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, January 29, 2009

AND NOW THE STAR OF OUR SHOW, NANOOK OF THE NORTH: Nanook of the North starved to death. He didn’t mean to, of course; no one except fakirs and anorexics are actually trying to starve themselves, but things just worked out that way. Nanook enjoyed his fifteen minutes of cinematic fame, but he wearied of waiting for the right part to come along—parts for nomadic hunter gatherers, whether they are from a polar region or from a somewhat more temperate clime, being few and far between both then and now, and tiring of development hell, he left Hollywood and went home to his spacious Spanish colonial igloo on the frozen tundra, a phrase I’ve never really understood since all tundra is frozen; otherwise tundra would just be cold wet dirt trying to make up its mind about whether it wants to be mud or listen to its parents and go to medical school instead. In any case, two years after he was the hit of the documentary film world, Nanook starved to death while waiting for his piece of the profits to come rolling in. I’m not sure why Nanook abandoned Hollywood for the Arctic. I understand that for many people a big tasty chunk of raw seal blubber beats a Chicago style deep pan pizza any day of the week, especially in those regions north of the Brooks Range, but the pizza is much easier to get a hold of, what with seals being fairly elusive critters not at all willing to be the main course at a Super Bowl party, and pizza has the added benefit of not annoying various and sundry environmentalist types who think that seals are cute as the dickens, which is another phrase I’ve never understood. Have you ever seen a photograph of Dickens? There’s a lot of things you could call Charlie, and a lot of people called him a lot of things, mostly unflattering, back in the day, but let’s face it, folks, cute ain’t one of them.

Now, you may not realize this; ordinarily I wouldn’t bring it up at all, but it seems germane at the moment; but I am writing this sentence about a week after I finished writing the last sentence in the previous paragraph. For most of the past week, I have been ill with a viral infection that manifested itself in a variety of ways too disgusting for me to mention here. Suffice it to say, however, that at this juncture I have absolutely no idea what this essay is supposed to be about now. Yes, whatever it was about poor old Nanook starving to death that I thought was funny enough to start one of these screeds is now one with Nineveh and Tyre. I’ve been trying to tell myself that the reason I can’t go on with this a lighthearted poke at a starving Eskimo is that, in my own small way, we are both brothers sharing the common bond of suffering. It took my family all of a minute to shoot this theory down—they would have shot it down sooner, but they were too busy laughing at me. The general consensus of opinion amongst those nearest and dearest to me is that I am a selfish, self-pitying bastard who couldn’t give a rat’s ass about the sufferings of poor old Nanook. Clearly, I will have to do something about the family, but I need to make sure no suspects me afterwards. This, I think, might be a little hard to do.

Well then, having gotten this far without a subject and little or no idea what the point of it all is, I shall have to think of something and think of it in short order, won’t I? I hardly think you are going to sit there while I wrack my brain for available subject matter and I fear that the Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton trick of describing all the furniture in the room down to what kind of cheese is in the mousetrap while I try to think of something to say is not going to work in this case. I have a movable desk, a chair, a desk light, and a mesh can full of pencils. My electric pencil sharpener is on the windowsill and my dress shirts are hanging from a rod to my left. There’s not much of interest here, even if I did start describing it all.

I am, however, fond of my electric pencil sharpener. For most of my life, the lack of attention paid to the inventor of the electric pencil sharpener has struck me as inherently unfair. The electric pencil sharpener may not have pizzazz of Blackberries or cell phones or many modern communications devices, but the electric pencil sharpener has, in its own homely way, been one of the great steps forward in the history of communications. That the inventor of the electric pencil sharpener never received the adulation of Alexander Graham Bell or Samuel F. B. Morse only shows, I think, the depth to which the blind and unreasoning prejudice against pencils reaches here in this our Great Republic.

The American prejudice against pencils is never an easy subject to speak about, even today in our much more open and Oprahfied society. Like prostitutes, pencils exist to service a societal need, and when society deems that need met, society ignores or, worse, discards the used and damaged pencils entirely. The cost of this ongoing callousness is high; every year, work and school-related accidents damage, sometimes permanently, millions of fresh young pencils, and for these victims, there is little hope for a return to complete health. There is only the certainty that a hypocritical society will throw them away and replace them with a new, untouched pencil or, in extreme cases, with a ballpoint pen, perhaps even, and it pains me to say this in mixed company, a magic marker.

You may argue, and you may have a point here, that the social status of pencils is hardly a fitting subject for an essay like this, what with the children watching and all, but how would we serve the children any better by going on about poor old Nanook starving to death, that’s what I want to know. Obviously, this whole essay would have taken a much different turn if I hadn’t gotten sick in the middle of it and forgotten why I thought Nanook’s starving was so funny in the first place. It made perfect sense at the time, I remember, but then, so did phrenology, mesmerism, and Marxism-Leninism, so I guess that’s not much of an excuse.

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