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)

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Work in stasis

...a voice was heard in Ramah

I. The Old Woman
    The old woman vanished early that summer, disappearing so quietly that no one realized at first that she was gone.  People worried about other things.  The dog days came early that year; by the middle of June the temperature had been in the nineties for ten days in a row with no relief in sight.  The heat rose off the sticky streets in shimmering waves that stank of burnt tar.  At night people opened their windows to catch breezes that did not come and listened to the wail of sirens as they lay in sleepless beds and felt the sweat roll slowly down their skin in thick trickles.  Sirens filled the nights that summer; the heat made people crazy. Abandoned buildings, automobiles, dumpsters, and part of a city park all burned during the dog days; old people collapsed in their homes from the heat; fights broke out in homes and bars from one end of the city to the other.   Everyone prayed for the heat to break soon.

With the heat weighing on everyone’s mind, the old woman's disappearance scarcely registered at all.  She had been vanishing for years, a shadow that slipped unseen through the mean hurly-burly of the neighborhood.  For those who cared to see her she was at Mass every Sunday morning at nine o'clock, the children's Mass, where the students from the Catholic elementary schools sat with their classes under the nuns’ sharp eyes, but she never went up to the altar rail to receive Communion.  Sometimes people saw her at confession on a Saturday evening.  For the rest of the week she was invisible, almost as though she did not exist at all.  Few people knew who she was; no one ever visited her.  Over the years the old woman slowly disappeared from the memory of the living, as if she had stopped for death long years before death kindly stopped for her.

The superintendent found her on the first of July, when the heat wave was at its height. The old woman lived in a small ground floor apartment towards the back of the building on Tyndale Avenue.  In the heat, the people living in the apartments above hers began complaining to the superintendent about the odor coming from downstairs.  At first, the superintendent chose to ignore the complaints.  A fat placid man, he believed strongly that most of the tenants’ problems were imaginary and would go away by themselves if he humored the tenant long enough and did nothing.  He placated the first few tenants with promises of swift action, but in the days that followed promises were no longer enough; the tenants pounded on his door demanding that he do something.  Convinced at length that the tenants might actually have a legitimate complaint, the superintendent roused himself from the air-conditioned comfort of his living room one late afternoon and went to work.

The superintendent went down the alley and crossed the back courtyard to the old woman’s apartment, carrying his toolbox and ignoring the chorus of catcalls and abuse from the women hanging out the day's washing on the clotheslines above him.  He knocked on the door and rang the doorbell and called her name loudly.  When no one answered, the superintendent was content; he'd done his duty and now he could go back to his sofa and his television set with a clear conscience.  He turned to leave; a moment later the courtyard echoed with jeers and shouting and threats raining down on him from the windows above.  He shouted, quiet down, quiet down, I'm not done yet.  I'm still looking here.
    So are we, honey, so are we, someone on the fourth floor shouted down.  And we still don't see you doing anything.  The courtyard rocked with laughter.

The superintendent scratched his chin and wished he’d kept his mouth shut; now he had to do something.  Damn, he muttered quietly, damn damn damn damn.  He tried looking through the apartment’s only window, but heavy drapes and Venetian blinds completely hid the inside of the apartment.  Finally he rummaged around in the toolbox for the master key ring, inserting one key after key into the lock until one worked.  The key that unlocked the door didn’t open it all the way; there were several chain locks on the door and it opened four or five inches at most.  The superintendent stopped suddenly and shook his head and staggered away from the door, vomiting up his spaghetti and meatball dinner.  The stench flowed out the apartment, a rolling rotting wave of corruption.  The women looking down from their windows shrieked with disgust as the stench reached them and they began pulling in their laundry to keep the fouled air from dirtying their clean sheets and linen.  A moment later, a devil's zoo of cats, rats, and flies came streaming out of the open door.  A woman on the second floor screamed as a large rat scurried out of the apartment and disappeared down the alley with a finger in its mouth.

The police came and cordoned off the alley, draping yellow crime scene tape over everything to keep an ever-growing crowd of the curious away from the old woman's apartment, which they opened with a bolt cutter.  Unthought of in life, she became an attraction after death.  Homicide detectives, forensic technicians, and medical examiners arrived, and an ambulance came to take the superintendent to the hospital; he complained of chest pains.  The paramedics carried him out of the alley on a stretcher, an oxygen mask over his face, still reeking of vomit and spaghetti and red wine.  A few minutes later the medical examiners came out with the old woman, her corpse in a dark green body bag strapped to a stretcher.  The crowd at the top of the alley fell silent and moved out of the way as the medical examiners brought the old woman out of the alley.  Many of them blessed themselves as the body passed by; others held their noses and winced at the smell.  The uniformed policemen began pushing the crowd back, telling everyone to go home, the excitement was over, there was nothing left to see. People began drifting away from the edge of the crowd, going home to eat their dinners or to watch a baseball game on television; children crossed the intersection to go to the playground.  The ambulances left, and then the medical examiner’s van left with the body of the old woman, and when the forensic technicians began packing up their gear the crowd began to dissolve in earnest, some of them speaking in low tones out of respect for the dead, others making loud jokes about what a big stink the old lady had finally made in the neighborhood. 

The technicians were getting ready to leave when a detective came out of the alley and went up to the technicians’ van.  He rapped on the passenger side window.  The man inside rolled down the window.
    Stu, unpack your gear and get back down to the scene, the detective said.
Come on, Jack, we’re done, the technician said.  I gotta get home.
Home’ll have to wait, the detective said. They got more work for you.  And let me have your radio, would you? 
Yeah, sure.  Here.  He handed the detective the radio.
Thanks.  Central, this is 11 Francis 17, requesting medical examiner at 2704 Tyndale Avenue, over.
11 Francis 17, be advised, medical examiners have just left your location, over, the dispatcher’s tinny voice said.
Central, I am aware of that, we have another decedent at the scene, over, the detective said.
11 Francis 17, understood.  Be advised, medical examiners on their way to your location soonest, over, the dispatcher said.
Understood, Central, over and out, the detective said.  He handed the radio back to the technician.  Thanks again.
Another body?  How the hell did we miss it on the first go through, the technician said as he got out of the van.
I don’t want to talk about this in the street, the detective said.  Trust me, you’ll want to see this.
Don’t say that, Jack, the technician said.  I hate it when people tell me that.  I never want to see whatever it is they tell me I should see.  Damn it, my wife is going to take this out of my hide.  We’re supposed to be going over to her folks tonight for pizza.
 You ought to lay off the pizza and the chocolate doughnuts for a while, Stu, the detective said. You could stand to lose a little weight, you know.
Don’t bust my chops, Jack, the technician said.  I already have a wife.

The news that someone else was dead in the old woman’s apartment brought the crowd back. Windows opened up and down the street; the children came back from the playground; women with curlers in their hair came out of the laundromat to see what was going on.  People wondered who it could be, trying to remember if they had ever seen the old woman with anyone they knew.  They asked the uniformed policemen at the alley entrance what was going on, but the policemen said sorry, they didn’t know nothing about anything and why don’t all of you folks just go home now, there’s nothing any of you can do for anyone here?  No one left; no one wanted to leave before knowing the grisly truth.  Kids speculated that the old woman was eating little kids for years, but none of them remembered someone they knew vanishing suddenly.  Men thought she might have killed a burglar; women wondered if she hadn’t killed her husband, one woman saying, God knows I’ve wanted to often enough.  The women laughed; the men didn’t think it was funny.  The medical examiner’s van pulled up in front of the alley.

A news crew from one of the local television stations arrived on the scene moments after the medical examiner and the reporter started asking people what they’d seen so far.  The reporter moved on to the weary uniformed policeman standing at the alley entrance. No, the cop said, I didn’t know what’s going on yes a body was found no cause of death has been established no the deceased’s name would not be given out pending the notification of her next of kin no the department’s press office would have a statement later in the day no I don’t know how much later that’s up to the detectives and the press office people no I don’t know if it’s murder or suicide no I don’t know nothing about the super’s current condition you have to ask the hospital about that no I don’t know if there’s another body down there no I don’t know what the delay is the detectives haven’t told me anything no you can’t go down there with your cameraman lady you gotta stay behind the yellow line the same as everyone else does yes I know who you are and no I don’t care at the moment yes I know the whole city watches you guys my wife included she watches you everyday she likes your news better than the news on Channel 7 don’t ask me why though the news is always just one lousy rotten thing after another no matter who you watch I just read the sports pages anymore my wife she thinks you should do something with your hair though no I don’t know what lady I’m a cop not a damn hairdresser something about you needing bangs I think.

Make a hole up there, someone called from the alley.  The uniformed cops began pushing the people back, opening a path to the emergency vehicles parked in the street.  The noisy crowd pressed against the officers’ outstretched arms, eager to see what was happening, ignoring the policemen’s orders to move back. 
Here they come, someone at the front of the crowd yelled.  The crowd lurched forward to see; one policeman fell on backwards; he swore as he got up and shouted at the crowd to get the hell back, damn it.

What’s happening, people yelled from the back of the crowd. The silence began with the people closest to the alley.  They stopped pressing against the cops; some took a step back, and others spoke quietly to one another as though they were in church.  The silence spread through the crowd and up and down the street.  Some people at the fringes of the crowd yelled to the people at the front, asking what was going on, but they were told to shut up by people who didn’t know anything more than anyone else, only that something had happened and that noisy bellowing was somehow out of place.

A detective came up out of the alley.  He carried a small wooden box covered with a white sheet.  People stepped away from him as he walked through the small space kept open by the uniformed policemen; some people blessed themselves, others shook their heads sadly and muttered, ay, pobrecito, as he put the box in the back of the medical examiner’s van and strapped it down.  The detective closed the rear door and locked it.  He stood there for a moment, looking in at the box, and then shook his head quickly from side to side, as if to free his mind from the confusing morass of reasons and explanations for why people did the horrible things they did to one another and to return once more to the cold hard cop wisdom that says people did do these things to each other and that sometimes there was no explaining why they did them.  The detective’s mouth twisted as though he had just tasted something bitter. Then he said, forget it, and went back down the alley.

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Saturday, April 22, 2017

Requirements of the law

"European Union laws require you to give European Union visitors information about cookies used on your blog. In many cases, these laws also require you to obtain consent."

 This warning appears in the editing functions of this blog and I'll be honest, I never really paid any attention to it. This bit of legal argle-bargle, to quote the late Justice Scalia, was just another example of the usual boilerplate nonsense that you have to expect in an increasingly bureaucratic society, something that the mind dismisses without ever having processed the information in the first place.  Now that I have noticed it, however, it seems more than a little presumptuous, doesn’t it? First, there is the question of sovereignty: can the European Union, which by its very name is clearly located in Europe, order me, a citizen of this our Great Republic, to do anything?  Second, how do I know which of my visitors are from the European Union and which are not? I am not some international Internet traffic cop who has the time and the energy to keep up with the people who come here and then question them about who they are and where they come from. Strange as it may seem to the European Union and the, I assume, very well paid paper pushers who devised this rule, I have an actual life here in the United States of America and that this actual life requires the majority of my time and attention and does not require me to pay attention to the European Union or its strictures about cookies and visitors.  Third, as to the question of consent, I wish to point out to the Eurodrone bureaucrats in Brussels who are behind the aforementioned bit of legal argle-bargle that nobody is forcing anyone to read The Passing Parade—the management of this blog can barely get the writer who provides the content here to write for the damned blog—and so the question of consent is largely moot, unless, of course, said Eurodrones are demanding that I get the reader’s consent, in which my response is that you can go kiss my royal Irish ass, guys.

However, in the spirit of international amity, I will point out that The Passing Parade is not terribly fond of cookies, but that we do have a very nice pineapple upside down cake that my mother makes from scratch and that on occasion we will indulge in some freshly made gourmet doughnuts from the new place across the street from the egregious mold pit wherein I labor for my daily bread.  If you are ever up this way, I invite you to drop in and share a doughnut, unless you are intent on getting me to follow European Union law, in which case I will call the police and have you removed from the premises. Thank you for your time and attention.

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Friday, April 21, 2017

Still thinking

These last few days I have been getting strange notices from someone named Andrew giving me all sorts of technical information about this blog that I really didn’t ask for, which leads me to suspect that our congenial host is getting tired of my ongoing battles with writer’s block and is letting me know that I either get snapping and cracking with my next bit of worldly wisdom or they are going to take The Passing Parade away from me. And we wouldn’t want that, would we? No, we wouldn’t. On the other hand, dispensing worldly wisdom requires that you have worldly wisdom to dispense, and since I don’t have any, I am more or less up the metaphorical creek without an outboard engine (I’m sorry, but I don’t paddle. I just don’t).  So what to do?  Well, I could comment on the world situation, but there are many people who can do that much better than I can and, let’s face it, the world situation is crappy, largely because the world situation is always crappy.  That’s just the way things are. A century ago, World War I was in its third year, the century before that Europe was putting itself back together after twenty-five years of war with France, and a century before that Europe was putting itself back together after fourteen years of the War of the Spanish Succession, which was a big hit with the ruling classes who cared about who got to be the King of Spain; the people who had to fight the war really didn’t care one way or the other, which is the way most wars are, you know. Does anyone, other than the Spanish, really care who the King of Spain is? No, I don’t think so, and my guess is that most Spanish people do not care either, except to check out what his wife (who is really good-looking) is wearing that week. Anyway, given how things have gone for the past three hundred years, it is a good bet that a hundred years from now that the world situation will still be crappy. So why bother talking about it?

I suppose I could talk about politics or about social mores, but I am not a politically inclined person; one of my deepest held beliefs is that wanting to run for political office should disqualify the candidate from having that office; and I am, as a person, horribly unsocial to the point of being asocial.  I am not antisocial—I understand that humans, being primates of the biological and not the religious type (unless, of course, you happen to be an actual primate of the religious type, in which case both categories apply to you. And while I have your attention, Primate, could you please explain to me why Ireland, which is not the biggest place in the world, gets two Roman Catholic primates while the United States, which is a fairly large place, doesn’t have one at all. Hardly seems fair, if you ask me), need the society of other humans or we risk madness or worse, enjoying peanut butter and liverwurst sandwiches.  I also see no reason why I should take advantage of the Vampire State’s retirement system for the perennially antisocial, which involves three bland meals a day, sharing one’s room with the not terribly nice, and unfashionable bracelets. No, I am asocial, which means that no matter how much you would like to share my company, I’d prefer that you go somewhere else. I’m just like that, I fear.  Having said that, please rest assured that I am trying to think of subjects you would find interesting to write about and that at some point I will have something worth looking at here. And I would like to thank you again for your continued support.

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Friday, March 31, 2017


Yes, I know I said that I would have something new here in a week and that it's been almost a month since I posted anything, but I am working on a couple of things here and I will put them up just as soon as I can. I promise. Really, I mean know, I can hear you snickering out there, dammit!

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Wednesday, March 01, 2017

And so it goes

The thing of it is, of course, that I keep intending to get back to the writing desk and do something new. Yes, I do. Now I understand that some of you are snickering right now, that you have heard me sing this song before and that you are thinking to yourselves that he’ll never get back to it unless someone with a gun makes him sit down and write, but you would be wrong—I have every intention to sit down and write some more for the blog, just as I have every intention of losing thirty of forty pounds; I just haven’t decided when I am going to do this. But I am writing for the blog, I am, I really am,
and I don't care how much you say otherwise. I have my pencils out and the paper (I use yellow legal paper, just in case such things interest you. I can’t imagine why this would interest you, but there are people in this world who collect sports memorabilia even though they know that most sports collectibles are fakes and there are others who think that having the world’s greatest collection of fifteenth century Moldovan bathroom fixtures is an actual accomplishment as opposed to being a sign that these people have way too much time on their hands).  And there is actual writing on that legal pad! Yes, there is. I am writing something right now despite what the cynics and the backbiters and the faultfinders say behind my back and to my face.  So take that, smart guys! 

In other news, my mother has the flu. I realize that my mother having the flu is not really a big deal; lots of people have the flu at this time of the year—it is flu season, after all—but she was one of the first people to get her flu shot this past year and finding out that the twenty-five dollars she shelled out for the shot was for naught did not make her happy, as if the coughing, sneezing, fever, and all the other foulness that accompany the flu were not enough to make her unhappy. What is really rankling her, however, is that she could not go to church today.  If you live in a place where there are a decent number of Roman Catholics, you will have noticed today that many of them are wandering the highways and byways with dirt on their foreheads.  The Papists are doing this on purpose (they’re like Commies that way, you know). Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the penitential season of Lent, and on this day Roman Catholics have their foreheads marked by a priest who intones, remember, man, that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return—like so many things, this sounds much more impressive in Latin: Meménto, homo, quia pulvis es, et in púlverem revertéris.  This is to remind us all of our shared mortality. Well, my mother has had a priest slather dirt on her forehead every year since 1934 and is deeply annoyed that she could not go to church today to keep the streak going. What makes the end of the streak even worse is that she is blaming me for this. 

I am not sure how this is my fault: I did not give her the flu, I did not plan for her to get the flu, I did not enter into a grand conspiracy with the forces of secularism and British imperialism to give her the flu, and I did not deliberately expose her to people with the flu. I did not do any of these things, but her having the flu is my fault, just as it is my fault that the deer chow down on her azaleas and hedges. In short, logic and rational argument are not going to work in this case. Like original sin, the fault is mine whether I want it or not, and despite the fact that I haven’t done anything to deserve the opprobrium. And so it goes, as a wise man once said.

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