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)

Wednesday, August 01, 2007


“We stood on our back deck and watched as filthy refuse shot up in the air like Old Faithful, tampons and all…you’d have to be there to believe the smell.” She maintains the city denied initially the sewage was in evidence.

As you can tell from the passage from our local newspaper of record quoted above, not every day here in our happy little burg is one of completely unalloyed happiness, strange as that may seem to you. Yes, we have our bad days too, the same as everywhere else, and there are times when we want to throttle someone badly. We’re not always sure just who it is we want to throttle on those occasions, but almost anyone will do in a pinch, I suppose. The people in charge of keeping us from going for each other’s throats, our crack force of gendarmerie, are themselves much in the news these days, given their newsworthy habits of suing the city whenever they take a notion to and whacking people with their truncheons to give themselves something to do as they suppress the already nearly nonexistent crime rate.

The police department’s most recent newsworthy whacking comes from an inspector in the city’s building department, who told the press that the police stopped him for going through a stop sign on a street that doesn’t have a stop sign on it and promptly punched him in the mouth when he pointed this out to the officer. The officer, of course, is now suing the city, since the building department doesn’t take kindly to wiseass cops assaulting their employees and immediately hit the cop in question with close to $50,000 in building code violations on his new house. The cop told the newspapers that he’d set his house on fire before he paid a nickel of those fines, which was simple bravado on his part; everyone here in our happy little burg knows that the whole town could burn down before the fire department shows up at a fire at a cop’s house, because that’s how much the two departments hate each other. It’s no wonder that the annual Fire—Police Department football game usually turns into a drunken brawl, complete with Glocks and high-pressure hoses used with equal abandon. Things are getting a little bit better, however; last year only 35 people went to the hospital, a vast improvement over the five dead and 79 wounded the year before.

The people at the top of our uncivil services, the mayor and the city council, would prefer to have all city departments working together for the betterment of the citizenry, but frankly, they have problems of their own these days. As I have mentioned here before, our happy little burg is in a period of economic transition. Where once we were a center for manufacturing bricks, hats, and various other useful things, we are now a center for selling antiques and, increasingly these days, the arts, which may or may not be useful—it really depends on your point of view. Art galleries are popping up like so many mushrooms these days, which is not always a bad thing, I think, although it does lead to some odd signage combinations as you go down Main Street. Not every town in this our Great Republic can offer the casual stroller modern art, a Subway club sandwich, and hair extensions for the black and beautiful woman by simply turning a corner. The problem for the solons who govern us is that, while they intend to give it the old college try, it is not entirely possible for a small American city in the first decade of the twenty-first century to base its economy solely on selling off Grandma’s old furniture and art nobody who actually lives here understands. In order to pay for the excesses of our not so civil servants, and since a return to manufacturing is not possible unless we move the whole town and everyone in it to China, which most people hereabouts probably wouldn’t stand for; there is only so much of General Tso’s chicken you can eat in a given week before you want a hamburger; the city council must pull its collective hand out of the cookie jar just long enough for someone to put some cookies in.

The council of peculation, which has absolutely nothing to do with academic criticism of the films of Gregory Peck or with the ecclesiastical council of Pecula, a synod of bishops, learned theologians, and leading Armenian ecdysiasts that met in the eponymous Anatolian pesthole in the sixth century to determine whether or not Christians could eat kosher hot dogs without committing a mortal sin (Yes, but only if they use ketchup or relish; mustard, whether yellow or spicy brown, is an abomination on the order of homosexuality, idolatry, or selling term life insurance to dyslexic Red Sox fans, such fandom in and of itself constituting a mortal sin) mulled the problem over, and if there is anything those guys are good at, it’s mulling; they live to mull and have even won mulling championships, no easy feat here in the Vampire State, where almost any elected official can mull the pants off the best mulling official from almost anywhere else without even breaking a sweat; and while they mulled, both years and gas passed three dollars a gallon and the son went down in the west and came up five years later in the advertising business.

Finally, after a prolonged mull that caused an equally prolonged sense of ennui in laboratory rats and prevented a nasty outbreak of the plague in North Dakota, someone had a bright idea: mining. The city could sell the local mountain (yes, we have a mountain, which has the same name as the city) to a mining company, who would, in turn, tear the mountain down and sell the stone, resulting in jobs, taxes, and civic improvements for all the citizenry. The police would even be able to afford machine guns, the better to slaughter the fire department whenever the mood struck them. Of course, at the end of fifty to a hundred years, there wouldn’t be a mountain where the mountain now stands, but all such plans require some small measure of sacrifice and at the end of that time, the mining company could sell the plain where the mountain once was to a real estate developer; the money would still roll in hand over fist. As the genius who came up with this idea pronounced the benefits of his plan with a glee he didn’t even try to hide—there’s no doubt that visions of fresh graft danced in his head—one of his fellow council members patted him on the back, announced the idea excellent and well worth studying, and then walloped his distinguished colleague over the noggin with a two by four. Everyone in attendance knew that was coming; if I’d been a second faster, I could have gotten a good picture of the two by four breaking in half over the councilman’s uncommonly thick skull. The reason for this is fairly easy to grasp: even though our happy little burg bears the name of the mountain, the mountain is not physically within the city limits of our happy little burg. You’d think a city councilman would know something like that, wouldn’t you?

Despair gripped the members of the city council, with the notable exception of the councilman for the third ward, who is still in the hospital with a concussion and a lump on his head the size of a fairly large cabbage, when fate, as it is wont to do, took a hand and changed forever the way things are done here, which is a terribly portentous way of saying that a sewer pipe broke, if you ask me. Like many places on the Eastern Seaboard, the municipal infrastructure tends to be a mix of various technologies, not all of them from the same century, and nowhere is this truer than in the city’s water department, which brings water down from the reservoir to the thirsty citizenry in pipes laid down when Eisenhower was President and removes the used water (and everything in said water) in pipes first laid down on the day after Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Court House. As you might imagine, those pipes are more than a little rusty now and after the recent heavy rains, one such pipe, a well-known Confederate sympathizer from way back, finally gave up the gray ghost. It ruptured, big time.

Now, as you know from reading the quote that begins this screed, the city initially denied there was anything wrong. Denial is the default position of any bureaucracy, since most bureaucrats regard appeals to objective reality as somewhat gauche, if not an actual threat to their jobs, an occupational trait they share with most philosophy and literature professors these days. However, every so often something happens that, even with the best will in the world, the bureaucracy cannot deny, and a sewer pipe spewing ordure and tampons high into the air would seem to be one of those events. And so, with heavy hearts, the water department roused itself from its institutional stupor and put on its hip high boots, and went forth to do battle with the busted pipe. No sooner had they arrived on site that they got a call from the mayor to turn around, go home, and do nothing with the pipe. Not needing any encouragement from the mayor to do what they do best, the water department decamped swiftly, leaving several shocked property owners in their noisome wake.

And so it is, folks, that very soon, you will not have to go to Yellowstone National Park to see a geyser. No sir, they’re printing the tickets up now and the out of town developers are out looking for prime properties in the area for hotels and maybe even a casino, if they can convince the Iroquois to build one in this neck of the woods. Tampon and toilet paper manufacturers are already lining up for billboards coming in and going out of town. Yes, tourism is going to save our happy little burg. A million people or so go to see Old Faithful every year; if we get just part of that action, we will be sitting pretty for a good long time, I think. Old Faithful erupts every hour or so; Old whatever we’re going to call it will erupt all the time, just like Mount Kilauea. Every time someone flushes, they’ll be doing their part to improve the commonweal, and before you come to see our happy little burg’s newest attraction, I should tell you that, by order of the city council, Pepto-Bismol and Kaopectate are now officially controlled substances within the city limits and an upset stomach the sign of a true citizen who wants the best for his community. I thought you might to know that before you came up to take a look.

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