Friday, March 4, 2011

We remember Claggart, very well

An aspect of life in my college to which I really didn't pay any atten-tion, was its ritual sorting of undergraduates into dining estab-lishments according to the very most exotically flickering finger of fate. The custom became a national scandal, repeatedly, and motivated countless worthy scholars to ignore an invitation to matriculate. It drove Woodrow Wilson into public office, for which we all apologise. I, how-ever, counted the place as the def-initive paradise of undergraduate development - which, it never failed to be for me - and reckoned its ec-centricities, although occasionally vulgar and cruel, puerile and repul-sive in the extreme, as beside the point.

Every such establishment to which one was likely to be invited, had its Claggart. We had several; but our defining Master-at-Arms' unease was couched in such a well-practiced drawl that his every utterance could be mistaken for exhalations as if a corset, were being laced. I'll never forget running into our MAA (just about), on the stairs to the library one snowy evening as I was dashing late for a movie. He snagged me, I was reminded not long ago, by an upper button on my blazer which I'd closed against the cold. 

That's a very pretty blazer, Laurent. 
We don't happen to wear them that way in the club.

Claggart and I never exchanged a remark again, as I fear the heel of my Weejun haplessly ground itself into the instep of his super-Peel, in my haste to keep an appointment with Joel Cairo in the offices of Sam Spade. But, not long ago, I enjoyed a reunion of sorts with a clone of this exalted mentor, as he sorted me out on the etiquette of tummy-publishing. (Oh, we have been well looked-after).

Here, with edits to conceal his identity, were the lamentations he brought forth to this underling's edification. I imagine he may have spoken for others, too; I didn't conduct an audit. At least, let's not suffer any ostentatious umbrage over the privity of e-mail, when it's sole purpose is to extoll display that's no fun if it's missed.

I feel I must let you know that I have removed RMBL from the blog list that runs at the side of [mine].  I did so because I felt the lead photograph in today's post of the naked fellow with the saucy rump was simply too racy for many of my readers, or at least those whose sensibilities are not ones that you and I share. I would be happy to reinstate RMBL on my blog list if you were to feature lead photos of a more "G" variety, with those of a more "R" type following within the story.  I am afraid that today's lead photo on RMBL rather pushed too far beyond the edge of the envelope for comfort ..

Well! There we were, in play-pen heaven, and no Sidney Greenstreet to cheer us on. If I wished the shade of the Maltese Falcon, I must feign not to appear as the Black Bird. But this tactic was impres-sively shrewd, objecting ostensibly to the timing of the objection-able, so that if one were to work the subject up enough, its presentation might be endured. Long nights of lonely practice, I dare say, might just reinforce that skill. Of course, we all felt this way about poor Beethoven, too, with his C major symphony. So precipitous.

But, marvel with one a moment, at the telling consistency between this note and the one published yesterday: the cudgel of censure, not for one's own worldly gaze, but for readers held in more contempt than any content ever published here could show. In loco parentis is equally the harbour of the cowering oppressed, that it more famously is of the anxious bully. My poor MAA on the stair-case wanted nothing more than to be told that he had an immaculate excuse for his abusive intimacy, and the present one, too, needed to change the subject, to distrib-ute coercion. 

I'd already written to Claggart, in one's halting way, to relate how many readers he seemed to be shunting over, and so I must fault myself for inspiring this little torture. He'd been tempted to flex, you may say. Yet, what commitment, it spoke of to me, to rationing reprimand with that sadistically multiplying effect, such as children exert upon the wings of unsuspecting flies who might stray into their sight. Possibly, some of his readers will have been redirected, perchance to mount his tease elsewhere. But, you know? I wrote to him, not to worry about it, and here we are, acquainted with each other well enough. Charming guy.

Everybody's been an MAA, sometime, I find. I remember quitting the club when a convincingly stunning student in a gay rôle at our little Triangle Club was wafted into membership against every scruple of the closet. I mean, really. I'll never forget; they were very good about this. The club sent our coxswain down to my rooms to see me about it, and the sight of this best of all packages of jockly blondness, squatting on my grandfather's rude Nain, to reason with me against making oneself per-fectly ridiculous, almost carried the day. But I was resolute, impervious, and quite silly. After a rustication in mediocre French food in town, I signed in again, and nothing more was said of it. 

A few years later, his name was among the first I saw on the AIDS quilt of the Names Project in San Francisco. Very legitimately, I cried in horror and shame, and there is no health in us. Allow me to make this as clear as I can. To embrace this intimidation requires me to relive the darkest acts I've ever committed. Would you?

Herman Melville
Billy Budd, Foretopman
Published posthumously, 1924


  1. This entry drew a cultivated but really quite bitter support in comments I prefer not to publish. I intend to make my values known but not to take sides against others, except to the extent that they try to insult or suppress others, from any motivation. We are trying something awkward, here. We are trying to build a heart we can recommend to ourself.

  2. We are trying to build a heart we can recommend to ourself.- this is why I have to return to these pages.

  3. A messy little studio, thank you for peeking in!

  4. Others have an inner child, I have an inner Claggart, at times -- and I'm quite fond of him, too ;) Thank you for your post!

  5. Sad thing about your inner Claggart is that I imagine your fondness isn't good enough for him. :)