Crazy Love III

“The only way of expressing emotion in the form of art is by finding an ‘objective correlative’; in other words, a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion; such that when the external facts, which must terminate in sensory experience, are given, the emotion is immediately evoked.” So claimed T. S. Eliot in his iconic essay “Hamlet and His Problems.”  And what’s true of Hamlet is doubly true for the New York Times‘ Modern Love column.  This recurring essay feature aspires to represent emotion in the form of art, but with a 2000-word length limit, plus there’s no sex scenes or cussing allowed.  To put things into perspective, this it what it sounds like when an essayist describes their love story in literal language:  “We went to the beach and swam, held hands at the Fourth of July fireworks, went on roller coasters at Six Flags, ate Thanksgiving dinner with each other’s families, exchanged gifts on Christmas. We cried when I had to leave for long periods of time.”   Fascinating.  No, this will not do:  If you wish to interest the world in your banal tale of romantic disappointment, you must take Eliot’s advice.   You need a metaphor.  You need a symbol.  You need an objective correlative for those ineffable emotions.  Like this:

“Light from the television filled the dark room and flickered on us like a fire but gave no warmth. The space between us on the couch spoke more about our relationship than we did to each other.”

No, maybe not like that.  The syntax of this sentence is almost as confusing as blaming a television for not performing the function of a space heater is misguided. When this guy’s next relationship starts to fizzle, he’s going to be like “the clanking, elderly radiator in my girlfriend’s bedroom emitted copious heat, but failed to display moving images of charismatic 1960’s advertising executives or provide us with entertainment in the form of hour-long serial narratives.”  Next time pay your gas bill, and read Consumer Reports before making a major purchase.

But the ill-informed incompetence of modern urbanites provides a surprisingly rich body of material for metaphor.  In “Limping Towards the Truth,” author Amary Wiggin had a big fight with her boyfriend and sprained her ankle.  “My limp persisted…I hobbled…I lurched…None of these facts could induce me to seek medical attention.”  Finally she “sulkily” consents to get the ankle looked at, and is informed that her injury is serious, but will heal in its own due time… just like a broken heart.  (The orthopedist didn’t add that part, but it was implied).  “Now, instead of limping around, insisting I am damage-proof, I listen to the hurt.”  Wait, so a painful heartbreak taught you to appreciate the importance of routine medical precautions? “Next time I’ll consider the potential risks before revealing my romantic feelings for a friend, or consuming improperly stored mayonnaise.”

Severed foot tendons taught the writer a lesson, but you can’t go around inflicting harm on various body parts every time you need to express your inner mental states.  Being a writer is painful enough.  There has to be another way.  Fortunately, Modern Love writers have converged upon the perfect solution:  Animals.   They’re the perfect metaphor.   Projecting your emotions onto an animal is easy; it’s less painful than falling down a flight of stairs, less boring than sitting too far away from each other on some stupid sofa, and slightly less ethically indefensible than having a baby just so you’ll have something to write about.

Maybe you already have a dog or a cat.  Great!  Use it as a prism through which to evaluate potential Mr. or Miss Rights.  In “So Much In Common, In Name Only,” the author online-meets a guy and thinks they’re fated to be together.  But when they meet in person, “he…revealed that his dog hated going on hikes, an essential pleasure my own dogs and I enjoy each weekend.”  She didn’t pursue the relationship, which is wise.  Sure, it sounds all romantic to be in an “opposites attract” love affair with someone whose dog has nothing in common with your dog.  But the day-to-day reality is, if your dogs don’t enjoy spending time together, they’ll drift apart.  You’ll be spending all your time at different dog parks, with other dogs who share your dogs’ passions.  Before long you’re in an extremely confusing and illegal emotional affair.  There’s a reason why old married couples’ dogs grow to look like each other.  That’s a thing that happens, right?  Anyway, normal pets have their uses, but they’re not that unique.  If you want to give your essay that “I Love Sarvis” edge, look into something more exotic.

In “A Twist of Fate,” Alexandria Marizano-Leznovich writes of her foray into snake-handling — literally!  But also figuratively, because she was a lesbian dating a man.  She’s ambivalent about the heterosexual lifestyle in general and her boyfriend specifically, but she tries to overcome those feelings, going so far as to one day tell him that “I thought I was finally ready to embrace our life together.  ‘You mean you’re ready to hold a tarantula?’ he asked.”

He had always wanted a pet tarantula, you see, and so tarantula tolerance symbolizes embracing their life together.  It’s as if this guy knew he was going to be guest-starring in a Modern Love essay.  But Marizano-Leznovich clearly thinks he’s an amateur, and that she can do better.

“’No, no,’ I said and started to explain, then stopped. I hadn’t planned the words that came next, but come they did. ‘I’d be willing to try holding a snake, though.’”  Holding a snake… I think I get it.  Very subtle.  Once you’ve tried holding a snake, maybe you can eat Polish sausage while smoking a cigar, polishing your gun, and wearing a pearl necklace at the Washington Monument.  “Even Freud would have dismissed [the symbolism] as too obvious.”  Basing your writing on symbols that are too obvious is like being fat, or having too many dirty dishes in your sink:  No one can criticize you for it if you point it out first.  Imagine if the famous essayists of the past had adopted this rhetorical strategy:

  • “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.  Oh gross, I can’t believe I just wrote that.  I mean, I know every transcendental philosopher is always like ‘I don’t know if I’m really living’ or whatever, and it sounds like such a cliche, but I don’t know… I just feel sort of blah, you know?  My therapist was like ‘why couldn’t you live deliberately in the city,’ and I guess that’s probably true.  Maybe I should try giving up gluten instead.”
  • “If we had a keen vision of all that is ordinary in human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow or the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence.  I mean, not literally die.  That’s a little hyperbolic.  But we would be perturbed.”
  • “A counted number of pulses only is given to us of a variegated, dramatic life. How may we see in them all that is to be seen in them by the finest senses? How shall we pass most swiftly from point to point, and be present always at the focus where the greatest number of vital forces unite in their purest energy? To burn always with this hard, gemlike flame, to maintain this ecstasy, is success in life.  Heh, heh.  I said ‘hard.'”

Anyway, as a result of this symbolically freighted conversation, they end up at the snake store the very next morning.  Do all exotic pet purchases take place for reasons that only make sense in Freudian dream logic?  It’s like the Brooklyn MFA version of buying your child a baby chick for Easter, dyeing it pink, then panicking and flushing it down the toilet a week later when the kid loses interest.  PETA should do public service ads urging people to make their narcissistic self-actualization journeys cruelty-free.


But Marizano-Leznovich is into the idea, and so, like many a maiden in an 80s hair-metal song, finds herself “peering [at] a fat white albino snake.”  Welcome to my life, lady!  The store clerk, who presumably has seen this scenario play out many times before, tricks them into buying an innocent-looking little serpent that, as they discover when they get it home, will grow to 14 feet.  Now that is a phallic symbol!  “Pretzel was growing bigger….With each passing month, she’d grown, just as had my suspicions about my sexuality.”  The snake represents repressed lesbianism, but also a huge penis.  Metaphors don’t have to make sense.

She has fun feeding the snake mice and carrying it around on the subway.  “Having Pretzel felt weird in way that was interesting….I could comment to people prattling on about their cats and dogs: ‘I have a pet, too. What? Oh, she’s a python. Her name’s Pretzel.’”  You’ll have to let me know how “I have a pet, too” works as a conversational gambit.  It could be just the thing to break the ice at my Socially Awkward Fifth-Graders meetup.  Anyway, the couple split up, and the writer gives Pretzel away to a guy who takes in rescue snakes.  Unlike with most works of literature that feature a woman gazing in fascination at a fat white albino snake, this tale ends with the narrator accepting her true nature and renouncing male companionship.

How come Whitesnake never wrote a song about that?

But attaining happiness doesn’t always have to involve trifling with the life of an animal.  Sometimes it involves being dangerously codependent with an animal.  In “A Writer’s Tortoise Leads the Way to Happiness,” Caroline Leavitt proclaims “I never intended to get a tortoise.”  Neither did I!  That’s why I don’t have one.  Another intention successfully executed.  But it seems some people just can’t commit to a lifestyle.  The author and her boyfriend were casting about for a way to salvage their doomed relationship, and they decided a hypoallergenic pet would be just the thing.

They named the tortoise Minnie, but “we realized she was a he, after an eye-popping male display.”  You know the humblebragging trend has gotten out of hand when people are even boasting about the size of their tortoise’s junk.  Too much information!  There are certain pieces of data that are best shared only between you, your tortoise, and your tortoise’s urologist.

It was fun at first:  “I bathed him in the sink. I hand-fed him avocado…I even kissed his shell.”  But in an absolutely astonishing development that nobody could have predicted, their relationship to the tortoise started eerily mirroring aspects of their relationship to each other.  “He didn’t like the way I talked to Minnie every day, eye to eye (‘He’s just a reptile,’ he stressed)….The more time I spent discovering the tortoise, the more my boyfriend uncovered things about me he didn’t like….I had a more fulfilling relationship with the tortoise than I did with the boyfriend. Minnie and I let each other be who we were.”  I would love to hear all this from the boyfriend’s perspective.  I’m sure he had his flaws, but it’s hard to maintain a gracious demeanor while your significant other is passive-aggressively talking at you through a turtle.

{Boyfriend is watching an old episode of The Colbert Report and scrolling through photos on his phone.  Leavitt enters with tortoise, sits down on other end of sofa.}

Leavitt: And how was your day, Pretty Mr. Minnie?  Mommy missed oo so much!

Boyfriend:  Um…

Leavitt:  Has oo been home alone all day with no one to talk to?  Poor baby!  I know just how oo feels!

Boyfriend:  Look, if there’s something you’d like to….

Leavitt:  Nobody appreciates us, do they, Pretty Mr. Tortoise?

Boyfriend:  Caroline, I…

Leavitt:  No, they don’t!

Boyriend:  {Starts to speak; gives up}

Leavitt:  But that’s otay!  I still love you, even if nobody else does!  I wuv oo more than anyone else in the whole world!  Wuzza-wuzza-wuzza!

Boyfriend: {Stands up; looks around warily}

Leavitt:  {Rocking tortoise back and forth} ♫Hold me closer, tiny dancer!  Count the headlights on the hiiiiiiighway!♪♫

Boyfriend:  {Scuttles out front door; makes mad dash to nearest bar}

Eventually Leavitt dumps the boyfriend — maybe his male display wasn’t eye-popping enough? — and moves out on her own.  Still, life has its frustrations.  She wants to find a guy who will accept her for who she is, but everyone in the big city is a superficial phony who can’t accept the charming imperfections that make each individual human being unique.  Also, “sooner or later a date would ask, ‘Do we have to eat with the tortoise on the table?’”  Why is it so hard to find someone who’s willing to defy Society and its stultifying “no reptile cooties in the coq au vin” rule?

But if you hold out long enough, your dreams really can come true.  Leavitt finally meets the Prince Charming to her testudinalially-obsessed Cinderella:  Jeff, a journalist.  “Where my old boyfriend told me how obsessive I was about Minnie, Jeff celebrated our connection, making a fake newspaper cover featuring Minnie and me. (‘Startling Tales of Tortoise Life! She holds me under the faucet!’ the headline blared.)”  Where did this guy go to journalism school?  Based on that headline, this is surely the least juicy reptile celebrity gossip tabloid of all time.   Why is Minnie’s lifestyle of gender-bending and priapic exhibitionism being whitewashed in favor of bland lifestyle fluff pieces?  Amanda Bynes would kill to have his press agent.

But blandness has its virtues.  Years pass, and their relationship stays strong, even as “I had a child…I got critically ill with a rare blood disorder… blah, blah blah.”  (I sort of skimmed over this part).  Finally, Minnie dies of old age, and they bury him in the back yard. Leavitt is distraught.  “I kept imagining Minnie’s bones floating up from the ground like something out of Stephen King’s ‘Pet Sematary.’”  In all fairness, Pet Sematary would not have been nearly as frightening if it had been about a tortoise.  The folksy old man next would have had so much time to warn everyone about the dangers of the ancient Indian burial ground.  That family could have been halfway to Mexico by the time the moldering, hideously undead body of their pet lumbered up to their front door, bent on extremely…slow…revenge.

"We've got to get out of here, as soon as we pack, and make some sandwiches, and do the dishes."
“We’ve got to get out of here, as soon as we pack, and make some sandwiches, and do the dishes.”

“People told me about their dogs and cats who had died, and I thought, it’s easy to love the beautiful, the normal. But what about the gifts of loving the strange, the uncommon, the odd?”  Remind me not to tell you about my dogs and cats who died.  I had no idea we were being scored on difficulty. Anyway, Leavitt can afford to feel superior now, but what’s going to happen when she meets a memoirist whose husband’s adulterous affair with a Brazilian bikini model led her to discover a passion for taking in rescue cockroaches?

But you may not want to put in the effort and expense of caring for a pet.  Just go outside; there’s lots of essay-worthy animals out there.  The author of “Though Apart, We Faced a Common Enemy” had an amicable divorce, and was almost murdered by a swan, and she wants you to know about it:  “My ex-husband… and I were once attacked by a murderous swan.”  They were kayaking on a lake, and the swan approached them in a menacing fashion.  A slow paddler, she was terrified:   “Lions, coyotes, jaguars and crazed swans all follow the same playbook: go for the easy kill.”  Citation needed!  Speaking of Wikipedia, my sources inform me that swans are “almost entirely herbivorous,” so they might want to rethink their policy of sharing a playbook with large land carnivores.   It’s also unclear how the author is familiar enough with the playbook of jaguars to recognize it when she encounters it on the great football field of life.   “Oh no!  A classic Statue-of-Liberty formation!  This is just like what happened in the Bolivian rain forest!”

“The swan attacked again, close enough that I could hear it hiss. It clearly meant to knock us from our kayaks.”  At this point, the swan was probably just tired of being psychoanalized.    “We cowered helplessly as the bloodthirsty beast advanced toward us, its sinuous neck writhing like a Burmese python in the act of squeezing the last cubits of air from the lungs of a wild hog.”  I made that last sentence up, but her prose does get a bit overheated.  Perhaps because of this, “We tried to tell people about the swan attack, but no one got it. The story must have sounded like children being chased by a duck, but I’m here to tell you that the swan wanted to drown us.” I don’t think it sounds like being chased by a duck, but it does remind me a bit of this:


But what if you go outside, and you don’t get attacked by animals?  Don’t worry.  Your experiences are still profound and meaningful.    Close your eyes and count to 100 and spin around in a circle.  When you open your eyes, whatever you see is a metaphor for the innermost depths of your soul.

“I squinted into the setting sun as our boys, 6 and 9, climbed down from the dusty John Deere tractor, dwarfed by the wind turbine churning quietly over the front 40. They were asking my cousin Dennis about the harrow he was pulling, used to break up clods of dirt in the field…the harrow. Like our mixed-political marriage.”  Oh, of course.  Wait, what?  In “The Mixed-Politics Marriage,” Sheila Heen counsels a bipartisanship that is positively Friedman-esque in its intellectual and ethical vacuousness, while leaving readers puzzled as to what the hell a harrow is.

“John and I run closely aligned at the foundation by love, continued attraction, and from sharing the weight of that gift bag of irritations that comes with any modern marriage. But we continue to part company on most pages of the party-political catalog of how-best-to’s and should-or-shouldn’t-be-able-to’s.”  Not to mention the what-the-fuck-are-you-talking-about’s, why-in-hell-would-you-even-want-to’s, and setting-our-nation’s-legacy-of-civil-rights-progress-back-fifty-years-by-doing-that’s.

“Both sides jockey to display that peculiar brand of American can-doism we share. We don’t know what to do, but by golly, whatever the problem is, put us in charge and we’ll do it better!”  I suppose that to sustain a mixed-politics marriage, it would help to view megalomaniacal incompetence as childishly endearing.  We’ve built up a barrier of wilfull ignorance about the lives of those less fortunate so that we never have to empathize with them or understand what they think and feel, but jumpin’ jehosephat, we’ll subject them all to mandatory drug testing!

In any case, “Both sides are deeply committed to cultivating the same American field.”  Certain sides seem more “deeply committed” than others.  Hey, what happened to  my nice field?  And where did that smoking pile of rubble come from?

“We reflect one another’s values in the sharp disks as we turn through another election season.”  I’ve read this article three times, and I still don’t understand Heen’s metaphors, especially the part about a gift bag filled with irritations.  Worst red carpet event ever!  But a political disagreement is, at least, a real problem.  Some of the dilemmas faced by Modern Love scribes are so arcane as to be imperceptible to the naked eye.

Such is the case with Margot Page in “Labels of Married Life, In a New Light“:  “’I now pronounce you husband and wife,’ the minister said to Anthony and me….Although I was thrilled about what we were undertaking, I cringed.”  Etiquette fail!  These are your wedding vows, not a Buzzfeed post about “13 People Who Fell Asleep While Operating Forklifts”; it’s something of a faux pas for members of the wedding party to cringe.  For similar reasons, it’s considered gauche for the officiant to make finger quotation marks when pronouncing you man and wife, for the university registrar to draw rageface comics on your doctoral diploma, and for Queen Elizabeth to *headdesk* while conferring knighthoods on distinguished citizens of the British Empire.

But Page has an excuse: The word “wife” feels “archaic and weird” to her.  You might object that many words and phrases in the English language are archaic and weird, such as “o’clock,” “February,” and “hamstring.”  Can’t this sensitive young couple become accustomed to familiar stimuli, just like everyone else?

It seems not.  “For our first decade of marriage, Anthony and I employed traditional spouse words only from a distance born of snark: ‘Hey Husband, can you use your big strong hands to get the lid off this jar?’  ‘Hello, Wife. How are you this fine day?’”  It’s hard to imagine that joke staying fresh for more than seven, eight years, tops.  But maybe it was all in the delivery.  I can’t wait to hear what kind of chuckles they’ll come up with when one of them is lying on their deathbed.  “Forsooth, noble lady, parting is such sweet sorrow!  Peradventure I shalt make out my will eftsoons!”

“’Wife’ smacked of ‘old ball and chain.’  And don’t even get me started on the fact that the word ‘husband’ had no negative colloquial equivalents.”  Don’t even get her started!  So crazy!  This is like if someone tried to turn the Women’s Studies 101 class that blew their mind into an hilarious standup comedy routine.  “What’s the deal with religion?  Has anyone ever noticed that God is always portrayed as a man?  Do you think He leaves the toilet seat up?”

Anyway, it’s easy for us straights to hate words, what with how they have connotations, and reflect the complex and troubled history of human culture.  But some people don’t even get to have wedding vows at which to cringe.  Same-sex marriage was finally legalized in Washington State in 2012, at which point Page noticed that gay people wanted to get married:  “I watched in wonder as my friends claimed the words ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ with reverence and delight and gusto…there was no creepy ownership for these friends.”  Through watching them, she learned to accept being a wife.  Civil rights are good for something after all!

“And I also can leave behind the images of balls, chains, housedresses and Archie yelling from his recliner.”  That show has been off the air for 34 years.  I think it’s time we all tried to put the Bunkers’ toxic legacy behind us.

But what if you don’t even have a privileged, oblivious-white-person luxury problem?  Make your own!    That’s what David Finch did in “Seduced By a Gift That Broke the Rules,” a heartwarming tale of generosity gone awry.  He states that a proper gift must be one that “the recipient has requested…offers some practical benefit for the recipient… [or] reflects the personal interests of the recipient.”  However, there is a conflicting set of rules: “A Valentine’s gift also should be red or heart-themed and come in some form of chocolate, jewelry or lingerie.”  Finch disapproves of these rules as “preposterous stipulation[s],” even though he’s just informed us that they exist.  Having dreamed them into life, he courageously defies them every year “by taking Kristen out for dinner or for a short romantic getaway.”  But then one year, he decides to be reverse-double-iconoclastic by rebelling against his Valentine’s Day rules and his original set of rules, and instead following the mainstream Valentine’s Day rules that he also made up in the first place.  I think this is what William Blake had in mind when he coined the phrase “mind-forg’d manacles.”

As a result of this ideological confusion, “I found myself standing face-to-face with an extraordinarily busty mannequin in an upscale lingerie boutique. ‘She’ll love it,’ said the vaguely European-looking saleswoman.”  How is she “vaguely” European-looking?  Europeans are only “vaguely” different from regular white people in the first place.  I think Finch couldn’t remember whether snooty saleswomen are supposed to be French, Portuguese or Ukranian, and was too lazy to look it up in his Handbook of Journalism Clichés.

“Was it practical? Hardly. I would undoubtedly wrench the article from Kristen’s body the moment she came within reach, so why bother putting it on?”  The word “wrench” should never be part of anyone’s foreplay vocabulary.  But if Finch’s sexual technique is based on actions better suited to fixing a sink, his logic is impeccable.  “If I see you in that outfit, I’ll be so overcome with lust that I’ll be unable to restrain myself for a moment, so what’s the point in buying it?  It all just seems so — *sigh* — frivolous.”  Yes, there are few things more sigh-inducingly frivolous than the attempt to make pleasurable experiences more enjoyable.  I imagine Finch is also to be heard at upscale restaurants, complaining that the better the food is, the faster you’ll eat it, so you should have just gone to Waffle House.  He refuses to try wine that costs more than $8 a bottle, because if you get used to the good stuff, you won’t enjoy Boone’s Farm as much.  What’s the point of buying a comfortable mattress?  You’ll just sleep so deeply that you won’t even know you’re asleep.  David Finch is the only guy who’s actually banged his head against a brick wall because “it feels so good when I stop.”

“Also, I’m a man in my 30s, which means I am always primed for action anyway. I’m generalizing here, but I think it’s safe to say that we men do not require a romantic visual to get in the mood. We just need the woman to be physically present, and, frankly, even that’s debatable.”  Ordinarily I would object to one person speaking for an entire gender, but the point he’s making is so nuanced, I’ll let it slide.  I wonder if his wife has a similarly progressive attitude towards gender relations?  Come February 14th, she’ll be like “Happy Valentine’s Day.  I’m going to my book club.  Here’s a paper towel roll for you to stick your dick in.”

Yes, the battle of the sexes has never been more relevant — or more hilarious!  “Kristen, for example, is always amazed when she has the flu and her hair is all matted and snarly and she hasn’t showered or changed out of her pajamas in two days and still I hit her up for sex. Lingerie, pajamas, a hospital gown: makes zero difference to the segment of the population known for wearing black socks during intercourse.”  Some men are awfully proud of their lack of fashion sense.  I know I say this all the time, but just a few short centuries ago, you guys were known for wearing wigs, silk brocade and skintight culottes.  You could probably learn the difference between black and white socks if you really exerted yourself.

The David Finch of the 1610's ponders: "I wore a white codpiece after Labor Day AGAIN!  I'm such an idiot!"
The David Finch of the 1610’s laments: “I wore a white codpiece after Labor Day AGAIN! I’m such an idiot!”

“Logic and rational thinking alone, however, could not overcome one crucial factor that seemed to be clouding my judgment: the stunning image of Kristen wearing something terrifically slinky, just for me.”  Hey, you just contradicted what you said before!  Just now, when you said clothing “makes zero difference,” and then you said the opposite thing one sentence later!  I knew it!  Your entire worldview is internally incoherent and self-deconstructive, revealing itself to be a product of ideological mystification in the service of an oppressive patriarchal ideology!  You should have just gone with the Sephora giftcard.

Anyway, his wife refuses to wear the underwear, and chalks his gift up to the hilarious but inevitable dumbness of all males, so the balance of the universe is maintained.  But I think we’ve all learned something from reading his story of self-inflicted humiliation.  Indeed, whether you’re a seasoned snake-charmer or an amateur wrench abuser, you can probably see a little of yourself in these authors.  And their tales contain lessons we’d all do well to remember.  Such as…um… don’t marry a Republican.  Seek medical attention if you experience any pain or swelling.  Only ever go kayaking with someone who paddles slower than you.  And if the person who’s trying to sell you something has a fake accent or tells you that the snake he’s holding won’t grow any bigger, run.

6 thoughts on “Crazy Love III

  1. I wish I had something intelligent to say but I think you’ve covered most of it. This piece is HILARIOUS. Dangerously so–I was drinking coffee when I got to “Neither did I! That’s why I don’t have one. Another intention successfully executed” and almost choked.

    1. I did not! That article was actually p. interesting, but $65 is a lot for a tin of biscuits, even from a spice therapist.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s