Monthly Archives: September 2004

September 29, 2004

Tonight I almost told E.S. that I loved him.

Then I didn’t.

Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant only taste of death but once.

Posted on by Joel Derfner | 22 Comments

September 27, 2004

For the last week, New York local news has been dominated by new revelations about the August death of a baby in a Queens day care center. Apparently, the center had been inspected an hour before toddlers at the center killed a baby in its crib.

I cannot begin to express how pleasing I found the idea of bloodthirsty two-year-olds surrounding a defenseless infant and murdering it.

According to the Washington Times, however, “the New York City medical examiner has ruled 7-month-old Matthew Perilli died from compression of his body by foreign objects. City sources told the New York Daily News the child had been in a crib at a Queens day care center when a group of unsupervised younger children began tossing toys and stuffed animals into the crib.”

And here I’d thought there was hope for the young.

Posted on by Joel Derfner | 6 Comments

September 24, 2004

Here are two pictures of the blanket I just finished knitting for my cousin’s baby-to-be.

Reason Number 347 Never to Have Children: slow but inevitable descent towards lunacy brought on by monotony of basket-weave pattern.

Posted on by Joel Derfner | 17 Comments

September 23, 2004

Under a certain very narrow set of circumstances I can lie like a champion. Sentences like “No, of course I don’t believe Republicans should be drawn and quartered” and “Oh, don’t be silly, those bruises on my ass look nothing like somebody else’s thumb prints” ring monstrously false the instant they leave my mouth. But I am brilliant at praising bad performances (in any number of contexts) to the skies. “You were so fabulous,” I’ll gush. “I especially appreciated your [pacing during the second-act monologue, coloratura in the third aria, neatly shaved pubic hair].” Because, of course, whenever you say anything in such situations, people hear it as a referendum on their worth as human beings, which, I assure you, I have no interest in damaging, at least not sometimes.

There’s a point to this, I promise. Years ago, in my former life as a very good classical singer, I participated in a competition run by the National Association of Teachers of Singing. (N.B.: if you start an organization, do not give it a name homonymous with that of an irritating bug.) NATS was, I had been given to understand, an organization with problems; just how true this was became clear to me when I won second place in my division rather than first.

Though the competition had clearly been a travesty of the most grotesque proportions, I chose nonetheless to participate in the recital given by the winners at some sort of French library in Boston. I prepared my four songs, worked with my accompanist, and showed up at the appointed time and place.

It was horrible.

First, I had to sit through the high school division. Each singer was worse than the last–and, since they started with third place and worked their way up to first, that should tell you something. Songs about vengeance (a particular interest of mine) sounded so lilting and pretty as to be utterly unbelievable; songs about warbling doves, on the other hand, seemed to be coming from the throats of dying toads.

Then came my division. The third-place winner was, inexplicably, absent, so I went first, acquitting myself admirably, if I do say so myself. Then it was the first-place winner’s turn; she was worse than all the high school kids put together. At one point, unable to determine whether she was howling in French or German, I looked down at my program only to see that she was ostensibly singing in English. It was so awful that, when she was done, I had to move to the back of the room, from which position of relative anonymity I cringed through the rest of the performances.

At one point the program caught my eye caught and I saw that the first-place winner of the 35-and-up division was going to sing “Porgi, amor,” the Countess’s aria from Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro–a fiendishly difficult, high, sustained piece that’s also one of the most beautiful things ever written. “Oh, thank God,” I thought. “Nobody on earth would program ‘Porgi, amor’ unless she really knew what she was doing. I may have to sit through the shrieking of harpies to get there, but the end of this recital will be something to hear.”

It certainly was.

She was so bad I cried.

I’m not kidding. She mangled Mozart so brutally that I wept actual salt tears.

And then, years later, it was finally over. There was a reception afterwards, complete with cheap cookies and punch made with off-brand ginger ale, to celebrate. I stationed myself by the cheese and crackers and ate, lying through my teeth to any performer who came by. “You were so fabulous,” I gushed. “I especially appreciated your [coloratura in the third aria, unique groaning, good skin tone].”

I avoided, however, the “Porgi, amor” lady. Lying rug that I was, I still wasn’t sure I’d be able to manage it. So of course she sought me out. The first time she passed by me, I escaped meeting her gaze by diving into the cookies; the second time, though, I’d eaten them all, and there was nothing left to do but face her. She complimented me on my German, and I opened my mouth to tell her she had been so fabulous.

And nothing came out.

It would have been simply too gross a betrayal of Mozart and of music and of the ideal of beauty to do it.

So I stood there for a moment, my mouth working silently. And then I said, “I cried when you sang ‘Porgi, amor.'”

She was visibly moved by this. She said, “Oh, you’re too, too kind!”

And I said, “No, really. I couldn’t help it.”

I’ve tried and tried, over the years, to feel bad for being so vicious. But every time I make the attempt, I am brought up short by the absolute certainty that she feels no remorse for what she did. So I go on my merry way, secure in my meanness.

Posted on by Joel Derfner | 10 Comments

September 21, 2004

I just found this photograph of my mother, who died when I was twenty after years of battling a terminal illness.

She’s responsible for most of who I am.

I miss her sometimes.

Posted on by Joel Derfner | 18 Comments

September 20, 2004

I used to be really smart.

Not just smart, but really smart.

I know this because I just came across the senior thesis I wrote as a linguistics major in college. It was about Abhkaz, a language spoken in the northwest Caucasian mountains and in parts of Turkey. I did not speak Abkhaz, but I worked with a native speaker who worked in a Store 24 near campus. I was analyzing the word for “who” and where it could go in sentences. It seemed to be able to go in places where, according to linguistic theory of the time, it shouldn’t have been able to go; I proposed that the only way to account for the data was to revise linguistic theory to allow for rightward movement. I graduated summa cum laude and my professors wanted me to turn the thesis into an article.

If you like, you can see a small sample of the utterly incomprehensible thesis here, here, and here. At the time, every word was as clear to me as Austrian crystal. Now I can understand “the” and, in some cases, “now,” but the rest might as well be Linear A. Nonetheless, here is proof positive that, though I am now as dumb as a box of bricks, this has not always been the case.

Though the fact that somebody figured out a year later that the word I’d been translating as “who” was actually not a noun but a verb, thereby rendering the entire thesis wrong from start to finish, makes me think that this thesis is perhaps not the best evidence to use in support of that assertion.

Posted on by Joel Derfner | 10 Comments

September 18, 2004

This afternoon, I tried to enlist E.S.’s help in my search for the perfect combination of fabrics for the quilt I’m working on. (My previous efforts, while promising, left something to be desired. Some of you may remember that E.S. is not only a doctor but also a painter, so he’s good at things like color and contrast.) Today’s conversation went something like this:

Faustus: Could you come over to my place tonight and look at some fabrics?

E.S.: Sure.

Faustus: I have twelve different kinds of red with metallic gold, and I need to know which will go best with the other fabrics I’ve got.

E.S.: I’ll just pick one at random and say it’s the one you should use.

(Faustus gasps, appalled at the thought of such a betrayal.)

Faustus: If you do that, I’m never opening my legs for you again.


Faustus: Actually, that’s totally an idle threat.

E.S.: Yeah, I’m not really concerned.

He is on his way over even as I type. And I don’t know whether I can trust him or not.

Posted on by Joel Derfner | 4 Comments

September 15, 2004

I am utterly baffled that I didn’t see it before. If the American people make the right choice in November, all our problems will be as naught.

Those of you who might inexplicably be uncertain that you should cast your vote for the candidate from R’lyeh, you can search for more information about him here.

And he already has a theme song.

Posted on by Joel Derfner | 4 Comments

September 13, 2004

I want to thank everybody who has sent questions so far to help me in my attempt to become an advice columnist. I will, of course, keep all questions anonymous. Some of the questions are quite challenging, so I hope you’ll be patient while I try to craft worthy answers. Please keep sending questions, about love, sex, or anything else that might be on your mind.

Meanwhile, it’s time for another installment of “Words I’ve Had Trouble Remembering This Week.” (Go here for the first installment.)

Words I’ve had trouble remembering this week:

1. algorithm
2. exonerate
3. insalubrious

They shoot horses, don’t they?

Posted on by Joel Derfner | 8 Comments

September 12, 2004

On the advice of some very smart friends, I have decided to try to get a gig as a sex and/or advice columnist for a gay magazine.

The problem is that the best way to do this seems to be to submit sample columns to gay magazines. The only thing I have that in any way resembles a sample column is this post about the pronunciation of Ayn Rand’s name; while I’m pleased with the way it came out, and while Ayn Rand has developed, by some unfortunate quirk of fate, a large following among the gay population–the same quirk of fate, one assumes, that allowed Jodie Foster to make Contact–I’m not sure how likely that post alone is to get me a job at The Advocate.

So here’s the deal: if you have any questions about any subject on which you would like my opinion, whether you’re gay or not, please e-mail me and ask me. I can’t promise that I’ll post the question and my reply, but, given the series of unmitigated and self-inflicted disasters my life has comprised, perhaps you should consider yourself lucky if I don’t.

Then I’ll collect the best of the questions and answers, send them out, and hope for the best.

Posted on by Joel Derfner | 4 Comments