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 08, 2009

SMILE, THOUGH YOUR HEART IS BREAKING: I should smile more. I hadn’t realized that smiling, or the lack thereof, was in any way a problem for me until a few days ago, when a small child came up to my desk and solemnly asked why I didn’t ever smile. My response to the little tatterdemalion, that I smiled all the time, brought forth a huge collective guffaw from my fellow inmates here at the egregious mold pit. When I asked what so funny, my co-workers, none of whom is ever going to get a Christmas card from me ever again, told me that the little urchin was right: I never smiled.

In fact, I am apparently famous from one end of this our happy little burg to the other, a span that admittedly does not cover much ground when looked at in the overall topographic scheme of things, for being the sort of grim, unsmiling, humorless ogre who could ruin a rich relative’s funeral just by showing up. This, I said, was nothing more or less than a low and contemptible slander—I am a cheerful sort of fellow, always happy and smiling and up for a good laugh. This statement brought forth a further burst of merriment from many of the co-workers and no few stares of wonder from others, especially those interested in seeing just how personally clueless one human being can be if given half a chance.

I must say that I found the discrepancy between the public’s apparent view of me and my own self-image more than a little disconcerting. I could not, I thought, be the dull, dour, humorless prig that my co-workers think me, and so I resolved to settle the matter by asking the people who know me best, my family, what they thought of the little munchkin’s libelous accusation.

Asking my family anything about anything is, I now find, a bad idea. Clearly, a virulent strain of idiocy runs through the family tree like Montezuma’s revenge. To a man, to a woman, to a child, the general consensus of amongst this vile assemblage of congenital dolts was that the runt was right: I am as grim, dour, and unsmiling a wretch as you would ever care to meet. Somehow or other, I have managed to go for fifty years without ever learning that I have all the personal charm of Ebenezer Scrooge before he met the spirits, with this small fillip of difference: everyone agrees that I would have told the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come to go kiss my ass. I was stunned. I was shocked. I was mortified to the nth degree. Surely, I thought, there must be someone who sees the happy, smiling me. So I went then to the source of all wisdom and comfort in the Bashmachkin clan: my mom. Surely, my own dear, sweet, beloved mother would protect me from the scummy tide of calumny sweeping about me.

The interview did not go well, although I must admit that my threatening to have the immigration department deport her if she didn’t see things my way may have contributed to the generally negative tone of the meeting. Mom provoked me, though, what with her agreeing with the rest of the family on the smiling slander. She did do her best to put a positive spin on the bad news—moms are like that—telling me that while I was not the most cheerful person in the world, there were ten of thousands of people even worse than I am, no two ways about it, and there are my many positive qualities: I am kind to children and small animals when I am not actually kicking them, that I am good to the poor when I am not ignoring them, and that I respect the sanctity of other people’s families right up to the point where they want some of my money. Upon hearing my positive qualities stated in what I can only describe as a slightly equivocal manner, almost as if Mom had to rummage through her memory in order to find something nice to say about me, I then threatened the aforementioned deportation proceedings, whereupon my mother told me to go pound salt, an expression most New Yorkers use at least once a day and sometimes twice just for the fun of it.

So it must be true, after all: I don’t smile. I am a grim and glowering presence who thoroughly frightens small children and depresses anyone who comes in contact with me. I am that little guy in the L’il Abner cartoons, Joe Something or other, who stalked the earth with a perpetually raining storm cloud permanently ensconced over my head. It is official: I am not a happy camper. And then I saw it, I saw opportunity knocking like no one’s business. Yes, I frown more than I smile—from what the family tells me, I last smiled in 1966, but everyone thought I was trying to sneeze and so said, God bless you; I’d always wondered why they did that—but this is not altogether a bad thing, despite the best efforts of modern medical science to convince us otherwise. Modern medical science also tells us that it takes 76 muscles to frown and 14 to smile, and there’s gold in that there difference, folks, gold.

Yes, my friends, 76 muscles control the human frown, and to this day, no one has come up with a way to frown aerobically. Obviously, it is easier to smile aerobically than it is to frown, but if you spent your day smiling aerobically people would think that you were more than a little strange, and possibly on drugs, whereas aerobic frowning not only works more muscles than smiling, it convinces people that you are a deeply serious and thoughtful person whose opinion about the great issues of the world really matters. I haven’t worked out the details yet, but I’m pretty sure that this one is a moneymaker, even in tough economic times like these. The times may even help me strike it rich; if everyone’s going to be frowning anyway, and they will, they might as well frown and lose weight and feel better about themselves as they stand in the unemployment line. You know, I think I’ve got something there.

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