This leads inevitably, I think, to the burning philosophical question of just what is a caboodle and why can’t you throw it away without the kit? I fear I do not have an answer for this question; all I can say is in that in all of my extensive research I cannot find one case of anyone throwing away the caboodle and keeping the kit. Throwing away a kitless caboodle may be ecologically unsound, causing hallucinations and delusions of grandeur in many species of fish and leading some species of tuna to realize, for the first time in their lives, that they are wet. Tossing a caboodle minus the kit it came with may even be illegal, a crime on par with pulling the tag off of a new mattress, and I hesitate to contemplate what enormities someone who throws away the kit and keeps the caboodle is capable of. If the FBI is not protecting us from the depraved depredations of such fiends then someone in Washington is not doing the job we, the voters, have sent them there to do.
In other news, I should point out to anyone interested in this sort of thing that nepotism, very frankly, is not everything it’s cracked up to be, not by a long shot. I suppose that in a perfect world nepotism, like Communism and phrenology and recipes that hide the taste of liver, should work just fine, but this, as we all know is seldom the case. No matter how many onions and how much bacon you put on the liver, it’s still liver. Similarly, nepotism ought to lead to feelings of gratitude towards the relative that got you your job and that said relative has every right to expect that you will work hard and bring credit to your family in general and the relative who went out of his way when he really didn’t want to and found a way of getting you a job. You might think this, but you would be wrong.
No, I am not talking about the son of our happy little burg’s chief gendarme wanting to be a detective and suing the city because they passed an anti-nepotism law that keeps his daddy the Chief from promoting Junior over the heads of those candidates the Chief is not genetically and financially responsible for; that is a subject for another time, I fear. No, in this case I am trying to fathom how the niece can go toddling off to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina with some friends when she should have been here in the egregious mold pit working assiduously away at her teen health project job that I pulled absolutely no strings to get for her and not invite me to go along; I could use some beach time, but did she invite me? Hell, no, she didn’t!
The back story of this exercise in typical adolescent ingratitude is this: two or so months ago, our children’s librarian mentioned to me that she was getting a grant from a foundation famous for its good works, a foundation famous for its rectitude and its sterling reputation for alleviating human suffering and advancing the education of the poor and the underprivileged with the vast fortune the foundation’s founder made in the nineteenth century selling second-rate opium to the Chinese, rotgut whiskey to the Indians, and lame slaves down the river to Mississippi. This foundation can well be proud that it has done everything the founder hoped it would do, including advancing the founder’s fondest wish of not going down in American economic history as the monstrously selfish, absolutely no-good, completely mercenary willing to sell his dead mother’s scalp to the Apaches in order to make a buck bastard that he really was. It’s amazing, or at least I think it is, how handing out free money to people will cause them to overlook a good many of your more unattractive personality traits.
The purpose of this grant, the children’s librarian explained, was to run a teen health program here. If I remember this correctly, I said something devastatingly witty, like, “…is that so…” in response to this information, while wondering why on earth she was telling me this in the first place. Teen health, you must understand, is not big on my list of priorities; I believe teens ought to be healthy; that way the general public will not feel guilty about calling the cops on these hormonal hooligans; but teen health is not an issue that impinges on my conscious mind at every other moment of the day, and has not done so for almost thirty years now. But our children’s librarian was very enthusiastic about the idea—civil servants, as a rule, are always enthusiastic about spending other people’s money; it is, after all, what we live for—so enthusiastic, in fact, that I began to wonder if she had hit her head while kayaking over the weekend and the concussion was finally beginning to set in. I was seconds away from calling an ambulance when she asked if my niece might like to be a “teen intern.”
Thoughts of summoning immediate medical help faded instantly, which was too bad, now that I think of it, since around here a 911 call always brings out a couple of ambulances, two or three fire trucks, four police cars and a drug-sniffing dog, a kid delivering pizza, and enough cops, firemen, paramedics, and gawking spectators to fill a small stadium. Our happy little burg puts on quite a show when the call comes in, primarily because people in this neck of the woods tend to be disgustingly healthy and are therefore not prone to dropping dead in their tracks on a regular basis. This tends to limit the opportunities of our emergency services people, many of whom move on to less happy little burgs where they can practice their craft on a more regular basis. The reason for the memory fade-out on my part is simple: the niece needed a summer job.
The niece, for those of you who are new to The Passing Parade, was once, as a child, an attractive young moppet who looked disturbingly like a poster child for the Nazi Party. It is difficult for words to describe just how blond haired and blue eyed the child was, the perfect young Aryan in every sense of the word; I always expected a vigorous chorus of Die Wacht am Rhein or the Horst Wessel Lied to break out from massed choirs of unrepentant storm troopers whenever the niece walked into a room. The pretty little moppet is now a tall and lovely young woman of fifteen, and is still blue-eyed; her blond hair is still, I presume, blond, although it is hard to tell these days, since her hair changes color as fast as her moods do. Last week the hair was red and green; if the Yankees win the World Series this year she will dye it blue and white, just to please her father, a rabid and regular worshipper at the Shrine in the Bronx. As you might imagine, it is difficult for such a tonsorial chameleon to find gainful employment, so concussion or no, I was grabbing while the grabbing was good, and said, sure, she’d like to apply, what would she have to do?
The work of a teen health intern is hard and lonely, an arduous trek through the soft underbelly of the American dream, consisting, as it does, of long hours spent in a darkened room watching television and gorging themselves on junk food bought at the taxpayers’ expense. If we had showers, free pizza, and unlimited calling on a library cell phone we wouldn’t be able to dynamite the damn kids out of the building. The niece would have to watch videos detailing the health issues facing today’s youth and then evaluate them at slightly more than the minimum wage. The videos are the modern descendant of those terrible physical hygiene movies we all had to watch in health education class back in the tenth grade. The genre hasn’t really changed since then; they’ve still got the same terribly earnest narrator trying to show that he or she is hip, if they still use that word, to the mores of adolescent culture, who tells the girls that boys are filthy perverted sex fiends who will lie to you and who definitely will not respect you in the morning, which is more or less true, if anyone still cares about that sort of thing these days, while telling the boys that girls are dirty creatures with a disgusting monthly habit and are chock full of loathsome diseases that will cause your johnson to turn black and rot off, and so the best thing you can do for your raging hormones is go home, take a cold shower, keep your hands to yourself, and maybe play an extended round of Parcheesi with your family and some friends. I’ve heard that at least one member of the community has complained about these videos, although I am sure I don’t understand why; those videos will scare kids off the whole idea of coitus for the rest of their lives, and isn’t that the point of the exercise?
The children’s librarian explained all of this to me with the same sense of wonder that she would use if she had just found the lost continent of Atlantis in her cereal bowl that morning, and I started to wonder if I ought to call 911 anyway, just to be on the safe side. I didn’t, though; I simply thanked her and told her that I would tell the niece about the job the next time I saw her. Now, you may not have realized this from your reading of The Passing Parade, but I am a prodigious forgetter of important messages, people’s birthdays, and where I left my car keys the night before, which accounts for the terrifying panic attacks I experience nearly every morning. If you have an important message and you want me to deliver it, your odds of my remembering what it is you wanted me to tell whoever you wanted me to tell this important message to are roughly the same as your number coming in up in the New York State Lottery. But people do hit the number on occasion, and this time I actually did remember to tell the niece. She was the one who forgot to apply for the job, which is a saga in and of itself, but I’ll save that for another time. The kid got the job eventually, despite her best efforts to avoid gainful employment. And so, having made almost no effort to find work for this ungrateful whelp, she up and wanders away to Myrtle Beach for a week without giving me the courtesy of declining the invitation to accompany her gracefully. No, she just went, leaving me with nary a barbecued grit in sight, assuming you can barbecue grits. I suppose you can barbecue anything, if you apply yourself and turn up the heat.
In the purely hypothetical department, along with the phoenix-skin cowboy boots and the official history of the Confederate States Air Force, you can find the Proceedings of the Royal and Imperial Society for the Advancement of Astronomical Knowledge of Fluj-da—Romin—ja, as the locals call the now dwarf planet we know as Pluto. Astronomy is not really a hot topic on Pluto; the vast majority of the population labors from morning to night and to the night after that without the morning for two weeks sitting and then to the next morning until ten o’clock, whereupon they stop and commune with nature, which has a bad habit of dropping their calls since the plumbing is not everything it ought to be. Then they go back to work again, the planet’s, or rather the dwarf planet’s, main industry being sock weaving, a fact that usually surprises visitors no end, as the inhabitants have no feet to put the socks on nor any inclination to do so even if they had, as the locals travel everywhere by Checker cab. Consequently, there are mile high mountains of socks outside all of the major population centers that no one either wants or needs, and many irate citizens feel that the government should confiscate the mountains of socks from the current owners and feed the socks to the poor, who currently live on a steady and protein deficient diet of pirated copies of the Beatles’ Rubber Soul album and diet Dr. Pepper. Faced with this sort of wild-eyed communist agitation on a regular basis, it’s no wonder that astronomy gets short shrift from the local population, and that no one cares, therefore, if the Royal and Imperial Society for the Advancement of Astronomical Knowledge of Fluj—da—Romin—ja decides after many years of intensive research that the third thingy from the big yellow dot in the sky cannot possibly be a planet, as the term planet is defined on Fluj—da—romin—ja, since the erstwhile planet is entirely too wet to support Life as we knew it, which may be why Life’s a Sunday supplement these days.