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)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Citizen of the Month fame, has convinced thousands of lady bloggers, all of whom worship his dirty socks for some reason or other, to go about interviewing anyone in the blogosphere that they can get their hands on. Apparently, while I was commenting about something else at that unhappy site, I volunteered to take part in the silliness. I don’t actually remember doing this, but Neil says that it is so and I believe him, sideways, sort of. The following is the text of that interview, which should shortly appear at Ms. Gassner’s blog, ByJane.

For those of you who do not read Citizen of the Month on a regular basis, some clarification is in order:

1. The always lovely Sophia is Neil’s wife.
2. Neil’s penis is more loquacious than the standard penis.
3. My feet hurt.
4. My feet have nothing to do with the information that preceded it or with what follows, but they are, in fact, hurting and I just thought I’d throw it in for the hell of it.

You've been on Blogger for six years. That dates back to before blogging was the darling of the social media set. How did you happen to be such an early adopter?

I have grown psychic in my old age, although sheer luck may have had something to do with it. I read about this strange new phenomenon somewhere—where escapes me at the moment—and thought that I might like to give that a try. So I did, and I continue to do so, for reasons I am not sure I fathom at the moment. Unlike Neil, I do not flirt with the lady bloggers, I am not involved in an ongoing stormy relationship with the always lovely Sophia, and the only part of my body that speaks to me is my pancreas, which has very little to say about anything except that it doesn't want to work for me anymore; I am not sure if my pancreas has joined a union at this point, but frankly, it wouldn't surprise me at all. In short, no one has any reason to come to my blog and hence, everyone ignores me. I am a digital nobody, a cart stuck in the blogospheric mud, going nowhere and getting there quickly. I've thought of changing the tone of my blog to one of complete earnestness and high moral dudgeon, thereby gaining an easy readership of anal retentives, all of us intent on changing the world, but I am distracted easily, I fear, and so I can only keep the dudgeon going for only so long before I have to bring it into the shop for an oil change and maybe a new filter. So there on Blogger I remain, while many another blogger moves onwards and upwards in their blogging career, moving on up to their own Web sites, and then on to fame and fortune. Life is not fair sometimes.

Do you have facial hair, and if so, would you consider running for office?

I do not have facial hair, except on weekends, when I don't bother to shave, and I would not run for public office unless I did not have to do anything during working hours. Not working on the public's dime is the whole point of having a government job in the first place and I see no reason why I should have to work harder than the people at the DMV just because I ran for the office. If I really wanted to work for a living, I'd get a real job in private industry, at IBM or General Motors or someplace like that. I also dislike the idea of running for re-election. I am not alone in this; most politicians dislike the idea of running for re-election. Here in the Vampire State, politicians regard incumbency as one of their civil rights, and more than one defeated pol has sued his constituents for voting against him in droves. This strategy hasn't actually worked up to now; it actually annoys the electorate no end, but the public's annoyance hasn't stopped some out of work solons from trying, and it's only a matter of time before some judge who owes his job to his party chairman accommodates the losers of both parties and orders the electoral hoi polloi to send Senator Gotmine or Assemblyman Porkbarrel back to the tax trough to feed in peace and contentment for perpetuity.

Your list of favorite books could have been compiled by someone who voted for Eisenhower. Did you vote for Eisenhower? Or Stevenson? Or, is there some other reason that your favorite authors are dead white guys who topped the bestseller lists in the 1930s?

I did not vote for either General Eisenhower or Governor Stevenson. I thought long and hard about the issues of the day: Korea, taxes, inflation, the Communist threat, and the untoward antics of the junior Senator from Wisconsin; and decided that neither candidate really meshed with my political views in either 1952 or 1956. Consequently, I waited until the summer of 1958 to be born, just in time to register for the midterm elections that year. I voted for Homer T. Veatch, the candidate of the Prohibition Party, not because I have anything against alcohol myself, but because Homer is a nice guy and his mom lived right down the street from us. Now that I think on it, I'm pretty sure that his mother and I were the only two people in the county to vote for Homer in 1958; I think even the Socialist Workers candidate got more votes than Homer did. Homer took the loss badly, I fear; he thought he had a real chance of pulling out an upset in the general election, and I felt terrible telling him after the polls had closed that he never stood a snowball's chance in hell of winning. No American will ever vote for a politician who wears a brown clip-on bowtie with a pink short-sleeved shirt. That made his dejection even worse; he had a lot of faith in his lucky bowtie, his mother told me later; and I really didn't know what to do next. It's not like you can offer the candidate of the Prohibition Party a good stiff drink, can you? Homer went on to bigger and better things, just as I knew he would. A few years later, the public elected him district attorney, a position he held for a good many years, and then he ran for the state assembly and won. He seems fairly content up there in the state capital, but I think that first loss of his political career still grates on him a bit, and I think he still plans on making another run for Congress someday. He still has that silly bowtie, too.

Is there some reason why my list of favorite authors are dead white guys who topped the bestseller lists in the 1930's? I don't think of them as dead white guys who topped the bestseller lists in the 1930's; I think of them as great American writers and their works as masterpieces of American literature. No two people will look at the same thing the same way. For example, many people in this country regard the United States Air Force's refusal to nuke Fenway Park during a Red Sox home game as an example of the Air Force's high regard for the lives and property of their fellow citizens. Still others regard the Air Force's refusal to nuke Fenway Park as proof positive that the Air Force is in league with the Anti-Christ. It all depends on where you stand, really.

When I read your blog posts, I am reminded of Tristram Shandy. Are you?

I seldom read my own blog posts; having written them, I see no reason why I should prolong the agony and read them as well; but when I do read them I am not reminded of Tristram Shandy, except in the sense that both the posts and the book seem to go on and on about nothing at all for a prolonged period of time, a quality I usually associate more with Proust than with Sterne. As anyone who has read A la recherché du temps perdu all the way through can tell you, nothing much happens in Proust and Proust spends an inordinate amount of time describing how the nothing that isn't happening isn't happening and how the Narrator, who may or may not be Proust himself, depending on what critic you believe, feels about how the nothing that isn't happening isn't happening and how the nothing that isn't happening reminds the Narrator of something else that didn't happen in excruciating detail. It took me two years to get through those damn books; I kept bogging down in The Fugitive and The Captive, bogging down to the point where I couldn't wait for Proust to get on with it and kill off Albertine , who may be one of the most annoying characters in all of literature, the Narrator being number one on that list. No, I do not think of myself as in anyway like either Sterne or Proust. Rather, I am more in the tradition of Hemingway, a follower of Strunk and White's Elements of Style, which, if you'll remember, chides the author to omit needless words entirely and to stick to the point of whatever it is you are writing, unlike Sterne, who apparently never met a digression he didn't like, taking the opportunity to go off on tangents that had nothing to do with the story he was telling simply for the pleasure of wandering down the tangent and seeing if he could get some more literary frequent flyer miles for doing so.

Unless you're asking me if I am Tristram Shandy, which doesn't seem likely from either a literary or an actuarial standpoint; most people, real and imagined, born in the 18th century are now long dead and probably making a habit of it at this point. You might wonder why anyone why anyone would choose to acquire this particular habit out of the plethora of habits they might otherwise choose to acquire, but people will make some very strange choices when left to their own devices.

There is about your blog posts a certain je ne sais quois, perhaps a smidgeon of the sort of arch, yet ironic, erudite, yet pop-cultish humor that I have long associated with British graduates of English universities. Have you ever lived in Britain? Why or why not?

I do not now, nor have I ever, lived in Great Britain, the British Commonwealth of Nations, or in any of the tatty bits of the Empire that still remain under the direct rule of the Crown. My grandparents did live in Liverpool before their emigration to this our Great Republic in 1928, but I don't think that counts. I was in New Jersey once too, but I don't think that counts, either. Why do I not live in Great Britain? As I work in upstate New York, I suspect that the commute would be hard on my car. That's as good a reason as any, I guess.

What motivated you to write three reponses to the Curb Your Enthusiasm bulletin boards, and then no more?

I am all for curbing one's enthusiasm, yes I am, and I am not all averse in telling people that haven't curbed their enthusiasm that other people have to use the sidewalks and would they please clean up after their enthusiasm from now on? Most people are apologetic—they know they shouldn't be letting their enthusiasm go wherever it wants, but they're too tired or too lazy to really care. One guy did sic his enthusiasm on me when I told him to curb his enthusiasm, but I lucked out; a cop saw the whole thing and he arrested this dolt for assault and took him and his enthusiasm down to the police station. The cop called me the next day and asked if I wanted to press charges, but I told him no, you know, no harm, no foul, and so that was the end of that.

On re-reading the question, though, I see that Curb Your Enthusiasm begins with capital letters, denoting a noun, possibly a name or a title. Curious as to this sudden change of interrogatory direction, I checked the Internet and I find that this is, in fact, a title, the title of a program that airs, if anything can actually air on cable, on HBO. I even found the three comments by Akaky that you ask about on the program's bulletin board, but I must officially forswear any responsibility for said comments. I do not get HBO; I am content with the basic cable I get and I see no reason to expand my horizons any further; and therefore I have never seen any episodes of this program and did not know the program existed until you asked about it. I am not your commenter, despite the obvious shared taste for Gogol's overcoat and other fashion accessories

What is your writing utensil of choice?

A pencil.

Why did you want to participate in Neilochka's Grand Interview Experiment (or whatever he's calling it these days)?

I did not want to participate at all; I was drafted against my will and my better judgment, but people prevailed on my good nature, as they are wont to do, and I am going along with this silliness for the sake of their sanity. If I did not participate, Neil was going to whine about my not participating for weeks without end. Neither Neil's penis nor the always lovely Sophia want to listen to him when he goes into one of these sulks; Neil nearly drove them both to San Luis Obispo when Neil's mom gave his kugel to his cousin about a year or so ago. He gets whiny, nasty, and cranky at the same time, obsessively reorganizes his collection of Uzbek dental floss containers according to height, and annoys goyim in Pig's Knuckle, Arkansas by calling them late at night and demanding that they make hefty contributions to the United Jewish Appeal. The UJA had to get a restraining order against him to keep him from doing this last year; he was giving the organization a bad name and drying up contributions to boot. It's hard to ask someone for money when Neil's been calling these same people at four o'clock in the morning and asking them if they knew that the word Arkansas appears on the state flag of Arkansas so that the people in Arkansas will know where they are. This is not the way to win friends and influence people. In the depths of a very deep kvetch, Neil turns violent, punching innocent refrigerators until the Freon bleeds. I don't think he would actually beat the always-lovely Sophia, as she would kick his ass into next year if he tried, and as for his penis…well, let's not go there. So that's how I got involved in this thing, much to my chagrin. I'm opposed to this entire concept myself; to my mind letting Neil talk us into doing interviews is just another way of enabling him to act out his strange obsessions. He's never going to get over these compulsions of his until someone finally says no, or gives him his cousin's kugel, whichever comes first.

Bonus question: what question should I have asked you?????

As to the bonus: you could have asked if putting ketchup on a hot dog is a sign of psychological and sexual immaturity. I say no, but there is a vast school of psychological thought that holds that the only psychologically permissible condiment for a hot dog is yellow mustard. This strikes me as a strangely neo-Freudian notion, and I understand how they could feel that way, but the empirical research does not bear their theory out. Studies done on Canadian lab rats clearly show that using yellow mustard on a hot dog for a prolonged period of time leads inevitably to depression, mental instability, and rooting for the Boston Red Sox, and is therefore best avoided, especially in the presence of small children, whom this horrific experience may scar for life.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

WHY I AM A MORAL ZIONIST: Full disclosure is always a good thing, I think, and before I go any further I think I should let everyone know where I am coming from on the issue of Zionism. I am a supporter of Israel and its right to exist in the land promised to Abraham in the Book of Genesis, which does not, despite my brother’s insistence on the matter, have anything to do with balding British musicians at all. I think that this country ought to support Israel as well, and I would have thought this even if those Jewish kids hadn’t broken into that Brooklyn yeshiva back in 1974, copied the year-end state Regents exams, and sold them to students throughout the length and breadth of the Vampire State. Faced with this massive breach in their pedagogical security, the state education department had but one option: pass everyone.

Some kids protested, wondering what was the point of their studying all year long if the state was going to pass everyone at the last minute; others complained that the state-mandated passing grade of 65 was going to ruin their grade point average. I, on the other hand, was in no position to quibble about the justice of slackers getting the same grade as studiers nor what the effect of such a low grade would be on my GPA, if I ever knew what my GPA was in particular or what a GPA was in general. All I knew is that the Lord had saved me from perpetual ignominy and equally perpetual adolescence and therefore I was in no position to complain about the Lord’s chosen means of deliverance. The Children of Israel did not complain that they had to walk from one bank of the Red Sea to the other, what with El Al, the IRT, and pogo sticks being unavailable at the time, and so I kept my mouth shut and the complaints to the minimum required to maintain my teenager in good standing credentials. And that is how I passed my Algebra I class, earning the necessary math credit needed for graduation from high school. Without those Jewish kids deciding, no doubt with Talmudic logic worthy of Moses Maimonides, that swiping the state exams wasn’t quite a violation of the 7th Commandment, just as telling an untruth to a health insurance salesman about that nasty growth on your left lung isn’t quite bearing false witness, I would still be in high school, trying to figure out what the n in 3n +7x=41 is and wondering why the hell I should care one way or the other about why n wants to be incognito in the first place. You may accuse me of a great many things, and you would be right about many of them, but the one thing no one can call me is an ingrate.

Given my support of Israel over the years, a good many people have asked me over the years why don’t I take my support to its logical conclusion and emigrate to Israel. People usually ask me this at parties, for some strange reason, and the people who ask are usually guys out to make themselves look good to politically liberal and physiologically appealing women, who are often within earshot as they ask me this sort of thing. I can understand why these guys ask; guys will do almost anything to get laid and, let’s face it, arguing about politics beats listening to your next door neighbor talk about how he’s making a fortune in telemarketing seaweed-based laxatives in tedious detail. They often come out ahead in these arguments, and if helps them get the girl, then more power to them, the reason being that I am a terrible debater. It is very hard to debate anyone about anything with my mouth full of food.

I do not mean to be anti-social; I can be an entertaining guest, full of quips and jibes that keep the crowd roaring when I really put my mind to it; it’s just that I seldom do. I don’t mind talking to people at parties, so long as the talk is short and to the point and that they stay out of my way as I head for the free food. Yes, indeed, free food is available at a good many parties, you see, and when the food is free, I am grabbing while the grabbing is good. Conversation at such a time tends to get in the way of the grabbing and can lead to choking and even death, which tends to put a damper on any social event and to annoy the EMTs, who have better things to do with their time than show up at parties they weren’t invited to in order to dislodge a canapé from your gullet. In one way, however, I am the ideal guest: I am invariably the very last guest to arrive and the very first guest to leave, thereby putting the minimum strain on the host’s hospitality and good nature. Hosts appreciate this, and I find that if you limit your interactions with the other guests to a series of nods, frowns, and concerned looks while you stuff your face, you will acquire a reputation as a deep thinker and a sympathetic ear, and so you will find yourself in demand as a guest at a good many parties. Why is this so? Beats the hell out of me.

To return to the question of emigration, I should mention that I do not have noisy neighbors. I don’t know about you, but I like peace and quiet and most of my neighbors agree with that sentiment. Naturally, there are always exceptions to the rule. I have one neighbor whose dogs routinely relieve themselves on my front lawn and another neighbor who objected to seeing me do the same thing in my driveway. Then and now, I object to this neighbor’s objection; if a man can’t take a leak in his own driveway at four o’clock in the morning then what is the point of having property rights at all? But in the main, the neighbors are a pretty sober group, content with letting things be and going about their lives with as little fuss and bother as they can.

This, as anyone who watches the television news for any prolonged period of time, does not describe Israel, which has extremely noisy neighbors, most of whom have no intention of quieting down any time soon. Maybe when I was a young man I’d have gone over there, just to catch the excitement, but I am older and mellower now and I prefer to sit and listen to my arteries harden melodiously than to wonder about thrilling adventures elsewhere.

And then there’s that whole thing with me being a goy. It is not unusual for Jews to make aliyah, as we Zionists call it; it is more unusual for a non-Jew to do the same thing. This would, I think, put a crimp in my emigration and lead a good many Israeli immigration officials to wonder why the hell I decided to stop being a burden to the taxpayers of this our Great Republic in order to become a burden to the taxpayers of the State of Israel. Israel’s very reason for being, you see, is to be a Jewish state, and as a consequence of this demographic decision by the nation’s founders, there are a good many Jews in Israel and not a whole lot of Irish Catholics, the ethnic cohort to which I belong. I could, if I really wanted to, I suppose, emigrate to Ireland or to South Boston, both of which have a high proportion of Irish Catholics in the population, but I have relatives in the former, and relatives, as we all know, should be avoided whenever possible, and the latter includes a good many Red Sox fans and other devil worshippers, of which the less said the better.

I would also have to learn Hebrew. I have no objections to Hebrew per se, beyond the obvious fact that it is not English, but I am too old now to learn the alphabet again or to convince my already overburdened eyeballs to go from right to left while trying to read something. If I have the trouble I have now trying to remember some modicum of Spanish, which, people with a sick sense of humor insist on telling me, is the easiest language for English-speakers to learn, what troubles will I have in a language where I can’t even order two beers and ask where the bathroom is? What is the Hebrew equivalent of dos cervezas, por favor y donde esta el bano? I don’t know and I’ll bet you don’t, either. No, emigration is entirely out of the question, I fear; it’s better for Israel and better for me that I stay where I am and provide moral support to the great cause we both believe in. If the United Jewish Appeal starts hitting me up for money, though, I may have to reconsider. Gratitude is one thing, but 1974 was a long time ago, and I never did get one of those mimeographed tests, so let’s not push it, okay?

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