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.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

BUGS AND HOW TO KILL THEM: 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 except a free meal and a roof over their heads 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.

For all the emotional benefit we derive from a good bug stamping, the fact is that shoes remain an inefficient means of squashing most of the insects you find living in the average American home these days. While a good shoe can dispatch your average bug to whatever the next level of bug existence is in a fairly expeditious manner, the human involved in this equation must wait for the insect to crawl, hop, creep, fly, shuffle, or by some other means of locomotion move itself into a position where the human holding the shoe can properly smash the bug into the linoleum. Otherwise there’s not much point to using your shoes, and most bugs nowadays know at the first whiff of your socks that a shoe is now in play and that they should hie themselves hence to the nearest available nook and/or cranny to ride out the rain of frustrated blows plus high winds and temperatures in the high 80’s with a 70% chance of precipitation coming down on their heads. Feet, unfortunately, do not have a regular shape, with some of us having feet that are oddly shaped even by the elastic standards of podiatric oddness, and thus as a corollary to this great truth our shoes cannot guarantee a properly aligned killing surface for use in offensive operations against hostile insects. There are few things more frustrating than knowing that that bug in the corner is laughing at you because you can’t fit the toe of your shoe into that corner to get him/her/appropriate gender designation.

There are other solutions to this problem. The chemical weapons crowd, an odd assortment of equally odd characters who like going to exterminator conventions throughout the country wearing World War I Prussian spiked helmets and almost all of whom have one or two, and sometimes more, photographs of Kaiser Wilhelm II in places of honor on their mantelpieces, yearn for the halcyon days of DDT, when a single airplane filled with the chemical could lay waste to vast armies of creepy crawlies in a single spritz. This is not such a bad idea, really, but at this writing it seems that DDT has gone the way of the dodo and the giant ground sloth, by which I mean the now extinct species of North American megafauna (Paramylodon harlani) and not my cousin Billy, no matter how much he deserves the appellation. A man in his fifteenth straight year of continuous unemployment is simply not trying, in my opinion, and I hope you’ll pardon me for being judgmental here. I know I shouldn’t be, but sometimes it’s hard to do.

In any case, given that shoes do not provide an efficient method of killing insects and chemicals not only harm the environment in general but you in particular as well, which negates the whole point of the exercise when you give it some thought, what then is your average home owner to do? The answer is simple: books. I don’t mean that you can find the answer to this question in books; I mean that books, as physical objects, are the perfect weapons platform for smashing bugs into nonexistence, whether those bugs are on the ground creepies or the more technologically advanced flying models.

I know how shocked some of you are at this suggestion; you may be turning to your significant other and asking, but isn’t he a librarian, how can he suggest such a thing, but let’s look at some of the salient facts here and not get off on a tangent that won’t support my weight. First, books are made out of trees and the trees they are made out of are dead; trust me, they’ll never know the difference. Second, if you want to survive in the library game then the one thing you cannot afford to have is a sentimental attachment to books. Entire forests have died in order to make even the smallish but no less egregious mold-pit wherein I labor from day to day possible; if we never threw anything out there wouldn’t be enough space left to hang up our coats in the morning.

But trees keep growing and writers keep writing and readers keep reading, so we have to do something with the books people have read already. Since eating them is not really possible; the non-xylophagous among the literate public, which takes in a majority of that small subsection of the overall population, finds digesting books a bit hard on the system, even when washed down with a stiff aperitif mixed from equal parts of sloe gin, quicklime, and carbolic acid. And cooking the books is a lost art these days; like pork, the chef must cook the books well in order for them to be palatable; an improperly cooked book can put the unwary gourmand out of action for ten years or more, depending on whether or not he cut a deal with the district attorney. So we must do something with the excess that no one else wants.

And frankly, not all books are up to the task. Most nonfiction, all reference books, technical reports, and large coffee table books are simply unsuitable for bug smashing. Coffee table books, for example, although they are heavy and deliver a tremendous punch when used in the proper circumstances, are nonetheless too big for everyday bug killing. To squash a bug using a retrospective book of the photographs of Henri Cartier-Bresson, who spent sixty or so years taking those photographs, or some twenty pound behemoth documenting the rise of the Impressionist movement you must wait, as you must with shoes, for the bug to move into the proper position, which limits your ability to be proactive in the matter, unless the bug in question is suicidal and decides to make things easy for you. This is not something you can rely on, however; bugs, as a rule, are fairly well-adjusted creatures, despite their inability to get more than a passing grade on Rorschach tests. No, something smaller is definitely required.

This standard immediately eliminates Proust’s A la recherché du temps perdu in either the hardcover or the trade paperback edition, since by the time you’ve decided which volume to use, the bug has not only escaped but has matured, bred, and come to the end of its life cycle as an after dinner snack for that frog whose ribbiting is keeping awake half the night. If you insist on using Proust, though, use The Captive or The Fugitive; if you damage those books no one will really care; those two books are just the Narrator moping about Albertine. Now, people mope, we all know this and we’ve all moped ourselves from time to time, it’s only natural, but nine hundred pages of moping is a bit much, as I’m sure you’ll agree.

The same standard also eliminates almost all of Tolstoy, except for The Cossacks, and most of the other Russians, except for Chekhov, who is too slight to really smash bugs, as well as Shakespeare, Dickens (using A Christmas Carol for this purpose is just a very bad and very sick joke), Trollope, and you can forget about Gibbon—another damned thick square book will get you nowhere, insecticidally speaking. The Greeks are too busy fighting wars with each other and with others in Homer, Herodotus, and Thucydides to worry a lot about bugs, and after the hell Sophocles put them through in the Oedipus cycle I think the surviving members of the House of Atreus have earned the right to sit down and think of new and intriguing ways of being dysfunctional without having to worry about bugs infesting the palace as well.

Well, I could keep this going until the cows come home and leave the front door open, because they really do live in a barn, but I’ll spare everyone the trouble and me the writer’s cramp. After years of study in laboratories across the country, years in which thousands upon thousands of insects died violently without a peep from the animal rights people, modern science has determined that the ideal book for killing bugs is a trade paperback copy of Notes from Underground, by Fyodor Dostoevsky.

Yes, I know, after such a tremendous buildup this is an awful let down; I said the exact same thing when they told me. I thought something by Hemingway or Faulkner was sure to be the winner, and if not them Conrad or Greene, or Jonathan Swift, perhaps. I didn’t think any of the Russians had a real chance, except for Pushkin or Lermontov, and so when they made the announcement you could have knocked me over with a lead-weighted feather duster, if they make such things anymore.

Still, when you think about it, the decision doesn’t sound so crazy after all…well, actually it does, but if you think about most things for long enough you can rationalize almost anything away. The trade paperback edition of Notes from Underground is light enough to smash bugs on the ground and to whack flying insects into the wall, knocking them unconscious for the old Ford 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 clunker she’s got now, and 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 the existential horror of Dostoevsky’s short novel with a tissue or maybe a damp paper towel, preferably the latter, as it helps wipe the stain off the cover. In any case, I hope this information is of some use to you; scientific knowledge should benefit everyone, I think.

Friday, August 26, 2005

PERPLEXED NEAR POUGHKEEPSIE: As ever, the Truth Laid Bear system has me a bit bamboozled. Only yesterday I was a flappy bird, happily ensconced between the 6,600's and the 6,900's, and content with my lot. Today I learn that I am a slithering reptile again, which I can live with if I have to, I suppose, but the Bear now says that I am now listed at 10,000 or so and the graph with my links has fallen faster than a drunk on a bobsled run. I concede that I may have fallen greatly in the estimation of my fellow bloggers; anything is possible, after all, when you point out that mountaineers are simply litterbugs looking for new places to trash; but to fall some 4,000 places in less than a day without the use of alcohol,dangerous drugs, or video of me doing something incredibly disgusting with Pamela Anderson seems more than a little odd. Has anyone else had this happen to them? A sudden drop, I mean, not the drugs or Pamela, although if you have video of yourself with Pamela by all means share it with the rest of the blogosphere. We're not prudes.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

MISS NOVEMBER 1984: I’m still more or less at a loss for ideas, so this is more of an observation than one of my usual efforts. One of the neat things about Statcounter is its keyword analysis, which tells you what words someone used to find your blog or some subject you’ve brought up on your blog. Many subjects have come and gone since I first installed the site meter here at The Passing Parade, but the one subject that goes on and on and on, the one subject that no one appears to ever tire of, is Roberta Vasquez. Ms. Vasquez was Playboy’s Playmate of the Month for November of 1984, and at the time, I thought she should have been the Playmate of the Year, but the accolade went to someone else, I forget who right off the top of my head. Soon after this, my subscription lapsed and I never bothered to renew it. It was an amicable separation, although I’m not sure why, what with Hef getting custody of the Mansion and the Playmates and me getting exactly nothing; it hardly seems fair, now that I think of it, but at the time I went along with the terms and it’s probably too late to do anything about them now.

In any case, last year I had a moment of cognitive dissonance while passing the magazine rack at my local Barnes & Noble superstore, which you can read about here, and wrote basically the same thing as you read in the first paragraph. Since I first posted that piece, however, many words and names have come and gone from my keyword statistics, but Roberta Vasquez remains firmly on the list, as constant as the North Star. Just to satisfy my curiosity, and purely in a spirit of historical and sociological inquiry, you understand, I went looking for pictures of Ms. Vasquez on the Net. She’s there, as lovely as I remember her, most of the pictures coming from her Playboy pictorial of twenty years ago and some movies she made in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. And since then…nothing. I don’t know what has become of her, but I strongly suspect that the person who is looking for new pictures of her is probably out of luck in that regard.

You can’t help wondering why, though; Playboy is still in business and Mr. Hefner is still putting the girl next door in the centerfold so the boy next door can have filthy thoughts about her, so why the interest here? Ms. Vasquez has moved on, or so it would seem, so why don’t the guys wanting new pictures of her move on to someone or something else, unless, and this would appear to be the case here, Playmates have the half-life of strontium-90 and no matter where life leads them there will always be someone wanting to see new pictures of them. I suppose this sort of ongoing attention might be flattering to some, but it does make you wonder why these guys don’t take up bowling or collecting nouveau cuisine recipes for egg foo yung instead.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

HOORAY FOR HOLLYWOOD, I GUESS...: Rachel at Tinkerty Tonk has a list of movies up that she didn't particularly like, including such flicks as Citizen Kane, Forrest Gump, and some others. Now, I liked all of the movies on her list, thereby proving it takes all types to make a world, as they say, but if there is one film that should have made her list and didn't it's The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover, a 1989 release directed by Peter Greenaway. My brother saw it and said it was absolutely great, that I had to see it, and that I wouldn't regret seeing it. So I said, okay, I would...and I did. I saw it all the way to the end, invoking and then ignoring the five minute warning along the way.

I have what is called the five minute warning, which is different from the five minute rule. The latter states that no film that displays a full frontal shot of a young woman's breasts in the five minutes after the end of the opening credits is any good whatsoever, the first Lethal Weapon being an exception to this general rule; the five minute warning, on the other hand, is simply my saying that this film gets better in the next five minutes or I am leaving. The above mentioned Greenaway film was the exception to this rule. This was a film so utterly godawful that I had no choice but to stay in my seat and see how much worse it could get, and in this it did not disappoint. The film sank from nadir to nadir, going through Ralph's family tree with complete abandon and with no thought to the consequences, until finally it ended in a sinkhole of cannibalism and murder, or was it murder and then cannibalism; it was hard to tell by the end.

And this from a film that received two thumbs up from Siskel & Ebert. That my brother could not tell cinematic dross from gold is easy to explain; he thinks that Surf Nazis Must Die was one of the great motion pictures of all time, but for Siskel & Ebert to stick their thumbs into this putrid squid dung pie and think they'd pulled out a cinematic plum beggars belief, as if belief didn't owe enough money as it is. I think it's all the movies the critics see; most films are more alike than they are different, the conventions of the form being what they are, and after you've seen a couple of hundred in a given year you can more or less tell what's coming up without bothering to look at the screen, which when you think of it is probably a good thing if you need to go to the bathroom in the middle of the movie. But it also means that after a while you want to see something new on the screen, and whatever else you can say about The Cook, etc. it is different from the usual thing people saw on their movie screens back in 1989, which may be why we all stayed at home and watched Communism fall on television instead; that was a lot different than the usual fare and you didn't have to worry about losing your lunch while watching the Wall collapse.

Monday, August 22, 2005

THE... I like Robert Benchley's work, which probably doesn't come as a surprise to many of you, and the stories people told about him are almost as entertaining as the pieces he wrote. There's one story I especially like. Benchley had to write a piece for The New Yorker and was coming up on deadline for the thing. Now, when he had to come up with something for the magazine quickly, Benchley kept a typewriter to work on at Polly Adler's, a finishing school for young ladies of prominent New York families, and determining to finish the pesky piece for Harold Ross, the magazine's legendary head editor, once and for all, Benchley put a piece of paper into the typewriter and typed the word The. He then attended one of the several classes in applied physiology offered by Miss Adler's school, followed by a sightseeing tour of prominent Manhattan waterholes to see the press hyenas chew on the gnus and the opening night of a play on Broadway that subsequently flopped faster than Dick Fosbury on speed. After returning to Miss Adler's establishment only the slightly worse for wear, Mr. Benchley sat down behind the typewriter and looked at the word The for the next hour and a half, while steam escaped from his ears and gallons of sweat gushed like lava from pores erupting like so many mini-Krakatoas. At the end of this period, finding himself as bereft of ideas as he had been at the beginning of his nocturnal meanderings, Mr. Benchley leaned forward and, putting hands to keyboard, wrote, hell with it, and then went home.

I always liked that story, if for no other reason than there are just times when you absolutely cannot think of anything to write about. I am sure there are ideas out there, but for some reason or another, they are avoiding me like I had a bad case of something communicable and altogether loathsome. So just as soon as I think of something I will let you folks know.

And yes, the caricature is by Al Hirschfeld; I know I should have found one by Gluyas Williams, who illustrated most of Benchley's books, but I couldn't find one that went along with the theme here and this one did, so my apologies to any Benchley purists out there.
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Thursday, August 18, 2005

JULIUS HENRY MARX, 1892-1977: I am told that we've just passed the anniversary of the death of some goy singer, if you're interested in that sort of thing. But tomorrow is the anniversary of the death of one of the greatest singers in the history of American cinema, and here are the lyrics to one of his greatest songs.

Oh Lydia, oh Lydia, say, have you met Lydia?
Lydia the Tattooed Lady.
She has eyes that folks adore so,
And a torso even more so.
Lydia, oh Lydia, that encyclo-pidia:
Lydia, The Queen of Tattoo.
On her back is The Battle of Waterloo;
Beside it, The Wreck of the Hesperus too.
And proudly above waves the red, white, and blue.
You can learn a lot from Lydia!

When her robe is unfurled she will show you the world,
If you step up and tell her where.
For a dime you can see Kankakee or Paree;
Or Washington Crossing the Delaware.

Oh Lydia, oh Lydia, say, have you met Lydia?
Lydia the Tattooed Lady.
When her muscles start relaxin',
Up the hill comes Andrew Jackson.
Lydia, oh Lydia, that encyclo-pidia.
Oh Lydia, the Queen of them all.
For two bits she will do a mazurka in jazz,
With a view of Niagara that nobody has.
And on a clear day you can see Alcatraz.
You can learn a lot from Lydia!

Come along and see Buffalo Bill with his lasso;
Just a little classic by Mendel Picasso.
Here is Captain Spaulding exploring the Amazon;
Here's Godiva, but with her pajamas on.

Here is Grover Whalen unveilin' The Trilon;
Over on the west coast we have Treasure Isle-on.
Here's Nijinsky a-doin' the rhumba;
Here's her social security numba.

Lydia, oh Lydia, that encyclo-pidia.
Oh Lydia, the Champ of them all.
She once swept an admiral clear off his feet;
The ships on her hips made his heart skip a beat.
And now the old boy's in command of the fleet,
For he went and married Lydia!
I said Lydia...(He said Lydia...)They said Lydia...We said Lydia, la, la!

RIP Julius.
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Wednesday, August 17, 2005

RETICENCE: It goes without saying, which is not really true, since by definition if it went without saying then I would stop talking about whatever it is that goes without saying right now instead of going on and on at interminable length about something you probably don’t care about one way or the other. Lots of things in life are like that, when you think about it, like local politics, gossip about people you don’t know, or long abstruse sociological discussions of why quantum mechanics routinely refuse to join labor unions. The list of things that ought to go without saying is practically endless, as well it should be.

The state of your health is one of those things that go without saying, but you’d hardly know it these days, especially after you’ve asked the dread question, how are you doing? For years, decades, perhaps even centuries the standard response to this question everywhere in the Anglophonic portions of North America has been, fine, and you, calling forth the further response, I’m fine or I’m okay, thanks. Having established the essential fineness of everyone’s health, everyone involved in the conversation would then proceed at once to the business at hand, be it slave trading, shipping opium to the Chinese, or selling rotgut whiskey to the Indians before robbing them of their lands. It didn’t matter if you were not fine, that you could drive railroad spikes through granite with your liver or that your fallen arches came crashing down on a school bus full of kids on their way to school; it went without saying that you kept the gruesome details to yourself. Americans were a much more stoical lot in those days. Nowadays, of course, no sooner have you asked, how are you doing, than you are getting a blow by blow description of your best friend’s cousin’s colonoscopy, complete with a running commentary of how his Uncle Sid and nearly everyone else in that family died of some horrific colon-related disease, except for his great-aunt Myrtle, who went down with the Lusitania in 1915 and never had the opportunity to develop a truly loathsome intestinal complaint.

Equally frightening is the gusto with which people will recount their tales of chronic ill health. There’s no surer way to stop dinner party conversation, for example, than to grandly announce that your latest spell in the hospital was for surgery to repair a fistula so large the Vistula could flow through it complete with ore barges and sailboats stopping for a light lunch of prosciutto and pasta salad at that nice Italian restaurant the Times gave a good review to on one of the isles of Golgi. This sudden silence will not last, however; when you are finished with your tale of medical misfortune everyone within a five mile radius will want to get in on the act as well, trying to top your tale of woe and disaster with one of their own, or if they are in disgustingly good health and therefore unable to contribute a story of their own they will tell you about what happened to their brother, cousin, grandparent, neighbor, and so on and so forth, in an ever widening circle of ill health and malpractice on a scale so vast that the imagination does not exist that cannot boggle at the sheer immensity of it all, leaving you to wonder if choosing to go to medical school is prima facie evidence of either dedication or dementia.

Another thing that goes without saying, but seldom does, are the details of one’s own sexual activities. I think it was Somerset Maugham, and if it wasn’t him then it was someone else, who said that the sexual details of even the blandest of us would still be enough to shock the public if such details became common knowledge. There is a pleasant, almost anachronistic flavor to that statement, something akin to eating homemade chocolate chip cookies made from scratch, bespeaking a reticence that no longer exists in this our Great Republic. We now live in a world where the details of the private lives of ordinary citizens are fodder for public spectacles unrivalled in their profound freakishness since the declining days of the Roman Empire. Even at that time, Roman historians did not write about the Empress Messalina’s experiences as a belle du jour or Caligula’s antics with his sister until well after their deaths, if only to keep themselves from dying in a loud and extremely painful Mel Gibsonish manner. (Caligula is best known these days for making his horse, Incitatus, a senator, an appointment lauded at the time by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals [PETA] and other animal rights and environmental groups. Incitatus was a grave disappointment for them, however, proving a much more conservative politician than his shaggy mane of hair would otherwise indicate. He voted neigh {ouch!} to proposals to clean the gladiator remains out of the Tiber River, to give slaves equal rights with non-edible fungi, and to reform the campaign finance laws, amongst other things. Incitatus only served two terms in the Senate, the voters turning him out of office because of a corruption scandal in which the senator supposedly solicited sugar cubes, apples, and bags of oats from a government defense contractor. The scandal ended the old warhorse’s political career, the voters replacing him with a hardworking, self-made billionaire blond honey badger named Bruce.)

But nowadays the media barrage of all titillation all the time leaves very little that goes without saying, and more’s the pity, I think, since so much of this sort of thing could go without saying and we’d all be the better for it. For a long time in this country you didn’t have to convince people of the virtues of reticence, that private lives are best left private, but the past is another country, as they say—they do things differently there. As with so many other things I loathe, I blame the 1960’s and Sigmund Freud for all of this. Somehow or other Freud got into his head that spilling your psychological guts all over the floor without a mop nearby was somehow or other conducive to promoting good mental health. This, of course, is poppycock raised to the nth degree, but Freud didn’t want to hear that his pet ideas were twaddle. He went on and on and on, yammering day in and day out about gated Oedipus apartment complexes with Electrafied fences in the suburbs and egos and ids ad infinitum and ad nauseam to the brew and it gets truly disgusting, and saying all these ridiculous things in a thick Viennese accent. There are all too many Americans, I fear, who are more than willing to give oddball foreigners and their equally oddball ideas a pass if those ideas come packaged in a foreigner’s somewhat mangled English—how else do you explain the strange fascination with French philosophy and literary theory in American academia since the end of World War II?

Freud’s silliness came to its fullest fruition in the 1960’s, a decade dedicated to the notion that doing your own thing was always a good idea, that free love was always free, especially with the advent of birth control and antibiotics, and that all we need is love, is love, love is all we need, and that we should all just let it all hang out, whatever it is, and I suppose I shouldn’t ask. These were the crackpot ideas of a crackpot worshipping time, and we all know that yesterday’s crackpot ideas, if packaged in a modern sensibility, can become today’s horrifying reality. Freud proposed that a certain openness about sexual matters might not be such a bad idea, and a century later, we have daytime television talk shows daily broadcasting the antics of grotesques straight out of the pages of Kraft-Ebbing for the voyeuristic entertainment of millions of people with nothing better to do in the middle of the day. This, for me, always brings up the question of just who in the blue blazes are these people and why don’t they have jobs to go to? It just seems to me that these folks have way too much free time on their hands and that someone ought to do something about this before it gets entirely out of control. Idle hands are the devil’s playground, as all of our grandmothers used to say, but I’m sure you knew that already, as it just goes without saying.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

No, I hadn't noticed, actually, but now that you bring it up... Posted by Picasa

Thursday, August 11, 2005

JUST A THOUGHT: I am sitting here looking out my window at the comings and goings on Main Street, and if I had a buck for everyone who has gone by my window dragging their backside around because of the heat and humidity today I could retire tomorrow. We are currently in our fourth day of hazy, hot, and humid, and the thunderstorms the weathermen predicted would break the heat have not arrived or have decided to go on vacation elsewhere. I am sure that most meteorologists are nice people, but on the whole I wish they were in another line of work, as this one does not seem to be agreeing with them; if they picked horses the way they pick the weather they'd all be broke now.
MAIN STREET, MOSTLY: Regular readers will know that our happy little burg has an unusually long Main Street for a town of our size. In a city of some 4.3 square miles Main Street stretches for a mile and a half through the middle of it all, anchored by the soon to be renovated redbrick remains of the industrial past at one end and City Hall at the other. Main Street was longer once; in the nineteenth and for most of the twentieth century Main Street went all the way down to the river, but an ill-conceived urban renewal plan in the 1960’s, and were there any other kind of urban renewal plans in the 1960’s, cut Main Street off from the river and ended it at the state highway that runs through the western edge of town. The rest of Main Street, along with most of the waterfront, and all the homes, businesses, and at least one church went the way of all flesh, a poetic euphemism for demolition via bulldozer, so that senior citizen housing and City Hall itself could rise Phoneix-like from the Mesa next to the Flagstaff (you can boo now; that was terrible, I agree, but no throwing brickbats, if you please). As this area was, at the time, the oldest part of our happy little burg, the urban planners of the day leveled row after row of Victorian houses, with the unintended consequence that the surviving Victorians, which you couldn’t give away forty years ago, now cost the potential homeowner a hefty-sized chunk of the gross domestic product of a small Third World Nation to buy. And with Main Street’s abrupt bifurcation came a sudden and unfortunate loss of local identity.

The people of our happy little burg have, for as long as anyone can remember, divided themselves into three tribes, membership in such groups being a consequence of where you lived. The tribes are the mountaineers, the swamp angels, and the dock rats, or wharf rats, as people sometimes called them. The mountaineers, obviously, are those people who live either on or in the immediate shadow of the mountain (yes, we do have a mountain here, a real one, no less); the swamp angels, who comprise the bulk of the population and live on the flat land between the mountain and the river, and the dock rats, who live near the old waterfront. People ascribed various character traits to the various groups back in the day: mountaineers were bold and adventure seeking, swamp angels were middle class wannabes and hence more than a little dull, and dock rats were a gang of lying, thieving swine who’d do what you’d more or less expect lying, thieving swine to do. No one takes that sort of thing seriously anymore, and I severely doubt if more than one kid in a hundred could tell you what his tribe might be or to find our happy little burg on a map if I had the place outlined in red magic marker. But if much is taken, much abides, and while the city’s tribal designations have vanished like the mighty works of Ozymandias and his all girl klezmer band, a new group has arisen to take their place. They are the lunchers.

Now, you may remember that I started off talking about Main Street before I went off in that whole sociohistoric tangent, and again, my apologies for wandering off the subject. That really is happening way too often, I know, but back to Main Street. Main Street, if you haven’t forgotten entirely, which is that sort of thing that can happen when you aren’t paying attention and your minds starts to drift off and starts to wonder about such things as why is Coca-Cola brown when it could just as easily be blue or teal or some other non-earth tone color, is a mile and a half long, a length totally out of proportion with the city’s overall size. The reason for this is that until 1913 our happy little burg was two smaller and not quite as happy burglets, each with its own Main Street. With the passage of time, and time passed in a much smaller cabin than you’d otherwise expect—time may be money but he’s holding onto every last dollar he’s got like he thinks they won’t make more of them—and given the geographic circumstances, the two villages grew into each other, their two Main Streets running into each other like Rodgers & Hammerstein, steak and fries, Mom and Dad, and your wife and your girlfriend…well, maybe not that last one. The trouble with such a lengthy avenue is that it is difficult to generate the requisite economic activity along its entire length. While Main Street may look fairly straight and narrow to the naked eye, the fact is that economically Main Street sags in the middle in much the same way as the high school’s star quarterback does at his class’ thirtieth reunion.

On the east end of Main Street lies the antique district, the stores comprising said district not usually frequented by the native population; they are, however, endlessly popular with people from the great southern metropolis, who make day trips to shop in these places and spend outrageous sums of money for stuff most people with some small degree of common sense wouldn’t give you two nickels for, but that’s neither here nor there, I guess—to each his own as they say. On the west end of Main Street there are, in no particular order, an art museum, a train station, and City Hall. In between these two poles of upscale economic activity one half of Main Street makes its living selling lunch to the other half; this other half are the lunchers, who now form the backbone of the municipal economic base, the very people I was going to write about two paragraphs ago before I started that whole lecture on economics, a subject I really don't know very much about, although I've heard that not knowing anything about the subject is not really much of a handicap when it comes to economics. In any case, I think it must be the lack of riboflavin in my diet that’s making my mind wander as bad as it’s doing today. A little wandering now and again is a good thing, I think, but when you are staying put and your mind needs a passport, a visa, and shots against dengue fever to leave the country without you then something is clearly very wrong, especially if you have to pick up the tab for airfare.

The other thing about minds wandering is the musical aspect of it, which can get very annoying. I have had my mind wander to the point where I could hear mariachi bands singing in my head, which is odd in that I do not speak Spanish and consequently I have no idea what in the hell these people are saying, and then there is the question of just what are all of those foreigners doing in my head without a green card. I strongly suspect that I am in violation of any number of immigration laws and I would just as soon not get mixed up in a violent confrontation with the Border Patrol while these musicians catch the express train heading out my Eustachian tube for Chicago, Kansas City, and points west.

And there are all too many wandering minds in this neck of the woods, anyway. Our happy little burg is home to a number of homes for the reality challenged, many of whom use this egregious mold pit when they are not busy annoying the clerks down at the local Dunkin Donuts. You haven’t really lived until you’ve tried to figure out just what it is some of these people are asking for, assuming they know themselves. One Saturday I did get one who did know what he wanted; he wanted the postal clerk-carrier test book, which is a perennial favorite around here. As we went looking for on the shelves for the thing, he insisted, in a very loud voice, no less, on telling me that he also needed books about mature sexual relations because he had sex on the brain and he needed help because Jesus was coming in 25,000 years and there was no telling when he would get sex before then. After locating the book, I brought him and the book up to the front desk, where I hoped to finally ditch him and his inane driveling. Alas, it was not to be. The clerk and the page, both proud daughters of Puerto Rico, took one look at this guy and I could see the curtain fall. Both of them speak excellent English, but when Mr. Sex-on-Brains arrived their mouths opened and then closed, their faces reassembling themselves into the mien I still call the No Habla look; not only did they all of a sudden not speak English, no one they knew spoke it either. In fact, they had never heard English spoken in their entire lives and had no intention of learning at any time this particular dimwit was in the building. It is very disconcerting, to say the least, that your friends will not take a loony off your hands when you really need them to, but I’ll get even someday; I’m just not sure how.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

WASHING MACHINE BLUES: This may or may not come as a surprise to you, as the case may be; it certainly surprised me, but then I don’t get around much; but it seems that today a growing number of young American males elect to remain at home with their parents after their graduation from college. There is any number of explanations for this hitherto unheard of and otherwise inexplicable phenomenon, from the now crushing burden of debt from student loans to the near impossibility of finding an affordable apartment at a time when rents in the nation’s largest cities have risen beyond the financial means of any young person not already endowed with a trust fund to the acute psychological immaturity and fear of adult responsibility that afflicts so many young people in our fast-paced and often frenzied modern world. I believe, however, that a disinterested analysis of the pertinent data clearly shows that this failure to complete the maturation cycle, this refusal to sever the physical, psychological, and financial ties binding these young men to their parents stems directly from a complete and profound unwillingness to do their own laundry.

How this profound ignorance is unknown at present, but that it exists is not subject to debate. I think it’s safe to say that most men have next to no idea how the pile of filthy, sweaty, stinking, and otherwise noisome clothing they leave on the bathroom floor in the morning, or in a hamper if they’ve had enough training, finds itself cleaned, dried, folded, and deposited in one’s dresser drawers. It is an inspiring tale, filled with drama and human interest, and most men know as little about it as they do about photosynthesis, or possibly even less, since a lot of guys think that photosynthesis involves using their personal computer to digitally paste a female celebrity’s face onto the nude body of a centerfold. There are honorable exceptions to this general ignorance; the men of the United States armed forces know how to do their own laundry and how to do it well, and I think that rates a big salute from the rest of us; and the many single men who’ve bucked the stay at home syndrome and moved away from hearth and home, kith and kin, and all the other alliterative aliases for their mothers. This skill, unfortunately, deteriorates at an exponential rate after marriage, which may explain why laundry is one of the leading causes of divorce in the United States and why court battles over who gets custody of the fabric softener tend to get vicious.

But all this is by the by, isn’t it? I should say so, I think, and the time has come, the Walrus said, to speak of many things, or just one, in fact, and that one being why men do not want to do their own laundry, which is what this piece is allegedly about. As I mentioned previously, theories abound as to why this aversion to detergent exists, the most popular (and the oldest) coming from the psychoanalytic school founded by Sigmund Freud, which holds that men subconsciously regard washing clothes as a sign of latent homosexuality, something on the order of putting ketchup on a hot dog, and therefore an unendurable threat to their masculinity. This school of thought has many critics, who say that the half-cooked food in the Freudian school’s cafeteria is having an obvious deleterious effect on the practice of psychology. The leading critic of this school of psychological thought was my late grandmother, who held that the reason why men did not do their own laundry was that the vast majority of men are just bone-lazy.

There may be something to this theory, although I couldn’t tell you what that might be; Grandma had lots of very strange ideas about a lot of things. She thought, for example, that moonlight, molasses, and maple syrup were a dangerous combination and therefore you ought to avoid them to keep from damaging your health, and that the light reflected from a cat’s eyes could help you find missing money under a couch. Yes, I know how that sounds, and yes, I loved my grandmother, make no mistake about it, but even my grandfather thought she could be pretty damn peculiar at times.

Now I am sure you have noticed, and if you have not please permit me to point it out to you, that the men least likely to do laundry are those men who are the most likely to get dirty, and that these men are among the most loyal and patriotic citizens of our nation, a combination which, to my mind, eliminates the more extravagant theories of causation such as gender-based congenital sloth or the supposedly permanent effects of childhood cereal abuse. No, we see here, in the first instance, the male need to get dirty, and in the second, the male desire to belong to some entity greater than himself, fused together into a single drive to dirty as many clothes as possible in a human lifetime, thereby stimulating the economy and helping our government defend us against the numerous and nefarious enemies of this our Great Republic.

It is, of course, women, who with their constant demands to put money aside for the kids’ education and to pay the electric bill, who now constitute the greatest single threat to the national security, what with their constant cleaning of already dirty clothes so you can get another’s day use of them instead of buying new clothes. It is just this sort of mindset that is driving the young people of this country to Rack and Ruin, where the steaks are just okay but you might as well skip the seafood platter; some of that stuff was old when trilobites swam in the Earth’s oceans and horseshoe crabs were the hot new species everyone had to keep a sharp eye on, assuming that the they doing the watching had eyes in the first place. Some species didn’t bother evolving eyes at all because their health plan wouldn’t pay for eyeglasses.

So here we have a tragic story of fish slaughtered by the barrelful for no other reason than a simple lack of basic optometric care and yet what all too many American men hear everyday is the constant whine about the wash cycle from American women, that their lives are nothing but a constant round of washing, drying, folding, and then the earth again, when it isn’t spaghetti sauce, grass, or motor oil, a cycle, I must point out, that American women are largely responsible for. If they really want to do something to help improve the planet, they should cease the endless caterwauling about laundry and help raise money and consciousness so that myopic and astigmatic fish can finally get the corrective lenses they need to survive. This would be a bold, even a radical departure from the usual complaints about blood and dirt on freshly cleaned clothes, clothes any loyal American would have thrown away immediately at the first hint of botanical discoloration for something newer, better, and more expensive. This will not happen though, and the Federal government ought to do something about it, I think. It is increasingly clear at this critical moment in our country's history that laundry is nothing more or less than the last refuge of the unpatriotic, and isn’t it a damn shame, too?
JUST A THOUGHT: If, as they say, whoever they are, which is another subject entirely, as I'm sure you will agree, you should avoid drinking Coca-Cola because the acid level in the beverage is so high you could clean the stains off your toilet using the stuff, would it not then make more sense to drink an ever-increasing amount of Coke, and thereby avoid the stains in the first place? An ounce of prevention, or twenty ounces nowadays, if you buy them in the larger bottles, is worth a pound of cure, as a different they than the they who said you shouldn't drink Coke at all once said.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

BUTTERED BLOGROLL WITH CARRAWAY SEEDS AND PICKLES ON THE SIDE: I have been trolling through the blogosphere again, as I am wont to do when I have nothing to say, and I've come across these good folks, some of whom you may have heard of, and I think you'll like them. They are, in no particular order, Absinthe & Cookies, The Gates of Vienna, Immigrants R US, Jah Jah Dub, The Jawa Report, The Joy of Curmudgeonry, The Opinionated Bastard, Quid nomen illius?, Small Dead Animals, Mark in Mexico, and Solarvoid. If the HTML doesn't work on these links, and that it always a possibility since I have no clue as to what I am doing when it comes to this sort of thing; in fact, I will write long essays about the long term effects of Marxism-Leninism on the development of the upper Uzbek underwear industry rather than have to do anything with HTML; anyway, if these links don't work properly just go you over to the blogroll and click on them there; they should work, God willing.

UPDATE: Just to add one more that I failed to mention before: Libraries For Dummies. Even if you are not a librarian, you will laugh yourself sick at the goings on in the Happyville Public Library; if you are a librarian, especially a public librarian, it's our world and welcome to it. If you thought you had it bad where you work, take a gander at some of the people the Librarian Extraordinaire has to put up with.

Friday, August 05, 2005

LIVER, HOLD THY BUNIONS: No one, of course, will admit to such a thing, at least not publicly or within five miles of a sitting grand jury, but the simple fact of the matter is that someone is eating all the liver and drinking all the cream soda produced in this country. This is basic economics at its most basic, after all; butchers would not sell liver and soft drink manufacturers would not make cream soda unless there was a market for the stuff, and a pretty sizable one at that. And yet, if you put the question of whether or not they liked to eat liver or drink cream soda to any one of a thousand different people randomly selected on any street in the United States not one of them will admit to it. In fact, when asked, the vast majority of these people will grimace deeply, as if someone had asked them to deep fry and eat their children’s pet gerbil with a side order of cole slaw. Clearly then, just on the statistics alone, large numbers of Americans are in the closet when it comes to their proclivity for liver and cream soda, finding the social stigma so great that they must take extraordinary steps to conceal their shocking dietary preferences.

We must first acknowledge that there has always been a liver and cream soda problem in the United States and that in all likelihood there will always be some small portion of the population that will consume liver and cream soda no matter what the potential consequences. For this subset of the population, no warning will ever be enough, no example clear enough, no prohibition or threat of punishment that will dissuade them from their horrid repasts. Whether we like it or not, we will eventually have to write these people off; people who will eat something that looks, smells, and tastes like a Dr. Scholl’s foot pad after a ten mile walk through New York City’s streets on a hot and humid day in July, and is there any other kind of July day in New York City, are clearly capable of any enormity you might imagine, including wearing a blue glass eye with an orange and purple shirt.

To prevent this scourge from destroying yet another generation of Americans, we must begin by educating our young people against the dangers of liver and cream soda, which is where I usually turn off the TV, because despite the billions of dollars poured into the American education system over the past thirty or so years, our young people, the precious next generation, the glorious hope of a bigger and brighter American future, are, on the whole, dumb as stumps. Assuming for a minute that you could somehow pry their attention away for computer games and chat rooms and Internet porn for long enough to tell them of the dangers of liver and cream soda, and that in itself is a huge assumption, right up there with assuming that politicians even remember what’s in their platforms once they get on board the gravy train or that I even know what I am talking about here, not one in a hundred kids will have any idea of what you’re talking about or why. Liver is just so not kewl, you know?!

As for cream soda, it’s the minor villain here, sort of like the dopey little schnook in Bonnie & Clyde whose father sold them out to Uncle Jesse from The Dukes of Hazzard, and as such doesn’t get a whole lot of respect. This is a shame, because in the long run it does more damage than liver does. One respected medical authority points out that the actual vanilla content of modern cream soda is minimal almost to the point of nonexistence, most of it being simple sugar, and that today’s kids would drink cow urine if there was enough sugar in it…all right, it wasn’t a respected medical authority, it was my mother, and she made this point back when I was a little kid in that armpit of decades, the 1960’s, but the point is just as valid today.

Of course, back then all Americans consumed an unhealthy amount of sugar, an average of 4.37 tons for every man, woman, and child in the United States, with the government encouraging the public to consume more and more of the stuff every year, this last being the misbegotten fruit of a vast interlocking conspiracy of powerful sugar interests and the American Dental Association, which publicly decried the runaway sugar consumption and privately whooped it up at the alacrity with which more and more Americans needed more and more expensive dental work as their teeth rotted away more and more quickly. I’m told that young people consume more sugar nowadays, what with corn starch and maltose and fructose and dextrose and the host of other otiose names, proving that which we call sugar by any other name still tastes as sweet. That seems hard to believe, especially for someone my age; I can remember when doctors agreed that a spoonful of sugar made the medicine go down, made the medicine go down, the medicine go down, in a most delightful way, and when many American parents thought nothing of feeding their children butter and sugar sandwiches for lunch, a tasty but somewhat crunchy treat chock full of empty calories and just the sort of thing the impatient youngster yearning for maturity would want to eat in order to develop a quick case of Type 2, or adult onset, diabetes. But the Sixties are gone now, thank God, and I won’t be around for the 2060’s, which may or may not be a good thing, I’ll never know…well, maybe, but it’s not very likely.

But the mystery of cream soda remains, as does the mystery of liverwurst and why otherwise sensible people would eat something that proudly announces itself as the wurst of something. When a foodstuff goes out of its way to announce that it is the wurst of something, something most people, in this case, find especially disgusting in the first place, then I think it behooves the consume to believe the advertising, coming, as it does, against penal interest, and avoid that product entirely. You could make an exception for bratwurst, I think, which you can chomp down with great gusto and with some relish while imagining it to be the throat of that snotty little kid who lives next door to you and who insists on practicing on that damn slide trombone of his at seven o’clock on a Sunday morning when you’re trying to get some sleep after a long week on the graveyard shift.

And so we come to the end of our voyage of discovery, and without once getting into the touchy question of whether outing liver eaters in public office is an acceptable journalistic practice, to the place where we began and know the place for the first time, as T.S. Eliot so eloquently put it in Little Gidding, and wonder how we missed the lousy wallpaper the first time around. There are few things that will put you off the whole concept of homecoming as lousy wallpaper, which you tend to forget about when you’re shooting the rapids in some piranha-filled South American river or annoying the marlin in the Gulf Stream like Hemingway’s old fisherman in The Old Man and the Sea. No, lousy wallpaper is a definite downer, no two ways about it, and it may well be why many Americans try to extend their vacations for another week or so. Why go home and look at the stuff that drove you out of the house in the first place? Even Oscar Wilde commented on the lousy wallpaper in his hotel room as he lay in his deathbed, saying that one or the other of them would have to go. The wallpaper stayed, of course; it was an employee of the hotel, after all; and Wilde left, and so will I, although not as permanently as Wilde did, at least not yet…I hope.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

WORDS OF WISDOM: Benjamin Franklin was, of course, the wisest of that group of wise men we now call the Founding Fathers. Here is some of his wisdom regarding the charms of older women, flatulence,and why Massachusetts should not punish Mistress Polly Baker, well-known strumpet player, for some of her more unusual productions.

Monday, August 01, 2005

VIDEO CAMERAS: The debate over video surveillance cameras in public places seems particularly rancorous these days, so I hope you will permit my dropping the usual strained levity for a moment to discuss a serious topic here. It is certainly not the norm for me, but I feel in this case an exception to the rule is in order, given the exceptional seriousness of the topic.

First, for the sake of those who have not kept up with the debate, let’s define who stands for what and why. Opponents of public video surveillance claim that these cameras violate our collective right to privacy. The people of this country, the opponents say, have a right to go about their business without having the government spy on them without their knowledge. Such surveillance, in their opinion, is nothing short of Orwellian, a harbinger of 1984 and the coming of Big Brother, thereby showing the illiterate dolts who support video surveillance that they have really read 1984. This is a bit unusual, as the only Orwell most people read in our happy little burg is Animal Farm, a book teachers assign to fifth and sixth graders. Most people don’t read 1984 and don’t really want to either, not just because it’s longer than Animal Farm, which you can read over the weekend if you skip going to the mall and going out with your friends, but because, when you come right down to it, the book is only slightly less depressing than a suicide note. I mean, who really needs to read that sort of thing when you can read the funny papers or watch TV, and if you absolutely have to come up with a six page paper on it, there’s always the Cliff’s Notes.

The proponents of public video surveillance cameras contend that the concerns of their opponents are little more than the usual overreaction by the usual left-wing dopes who want to make it harder for the police to do their jobs and to hamstring the federal government in its continuing efforts to protect the nation from the threat of terrorism. Proponents point out that there is no expectation of privacy in a public place and so such surveillance violates nobody’s rights. Proponents further contend that they share their opponents’ horror of an Orwellian government spying on the private lives of its citizens and have no wish to see such a thing occur, although this worry seems a bit overblown, in my opinion, since most government activity is more properly described as Proustian rather than Orwellian, in that nothing much actually happens and that the government spends an inordinate amount of time, money, and paper describing the manner in which whatever it is that is not actually happening is not actually happening.

Furthermore, proponents claim, the very presence of the cameras will deter criminal activity, as criminals not wishing to avail themselves of the free government sponsored housing for those in their line of work will seek other employment, or at least pursue an activity out of camera range like cattle rustling or selling advertising space on grain elevators. And public video surveillance will, at long last, enable the police to rid the airports and the train stations of the Hare Krishnas, the panhandlers, and the mimes once and for all.

I think we come here to the nub of the problem, the worm in the Apple, the charitable deduction you took for donating your old ties to the Salvation Army that causes the Internal Revenue Service’s main computer in Washington, D.C. to spit your return out with the word “let’s audit this guy back to childhood” written all over it, and if you have any more metaphors for this set of circumstances by all means feel free to use them. Let me make my position clear: video surveillance cameras are not the panacea their proponents say they are; far from making matters better they will only make things worse than they are already.

Proponents of this monstrous proposal ask the public to believe that the cameras will deter the mimes and the street entertainers from congregating in public places. I mean, seriously now, does anyone really believe that? The presence of cameras will draw these people out of the woodwork and into the subway stations the same way the smell of liquor draws my relatives to my house on St. Patrick’s Day. There’ll be no getting rid of them once they know they can get on television without having to audition. The subways will fill with would be prima donnas like the one I had to listen to the other day, a generous-sized woman, to put it politely, who spent the better part of five minutes vigorously emitting a series of high pitched squeaks, squawks, squeals, and screeches that the suffering public could hear distinctly over the cacophony of the passing trains, only to have the diva announce grandly at the end of her death rattle that she was not publicly announcing the results of her research into the linguistic variations between the cetacean dialects of bottle-nosed dolphins and killer whales, but was, in theory at least, performing her rendition of ‘O mio babbino caro.’

Rush hour will metamorphose into an oxymoron, if it hasn’t already, as commuters cannot get near their trains for all the tap dancing ten year olds and their stage mothers, would be Houdinis, talentless rappers, which is definitely not an oxymoron, klezmer bands that cannot klezm properly, and people who think their ability to drive a number two lead pencil up their nose and out their right eye as they eat a light bulb and recite the to be or not to be speech from Hamlet is somehow entertaining, and why is it that these people always say William Shakespeare’s Hamlet when they introduce this silly spectacle, as if anyone would confuse the Bard’s Prince of Denmark with Marvin Saperstein’s Hamlet, who is neither a Danish prince nor an English drama, but rather a perpetually flatulent hamster who dislikes running on that stupid wheel. Frustrated commuters backed up into the streets around Grand Central Terminal and Pennsylvania Station will come to blows with the passersby and each other as squadrons of truncheon wielding policemen in full riot gear batter a path through the massed ranks of the untalented performing for the cameras so that stockbrokers wearied by a hard day of speculation on Wall Street can catch the 5:25 local train to Ardsley.

Is this the protection that the proponents of this misbegotten idea want for us? I think we see far too many of these people as it is—television reality shows are already awash in them and frankly I see no point in spending my tax dollars to encourage their need to make fools of themselves. If we are serious about safety in mass transit then let us stop playing games and arm the critics and give them carte blanche so that they can deliver their negative reviews with a 9mm pistol or a shotgun, thereby saving the public from a repeat performance of the late miscreant’s offense against the public order and good taste.