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..." "...it 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) akakyakakyevich@gmail.com

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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