Reader, I shandied it.

It was clear that we would need sustenance before embarking upon our escapade. And so I arrived at Martinus’s laden down with croissants, champagne, Chanel (which I was magnanimously returning), ibuprofen and lorazepam. In the end, I felt confident that a pain au chocolat on my inside (for strength!) and Coromandel on my outside (for courage!) would be sufficient to see me through the entire procedure. [1]

Martinus drove us to the Silverlake establishment, and when we arrived, giddy and slightly hysterical, you never saw a duck quite so out of water nor a rabbit quite so out of its hat as these two hopelessly English, soft-bellied babblers among the hard-torsoed, taciturn, tattoo artists.

Martinus went first, and as he bit his lip and gripped my hand, I thought, “this is a bit what it must be like to support someone who is in labor.”

He was very brave, and required neither an epidural nor even pleaded for narcotics!

Then it was my turn. I looked away, just as I do when I have blood drawn. It wasn’t horrifically painful. But the duck-rabbit was in an extreme state of nervous tension (afterwards, Derrek, our very gentle and sweet-natured tattoo artist, would observe, “I could tell beforehand that you were a bit too over-excited”).

Blackness closed in, nausea rose, my torso slipped down in its chair, my head fell back. Oh, la! A fit of the vapors! The limp duck-rabbit was tenderly attended by burly men, one of whom brought a stool to elevate its feet and produced a glass of orange juice, while the other placed cold washcloths on its neck and conjured a lollipop.

Martinus was entrusted with a fan and directed to blow cool air on my face. In my delicate state I had just enough breath to ask him if he wished to take my pulse, for I am sure I have one of the best pulses of any duck-rabbit in the world.

He demurred.

“There are worse occupations in this world,” I managed to whisper weakly, “than feeling a duck-rabbit’s pulse.”

“But a tenured professor’s!” he said. “And in an open shop!”

Thankfully, the cool air, compresses, and cherry lollipop all proved sufficient to calm my racing heart, and Derrek was able to resume his etching. In an extraordinary feat of stoicism, I endured the rest of my inking with only a few grimaces and forceful clutches of Martinus’s poor hand as the line slowly curled its way behind my upper arm.


Two days later, I had to give an oral exam to a student whose dissertation is about digression in eighteenth-century novels. I fantasized that at the very end of the exam I would say, “And for your final question: what’s THIS?” while dramatically pulling up my left shirt sleeve, thereby revealing the serpentine line, which would surely elicit gasps of amazement and admiration from student and colleagues alike.

As Martinus noted, her response might with some justification be, “Well, kinda inappropriate, frankly.”

I spared her. But afterwards I showed her and she laughed and said, “Oh, I was totally gonna get that but then I heard a grad student in Comp Lit has it so I decided not to.”

“What????” I exclaimed, perhaps a little too loudly. “Someone in Comp Lit at this very institution already has this exact tattoo?”

“Yeah,” she said, but then seeing my aghast expression added hastily, “but, I mean, just because someone else already has it doesn’t mean, obviously, that no-one else can get it, because it’s still, uh, awesome … and, uh, I might even still get it myself … maybe, ” she ended, weakly.

Man. I can’t believe it. The line of liberty is actually the line of conformity with the comp-lit-grad-student-imagination. Not that I have anything against comp lit. Or grad students. I just didn’t realize that I was still one, imaginatively speaking.

It’s kind of like my first year of grad school when I went out to explore Harvard Square and then came back to my residence hall and crowed with the swagger of a pioneer, “Guys, I have discovered this amazing coffee place! It’s called Starbucks, and they serve lattes!!!”

But hey-ho. Maybe there are more line-of-liberty-tattoos out there than you can shake a stick at. I don’t care. Because mine (and Martinus’s) is the best: the serpentiniest, libertiest, and stickiest. A thousand of your father’s most subtle syllogisms could not persuade me otherwise.


[1] As the remainder of this post relates, this confidence turned out to be ill-founded.


Day 81: the shape of my midlife crisis

Well, it’s serpentine, obviously. Whoever is writing this plot has a serious weakness for the serpentine line. In fact, I’d say it’s a tad heavy-handed. I mean, first those hyacinthine, ripply locks, and now this??? In such close succession? It’s a bit much.

Oi Author, are you listening up (or, rather more probably, I fear, down) there? You don’t need to lay it on so thick. [1]

But I’m sure my pleas will fall on deaf ears. So back to you, dear readers. [2] What is this, you ask? Don’t scroll down! Serpentine line, remember? Let it unfurl in due course.

So, indulge me in a thought-experiment and all will be revealed. What are some things that a duck-rabbit might do at (and following) a jubilantly drunken dinner (G&T; Pimms; red wine; red wine; red wine; port. Dr. F, don’t blame me; blame Englishness) at the house of the lovely R, and her husband, the incorrigible Martinus Scriblerus?

Well, it would be mere speculation, but if I had to spin out a hypothesis, I’d imagine that a duck-rabbit might do the following:

  • Smoke a cigarette, which it has not done since New Year’s Eve in Berlin in 2003 when it was locked in a bathroom with the delightful Onivas.
  • Rashly swear to accompany Martinus Scriblerus to a tattoo parlor and get matching tattoos of this:


  • Not only make this pledge in speech, but further affirm it in writing with an unequivocal YES!!! when Martinus texts (“Tattoo. 5th June”) to affirm said commitment later that night. [3]
  • Upon getting home, be sober enough to wash face, remove contact lenses, and brush teeth before going to bed, and yet not be sober enough to actually master the act of getting into bed. In this hypothetical scenario, the duck-rabbit would think to itself that it had successfully gotten into bed; but although, in the most basic sense, it had, it would have failed to execute the maneuver properly, inserting itself, not under the top sheet, but between the wool blanket and the duvet, leading it to toss and turn all night muttering, “sheets … so … scratchy … must be withdrawal from alcohol poisoning … or possibly itchy skin first symptom of lung cancer resulting from one cigarette … must investigate on internet first thing tomorrow … ”
  • During fitful, itchy sleep, dream that it took two bottles of Chanel perfume home from R&M’s house. In morning open purse to discover two bottles of Chanel perfume! Squeal audibly in delight at this miraculous actualization of its dream! [4]
  • Upon awakening hungover and with (literally) cold feet, don one sock even though both feet are cold, because it seems too challenging of a task to locate the other sock. (Note: am still wearing only one sock.)
  • Laugh out loud to itself for several minutes at the idea of a duck-rabbit getting a tattoo of a squiggle from Tristram Shandy.
  • Instead of reading for tomorrow’s seminar, spend long time thinking up the most up-one’s-own-arse (oruboros! Ultimate serpentine line, no?) tattoo one could possibly get. Come up with idea of a Magritte-like hand drawing the Tristram Shandy squiggle on a duck-rabbit, which is itself drawn on the front (back) of a Necker cube, which is balanced precariously on an infinite chain of turtles.


[1] To butcher Monsieur Jacques Le Fataliste, who thinks everything is written up above: “tout ce qui nous arrive de bien et de mal ici-bas était écrit plus-bas.” I can’t remember French well enough to know if that’s actually how you would say “down below” in this context.

[2] And speaking of how dear you are; I am sorry, loyal subscribers, for posting so much and clogging your inboxes. I don’t expect you to keep up. I’m certainly not.

[3] Note, however, that the unequivocal YES!!! was preceded with an are-we-really-going-to-do-this? wobble, which Martinus instantly quashed with an emphatic, “fuckin right we are NO BACKSIES,” the use of the phrase “no backsies” (despite the duck-rabbit not having heard said phrase for approximately 30 years), triggering, in almost Pavlovian fashion, the instantaneous conviction that reneging on the oath was now completely futile.

[4] For the next week, I am going to alternate wearing these two scents. If you happen to pass me in the hallway and find your nostrils tickled by a delicious waft of je-ne-sai-quois that inexorably pulls you, Bisto-like (another serpentine line!!!), into my orbit, do let me know. Cheers!


Day 76: Miltonic hairs

On Friday I went to a fantastic talk about Milton’s hair that Jayne gave at the Huntington. It was about how Milton’s hair (frequently but controversially described as “light brown”; frequently and less controversially depicted as shoulder-length, with a bit of curl to it) figures prominently in both literary and visual depictions of him in the eighteenth century.

That description doesn’t even begin to do the talk justice, though. I know she’ll be terribly bashful when she reads this, but hearing a talk by Jayne is like watching a movie by Christopher Nolan, or a play by Tom Stoppard. It’s at once a dazzling spectacle full of wit and playful embellishments, with ingeniously interlocking moving parts; and it’s also intellectually riveting. At the end she apologized for the talk’s lengthiness, but its ampleness was one of its pleasures.

When it came to the Q&A I didn’t really have a question … but the talk had triggered a long chain of associations … about the hairiness of Eden (Right? The “tangling bushes”; the “shaggie Hill”; “the fringed bank with Myrtle crowned?” It is so hairy in paradise!) and Milton’s fondness for the serpentine line (the brook that winds with “mazy error” and so on). I gathered my miscellaneous thoughts into a question about the aesthetics of wavy lines. But as I was asking my rambling question, gazing idly at the portrait of Milton that was up on the projector as I did so, I found myself saying out loud what I was thinking at that very instant: which was that perhaps I (like Milton) am particularly invested in the aesthetics of wavy lines because I have Miltonically wavy hair. [1] It was just a silly off-the-cuff remark … but I distinctly heard a few murmured “her hair really is like Milton’s ….” as Jayne responded to my question. And just so we’re all on the same page here, I should say that the resemblance I’m referring to here is between my hair and John Milton’s hair; I’m not talking about some purported resemblance between my hair and Eve’s coy tendrils or Adam’s hyacinthine locks. [2]

Here he is, in all his wavy glory. Judge for yourself, o ye who have seen my hair:

1853 engraving based on 1667 miniature by Faithorne

1853 engraving based on 1667 miniature by Faithorne

After the talk, when I glimpsed myself in the mirror while I was washing my hands in the restroom, I actually said out loud, and none too happily, “God, I really do look like Milton.” Later Jayne remarked that she would never see my hair in the same way again, and a graduate student of whom I’m very fond remarked of the resemblance, in a wonderfully deadpan way, “you can’t un-see it.”

Now, it could well be that it’s not really the case that I look like Milton in particular. I suspect, rather, that my beachy waves (what! That’s how Dr. F. described them!) coincidentally bear a striking resemblance to the Cavalier locks worn by many seventeenth-century men. My children have each several times asked me if the picture of the bushy-haired Leibniz on my T-shirt is a picture of me.

So, here’s the thing. I’m not sure whether to embrace my Miltonic aura or to commence anti-Miltonic defensive maneuvers immediately.

Here are the options as I see them:

Option 1: De-Milton My Hair

To do this, I maintain, I need to trim my longish bangs pronto. And here I must take a moment to note the oddity of the American term “bangs” to refer to what we British refer to, much more reasonably, as a “fringe.” The OED tells me that bangs are called bangs because hair cut in this manner was understood to be cut “‘bang’ off,” the phrase “bang off” connoting abruptness, suddenness, violence. It struck me that, in hair terms, bangs naturally counter-balance Miltonic waves. One might say the bangs are a necessary punctuation of the undulating Miltonic line. One might even say, if one were feeling particularly iconoclastic, that Paradise Lost could have used a few more bangs to break up those endless waves. But I digress. The waves-punctuated-by-bangs look would de-Miltonize my hair, is my point.

Option 2: Go the Full Milton

Ever since He-Who-Must-Be-Preserved and I have separated, friends have been asking me if I will try online dating. I always say nah, not at the moment, anyway. But recently I’ve started to fantasize about creating an online profile on a dating website, not as a means to meet people, but simply for my own entertainment. Would it be funny ha ha? Possibly not. Would it be funny-but-actually-quite-sad? Possibly, but don’t say that, you’re bumming me out. Anyway, I’m interested in testing out the genre.

Let me explain what I mean. Ever since the Miltonic hair incident I’ve been thinking, if I did do online dating, the picture of “myself” that accompanied my profile would simply have to be a portrait of Milton.

I told He-Who-Must-Be-Preserved excitedly about this idea and he gave me this “are you insane?” look. “You do know that NO MAN will contact you if you do that, don’t you?” he asked.

It was a rhetorical question.

Maybe you think he’s right. Or maybe you’re thinking, “I know you say now that you don’t want to meet anyone, but what if you change your mind and someone really compatible is turned off because you look like John Milton?” To which I would reply, “my friend, I appreciate your concern, but I am two steps ahead of you. You see it’s a win-win. First of all, do I really want to date a heterosexual male who would pass me over just because I look like the dead seventeenth-century poet John “the Lady” Milton?

Obviously, the answer is no, such a person would be un-dateable.

Second of all, think of what a nice surprise it will be when my suitor meets me! He will be thinking, “well, I suppose I’ll meet this woman, she seems interesting … yes, she does look like John Milton but nobody’s perfect.” And then when we meet for coffee at a massive chain bookstore selling fiction-books (it will be exactly like this) my suitor will be completely and utterly stunned to discover that, in real life, I look way better than John Milton.

Now, that may be a bold claim to make, but I’m going to stick my neck out and make it. (Bear in mind when you assess this claim that the above portrait is an extremely flattering portrait of Milton. I only chose it because it shows his hair in detail.)

Am I better writer? Of course not! A bolder thinker? No way! A more impassioned political activist? Ha! But am I better-looking? I honestly think that I am. I’m thinking I could even lead with that audacious statement in my profile’s opening sentence.

But why stop there? In my fantasy, I go further and the whole profile is given over to defining myself entirely in terms of my resemblance (or lack thereof) to John Milton. It might take the form of a bulleted list like so:

  • Worse writer than
  • Less Puritan than
  • More easygoing than
  • Degree of unconscious affiliation with devil’s party: similar
  • Less misogynist than
  • More concise than
  • Less prolific than
  • Views on divorce: similar
  • Better eyesight than
  • More smiley than
  • Less intimidating than

And so on and so forth.

So what d’you reck? I think He-Who-Must-Be-Preserved is totally wrong. I think it is a WINNING FORMULA. I will be the Miltonist’s crumpet: perhaps not to everyone’s taste, but with a distinctive flavor appealing to a select few.


[1] People tend to like my hair, and particularly its waviness. But, and I know this is perverse of me (I have an uncanny ability to ferret out an insult lurking beneath every compliment), I often (watch out! Hair-pun ahead!) bristle a little at the idea that my hair is one of my best features. I mean: really? Can’t you compliment a part of me that’s actually alive? You know that hair is just keratin and dead skin cells, right? That’s like telling someone that their fingernails are one of their more attractive features.

[2] One of the many fascinating facts I learned at Jayne’s talk is that Milton’s seventeenth-century and eighteenth-century readers were as baffled by the adjective “Hyacinthine” as I have always been. I’ve always assumed that “Hyacinthine,” like so many allusions in Paradise Lost, is a term that, while mystifying to me, would have been perfectly clear to an eighteenth-century gentleman (or a twenty-first-century graduate of Eton). But, apparently, no, everyone back then was equally stumped. Reddish like the gem? Blueish like the flower? Stony? Flowery? Fuck knows. Martinus, didn’t they teach you this at public school?