by Peter Byrne
(Swans - December 18, 2006) HE: Walking up the Hackney Road again, London, E. 8. Just like last year. God, where am I going?
HIM: Well, it's obvious. You're going to the Hackney Empire.
HE: Shut up, You! You don't exist. I'm talking about my direction in life for crisake, and not that Eternal Life Your side harrumphs about.
HIM: Hmmm. Peace be with you.
And don't say Hackney Empire so loud. Pantomime's for kids. I'll pass for one of those pedo-whatchamacallit's.
I believe that in polite society We favor pedicure.
Let's not dawdle. The curtain goes up on time at the Empire. I bet You're a closet fan of panto shows too. This year it's Cinderella.
I did see Jack and the Beanstalk on the venerable stage aforementioned yuletide last.
Great wasn't it? Clive Rowe really took charge and belted out his numbers.
That he did. But I rather thought the concept strayed from tradition.
Say it, the Pantomime Dame was black as a London sunset. That's why they could sneak in some real music with soul.
I go way back and I've never seen anything like it before. And that little darkie girl that had the hots for a very pale Jack.
And You're keeping away from this year's Cinderella because she might not be Klansman pink? Maybe a shade of canary yellow or polished mahogany from the sub-continent?
Don't get Me wrong. They're all equal before Me. Some of My best friends and contributors sport farfetched hues. But, Jack and Cinderella, well, they're sacred in Charles Dickens's London.
Come off it. Hackney's not what it used to be. No more skinny cockneys on top and sweatshops full of Ashkenazim stitching milady's underwear. Miscegenation's a popular dish on the menu.
Don't use words like that.
It's in my Mason-Dixon dictionary.
The audience for the Beanstalk looked traditional enough.
Right, the pioneers of gentrification and their shiny white kids. They still have a consumer's lock on the cultural goodies.
Let's just say that pantomime's a noble art form with a hallowed past. The Good Queen brought little Prince Albert without fail.
You're one of those Victorians then? And in charge too. No wonder we're in this mess that Swans keeps on about. My, o my, and You have a yen for panto dress-ups too?
My son, I'm a case apart, as you must have heard. I get the kingdom's steamed up dreams by direct line. Actors are only the tip of that meltdown that used to be an iceberg. There's not a male thespian in the realm who doesn't hanker to put on the skirts of a Panto Dame. For the luvvie daughters of Eve, it's the reverse. They yearn more to pull on the First Boy's trousers than they pine for Abraham's bosom.
Excuse me, Mon Vieux, but don't You think about anything but sex up there in the clouds?
You didn't know I was a realist? I call all that stuff family values.
You do those too?
And how. We took out the patent. Big Daddy, that's Me; Son's a mite bolshy; obedient women, immaculate of course; children like lambs to be shepherded -- the whole hierarchical menagerie.
So You dump on the Dems too? That's the way Swans sees it.
Swan's Way, that whippersnapper Marcel P.?
Passé, Gramps, I'm talking Swans Commentary, putting the world right bi-weekly on a voluntary basis, gratis all round.
That sounds like biblical virtue.
Plenty of wrath of the Lord stuff. They're clobbering both sides just now. You're not a Democrat, by any chance?
That line of goods, small or large D, doesn't go down with Me. You've heard of the Great I-AM and Yahweh Who Is Who He Is?
Sure, and the Great Panjandrum Himself. But it's Xmas. Enough capital letters already. Shouldn't we be talking lower case human beings, baby in the manger, etcetera?
You're on the ball. 'Hear this now. Throw off your traumas and come unto me all ye who hunger and thirst or who can't quite adjust.'
They don't understand You. This year Hackney Road's full of Balkan types with a few Romanians thrown in for spice. It was Pakistanis last year. They moved on.
I'd chase up a curry dinner Myself, son, but I'm afraid of the multiethnic trots. The clash of civilizations gets Me in the gut.
There's a Sikh with a turban working on Sunday.
Honest toil. It's good for them. Keeps their mind off bomb making. You know they may put their clothes on backwards, but despite the tawny skin beneath, they're all on My team: monotheists, as We say in the trade. All God's children.
You're not an Evangelical?
If I look that dim, My halo needs polishing. That's not My poison of choice, no siree, but I never say no to a good singsong.
Along here You might find a Mick leftover from last night who can carry a tune.
Now you're talking. How about a tuft of the hair of the dog that bit him?
I'll show You a pub on Mare Street opposite the Empire. It's packed with Poles lately, plumbers.
An admirable people, full of expertise on saints, flush toilets, and the hard stuff. We'll have a sit down and a jabber before you go off to the kiddy show.
Sorry, no time and, frankly, I'm in no mood for Your preaching. I've had a hard year wrestling with principles on Swans and need a breathing spell. No excitement of the anathema-on-your-house kind for the nonce.
What's their game exactly?
Hard to sum up. I suppose making the world over would take it all in. But You best go punch out Swans.com and read the whole shebang. Then You can put Your two cents in as well.
Read? Write? What good is it being omniscient if I have to put on My specs and fool with that baloney?
A pity. I'd recommend the biting film reviews, sharp insights on books and sober short stories, ever on the move from country to country, by a coming author who signs himself...
Stop it. You're putting Me to sleep. Fill Me in on what these birds are peddling just now.
At the moment Swans looks Green around the gills. They keep saying stupidity's the issue or something like that. It flummoxes me.
Politics can give mortals the hump. But I'm surprised that they're third-party wonks in this practical day and age. Why even upstairs We lift our goblets to pragmatism.
Swans have had it with the two-party system.
Bad tactics. They ought to get real. Look what the I'm-not-so-bad-as-the-other-guy line has done for Me. I just stand up and ask, "So you want that creep with horns to win?" Sure, it was hard at first -- the negativity -- but now I don't mind being the Lesser Evil. It beats carrying that pitchfork and all the sulfur and brimstone crap.
You don't leave alternatives much of a doorway.
Complexity's not where I live despite my Many Mansions. Utopia's for the plebs -- lacks the modern conveniences.
But You Yourself roost in the upper air.
Sure, but I'm down here slumming often enough.
I have to say that I sometimes envy You.
Now you're talking.
It's so much simpler just to worry about what everyone owes You. Think of my year. In March we were asking whether America was on the brink of totalitarianism. Then Dr. Jacob Amir kept us from solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. You ever have a full-time Aryan like Ashley Howes at the other end of an email? A pity Swans can't afford a hook, that dogcatcher's gismo that pulls a bombed-out stand-up off the stage. Of course Milosevic needed attention, pro and con. Even the 10th anniversary number had to fight its way through the Carpal Tunnel. It fell to us to unsay what Peter Handke didn't say. My nerves! Even habeas corpus looked on the way out for a while. Charles de Gaulle turned up, on our side for a change. When Lebanon exploded, I was ready to put my head in the sand. But not to hole up in Malibu: we didn't like that either. So I plunged into a must-read and had Darfur on my plate. Anyway, how could I relax with the midterms looming? This idiot wasn't going to be useful. Not that our stress level dived when the Democraps won. Whoops! Forget I used an adolescent, Limbaughish word -- Marxist Mister dixit. So I crawled through December flat on my belly.
I see that soaring with the Swans is no health farm weekend. Don't they ever settle down in their nests and hatch their eggs? What about the savory old quotidian?
There's Boonville, and they do accept cash donations.
Well that's good of them. But does anyone make donations? I've seen some pretty skint collection plates in My day.
They manage. Don't ask me how.
They have only to come up to see Me. I'd be glad to show them the ropes. They can press the flesh of fundraisers with wings. I'll knock them against some hard realities, like the pearly gates.
They ought to get away from all this airy idealism?
Right on, Junior. And you'd better look for solid ground too. Volontary-toiletary worthapiss-gratis. If you must, go to see a fairy tale at Santa-Claus time, but get some pay dirt under your shoe leather come the New Year.
Hmm. Well, it's been nice talking and walking with You, as character assassins say. Mind if I give You some advice?
To the Great I-AM? That's My department, old Buddy, preaching, as you put it. Still, fire away. It's the season of good will.
It's just that the Hackney Empire was big on music hall -- vaudeville, as they call it in the colonies over the water. All the greats have trodden its stage.
I know, I know, Charlie Chaplin, Marie Lloyd, Stan Laurel.
And W.C. Fields. The locals haven't forgotten him. Now with that red nose of Yours and Your spiel, they might take You for the Bank Dick making a comeback.
Drat! I never thought of that though in slimmer days I was once mistaken for Jimmy Carter. Thanks for the tip, my little chickadee. Now off you go and don't let any Baby LeRoy steal your popcorn.
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