As many readers will know, June 16 was the 100th anniversary of "Bloomsday," the day described in James Joyce's Ulysses, which is either the greatest English-language novel of the 20th century or a heap of pretentious twaddle, depending on who you ask.
(Please don't ask me. My own efforts to read Ulysses, back in the days when I had the time and patience to persevere with books that didn't, as they say on Creative Writing courses, "draw me in," never got me much further than, I think, page 50, so it would not be fair of me to offer an opinion.)
I do know this much, though: One of Joyce's aims in writing the book was to try to capture in printed words the illogical, chaotic, and often unsavory progression of thoughts passing through an ordinary man's head on an ordinary day. I am now going to offer my own wee tribute to Joyce — who was at least, to my certain knowledge, whatever his virtues or failings as a novelist, a good short-story writer and passable poet — by attempting something similar.
Every morning over breakfast I read the New York Post. Well, here were my passing thoughts, as best I could capture them, while engaged in this not-very-demanding activity on June 16, 2004 — henceforth to be known as Derbsday.
Since these fleeting and often regrettable kinds of mental events are really as much emotion as thought, I shall tag each one with an emotional indicator in red, and hope the kindly Webmaster can reproduce this effect on site.
Front page, main headline: "HUSH MONEY — Jacko's secret $15m payoff to sex-case boy." Picture of Michael Jackson. [Mild interest — not enough to make me actually read the story — colored with some pity at seeing Jackson's self-mutilated face.] Yeah, yeah, what a surprise. Saw it on O'Reilly, anyhow. Starting to feel a bit sorry for the guy. Sure, he's a weird freak, but has he actually done any HARM? What proportion of American parents would let Jacko fondle their son for $15m? My guess: at least ten percent. Would I? No! But being felt up by perverts used to be a normal feature of childhood, at any rate in England. My current reading — Philip Hoare's biography of Noël Coward — confirms this. Coward, who was a pretty child, spent so much time fighting off clergymen in pre-WW1 London, it made him an atheist for life. We make such a big deal of this nowadays, probably because we feel guilty that we can't be bothered much with our kids, having too many other things to distract us.
Page 2, one story: "Foul-mouthed teach duo face 'F' for 'fired'" Two New York City high school teachers — at the same school, and "romantically linked" — are threatened with the sack for bad language, smooching in classrooms, and "insensitive" remarks to Muslims. [Keen curiosity about the content of the offending remarks.] So what'd they say? Let's see: The guy told a Muslim girl returning from an illness that he was "pleased to see she did not become a suicide bomber." Hee hee. Not bad. He's an equal opportunity insulter, anyway: He also made "derogatory statements about individuals of Jewish, Italian, and Irish heritage." These remarks not reproduced. [Disappointment.] How about the dirty talk? "Livingston would spew the f-word to humiliate students, as in 'f—ing idiots, morons, retards,' and an order for kids to 'get the f— out of my classroom.'" Why "spew"? What is it with these "sp— " words when A wants to express disapproval of B's speech? Why is whatever offensive or "incorrect" thing B says always "spewed" or "spouted"? Why not "sputtered," "sprayed," or "spritzed"? And doesn't everybody talk like that in New York City anyway? Oh, it's Staten Island, where all the cops and civil servants live, I guess that's different.
Page 5, one story: "NEW LAURA FUROR — Judge lets guard past security, union says." This is cop-hating, criminal-loving New York Judge Laura Blackburne, in trouble for spiriting a defendant away through her private chambers so a detective waiting outside the courtroom couldn't arrest him. Now in more trouble because she escorted a "personal security guard through a back entrance reserved for jurists … The burly man … was led up by Blackburne to her third-floor courtroom via a private back elevator …" There's a picture of the guy. [Minor disgust, a little anger.] "Personal security guard," uh-huh. Yep, he looks burly, all right. But isn't it supposed to be "insensitive" to call a black guy "burly"? Or was that last year's "insensitive"? Who can keep up with this stuff? Anyway, nothing will happen to the lady. She's black, and a judge, and this is New York City. Everyone knows how it works. Recall [with pleased amusement] a friend's observation that if a Martian were to acquire his entire knowledge of the U.S.A. from watching movies, he'd believe that ALL courtroom judges are black females.
Page 6, left two columns: "'Kerry, quit the Senate' GOP call in Mass." [Bored irritation.] Why not the frigging PLANET? Go home, gigolo. Nobody likes you, not even your own party. It's over, Boyo. Take a cab. Heaven knows, you can afford it.
Page 7, bottom: "Brit-knee KOs summer tour." Britney Spears' knee gave out, she has to cancel her schedule. [Satisfaction that I called this one, slight pity at her pasty, fleshy, burned-out look, no other interest.]
Page 8, the Post's "War on Terror" page, main story: "Three Days to Live — Threat vs. N.J. captive as Qaeda bares video." [Pity for captive shown blindfolded. Loathing for terrorists.] I suppose there'll be dancing in the streets all over the M.E. when this poor devil gets his head hacked off. How they hate us! Why? Because we're free? Because we're rich? Because we're over there? Because we give big, easy loans to Israel? Nah — they hate us because their own civilization is such a lousy stinking messed-up failure, and you gotta blame somebody. GWB is right — only thing is to try to kick-start some kind of rational society over there. But can we? Doubt it … but if we don't try, we won't find out. And what other options do we have? Leave 'em alone in peace to cook up more plots, build nukes, spread mischief? [Fleeting twinge of anger, still, at 9/11 destruction.]
Same page, bottom: "Saddam handover must wait." [Frustration.] Doesn't anyone know how to play this game? WHAT ON EARTH WERE THEY THINKING OF, TAKING HIM ALIVE? What are grenades for, if not to toss down spider holes?
Page 9, main story: "MADONNA'S CONCERT BOMBING," with picture of the lady doing her act. Her stage act, I mean. [Note with twinge of schadenfreude that her flesh seems to be slackening.] She's 45 years old, it says here. Middle aged. Fond recollection of my dear old mother tweaking the front-window lace curtain aside to watch the middle-aged lady opposite stepping out to meet her "fancy man" down at the pub. This tweaking always accompanied by the derisive comment: "Mutton dressed up as lamb."
Same page, bottom: "Puerto Rican anger at post-parade clash." (Note: Inhabitants of New York City respond to the annual Puerto Rican Day parade in much the same spirit that the people of the English coastal towns back in the ninth century responded to reports that a Viking fleet had been spotted on the horizon. Think metal shutters, triple-bolted doors, traffic jams outbound to Long Island and upstate.) "Puerto Rican leaders yesterday blasted the NYPD for a post-parade crackdown that resulted in 19 arrests after a Brooklyn melee …" [Moderate amusement, mingled with slight disgust.] Oh, of course, it's all the fault of the police — stirring up trouble, ARRESTING people! — who do they think they are?
Page 16, for some reason headed "Page Six": Sean Delonas cartoon shows a man in a bookstore holding up a copy of Bill Clinton's book, sideways so the centerfold had dropped out … [Warm love and affection for my favorite newspaper cartoonist.] The suits will fire Delonas one day for sure, but till they do, our ancient liberties are still flickeringly alive.
Same page, small gossip item: "Thinking less of Moore." Concerns a New York showing of Michael Moore's new hate-Bush movie, Fahrenheit 911. Moore is quoted as saying: "The country will be back in our hands in a very short time." [Flashback to the Clinton years — Janet Reno, Donna Shalala, Warren Christopher, Bill Lann Lee — chills down spine, faint nausea.] In yo' dreams, fat boy. And get a shave, for Christ's sake.
Page 21, main story: "WEALTH OF RICHES — 1 in 130 Americans is a millionaire." [Odd mixture of shame and disgruntlement, though both very mild, that I am not one of the 1 in 130. Slight glow of patriotic pride at living in a country that lets so many people get so rich so easily.] Does it include value of house? If so, I might scrape in on the technicality. No — "excluding homes and real estate." Oh, well. Still got my health.
Page 31, start of the opinion pages: "Reporting for the Enemy," Deborah Orin on the refusal of the U.S. media to show footage of Saddam's atrocities. [Keen interest, disgust at media duplicity, anger at hypocrisy of the whole anti-war crowd.] Of course, of course. We'll be hearing about the Abu Ghraib hanky-panky — man with a hood and pretend-electrodes, naked man being barked at by dog — till the crack of doom, but pictures of Saddam's guys tearing out someone's tongue or peeling off someone's skin? Oh, no, mustn't show that. Might make people forget how evil, evil, evil the United States is, and how selflessly noble the elite journos are.
Page 33, main Op-Ed page: This is why I buy the Post — two great female opinion journalists on the same page! Maggie Gallagher on fatherless families, Michelle Malkin opening a fresh can of whup-ass on the immigration and "homeland security" rackets. [Major satisfaction at having two of my favorite columnists to read; overtones of pity, tinged slightly with snobbery, towards those of my colleagues whose dismal duty it is to read the New York Times, & who are probably groaning and wailing right now as they wade through some piece of foam-flecked drivel by Paul Krugman or Maureen Dowd; pleasant frisson of attraction at seeing Michelle's pretty face.] Gallagher: Is there anything this woman does not understand about human relationships and their impact on society at large? "In its fight with modernity, conservative Protestantism has invested the roles of husband and father with unusual moral and religious importance: Men are supposed to model for their children the love of God, for their wives, the love of Jesus Christ … [P]art of this task [i.e. creating and transmitting a marriage culture to the next generation] is sustaining an image of manliness that supports rather than undercuts women's desires and children's needs."
What wonderful stuff Maggie writes! And how far, how desperately and shamefully far, it all is from the shallow, slutty, salacious culture all around us — the culture of Madonna and Britney and Jacko, of Sex in the City and Friends, of Hip-Hop and Rap, of Julia and Nicole and Leonardo and Johnny.
And Michelle — well, what can one say? Only this, perhaps: That she should be really glad she was born a citizen, as with her track record on honest and angry reporting of immigration issues, she would never, ever make it through the naturalization process — the immigration bureau paper-shufflers would make sure of that.
Page 130, the funnies: Since I have only minimal interest in business, sport, or showbiz, barely watch TV, am not looking to buy a car, rent an apartment, meet a n/s SWF, train to be a corrections officer, improve my sex life, move house, find out what the stars have in store for me, or get treatment for gynecomastia, I pretty much skip the back half of the newspaper. I do like to catch the funnies, though. Especially Mallard Fillmore. [Faint surprise to find he's still in syndication, happy amusement at the joke: A TV talking head railing against "anti-terrorist bigotry."] This guy must be persona non grata down at the Cartoonists' Club. I see him sitting in a corner at a table with Sean Delonas, a wide circle of avoidance around them. Gary Trudeau comes in, and the bar crowd swarms over to him with happy cries of greeting …