Heaven knows this column ought to be soaking wet in your hands. Between the severe drainage problems around our place, the endless rain and my guilt at leaving the dogs alone to go to the opera to watch Rigoletto humpback himself around the stage, I’ve been in bad weather purgatory. Hours on end spent standing in Wellington boots so the kuvaszok could splash around chasing skunks at two a.m. Then back to the computer, wet hair splashing all over it. I expect everyone in the land knew that while an iPhone can be dropped innumerable times, provided it’s in one of those lurid plastic see-through covers, one hit of rain and the whole bloody thing goes dead. Well I didn’t, and that happy bit of techno news was brightly conveyed to me by a child-assistant at an Apple store who performed an autopsy on my dead phone and showed me perfectly formed raindrops still inside.
My dogs can get anything out of me. Just that look when I come in the door from stealing an evening out, I feel like a heel. I can’t imagine the human being who actually stole a dog’s wheelchair off a Toronto porch a short while ago and left Roscoe, a five-year-old pug with paralyzed back legs, to drag himself around. That’s a contemporary version of stealing from the little match girl. Luckily for Roscoe a donated wheelchair had him back on the streets after two weeks, looking very jolly in the video clip.
Less jolly was my evening with the deformed Rigoletto dragging himself around on the stage sans wheelchair in the Canadian Opera Co. production I abandoned my dogs to see. Verdi’s opera plot revolves around the eponymous hunchback court jester Rigoletto, whose innocent daughter Gilda is seduced by the Lothario duke and then kidnapped by courtiers. When father sets out to get his vengeance, a plot twist has his daughter mistakenly murdered and delivered into his hands in a sack. Cheery stuff, though I must say, sans a few shortcomings, I loved the production and the soprano Ekaterina Sadovnikova was as close to a perfect Gilda as I’ve heard.
Opera plots have always been considered a ludicrous excuse for songs. But the way we live now, to borrow Trollope’s great title, makes the sadism of operas look like feeble copies of reality shows. Today, Gilda’s death in Act Three would be manslaughter. Take a gander at the melodrama of Philadelphia’s Linda Ann Weston. Act One would tell of her conviction 28 years ago of deliberately beating her sister’s boyfriend and imprisoning him in a closet until he died of starvation for saying he would not support the sister’s unborn child. During intermission, she would serve a few years before parole. Act Two, set 28 years on, in October 2011, would find Weston alleged to have kidnapped four mentally challenged human beings in order to steal their benefits. The men were imprisoned in a cellar that makes the prisons of Beethoven’s opera Fidelio look like shabby motel rooms. The entitlement society as motivation: kidnap and torture to score benefits from low-IQ victims. Verdi didn’t have that one.
The strewn bodies of opera’s murdered and tortured victims, the subject of great amusement for opera’s non-aficionados, look sanguine by comparison. Life today gives us robbing from disabled animals, kidnapping for disability benefits, vicious mutilation of children as in Slumdog Millionaire and Romanian gypsy children forced to beg on British streets no better than the helpless urchins Charles Dickens’s villains Fagin and Sikes sent out 170 years ago.
The more things change, the more they are the same—in slightly new outfits. The modern Rigoletto could have got a disabled permit and parked his wheelchair-friendly car or electric mobility scooter under a lantern outside his home, probably foiling the kidnapping of his daughter.
Which brings me to a related matter: there has been a steady campaign headed by the Toronto Star, whose reporters have spent days lurking around cars with disabled permits, doing time and motion studies, to argue that the disabled should pay for their parking. No more freebies. In order to whip up public resentment, the Star’s campaign muddles two issues—able-bodied people exploiting disabled permits, and the cost of free disabled parking to the taxpayer.
The first argument is no argument. It’s fraud to use a disabled parking permit if not needed. As for the second, doubtless there is a libertarian argument that society has no obligation to give free parking to the disabled. Wheelchair-friendly curbs and parking are not entitlements that taxpayers should foot to equalize individual disabilities. Having said that, a decent society that wastes money on a thousand conferences, junkets and programs of no discernible use shouldn’t balk at giving the disabled the small benefit of free parking. And a parking space for the handicapped is not of any use unless it is available 24 hours. The handicapped do have to pay for parking on city lots—just meters and no-parking zones are freely available to them. I wouldn’t deny that to any modern Rigoletto whose life is the stuff of endless inconveniences that the able-bodied never contemplate.
Meanwhile, my kuvasz dogs, who are about to undergo their Good Citizenship Training in order to visit the ill and disabled, won’t be any the less forgiving when I go to the opera; but if ever opera takes up these modern themes, they might be supernumeraries in walk-on parts themselves, in return for kibble and a reserved barking space.