The Passing Parade: Cheap Shots from a Drive By Mind

"...difficile est saturam non scribere. Nam quis iniquae tam patiens urbis, tam ferreus, ut teneat se..." " is hard not to write Satire. For who is so tolerant of the unjust City, so steeled, that he can restrain himself... Juvenal, The Satires (1.30-32)

Saturday, May 27, 2006

HENRY FORD REDUX: History is dull. History is stupid. History is boring. I became aware of these great truths just the other day, when a twelve year old with lousy grades and a possible learning disability told me so, and is there anyone whose pedagogical judgment we can count on more in this our Great Republic than a twelve year old with lousy grades and a possible learning disability? I think not. When queried as to why this loathing of matters historical, our young scholar opined that he didn’t care what those old time people did and that social studies, the tepid educational gumbo of history, economics, civics, sociology, and political correctness that the state education department requires schools to poison the minds of students with, was just totally bogus.

This semi-adolescent philippic took me aback, I must admit; history was always my favorite subject in school and I have a bachelor’s degree in the subject. I was even going to teach the subject to such uncomprehending Ritalin-dulled minds such as this young debunker's before the chance to make a full time salary now as opposed to sometime in the always retreating future led me into the library field, making me one of the very few people who entered the field strictly for the money. I countered this ignorant snotty’s arguments, telling him that history and its study was a supremely useful field of endeavor, full of amusing anecdotes you can amuse and entertain your friends with. This is because history is about people, and the prolonged study of history leads one inexorably to the conclusion that at no point in humanity’s sojourn on this planet have people ever gotten past the need to make complete asses of themselves.

To start with, a knowledge of history allows the otherwise ill-informed moviegoer to know which side to root for and to save themselves no end of embarrassment. For example, the fashion crazed teenager might well assume, simply on the basis of the uniforms alone, that the Germans must be the good guys in any movie about World War II simply because they wear the really cool uniforms. This is not the case, and neither were the Germans on our side during that war. No, indeed, they were not on our side at all; they were the enemy—I’m not kidding; you can look it up. We were trying to kill them in large numbers, and the Germans, being an eminently sensible people, were trying to do the same thing to us and to large numbers of other people as well, for reasons that remain a mystery to the vast majority of people even unto this day. How cool their uniforms were doesn’t really enter into the equation. Now I know that you can make the argument that the Marines had cooler uniforms than the Germans, and so did the British, but let’s face facts: the Marines didn’t fight in their dress blues and the British didn’t fight in red coats; Sicily and Saratoga are entirely different places, although most kids school today couldn’t find either place on a map if you put big red X’s on it. The Germans, on the other hand, really did fight in their dressy uniforms, and they fought wearing all of their decorations, which makes them look really cool onscreen. Having a top of the line designer like Hugo Boss do your army’s uniforms will always make a soldier look good onscreen and off.

What really annoys me, however, is that this kid had no concept of the nation’s past, he was totally clueless about the history of his own community. Once upon a time here in the Vampire State, teachers force fed students the history of our state, and how lucky we were to live in such a great state when an accident of navigation could have landed us in New Jersey or North Dakota or, in a fate worse that death itself, Boston, Massachusetts, where we would have become Red Sox fans and lost whatever self-respect we brought with us from the Old Country. When I went to parochial school the nuns were very strict about this sort of thing, you know, and a good many of them thought that supporting the Red Sox was a mortal sin, something akin to eating meat on Fridays or walking in the halls with hands in your pockets. I remember how one kid, who actually came from Boston, got beaten senseless on a fairly regular basis by one particularly rabid nun who held that Mickey Mantle was proof positive of the existence of God and that Ted Williams was the instrument of the devil. I always thought she had a point there.

And here’s another example: only a few days ago, on May 24th, in fact, our state marked, or didn’t mark in this case, the 380th anniversary of Donald Trump buying Manhattan Island from the Indians. The Donald thought he was getting a break, shelling out twenty four dollars for the entire island, but it turned out that the Indians who sold the island were Canarsies, and if you watch old World War II movies on a regular basis, you will know that all the guys from Brooklyn come from either Flatbush or Canarsie. They didn’t own Manhattan, the Manhattan Indians did, and Donald’s attempts to do a deal with them floundered because they wouldn’t sell him the air rights over the island before they moved to Cleveland. He did eventually get some prize chunks of the island, but not before the market for Manhattan real estate got crowded with people who drove the price per square foot of land up through the metaphorical roof. The Manhattans’ refusal to do a deal up front is one of the reasons the name of the state is New York and not the Trump World Multi-Tower Hotel and Casino.

As if this were not enough in itself, this ignorant lad knew nothing of the history of our very own happy little burg. He did not know that his school bore the name of the man who bought this entire area from the Indians (I should mention here that the story that the Indians offered to sell him all the land the man could see in a single glance is purely apocryphal; I somehow doubt that the Indians, having made such an offer, would allow our happy little burg’s founding father to hike up to the top of the local mountain and say, I’ll take it, not when a conveniently placed tomahawk could void the entire deal and leave the Indians open to a better offer; in fact, the Indians drove a hard bargain—they spread blankets on the ground and told the founding father to pile stuff on those blankets until they told him to stop, which they did when he’d piled on everything from the local Wal-Mart, as well as half the stuff from the hardware department of the Sears store up in the county seat) or that this historical worthy had a daughter, whose home still stands only some three blocks from where I now sit, making it the oldest structure in the county.

The daughter came here in 1707 with her husband, a naval lieutenant, who, after a long and arduous career at sea, fell into the river on a calm night and drowned, a fate that I’ve always thought a bit on the ironic side. In any case, her home is not a very big place, and there’s a plastic fence around it as well, which tends to cut down on the realism, if you ask me. But I guess that’s just the way things are nowadays. If the people in charge of preserving our heritage don’t seem to care too much about it, then why should twelve-year dolts with lousy grades, a possible learning disability, and a snotty attitude to boot care about it, especially when there are TV shows to watch, computer games to play, and refrigerators to raid?

Postscript: No, I do not know what manner of learning disability this kid has, so don’t bother to ask, but if I am any judge of character I would venture to say I could solve a good many of this kid’s pedagogical problems with a good swift kick in his oversized ass. Well, maybe that’s not entirely true, but I know it would make me feel a lot better.


  • At 4:40 PM, Anonymous Frank P said…

    Heh, heh, heh!

    Oh Akaky.

    I visit less often to catch up, because real life persistently intervenes. But each time I return my spirit is lifted as I note that your writing gets better aand better when I would have thought that impossible. The unbelievable consistency of the whimsy is wonderful. The sad thing is that there are those who get large sums of moolah for writing crap, while your literary vignettes are given freely. I deplore the injustice of it, but thank you for your generosity and the entertainment it affords.


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