Wednesday, July 26, 2006
Monday, July 24, 2006
But before we get to this, I just want to bring up the whole gestalt, assuming that’s the word I want, behind the word closed and why it is that so many people seem to have such a problem grasping the very concept of the word. You would assume that for the vast majority of people reading the word CLOSED on a sign in front an august civic institution like the local public library would come immediately, if not inexorably, to the conclusion that the library was conducting no official business at that time, and that, in all probability, there would be no one inside the building with whom you could transact official business should you, by some miracle, manage to get the locked doors open and turn off the alarm system and thereby gain entry into the building. That all the lights are off is also a good sign that whatever you want to do at the library, buster, it ain’t happening today, no way, no how. This, however, does not stop some people from peering into the darkness and giving the doors a tentative pull just to make sure the librarians aren’t giving the public leg a collective pull. There may well be any number of reasons for this phenomenon; sheer stupidity comes immediately to mind, but it does seem to me that this argument, persuasive as it is in a country with five hundred television channels and only seven television channels worth of material to share between them doesn’t really cut to the quick, go to the nub, aim at the heart of the matter, depending on whatever body part cliché for the most important point in an argument you feel is appropriate in this setting. I think it’s the fault of Seven-11.
That’s right, Seven-11, the store that never closes, a place where, no matter how incredibly stoned you are at a quarter of four in the morning and how much your brain feels like it has just gone through an all expenses trip to the planet Mongo and all of its attendant seas of poisonous lemon marmalade, you will always find hot nachos and an ice cold slurpee with which to wash said hot nachos down with. Faced with this level of competition, other commercial establishments soon followed suit, and not the cheap ones I will be getting back to in just a minute, either. Sunday was once a day of rest, in accordance with the Scriptural commandment that we keep holy the Sabbath day, but this soon faded as stores needed to stay open in order to stay alive in this new economic environment. Soon stores everywhere were open seven days a week, and now there is an increasing demand that these very same stores stay open later and later in order to serve all segments of their customer base. This is now the way of the world.
So, when you have experienced this incredibly high level of customer service, it is difficult at best to settle for the pettifogging, and to the layman’s mind, somewhat silly, regulations of a public library, which decree that the public library is open for business only at specific times on specific days. How dare librarians, in this modern day and age, deny library patrons the use of a building that those very same patrons support with their tax dollars because of some quibbling adherence to some farcical time schedule that is going by the wayside in all other aspects of American life?
Actually, we can and we will, if for no other reason than we have the keys to the front door and the public doesn’t. If the public is so all-fired keen on having the library open more hours a day, then they can damn well stop voting down our budgets. You get what you pay for, and if you don’t want to pay for it, don’t complain that it’s not open. And stop tugging on the door; we’re not letting you in today. We may not let you in tomorrow, either, if we don’t feel like it. So take that, you whelps.
In any case, having gotten that off my chest, I fear that I have lost the whole train of thought about cheap suits and the threat they pose to the workings of a free and democratic government. I don’t usually lose whole trains of thought; I will lose the occasional caboose and sometimes a hopper car will get sidetracked on its way to Walla Walla, Washington with a cargo of powdered Spam, but losing an entire train is just a little unusual for me. I thought the idea was a pretty good one, on the whole; I’ve had better, of course, but when you’re in the middle of a dry spell you take ideas wherever you can get them and you don’t ask too many questions about whether the idea really works or whether it is suitable for children to read; you just go with the idea and hopes it turns into something. That doesn’t seem to be the case here, though; I’ll have to think of something else then. Ah well, such is life.
The old woman’s home was a happy one, a shoe full of children and animals, none of whom were hers, except for three daughters, Faith, Hope, and Mrs. Sonia Edelstein of Larchmont, New York, the rest of the old woman’s children having been fed to the auks, wombats, and boomslangs at the London Zoo at the behest of the Royal Society for the Preservation and Propagation of Curiously Named Animals, who needed the extra space for their letterhead.
The old woman’s troubles began when she tried to get her shoe shined. Shining the shoe was something the mister, as she called her husband, always took care of, although why she called him a mister is something of a mistery, since he was not a mysterious man at all, but rather a wholesale supplier of prude Danish and old socks to supermarkets throughout the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut tri-state area. When he finally passed away after an illness not long enough to beat the spread in the heated office pool, the old had to make decisions she’d never had to make before. It was this inexperience, more than anything else, I think, that left the old woman open to the corrupt blandishments of the spats salesman.
Now her late husband took great pride in shining his shoe. Three times a year he would go outside with a can of polish in one hand and a rag in another and the shoe brush in the other to polish the oxford to such a high gleam that passersby in the street who knew nothing else about the old man and his wife knew that none but intensely respectable God-fearing rock-ribbed Republicans lived in that shoe. For the Fourth of July he would spit shine the shoe; the neighborhood children would go to the shoe and help out with gusto and high spirits, usually rum but sometimes gin as well, and there are few things that will keep young people out of all manner of trouble better than lining up on the Fourth of July with some high spirits to spit on an old man’s shoe.
But with her husband’s passing the old woman was distraught, and for some years afterwards she did not bother shining the shoe; the widow’s weeds grew luxuriantly in the hitherto well-kept lawn, and the shoelace curtains turned brown and dirty in the windows. In most people’s opinions it was these small signs of neglect that brought, like aunts to a sugar daddy, the spats salesman to the old woman’s door. That spats salesmen in general have a shady reputation is a fact beyond the power of even the greatest p.r. man to rectify, and the recent piece about the industry and its abuses on 60 Minutes did not help the public image of spats salesmen at all. Many charges were made during that program, but Mike Wallace’s devastating interview with a salesman who tried to sell spats to a blind World War II veteran living in a sandal in California’s Big Sur country did more to paint spats and those who sell them with the tar brush of corporate villainy than anything I can mention here. After all, what conceivable reason would a man used to living in sandals need spats for?
The salesman who wormed his way into the old woman’s confidence was a particularly loathsome example of the type, a completely scummy flimflam man with one eye out for the bunco squad and another out for the big score. The man walked with a limp; he had a trick knee that could pull a hat, usually a derby but sometimes a boater, out of a rabbit, and he wore a lousy toupee made from the hair of several dozen old Chinese women who were now searching the globe trying to track the salesman and their hair down.
The salesman plied the old woman with smooth talk and fine whines about how only three of his ex-wives ever really understood him and the pressures of a salesman’s life on the road and how much economical it would be if she could protect the investment she and her late husband had made in the oxford if she put a brand new fresh from the factory spat made of the finest aluminum vinyl yak leather available now only for $500.00 a month for 240 months available in any color you could want so long as the color was white. Flattered by the loathsome swine’s sweet talk and vile attentions, the old woman signed the contract without reading the document too carefully, which is a polite way of saying the old girl didn’t read the damn thing at all.
I know I shouldn’t be popping in like this in the middle of the story, but it seems to me that this is an ideal spot to point out to the reader that shoe improvement fraud is a multimillion-dollar business in the United States and that the elderly are particularly prone to these conscienceless wretches. While I wish to make very clear that I am not advocating the death penalty for these lying miscreants, I am suggesting that a national policy of holding them down on a cold concrete floor and popping their kneecaps off with a crowbar may go a long way to ameliorating this problem once and for all. Now back to the story.
Having discovered too late that the spats salesman was a complete louse who not only took the old woman’s money but also ran off with her youngest daughter and the old woman’s complete collection of Engelbert Humperdinck records to boot…well, we knew that part already, didn’t we? This guy was a complete hose job from beginning to end, let’s face it. Why would anyone, even an old woman as naïve as this one purports to be, even allow such a creature into her home? I mean, if you look at this from a purely theological point of view, does lying to a salesman in his official capacity of representative of a company that makes an absolutely brand spanking new product that will revolutionize your life for five easy payments of $149.99 plus shipping and handling no C.O.D.’s please offer void where prohibited by law have your credit card ready call now, a product that you’ve had absolutely no problem living without for damn near all of your life even count as a mortal sin? I don’t think so and that’s about all I want to say about that.
POSTSCRIPT: I should mention, however, so as not to leave you folks hanging about what happened, that the spats salesman did eventually come to Jesus and return the old woman’s money to her, or rather, Jesus came to the spats salesman and twisted his arm until it almost popped out of his shoulder socket. It goes almost without saying that one of life’s more profound lessons is that knowing very large Puerto Rican guys who can help you out of a jam is almost always a good thing.
Thursday, July 20, 2006
I’ve mentioned my ongoing struggles with my gall bladder in these pages before, assuming pages is the right word for a totally electronic medium devoid of paper, pages, or any other wood-based product. Given this past history, I will assume that everyone will agree with my opinion, which I have arrived at after a long period of careful study and deep medical analysis with some of the most intelligent medical specialists available, that my gall bladder simply doesn’t like me, that it does not now nor has it ever wanted to be a part of the ongoing collective known as Akaky Akakyevich Bashmachkin, and would, in fact, prefer to be Robert DeNiro’s gall bladder, assuming he still has one. Being my gall bladder has always seemed a terrible comedown for it; it had high ambitions to be the bile dispenser for a great artist like DeNiro, and here it is, stuck underneath the liver of a not that funny would be humorist and a not so good photographer, dispensing bile to help digest meals served up here in some of the lowest dives in our happy little burg as opposed to digesting the finest culinary masterpieces available in Hollywood, New York, and Paris. Yes, indeed, it’s not every would be artiste who can say that they’ve got organs experiencing a Faulknerian funk, but I can, thanks be to God, although I wish I wasn’t the one having to deal with this particular organ and its celebrity hungry moods.
The gall bladder’s latest snit started yesterday morning when it stuck a gallstone into the bile duct and wouldn’t remove the damn thing despite my threatening to call in the local gendarmerie and have a SWAT team put a well-aimed combat boot through it. You may not know this, but stuffing a gallstone into an otherwise perfectly functional bile duct and leaving it there for a while causes a condition known as biliary colic. Biliary colic is a fun condition as conditions go, coming complete with such hilarious symptoms as pain radiating out along one’s rib cage from the backbone to the breastbone until you feel like you are standing inside an iron maiden waiting for someone to finally push the door shut on you and finally end it all once and for all. There is also the constant sweating of bullets, usually .50 caliber, although at times one graduates from small arms to ammunition more suited to artillery pieces, the upping and downing from one place to the other as you try to find a comfortable position in which to sit, stand, lay down, etc., etc., and all the while the gall bladder is sitting on its ass under your liver and laughing at you, because there are no comfortable positions, Bubba, none whatsoever, and there is no way of making the pain go away.
You could, if push came to shove, and it will, take a couple of aspirins or maybe an occasional Motrin to help ameliorate, attenuate, and otherwise assuage the more or less constant pain, but for these wonderful analgesics, the end products of much pharmaceutical ingenuity here in the United States and around the world, to actually have some helpful effect on the pain they have to stay in your body for a while, and that, frankly, isn’t going to happen, not with you barfing your guts up every two minutes. So you just basically have to put up with this arrogant little bastard and its temper tantrum until it pulls the gallstone out or the gallstone falls out of the bile duct on the head of some unsuspecting passerby rushing by intent on getting to the Can-Can sale at their local Shop-Rite before the store runs out of those big cans of fruit cocktail and cling peaches in heavy syrup that the kids like so much.
I have noticed, as I have gotten older, that this whole prima donna, I don’t have to do anything I don’t wanna do attitude is effecting more and more of my organs. The long time reader will already know that my pancreas has already gone on a long-term sit down strike for shorter hours, requiring me to pump my own insulin before meals, something I am sure is absolutely illegal over in New Jersey, and that the eyeglasses I have had to wear since I was a mere stripling must now go the way of all flesh, to be replaced with bifocals. I have not, as yet, succumbed the siren song of bifocals; they will cost me some five hundred dollars, I am told, whereas simply taking my current glasses off and holding the document up to my face to read costs me nothing. It is inconvenient as hell, but I expect to pay some price for the benefits of being free, and squinting at stuff is hardly a high price to pay for anything, although it is annoying as hell.
Friday, July 14, 2006
It is summer, after all, a time when few people want to behave in a seriously silly way, except at the beach, where the intense sunlight has the unfortunate effect of making large numbers of people who should never be seen without their clothes on suddenly decide that the one thing in life that would make them happy is to display themselves to a horrified American public in all their avoirdupois magnificence, thereby scarring the psyches of many a small child for life and permanently blinding large numbers of family dogs. The vast majority of people, however, simply want to kick back, mellow out, and enjoy the long sunny days and maybe take in the occasional movie at the drive-in or bring the family to see a ballgame. Even our civic affairs take a back seat to the demands of the season, as our local solons usually decide to not decide anything until after Labor Day. It therefore came as a bit of a surprise to all and sundry when one member of the city council proposed that henceforth all public housing built here shall come equipped with environmentally sound dry toilets instead of the flush toilets that have made American civilization the envy of the modern world.
The economic rationale behind this proposal is simple: the ecofriendly dry toilet will save water and will, as a result, save the city millions in sewage treatment costs. At least, this was the explanation given at the city council meeting; the vast consensus of opinion at Don German’s Hair Cut and Hand Gun Emporium, as well as at most other tonsorial establishments throughout our happy little burg, is that this particular member of the city council is a jerk and a jackass, when he isn’t actually aspiring to the elevated status of complete moron. I do not hold this somewhat low opinion of the councilman, although in the interests of full disclosure I should mention that I did go to high school with him and that when I was a senior his first wife gave the varsity football team a particularly nasty case of the clap, costing the team a place in the semifinals for the county championship that year. I know that the councilman is a serious environmental activist and always has been; even in high school he led clean-up drives and recycling efforts years before it became the thing to do; and I believe that he made this proposal with every intention of making his community and his planet a more environmentally safe place in which to live. I also think he is full of toads’ gonads.
A more dispassionate observer than I, however, might choose to question the motives of the councilman and all his plumbophobic ilk. Why this sudden demand to do away with indoor plumbing, surely one of the hallmarks of a civilized society? Why, in this day and age of incredible scientific advances, should our modern post-industrial information age society turn away from Sir Thomas Crapper’s gift to the world and return to the outhouse? Let us look first at the outhouse, or rather, let us smell the outhouse, since we will be able to smell the place well before the outhouse comes into view.
I know this for a fact, for my family home once came complete with an outhouse. This was long ago, of course, when my family came up to our happy little burg from the great metropolis to the south for the summer, an annual trek we made every year in order to keep my brothers and me off of the streets and out of trouble, and a removal that became permanent when I was eleven, at about the time when my ability to turn the five-fingered discount in bulk was becoming somewhat notorious with the merchants on our block. Although my father plumbed for a living, he hadn’t actually gotten around to putting in a toilet in our house until the summer before we came here permanently, and so every year we marched through the high grass in the back yard (Pop disliked mowing the lawn, and he especially disliked mowing the back yard, his reasoning being why should he expend time and effort on something nobody would ever see) to the outhouse. It would be hard to imagine a filthier, more disgusting, more feculently crapulous and noisome hellhole than that outhouse, the overpowering stench of which made my brothers and me evacuate our bowels with a single-minded determination and alacrity we seldom displayed beforehand and have never displayed since, and get the hell out of there forthwith and in a hurry, too. It is difficult to imagine the sighs of both psychic and physiological relief we expressed when Pop first tested our brand new flush toilet in the summer of 1969, and it was with no end of fraternal glee that all the brothers together pulled down the old outhouse and set it on fire, and then filled in what had to be simultaneously the most loathed and the most fertile spot on the property.
So why, you ask, would anyone possessed of all their wits actually advocate a return to such a primitive method of sewage disposal? To understand the war on the flush toilet, you must first understand the mindset of those who want to ban this paragon of Western inventiveness. The modern environmentalist is, in our current political climate, most often associated with those who believe in the power of the state to correct all of society’s ills. There are many reasons for this, one of which is that environmentalists like to tell people what to do, and the state’s ability to make the populace do things they don’t want to do is even greater than your mother’s, if you can believe such a thing. In order to get you to do what they want, they have to nag and nag and nag, and sometimes they’ll make you fork over a stiff fine for not listening to them, and at other times they’ll send in SWAT teams, but mostly they simply annoy you until you do what they want you to do. But to annoy you, they have to get at you, and they can’t get to you if you’re in the lavatory copping a squat on Sir Thomas’ pride and joy.
This is true, believe it or not. The vast majority of Americans own more than one television, but they don’t keep one in the bathroom, and until the cell phone came along, most people didn’t have a phone in the bathroom either. The bathroom was a place of solace and rest, where the harried citizen could simply sit and read and go about his business without the constant pressure to do one thing or another, simply because they were already doing one thing or another and they had to prioritize. The bathroom was the one place where an American teenager could read without their friends knowing that they were actually looking at a book, because books are gay (actual quote, people, I kid you not) and not at all cool, and social standing, as we all know and remember from high school, is everything to an adolescent. One can only imagine what will happen to the collective American grade point average when students can no longer use the bathroom for any prolonged period because of the room’s intense crapulence, or what will happen to the social life of teenaged girls when they are no longer able to use the bathroom for so long that you wonder what the hell they are doing in there? It seems clear, therefore, that this push for the ecofriendly toilet is little more than an attempt to rid this our Great Republic of the last bastion of personal privacy left to the common citizen.
And for what? To expand the already increasing power of the state to interfere in the ordinary lives of the citizenry, and yes, to serve the interests of those with a vested interest in increasing that power, such as all civil service unions, most Democrats, some accordion manufacturers, and my classmate the councilman. As I said, I am sure that in making this proposal the councilman is doing what he thinks is best for the people of our happy little burg, and indeed, for the nation as a whole. That being said, and again in the interests of full disclosure, I must say that I never liked him or either of his wives, and let me be among the very first to say that he can have my flush toilet when he pries it off my cold dead ass.
Monday, July 10, 2006
Saturday, July 08, 2006
The problem with being stuck in the soggy swamp of writer’s block, other than dealing with the usual horrors being stuck in any kind of swamp will do to those brand new shoes you bought just for this occasion, is knowing that there are any number of subjects you could write about if you just put your shoulder to the wheel, your nose to the grindstone, and what’s left of you to the emergency room posthaste. The times do not admit of satire, someone who could not think of anything funny to say once said in order to hide his inability to come up with some fresh copy that week; these, however, are not times like that. The times do admit of satire, although picking on Pinch and his crew does seem a bit like kicking the village idiot when he isn’t looking, but I still can’t think of a hot thousand words on any subject worth satirizing. Woe is me, I say, woe is me.
So I have taken to reading other people’s blogs, looking for the psychic jolt necessary to lift me up out of this damnable rut and help me bat out five paragraphs of deathless and somewhat mildly amusing prose for the edification of all five of you. Well, I can safely say that that was an hour out of my life that I’ll never see again. Nothing nada rien zip zilch bupkis beam me up Scotty the planet is devoid of life and subject matter. Everyone seems to be talking about North Korea shooting off fireworks without a license, the New York Times sinking ships with their organizational loose lips, and Ann Coulter being controversial. That last one I don’t really understand, since Ann Coulter is almost always controversial; the woman generates controversy the way teenagers generate acne and reasons for not getting out of bed on a school day. In any case, I decided to skip all of the above, which also meant skipping the whole host of corollaries that went along with them, none of which interested me in the slightest.
And then there is Jean-Jacques Rousseau. The great 18th century Swiss philosopher is not much in the news these days, and rightfully so, I think. In his case, dying was not the smart career move that it was for Elvis; very few people spot Rousseau traveling through the moonlit Kentucky night in a pink Cadillac convertible and singing the best lines from his hits The Social Contract, Emile, and Moon River. Rousseau would be bitter about that, but then, he was bitter about everything. Rousseau, for those of you who may be unfamiliar with his works, was the original back to nature boy, that all of humanity’s problems were society’s fault, and that people in a state of nature were naturally good until society corrupted them. To Rousseau, the less society interfered with people’s natural goodness the better, and that the world’s primitive peoples were noble savages, uncorrupted by modern European society. I do not wish to cast aspersions here; say something like this before the minions of political correctness and at best they’ll call you judgmental and Eurocentric; but has anyone noticed that many of the world’s worst troubles occur in places where there’s no half hour pizza delivery and no indoor plumbing? So much for the noble savage.
I do not believe that this is a coincidence, not by a long shot. I might be wrong about this, but it seems to me that a lot of these proponents of the noble savage think that noble savages are wonderful right up to the point where the noble savage does something deeply atavistic like cut up female genitalia or root for the Red Sox or wipe his backside with the New York Times Op-Ed page, and then the shrieks to high heaven would astound the smallest child at the circus; there’s nothing that’ll uncork the unconscious Western imperialist in some of those folks than watching some noble savage violate their prize shibboleths, and in public, no less. Now, this whole theory of human nature, based, as it is, on neither any human I’ve ever heard of nor nature itself, of which more anon, shows Rousseau in his role as the father of modern liberalism; for reasons too complex to fathom, classical liberalism is now modern conservatism. Classical conservatism, on the other hand, has retired from the firm of Flim, Flam, Flapdoodle & Weinstein, Attorneys at Law, and now spends the winter months with his wife Agnes and a cat named Buster in a recreational vehicle camp along a highway outside Ocala, Florida; the happy couple and the cat summer in Sheboygan, Wisconsin.
I will concede that back to nature sounds great to your average city dweller trapped in the perpetual urban rat race, especially if there’s a good hotel nearby, but as a basis for philosophical thought it more or less proves that Rousseau was full of toads’ gonads. Back to nature is a wonderful idea until you actually try it, and then it gets pretty nightmarish in fairly short order. Nature, in case you haven’t noticed, almost always includes large amounts of poison ivy and encounters with large carnivores who haven’t gotten the word that humans now dominate this planet. I suppose that in a pinch you could point out to them that the Bible says that man, meaning human beings in general and not merely the biological subset with the excretory ability to write their names in the snow, shall have dominion over the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, the fish in the sea, so on and so forth, you get my drift; in short, the planet belongs to us and if that means we have to move a caribou or two to drill for oil in Alaska and keep the SUVs’ rolling for another few years then that’s just the caribou’s bad luck.
Your average large scale predator, however, being a typical product of the American public school system and as a result being totally unable to read or otherwise comprehend the words of the Lord as expressed in the Holy Scriptures, will not, as a rule, concede humanity’s domination of the entire planet for one minute, much less the little bit of it you and he, assuming the beast is a he and not merely a somewhat hostile she, are sharing at the moment, and will then promptly claw your ass off and have it for dinner. This sort of thing happens a lot in nature, but you will seldom hear much about nature taking a bite out of you in Rousseau, who, I should point out, spent most of his life in cities, far from poison ivy and the depredations of lions and tigers and bears, oh my! He did, however, have five children, all of whom he shipped to an orphanage as soon as they were born. In any case, people interested in nature should stay in the city and watch the Discovery Channel instead; nature, like so many other things, looks much better on television than it does in real life.