Friday, August 26, 2005

Return to Bleak Manor

We've returned from the Archipelago of Lesbos -- reigned over by "The Seven Sisters" -- with our sense of proportion restored: comparatively speaking, eastern Massachusetts, despite excesses of ideation and concomitant behavioral frolics, retains several aspects of moderation (and sanity) which are unknown in the west. This is probably due, in large part, to population imbalances that have run amok in the Amherst/Northampton area; as we know from sad experience, the optimal proportion of impressionable young people and objectionable academics to the general population is somewhere around one-tenth of one percent. (I'm liberal, in that I allow this figure to be doubled without inordinately worsening the social stability ratio.)

Among the fashion anomalies -- one hestitates to say "victims," because it was we, the viewers, who were the true victims -- were two picturesque ladies whose images are forever seared -- seared -- into memory. The lesser of the two evils was a young woman of equine grace and stature -- if horses toddled about on their hind legs. She had a Scottish theme to her outfit -- black wool blouse, black legwarmers, white footware whose heels were as much as 48 inches in height, and a bright tartan plaid skirt. She topped the display with a small black Scottish cap -- the kind with a puffball perched perkily atop -- set at a sporting angle. She was heavily and exaggeratedly made up -- as if to play The Innocent Young Thing in an 18th-century travelling theatre; either overdone in the manner of the rather too young (or rather too old), or postironic. Tasteless, to be sure, but nothing that would have caused the batting of an eyelash (ouch) at a 1965 junior high school dance. Indeed, barely noteworthy at all, save that any fashion is startling in an era of no fashion -- jeans, teeshirts, sneakers, skin art, baseball caps, etc. But her sole searing -- searing -- fashion choice was the shaved head.

The other beauty was, I fear, entirely unaffected -- of the partly unwitting fashion-fatality school of thought that admonishes, "I'm my own person, and I don't care what you think, so bugger yourself and be quick about it." Where to begin? Surely a trail of shattered mirrors lies in her wake. She was perhaps edging in on forty, although the determination was difficult to make, and wore a halter top with rather too little resistance to the commonplaces of Newtonian physics. After an unseemly expanse of sagging belly -- we are not all innocent in this regard, but we do keep ourselves covered in public -- a pair of hiphugging jeans made one at least thankful that she had decided against shorts. The face was plain and unpainted, of which more in due course. Although she was the palest of caucasians, she wore her hair in a distressing anarchy of cornrows, which had evidently not been attended to in some weeks (or, more frightening still, perhaps it had.) To further confound the senses -- and the digestion -- was an overly liberal splattering of that henna color from hell that has been all the rage among the aesthetically deficient for a few years now. The entire impression was of someone strongly in need of several go-rounds in the Wash-Hot cycle, with bleach and disinfectant. The final touch, though, was the scraggly beard snaking about the chin -- more like public hair of the jaw than a proper growth. Mrs. Bleak noticed what I did not (hastily averting my eyes as though from a bad traffic accident involving a butcher's truck and a schoolbus) -- that her lower back was graced with a tattoo. Mrs. Bleak was unable to quite make it out, but it was, she thinks, one of those Slogans to Live By of which seventeen-year-olds and psycho killers are inordinately fond -- some sort of "Do Your Own Thing" imprecation to individualism gone very wrong.

Glp, in a word. Glg, in another. The woman was accompanied in her grocery shopping by two companions -- a fairly bland young woman of about twenty, and a boy of about ten. Mrs. Bleak assumed that the companions were her daughter and son; I have to admit that my mind leaped less generously to more experimental social relations, but I dismissed (or attempted to dismiss) such thoughts from my mind.

I have no social commentary to make here. One steak doth not a cattle drive make. Besides, I live in an alternative-timestream version of the nineteenth century, where Such Things Do Not Happen -- except in a holy-terror maiden-aunt P.G. Wodehouse sort of way. I recognize that many horrors exist in our modern world; which is precisely why I choose to live elsewhere.

There were only minor disturbances at Bleak Manor during our absence. That someone may again have broken in, in search of the legendary Bleak Diamond, was suggested by a Hindoo headdress and a spattering of blood in the carnivorous wing of the hothouse. And evidently the hounds got loose again, with some unfortunate repercussions for the groundskeeper's children, but the tots were surely up to no good, serves them right. Nevertheless, being the soul of generosity that I am, I've added an extra tenspot to the groundskeeper's pay envelope.

I'm now ready to take my coffee and catch up on the news -- the issues of Frank Leslie's Illustrated Weekly from the 1860s have been piling up. Vicksburg? What's all this about then? Never heard of the damned place.