Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Putting The Borscht Back In The Belt

Most only know me as a man of the science of the mind, from psychiatry to phrenology, not to mention my experience in animal husbandry, especially in the chicken, squab and giant frog raising departments, but before I devoted myself to these selfless pursuits, I was well-versed in the world of haberdashery. One might even say I was a bit of a dandy as the photo below, taken just before I left for Vienna to study with Freud (not Sigmund but his brother-in-law, Hubert, who I went to study mens corset-fitting with, whereupon I met Sigmund while measuring him for a cummerbund and, well, the rest is history), so aptly illustrates. The fitting machine is of my own invention and revolutionized the suit measuring, pleating, folding, cutting and stitching industry and even led to advancements in dry cleaning and steaming vegetables for chow mein.
It was during this time that I began to work on my borscht belt theory as an applicable garment for everyday usage that your average man-about-town could wear, say, both at lunch and later, for cocktails, dinner and dancing. Truthfully, the whole idea took flight while I was fitting Freud for his cummerbund and knowing, as I did at the time, being a neophyte but still not completely ignorant in the ways of psychoanalysis, that he had just finished his book, Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious, I was able to draw a correlation between borscht belt jokes and the hidden keys to the unconscious mind. Beginning with Henny Youngman and his "take my wife, please," punchline as a natural transference of penis envy among Jewish females of the Catskill Mountains, handed down from mother to daughter, much like a kreplach recipe, Freud and I talked long into the night, as I worked on readjustments on his cummerbund. He was also startled to find I had drawn a connection between the Oedipus Complex and lactose intolerance, especially prevalent among young men whose fathers were either traveling salesmen or owned button factories on the outskirts of large cities. Here's a photo of Freud testing this theory by emulating the object of desire as filtered through the borscht belt subconscious in all its ego/id glory. By the way, the dress and hair styling was of my own design and Freud was so enamored of the outfit he wore it every Friday while attending the Viennese Symphony.
Of course, this theory would hold no water if we didn't test the lactose intolerance portion of the complex and so it was that I made my first borscht belt, which we used to secure a pair of trousers to a cow with bursting udders, milk ready to squirt out at even the smallest flick of a teat. It seemed less dangerous than testing it on humans at the time.
The lactose seemed ready to split the seams of the poor, but tolerant beast and in the end the experiment failed miserably or at least the cow showed no sign of any Oedipal tendencies, but what was a success was my marvelous borscht belt. It worked so well, its fastenings holding so securely against an onslaught of Henny Youngman, Milton Berle and even Mickey Katz jokes, that both Freud and I knew that if my life in science didn't pan out, I could always make a killing in the borscht belt and other fashionable accoutrements business. Freud was so confident in my invention that he boarded a plane with a priest, a rabbi and a minister, wearing the borscht belt knowing full well that there was only one parachute between the three of them. 
 Later, when I studied with Jung, he was all ears about this experiment but I told him, "Carl, I'm afraid the borscht belt just isn't in the cards for you. Freud, maybe, but you don't strike me as a man who could pull it off." Nevertheless, my meeting with these two great minds helped me to create my own psychoanalytical technique which I coined, 'Frungian,' but more about that in a later post. Well, my younger days are behind me but lately I've been feeling the stirrings of my passion for haberdashery, deciding to bring the borscht belt out of hibernation and back into circulation among the fashionable set. Unfortunately, I've lost the original plans for my creation and age has not been kind to my memory, so I've been forced to rework the borscht belt from scratch, and let me tell you, it hasn't been easy. For starters, borscht is liquid and belts are solid. I don't know how I got around this problem in the first place, but somehow I did. My first step was to secure some borscht, which unfortunately was missing from my pantry, so I knocked at the door of my neighbour, Voltar, but he was busy brushing his guinea pig's hair and told me to come back later. Next, I tried my landlady, Mrs. Grabowsky, and once she'd finished threatening me with eviction if I didn't clean up my snail breeding facility I'd set up in an aquarium in the front foyer of the building, she begrudgingly handed me a can of beets, muttering that she wasn't the food bank. Back in my room, I opened the can of beets and pondered the problem at hand. It seemed to me that with a bit of liquid mixed with the canned beets, a reasonable facsimile of borscht could be obtained, so I set about mixing it up in one of the many Kentucky Fried Chicken buckets I keep on hand for such experiments. Around this time there was a knock on my door and Voltar asked if I would like to see his guinea pig. He is very proud of this creature and has entered it in countless guinea pig-offs across the country, but I find it a devious little beast and have reminded Voltar time and again that in some places they put these things on sticks and roast them with a bit of allspice, fresh pepper rings and a little chimichurri sauce for dipping. And that's after they win the best-dressed category.
Anyway, Voltar agreed to leave Nunzio (the guinea pig) back in his rooms and assist me in my borscht belt project. Once my beet liquid had achieved the proper viscosity, I began to pack it into small sandwich bags and found that ten of these receptacles, stretched end to end, was enough to encircle Voltar's ample waist. Using a combination of elastic bands and twist ties, I managed to fasten the sandwich bags together so that they formed a series of links. I thought of freezing the liquid inside to provide a sturdier framework but there was no time as Voltar had to leave within the hour for a glass eye cleaning appointment (frozen borscht is actually integral to the history of the borscht belt since the early 18th century when Borscht Belters, pioneers of the Eastern European regions, would make belts out of frozen borscht to protect this valuable food source from marauding gypsies, Cossacks and insurance salesmen). So I simply wrapped the now finished belt of borscht about Voltar's girth, had him tuck the two ends into the elastic band waist of his underpants to hold the belt in place until I could solve the buckling problem at a later date, sat him down in a comfortable chair so as to make him feel secure because the questions I was about to ask were going to reach down into the darkest nooks and crannies of Voltar's mind. I then began the final phase of the experiment using questions of my own devising, bolstered by both Milton Berle and Henny Youngman jokes to activate the borscht belt and get to the root of Voltar's deep-seated psychological problems. Below is a transcript, verbatim, of the dialogue that occurred between Voltar and myself as I probed the murky recesses of his mind. What you are about to read is startling, unsettling and perhaps, even, disturbing, so be forewarned.
"Are you feeling comfortable, Voltar?"
"Yes, this is a very nice chair. How much you pay for this? Maybe you want to sell to me."
"Perhaps. Why are you asking this? Are you insecure about your own furniture? Maybe this insecurity is part of a larger problem?"
"What are you? Nuts? I just like the chair."
"Okay. Forget that. Listen to this and tell me your thoughts. The ideal wife would be a beautiful, sex-starved deaf mute who owns a liquor store."
"What th'hell's that supposed to mean? You really are crazy."
"Ah, yes, typical avoidance and perhaps some misgivings about your own identity. Okay, try this next. A penthouse suite is very swell, but some girls want a suit with two pairs of pents."
"I don't know no pents. Listen, I've gotta go and check on Nunzio."
"No. Wait. I think the borscht belt is working. Do you feel it vibrating?"
"Only thing vibrating is your brain. With nuttiness. I always told Mrs, Grabowsky, don't rent to that guy. He's got a coupla' screws loose."
"Take a look at this picture and tell me what you see."
The original box the Oedipus complex was kept in after Freud discovered it. Here's two of Freud's students showing off its contents.
"Two teenagers holding a record player. Are we finished yet? I think I hear Nunzio squeaking."
"Have you ever felt like killing your father?"
"What? Have you seen a doctor?"
"I am a doctor, my good man. Now answer my question."
"Jeez, my father's dead. Sheep shearing accident. Very ugly. And they make my mother pay for the bloodstains in the wool. Three bags full."
"I'm sorry to hear that. Now, have you ever had any feelings towards your mother that weren't, uh, exactly of a maternal nature?"
"I don't know what you're talking about. You mean, like I accidentally lose her dentures down the garbage disposal so she'll give me some of those steaks she keeps in her deep freezer. After all, she can't eat what she can't chew and me, I'm sick of wieners and beans."
"Wieners. Interesting. Have you ever felt any pangs of penis envy."
"Okey dokey. See you later. Actually, I never want to see you again. If you see me in the hallway, look the other way or hide on the fire escape 'cause I'm sure as shit gonna punch you in the face."
"Hmm, deep seated aggression, especially when you feel threatened by another male in the vicinity. Marking of the territory. Do you urinate outdoors frequently?"
"Son of a bitch. This goddamn belt contraption's leaking. I swear to god, you gonna pay for my dry cleaning if I get borscht in my pants."
"Hmm, fear of fluids, I perceive. Have you heard that there's a parallel between a woman's breasts and a Martini. One is not enough and three are too many. On that note, are you lactose intolerant?"
I wish I could say that I was successful in delving deep into Voltar's psyche with the borscht belt in full swing as it were, but after he removed the belt of borscht and hit me across the head with it, causing beets to splatter across the room in a kind of abstract-expressionist motif that would've pleased Jung but ticked Freud off no end, my results were jeopardized. So, what is to be concluded from these findings? Can both the casual and man-about-town borscht belt ever be obtained?
Is it possible to create a version impervious to leaking? These are the questions that would stump  Freud and Jung, even on their good days. On their bad days, jeez, they'd be happy just to get their cummerbunds on straight. But I'm not discouraged. The life of the mind and that of haberdashery are intertwined. Whether the belt is made of borscht or the borscht is part of the belt is inconsequential. What came first, the chicken or the egg, you may as well ask. But as Henny Yougman is my witness, the borscht belt shall rise again, worn with the style and panache it so richly deserves so that my good friend Sigmund may rest easily in his grave at last, and with any luck, for all eternity, barring any leakage of beets into the trouser pleats.

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