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)

Monday, November 28, 2005

NOW THAT I'M DONE BLOVIATING: As you read this, turkeys are terrorizing the town of Canton, Massachusetts. We are not speaking here of the secular Anatolian republic, the successor state to the Ottoman Empire, the name of which combines both a piece and style of furniture, nor are we discussing the jive turkey, a nearly extinct species that walked the streets of our Great Republic back in the days when Jimmy Carter was President and there were no unclean ideals in the land, nor are we discussing the critically slammed turkeys the late great Sidney Joseph Perelman raised on his Pennsylvania farm and publicly displayed on Broadway. No, we’re talking about the real deal, the North American wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo), one time candidate for the national symbol of the United States and now a prime example of avian ingratitude at its absolute worst.

Over the past few years, the number of turkey attacks on humans has gone up exponentially. In California, turkeys have attacked hikers, bikers, and Laker girls with equal ferocity, culminating in a violent and largely senseless demonstration at the Thanksgiving Day parade in New York during which the NYPD shot and killed three turkeys and an innocent Hasidic passerby who apparently walked into the crossfire by accident. The police apologized to the family of Mordechai Feldmann, promising a full investigation of the circumstances of the shooting, and promptly gave the bodies of the three turkeys to a homeless shelter for Thanksgiving dinner. In Cranford, New Jersey, a mob of angry turkeys surrounded a Postal Service delivery vehicle and tried to attack the driver inside, who fought the aggrieved gobblers off with a rolled up copy of Vogue, injuring four of his attackers as he fled the scene. There does not seem to be any particular reason for this animus towards the Postal Service, other than for the same reasons we all feel animus towards the Postal Service, and why shouldn’t turkeys complain about the service the way the rest of us do; it’s a free country, after all.

So, why are wild turkeys are behaving in such an antisocial manner? Apologists for the turkeys point out that the wild turkey almost went the way of the dodo, the passenger pigeon, and the Brooklyn Dodgers, and expecting them to feel any sort of gratitude towards the species that nearly caused their extinction may be a little too much to expect of many turkeys. On the other hand, that same species is also responsible for bringing the wild turkey back from the biological brink, using the force of law to protect the previously unprotected birds from the untender mercies of their hominid compatriots. And the sudden aggressiveness of the wild turkey is not spreading to their domesticated brethren, who have a greater cause of complaint than their feral relatives. After all, the wild turkey population does not face an annual decimation every November. The domesticated turkey has never faced any danger of extinction; in fact, without humans the domesticated bird would quickly go extinct—the bird’s breast is so big it cannot successfully mate without human intervention. So, the domestic bird is a grateful and docile creature, thankful for the free food and the sex and therefore willing to turn a blind eye to the more depressing aspects of a turkey’s existence.

Beyond the sheer ingratitude of these creatures is the appalling attitude towards their depredations by municipal officials whose task it is to uphold the laws of this country. When your average American hears that birds are attacking innocent passersby they see the same mental picture that I do, that picture being Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. The seagulls and the crows were mightily annoyed about something in that film, although I don’t remember offhand just what that something was. Hitchcock made the picture in the early 1960’s, so the birds couldn’t have been protesting the war in Vietnam and it’s unlikely that all of those birds were dangerous radicals; the HUAC hearings in the late 1940’s and the subsequent show business blacklisting of suspect performers pretty much swept all the left wing birds out of Hollywood, except for those few that voted Labor in the 1945 general election.

And gulls and crows are not turkeys, of course; no one eats crow unless they absolutely have to and while most guys want a gull just like the gull that married dear old Dad, most people are in no way prepared to countenance allowing turkeys to break the laws of the land with impunity. This, however, is what a good many police chiefs around the country are prepared to allow. Where, the honest citizen must ask, are the Bat Mastersons and Wyatt Earps of yesteryear, steely-eyed lawmen willing to stare down a recalcitrant turkey and throw its backside into the local hoosegow if they dared take a step beyond the limits of the law? Today’s lawmen, or should I say law enforcement officers, to avoid the damaging charge of gender bias, do not want to do anything about these turkeys for fear of upsetting children and angering animal rights organizations. When will the leaders of America’s municipalities finally show some moral backbone and stand up to this vicious tide of avian violence? I do not know, and frankly, I am not hopeful. You’d think that the people running Cranford, New Jersey would at least have the good sense of changing the name of their town to Cranberry, New Jersey; it may not be much of a deterrent, but it certainly beats doing nothing at all, which seems to be the current strategy. A good many turkeys, I think, would have second thoughts about going to a place called Cranberry.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

WARNING: EARNESTNESS UP AHEAD; HARD HATS REQUIRED: Every so often I find myself stuck in completely earnest mode and I have to do something with all the earnestness before it overflows and gets all over the carpet. I generally don't inflict my political opinions on people here; that's what the comments sections of other people's blogs are for, and some of you may recognize the following from the comments areas of Fran Porretto's Eternity Road and Mark Alger's BabyTrollblog. I have edited the two posts together, deleting some things and adding others, largely to bring the first time reader up to speed on what I am talking about without having to go all over the blogosphere to read the original posts and comments. Just for numerical trivia purposes, when I finished the following post came to exactly 1,776 words, or it did before I added some stuff to the proceedings; rewriting is a bad habit of mine and one the blogosphere does not encourage, I'm sorry to say. In any case, I'm going to crack out my fife and play 'Yankee Doodle.'

I think that much of what we see today in terms of bitter left wing rhetoric we can lay on the changes that have occurred within the American Left since the 1960’s. There was a time when no one advocated a harder line against the Marxist hard left than American liberals, but since the passing of that generation from the scene we are now left, pardon the pun, with people whose politics were formed in the New Left politics of the sixties, a politics that drank deep from the poisoned well of Marxism-Leninism. The same people active in radical politics then are today the people who occupy the commanding heights in the media, the universities, and many of the professions.

To take my own profession, for example: in the last election librarians voted for Kerry over Bush at a ratio of nearly 200 to 1. Our professional organization, the American Library Association, is not only rife with liberals; hard-line leftists and outright Stalinists dominate the organization’s governing council. There is scarcely a left-wing cause anywhere in America that the ALA will not vigorously defend, even if that cause has little or nothing to do with the improving the condition of American libraries and librarians, which is theoretically why the ALA exists in the first place. Having gotten control of the organization, the leftists began imposing their own radical version of the ALA’s traditional agenda, which leads to the usual hypocrisies. One need only compare the ALA’s shrill reaction to the Patriot Act, which they would have us all believe to be the moral equivalent of the 1934 Enabling Act that gave Germany over to Hitler and the Nazis, with their utterly craven position on the Cuban government’s attempts to crush the independent library movement. Apparently for the ALA, to paraphrase Orwell, some suppressions of basic human rights are more equal than others.

From the leftist point of view, now that they have their best and brightest in positions of power in this society they should be leading the country into a bright new future. The problem they have is that since their heyday forty years ago, the population of this country has grown increasingly conservative and want no part of their redistributionist fantasies, the Cold War ended, showing the world that Marxism does not work, and that trying to implement it anywhere usually causes human suffering on an enormous scale. The essential psychological problem for the left is that they believe that they are the Elect, the Chosen to whom the masses owe power and deference because they want to uplift the masses whether or not those masses want uplifting in the first place, and then those same masses have the nerve to reject their betters' beneficence by electing Bushitler and his merry men. Frankly, I think the screeches we keep hearing from these folks are the shrieks of people suffering psychic hernias, the wails of people born to command being told by their intellectual inferiors, no, thanks, pal, I don’t want any.

No, I don’t think this situation just growed like Topsy; I am saying that like minds attract each other. This is not always the case, of course; Ben and Jerry, George Soros, Armand Hammer, and I’m sure I could think of others if I put my mind to it, clearly show that capitalists can be just as left loopy as your average liberal in the arts, media, etc., but in general, like minds attract, form networks, and eventually change the agenda of the group to which they belong from what such an agenda had been in the past to the agenda the left wants to put in place now.

One can see this in microcosm in the Catholic Church’s College of Cardinals. One should avoid speaking in absolutes, especially when talking about the future, of course, but my guess is that the cardinals will never elect a theological liberal to the Papacy. This is because only men whose theological soundness, men today’s media would call conservatives, will ever reach a position where they could elect a Pope. The Curia in Rome and the various bishops’ organizations keep track of who is sound and who is not, and who ought to be a candidate for the episcopacy and who should not, until at the end of the process only those men whose theology conforms to that of the traditional Church are in a position to become Pope. Now, one can point out that Leo XIII and John XXIII are hardly anyone’s ideas of archconservatives, especially when you compare them to their immediate predecessors, Pius IX and Pius XII, respectively, but however liberal they may have been in their social outlook, both men were staunch defenders of traditional Catholic teaching, a fact that is often forgotten when theological liberals invoke the “spirit” of Vatican II, as opposed to what that council actually said. I think what frustrates many Catholic liberals who would like the Church to rubber stamp their theology of do as you damn well please, everything’s okay by us is that they know that the system of seduction and subversion that worked in so many other venues like the arts, the media, and the professions will not work in the long run when it comes to the Church; in order to change the theology, in itself a difficult proposition, they have to be in a position to get control of the system, and part of what that system does is to keep anyone from who might want to undermine the Church’s traditional teachings from doing so; the papacy is less a creative workshop spinning new theologies for every occasion than it is a guardian entrusted with protecting those things that Catholics have always believed.

So I would say collusion is a more likely explanation that conspiracy, and that you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours goes a long way towards explaining how so many institutions that once had their heads screwed on properly have gone off the rails and into the deep end, if you will pardon the outrageously mixed metaphors.

As for the civility Fran mourns, I don’t think we can count on seeing its return anytime soon, if ever, especially from those people who have swung hard to the political left. Civil political discourse in a democratic society assumes that two people or groups of people can look at the same set of facts and arrive at different, sometimes diametrically different, opinions about what those facts mean, and that this multiplicity of opinions is good for the overall health of the body politic. Today’s leftist, however, as aforementioned, derives his ideology from Marx and Lenin, and for both of these men, intoxicated with the idea that they were keepers of the one and only Truth, political debate with those that disagreed with them was ideological combat, to be fought and won with any available weapon.

The root of this Manichean view is the basic religiosity of the modern leftist. Although they would be loath to accept such a description of themselves, the modern leftist is an essentially religious figure. Marxism-Leninism is, for all its pretence to scientific truth, a Christian heresy in which the proletariat serves as both God and Man, the class struggle the struggle with sin, and the revolutionary the proletariat’s prophet. Clearly, in such a belief system, the wholesale slaughter of those embodiments of evil, the bourgeoisie and the capitalists, ceases to be a tawdry suppression of people with a legitimate political point of view, but is, instead, the necessary, even laudable, destruction of a persistent obstacle in the path of the inevitable triumph of the proletariat and the ushering in of the socialist utopia. In this sense, the revolutionary can portray his elimination of thousands of innocent people as a sort of purgatorial rite, a secular Judgment Day, if you will, in which the revolutionary separates the proletarian wheat from the bourgeois chaff, and the chaff thrown into the fire and destroyed.

Compelled to combat by a crusading (or if you prefer, jihadist) faith, the modern leftist violently attacks any belief system that might impede his path to power, ignores any fact his faith cannot explain away, and viciously slanders any person who does not agree with his belief system. There is no point in trying to engage in civil discourse with such a person since the modern leftist does not recognize your right to have an opinion that differs from his. Civil discourse can only exist where people understand that they have to agree to disagree with others; the modern leftist makes no such concession.

One can argue that these same things are true of the right as well and the person making this argument would be right; there are right wing wackos out there waiting for the UN and the black helicopters to start invading the United States from Canada and deprive the citizenry of their right to keep and bear arms. The person making this argument, however, has to ignore an important point: the modern conservative movement covers a broad range of opinion, from social conservatives to libertarians to neoconservatives, and that sooner or later America’s crack corps of comedians will start lampooning the nuttier right-wingers mercilessly, thereby exposing their inanity to the public. The modern leftist, on the other hand, seems to work on the old Russian revolutionary adage, no enemies on the left, so when the left wing wackos start spewing their vile garbage there are few places, other than talk radio, the Fox Network, and the blogosphere, which will point their silliness out to the public; even those people on the left who think their more extreme brethren a bit loony will sometimes keep quiet for fear of someone denouncing them as traitors to the cause.

Does this mean every liberal is part and parcel of this sort of thinking? No, of course not; just from my own experience Randy at Beautiful Horizons and I don’t agree on a whole range of issues and we more or less agree to disagree, and I don’t think he is the embodiment of left-wing evil and I trust he doesn’t think I’m an extreme right wing loony tune. But it seems, at least to me, that there are fewer and fewer liberal groups willing to extend that courtesy to people who disagree with them, which I think will cause the same sort of counterreaction on the right, until we wind up with a country divided into two mutually unintelligible groups speaking past each other at very high volume. This sort of attitudinal arteriosclerosis cannot be good for the long-term political health of the nation, but at the moment I see no good way of getting around it.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

I THINK THAT I SHALL NEVER SEE...: It may have escaped your notice; I know it escaped mine and I have less excuse than you do—I actually live here, after all; but the National Arbor Day Foundation, in its infinite institutional wisdom, has bestowed the title of Tree City USA upon our happy little burg for the tenth year in a row. I don’t imagine that means very much to you; frankly, it doesn’t mean much to me, either; but it’s an excuse for local politicians to get their faces in the newspapers and engage in some good old-fashioned American home town boosterism.

Now the National Arbor Day Foundation has standards that any city desirous of the coveted designation of Tree City USA must meet. This is no mere giveaway like the Golden Globes or second place in the archdiocesan spelling bee, category grades 6-8 (yes, thirty years later, I am still bitter); no indeed, the folks at the National Arbor Day Foundation are people of taste and discrimination, connoisseurs, if you will, of civic forestry on a grand scale, and they are not prone to handing out this award to every municipal Tom, Dick, and Harry who comes a-wandering down the pike carrying the dwarf bonsai tree their Aunt Matilda bought on that VFW tour of Japan she took with Uncle Mel back in 1981. No, a candidate for this prestigious honor must demonstrate that their city has a department tasked with taking care of the local tree population, that there’s a tree ordinance on the books, a forestry program spending at two dollars per capita annually, and there must be an annual Arbor Day observance and proclamation. Then, and only then, when all of these requirements are met, can you proudly say that you are a citizen of a Tree City USA.

Are there any advantages to being a Tree City USA? I don’t know, to be honest with you. I suppose someone from the foundation goes to City Hall every year or so to present the certificate announcing our happy little burg’s high standards of arboreal awareness to a mute and uncomprehending world, the mayor and the City Council will make several short speeches patting each other on the back and extolling each other to the high heavens for their enlightened leadership in this oft-neglected area of municipal life, and a dyspeptic photographer whose ambitions of equaling the achievements of Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Capa vanished with the arrival of the wife, the kids, and the mortgage will take pictures before everyone settles in and chows down on the free doughnuts and coffee brought in especially for this august occasion.

To my mind, there is an incredible amount of chutzpah here. There may even be enough chutzpah to choke a horse on, provided we’re talking a smaller horse or maybe even a pony, and not one of the Budweiser Clydesdales, for example, or some other breed of draft horse like the Percherons. Perhaps we should move away from the horse metaphor altogether, with the proviso, of course, that we are talking about enough chutzpah to choke a smaller sized quadruped, and that the quadruped in question is not necessarily a farm animal.

That being said, I should point out to those of you who have not already guessed that our happy little burg, this seat of municipal munificence and contentment, is in the northeastern United States, specifically in that portion of the northeastern United States wherein the inhabitants, good stout yeomen that they are, all believe to the very fabric of their beings that behind all of humanity’s manifold ills and afflictions you will find someone connected in some fashion to the Boston Red Sox, and that the sooner the wroth of God lays waste to Fenway Park, the city of Boston, and as much of New England as it will take to finally rid the earth of the monstrous noisome pestilential horde known as the Red Sox Nation the better. Anthropologists interested in this sort of thing, as opposed to anthropologists interested in the much more interesting subject of the culinary preferences of New Guinean cannibals from that island's Central Highlands(no Presbyterians, if you please, according to the latest Gallup poll; Latter Day Saints and Seventh Day Adventists with salt, butter, and a little garlic are the entree of choice, and some ice-cold Coke Classic to go with your roast leg of Mormon and sauteed onions; it leaves a peppy theological aftertaste akin to eating a ham sandwich on kosher rye bread), classify the Native American tribes who lived in this region, friend and foe alike, under the broad rubric of Eastern Woodland Indians. The anthropologists tagged our local Indians with this designation because, as you may well imagine, the one thing we’ve got lots of around here are trees. In fact, the trees outnumber the people here by a factor of ten to one.

So it is with no small measure of amazement that one hears of the mayor’s and the city council’s leadership when it comes to trees. There’s just something about watching people take credit for things they had nothing to do with that just raises the hackles of many an ordinary citizen who has nothing else to do with his time. The city does not maintain a forestry program out of the goodness of its heart or to display our environmental awareness to all and sundry; we have a forestry program because if we didn’t the entire city would revert to forest in a couple of generations, including City Hall and the Dunkin Donuts franchise on the other end of town, and then where would the cops go for their sugar fixes? This sort of thing happens at every level of government, of course. I remember President Clinton saying a few years back that he had to get back to his job of growing this economy, as if politics was just something he did in his spare time between raising cash crops and running the farm down yonder in Arkansas (purely as an aside, you understand, but did you know that the word Arkansas appears on the state flag of Arkansas so that the people in Arkansas will know where they are?). Listening to Bill, you couldn’t help but get the impression that he thought the business cycle was a dial on the White House washing machine and he could just set the thing to gentle agitation and the American economy would come out of the wash forty minutes later with its whites whiter and its colors brighter than bright.

On the down side, politicians are seldom around when the bad news arrives, so I don’t think I can get away with blaming the occasional local outbreak of Dutch elm disease on City Hall. That’s a pity, though I suppose they could say the Dutch elm outbreaks aren't their fault; if they had their way, all our tree diseases would be patriotic American tree diseases, made right here in the good old U. S. of A., by American union workers, God bless them, and not some wimpyassed imported Dutch tree fever. Buy American and save American jobs, that's the way to go!

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

COMMENTS: You may notice that you know have two comment options here. The larger one, the one you've been using, assuming, of course, that you've using it at all, is the old Haloscan comment feature; the smaller comment feature slightly above and to the rigth of this is the new Blogger feature. Try them both and let me know which one of these you prefer. Thank you for your cooperation.
A THOUGHT: I am sure that a whole bevy of people much smarter than I will ever be have made this point before, but it has always seemed to me that soccer, tennis, and pornography, three activities not usually mentioned in the same sentence or otherwise thought of as in some way linked, have at least this much in common: if you are not actually performing the activity in question, which is to say, if you’re just watching the balls go back and forth, the whole thing starts to get a little boring after five minutes or so. There does not appear to be a valid scientific explanation for this phenomenon in any scientific journal I have consulted, although there is a wealth of anecdotal evidence suggesting that this is in fact the case.
BITS AND PIECES: First, I have nothing in particular to say today, so this is just an exercise in wasting bandwidth. In any case, there seems to be a brouhaha brewing about the Pope wearing red shoes. I am at a loss to explain the sudden interest in papal footwear, since popes have been wearing red shoes for centuries. One can only wonder about what else the media will finally notice now that they apparently have some free time on their hands. Personally, I am looking forward to the New York Times’ editorial chiding the president of the Confederacy for his support of President Bush’s Iraq policy, said editorial pointing out the obvious political truth that Richmond has no real long term strategic interests in the Middle East, not when they are sitting on top of all of that oil in the Gulf of Mexico.

As for the question of racehorses, the disinterested observer in such matters must wonder how the owner of a prize three year old colt can accept millions of dollars in stud fees for the privilege of mating said colt with any number of mares without the police stepping in and arresting this pervert for endangering the welfare of a minor and promoting prostitution. Apparently offering millions of dollars to an equine pimp is somehow laudable while for humans this same activity above and below the age of consent is a crime everywhere in the United States except for certain parts of Nevada, and even there you have to be an adult.

And has anyone noticed that a good many turkeys sold here for Thanksgiving are not only bred to have tremendous breasts, but that turkey farmers are artificially augmenting those breasts with a solution of water, corn starch, and natural flavors, amongst other things? I realize that turkeys all want to look good for the big day, but this sort of breast augmentation clearly demonstrates the tremendous pressure put on young turkeys to conform to someone else’s idea of beauty, with the usual damage to the self-esteem of those turkeys that simply don’t measure up to the standard. I do not understand why our society subjects turkeys to these pressures in the first place and why educators and parents, who should know better than this, do not seem to want to do anything to stop the practice.

Finally, in the day late and dollar short category, we have this entry: yesterday, one of our patrons came into this our egregious mold pit and asked when were we going to start building the new library. This gave us all a bit of a start, since the new library on the ballot back in September and got shot down by a three to one margin; he obviously hadn’t voted or otherwise he’ d have heard the bad news. We haven’t thought much about the new library since then; after all, when your neighbors tell you by a three to one margin to go suck eggs you tend to retreat to your little corner of library land, take the building plans with that new and more spacious office you’ve always wanted, and file them away with the rest of life’s might—have—beens and then move on. Our doughty patron, energized by this horrible news, wanted to fight the good fight and take on the obscurantist forces blocking the construction of a brand spanking new temple of knowledge, and we did not relish having to tell him that the war was over and he had missed the fighting. He was disappointed by this, as were we, in a more philosophical sense, I think, and we looked at our frustrated library warrior in much the same way that contemporary Japanese must look at those old soldiers who stayed true to the Bushido code and held out in tropical jungles for decades after the war was over, awaiting orders to attack the Americans, orders that never came. A shame, really; we could have used a good banzai charge back in September, but I fear that such a charge will do nothing for us now.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

THE GOLDEN EARS: There seems to be no end to the curiosity here regarding the whole stupid affair, so please permit me to put the record straight before any more odd stories pop up about it. Yesterday morning the niece, a newly minted high school freshman (shouldn’t this be freshwoman or fresh-human, if only to avoid the clearly sexist overtones?) who looks remarkably like a recruiting poster for the Hitler Youth when she isn’t dyeing her hair all the colors of the rainbow, was not feeling well and so decided, with her father’s permission, of course, to call in sick today. This, as I recall, was typical teenager behavior for guys when I went to high school and for all I know it may well be typical female teenager behavior as well; as a single man I do not spend a lot of time worrying about this sort of thing. However, somewhere about ten o’clock the child, no doubt bored to tears with the inanities of daytime television, had a sudden attack of good health, an attack so powerful that it totally overcame her previous insalubriousness and rendered her educable once more, if only she could get to school. This was a major problem for our young heroine, for while daytime television may drive her around the bend to a state of utter ennui, it will not drive her to school in the middle of the day. That’s what uncles and grandmothers are for.

Except, of course, that the uncle and the grandmother were not immediately available. She (the niece) called the grandmother, who agreed to take her to school, and then, in a fit of economy (my mother has fits of economy in which the psychic need to save something, anything, overwhelms, overtakes, and in general swamps the boat of her otherwise good sense; these fits are somewhat akin to the grand mal seizures of some epileptics, only somewhat less controllable with medication) my mother called me at 10:15 to get out of bed and take the child to school by eleven o’clock. I have not as yet ascertained what was so important about getting there by eleven, only that it was and that this need was the driving force behind the subsequent disaster. Now, before you start wondering why I am still in bed at 10:15 a.m., I should point out that on Wednesdays I work 12 to 8 here at the egregious mold pit; I am not, despite what my mother says, being lazy; I am simply taking advantage of the peculiarities of my schedule to get some extra sleep. I do not want to leave a slothful impression here.

My mother arrived on my doorstep with the niece in tow, shrieking rise and shine, rise and shine just as I was stumbling out of bed. Listening to anyone shrieking rise and shine just after you’ve gotten up is bad enough; listening to Mom shrieking rise and shine over and over again gives a whole new meaning to the word hellish. I love my mother, make no mistake about it, but if she ever does this to me again I’m calling the immigration people and shipping her back where she came from; I mean, who needs this aggravation? So now, I must listen to her hound me through some things I have to do every day, hounded me at breakfast, and hounded me to hurry up in the shower as well. I didn’t even wash my hair in order to comply with her wish that the child get to school by eleven, something that gave me a feeling of griminess all day long; I hate the feeling of not being clean. She even hounded me while I was shaving, and this was the immediate cause of the whole catastrophe.

I was in the middle of an angry retort to her latest demand that I hurry my morning routine up when I violently inhaled a large gob of shaving cream up through my nose, and then just as violently sneezed it all out again, smearing the bathroom mirror with soap, saliva, and mucus. This, in itself, would have been enough to ruin anyone’s day, since not only was I extra grimy yesterday, I spend the day smelling nothing but menthol; I can still smell it a little every time I inhale; but the situation, as these situations are wont to do, immediately went from bad to worse. I’d been shaving my sideburns at the time of my proposed smartass retort and the propulsive power of the sneeze, combined with some odd application of Newton’s Third Law of Motion, forced my head forwards and back just as my razor was going in the opposite direction, a neat maneuver which immediately sliced open my earlobe, a harmless and hitherto unthought-of of part of my anatomy that is usually just along for the ride in the ongoing disaster that is my life. Now it took center stage as I stared at the three, yes, that’s right, three—I use a Mach III razor—slash marks across the lobe and the blood swelling forth in great globules from the rents in my flesh and dripping down the side of my head.

I responded to the sudden appearance of my O Negative life’s blood on my face with the same calm, dispassionate savoir faire that I deal with all of life’s emergencies: I screamed bloody murder, or rather, I screamed a four letter word denoting the reproductive act that I would not ordinarily use within earshot of my mother. To say I bled profusely is something of an understatement, I think; the only other way I’d ever see so much of my own blood in one place is if I severed a major artery with a carving knife. I had to pop back into the shower simply to clear the blood off my face and neck.

Given these circumstances, I think that most reasonable people would agree that driving the niece to school was not possible as long as the flow of blood remained unstaunched. Reasonable, however, does not describe my mother when she wants to save something. She loudly proclaimed that I’d deliberately inflicted these wounds upon myself as part of her children’s latest plot to drive her to financial wrack and ruin. My attempts at reasonableness fell on deaf ears, lest they interrupt the oceanic flow of declamatory and defamatory rhetoric. There was no telling her that it was an accident brought on by my rushing and that I would be the last person on earth to deliberately injure himself in this way; I have a low tolerance for pain of any kind; or that the school was only five miles away and she could take the kid there herself. No, I was a bum and a leech and a not very good son at all, exposing her to the bloodsucking leeches at the local gas station (actually a very nice couple from a town just outside of Bombay) who would rob her blind when she tried to buy some gas, and any attempt to tell her that she bought her last tank of gas when it still cost $1.45 a gallon and she still had half a tank left only made her angrier. She continued in this vein until she stormed out of the house, the niece in tow still, the niece’s green black orange purple hair flowing in the near tornado strength breeze.

I staunched the bleeding at long last, using up the better part of a roll of toilet paper to do so, and then I bandaged the ear up. I went to work wearing black pants, figuring if I sprang a leak no one would notice the blood on the trousers, and an ugly brown shirt that made me look like a junior deputy assistant gauleiter in a tenth rate German tank town circa 1936. If blood got on the shirt, who cares, right? I never liked the shirt to begin with and if there’s blood on the damn thing, the colors would coordinate and I might get a medal for taking a hit for Der Vaterland. What is not true, however, despite the best efforts of my co-workers to make this whole sorry mess more romantic that it really is, are the stories that I pulled a Vincent Van Gogh here. No, I did not try to cut my ear off and no, I did not FedEx the newly liberated lobe to an Arlesienne prostitute the way that Vinnie did. The ear is merely sliced, not diced or julienned, and I expect to have the full use of the ear, including the injured lobe, just as soon as the bandage comes off, thank you very much. So much for those stories.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING TOTALLY NOT THE SAME: Sometime today or tomorrow The Passing Parade will have its 10,000th visitor. If you subtract the 6,000 hits that are me checking to see how the most recent post looks; I really should proofread these things before I post them, it still means a good many folks showing up interested in something here, and for all of you Roberta Vasquez fans out there, no, I still do not have any pictures of Ms. Vasquez posted on this blog. Try someplace else. Try Google Images; they must have pictures of her there. They've got pictures of everything.

In any case, I'd like to thank everyone who's come by over the years to read what I've posted here and I will see what I can do to improve the essay production, although I don't think that's really possible. I wish I could write on a keyboard like a lot of people here in the blogosphere and just bat these puppies out, but I can't; it's #2 pencils and legal paper for me. Those, I fear, are the breaks of the blogging game.
THE NORMLANCHE: Now that the Normlanche is almost over, I'd like to thank Norm and his readers for dropping by and taking a look at Stalin's Mustache, and I hope you stayed a bit and enjoyed the other posts we have here for your dining and dancing pleasure.

Monday, November 14, 2005

THE NEWLY BLOGROLLED: This is a category that includes these fine sites newly added for your dining and dancing pleasure. They are Drink-soaked Trotskyite Popinjays for War, He's Dead, Jim, The Hatemonger's Quarterly, The Devil's Kitchen, Nosemonkey, and whatever Tovah is calling her blog today. She's having a bit of trouble on this score, so I'm just calling it Tovah's Blog until she absolutely, positively, no two ways about it has made up her mind about what she wants to call her blog. Having done this, I am waiting to hear from Claudette and Tovah that while they appreciate the honor, such as it is, they do not want anyone to know that they are on a blogroll with all these red state types, and would I please delete them forthwith? Such is political life in our times.

P.S. LG suggests that we all go over and take a look at Simply Jews, so there they are on the blogroll, awaiting your perusal.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

ALL MODO, ALL THE TIMES: Maureen Dowd, ace girl reporter for the New York Times, is on the cover of New York magazine this week. She is everywhere these days; I can’t seem to pick up a magazine anymore without pictures of Ms. Dowd staring back at me. Now, I am told that she has a book coming out shortly and that this may well be the usual Madison Avenue p.r. blitz designed to boost book sales and earn the publisher back the advance; hype in pursuit of lucre, filthy or otherwise, is always a good thing, I think. It may also be a charm offensive sponsored by the New York Times, whose publisher, Mr. Sulzburger, manages to embody in his own person just about every argument ever made against the concept of hereditary succession, and who recently looked the other way and whistled "Melancholy Baby" as Ms. Dowd publicly sliced up another Times reporter, Judith Miller, on the Op-Ed page of Mr. Sulzberger's august journal. Perhaps having done his dirty work for him, Mr. Sulzburger wants his readers to think nice things about Ms. Dowd, seeing as how saying that you like someone (Ms. Miller)while publicly gutting them for the edification of the chattering classes and those who aspire to chatterdom seems a bit hypocritical to those of us who don't chatter for our daily bread. In any case, I do know that whoever told her that having her picture taken against a snow white backdrop was a good idea was definitely pulling Ms. Dowd’s leg, given that this cover makes her look more than a little like the Wicked Witch of the Northeast, smiling beneficently down as Toto, Hollywood’s favorite unbearably cute pooch, wolfs down a big bowl of Alpo seasoned with that yummy A-1 steak sauce and a generous sprinkling of rat poison. No, Toto, you’re not in Kansas anymore, and your chances of getting back there are none too good.

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Tuesday, November 08, 2005

STALIN'S MUSTACHE: The fall of the Iron Curtain and the end of the Cold War has revealed many a terrible story of Communist oppression, but there are few stories of that awful period in world history as ultimately pathetic as that of Vasili Nikodemonovich Karandaschov. That Karandaschov was guilty of horrific crimes against humanity there can be no doubt; no one who held high position in the Stalinist hierarchy can claim clean hands, except in the groves of Western academe, but Karandaschov’s story shows how power can corrupt even the most moral and well-meaning of people.

Karandaschov’s story first came to light in 1956, after Nikita Khrushchev’s now famous “secret” speech to the XXth Party Congress, in which he denounced Josef Stalin and his cult of personality. Khrushchev, as part of the de-Stalinization of the Soviet Union, ordered the removal of Stalin’s body from the Lenin mausoleum on Red Square, where the late dictator had been sharing space with Lenin, the founder of the Soviet State, and a wide variety of Polish hams and East German bratwurst not otherwise available to non-Party members. As soldiers moved Stalin’s body from the display case, the mustache fell from the dead dictator’s face and immediately ran from the room, bursting past the cordon of startled MGB guards. The mustache made its way to the British Embassy, where members of the Embassy staff positively identified it as V. N. Karandaschov, a long-time part of Stalin, from pictures in the embassy files. Karandaschov immediately asked for political asylum in Great Britain.

The British government tried to keep the defection a secret, but sources in Great Britain, including, quite possibly, the Soviet agent Kim Philby, tipped the Soviets of Karandaschov’s presence in the Embassy. The Soviets, fearful of what might prove an intelligence bonanza for the West, immediately demanded Karandaschov’s return to the Soviet authorities so they could prosecute him for what the Moscow town procurator called financial irregularities. Karandaschov, for his part, denied any involvement in criminal activity of any kind, saying that he was simply a low level functionary in Stalin’s government.

There is no doubt that Vasili Karandaschov and Josef Stalin were old and dear friends, Mr. Karandaschov being closer to Stalin than almost anyone else in his coterie. Karandaschov is visible in the first known picture of Stalin, the Tsarist police’s 1905 mug shot of the young Georgian revolutionary, and he is visible in photographs taken at Stalin’s funeral. He was the only known member of Stalin’s inner circle to survive from the beginning of the great dictator’s rule to the end, and he was probably the only member of that circle allowed to call Stalin Koba, his revolutionary nickname, well into the 1950’s. Many Russian exiles have speculated through the years that Karandaschov might have been a relative of Stalin’s; exiles often pointed out that Karandaschov bore a striking resemblance to Stalin’s mother’s mustache; no one, however, has ever proved that such a relationship existed.

Karandaschov was a jack of all political trades for Stalin, going to the nearest convenience store to buy the dictator’s cigarettes and lottery tickets, picking up Stalin’s kids at school and driving them home when the Soviet Leader was too busy shooting people to get them himself, and calling up anonymous Party members in the middle of the night and saying loathsome things about their mother’s borscht. No is certain why Stalin tolerated such behavior; he had other Bolshevik apparatchiks cut down for lesser acts of lese-majeste; but he kept Karandaschov around despite the mustache’s clear unsuitability for high political office—political reliability always mattered more to Stalin than competence, at least until the disasters of the Great Patriotic War compelled him to appoint people who knew what they were doing to high office. It may be that Stalin had no doubts about Karandaschov’s doglike loyalty to him, despite the animus felt towards the old Georgian mustache by such high ranking apparatchiks as Lavrenti Beria, the head of the secret police, and foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov. This loyalty to Karandaschov held firm even after a secret police investigation found that Karandaschov diverted funding meant for the construction of the Moscow subway in order to build an extravagant dacha for himself outside Moscow, a dacha with the largest collection of Count Basie records anywhere in the Soviet Union. The DGSE, the French intelligence service has in its possession some of the working documents of that investigation, passed to them by a high level defector in place in the 1960’s, including what would ordinarily have been a career ending film of Karandaschov doing the Lindy Hop at his dacha with a Outer Mongolian actress young enough to be his grand-daughter. Despite this, Stalin kept the mustache and Karandaschov hung on to Stalin with ever increasing devotion.

Karandaschov’s fall came, as it did with so many members of the Stalinist Old Guard, with Stalin’s death in 1953. Without the great man to serve, monsters like Kaganovich, Molotov, Beria, and Karandaschov had no focus for their slavish mentalities and Khrushchev easily shoved them aside in his drive for supreme power. Khrushchev forced Karandaschov out of all his positions and even confiscated his Count Basie records, sending them to Novosibirsk, where with some imagination and a good agent they became the headliners at the newly built Trump Siberia Hotel and Casino. Without Stalin to protect him, Karandaschov lost nearly everything, eking out a miserable existence sweeping the floor at the Lenin-Stalin Mausoleum and providing the occasional hair for the mausoleum’s professional staff when Lenin’s beard started to look especially scruffy. Khrushchev’s plan to remove Stalin’s body and bury it was simply the last straw for Karandaschov, the final humiliation in a long line of humiliations. Karandaschov had had enough, and he fled into the night.

Karandaschov spent most of that night at the British Embassy justifying his decision to defect to a man he believed to be the MI-6 station chief, but who was in reality a vacationing Franciscan from Liverpool, who spoke neither Russian nor Georgian, but who had spent a lifetime listening to confessions and so knew how to nod sagely and occasionally emit small grunts that could mean I see, go on, is that so, or you are standing with your left foot in my waffles, you clumsy oaf. Karandaschov poured out all of his resentments at the way the world had changed since his beloved Josef Vissarionovich passed away, his statement being secretly recorded by an obscure Embassy official named George Martin, who later went on to become the Beatles’ producer; in fact, if you play “Back in the USSR” backwards, you can hear parts of Karandaschov’s extraordinary confession, especially the parts about how much he loved his collection of Count Basie records and, in what proved a revelation of historic proportions, acknowledged that Stalin was a secret admirer of Artie Shaw’s, although he didn’t really like Shaw’s rendition of “Begin the Beguine;” it was too bourgeois, Stalin thought.

Karandaschov denied any part in Stalin’s crimes, claiming that he too was one of the great dictator’s victims and that the only way he could hide from Stalin was to stay right under Stalin’s nose and hope that nobody, especially Stalin, noticed that he was there. There is some evidence for this interpretation; there is archival film footage of Stalin absentmindedly stroking his mustache at the Yalta Conference, but many historians say that it is simply not possible to prove Karandaschov’s protestations of innocence from such thin evidence, and that even in the lack of direct evidence there is simply no way Karandaschov could have survived for all those years under Stalin’s nose without having some knowledge of what kind of man he was and the myriad crimes he committed.

In any case, the Eden government did not grant Karandaschov the political asylum he wanted so badly. The Soviet authorities produced photographs of Stalin and Karandaschov in uniform together in World War II and claimed that the agreement that repatriated Soviet POWs’ to the Rodina after the war applied to Karandaschov as well. The grounds were legally flimsy at best, but the Eden government, broken by the Suez disaster, acceded to the Soviet demand. By the time the Foreign Office told the Embassy to hand Karandaschov over to the Soviets, the would be defector was gone. The old Georgian revolutionary, who had survived all the political twists and turns of Stalin’s rule, suspected the British would betray him, and he vanished, leaving, to paraphrase Shakespeare, not a wracked behind for the KGB to kick.

No one knew where the old mustache had gone to; the last positive sighting of him was in Paris in 1965, where he appeared as a merkin in a revue at Les Folies Bergere. The surreptitious photograph of him taken there reveals a mustache wearied by life and age, and simply going through the motions along with the rest of the merkins. He vanished again the day the photograph appeared in Paris-Match, disappearing completely this time. He may still be alive; Karandaschov ate yogurt constantly and he came from long lived stock—both his parents lived well into their nineties; but the actuarial tables suggest that he has already long past the normal life expectancy for mustaches, most of which do not survive more than an hour or so after the alarm clock goes off. How he died or when or where he died is not known; no one knows whether the KGB finally caught up with him or whether he simply went to sleep one day and never woke up again will always be a mystery. The Soviet archives do not yield any information on the subject, but who can tell if there are not archives within archives, archives that hide the darkest and most shameful secrets of all? Until these archives are open, there is no way to know the true fate of the Georgian shepherd boy who became Stalin’s mustache.

Monday, November 07, 2005

GIVE A HOOTER: Well, this is just my opinion, of course, but I think that most commentators have not spent enough time noting the role of breasts in American civic life. Our local civic holiday is a good example of this. It is a day of parades and fun and food and music of all kinds; there is nothing quite as funny, I think, as watching Indian dancers trying to move in time with traditional Irish music, but they were good sports about the mix-up. The purpose of the day is to foster civic pride in our happy little burg, to put behind us the ugly racial tension that gave rise to the holiday back in the 1970’s, and to bring all of us together in a spirit of municipal brotherhood. The problem is, the official story about how that racial tension started (an argument about who paid to get on a carnival ride that got out of control, the argument, I mean, not the ride) is a lot of baloney. I was there, folks, and the racial tension mentioned had nothing to do with race and everything to do with Gina DiNapoli’s* breasts.

The story begins in Catholic school, where Gina was a grade ahead of me. She was a tall, willowy girl, thin as the metaphorical rail, and something of a grind. Today’s kids would probably call her a nerd, I think, unless there’s a new word around that means the same thing. She studied hard, paid attention to everything the nuns had to say, and was always on the honor roll. Everyone liked her; she was always pleasant, but very frankly the more popular girls in the school didn’t even bother to give her a second thought; she was no competition. We parted company in the eighth grade; she went on to the local Catholic high school twenty miles away in the county seat, and I went to the local public high school, where, due to the concept of social promotion, they enrolled me despite my failing the eighth grade. And that, in the ordinary course of affairs, would have been that; I can count on the fingers on one hand the number of times I’ve met the people I went to junior high with since we left the place back in 1972. Gina’s case was not going to be ordinary, however.

Gina got into the local Catholic high school because her grades were high and her parents could afford the tuition; even then, having a nun yell at you as your hormones raged was a bit pricey; and for the first year, or so I am told, there was nothing about Gina that would excite the least amount of interest from anyone. She did what she always did: she studied, she worked at her father’s store, she did her homework, she was quiet and respectful to the nuns, etc. etc. And then, in the summer after her freshman year, her father sent her to visit the relatives in Aci Castello, a small town on the outskirts of Catania in Sicily. She went there the tall, willowy girl I have previously described; she returned having put on a lot of weight. In short, she filled out and the history of our happy little burg would never be the same again.

Now, the thing to remember is this: Gina was never an ugly girl—this is not an ugly duckling story at all. She was always attractive, but she was always one of those girls whose attractiveness has to grow on men because men, like the grotesque leering swine that we are, do not always appreciate brainy girls. As Dorothy Parker famously put it, “men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses.” When she returned from Italy, she was one of those girls whose attractiveness men appreciate instantaneously, grotesque leering swine that we are, and no one cared about her glasses. No one was looking at her eyes.

I realize that sounds terrible, but the truth is that even with the best will in the world, even with the absolute determination that you were going to look straight into her eyes (and she had very nice eyes, too) and appreciate her as a highly intelligent young woman, you couldn’t help noticing that neither her eyes nor her intelligence were not the first things you noticed about her, her most prominent features being, as it were, extremely prominent. And Gina now realized that she didn’t have to play second fiddle to all those girls who’d been the queen bees in junior high anymore. I’m pretty sure they cut her to little pieces in smoking bouts in the girls’ room between American History and Pre-Calculus class, and a more insecure girl would have crumpled under the weight of the bitchy sarcasm, I’m sure, but Gina didn’t; she knew she’d hit the biological equivalent of the Megamillions jackpot and she didn’t need their good opinion anymore. She knew that all she had to do was crook her little finger and all of their boyfriends would come a-running after her like your friendly neighborhood loan shark after a deadbeat two months behind in his payments; men are fairly predictable that way.

And so it came to pass that the Catholic high school sent its football team south to play our football team, which always poses something of a problem for the local kids who go to the Catholic high school; our local high school bears the name of our happy little burg, so the kids who go to the Catholic school must root against a team full of their friends and neighbors, opening them to serious charges of divided municipal loyalties. We lost that game, 21-7; we just weren’t that good that year; and we also lost our quarterback, Tommy Schmidt. Tommy spotted Gina in the stands and it was love at first and second sight.

The problem was that Tommy already had a girl friend; he was the personal property of Kelly Myers, who was the homecoming queen and student president and a host of other things worth mentioning, but who was not, despite being a very pretty and pleasant girl, in Gina’s league at all. So the fight was definitely unfair, leading inexorably to a preordained conclusion: Kelly was out and she was not happy about it, but there was precious little she could do about it; Gina wanted a football hero and she got one. She could have gotten the quarterback on the Catholic school team, of course, but he was taken, and the girl who had him was one of Gina’s best friends, so he was off limits; whatever else you could say about her, Gina was loyal to her pals, especially the ones who’d been her friends before hormones had had their way with her. Everyone else’s boyfriend, on the other hand, was fair game.

Watching Tommy those few weeks was something of a riot, since he was a guy’s guy, a real macho type, and seeing Gina lead him around by the nose was a major league hoot (all right, so it wasn’t his nose she was leading him by; the actual organ in question is not the point of the metaphor—get your mind out of the gutter, would you?). All good things, however, must come to an end, and after a while, Tommy started hearing the jokes his fellow jocks were telling about whipped guys and decided he didn’t like them much, so that began to poison the relationship. I think Gina was getting tired of him too; Tommy’s conversation didn’t veer much from football and cars; Gina liked both subjects, (she once changed a tire on my mother’s station wagon in the parking lot of our church, and did it better and a lot faster than I could have) but she had other interests as well. So, they were both looking to dump each other; it was only a question of who would do the dumping. The honeymoon was definitely almost over except for the shouting.

Matters came to a head at the carnival aforementioned. Tommy was already going behind Gina’s back, trying to return to Kelly’s good graces, and somehow or other Gina found out about it. So one fall afternoon, they went to this carnival and while Tommy was off doing something else, I’m not sure what, Gina struck up a conversation with Shawn Jones, the captain of the basketball team. Well, the thing of it is, definitely almost over is not the same as absolutely definitely over, not by a long shot, and Tommy hit the roof and then hit Shawn, who’d come to the carnival with some of his friends, and one thing led to another and before you knew it our happy little burg had itself a nice little race riot going on. The cops broke it up, but at school the next day, the aggrieved parties decided they still had some pent up hostility to work off and went at it again. This time the principal called in the local cops and the state police to restore order in the halls. The state troopers came in, cracked some skulls and sent some kids to the hospital, and Gina DiNapoli’s ego got a pleasant stroking that week. The local TV news reported the thing in gory detail, although they left Gina out of it, since they couldn’t know that she was the cause of the whole thing.

And so the stupidities of adolescence change, with time, into a civic holiday. The local do-gooder community, shocked by the racial violence, which was, in fact, just your usual youthful male testosteronic violence, implored the City Council to institute a holiday celebrating the diversity of cultures here in our happy little burg. They did, and from that day to this the people of our town join together and hold a parade and wander aimlessly from one end of Main Street to the other, buying a wide range of ethnic foods and listening to music from all over the world. For some unknown reason, the kids like to buy shaving cream on this day of days and spray each other until they look like mobile snowmen and Main Street smells like it just needs some hot water and a good aftershave to be ready for a great night on the town. I see Tommy sometimes; he didn’t marry Kelly but some girl he met while he was in the Air Force. I haven’t seen Gina in about ten years, so I can’t really say what happened to her. But we still celebrate the holiday she and her most prominent features started, and what more can anyone ask than that?

*Names, but not ethnicities, have been changed to keep me from getting my ass kicked; some of the original people mentioned still live here.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

A WORD TO THE READERS: As some of you may have noticed, the following two posts are repeats, dug up out of the archives to give you something vaguely new to read. I apologize for the paucity of new posts, especially the long ones; I have a major work project going on that requires most of the spare time and all of the attention I would usually spend blogging, and I haven't had the time to really start something new, but I think the thing will end this week, God willing and the river don't rise, and there's a couple of ideas that I am mulling over on that I hope will produce something worth reading.
Fron the Archives: BUT LICKER IS QUICKER: Alcohol consumption is up here in our happy little burg, if the DUI statistics are anything to go by. I can’t explain why this should be so, only that is. The local gendarmes detained some fifty-seven people for driving under the influence within the city limits this past year, which is fourteen more than they stopped last year. So there are either more drunks on the road or the local Finest are getting better at catching them; proficiency in this area, unlike baseball, for example, is hard to measure statistically.

Still, the presence of such a trend is somewhat disquieting, to say the least. The mixture of alcohol and almost any field of human endeavor you care to mention is almost universally disastrous, unless that field of human endeavor is making an ass of yourself. If that’s your aim, then by all means, top off the twenty Jello shots you’ve had in the past fifteen minutes with another one and a couple of beers for good measure, but before you do, give your best friend the keys to your car, this always assuming that he’s not just as crocked as you are. Otherwise, whatever it is you’re trying to do whilst under the influence, stop trying to do it; you will not succeed.

One of the many things you should not do while under the influence is watch public television. I’m not speaking here of the children’s programming, which is fairly harmless even when combined with heavy drinking, although the hopelessly intoxicated will want to sing along with big birds and purple dinosaurs, or the political, news, or cultural programming, which alcohol makes even more soporific than it already is, putting the inebriated to sleep and keeping them off the road, thereby serving the greater good by promoting the cause of highway safety. No, I mean public television’s nature and science programming, which no one should watch unless completely sober.

I bring this up because, as you may know, deer season recently ended here and my brothers, having killed, gutted, butchered, and otherwise disposed of one male deer, decided afterwards that reassembling the deer’s skeleton might be a good idea. They decided to do this on a Saturday afternoon after watching college football and gulped down enough beer to keep a team of Clydesdales scooting back and forth from the brewery for a couple of weeks, give or take a day. With the games over, they apparently turned to public television and watched a program about the deer problem now afflicting those of us here in the northeastern United States (I realize that deer afflict other areas as well, but we also deal with their attendant problems: our county’s leading export is Lyme disease, which we have more of than anyone else in the United States). Having watched the program and come to the conclusion that reassembling the deer’s skeleton would be a good idea; it’d be educational, one brother opined, although we all know what deer look like and don’t need any further exegesis on the subject.

And as I said, they were in really no condition to tie their shoelaces, much less reassemble a deer. With the courage of their DUI convictions, however, they went out to the garage where the remains of the deer remained and set to work putting Bambi’s dad back together again. As you might imagine, if all the king’s horses and all the king’s men could not put a simple egg back together again, then how much more difficult must it be for a troop of drunks on an educational binge to disunravel a disassembled deer.

At first, they thought they ought to try to put the meat back on the bones but that failed as they kept slipping in the offal mess they made on the garage floor (yeah, that was bad, I admit it) and then decided to just putting the skeleton back together again. For this purpose, the brothers and company (mostly drinking buddies) cracked out the scotch tape, the glue, and a thousand yard ball of twine that my brother keeps in the hope that someday he might get some use out of it. He bought the ball about five years ago, I think, and I think since then he’s used about forty yards of the stuff. There are only so many things you can use twine for, you know.

Well, killing a deer is a lot easier than putting one back together again. I know this because my brothers called me down to help them, for reasons I’m pretty sure I don’t understand, since I know absolutely nothing about the anatomy of the white-tailed deer, and I found them in the middle of the garage with large numbers of bones glued together at odd angles and held together with twine and tape. I tried to make some heads or tails of the skeleton because I’m pretty sure they couldn’t, even though I’m no expert. A deer’s skull does not rest on its pelvis, I’m reasonably certain of that, and I am also sure that a deer’s ribs do not emanate from its front legs, but from the spine, the same as other vertebrates. There were also bits I didn’t understand at first, like the use of beer cans for the bones they couldn’t find or had stashed in the refrigerator with the meat still on them, said beer cans being reinforced with sticks and golf clubs. I’m no golfer, but I’m fairly certain that one of the buck’s front forelegs was a five iron.

“So what do you think,” the brothers and their cohort announced grandly. I was not sure what I thought, or if I should tell men so far in a drunken stupor that they could actually ask me what I thought of their skeletal recreation. I tried to be diplomatic, but I couldn’t think of anything right off the top of my head, which is something that happens to me way too often, I think. In this case, though, the lucky entrance of a wife saved me from having to tell a none too convincing lie. I don’t have a wife, so this is not something I can prove with facts and figures, but it seems that most wives object to trying to clean clothing drenched with deer’s blood. And the brothers and the friendly cohort were dripping with deer’s blood; at least, the parts that hadn’t already dried to their skins dripped. One of the reasons I don’t have a wife is that loud, high-pitched scream that emanates from them when they see something like their husbands covered in deer’s blood, following by ferocious swearing and nagging of a fairly intense nature. I don’t spend a lot of time wallowing in deer’s blood; wallowing as a recreational activity has never really appealed to me, but I think I’ll skip that whole screaming thing, if it’s all the same to you. On the positive side--well, it might be positive; it's purely a personal opinion, I think; they did manage to use another fifty yards of my brother's old twine.
From the Archives: HOW MUCH WOOD WOULD A WOODCHUCK CHUCK IF SOMETHING ELSE WERE AVAILABLE? : Now things have come to a pretty pass when the local wildlife is so contemptuous of private property that deer have no compunction about eating your hedges and geraniums and Canadian geese use your front lawn as a combined buffet and rest room, but the situation has clearly reached another order of magnitude when my mother goes out to her garden and finds her cantaloupes mauled to bits. At first we thought it was the same deer that has taken to pruning our shrubs, but forensic examination of the violated cantaloupes showed that an animal with claws ripped through the rinds and chowed down on the fruit within. This evidence eliminated the deep from the list of possible garden invaders, as well as snails, slugs, and other Francogastronomic garden pests. My brother and I maintained an intense surveillance on the garden, keeping a watchful eye over the surviving cantaloupes and melons. For an entire week we watched ceaselessly, without a moment’s notice given to anything that might distract us from our appointed task, except for meals, Yankee games on TV, golf, movies, work, and sleep. At the end of the week, just when we were about to give up the surveillance, the criminal showed himself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

HOOTERS: You know, it occurs to me that if I spent as much time as Neil does talking about women's breasts then maybe more people would check out The Passing Parade. It certainly couldn't hurt, although I have a lot of conservative Catholics on my blogroll who would probably not enjoy my cheapening myself for readership. G.K. Chesterton never rolled in the muck in order to truckle to the coarsened masses and their debased literary tastes, although Graham Greene did, but then most of his heroes and heroines wound up dead or spiritually wounded and filled with guilt, so that doesn't really count, I suppose. I must think of a spiritually uplifting way of incorporating a prurient interest in pulchritudinous protuberances into this blog without alienating my other readers. I will give the matter some thought.