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, April 21, 2005

THE EFFECT OF LAW: Eskimos have a veritable plethora of words to describe snow, and so do I, none of which I will repeat here. I read this lexicographical datum a few years ago—where I read it I no longer remember, either the source from which I read it or where I was when I read it, although munching on my breakfast while reading the morning paper seems a good bet; this factoid has the hallmarks of one of those filler quotes newspapers toss in so there aren’t too many blank spaces on the page. For some reason the verbal exuberance of Eskimos vis-à-vis snow, which is odd, I think—you’d think they’d get tired of looking at it for eight months out of the year—has stayed with me for these many years, just one more informational dust bunny hiding away under the unmade bed of my mind.

Similarly, I am told by those who care about such things, and they must care deeply about this; I can’t imagine anyone actually doing this as a lark or out of idle curiosity; that Arabic has over a hundred different words describing camels, while English has three: dromedary, Bactrian, and unfiltered. It seems, therefore, that a society with a multiplicity of words for a thing or a concept regards that thing or concept as important to the social, cultural, and political life of that society. This principle applies over the broad range of cultural phenomena, from the arts to science to law. In this last category, for example, one can tell that a society with ever more detailed laws regarding theft is probably, and let me emphasize the probably here, for there are exceptions to every case, a society plagued by thievery in every shape and form.

Now here in our happy little burg, we’ve always been a fairly law abiding lot. We’re no angels, of course; like many small American cities we have our share of miscreants and malefactors who support themselves on the proceeds of the way over the counter and off to the side in a dark corner pharmaceutical business, and then there was the time a nearby volunteer fire department lost a charity softball game to our Bravest by the score of 63-2, after which the profoundly incensed and also deeply intoxicated visiting team left the charity festivities at the fire station and proceeded, or rather staggered, as a man down our main street while singing, for reasons that remain obscure to this day as this all happened in the middle of July, “Silent Night” and "Good King Wenceslas”, to the Veterans Memorial, a mounted World War I issue Browning water-cooled heavy machine gun the city park department had just repainted the previous week. A local veteran of the 45th “Rainbow” Division donated the weapon to the city in 1920 and generations of young boys here in our town grew up standing behind the thing pretending to shoot up the passing traffic for the no good rotten krautchinkgookcommie rats they really were. Upon their arrival at the memorial, the visiting firemen stopped singing, if you could call it that, and stared at the weapon for some five minutes before they started tearing the gun from its perch. The work was hard-going at first; coordinating the activities of eight or nine very intoxicated men is no easy matter; but eventually they managed to pull the gun from its moorings and then dragged it down to Riverfront Park and threw the Browning into the river.

The local gendarmerie, as you might imagine, took a dim view of all that transpired that night and arrested the firemen in the park, where, unlike other criminals who always return to the scene of the crime, this lot hadn’t bothered to leave, finding the benches and soft grass a most conducive place to sleep off the truly prodigious number of beers and Jell-O shots they’d had since coming into town for the game. Most of them were still not completely aware of their surroundings until the gendarmes dragged them in front of the night court judge, who fined them each five hundred dollars for vandalizing public property and for being morons in a public place. Since then we haven’t had much trouble from inebriated volunteer firefighters and that’s the way we like things here. We couldn’t replace the machine gun, though, and now there’s a marble slab with the names of the local slain in battle on the perch where the Browning used to be.

I bring up all of this essentially extraneous material, most of which had little or nothing to do with my basic point and would, no doubt, cause psychic and physical conniptions in both William Strunk and E. B. White, because I recently read in the newspaper that the gaggle of goniffs that double as the City Council of the great metropolis to the south of our happy little burg was seriously considering passing legislation banning the sale of dirty underwear and the public carrying of samurai swords. Now I was under the impression, as I am sure you were as well, that the problem of sword-wielding samurai had finally come to an end with the suppression of the Satsuma rebellion in 1877. This is apparently not the case, if newspapers must report on the daily depredations of sword-wielding samurai in dirty underwear as they roam the streets of the great southern metropolis looking for the set of a Kurosawa film and great buys on counterfeit designer clothes, taking the occasional photograph and every so often lopping the head from the miserable dope-addled carcass of one of the local miscreants. The symbolism of the dirty underwear escapes me, however, but this may be because I have no real understanding of Japanese culture. Japanese culture is rich and profound, according to them that know about this sort of thing, and it comes with a certain insular chauvinism, much like French culture, in fact, except the Japanese are much more polite about it.

The question of what to do with aggressive samurai in dirty underwear has not yet arisen here in our little burg; at the moment the samurai invasions seem confined to the metropolis, where they spend most of their waking hours trying to get tickets to Spamalot, the Monty Python musical now playing at the Shubert Theatre, which is good since we would just as soon not deal with people wearing dirty underwear. We don’t need this headache, not when our local solons are busy keeping the mentally deficient from roaming the burg’s streets earning a living as shoeshine men. This is a shame, I think, because it gave them a sense of purpose and some extra money as well. They did a good job of shining shoes, too; they’d shine one shoe for a dollar and then charge you three dollars for the other shoe. They may be mentally deficient but they’re not stupid, you know, not by a long shot.


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