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)

Friday, April 25, 2008

THE KNOW NOTHINGS HAD A POINT: First of all, I would just like to say for the record, and just for the record I’ve always wanted to say that something was just for the record, as if someone was actually keeping a record these days, except for St. Peter, the credit bureaus, and the IRS—that I have nothing against foreigners per se, despite their ongoing and persistent foreignness. I know that there are people who will go out of their way to make excuses for foreigners retaining their foreign ways, even in their own native foreign countries, but I have never been one of these poor benighted individuals. The sooner these aliens start cleaning up their acts and start acting like normal people—ordering pizza, going to the deli to buy a baloney sandwich and a handgun, joining the Republican Party, and speaking English 24/7—the better off they and the rest of the world will be.

At first, of course, the transformation from heathenish foreigner to solid American citizen will be difficult and not everyone will be able to make the grade. There are members of my family, for example, who never bothered to get right with God and remained foreigners until the day they died. Some of them even came to this country and remained foreigners. My aunt Ellen, to use another familial example, has lived in deepest, darkest New Jersey for most of her adult life without ever losing the mindset of the small Irish village in which she was born or her Irish citizenship, either. But for the vast majority of the wretched masses yearning to breathe free, the change will be beneficial in the extreme, and will lead inevitably to cleaner skin, whiter teeth, and perhaps even a well-paying job at the department of motor vehicles, where their inability to speak English properly will make our standing in line only for them to tell us we’ve got the wrong form an even more hellish experience than it already is and will go a long way towards advancing the DMV’s longstanding goal of making their agency even more hated than the Internal Revenue Service, if such a thing is even metaphysically or metaphorically possible. But the one thing that foreigners will absolutely have to change, beyond their propensity to stand around hollering at each other in utterly incomprehensible gibberish and not understanding that the inventor of the shower intended that people use his device for the promotion and advancement of personal cleanliness and not as a convenient way to water their marijuana plants, is their unfortunate tendency to show up at my house and eat corn flakes.

Allow me to say here that I am sure corn flakes are a wonderful product; they are certainly one of the staples that has made this our Great Republic the nation that it is today and that more Americans would be better off if they would abandon the milk-covered camouflaged candy bars that constitute a large portion of the nation’s breakfast menu and eat corn flakes instead. It does not necessarily follow, however, that I should eat corn flakes. Since we’re speaking plainly here, let me just say that there are few things in the world that I dislike more than corn flakes. Corn flakes are boring, insipid, boring, mind-dulling, and very likely to bring their galoshes to work with them on a sunny day on the off-chance that an out of season monsoon might occur sometime between nine in the morning and five in the evening. Corn flakes are, in short, too much like me for my psychic comfort and so I won’t have them in the house. So when I open the pantry door and see box after box of corn flakes, I know that the relatives are coming to town, emerging from their dark foreign earth into the bright sunlight of the American day, arriving like a swarm of passport-carrying locusts looking for a place to sleep and directions to the nearest ravageable amber wave of grain.

And so it was that, despite my best efforts to prevent the disaster, foreigners came into my home, ate their vile corn flakes, drank everything alcoholic in the house down to my aftershave, and then stayed to shop. Shopping is all-important to the flotsam and jetsam of Europe accumulating at my house, taking, as it does, the place of Christianity as a system of belief and worship, and unlike their predecessors from the Emeril Aisle (yes, I know that it’s Emerald Isle; this is a pun, a double pun, in fact, which I tossed in for the hell of it, and therefore you do not have to tell me that the Food Network’s own Emeril Lagasse does not rate his own aisle at the supermarket yet—I already know this, thank you, and he’s working hard to rectify this situation) this lot has no intention of staying on and building a bright American future for themselves; they are here for as long as it takes to push their bloated piles of swag through the fifty tons or more line at Sam’s Club and then they are blowing this red, white, and blue Popsicle stand while the blowing is good, and not a moment too soon, if you ask me.

Still, the experience has been more than a little instructive, in a strange sort of way. Apparently, there are large numbers of young Europeans who honestly believe that American citizens must shop at Wal-Mart twice a week in order to vote in presidential elections and that the United States Army is not doing enough to secure the borders here against Indian attacks. I am not sure where these young people get such nonsensical ideas—I suspect that one of the brothers has been making up stories again—but they believe these things with every fiber of their beings, in spite of my trying to tell them otherwise, and I think it might not be such a bad thing for Americans to realize that real live foreigners regard our beloved land, from sea to shining sea, from alabaster cities’ gleam to purple mountains’ majesty right on down to our fruited plains, as one vast emporium where almost anything they want can be bought dirt cheap. It’s a bit disheartening to suggest that we might go to some nearby historic site, just to do something a little out of the ordinary, and all these people want to know is if there’s a mall nearby. It is equally disheartening to know that the taxpayers of the Irish Republic, who are paying for this extended raid upon our Chinese made American goods and services, are also actually paying some of my cousins to be asthmatics.

As a result of my two decades in the library profession, I am more than a little familiar with that outstanding reference work, the Occupational Outlook Handbook, which the U.S. Department of Labor publishes every two years or so to outstanding reviews, except for the deconstructionist critics, who think the work smacks too much of 19th century Russian realism, you know, Tolstoy and all that sort of thing. I have been through that work from the beginning of Volume I to the end of Volume II, and I know, with a fair degree of probability, that asthmatic is not one of the career choices listed. If I looked really hard, I think I could probably find a couple of interesting lines of work like aardvark acupuncturist or celebrity celery salesman, but asthmatic? I don’t think there’s a job listing for that. As a general rule the United States government does not pay people to be sick. There are some exceptions to this rule, of course. The government will pay a person a pension if that person is disabled or in some other way unable to work, but I think we can all see the difference between supporting someone who cannot work because of a disease or disability and actually paying that person to have the disease. In this our Great Republic we do not pay people to be sick; we encourage them to get better quickly, preferably with their own money.

I could not get any of the visiting vultures to see just how unfair this situation is to America’s ailing, most of whom are actually sick and had to stay home from work, as opposed to traipsing all over the countryside of the Vampire State looking for the stray mall to buy out. For foreign governments to finance shopping raids on American malls for people who really aren’t feeling that poorly deprives America’s ill of those goods and services and makes it impossible for our sick to compete on the global unwellness market. Sick Americans deserve better than to have commercial outlets push them to the back of the line in order to serve the not so wretched refuse of someone else’s teeming shore. This sort of attitude puts a considerable strain on my deeply held beliefs about free trade and there are just times when I want to raise the tariffs on foreign diseases a good two or three hundred percent—at times like these no one should be driving a German measle around, anyway, not when there are American measles getting laid off every day of the week. Yes sir, raise them tariffs; that'll show them that Uncle Sam’s no sap, you bet it will.

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

The relatives having finally toddled off to foreign parts, and not a moment too soon, if you ask me, silence minus corn flakes finally reigns in my house, and so there will be something new here tomorrow, in which I comment on the disrespectful and altogether consumerist attitude foreigners take towards this our Great Republic. It is one thing, in my opinion, to have this sort of attitude if one is an American citizen; we live here and have paid for the privilege of taking a snotty attitude towards the land of our birth; but having aliens, documented or otherwise, adopt the same attitude is clearly unacceptable and may even be a grounds for a declaration of war. In any case, see you tomorrow.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

MY APOLOGIES: I'm sorry for the lack of posts this past week, but my home is currently infested with foreigners and it is difficult to think whilst they eat me out of house and home at such a high decibel level that it is impossible for me to think. When they depart, which cannot be soon enough to suit me, I will have something new for everyone to take a gander at. Until then, I'm screwed.

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Friday, April 04, 2008

PARROTS AND THEIR USES: You may not have noticed this, but most people spend a good-sized chunk of their lives doing things that are fairly pointless. Now, there’s nothing wrong with a little pointlessness every so often; it goes well with French philosophy, especially the existential meat dishes, and there’s nothing better than a tasty bit of pointlessness with a good red French wine, but too much of anything is not good for the digestion and with a diet that rich you should not be surprised if you come down with the gout if you overindulge. And while monotony has its comforts, after all, the truth of the matter is that over an extended period of time monotony can slip inexorably from the comfortably numb to the excruciatingly mind-numbing, taking a large part of our sanity with it. In these circumstances, people will do almost anything to break the daily tide of tediousness, or, at the very least, reduce the tide to manageable proportions. Some people will take up a hobby like collecting stamps, coins, or eighteen year blondes named Bambi, while others trapped in the iron jaws of ennui will travel to some part of the world they’ve never been to before in order to take pictures of foreigners screaming at each other in a strange language before they start taking potshots at one another for reasons that not immediately discernible to the naked eye. In any quarrel, it’s usually best not to think too much about the reasons for the quarrel; most quarrels do not stand up well under close examination and, as the great Irish philosopher Sir Lucius O’Trigger once explained, most people like their quarrels as they are; trying to explain the quarrel rationally would only serve to ruin it. All of these hobbies have at least some small merit—they will break up the general monotony of life, especially that bit with Bambi after your spouse and her lawyer find out—but I find that there is nothing that will break the stifling monotony and purposelessness of daily existence quite as well as training a parrot to do root canal.

I know what a good many of you are thinking to yourselves right now—what possible advantage could anyone derive from training a bird, any bird, much less a parrot, in the subtleties of root canal? I do not have a good answer to this question at the moment; I am sure an answer, and a very good answer it will be when it finally arrives, will come to me shortly, just after it picks up its luggage and goes through security and gets its passport stamped, but at the moment, I fear, you will have to do without an answer or your lemon danish. I’m not sure how lemon danish figures in all of this; it’s almost certain that you can’t have any with your French philosophy and I don’t even want to think about what’ll happen if you ask for a bottle of ketchup.

Obviously, for those of you who may want to take up this hobby, there are a few problems to overcome. I know that I had a whole slew of obstacles in my way, the first of these being that I don’t really know anything about how to do root canal work. I’ve had root canal done, in my case by a woman dentist who did her best to put me at ease about the procedure between running out to smoke Camels and calling her bookie to put bets on Philly’s Folly in the sixth up in Saratoga, but sitting in the cheap seats at Yankee Stadium does not mean you get to hit in the clean-up spot, and so I began my career in avian education with no small degree of trepidation granted by a degree mill in the state of denial. However, ignorance of the subject matter is the last refuge of the intellectually callow and, frankly, a flimsy excuse not to do something. Christopher Columbus, for example, didn’t know where the hell he was going in 1492 and still managed to arrive in the Bahamas before the tourist season began and to have the capital of Ohio named after himself before Donald Trump fired him for not staying at a Trump hotel, as Columbus’ contract with the Donald required. All Charles Goodyear wanted to do was to perfect a whoopee cushion that smelled as bad as it sounded. He spent years trying to perfect the thing, mixing the raw rubber with hair, onions, dirty sneakers, a teenager’s unwashed laundry, used car salesmen, and finally sulfur. Goodyear tossed a handful of the stuff into the pot, having no idea that he was about to unleash the miracle of vulcanization and its logical consequence, the automobile tire, which will help you get a girl alone, preferably in some shady wooded area far from the madding crowd and the eagle eye of her mother, and the condom, which helps the girl you got alone stay alone. Goodyear’s dream of the olfactorily as well as the audibly disgusting whoopee cushion, however, had to wait another hundred years or so for someone whose name is escaping me now to invent. These men and thousands like them had no damn idea what in the hell they were doing and their names have gone down in history, while tens of thousands of men who did know what they were doing have vanished, their names unknown to posterity, after they did the sensible thing and wound up spending their lives peddling life insurance to the easily duped. That’s what listening to your parents will get you and don’t you ever forget it, buster.

There are, in the periodontal training of parrots, a number of problems you will need to address right away. The first of these is the parrot’s basic lack of sympathy for human dental problems. Parrots do not have dental problems, as they do not have teeth; they have a powerful beak, which is a sensible two-piece system capable of cracking open any seed you care to think of and which the bird can also use to pop the cap off of any brand of bottled beer sold in the United States, either foreign or domestic. In the past, parrots could also open cans of beer with alacrity in the absence of a can opener; however, the invention of, and the now near ubiquity of, the pop-top can has rendered this service unnecessary, if not completely obsolete in our more modern age. Being clever enough to open our own beer cans, parrots cannot, as a rule, see any reason why we should need their assistance to perform root canal. Parrots understand that the human beak, as they think of it, is an internal rather than an external organ, but they fail to grasp how any species that considers itself the paragon of animal evolution could get stuck with such an unwieldy thirty-two piece dining room set and with no means of returning the set for a refund. Getting the bird to understand that there is, in fact, a vital need for his /her services is the first step to successfully training your parrot. The parrot will not sympathize with the human dental plight, but they are willing to go along for the ride, particularly if there’s a free meal involved somewhere along the line.

The next great hurdle for the hobbyist to overcome is the parrot’s willful lack of an opposable thumb. Parrots do not have thumbs, as they regard thumbs, opposable or not, as unnecessary as well as unsightly. Parrots do have wings, which are often brightly colored and help parrots fly up to the telephone wire directly above your freshly washed and waxed car, the better to crap all over your roof, but wings, brightly colored or not, are a poor substitute for a thumb. The ability to fly under one’s own power is not really a required skill in almost any branch of dentistry you can think of, except for hovering, which eliminates the need to have the patient turn their head this way or the other. Parrots, however, cannot hover; only hummingbirds can hover and hummingbirds are essentially untrainable, except for some specialized fields such as computer science and tuna fishing, where they excel. Parrots prefer to use their beaks and feet for any operation that requires them to hold on to something, so when the trained bird actually performs the root canal on a patient, the patient will need a general anesthesia during the operation and some first aid afterwards in order to staunch the facial bleeding. Parrots find it difficult to operate from a perch while operating and prefer to stand on the patient’s shoulders or face during the procedure, digging their claws into the patient to make sure they don’t fall off.

The last great problem, the one that is greater than the parrot’s lack of reading skills or their inability to add past the number seven and one that I would ordinarily not bring up in such an open forum, is their constant need to take hits off the nitrous oxide. In any scenario involving a parrot and dentistry, a human must handle the anesthesia. This is a given. If allowed to have their own way, no parrot would ever see a patient. They would lock themselves in a room with ten or twelve or twenty of their closest friends, open the valve on the laughing gas all the way, and fly around the room at top speed singing dirty songs until they started bouncing off the walls. Nitrous oxide addiction has ruined the careers of thousands of promising psittacine periodontists and taken a terrible toll on their families. If you decide to take up avian periodontics, you must, must, must keep your parrot away from the nitrous oxide. If you do not believe you can do this, then I advise you to take up some other form of recreation; avian dentistry is clearly not for you.

But for all of its difficulties, training your parrot to do root canal can be a great deal of fun and incredibly lucrative as well. There are millions of people who have no dental coverage in their insurance plans and who wouldn’t mind having an otherwise very expensive operation performed for literally peanuts, which the patients will have to buy from you at hugely inflated prices. The American Dental Association, of course, hates the very idea of parrots performing root canal, but they would, wouldn’t they? Their psittacine loathing hasn’t stopped them from investing in Ritz Crackers or Planter’s Peanuts, has it? No, it hasn’t, not by a long shot. Hate the birds or no, the ADA knows that parrots will be dominating root canal work in ten years or so and they are getting ready for the changeover. The parrots, of course, are looking to move on up in the world. Today the teeth, tomorrow the tonsils, and finally, the world! Well, maybe not…

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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

THOU SHALT HONOR THY FATHER AND THY MOTHER...REALLY: It is a dogma of adolescent existence, one that no normal teenager would think to question anymore than a believing Christian would seriously question the existence of the Trinity, a Buddhist would doubt the workings of karma, or a Yankee fan dispute the diabolical origins of the Red Sox, that the purpose of parents is to humiliate, embarrass, and to otherwise discomfit them in front of their friends. The parents involved may not mean to do so; they may even believe, poor fools that they are, that they are in some way actually helping their adolescent spawn with their social lives; but the view from those enduring the hormonal years will always be that the parents are trying to ruin them in the one arena of life that has any real meaning to these pimply cretins. Parents, in the adolescent worldview, exist primarily to provide economic and logistical support to the teenager and to remain in the background as much as humanly possible. When parents and their demands do come to the fore, the teenager resents the intrusion deeply, as it makes mock of their pretensions of independence, which teenagers prize deeply—most teens, however, would prefer to skip the reality of independence, as this would entail doing their own laundry—and provides fodder for that other great adolescent activity, complaining about their parents. This activity is general throughout the adolescent sphere and serves as a bonding agent between disparate groups of teens. If there is one thing on which nerds, cheerleaders, jocks, and stoners all agree, it’s that parents suck.

Why do parents spend so much of their waking hours attempting to destroy the social lives of their adolescent offspring? Strangely enough, no one knows for certain. In my investigations of the matter, I can find no sociological examination of the subject at all. There are detailed studies of almost every odd subculture one can think of, from the recruitment procedures of New York’s five Mafia families to the sexual and dietary habits of followers of YumYum, the great Melamicropolyindomalaymilkofmagnesian rutabaga goddess, but no great university, it seems, has thought the matter of parental uncoolness worthy of serious scientific study. I am not sure why this should be the case. There are several million teenagers in the United States at the moment, some of whom attend those very same universities that refuse to invest some small portion of their bloated endowments to look into the subject, all of whom would be very interested in knowing why their parents have it in for them and why it is that their parents, despite the teens’ best efforts to educate them as to the folly of their ways, insist on being complete and utter dorks.

I suppose I should not shatter their fantasies of independence like this; teenagers pine for the day when they will finally be free of parental control almost as intensely as their parents pine for the day when the kids will finally be out of the house once and for all; but their parents will go on embarrassing them for as long as their parents live. We do not tell our young people this sort of thing—one cannot tell these bright young faces, these young faces so full of hope and aspiration, and after the yearbook photographer is done retouching the senior class pictures, largely free of acne as well, that there is no escape from their parents, ever—and so we let them move forward into the great world, knowing that they will find out the truth the same way we found it out: the hard way.

Yes, the hard way. I am in no way an adolescent; I graduated from our happy little burg’s high school back when Jimmy Carter was still running for a chance to become the worst president since James Buchanan and I will have you know that I managed to go up and get my diploma and even be civil to the president of the local board of education despite my being the only senior on that football field besides the valedictorian and whatever the second place kid is called who was not completely stoned out of their gourd. Such is the power of clean living. I also have steady employment and a home of my very own, which I own outright and in no way share with the bank. This does little, however, to protect me from my mother’s ongoing attempts to make me look like a first class bastard.

If you’ve been following the weather reports at all these past few months, you will know that we here in the northeastern part of this our Great Republic have endured an eternity of one type of precipitation after another. Since the beginning of the year we’ve had to endure rain, snow, sleet, hail, snow mixed with sleet, rain mixed with snow, snow mixed with rain and sleet, sleet mixed with snow and freezing rain, which always confuses me, as I always under the impression that sleet was freezing rain, but it seems I am mistaken in this view, as there is apparently some small difference between these two vile annoyances detectable only to the most cunning of our nation’s meteorological elite and their very expensive instruments.

We’ve been getting rain, straight up and without the snow and sleet chaser, for most of the past month or so, rain coming down in buckets, in cats and dogs, in Bills and Hillarys, in toads and wombats, use the biological combination of your choice. Whatever pair of beasts you choose to describe the cloudburst, rest assured that the rain was steady, copious, and managed to fill my basement to the height of four feet (no, I’m not kidding; I checked the depth). As you may well imagine, I did not want to test the seaworthiness of my home while all my stuff was still inside and so I immediately called my local volunteer fire department for assistance. Flooding being a general problem that day, I had to wait several hours for our happy little burg’s Bravest to show up, during which time I sat up on my roof in the driving rain keeping a sharp eye out for stray icebergs.

The firemen showed up at length and immediately sprang into action after some coffee and a lemon Danish. They set up the pump and spewed the contents of my basement down my brother’s driveway, washing most of it down onto the street and leaving a canyon in the middle of his road large enough for the Federal government declare the gap a national park if they felt the urge to do so. When the firemen finished their task, I felt a peace and contentment I had not felt for a good many months. This warm and fuzzy feeling did not last, however; it was still raining.

Rain, after a while, will make some people crazy and my mother seems to be one of these unfortunate wretches. Now, you will, no doubt, be saying that a man should not be casting such vile aspersions about his own mother. But I do not cast vile aspersions, calumnies, slanders, libels, statistics, or any other form of untruth; I merely report the facts, and the fact of the matter is that at 3:30 in the morning and in the midst of a heavy downpour of freezing rain, my mother, who will be eighty come her next birthday, decided that it would be a good idea to get dressed and come down to my house to dig a ditch so that the rising water would not come flowing into my boiler room. Apparently, it never once occurred to her to wake me up and tell me of the impending disaster or to hand me a shovel, nor did the deleterious effects of pneumonia on the overall health and well being of an elderly woman in her late seventies ever cross her mind. The following morning she called and told me that the water was about to come into the house, a statement that, in my just arisen stupor, I believed meant that the inundation was imminent. I dropped the phone on my big toe and scooted up to the back door as fast as I could and threw open the back door, there to find a large ditch stretching from a few feet away from said back door to my brother’s driveway, or what’s left of his driveway. Aghast did not even begin to describe my mental state at that time. Absolute horror would be good, but the phrase lacks the oomph needed to really tell it like it was.

I cannot describe how bad this was. Visions of my mother dropping dead in the cold winter rain with shovel in hand while I lay inside snoozing the night away in a warm comfortable bed zoomed through my tortuous Roman Catholic psychospace like so many bootleggers trying to stay one step ahead of the revenuers, provoking a tsunami of guilt and paranoia, to thoroughly mix my metaphors. How would I ever explain this? No one would believe me if I told them that digging trenches in the middle of the night was exactly the sort of thing my mother would do, if she thought any of her sons needed a trench in their back yard. The pile of social opprobrium on my front porch would grow so large I’d need a bulldozer to get rid of it all, and then people would still point at me years later and whisper, look there, that’s the heartless bastard who worked his poor mother to death, he should have gotten ten years in the pen, if you ask me, Mildred. You know, I think teenagers should shut the hell up when it comes to whining about their parents; putting up with parents when all they’re asking you for is an A in pre-calc is easy. Putting up with them when they’re trying to drive you out of your mind in another thing altogether.

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