I pulled into the alleyway that led to the parking spots behind Glenda’s place, as R. finished the last page of his X-rated sci-fi comic book and started grumbling to himself, disappointed at the lack of graphic sex, but more so, it seemed, at the lack of political will.
“If this is what passes for smut these days, then we’re doomed.”
Preoccupied with navigating the narrowness of the alleyway, I failed to respond.
“Sexuality and humour are the hallmarks of intelligence,” he added.
“How do you mean?”
“If you find yourself described by them, then you’re probably a smart individual.”
Again, I failed to respond as I commenced the onerous task of parallel parking in tight quarters.
Perhaps testing my ability to multitask, he launched into an anecdote related to room 237 from the Shining, calling it a mistake born of Stanley Kubrick’s dyslexic read of 327, which Stephen King abbreviated from 3327: Tesla’s room number at the New Yorker Hotel, where he lived out his days feeding the pigeons that flocked around his windowsill. As the story goes, he fell in love with the prettiest hen in the flock, and eventually he wrote and performed his own man-bird marriage ceremony. “Now tell me,” he said while gathering up his gifts for Glenda, “which part of that is true, Kubrick’s dyslexia, or Tesla marrying a bird?”
I gave him a surprised look as I maneuvered the taxi into the parking spot and killed the engine.
“And did you know the USSR had a long list of illegal music?”
“No, I did not, but I’d expect as much.”
After tossing the X-rated sci-fi comic book onto the floor of the taxi, he explained that illegal music in the Soviet Union was euphemized as “not recommended”, much like the Holocaust was euphemized as “the final solution”. I was quick to point out the ethical quandary of comparing the two, but he argued that one was the thin edge whereas the other was the monolithic edge of the totalitarian wedge, which, in its Soviet iteration, was controlled by the Leading Five (Stalin and his four closest associates), who liquidated six million Ukrainians in a single year by starving them to death in what became known as the Holodomor. Despite being aware of this man-made famine, I had never before heard the term Holodomor, and I wondered how many other people hadn’t heard it either, as he gave two examples of not recommended music: the Talking Heads, who were accused of promoting the myth of Soviet military danger; and the Village People, who were accused of promoting violence.
“Violence? Seriously? No mention of leather subculture, rough trade, or homosexuality?”
A breathlessness came over him, like I had inadvertently stumbled across his campsite in the hinterland that spanned the distance between us. Yet the vessels of his eyes remained hermetically sealed, and the canvas of his face resisted all expression, that is, until he chided me ever so slightly with the corner of his mouth, before calling the leaders of Nanny states a bunch of buffoons who couldn’t put their fingers on the pulse of the body politic if their lives depended on it. Nor could they fathom the Streisand effect.
“As in Barbara?”
Again he chided me with the corner of his mouth, before explaining that Barbara Streisand became synonymous with psychological reactance after doing everything in her power to have pictures of her Malibu beach house scrubbed from the internet, making them all the more sought after, and more widely publicized. When I pointed out that psychological reactance sounded similar to a backfire, he agreed with me, and said that backfires were the starting pistols of bloody revolutions heard around the world, and that Marie Antoinette and Nicholas II of Russia would have made far better eponymous namesakes.
“I suppose,” I said, impatience gathering in the corners of my voice.
“The first move in the totalitarian playbook is to control the flow of information. Then they start censoring what doesn’t conform to party dogma. Now, bearing in mind the inverted totalitarianism taking hold on a global scale, how much longer do you think it will be before X-rated things become not recommended?” he asked while holding up Glenda’s bag of erotic gifts. “And how much longer after that will the orgasm be abolished, as per George Orwell’s prophecy?”
I told R. that the porn industry was bigger than it had ever been, as he put his satchel in the trunk for safe keeping. Then we made our way toward two identical steel doors set ten feet apart, and because it had been so long, I couldn’t remember which of them was the back entrance to Glenda’s place. Closer up, R. raised his arm and pointed above the door on the right, alerting me to three bricks, each with a different word stenciled onto it in yellow paint. Squinting through the gloom, I saw the name EDVARD MUNCH HOUSE, which was definitely not there on my previous visit, but it should have been, because it was the perfect name for a venue that regularly featured the screaming angst of bands like City of Caterpillar, whenever they toured through Canada.