The Passing Parade: Cheap Shots from a Drive By Mind

"...difficile est saturam non scribere. Nam quis iniquae tam patiens urbis, tam ferreus, ut teneat se..." " is hard not to write Satire. For who is so tolerant of the unjust City, so steeled, that he can restrain himself... Juvenal, The Satires (1.30-32)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

NEBRASKA VS. GOD (2008): You can’t, much as you may want to, sue God, something I am sure the Lord in His infinite wisdom is almighty glad to hear. This bit of Good News comes to us all courtesy of a Nebraska judge, who tossed out said bit of legal silliness filed by an Omaha legislator who wanted God to pay up for all the trouble, terror, and other not nice things done either by Him directly or by others in His name. The judge, obviously a man of Solomonic wisdom, dismissed the case with prejudice, stating that since God had no address, the court could not serve Him with the papers necessary to inform Him that someone had filed suit against Him. Friends of the legislator, who must have a very safe seat or has decided to end his political career in spectacular if very silly fashion, countered the court’s legal reasoning, calling it specious in the extreme, pointing out that as the Lord is both ubiquitous and omniscient He has no need for a fixed address and already knows about the lawsuit without needing a process server to inform Him of that fact. Nevertheless, the wheels of justice, being essentially bureaucratic in their nature, dictate that the process server must serve the defendant, whether that defendant is the dumbass who ran his car straight into your garage door after a St. Patrick’s Day party or the Supreme Being. The state, after all, is paying the process server to serve legal paper and the state expects the process server to do something for the money, unlike, for example, the state’s expectations for the people at the department of motor vehicles, which is the bureaucratic equivalent of the island of lost souls and from whom nothing is expected except a prolonged case of agita,

Still, an appeal seems likely at this point as trial lawyers and insurance companies begin to square off for what promises to be the steel cage legal death match of the eternity. The financial stakes for the insurance companies could not be higher. For as long as there has been an insurance industry, there have been those events that we all know as acts of God, events so rare and so unlikely that that no one in their right mind, a classification that immediately eliminates most lawyers and all Red Sox fans, would expect an insurance company to write a policy on. Everyone understands that no insurance company has ever calculated your chances of having your pancreas ripped from your body and eaten raw by a gray-bearded schlirchher bird-fungus from the planet Grokklesnorp as you head off to your nearest Dunkin Donuts for your morning cup of coffee. This is just something that does not appear on any actuarial chart that I am aware of and, as far as the insurance company is concerned, not an event that they can assign a dollar amount to. Should this admittedly unlikely event occur to you or to someone you love, it would be one of those acts traditionally ascribed to the Almighty, like earthquakes, avalanches, and that little old lady who doesn’t bother to check for oncoming traffic as she makes a left turn onto a major highway, which I know is definitely an act of God from the way I screamed, Jesus Christ! I am sure if you are not a Christian you would have used the name of your conception of the Divine in vain as well. If God suddenly becomes liable for the acts traditionally ascribed to Him and the workings of His Divine Will, many insurance companies will go through the legal boilerplate on all of their contracts to make sure that none of these acts require them to part with so much as a red cent. Worse even than this, insurance industry lobbyists are already hard at work in Washington, trying to make sure that Congress does not pass legislation requiring the Almighty to take out some insurance if He wishes to continue going about His mysterious ways His wonders to perform. Wonders are all very well and good for your average insurance company, so long as they are not on the hook for the damages.

Trial lawyers, by contrast, regard the Lord and all His works as the biggest potential payday since the invention of asbestos, an event that any good lawyer will have no trouble connecting with the Almighty. Indeed, there will scarcely be a major or minor disaster anywhere in the world that the trial lawyers will not try to pin on the Lord. And given that the Lord is eternal, the number of billable hours a smart lawyer can generate will be truly astounding. Had the option been available to them, the wrongful death class action suit for the citizens of Pompeii killed in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 C.E. would still be winding its way through the courts, with the descendants of the original lawyers still getting rich off the case. Yes indeed, there’s nothing like a volcanically active planet with no written warning sign stating that living on this planet might be hazardous to your health to set any personal injury lawyer’s eyes aglow with a selfless desire to help the insulted and injured of this earth, and, of course, to make out like a bandit without any of the attendant risks.

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

DUMBO, RIP: For the past few months, wild rumors have been flying around the Disney Studios in Hollywood, despite the best efforts of the studio to squelch them, but finally it seems that the truth is about to come out. The Indian Police will announce tomorrow that the rogue elephant that their officers shot and killed in a raid on a village near the Burmese border was, in fact, Dumbo, the star of the eponymous Disney motion picture classic. At first, the studio denied any and all knowledge of Dumbo’s passing, but many Hollywood insiders now feel that Disney knew about their erstwhile star’s final and ultimately fatal rampage and tried to cover the matter up.

Dumbo, the orphaned son of an elephant shot by Burmese police in the early 20th century, rocketed to stardom as a child on the basis of his huge ears and his unusual ability to fly, a skill not usually associated with elephants outside your local bar and grill. The young pachyderm’s rise to fame and fortune was instantaneous; he was one of Hollywood’s bare handful of overnight stars; and his well-documented fall from fame and fortune into an abyss of drugs, drink, and debauchery filled thousands of inches of newspaper column space and shocked a nation. Dumbo went from being one of the most admired to one of the most despised stars in Hollywood in the early 1950’s, although he blamed all of his misfortunes on the Communists manipulating Walt Disney and the studio. His drunken antics, hidden carefully from the public by the Disney publicity machine, reached public notice in 1954, when he over flew the White House and tried to urinate on Mamie Eisenhower as the First Lady played hostess at a state dinner for the Prime Minister of Sweden. Dumbo tried to dismiss the incident as a childish prank, but Disney did not renew his contract afterwards, and the young star could no longer find work in films in the United States. He tried to work in France and in then Italy, where he carved out a small niche for himself in spaghetti Westerns, but even there, his insatiable demands taxed even the indulgent Italian film industry to the limit.

Humiliation followed humiliation: a failed marriage, a custody fight in which his now ex-wife exposed for the first time the full extent of his sexual indiscretions, and then the revelation that he had once given money to a known Communist for a bag of peanuts ended any chance of his return to American films. In the end, circumstances reduced Dumbo to the fourth elephant in the elephant line in a tenth rate circus touring Mexico and Central America.

Dumbo disappeared for a few years; there were reports that he was homeless in New York, while others thought that he might still be in Latin America; and then he turned up in India, where he started, as a member of an ashram. He’d gone there in the 60’s with the Beatles, trying, as he put it in one of the last interviews he gave, to get his head together and get his life back on track.

For a while, it seemed to work. There was talk at Disney of inviting Dumbo back for a sequel to the film that made him a star, but that idea eventually fell through. The old demons that haunted Dumbo from his youth reappeared and he turned to drink, raiding villages along the coast for rice beer with a gang of younger bull elephants who went out of their way to egg the now aging star on to ever more outrageous behavior, behavior that led, in the end, to a drunken rampage on a hot summer’s night and a policeman’s bullet. In a strange coincidence, on the day of his death an Indian court threw out Dumbo’s lawsuit against the estate of George Orwell for the wrongful death of Dumbo’s father, citing the fact that, while Burma at the time of the star’s father’s death, was a part of Britain’s Indian empire, along with what are now the states of Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh, Burma no longer was a part of India, and so the court had no standing to hear a case that occurred in a foreign country. Dumbo was nearly 70 at the time of his death, and he left no survivors, his only son having died in an automobile accident in 1969.

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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

THE TACO AND ITS MEANING IN MODERN SOCIETY: I am not the taco. This is always a good thing to know, of course, and it would have taken a great load off my mind had this been the sort of thing I spend a lot of time worrying about, but since it isn’t, it really didn’t make much of a difference one way or the other to me. Still, it’s always nice to know. I have to admit that I hadn’t realized that my being or not being the taco was in any way an issue until I went to lunch the other day. There’s nothing like processed meat to bring up this sort of conundrum, as well a good healthy burst of domestic natural gas untouched by the malignant touch of greedy oil companies.

In any case, off I went on that day of discovery from the egregious mold pit wherein I labor for the biblical mite, a not nearly as interesting a bug as the praying mantis, Gregor Samsa, or the crazy guy who comes in here every day wanting to know what the last thing on the computer is, but one merchants across the length and breadth of this our Great Republic are more likely to accept in their establishments than the hoarse fly, the shagged fly, and the open fly, unless, of course, you’re running that type of establishment, down [yes, this is the main verb; my apologies for the delay in getting to it—I left it on the kitchen table next to the car keys this morning and I had to go back inside for them both] the street to the Gnocchi Deli, there to consume an Italian Combo, which is not, despite the obviously misleading name, three guys from Aci Castello with second hand instruments interested in playing the greatest hits of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie with more or less (mostly less) no degree of skill, but a definitely non-kosher sandwich made from various and sundry Italian cold cuts made in Iowa by illegal aliens from Oaxaca.

It was a busy day at the deli; I am usually in the tail end of the lunchtime crowd, but that day the gods of lunchmeat and chronology were not kind to me, and so I was just one more body in a packed mass of bodies craving high sodium and fat. To add to the confusion, the new girl behind the counter had not, as most new people have not, fully mastered the intricacies of operating a cash register. But she was game, no two ways about it. She was all hustle and bustle, cheerfully scurrying this way and that way in precisely the way that someone who knows what they are doing does not. [Yes, I am paraphrasing D.N.A., for those of you who noticed.] I did not give her my order—I figured I’d cut the kid some slack—so I gave my order to Billy Gnocchi, the owner’s son, and while he made the sandwich we did what baseball fans in this neck of the woods do at this time of the year: argue about whether the Red Sox in their current incarnation are the actual spawn of Satan or merely a small and not terribly important subset of the mentally and venereally diseased slave army of the Anti-Christ. After he finished piling slabs of faux Italianate lunchmeat on a roll, Billy wrapped the sandwich up in some paper and left it by the cash register for her to ring up. And it was there, by the cash register, in the bright light of an October noon, that the new girl posed the existential question.

She was confused, as well she might be, for I strongly suspect that she lied through her teeth on her application about having any experience in food service in general or in the cut-throat, dog eat dog world of retail sandwich making in particular, and because she was confused, she was well on her way to becoming flustered as well. This is always a bad sign. It became very clear to me very quickly that the only experience this young woman had with cash registers was in rifling the contents thereof during armed robberies, a skill useful, perhaps, for those happy few who choose a career in professional lawbreaking or Democratic politics, but one not entirely germane to her current circumstances. As she tried to figure out what to do next, her conversation yes I said I will yes became a Joycean stream of consciousness that flowed riverrun out of her mouth while Mr. Leopold Bloom ate with relish the internal organs of beasts and fowls without any editing at all from her now allegedly conscious mind and a very good moocow it was too and pooled on the floor about her feet in brightly colored patterns of toxic flop sweat that positively shouted Parnell Parnell my vanquished king upon all the living and the dead. Finally, at the height of her confusion, crushed between the Scylla of orders and the Charybdis of making change, she asked me, “Are you the taco?” To which query Billy Gnocchi hollered from the other end of the deli, “No, he’s the combo.”

No, I am not the taco, but this does not mean that I, or any other human being, for that matter, can, in light of the tanking economy, avoid the question for very long. For who is and who is not the taco is ultimately a philosophical question, perhaps one of the great philosophical questions of our time, along with what is the meaning of life, how to be just in an unjust world, and why is an old guy like Hugh Hefner getting all the hot babes? The question of who is the taco is not an easy one to ask or to answer, which renders it unpopular in our glib era, where what we want from philosophy is a thirty-second sound bite that explains all of creation and has a snappy punch line too.

It was not always thus, however. Heraclitus, the greatest of the pre-Socratic philosophers, held that war and tacos were the father of us all, a position many Greeks of his time shared. Centuries later, Diogenes the Cynic held that Heraclitus was a dope and a dolt whose position on tacos would only make sense to a Theban, a noticeably not bright group of people much given to marrying their mothers and walling their daughters up in the rec room in order to avoid paying for a prom dress. Socrates himself had no position on tacos other than Xanthippe, whom he loathed, and Plato found the matter uninteresting to the nth degree. Archimedes the Syracusan, on the other hand, proved mathematically that the best way to eat a taco was while wearing a green t-shirt and boxer shorts, and Thucydides devotes a chapter of The Peloponnesian War to the Athenian attack on the polis of Burpus in upper Attica, which the Athenians did in order to get control of the taco traffic in central Greece.

But none of this mostly unnecessary verbiage really addresses the central issue: who is the taco? What is the role of the taco in modern life, and how can I fulfill my taco destiny, assuming that I even have a taco destiny? Is there a life after tacos and if there is, how can I achieve this life, and will I have to supply my own Rolaids once I get there? Will the professional doubters like Christopher Hitchens undermine our society’s deepest held beliefs in the efficacy of ordering tacos? Difficult questions, all of them, and I see no desire among today’s young people to even spend the slightest amount of time considering them. We must, I fear, wait for a more reflective age than this one before we can even begin to think deeply about the question. It will be a long wait, I think.

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