Sunday, July 5, 2015

Not About Thomas Merton: escort cards of yesteryear


Now these are interesting, sort of. One of them things you see on Facebook, a link-to rather, while you're scrollin' along trying to ignore unbelievably hot-air-inflated, narcissistic swaggering and self-absorbed primping by writers who want you to know, in no uncertain terms, that they are More Successful Than You (while pretending to bewail the fact that they only sold 250 copies at their latest book-signing). Never mind. So you click on it, and sometimes it's interesting. More often than not it's a time-waster. But this is a little piece of sociological history. I didn't know about these things, presumably passed from a gentleman to a lady, and I am not at all sure what the exact meaning of it was, or the protocol. Was the gentleman in question really supposed to walk the lady home for reasons of safety? So she wouldn't have to traverse those dangerous streets alone?

"I shall be miserable if I can't love you" can be taken any number of ways, as can the description "sensible and good". He seems to be saying "your virtues are all on display, now please can I take them away"?

Hell, these are pickup things. What else COULD they be? How could you hand one of these cheesy things to someone you already know, and if you DON'T know her, doesn't the whole thing smack of "transaction"?

Think about it, though. If a lady walked alone, particularly in the evening, it sent a particular message. Kind of like all those elaborate signals you could send with a fan (like "come hither" or "up yours"). This one sounds like something out of a 1930s Busby Berkeley musical: "my style and complexion/going in your direction". Selection, affection: cute. But this innuendo-laden promise of "protection" is starting to remind me of an ad for Trojans.

Cute devil cartoons aside, the whispers between the lines are interesting. "Confidential card", "between ourselves": these don't seem to bespeak a jolly little talk between a lady and gent as he accompanies her a few blocks to her front porch. These seem to hint at Something Else.

Why am I suddenly thinking of Belle Watling's whorehouse in Gone with the Wind?

Here's a good one, with a little Cupid-esque figure on it. It talks about "appointing time and place for an interview" - and I don't think they mean for a typing job. The droll misspelled postscript "enter nous" seems to have a double meaning, somehow.

So. If she won't go home with him, he wants to reserve the privilege of staring at her as she walks by. Creepy.

This one expresses more ardour, or else is more arduous than the others. Strangely, two amphibia frolic (with no clothes on!), and "blissful" pleasure is hinted at. The card-bearer and his potential inamorata are "two souls with but a single thought; two hearts that beat as one". Very, very interesting indeed.

More ogling from the fence. Miawwwwww!

Sa-a-a-a-a-ay, are these cards really what I think they are?  For if they are, all this is beginning to seem a bit pink about the edges.

And I ask you, what could be so erotically-charged as an oven mitt? Such a signal could leave no doubt as to a gentleman's intentions. God only knows what those initials stand for.

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What rhymes with penis? The worst gif in the history of mankind

I was watching one of those wretched Top Ten YouTube videos, very late at night when my brain is basically on another planet, when I discovered Top Ten Worst TV Spinoffs. The Dukes of Hazzard was bad enough, with its idiot characters and free display of the Confederate flag (not to mention that irritating car horn and all the cars flying through the air), but here is evidence of a (mercifully) short-lived spinoff called Enos. I don't want to know who Enos was, but his name rhymes with penis and his police car flies through the air. Good God, who'd make a gif out of this??

THOMAS MERTON CONFIDENTIAL, Part 2: Dead monk in the middle of the road

(These are not random reflections, but the ones I woke up with, off the top. I have never been a Merton fan ever since I took a course and noticed how many groupies he has, almost all women. They worship the guy. The book about his "affair" with Margie Smith, a nurse who washed his body and thus ignited his passion, has been denounced by Mertonologists everywhere. The worst sin it commits is to be boring. There is no sense at all of Margie's character, but that's not the point. She is a cipher in this, and only a device for TM to attain yet another facet as the Monk who turns out to be Human After All.)

I've had the night to process all this. The book (Beneath the Mask of Holiness: Thomas Merton and the Forbidden Love Affair That Set Him Free by Mark Shaw) is saturated with Catholic guilt. I think the feelings about sexuality are sick and polarized between “sin” /“filth” and “chastity” which isn’t really chastity at all but something protected only by several layers of clothing. He was like a teenager making out in the back seat, performing what they now call “outercourse”. I wonder if he didn’t have a masturbation habit which was then considered an unspeakable horror, almost a worse sin than killing someone. And it’s all so stupid, why not just blow it off? It makes no difference to “God” or G/d or whoever made or gave rise to all of this. 

He is so orthodox in spite of his so-called rebel status. This Margie is a good example of his attraction to women/girls of a “lower station” that he could easily dominate and manipulate with charm and status/intellectual power/fame. It started off with her bathing him in a darkened room. Sounds like Bathsheba or something. Obviously sexual, as he hadn’t been touched sexually in 20 or more years. But he has this self-whipping thing that I think is sick. It all comes across as creepy rather than romantic. Though he mentions sex over and over again, he keeps insisting he “hasn’t broken his vows”, but he had stretched them beyond recognition, which is utter hypocrisy and a sin against the body. It's throwing sex back in G/d’s face to cheat your way past “sin” and back into G/d’s good graces, not out of love for G/d but to protect your status and unimpeachable reputation as the wise, all-knowing, "celibate" monk. 

So I end up feeling even worse about him. He is an object of worship by now, and the sad non-affair is now seen as a lovely pastoral interlude, TM and his nubile nurse walking hand-in-hand through green pastures while saturated with chaste, pure feelings of Love. This makes him Human (so what was he before?) and even more admirable in their eyes, though I think he was an emotional mess who kept a mask on all his life. His body fell apart, for sure, for self-neglectful/self-destructive reasons, or perhaps from the way things were in the abbey, similar to the one I wrote about where medical conditions were ignored.

We won't get into the drinking. Nobody drinks that much if they are happy. I know about this, being an alcoholic who stopped drinking in 1990 (yes, fully 25 years ago!). People drink as heavily as he did, not to carouse and have fun, but to blot out their feelings, which are usually totally wretched and ridden with guilt.

What astounds me though is that he had the same psychiatrist as George Gershwin! Dr. Gregory Zilboorg. This is the one who slept with Kay Swift on HER dime, during HER appointments, as part of the “treatment”, though she hated it. He swindled and exploited and sexually abused a brilliant, sophisticated woman whose accomplishments would have been much more appreciated if she hadn't been Gershwin’s “beard”. The same Zilboorg who revealed all his patients’ innermost secrets to other patients as a sort of party game. Everyone wanted to see him, he was “the one to see” who proved how complicated, tortured and brilliant you were, and all these high-flown literary/musical celebrities flocked to him. It came out much later that his medical degree was phony and he had no business treating patients at all. In spite of all that, thirty years later, he treated Merton. Beats me. He got away with it, I guess. It was all highly intellectual then anyway, and very elitist.

Anyway, he dumped her when she became a hazard to his status and was no longer convenient for him, and since she bowed down before him, loved and adored him, and anything he said was law, she obeyed. To eat the crumbs from under his table was huge, of course. The book talks about a woman who sexually attacked him and, I think, he rather enjoyed it. Women love celibates as they used to love gay men before they wised up. It’s Thorn Birds syndrome, in which this virgin priest (usually gay) turns out to be a superb lover. At least TM fucked around in his early days, which endears him to me a little, but felt a lot of Catholic guilt about it afterwards. Fathered a child, which he totally disowned: there’s a ruthlessness there, and a need to protect his reputation rather than acknowledging his child and helping to bring it up.  The more you look at this, the creepier it gets. I think he had elements of narcissism, definitely, hypocrisy, and even a bit of sociopathy, as he felt Margie was there for the taking, a sexual banquet he could ALMOST taste, then ignore and walk away from when he was “finished”.

  Visit Margaret's Amazon Author Page!