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Entry 16: The Miller's Tale

From my recollection, I began this blog as a way to learn about, pontificate about, and teach things that I was passionate about in the early days of COVID, when I didn't have what the kids call a "job." I read about Plato, Bentham, all the dudes I loved in college. When I got a job (or, rather, a lifestyle that includes work), I kind of stopped reading as much for fun. I had resigned myself to a life of reading studies on the state of working from home or articles on mergers and acquisitions that I was paid to brief. And as it turns out, working on a non-fiction book requires quite a bit of reading. So I could tell you everything you wanted to know about the differences between acting-out and acting-in the countertransference from the perspective of the therapist, but not a lot about my good friends Kierkegaard or Marcus Aurelius. My brain has gotten nice and big through all this writing, but reading for fun has been a bit of an afterthought. I look at words all day for work, logic told me. I don't need to do it for fun too.

That all changed on one short flight to Tampa, FL, when I flew down to help drive our sheep-like white poodle Daphne to New York for the holidays (pictured above, kind of). With no work to do and no laptop to entertain me, I brought along an old favorite of mine - Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. I first read it in undergrad, when I took a class on Chaucer with one of the coolest English professors I ever had. He was this old dude who wore all black, spoke Old English fluently, and once implied that I was a vampire. He got me hooked on Morte D'Arthur, another favorite (in particular the original Tristram and Isolde saga, as I do love my Wagner), and Chaucer. I didn't love all the picking apart of metaphors in these stories, as that's something I never loved doing in English classes throughout life. But I loved reading something written so long ago and learning about the culture, the norms, the attitudes and the personalities. 12th century peasants – they're just like us!

Yes, Chaucer was a beautiful writer and some of these stories are exceptionally poetic and thought-provoking. But because I'm a trashy, classless plebeian, my favorite of all the Canterbury tales has to be the Miller's tale. I love it so much that I re-read it aloud to my mom and Daphne the poodle on our twenty hour road trip to the city. Daphne slept through most of it, but she's also a dog, so I'm not sure how much she would have understood had she been awake. For those who aren't familiar, let me give you a crash course.

There's this carpenter named John, and he has a boarder named Nicolas who's young, hung, and studies astrology (which was basically like being a scientist, a doctor, an Almanac, and the Costar app all in one in 1387). John's got this super hot wife named Alison – she's the ripe old Pornhub age of eighteen, "slender as any weasel" and "ful smale ypulled were hire browes two" (yeah, you read that right, Alison plucked her eyebrows! They did that back then). John's old and frumpy and rich, and Alison is a sexy little golddigger, so John is fully convinced he's going to get cucked. He tries to keep Alison on a tight leash, but as you can imagine, that doesn't exactly play out well.

Nicolas is the first to get dibs on Alison, and the two of them plan to co-captain the cuck train all the way to Sextown (where I, for the record, have served 10 consecutive years as comptroller). All the while, Alison's got more suitors – one of them is Absalom, a handsome young parish clerk who smelled like licorice and "was somdeel squaymous of fartyng." You also read that one right. Absalom didn't like farts. Despite his many attempts to woo her, Alison is not into Absalom. I think she thinks he's too prissy or something, but we never get those details.

So, to unfold the cuckification, Nicolas convinces John that a big flood is coming (just like whole Noah bible story). He tells John to hang tubs from the rafters so that he, Nicolas, and Alison can all float to safety – but everyone's got to have their own tub so nobody's tempted to sin. But lo and behold, when John gets everyone up into their tubs then falls asleep, Nicolas and Alison climb out to sin to their heart's content. After hours of passion, Absalom the cuck-shielding cock-block comes up to the window begging Alison for just one little kiss. And she and Nicolas get an idea.

In the dark of night, Alison sticks her whole ass out the window, and Absalom kisses – hold onto your hats! – her "lower eye" (some might call it her bunghole). To get his revenge, Absalom goes and gets a hot poker from the blacksmith. He comes back for just one more kiss, and this time, it's Nicolas that puts his dumpy out the window. Nicolas farts "like a thunderbolt," Absalom stabs his asshole with the hot poker, the commotion wakes up John, who falls out of the tub and breaks his arm, and then the whole village comes around to laugh about it. And God save all the company!

I can't stress enough how much I love this story. I made an offhanded comment earlier about how much people from the 12th century were just like us, but that's part of the reason this story is so near and dear to me. Humans have never moved beyond cucking, beyond fart jokes, beyond slapstick and schadenfreude. It's kind of an amazing relic to remind us all that people are just people. Dudes want to screw chicks and girls want to have nice eyebrows. They all try to freshen their breath before they go in for kisses and John has a whole bit about telling Nicolas to leave his studies because being ignorant, working hard, and believing in God is the holiest life a man can lead (which kind of explains why he's the butt of the joke in the long run, pun completely intended).

I'm not going to turn this into some high-brow commentary, partially because I'm tired of trying to conceptualize things in a larger context. It feels sometimes like critical thinking is the only offensive maneuver against the constant bombardments of everyday life, and it's totally exhausting to constantly be conscious of the impact that stimuli has on your ability to function (this is a fancy way of saying that the digital age is turning my brain to soup). But it's comforting to know that sometimes, there's stuff you don't have to think that hard about. Fundamentally, humans are humans. We're funny and gross and horny and dumb. So horny and dumb! But we'll never stop being that way. And isn't that just a little reassuring?

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