconds. It got weirdly quiet for a public space. Then the elderly lady next to me rather saved the moment by smiling sweetly at the cheesemonger and loudly announcing, "Well I think your cheese looks just yummy!" Bright as a pin. Made everybody feel better. 

I haven't thought about that exchange in ages. At the time I was a little obsessed with the whole scene because... I mean. Of all the things about which to lose one's shit in a public place, right? Cheese. Global Warming? Politics? Transubstantiation? Nope. Cheese. And for a very long time after it happened I could not help but tell -- at least in my head -- anyone who looked at all disappointed or hurt by some arbitrary or unexpected criticism that I thought their cheese looked yummy! I even said this out-loud more then once. Then I had to explain my non sequitur and tell the whole story from the beginning, which frankly took most of the fun out of just saying it, at least for for me. Telling the whole story did at least keep most people from looking at me the way pretty much everyone in the farmers' market looked at the cheese-hater.

But that's not entirely fair, calling her that. We can't know her struggle, right? Besides, for me the point of the story was always the other lady, the grandmotherly dear who didn't want that nice fellow to feel bad about his cheese. But I did talk about this at some length with the beloved husband at the time (he was not present for the event) and really what made the initiating outburst so interesting to both of us was the shouter's choice of verb, no? I mean she did not in fact say, I hate your CHEESE!" or just "I hate CHEESE!" or "CHEESE is murder!" -- that last admittedly making no sense I know, but I do remember a long anti-dairy monologue from a vegan on the TV once, explaining to I think a group of young Amish people that milk was "pus" and that dairy-farming was "slavery." Thought-provoking, hilarious and sick-making. Werk, ill-informed but well-intentioned and fervent vegan chick! Anyway what the cheesemonger's antagonist did say was that nobody cares. NO-body. Harsh. Clearly untrue, but more hurtful in a way, isn't it? 

Whatever we do, let alone do for a living, we all of us I think want someone to care. Maybe not care so much as to shout, or pass judgement either yeah or nay, but enough to make us feel seen. "Look a bookseller! With recommendations!" Thank you. Besides, cheese-making ain't easy, I'm guessing. (Like repairing an internal combustion engine, or assisting at the birth of people and or farm animals -- I will never know. Take as given. Thank you for your service.) My own job can't be anywhere near so difficult, mostly. It is retail, so not always easy, but at least it ain't cheese. Nonetheless, I know I like it when people tell me I'm good at my job. Look at me making display tables out of nothing but a pun -- "Rome Wasn't Read In a Day," bam! Add a decorated chalkboard, and some books, and Bob's your uncle. I fucking love it when people buy books I've recommended, or come to my Book Club, or tell me at the cash-register just how cute I look in my new Carhartts. (I've exploring aging-fat-man-fashion. I was not however raised to receive praise easily. Scotch-Irish peasants. Compliments are of the devil. I blush shyly when told I'm "cute," even now when "cute" is now pretty much my only manageable look other than "Are you alright, sir? or "Let me fasten that for you." Childish how much it means to be admired for having trimmed my beard and remembering to wear a hat when it rains and pants when I go out-of-doors. Really though, We all cute now and then, aren't we? Even Quasimodo got to wear bells. Always nice to hear, cute. And honestly, part of me still thinks I deserve a parade every time I scrub the bathtub end to end or poach an egg, let alone do something I've never done before like type the word "cheesemonger" successfully ((one word not two)) without troubling to check first. Heaven forbid you should say so to my face though, 'cause I will kick imaginary rocks and stop making eye-contact. Shucks, Ma'am, twern't nothin'.)

There is an ever-expanding chorus of voices in the cultural sphere whose primary mission would seem to be democratizing beauty and achievement. You get a compliment! And you get a compliment! And YOU get a compliment!  The idea would seem to be that everybody, and I do mean everybody, gets a taste -- if not taste. Cool. I don't watch a lot of daytime TV anymore or those light morning talk shows, so my experience of all this positivity comes mostly from rainbow-colored quotes posted online. These are usually by my recently divorced or widowed friends of a certain age. and or people in support of the Trans community. Got it. Get it. Say love. Say LOVE! And then there's a new season of Queer Eye on Netflix and I cannot resist bingeing and crying and just bathing in the constant, relentless, love-bombing that would seem to be the entire point of that show. 

The whole gusto-for-good-enough can get exhausting, do admit. In real life I should think Jonathan Van Ness* can be a wee bit overwhelming when expressing his bottomless joy about gorgeous toothpastes and gorgeous spatulas and gorgeous high-kicks, etc., etc. And yet, sitting in my nightshirt eating chocolate covered raisins for breakfast -- because they were sitting right there -- there is nothing I love more than Jonathan Van Ness being entirely too much with a carefully selected and thoroughly vetted and anything but random or surprised stranger. Love it. Like you do because television.

On the flip, I know that right now there are all sorts of reactionaries sitting in their vintage Toby Keith  tour shirts, just soaked in angry tears. (Rest in Jingo, Toby. Way to monetize national tragedy! What could actually be more American?) Other than the passing of that white man and his big, square teeth, why are all the Yahoos upset now? It's 'cause we have all gone soft, that's why. Liberals being kind to everybody; foreigners, and black girls, and strangers and such, just like godless communists and that. Poor, unfortunate souls. I mean MAGA snowflakes are still clutching their pearls about "participation trophies" from the 90s, M&M candies wearing flats, etc.  And now presumably they are lamenting the failure of rigorous standards in wet-T-shirt and or pie-eating contests or whatever it is those people do on a Saturday night in Idaho. Fox "News" analysts (!) and joyless little internet pixies like Ben Shapiro just live to harsh other people's high. It's their job, actually, defending the status quotidian against any and all extensions of sympathy beyond the end of grandpa's angry, dripping, red nose. A dirty job, but seemingly somebody's always small-minded enough and available to do it. Call 'em The Hell in a Handbasket Club. And what would these disciples of gloomy, silly ol' Oswald Spengler do with themselves if everybody chilled?! Thought must be terrifying if your only life-skill is umbrage. 

The End Is (still) Nigh, is it? Interestingly though that for the Yahoos the world isn't ending just because -- SIN! -- just like Grandma used to bake. Oh no. And it's certainly not because we've set the air on fire and decided we won't be needing the Eastern seaboard after all. No. Should we maybe consider an EV or give up that lush, croquet-lawn in front of our trailers? No siree Bob. You know what we should be a'doing? We need to address the terrifying good times being had at drag queen story hours and just shut that shit done. Also? We need to convince people that they did not enjoy the feminist subversion of traditional Spartan family values that is that goldarn Barbie movie. Don't you get it, sheeple?! Because the real threat is all this inclusivity and cheerfulness and diversity, not media nonsense like climate extinction. Only Gawd can make a forest fire. No. Everything's ruined now because somebody at peewee football told Timmy he did a good job and now the whole structure of Judeo Christian civilization is collapsing under the leveling horror of people who think that cheese looks just yummy. Signs and portents and omens, oh my, and always pointing to those of goodwill ruining the children with hugs and kisses when them kids clearly just need a sound beatin'... and Jesus.

I'm not sure why this is always an either/or, are you? Is the choice really between hateful cussedness and endless gorgeous spatulas? What about the occasional non-comital smile? 

One does try to be at the very least polite, mostly. I confess though, as a definition liberal Democrat I am so very tired. Not to whine, but decency is kind of exhausting nowadays, isn't it? So much heavy lifting and we're all getting on a bit, us. Right side of history is the goal, but sometimes I will admit I am willing to settle for not actively plotting murder. Maybe I'm not on the side of all the exploited bovine workers for example -- 'cause I do love the butter -- but otherwise trying to be a good person.  

I am almost always on the side of the yummy, me. UP the yummy! Down the yuck. I very much endorse the new old saw, don't yuck other people's yum -- the Golden Rule by way of the TikTok generation. Surprised to find a popular binary in this day and age, but generally true, this one. That said (classic old man rhetorical device) must we always and only say love? When they go low -- and what other direction do they have now? -- must we always and only go high? Am I to never be even a little mean? Never caustic? Come on. Old gay man. Kinda my cultural heritage.

We old gays like to imagine ourselves to be Auntie Mame; eccentric, supportive, endlessly optimistic, good in a turban, and maybe just the wee bit sarcastic. But sometimes, let's face it, we're just Paul Lynne on a lunch-bender. Mean. Some times we're just -- I'm just -- mean. The urge to loose a bit of harmless persiflage and mockery now and again is overwhelming. And sometimes I want to stick the blade in up to the hilt. There is just so much mean, stupid in the world, such a lot of ugly, and I'm not only talking about that braying ass, Marjorie Taylor Greene who just called for a judge to be "disrobed" for sentencing Trump. Come on! Not the sharpest tool nor a gorgeous spatula. You know that's true.

'Nother example. Public figure. In addition to being a font of anti-Semitic horrors and politically dangerous blather generally, Kanye West is now as fat as the late, great Victor Buono. He wears black pantyhose tied over his head and ponchos from the old Army & Navy Store. Now as you surely know,  he's (Ye's!) a designer! That's right, he's a fashion designer and yet he dresses like a hobo who squats in a Bunraku theater. Also? He treats his present wife like a dog he bought from Michael Vick. Not funny, but how not to notice when she's nekkid on a leash?! Bughouse. Seriously, certifiably bughouse and a dangerous, bloviating swine. Does saying so mean I don't support people dealing with mental health issues? Does this make me mean? Unkind? Can one really body-shame a fat man with a woman on a leash?

I'm going out on a limb here and proposing that no one not dependent on his income need ever be nice to Kanye Pest again.

Now have I just cancelled him? Is that how that works? Have I ruined him for the folks reading this who also happen to love his hit single whatever that may be from his bestselling album possibly of the same name? Does not knowing or caring make me bad or just racist? How bad is it? Is it bad enough that they are going to offer me a job doing cultural commentary for  Newsmax and or a column the Wall Street Journal online?

Again, either or, is it? Heroes and villains?

It's a little true that aesthetically I do find myself on the side of reaction more than is entirely comfortable. For a man who sincerely believes churches shouldn't be taxed but padlocked, I do love old school Gospel. I have a lot of Dead White Men in my library. A lot. And I don't think all books are equally good or worth reading. I don't believe that anything is art so long as someone names it so. I never did find Danny DeVito and Tony Danza equally attractive. I like a glazed doughnut.

I remain resolute in my conviction that some shit is objectively ugly, dumb, puerile, and or pointless.

On a more personal level, do I really need to accept the gospel of relentless, sunny, equality in all? Should I really just go along with the silliness that says I am just as sexy as Brad Pitt? And I need to accept this why? In order to love myself? (We're the same age, you know, the two Brads.) Do I really need to love myself, come to that? Is that really a thing? So there's a lot of scientific literature is there proving that not loving oneself sufficiently or in all things is directly linked to, I don't know, developing testicular cancer, or failing to write an opera, or not becoming the world's next drag superstar? When did emotional neutrality become unacceptable? Is humility really just playing the along with our oppressors? Can I be just okay with most of me? Am I not allowed even to be mean to me? Have you met me? It's not all roses.

To review: too old to be entirely positive, don't see the world that way nor see the purpose in trying to, just trying not to be a dick, mostly, except to, you know, Marjorie Taylor Cretin and Yeah, No, formerly known as Kim K.'s third ex-husband.

I hope to be nicer to my friends.

I'd like to think that if I actually knew a philatelist well enough to call said philatelist friend, that I would also be kind enough to murmur encouragement occasionally over an album or two of rare Jakarta flying buttress inverted eagles, or whatever that description was of stamps. I'd also hope to be brave enough to admit my nearly total disinterest in stamps as both an art form and a hobby. You be you though. And if this is you, can we still be friends? Put it another way. I fucking hate camping. Do I have to go camping with you? Another? No, I don't like single, double, or multiple malt anything. It takes like wood-lice. Is that okay, that I don't care for your thing you like? Because, honest, you can tell me you don't care for the musical stylings of the late Bobby Short. I will not disown you. Does that make you a philistine? Of course it does, honey, but I won't make you listen to him in the car. Have I mentioned that I fall asleep at the ballet any time that boy in tights is offstage? Must we all agree with one another about everything in order to support one another? Is that how that works now? Friendship? Life?

I'm not trying to be mean. Really not. I feel perfectly comfortable loving you and hating table tennis, and pork-rinds, and Seinfield, and hiking-boots, and beer, and yes, sportsball.

Don't care about the team sports. Any of the team sports. Any of the teams. Any of the sports. Never did. Never will. Not sorry. Why does it matter why, but okay, here we go.

I suppose I could muster an argument against plantation ownership and misogynist domestic abusers and gladiatorial violence and the agonizing boredom of the bits between the bits when they run... oh who cares? You want a cogent argument against football? Go find that. I don't disagree you understand, but my dislike is not so cerebral as all that. I think it's boring AF and I never liked it.

Origin story? 

I don't know or care. Somebody tossed a ball to the little guy in the thick glasses? Was it his dad? Spoiler! He missed it. The kid dropped the ball. He always dropped the ball. Every ball. Stupid ball. Or maybe it was when grown men scared the shit out of little me when they bellowed and stomped around Grandma's living room like angry bulls because somebody did or did not do something good or bad or something on the Sunday TV show that kept me from watching The Wide World of Disney. Who knows or cares? Never took to it, the football. Don't much care for coffee either. Shocking, ain't I?

But is it? Shocking, I mean. Really? When exactly did it become so unusual let alone unacceptable for the bookish, unathletic gay guy -- meaning me -- to hate the jocks and cheerleaders and all their works, deeds, doin's, and their ugly, stupid clothes, and their tailgate parties, and their boisterous ballyhoo and self-important chitchat about statistics and play-offs and at-bats and goals and yardage and yuck, tuck, yuck? They hated me, those sporty fuckers. Did I secretly want to fuck the football players in high school? And did I occasionally? Are we not allowed to say that anymore? That my only interest in the jocks (and at least one coach) was specifically sexual? Why wouldn't it have been?! They wore tight pants and damn they was pretty, some of 'em, and they undressed in front of me sometimes and they had spectacular asses, some of 'em, and boy howdy, they were all assholes, even the ones who didn't slam me into lockers or run me off the road in their TransAm when I was on my bike. Even the ones I blew. All of the. All assholes. Again, not shocking.

I'm allowed to not like football, or baseball, or soccer, or hockey, or that thing with the Cuban hockey-sticks -- Hi Lili, Hi Lo, was it?  I'm allowed, right? You get to like all that bullshit if you like all that bullshit, and I get to say it's bullshit, right?

Not that I would, probably, most of the time.

I ask because I only started thinking about the farmers' market controversialist because of the Super Bowl that was on the television recently. You happen to catch that? I don't really run with a sports crowd, though of course I number sports fans among my family and friends. But come on now, is there really a way in America to not know when this annual football hootenanny happens? I mean I don't remember that it's happening until it's mentioned on the regular (non-sports) news, and I don't know who's playing until someone tells me (the Chiefs are from Kansas City and their name is apparently indeed from an earlier and less enlightened era.) Me and the beloved husband, we watched that cute Travis Kelsey host Saturday Night Live and we guessed he played sports. He's adorable. We like his chubby brother too, and I like his girlfriend even if my husband is not a fan. (He was totes a Doja Cat for Album of the Year guy when we watched the Grammys so no love for the T-Swiffer.) Need I say that we did not watch the big game? That we've never watched the game, big or otherwise? That's right, we do not care. If we really want to see the half-time show, we used to maybe tape it. Now? We have computers that will show us that nice Usher fellow with his shirt off (and be honest, if you remember him at all do you really remember him with his shirt on?)

And while I'm at it, I never liked that movie Rudy, or Field of Dreams, or Hoosiers. Seabiscuit would have been better without, you know, the horseracing. (Just miniaturized Tobey McGuire fighting bulimia nervosa during the Great Depression? I would watch that movie.)

So does it really hurt your feelings when I call the lot -- foot, base, basket, tether, volley, hand, soft -- "sportsball"? I mean the first time I heard that I thought it was funny. Sportsball?! You kidding me? Encapsulates both my ignorance and my indifference in one light-hearted, early-aughts, meme-whatsit-word. And now it's mean. I've been told. Twice. I hate sports. That's a given. I never say so to anyone who loves it. Say "sportsball" and I'm hateful. 

I would never say that nobody cares, as clearly millions of good, kind, clever, intelligent people do. Stephan Jay Gould and the poet Donald Hall both wrote about baseball. Whatshisname of blessed memory did that whole, big, impossible novel with all the tennis. I suppose there is somewhere someone prepared to intellectually defend even golf, though I would not want to meet any such a one ever, ever, ever, please Gawd no. I'll be honest, I immediately thought less of Updike when he did his a golf book. Even Samuel Jackson got less cool when he picked up a Niblick. (Nobody can say that word and be cool.) Conceding then that smart and good and cool people do not share my disdain and or dislike of the whole kicky, swatty, runny, catchy, swingy things, does it really hurt anyone that I might suggest time would be better spent squashing stinkbugs with one's thumb? Come on. You saying you felt great about the whole Super Bowl thing until I offhandedly called it "sportsball" and now you feel bad and don't like me anymore because that word is lame and now I'm a condescending prick for dismissing Sunday Night Lights? 

It's like I called Jesus a twat. In church. On a Sunday. On Easter Sunday. 

So I guess I don't really care about your cheese if your cheese is stuff I don't care about, but I think it would be silly to suggest that nobody cares about your cheese. That's just dumb. Obviously millions of Americans care about this cheese. And I learned just this morning that on the very same day the rest of the world was following that other, more popular football because of something called the Africa Cup of Nations which this year, according to NPR, was a barn-burner and featured a player from the winning Ivory Coast team named Sebastien Haller who came back after having had testicular cancer to score the winning kick! Very Real Sports with Bryant Gumble, very Ted Lasso. (Miss both those shows.)

 *Update: according to recent reporting, Jonathan Van Ness is actually something of a cunt.

Sunday, May 12, 2024

First Off

Right off, the most memorable opening line in a novel? I would say "top of my head" but honestly I looked up a list. Familiar though, yes?

"It is a truth universally acknowledged..."

"Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anyone else... "

"It was the best of times..."

"Call me Ishmael."

"Happy Families are all alike..."

"Stately, plump Buck Mulligan..."

I've put them roughly in order by date from 1813 to 1922, that also roughly being THE great century of the novel. Great novels before and since, obviously. Still, another "truth universally acknowledged" (all but) would be that most would probably pick something from that period to put on a list of the best books -- evah. Well, most of the people I like would anyway. Bringing the memorable first lines forward as far as "I am an invisible man." or even this, from Waiting (1999) by Ha Jin, "Every summer Lin Kong returned to Goose Village to divorce his wife, Shuyu." -- and how can you not want to go on reading?! Isn't that the point?

My favorite opening line? 

"'Take my camel, dear,' said my aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass." That is of course from The Towers of Trebizond, by dear Rose Macaulay.*

I've another:

"I, Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus This-that-and-the-other (for I shall not trouble you yet with all my titles) who was once, and not so long ago either, known to my friends and relatives and associates as 'Claudius the Idiot', or 'That Claudius', or 'Claudius the Stammerer', or 'Clau-Clau-Claudius', or at best as 'Poor Uncle Claudius', am now about to write this strange history of my life; starting from my earliest childhood and continuing year by year until I reach the fateful point of change when, some eight years ago, at the age of fifty-one, I suddenly found myself caught in what I may call the 'golden predicament' from which I have never since become disentangled."

That is a masterpiece, that sentence. Funny right off. That first joke still lands. Good. It is also quite strange of itself, that sentence as it is made of unlikely and unequal parts -- might almost be said shuffle and limp -- and yet it is as artfully assembled as a Debussy Cello Sonata. For a sentence made as late as 1934, the length and structure is more Latin than modern, and it even ends with a "dis" on a verb. (Though we learn not long after that this is meant to have been written in Greek, this "autobiography.") So this first sentence not only tells us a great deal and suggests even more of our narrator's appearance and character, it actually does this in what is actually a pretty brief space. No easy trick. Harder in it's way than some universal declaration about love, or life. There's the hero's name, just like the sailor and or the little Irish fella, but with more information and interest, so more like the offer of the camel then. And just to return briefly to the original point, how can you not want to go on reading once you've met dear ol' Clau-Clau-Claudius?

I honestly don't know how many times I have read Robert Graves' I, Claudius: from the Autobiography of Tiberius Claudius, and Claudius the God and His Wife Messalina. So many times. That puts it on my very short list of books I've read -- shall we say -- more than twice? Three times? 

Here's that list for curiosity's sake, this time it is right off the top of my greying bald head, and again in something like chronological order:

The OZ books of L. Frank Baum, all of which I borrowed from an older neighbor and read and reread time without number. My special favorites being Ozma of Oz, The Lost Princess of Oz, and probably Tik-Tok of Oz, with my favorite character probably being Scraps, The Patchwork Girl of Oz, but realistically, they were nearly all of them the very dearest friends of my early and sometimes lonely childhood.

Interview With a Vampire, by Anne Rice, the original mass market paperback of which I read and reread literally to tatters because it was, well, gay vampires, right? That sort of thing was much harder to come by in Western Pennsylvania in 1977. I decided when the lady died in 2021 to never open another book by her so long as I live. I read her right up to the precipice of her deeply weird re-conversion to Catholicism or whatever the fuck that was, and I've been sore tempted down the years to reread her vampires and or her witches, but  -- no. Of all my youthful enthusiasms, Anne Rice and "wine-coolers" are the two I think best left as fond memories of an earlier time and self.

Pickwick Papers and David Copperfield I've read more than any other Dickens and I've read and reread a lot o' Dickens. I could read either right this minute and enjoy the experience this time just as much as the last. All but the definition of a favorite I should think.

The Life of Samuel Johnson, by James Boswell, and The Essays of Montaigne. I group these together as they together constitute the nearest I've come in my adult life to serious study. I've read multiple translations of the latter, and all the supplemental and subsidiary biographies, studies, letters, essays, and poems of the former. Along with the Letters of Edward Fitzgerald and those of William Cowper, I could I think subsist in a cell with just these and Dickens. I should be unhappy, but I could do it.

The Essays of Elia, et al, including the letters, of Charles Lamb.

Probably without saying? Shakespeare and the 16th Century poets, plus Auden, Shelley, "This-that-and-the-other..."

And Claudius. Why?

When a TikTok meme revealed last year that men supposedly think about the Roman Empire every damned day, I simply could not understand it. Was this a serious thing? What on earth was the sample size? Who were these men?!

Now, other than my sexual orientation, to use that increasingly quaint phrase, I do look to be very much the demo for this obsession, to wit: old, white, middle-class (if only by marriage,) presumably literate, and not a complete yahoo. (The only empire the Trumpers generally dream of is probably either a vague notion of Kingdom Come, generalized white nostalgia, and or some sort of victory parade in that Call of Duty game. The oldest ones -- and they are mostly older than dirt -- may still remember gladiator pictures fondly I suppose.) When this whole Rome obsession was first announced in the mainstream media, I confess I did pursue it across the internet to every article that wasn't behind a paywall. A friend even gave me access to something in the (shiver) Wall Street Journal -- the paper of record for all the Americans most responsible for golf and other fiscal and environmental chicanery. I figured if anyone would have a handle on what seemed likely to be dickishness, it would be the WSJ.

Disappointing. Everyone seemed to agree that thinking about the Roman Empire was not good, mostly in the same way that thinking about porn every day might not be a great thing unless presumably one were in the business of, and nobody nowadays was really in the business of the Roman Empire. Other than a few popular historians like Adrian Goldsworthy and Mary Beard, and perhaps an historical mystery writer or two, nobody really makes a life any more from the shards and ruins of the Roman Empire. So, what then? Nostalgia for patriarchy? Check. Fantasies of socially acceptable, even ritualized violence? You betcha. All but overt sexual license to exploit the powerless? Sure. I would argue that there is also the same barely acknowledged homoeroticism of men digging thickly muscled dudes in tight leather gear and loose and revealing drapery that informs everything from Marvel comics to pro wrestling. How's your head (lock)? No complaints.

Let me just state unequivocally that I personally do not think about the Roman Empire every day, nor every other day. Neither do I think all that often about Napoleon, Attila, The Zhou Dynasty, or President Garfield. I can't say this has never happened and might not again, by I am by no means defined by any of it. (There are things I never think of like woodworking, table-tennis, lawn-care, industrial trucking, young adult anything including Zendaya, and gluten.) Yes, I did in fact take Latin in high school, but only because the teacher was older than God and it was a comparatively easier grade than French or Spanish. And yes, I have read more Roman history than say, Chinese, but this is a symptom I should guess of my general Anglophilia 'cause those old imperialists just loved imagining themselves as Horatius at the Bridge rather than what their ancestors and mine probably were, which was filthy Saxons grubbing peat and oats to keep from freezing to death over our cold porridge and mead. Also? Any gay boy who grew up anywhere near Summer Bible Camp has spent a disproportionate, even impious amount of time admiring those natty Roman governors of Judea etc. in the picture Bibles. Pontius Pilate's sense of style frankly put all those humble shepherds and silly high-priests in silly high hats to shame. (The villains often have the better dress sense, have you noticed?)

I was prepared to deny the whole fatuous business but then, as a lark, I put up a big display at the bookstore where I work. I titled the thing, "Rome Wasn't Read in a Day." Got a cute chalkboard sign made. Put up a selection of books by and about and thought little more about it. That was September of last year. Here we are months later and I have not been able to take that table down. Other, even better displays have come and gone, Rome endures. Why? Because I sell something off that damned thing every damned day. Seriously. Think about that. Not true of the new nonfiction table. Not true of the Mother's Day table I have up. Rome. Every day. Just like TikTok tried to tell me. That is nuts, right?

Ita sit.**

I've sold every Roman historian but Gibbon, oddly enough. Sold Ovid and Horace and Caesar and Cicero. Sold fiction off that table too. Sold Lindsey Davis and Steven Saylor mysteries, but also John Williams' Augustus, and Yourcenar's Memoirs of Hadrian, and even dear old, utterly forgotten Colleen McCullough's First Man in Rome. I loved all of those by the way, each in their own way and in their own time, though none so much as Claudius. 

And guess, other than Gibbon, what I hadn't sold off that Rome display?

That's right. Inexplicable. One of the best and most uniformly fun historical novels ever, one of the best novels of the 20th Century by more than one critical matrix and on more than one list of same, adapted into one of my favorite tv shows ever and the one most requested when the they asked the American public to pick one Masterpiece Theatre to rerun, and I could not sell Robert Graves' novel for amare nor pecunia. Why? I begin to think it may be for the same reason so many of these stiffs like dreaming about the Glory that was Rome. I may be overthinking this, but nearly everything about Graves (and Gibbon, come to that) is a pretty harsh burn on all that endears the Roman Empire to the fellas. Whatever good came from the Empire was no more obvious to most the people who actually had no choice but to live through it than it is to me, and not everyone benefited equally. That seems obvious, but remember, most of the men thinking about Rome are not thinking about being a Gaul, or a woman, or frankly, Claudius! Was it fun to be a Caesar? Sure. Heliogabalus probably had a blast. His dinner guests maybe not so much. Get the picture? Actually sitting through a Triumph sounds deadly dull to me, but I bet a lot of guys imagine their enemies paraded in chains before them and so on. Graves and Gibbon, admitting that the old Romans had their moments, actually spend most of their books talking about what useless, miserable, spineless, cucks and dirty, rotten bastards actually sat on Caesar's seat. 

Let me propose then that I, Claudius has, among its many virtues, the potential to correct at least some of the nostalgia that tempts these boys to dream of wearing caligae and swinging their short sharp gladius in front of perfectly indifferent, cautiously alarmed strangers in remotest Bithynia. 

 So now, goddamn it, it's my next selection for Brad's Big fat Book Club. We are going to read the fictional adventures of a Julio Claudian emperor, but not any of the ones those guys think are so cool. I'm betting we are going to like it for exactly the reasons they wouldn't. I'll do what I can to see that we do. Using the full titles should help, particularly the second book's which is wicked and delightful and suggests something of the irreverence with which the novelist treats that old whore that was ROME!

*If you don't know her, Rose Macaulay (1881 - 1958) was is in fact a direct descendent of the family of historians as well as being a treasure in her own right. She wrote a number of delightful and thoughtful novels, including Told by an Idiot (1923) as well as a wide variety of poetry and prose, including a brilliant nonfiction book on ruins, and much travel. Her letters to her priest/friend are worth reading even if one does not share their faith.

**"So be it" in Latin.