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26 February 2005


Originally this was titled "How to catch a unicorn," but people have not been leaving many comments, so I thought if I re-titled it with VIRGINS in the title, I might get a little more traffic.

This is authentic Medieval lore.

A unicorn will only get close enough to let a person see or touch the unicorn if the person is a female virgin. Right away, this explains a lot about why unicorns are seen so rarely.

Back at the castle, the king expresses a desire for a rare and beautiful unicorn horn, so the royal hunters search the castle for a virgin. They find an attractive young virgin and explain their plan. They will give her a nice fat little bag of gold if she will come into the forest with them. All she has to do is sit quietly under a big tree for a few hours. She accepts this proposal, they all go into the forest, the hunters hide in nearby bushes, the virgin sits down under the big tree.

Eventually a unicorn very timidly steps into the clearing and approaches the virgin, whose virginity unicorns can recognize instantly by their magical powers. The unicorn lies down, places its head gently in the virgin's lap, and then falls blissfully asleep.

The hunters leap from the bushes, slay the unicorn with spears and knives, and rip the horn out of the unicorn's head. Then they all go back to the castle and give the virgin her nice fat little bag of gold, and a little extra for the dress that got hot unicorn blood and entrail juices all over it.

And this is why unicorns are so rare, though unicorn horns hang above many royal fireplaces: The unicorn makes the fatal mistake of confusing inexperience with innocence.

* * *

There are several surviving spectacular tapestry groups depicting la chasse du licorne. If you're North Americanish, or USA Right Coastish, there's one in New York City, in the magnificent authentic stone-by-stone re-construction of a Medieval European shack called The Cloisters, so now you know what kind of a joint this used to be somewhere in Europe in the Middle Ages and up until around 1900, when an American gazillionaire had it shipped back with every stone numbered, like a 3D jigsaw puzzle, but one intended to be solved very quickly, easily and efficiently, especially at a time when New York City was teeming with very cheap immigrant labor, and there were as yet no labor laws.

In fact proposals for child labor laws were denounced vehemently in Congress, because they would create a nation of unemployed layabouts, slugabeds, urchins and ragamuffins. Hard work is character-building for the young. In one of the Wapshot novels, John Cheever recounts a tale in which two New England boys visit their Yankee farmer uncle, who promises them a fine (but unspecified) reward for a day of hard farm labor. Coverly and Moses work brutally and nastily hard all day, and at the end of the day, their uncle takes them to the well, fills the dipper, and says, "Here's your reward, boys -- Adam's Ale!"

(Please note the ", which is my temporary punctuation mark, the Ill-Remembered Quotation Mark.)

Abraham Lincoln said, "My father taught me to work hard, but he never taught me to like it." I think I got that one nailed, he really said exactly that. If you know better, leave a Comment. If you validite my memory, leave a Comment. If you like chocolate, or vanilla (both domesticated by the Aztecs), or Little Penguin Wine, leave a Comment.

Anyway, back to The Cloisters. It's way the hell uptown, past Sugar Hill, in Washington Heights. Not the best part of town, but if you want to see the Medieval Cloisters, and the thousands of spectacularly gorgeous treasures in them, that's where you have to schlep. The Cloisters is an out-building of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, that's who runs The Cloisters.

I went to college a bus ride away from The Cloisters, and worked in that neighborhood renting cars (piece-o-shit Chryslers and a now-extinct Detroit brand which were even worse) one summer. One of my co-workers we called Rex, guess why. One day I incautiously went into the wonderful cheap Italian friendly lunchcounter next to the rent-a-car place with a Big Red Hickey on my throat, and 30 Neighborhood Types just went carnival apeshit humiliating public about it.

(Green makeup is often effective to cover up a Big Red Hickey, Green + Red = Caucasian Flesh Color. Victims of domestic abuse also commonly use this trick of complementary-color makeup. This is one of the important lessons I learned while my parents were burning a mountain of cash so I could study Theater at a pretty slick private university in NYC. They must have been on some kind of drugs. I certainly was.)

The first time I visited The Cloisters, I was horrified! Hundreds of magnificent ancient statues, their beautiful faces had been all smashed in with hammers or tire irons -- the neighborhood gangs of Washington Heights (I knew all about NYC youth gangs from "West Side Story") had broken in at night and smashed all the Medieval statuary!

Well ... close. Not accurate, but close. These statues had been mostly hosed up by the gazillionaire in Northern Europe, and when the Reformation came to Northern Europe, religious statuary, of the Virgin Mary, of the Saints and Martyrs, of the Apostles, of the Disciples, was suddenly deemed to be idolatry, and mobs of -- well, neighborhood gangs, led by religious reformers, smashed all the porphyry, obsidian and wooden faces of the statues. The time to call 911 and save the statues' faces was about 1500.

But in a 13th-century cubicle stone chamber deep in the bowels of The Cloisters, on the four large walls are the four huge panels of The Unicorn Tapestries (Brussels, circa 1500). The pretty young virgin, the unicorn snoozing blissfully with its head in her lap, the brutal hunters leaping out ... it's all there, gorgeously, ethereally, the work, I imagine, of fifty maids a-weaving steadily for several years. It's a guaranteed Half-Hour In Eyeball & Soul Paradise, or your money back. I think admission to The Cloisters is a donation at your own personal goodwill and discretion. So don't just go in without paying something. That makes you a schnorrer, and probably worse, you are certainly not a mensch. In fact I think you're a schmuck.

While students at the nearby college, my roommate and I cooked up a scheme. One morning around 10:30 we would arrive in a white ACME RUG CLEANING SERVICE van, and, in white working uniforms, with embroidered first names on our pockets (LEO and MIGUEL, I seem to recall), would stroll into The Cloisters, roll up the unicorn wall rugs we liked so much, carry them back out to the van, and drive off. And hang them in our Bronx college student apartment, I imagine, or use them as rugs and walk and party on them, we were college students and so hadn't worked out all the details. But we weenied out and never did it.

While in NYC, another famous Virgin Site are the stone lions guarding the New York City Public Library on 42nd Street, where Barbara Tuchman researched The Guns of August and her other wonderful books (my particular fave: The First Salute, no, it's The Zimmerman Telegram, no, it's A Distant Mirror). Every time a virgin walks past the lions, they roar. This is a Documented Fact.

In another branch of the NYC Public Library you can see the original Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore, and Kanga in a glass case in the Children's Room of the Donnell branch, across the street from The Museum of Modern Art. Recently Members of Parliament have made irate speeches demanding their stuffed animals back, but we've got them for now, catch 'em while you can. The original Christopher Robin is Not There, and you know why.

Smith College, an all-women college a few blocks down the street from me, taught or still teaches a course on The Cult of the Virgin -- the world's collected lore and myth, religion, literature and art about the special condition of being a female virgin. From a medical standpoint, being a female virgin has all the significance of still having your tonsils, but you got no idea how many people of both sexes have been beheaded or burned at the stake or disemboweled or drawn and quartered or gelded (Abelard) for Virgin-Related Crimes and Monkey Business. And more than a few nasty lengthy wars over Virginity, Was She or Wasn't She, Whether It Was Very Special or Not. One of The Smith College Radio Babes took the course and told me about it. (No math pre-requisite, and very little early-morning waking required.) She thought it was pretty interesting. I'm not sure if she was a virgin that semester or not, I don't know from which side of virginity she was studying all this lore.

The Smith Main Gate -- if a Smith woman ever accidentally forgets, or is real drunk or something, and walks under it, she'll never get married. If you are in high school shopping for real good colleges, be careful, it could accidentally happen to you on your campus-shopping visit, if you get accepted and you end up going there.

Anyway -- are you a unicorn? Have you ever confused Innocence with Inexperience? Did hunters leap out at you while you snoozed in a pretty young virgin's lap and rip your horn out? Sucks for you.

Oh -- about those pesky child labor laws commies finally crammed through Congress during the New Deal ... Walmart just consented to a deal with the US Labor Department. Walmart admits no past wrongdoing, but pays a fine of about $300k. Walmart promises not to let underage employees work around huge dangerous potentially arm-ripping and disembowling machines in the warehouse anymore. In exchange, the Labor Department promises to notify Walmart 15 days in advance before starting any future Labor Department investigation of child labor violation complaints.

Is that a deal, or what? Is our government safeguarding our kids, or what? Does my town police department offer a deal like that? I'll promise Not Ever To, if the Police will promise to call me 15 days before they come over to see If I Did It or I've Been Doing It.


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