The Passing Parade: Cheap Shots from a Drive By Mind

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

Saturday, 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.


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