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)

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

DEMOCRACY IN ACTION: This is an experiment in the essay form, folks: reader democracy. What we, and by we I mean me, have below are two versions of the same essay; pick the one you like best and sound off in the comments and the one that gets the most votes will stay and I will delete the loser. So have at it.

We all have our preferred methods of squashing bugs, of course; this is a free country, after all, conceived in Liberty, a small town over in Sullivan County on Route 17, for those of you who like to keep track of such things, and dedicated to the proposition that all men may squash bugs in the manner that best enhances their pursuit of happiness, the their here being the men pursuing happiness and not the bugs, who are not pursuing anything and who would, no doubt, rather skip the whole blunt force trauma experience, given the way such an experience can ruin a perfectly good day. There’s nothing that so ruins a freshly washed, waxed, and detailed exoskeleton than some chucklehead slamming his size 11E wingtips down on top of it.

It could be worse, though; you could be scooting along one fine summer’s day minding your own business and intent on getting back to the hive/hill/warren/rotting log that you call home before the rush hour begins and the traffic gets crazy when all of a sudden the day gets considerably hotter. The sun seems to be beating down on you with fifty times the usual intensity and you start cursing the weatherman for not predicting this hot spell, because you left your suntan lotion with the extra-strength ultraviolet ray blocker at home today because the weatherman said you weren’t going to need it. You look up at the sun as you loosen your collar, and your last conscious thought before you explode in a seething fireball is, how can those stupid kids hold onto the edges of the sun like that without burning their fingers?

Well, most of us don’t use magnifying glasses on bugs anymore; it takes too long and adults, for the most part, are not interested in eliminating bugs one by one when we can kill them in the thousands and in the tens of thousands. I suspect that this need for mass slaughter is the end result of thousands of hours watching violent programming on television and in the movies, and nowadays are video and computer games of such appalling violence that you really can’t imagine how a responsible parent would let their children watch such drivel, but I am told that there is no credible evidence to support such a view, although I think that the anecdotal evidence in this case is pretty convincing. When ten men tell you you’re drunk, it’s time to lie down, as Dana Andrews says in The Battle of the Bulge, a 1966 release that manages to tell the story of the great World War II battle without a whole lot in the way of snow, something you would not otherwise think possible, as it smacks of showing The Sands of Iwo Jima without the sands, The Bridge over the River Kwai without the river, or the bridge, for that matter, and They Died With Their Boots On without boots or some other appropriate footwear. There’s something about the notion of Errol Flynn leading the Seventh Cavalry to their deaths at the Little Big Horn whilst wearing flip-flops that detracts from the heroic image Hollywood likes to impart to this sort of military disaster, which leads us back to our subject for the day.

Historians seldom comment on the role of footwear in military debacles throughout the ages, except for that whole for the want of a nail, a shoe was lost and so on up the great chain of cause of effect until the battle and then the kingdom are lost thing, and frankly, quadruped fashions aren’t the point here; if you buy your shoes at a hardware store you can hardly fault people for not taking you seriously. For an ambitious young historian, however, displaying too great an interest in such a line of inquiry smacks of some sort of intellectual fetishism, tolerable, perhaps, in a professor of literature or art, given the many pathetic political and sexual quirks of writers, painters, and other artists throughout history, but altogether unseemly in a historian. This causes the cautious young academic just beginning his scholarly career to limit his inquiries to such uncontroversial fare as the effect of the Emperor Diocletian’s debasement of the Roman currency in the third century C.E. upon commodities prices in southern Upper Dacia and its implications for long term tax policy and army recruitment in the Roman Black Sea provinces, a subject calculated to win the enthusiastic approval of any group of academic historians you would care to assemble and to put perfectly healthy students into a coma; if you’re not fighting rigor mortis after ten minutes of this stuff it’s because you’re on crack.

The fact remains, though, that footwear often plays a decisive role in debacles large and small, whether the historians choose to admit it or not. There is, for example, the debacle of my brother’s wedding, which I attended in a pair of the rattiest blue sneakers known to mankind (I don’t care what anyone says, they were incredibly comfortable and I thought the gray duct tape went well with the blue, symbolizing a final reconciliation between the North and the South—she was from South Carolina. Had the marriage lasted as long as those sneakers I don’t think I’d still be hearing about them all these years later), and my grandfather’s funeral, to which one cousin wore two different shoes with matching, or in this case, mismatching, socks, and another who wore oversized galoshes, even though the funeral took place on a sunny day with no hint of rain in the forecast.

Now, I am not sure what any of this has to do with killing bugs, the putative theme of this piece once upon a time, but once upon a time, as the song goes, was very long ago, but not in a galaxy far, far away, but in this one, and in New York City in particular, where the class action suit for slander, libel, and defamation of character of ugly stepsisters and evil stepmothers against the Brothers Grimm is finally coming to trial after years of legal maneuvering and sometimes bitter wrangling among the plaintiffs, especially among Cinderella’s stepsisters, who were going after each other so badly at one point wranglers had to rope and tie them to pull them apart. The stepsisters are also suing the American Rodeo Association for medical expenses incurred during this incident; getting the brand of the Tri-D Ranch removed from their buttocks costs more than the sisters can afford at the moment. The Brothers Grimm, for their part, maintain that they merely reported the stories as they received them, rigorously double and sometimes triple sourcing the information to make sure that the stories were as accurate as humanly possible. Lawyers for the plaintiffs maintain that the brothers’ defense is a fairy tale, pure and simple.

Snow White’s evil stepmother, for example, told a newspaper interviewer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the brothers, recklessly and with malice aforethought, accused her of attempting to murder her step-daughter and then made matters worse, if such a thing were possible in this case, or being a psychotic subject to delusions that caused her to talk to mirrors. The evil stepmother denied these charges emphatically, pointing out that she was trying to do her level best to deal with a rebellious, self-indulgent teenaged drama queen given to running off into the woods and hanging out with a rough crowd of miners whenever there was trouble at home, and that the so-called mirror was, in reality, a large flat screen television left to her by her late husband. It gave her no pleasure trying to rein in the child’s more outrageous antics; her father spoiled the girl rotten before his death, according to the evil stepmother, but since his passing someone had to be the adult in the family and establish some ground rules or there would never be an end to the trouble Snow White was causing for the other children.

Okay, I seem to have drifted a bit here. Getting back to the bugs, when I need something to whack one I prefer the trade paperback version of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. It’s heavy enough to kill bugs outright and yet still light enough to forehand smash your average flying insect straight into the nearest available wall, knocking them unconscious for the old coupe de Grace, who still wants an Italian sports car for her birthday and isn’t going to get one, not after knocking over half the mailboxes in the neighborhood with the old Ford clunker she’s got now. And in addition, the book is small enough to get into those hard to whack places where shoes and fly swatters and Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel simply won’t reach. Furthermore, bugs will come away from Dostoevsky’s masterpiece with an increased understanding of the human condition or maybe a damp paper towel, preferably the latter, I think, as it helps wipe the stain off the cover and keeps your books in as pristine a condition as possible.


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