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)

Friday, December 04, 2009

WHY YOU SHOULD WRITE THINGS DOWN: Louis XIV, who was a well-known French person for those of you interested in well-known French persons, did not like water. He didn’t even like branch water, a peculiar aversion in a man whose family name was Bourbon, and because of his aversion to all things aquatic he refused to take more than one bath a year. The royal bath was, like the soul of wit, short and to the point. First, the Masters of the Royal Bath would enter Louis’ presence with a bowl of warm water as the court orchestra played a fanfare composed especially for the occasion by Rameau or Couperin. At the conclusion of the fanfare, Louis would step down from the royal throne and then dip the tip of his considerable nose into the royal bowl. Then he would ask for a towel. The Masters of the Royal Bath, their duty done for the year, would withdraw from Louis’ presence and then go back to their day jobs at the department of motor vehicles, where they could spend their working days not doing much of anything on a more consistent basis. For Louis, the tip of his nose was now very clean, at least for a minute or so, even if the rest of the royal carcass still reeked like week-old dead cat deep-fried in rancid week-old equally dead fish oil, but as most of Europe smelled the same way at the time, no one cared. It was enough for most Frenchmen that Louis was le roi soleil, the Sun King, and every patriotic Gallic heart could burst with malodorous pride knowing that the wonders of Louis’ court rivaled the magnificence of the sun. Whether the sun actually smelled like Louis is a matter of scientific and historical conjecture; in space, no one can tell you stink.

I like water, on the other hand, especially the water at my house. I don’t know how my father managed to swing this particular bit of good luck, but my house sits on top of the sweet water of an otherwise sulfurous aquifer. This is a good thing, I think; I dislike the sulfur water almost as much as good King Louis hated water in general. There’s nothing that will turn a growing boy’s stomach faster than going to a friend’s house and trying to drink grape Kool-Aid that reeks of rotting eggs. The attempt was invariably unsuccessful, resulting in a large purple stain on the front of my tee shirt. My mother would yell at me when I got home, as these stains never come out as well as the detergent commercials would have you believe, and at the end of our summer in the country (we lived in the Vampire State’s eponymous megalopolis at that time) I usually had a great collection of tie-dyed tee shirts. As this was just before the great tie-dyed fashion revolution swept through the youth culture, I take some small measure of pride in knowing that I was a trendsetter, a fashion outlier pointing the way to a glorious future filled with organic vegetables, hippy kitsch, and Grateful Dead concerts. Not every ten-year-old boy can put that on his resume, you know.

To return to the subject, which is either French history or astronomy—I’ve forgotten which at this point—hang on a moment and let me check this out…water. Okay. As I was saying, the water in our well is very nice, or at least I think so, and for years my family and I drank the water without any sort of filtration. We thought nothing of it at the time; the water was clear, it didn’t stink, it was free, and so we guzzled the water down like pitchers of green beer on St. Patrick’s Day. Years later, unfortunately, we discovered the horrifying truth: it was hard water. Very hard water. My brothers and I spent our childhoods wondering why we’d spent our youths passing kidney stones the size of bowling balls and now we knew. We’d spent our idyllic summers pouring liquid gravel down our throats, not that I have some sort of animus against gravel, you understand; my favorite cartoon was The Flintstones, which was as gravel pitting a cartoon as you could hope to find in the Stone Age, when gravel pitting was big business, even if Betty and Wilma never thought of gravel as one of the four major food groups.

But our kidneys were soft and reasonably pliable then, unlike nowadays when age has had its way with them, and so we could handle the constant passing of sand through the waterworks. My plumbing is not as forgiving now. I am referring here to my home’s plumbing, not my own, although I understand how you might think otherwise. In the opinion of a number of professional plumbers I know, whose opinion I value and whose friendship with my late father prevents them from charging me an arm and a leg for simply looking at my plumbing I value even more, I need to do something about my piping now. Apparently, my house need never worry about osteoporosis; there is enough calcium in my pipes to keep vast armies of old ladies standing perpendicular to the floor for a good many years to come.

[Approximately two weeks pass, during which the management served tea and sandwiches to the assembled masses. The All-Girl Geriatric Glockenspiel Jazz Band provided the music.]

Yes, our kidneys were indeed soft and pliable in those days, and our minds were both keen and sharp, if that’s not actually redundant, and capable of retaining one’s thoughts for more than a few short days. But with age we put away childish things, as the Scriptures tell us, although the truth of the matter is that time does most of the putting away for us and doesn’t even ask for a tip, which may or may not be a good thing, depending on your financial situation. For example, I put this piece aside for a while so that I could compose a vicious hatchet job mocking the intellectual basis of the former junior Senator from Illinois’ misadministration, and then I had breakfast, I think, or I did something else before finally coming back to this piece, whereupon I found that the piece’s animating idea (all pieces have them, strange as it may seem) no longer animates, and had indeed gone the way of all flesh. In short, I have no clue where this thing was going, but I still have all that water stuff in the beginning and I don’t feel like going back and rewriting the beginning to go with a new end. I realize that I am being incredibly lazy; I should rewrite the thing, but I’m not going to. I blame the current administration for my lack of good old-fashioned American elbow grease; I realize that it’s unfair, but taking the blame for stuff like this is their job, not that you would know it listening to them sometimes.

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