Friday, December 30, 2005
Monday, December 26, 2005
As for me, yesterday was a very nice Christmas as Christmases go; the family came and we ate to excess and opened presents and went to Mass, although not necessarily in that order. Christmas Mass invariably brought on the usual theological debate with myself; should I really go to a ritual when I’m not entirely sure I believe any of the theology that goes with it, but for the peace of the day I went and enjoyed the music; we had bell ringers doing the hymns, along with the piano and the violin—the music there at my mother’s church is invariably better than the music at the church I usually go to and debate the existence of the Deity. I don’t go there (to my mother’s church, I mean) because of all the modernistic flourishes, and there are a lot of them; the place is a big commuter barn designed to pack the maximum number of bodies into the pews. The church I usually go to is one of those old red brick churches put up by Irish immigrants in the 19th century. It’s smaller than my mother’s church and, to me, the place looks the way a Catholic church ought to look, complete with statues and pews designed for human beings and not for some particularly pious species of sardine. My mother’s church doesn’t have that many statues and the Stations of the Cross, which, for the non-Papists here, are representations of incidents in the Passion of Christ, are a sort of bas-relief along the back wall that could be limning the Passion or could be a series of universal safety signs warning the especially inattentive passerby to please watch their step. The Archdiocese built this modernist monstrosity during the 1960's, in the full heat of Vatican II, when church architecture in this country took a decided turn for the worse, because overly ecumenical Catholics wanted to convince your average American Protestant that Roman Catholics were just like Southern Baptists, only more organized and with a snappier wardrobe. At the church I usually go to here in our happy little burg the Stations are larger, Jesus looks like he’s really getting stomped on, and the Romans all look like they're auditioning for bit parts on The Sopranos just in case this whole Pax Romana thing doesn’t work out.
In any case, after Mass we all trooped over to the cemetery to visit my father’s grave. He’s still there, of course, and we decorated the grave with a Christmas wreath and put the usual couple of pennies on the top of the tombstone, the two coins being a symbolic representation of the two cents my father would feel the need to put into any conversation occurring in his immediate vicinity. Down at the end of the row, just past one of my father’s best friends and just across the road from the grave of a guy who used to beat me senseless in grade school just for the fun of it, on this most dank and drear Christmas day, a man in a parka, hat, and gloves lay on a beach chair reading the Modern Library edition of Marcel Proust’s In search of lost time, specifically the volume II of that great work, Within a budding grove, wherein the Narrator, Marcel, experiences the anguish and delight of young love. He seemed totally engrossed in Proust’s classic, although I must admit I do not know why anyone would choose to read Proust in either a paperback or hard cover edition while lying on a beach chair in the middle of a cemetery on an otherwise cold and miserable Christmas day. There are far worse places to read Proust, as you might imagine, and on the whole, cemeteries are a fine place to read, the residents being a usually courteous lot not given to disturbing the serious reader. The man was still there when we left; we passed him as he lay on his beach chair, nodding to him as we passed and saying, Merry Christmas. He returned the sentiment of the day, and as we left, he turned the page and returned to the warm sunshine and bracing sea air of Balbec and Marcel’s first meeting with Albertine.
I suppose the man reading Proust had as much right as anyone else to read Proust in a cemetery; it’s a free country, after all, and within sight of my father’s grave are the graves of soldiers of every one of America’s wars, men who died for the right of every American citizen to read Proust whenever and wherever the desire to read Proust might strike them, even in a cemetery in the middle of winter, but there are times when I can’t escape the feeling that I am the odd American character in some cosmic Fellini film and that everyone in this picture can see the subtitles explaining what’s going here while I wander aimlessly about trying to remember my lines and not bump into the furniture.
Friday, December 23, 2005
THE HOLIDAYS: I won't be here for the next several days, so I'd like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas just in case I am not able to get back here anytime soon. If Christmas is not your cup of tea, so to speak, then the next few days are chock full of holidays you can celebrate and don't let me stop you from having fun celebrating them! A very Merry ChristKwanzChanuNewYear to all and to all a Good Night!
Thursday, December 22, 2005
It’s not everyday you see a revolution announced in the New York Times or see the revolution get such prominent treatment in it pages. After all, the Times, in its infinite journalistic wisdom, buried the story of Dr. Pincus and his invention of the birth control pill somewhere in the middle of the A section, no doubt at the top of a page dominated by an ad for Saks Fifth Avenue, thereby completely missing the beginning of the sexual revolution. Not this time, however; this time the Times announced the coming revolution in the Sunday magazine section, where tens of thousands of people could see the future for themselves. Yes, the future is upon us, and yet, for the most part, we fail to see it. This nation’s reliance on unreliable foreigners and their petroleum is almost over, and we did not have to disturb a cormorant or discomfit a caribou in order to achieve our energy independence. No, indeed, all we will have to do is look out for number one.
There will be some problems, obviously, in gearing up for this new era of energy independence; this is a battery technology and there will be some old-new technology hybrids along the way as we move ever forward into the bright new world of tomorrow. The urine hybrid automobile, for example, might use the driver’s urine to run the battery and then shift to a standard internal combustion engine when the supply of urine to the battery ran low. Such a hybrid also assumes the creation of a new fueling infrastructure along the nation’s roads and highways, with special pumps located near the rest rooms for the convenience of the hybrid car drivers. The car buyer of the future may even have their choice between male and female versions of the same model hybrid automobile, given that a man would find refueling the battery of such an automobile while driving much easier than a woman would. The women’s rights movement would no doubt find this sexist to the nth degree, and may even sue to prevent such automobiles from coming on the market, or at the very least demand that the automobile industry design a car that could accommodate both male and female drivers. This would not be the easiest thing in the world to do, biology being what it is. However much the feminists may choose to deny basic anatomy, the fact remains that men can urinate into a tube while driving much easier than a woman can. This may even stimulate an interest in kilts as the uniform of choice for long distance truckers.
The benefits to the American economy would be massive, the new technology creating in its wake vast new numbers of jobs in the plumbing supply industry. Control of the fixtures market, especially the vital urinal market, would be up for grabs, with wildcatters, Silicon Valley types, and who knows what other geniuses going for the golden gusto. Business magazines would trumpet the call of the new markets available and hortatory articles would appear about the men and women who saw the technology and its possibilities and started battery and plumbing supply companies in their garages. The terms Battery Alley and Porcelain Valley would be as familiar on the lips of stockjobbers on Wall Street as Silicon Valley and Leavenworth are today. The importance of this market to all aspects of life here in our Great Republic will be so great that no one today can possibly comprehend it, and in the future the federal government, mindful of national security concerns, will have to strictly control the export of American urinals to foreign countries lest some of them fall into the wrong hands.
Big Oil, of course, will not go gently into that good night. They will try to stifle the new technology, but they will fail in the end; the market will stop their nefarious plotting cold. With an ever-growing demand for energy in China and India and the rest of the developing world, no one will pay the near extortionate prices for Middle Eastern oil when urine is so much more available and cheaper to boot. No, we’d have to stop complaining about Big Oil after the eventual triumph of the urine-powered battery. The battery makers would be the new economic villains, replacing the oil companies and Bill Gates as the objects of economic scorn and loathing. The big drug companies would come in for their share of the vitriol as well, as their control of the now strategic diuretics market would determine who could and could not get to work in the morning. Coffee companies, beer brewers, and soft drink manufacturers would all do well in the new economic dispensation. In fact, the new batteries would power a computer in a car engine capable of determining just how much beer you’ve had to drink and refuse to operate if there was too much alcohol in your urine, saving the lives of thousands of people who would have otherwise died in automobile accidents. Yes, a bright new future awaits us all, courtesy of those Singaporean gentlemen and their technical breakthrough, this key to the future, this battery that just needs us to keep going and going and going. And to think you saw the revolution announced in the New York Times, of all places; will wonders never cease?
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
Monday, December 19, 2005
In any case, I went to take a look at The Passing Parade and noticed something a bit odd; the hit counter was not working properly-it was something like 500 or so hits beyond where it was last night. And then I went to Statcounter.com, thinking I would have to call them and tell them that their program had obviously gone several different kinds of haywire, and then I saw that I am in the middle of a Kimlanche! So I am going to enjoy the ride while it lasts and I welcome all of you Other Side of Kim readers here to the parade. Look around, check out the archives; for those of you who like guns, deer hunting, and drinking there's a post about what happens when you do all three of those things back in the November 2004 archives; just where it is I dont remember, but it's there somewhere. Thanks to Kim for the kind words and I hope you all enjoy your stay. I going to miss that mountainous spike in my stat graph when all this is over. Ah well, such is life.
Saturday, December 17, 2005
And he was tireless in his pursuit of those he thought corrupted the study of literature. There are few things as sharp as his essay on Michel Foucault in Candor and Perversion, an essay that shows Foucault up for the moral and intellectual mountebank he really was. When I read Foucault and Derrida and the other postmodernists for literature classes, and my professors foisted the post-moderns on us like a Pentecostal preacher foists the Bible on an unsuspecting heathen, Shattuck’s work was a godsend for me; finding that there was someone else, and an academic, no less, who thought this stuff was whatever the French word for bunkum gave me the confidence to simply disregard the post-moderns for the Laputans they really were. Shattuck’s criticism of what passes for literary thought nowadays reflects a belief in clear thinking expressed in clear writing, something no young academic could get away with in the climate of many literature departments today. The modern academy is a feudal guild of sorts, making sure all those who wish entry jump through the necessary hoops and conform to the required thinking; Shattuck never earned a master’s degree or a doctorate, and I suspect that lack helped him maintain the independence of mind needed to keep from falling for the latest intellectual fashions out of Paris. Roger Shattuck, RIP.
The news, and I am sure you scarcely credit that such a thing could happen in this our Great Republic in this day and age, came to me courtesy of the local newspaper, which reports that the state police and the local gendarmerie there in that pit of urban squalor are receiving hundreds of complaints from the citizenry about the sudden proliferation of anatomically correct snowmen from one end of the town to the other. By anatomically correct, I do not mean that these transriparian snowmen have perfectly constructed larynxes, pharynxes, kidneys, or even opposable thumbs; anatomically correct means exactly what you think it means. In some cases, the artists, if you can call them that, chose to dispense with the rest of the snowman’s anatomy altogether and left only the frozen phallus freestanding in the middle of the front lawn, usually the front lawn of some upstanding member of the petty bourgeoisie’s championship bowling team, who would just as soon not have fertility symbols sprouting up all over his or her front lawn like so many genital warts.
The gendarmes, through their spokesmen, and has anyone else noticed the essentially oxymoronic nature of the word spokesmen, denoting as it does someone who isn’t really supposed to say anything and use a lot of words while not saying whatever it is they are not supposed to say, are saying nothing at this juncture, not wanting to compromise the integrity of their investigation, but they are telling the decent citizens of that unhappy little burg that the chief of police has personally assigned a squad of crack detectives to the case and that the authorities expect developments shortly. This means that the gendarmes have no damn clue as to who is erecting erections in their jurisdiction or why these people are screwing their courage to the pricking place and building these damn things, except to annoy the populace no end, a task at which they are succeeding beyond their wildest dreams.
One theory mentioned in the newspaper suggests that the gelid genitalia may be Viking in origin, since we are now rapidly approaching the Winter Solstice, a major Viking holiday. There may some truth to this theory; that unfortunate town has been the victim of any number of major Viking raids these past few years and some inhabitants, weary of the constant bloodshed and looting, are trying to pass themselves off as Viking sympathizers. This is understandable, I think, given that the authorities have done so little to stop the Viking attacks beyond removing Nativity scenes from in front of City Hall and other public buildings so Viking raiders do not mistake these municipal buildings for churches and pillage them first.
The problem of Viking raids is one that all of us here in this neck of the woods have been living with these past few years; here in our happy little burg we have little to worry about, given our advanced early warning system, but other, less happily placed municipalities have not been as fortunate as we have been. We’ve often wondered why the government doesn’t do something to help those poor people, but their lax attitude is the sort of thing one expects from civil servants; they get paid whether they do their job or not; but the recent announcement by NBC and CBS that they were developing a reality show based on the Vikings and their depredations here in the valley seems to most of us to be adding insult to an already painful injury. I know why they are doing this; after a lifetime of watching television I know that there is very little a television executive won’t do to boost his network’s ratings, especially nowadays when the broadcast networks must compete with cable television for a share of the viewing audience. Conniving with Scandinavians to destroy small American cities is just the sort of thing one would expect from a group of (mostly) men who made the Riddler wear green pajamas in public, trapped Ginger on an island with a trunk full of last year’s fashions, and slaughtered astronauts in red shirts by the literal dozen on Friday nights.
I can already see the ads for this atrocity in my mind. There’ll be a half dozen or so of them, each one targeting a different segment of the audience, with all the usual tie-ins to other programs. On Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, the guys will show one particularly fashion challenged Norseman what the well-dressed barbarian wears to a city sacking these days, and Rachael Ray will do a couple of shows on thirty minute meals you can whip up before escaping the fury of the Northmen. There will be, however, one small problem with all the hacking and slashing, a problem the networks say they are already working on. NBC and CBS may be able to show a Viking raid across the river in its full and now very stylish barbarity, but the FCC cold cocked any portrayal of the statues erected since the last time the Vikings passed through the slough of urban despond for fear of upsetting viewers who may let their children watch such programs. The networks plan to fight this sort of small-minded provincial Comstockery, of course, and who knows, they may very well win, but for now those sculptures will not be coming on your television anytime soon.
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
The Truth Laid Bear, however, not content with his system, has changed the manner in which he orders the ecosystem, and I am no longer the happy, flappy bird I have been recently, but have sunk down the evolutionary scale to the crawly amphibian that I was eons ago. I suppose he has every right to do this; it is his system, after all, and I am just along for the ride, but I must say that this sort of Darwinian upping and downing is hard on the knees as well as the ego.
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
First of all, in order to enjoy the blessings of kith and kin, you have to get to them, something easier said than done, since your kith and kin almost never live anywhere convenient like the airport or McDonald’s. Now this lack of availability is usually a plus; the more inconvenient the domicile, after all, the better the reasons for not going home in the first place. Distance also makes it harder for your relations to simply drop in on you and ask for money. But the situation is different during the holidays, because everyone will expect you to show up whether you want to or not. If you don’t then you, better have a good reason, preferably one that involves hospitals, doctors, and a life-threatening illness. If you are not in the hospital, you can be sure that someone will note your absence from the festivities and that this will be a source of familial contention for as long as you live. People you know and love will refuse to come to your funeral in forty years’ time because you skipped the holidays this year. So in order to keep the peace in the family, you go home.
The strange part of traveling, of course, especially if you travel by air, is that this is the time of the year where the airline industry gives its regular employees, a warm, amiable bunch of people filled with bonhomie and a willingness to help even the most clueless traveler, the entire month off and temporarily fills their positions with violent psychotics. Dealing with these people tends to be an unpleasant experience at best and you would do well to avoid them entirely, although this may be hard to do if you are going to Kansas City and your luggage, which is full of presents for all your little nieces and nephews, is now winging its way south to a sun-filled vacation in Cancun without you. The definite impression you will come away with after attempting to elicit an explanation for this phenomenon is that you are a fool, a scoundrel, and an obvious knave, that travelers are best seen in small numbers and not heard, and that not only is your presence unwelcome but if you don’t get out of the ticket clerk’s face in five seconds she will send your nephew’s G. I. Joe on to Cairo, Capetown, Copenhagen, and Canberra, for good measure. As we’ve mentioned, most of these people are not entirely in their right minds, a consequence, no doubt, of too many years spent working at the Post Office or selling life insurance.
The other problem the traveler faces is that the airports, train stations, and bus terminals are full of people in the same situation, but they are not responding to the situation with the same equipoise that you exhibit. No, these people are definitely not going with the flow, but allowing the stress and strain of modern travel effect their better judgment. People who in their daily lives are the nicest of people suddenly turn, in the heat of travel, into maddened beasts willing to throttle anyone who stands between them and their destination. These people are not sharing in the spirit of Christmas, but are using transportation hubs for the public display of their personal psychodramas in the hope of getting an agent and maybe a contract to write situation comedies for television, as if this will get them to where they are going any faster than they are already going.
Putting up with all the grief and aggravation is worth it, however, when you finally reach the safe port from which you first sallied forth into the workaday world all those many years ago. Home, at long last, home. The laughter, the tears, the joy of welcome that greets your arrival among those who love you the most—this is what the great voyage was all about, and you will enjoy the warm embrace of your family for as long as it takes for the kids to start screaming at each other because little Billy doesn’t want to play with G. I. Joe, he wants his sister’s Barbie, and your mother asks you how come you’re not married already and why don’t you call or write or send a message on one of those typewriters with the television attached like your brother has in his house. At which point your father rolls his eyes and opens up his newspaper and your brother tries to take you aside to tell you about a brand new investment tip he picked up down at Kelly's Bar and Grill and all he needs is a couple grand in order to score a huge return on the investment and you wonder why you bothered coming home in the first place. Next year, you promise yourself, you will come down with schistosomiasis or Rocky Mountain spotted fever or the bends, anything that will keep you safely situated away from these people. Next year, yes, next year, you’ll just call; it’s cheaper than actually going and you can stack the dishwasher while Mom asks when will ever see her grandchildren. The telephone is a very convenient device in these circumstances.
Sunday, December 11, 2005
Saturday, December 10, 2005
But avian porn is not the subject of this screed, so let us move on before the police arrive. The subject of today’s lecture is the twelve days of Christmas and what they mean to me in five easy lessons. For the better part of the late and deeply unlamented twentieth century it was the fashion among a certain set of people to bemoan the commercialization of Christmas, that the demands of Mammon were stifling the essentially religious nature of the holiday, even to the point where that great philosopher and theologian Linus Van Pelt had to explain to Charlie Brown what Christmas was all about by quoting the Gospel according to Luke. Charlie Brown did not seem impressed by this argument, falling, as it did, between commercials for Benson & Hedges cigarettes and the new 1967 Ford Mustangs.
The fact of the matter is that Christmas has always been a commercial bonanza, a state of affairs that began when the Roman Emperor Constantine decided that maybe Christianity wasn’t such a bad idea after all. Constantine came to this conclusion after he’d had a dream the night before the battle of the Milvian Bridge in which he saw a shield emblazoned with a Christian cross bearing the words IN HOC SIGNO VINCES (in this sign you shall conquer). After the alarm slave went off the next morning, clocks being fairly scarce in those days, Constantine put Christian crosses on his soldiers’ shields; as the enemy army outnumbered by about four to one, Constantine figured any edge he could get was a good one; and then proceeded to march out and stomp on the competition big time.
Having won the crown in a pretty convincing fashion—Constantine didn’t have to dangle Chad over a cliff or anything—the new emperor decided to return the favor God did him and make Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire. Once a faith exclusively practiced by the most rejected and despised elements of Roman society, the Christian faith became the most inclusive faith in the Mediterranean world since now everyone and their Uncle Bob had to join, everyone, that is, except Constantine himself. Unlike the twentieth century Chinese warlord, Marshal Feng, who, under the influence of American missionaries, converted to Methodism and then decided that his army should convert as well, and sped the process up by having his troops baptized with water sprayed from a fire hose, Constantine chose to exempt himself from the revival, correctly figuring that if he stayed a pagan he could go on doing all the fun stuff that pagans got to do like murdering his political opponents, seizing their property, and selling their families into slavery without this sort of thing bothering his conscience all that much. If he was still a pagan, after all, who could blame him for acting like one?
Our current holiday problem started when Constantine decided that a holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus would be just the thing to make himself look good on The O’Reilly Factor. There was, however, one small problem: no one knew when Jesus was born. The Gospels simply say that the birth occurred when Quirinius was the governor of Syria. This might have been enough information in the hands of a competent archivist to pinpoint a likely date, but competent archivists were hard to find in ancient Rome due to the Roman mob’s insatiable appetite for watching overweight, middle-aged clerical types with the wife, the 2.7 kids, the dog, and a thirty year mortgage on a house in the suburbs try to stab each other to death with quill pens in the Coliseum.
Constantine, having no solid information to work with, asked the Senate and the people of Rome what they thought of July 15th as the date for Christmas. The Senate and the people of Rome, mindful of the fact that Constantine had the bad habit of feeding people who disagreed with him to lions and tigers and bears, oh my, for the entertainment of the people in the cheap seats, told Constantine that July 15th was a wonderful idea. Roman retailers, on the other hand, mindful of losing the 4th of July and Bastille Day sales, told him that while his idea was wonderful, it would be even more wonderful at some other time of the year. One clever gent who owned a shoe store on the Appian Way suggested, after giving the matter some thought, that the Emperor make December 25th the date for his new holiday.
Now it was Constantine’s turn to object. At a meeting of the Imperial Chamber of Commerce, he quite rightly pointed out that December 25th was already a holiday, the feast of Invictus Sol and his brother Herschel, the inventors of the pneumatic chariot wheel, upon which the good fortune of the Roman Empire did not rely in the slightest. Then Constantine had the Pope read the relevant portions of the Gospel of Luke. The Pope stumbled through the text, His Holiness being unused to reading anything longer than an address; he had come to Rome to get a job in the Post Office in Gaul and wound up as Pope for lack any other available employment; and after he finished reading Constantine asked the retailers how they proposed to get around the Gospel’s clearly pointing to a summer date for Christ’s birth. After all, first century Judean shepherds did not keep flocks of sheep out on barren hillsides by night in the middle of winter just on the off chance that a passing heavenly host with some free time on their hands would wander by belting out their rendition of Handel’s ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ in digitally remastered stereophonic sound. Clearly, December 25th did not meet the high burden of theological and historical proof required for such an august feast day.
Then someone, possibly the shoemaker who first suggested the idea of the 25th, or maybe his twin brother—no one could really tell them apart—told the Emperor something that emperors, as a class, love to hear: he was emperor, therefore he could put the holiday anywhere he felt like putting it. And so he did, on the 25th day of December, the high burden of historical and theological proof bending slightly in deference to Constantine’s need for campaign contributions; not everyone in the Roman Empire thought that Constantine’s being emperor was such a good idea and he needed money fast; armies, then and now, don’t come cheaply.
Well, over the centuries more and more days got added to Christmas; travel was slow in those days and most people had to use oxcarts that only got twelve miles to the dry gallon of oats, despite the best efforts of the ruminant companies to meet new government mileage standards. The retailers, however, loved the ever-lengthening Christmas season and did their level best to stretch the season out even more. Matters came to a head in 800 A.D., when on the first day of Christmas the Pope crowned Charlemagne Holy Roman Emperor and Charlemagne discovered that he and his entourage were stuck in Rome until the end of Christmas, which occurred sometime in the middle of April. This was a major source of annoyance for Charlemagne, who wanted to go home for the holidays, and so in his third official act, the first two being an announcement that alternate side of the street parking rules were in effect and the world’s first pooper scooper law, Charlemagne decreed that Christmas would only last for twelve days.
Retailers throughout Europe objected, which seems to be a theme here, saying that a twelve day Christmas season would drive them out of business; there wasn’t enough time for the scribes to pump out advertising copy in a twelve day season. Charlemagne said, tough luck, pal, in Latin and French, and doesn't almost everything sound better in Latin and French, and then left town with the imperial crown in his luggage, as well as a couple of counterfeit Rolexes he’d bought from a Senegalese immigrant who’d set up his blanket in front of St. Peter’s Basilica.
The retailers, of course, did not go down without a fight. They’ve been pushing the seasonal envelope ever since Charlemagne rode Out of Town for a second place finish in the fifth race at the Roman Aqueduct. This explains why today, in our modern postindustrial information society, the official Christmas season begins with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and why we still have an annoying carol about the twelve days of Christmas. The unofficial Christmas season, of course, begins near the end of August. This may be why everyone is so happy when Christmas finally arrives—it means that we won’t hear about the damn day again for at least another eight months, something for which we should all shout, Hallelujah and Happy Holidays to all and to all, a good night!
Monday, December 05, 2005
So I strolled into the deli at the height of the lunch hour rush and promptly went to the back of a line so long that if it had a tuba at the front the line would need a parade permit in order to congregate anywhere in the city. That the line was so long does not come as a surprise to those of us who live here, though it often surprises outsiders who take a look at the population statistics and wonder if everyone is on Main Street at this one time. This is not true, of course, but you could forgive someone for thinking that was the case. Lunchtime is the busiest time of day on Main Street, since half the commercial establishments on Main Street make their living selling lunch to the other half. The second busiest time of day is the period between two and five in the morning, when the local traffic in unregulated pharmaceuticals is at its height.
As I stood in the line, waiting to put in my order for a ham on toasted whole wheat with lettuce and tomato, I spoke with one of the bulwarks of our local constabulary, Officer Pugliese. I asked how he was doing and he said, fine, everything was going just as well as one could expect, he supposed, although on such a beautiful morning he was inclined to look at life through rose-colored glasses. I ventured that that might not be such a good idea, given that if everyone did as he did, he would be out of work. He shook his head and smiled, saying he had lots of job security, given that human nature wasn’t going to change anytime soon. And I said, there it is. He looked at me and asked, there what is? Now it was my turn to shake my head as I told him, that’s the first scratch on your rose-colored glasses. He laughed and said, true enough, as he put in his order for a spiced ham and bacon on rye. There’s a moral there somewhere, although I’m not sure what it might be.
Saturday, December 03, 2005
For those of you who haven’t seen Neil’s blog, those of you who’ve simply heard the wild rumors ricocheting from one end of the blogosphere to the other, stories that have grown more and more ridiculous with each telling and retelling, the simple truth of the matter is this: as a child I never watched The Brady Bunch. Ever. Not one episode. Ever. I realize that making such a statement appears to make me a traitor to the baby boom generation and everything that generation holds sacred. It is a matter of recorded historical fact, after all, that during the 1960’s and 1970’s the baby boomers did little else except fight in Vietnam, protest fighting in Vietnam, smoke pot, get laid, and watch The Brady Bunch whenever the opportunity afforded itself. I did not. I was not making a political statement nor was I protesting the networks’ dumbing down of American culture by my not watching—I was in no way a lonely voice crying out in dumb horror from the depths of Newton Minow’s vast electronic wasteland, warning a slumbering and apathetic America that the unholy Beast of the Apocalypse that is Jerry Springer was alive and working his way slowly towards a television set near you.
I was none of these things. I was an unwilling mote, a bit of trail dust, if you will, in that great Sixties migration known as the white flight to the suburbs. My father, seeing our neighborhood filling up with the chemically dependent and his eldest sons becoming adept at the art of the five-fingered discount, a skill set that will do a boy good in politics and car repair but nowhere else, decided that a change of venue was in order. Being something of an extremist by nature, the father moved us all from Highbridge, a wonderful place surrounding that holiest of all shrines, Yankee Stadium, to a point well beyond the suburbs as the state delineated the suburbs in those days, to the exurban paradise of our happy little burg. To celebrate our exodus from the great metropolis, my brother and me set fire to a candy store and made off with enough gum, candy, sodas, and comic books to last us to the end of the great trek northwards. After we left, a good-sized portion of the Bronx burned down without our help, thereby freeing the real estate for the housing boom that continues there to this day. My brother and I are proud of the contribution we made to kick starting the local economy, although I’ve noticed over the years that we’ve never gotten the credit we deserve for doing so. I don’t think there’s any problem with pointing out our part in this great economic revival; I’m pretty sure that we’re well past whatever the statute of limitations on this sort of thing was. Just in case we’re not, setting the fire was my brother’s idea—he made me do it.
Now, our happy little burg has a great many things to recommend it to the family seeking a rest from the troubles of modern urban life, but the one thing the town did not have was good television reception. I know that some of the younger readers will scarcely credit what I am about to say; they will laugh and say that I am exaggerating; there could never have been a time so primitive, so utterly benighted, after all, but I fear it is true: we did not get cable television. In fact, no one had cable; cable television, as young people know cable today, simply did not exist at the time I am talking about. People at that time received their television signals through antennas on their roofs. You can see the antennas in old pictures; they’re those big metal things that look like bird perches. Every house had one and, I am proud to say, so did ours. Our antenna, as magnificent as it was, had one small flaw. Due to the presence of mountains in the neighborhood, our television set could only pick up one channel, Channel 2, which was then and is now the CBS affiliate in the great metropolis our unhappy little clan had just fled (my brother and I were especially distraught at the move, as our happy little burg afforded us little room for the full exercise of our juvenile rapacity; once or twice up and down Main Street and all the merchants knew who we were; there was no hopping on the subway and wandering over to Tremont or Kingsbridge looking for fresh opportunities for looting and pillaging; in this neck of the woods mass transit is the car that takes a good Roman Catholic family to church on Sunday morning).
In any case, Channel 2 was (and is) a wonderful channel as television channels go; I yield to no man in my admiration of Channel 2 as a television channel, but at the time of which I speak the channel and the network whose flagship station it is offered the discriminating television viewer, should such a creature actually exist, a wide range of inanities to choose from, prolonged exposure to any of which caused permanent tooth decay, diabetes, and the heartbreak of psoriasis in laboratory rats, and is there any creature on earth more put upon than the laboratory rat, who die like rats, appropriately enough, in the thousands and the tens of thousands every year for our sins? The one thing, however, that Channel 2 did not offer, indeed could not offer in any way, shape or form, was The Brady Bunch, which, if I remember this correctly, was on Channel 7, the local ABC affiliate. So even with the best will in the world, I could not partake of the adventures of the Brady family, and by the time we finally managed to get an antenna and a television set that picked up all of the New York stations, The Brady Bunch was no longer the hip, edgy show everyone talked about around the water cooler at work the next day, and I went past the show looking for more substantial fare like Hogan’s Heroes. I’ve never managed to bring my core Brady knowledge up to the standard expected for one of my generation and for this I must say that I am truly sorry. I know I should do something to rectify the situation; I do get the TV Classics channel, after all, so it’s not like I have an excuse for not bringing myself up to the level of my generational peers. I should, I know; there’s something incredibly unnerving about a good-sized chunk of my childhood memories being the copyrighted property of the Columbia Broadcasting System. I just haven’t gotten around to it, I suppose.