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, May 27, 2009

ARBORICIDE REVISTED: As I write this, the boys from our happy little burg’s highway department, who are as cheerful a bunch of vandals as you’d ever care to meet and never let anyone tell you any different, are very busily and very loudly digging a hole in the sidewalk right outside my office window. I am not sure why they are doing this; I really don’t pay as much attention to local politics as I used to; so if what follows makes little sense to you, please remember that I am having more than a little difficulty hearing myself think at the moment. Like I said, I don’t know why they are ripping a hole in the sidewalk; setting a bear trap comes immediately to mind, although I don’t think there are any bears in this neck of the woods. Not that there couldn’t be, mind you; I’m sure that bears would be just as welcome here as any other species of Flora and Fauna, once you bailed those two out of the county jail and promised the judge that you would do your best to keep the two of them reasonably sober and away from the senior boys until after the high school graduation parties and the Fourth of July. It’s been a while since we’ve had a bear wander through, that’s all. In any case, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that having the highway department guys rip up the sidewalk is a good thing every now and again—it gives them something to do and anything that keeps public employees busy is always a good thing. Idle hands are the devil’s playground, as our grandmothers used to say, and many a good public servant has found himself behind the metaphorical 8-ball because their idle minds led them to do foolish things like finding ways to cut red tape, reduce public expenditure, or running for the county legislature on a reform ticket. No one will ever know just how much pain and suffering some good civil service families could have been spared because no one made sure that the breadwinner was doing something constructive like filling out dozens of meaningless forms in triplicate. I’d also like to think that there’s some point in the highway department digging a hole in the sidewalk, but a point is often beside the point here in our happy little burg.

For example, not that you would know it looking at it now, but trees once lined Main Street, yes they did, but that, as the song doesn’t go, was once upon a time, not so long ago. They were nice trees, or so I thought, but clearly not everyone thought the same way as I did about them, because if they did, the highway department wouldn’t have cut the lot of them down and turned them into mulch. People were stunned and amazed and outraged afterwards, and well they should be, but afterwards doesn’t do anything for the trees, does it? I must say, though, that I admired the speed with which the trees disappeared. The City Council, as wise and civic-spirited a group of solons who ever peculated on the public’s dime, voted to cut the trees down on a Tuesday evening and a week later, the trees were gone, thereby setting what must be a bureaucratic speed record of sorts. At the next City Council meeting, of course, it was clear that the fertilizer and the fan had met, as angry citizens and sunstroked business owners descended on City Hall in their hundreds and thousands to voice their outrage at Main Street’s deforestation and subsequent lack of shade. Our lawgivers, unaccustomed to dealing with any but a completely somnolent citizenry, promptly called the gendarmes to clear away the crowd using moral suasion, truncheons, and machine gun fire, if necessary, and to eliminate any evidence of the crowd’s exercise of their First Amendment rights to petition the government for a redress of grievances, lest said exercise breed unwelcome imitators, whilst they, the authors of those same grievances, promptly dove out the windows, ran out the doors, scooted down the fire escapes, and in general made for any exit they could find, heading for the hills as fast as their edematous little legs could carry them, in much the same way as the frightened customers of a twenty dollar bordello try to find some way out of the house before the vice squad finally breaks down the front door.

The worst thing about the denuding of Main Street, I think, is that the highway department did not take away the whole tree. Stumps, and ugly stumps at that, now line nearly the whole length of Main Street. These stumps are somewhere between three and four feet high and many of them bear a more than passing resemblance to erect phalluses. This is not, I am sure, the sort of image that the local chamber of commerce or the county tourism board wants to present to the world at large. There was even a reasonable explanation for the arboricide: the trees had grown too big, they were interfering with the sewer system and pushing up the sidewalks, making it unsafe to walk, and the highway department was replacing those old and dangerous shade trees with young and not so dangerous trees that did not dig up sewers, sidewalks, or provide shade on a hot and sunny day. This explanation might have made some sense to someone if the new trees the highway department planted to replace the old trees had been alive, but they weren’t, and some unreasonable citizens steadfastly refused to see the logic behind killing old but healthy trees in order to replace them with new young trees that were already dead. There’s no pleasing some people, of course, but the highway commissioner allowed that there might be something to this argument, and promptly had the new dead trees taken away and sent to the very shredder that had reduced the old trees to splinters, leaving most of Main Street lined with the same old stumps. There is an old Roman city in Turkey that has its main thoroughfare lined with statues of snapped off phalluses as well, a concept that hurts just thinking about it, but if I am not mistaken those statues served a religious purpose, whereas Main Street’s long line of stumps makes our happy little burg look as though we were the victims of a particularly puritanical sect of pious beavers, and they serve no greater purpose than to be the source of cheap jokes for less fortunate municipalities, convenient restrooms for the canine population of our happy little burg, and as unofficial billboards for local rap groups advertising their gigs.

So what, you must be asking yourself at this point, is the larger purpose to the highway department digging a large hole in the sidewalk? This is a question of deep philosophical import, although, I must confess, I prefer the variant that goes, why are those morons digging up the sidewalk while I am trying to work here? This is a much deeper question, based, as it is, on my personal dilemma. I realize that one should not try to address general philosophical questions with appeals to personal experience, unless you’re an empiricist, which makes it all right, or a Democratic candidate for almost any office you can think of, even if such appeals tend to come across on television as morally greasy and politically insincere.

They’ve stopped. Well, that was nice of them, wasn’t it? Having ripped a fairly good-sized hole in the sidewalk, the guys from the highway department are now drinking coffee and admiring the hole they’ve just torn in the concrete. Men should take pride in their work and, as pointless holes in the sidewalk go, this one is positively beautiful, an avatar of complete holesomeness. It’s an excellent hole; I must admit, however, that I am no expert—I just know what I like. This hole seems to be free of the taint of postmodernism that afflicts so many pointless holes nowadays and echoes back to an earlier, more heroically American age of pointless holemaking, before such philosophical fads as existentialism and all the rest of the French school complicated everything that went into the making of a good hole. A hole is a hole is a hole, as Richard Burton says in Where Eagles Dare, but you wouldn’t know that once you’ve started listening to the eggheads turn a simple hole in the ground into a complex metaphor about man’s search for God and philosophical truth in an universe almost totally devoid of sugar-free doughnuts.

Oh hell, they’re at it again. And this time, they’ve got a backhoe with them, so they can dig more pointless holes in the sidewalk at an ever-faster clip. Mechanization is a wonderful thing, isn’t it?

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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Not that anyone can tell, given the paucity of posts recently, but I am going on vacation for the first time in two years, so the posting here will be even less frequent than it usually is for the next week or so, if such a thing is really possible.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

MISS CALIFORNIA, OR THE PERILS OF PAULINE, A TOUCHING MELODRAMA WITH LIONS, ELKS, AND THE KNIGHTS OF COLUMBUS: Continuing our theme about meaningless kerfuffles, I should point out at the beginning of this screed, in the interests of full disclosure, that no member of my family has ever entered a beauty pageant. There are many reasons for this, a case of the congenital fuglies being one of the more prominent reasons, from which we can also extrapolate a certain lack of familial interest in the proceedings. There are simply more interesting things to waste good TV watching time on than half-naked animate Barbie dolls parading across a stage. In short, beauty pageants are simply dull, especially in the age of pay per view television, where the interested male can find equally attractive young ladies doing what comes naturally and unnaturally at all hours of the day and night.

I am sure that all of the young ladies involved in the beauty pageant of your choice are perfectly wonderful human beings and a credit to their families and their sponsoring organization; I do, however, find a desire to be Miss Pig’s Knuckle a bit odd, but if this makes some young woman happy, then who am I to criticize; but however idiosyncratic the contestants may be in their private lives, in front of the television cameras they exhibit all the color, dash, and personality of a half-empty bowl of slightly melted raspberry Jell-O. In addition to the young ladies’ lack of any discernible personality, the viewer must also suffer through their relentless physical sameness. Mr. Hefner’s blonde California girl aesthetic has become so pervasive throughout our culture that even the African-American contestants in these pageants are spiritual blondes. Such relentless physical sameness has, almost by definition, more to do with modern surgical skill than with genetic coincidence, and so it comes as no great surprise to me to learn that at least some of these would-be California girls, including Miss California herself, carry enough silica on their chests to start their own beach.

Beauty pageants generate their own special set of scandals, which usually center on just how much of the All-American Girl is the original equipment and how much her surgeon imported from overseas or from the All-American Girl’s backside. Such controversies tend to be as vapid as the contests themselves, unless you’re talking about Latin American beauty contests, where the intrigue is positively Machiavellian in its intensity and where the interested viewer can, if he is lucky, hope to see the adherents of one criollo beauty going after the acolytes of another with guns, knives, and clubs hand-carved from hunks of frozen flan if need be. But this controversy wasn’t about any of the run of the mill pageant controversies. No, it wasn’t.

Mr. Perez Hilton, a gay man and a well-known blogger of celebrity gossip, was one of the judges at this year’s Miss USA contest, and in this capacity he asked Ms. Carrie Prejean, this year’s Miss California and a stunning example of the eponymous aesthetic mentioned above, whether or not she supported gay marriage, a touchy subject in California these days since the public voted down a proposition authorizing gay marriage back in November. This is not the sort of question one usually hears at a beauty pageant; the political philosophy espoused at most beauty pageants, as Sandra Bullock pointed out some years ago, does not extend much further than a desire for world peace, said desire being expressed as innocuously as possible in order to avoid annoying offending the sensibilities of anyone in the audience who might enjoy warmongering for fun and profit. One must wonder why Mr. Hilton chose this particular venue to ask his question, but it is a free country and Mr. Hilton has as much right to ask whatever question he chooses as anyone else has. In response, Ms. Prejean said, sorry, no offense, but no, she did not. Miss Prejean lost the pageant, largely, it seems, on Mr. Hilton’s blackballing her, and then Mr. Hilton then went online, ranting that Ms. Prejean was a “dumb bitch.” He later apologized for the slur, but the apology was too little, too late: with his words, a star was born.

I have to admit that I find this barely recognizable blip on the radar of our Great Republic’s history absolutely fascinating, for reasons I’m not sure I fathom. I think it’s because of the absolute hysteria amongst the liberal cognoscenti on either coast. The idea that this dumb blonde might actually have an opinion of her own seems to offend them no end. Having created what, to their eyes, can only be a monstrous Galatea, the outraged Pygmalions of the left have been busily trying to draw a mustache on their creation; no sooner had Ms. Prejean signed to become the spokeswoman for a conservative Christian group than somewhat saucy pictures of her turned up on the Internet, the pictures’ arrival coming complete with the usual charges of hypocrisy. You know, a telegraphed punch is almost always less effective than a surprise punch, and the left telegraphed this punch from a mile away; I don’t know anyone here in the vast right wing conspiracy who didn’t figure that the moonbats were going to find mud to hit Ms. Prejean with sooner rather than later, even if they had to make the stuff up themselves. If we learned anything at all from the late presidential campaign, it is that the left in this country has the best interests of the people at heart, spending just about every waking moment of their day thinking of new ways to help the poor and oppressed better their lots, and as a result of all this beneficence the left will not suffer impertinence from the helots; it smacks too much of ingratitude. As for the charge of hypocrisy, well, that depends on your definition of what is the more hypocritical act, doesn’t it: doing something stupid when you are young, learning from your mistake, and not doing it again, or betraying something you believe in deeply so that you may profit from the betrayal? There seems to be no end of people who think that the first scenario is a sheer pit of horrors, requiring a lifetime supply of sackcloth and ashes, while the latter is no big deal.

I must also admit that I do not understand why Mr. Hilton is so upset. Mr. Hilton asked a straight question and he got a straight answer. If he did not want a straight answer, he shouldn’t have asked the question, but that point is now moot. He did ask, and she did answer, and Mr. Hilton first used his power as a judge and then his access to the Internet and the media to conjure a conservative heroine out of the most improbable soil. Thank you, Mr. Hilton, we couldn’t have done it without you.

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Saturday, May 02, 2009


This stupid meme is winging its way around the blogosphere again and I, unfortunately, did not step out of the way fast enough to avoid getting hit with it. So here it is, and I will not tag anyone else with this, in the hopes that the meme will die a slow and agonizing death if we all just simply ignore the damn thing.

1. I am a figment of Nikolai Gogol's imagination.

2. I wear a tie to work, thank you very much. Standards must be maintained, I think, or civilization as we know it will collapse into a heap of noisome sludge, if we're not halfway there already.

3. I was born in New York City in 1958. So were lots of other people. People had a bad habit of being born in New York City in 1958; it was a fairly widespread thing then, sort of like smoking or cracking your knuckles.

4. My father passed away in 2004. Pope John Paul II passed away eight months later. Both of them are probably making a habit of being dead at this point.

5. I am not now, nor have I ever been, a member of the Communist Party. I was, however, a Democrat once, but I got over it.

6. I do not develop my own film.

7. I do not eat fish, eggs, or liver. It is not a religious thing; I just hate fish, eggs, and liver. I dont like asparagus, either. And yes, I think anchovies on pizza are just plain revolting.

8. I find thinking about my bald spot intensely irritating, a condition akin to psychic eczema.

9. I love children, especially other people's children, and I love them best when the evil little bastards stay the hell out of my sight.

10. I am not interested in my personality.

11. I'm not terribly interested in your personality, either.

12. I have a bachelors and a masters degree, thereby proving beyond a reasonable doubt that I am educated way beyond my intelligence.

13. I know the difference between discreet and discrete, unlike some ignoramuses I could name.

14. I am very fond of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. As they are but tasty balls of fat and sugar, I can’t have them anymore, which irritates the hell out of me.

15. I think the idea of having gay men judge a beauty contest is more than a little strange. After all, you wouldn’t ask a lactose intolerant person what their favorite brand of ice cream was, would you?

16. I have never owned a Leica rangefinder camera and the chances of my owning a Leica are minimal to the point of nonexistence, given that I would have to mortgage my house to get my hands on one. Still, it’s nice to dream, isnt it?

17. I did not vote for Barack Obama in 2008, and no, I will not vote for him in 2012. Knowing that you can ignore yet another election cycle ahead of time is always a good thing.

18. I am a Republican (no, I am not kidding).

19. I drink more Diet Pepsi Wild Cherry soda than I really ought to.

20. I own my own scarf. Scarves are necessary equipment for the serious photographer. The lady who sold me my digital camera told me that the camera wouldn’t work correctly if I didn’t buy the scarf as well.

21. I have an unreasoning fear of heights. I also have an unreasoning fear of being eaten by an alligator, which, I realize, is a bit foolish, given that there are no alligators in this portion of the United States. Even the sewers here in our happy little burg are alligator free. The sewers are, however, full of rats, given the cheese company’s propensity for flushing curds and whey down the municipal drain without so much as a tuffet or a spider nearby.

22. I think that prisoners on Death Row should have their own reality show.

23. I used to have a thick NYC accent when I was a kid. Said accent was beaten out of me here in our happy little burg, so now I sound as bland as everyone else here.

24. I think that there isn’t enough sex and violence on television.

25. I do not go to horror movies. If I want to be frightened, I read my school tax bill. What the hell are these kids learning that I have to cough up $3K for them to learn it?

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