MONTREAL NOW (and THEN): Is That an Extended Conceit, or Are You Just Happy to See Me?

After decades of teaching, Zsolt Alapi is a born-again writer, editor, publisher, who has made his home in Montreal for over four decades.

What has happened to the great romances of our time? Supplanted surely by trite Hollywood movies with their anesthetized endings where the Good/ Bad Boy always gets the Good Girl, even though one of them is a vampire, yet they still manage to live happily after.  I’m sorry, but Twilight doesn’t do it for me:  Kirsten Stewart with her vapid, Valley Girl angst, a Native American with a bad mullet who turns into a wolf, and a vampire named Edward, of all names.  Don’t they know that vampires are alternately fey and sinister, that their prey is not smarmy young chicks in cut offs, but voluptuous Victorian women in flowing gowns yet low cut bodices that leave everything to the imagination? Yet this is considered blockbuster fare, and young people eat this idiocy up as they have multiple orgasms in theaters wishing they could be one of the Undead.

And what’s with 50 Shades of Gray?  Are housewives truly so dissatisfied at home that they need to polish up their sex toys while priming themselves for solo action by reading about some virgin who gets tied up and utters “Oh My” at the peak of her passion?  Try on The Story of O for size ladies, to see what real deviant pleasure is all about, or the Victorian classic My Secret Life whose narrator, Walter, coupled with Sir Stephen in O have to be two of the most sinister and sexy males in all of literature.

Finally, let’s not forget the narrator of “To His Coy Mistress,” metaphysical poet Andrew Marvell, who truly gives the most compelling argument ever penned to a girlfriend to convince her to give over her virtues.  After reading this wonderfully erotic piece, it will not only be the day you seize, but your most private and precious parts.

I used to teach for a living, reluctantly, albeit well. I beat my students over the head with poetry, hoping to make them fall in love with the power of words, of the rhythms of inarticulate emotions rendered as rhapsodic longing — real romance, not the cheap Hollywood variety.

One of my classes back then was on the metaphysical poets.  2:55 on a Friday was always a particularly challenging time.  Those students who did attend the class had settled into that resigned state of waiting out the hour and fifteen minutes, hoping that their presence would be remembered in my final evaluation.  Others stayed away every Friday, and even though my course outline ominously warned that: “Attendance is Mandatory,” students had long ago called my bluff and seen that I was a soft touch.

So, it was particularly surprising when the blond with the swan’s neck walked into class five minutes late.  She wore a short micro-mini and was all long, bewitching legs, hair, the model’s slump, cool dismissive gaze, and that long, graceful neck.  She walked in, and the class froze; the other girls stared at her thinking their own thoughts, the boys thinking theirs, and she coolly looked back at them, acknowledging them, dismissing them, then sat in her usual seat (always magically never taken) and proceeded to file her nails.

I looked at her and at the class and knew that I had lost them, no longer to just their weekend thoughts and boredom, but to her, to the IT of her presence.

Forcing a measure of enthusiasm into my voice, I continued the lecture:

“Now, you may remember from our last class that we had talked about the beginning of Marvell’s argument to his mistress where he sets up a hypothetical world of Arcadian delights.  Can anyone tell me how the poet uses irony in the depiction of his slowly rousing passion toward the object of his love?”

Silence.

I continued, prompting:  “Now, surely you remember what I said a conceit was?”  More silence.  Students looked down at their desks, avoiding my eyes, or drew pictures (of me, I wondered?) into their notebooks.  She of the swan’s neck continued filing her nails—a Dickensian woman for whom I could all too easily have substituted the nail file for knitting needles.

More silence.

Finally, I sighed and fell back into the usual safety net.

“What do you make of this issue of irony in the first part of the argument, Linda?”

This was addressed to my A+ student who always knew the answers, but saved my dignity by refraining to comment until called upon, who was a Future English Major, perhaps someone who would stand one day where I now stood, who would one day learn (too late!) what it was to Suffer, not as idea or literary theme, but as a real, integral part of life.

Laughter rang throughout the classroom.

“Yes, Linda?”  I quarried.

More laughter.  She was absent, for the first time all semester; she had also failed me, gone perhaps to her own weekend dreams. They knew.  Oh, they knew.  The class tittered and looked at their watches, freedom just a short stretch away.  Perhaps they were glad, not that I had been embarrassed so much, but that somehow, they had been vindicated, that she, Linda, who had made them squirm because of the power of her insights which also made them sense that they could never share in my and her private dialogue, had also left for parts unknown.

Their amusement, which I normally would have shared, turned into anger.  “So, Ms… Here I had to pause and check the class list. There it was… Cheryl Fine.  After thirteen weeks.

“Yes, you, Ms. Fine.  It does help if we bring our books, even better, if we read the material.  Anyway, never mind.  All right then.  Do you have a book now?  Goood.  So.  What about the next passage, right after where we stopped on Wednesday?  What do you think the poet means by the line: ‘My vegetable love will grow’?”

No answer.

“Yes, Ms. Fine?”

“Maybe he’s talking about growing a cucumber.”

A miracle!  These were the first words she had spoken in the class the entire semester. Lucky for her there was a 5% mark for class participation.

“And why, pray tell, that noble vegetable, Ms. Fine?”

No reply.  She was truly embarrassed now, her cool and composure gone.  She turned to the boy next to her, Jason, a B student, he of the flaming zits, and whispered something rapidly to him.  Jason blushed, redder than marinara sauce.

“Actually, Ms. Fine, you have made a most astute observation.  “Vegetable love” implies fertility, ergo sexuality.”  I now turned to the entire class.  “A cucumber, as your sensitive peer so accurately pointed out, is the most phallic of vegetables.  It grows and grows like other things we know and cherish.  Still confused?  Then how about this one:  you have probably all heard from your parents Mae West’s famous line?  No?  Well, let’s rewrite it from the metaphysical perspective: ‘Is that a cucumber in your pocket, big boy, or are you just happy to see me?’  And that, ladies and gentlemen is what is known in poetry as an extended conceit.  Thank you.”

She rose, glaring, grabbed her purse, and walked quickly out the door slamming it.  Twenty pairs of eyes followed her, seven of them, at least, lovelorn, one pair particularly so (Jason would always remember today, for she had spoken to him!  The evening scrubbing with the Clearasil would take on a special poignancy henceforth!)  Twenty pairs of eyes avoided mine as I stared at the door.

Goodbye, Cheryl Fine, goodbye at least on Fridays.  Goodbye, Ms. Oh-So-Fine.

The end of a good romance, as we all know, ends not in marriage, but in tragedy.  The vampire gets the girl, but at the expense of getting a stake shoved into his heart.  The girl gets a good blood transfusion, marries the honest clerk, and, years later, bored out of her wits, buys a copy of 50 Shades of Gray for those lonely nights when the hubby is off in Transylvania conducting a real estate transaction, dyspeptic from eating dishes with that spicy Hungarian paprika.

While reading her book, she listens to the mice scurrying in her walls, an added erotic bonus, and contemplates with an equivocating eye the onyx dildo by the bed lamp.

But that’s another story.

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