James FitzGerald


James FitzGerald
Journalist and Author
Toronto, Canada

James FitzGerald

A Brief History of Suicide: A Temporary Commitment, Part 1

by James Fitzgerald on 05/25/11

Imagine, if you can,

all those leaping lemmings,

all those zigzagging Zulus, zany in their zealotry,

 

all those saki-crazed kamikaze-kids,

 

all those Buddhist monks baptized with SuperTest,

all those dead-keen Palestinian teens…

We run, we hide; we just can't abide

the cult of suicide. Save, perhaps,

for the likes of me….

Verily, I vet the net,

casting for suicide sites, piling up slippery bodies of knowledge, whistling while I work in the dark.

 

Goggle-eyed, I google for factoids at a punishing pace, holding my own (breath), chasing down the human race.

 

Floating face down, I ride the ceaseless waves of the cyber-sea, the schizoid void of never-neverland, clicking the quicksilver engines of search, ever the Clever Dick, clean and unseen.

 

In my haste, I cut and paste, careful not to waste blood.

 

Here is where I love to watch the detectives -- hygienic, prosaic, forensic -- do their dirty work.

 

Like them, I just want the facts, Ma’am. (Facts don’t act like feelings).

 

You see, it’s all there, for those who care: one million suicides (give or take) globally, perennially, world-without-endingly….. ah, men….

 

Some, like flocks of yellow-bellied canaries flutter in the night-black coal mines (homes, schools, churches, businesses); others, like schools of toxic fish, encircle the razor-sharp barrier reefs, cyanotic blue, dead eyes wide shut, bereft of beliefs, teaching me a thing or two. What will I spear today?

 

 

                                                *****

 suicidegirls.com looks promising; alas, they merely push “empowered erotica” to the offbeat contemporary woman; nary a peep or squeek about autoerotic asphyxiation.

 

I surf on, landing on the stoney shores of 399 B.C., where I find the original white-robed wise guy, guilty of corrupting the youth of Athens, standing up for a key principle even as he downs a goblet of hemlock. I’m an I-witness to the noble birth of the Psychotic/SocraticMethod: Know Thyself = Kill Thyself (?)

 

When sexy Samson, shorn of his unruly locks, shook the pillars of the temple, killing 3,000 Philistines and himself, did cold-hearted Delilah cry? Did the earth move for her?

 

 

                    Oh,                                       

 

                  I often

 

               wish I were

 

             the ancient asp

 

         that Cleopatra clasped

 

       to her proud, pyramidiacal

 

    bosoms on that sultry Egyptian

 

  eve, Monday, August 10, 30 B.C.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Did

 

                you know

 

              the fastidious

 

             Queen of Tarts

 

           smartly tested the

 

        virulence of the venom

 

       on her [willing?] slaves?

 

 

John Donne, the conceited, metaphysical poet for whom the bell tolled, once heretically dared to assert that the proto-hippie Nazarene rabble rouser, that highly quotable, virginal fabulist, sandaled, bearded and erotically loin-clothed, chose to commit suicide on the cross on the Easter long weekend in the Year Zero, saving our sins and fathering a sadomasochistic martyrdom cult that has endured 2,000+ years, at last count. Get down from your cross – we need the wood!

 

 

Judas Iscariot hung himself from a tree, not before lodging one last complaint: “No one will name a tree-hugging religion after me!”

 

Who are these fucking lunatics, the helmet-scratching, spear-trucking, vomitorium-building Roman Imperialists wondered aloud; who exactly are these blissed-out, monomaniacal monotheists called Christians who idiotically offer up their tanned flesh like oily olive salads and racks of lamb to the drooling bicuspids of the godless lions? (Where do we sign up?)

 

In Anno Domino 65, Stoic Roman philosopher Seneca the Younger, true believer in predestination and reincarnation -- Que sera, sera -- and tip top tutor to the impish Emperor Nero, managed to offend his boss no end; slipping out of his toga and into a steaming marble tub, he opened up (as if a learned scroll) the wine-purple veins in his legs, and invited his faithful wife Pompeia Paulina, to share his fate. (She didn’t hesitate).

 

“There is no great genius without a touch of madness,” Seneca once declared. Perhaps he was a little touched? Or touched too little?

 

(Little did he know he was predestined to be reincarnated as a Canadian community college).

 

Three years later, Nero himself, mad but short on genius, fell on his gilt-edged sword up to the hilt, guilt-free, untouchable, from hero to zero in one easy lesson.

 

 

*****

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Writers & Musicians of Note: Beware Initial Impressions

by James Fitzgerald on 04/01/11

As the jive of the juke box infused the Double X Aburdist Cafe, AA Milne and BB King sat regally down to dinner at a long table, joining their colleagues CC Ryder and DeeDee Ramone.

"Where's ee cummings?" screamed JJ Cale, who loved the place for its intense embrace of musical and literary cross-fertilization -- not to mention all those famous initials carved on the bathroom walls. 

"Search us," ZZ Top nodded sleepily, sunglassed heads bobbing in unison.  

As usual, O. Henry, the testy short story writer, chewing on a chocolate bar of the same name, was tossing out random ejaculations towards no one in particular.

"Oh, why am I always assuring everyone I did not write that filthy 'The Story of O'? And, besides, why is there no one here with the initials F.F, G.G., H.H. or I.I.?"

At the head of the table, producer Norman Lear was madly pitching Edward Lear, the emperor of nonsense, to write a musical comedy based on King Lear. 

The French waitress, who happened to be named Gigi, piped up: "How about O.J. in the part...?"

"How 'bout me?" interrupted B.B. King.

"Chubby chance!" retorted Fats Domino, stuffing another quarter in the juke box.

"Who asked you?" shot back Lee Harvey Oswald, representing people famous for having three names. 

Puffing on a Camel in the adjacent (John Wilkes) booth, T.E. Lawrence tapped his crop on the humped back of his distant cousin D.H. Lawrence, suffering the terminal stages of TB, and both coughed simultaneously.

"Remember when we used to call American presidents by their initials? FDR, JFK, LBJ. Not anymore. Wonder if it's a CIA plot?" 

Hearing no satisfactory explanation, T.E. Lawrence, a middle eastern terrorist/assassin of sexual sadomaschistic tendencies, now well past his prime, surrendered to an explosive mood.

"Sex in the Arab world is a landmine of an issue, don't you think? Maybe if women used IUDs, they wouldn't plant IEDs..."

With that, the snappy dialogue was abruptly terminated by a descending DDT cloud of political correctness. Everyone finished their cups of T in silence.

Peer pressure induced ee cummings to pick up the tab, but being an impecunious writer hounded by the IRS, he dipped a digit in the HP sauce and scribbled an I.O.U. on his napkin.

"What does it mean in terms of eternity?" asked the obese Maitre D, Zero Mostel, who locked the doors of the Double X Absurdist Cafe, stuffed himself into his Infiniti, and shrank into a tiny dot on the horizon.

  

Under the Influence: A Frosh Remembers 1968

by James Fitzgerald on 09/23/10

As my eyes passed over a Globe and Mail headline -- "Despite 54 arrests, Homecoming hailed a success" -- my mind naturally drifted back a Biblical 40 years to the wretched excess of my own youth.

It's September 1968, the zenith of the fabled Sixties. I am an anxious, unshaven 18 year old crossing the threshold of Room 242 of Leonard Hall, an all-male residence at Queen's University. The lakeside campus of 6,000 is reputed to be one of Canada's elite institutions of higher learning, but like the Marx Brothers, Groucho and Karl, I'm having second thoughts about being part of a club that would accept me as a member. The hazing rituals of Orientation Week I find disorienting but I survive with my dignity only mildly bruised. I digest my first lesson in Social Darwinism when hundreds of us baby-faced frosh jam into Dunning Hall to listen to the tassle-loafered "vig", Jeffrey Simpson, a future Globe and Mail columnist, intone from on high:

"Look to your left and look to your right -- only one in three of you will graduate from this university."

Back at the dorm, I struggle to reassure my admirably responsible roommate that the diverse cast of characters drifting past our door are not as dangerous as they seem. Within days, everyone has earned an inane or sadistic nickname -- Phil "Fetus" Fiess, Bruce "Pumpkin" Patterson (for his orange mop of hair), "Odeon" Hyland, "Rat" McNeil, and a bespectacled beanpole whom some thesaurus-thumbing English major dubs "Eldritch", an antique synonym for "weird." Toronto-born, I am disarmed to discover that most hail from such exotic foreign outposts as Port Hope, Smiths Falls and Red Lake. Instead of a gilded palace of silver spooners and poisoned ivy league, private school snobs, I find myself immersed in an egalitarian crucible of small town Ontario -- not such a terrible fate.

Within a month, my sincere struggle to grasp the intricacies of David Dodge's Economics 010 class is undermined by the welcome arrival of The White Album. I start cutting classes; I am now majoring in Beatles with a minor in Hendrix & Cream. Crushed by the failure of an intense romance with the private school girl of my dreams, there is nothing left to do but rise or sink to the challenge of consuming 24 stubby bottles of Molson Golden between dusk and dawn. Mesmerized by the Stones' hit, Sympathy For the Devil, I start counting the extended string of "whoo-whoos" that end the song. I think the grand total is 88; you could check.

By now, my adolescent brainpan is absorbing the dim realization that this strange and unfamiliar place is composed of two warring tribes -- the scarlet-coats and the gold-jackets. Us and Them. I number among the former; the latter, the simian-like, knuckle-dragging engineers, ceaselessly impugn the sturdiness of our heterosexuality. I am the last to question the macho superiority of the female-free faculty of hard hats; I mean, who but a real man volunteers to dive into a black hole of seething, filth-smeared male flesh and try to swipe a tartan tam from atop a phallic grease pole under a hail of rotten fruit?

In this legendary fall of '68, the Queen's Golden Ales -- for so we call them -- actually win a national football championship but deep in the bleachers I hardly notice, busy as I am lusting for "Cartwheel Jane", a tartan-skirted cheerleader whose alabaster flesh is driving the libidos of we pathetic virginal types into the ninth ring of alcoholic abandon. By the spring term, I am hearing darkly whispered tales of sexually repressed, exam-stressed teenagers overdosing on bottles of aspirin. Day by day, the floor's hothouse atmosphere is degenerating into a prequel of Animal House.  We are now taking turns "doing the deed" to each others' rooms.

The pranks begin benignly enough. Some tall-foreheaded Ontario scholar scoops up stacks of newspapers, methodically scrunches up hundreds of pages, then fills up some unsuspecting sap's room to the point where the door will barely open. But like Vietnam, escalation is inevitable. In a retaliatory strike, the perpetrator's room is completely dismantled -- including the light fixtures and electrical sockets -- and his clothes, books and furniture neatly re-assembled on the snowy roof outside his window. The loving attention to detail augurs well for future career prospects.

Inevitably, another Mensa-genius ups the ante, inventing the quasi-baptismal ritual of "tubbing." That means filling a bathtub full of freezing water and then stalking random victims as they make the foolhardy gesture of actually cracking a book. Night after night, six burly yellow-jackets flood into rooms like Roman assassins; if you fail to struggle violently enough, crude invective rains on your manhood. Everyone on the floor gets their turn being flung fully clothed into the tub, an activity that burns off several more weeks of study time. No wonder we call the engineers "plumbers."

During exam week, the tubbing fetish is trumped by the grand finale. We all know our residence fees include a damage fund designed to compensate for the mayhem that insufferably horny frosh annually inflict on the infrastructure. Predictably, an enterprising adolescent born to command a multi-national corporation wonders aloud: "How can we get our money's worth?" And so late one April night he strolls into the communal showers, plugs up the drains, and turns on all 20 showers at full blast; then he installs a large wooden board at the entrance to block off further drainage. By morning, the showers have been transformed into a five foot tall aquarium.

At dawn, a sleepy engineer who will one day sublimate his overflowing id into the erection of towering skyscrapers kicks the board aside, unwittingly releasing hundreds of gallons of water into the bedrooms, corridors and stairwells of the entire second floor of the residence. When I arise that morning, my feet do not slip into my slippers but six inches of Lake Ontario. Water leaks through the tiled floors into the dining hall below, dripping into our plates of Dickensian gruel. Inexplicably, we escape criminal charges. Whoo-whoo.

On May 3, 1969, hours after my last exam, my father arrives from Toronto to drive me home.  I will take to my grave the image of my father wading to my door as a quintet of hungover plumbers surf past in search of The Perfect Wave. Within weeks, I am ripping open my transcript and feeling a deep wave of pride that I am worth as much as 32% in economics.

Lest I paint a skewed portrait, let me say I managed to acquire a sturdy liberal education at Queen's, if only by osmosis, if only through those giddy, all-night rap sessions when we covered everything that wasn't on the curriculum. When I graduated in 1972, magna cum mediocrity, I had sponged up a key lesson: it was less important to excel academically than to cultivate the impulse of curiosity and struggle to understand how and why homo saps do what they do. While other North American campuses blazed with the radical politics of the late 1960s, my circle of spoiled, self-absorbed Canadian boomers chose to booze and snooze and lose, partying like it was 1959. Yet even in the grip of our mindless hedonism and moral apathy, I found the time to think and read and debate. I was given a chance to cast the tiny net of my intellect into the fathomless oceans of human nature, noble and perverse, and land a few keepers. At Queen's, I forged several lifelong friendships – as worthy an achievement as any letters after my name.

Even while under the influence, I came under the influence of people of intelligence, depth and character. I am doubly grateful that, square and tradition-bound as it was, our cloistered meritocracy indulged a natural bent for the absurd, the surreal, the sardonic, the iconoclastic, a fetching paradox adorning the stolidly WASP limestone womb of Kingston, Ontario. Coming from a family of driven over-achievers, I was allowed to fail -- and fail gloriously. No small privilege.

An anthropologist -- an apologist -- could perhaps explain our primitive, tribal needs for initiation rites. Over a generation later, I am delighted to know that Leonard Hall is swimmingly co-ed and females, gays and minorities are wearing yellow jackets. Best of all, when my plumbing fails, I know who to call.