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, December 05, 2012

Post #900, or what am I still doing here?

You may not believe it; I know I didn’t; but this is my 900th post here at The Passing Parade.  I hadn’t planned to do the blogging thing for so long, but I guess I have, and it seems to me that the occasion calls for me to do something special. The problem here, as I see it and maybe you do too, is that I have nothing special to say now.  Not having anything to say is a problem for me, as I am not a politician. Politicians can rattle on for hours without saying anything in particular or even knowing what they are talking about—the career of Mr. Biden serves as a shining exemplar of this great truth—but for me to write about something I actually have to have something to say about it.

Okay, I was going to go on about how I had nothing to write about, but as I write this at 1:30 pm Eastern Standard Time here in the egregious mold pit wherein I labor for my daily bread there is an elderly non-Turkish speaking Puerto Rican gentleman singing Silent Night in Spanish while dancing what appears to be his version of the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy from Chaikovski’s The Nutcracker right in front of me.  We must have a policy against this sort of thing, but I’ve gone through the staff manual more times than I can remember these past few days and I have not noticed any prohibitions against this particular bit of weirdness.   Actually, the staff manual could use a good updating; there are no prohibitions, for example, against copulating in the stairwells, giving birth in the ladies’ room, or dying in the men’s room, all of which have occurred in the years I’ve been here. I am not sure when we became Apeneck Sweeney’s favorite hangout, but I am sure this is not the sort of thing we ought to be encouraging hereabouts. It frightens the taxpayers and makes them wonder what other sort of nonsense we are wasting their money on.  This still, however, leaves the problem I have right now, although it appears that I won’t have this problem for much longer. Our Nureyev manqué is running out of steam; there seems to be only so much en pointe work a deranged Latino man in his sixties or seventies can do in untied ratty sneakers before gravity and a cannabis induced lack of coordination start to kick in; and I think the time has come to invite him to take his artistry outside, where the cops can tell him to knock it off before he starts scaring the various and sundry passersby, their kids, and the family dog.

It is now later and the interruption is gone. He did not want to go; balletomanes are a contentious lot, especially when they are stoned out of their gourds and ballet is not the only thing they are mane about; but his performance had degenerated from the beauties of classical ballet into something approximating a synthesis of modern dance and Friday night wrestling, and we will not put up with that sort of thing here. He also began to sing O Holy Night at the top of his lungs, which are not in tune and are not likely to be anytime in the near future, which contributed greatly to my decision to ask him to leave.  At this point, I really don’t feel like continuing to write this or anything else; I have a headache.  Frankly, at this point, I am not certain who is stranger: our geriatric premier danseur noble, who is certifiably nuts, or me, for continuing to work in this environment.  There must be something in the water, or maybe I just lack imagination. 

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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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Monday, September 10, 2007

I THINK THAT I SHALL NEVER SEE, A POEM AS LOVELY AS A CUT DOWN TREE: Our happy little burg is proud of a great many things, and rightfully so, I think. We are set in an area of spectacular natural beauty, we are recovering from a decades long economic slide with an economy that is the envy of our neighbors, especially the slough of urban despond located directly across the river from us, and our population, after years of slowly slipping away across the border into deepest, darkest Connecticut, is, at long last, finally starting to grow. This is the sort of thing that any community can take a justifiable pride in. Now, there are the inevitable slips in our long trek out of the Rust Belt doldrums, of course; one could hardly go through life without expecting the occasional disaster, which keeps us interested in the proceedings as they play out through our lives. This year our minor league baseball team has finished dead last in the league standings, proving yet again that some habits are just too strong to break, shopping carts are still turning up in odd places miles from any store—this week a shopping cart containing two bottles of diet ginger ale, a box of Honey Nut Cheerios, a frozen cherry pie, and the thirteenth edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, published in 1910, announced that it was running for the City Council next year; and the wise council of solons who govern us have decided to buy the fire department a fireboat, complete with a huge pump that can send water shooting seven stories into the air. This is a very useful tool for getting water to the upper portions of any burning building along the waterfront, even though there are no buildings seven stories high anywhere in our happy little burg; city law forbids the construction of any building over three stories within the city limits; and there are no buildings at all along the waterfront. There are a lot of trees, however, and so this new fireboat may be our contribution to the ongoing fight against forest fires. We are, after all, a National Arbor Day Foundation Tree City.

The appellation of Tree City, which we’ve held for some thirteen or fourteen years now, if I remember correctly, is one of our happy little burg’s proudest titles. As I’ve mentioned before, we take trees seriously here, if for no other reason than the arboreal population has the human population outnumbered by a factor of at least ten to one. We treat trees as if they were members of our family, reading them bedtime stories when they are young, feeding them, watering them, trying to keep them on the moral straight and narrow as they take root in our community and flourish. So it caused no little shock and horror this past week when the astounded populace saw veritable hordes of civil service workers descend upon Main Street like so many hard-hatted Mongols on a rampage and begin hacking down trees left, right, and moderate Republican alike, reenacting some of the worst scenes of arborcidal mayhem since Walt Disney released Paul Bunyan back in 1958. None of these clods stood 63 axe handles high with his feet on the ground and his head in the sky the way old Paul did, nor did any of them have a blue ox named Babe anywhere in the vicinity, although some of them did have a bulldozer named Vermeer, a device that lacked the emotional subtlety of Girl with a Pearl Earring and, despite the name, seemed to belong more to the 20th century Soviet socialist realist school than Holland in its Golden Age, but even with these caveats, the civil servants involved were all exceptionally skilled at felling trees in an urban setting. By the time they were done, not a single tree remained anywhere on the lower approaches of Main Street, rendering the complete lack of any resemblance whatsoever between a view of our happy little burg and Vermeer’s View of Delft even more complete than it was before, if such a thing is possible.

I asked one of the gentlemen rampagers what brought on this sudden need to attack defenseless trees; surely the city government had other things to do with its time and money than cut down trees that aren’t in anyone’s way and provide much needed shade for the many pedestrians wandering up and down Main Street these days. He said he didn’t know. I asked who decided to cut the trees down in the first place, as I didn’t recall any mention of this project in the City Council minutes, which shouldn’t really surprise me, now that I think about it. The minutes of the City Council, along with those of the local board of education, are largely fictional, the actual decisions having already made over coffee and pancakes over at O’Reilly’s Bar and Breakfast. In any case, he didn’t know the answer to that question, either. What then, I asked, was the city government going to do about the sudden lack of shade on Main Street. Our hard-hatted functionary smiled at that question; apparently, I had asked something he knew the answer to at last. Once they got rid of the old trees, he said—they were turning the trees to sawdust there on the street, a process a lot louder than you might think it would be—they were going to plant new trees. He pointed to a lot down the street where a small wood had suddenly sprung up amidst the asphalt, said wood consisting of a variety of sticks standing in bags, said sticks bearing one or two leaves apiece.

I pointed out that it would take at least thirty years for any of these would be trees to give the street any significant shade and that none of them looked healthy enough to withstand more than a few assaults by dogs determined to rid themselves of excess fluid. I then pointed out that in lieu of this, why didn’t the city just leave the old trees where they were and save everyone a lot of time and bother and expense? That way Main Street would still have shade, the dogs would have somewhere to take a leak, and he and his fellow lumberjohns wouldn’t be blocking Main Street for hours at a time, making it impossible for anyone to pass from one end of the city to the other. The fellow allowed that my point made a lot of sense, but that he wasn’t there to make sense, he was there to get rid of trees, whereupon he tossed a large branch of a locust tree into the chopper’s maw, reducing several decades of nature's work to dust in a matter of moments. There is a moral here about the swiftness of bureaucrats when it comes to creating disasters, but I am not sure what it might be.

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