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, October 29, 2005

"...AND THE WINNER IS...:" The New York State Legislature, who are as crooked a collection of political hacks as money can buy, has decided, since they really have nothing better to do with their time, to take up the burning issue of which cold-blooded scaly critter ought to be the state reptile of New York. This must strike the civic-minded New Yorker interested in the Byzantine world of state politics as particularly bizarre, since the vast majority of the inhabitants of the Empire State regard the state legislature as the state reptiles; for some reason Komodo dragons and their habit of ripping poor tax-paying deer to shreds without any regard to whether or not there will enough deer around next year for them to feast on comes immediately to mind in this context, but I’m not sure why that might be. Perhaps the presence of the word Excelsior (Ever upwards) on the state flag gives the classically trained a clue; there’s just something about a state that tells you on the state flag that taxes are never going to go down here ever that freezes the blood and makes you want to fly to other troubles you may not know of, but must be better than having guys in expensive suits rob you blind under the cover of law morning, noon, and night. This propensity for looting the unsuspecting is disguised in Latin, because everything sounds better in Latin, of course, and because New York politicians like having a fresh supply of suckers coming in all the time. I strongly suspect that this is why many school districts have dropped Latin as a foreign language; there’s no point upsetting the taxpayers before you have to, you know.

In any case, other states have state reptiles, and New York has a slew of state things that show our legislature in action. New York, for example, has a state muffin (the apple muffin) and a state beverage (milk) and even a state bird (the bluebird), all of which is very wholesome for the tourists but does not fool those of us who live here one damn bit. Everyone here knows that there is no state muffin, only the state bagel, that the state beverage is the manhattan, and that the state bird is the bird (Flippus birdus), a species native to the state highway system and most often seen at intersections throughout the state displaying itself for the edification of people who haven’t figured out for themselves that the No Turn On Red sign means that they shouldn’t come roaring around the corner at seventy miles an hour in a thirty mile an hour zone. But New York has no state reptile, and since New York will not remain behind other states like denial, anxiety, and depression, the state legislature has sprung into action and is now considering the issue.

I should not say sprung into action, as this gives the impression of purpose and speed, and nothing could be further from the truth. There are 212 state legislators in New York, representing citizens from Montauk at the far eastern tip of Long Island to Plattsburgh on the Canadian border to Buffalo on Lake Erie, but of these solons, exactly two, the Senate majority leader and the Speaker of the Assembly, actually count for something; the other 210 legislators are there for show; they could be department store mannequins and no one would know the difference. We have a beautiful state capitol here in New York, and the state spent a fortune restoring the building, but if they really wanted to save money, and they don’t, who’s kidding who here, the governor, the Senate majority leader, and the Speaker could run the state from a Holiday Inn and no one would know the difference. I should say, then, that these two gentlemen are considering the measure, and since their opinions are the one that count, this means that the legislature is considering the measure.

There are two candidates for this august position: the box turtle and the snapping turtle. There were other reptiles up for the job: the Eastern diamondback rattlesnake, the lounge lizard, and Donald Trump were on the short list of candidates, but the rattlesnake didn’t want the job; he already had a good one in private industry that didn’t entail having to put up with politicians, the state police found the lounge lizard at a bar on Western Avenue trying to pick up a SUNY/Albany coed from the Bronx, and Donald Trump said he would only take the job if he could fire the idiots who hired him in the first place. Since politicians in New York regard incumbency and re-election not as something bestowed on them by the voters, but as a civil right up there with life, liberty, and the pursuit of the campaign contribution, they quietly dropped Mr. Trump’s two hundred-page application for the job into the Hudson River when no one was looking and blamed the resultant pollution on General Electric (no one but New Yorkers and environmentalists are going to get that last crack, but it was too good to pass up).

I read that the box turtle will in all likelihood win this thing if it ever comes to a vote. The box turtle is a mild-mannered critter that scoots into its shell at the least sign of trouble, which may help it in the wild but not when it decides to cross the New York State Thruway in the middle of the day. Despite the many signs that the state police are monitoring the speed limit using radar, people routinely speed like maniacs; when the trooper caught me in November of 1992, the speed limit was 55 and I was doing 90 and even at that speed people were passing me left, right, and center. I was just unlucky, I guess, but the one thing I didn’t have to contend with is a humungous turtle trying to cross the highway to the median at whatever the speed just under glacial is. If you hit this thing in your car, you can count on a busted axle just as sure as you’re reading this. And the box turtle is endangered, a not at all surprising fact given its propensity for slowness on the highways, and the newspapers all say that the legislature may give the coveted title to the box turtle as a way of ingratiating itself with the environmental lobby. But most people want the box turtle to win because of the turtle’s amiable personality makes it instantly likeable to everyone who comes in contact with them.

By contrast, the snapping turtle is an aggressive, nasty tempered creature given to spitting at people it doesn’t like, trying to bite the hand that feeds it, and screeching at those lousy little kids of theirs in Yiddish/Italian/Spanish/Chinese at all hours of the day and night. The snapping turtle is smaller, smarter, and faster than the box turtle and not at all averse to sidling up to women in department stores and telling them not to buy that pair of shoes, such a ridiculous price, why buy it here when I can get it for you wholesale? That’s the reason why most department stores in New York won’t let snapping turtles in and why the ACLU is suing many of these same stores for violating the snapping turtle’s civil rights. The snapping turtle is also not endangered; far from it, the snapping turtle is thriving in the new post-industrial economy, having made major investments in computer infrastructure and plant automation, and is now using the Internet as a way of expanding its operations into new areas of endeavor. The box turtle, on the other hand, still uses carbon paper to make copies of important documents.

All of which means, I think, that the box turtle will, in all likelihood, be the New York State reptile, when the legislature gets around to passing the empowering legislation. The snapping turtle is just too much like the rest of us for most New Yorkers to be entirely comfortable with it; the box turtle, on the other hand, is the good, solid boy from down the street you wish your daughter would marry instead of that biker putz from Syracuse with the shaved head and the earring and all the tattoos on his arms. Let's face it, she's wild for this nudnik now, but you and I both know they’ll wind up living in the apartment above your garage with the three kids and him with no job because no one will hire him. A small fortune spent on the orthodontist to keep her from spitting watermelon seeds between her front teeth and four years at Radcliffe studying French literature and the best she can do is that schlimazel and a job at Dunkin Donuts? You work hard all your life to give your kids everything you never had and the most important thing she asks all day is do you want sprinkles on your doughnut? Where did we go wrong, I ask you, where did we go wrong?


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