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, January 26, 2007

AN IMPORTANT POLITICAL ANNOUNCEMENT: After long and mostly pointless consultations with my friends, family, and political advisors, all of whom thought that the following was a monumentally silly idea not worthy of my time and effort, but not as silly as their constantly asking me for money, which I think is pretty silly but they don’t seem to have a problem with, I have decided to announce my candidacy for the Democratic Party’s nomination for the Presidency of this our Great Republic. It seems to be the thing to do these days, sort of like owning a Pet Rock or a lime-green leisure suit was in the 1970’s, and for once in my life I want to be on the forefront of a movement instead firmly imbedded in that movement’s rear, which is what usually happens to me. I was probably the last person in the United States to actually buy a combination AM/FM radio and eight track deck; no one bothered to tell me that this technology was about to go the way of the wax cylinder, the trebuchet, and the stereopticon, and I got stuck with a machine that I couldn’t get Jethro Tull eight tracks for anymore. The AM/FM radio worked fine, though, but I could’ve gotten one of those for a lot less than it cost me to get the eight-track deck as well. So I want to skip repeating that experience, if at all possible. But I do want to say that of all the Democratic candidates, I am the one with the least experience in government, although this does not seem to be a handicap this year, and that my lack of experience is due, for the most part, to the fact that I have not been running for President for most of my adult life, unlike some candidates I could mention.

My family, friends, and political advisors, and I should point out that there is a considerable overlap between these three groups, all point out that even the least prepared of this year’s candidates all have political war chests amounting, in some cases, in the tens of millions of dollars, whereas I, on the other hand, have some $15.63 left over from last week’s pay check, a sum that would more or less limit my political advertising to spray painting my name on buildings, cars, and unsuspecting passersby as they wander down Main Street looking for the crack dealers. If I practice the most stringent of economies in my campaign spending, I am sure I will be able to afford a magic marker as well. How then, everyone insists on telling me, can I even hope to compete against this year’s crop of Democratic candidates?

There is even, for those who want to hold this against me, the reality that I have been a Democrat In Name Only for some time now, a person who disagrees with nearly everything the Democratic Party now stands for, and who would be a registered Republican if only I were not too lazy to fill out the party registration form. Why would I, in the face of these insurmountable odds, even bother wasting my time in running for President? Here, however, is the beauty of my candidacy: I am not running for the nomination of my nominal party in 2008; this would be, just as every one tells me, a waste of my valuable time and scant funds. No, I am running for the Democratic nomination in 2060.

There are clear advantages to my making this run at this, and that, time. First, at the moment I am the only candidate in the field, all of the other candidates being either in utero or in elementary school at the moment, which means that the big Democratic money men will have to come to me if they want to hang on to whatever it is the big Democratic money men want out of a Democratic President. The teachers’ unions, for example, will have to deal with me and no one else; all of the other candidates in the race hate their teachers with near pathological ferocity, despise having to sit in class all day long, and want to go to the playground now before it gets late and their mothers call them into the house. This attitude, and I am certain that most of the other candidates share it at this point, does not bode well for a group dependent on keeping the kids in a stuffy classroom against their will, and I am already calling for a special prosecutor to investigate charges, which I hope are untrue, that the National Education Association has already tried to influence my future opponents with a semester’s worth of small boxes of Cap’n Crunch cereal and pint-sized cartons of chocolate milk, with a guaranteed B+ in arithmetic thrown in to sweeten the deal.

Second, with inflation the $15.63 that I have to make the run today will be worth several billion dollars in 2060, which ought to be more than enough to make this run easily and defeat all the other candidates, who, I should point out, are only a few years removed from soiling themselves on a regular basis, dribbling spittle all over themselves in public, and in general behaving in a manner that would denigrate the office of the Presidency, not that I want to start using attack ads and spreading negative information about any of my honorable opponents, at least not now; it might damage their self-esteem and their ability to play well with others.

Now, before you start telling me, I already know the disadvantages of this run, the first being that in 2060 I will be 102 years old. This is very true, I would be the oldest person ever to seek the nomination, and frankly, there is no guarantee that I will even live to 102, but if my country needs me, and it clearly does, I will do my best to hang on. Further, I will venture a guess and say that by the time I make this run, the country will be so sick of baby boom presidents that I may not get the nomination. This is always a possibility. Dealing with baby boom burnout is a major problem, even for those of us stuck at the ass end of this annoying demographic cohort, and I can only say that, if I win, I intend to save some money on the care of my fellow baby boomers by sending them all to Canada with free bus passes to get their meds and then not letting them back across the border. I think we’ll just turn off the lights and say that we’ve moved the United States to the South Pacific or to the Bahamas or some other place with great weather all year round. The Canadians will object to our dumping millions of seniors on their side of the 49th parallel, especially millions of baby boom seniors, of course, but objecting to Americans on a regular basis is at the very heart of Canadian nationalism, and far be it for me, or any American, for that matter, to place restrictions on any Canadian patriot’s ability to fly the Maple Leaf flag proudly. Oh Canada, we stand on guard for thee, as any loyal Canadian will tell you, and while they’re standing on guard for Canada they can keep an eye on the old folks from home. Better yet, they can keep the old folks from coming home; we’re tired of paying for this generation of egomaniacs. I also intend to save money on foreign travel; there won’t be any, not unless they’ve perfected the transporter beam by 2060. A centenarian President needs his sleep, after all, so I won’t be going anywhere. If foreign leaders feel the need to come here, then fine, let them come over the Rio Grande along with everyone else and we’ll put them up at the Holiday Inn. I’d offer to let them stay the night in the Lincoln Bedroom, but I’m pretty sure the Clintons will still be barricaded in there and resisting any and all attempts to remove them by the time I get to the White House.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

THE TOUPEE, BEING A COMPLETELY OUTRAGEOUS RIPOFF OF THE WORK OF NIKOLAI VISSARIONOVICH GOGOL, WHO IS NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH NIKOLAI VASSILYEVICH GOGOL, THE AUTHOR OF THE NOSE AND THE OVERCOAT, AMONGST OVER THINGS, WITH A MUSICAL INTERLUDE BY THE NEW YORK PHILHARMONIC AND A BEVY OF CIRCASSIAN DANCING GIRLS...WELL, MAYBE NO DANCING GIRLS, CIRCASSIAN OR OTHERWISE, BUT WE DO HAVE BURRITOS AND A KNISH, ALTHOUGH THE BURRITO IS JUST MENTIONED IN PASSING AND THE KNISH IS LARGELY THEORETICAL, BUT STILL KOSHER, AND WE WILL VALIDATE YOUR PARKING IF YOU ASK POLITELY: At the age of thirty-seven Francis Doherty looked forward to a future of endless possibilities. He was an executive vice president in charge of operations for a large bioengineering firm and regarded in the company as an up and comer, possibly even a future company president. A thankful firm rewarded his business acumen with a salary in the high six figures, with stock options and bonuses that pushed his income well over the million-dollar mark and allowed him to indulge his taste for expensive Italian sports cars. He lived in a condominium in one of the most exclusive neighborhoods in the city and had a girl friend who worked in the stock market and made almost as much money as he did, and sometimes more, if she was having a good year. Every so often he’d considered marrying her; he liked the idea in the abstract; but he'd always been able to suppress the thought. With so much going for him, Francis Doherty could not imagine anything disturbing the perfect equilibrium of his life. It therefore came as a considerable shock when he woke up one morning to find that his brand new toupee had rifled his pockets and run off with his credit cards, several of his best suits, one of his Italian sports cars, and a small fortune in cash that Doherty kept hidden from the IRS in a small safe in the back of his clothes closet. This disturbed him deeply, since the toupee had cost him well over five thousand dollars at a fashionable men's store in New York City and had hitherto shown no signs of dishonesty.

The morning after his toupee took off Doherty sat his dining room table absentmindedly poking at a plate of scrambled eggs trying to think of what to do next. Whatever he did he would have to do quickly; the damn hairpiece could loot him six ways from Sunday if he just sat and did nothing. He'd already called the banks and the credit card companies; they told him they would be glad to freeze his accounts, and then they all began calling back some fifteen minutes later saying they were having some difficulties with their computers. Something odd was happening, one banker said, but they had their technical people working on it and the problem would sort itself out quickly and then they’d freeze his account. Doherty did not like the sound of that. The people at the other end of the line were all noncommittal about how long the difficulties with their computers were going to last. From experience with his own technical staff Doherty knew that he should multiply by five any repair time estimate given by a computer. Noncommittal answers meant a repair time of anywhere between ten minutes and fifteen years, if he was lucky. He said as much to the banker, who laughed and said that things weren't as bad as all that yet. Doherty thanked him and hung up the phone and knew he was in deep trouble. Bankers are not, as a rule, the most happy go lucky guys in the business world, although they are real lampshade on the head rips when you compare them to life insurance salesmen; bankers usually wind up in banking because they have all the personality and emotional intelligence of a weeping willow on a foggy day. So no matter what spin they try to put on the news they’re telling you, a jovial banker is a sure sign of that you’re about to take one in the neck. Doherty continued to poke at his scrambled eggs and wondered what he should do next. He thought of a number of possibilities, didn't like any of them, and tried to think of something else.

It was precisely at this moment when the idea of going to the police first occurred to him. It was obvious, he thought, so obvious that he hadn't thought of it. For most people it would've been the very first thing they did. He'd been the victim of a crime. True, the toupee was his property and that might make for a tricky legal question; he didn't know if property could steal itself, but he was sure the lawyers could work that out; why else have lawyers? But the toupee had stolen his car, his cash, and his credit cards, and he knew those were crimes no matter who committed them. He was an American citizen, a lapsed Catholic, a member in good standing of the Republican Party, and a reasonably upright and law-abiding person. He was the victim of an outrageous crime, that much was certain, and now it was time for the forces of law and order, whose salaries his taxes would've paid for if he'd paid any taxes that year, to go to work and hunt down the author of his distress and compel it to return his property to him. Yes, Doherty thought, that's the way to go about it. Arrest the damn thing and then send it to prison. After a few years behind bars he would recommend to the parole board that they release the toupee and return it to society. Having simultaneously satisfied his thirst for vengeance and his desire to be merciful Francis Doherty dug into his much picked over plate of scrambled eggs with a good appetite and some degree of his mental equanimity restored. He opened his newspaper with a flourish and went to the financial page to see how the Asian markets were doing.

The police station was new, a glass and concrete cube endowed by its creator with an absolute indifference to the tide of human vice and misery that passed through its doors every day. The police station was set squarely in the middle of a large parking lot, and the lot surrounded by two-chain link fences, each one topped with razor wire. At night the inner fence was electrified.
Francis Doherty parked his one German sports car in the visitors' section and went inside. A policewoman in a heavy blue sergeant's uniform sat at a large table in the middle of an empty lobby filling out a roster.
--I'd like to report a crime, Doherty said. I'd like to speak to a detective, if I could.
--Do you have an appointment, sir, the desk sergeant asked politely.
--I beg your pardon?
--An appointment, sir. Do you have an appointment?
--No, I don't have an appointment. Don't be ridiculous. I’ve just been robbed. That's not something I can schedule around the police department's social calendar.
--Be that as it may, sir, to see any member of the investigative staff requires an appointment. I can put you down for the tenth of next month.
--That's almost three weeks from now, Doherty exclaimed. I'll be broke by then.
--The police department is not responsible for your financial problems, sir, the desk sergeant said.
--This is ridiculous. I want to see your supervisor, Doherty demanded.
--I'm sorry, sir, but that's not possible, the desk sergeant said.
--Why not?
--You don't have an appointment. The supervisory staff can only be seen by appointment made in writing at least one month in advance. There are no exceptions to the rule, sir. None at all.
--Godammit, can I at least report a crime, Doherty said in exasperation.
--Oh yes, sir, the desk sergeant said brightly. Of course you can. This is a police station, after all. --Let me get you the right form. The desk sergeant opened several drawers and went through several reams of colored paper before pulling out a light blue sheet of paper. All right, here you go, sir, she said. Just fill that out front and back with one of the black ballpoint pens on the desk in Room 9. She pointed to a blue door with no number on it.
--All right, Doherty said, feeling very depressed. Thank you very much.
--It's no problem, sir, the desk sergeant said. The phone rang and she picked it up. Police department, how may I help you, she said cheerfully.
Doherty pushed the blue door open and walked in. The room looked like a classroom. There was a blackboard and a large desk in the front and long rows of smaller desks. An old man sat at the front desk reading a newspaper. He looked up as Doherty came in.
--Help you, son, the old man asked.
--I have to fill out a report, Doherty said. He held up the form he was holding.
--What color is that, son? My eyes aren't as good as they used to be.
--Blue, Doherty said.
--What shade of blue?
--Sort of light blue with a dark green border.
--There stuff written on the back? Lots of small boxes?
Doherty looked and said, Yes there is.
--You're reporting a burglary?
--That's right.
--Reporting a burglary. Well, you'll want a black ballpoint pen for that. Did the desk sergeant give you one?
--No, she said there'd be one in here, Doherty said.
--Dammit, I'm getting good and tired of them saying that. I've a good mind to go out there right now and tell her what's what. They count those pens every morning and every night and if there's some missing I have to pay for them out of my salary. The department's supposed to supply them, not me. Not that any of these bastards around here care one way or the other.
--Should I go and ask her, Doherty said.
The old man shook his head and said, No, don't bother, son. They'll just give you the runaround. They always do. Don't mind me. The people around here love to aggravate me. He opened the top drawer and took out a black ballpoint pen. There you go, son. Black ballpoint.
--Does it make a difference what color the ink is, Doherty asked.
--All the difference in the world. Light blue with a dark green border written with black ink is a burglary or robbery without the use a weapon. Light purple with red ink is a missing person report. Pink with black border and green ink is a homicide. You fill out that same form you got in your hand with red ink you'd be reporting a rape. There's lots of differences, son, hundreds of them maybe. I used to know'em all by heart but that was a long time ago. Anyway, you don't want to hear me natter on like an old fool. Here's your pen. Take a seat, any seat at all. Your choice entirely.
--Thank you, Doherty said as he took the pen. He sat down in the front row and started filling out the form. The first few questions were fairly mundane: name, address, phone number, an account of the crime, with a reckoning of what was taken and how much it was worth; Doherty didn't mention the rifled safe and the money he was keeping from the IRS, thinking that what they didn't know couldn't hurt him. Doherty filled out the front of the form quickly and turned it over. The first question on the back was "Do you believe in God?" There were boxes after the question marked Yes, No, Alternately Yes and No, Sometimes, and None Of The Above. The instructions said check one box only.
--Excuse me, sir, Doherty said, but there's a question here…
--You've gotten to the God question, haven't you, the old man asked, looking up from his newspaper.
--Yes, I have.
--Thought so. People always ask about that one. I shouldn't do this, son, but here's a bit of advice: check the Yes box.
--I would've done that anyway, Doherty said. I just don't understand why they are asking me this in the first place. What possible difference can it make to my case if I believe in God or not?
--More than you might think, son, the old man said. If you check off anything other than Yes no one will investigate your case. They'll pitch that form right into the wastepaper basket.
--That's crazy. They can't do something like that.
--Of course they can. They can do anything they want. And it's not really that crazy, not if you think about it for a minute. When you testify in court you have to swear with your hand on the Bible that the testimony you give shall be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God. Obviously what good is the word of someone that doesn't believe in God or believes in Him only when he feels like it? Under Section 167 of the Penal Code of this state the sworn word of an atheist, agnostic, lawyer, or insurance salesman is unacceptable as testimony unless corroborated by overwhelming physical evidence and the testimony of at least two nonatheist eyewitnesses to the crime. If you check the Yes box your word will be good enough, unless you’re a Red Sox fan. It's more for the district attorney's office than for the police. The police will investigate any crime reported to them but the district attorney won't try any case he can't win, so the police only give them cases with no loose ends. Check the Yes box, son. That way you avoid all the bureaucracy. But remember, you didn't hear that from me, okay?
--Okay, Doherty said. No problem. He checked the Yes box and went on from there. The questions became progressively stranger, touching on such subjects as his credit rating, the name of his high school football team, and whether or not he could distinguish salsa from merengue. When he finished he gave the old man back his black ballpoint pen. The old man thanked him and told Doherty not to worry, all would come right in time.
Doherty went out to the front desk. The desk sergeant took the form and signed it herself and stamped it with a variety of seals. All right, sir, about your appointment, when would be a convenient time for you?
--Now would be good, Doherty said.
The desk sergeant laughed and said, oh, that's a good one, sir. I'll have to remember that. That’s very good.
--I'm serious, sergeant, Doherty said. Is there any way I can see a detective today?
--Sir, the investigative staff is available by appointment only. I've already made that clear to you, the desk sergeant said.
--I know you have, sergeant, and I know you're just doing your job, but is there any way around that? Any at all? I really need to see someone about this today.
The desk sergeant pursed her lips and frowned. I shouldn't do this…well, let me call upstairs, sir, and see if there are any cancellations today. Sometimes people cancel their appointments and the detectives don't let me know, but if there are no cancellations I'm afraid you're stuck, sir.
--Please call, sergeant, Doherty said. This guy has my credit cards, my driver’s license, everything. He’s probably looting my bank account as I’m standing here.
--I understand, sir. Tell you what. Why don't you go and fix yourself a nice cup of coffee-the coffeepot's right around the corner-and I'll call and see if we can do anything for you today.
--Thanks a lot, Sergeant, Doherty said.
I'm happy to oblige, sir, the desk sergeant said. Now go get yourself some of that coffee. It'll make you feel better.
--Okay, thanks, I will.
Doherty followed the desk sergeant's advice. The coffeepot was where the desk sergeant said it would be: around the corner, surrounded by towers of Styrofoam cups, in a hall lined with vending machines selling nearly every known brand of soft drink, candy bar, and potato chip ever produced in the United States. The vending machines stretched down either side of the hall for as far as the eye could see. In the far distance, at the point where the two parallel lines of junk food converged, Doherty could see a microwave oven. The air smelled of stale burritos. Doherty picked up a cup and filled it to the brim with lukewarm coffee. He drank it black; there was no milk in the milk carton and no sugar in the sugar bowl. He went back around the corner.
The desk sergeant was still on the phone, frowning and nodding and saying yes sir and no sir constantly, with more of the latter than the former.
--Yes sir, she said, I realize that this is not standard procedure. Yes sir, I realize that there's very little precedent for this sort of thing. Yes sir, I know that. She covered the mouthpiece and said to Doherty, Sir, we may be able to do something for you if I can get the captain to go along with it. Just take a seat and I'll be with you just as soon a possible.
--All right, Doherty said.
The desk sergeant uncovered the mouthpiece and said, Yes sir, I'm pretty sure we can get him to sign a waiver; I don't think there'll be any problem there. No sir, no publicity whatsoever. I think he'll agree to that. Yes sir, I know. It would set a bad example for the public. We don't want to do that. Yes sir, I'll tell him. I'll explain everything. Yes sir, thank you sir. She put the receiver down in the cradle and leaned back in her chair. Asshole, she said.
Doherty got up and asked, What's going on?
--Sir, this is damn near a first, it really is, the desk sergeant said. There's been a cancellation and we've got a detective who'll see you right away.
--Great, Doherty said. Who do I see?
--Before you see anyone, sir, you'll have to sign a waiver.
--What kind of waiver?
--Well sir, this particular waiver says that you will not publicize the exception to the regulations that we are making in your case. It goes on to say that you will not sue the police department or the city in case we cannot solve your case and/or recover your property, and it goes on to say that in the event your case is solved the police department retains the right to use your name and image for publicity purposes for a period of not more than five years and not less than two years, whichever comes first.
--And if the case isn't solved, Doherty asked.
--The waiver states that you will not mention the investigation's negative result in any public forum or private communication in any format or media whatsoever for a period of fifteen years. By signing the waiver you agree to these terms and if you violate them in any manner the police department and/or the city reserves the right to sue you for breach of contract and defamation of character.
--Jesus, that's a heavy load, Doherty said.
--I know, sir, but you're the one who wants to see a detective today. The department just wants to protect itself against frivolous lawsuits. The way things are today you can never be too careful, I suppose. Do you want to sign the waiver?
--Under the circumstances I don't have much of a choice, do I, Doherty said.
--We always have choices, sir, the desk sergeant said.
--I'll sign, Doherty said.
The desk sergeant opened a drawer and took out a white form with a red border.
--There you go, sir, she said. Read it and sign on the bottom line on the front and back of the form. And don't forget to put in today's date.
--Any special color pen I have to sign this with?
The desk sergeant shook her head and said, No sir, sign with anything you want. Why do you ask?
--I just thought…never mind, it's not important. Doherty read the waiver carefully. The terms, set down in dense legal boilerplate, was more or less what the sergeant had described. He hesitated for a moment; he disliked having to sign anything without his lawyer going through it first; and then he signed, thinking that anything that got the police up and after his toupee was worth any temporary aggravation he might have to put up with. Okay, there you are, he said. Who do I see?
--Detective Neinstein. He's upstairs on the third floor in the homicide division.
--Homicide? Nobody's dead, Doherty said.
The desk sergeant scratched her head and said, I'm sorry, sir, but you wanted to speak to a detective right away and Detective Neinstein in Homicide is the only one available. The other detectives have other appointments and the entire burglary division is on vacation at the moment.
--The whole division?
--Yes sir. It's their annual jaunt to Las Vegas. They spend the whole year planning for it.
--Lucky me, Doherty said. When will they be back or should I bother to ask?
--About this time next month, the desk sergeant said.
--It figures. Well, any port in a storm, I suppose, Doherty said. Where do I find this guy?
Detective Neinstein's in room 315, sir, the desk sergeant said. Just take the elevator on up. He's waiting for you.
--Thanks, Doherty said.
--Anytime sir, glad to help, the desk sergeant said as Doherty got on the elevator.
The doors closed and music began to play as the elevator started upwards. Doherty had no real ear for music; he guessed it might be something by Mozart or Beethoven-he couldn't be sure. The elevator stopped and the doors opened on a scene of apparent chaos. Workmen were everywhere, hammering, pounding, shouting to one another in Spanish, painting the walls an off shade of white. As he stepped off the elevator someone began using a power saw. He stopped one of the workmen and asked where he could find room 315.
--Jeez, guy, I couldn't really tell you, the workman shouted over the saw's din. None of the doors got numbers on 'em yet. Tell you what you ought to do, though. Just go own to the end of this hall and make the right. There's people in them offices, I think. The rest of the floor's unoccupied. We're doing this as a rush job so I'm not too clear as to who's supposed to where, y'know? But those offices down off the right, they've got somebody in them. I'd say that was your best bet.
--Thanks a lot, Doherty said. He made his way past the stacks of lumber and piles of paint cans and saw horses and arguing workmen down to the end of the hall and around the corner to the right. Unmarked doors went down the length of the long hall. Damn, Doherty thought.
The first few doors he opened went nowhere; they were vast empty rooms filled with workmen eating their lunches and listening to music. The fifth door he tried opened on a receptionist talking on the telephone. She put her hand over the mouthpiece and said, I’m sorry, sir, please take a number and sit down and I'll be with you in just a minute.
Doherty took a number off a wheel on the receptionist’s desk and sat down in a chair along the wall next to three elderly men in shabby clothes. The old men paid no attention to Doherty; they argued with each other in whispers and together they stank like a racketeer’s campaign contribution and Doherty moved to the chair farthest away from them. Whenever their argument started to get loud they stopped and looked at the receptionist guiltily, and then calmed down.
The receptionist, for her part, seemed immune to their fetid reek; she talked on the telephone and scribbled in an appointment book with a pencil she slid into her electric pencil sharpener after every third or fourth word. She paid no attention to the old men, or to Doherty either, her whole air suggesting that she hadn’t asked these people to come into her office and so she was under no obligation to give them anything more than a ticket with a number and a chair to sit in, it being a longstanding tenet of civil service work that civil servants have more important things to do with their time than being civil to the public. One of the old men got up and went over to the receptionist and tried to ask her a question; she smiled and said, I don’t know, sir, sorry, and then took his ticket and tore it up, replacing it with another with a higher number on it. The old man looked as if he wanted to protest this, but his two friends shushed him and said, no, no, sit and wait, Morrie, your time will come. The old man did not look convinced; he looked at the ticket in his hand and its clearly undesirable number and made a sour face before shrugging his shoulders helplessly and sitting down again.
The receptionist spoke on the phone for another ten minutes and then slammed the receiver down and muttered, jackass. She bent over her address book and began to write furiously, not raising her head as detectives and uniformed police officers and people with no visible connection with the police department walked past her desk dropping files and manila envelopes into her in-basket. When the detectives and uniformed police officers and the people with no visible connection to the police department left the room, she tossed their files and manila envelopes into the trashcan.
Doherty waited a minute and then went over to the receptionist. Excuse me, miss, is this room 315, he asked.
--Say what, the receptionist asked; the sudden question shocked her out of her reverie. Can I help you? She asked the second question in the manner approved for all civil servants, which is to say, she made her question sound synonymous with why don’t you just drop dead?
---Is this room 315, Doherty asked again.
--Oh no, sir, this is room 215, the receptionist said brightly. Just go down to the end of this hall and go up the stairs. You can’t miss it, sir.
--Thank you, miss, Doherty said. He turned and headed for the door. As he left one of the old men went up to the receptionist and asked her something. She smiled and said she didn’t know, and then took the old man’s ticket, tore it up, and gave him another one with a higher number on it.
Doherty went down to the end of the hall, stepping to one side halfway there to avoid the sudden panicky rush of illegal immigrants trying to get over the border before the helicopters spotted them, and found the door to the stairwell. He started up the stairs.
An hour later, he was still going up the stairs, having gotten no closer to the third floor than when he started. Doherty sat down for a moment and stretched his legs. He heard someone coming down the stairs, the someone coming down the stairs singing The Battle Hymn of the Republic while bitching about the lousy food in this place. A moment later, the someone coming down the stairs reached the landing and stopped coming down the stairs, as it is not possible to come down the stairs while standing on a landing without the help of a quantum mechanic.
The someone who was now not coming down the stairs stood in amazement both at his not coming down the stairs any longer, as well as the sight of Doherty sitting down on the stairs. The someone was a tall black man dressed like an American Indian brave and a knight of the Round Table at the same time, and wearing a Catholic bishop’s miter on his head, an ensemble not conducive to finding employment in most respectable establishments.
--Hola, como esta usted hoy, senor, the someone asked.
--Sorry, I don’t speak Spanish, Doherty said.
--No hablo espanol tambien, the someone said, so it does get a bit confusing, doesn’t it, what with the whole Tower of Babel aspect that you have with this sort of thing. Where are you going?
--The third floor, Doherty said.
--Oh, that’s easy to find, the someone said, you shouldn’t have any trouble finding it; I think I passed it back in 1948, but I’ve lost track of the time. I’m going down to the basement. Are you here to report a crime?
--Yes, I am, Doherty said.
--Well, so am I, the someone said. I killed my wife, yes, I did, I found the slut in the arms of another man and I killed her about as dead as you can kill anyone with a block of ice. It was hard going at first; my wife had a thick skull, God bless her, but eventually it caved in, just like I knew it would. I went on the run after I killed her, but my conscience started bothering me something awful so I came back to confess. The receptionist told me that they took confessions down in the basement so I’ve been trying to get down there but I don’t ever seem to get any closer. My conscience doesn’t seem to bother me as much these days and I wonder sometimes whether or not I should bother confessing at all, but I figure since I’ve got this much time invested I might as well go through with it. What’s the matter, sonny?
--It’s nothing, Doherty said, but weren’t you just a tall black man?
--Nope, I’ve been Chinese all of my life, the someone said. Why do you ask?
--I would have sworn you were tall and black just a minute ago, Doherty said.
--Must be the lousy lights they have in here, the someone said. Oh, I’m sorry, didn’t mean to be rude, I’m Gunnar Einarrson. Just call me Gunny, everyone does.
--Okay, Gunny. Francis Doherty. He put his hand out.
--Oh no, I don’t every shake hands, Gunny said. I need to ward off the dreaded scurvy.
--Shaking hands doesn’t spread scurvy, Doherty said.
--Are you a doctor?
--Then that’s just your opinion, isn’t it?
--No, it’s not, Doherty said. It’s a deficiency disease, I think they call it. Not enough Vitamin C in your diet; I read that somewhere.
--You shouldn’t believe everything you read, sonny Gunny said. The papers tell me that Adlai hasn’t got a chance in hell of beating Ike this November, but I haven’t given up hope. He got up and jumped over the railing and fell several stories to his death. Doherty tried to grab him as he went over the side but missed.
--This place is full of lunatics, Doherty said out loud.
--Hey, be careful who you’re calling a lunatic, Gunny called. There’re people in this stairwell who dislike that sort of thing. My apologies for the interruption, Francis, but I had to get down here to the twelfth floor; they’re having knishes tonight and I wanted to be first in line.
--You just fell…how are you still alive?
--Not to worry, guy, I landed on my head, Gunny said.
--And that’s the twelfth floor?
--Then what floor am I on? I was trying to get to room 315.
--Then you better start down, Francis, because you’ve missed where you’re going by a long shot.
--Okay, Doherty said. He started down the stairs.
Five hours later Gunny called, Francis, you want me to save you a knish?
--You want me to save you a knish? They’re almost out of them.
--Yes, please, would you? Hey, Gunny…
--Yeah, Francis?
--Exactly how long does it take to get to the third floor?
--Beats the hell out of me. I haven’t been down that way in years. Didn’t I tell you that?
--Yeah, you did. Sorry. I forgot about that. I’m going to sit for a minute and let my legs rest. I’m getting tired here.
--You go ahead, Francis. Take your time. I’ll hang onto your knish.
Doherty sat down for a minute. His legs hurt and as he stretched, he fell through a conveniently placed deus ex machina time warp to the third floor, giving his left shin a rousing good whack in the process. He got up and limped through the stairwell door.
Room 315 was at the end of the hall. It was a crowded room, full of people typing or chatting. Some were typing and chatting, but these were a minority. Most people can either chat or type, but not both at the same time. There was a receptionist reading The National Enquirer at the front desk. Excuse me, miss, may I speak to Detective Neinstein, please?
The receptionist looked up and said, who?
--Detective Neinstein.
--There’s no one here by that name, mister, she said.
The sergeant at the front desk just called him for an appointment, Doherty said.
--I don’t care, mister, there ain’t no one by that name here, the receptionist said.
--Neinstein, one of the typists said. Al Neinstein?
--I don’t know his first name, but he’s a detective in Homicide, Doherty said.
--Al Neinstein died years ago, the typist said, and he’d retired years before that. Do you want a knish?
--Do you want a knish?
--No, thank you, not at the moment, Doherty said.
--A shame, that. Most people don’t appreciate a nice knish nowadays. You’re sure you don’t want it?
--I’m sure. All I want to do is report a crime.
--Oh, is that all, the receptionist said. Then why didn’t you say so instead of blathering on and on and on about nothing at all? Just take a number and you can talk to the next available detective.
--Thank you, Doherty said. He took a number and sat down next to a group of old men who sat clutching their numbers and staring at the receptionist. She didn’t seem to care one way or the other, and as he sat waiting for his number to come up it occurred to Doherty, as he saw his reflection in the smooth glass surrounding the receptionist and thought that he ought to spend more time in the gym, he didn’t look as young as he used to be.

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Saturday, January 20, 2007

APOLOGIES: Blogger has been after me, and probably you as well, for quite a while to switch over to their new way of doing things. This being a working weekend (an unfortunate event that occurs once every six weeks), I decided to go ahead and give the thing a try and see how I like it. I am happy to report that the switchover did not involve any complications and no animals were harmed during the making of this switch.

What I am not so happy to report is this: I have had the Blogger commenting program installed on these computer for quite some time now, but as the counter always said 0 comments, I thought that no one was using Blogger for comments and consequently I never bothered to take a look and see what was actually in there. With this new Blogger program, I can see that a good many of you have indeed commented here; posts I thought were failures because no one said anything about them turn out to have generated veritable scads--well, maybe not scads, but more than I thought--of comments. If you are one of those commenters, I just want you to know that I am very sorry for not responding to your post and I thank you for coming here and reading The Passing Parade; in short, I was not ignoring you, I just didnt know that I had a commenting problem until this upgrade showed me the error of my ways. But now that I have the new Blogger/Google upgrade on my computer I am sure that this problem will not happen again. Once again, to all of you who thought I was giving you the cold shoulder, my profoundest apologies. As for the children's librarian's new breasts, this is a personal topic, and one I would feel uncomfortable going into any great detail about unless she said it was okay with her.

UPDATE: Again, my apologies; I am now reasonably certain that I have turned the comment moderation off and that you may use Blogger's commenting system to your heart's content. I will now go and get myself fitted for a suit of sackcloth and ashes.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

BUSINESS AT HAND: I don’t mean to complain here, which, if you’ve spent any time at all reading The Passing Parade, you know is a base falsehood of the most egregious sort, since The Passing Parade’s raison d'être, if you’ll pardon my French, is to allow me to spew bile, venom, and tobacco juice all over that nice new pair of white pants your mother gave you for Christmas whenever and wherever the mood strikes me, but to nip this digression in the bud, something that I don’t always do in time here, can anyone, anyone at all, please tell me what idiot decided that putting a button on the flap of my boxer shorts was a good idea? Could someone please point this pathetic miscreant to us, his numerous victims, so that we can transport this clod to an undisclosed secure location and there, without so much as a smidgen of good will, anesthesia, or that nice chocolate ice cream with the fudge swirls and the marshmallows in it, and definitely not the kind with the bits of Oreo cookies in it, pop this benighted moron’s kneecaps off with a crowbar? Such punishment, while drastic, is scarcely equal to the enormity of the offense, for to place a button, or any other impediment, for that matter, at such a strategic location bespeaks a contempt for the masculine urinary imperative that scarcely knows any bounds in the vast and sordid catalogue of human crime, he said, quoting Winston Churchill. Why then do buttoned boxer shorts, like pet rocks and New Coke, two other bright ideas whose time came and, fortunately for us all, went with blinding speed, even exist?

Let us, just for a moment, examine that wonder of modern engineering, the men’s room urinal. The urinal is a porcelain marvel, simple, utilitarian, and yet artistic as well, as Marcel Duchamp proved in 1917. There is no place for such a device in the ladies’ room, except in such places as San Francisco, where not all the ladies are women yet; the hormone shots take some time to kick in, or so people tell me; and yet I am sure that many women would admire your typical urinal for the clean stylish lines that make them a welcome addition to any public building; urinals blend well with almost any style you choose to think of, although I am partial to Art Deco urinals myself; Conceptualist urinals require too much thought.

But today’s emphasis on style should not blind us to the urinal’s basic utility. Take a look at the restrooms in any public building after a long night of eating and drinking and what you will see is a long line of women standing outside the ladies’ room, waiting in quiet desperation to get through the door and into a stall before an untoward accident happens in the expensive dress you intended to return to the store tomorrow morning, which isn’t going to happen if you go first, what with most clothing stores taking the altogether unreasonable attitude that if you pissed in it, you bought it, honey, there ain’t no returns for soiled merchandise (don’t you just hate that bitchy salesgirl and her snotty tone and why are you always the one who gets her?).

In observing the men’s room, by contrast, what you will note after only a few minutes of close observation is that men enter and leave this area with the greatest of alacrity. The line, if there is one, moves at high speed through the door and men who just went in are often out only a couple of minutes later. The reason for this swift flow of bodies is the urinal and its central role in the operation of the modern men’s room, where its great stylishness and beauty take second place to the device’s basic utility. The urinal exists to eliminate male micturation at a high rate of speed. Indeed, in our digital age, the urinal has gone high tech, rendering it even faster than ever before; today’s digital urinals do not have a handle or any other sort of flushing apparatus at all, and do not require any sort of human contact. There is nothing for the user to touch, no need to worry about skulking viruses trying to catch a free ride on one’s hands or on the friendly back of Mr. Willie Peter Johnson; the male user merely zips up his fly and steps away from the urinal, and a motion sensor will flush the urinal for him. The modern urinal thus renders urination swift, safe, and sanitary to a degree hitherto unimaginable in the long and noisome history of human evacuation. But, and I should say here that I think that this is the crux of the matter, although there are many who might disagree with me here, the whole point of the urinal is lost if you have to unbutton your damn underwear first.

Imagine, if you will, a man who has waited to the very end of a sporting event before heading for the nearest men’s room. A loyal fan, he did not want to miss a moment of the action on the field, and so controlled his bladder, even though he did not help his own cause by downing several oversized and overpriced beers during the game. By the time this particular game is over, our loyal fan has several quarts of scarcely processed hops-based diuretics backed up all the way to his kidneys and his sphincter is about to give up and call it a day, that’s it, I can’t take it, I’m not putting up with this crap anymore, not for what I’m getting paid. The only thing that is keeping the sphincter on the job and holding back the flood like the little Dutch boy is that the men’s room is nearby and soon all will be well.

Our loyal fan gets on line and soon, very soon, much sooner than any woman in a similar situation would find herself sitting in a stall in the ladies’ room, he finds himself standing in front of a urinal, ready to attend to the business at hand. There is just one problem; his wife / girlfriend / mother / significant other gave him underwear for his birthday / Christmas / whatever, and this modern underwear, you guessed it, has a button on the flap. So this poor alcohol-befuddled schnook is trying to unbutton his fly while the guys behind him and his own sphincter wonder just what in the hell is holding up the parade here, why is that guy playing with himself up there when I gotta pee, dammit, will someone call a cop and get that pervert out of the way before I piss in my damn pants?

Finally, in absolute desperation, the pain having become totally unbearable at this point, our loyal fan hooks his thumb in the underwear’s waistband and pulls it down just as the sphincter says, that’s it, no more of this, and starts high pressure spraying whether our loyal fan is ready or not. With any sort of luck, our fan has managed to get himself clear of the fly in time, or, if not, that he is wearing dark pants so that huge stain won’t be quite so noticeable at first. If he is really lucky, the other men in line will beat him to a pulp for playing with himself in public, the freak, and our loyal fan can spend the night in the hospital, where he can tell everyone that he wet himself while lying unconscious on the men’s room floor, which, while undignified, doesn’t make you look like some kind of complete idiot. It’s as good an excuse as any other, I suppose, and when he gets out of the hospital he can help the rest of us find the lousy bastard who put the button on the flap. There’s a day of judgment coming for that moron, friends, and to that jackass I just want to say that I strongly suggest you find some small, secluded, isolated nook of this beautiful planet where the people don’t wear underwear on a day to day basis and consequently don’t care what you have done to us, a place where we can’t find you, because you will not be happy when we do. No indeed, you will not be happy at all. Remember, you have been warned, smart guy.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

BALD EAGLE PORNO: I’ll have you know, just so we don’t get started off on the wrong foot here, that I am as a loyal and patriotic an American as the next guy, assuming that the next guy is not your average hysterical semiliterate jihadicommie fanatic whack job, and therefore I have no objections to many of the steps taken to preserve, protect, and extend the nation’s population of bald eagles. I think this is a noble venture, one many Americans do not appreciate, and I think the news that the bald eagle population in the lower 48 states is growing, if not by leaps and bounds, then at least steadily, over the past few years is one of the great rescue efforts in the history of species preservation in particular and ornithology in general. Clearly, the scientists, ecologists, lawmakers, and local communities throughout this our Great Republic deserve our thanks and gratitude for pulling this great symbol of our nation back from the edge of extinction, but now they’re becoming a pain in the ass. Not the birds, of course; the birds remain as noble and proud a group of creatures as any mob of pea-brained sushi eaters can be; it’s not their fault that they pig out on Japanese cuisine on a more or less constant basis. No, indeed, the birds are paragons of virtue, if a bit sloppy with their table manners; the people saving the bald eagles, on the other hand, have undergone that most ugly of metamorphoses, having entered the chrysalis of the state capital as the righteous crusaders for a great cause worthy of all of our support, and having emerged from this two-bit pupal state as bureaucrats.

The regular reader of The Passing Parade will know by now that I have two major hobbies, one of which you are perusing at the moment, the other being photography, which is a damn sight more expensive than writing is. If you take a look to the right of your screen, you will see a link to Akaky’s Amateur Photo Hour, wherein you can take a look at some of what I do with my spare time when I am not thinking up these frivolous concoctions for your dining and dancing pleasure. So this past weekend, wherein our happy little burg enjoyed 71 degree temperatures, blue skies, and a warm and variable wind, I decided that the time had come for me to take a long walk down to an abandoned brickyard along the shore of the river that flows two ways; the Lord, in his infinite wisdom, apparently forgot to jiggle the handle on this waterworks after flushing on the seventh day; and take a great many black and white photographs of said brickyard, if, for no other reason, that industrial decay looks good in black and white, especially if you catch the sun shining in columns through the holes in the ceiling. I even bought a roll of Kodachrome 64 in order to show the brickyard in its full tacky stained brown brick ruin. I set off the for the river, my mind full of plans for how to get the best angles, what lenses to use, and wondering if I ought to bring my tripod and maybe another five rolls of film, just in case.

This neurotic need to make sure I have all my bases covered is an ongoing problem with me, I fear. I need not have worried so much about the problem: as I approached the brickyard, I noticed there was a sign telling me to stop. I shouldn’t say that I noticed the sign, as that gives the impression that I could have missed this sign, which was a physical impossibility for anyone except the blind or the truly absent-minded, given that the thing was at least five foot square and parked squarely in the middle of the path down to the brickyard. Stunned by the appearance of this sudden obstacle to all my photographic plans, I stopped and read the sign.

I did not know this, but it seems as if bald eagles have been using the area around the brickyard as a breeding ground, and the state department of conservation, the authors of the sign, put up this sign to ask all of us hikers to kindly go in another direction until the beginning of March; having people wander by as they tried to do what other birds, bees, and educated fleas do annoyed the eagles no end and kept them annoyed for hours afterwards. At the end of this otherwise very polite sign there was the standard warning that if I didn’t take the state’s hint and buzz off, the state department of conservation would be more than happy to toss my backside into the clink for a few years and lay a whopping fine on me as well, just so the message got through. Not wishing to do time for my art, I walked in the other direction, furious at this development, or rather, lack of development.

Do you know how bald eagles copulate? Well, if you don’t, here’s how: male and female fly about as high as they can stand, grab each other by the talons, and then tumble ass over heels down towards the ground while doing the wild thing. Yes, you read that right; that’s how bald eagles get their rocks off. This is what the state does not want me to photograph. First, I resent the hell out of the implication that I am some voyeur who gets some kind of weird thrill out of watching avian live sex shows. Second, I really resent the notion that I am some kind of purveyor of bird porn; I think at this juncture I am a fairly competent amateur photographer and I really dislike the state’s unspoken yet definitely clear belief that I would be willing to go pro selling pictures of this country’s national symbol disporting itself in a manner definitely unbecoming a national symbol. And third, and what I truly find offensive, there is the state, the state where I have lived and paid taxes to all of my adult life, a state, I’ll have you know, where more and more people are leaving because they cannot bear the high taxes and the overwhelming, and this case overreaching, bureaucracy, my native state, spending my hard-earned money to promote weird and kinky sex amongst these irresponsible nitwits.

Now, before we go any further, I want you to know that I am not one of those conservatives who thinks that the government should stay out of every room in the house except the bedroom. What people do in the privacy of their own homes is none of my business, but I don’t think the government should be openly promoting perversions with the public’s tax monies or allowing winged freaks to perform them over large bodies of water where unsuspecting children can see this sort of thing and have their psyches scarred for life. I’m sorry, that's just the way that I am. I am a taxpayer and a property owner and I think I have as much right to photograph the industrial decay here in our happy little burg as the bald eagles have to their psychosexual quirks, and maybe more; having your picture on the tax money is not the same as actually paying those taxes. If they don’t like my taking pictures near their dens of iniquity, fine, they can go somewhere else, which is pretty easy for them; it’s not like the state has to pay their airfare, is it?

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Friday, January 05, 2007

JAMIL HUSSEIN: I haven't commented on this story, or lack thereof, because I don't have the facts of the case, only a lot of assertions and counterassertions, and I like knowing what I am talking about before I have an opinion about it. It seems, however, that Captain Hussein does, in fact, exist, and so the defenders of the AP are shouting Glory, hallelujah, we're saved, praise the Lord from the mountaintops and damning all those who denounced the AP's refusal to produce such an omniscient source. Captain Hussein may well be everything the AP says he is, but it seems to me that before the leftosphere goes into full attack mode it might do well to remember that owning a pair of pants is not the same as actually wearing them. If Captain Hussein is connected with the Shi'a militias, it seems to me, then the AP has to explain why it allowed those militias to use its newswires as a megaphone for Shi'a propaganda. Just based on what I've seen so far, I strongly suspect that the AP's reluctance to produce Captain Hussein might have far less to do with protecting a source than it does with covering the AP's institutional backside. In unrelated news, however, it is now 71 degrees in our happy little burg, the kids are playing soccer in the park, my apple tree is beginning to bud, and the guy across the street from me is mowing his lawn, thereby raising the phrase 'January thaw' to the nth degree of ridiculousness.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

SADDAM: Mr. Richard Dicker, the director of Human Rights Watch’s International Justice Program, opines that “…the execution of Saddam, a human rights monster, turned his unspeakable record upside down.” Well, this is an interesting theory of justice, to say the least, and one I’d not heard of before. Mr. Dicker’s statement does raise some interesting questions, though. Am I to assume then that the defendants at the Nuremberg trials are now absolved of their monstrous deeds, are now, in fact, to be considered one with their victims, simply because the Allied powers tried and executed them for crimes against humanity? Are we now to believe that the history books should raise the number of Holocaust victims to 6,000,001 because Israel executed Adolf Eichmann for his role in the other six million deaths? Or that the State of Illinois and John Wayne Gacy are somehow on the same moral and ethical plane since the Illinois Department of Corrections put an end to Mr. Gacy’s somewhat unsettling habit of murdering young men by strapping him down onto an unattractive example of modern American furniture and pumping him full of lethal chemicals? Somehow or other, I don’t think the victims of Saddam, the Nazis, or Mr. Gacy would agree with this grotesque conflation of their loved ones with the men who butchered them. Mr. Dicker’s statement is the sort of high-minded moral tommyrot you can only hear in a Western democracy, where the citizen goes to sleep at night knowing that the state will do its level best to protect him or her against the depredations of men like Saddam Hussein, and who either cannot or will not face the reality that the values of the democratic West mean little or nothing to the rulers of a good many countries on this planet. To say that Saddam’s execution turns his record upside down, that somehow the manner of his death cancels everything that led him to the gallows in the first place, to put that man, his victims, and the men who tried and executed him on the same level, insults the memory of those he and his murderous spawn slaughtered, mocks any concept of justice that I am aware of, and is nothing short of obscene.

Hat tip to The Purple Avenger.
UPDATE: Our Friendly Neighborhood Curmudgeon has an interesting essay on the death penalty, which touches on, amongst other things, Saddam's enforced shuffle off this mortal coil.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

MOVIE GAS: Well, here we are, sitting on the cusp of a new year (oh, is that what that is? I was wondering what the hell it was…if I have to sit on a cusp next year could I get a big pillow before I sit down? This cusp is jabbing me in the ass) and I think it behooves all of us to take a little time to look back at the many firsts that came our way in the past year. For example, 2006 was the first year in a long while that we did not see extended press coverage of John Paul II’s comings and goings, although the press did spare us their prognostications about how His Holiness could climb out of the quagmire he appears to find himself in. For a group usually so quick with advice for every other figure of note, they appear somewhat reticent on this account. One wonders why this should be so; they certainly have no qualms about telling everyone else what they should and shouldn’t do. 2006 was also the year in which the great animator, Joseph Barbera, became just a tad less animated, leaving bartenders all over the world wondering what the recipe for a double rocks on the rocks is, and why you can only serve this potent libation in a dirty glass. And in library news, 2006 was the year wherein the Library of Congress, the holy of holies for those of us in the bookslinging trade, decided to add Blazing Saddles to the National Film Registry. This honor means that the Library will expend umpteen millions of dollars over the next few years to preserve and protect this film so that future generations will be able to see and enjoy it long after those of us who grew up with the film have moldered into dust.

Blazing Saddles blazed, appropriately enough, a trail in modern cinematic history. Never before in the history of cinema in general, or in the history of the Western as a genre, had any director been as brave as Mel Brooks in pointing out the natural consequence of the cowboy’s diet and making that truth audible to the American movie-going public. If you doubt this fact, examine the history of the Western from The Great Train Robbery (1903) to Blazing Saddles’ debut in 1973. From 1903 onwards, one sees any number of factual lollapaloozas on the Western range, from Indians who sound like they’re from the Bronx, although I will concede that there may well be Indians from the Bronx; I am just not willing to concede that there were any 19th century Plains Indians from the Bronx; to Colt .45 six-shooters that only run out of ammunition when the screenwriter needs to make a plot point. This last point was always a greater suspension of disbelief than I was willing to muster; gunning down nine Indians from a weapon that I knew only held six rounds was always a bit much for me. But be that as it may, you can go through the whole history of the genre and not one of those Western heroes, from Tom Mix and William S. Hart to Gary Cooper, John Wayne, and Clint Eastwood, no, not one of them, ever cut the cheese onscreen, even after they’d stuffed themselves with enough beans to turn their large intestines into a space shuttle’s fuel tank. To be fair, and if there is anything we endeavor to be here at The Passing Parade, it is to be fair to all and sundry, Tom Mix and William S. Hart worked in the silent movies, so they may have been farting all the while and who would’ve known one way or the other, but the rest of those guys ate the beans too, and there’s nary a character actor standing downwind of any of those guys who doesn’t seem to mind being there.

There are very few directors as brave as Brooks in confronting this great gastrointestinal truth. I am a veteran of countless World War II movies, having watched them from the time I was a boy even unto the current day, and not once has anyone in a World War II movie ever farted. For all the magnificence of Saving Private Ryan, for example, Spielberg deals with the blood and gore and sacrifice of war, but not once does he deal with the inevitable consequence of a diet based largely on C-rations; no one in that movie is even remotely flatulent, except for that guy reading Lincoln’s letter to Mrs. Bixby; he looks like he’s got to go badly and only the presence of Spielberg and the rest of the crew behind the camera is keeping him from heading off at full gallop into the nearest Porto-San to cut a loud and ripe one. As for the rest of the cast, well, apparently every soldier who went ashore on Omaha Beach leaped out of their Higgins boats having consumed several bottles of Beano beforehand, lest the Germans think the smell of American Army beans processed through the internal organs of several thousand young Americans constituted a gross violation of the Geneva Conventions’ prohibition on chemical warfare.

I do not know why war films do not deal with this aspect of the American fighting man’s daily existence. I mean, no one on either side in the Second World War ever flipped the top hatch on the turrent open, even in the middle of a battle, because the loader just unloaded a wet and nasty one and the rest of the crew just couldn’t stand the stench? As movie viewers, we know this must have happened, and on more than one occasion, but no filmmaker has yet come to grips with the military fart. I suppose that the Department of Defense would object strenuously to such a noisome attack on the patriotism of American digestive tracts and would refuse to help any filmmaker who tried to expose this reality, but more filmmakers should take their cue from Mel Brooks. It is better to be artistically sound and historically accurate than to accept such censorship. All the other cinematic taboos have fallen in the past thirty years; it is time, indeed, it well past time, that the military movie fart take its place next to the cowboy movie fart in cinematic history. It would be a relief for us all.