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, June 30, 2005


Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

28 May 1932-30 June 2004

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

AS YOU MAY HAVE NOTICED, there is a singular lack of links in the blogroll at the moment. I absolutely swear to you that this is not a collective dissing, just the end result of my monkeying around with html when I have absolutely no idea what in the hell I am doing, for which I am suffering the condign punishment. I promise that everyone will be back where they belong very, very shortly.

UPDATE: I think I've got everyone, but if there's a link that I've missed, please let me know and I will restore the link as soon as possible. Thank you for your patience.

Monday, June 27, 2005

BLINDED ME WITH SCIENCE: I don’t know if this is true or not; the author might just be pulling on the collective leg here; but I recently read that human beings, the very same creatures that went to the moon, invented the soprano kazoo, and routinely embarrass themselves at weddings by doing the chicken dance, share some forty percent of their DNA with the banana, which has the good sense not to do the chicken dance at weddings or anywhere else, for that matter. This is a good thing, I suppose, as it prevents humanity from getting too much of a swelled head; it is harder to credit that whole concept of humanity at the center of God’s universe when we are blood brothers, or would be if bananas had blood, to a phallic symbol.

Given that we have so much in common, it is a shame that humans have not done more to improve the lot of bananas in this world. I’m pretty sure there are inspection standards for bananas, but as far as I know there are no educational or vocational standards or programs for the ambitious young banana who wants to find a career outside the traditional entry level position of comedy prop or, for the criminally inclined, accessory to cereal killers, usually kids five to ten years old. However, in a purely self-serving line of thought, there is always the question of whether or not one should educate bananas above their station, lest they become that much harder to catch in the morning.

On the upside, this close biological, if relatively cold social, relationship between humanity and bananadom leads the scientific mind to wonder if the manipulation of banana DNA may eventually prove a great social, economic, and medical boon for humanity. The cultivation of vital human organs like hearts and livers inside bunches of genetically modified bananas avoids the messy ethical arguments created by human genetic experimentation; there is, at this point, no active political, religious, or philosophical movement to defend the inalienable rights of bananas, other than their right to be part of a healthy and nutritious breakfast.

With such medical techniques perfected, the once derided banana republics of Central and South America will go from being Caribbean backwaters, bywords of petty despotism and economic mismanagement, to being on the cutting edge of medical science, as hospitals and hotels from Chiapas to Barranquilla fill with wealthy Americans and Europeans willing to pay top dollar to get their new organs fresh off the tree. The commodities exchanges in New York and Chicago will boom as Honduran hearts and Guatemalan gall bladders become the hot item everyone wants to invest in, pulling the big money away from such boring staples as pork bellies and orange juice. Commodities traders as yet unborn will repair to saloons after a long, hard day on the trading floor to cry in their imported microbrewery beers and bemoan the fortune in Panamanian pancreas’s or Costa Rican kidneys that they just missed this morning by the skin of their Tegucigalpan teeth.

There will be a down side to all of this progress, of course; no human activity is completely without negative side effects of one sort or another. Once the Hondurans get a taste of the good life they will, naturally enough, want to keep the technology to themselves, or at least restrict it, by the use of cartels and other monopolistic practices, to Central and South America. Scientific and economic history suggests, however, that such restrictions do not work in the long run; no sooner has someone established a profitable monopoly than someone else tries to break into it, either by joining the original monopolists or by finding a way around the monopoly’s stranglehold.

Human nature being what it is, farmers in Malaysia, Borneo, or the Cote d’Ivoire will hardly accept the traditional banana powers shutting them out of such a hugely lucrative market. If the Central Americans don’t share the technology then it is entirely within the realm of possibility that other agricultural countries will violate the patents and simply take the necessary technology, or they may try cultivating human organs in other plants, which may lead to all sorts of confusion, as when one asks for artichoke hearts for one’s salad and receives instead the artichoke-grown heart of Dr. Elliott Johnston, a retired dentist from Larchmont, New York, who is lying on a operating table somewhere in New York City hooked up to the full technological impedimenta of modern cardiac surgery while his surgical team sits and waits for the right heart to arrive, and in the mean time argues about whether or not they really want all of these artichoke hearts in their salads, since Dr. Johnston can’t really use them for anything, and whether artichoke hearts taste better with ranch or Russian dressing.

One can see this sort of medical democratization brought about by improved medical technology everywhere nowadays. Encouraged by reports of Peruvian doctors performing brain surgery with a power drill and pliers bought from a local hardware store, members of Carpenters Local 45 began offering surgery at a 90% discount for poor people in the New York—New Jersey—Connecticut tri-state area. The local’s first patient was Mrs. Sylvia Grosbeck of the Bronx, who came in Local 45’s union hall needing an emergency organ transplant. After deciding that they wouldn’t let some Central American organ cartel to rob them blind, the carpenters replaced Mrs. Grosbeck’s diseased heart and liver with a two story split level ranch house in Scarsdale. “The mortgage was very reasonable, I thought,” Mrs. Grosbeck said after the operation. “And now we have a front yard for the grandchildren to play in. It’s like a dream come true.”

Some people will object to this new wave of medical science; some people will object no matter what you do; it gives them something to do and usually keeps them off the streets, unless overwhelmed by the need to demonstrate, which happens every now and again. For some objectors the need to adversely affect the morning commute is almost a biological necessity. However, like migratory birds, the paths of these malcontents are well-known to forensic science and they tend to wind up in cages safely away from the evening rush hour, where the passersby can mock them in vile and abusive language, and rightfully so, in my opinion. Medicine must move forward into the future.

And yet another example... Posted by Hello

SUMMERTIME BLUES: For all those complaining about the heat, remember, this is what we were shoveling out of our driveways just three months ago. Posted by Hello

Saturday, June 25, 2005

DUDGEON, PART DEUX: In keeping with our new editorial policy of all high moral dudgeon all the time, permit me to get all bent out of shape about eminent domain. The Supreme Court of the United States decided this past week that a local government may use its power of eminent domain to seize the property of a private citizen and give that property to another private citizen if the second private citizen can show that by doing so the local government can charge more in taxes. The Court made this decision despite the constitution’s clear specification that governments exercise this power only when the condemned property is for public use and that the owner receives just compensation for the property. The Court’s decision is, of course, pure baloney. In his dissent Justice Thomas quite rightly points out that the majority’s decision strains history, language and credulity. Justice O’Connor filed her own dissent, in which she says that the burden of this decision will fall directly on those people least able to defend themselves against the designs of a rapacious government.

I will spare you the rest of the arguments; I am not a lawyer and other people with a better knowledge of the law can make those arguments much better than I can, but I trust you’ll allow me an observation here. This decision cannot help but lessen respect for the Court in particular and for the law in general. The Court has already placed strict limits on political speech, thereby making it next to impossible to bring up an incumbent’s record when broadcasting political advertisements. Now the Court has declared that these incumbents may take the property of private citizens at the behest of their campaign contributors. How can the public respect the law when that same public believes that the law is bought and paid for, that the people that they elect to public office to defend their interests are just so many Charlie McCarthys willing to sell their offices to the Edgar Bergen with the largest checkbook? Can the public respect its elected officials when they suspect that they are all grafters, and that the Court’s response to any reformer willing to challenge the political status quo and do the people’s business honestly is “Shut up, we said.”

I do not believe this decision will ultimately stand the test of time. This decision opens the way for situations so ripe for abuse that the Court will have to revisit Kelo in ten or twenty years, after tens of thousands of people have had their lives disrupted by the decision, disruptions the Court could have prevented in the first place by simply using a dictionary and checking what the words public and use mean.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

FAMILIES: “My grandparents are coming to visit!” Not my grandparents, of course, not that I wouldn’t mind seeing them again. It’s just that should I see them again I wouldn’t have time for a chat and a nice cup of tea; my grandmother believed that all of life’s problems seemed soluble after a nice cup of tea, no matter how really godawful they really were. No, upon seeing the grandparents I would hie me hence to the nearest confessional forthwith and with all possible speed, the resurrection of the dead being one of the surest signs that the Day of Judgment is at hand and I would just as soon skip that whole eternity as a hot dog on a barbecue theme.

No, this enthusiastic bit of news came from our egregious mold pit’s homework mentor, an altogether lovely young woman charged by the local pedagogical authorities with stuffing some small portion of the modern curriculum of reading, writing, and political correctness into the mostly unused brains of the unwilling, the unable, and the undisciplined educational inmates of our happy little burg. She does a fairly good job on all three, from what I can see. She retains some small measure of control over her troop of unruly brats without resorting to cattle prods, branding irons, or brass knuckles, which is a lot better than most of the teachers can manage with that lot. I think some of this success is simple patience on her part, and the rest may have something to do with the library allowing her cohort of Lilliputian brutes to play computer games on the homework computer. There’s nothing like slaughtering whole armies of bug-eyed space aliens in a gratuitous orgy of bloody green splatter and senseless violence to calm the disposition and ease the heart of even the most recalcitrant delinquent.

I nodded politely when she told me this; she was so enthusiastic and happy about the news that I couldn’t tell her that I am seldom that enthusiastic about seeing my relatives. She looked on this gathering of her family as an unalloyed good thing, as a chance to catch up with loved ones and hear all the news of who’s marrying and who is divorcing, births and deaths, scandals and successes, all the things that form the deep human attachments that we give the inadequate word family to. She was already deep into planning the sleeping arrangements at her house when I went to sit in my office and ponder for a moment. I don’t see my relatives very often, really, and when I do I tend to regard the massed ranks of blood kin sitting in my living room with the same look of warm and tender regard that a heavily indebted farmer reserves for the sight of a swarm of starved locusts descending on his crops. Maybe a little less than that, since if all else fails to get rid of the locusts you can always eat them; getting Uncle Jimmy into any grill except O’Reilly’s Bar and Grill down on the corner might prove a bit difficult, and even if I could, he’d probably be too tough to eat, even with the forty years or so he’s spent marinating himself at the aforementioned O’Reilly’s.

The problem with relatives, as I’m sure we all know from personal experience, is that you can’t pick them and you can’t get rid of them, especially if they want money, and a large proportion of them will want money at any given time; why else do you think they’re squatting in your living room? I think that the major thing I can’t stand about my relatives, apart from them knowing I'm a soft touch for a twenty and drinking everything alcoholic in the house, down to the vanilla extract and my aftershave, is that they constantly bring up episodes in my life that I no longer remember or even wish to remember. I am now 46; next month I will be 47, and yet to a large number of these people I will always be the boy at the wedding.

Now, you must understand that I do not remember this incident at all; it happened when I was three or four years old and like a lot of stuff that happens to you at that age, it has long since vanished from the conscious memory. My parents went to a wedding with two of my brothers and me; the youngest two brothers hadn’t arrived yet. The wedding was a pretty standard one, as weddings go, or so people keep telling me. It was hot that day and, in that era before the ubiquity of air conditioning, the front doors of the church were open to catch the breeze, if there were any breezes available to catch. The happy couple were up at the altar getting ready to exchange vows when the youngest brother at the time, the Navy lifer, although at this time the Navy was still a future prospect and not something he was actively seeking out, rolled his big red fire truck up the main aisle of the church. My mother was embarrassed at this behavior, as you might imagine, went up the aisle to retrieve the brother.

The brother did not wish to return to the hard pew or be quiet; small children are uniformly uncooperative in such matters; and when presented with a physical attempt to remove them from where they want to be, they squirm like grafters caught red-handed in mid-peculation on 60 Minutes. He also did not want to leave his fire truck in the middle of the church’s main aisle lest some grown-up decide to appropriate the toy for himself. Small children regard all adults except their own mothers as untrustworthy at best and potential felons at worst, and the brother decided that he wanted his fire-truck back before some larcenous adult made off with it. The brother squirmed for all he was worth; he did not want to leave that fire-truck; and suddenly broke free. He ran down the main aisle, my mother in hot pursuit. He grabbed the truck, stared wide-eyed towards the back of the church, and loudly announced before God and the assembled congregation, “Look, Mommy, Akaky wee-wee.” At this stunning piece of news the congregation, the wedding party, the bride and groom, and the priest all looked to the back of the church to see just what was going on back there.

What was going on is fairly simple to describe, since people have been telling me this story for most of my life. While my mother went up to collect my brother the Navy lifer and my father talked politics with the person sitting next to us in the pew I had taken the opportunity to wander outside and was, at that very moment and purely in a spirit of theological and scientific inquiry, urinating on a statue of the Blessed Virgin and trying to see how high I could get the stream to go. I was about to inundate the Holy Mother’s knees when my mother grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and dragged me off to one side of the church so no one could see her not spare the rod on my backside.

The story lives on, of course, and if everyone who has ever told me over the years that they were in the church that day had actually been in the church, the place would have to be the size of Yankee Stadium. I don’t remember any of this at all, neither my excretory assault on the statue nor the spanking afterwards. I am told that it caused a huge sensation in the church followed by waves of hysterical laughter, so much so that the priest held the wedding up for fifteen minutes so the bride could go into the sacristy and redo her makeup. Apparently she cried so hard her mascara ran her face and she needed to clean up so as to look presentable in the wedding pictures.

Relatives have a bad habit of remembering such things, usually when I want to know when they are going to pay me what they owe me, and constitute an important reason why I don’t see them very often; they don’t want to pay me and I don’t want to lend them more than I have to. I’m sure some of them are very nice people, if only on the basis of the law of averages, but I seem to draw the deadbeats and the knuckleheads the same way magnets draw iron filings or rigged poker games draw suckers. Maybe if I said I’d lost my job they’d go somewhere else for money. It’s an idea.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

MOVIE MUSIC: This may or may not have anything to do with anything; life is like that sometimes, just one damn thing after another; but I am listening via Internet stream from Oregon to Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings in a performance from the early 1960’s. It is, as always, a beautiful piece, full of somber beauty and melancholy; I think we can all agree that the Adagio is not a tune you would want to whistle while you work, much less get up and dance to; Samuel Barber is hardly Tito Puente, after all. No, the Adagio is a deep and heavy piece, filled with every manner of musicological and psychological profundity, and likely to lay in your stomach like a day old tuna fish and pumpernickel sandwich.

It is, however, one of the great powers of cinema, in a digression I really should signaled somehow, but didn't, to create mental linkages where none actually exist. Oliver Stone used the Adagio in the soundtrack of his film Platoon, particularly the sequence where the American troops force the inhabitants of a Vietnamese village from their homes and then burn the village down, and now whenever I hear this music I am caught between feeling sad for the twentieth century's many victims of war and the desire to call in air strikes to clear Charlie out of the treeline.

I can’t watch Il Trovatore for the same reason; not for the air strikes, obviously, although Freedonia could have used some in its war against Sylvania, but all came out well in the end; Freedonia was able to win the war using fruit, chimps, and Margaret Dumont. In any case, the Marx Brothers did such a complete demolition job on Verdi in A Night at the Opera that whenever they revive the opera on Live from Lincoln Center or Great Performances I wait and watch for the Verdi to inevitably segue into Take Me Out to the Ball Game and Groucho to come down the aisles selling peanuts to the massed swells. I know that in a non-Marxist universe the likelihood of this happening is somewhere between minimal and nonexistent, but I haven’t given up hope.
DAYS OF WHINES AND NOSES: Well, I must admit that I am a sort of loss for things to do at the moment. Our Internet connection is not working properly as I write this and I am sitting down between marathon bouts of explaining to patrons who cannot access their email, porn, and chat rooms why they can’t access their email, porn, and chat rooms and why I can’t help them access their email, porn, and chat rooms. There is, after all, nothing wrong with the computers; only with the connection, which I can do nothing about. I’ve called the provider every filthy name I can think of and then left a very nice message on his or her voicemail asking them to please call before I have a mutiny on my hands here.

It was not always thus, you know. Libraries were the temples of the goddess Wisdom and the librarians her devoted priestesses. The priests, as usual, went into administration, which is where you find the money, such as it is, in library work. Of course, Donald Trump would call top library money the chumpest of chump change, but it kept a roof over our heads and the men could always thank their lucky stars they weren’t getting paid the pitiful wages the women got.

People were quiet in the library too, as befits an august institution, and if we could not find an answer for you in the heavy tomes that lined the walls of our reference rooms then we would take your name and your number and get back to you just as soon as we could. We would write letters to other, more august libraries, asking for their help, and if we could not find out how many Italians lived in Dutchess County, New York in 1930 (3,491) we would turn to some other even more august library asking them to find out. In the end we would find the answer, even if the information came too late for you to do a damn thing with it. The rhythm of the library was slow but remorseless, and in the soft whispers of patrons and the sound of turning pages the librarian could hear the inevitable triumph of knowledge over ignorance, of wisdom over folly, of the slow but indefatigable rise of humanity from the darkness of barbarism to the warm light of civilization. Those were the days, my friends, and we thought they’d never end…

You don’t see this sort of thing very much anymore. Libraries are, on the whole, only a little bit less noisy than the Daytona 500 and if we stopped buying books altogether my guess is no one in our service area would notice for another five to ten years. Yes, we can answer questions faster than we used to, but now there are more of them. Just as Robert Moses’ building all those bridges and highways only encouraged more people to use the bridges and highways, making it necessary to build more bridges and highways to handle the traffic generated by the first set of bridges and highways, so to does the ability to answer questions much more quickly cause people to ask more questions. People are irritating that way.

Monday, June 20, 2005

THE SUBORDINATE CLAWS HIS WAY TO THE TOP, WITH A DIGRESSION ON THE MORAL ASPECTS OF THE MARATHON: A reader, and you know who you are, points out via email that while she enjoys what she reads here at The Passing Parade, the long sentences are a bit off-putting. She rushes through her reading, she writes, and reading a sentence that never seems to end leaves her panting for psychological breath by the time she finally arrives at the period. She is the not the first person to point this out to me, and I have tried on numerous occasions to eliminate the subordinate clauses or to keep them down to an absolute minimum. As you can tell, I am not always successful in this endeavor. I am not sure how I grew so enamored of the run-on sentence. I usually blame Thomas Wolfe or William Faulkner for the problem; they are both dead and so are unlikely to defend themselves against a charge of malignantly influencing the prose of Irish Catholic schoolboys. But the charge doesn’t really hold up under close examination—I have suffered from logorrhea since well before I read either Wolfe or Faulkner. I can still remember the red slashes across my school compositions; nuns used red ink to mark papers in those days and if your self-esteem suffered because of all the red then so much the better; they kept you from becoming full of yourself. In every composition there’d be slashes where I should have put the periods and the words run-on, run-on, run-on, written over and over again, until you’d think that the composition was an advertisement for the Boston Marathon and not an assignment about why hitting your little brother over the head with a 2 by 4 when he isn’t looking and then lying about it is a sin.

It’s an annoying habit, I know, and I suffer from it just as much as any other reader does. Just because I wrote the piece does not mean I know where the main verb is and I, like most of you, seem to waste a lot of time looking for the thing while it goes wandering away eating doughnuts or betting on the horses or a hundred and one other more interesting things to do than hold up one of these verbose monstrosities. So in keeping with our new policy of all high moral dudgeon all the time, The Passing Parade announces that we, and by we I mean me, since I’m the only one in here, will henceforth do our level best to keeping the subordinate clauses from proliferating like so much kudzu, that we will keep the metaphors to the absolute minimum, and we will keep sentences to the minimum number of words required to convey a thought and not to includes every damn thing that occurs to us along the way. Such prose may be easy to write, at least I am told it is easy to write; producing prose has always been a chore for me, whether it is the run-on variety or not; but it is very hard for you (and me) to read and we apologize for having inflicted this stuff on you without begging your pardon so much as a single time. We are turning over a new leaf here and we are sure that you will enjoy the new high moral dudgeon written in shorter sentences and clearer prose.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

TERRI SCHIAVO: The Schiavo autopsy is in and all the usual suspects are out in force saying that this proves Michael Schiavo was right all along, his wife was in a persistent vegetative state. Now I am sure that the doctors performing this autopsy were all cognizant of the armies of Monday morning quarterbacks waiting to pick apart their findings just as soon as they could, and so were extra careful to get the facts right in this case. They agree that Terri Schiavo was in a persistent vegetative state and at this juncture I see no reason to disbelieve them. Michael Schiavo was right about his wife’s condition and her parents were wrong.

But really, what difference does this make? The last time I checked my rights to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and the equal protection of the laws were unalienable, mine by virtue of being a human being and an American citizen, and not dependent on the opinions of doctors about my long term prognosis or the quality of life analysis of a spouse with a irreconcilable conflict of interest. That an American citizen, even one as severely brain-damaged as Terri Schiavo, could die of court ordered thirst in this our allegedly enlightened twenty-first century is horrific and that Mr. Schiavo stands to profit from this horror is a moral atrocity of the first order.

And a happy and prosperous 101st Bloomsday to you all! Posted by Hello

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

WORDS OF WISDOM: “Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair; thou hast doves' eyes within thy locks: thy hair is as a flock of goats, that appear from mount Gilead.

Thy teeth are like a flock of sheep that are even shorn, which came up from the washing; whereof every one bear twins, and none is barren among them.”
Song of Songs, Chapter 4:1-2

The wise young man (or woman; there’s no point being sexist here) may read Holy Scripture for any number of good reasons. They may be seeking enlightenment and the meaning of life, or to understand the slow working out of the Lord’s will through history. They may want to learn how to best lead a righteous life or simply to find out that maybe boiling a goat in its mother’s milk isn't such a good idea after all. But I think I can say, without too much fear of contradiction, that the one thing our ardent young seeker is not likely to get from the Bible is really good advice about dating.

The quotation above is from The Song of Songs, which is the closest thing the Bible has to a sex advice column, and as you can probably tell, the young Israelite man about town who used any of these pickup lines got nowhere fast and spent an inordinate amount of time, energy, and money getting there. I mean, really, “…thy hair is as a flock of goats”? The young man who tells his girlfriend that her hair looks like a flock of goats is a young man who can count on going home alone and with black and blue marks on his shins, especially after she just dropped a week's pay getting her hair washed, cut, styled, and colored by that insufferably snotty gay guy down at the mall. She doesn’t need to hear you badmouthing her hair after she’s spent all that time and energy getting ready for this lousy date with your sorry self.

And then there’s that whole flock of sheep metaphor. Pardon me for saying so, but for absolutely lame pick up lines this is about as bad as what’s your sign and do you come here often? This may have worked with Israelite girls in the eighth century B.C.E., although the archaeological evidence is still out on that hypothesis. Frankly, I think it's unlikely, but whether or not it worked then it’s going to get you nowhere now. First, the whole Little Bo Peep thing is a con job from start to finish. Sheep, even shorn or not, are not, as some people would have you believe, big fluffy adorable white wool balls. Wool is not naturally white; wool is naturally whatever the color of the last thing the sheep was rolling around in, which is usually dirt, grass, and/or sheep flop. That’s right, sheep flop; sheep are not, as you might have guessed, the brightest bulbs in the barnyard; herds of sheep will come to a screeching halt at STOP WATCH OUT FOR CHILDREN signs to check what time it is. In addition to this, as sheep go a-romping and a-rollicking through hill and dale audtioning for parts in nursery rhymes they will, on occasion, slip on yesterday’s breakfast and not wash up afterwards. Sheep are real pigs at times.

And I'm sure that every father likes to hear that after five years of braces and a small fortune spent on the orthodontist you think his little princess’ smile looks just like a bunch of stinking farm animals with a buzz cut. There’s a dad who’ll put in a good word for you when you two have a long and stupid fight about what movie to see on Saturday night. Without him on your side it’ll be a year of chick flicks every weekend without fail, and not a car chase, light saber, or explosion anywhere in sight. And to rub it in, she’ll make you stay until the end of the credits so she can listen to the sappy theme song and check out who the gaffers on this epic were. And don’t forget to bring the Kleenex, smart guy.

“And each one shall bear twins, etc…” Forget it, bubba, life as a single man is over—you just asked her to marry you. Maybe that’s not what you said or even what you meant, but that’s what she heard, take my word for it. If you’re well along in this relationship you might want to try that goats in the hair line again; that will get her angrier than blue blazes, and with any degree of luck you’ll catch a break and she’ll forget all about the proposal you didn’t know you were making at the time.

Now, you may argue, but it’s in the Bible, it has to work, right? Not necessarily, as Gershwin put it. The problem with all of these lines is that Solomon wrote them. I don’t want to criticize Sol here; a man with three books in the Bible (Song of Songs, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes, where he calls himself the Preacher, like the Clint Eastwood character in Pale Rider, except without the pistols) obviously doesn’t need my advice at all, and who knows, maybe in Sol’s day these lines actually worked. People talked differently back in the day, like hammy actors saying stuff that no real person would say in a month of Mondays, with a lot of thees and thous and all sorts of whatnot like smiting hips and thews. There’s a lot of smiting of hips and thews in the Bible, especially in the Old Testament, but you couldn’t get away with that sort of thing nowadays, what with women’s liberation and low carbohydrate diets. If you tried smiting a thew in public now the cops would come and arrest you, and probably send you over to the local loony bin for before you could hurt yourself. So maybe in a world where everyone spent their time waiting for Cecil B. DeMille to do their close-up the bit about sheep might work, although it calls for one mighty big leap of the imagination, I think.

But if you ask me, and I know you didn’t, but here’s my opinion anyway: if it doesn’t work now it probably didn’t work then, either. Even eighth century B.C.E. girls knew that the writers were the low men on the totem pole, and my guess is that at the time blondes, dumb or otherwise, were pretty scarce in that neck of the woods. Maybe I’m being unduly cynical here, but my guess is the reason those lines worked for Solomon was because he was the king. Girls then and now will excuse a lame pick-up line if they know a guy’s got a lot more to offer than some limp wheeze about them having doves’ eyes. How else do you explain Donald Trump’s success with women? Solomon may have been the hot young writer of the time, churning out copy day and night with whatever type of quill pen hot young writers used then, but he didn’t land chicks because he was a sharp man with an proverb, not by a long shot. He got them because he was the king, and like the man says, it’s good to be king. That’s one real sweet gig, no two ways about it.
IGNORING BOOKS AND STUFF: People like donating books to libraries, as I think I’ve mentioned somewhere here before; tossing a book into the garbage seems almost an act of sacrilege to them somehow; the Bible is a book, the Good Book, after all, and you wouldn’t think of tossing it into the trash next to that can of tuna you fed to the cat last night, and so for the same reason you wouldn’t think of tossing out those old Mickey Spillanes you’ve stored in the garage since Eisenhower was president. Mickey and the Bible may not be on the same level as books, but they are both books, and I’m sure we can all sympathize with the Bible at some level; you can’t really choose your relatives, after all, and there always one of these socially unacceptable guys in every family. So people donate the books to the library, even if the pages are so moldy you can squeeze penicillin out of the binding and the pages make your nose bleed, which is what happened to me this past weekend. A very nice old gentleman, a retired dentist, in fact, although one shouldn't hold that against him, recently donated a collection of hardcover P. G. Wodehouses to the library, and I took the opportunity to skim through The Code of the Woosters looking for the part where our hero Bertie Wooster tells Roderick Spode, the somewhat larger than life industrialist, if the life you measuring by is Shaquille O’Neal on the horizontal as well as on the perpendicular plane, and Leader of the Black Shorts (no, that is not a typo the spellchecker missed), a political party of often inchoate but generally right wing beliefs where to get off since he [Bertie] knows all about Eulalie. I will not ruin the surprise for those of you who have not read Wodehouse, but I can say that there are few things in English literature as satisfying as a good comeuppance expertly done, and Wodehouse is an expert.

This particular example of Wodehouse's expertise, however, came on pages turned dark brown by their acid content and covered with dust, mold, and roach or fly droppings, so much so that I had to hold the book whilst wearing gloves. I have never undertaken a scientific study of the no doubt numerous varieties of insect ordure so I cannot be certain of the biological provenance of the bug scat pitting the pages; and as I was perusing the part where Bertie runs headlong into his Aunt Dahlia with the enraged Mr. Spode in full pursuit wearing a knotted sheet and a painting of a man in a three-cornered hat and knee breeches talking with a woman chirruping with a bird that may or may not be an immediate relation, a bright spot of red suddenly appeared in the middle of the dark brown page, followed swiftly by two more. Feeling a sudden looseness in my nose, I immediately concluded that I was bleeding and immediately tested my hypothesis by blowing my nose into some tissues. Having proved to my satisfaction that the scientific method will work in almost any circumstance it might find itself, unlike some people I could mention if I felt uncharitable this morning, I then hurled the book across the room, where it struck the wall and disappeared in a cloud of acidic dust, which burned a two foot hole in the wall and exposed the ladies' room plumbing to rude and salacious comment. I held my head back to prevent the sanguinary nasal leakage from becoming a bloody flood, it being a scientific truth, first proposed by Johannes Kepler in 1612 and later proven conclusively in 1687 by Sir Isaac Newton in the first edition of the Principia Mathematica, that blood and spaghetti sauce have an intense magnetic attraction to clean white shirts of any religion. I cannot, of course, bleed all over all the books we want to get rid of here; if I tried there’d scarcely be enough blood left to get me through lunch on a regular basis. This is a good way to lose a lot of water weight, though, but on the whole I don’t believe I can recommend this particular diet to the serious weight watcher; the diet has a tendency to leave you light-headed and the money you save on food you will only spend on laundry.

So your modern librarian must be willing to throw out a great many books, even without bleeding on them, or they must be willing to simply ignore the ever-growing pile of donations. I am more or less in this second camp. There’s a bag of donated books sitting by the end of my desk, a bag of books that someone donated maybe a year and a half ago, and with any degree of luck I will continue to ignore it for another year and a half. They are oversized history books, for the most part, illustrated histories of World War II, yet another example of the all Hitler all the time mentality that dominates popular historical discourse in this country. There are two art books in the bag as well, one about Caravaggio and the other about Frida Kahlo, both of them missing several color plates, which makes me wonder why the donor even bothered to fob these off on us in the first place.

Now some librarians dislike piles of donated books; they don’t bother me at all. I am an excellent ignorer of donated books and much else besides; I think it’s in my nature to ignore things. I managed to get through my teenage years without once smoking a joint (stop laughing, you, yes, I mean you, smart guy!) or mouthing off to my parents or going through the usual adolescent Sturm und Drang my peers endured about almost everything you can think of; it was the 70’s, after all, so we all had an excuse, but somehow or other I came through it all with nary a psychic scratch, and I did it by simply not paying any attention to what was going on around me. I didn’t even concentrate on not noticing, since concentrating on not noticing something means you’re noticing it, which is a mistake all too many people made in those days. At the time my parents noticed that I never did my homework, and that my marks suffered greatly as a consequence, but I paid the matter no never mind at all. Compulsory education laws compels one’s attendance in a school between the ages of six and sixteen or seventeen, depending on where in the country you are, and as a law-abiding citizen I obeyed the law and went, but the notion of doing assigned schoolwork on my own time always struck me as way too ridiculous for words and so I never did it; if teachers want me to use my free time for schoolwork then they can pay me overtime for it, and time and a half on the weekends. Homework should be a feature of college life, where you’re in class voluntarily and for what your parents are paying to keep you in a good school you’d better come across with homework and good grades in between the bouts of political correctness and bobbing for apples in kegs of beer with topless coeds.

Ignoring things has helped me become the person I am today. If I treat one and all with some small degree of equanimity, except for encyclopedia and life insurance salesmen, it is because I know that this too shall pass if only I wait long enough. Once upon a time all the dry land in the world formed a single supercontinent called Panagaea or something to that effect, and this continent looked like it was going to last longer than a television soap opera, and it did, but not in the same place. The continents drifted apart with time, and no one thought to get them into therapy or who would take care of the kids after the breakup or any of the little things that signal that the relationship is over. No, they ignored the problem, which is usually but not always the best strategy, and now we have seven continents that won’t talk to each other without their lawyers present and frequent flyer miles for those who go from continent to continent and adult diapers for those incontinents that simply can’t wait to get home.

And so it will be for those donated books. If I wait long enough they will disappear; either the mold will consume them down to the last atom, and then, still hungry, they will start chewing on the carpet, or our happy little burg will divide right down the middle of Main Street and split away from the rest of North America like a stoned amoeba, leaving the books high and dry while the rest of us float down the river like Huck and Jim to a new and interesting life in the great metropolis to the south, or this egregious mold pit will collapse on top of these offending tomes during a massive earthquake, leaving me footloose and fancy-free as well as unemployed, and I will never have to think of those books again. It’s something to look forward to, it really is.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

And not a sunset, but you figured that out already, didn't you? Posted by Hello

And yet another Posted by Hello

And another sunset Posted by Hello

I dont have anything to say at the moment, but I am working on it, so enjoy the sunset here at our happy little burg. Posted by Hello

Friday, June 10, 2005

HERE WE HAVE IT, MORAL DUDGEON ON THE ISSUES OF THE DAY: In keeping with our new editorial policy of high moral dudgeon freely exercised across the broad spectra of human activity, The Passing Parade notes with no little distaste the recent apprehension by Australian authorities of a woman attempting to bring tropical fish into Australia in her clothing. We do not believe that the Australian authorities, or any other country’s authorities, for that matter, should be in the business of censoring fashion statements. If today’s young people wish to wear aquaria then what business is it of the Australian government? Will the Australian government hire, at who knows how much expense to the taxpayer, a new layer of bureaucrats whose only role in life will be to monitor the fashions worn by visitors to the land down under and exclude those who do not meet some spurious and no doubt completely arbitrary standard of taste or utility?

Clearly the Australian government has better things to do with its time and energy than decide whether or not the local citizenry may view this year’s fall fashions, especially since it will be spring there when it is fall here. If the Australian government wishes to do something worthwhile for its citizens in the fashion realm, it can devote some small portion of its resources to the problem of mismatching seasons; the fashion conscious Australian is currently either a season ahead or a season behind, and the government, which has time and money to waste stopping American fashion fads from sweeping the countryside from Sydney to Perth, appears to have no plan for aligning Australia’s seasons with the rest of the fashion conscious world. Let the Australian government tend to this problem first and the problem of aquatic fashions will take care of itself.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

APROPOS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING AT ALL, I find it hard to believe that I have been working in this egregious moldpit for exactly eighteen years now. This building was once one of our happy little burg's two local department stores and it's always seemed more than a little ironic to me that I've spent most of my working life stuck in a building that I used to steal stuff out of when I was a kid.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

A CHANGE IN EDITORIAL DIRECTION: You may not have noticed this, but there is a distinct lack of intellectual or philosophical content here at The Passing Parade. I worry about this sometimes; the writer in America should strive for moral and intellectual uplift, speaking truth to power, standing up for the oppressed, and dealing with the great social, political, and philosophical questions of our time. I am sure I could turn in a ripping good essay damning both the Republican and Democratic wings of the political class on issues ranging from abortion to Zimbabwe or dealing with the great moral issues of the day, and as soon as I think of what such an issue might be I’ll mention it forthwith, instead of wondering if the government mandated ethanol in my gasoline means that my car is driving under the influence.

Instead of dealing with those issues, however, The Passing Parade deals with such niche issues as just what kind of wood did Gepetto make Pinocchio out of? The story, by Carlo Collodi, only says that Gepetto carved Pinocchio from a piece of firewood, but firewood is not a species of tree, merely the designation of any branch unlucky enough to get caught up in the wood-gatherer’s dragnet. Collodi points out that Pinocchio spoke to Gepetto from inside the piece of firewood, a situation like that of Shakespeare’s Ariel from The Tempest, whom the witch Sycorax entombed in a tree. This comparison fails, however, to take into account the key difference between Ariel and Pinocchio: Ariel was in the tree—Pinocchio was the tree. So we are stuck in the same conundrum we started with and without a ticket to get us all the way to the end of the line. I like to think that Pinocchio was made from the cherry tree that George Washington didn’t cut down as a boy; George could not tell a lie and neither could Pinocchio, despite his best efforts, because the spirit of the great man would not allow him to. Experience is a great teacher, but if one follows a great moral example you can usually skip the experience, which is often unpleasant and leaves greasy grass stains on the knees of your trousers.

So I think most of us can agree that The Passing Parade suffers from a deplorable lack of intellectual seriousness. Having identified the problem is the first step to it, as most self-help books will tell you. I am currently looking over my options, trying to find a subject of suitable earnestness that I can display my extremely well-developed sense of moral dudgeon over. High moral purpose, that’s the new theme around here and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. The Passing Parade will be relentless exposing the corrupt system that oppresses us all from one end of this our Great Republic to the other, from sea to shining sea. The dudgeon will start just as soon as something sufficiently outrages me.

Monday, June 06, 2005

NORM'S MOVIE POLL: Since Palookaville is a place no one with an philosophical or artistic turn of mind would want to visit in a month of Sundays or any other day of the week; the percussion section of the Palookaville Opera Orchestra consists of three guys named Rocco, who spend the company's season beating the crap out of deadbeat season ticketholders with a lead pipe, a baseball bat, and the lid off an ashcan to the tune of the Anvil Chorus from Verdi’s Il Trovatore; for those really recalcitrant folks who'd rather not pay the 30% a week vig they owe on their tickets, the Three Roccos will do the entire Der Ring des Nibelungen by Richard Wagner until the unmotivated opera lover agrees to pay the vig or until some part of the collateral, usually an arm or a leg, but sometimes a skull as well, cracks in half, breaking up the musical monotony and adding something different to the orchestra's season, which usually follows the usual Puccini-Verdi-Wagner and Mozart repetoire, punctuated by the occasional sprinkling of machine-gun fire and the odd visit from the FBI.

According to the company's brochure, the Palookaville Opera is one of the few such cultural and arts organizations to actually make an annual profit. Next year the company will move to its brand new theatre, a $45 million dollar architectural jewel that is already a source of civic pride for all the citizens of Palookaville; the mayor and the Opera's musical director will open the theatre at the beginning of next year's season with a new production of Struass' Die Fledermaus. The only questions hanging over the new season so far is whether or not the mayor and the musical director can get to the premiere on time and if they can both be in the same building without violating their paroles.

In fact, upon some reflection, I can’t think of a good reason why anyone in their right mind would want to go to Palookaville, except for Chicago Cubs fans and diehard supporters of the Brooklyn Dodgers (give it up, guys, Dem Bums is gone for almost fifty years now and they ain’t ever coming back), who usually have large numbers of relatives within the city limits depressing the value of the local real estate. Since I’m sure Norm
would just as soon skip the trip there, here is my list of movie stars, exactly ten of them, except when it isn’t ten. They are in no particular order, just as there aren’t ten of them.

1. Spencer Tracy & Tom Hanks—Everyman as movie star.
2. The Marx Brothers—I don’t know why a duck, I’m a stranger here myself.
3. Humphrey Bogart—no explanation necessary.
4. Steve McQueen—like the man says, the essence of cool.
5. Cary Grant—the one, the only.
6. James Cagney, Robert DeNiro, John Garfield & Edward G. Robinson—the men and the city.
7. Greta Garbo & Marlene Dietrich—the goddesses.
8. Vivien Leigh—archetype of the steel magnolia.
9. Ingrid Bergman—you must remember this…
10. Rosalind Russell—smart as a whip and with sass to match. “He comes by it [charm] naturally. His grandfather was a snake.”

UPDATE: Norm showed me how to fix the link, which I've done, and politely asked me to please try to limit my ten choices to just ten and not some other number that is not ten. As I want to be a good blogospheric citizen and it is, after all, Norm's poll, here they are.

1. Bugs Bunny-what's up, doc?
2. Linus Van Pelt-It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!
3. Harpo Marx-honk
4. Stitch-magadomeifhtibhdirvosjkheifhnwsiffjhehehehohana
5. Curly Howard-nyuk nyuk nyuk!
6. Charlie Brown-Good Grief!
7. Margaret Dumont-I held him in my arms and kissed him goodbye. Groucho: Oh, so it was murder!
8. Lucy Van Pelt-I refuse to play center field for a sinking ship.
9. Margaret Hamilton-I'll get you, my pretty, and your little dog, too!
10. Cher-When you die, I'll come to your funeral in a red dress!

So what are you doing? Are you taking Norm's poll? This is the end of the post so stop reading and take Norm's poll. Go on, get on with it. It's painless, I promise.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

WAFFLING ALONG: Riding a bicycle, I think we can all agree, is a commendable activity from both a personal and civic point of view. You can’t say enough good things about a form of transportation that bolsters the physical well-being of the practitioner and does not pollute the environment as so many other methods of transport do, although you may disagree with this if you stand too close to a bicyclist just after a vigorous ten mile ride. In any case, given the salubrious effects of bicycle riding, one would assume that no one could possibly object to your riding your bicycle anyplace you wanted at any time you felt the urge to ride there, the freedom to come and go as one pleases being one of the salient characteristics of American life and literature for centuries. One can hardly credit, even as satire, the notion of Huckleberry Finn going hat in hand to someone in authority asking for permission to raft down the Mississippi, or of James Fenimore Cooper’s Hawkeye as a stay at home metrosexual dad, or of Sal Paradise or Dean Moriarity as the twin heroes of a Jack Kerouac novel entitled On the Sofa; the American mind boggles at the very concept. But there is no such thing as a completely untrammeled freedom and there are restrictions to this freedom to roam as well.

To the south of our happy little burg lies, in all its splendor and misery, the great metropolis, the imperial city of the earth, the capital of the world, as the late Pope called it, and despite Mencken’s mal mot about the place being a third rate Babylon, it is a place where a bicyclist may do any number of things on their two-wheelers, from reading a newspaper with no hands on the handlebars while going down a hill and not looking where they are going and then cutting across three lanes of traffic without looking where the hell they are going (that’s right, smart guy, I mean you, and the next time you pull a stunt like that I will run your sorry ass down) to kidnapping the emperor penguins from the city’s largest zoo and have them run for the City Council (no one will notice, not if the penguins are Democrats). The one thing that the bicycling aficionado may not do, however, is go for a ride in a city park on a bicycle without a bell.

I cannot explain why the municipal sachems decided that an unbelled bicycle was a mortal threat to the park-using public, although given the metropolis’ history a hefty bribe from a cabal of bell makers is not entirely outside the realm of possibility, but for the most part such considerations are lost in the dim murk, and is there any other kind of murk but dim, of municipal politics, nor can I easily explain why a bicycle needs a bell in a park but not in the street. Sheer efficacy may explain that, however—such a bell would have to be as big as the ones in Notre Dame de Paris for anyone to hear it over the din of city traffic and feeding Quasimodo dirty water hot dogs and lattes would start running into some serious money after a while. I imagine that laws like this are the legal equivalent of the coelacanth, a survival from the era when bicycles with six foot front wheels and no brakes but your local chestnut tree roamed the otherwise peaceful parks of the metropolis, striking terror into the hearts of pedestrians and stray dogs, and the solons of the day decided, in that most ominous and dreaded of all political phrases, “that something must be done,” and so it was. Of course, if you could solve all of life’s problems by passing a law against them no one would ever leave their home for fear of violating some ordinance or other. As this is clearly not possible here in this our Great Republic, the bicycling enthusiast simply ignores the law and goes on their merry way without the bell.

Our happy little burg is notably free from this sort of legal zealotry, although one must wonder what the local dracos were thinking of back in 1943 when they banned buttering both sides of your morning waffles anywhere within the city limits. They passed the law in a fit of patriotic fervor as part of a nationwide campaign to save fats for explosives production, but the law remains in effect to this day, even though the war is long over (we won; really, no kidding, you can look it up), and even though the law’s military efficacy was always more than a little suspect; most military analysts will hem and haw like a convention of drunken economists when asked about this sort of thing—no one wants to belittle the good people on the home front, after all, but most of the analysts will agree that the number of Axis casualties caused by the patriotic self-denial of local waffle eaters was always apt to be a bit on the low side. Worse yet, the law clearly encouraged selective enforcement by the local gendarmerie, as more than one civil liberties group has pointed out over the years.

Our local Finest are as honest and hardworking as the day is long, assuming we are talking about a summer’s day here, but they are, to a man, a group dedicated to the proposition that the only proper way to butter a waffle is to butter one side only, pile the waffles into a stack, and then topping off the stack with a generous dollop of maple syrup. In what may be an occupational hazard; this is a area ripe for criminological and sociological inquiry and I have not heard of anyone carrying out a study in this area of police psychology; the local gendarmes regard buttering both sides of a waffle as little better than sexual perversion or littering, and they will not tolerate any public manifestation of sexual or breakfast deviancy here in our happy little burg. Over the years more than one poor and hungry schnook has found themselves spending the night in the city clink waiting arraignment as dangerous criminals when all they thought they were doing was eating their breakfasts.

Local restaurants have, for the most part, stopped serving waffles with breakfast for fear of raids by our local Waffle-SS, and the volume of citizen complaints has gone up, since every officer off checking breakfasters is one less officer available for the rigorous enforcement of other, more important laws like the ordinance banning pig-keeping, for instance, which the gendarmes have not enforced all that effectively and as a result of their negligence we now have herds of feral swine infesting our municipal parks, destroying the tranquility of our weekends with their foul habits and feeding on the garbage and toddlers left behind left behind by the citizenry. The governing junta has considered abolishing the law from time to time, but that would mean giving up the revenue generated by the fines imposed on the wantonly waffled and no one wants to say they are for raising taxes on the law-abiding simply to accommodate the wishes of a wasteful minority. But the waffled are challenging the law in court now and I will pass on the outcome of the case just as soon as I have some more information.
O CANADA, OH BROTHER: Now, I'm no expert on this subject, and how Canadians govern themselves is entirely their own business, but after hearing a good many a lecture about the superiority of Canada and its civic virtues over those of the imperialistic, hegemonic, and altogether corrupt United States it is entirely heartening, for those of us inclined to schadenfreude, to see the Canadian government first becoming embroiled in a nasty corruption scandal, and secondly manage to stay in power by ignoring the rules of parliamentary democracy as most people understand them and then by cutting a political deal of outstandingly cynical proportions with a member of the Opposition. The ongoing and wholly unedifying political spectacle is something like watching the wife of a minister trying to explain away those pictures of her coming out of a beach house with three cabana boys and holding a bottle of Jack Daniels whilst in a state of extreme deshabille during the pastor's annual religious pilgrimage to the Bahamas; it can be done, after a fashion, but it tends to cut down on the righteousness quotient of the minister's next sermon. It's hard to tend to the mote in your brother's eye when everyone can see that softwood 2 x 4 in yours.

Thursday, June 02, 2005


You have no doubt noticed, as I have, that we live in a world where people are constantly telling us to face reality. There’s nothing wrong with facing reality per se, I suppose, although it does tend to wear out your shoes and upsets your digestion, but the never-ending demand that we face reality, especially in its more unpleasant aspects, is annoying in the extreme and makes you want to skip reality as the guiding principle by which any reasonable person would choose to organize their life. I think it is reality’s emphasis on the uglier aspects of human existence that has a lot to do with the resentment many people feel when they are told to face reality. No one says face reality, you’ve got you health, or face reality, you’re married to a lovely woman who loves you, or face reality, and this does actually happen on rare occasions, you’ve won the lottery. No, it’s always face reality, you have to do this, that, or the other thing, none of which you really want to do and if you had your choice in the matter you’d tell reality to go pound salt.

My first experience with facing reality occurred when I was only seven years old. I went home with my report card from the first grade; in those days kids, especially kids attending parochial schools in mostly Irish neighborhoods, got their report cards in school and brought them home for their parents to sign. I suppose we could have altered the cards if we really wanted to or forged our parents’ signatures or simply not tell them about the report card in the first place, but this was a different era, an era when the nuns would knock you into next year if they caught you altering a report card and your parents, unlike parents today, who will sue a school at the drop of a hat if a teacher so much as looks askance at their precious offspring’s antics, thereby damaging Junior’s self-esteem, would stand politely off to one side while the nuns smacked you around and wait their turn to smack you around some as well. Sometimes they’d bring a cop in off the beat to whack you over the head a bit with his billy club, so as to emphasize to the Lilliputian miscreant the idea that report cards are important educational documents that your parents must see and sign because they pay your tuition and are, therefore, not something you can trifle with just because you didn’t want to pay attention in Sister Mary Agnes’ spelling class.

But I had no worries: I had done well in the first grade and the report card marked me as an up and comer: I read well, played well with others, could do a little math, and could recite the Pledge of Allegiance, the Ten Commandments, and all seven of the Blessed Sacraments without ever looking at the book. Armed with this knowledge I looked forward to taking a year or so off and hanging out in the playground, relaxing and carefully weighing my options before moving on to the next step in my life, confident that my rigorous education would help me surmount any challenge life might throw at me. It was with no little consternation on my part, therefore, that my parents informed me that the job market for first grade graduates in modern American society was a bit small, if not completely invisible to the naked eye, especially if the first grade graduates were six and a half, going on seven and a half years old, and that in any case the second grade beckoned me, the second grade following the first as spring follows winter, night follows day, and the repo man follows my Uncle Jimmy’s Ford Taurus.

As you may well imagine, this second bit of information did not go down well with me. There I was, a young man of six summers, with only a few short years to make my mark in the world before the inexorable march of time brought me low, as it does to us all, and the parents were telling me that I had to waste that precious time in the second grade, and that the horror stretched into the future apparently ad infinitum, with a third and fourth and fifth grade and who knew how many beyond that awaiting me. The prospect of year after year wasted because of the abomination of compulsory education filled me with a pure and indefatigable loathing for the very concept of the second grade and I determined immediately not to subject myself to this outrage. Life in all its mystery and glory beckoned and I was not going to miss my shot at the brass ring just because some nun wanted me to recite the seven times table flawlessly.

I tried to explain all of this in a calm and reasonable manner to my father as he tried to pry my fingers out of the chain link fence that surrounded the playground, but he, usually a man much given to rational discourse, ignored the validity of my arguments, which he could not refute, by the way, framed as they were in the purest Aristotelian logic, with one syllogism leading to another and that one to yet another, just as chicken soup follows the common cold. He admitted that my arguments had some small degree of validity to them, but that it made no difference; I had to face reality, which meant going to the second grade, valid arguments or no valid arguments. Looking back at the incident now, of course, I don’t think he thought my arguments valid at all, but he did not wish to say so at the time in order to keep me from biting all the way through the tendons of his left index finger. I let the finger go, something I regretted during the subsequent spanking, but I left two baby molars in the gash and my father had to get a battery of shots as if I were a particularly vicious breed of small mad dog, and I didn’t get so much as a nickel for the two teeth from the tooth fairy either, which I thought a raw deal all around. She’s supposed to pay off on baby teeth without regard to how they came out of a kid’s mouth; it wasn’t my fault he put his hand that close to my face.

Since that time I have had a positive aversion to facing reality, which is understandable given the circumstances, I think, especially reality as defined by the people who most often insist on your facing reality. As I mentioned above, you may have noticed that the people who tell you to face reality the most are invariably people who want you to do something you don’t want to do, and that the something involved usually, but not always, to be fair, benefits them. And who’s to say that reality is such a great idea to begin with? From the historical record I think it’s pretty clear to everyone that reality is pretty much a downer and that all of us would be better off ignoring it altogether and going into the advertising business or the civil service instead, where no one deals with reality in any meaningful way unless they absolutely have to.

BRING ON THE BEARS!!!: Several spectacled bears recently attempted a mass breakout from the Berlin Zoo, an attempt that met with their almost immediate reincarceration. This mass break for freedom reminds this cynical viewer of the political scene just how far some individuals will go to escape from the grips of statist totalitarianism and enjoy the unalienable rights that all too many Americans take for granted. It is an aspiring tale, and one that should sound the tocsin for the younger generation, who are in danger of forgetting the lessons of the Cold War.

The statists and others of their ilk would have the average American believe that these bears believe that these bears were content with their lot. As bears in the Berlin Zoo they lived in a perfect statist society in which every need they ever had or could even hope for was immediately satisfied. The bears did not have to endure the rigors of the hunt, but received food regularly three times a day. The bears had fresh, clean water available whenever they wanted it instead of having to search for it. There was cradle to grave medical care, and, in case some other zoo wanted a spectacled bear, the zoo provided sexual companions, both male and female, for the bears in their charge. A perfect totalitarian state, indeed, where no decisions needed making, no living earned, no thought given to the morrow, and all that is required to enjoy this life is that you never disturb the established order with your petty individual desires. What bear could resist the blandishments of such an existence over the uncertain life of his bearthen in the forest primeval?

And yet…and yet some bears resisted, much to the astonishment of their keepers. The keepers could not understand why any bear would want to escape the perfect world created for them. Such a desire, in their minds, is irrational in the extreme, and that some bears might think along those lines was, in all likelihood, a sign of some mental disorder in the bears themselves; the system itself did not need reformation at all, being perfect in every way. Mental defect: there was no other rational explanation.

But as Dostoevsky’s underground man pointed out more than a century ago, humans are not rational creatures, they are not members of an anthill, mere cogs in a perfect social machine, one cog more or less indistinguishable from his comrades. Humans are irrational, tormented beings, filled with vices and all manner of passions, who will never content themselves to or be content with such an ordered static existence. And if this is true of human beings, how much more true will it be for bears, who are not compelled by law to undergo the twelve years of state indoctrination known as compulsory education?

No, the keepers at the Berlin Zoo could not understand that the bears might regard freedom, with all its inherent problems and dangers, as entirely preferable to the vegetable existence forced on them. The rulers of totalitarian societies seldom understand this need for freedom; after all, doesn’t everyone benefit from their dictatorship of the zoological proletariat? Don’t these people understand that the greater good makes their rule necessary? Of course, they do not want honest answers to these questions; statist totalitarians long ago came to the conclusion that if reality does not match the theory then there must be something wrong with reality.

As for the brave bears, their freedom lasted only a few hours before the keepers tracked them down and returned them to the ursine gulag. They are there now, under greater restraint and tighter surveillance than ever, separated from others of their kind lest their ideas of personal liberty prove subversive to the good order and proper functioning of the zoological collective. And in the worse horror of all, the keepers have removed the bears’ spectacles, so that they, trapped in the prison of extreme myopia, could not see where they are going if they ever attempted to escape again.

GRAVE NEWS: Some time ago the Sunday New York Times ran a front page piece on the problems of burying Americans now that we’ve all grown so obese. As we grow fatter and fatter it is becoming harder and harder to bury us after all of that fat finally kills us off. The standard size coffins of a generation ago, as well as the standard size cemetery plots that went with them, are now too small for many people, and many operators of crematoria find that they can longer reduce several hundred pounds of human flesh to a pile of ash in an economic manner any more; cremations now take too long, use too much fuel, and if you weigh more than five hundred pounds, are simply not possible. How does your funeral director, itself a euphemism for undertaker, itself a euphemism for grave digger, in these politically correct times tell the bereaved that Grandma’s put on a few pounds in her last years and will not fit in a “normal” casket without having to say that Grandma was fat as a horse’s ass?

There is an answer to this phraselogical problem: just say that the deceased “does not look comfortable” in the standard size coffin. This lets everyone off the hook. Of course, the reality here is that Grandma is not resting comfortably; Grandma is dead. You could take a crowbar and pound away on Grandma’s shins for an hour and a half and she won’t say a word about how uncomfortable you’re making her. That’s because Grandma, as previously noted, is as dead as the metaphorical doornail. The perfect solution to this new problem afflicting the American overweight body politic? Equally simple: the industrial sized wood chipper. It’s quick and convenient and you can reduce Grandma down to a couple of Hefty bags worth of meat and bone chips. And if she didn’t leave you anything in the will, well, you can always feed her to the dog.
I have a couple of things in the pipeline, but what with the holiday my schedule's been thrown off a bit, so I resurrected this from the archives. I may resurrect something else before the day is done and then, God willing and the river don't rise, there'll be something new tonight or tomorrow. In the meantime, enjoy.

HOW MUCH WOOD WOULD A WOODCHUCK CHUCK IF SOMETHING ELSE WERE AVAILABLE? : Now things have come to a pretty pass when the local wildlife is so contemptuous of private property that deer have no compunction about eating your hedges and geraniums and Canadian geese use your front lawn as a combined buffet and rest room, but the situation has clearly reached another order of magnitude when my mother goes out to her garden and finds her cantaloupes mauled to bits. At first we thought it was the same deer that has taken to pruning our shrubs, but forensic examination of the violated cantaloupes showed that an animal with claws ripped through the rinds and chowed down on the fruit within. This evidence eliminated the deep from the list of possible garden invaders, as well as snails, slugs, and other Francogastronomic garden pests. My brother and I maintained an intense surveillance on the garden, keeping a watchful eye over the surviving cantaloupes and melons. For an entire week we watched ceaselessly, without a moment’s notice given to anything that might distract us from our appointed task, except for meals, Yankee games on TV, golf, movies, work, and sleep. At the end of the week, just when we were about to give up the surveillance, the criminal showed himself.

“There it is!” my brother shouted from his secret observation post high atop the sofa in the living room. I rushed to the back window. There, in the garden, chewing on a cantaloupe I’d planned to have with my breakfast, was Marmota monax, the largest of the squirrel family, the creature more commonly known as the woodchuck, or, in some places, the whistling pig. This particular specimen was the largest woodchuck I’ve seen in a long while, weighing in at about forty pounds (half that is the norm for woodchucks). “Look at the size of that bastard,” my brother, hereinafter known as the Great White Hunter (GWH) or Bwana, yelled. My mother shouted at the beast to go away, but the gluttonous rodent, hereinafter known as the Elusive Beast, looked at us as though we were mad, and then went back mauling my mother’s cantaloupes. Then my brother made a fateful choice. “I’m going to shoot that thing in its big fat ass,” he announced, and ran up the stairs to fetch the BB gun.

That day and the days after it were days of terrible frustration for my brother. The Elusive Beast taunted him at every turn, mauling melons and making holes in tomatoes at every turn, launching raids on the radishes and assaults on the asparagus (Mom doesn’t actually grow asparagus, but I like the assonance there) whenever the brother was not about, and then fleeing back into his hole whenever he perceived that he was being watched. My brother found this all terribly frustrating, the more so since it was not at all a matter of killing the Elusive Beast, but rather educating the little bastard to stay away from the cantaloupes. “If I kill the Elusive Beast,” my brother explained, “then I’m going to have to get rid of its lousy flea-bitten carcass so he’s not stinking us out of house and home. No, I got to teach him not to come into the garden.”
The brother said this with an air of tremendous self-satisfaction, as if this were the easiest thing in the world to accomplish.

In reality, my brother was now embarked on one of the great scientific adventures of our time, an attempt to prove that the experiments carried out by Pavlov and Skinner could be carried out in a completely uncontrolled environment. The call went to behaviorists everywhere in the world, and they came in their hundreds and then in their thousands to see the results of this great experiment. In the end, they got too damn annoying for words and GWH began shooting them in the end instead, causing them to flee back to the ivory towers from which they emerged. Proving that this experiment would work with academics, however, is not the same as proving it would work with the Elusive Beast and his merry band of fruit thieves (yes, there were more than one of them; apparently this unfit parent recruited members of his family to help him with his depredations). No, indeed, they would prove a much more cunning foe.

So the Great White Hunter lay in wait in his stand by the back window overlooking the garden, kept alive by a Spartan diet of sour cream and onion flavored potato chips, Key lime pie, and Coca-Cola brought to him by underpaid native bearers from the nearest Wal-Mart. He waited and waited, hoping to catch the Elusive Beast as he broke cover and went for the cantaloupes, but over a week of waiting went by and nothing happened, not even a possible sighting, although he did see an opossum that looked vaguely like Elvis in profile. Did our hero despair? You bet your ass he did, but he kept at it, despite the laughter and none too gentle taunting of friends and family, waiting patiently for the Elusive Beast to reappear.

Then, just as he was about to give way to the counsels of despair, the Elusive Beast showed himself. The rotund rodent emerged from its burrow underneath the house next door and waddled across the line between our property and the neighbor’s, making a beeline for my mother’s small garden, or as much of a beeline that any wallowing woodchuck can muster. The obese Beast trundled towards the garden, its mind aflame with the possibilities of despoiling yet another cantaloupe, displaying in its every ponderous step a basic contempt towards all of humanity. The Great White Hunter carefully aimed the BB gun at the woodchuck’s hindquarters and gently squeezed the trigger.

He missed by a country mile. The Elusive Beast stopped and sniffed the air and then continued its march, evidently concluding that a low-flying aircraft had just flown overhead. The GWH swore under his breath and pumped the BB gun up to maximum pressure once again. This time he aimed carefully and then let fly.

The Elusive Beast stopped dead in its tracks and looked around, wondering where the bee that stung it had gone to. “I got him,” shouted the GWH, and rapidly pumped the weapon up again. He fired again, and struck the Beast yet again. The Beast, now realizing that he was in the open with a potential predator zeroed in on him, ran for cover, tripping time and time again over his pendulous belly. But the GWH had not done with him. Again and again the BBs flew, forcing the once Elusive and now abject and sniveling Beast to change course over and over again, driving him further away from the protection of his burrow. Yes, the BBs flew, clipping an ear here and a paw there, with one memorable shot clipping the Beast’s scrotum. The Beast howled and galumphed around the back yard, looking for some protection from the rain of stinging missiles that now harassed his every move. Finally, the GWH ran out of BBs and the Beast scurried back to his burrow, all thoughts of gorging on the delicious cantaloupes gone from its mind.

Since then the Beast has been back a few times, testing to see if the GWH awaited him, and each time the Beast bolted back to his burrow, followed by a veritable tornado of BBs. He sits there to this day, debating the meaning of it all with the wisest of woodchuck natural philosophers, some of whom hold that the BBs do not exist, while others hold that the Elusive Beast is the victim of an advanced Oedipal complex manifesting itself as BBs. In any case, the Elusive Beast is staying on his side of the property line, having learned, if nothing else, something about the sanctity of private property. And the cantaloupes are delicious. I thought you’d want to know.