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, April 27, 2015

A Great Experience, or travelling the root canal for fun and profit

Yesterday I had a great experience: a youngster approached me, while I was eating. I was eating a roast beef on a hard roll, with salt and pepper and some mayonnaise. Actually, there was too much mayonnaise, now that I think of it. They always do this at the deli; they slather the mayo on like Van Gogh slathering paint on a canvas, and it always causes a problem because the mayo winds up in my mustache and I have to spend the rest of the day cleaning all that gook out of it.  I don’t think Van Gogh ever had to clean the paint out of his mustache. There may have been some on the ear he cut off, but I wouldn’t want to speculate on this without investigating the matter further. However, this may be why there are no delicatessens in Van Gogh’s work. Lots of bars and brothels, of course, unless I’m confusing Van Gogh’s work with Toulouse-Lautrec’s; I know there are lots of brothels in Toulouse-Lautrec, but again, as with Van Gogh and Mozart, there are no delicatessens where you can buy a roast beef sandwich that won’t spew mayonnaise all over your face like a culinary Vesuvius. As for the youngster who approached me, a school bus hit him as he crossed the street, killing him instantly. After the students got off the bus and stripped the mangled corpse of his clothing and cell phones, the unfortunate wretch got up and called the police a name they didn't like, and so the police came quickly and arrested the youngster for indecent exposure, interfering with the free flow of traffic, and littering.  The district attorney's office may press further charges as the need arises, according to an official spokesperson.

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Saturday, April 18, 2015

There's glory for you...

I’ve never been a big science fiction fan. I liked the original Star Trek when I was a kid and Star Wars when I was a teenager, but as a genre science fiction has never been something I couldn’t live without. I’ve always been more of a history or biography person; the top shelf of my book case has seventeen books on the American Civil War, which is, when you think about it, sixteen more than I really need. Or, as my mother says, ‘why do you need all those books for, you know who won.’ I bring up all this mostly unnecessary literary throat clearing because one of the best lines I’ve ever read came from a sci-fi novel a friend loaned to me when I was in high school, which was probably the first and last sci-fi novel I ever read. I don’t remember the title or the author’s name, although I do remember that it had an orange cover and was about an interstellar war between humans and an extraterrestrial race that looked like walruses or manatees or some other large and aquatic mammal. In the novel, the official language of Earth is Spanish (it could happen) and the politicians ruling the Earth in our Hispanophonic future did not want to call the war they were fighting against the hordes of evil extraterrestrial walruses a war. No, these politicians called their politics implemented by other means the emergency or the unpleasantness or something to that effect, something very bland and bureaucratic that could mean a war or a traffic accident on Interstate 84 or that the sea turtles were staging a mass break from the local aquarium. The politicians did not like to use the word war because, the author wrote, certain words bring with them inevitable commitments with unknowable results, and as politicians both in science fiction and in real life dislike inevitable commitments with unknowable consequences, it was best for all involved to avoid using those words at all.

I bring up this bit of semantic parsing because semantic parsing is all the rage in the pestilential swamp that serves as the capital of this our Great Republic. The people there can parse a perfectly good sentence into tiny bits faster than Emeril LaGasse can chop an onion, except when Emeril chops an onion what’s chopped still tastes like an onion. The whole point of parsing in M. L’Enfant’s dream city is to reduce the meaning of words to whatever some political Humpty-Dumpty wants them to mean.  For example, the minions of the former junior Senator from Illinois have determined that He is angry at someone, angry enough to blow these anonymous someones to kingdom come via remote control, but they will not tell the citizenry just who these nameless evildoers are. Now, I am not sure of the details here—I don’t get out much, you see—but it appears to me that the question of motivation is very important to our Illinois Incitatus and His flacks, very important indeed, especially when He and His flacks wish to make it perfectly clear that the nameless evildoers in the eastern Mediterranean and southwest Asia are not committing the crimes they are committing for the reasons they say they are committing these crimes, but for some other reason altogether, a reason completely unrelated to the Islamic faith, and the flacks will parse any sentence that might suggest otherwise to complete and utter pulp. This seems a little odd to me; I would not have thought that a government full of secular humanists and nominal Christians would be such experts on the finer points of Islamic theology, but stranger things have happened, you know. I had a co-worker several years ago who took investment advice from his parrot—the bird thought the world of Treasury bills and municipal bonds, if you’re interested in that sort of thing—and he has done very well for himself (the former co-worker, not the parrot, who can only enjoy the fruits of his or her financial acumen vicariously, again proving, as if it needed proving, the remunerative utility of the opposable thumb). So it could happen. Really. I’m not making that up.

We must, the solonic classes tell us again and again, address the root causes of the extreme violence occurring against Jews, Christians, Yazidis, Kurds, and the more than occasional sundry others who happen to be in the neighborhood when some people are overcome with the need to kill, maim, rape, and pillage gets the better of their moral sense. In dealing with these poor murderous wretches, we must not call them names that imply that they are acting in the name of their religious beliefs, which they are not, but we should use a name that is nonsectarian and inoffensive to all. Well, that is all very understandable, I suppose, and therefore I move, Mr. Chairman, that from this point forward we here in the West refer to this mob of pillaging scum as calf’s liver.  In calling them calf’s liver we avoid confusing the good Muslims with the doubleplusungood Muslims and we avoid even suggesting that certain Muslims, especially the doubleplusungood Muslims, have a tendency to go overboard in following the tenets of their faith or even imply that Islam as a faith might in any way be a tad more hostile to the filthy infidel sons of apes and pigs who do not profess the truth of the Prophet’s message, PCBs upon him. No, indeed, I think I can say with a fair amount of certainty that damn near everyone hates calf’s liver and can do so in good conscience.

And who will find our declaration of official hostility towards calf’s liver offensive?  Calves?  I hardly think so; the calves are dead and therefore hardly in any position to take any kind of offense. I’m sure that given a choice the calves would prefer to have their livers back and be frolicking through an open field somewhere doing whatever it is that calves do before their inevitable conversion into veal parmigiana, but most of life is finding out that you don’t really have a choice in the matter; when it’s your turn to go, it’s your turn to go, period.  That’s just the way it is, as the song goes, some things will never change.

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Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Ghost of Plumbing Past, or how long can Scrooge hold it?

I’m not sure that this is even possible, much less probable; some things are possible but not probable, other things are probable but not very likely, and other things are neither possible nor probable, as when you tell the credit card company that the check is in the mail; but I am reasonably certain that my house is haunted and the spirit that haunts my house has an incontinence problem.  I know this because the toilet in my back bathroom keeps flushing when no one is in my back bathroom and since toilets don’t flush themselves, unless you go to the mall; the urinals are completely hands off in the men’s room there, which is a very good thing, I think; I must assume that there is some sort of spirit using my back bathroom.  It seems the only logical explanation, but it does pose something of a conundrum: why would a spirit need to use a bathroom in the first place?

Incontinence does seem to challenge the conventional wisdom about ghosts, which, as we all learned as children, are the disembodied spirits[i] of the dead. One would think, given that the dead are, in fact, dead, and therefore have no further need for an excretory system that they would choose to inhabit some other portion of the house, like the living room, the bedrooms, or the kitchen, rooms redolent with time and family memory, unlike the bathroom, which is only redolent of last night’s dinner. In death, just as in life, it seems, there is no accounting for tastes. Of course, I could be very wrong about this; ghosts might choose to haunt bathrooms because bathroom users are usually in a state of partial or total nudity. It is difficult to run away from a ghost or to explain why one is running away from something no one else can see while one’s pants are down around one’s ankles or when one is wrapped in a bath towel, if that. Ghosts may think this sort of thing is funny. They have to do something to pass the time now that they have lots of time to pass.

Be that as it may, the spectral toilet flushing in my house also poses the question of why anyone would want to haunt my house in the first place. I live in the house my father built for the family when we joined the great white flight to the suburbs—in our case, the exurbs—back in the 1960’s.  It is a small house; it began its existence as a much smaller house, but my father kept adding to it as the family expanded.  There is nothing dramatic looking about my house; it is vaguely split-level looking but I am not sure if my father intended that or whether he had some building materials left over and chose to use them up. We have no way of knowing because there are no architectural plans for the house; my father kept all of that stuff in his head, where it is currently unavailable for review.  So, basically, there is nothing about my house that would be especially attractive to a ghost looking for a nice place in the country. There are no previous owners with a taste for Black Masses or who indulged in cannibalism as a means of supplanting their protein intake or conducted wild sex orgies that went horribly awry, requiring the secret nocturnal interment of comely young blondes in the back yard.  My house is utterly unprepossessing, not at all the kind of place that an ambitious young ghost would want to go in order to advance his/her/its/their career in the spectral realm.

Actually, I do not mind sharing the house with a ghost. They seem reasonably polite—they stay out of the way during the day light hours, for example, when I’m trying to get something done—and I don’t have to remind them not to smoke in bed and they do not leave the toilet seat down as a reason to provoke discord.[ii] The ghost or ghosts—I still don’t know if this is a solo act or a group enterprise—do not, however, pay rent, and this is a major bone of contention between us. If you live in my house or you choose to not live while in my house, I expect the rent on the first of the month and I don’t want to hear any excuses about family emergencies or needing the money to pay the bills this month. I have bills too and I don’t like deadbeats, especially when they’re dead to begin with and so don’t have any excuse for not paying on time. I’m providing these people; well, you can’t actually call them people anymore, can you, and calling them ex-people seems a little silly, doesn’t it; I’m providing these presences with a place to stay while they wait for whatever it is that they are waiting for to happen and all I am asking for is some money to cover the expenses of running a haunted house, and, and this is a very big and, that they stop flushing the damn toilet in the middle of the night.  I don’t think it’s funny anymore. At this point, it’s just annoying.

Which brings me back to my original problem: I don’t know how I got stuck with ghosts with incontinence problems. I assumed at first that it was simply my bad karma. I was, no doubt, an evil person in a former life and so the people I harmed then in that life are here in my back bathroom to remind me that they’ve neither forgotten nor forgiven me for the things I did to them then.  There’s a lot of that sort of thing here in our happy little burg. Whenever there’s a wedding reception down at the Knights of Columbus hall you can see the turkey buzzards and black vultures circling over the building and the happy couple; the consensus around here is that those birds are the reincarnated souls of divorce lawyers circling over a fresh kill. Depressing, alas, but very true, I fear. Karma can be a royal pain in the backside.  It does makes me wonder, though, what the hell I did to those people that they’ve come back to annoy me as much as possible.  And it has to be personal. I don’t think any sane ghost would try to manifest itself through a flushing toilet. No one finds flushing toilets in the least bit frightening.  None of the great horror classics of literature or film features a flushing toilet as a means of scaring anyone. There are slasher films; there are no flusher films. Anthony Perkins does not eviscerate Janet Leigh in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho with a toilet plunger. So why do it, other than the ghost has to go and when you got to go, you got to go, even if you’re dead and technically have already gone. You know, now that I think of it, they could be teenage ghosts. This flushing thing has all earmarks of the incredibly stupid juvenile nonsense that teenagers think is incredibly funny, like fart noises and setting alley cats on fire.  If that’s the case, I should invest in some earplugs, I think. The nights are only going to get longer.

[i]  I’m sorry, but aren’t all spirits, almost by definition, disembodied?  If they weren’t disembodied, they’d be alive, or, like zombies and life insurance salesmen, a reasonably good facsimile thereof.
[ii] The toilet seat stays up. My house, my rules. You don’t like it, use the haunted bathroom or go to a hotel.

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Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Whinging again

Yes, I know that I said that I would have something up very quickly and that it has been a while since I made what is obviously a fallacious claim.  I am not having writer’s block [again] and I still have the original piece I was going to post, but we are having a major change in leadership here at the egregious mold pit wherein I labor for my daily bread and politics, yes, evil rotten politics, has reared its ugly head here.  I am also working on something else for here as well, so when the great getting up morning comes and I post something here I will also have another piece ready or almost ready to go. So there will be a double blast when the blast occurs, whenever that will be. I am going to assume that it will be sometime soon, and I trust that all is well with you and yours. And we thank you for your continued support[i]

[i] If you remember the commercial this line comes from, then you are older than you say you are.  Really.

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