|Five Butterflies, by Wenceslaus Hollar (1646) Metropolitan Museum of Art|
A lepidopterist is, as any Nabokov fan knows, a butterfly collector. It is fitting that the colorful stationery bearing Alan P. Leonard's latest missive to this column has butterflies on it. Because I always think of myself as a lepidopterist when it comes to processing unhinged mail. I try to bring a connoisseur's discernment to their ravings, a protective measure to keep the poison contained within from raising a welt on my delicate mental skin. I net the odious thing, put it in its killing bottle, then pin the little corpse to a board and admire its patterns, its variegation.
We met Mr. Leonard last year, with this three emails I dubbed "The Era of Contempt."
Like the one below, they were informed by fear of those whose sexuality was at variance with his. You can find them here, here and here. They proved decidedly popular, as freak shows often do.
Then two months ago, he was back, with a racist screed about the looks of Michelle Obama.
This one, as he makes clear, is in reaction to my June 10 column about Boston's idiotic "Straight Pride" parade. The twist is that he doesn't sign his name, perhaps forgetting that he has written four times before, with the same stationery and his distinctive block printing.
As before, I paused, wondering if it were somehow cruel to share Mr. Leonard's thoughts, to stretch the term. And a note of anxiety might have entered into his correspondence as, for the first time, he signs his letter with a nom de guerre, "A normal person." As if it were normal to write anonymous notes to newspaper columnists, venting your bile and your sexual insecurity.
"When battling monsters," as Nietzsche reminds us, "make sure not to become a monster."
But it is not monstrous to print a letter sent to a newspaper, nor to note that hatred is an acid that, increasingly, eats up the possessor more than the object. I believe airing it is therapeutic, if not for him, obviously, at least for us.
And lest we chuckle too much, remember this: these are the people running our country now. His sentiments are hateful, but also deeply sad and tragic.