Property / Law / Custom /
I’m just rereading Ross Macdonald’s The Zebra Stiped Hearse. Lew Archer, detective, sits in his car with the birth mother of a missing woman, outside the driveway of the missing woman’s father and current wife. The mother has received a letter from the daughter, she shows it to Lew Archer, Archer reads it. The mother holds out her hand to get her letter back, but Lew Archer tells her that the police have to see the letter. Maybe she’ll get it back when the police are done with it. The mother quietly accepts Archer’s supposition that the police have rights to her intimate mail that supersede her own rights. A minute ago her letter was in her purse, only she knew it was there; now the detective confiscates it for the cops.
Herodotus wrote of tribal nobles having what the west has come to call droit du seigneur: the hymen of the serf’s daughter belonged to the lord of the estate before it could belong to the maid’s husband. It belonged to the serf, the girl’s father, only until the lord wanted it. It never belonged to the girl.
Chaucer’s Knight Tale has a maiden with two knights smitten by her. The knights are ready to kill each other to get next to her: very funny: they’re in jail! She doesn’t want to sleep with either of them, she doesn’t know they exist, they’re spying on her, not she on them; but, same point, it’s clear: she doesn’t own her own female organs, she doesn’t own herself: God owns her, the king, owns her, her father owns her, her would-be fiancé owns her, but she doesn’t own herself: or her parts, or her time … (Those repetitions crept in through a half-baked rewrite: bear along.)
You go to the track, you buy a two dollar ticket, nobody cares if you win four dollars. But if you buy a $100 ticket, and the horse is 20 to 1 … you need your lawyer and accountant and tax pro on hand, because the IRS will be climbing around in your underwear if the horse wins. You see, the money in your wallet, that you earned, or stole, or inherited, doesn’t belong to you: except at the indulgence of the state.
So the mother’s letter really belongs to the state, or their arm, the cops. It’s in her purse or in Lew Archer’s hands only at the indulgence of the state, the true owner of everything.
Your kid is born, the mother nurses him, cleans him, dresses him, till he’s six years old, then he has to be delivered to the school.
Jews have complex rules about which kid is yours and which belongs to God … every tenth Levy or something.
The serf has a daughter, her cherry belongs to the lord: the serf knows this, the lord knows this, the daughter, from birth knows this. Only Hollywood will have her thinking that her pussy is really her business.
King Henry uses a crop
to show Becket the girl’s quim
I was born, the US hadn’t yet entered WWII. But it was clear to me, when I was three, when I was six, sixteen … that the army could draft me once I passed eighteen. The school had me when I was six, the army could take me when I was eighteen, or twenty-one: unless there was an emergency, then the army could take me anytime: or my mother, my sister, my dog … And when I was sixty-eight, the police took me, the judge decided for how long: but the police took me before the judge decided anything.
So. Have the police taken you? Have the police taken your daughter’s letter? Has Lew Archer confiscated your race track ticket for the cops?
Funny: when I was a kid I thought my parents had the right to take me; I did not see the school having the right to take me. How did that happen, how did I have any such notion? Same place Hollywood hacks get the notion that the girl should have a choice.
When I was a kid I had a drawer full of money I’d earned. I thought the money was mine. I did not think it belonged to the police, or to the IRS. I did think it belonged to God, but I was familiar with God leaving it in my drawer, indulging me if I transferred it to my pocket, or to the cash register at the soda fountain. (Finally most of it wound up in the register of the record store, half their jazz collection being there for me.)
My balls were mine, even if my ass was the army’s.
PS I used to love Ross Macdonald, eagerly read all the novels. This is my first revisit in decades. I’m reading it, but it’s annoying the hell out of me in a dozen ways. The diction is a bugger, his similes preposterous.
Uh, I lost some text here, maybe I’ll remember, later.
King Henry above is played by Peter O’Toole. He lifts the filthy peasant girl’s dress with a stick: a swagger stick, a riding crop. Becket is played by Richard Burton. What a terrific pairing, good play. Notice that Becket too holds a riding whip in his right hand.
1960 or so I saw the play well performed with Sir Larry and Anthony Quinn. After a while they switched roles! Quinn was Henry for my performance, after Larry had worn a rut on the boards.
Back in the 1950s I read of lot of Jean Anouilh.
2014 06 15 I scribbled another bit on the “same” subject, gave it the same title. I don’t like two of anything in a menu: so I merge them, link the new URL to this old one.
Jan and I watch tennis, on her cable: I don’t even have a TV set: or I do, but it got unplugged when broadcast was displaced by digital: I didn’t get the conversion gizmo: didn’t want it if you gave it to me: the little TV I did want I could get elsewise, or do without.
The other week she was all set to sample a clay court tournament, Rome probably, a French lead up: knew which cable channel was advertising coverage, but, when the promised time arrived, there was no tennis, it was some telethon: some childrens hospital.
I’ll never forget the time I was wrapped up in some NFL game, 1968, Namath one qb: and Heidi comes on! The network had sold the time to Heidi’s sponsors; but the football gave had been sold to the football sponsors. The network had sold incompatible sales. One or the other, not both.
The uproar was famous: now the networks have worked it out. But some new unanticipated double bind can always crop up: a demand for a solution with no established solution.
My army buddy told a story: back when, bunch-a teens watching a baseball game at one kid’s house. It’s tied: into the eighteenth inning: it’s the bottom of the eighteenth! Can the home team score? In walks mom. She turns the set off, tells the kids to go home for supper.
“But Ma, it’s … the bottom of the eighteenth!!!!!”
“Well, then,” Ma dismisses: “It can’t have been a very good game.”
Who owns the TV? Who owns the house? Who owns time, attention, involvement …? Well, one thing was clear: nothing was owned by the kids!
Now: what if it was the bottom of the eighteenth, Dad was home, rooting, and Mom walked in and casually turned off the set?! Could she send Dad home for supper?
What century are we in? What country? What culture?
Do women have any rights in that culture.
How about if all the good little Germans are watching soccer, and the Nazi Anthem comes on! Can Mom turn off the Nazi Anthem? with impunity?
What would the Nazis do it W-Berlin switched to Heidi? in the middle of the Nazi Anthem?
What would God do if the thunder cracks, the lightning bolts, Jesus is just about to get speared in the side, and W-Jerusalem switches coverage to Heidi? What’s God gonna do?
Never mind what God’s going to do: what’s Caesar Tiberius going to do? Who, after all, has the rank here?
Note: the Heidi show was made by its producers to fit into a times slot: call it “one hour”. The football game had to fit into periods, halves. The time of the game could be estimated, but not known.
Gentle families thought the Civil War would be over by the end of the first afternoon, they went off to watch, carried picnic baskets. Could these picnicers, if they had any arms or legs left, sue the fed a couple of years later? Could the journalist who promised them a quick war be coerced to pay for overtime?
How come the league owners weren’t pressured by the TV people to repackage their games into known slots, like Heidi?
I bet Big Brother in 1984 knew exactly how long his wars would last.
Ask you priest: does he know, once Judgment arrives, the earliest hour in heaven you can schedule your bridge game?