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November 22, 2013: Servants

William Hogarth, detail of "Beer Street" (1751)

I had lingering doubts about keeping Pavel on as butler and manservant this winter. He has been like a wild dog these past few months. My greatest weakness has always been a grim loyalty to the help, and Pavel, my shopworn inheritance, is no exception. The central problem has hung about our heads, unacknowledged, staining the wallpaper; let us just say that it wasn't the frigid air of Pavel's native steppes that turned his nose red. Without fail, my toleration for the odd tipple has, over the past months, been run roughshod, as Pavel suddenly degenerated into a sick parody of man, drinking his life away on Gin Lane. Why now?

Each morning for seventeen years, as Pavel trudges up from the cellar into the dinette, I have held up my paper to obscure his unsightly shambling. But it has only been for the past few months that I have done so out of necessity, lest I see a still-drunk shaking wretch. He is a dipsomaniac of the basest form, and his transformation is as breathtaking as it is inexplicable:
  • He appears and serves breakfast covered in strange bruises of unknown provenance. Not all of them can be explained away by his long-standing choice of sleeping in the coal chute. He claims he earned them playing sports, but it's winter. The breakfasts he serves are slovenly, the "bacon" a thin putrescent material shaved off the pig's back, the milk served in plastic bags.
  • His quarters are packed to bursting with these bottles. His bingeing is nearly always accompanied by a positively demonic soundtrack.
  • He is churlish with the boy who brings by the newspaper. Last week, he drunkenly woke me, shouting "maggot" and "prick" and "pinko" and numerous Slavic oaths and flat vowels at the poor urchin as he tried to tuck the Sunday edition under the front step. He leered at even me, screaming at the top of his lungs that football is meant to be played on a one hundred and ten yard field.
I could not understand his strange and convulsive behavior. As I reeled around the shambolic serf, picking up my paper, I finally identified the wellspring of the issue. Pavel is nothing if not a striver, and it appears that as the first thing that greeted him each morning was the front page of my paper, he got some ideas. I dropped my mug of coffee as all the pieces suddenly fell into place - the boisterous invective against public-sector unions, the unlikely fondness for smoking cocaine, the slathering of hot dogs with mayonnaise.
It appears that Toronto city officials were right - the very sighting of Mayor Rob Ford's antics can have an immediately deleterious effect on the behavior of children. And just as my servants are my children, so too did my manservant immediately embrace the Mayor's front-page antics with a verve and gusto normally reserved for addicts of the lowest gutter class. 
Those fools in the newspaper industry! Are you happy? Can't these guttersnipes see that by elevating this titanic, as-yet-still-employed, and highly visible slob to above-the-fold stature, they are inculcating a dangerous desire in our immigrant class - to join the ranks of rich, drug-addicted politicians who are forever above the law? I am a conservative, but the carefree life of Rob Ford, able to snort or drink any substance and retain a forty percent approval rating as some sort of elected wizard - this is far too appealing a prospect. The poor are going to think they're allowed to do this sort of thing.
It is all very dispiriting. I am in a desperate state. Pavel beams confidence in his NFL-themed tie and baggy suit. He has filed papers for an exploratory committee and is trying to "begin a conversation about deficit spending" on local talk radio. I am doctoring the front pages of my newspapers to no avail. I fear for my country.

General Gandhi

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