Claws and Effects.
Claws and Effects.
My peppery Jewish lady pal A. admonished me on a late-night call shortly after I got divorced, saying “Are you dating age-appropriate women?” Which made me ask right back, rhetorically of course “Are you kidding me? I then continued, out of disingenuousness and with a mild poke of impudence and guilt – “Um, is there such a thing as age-appropriate hookers?” I could hear her silent head-nod loud and clear over the phone.
I’m kidding. I put that question to my buddy Ed when we went pistol shooting the next morning, and he said that since I was probably in and out in less than ten minutes these days, to just go for cheap ’n’ easy. I told him I was asking for a friend since I had snagged a little salmon fishcake I called “Slice,” young (but legal), and dumb as the day is long. Luckily, I’ve got enough brains for the both of us, I said, and I’ve already taught her a ton. What the hell can you teach a nubile coed driving a Subaru Forester fer chrissakes he asked? Well, the first, and most important lesson I’ve taught her is patience. He smiled. And I’ve been teaching her disappointment ever since.
What she’s shown me is that Davis’s Law of anatomy is wonderfully and delightfully true, and wonderfully and delightfully very true.
Seriously, this is a jokey, completely made-up segue into a notebook full of paradoxes, principles and effects that I’ve jotted down over the years and that I wanted to throw out there today, since you guys asked for more laws (which equals less justice, according to Socrates). Except for the A. chiding me after my divorce part, there isn’t a completely honest note in this whole meandering monograph.
The first corker is Cunningham’s Law which postulates that the best way to get the right answer on the internet is not to ask a question, but to post the wrong answer. “Are you kidding me?–which I meant as “no” is the wrong answer. The same applies to the age-appropriate hookers question, which I also meant as “no.” The army of envying, vicarious know-it-alls chiming in with their emphatic and indignant “yeses” will prove Cunningham knew what he was talking about. And Davis did too: soft tissue does indeed model along imposed demands.
The third law my brief telephone exchange with A. calls to mind is Wiio’s: “Communication usually fails, except by accident.”
Before I forget I wanted to point out that the Subaru Forester I intentionally mentioned in the second paragraph, used as a synecdoche of sorts to subtly illustrate Slice’s political bent, is irrelevant and redundant, since you’ve already guessed correctly where she lies on the crunchy spectrum–off the charts to the left. It’s what one would call Chekov’s Gun in the theater or movie theory: a dramatic principle that states every element in a story must be necessary. Any non-essential or nonsensical element of a drama should be removed if it doesn’t advance the plot or enhance character development and only distracts, complicates, confuses or disappears without explanation or ceremony somewhere along the way. As Chekov himself says: "One must never place a loaded rifle on the stage if it isn't going to go off. It's wrong to make promises you don't mean to keep."
Ironically, The Cherry Orchard features two loaded rifles that are never fired. Contrast this with Hemingway’s short story Fifty Grand which mocks Chekov’s dictum by introducing several obvious but inconsequential details and a few character/subplot developments that go nowhere fast on purpose. Which just gave me an idea, since I don’t like Papa Bear and his chest-thumping cowardice, his sidling, school-girlish critiques and unctuousness, full of venom and self-pity, and most of all his unmanly final copout. Let’s propose a corollary to Chekov’s, called Hemingway’s Gun, which states that “One must never place a loaded rifle on the stage if it isn't going to go off. Unless it’s used offstage during the final act by the protagonist to kill himself.”
On a sidebar note, I always thought Hemingway was full of it, but he uniquely professed and manifested his own style of b.s. so forcefully and blusterously, it was almost always a bruising, losing battle to argue against his picturesque horse-manure and I’ll-bite-your-wife prose with his many ardent admirers, which are legion, loyalists forever. Until they’re not. Tee Brandolini’s Law up here: “The amount of energy needed to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude greater than that used to produce it.”
The Ernest analogy needs a little more word-smithing, but you get the point. Or maybe since it’s about the barely there-prose king it needs a little less word-smithing. But it does remind me of Sam Sykes Axiom about the “toxic fandom” dynamic: 1. I love this. 2. I own this. 3. I control this. 4. I can’t control this. 5. I hate this. 6. I must destroy this.
I had another exchange that fits the cock-block sub-theme (dismet?), this time at a twilight lawn party in Atlanta of all places, with, I learned much later, a ritch French femme fatale after I lit her cigarette and she exhaled a gitane of Paris past my face and into the mauve Buckethead of stars above us. “What do you do? she asked. “I’m an amateur gynecologist,” I said. She rocked back on her yummy coccyx in the grass and lifted and spread her lovely legs comically into the air. “All men are,” she said. We both laughed–me because I was kidding and thought she was too; she because she wasn’t, and thought I wasn’t either.
I won’t go into the rest of that story right this sec, since it got very worse before it got even more worse, but the repartee-de-deux brings to mind another of my favorite laws, this time attributed to Briffault, which I already wrote about at length in the monograph Are you a goddess divine?: “The female, not the male, determines all the conditions of the animal family. Where the female can derive no benefit from association with the male, then no such association takes place.” But it’s not entirely true in this case, or I didn’t think it was at the time, since I wasn’t thinking at the time, but I’ll explain later.
There’s a Shakespearean admonition in there somewhere, son, that I can’t quite put my memory’s finger on…
Helene’s teeth were as white as Chiclets hanging on a tight laundry line. She was whippet-thin like a racetrack dog, magnificent. And then her friend Claudine floated over, another flimsy wisp, enormous with summer, like a pail of ripe fruit had been tipped over her head, and sat down next to us on the lawn. All I can think of writing this is Christopher Logue’s quip in War Music, his absolutely astounding translation of three of the books of The Iliad. It’s when Achilles’ battle-won trophy wife is first brought before him in her unicursal splendor (see above painting), and the rest of his troops surrounding are chirruping with excitement: “Briseis, in their midst, her breasts so lovely they envy one another.”
Or maybe Briffault brought to mind a bit of wisdom from Proverbs? Meantime I’ll flesh-out the rest of this story to show how all of the above: the laws, effects, Shakespeare, me not thinking straight, and Briseis’ breasts, are part and parcel of a cohesive narrative and character arc I’m trying to flesh out here as it were. My scruffy behavior and passive-aggressive ooze, which I still inly pine over, have nothing to do with Dollo’s Law, which I’ll explain anyway, but are largely inexcusable and, well, so biological and script-b boring I won’t go into them here.
Well, Dollo’s a doozy that almost but can’t quite flip Darwin on his head: “An organism is unable to return, even partially, to a previous stage already realized in the ranks of its ancestors.” In short, evolution always faces and races forward, even though I have tried to prove many times that that’s not true. I can, on occasion, and have on more than one, regress a couple of millions years happily back to a drunken mess of a cro-magnonimity, but the undeniable force of nature is onward and upward to the light, in most manly men, thankfully.
Helene and Claudine knew so many people at the party, and then at the disco, Petrus, we went to afterwards, pounding their Stella Artoises down like dirty old sinks (wait, were they Belgian not French?) that I began to think Dunbar grossly underestimated humans’s capacity limit to connect at 150, i.e. the number of social interactions that can possibly be maintained. They were so ludic and lovely chatting away in French that Shermer’s last, and in my opinion best law hit me like a hammer out-of-the-blue oddly enough. Or maybe that’s when the blotter acid kicked in and I had to take my eyeballs out of my back pocket as I left Planet Earth: “Any sufficiently advanced extraterrestrial intelligence is indistinguishable from God.” Wait a sheckond, isn’t it maybe a Mark Twain aphorism I’ve been fishing around for this whole time?
The fey moth boys and dim Euro-trash ballers attracted to their luminescent flame reminded me of several laws, now, writing about it, but certainly not then–weirdly, and not totally inappropriately, starting with Reilly’s law of retail gravitation: people generally patronize the largest mall in the area. And then there’s Gresham’s Law, which goes at least as far back as our buddy Copernicus (1473-1543), who hypothesized, beside the heliocentricity of the universe, that "Bad money drives good money out of circulation.” Sort of apropos in this story (except I was penniless) since I had had just about enough of this witless fawning. I got up onto someone else’s feet it seemed, heading I’m not sure up the stairs down or down the stairs up to go home. I felt like I had put my shoes on backwards and the bloody chilblains in my head were bloating and blistering for some reason. Or maybe they were bunions on my brain bursting–I can’t remember. Pip, pop, throb, wobble.
The girls saw me trying to leave and parted the crowd. Each grabbed an arm to steady me and we headed for the door. “Au lit” Helene said. “Pour un menage Artois?” I laughed out loud. A slight second, and then they got it. “Touché.” Just as we stepped outside a limo pulled up and I’m not kidding a Gaston look-alike stepped out and stopped. His chest was yuge, grotesque. He looked at the two beauties bookending my miserable shelf of Shakespeare smarts, skint withiness, and disheveled hair, and then at me. I felt how bunnies must when a coyote finally corners them and the biological survival mechanism that allows them to immediately and mercifully self-suicide to avoid the pain of being eaten alive allows everything to jump cut to black quickly, soporifically, sweetly, even. My last conscious thought was going to be a jab at gallows humor that validated our man Gause, who had crafted his Darwinian law exactly right: “Complete competitors cannot coexist.”
Have you ever fainted before? I’m not talking about fake falling to the floor for a TikTok video, or a Stendahlian case of arty vapors in front of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, complete with back of the hand to the forehead before you theatrically slump. I mean dead out. I never had before now, but with two fluttering hearts and four diaphanous arms to float me lovingly down to the ground it was heavenly. Just this one time, and it probably saved my life: Gaston couldn’t kill me since I was already dead, and Helene and Claudine couldn’t have been more solicitous. I came to soon enough, and we walked through the drowsy quiet of Piedmont Park back to their “studio.” The roadies were tearing down and packing up the stage after the Marshall Tucker’s Band cowboy boots-stomping concert that afternoon. Charlie Daniel’s devilish Georgian violin solo was still hanging in the air.
I’ll hold off on the details of the evening that follows to give you, dear readers, the choice, for now, to imagine how it went. You can either think about the Rosenthal Effect, also known as the Pygmalion effect: Higher expectations lead to an increase in performance. Lower expectations lead to a decrease in performance. Or, to put it kind of another way, the Dunning-Kruger Effect mirrors the same possible rising to the occasion, or not, fork: a cognitive bias in which people who are unskilled in some area wrongly believe their ability is higher than average; they don't know enough about the subject to accurately measure their aptitude. People with well-above-average skills are acutely aware of how much they don't know of the subject, but less aware of the general ineptitude of others, so tend to underestimate their relative ability.
As my friend Peter Stack once said: if you really are incompetent you aren’t being self-deprecating you’re just being honest. French on the pillow isn’t as easy as you’d please–it’s, after a certain grammatical grasp, all about wrapping your big American mouth around feminine, pursed-lipped phonemes. Henry Reed in his famous and slow sestina, The Naming of Parts, releases the safety catch on learning vocabulary, with a poetic flick:
Today we have naming of parts. Yesterday,
We had daily cleaning. And tomorrow morning,
We shall have what to do after firing. But to-day,
Today we have naming of parts. Japonica
Glistens like coral in all of the neighbouring gardens,
And today we have naming of parts.
The early bees are assaulting and fumbling the flowers:
They call it easing the Spring.
Easing the spring is right. Rothbard, another literary anti-hero from way back, during the prime of my truculent ingratitude, unaware of the world outside my own skull, laid down his law and neatly defined my tortured life for the better part of a decade: Everyone specializes in his own area of weakness. For years and years I was a flunking dumb sheboon niggler–a fingernail-biting twink on the lowest rung of the ladder, and not ever looking up. And, I thought I knew how to play the cosmic theremin to perfection without even touching it.
Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance. And didn’t have a clue I didn’t have a clue. Do you want to hear how we ended up in the altogether altogether in bed, and what we did, and how, and how long, and how many, and howlingly! You’re dying to dine on “epic” and “overwhelming” and “delectable” and other terms of ambiguous rhapsody, aren’t you? Even though those cliches and enthusiasms may sound adorable, in this case they’re somehow slightly blasphemous. Yes, their noodity achieved perfection, and was almost unbearably moving. And I was going to sin, sin, sin until I blew up. Wolff’s law, meant as a double-entendre, is worth noting here: “Bone adapts to pressure, or a lack of it.” Or maybe Lamark’s Theory of Evolution is a more noble call to action for our excitable hero: “Use it or lose it.”
But that’s not what happened. None of it did. Before the engorgeousness began my cat-scratch curiosity got the better of my fever: Why me? Why me tonight? What do you really want? Helene propped her chin up on Claudine’s cursive hip, forming a lovely triangle that reminded me of an ivory netsuke I had once seen in a museum in Tokyo: the sheet acting as sash and her bald minge as the inro, lightly shut.
“On veut un enfant.” What? On veut un enfant. That’s not a melody I had heard before, or ever wanted to, and the dreams of dancing at the door to the golden triangle dimmed, for me anyway, then and there, and died. Lenny Bruce’s joke “A man will fuck mud” always got an out-loud laugh from me–it’s embarrassingly funny. And when it came to shama-lama ding-donging I always rode to the sound of the guns, if you know what I mean. But all I saw before me was the horrific responsibility, the all-too conceivable consequences of my actions glaring back at me in voluptuous technicolor, forever, and I hesitated. Benford’s Law, the perfect romantic killjoy, comes thundering in at this unexpected turn of events: passion is inversely proportional to the amount of real information available.
I’d like to tell you that at this time in my life I could see farther than six inches in front of me (seven on a particularly exciting night!) but I couldn’t. I have no idea where the random synapse that fired at the unbelievably opportune time to wake me up to this abject lunacy and the biggest mistake of my life, up until then, anyway, came from. By what miracle eyelash was the waxing moon wrenched into an enchanted spring, as the saying goes, I’ll never know, but somehow it shifted the weighty moral universe over in the nick of time. Click.
I’ll mention Hick’s Law here, which always reminds me of Hobson’s Choice: in psychology, the time it takes a person to make a decision is directly proportional to the number of possible options. I had only two, because there wasn’t going to be any more smooth cigarette pillow talk, only the sweaty baby-making business at hand, and then the devil’s laughter after, so I said “Peux pas.” I got up reluctantly and left that pair of not unlovely snakes, me writhing in agony, them in pleasure, already gluing and ungluing in comely kinks without me, unfertilized, on their immaculate white bed. With an open wound that I didn’t realize at the time would never really completely heal.
I walked back across the meadow in Piedmont Park, and the roadies were coffee-klatching with Krispy Kremes and Camels. The misty joy of the obsidian sky blacked almost everything else out but a flock of starlings, unloved interlopers and plunderers, overhead. I tried to recite Shakespeare, not the passage I had been trying to think of since the start of this monograph, but another one, from Hamlet, about the augury of birds:
“There’s a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, ’tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come” as they swarmed in crude, circuitous digressions overhead. But I couldn’t remember all or even most of it. They then disappeared south, past the IBM tower and its gothic flourishes, and slowly out of sight.
Two thoughts brought me almost happily all the way home in the still dark as I passed the neon-lit iHop on Peachtree: it’s always open, and always preposterously sinful. The fried chicken waffles crowned with whipped cream and syrup all over the place is insane! Yes, that, because it’s still as true today as it was then, and even now brings a smile to my face. But the forever-classic Murphy’s Law trumps all the others, and for good reason: its universal and inherent not incidental heartbreak:
“Anything that can go wrong will.”
And, to end on a high note with a quote of my own, for once:
I, at least, at last, am a man–and the night’s enormous.
Photo©ArchaiOptix Briseus taken away from Achilles