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)

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Blast from the past

So there I was, sitting on my fat patoot and not really working while I thought about how hard it is to write satire anymore, what with the times getting too weird for any one person to keep up with, when I heard Rick Springfield singing Jesse’s Girl on a kid’s radio or phone or whatever it is kids use to listen to music these days. The song first came out, if I remember this correctly, when Ronald Reagan was getting out of the hospital after the assassination attempt back in 1981 and I am pretty sure that I haven’t heard it since then. Listening to it now, however, gave me the same sense of profound creepiness that hearing it in 1981 did. It didn’t occur to me in 1981 that there was such a musical genre as stalker rock—I was much younger then, of course, and so I didn’t know any better—and in those halcyon days we all knew less about the strange drives that motivated Australian obsessives to lust for the girl friends of their best buddies, even with the best efforts of Phil Donahue to keep us all up to date with the latest fashions in neuroticism. But stalker rock it is, along with that song about Jenny and her phone number and an entry from the 1960’s, the Vogues’ Turn around, look at me, and it does make me wonder if any of these guys ever got over getting not dumped by their not girl friends. I never heard any of these songs without wanting to slap these guys and say, snap out of it, as Cher so correctly advised in Moonstruck. I mean, really, guy, Jesse’s girl is probably a grandmother by now; get over it.

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Saturday, June 20, 2015

The newest excuse for not writing is...

I went on vacation. Really. The first real vacation I've had since 2001. I had a nice time and now I am back to the grind of finding excuses for not writing. Nice to be home.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

More excuses, except without the nice picture of Emily.

Okay, so here’s the thing: I do have some stuff to post, but the pieces (there are two of them, you know, but they are not about the same thing, which makes them fraternal twins, I suppose) are not ready for prime time. In short, I have not finished either one of them and I have used a great deal of psychic energy these past few weeks justifying to myself why I have not finished them.  I could blame George W. Bush, but I started both of these pieces several years after Bush left the Presidency, although, if the newspapers are anything to go by, incumbency is not a requirement for things to be George W. Bush’s fault. But I can’t, not really, a result, I think, of long years of Roman Catholic teaching. The well-developed Catholic conscience understands that blaming others for one’s own faults is the oldest sin in the Book, other than eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and that Adam's excuse that she made me, and Eve's excuse that the serpent made her, does not excuse either one of them at all. So it is not George W. Bush’s fault that I have not been posting as much as I should, much as I would like to say otherwise.

My desultory posting is also not the fault of my brother and his potato salad, even if I am certain beyond a reasonable doubt that he gave me that potato salad in order to poison me.  In the cold salad realm, I have always been partial to macaroni salad, especially my mother’s macaroni salad. Unlike so many people, including my brother, my mother does not annoy the palate with a multitude of flavors. There’s vinegar and mayonnaise, some tomatoes and celery, which I pick out of the salad and throw to the nearest cat, and macaroni. Simple, basic, filling, all the things I want in a cold salad. My brother, on the other hand, is a pupil of the more is better culinary school, and in his potato salad there are potatoes that you cannot taste and every manner of spice that you can, sort of, when those spices are not fighting for space and attention on your taste buds.  In short, I hate my brother’s potato salad and I would not eat the ghastly stuff at all except that my mother values family peace over almost everything else, especially at family get-togethers, and so in the interest of peace and brotherhood and good will I ate my brother’s potato salad and quickly came down with a nasty case of food poisoning.  As you might imagine, my brother did not like my accusing him of attempted murder nor did he appreciate my calling his potato salad loathsome noisome swill. All right, I didn’t use those words exactly, but I am sure you get the point. My brother certainly did and he certainly didn’t like it. Some people get very defensive about their potato salad and my brother is one of those people. In his defense, however, I should point out that my refusal to buckle down and start writing pre-dated his attempted fratricide for quite a while, and so, in the interests of truth and fair play and all sorts of other virtues Americans hold sacred, I cannot blame him for my unswerving loyalty to procrastination as a virtue.  I still hate his potato salad, though.

What I do blame for all the delay is my recent commitment to lemur ranching for fun and profit.  Ranching on a spread filled with ring-tailed lemurs is something that can drive a grown man to Despair, which, people tell me, is a pretty upscale new French bar and grill here in our happy little burg.  I didn’t know that the French had bars and grills; none of those bistros you see in the travel brochures ever look like what I’d consider to be a bar and grill, but then I don’t get out much. The food is very nice though, if you like overly intellectualized hamburger. Contrary to what you might have heard, the cow involved is not having an existential crisis as a response to its search for meaning in a meaningless world; the cow has passed from being to nothingness by becoming hamburger. Ergo, the cow has solved its existential crisis by finding the meaning denied to so many human beings. For the cow, the purpose of existence is simple: it is dinner.  That the cow is no longer in a position to grasp this elegant solution to its existential problem simply demonstrates the inadequacy of any overarching philosophical system when that system confronts reality. And steak tastes good.

I don’t know what the lemurs taste like and I don’t intend to find out. I’m not raising them for food, at least not for people, and I don’t think the furry little bastards have enough meat on them to interest the pet food manufacturers.  So why bother with lemurs?  Lemur oil will cure a boatload of skin ailments, yes it will, everything from eczema to seborrhea and psoriasis, so step right up and put in your order for your own 12 oz. bottle of Dr. Green’s Old Fashioned Green Lemur Miracle Oil and if you order within the next ten minutes I will be happy to send you another bottle absolutely free; just pay shipping and handling. And then I sit and watch the money roll in, or I would, if only get the ornery little beasts to stay still for long enough to press some oil out of them.  Lemurs object to pressing, for reasons I am not sure I fathom—a consequence of poor parenting and equally poor socialization in the public schools seems a reasonable hypothesis—and while I am not pressing them the lemurs insist on three meals a day and a roof over their heads, which makes them seem less an investment than members of my family.  In addition to this, I have the Department of Agriculture inspectors going over every inch of my operation and the Humane Society and every other animal rights group in the country camped out in my front yard demonstrating against my pressing the lemurs at all. The lemurs don’t like the animal rights people very much; one of those PETA people broke into the lemurs’ compound two weeks ago to “liberate” them and the lemurs bit him on his ass for his troubles. Serves him right, too; I hope the bastard gets rabies.

So as you can see, as a small aspiring entrepreneur in the age of the Illinois Incitatus I am up to my backside in money problems and government red tape and high-minded idiots who don’t know the first thing about lemurs or business trying to tell me how to run my business. I simply do not have the time to whip up these little funny bits regularly. I have things to do, important things, like trying to figure out where the damn lemurs are hiding my pencils. Damn, I hate when they do that; it’s more annoying than you can imagine.

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Friday, May 15, 2015

The usual mealy mouthed excuses

The thing of it is this: I could put the usual reasons why I have been too lazy to write something for the blog or you can look at the following while I think of something. Your choice. I do have something on the griddle, but it’s fighting me. I’ll bring it in sooner or later, but there’s no telling when that will be. In the meantime, there’s this:

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Monday, April 27, 2015

A Great Experience, or travelling the root canal for fun and profit

Yesterday I had a great experience: a youngster approached me, while I was eating. I was eating a roast beef on a hard roll, with salt and pepper and some mayonnaise. Actually, there was too much mayonnaise, now that I think of it. They always do this at the deli; they slather the mayo on like Van Gogh slathering paint on a canvas, and it always causes a problem because the mayo winds up in my mustache and I have to spend the rest of the day cleaning all that gook out of it.  I don’t think Van Gogh ever had to clean the paint out of his mustache. There may have been some on the ear he cut off, but I wouldn’t want to speculate on this without investigating the matter further. However, this may be why there are no delicatessens in Van Gogh’s work. Lots of bars and brothels, of course, unless I’m confusing Van Gogh’s work with Toulouse-Lautrec’s; I know there are lots of brothels in Toulouse-Lautrec, but again, as with Van Gogh and Mozart, there are no delicatessens where you can buy a roast beef sandwich that won’t spew mayonnaise all over your face like a culinary Vesuvius. As for the youngster who approached me, a school bus hit him as he crossed the street, killing him instantly. After the students got off the bus and stripped the mangled corpse of his clothing and cell phones, the unfortunate wretch got up and called the police a name they didn't like, and so the police came quickly and arrested the youngster for indecent exposure, interfering with the free flow of traffic, and littering.  The district attorney's office may press further charges as the need arises, according to an official spokesperson.

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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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