The Passing Parade: Cheap Shots from a Drive By Mind

"...difficile est saturam non scribere. Nam quis iniquae tam patiens urbis, tam ferreus, ut teneat se..." " is hard not to write Satire. For who is so tolerant of the unjust City, so steeled, that he can restrain himself... Juvenal, The Satires (1.30-32)

Saturday, April 18, 2015

There's glory for you...

I’ve never been a big science fiction fan. I liked the original Star Trek when I was a kid and Star Wars when I was a teenager, but as a genre science fiction has never been something I couldn’t live without. I’ve always been more of a history or biography person; the top shelf of my book case has seventeen books on the American Civil War, which is, when you think about it, sixteen more than I really need. Or, as my mother says, ‘why do you need all those books for, you know who won.’ I bring up all this mostly unnecessary literary throat clearing because one of the best lines I’ve ever read came from a sci-fi novel a friend loaned to me when I was in high school, which was probably the first and last sci-fi novel I ever read. I don’t remember the title or the author’s name, although I do remember that it had an orange cover and was about an interstellar war between humans and an extraterrestrial race that looked like walruses or manatees or some other large and aquatic mammal. In the novel, the official language of Earth is Spanish (it could happen) and the politicians ruling the Earth in our Hispanophonic future did not want to call the war they were fighting against the hordes of evil extraterrestrial walruses a war. No, these politicians called their politics implemented by other means the emergency or the unpleasantness or something to that effect, something very bland and bureaucratic that could mean a war or a traffic accident on Interstate 84 or that the sea turtles were staging a mass break from the local aquarium. The politicians did not like to use the word war because, the author wrote, certain words bring with them inevitable commitments with unknowable results, and as politicians both in science fiction and in real life dislike inevitable commitments with unknowable consequences, it was best for all involved to avoid using those words at all.

I bring up this bit of semantic parsing because semantic parsing is all the rage in the pestilential swamp that serves as the capital of this our Great Republic. The people there can parse a perfectly good sentence into tiny bits faster than Emeril LaGasse can chop an onion, except when Emeril chops an onion what’s chopped still tastes like an onion. The whole point of parsing in M. L’Enfant’s dream city is to reduce the meaning of words to whatever some political Humpty-Dumpty wants them to mean.  For example, the minions of the former junior Senator from Illinois have determined that He is angry at someone, angry enough to blow these anonymous someones to kingdom come via remote control, but they will not tell the citizenry just who these nameless evildoers are. Now, I am not sure of the details here—I don’t get out much, you see—but it appears to me that the question of motivation is very important to our Illinois Incitatus and His flacks, very important indeed, especially when He and His flacks wish to make it perfectly clear that the nameless evildoers in the eastern Mediterranean and southwest Asia are not committing the crimes they are committing for the reasons they say they are committing these crimes, but for some other reason altogether, a reason completely unrelated to the Islamic faith, and the flacks will parse any sentence that might suggest otherwise to complete and utter pulp. This seems a little odd to me; I would not have thought that a government full of secular humanists and nominal Christians would be such experts on the finer points of Islamic theology, but stranger things have happened, you know. I had a co-worker several years ago who took investment advice from his parrot—the bird thought the world of Treasury bills and municipal bonds, if you’re interested in that sort of thing—and he has done very well for himself (the former co-worker, not the parrot, who can only enjoy the fruits of his or her financial acumen vicariously, again proving, as if it needed proving, the remunerative utility of the opposable thumb). So it could happen. Really. I’m not making that up.

We must, the solonic classes tell us again and again, address the root causes of the extreme violence occurring against Jews, Christians, Yazidis, Kurds, and the more than occasional sundry others who happen to be in the neighborhood when some people are overcome with the need to kill, maim, rape, and pillage gets the better of their moral sense. In dealing with these poor murderous wretches, we must not call them names that imply that they are acting in the name of their religious beliefs, which they are not, but we should use a name that is nonsectarian and inoffensive to all. Well, that is all very understandable, I suppose, and therefore I move, Mr. Chairman, that from this point forward we here in the West refer to this mob of pillaging scum as calf’s liver.  In calling them calf’s liver we avoid confusing the good Muslims with the doubleplusungood Muslims and we avoid even suggesting that certain Muslims, especially the doubleplusungood Muslims, have a tendency to go overboard in following the tenets of their faith or even imply that Islam as a faith might in any way be a tad more hostile to the filthy infidel sons of apes and pigs who do not profess the truth of the Prophet’s message, PCBs upon him. No, indeed, I think I can say with a fair amount of certainty that damn near everyone hates calf’s liver and can do so in good conscience.

And who will find our declaration of official hostility towards calf’s liver offensive?  Calves?  I hardly think so; the calves are dead and therefore hardly in any position to take any kind of offense. I’m sure that given a choice the calves would prefer to have their livers back and be frolicking through an open field somewhere doing whatever it is that calves do before their inevitable conversion into veal parmigiana, but most of life is finding out that you don’t really have a choice in the matter; when it’s your turn to go, it’s your turn to go, period.  That’s just the way it is, as the song goes, some things will never change.

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Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Ghost of Plumbing Past, or how long can Scrooge hold it?

I’m not sure that this is even possible, much less probable; some things are possible but not probable, other things are probable but not very likely, and other things are neither possible nor probable, as when you tell the credit card company that the check is in the mail; but I am reasonably certain that my house is haunted and the spirit that haunts my house has an incontinence problem.  I know this because the toilet in my back bathroom keeps flushing when no one is in my back bathroom and since toilets don’t flush themselves, unless you go to the mall; the urinals are completely hands off in the men’s room there, which is a very good thing, I think; I must assume that there is some sort of spirit using my back bathroom.  It seems the only logical explanation, but it does pose something of a conundrum: why would a spirit need to use a bathroom in the first place?

Incontinence does seem to challenge the conventional wisdom about ghosts, which, as we all learned as children, are the disembodied spirits[i] of the dead. One would think, given that the dead are, in fact, dead, and therefore have no further need for an excretory system that they would choose to inhabit some other portion of the house, like the living room, the bedrooms, or the kitchen, rooms redolent with time and family memory, unlike the bathroom, which is only redolent of last night’s dinner. In death, just as in life, it seems, there is no accounting for tastes. Of course, I could be very wrong about this; ghosts might choose to haunt bathrooms because bathroom users are usually in a state of partial or total nudity. It is difficult to run away from a ghost or to explain why one is running away from something no one else can see while one’s pants are down around one’s ankles or when one is wrapped in a bath towel, if that. Ghosts may think this sort of thing is funny. They have to do something to pass the time now that they have lots of time to pass.

Be that as it may, the spectral toilet flushing in my house also poses the question of why anyone would want to haunt my house in the first place. I live in the house my father built for the family when we joined the great white flight to the suburbs—in our case, the exurbs—back in the 1960’s.  It is a small house; it began its existence as a much smaller house, but my father kept adding to it as the family expanded.  There is nothing dramatic looking about my house; it is vaguely split-level looking but I am not sure if my father intended that or whether he had some building materials left over and chose to use them up. We have no way of knowing because there are no architectural plans for the house; my father kept all of that stuff in his head, where it is currently unavailable for review.  So, basically, there is nothing about my house that would be especially attractive to a ghost looking for a nice place in the country. There are no previous owners with a taste for Black Masses or who indulged in cannibalism as a means of supplanting their protein intake or conducted wild sex orgies that went horribly awry, requiring the secret nocturnal interment of comely young blondes in the back yard.  My house is utterly unprepossessing, not at all the kind of place that an ambitious young ghost would want to go in order to advance his/her/its/their career in the spectral realm.

Actually, I do not mind sharing the house with a ghost. They seem reasonably polite—they stay out of the way during the day light hours, for example, when I’m trying to get something done—and I don’t have to remind them not to smoke in bed and they do not leave the toilet seat down as a reason to provoke discord.[ii] The ghost or ghosts—I still don’t know if this is a solo act or a group enterprise—do not, however, pay rent, and this is a major bone of contention between us. If you live in my house or you choose to not live while in my house, I expect the rent on the first of the month and I don’t want to hear any excuses about family emergencies or needing the money to pay the bills this month. I have bills too and I don’t like deadbeats, especially when they’re dead to begin with and so don’t have any excuse for not paying on time. I’m providing these people; well, you can’t actually call them people anymore, can you, and calling them ex-people seems a little silly, doesn’t it; I’m providing these presences with a place to stay while they wait for whatever it is that they are waiting for to happen and all I am asking for is some money to cover the expenses of running a haunted house, and, and this is a very big and, that they stop flushing the damn toilet in the middle of the night.  I don’t think it’s funny anymore. At this point, it’s just annoying.

Which brings me back to my original problem: I don’t know how I got stuck with ghosts with incontinence problems. I assumed at first that it was simply my bad karma. I was, no doubt, an evil person in a former life and so the people I harmed then in that life are here in my back bathroom to remind me that they’ve neither forgotten nor forgiven me for the things I did to them then.  There’s a lot of that sort of thing here in our happy little burg. Whenever there’s a wedding reception down at the Knights of Columbus hall you can see the turkey buzzards and black vultures circling over the building and the happy couple; the consensus around here is that those birds are the reincarnated souls of divorce lawyers circling over a fresh kill. Depressing, alas, but very true, I fear. Karma can be a royal pain in the backside.  It does makes me wonder, though, what the hell I did to those people that they’ve come back to annoy me as much as possible.  And it has to be personal. I don’t think any sane ghost would try to manifest itself through a flushing toilet. No one finds flushing toilets in the least bit frightening.  None of the great horror classics of literature or film features a flushing toilet as a means of scaring anyone. There are slasher films; there are no flusher films. Anthony Perkins does not eviscerate Janet Leigh in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho with a toilet plunger. So why do it, other than the ghost has to go and when you got to go, you got to go, even if you’re dead and technically have already gone. You know, now that I think of it, they could be teenage ghosts. This flushing thing has all earmarks of the incredibly stupid juvenile nonsense that teenagers think is incredibly funny, like fart noises and setting alley cats on fire.  If that’s the case, I should invest in some earplugs, I think. The nights are only going to get longer.

[i]  I’m sorry, but aren’t all spirits, almost by definition, disembodied?  If they weren’t disembodied, they’d be alive, or, like zombies and life insurance salesmen, a reasonably good facsimile thereof.
[ii] The toilet seat stays up. My house, my rules. You don’t like it, use the haunted bathroom or go to a hotel.

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Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Whinging again

Yes, I know that I said that I would have something up very quickly and that it has been a while since I made what is obviously a fallacious claim.  I am not having writer’s block [again] and I still have the original piece I was going to post, but we are having a major change in leadership here at the egregious mold pit wherein I labor for my daily bread and politics, yes, evil rotten politics, has reared its ugly head here.  I am also working on something else for here as well, so when the great getting up morning comes and I post something here I will also have another piece ready or almost ready to go. So there will be a double blast when the blast occurs, whenever that will be. I am going to assume that it will be sometime soon, and I trust that all is well with you and yours. And we thank you for your continued support[i]

[i] If you remember the commercial this line comes from, then you are older than you say you are.  Really.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2015


Strange as this may seem, I actually do have something to put here other than this attempt to explain why the thing I have to put here isn't actually here at the moment. Things have been very busy hereabouts in the egregious mold pit wherein I labor for my daily bread--the boss is retiring--and I haven't had the time to type the piece up and to upload it. Mis apologias, and no, I don't know why I am saying that in Spanish, unless it is to ingratiate myself to the soon to be new owners of this our Great Republic. In any case, I will attend to the matter of uploading the newest screed as soon as I have the time, which should be sometime this week, God willing and the river don't rise, as John Wayne used to say.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Domini Canes, sugar canes, or just canes

For those of you who pay no attention to The Passing Parade on any more than an intermittent basis, I am a gimp.  Or rather, I was a gimp; now I am merely gimpish.  What I mean by this is that for the past year and a half I have been using a cane to get from Point A to Point B, which is not a very interesting trip nowadays. This is because there are too many tourists at Point B now and they are ruining the atmosphere and scenery that made Point B an interesting place to go to in the first place.  It’s always like that, isn’t it?  You find a little place that you can enjoy with the family and before you know it the place gets a big write-up in The New York Times and then everyone wants to go there for a visit, or worse, they want to move to Point B. If they were only tourists I don’t think I would mind them so much; they would come on the weekends and by Sunday afternoon they’d head for the train station and go away, and Point B would be a reasonably habitable place until the next weekend. But the new arrivals are just a royal pain in the gluteus maximus.  They just love the way everything is, right up to the point where they want to change the way it is.  And then they don’t understand why the locals object; after all, they just want to make their new homes better by making the place like the places they just left.  Here’s a tip for you geniuses: we like the way things are here. If you don’t like the way things are here, then why don’t you consider moving back there?  It must be God’s country, after all; I know this because you keep telling everyone how wonderful everything is there[i].  

In any case, as I was saying, I am a gimp, sideways sort of.  For the past almost two years or so, I have had to walk using a cane because of various health issues that are too dreary to bring up in either mixed or unmixed company. Even I find talking about the subject annoying, which is odd given how much everyone in my family loves talking about our collective illnesses. When the family gets together, a rare event that usually occurs at funerals, strangely enough, everyone loves to talk about how bad they are feeling and what new doctor they had to see and the outrageous price of prescription medications these days. You would think that all of this talk of bad health would be in very poor taste, given the circumstances, but hypochondria runs in the family[ii] and I am sure if the deceased were alive he or she would be complaining about their poor health as well; we will not allow any one person’s stretching of ill health to its logical conclusion to stop everyone else’s right to enjoy a fine whine with their dinner. So, back to the cane. I’ve been using one for a while now and in the past few months I have taken the necessary steps to get rid of the problems that led to my having to use the damn thing in the first place. In short, I have new hips, the old ones having fallen victim to years of steady abuse brought on by a constant overconsumption of chocolate, and it pleases me now to announce that I am thinking of going on the carnival freak show circuit as Akaky, the man with three cracks in his backside[iii]. It also pleases me to announce that I am on the verge of not needing the cane anymore and as soon as this happy state of affairs occurs, I intend to toss my canes into the river, the environmentalists be damned[iv]

Of course, I will miss the canes in a strange sort of way. Here in our happy little burg, ignoring the traffic laws is a municipal sport of sorts, and one of the laws ignored the most is the one where pedestrians get the right of way in the crosswalks.  But the visibly lame always get a pass. No matter how bad the traffic, motorists will stop for people in wheelchairs or using a walker or walking with a cane, and I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who stopped and let me get across the street in one piece.  I would like to think that this automotive benevolence is because the motorists hereabouts are filled with the milk of human kindness, or the empathy-saturated beverage of their choice, but I strongly suspect that not explaining why they ran down a person who visibly couldn’t get out of their way to the cops, the judge, and the insurance company has a little bit more to do with the matter than anyone around here would care to admit. Admitting that you ran down a little old lady in the crosswalk because you were going to be late picking up the kids at cheerleader practice is a conversation most sane people will choose to avoid if at all possible.  There is no way to come out of this conversation looking good and so it is best to stop for the old lady and not worry about having the conversation in the first place.  Your little princess-cheerleader will simply have to wait, no matter how many times she rolls her eyes about your being late.

The canes are also good for tripping little children.  You may not think that this is fun, but when you have very little else to do you have to take your laughs where you can get them.  The younger the child the better, as small children are not apt to figure out that you tripped them on purpose, and it is easier to convince them that their falling was their own silly fault. My beard helps me in this, as people usually will not ascribe malevolent motives to a lame man who looks vaguely like Santa Claus[v]. So I have been having a hell of a good time knocking over little children left, right, and center, and then laughing benevolently at the poor child gets up off the ground. I chat with the parents as they get up; it allays their suspicions. I was thinking of bringing some candy with me to bribe the horrible little monsters in silence, but on second thought I don’t think I will.  If I don’t share, it means more candy for me[vi]. 

[i] Not you in the sense of you personally, whoever you are. I mean a generic you, any you who happens to be reading this particular screed at this particular time.
[ii] As Mortimer Brewster says of insanity in his family in Arsenic and Old Lace, hypochondria fairly gallops in mine.
[iii] They are not literally cracks, except, of course, for the one crack we all share. The others are scars at this point, but there was a time, and not so distant a time at that, when both of these scars were bona fide cracks in my bottom.
[iv] To be taken literally. If I want to throw the canes in the river, I’m going to throw the canes into the river. There are PCBs in the river and a layer of bottles a couple of feet thick off of West Point, and there are people peeing in it every day during the summer. Two canes aren’t going to hurt.
[v] In an offhand sort of way, and if you aren’t looking too closely.
[vi] Socialism is a terrible thing. It’s best that kids learn this early on in life. It will prevent disappointments later.

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Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Danish and my leg, such as it is

My apologies for the prolonged absence, but I should report that I am feeling much better now, thank you for asking, and I am able to walk short distances without the cane, something for which I am almost inordinately proud of myself. Physical therapy continues as before and I spend much of my time smiling and agreeing with my therapist, an attractive young woman who combines the two traits I have found in almost all physical therapists I have ever dealt with: cheerful optimism and equally cheerful sadism. I certainly do not mind having an attractive young woman massage my right leg every other day; on the other hand, I do not understand why she does not simply haul off and pound on the leg with a baseball bat—the effect in either case is more or less the same.   

In my enforced state of stasis, I have learned that daytime television is a plot to deprive Americans of their liberties by depriving them of their ability to think critically about almost anything at all, and I have learned that Danish researchers have discovered that too much jogging is bad for you.  The two facts are not related in any way, as far as I can see, although an overconsumption of daytime television may cause the viewer not to see that a Danish researcher would say such a thing, there being an inherent conflict of interest between Danish researchers and jogging.  Time spent jogging is, by definition, time you will not use to have a Danish and maybe a nice cup of coffee while you chat with your friends. This is not a good thing, not at all, because jogging is a very antisocial activity, whether you do a lot of it or not.  You could jog with another person, of course, but you can’t really carry on an intelligent conversation with anyone when you’re blowing air out of your pie-hole like Moby Dick.  The only topic of conversation likely to interest any group of joggers is when the new guy at the back of the pack is going drop dead from a heart attack; joggers have a sick sense of humor, generally speaking. It's from spending all that time by themselves jogging. The stress makes strange things pop into their heads.

What Danish researchers ought to be researching is how come no deli in this our Great Republic can serve fresh Danish on a daily basis.  Here in our happy little burg, if you don’t get your Danish fresh on Monday, then you can forget about the rest of the week; after Monday the local consumer of Danish (i.e., me) will enjoy, if you can call it that, six degrees of ever greater staleness, until on Saturday the local consumer of Danish (i.e., me) is eating the baked equivalent of cardboard with some jam on it.  It is annoying, to say the least, and makes one question one’s commitment to the Danish as a NATO ally.  I mean, really, if the Danish cannot bother guaranteeing that the Danish is fresh, then why are we wasting the taxpayers’ money defending them from Dutch aggression? That’s what I want to know.

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Academy Awards controversy

I feel that I should take this opportunity to protest the clear lack of diversity that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has demonstrated in its nominations in the acting categories this year.  I do not believe that I have to point out—indeed, tens of thousands of people have already pointed out—that of all the artists nominated in the acting categories only one is a French woman.  I find it hard to believe that the Academy could only find one French woman to nominate for anything when France invented cinema as an art form and has one of the oldest motion picture industries in the world, an industry that routinely produces hundreds of film annually. Such a brutal snub displays, I think, more than a little Francophobia and poses some very pointed questions about the Academy’s commitment to diversity.

As a corollary to the facts enumerated above, I should also point out that none of the nominees, even the French woman, is a member of a municipal fire department. In fact, I believe that I can say with a fair degree of certainty that none of the nominees is a member of a volunteer fire department, either. This, I think, is nothing short of despicable. I believe that all right-thinking people can agree that our nation’s fire departments, both career and volunteer, perform important, indeed vital, work in protecting the American movie-going public from danger every day and that the Academy’s refusal to nominate a fire fighter in any category is nothing short of churlish.

So, what are we to make of the Academy’s actions?  First, that the Academy is clearly biased against French women and fire departments is a fact so demonstrable in this year’s nominations as to be beyond the ability of any amount of face-saving p.r. to refute. Second, it is clear that the Academy will not reform its bigoted mindset unless compelled to do so. The many attempts by the French Embassy and the International Associations of Fire Chiefs to rectify the situation by behind the scenes persuasion have obviously been for naught. Therefore, I am calling on the Motion Picture Association of America, the body that rates the movies for language, violence, and sexual content, in begin issuing new ratings that will inform the public about the number of French women and fire fighters in any given motion picture and I am calling on the American public itself to boycott any motion picture in which an appropriate number of French women and fire fighters do not appear. In addition to these measures, the Academy should set aside a certain number of nominations every year for French women and fire fighters, in order to ensure fairness, and then set up a fund to encourage underprivileged French women and fire fighters to enter the motion picture field. In this way the American movie-going public can rest assured that a corrupt and venal Academy will not assault its sensibilities in such a brutal fashion and the sort of blatant bias we have all seen this year will not repeat itself.  Thank you and I will see you at the movies!

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