Lapsus Calami …Cougars, both kinds…Women behaving badly…Giant African snails…Non-shocking headlines…
“The women are the real labourers; for the entire business of digging, planting and weeding devolves on them; and, if we regard the assagai and shield as symbolical of the man, the hoe may be looked upon as emblematic of the woman…with this rude and heavy instrument the woman digs, plants and weeds her garden.”
–The Golden Bough, Sir James Frazier. 1890
Lordy. Sometimes you just happen upon an historical piece of nuanced writing that just seems so wrong, so strange, so shaky in its interpretation, and possessed of such an unstable edifice that one minor slip of the text will result in an explosion that lays waste to peace and understanding among men and women for years to come. Put yourself in the shoes of Sir James Frazier. You are a scholarly European. It is the eve of the twentieth century. You’re crafting an important study of humankind’s fledgling understanding of the world around them. Then, you just happen to report on an old culture that associates a woman with the gardening implement that will become a homonym for reckless promiscuity.
“I meant shovel, I meant tiller, I meant… eh… auger,” Sir James would cry out, but at that point it would be hard to hear his plaintive wails as he ran as fast as his knickers would carry him, toward the woods maybe, with the angry mob of women behind him. As a group they will only take so much abuse, and so it should be no big surprise when the modern news headlines begin to reflect a certain feminine unrest. Yet now I know that when the deal goes down, and I find myself on the rack because of a woman on the edge, there is one person and only one person I have to blame. Sir James Frazer.
I have recently come upon the full text, without the redaction, of Bridget Anne Kelly, former senior aide to Governor Chris Christie. To say the least, I wasn’t surprised. “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” she wrote. “That guy Sir James Frazer used to go there, you know, to Fort Lee, during his trips to America at the invitation of President Benjamin Harrison. Frazer used to hang out at the Alderman’s Public House in Fort Lee, drinking whiskey and calling women hoes. We all know what a rat bastard he was, and now Fort Lee will realize it, too.”
It didn’t stop there, though. When Miranda Barbour was taken into custody recently after luring men to their death through phony Craigslist ads, she was overheard admitting that, “I just pictured Sir James Frazer sitting next to me every time some greasy weasel thought he could have his way with me. I’ve killed more than twenty-two men, but every time I begin stabbing I always see the same face; the face of that guy that called me a ho in that big book that I’ve never read. Maybe it was a hoe, but whatever. We all know what he meant.”
The evidence was piling up. Sir James Frazer’s off-hand remark had even set off an international debate on human rights. The Russian all-girl punk band “Pussy Riot” said, through a translator that, “When we were arrested for hooliganism in that orthodox church, we just figured if Sir James Frazer was going to label us, we should exceed his expectations. Break things up. That is a hoe’s job, be it in a field or in the realm of free speech. What do you think now, Comrade Frazer?”
And finally, and this is the really scary one, the wildly psychotic Joanna Dennehy, after going on a knife-wielding rampage in Britain that left three dead and two wounded, said, “I’m just crazy. That’s it. No ifs ands or buts. Hope you’re happy, Frazer. I had five victims. You’ve had millions.”
This last one had me up nights, pacing. Even though Ms. Dennehy is in custody a continent away, just to know that somebody so blatantly insane is alive and ready to kill again the moment she is able can be unsettling. She stabbed an innocent man walking his dog, after all. I’m a dog walker. I don’t pay attention to every person that happens to pass me. This fellow, polite British guy to a fault, was reported to have tried to reason with her as she was shoving her knife into him.
“You seem to have dropped your weapon into my back,” says he.
“I’m trying to kill you,” says she.
“I must admit I find that rather rude.”
More to the point I was feeling a bit guilty for some type of vague misogyny. I eventually chalked it up to an article I had been reading recently about a sudden spike in the number of cougars in the Hollywood Hills, Griffith Park, to be exact. I had to read about two paragraphs before I realized they were actually talking about the giant cats and not about bored, mature housewives. Even with the large glossy photo of the brown-coated mountain lion on the opposite page I still wasn’t ready to accept the article’s wildlife content, figuring at first it was just some symbolic representation. Remarkable adaptation skills, these cats have, and for that matter, so do the housewives. It is not easy to find that one’s habitat has been encroached upon by whatever modern design an impatient population has impressed upon it, be it a six-lane freeway that cuts off one’s hunting territory or a nineteen-year-old centerfold with intentions on your rich movie-producer husband. I have nothing but respect for these women and still I felt targeted. In the crosshairs. Marked.
Furthermore, because of some legal wrangling within the Georgia courts it was proving difficult to get a hold of my sleeping medication, because apparently they use it to euthanize criminals. When some people are shot up with sodium thiopental they die. I get a decent sleep for about five or six hours. So I’ve been sitting wide-eyed, night upon night in front of my window, watching for Joanna Dennehy, scouring the news for reports of her bold escape from prison.
What I noticed, instead, was that there seems to be a growing infestation of giant African land snails in Texas and Florida. They can eat through houses and can carry meningitis, said a report. Someone should tell these mollusks that of all the places an African snail can wind up in, Texas and Florida sometimes are not pleasant for anything African, and not to be surprised if they are blown to slimy pieces by a pistol-packing white guy in fear of his life when the gastropods inch up slowly and begin to menace.
Luckily, there is a Giant African Land Snail Science Symposium in Gainesville to deal with the infestation. They’ve shown they are serious too, by bringing in the legendary Doctor Dolittle, who apparently is one of the only leading zoologists to actually be transported from the south pacific to England on the back of a giant snail, if my memory of the 1967 Disney classic serves me right. The doctor has proposed a daring plan to introduce the “push-me, pull-you” into the environment to eat the giant African snails, or barring that, using the old line from the movie The Man Who Knew Too Much, “Just get a Frenchman.” (Paraphrased.)
Other than that there was one headline that seemed rather predictable. In fact, I will list it here among a few others of my own creation. See if you can spot it.
“Snake handler dies from snake bite.”
“Man who routinely plays Russian Roulette dies from bullet to the head.”
“Arsonist dies after getting trapped in house fire he set.”
“Area woman who likes to drink poison dies from ingesting poison.”
“Man who eats big piles of shit dies from e. coli.”
(Answer: First one.)
More Alembics to come.