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)

Monday, September 26, 2011

50,000 BIG ONES: You may find this a little hard to believe, but sometime in the next week or so The Passing Parade will log in its 50,000 visitor. Now I know that might not seem like a lot to you; there are sites out there that log in that many people in a few minutes and manage to do so without showing pictures of naked women, if you can wrap your mind around such a possibility. But The Passing Parade has never catered to this lowest common denominator nor have we truckled after cheap popularity, although this has not been for want of trying. So for a blog like this, 50,000 is a nice number to arrive at.

I’d like to thank everyone who keeps coming by here, from Tat and Snoop, Russ and Dick, plus the folks over at Eternity Road and Burn magazine who keep popping over to find out more about that Akaky person and leave just as confused as when they arrived. I would also like to thank Ms. Roberta Vasquez, Playboy Magazine’s Miss November of 1984, who I mentioned in a post a few years ago and whose legion of fans still arrive here daily looking for her. Without Ms. Vasquez and her coterie of die-hard supporters, this blog’s numbers would still be somewhere in the low hundreds at this point. Again, I thank all of you.

I would also like to take this opportunity to apologize for the inconsistency with which I post here. The Passing Parade is a long essay blog and this format requires me to think of something new every time I sit down at my writing desk. As writing something new is an activity I prefer in the past rather than the present tense, this inevitably leads to delays in getting new material written, rewritten, edited, proofread, and then uploaded. My natural inclination to sloth does not help either, nor does my more or less constant fight with writer’s block, a fight that the block wins more times than not. But we are who we are, I fear, and we work (or don’t work) at our own pace. For those of you who would prefer a faster rate of delivery, again, my apologies.

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Thursday, September 08, 2011

FLEABAGS AND OTHER TALES OF MORAL OPPROBRIUM: Please allow me to preface my remarks here by saying that yes, despite what many people here in our happy little burg will tell you, I really do like dogs. I am fond of dogs in much the same way that I am fond of children. In fact, I actually know people who have both dogs and children and I know them to be among the finest people I have ever met. If I understand their reasoning correctly, having a dog is like having a small child that will never grow up and stick you in a substandard nursing home, whereas having a child is like having a dog that can actually talk to you, even if what they have to say is not very interesting and the passage of time will turn your loquacious toddler into a sullen adolescent snot who will want you to sign off on a student loan you can’t afford because going to the local community college is just too gauche for words. In any case, I have neither dogs nor children, but I think they are good idea for other people. I am all for other people making their own choices and then having to live with them.

What I am not all for is people living in denial about their dogs; living in denial about your kids seems to be all the rage these days and there doesn’t seem to be anything I can do about that, other than point out that the reason that your little Johnny can’t do this, that, or the other thing may well be because your little Johnny is dumber than a box of wet rocks. But we are talking dogs at the moment. I bring the beasts up because I am committed to the walking lifestyle. I did not know that walking was a lifestyle until recently, when a friend pointed out that while he liked walking as much as the next person, he did not make a point of walking five miles [8.04672 km for those of you on the metric system] every day. I am not sure how my walking this distance every qualifies it as a lifestyle or me as a participant in said lifestyle—walking is just exercise to me—but again, if my friend wants to think that walking is a lifestyle, then more power to him. Walking still just exercise to me; you put one foot in front of the other and if you do it enough times, eventually you get somewhere. I, however, am not the only person here in our happy little burg committed to this lifestyle manqué. From my observation, I can report that there are hordes of walkers trooping the highways and the byways trying to improve their cardiovascular health. Unfortunately, many of these people feel the need to bring their dogs along with them as they walk.

Canis lupus familiaris, the domesticated dog, is the most varied species of mammal on this planet, its variety being the almost exclusive fruit of human genetic interference with the canine genome, but in many ways Canis lupus familiaris differs little from the ultimate root of its species, Canis lupus, the grey wolf, and one of these ways is that dogs, like wolves, are territorial creatures who dislike the idea of anyone trespassing on their territory. There are exceptions to this rule, of course, as there are to all things; Alaskan huskies, I believe, are not territorial at all, the Aleut and the Inuit having bred the trait out of the husky as unnecessary to their needs for the breed, those needs being little more than a knack for pulling heavy loads over long distances through the snow and a willingness to look at backsides all day long, a facility that makes me wonder why I don't see more Alaskan huskies apply for civil service jobs these days. But most other dog breeds are territorial, and their territory extends to wherever their masters happen to be at the moment whether I like it or not, and I usually like it not, a lot of not, veritable scads of not.

I usually like it not because I am of the opinion, and please correct me if I am wrong about this, that as my taxes went into paying for the many fine sidewalks that grace our happy little burg, I may therefore use these sidewalks in a safe, legal, and appropriate manner whenever I choose. I do not need a license to use the sidewalks nor does the Vampire State require such a document or for me to carry pedestrian insurance to cover the hospital costs of my bumping into someone accidentally, although it does occur to me that maybe I should not be giving the malfeasant and altogether peculative crew of feculent two-bit goniffs who run this state any bright ideas. In short, on the sidewalks of our happy little burg I am a free man, a free man using the commons open to all, and it is exactly this state of affairs that dogs refuse to acknowledge and their owners constantly seek to excuse.

Dogs do not accept, much less understand, the legal and constitutional principles raised in the previous paragraph. All dogs know is that I am on the same side of the street as their owners and that means that I had better get out of the way, as in right now, buster, or you’ll be sorry. When this dog, having determined that this sidewalk, a sidewalk that my taxes paid for [I did mention that, didn’t I?] is not big enough for all of us, acts on its determination by barking, snarling, baring its teeth, and generally straining at the leash in an attempt to get close enough to me to take a bite out of one of my legs, the owner of this aggressive pooch will invariably inform me that I have nothing to worry about—the dog is friendly, the dog does not bite, the dog loves people, and that this dog has a warm and fuzzy personality with a heart as big as the great outdoors. I must admit that I find all these alibis intensely fascinating, no two ways about it, as it shows almost better than almost anything else that I can think of, the power of the irrational and cognitive dissonance in the lives of people you would otherwise think of as entirely rational.

Let us look at the facts of the matter here. You, the owner of this dog, claim that your dog is a friendly dog that loves people. Well, I hate to be the one who breaks the news to you, friend, but your mutt’s snapping, growling, tooth-baring, barking, and pulling on the leash in order to get within chomping distance of my legs are not the signs of a dog filled with the milk of canine kindness; they are the signs that your dog has no special regard for any hominid that isn’t you. I would also venture to say that the very tight grip you’re keeping on the leash as your dog goes about snapping, etc., etc., etc., tells me that you don’t believe all that nonsense about your dog being a friendly dog who loves people, either. As for your mangy fleabag having a warm and friendly personality, well, I am sure he does; you say so, after all; and I think you should encourage the beast to bring that personality with him during your sojourns through our happy little burg, because I’ll tell you, pal, the personality your mutt’s got now needs work, a lot of work, and maybe a good-sized dose of tranquilizers as well.

I know that none of these people will actually do this, but I think they’d be better off leaving their dogs at home while they go for their walk. The purpose of walking is to get some exercise, which you are not going to get so long as you stand around waiting for your dog to evacuate its bowels, which is a subject I will get into at some other time. Dog owners are not improving their cardiovascular health when they stop every twenty feet or so the dog can sniff the base of every perpendicular object in the neighborhood. I’m sure that all that sniffing is your pooch’s way of keeping up with the canine Joneses, but you’re not wandering up and down the sidewalks so your dog can pay social calls with his neighbors, you’re trying to become a better and fitter you. So leave the dog at home and walk; you can always take the horrid little beast out later to drop its deuce, and the rest of us pedestrians will be much happier that you did.

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Friday, September 02, 2011

DR. STRANGETUBER, OR HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE POTATO: I am not sure when the boys down the street at the Eldon T. Johnson Volunteer Hook & Ladder Volunteer Fire Company decided to join the military-industrial complex, but I suppose that anything that appeals to their innate patriotism, sense of civic duty, and gives them something to do with their time besides drinking beer and playing pinochle into the wee hours of the morning cannot be an entirely bad thing. I’m sure Eldon T. Johnson would have approved as well. Mr. Johnson owned a hat factory here in our happy little burg back in the late 1890’s and made a small fortune selling straw boaters for the summer trade, a respectable fortune selling uniform caps and hats to the United States Army, an organization that regarded then, and continues to regard to this day, the public hatlessness of its membership in much the same way as your average evangelical clergyman regards adultery, fornication, dancing, and other forms of mortal sin. He made an even greater fortune in marrying his wife, the very attractive daughter of a prominent local brewery owner, which is always nice work if you can get it, combining, as it does, both sex and money.

Mr. Johnson also made a grotesquely huge fortune selling campaign hats to the Army in the run-up to the Spanish-American War, and then, swept up in a fit of patriotic fervor, joined the Army himself. This was not the best business decision Mr. Johnson could have made under the circumstances, but his wife was proud of him anyway. He gained a captain’s commission in the Quartermaster Corps; his father-in-law’s influence with our local Congressman saw to that; and the Army sent him to Cuba after the fighting was over, where he saw no Spaniards to speak of, became one of the first Americans to taste a daiquiri, and died of yellow fever shortly afterwards. In his many long letters to his wife, he does not mention whether or not he saw any American soldiers wearing his company’s campaign hats; the subject never comes up. He did mention how beautiful Cuba was, however, and he complained a lot about the mosquitoes, which, given what eventually happened to him, was perfectly understandable. So, as I said, I am sure that he would approve of what the boys in his eponymous fire company are doing these days.

That they were going to have to tell someone what they were doing sooner or later was inevitable; that the someone they had to tell was me only became inevitable when they damn near took my head off with the stupid thing. I am, usually, a fairly calm and unruffled person who does not get too excited about the passing hubbub of day to day life, but it is difficult for anyone to maintain their composure when a projectile came flying out of a firehouse at hypersonic speeds and comes perilously close to taking one’s nose off. And so it was that my composure decided to take a vacation while the next three words out of my mouth, a blasphemy with an obscenity sandwiched in the middle to improve the phrase’s aerodynamic stability, was heard over much of our happy little burg, as was the rest of my protest, which combined blasphemy, profanity, obscenity, and scatology in no particular order. I also wish to take this opportunity to apologize yet again to the mothers, living and dead, of the current membership of the Eldon T. Johnson Volunteer Hook & Ladder Fire Company. What I said about all of you was unfair, unjust, and unkind, as well as ungentlemanly, however sufficient I believe the immediate cause of such sentiments to be. Over the years, I have grown used to my head being where it is and I see no reason why this state of affairs should change at this stage of my life. Call me selfish and unpatriotic if you must, but there it is.

The cat being out of the bag, the pig having escaped from the poke, and me screaming like a banshee—it is hard to keep any kind of secret hereabouts—the boys grabbed me and dragged me into the fire house, trying to get me to shut up and calm down, or the other way around, I’m not sure I remember the order at this point—I was pretty steamed at the time—but after several minutes of trying, during which time I uttered the slurs mentioned in the previous paragraph, and again, my apologies, ladies, I eventually calmed down a bit and even reacquired some small portion of my usual equilibrium, at which point I demanded to know what the hell was going on.

At first the boys tried to pull the national security routine with me, but was in no mood for that sort of nonsense, and, let’s face it, how many national security secrets does any local volunteer fire department have? Not a whole hell of a lot, I’d say, although I’m certain that the ex-sailors among them would probably not want their wives to find out about any number of loathsome diseases our erstwhile swabbies picked up while serving at Subic Bay during the 1970’s and 1980’s, but that seems more a personal security issue than one of national security. So, as I said, the guys, they hemmed and hawed for a minute, but I was not going to take no for an answer, and so finally they all looked to Joe Finnegan, the fire company’s long-time lieutenant and a great guy [full disclosure: we went to high school together], told the others to go get the thing. There was a brief protest from some of the younger members of the company, but Joe told them to be quiet, everything would be all right.

The thing, as Joe insisted on calling the thing, consisted of three lengths of black metal pipe about seven feet long all told that the firemen quickly screwed in each other. It was a cold, ugly looking thing, functional, utilitarian, relentless in its look, stripped of the martial fripperies that men use to hide the true purpose of many a weapon of war.
“You built your own bazooka,” I asked. “What the hell for?”
“The thing’s not a bazooka,” Joe said. “It’s a…thing, I guess you’d call it.”
“You guessed wrong, guy,” I said. “I call it a damn bazooka. What’s it shoot?”
Jim tried to mutter something quickly, but I didn’t catch what he said.
“Try again in English, Joe,” I said.
“Potatoes,” Joe Finnegan said.

I was stunned. I was stunned because I did not realize that potatoes had any sort of offensive capability at all, unless you mash them and put scallions in them, which offends me greatly; if I wanted scallions, I’d eat scallions, and I prefer to have my potatoes without, if it’s all the same to you; and I was stunned because this crew of idiots had damn near taken my head off with an Idaho baking potato. I understand that this life is not forever, that we all owe God a death, and that we must all at some point join the silent majority of the dead. I refuse, however, to go because someone else chose to be an idiot that day, and I refuse to die in a manner that will cause chuckles to reverberate from one end of this our Great Republic to the other, and having my head blown off by a spud definitely comes under the heading of chuckle-inducing. You can talk about how tragic any death is, how, as Donne put it, “…every man’s death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind…”, but if that person died doing something incredibly stupid, then the idiotic manner of his passing is all you’ll ever remember about this poor schnook. Sometimes even that doesn’t work; there were no horses anywhere near Catherine the Great when she died and see what good that’s done her these past two hundred years or so.

To say I was furious underestimates the extent of my rage, but Jim, having thus exposed the Eldon T. Johnson Volunteer Hook & Ladder Fire Company’s greatest secret, now threw caution to the winds and began telling all about the thing, which apparently has an actual name: the Mark 10 [I kid you not; there are nine previous models of this gizmo] recoilless potato rifle. The Mark 10, which Jim now insisted on calling the thing when he wasn’t busy calling the thing a thing, could hurl your standard unpeeled potato some two hundred or so feet down range and still put a walloping big dent in the side of a metal garbage can, making the Mark 10 a very effective method of crowd control should metal garbage cans ever become a major threat to the peace, order, and domestic tranquility of the country. To fire the Mark 10, your standard Special Operations operator first sprays the barrel with a coating of cooking oil—WD-40 is good if there is no cooking oil in the battle space—and then inserts the spud into the breech, wrapped in a damp paper towel. The operator then sprays about fifteen seconds worth of hair spray into the firing chamber; Lysol works just as well if there are no teenaged girls going to their first prom in the neighborhood; the firing chamber is then quickly screwed on and locked shut. Having armed the weapon, our trusty operator then looks for a suitably offensive metal garbage can to put paid to. Finding one, which is easy to do today; the Sanitation Department comes around for the weekly pick-up tomorrow morning here in our happy little burg, aims his weapon and pulls the trigger. An electric spark from a standard AA battery shoots across the tiny space between two contacts in the firing chamber, ignites the hair spray, and the resulting explosion sends our spud hurling down the greased barrel and out into the open air to find some metal garbage can out to cause trouble, or my head, whichever comes first.

There are, as you might imagine, several significant problems with the Mark 10, the first of these being that potatoes are in no way aerodynamic in their natural state; they are a root plant, after all, and aerodynamic efficiency was never an evolutionary necessity for them on their long biological march from simple tuber to potatoes au gratin. Second, modifying the potato’s DNA to make them aerodynamic is not cost-effective. Third, potatoes do not explode and there is, as far as I know, no way to insert a suitable warhead inside even a very large potato, and fourth, no one would ever take the American military seriously ever again if they deployed a weapon that shot potatoes at the nation’s real or potential enemies, with the always important exception of metal garbage cans. In the tribal regions of Pakistan, Islamic extremists are not hard at work developing mortars that fire bunches of broccoli into American airports nor are the Chinese trying to build a new generation of cluster bombs that lay down a carpet of fried wontons all over the battlefield. They just aren’t; it would be silly. I didn’t want to tell the boys this, but someone had to—despite the best and the very sincere efforts of the firefighters of the Eldon T. Johnson Volunteer Hook & Ladder Fire Company, their first foray into the arcane world of secret weapons development was a complete and absolute bust. And then, in a flash, in a moment of utter capitalistic clarity, I saw the investment possibilities of the Mark 10 open before my eyes and visions of pelf, ever-glorious pelf, roll down before me like a river and into my bank account like mighty waters.

With only a few minor adjustments and some new attachments, the Mark 10 could make someone rich, and I intend for that someone to be me. Yes, I need to wrest the Mark 10 from these guys and make it mine. It can happen. David Sarnoff of RCA managed to keep Philo Farnsworth from earning any money from inventing television, even if Farnsworth had all the patents and managed to fight off the slavering wolf pack of Wall Street shysters Sarnoff turned loose on him. In the end, Sarnoff made the money and Farnsworth didn’t, and in a capitalist society, that’s what counts in the end. Yes, indeed, put a sharp grid at the end of that barrel and the Mark 10 and you can shoot French fries to a fan in any sports venue in the world, even a fan in the lousy seats so high up you wonder why they just didn’t stay home and watch the game on the television Philo Farnsworth never made any money on. I could even license the Mark 10 to McDonald’s; they’re always interested in new French fry delivery systems. With the right attachments, there’s no telling what an efficient Mark 10 operator can do; he could slice, dice, and julienne potatoes in their thousands, and why stop with French fries? Mashed potatoes might be beyond the realm of possibility, but perhaps potato salad is not, if there is some way of getting the proper mixture of vinegar, celery, and mayonnaise into the barrel.

And now that I’m thinking about it, why stop with potatoes? Is there any fruit or vegetable a smart entrepreneur couldn’t put in the Mark 10 and shoot over to a willing customer? I don’t know, but I’m sure an engineer could figure out a way, and I’m going to have a boatload of those guys working for me figuring this stuff out and working out the kinks in the thing. For example, the hair spray has to go. It has to. Nobody wants to eat a French fry that tastes like someone just shot the fry through the girls’ high school gym teacher’s beehive hairdo; they just don’t. People are like that, the ungrateful wretches. So the hair spray goes, but what to replace it with? Propane? More cooking oil? Gunpowder? Honestly, I’m not sure, but I am sure I’ll find out once I’ve finished infringing on the firemen’s patents, assuming they have patents. Like I said, that’s what engineers are for. And lawyers…especially lawyers.

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