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)

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

STATING THE OBVIOUS: You might have missed this—I know I did the first time around—but the Israeli Cabinet, as wise and statesmanlike a group of pols who ever truckled for a vote, has declared the Gaza Strip hostile. When I first read this bit of news, I immediately thought that there’s a bunch of guys with a firm grasp of the obvious. I might be wrong about this, but after years of shelling, airplane hijackings, suicide bombings, rocket attacks, and cross border raids, along with various and sundry other mayhem along the way designed to give newspaper reporters something to do with their time other than sit around the bar at the Tel Aviv Hilton drinking whatever the Israeli version of a Cuba Libre is and thinking of new ways to pad their expense accounts, you would think that the governing body of the State of Israel would have noticed a certain ongoing ambivalence on the part of the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip towards Zionism as a political ideology in general and to its practical application in the Middle East in particular. Having made this exhaustive leap in logic, I fully expect that the Israeli Cabinet will now, after extensive consultations with the Israeli military, the Opposition in the Knesset, the United States government, any number of learned scientists, and the chief rabbis of both the Ashkenazi and Sephardi communities, declare that Israel will support, in general principles and without in any way prejudicing the right of the Jewish state to exist, the proposition that the Mediterranean Sea is now and has always been wet.

This is a controversial opinion, to be sure, and not one that will gain Israel friends in either the region or in the wider world. Questions as to the alleged wetness of the Mediterranean have circulated for years, with many of the front-line Arab states claiming that the Mediterranean has never been totally wet, only a little damp around the edges, and that any claims to the Mediterranean’s complete wetness are nothing more than the fevered imaginings of Zionists and Crusaders with imperialist designs on their buttocks. Other Mediterranean states, such as Italy and Spain, have vehemently disputed this Arab claim . Both governments have spent millions on advertising in the United States and the European Union showing happy vacationers getting thoroughly wet in their respective parts of the Mediterranean and see no reason why the never-ending Arab-Israeli dispute should effect their nonaligned tourist industries. In order to prevent any sort of tourist backlash, the two governments have now appealed to the United Nations Security Council for a resolution conceding the complete wetness of the Mediterranean from one end to the other, a resolution many other Mediterranean states say they will back, if the governments involved can agree upon the wording of the text. The Greek government, however, which promised at first to support the resolution, reneged when it learned that the Turks wanted to support the resolution as well. A Greek amendment to the resolution, claiming that the Mediterranean was wetter on the Greek side of the sea than on the Turkish side, caused riots in Istanbul and a score of other Turkish cities; in Ankara, Turkish nationalists tried to set fire to the Greek Embassy in protest. Failing that, the furious mob then attacked the local Blockbusters and other video rental outlets, smashing every copy of My Big Fat Greek Wedding and Zorba the Greek they could find, and stealing all the copies of Big Blondes Do Greek I through XXIX. This would seem to put an end to any Turkish involvement in this matter, although it is still possible that the Turkish military may compel the government sign the agreement if the Greeks respond to American and EU pressure and remove the offending amendment. The Turks may want to get into the European Union, but not at the expense of its national pride.

Other nations, however, are examining the Mediterranean issue with great care, seeing the Arab claim of less that complete wetness as a wedge issue wherein other powers can make claims on their national sovereignty. Saudi Arabia, for example, usually an absolute backer of the Arab frontline states, is privately less than supportive of the move to declare the Mediterranean merely very damp. In this case, the Saudis are looking at the Iranian claim that the Persian Gulf is not very wet, either, and so Iran goes all the way across the Gulf to the Saudi side, a claim the Saudis are obviously not willing to countenance in any way. The Saudis are, of course, blaming the Israelis for causing all of this trouble; if they had not declared the Mediterranean wet, the frontline Arab states would not have felt compelled to say otherwise, and thereby open issues better left unopened. Damned if they do and damned if they don’t; well, it’s not like the Israelis haven’t been there before, is it?

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Friday, September 21, 2007

A PERSONAL NOTE: I am interested in the phenomenon of the stray shopping cart, and just in case you are as well, here is a complete guide to assist you should you be confronted with one of these dangerous creatures.


THE FLYING MOMZER: Well, now that Sally Field knows that we like her, we really, really like her, she opines, and in public, no less, that if mothers had their way there would be no wars anywhere in the world whatsoever. This is an admirable sentiment, of course, but I think Ms. Field places too much weight to bear on the issue of issuing issue. After all, Golda Meir, Margaret Thatcher, and Indira Gandhi, to name but three, all reproduced successfully more than once, and having done so still went on to fight wars and blow stuff up and in general behave in a confrontational manner with large numbers of people. Indeed, Mrs. Gandhi behaved in so confrontational a manner with Sikh extremists that Sikhs in her own bodyguard assassinated her, assassination, whether by firearm, explosive, or Egg McMuffin being a fairly solid indication of the citizenry’s disgruntlement with the political classes in general and the assassinated pol’s failure to ungruntle the disgruntled masses in a calm and orderly manner in particular.

And even if you disallow the political realities these women faced or them as not typical of women in general, it is still difficult to find some small degree of synchronicity between Ms. Field’s idealistic and irenic vision of reproduction and its effect on women with what any television viewer can see for themselves on the news. There are few people more content with the glories of Islamic suicide martyrdom, for example, then the mothers of the suicide martyrs, who joyously proclaim their pride in the gory deaths of their children, most of whom perished while murdering large numbers of people whose deaths could not advance the cause of an independent Palestine or that of a worldwide Islamic caliphate one iota. Clearly, these women did not get Ms. Field’s memo about the warm and fuzzy feelings women should feel after giving birth. Perhaps if she sent the memo by email more of these women would have seen it.

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Friday, September 14, 2007

DON'T DO THE CRIME BLUES: If you are one of those very shallow people who reads the newspaper every day in order to be a better informed citizen of this our Great Republic then in all likelihood you missed this bit of news from the police beat. Just the other day a robber passed a note to a teller in a California bank stating that he had a weapon and demanding money. The teller gave the thief the money and the miscreant promptly fled. It was not until the police arrived and gathered the available evidence, in this case, the hold up note, that the investigators realized that the note was, in fact, a personal check with the robber’s name printed on the front. The robber, to be sure, knew that his note had name issues; he attempted to throw the forces of law and order off the trail by blanking his name out with magic marker, but this stratagem was ineffective, to put it mildly. The FBI arrested the man at his home soon afterwards, a task made easier by the address printed under his name. Reading about this sort of thing does make you wonder what in the Sam Hill is happening to bank robbers in this country. While this particular heist is a slight improvement over the knucklehead in the line-up of bank robbery suspects who, when ordered to say, Put your hands in the air, this is a stick-up, objected vociferously, stating that he hadn’t said anything like that at all, it’s not that much of an improvement. Bank robbery in this country is, in fact, in a parlous state.

Bank robbery was once the signature American crime, the crime every true red, white, and blue loving hoodlum dreamed of committing. In the 19th century Jesse James robbed banks, as did Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, setting a standard for high risk pilfering scarcely reached since. In our own time, John Dillinger, Pretty Boy Floyd, and Baby Face Nelson all made themselves legends committing bank robberies; Bonnie and Clyde even had a classic movie made about them and their thieving ways, the eponymous film having very little to do with the truth, as is standard in Hollywood. Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty were much better looking than the originals and the psychotic duo’s total take from all their robberies didn’t add up to what Al Capone spent on ties in a month, but that didn’t matter: they were bank robbers. Later in the century, Willie Sutton summed it up best: he robbed banks, he said, because that’s where the money was.

And it was fun rooting for the bank robbers, too, especially if you weren’t anywhere near the bank when they rolled into town looking for an easy score. During the Depression, desperate dirt farmers in Oklahoma cheered Pretty Boy Floyd on, knowing that he’d not only take the bank’s money, he’d burn all the mortgage papers and foreclosure notices and any other records that would make it easier for the bank to run you off your land. Watching a fellow Okie take the bank down a peg made a lot of poor folks feel better about themselves and their situation. After the Depression, people cheered Willie Sutton on, first, because he rarely used violence, and second, with the arrival of federal deposit insurance, no one had to worry about their life savings disappearing into someone’s pillow case and out the door into a waiting car; it’s easy to cheer for the bank robber when you know the money in your account is backed by the full faith and credit of the United States government. It’s like getting free lottery tickets for your birthday: you have a sporting interest, but no real involvement, not like you’d just sold your children’s kidneys, mortgaged the house, dropped the wife off the back of a train, and then spent the money trying to win the MegaMillion Dollar jackpot.

Since Sutton’s heyday, however, bank robbery has fallen on hard times. The number of bank robberies has gone down, of course, due to the baleful influence of the FBI, but the bank robbers left on the street these days are a fairly pedestrian crew, pulling their jobs without any of the panache that marked earlier generations of American hold-up artists. This has had an unfortunate effect on the nation’s young people. More and more kids want to be dope pushers when they grow up these days, and now, and I blame this on rap and the hip-hop culture so prevalent amongst the young today, there is a sudden surge of interest in pimping as a criminal career, something the bank robbers of an earlier era would have turned their noses up at, even as a last resort. Most of them would have gone straight first before relying on working girls for their ill-gotten pelf. Some filthy lucre was just too filthy for any self-respecting thug to take. That pandering is even a career option these days shows just how far the standards have fallen since the halcyon days of the great bandits.

What then to do about resuscitating the great American crime from its current doldrums? I have heard a great many suggestions, some more nonsensical that others, to tell the truth, but it seems to me that educating our young people is the key to preserving this once great felony from the misuse it has fallen into over the past few years. This, coupled with removing banks from shopping malls, supermarkets, and eliminating ATM machines, followed by a return to traditional bank architecture, will raise bank robbery to the status it once enjoyed throughout the nation. No one robs banks anymore because in the rush to make banking easier for everyone no one thought of its impact on hoods, thugs, and other assorted riff-raff. A gang of bank robbers going into an old-fashioned bank, an institution that breathed respectability, rectitude, and the Republican Party, a building built like a castle on the Rhine, was making a statement about their willingness to challenge the odds and dare criminal greatness; a gang of bank robbers hitting a bank in your local Shop-Rite, Kroger’s, or Winn-Dixie are just being slobs who’ll probably be caught as they try to get a double decaf latte with no sugar at the Starbucks concession. This is the sort of thing that depresses many people who keep track of this sort of thing. I mean, really, if the criminal element refuses to maintain high occupational standards, even in the face of the FBI’s constant harassment, then what hope can there be for the rest of society?

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Monday, September 10, 2007

I THINK THAT I SHALL NEVER SEE, A POEM AS LOVELY AS A CUT DOWN TREE: Our happy little burg is proud of a great many things, and rightfully so, I think. We are set in an area of spectacular natural beauty, we are recovering from a decades long economic slide with an economy that is the envy of our neighbors, especially the slough of urban despond located directly across the river from us, and our population, after years of slowly slipping away across the border into deepest, darkest Connecticut, is, at long last, finally starting to grow. This is the sort of thing that any community can take a justifiable pride in. Now, there are the inevitable slips in our long trek out of the Rust Belt doldrums, of course; one could hardly go through life without expecting the occasional disaster, which keeps us interested in the proceedings as they play out through our lives. This year our minor league baseball team has finished dead last in the league standings, proving yet again that some habits are just too strong to break, shopping carts are still turning up in odd places miles from any store—this week a shopping cart containing two bottles of diet ginger ale, a box of Honey Nut Cheerios, a frozen cherry pie, and the thirteenth edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, published in 1910, announced that it was running for the City Council next year; and the wise council of solons who govern us have decided to buy the fire department a fireboat, complete with a huge pump that can send water shooting seven stories into the air. This is a very useful tool for getting water to the upper portions of any burning building along the waterfront, even though there are no buildings seven stories high anywhere in our happy little burg; city law forbids the construction of any building over three stories within the city limits; and there are no buildings at all along the waterfront. There are a lot of trees, however, and so this new fireboat may be our contribution to the ongoing fight against forest fires. We are, after all, a National Arbor Day Foundation Tree City.

The appellation of Tree City, which we’ve held for some thirteen or fourteen years now, if I remember correctly, is one of our happy little burg’s proudest titles. As I’ve mentioned before, we take trees seriously here, if for no other reason than the arboreal population has the human population outnumbered by a factor of at least ten to one. We treat trees as if they were members of our family, reading them bedtime stories when they are young, feeding them, watering them, trying to keep them on the moral straight and narrow as they take root in our community and flourish. So it caused no little shock and horror this past week when the astounded populace saw veritable hordes of civil service workers descend upon Main Street like so many hard-hatted Mongols on a rampage and begin hacking down trees left, right, and moderate Republican alike, reenacting some of the worst scenes of arborcidal mayhem since Walt Disney released Paul Bunyan back in 1958. None of these clods stood 63 axe handles high with his feet on the ground and his head in the sky the way old Paul did, nor did any of them have a blue ox named Babe anywhere in the vicinity, although some of them did have a bulldozer named Vermeer, a device that lacked the emotional subtlety of Girl with a Pearl Earring and, despite the name, seemed to belong more to the 20th century Soviet socialist realist school than Holland in its Golden Age, but even with these caveats, the civil servants involved were all exceptionally skilled at felling trees in an urban setting. By the time they were done, not a single tree remained anywhere on the lower approaches of Main Street, rendering the complete lack of any resemblance whatsoever between a view of our happy little burg and Vermeer’s View of Delft even more complete than it was before, if such a thing is possible.

I asked one of the gentlemen rampagers what brought on this sudden need to attack defenseless trees; surely the city government had other things to do with its time and money than cut down trees that aren’t in anyone’s way and provide much needed shade for the many pedestrians wandering up and down Main Street these days. He said he didn’t know. I asked who decided to cut the trees down in the first place, as I didn’t recall any mention of this project in the City Council minutes, which shouldn’t really surprise me, now that I think about it. The minutes of the City Council, along with those of the local board of education, are largely fictional, the actual decisions having already made over coffee and pancakes over at O’Reilly’s Bar and Breakfast. In any case, he didn’t know the answer to that question, either. What then, I asked, was the city government going to do about the sudden lack of shade on Main Street. Our hard-hatted functionary smiled at that question; apparently, I had asked something he knew the answer to at last. Once they got rid of the old trees, he said—they were turning the trees to sawdust there on the street, a process a lot louder than you might think it would be—they were going to plant new trees. He pointed to a lot down the street where a small wood had suddenly sprung up amidst the asphalt, said wood consisting of a variety of sticks standing in bags, said sticks bearing one or two leaves apiece.

I pointed out that it would take at least thirty years for any of these would be trees to give the street any significant shade and that none of them looked healthy enough to withstand more than a few assaults by dogs determined to rid themselves of excess fluid. I then pointed out that in lieu of this, why didn’t the city just leave the old trees where they were and save everyone a lot of time and bother and expense? That way Main Street would still have shade, the dogs would have somewhere to take a leak, and he and his fellow lumberjohns wouldn’t be blocking Main Street for hours at a time, making it impossible for anyone to pass from one end of the city to the other. The fellow allowed that my point made a lot of sense, but that he wasn’t there to make sense, he was there to get rid of trees, whereupon he tossed a large branch of a locust tree into the chopper’s maw, reducing several decades of nature's work to dust in a matter of moments. There is a moral here about the swiftness of bureaucrats when it comes to creating disasters, but I am not sure what it might be.

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Saturday, September 01, 2007

WHY I DO NOT DRINK: Many of you have read the first part of this screed about a year or so ago, when I posted this here in a different form. I was recently asked, however, how come I do not go to church as often as I might; that part of this screed is an attempt to answer that question, so for those of you familiar with part one may want to skip down to the part you haven't seen yet. Enjoy your holiday!

There are, I suppose, a good many reasons to avoid both drinking and churches. One might be a teetotalling atheist, for example, although the problem I have always had with atheists, whether they are teetotalling or positively blotto six days a week and twice on Sunday, is that I can find no credible proof of their actual existence. There are plenty of atheists on television these days; one can hardly turn on the TV nowadays without someone or other peddling their newest atheistical tome and proudly proclaiming their disbelief, daring the Almighty to strike them down with a well-placed thunderbolt for their blasphemy, but you only see these people on the television, and I hesitate to point out that I also see Lucy Ricardo on my television and I know that she’s not real, either. If they want me to believe in their untelevised reality then they will have to come up with some better philosophical argument than their saying that they exist. The Bible says that God exists too, and you can see how much ice that argument is cutting. The other problem with TV atheists is that all they want to talk about is God. If I wanted to talk about God as much as they do, I would just go to church and listen to an expert on the subject. I mean, really, whose medical advice do you trust, Hawkeye Pierce’s or your family doctor’s? No, the reason I avoid churches is that bad things happen to me in churches. It has always been that way; on my next birthday, I’ll turn 50, and yet for large numbers of my friends and relations, I will always be the boy at the wedding.

Now, you must understand that I do not remember this incident at all; it happened when I was three or four years old and like a lot of stuff that happens to you at that age, it has long since vanished from the conscious memory. My parents went to a wedding with two of my brothers and me; the youngest two brothers hadn’t arrived yet. The wedding was a pretty standard one, as weddings go, or so people keep telling me. It was hot that day and, in that era before the ubiquity of air conditioning, the front doors of the church were open to catch the breeze, if there were any breezes available to catch. The happy couple were up at the altar getting ready to exchange vows when the youngest brother at the time, the Navy lifer, although at this time the Navy was still a future prospect and not something he was actively seeking out, rolled his big red fire truck up the main aisle of the church. My mother was embarrassed at this behavior, as you might imagine, went up the aisle to retrieve the brother.

The brother did not wish to return to the hard pew or be quiet; small children are uniformly uncooperative in such matters; and when presented with a physical attempt to remove them from where they want to be, they squirm like grafting pols caught red-handed in mid-peculation on 60 Minutes. He also did not want to leave his fire truck in the middle of the church’s main aisle lest some grown-up decide to appropriate the toy for himself. Small children regard all adults except their own mothers as untrustworthy at best and potential felons at worst, and the brother decided that he wanted his fire-truck back before some larcenous adult made off with it. The brother squirmed for all he was worth; he did not want to leave that fire-truck; and suddenly broke free. He ran down the main aisle, with my mother in hot pursuit. He grabbed the truck, stared wide-eyed towards the back of the church, and loudly announced before God and the assembled congregation, “Look, Mommy, Akaky wee-wee.” At this stunning piece of news the congregation, the wedding party, the bride and groom, and the priest all looked to the back of the church to see just what was going on back there.

What was going on is fairly simple to describe, since people have been telling me this story for most of my life. While my mother went up to collect my brother the Navy lifer and my father talked politics with the person sitting next to us in the pew I had taken the opportunity to wander outside and was, at that very moment and purely in a spirit of theological and scientific inquiry, urinating on a statue of the Blessed Virgin and trying to see how high I could get the stream to go. I was about to inundate the Holy Mother’s knees when my mother grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and dragged me off to one side of the church so no one could see her not spare the rod on my backside.

The story lives on, of course, and if everyone who has ever told me over the years that they were in the church that day had actually been in the church, the place would have to be the size of Yankee Stadium. I don’t remember any of this at all, neither my excretory assault on the statue nor the spanking afterwards. I am told that it caused a huge sensation in the church followed by waves of hysterical laughter, so much so that the priest held the wedding up for fifteen minutes so the bride could go into the sacristy and redo her makeup. Apparently she cried so hard her mascara ran down her face and she needed to clean up so as to look presentable in the wedding pictures.

As for the not drinking, well, that happened a few years later, when I was about twelve or so and on the cusp of adolescence, an always precarious place to be. At that age you want to try new things, experience new sensations, and one of the best ways of doing both, I found, was to raid my father’s liquor cabinet when no one else was around. It was Easter Saturday when disaster finally caught up with me. My father brought the brothers and me to church so that we could go to Confession, and when we were done confessing our sins and saying our penitential prayers my father brought us all home, whereupon they all disappeared like wallets at a pickpocket convention, leaving me with the unenviable task of clearing out the gutters. I did not want to clean gutters, but my mother was going shopping and she wanted the gutters cleared by the time she got back and she made it plain that she would brook no opposition to her desire for cleared gutters. So, I went and did it. Clearing gutters is not fun at the best of times, but clearing gutters when the leaves in the gutters are wet, sticky, and both loathsome and noisome to behold is just disgusting, and I was incredibly happy when I tossed the last of that vile-smelling gunk over into our neighbor’s heavily wooded back yard. Then I went inside, where Nemesis awaited me.

At first I resisted the siren’s call; I wanted to clean myself up first, but the impulse to taste some of my father’s brandy got the better of me and so I hied me hence to the liquor cabinet, where I took a sip of his good brandy straight out of the bottle. Then I took another sip…and another…and another…and another…until I had sipped about half the bottle away. Realizing the sudden fall in the brandy level might cause some consternation should someone notice it, I immediately raised the level to its pre-binge point by pouring grape soda into the bottle, which I reasoned was, like brandy, made out of something reasonably grapish and so would cause no notice should someone decide to have a brandy that day, which was not likely. My father was not a drinker and he only opened the liquor cabinet for St. Patrick’s Day and New Year’s, so I had about eight months to come up with a convincing story explaining how come his good brandy tasted like grape soda. After I covered my tracks, I went into the living room and flopped down on the couch to read the local paper. They were running a story on the dangers of teenage drug abuse, especially, as I remember it, barbiturates, and I read the story with great interest.

It was at this point that my mother came in from shopping. We said hello, and she told me later that I appeared fine to her at that point. She went into the kitchen and asked if anyone had called and I said not a soul called, not even my aunt Ellen, who telephones complete strangers at all hours of the day and night and keeps them on the phone for hours at a time while she complains about her health and how her evil guttersnipe children (they’re actually very nice, for relatives, that is; it’s just that she really is that much of a pain) were driving her to the poorhouse, and then my mother asked me to put the toilet paper in the bathroom. I said okay; I always try to be accommodating; and started into the kitchen.

The reader will have to take this next part on faith, since I don’t remember any of this at all, given the total blackout I was then operating in. I remember getting up, and then the veil descended. It appears that I staggered into the kitchen, took the toilet paper, and then staggered again into the bathroom, where I promptly fell face-first into the bathtub. My mother, frightened by this unexpected turn of events, came into the bathroom and asked if I was all right. I said I was, and then attempted to tell her what I’d just read in the paper about the dangers of barbiturates; what I actually said was Reds…reds…reds... Apparently, I was not clear in my explanation, because once my mother deduced that I was not talking about the threat from the international Communist conspiracy or the eponymous Cincinnati baseball team, which, for those of you who don’t follow such things, is the oldest professional baseball team in the United States, beginning its first season in 1876, she thought I had actually taken some barbiturates and immediately called for an ambulance. I was not happy about this and I must say now that I am glad that the only thing I hit with my Little League Louisville Slugger was the kitchen table and the living room wall and that no emergency medical technicians were injured trying to get me into the ambulance. They succeeded, of course, without too much bother; I was having gravity and balance issues at the time and so posed no real threat to anyone except myself.

Upon arrival at the hospital, the doctors pumped my stomach, something I would have preferred them not to do, as it revealed the full extent of my crime to all and sundry, including my waiting and anxious parents, who, afraid that they had a drug overdose on their hands, found to their chagrin just another drunken Irish-American roaring boy and therefore nothing to get really worried about. My brothers tell me it was incredible the way the emphasis shifted from anxiety about my health to outright anger about how much my little hospital jaunt was going to cost them. Parents can be like that, I hear.

And so the conquering debauchee returned home, draped over his father’s shoulder while this very same father announced to the entire neighborhood his son’s transgressions (Neighbor: Barney, how is the boy? Father: the little son of a bitch is drunk, that’s all; nothing wrong with him otherwise). And then I was washed in cold water like colors and then in hot like whites, none of which made any impression, and then I was parked in a chair and left to sleep it off.

The veil ascended and the fog cleared in the middle of the Mary Tyler Moor Show. I came to with a splitting headache and more than a little surprised that my hair, which had been dirty, was now clean; it’s strange the things that stick in your mind, isn’t it? The other thing that sticks in the mind is the reproachful glares of my mother and the snickering of my brothers. My response to both glare and snickers was to deny I was or had ever been drunk. It’s not much of an excuse, I know, but I didn’t know about my stomach being pumped at that time and so total denial of everything seemed a good idea until I could figure out what the hell was going on. Much of life, I’ve found since then, is just making it up as you go along and denying everything is usually a smart idea, except, of course, if you haven’t had your stomach pumped first.

The next day was Easter Sunday and I spent the first few hours of the most important day in the Christian year kneeling in peristaltic penance before the toilet, convinced that there were large groups of malicious people inside my head trying to get out and using whatever power tools were at hand to accomplish just that. It amazed me then, as it does now, that I was able to think at all, much less that there was still anything in my system to spew forth, given the pumping I’d gotten the day before, but the proof of the pumping was in the bowl. At the same time, I now reeked like the Bowery was my home address, the sour stench of alcohol exuding from every pore no matter how hard I tried to wash it off. I tried to get out of going to Easter Mass, telling my parents that I was too sick to go, but I noticed that my father was controlling his temper and I quickly backed away from what I still feel was a reasonable request. My father’s reaction, though, convinced me that this was probably not the best time to bring the subject up. My father seldom controlled his temper; displays of wrath were fairly common when I was growing up; and so we knew that when he controlled his temper it was because he was mad enough to put his fist through one of our heads. As much as I wanted the people inside my head at the time to stop banging, I didn’t want it that much.

My father’s one concession to me that day was his letting me sit in the back of the church, on a folding chair next to the table of the guy who handed out the church bulletins. That way I had a clear run at the bathroom, if I needed to use it. I remember that Easter Mass primarily as a horror of heat and the heavy scent of flowers. The church was packed with people and the closeness and the smell of the flowers and the heat made me incredibly nauseous and caused the sweat to pour off like I’d sprung a million little leaky beer taps; even with the smell of the flowers I can still remember the people standing in the back behind the pews sniffing and then looking at me strangely. After the passage of several years, during which time neither the Yankees nor the Cubs won the World Series, the destiny of man on earth was not affected in any way by the rise and fall of the price of tea in China, and tone deaf dwarves played Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen backwards using kazoos and whoopee cushions, the Mass finally arrived at Communion, which for most of the parishioners means the end of Mass, since the partaking of the Body of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, was and still is, I’m told, followed by a hundred yard dash to get to the parking lot and on the road before the inevitable traffic jam begins. Religion should be inspirational, I think, and there’s nothing more inspirational than beating the traffic.

I just want to say, at this point, that going up to Communion was not my idea; my father made me do it. All I wanted to do was to get out of the church and into the fresh air as soon as possible, but the sight of my father looking at me like Abraham getting ready to sacrifice Isaac (or Ishmael, if you prefer) and not at all keen to take up the Lord’s offer of a free ram instead of the son convinced me to head up to the altar rail. I remember people looking at me oddly in my sweat-soaked blue suit and my distillery stench, and I remember Monsignor Riordan look at me even more oddly, as if he couldn’t make up his mind to give me Communion or not, but he did and moved on, casting a frown my way as he went down the altar rail. I blessed myself and stood up, and then foundered in a tsunami of nausea. I realized, to my horror, that I had no time to stand on ceremony, and so I bolted down the main aisle, almost knocking some of my classmates over as they waited on line for the Sacrament. I had to get to the bathroom, there was no denying the urge, I had to get there, I had to make it, I had to make it…

I didn’t make it—I threw up in the baptismal font in the back of the church, heaving the transubstantiated Body of Christ into the holy water as if He was in a huge hurry to get out of such a low rent personage as myself. This was an especially poor choice of receptacle, as a young couple was standing next to the font waiting to have their first-born, a boy, baptized, the mother reacting to my defiling the holy water with a loud scream. I felt the outraged young man punch me in the ribs, which knocked the breath out of me for a moment, and then he tried to pry me away from the font; I still remember him holding me by my shirt collar and my choking because he’d cut off my windpipe. Then my father, as he was wont to do in situations like this, knocked the guy on his ass and dragged me out of the church. I don’t remember how my mother and brothers got home from church that day; I was too busy getting my ass kicked from one end of the house to the other and back again. Pop wasn’t happy that day, not at all.

Since that day, then, I have avoided strong drink and churches, the first because I don’t like the feeling of not being in control of myself, and the second because embarrassing things happen to me on a regular basis in churches and I would just as soon avoid these situations whenever possible. I do resent the fact that my brothers, who have found themselves in the drink taken more than once since then, will bring this discreditable tale up whenever they need a good laugh, even though that was the last time I ever got drunk, but there doesn’t seem to be anything I can do about this now except live with it. It happened and they’re never going to let me forget it. Having brothers can be a royal pain in the ass sometimes. I did go to my father’s funeral Mass, which was in the same church as my misadventure all those years before and I managed to get through the Mass without embarrassing myself. I noticed on the way out that the baptismal font still has a big spot where my stomach acid ate away the finish on the stone. I don’t know why seeing that spot cheered me up; just a reminder of my father in the good old days, I guess. And I occasionally see that young couple whose son’s baptism I so rudely interrupted; I think they’re Presbyterians now.

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MY 700TH POST HERE: First off, I just want to make it clear that, contrary to anything you might have heard to the contrary, I like dogs. You will find no greater supporter of canine rights anywhere in our happy little burg than myself and I think that is it is altogether fitting and proper that a professional football player should face more time for killing a dog than for killing his wife; wives are replaceable, whereas a good dog is not. I do not support or condone cruelty to animals in any way, and I like to think that if I saw someone abusing an animal that I would try to save the poor beast from its afflictions. I think I would do this for almost any animal you care to mention, with the possible exception of hagfish, certain species of vulture, and that stupid mutt howling out in my garage right now. The hagfish and the vultures explain themselves, I think; both creatures are loathsome in both appearance and in their personal habits, like the sort of people you’d find shopping at Wal-Mart at 4:15 in the morning, but you might be wondering just why I would include the dog in the garage in this list and, purely to satisfy some misguided sense of curiosity, ask yourself just why it is that this dog is in the garage in the first place.

Curiosity may kill the cat, I fear, but won’t do anything for dogs, especially this dog, unfortunately, even though the beast is hugely curious about everything. I should point out that the dog does not belong to me, but to my brother; I am not really a pet person, which may account for why I’ve never had one. I had a pet geranium named Hubert once; my father named him, assuming you can call a flower a him and not an it, after the then Vice President of the United States and Democratic presidential candidate, Hubert Humphrey; but a deer of deeply held Republican sympathies ate Hubert one night, leaving me largely indifferent to the loss. Then there was a mob of six-toed cats that chose our back yard as their base of operations, but you really couldn’t call them pets; my father would not have them in the house and would not let us feed them at all. They were predators, he reasoned, so let them go predate and leave us alone. All in all, if I were to have a pet, I’d have a cat. I know that lots of people can’t stand cats, but I enjoy their whole supercilious look, let’s not kid ourselves here, you porcine dolt, I’m doing you a huge favor by staying in this pestilential dump attitude towards being a pet. If I were a betting man, I’d guess the reason that cats ignore you when you talk to them is because cats only speak French.

My brother, however, has little use for cats. No indeed, the youngest brother is a dog man from way, way back. He always wanted a dog, but my father wouldn’t have one in the house, and now that the brother has grown and lives in his own house, he has his own dog to go with it. He got the dog about ten months ago, when it was a puppy, the kind of ugly pooch with huge floppy ears and woeful countenance that makes everyone who sees it go awww, isn’t he cute, he looks just like my cousin’s oldest boy when he was that age, which doesn’t say much for the kid at that age, I think. In any case, it’s been a little more than ten months since he got the dog, and while I can’t prove this beyond a reasonable doubt, I am fairly certain that there are steroids, lots and lots of steroids, in this dog’s food.

I got stuck with this canine behemoth in the usual manner; the brother, who is cavorting away in Cancun with his girl friend even as I write this bitter screed, told our mother a sob story, something about the dog having a urinary tract infection and that it wouldn’t be right for him (the brother) to board the dog at a kennel, since they would keep him (the dog) in his cage all day long, allowing the infection to get worse and so could he (the brother) keep him (the dog) at my mother’s house, just until he (the brother) got back from Mexico? This is an old story in this neck of the woods, what with the youngest brother spending his life getting away with this kind of thing simply because of the lateness of his arrival on the scene. In any fairly large family (I have four brothers), the oldest children traditionally bear the brunt of the discipline, simply because they’re the ones who have to put up with amateurs trying to raise kids. By the time the youngest sibling arrives, the parents are usually too exhausted to care much what the youngest one does; so long as he doesn’t smoke dope or contract an incurable social disease, he can do whatever he wants without too much negative input from the parents.

The thing of it is, however, that the brother tried to fob the dog off on my mother the next day and she took one look at the size of this beast and said, no way, bring him to your brother’s house. So he did, and when I grandly proclaimed, Get that dog out of my house now, the brother took the opportunity presented by my going to answer the phone to hop in his car and drive to the airport, leaving me with Rudolph. Rudolph is a purebred bloodhound, although why my brother would want a purebred bloodhound in the first place is one of those Rosicrucian mysteries that defeat even the oddest of imaginations. While there are a fair number of prisons within driving distance of our happy little burg, cons busting out the big house is not exactly a major problem around here, and consequently there’s little need for a bloodhound named Rudolph, whose nose, for all its olfactory prowess, does not shine at all and therefore will never have the honor of pulling Santa’s sled on Christmas Eve. Maybe on the day after Christmas, when Santa hunts down the escaping elves, but for the big gig, it’s reindeer only.

Rudolph, as you may have guessed, is a large dog, weighing about a hundred pounds and standing about six feet tall on his hind legs. This latter fact I am sure of, since Rudolph likes to jump up on me and look me straight in the eye while he slobbers all over my face. I hate dogs slobbering all over me, but I should not feel angry in this case, I suppose, as Rudolph slobbers over everyone and everything. The dog lives to smell and to slobber, smelling and slobbering the unsuspecting without regard to the race, religion, or place of national origin of the person or thing slobbered upon. And, as you might imagine, trying to walk Rudolph while at the same time keeping your shoulder firmly in its socket poses something of a challenge, as does actually holding onto his leash and keeping your balance. Chewing gum or thinking about baseball is not advisable in this situation, as it may present one challenge too many for the human mind to cope with. The dog’s original leash was a heavy chain, which I no longer use; I like my fingers—they are invaluable for typing or picking one’s nose, for example—and I want to keep the undamaged ones in a continuing state of undamage, if there is such a word.

It’s been like this for a week now, but all hope is not yet lost: the brother returns from his romp in the Mexican Riviera tomorrow and will take Rudolph off my hands once and for all. I was so ecstatic about this turn of events that I put the dog in his crate tonight, just to make sure he didn’t try to hide somewhere on the premises, and one of the other brothers promised to walk him tomorrow morning, just so I wouldn’t have to look at the beast ever again. I am so happy that I can hardly contain myself anymore, a happiness tinged with much anger, however, as this episode has turned me into something of a criminal. I do not like confessing to this in such a public forum, but there are pooper—scooper laws in effect from one end of our happy little burg to the other, and I have spent the better part of a week violating that law. I know that I am an evil person, a criminal, a threat to the public’s health as well as to its shoes, a knave and a varlet and a scoundrel for my vile flouting of this important municipal ordinance, but I am not cleaning up after a dog, any dog, and especially a dog I didn’t want in the first place. Fraternal obligation will only go so far and then it’s every man and his dog for himself.

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