Sunday, August 30, 2015

THE ICE CREAM MAN

  A highway liberates, if you find yourself receptive to such things. The rhythmic clomp of the road slabs drummed by the tires invigorates and lulls at once. Radio stations drift in and fade along the breaks of mountain foothills. Even clouds can mesmerize in the way they differ from one part of the country to another. In the southwest, thunderheads sneak up along the circle horizon, daring the sunlight to break them apart before they can launch their monsoonal attack. In the north central states the clouds hang low, like a series of cotton candy puffs dropping in from some invisible street fair. And in the mid-west those clouds, or their cousins, languish between the airplanes and the rivers, waiting to be called into duty as crop savers or devastating tornadoes, as need will dictate. 
   I had neared the first half of my midlife journey. The university still sprawled in the center of Huntington, just as it had loomed decades earlier, when I had been just another gnat drawn to the glow of wisdom and decadence. I do not imply that I learned nothing from my six years at Marshall. Rather, I state it outright. That observation declares less about the institution than it does about the student. The majority of the professors radiated a kind of celestial brilliance. The students with whom I shared classes, carafes and pitchers were, on the whole, among the most enlightened individuals it has ever been my pleasure to know. The cafeteria food tasted fine and, to the best of my knowledge, never killed anyone. The football team, known officially as the Thundering Herd (and often as not referred to as the Trembling Herd) seldom spoiled their hard-earned reputation as the most even-tempered collection of inepts ever to don a uniform. Again, the deficiencies in my education emanated not from any component of Marshall University but rather from my own lack of preparedness for higher education, be it there or anywhere else one might mention.
   As I at last found a parking space for the Audi TT Roadster, I recalled that when last here I had been driving a Ford Galaxy 500 that I had purchased from my father. That had been late summer of 1982. Today was early autumn of 2003. My passenger, Molly the Cocker Spaniel, needed a bit of a stretch and I saw nothing inappropriate about leashing my well-mannered dog and touring the old campus. I entertained the fantasy that, while most of my old classmates had likely matriculated after twenty-one years, the possibility did exist that one or more of the once-middle-aged faculty might be passing from one building to another in search of someone to listen to stories about the old days. 
   Some people say coincidence does not exist. I may have said that very thing myself. If so, I was certainly correct for it was no coincidence that I had invested quite a considerable sum on such a foolish symbol of status, a level of achievement to which I had otherwise fallen far short of earning. The twenty-one years between visits to Marshall, in my case, had been filled with a breathless vacuity. While my friends from those six years had, on the whole, done quite well for themselves, at least as regards their occupational accomplishments, I had, on the same whole, managed to alienate myself from every conceivable employer in the state of Arizona, the territory to which I had located shortly after graduation. If I am not in error, I had by this time separated from nine companies, none of which ever communicated any interest in reconnecting with me in any lawful manner. But I had come into some good fortune through severe hardship and a bit of that windfall I had seen fit to spend on the sports car. It had been part of the same whim that had encouraged me to purchase the matching leather jacket, boots and belt. I had returned, at long last, not even worthy to the metaphor of the prodigal son, yet feeling an immeasurable freedom, a lightness in my chest, an unworried countenance, a Spielberg Glow, if you will. 
   I could tell you about how the names of some of the buildings had changed, about how the thrust of the educational system had mutated from liberal arts to business, how nobody gave much of a damn about me or my handsome dog Molly, much less my leather jacket, boots and belt. What is more interesting, I believe, was a flashback I had while sitting on a cold block of matter surrounding the fountain at the student union. Nothing in particular was going on. A few students wafted in and out through the doors of the main union, but they gave off an air of self-important preoccupation, similar, I admit, to what I had spewed forth years earlier. 
   So while Molly yawned with one eye peeled for scurrying squirrels, I found myself thinking about nineteenth century American literature, or with more precision, about a certain class for which I had paid money, one called Nineteenth Century American Literature. I remembered with surprising clarity the course description. It had promised thought-provoking discussion of the best works of Melville, Twain and Poe. I had approached this class with an uncommon sense of joyful anticipation. As an English major, I had already survived thirty other literature classes, none of which, it is fair to say, I had been prepared for in the slightest. But Nineteenth Century American Literature? That was more like it. I had been breast-fed on Huckleberry Finn, Moby Dick, "The Tell-Tale Heart," and other classics of the period. In short, this class would emphasize material with which I had some considerable familiarity and therefore I would be predisposed to discuss with some authority, as opposed to sitting on my hands while graduate students ruminated verbosity about the chivalry of Castilione or the symbolism of Plutarch, or vice versa. 
  I hightailed myself to the student bookstore at least a week before the first day of class, deciding that this time I would spring for new books rather than ragtag used ones. I handed the course card to the kid working the cash register. He sighed. "That's gonna be eleven books, you know?"
   "Fine. Fine."
   I didn't care. Chances were I would have already read most of them.
   The kid brought the books back one at a time. With each delivery my will to live receded by another mile.
   Each of the eleven books had been stuffed to overflowing with nothing but poetry. 
   No short stories, no novels, no essays. Each of the eleven lay there on the cashier's desk, smirking his or her authorial insolence back at me without even the decency of iambic pentameter. "We are poetry," they scoffed. "And we are not even the kind of poetry you favor. No, indeed. We are the precursors of the imagistic poetics, the early voices of impenetrable cacophony about which it is fair to say that the more we make a reader feel obtuse, the more successful we have been. We are T.S. Eliot, we are Ezra Pound, we are Wallace Stevens! We haven't the good sense to be e. e. cummings or Carl Sandburg or Edwin Arlington Robinson! Pshaw! One could actually get to the bottom of those fellows. Nay, we are Emily Dickinson, hiding beneath her bed in obscurity, diddling off lines such as 'Because I could not stop for death, he kindly stopped for me. Our carriage held but just ourselves and immortality,' punctuated with pointless dashes. We are Robert Frost, but not the good Robert Frost who wrote well enough about blueberries and dark journeys on snowy evenings. No, we are the Robert Frost who occasionally lapsed into incomprehensible drivel. We are the transcendentalists--the intellectual fascists. Our only saving grace is that Walt Whitman is among us and, truth to tell, he was more of a prose stylist who just happened to find that he liked the looks of his books better if they resembled poetry. Boy, you sho is gonna hate spending the next sixteen years of yer miserable life with us, that's a damned fact, Jack."
   Sitting on that cold slab of concrete with Molly at my feet and the sputter of the fountain pricking at my spine, I observed my mind and its emotions transporting back to that classroom, one that in my recollection radiated an antiseptic whiteness along with a palpable weightiness of silence except for the lectures of William Ramsey, a fine man, if not a stirring spokesman for his subject matter. In some classes, the student must face the risk of being called into discussion about the reading assignments and so it behooves that person to be somewhat prepared. This was not such a class. Bill prattled on about the historical context in which these writers wrote, about the use of elite psychological visuals, and about the disdain under which many of them labored. My participation in the class, to the extent that such an effort existed at all, was limited to pretending to make notes in the margins of the poetry books. 
   I have never felt much tug to be fair in my recollections. They are, after all, my own, and I tend to shape them as I see fit, rather than as they might shape themselves, were they given such a chance. Nevertheless, I will confess that a very few of the poems to which we were collectively exposed--or which exposed themselves to us--have improved over the years. Just as Mark Twain once observed that he was amazed how much more intelligent his father became after Clemons himself reached eighteen years of age, so did a small number of those poems appear to have more value once the real world came yanking on my skin. So while I had, as a student, loathed the very sight of "The Emperor of Ice Cream," in the ensuing years the dastardly two-stanza dreck had morphed into something approximating genuine beauty. A similar transformation had occurred with "The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock," a poem about which, many years after first falling into its pit, I claimed for it the title of Funniest Poem in the English Language. But as for infernal snobs such as Ezra Pound and the others, I have continued to harbor a grudge that lingers to this day. 
   Sometime during the sixteenth and final week of this exercise that I silently thought of as the Calisthenics of Tedium, I decided to have an ex parte discussion with Bill Ramsey. I had considered and rejected bringing up what was bothering me right in the middle of one of his class lectures, but in those days I lacked the courage to risk bringing deliberate embarrassment upon myself, although I never shied from the accidental variety, rest assured. Therefore, inside that student union I did wander one morning in search of the man and indeed I found him sitting alone, stirring instant creamer into his coffee cup. John Bonham, the drummer for Led Zeppelin, had died recently and the two of us made polite conversation on that occurrence until there was nothing left to say except for those words that had brought me to his table.
   "With all the good writing from that period, Bill, why the hell did you make us read all this poetry jive?"
   Bill appeared to take no offense at this pusillanimous statement. Indeed, his was one of the most gentle of souls ever to seek comfort on this unwelcoming earth. He dumped the contents of another non-dairy creamer into his cup, smiled, and replied, "The last two times I've taught this course, I focused on prose. This time I wanted to give myself a break. Why? You don't care for it?"
   I met his smile with one of my own. "I despise it. I also don't understand it. And I don't get why people needed to write that way."
  "What way is that?"
  "Writing about one thing when they mean something else. 'Let be be finale of seem'--What a load of rubbish."
   "How is he supposed to say it? 'The old lady died and people brought flowers and pretended to care'?"
  I could no longer force a smile, although his never faltered. I said, "The point is that there's no good reason why anyone would bother to decode the poem--"
   "Decode? I like that."
   "Thanks. Because the poem doesn't care about the old lady enough to even give her a name. The poem only cares about showing off. For a song about death, it has no passion whatsoever. I really hate that kind of thing."
   He drained his cup and wiped his mouth on a sleeve. "That's a legitimate criticism, Phil. Wish you would have brought that up in class."
   How can you get angry with such a person? He was reasonable, calm, respectful. And I was none of those things. 
   Molly broke my recollection with a warning growl at a wayward rodent that had dared dart across the union in search of shelter from the first light snowfall we had encountered on our journey. I zipped my jacket as I stood to look around. These surroundings, once so familiar that I had known them as well as they had known me, now filled me with an emptiness that bordered on pain. Nothing here would resuscitate me from the grief I was struggling to ignore. I had hoped to slip into a cozy condition of nostalgia. Instead I had wiled away the better part of an hour shivering in the cold, waiting for old scents to return on the shoes of ghosts.
  Reasonable, calm, respectful. Those had been code words for maturity, a field of endeavor I had dodged with some skill in the years between visits to Marshall University. 
   As I write this, the year is 2015. Before she retired for the evening, I mentioned to my girlfriend that I have experienced what I call true happiness during three periods of my life. The first was when I was a boy in Ohio. The second was when I attended Marshall. And the third has been the last several years that she and I have lived together. What people sometimes think of as maturity is often linked with acts of romanticizing elements of the past, either through melodrama or humor, through embellished stories or tortured recollections. 
   A few years ago I had the considerable privilege of teaching some writing classes at a nearby university. To write well, I believe, mandates that one encounter material worth reading. Some universities these days have compressed the student experience into abbreviated duration, thereby limiting opportunities for a fulfilling education. As you have probably heard, some schools offer what they call online learning, where a computer, Internet capability and tuition is all one needs for the experience. The students I taught were, for the most part, adults who sought credentials in order to keep their jobs. One may be a human resources manager one day with only a high school diploma or Associates Degree, but as competition for jobs that pay actual money intensifies, so do the educational requirements become stickier for the people hoping to keep those jobs. People who had been working as teachers themselves in Head Start programs, or in personnel departments, or as assistants of this or that, had found themselves needing that ever elusive sheep skin. And so they had enrolled in college, or returned to it, with one eye on the practical application of attaining their degrees and with a second eye somewhat better prepared for the beauty of elucidation than might have been the case when that second eye was between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four. 
   Over the course of my two years at that college, none of my students had ever heard of Wallace Stevens. By the end of the eight-week course work, every last one of them had come to get some idea about what the poet had been getting at in "The Emperor of Ice Cream." 
   I guess some poetry matures better than others.

Monday, August 10, 2015

THE GOBLIN OF DUMBASSES

EB: Good evening. I'm Ernestine Borgman with iNterview and tonight we are humbled, as well as chagrined, to have as our guest, one of the leading candidates in the upcoming Presidential election, Mr. D.J. Thump. Good evening, sir.

DJ: Good evening, Ernestine. 

EB: We might as well begin with--

DJ: It's all right if I call you by your first name, I hope?

EB: Certainly. We expect this to be an illuminating yet informal--

DJ: They ever call you Ernie at home? The reason I'm asking, you don't really possess what you might call the feminine qualities prevalent on the other networks.

EB: I was going to ask--

DJ: You know what I'm talking about: bushy blonde hair--

EB: I was--

DJ: Inflated boobs.

EB: I was--

DJ: Little black dress. Eye shadow. Pearls. Pouty lips. You know what I'm talking about. The people watching your show know what I'm talking about. I certainly know what I'm talking about.

EB: That's what I was going to ask, Mr. Thump. What is your impression of yourself these days, in light of a certain amount of criticism from some quarters? 

DJ: I say what I say, I am what I am. I'm the Thumper! As for the criticism you referenced, all I can say is that I have to be what I am, I have to say what I say. What you perhaps disingenuously ignore is that my message resonates with people who are tired of following the Political Correctness Playbook.

EB: You've made mention of the PC Playbook before. Do you actually believe that such a thing exists?

DJ: Do I? I know it exists! Back in the early 1980s, some very well connected friends of mine and I sat down one night over a few bottles of Dom and wrote it. A dear friend of mine in the publishing industry in Washington State told me, she said, DJ, you can't do this. I told her, of course I can. We printed up sixty million copies in hardback. We literally had that many pre-orders, but some people who really could have benefitted from reading the manuscript mistook some amphetamines for Quaaludes. They got a little upset about me and my excellent ideas and they burned down the publishing house and all 60 million copies of the book.

EB: That must have been some conflagration.

DJ: You've heard of Mount St Helens?

EB: The volcano?

DJ: That's what the government told the people it was. They couldn't run the risk of admitting the truth, which is that those drug addicts got together and burned the books, filled the atmosphere with ash and dust and filth for weeks, circled the earth. To this day, very few people realize that Mount St Helens was a farce. So most people never got to read my book--my first book. Everybody in the world has read The Art of the Squeal. I defy anyone to deny they have read that. Ask anybody. Ask everybody. Ask me. Next question.

EB: I wanted--

DJ: Come on, Ernie. Ya gotta be fast.

EB: Some people have suggested that your candidacy is less than one hundred percent serious, that perhaps you are trying to make some points, to ignite a base, to attach your image to various causes.

DJ: Look, Ern. I'm not a politician, all right? These politicians--what do they do? They puke up all these facts and figures. I have my own facts and God knows I've had my share of figures, if you know what I mean. And I think you do. I guarantee you this: when the votes are counted, I will do extremely well with statisticians and fashion models.

EB: So we should consider you as serious a candidate as any of the other people running for President?

DJ: The others? I hope nobody lumps me with those losers. I mean, I personally like all of them. I've slept with most of their wives. Now, I will admit, as a gentleman must, that I've never slept with Carly. She's so vain--she probably thinks this interview is about her. But no, I've never had the pleasure, if that's what it is. I celebrate that fact every Thanksgiving. The last thing I need is frostbite of the penis. 

EB: Let's talk about your opponents for a moment.

DJ: Jebidiah. Let's start with him. What a bore. Pfizer should clone him, put him in a bottle and sell him as a sleep aid for insomniacs. Thinks because he speaks Spanish, which he learned from his wife, by the way, that he gets to capture the Latino vote. I got news for Jebidiah: The people who live in Central America and the Caribbean don't get to vote in our elections, at least not yet, unless the other party wins, in which case the Castro brothers will be voting in Wyoming. 

EB: Who else comes to mind?

DJ: Regarding the election? Randy, he's a nice enough fellow, at least when he's seeking campaign contributions. He called my office just last year, told me he was either going to run for President or become a professional wrestler working for Vince McMahon. I'm tight with Vince, as everybody knows, so I told Randy to forget that idea. He said okay then, would I give him a million dollars to finance his Presidential campaign? I told him I'd do better than that. I offered him two million to not run. He never got back to me.

EB: Mr. Thump, for some reason, people tend to associate you with sarcasm.

DJ: There's all kinds of sarcasm, Ernie. I say what I am, I am what I say.

EB: What does that mean?

DJ: What does that mean? What, are you new or something? Hey, I'm only kidding with you. You know that, right?

EB: You've mentioned for months now that you can solve many of our national problems. Some people have suggested--

DJ: Let me guess. Some people say I'm short on specifics. Let me tell you something, pal. Specificity is the goblin of dumbasses. You can quote me on that.

EB: The goblin--

DJ: The goblin of dumbasses. That's a Thumper original. But what I was saying before you somewhat impolitely attempted to interrupt me, Ernie, is that I am a billionaire several times over. Being a billionaire, I delegate most of the heavy lifting to my associates, to my apprentices, if you will, and you probably won't. Those are the people I demand tend to the details, to the specifics, to the minutiae. I don't like minutiae. In fact, I don't even pronounce it with confidence. My job as the president of my highly successful company is to have vision, to generalize a grand strategy, and to fire with extreme prejudice anybody who fails to come up with a successful approach at carrying out what needs to be done. I intend to operate the same way as the President of the American people, no matter who they are, or where they come from, unless they aren't nice to me, in which case, look out below.

EB: So in terms of Mexico?

DJ: My first day in office, Mexico is fired. No severance package, no wait until the end of the week. Boom. Out the door, don't look back, don't expect a favorable reference.

EB: You do understand that technically Mexico does not work for the United States government?

DJ: Ernie, you are so naive.

EB: Taxes?

DJ: Part of the problem we have in this country is that wealthy people--most of whom are very sweet and dear friends of mine--resent like hell being asked to pay their fair share.

EB: So the Thump Plan would be what?

DJ: The last thing this country needs is to have all the rich people mad at their President. The poor people get angry, I understand that, of course. I'm not some monster. But when the affluent get pissed off, they move to the Mediterranean and don't pay their taxes there. When poor people get mad, they burn down their own neighborhoods. Those neighborhoods have to be rebuilt. We're talking jobs, Ernie! Am I the only person running for public office these days who doesn't understand how to negotiate with the world?

EB: We have been speaking this evening with Presidential candidate, Mr. D. J. Thump. Please join us next week--

DJ: Remember, people. If you want a President who likes what he says and says what he likes, then cast your vote for the only man who matters, the best-looking, smartest, most successful magnate in the history of human civilization. We're talking about me, of course. Next question.

EB: I'm afraid we're out of time.

DJ: Only if you don't vote for me.

EB: Until next week--

DJ: Vote early and vote often.

EB: Good night!




Monday, July 27, 2015

RAGING BULL

   One may as well attempt a reasoned argument with an Armageddonist Christian about the propriety of a nuclear-free Iran as to take issue with most people when the subject matter involves cinematic violence. When artiste auteur darling directors tow their gratuitous violence through Styx and into the darker sphere of adult realism, claiming that the only way the audience can internalize the tragedy befalling a hero or his victims is with red-lens filters, slow motion shooting, and stop action precision, often as not those directors reap the celebratory accolades of their filmmaking brethren and of the critical community at large, all of which speaks not well for the movie directors but ill for the community that idolizes them. If, as I believe, one of the purposes of a movie that seeks to do more than merely entertain is to fill the audience's lungs with a new chemical that stirs dormant sensations and primordial recollections akin to remembering that sometimes for convenience we forget what it means to be alive, then the presumably cheap and tawdry efforts of directors such as Tobe Hooper (Texas Chain Saw Massacre) and George Romero (Night of the Living Dead) fulfill this supreme mission far better than more "great cinema art" aficionados such as Martin Scorsese. 
   When Raging Bull was first released in 1980, I resisted seeing it for a couple weeks, mainly because a friend of mine kept insisting that I simply had to watch it, that Robert DeNiro proved himself to be truly beautiful and the natural precursor of all the great method actors who had preceded him, and that the director, this Scorsese fellow, had evolved from the city realism of Mean Streets and Taxi Driver to the venue of great tragedians such as Aeschylus and Sophocles. Statements of that sort infuriated me because (a) I didn't believe them, (b) I sensed a profound misogyny in Scorsese's work (give or take Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore), and (c) whenever I hear that so-and-so is the greatest anything, I tend to disbelieve it, especially when it comes to movies. So I sat back and read the reviews and listened to the talk about Raging Bull to the point where I felt I had already watched it several times. Despite more than a few invitations from people who had already seen it to join them for an encore presentation, for two full weeks I proudly and steadfastly refused to budge. 
   Then one Wednesday afternoon, instead of going to Geology class, I walked down to the one and only movie house in town, gave the ticket-taker a couple bucks for the matinee and muttered out the name of the movie. 
   I liked it. I did not love it, not by any means. But I liked it. I thought DeNiro radiated all the beauty that had been claimed for him. I recognized the classical tragedian structure of the story. I agreed that Joe Pesci would likely become the perennial sidekick in Scorsese pictures. Best of all, I was able to say to people whose lives appeared to revolve around little else that I had at long last watched this movie and now could people kindly leave me alone?
   Flash forward to a couple weekends ago. A friend agreed to watch the movie with me on DVD. She made no bones that she wasn't too happy with the idea, but once in a while I have introduced her to a motion picture that she likes a lot and there was always the chance that this might happen again. So she put on a brave face. She leaned forward in her chair. She smiled in anticipation. 
   The smile did not remain for long.
   "I liked Joe Pesci in it, " she said. "I didn't like the way it depicted the way men treated women. I thought it was way too bloody, even in black and white. I turned my head away." 
  My friend is not a child repulsed by the reality of a cruel world. Likewise she is not a blue-haired prude, leaping in terror at every falling branch. My friend is a decent, brave, respectable human being with strong feelings and love for her family. Why she wants to spend her time watching movies with the likes of me is anyone's guess. But she does. And when she ventures an opinion or reaction to a movie, I shut up, listen, and think about it.
   For a movie that supposedly bookended an era in movie-making that merged reality with art (the other end of the shelf being the far superior Bonnie and Clyde), Raging Bull has aged less than well. One reason for the lingering stench lies in the efforts at making the boxing matches so authentic. What could be done in 1980 by masterful craftsmen can today be done by clever twelve-year-olds. So the violence becomes obsolescent. But the bigger reason for the movie's disappointment can be summed in an appropriately adolescent shrug: So what? Why should the audience--today's audience, or the audience of 1980--give a damn about Jake LaMotta? Was he the 1940s version of Macbeth, a single-minded individual who forced his closest allies to betray him while thumbing his nose at his closest enemies? No, he was a tremendous fighter who was possessed of a blind drive for violence, the source of which is never identified but which we are led to surmise has something to do with him being Italian. Since LaMotta is portrayed as a wife-beating, paranoid, belligerent thug, it's hard to give much compassion to him when he begins to slide somewhere along Act Three.  
   "He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man." So said Dr. Sammy Johnson. Dr. Johnson, among other things, was an erudite snob reactionary prone to being long-winded and rude. He also contributed to eighteenth-century English literature in ways that few others did. Jake LaMotta used to beat people up very effectively. That may have made him some kind of an artist. Telling his story with realism does not do the same for the director.
Scorsese and DeNiro


AMERICAN QUESTIONS

1. How many unauthorized immigrants live in the United States?
   According to the Pew Research Center, in 2014 11.3 million unauthorized immigrants lived in the USA. Of that number, 52% (5.9 million) were from Mexico. As a whole, unauthorized immigrants account for 5.1% of the U.S. labor force. [1]

2. What is the religious make-up of the United States?
   Not all Americans wear make-up. However, if you're looking for self-identification, PEW makes it clear:
Christians account for 70%
Jews: 1.9%
Muslims: 0.9%
Atheists: 3.1%
Agnostics: 4.0%
Nothing: 15.8%

3. How do Americans view themselves regarding political party affiliation?
   39% think of themselves as Independents
   32% see themselves as Democrats
   23% are Republicans [2]

4. What is the demographic structure of the United States in 2015?
   Thirty-eight percent of the USA describe themselves as members of a minority group, with 44.4 million being Hispanic, 42 million being Black Americans, and 13.3 million being Asian Americans. 
   The median age of the U.S. population is 37.6 years. 
   More than half of the population live in one of thirty-nine urban centers. 
   Twenty-five years ago, the West and southwest were the least populace regions of the USA. Today those two regions account for 37.7% of the total population, while the Midwest, back in 1990 the most populated part of the country, declined to 19.1% [3] in 2015.

5. Do Americans only urinate in their own swimming pools, or do they do this while on vacation overseas?
   According to Travel Zoo, who polled American, British, Chinese, Canadian and German travelers on a set of eight travel faux-pas, Americans were the most egregious offenders. More Americans admitted to peeing in the pool, skipping work and leaving without paying their bill when on vacation, according to the poll.[5]

6. We Americans think of ourselves as a peace-loving people. How did we get such a contrary reputation among the rest of the world?
   The reason could be due to the USA being at war for all but seventeen years since its inception in 1776. [6]
   It could also be that even though violent crime has steadily declined in recent years, rates of gun violence remain high. On average, 33,000 Americans are killed with guns each year, and the burden of this violence falls on young people: 54 percent of people murdered with guns in 2010 were under the age of 30.3 Young people are also disproportionately the perpetrators of gun violence, as weak gun laws over easy access to guns in many parts of the country. Far too often, a gun not only takes the life of one young American but also contributes to ruining the life of another young person who pulls the trigger. [7]
   There's also the unfortunate fact that since 1976, the United States has executed 1,412 incarcerated inmates, although the annual execution rate has been steadily dropping since Bush Jr left office.[8]
American lifestyle

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

SERIES FINALE OF THE WORKS IN A DRAWER

Previously on The Works in a Drawer:

Paul Luab
Who's in charge here?


Grandpa
Trixie's got the sword.


Paul Luab
How old are you, little girl?


Trixie
Who wants to know, sailor?


Paul Luab
Paul Luab, Fire Police Detective.


Trixie
Nice hose. You're a big guy. I'm nineteen.


Grandpa
In a pig's sty.


Paul Luab
Hey, watch your mouth, Grandpa.


Grandpa
Name's Crabb Woman, pal.


Paul Luab
Okay. Crabb Woman Pal, what are you folks up to? If you'll pardon me ending the sentence with a preposition.


Grandpa
Right now, I'm wondering where my wife might've gotten off to. If you'll pardon me ending the sentence with the word "preposition."


Paul Luab
Mrs. Crabb Woman Pal, by any chance, was she about seventy, two hundred pounds, carrying a bag of soy beans (with the taste of real wood) and radiating a more or less blue complexion?

Trixie
No, she's about seventy-two, hundred pounds, puking up toadstools we picked in Albuquerque. 


Grandpa
So you seen her? If you'll forgive me using the wrong verb tense in a strictly colloquial manner.


Paul Luab
Nope. No eyes of mine have been laid on her.


Haley
We're following the fire. You really are big.


Paul Luab
The fire? Oh. Real scorcher, that one is.


Ted
Ted Det, Action News Panic Alert.


Paul Luab
Paul Luab, Fire Police Detective. Former lumberjack. Anyone here have a permit for the omen?


Car Salesman
They talk, you know?


Paul Luab
Not surprised. Hot out today. Guess I am bigger than most.


Car Salesman
They say the word "sapphire."


Paul Luab
Makes sense. Just a fancy word for "blue." (Turns to the oxen.) Hey, Babe!


Oxen
Sapphire!


David the Jihadist
Will you people please stop them from saying that?!?


Paul Luab
You got a slingshot there, pilgrim?


David the Jihadist
Maybe.


Paul Luab
You want to show me your permit?


David the Jihadist
I bought it at a slingshot show in Arizona.


Paul Luab
Ah, the loophole. Just don't do any giant slaying, bub. Well, guess I'll be on my way.


Ted
What about the fire?


Paul Luab
Petered out.


Grandpa
Who?


Paul Luab
The fire burned itself out just across the Texas borderline. Citizens committee figured it might be part of a federal invasion force, so about nine hundred of them hopped up and down on it, stamped it out. 


Grandpa
Well, back to saving matches. Kids, guess we're headed back to Detroit.


Trixie
Hell's bells.


Grandma (From a very long distance)
Trixie, mind your manners!


Oxen
Sapphire!


Paul Luab
Why don't you folks saddle up on the bovines? Davy Boy here and I will lead you all back to the Broken Promised Land. What do you say, Jiji?


David the Jihadist
Wherever there's discontent in a city, I'll be there. Wherever there's a cop beating a guy, I'll be there. Wherever people are confused and frightened and have access to firearms they don't know how to use, I'll be there.


Paul Luab
Well, he's in. How about the rest of you?


Everyone
Hee-haw!


Paul Luab
Keep movin', movin', movin'
Though they're disapprovin'
Keep them omens movin'
Hee-haw!


Eve Eve (back in the studio)
And that's why I traded my High Definition Radioactive Wifi-based Television Set for the new Hotlegs Convertible.


Jan (No longer on the plane but instead back in the studio)
Just as reality TV fades away, reality automobiles make a comeback. Kind of makes you want to go to Detroit, doesn't it?






Sunday, July 19, 2015

THIRD INSTALLMENT OF WORKS IN A DRAWER

    My advice is that you peruse the first and second installments before advancing deeper into the abyss


  Car Salesman (Having joined the others deep on the trail of the 1100 mile fire.)
   Not just anyone can sell the 450 Hotlegs Convertible (with rotary fins and a zero torque transmission), but anybody can join up with what we in the media are calling the Wickiup Procession.


Grandpa
Damned right, Jailbait.


Car Salesman
You're the Grandfather on this little junket, right?


Grandpa
I'm sure not the rabbit ear antennas, now am I?


Car Salesman
Talk about what brought your caravan together out here somewhere between the states.


Grandpa
You got anything to eat?


Car Salesman
Sorry. No.


Grandpa
Mother! I'm feeling empty!


Grandma
Here! Have these freeze-dried soybeans (with the taste of real wood). 


Grandpa (Gobbles them)
Takes some getting used to. In a pinch though--


Car Salesman
Why not eat the oxen?


Grandma
Hush!


Grandpa
Caroline, he didn't know any better.


Grandma
Needs to mind his manners, Rudolph.


Grandpa
Name's Crabb, woman.


Car Salesman
Okay, Crabb Woman. Tell me about the oxen.


Grandma
Hush!


Grandpa
You noticed them, huh?


Car Salesman
Twelve of them at the far end of the Procession.


Oxen
Sapphire!


Grandma
See! You boys woke them up with your foolishness.


Grandpa
They've been hoofing with us the whole way, Crabb Woman. You see, Mister, the oxen are what I like to call an omen.


Car Salesman
What do you mean by that?


Grandpa
As you know, oxen are castrated bovine. What we call a draught animal. We're in the middle of a thirty year drought. 

Car Salesman
Did you say castrated?

Grandpa
I guarantee you they ain't no bulls. Where's that guy, Ted? He asks better questions.


Ted
Right here, Crabb Woman.


Trixie
Grandpa, I'm hungry!


Grandpa
Ask your Grandmother for some toadstool patties (with the taste of real salmon).


Grandma
We're out. The damned ox ate the last of them.


Oxen
Sapphire!


Trixie
Shucks!


Grandma
Mind your manners, Trixie.


Car Salesman
When you say "omen?"


Grandpa
Figure it out, Jailbait! Oxen? Omen? The Third Reich twisted the letter "m" into an "x." That's how we got the Second World War. Don't they teach people nothing in school?


Haley
Exactly.


Grandpa
Question is: are the oxen an omen for us or against us? Oh, look!


Grandma
What the baldheaded camel is that?


Trixie
It's that star lady with the airplane!


Ted
And just in the nick of Ted.


Grandpa
Wondered where you got off to, boy.


Ted
Right here beside you, old timer.


Grandpa
Name's Crabb Woman, Slick.


Trixie
Can we focus on the broad with the plane?


Grandma
Mind your manners, little girl.


Trixie
Grandma?


Grandma
Yes, honey?


Trixie
The next time you say somebody needs to mind their manners, I'm going to feed you to the oxen.


Oxen
Sapphire!


David the Jihadist
Will somebody please make those beasts stop saying that?!?


Everyone
No!


Ted
You're David the Jihadist?


David the Jihadist
In the flesh. Autograph?


Ted
Not right now.


David the Jihadist
Oh! Too good for me, huh? Don't want to dirty your stinking fountain pen on the fingers of a rancid little terrorist, eh?


Ted
Got kind of a short fuse, don't you, Dave?


David the Jihadist
Yep. That's why so many people take us for suicide bombers. Can't get away fast enough is the real reason.


Jan (Yet again clinging to the plane's wing as Roger the pilot swoops in to drop the jet fuel payload)
Everybody duck!


Oxen
Sapphire!


Grandma
She said "duck," you idiots!


Oxen
Meow!


Grandma
I give up.


Jan
Hit the dirt!


Grandpa
All right. Don't go getting riled. Get down, people.

The plane swoops down and empties its jet fuel load at the end of the burning 1100 mile trail, the pilot taking care to ensure that the width remains a delicate seven inches. 


David the Jihadist
Hee-haw!


Grandpa
Caroline, hand me my periscope.


Ted
You mean telescope, don't you?


Grandpa
I meant binoculars.


Car Salesman
There's something you see everyday.


Grandma
What's that?


Ted
I think you mean something you don't see everyday.


Car Salesman
Whatever I mean, it appears to be a blue woman! Strange I didn't notice it until now.


Grandpa
Been eating some of Trixie's toadstools.


Grandma
I ain't no blue woman!


Haley
Yes, you are! Grandma's a blue woman!


Grandma
Mind your manners! Oops.


Trixie
Now what did I say, Blue Bell? What did I tell you? 


Grandma
I don't remember.


Trixie
Hey, little oxen? Are you all good and hungry?


Oxen
Sapphire! 


Trixie
David! I'll be needing your sword.


Grandma
Help! (Runs off into the desert)


Grandpa
Damn. She had all the soybeans (with the taste of real wood) in her backpack. 



Saturday, July 18, 2015

WORKS IN A DRAWER 2

  We recommend that you read the first segment of The Works in a Drawer before venturing farther--or further. One never knows for certain.


  Grandma
I'm not turning blue all over.


Grandpa
That's a relief. Now, can we all get back to the fire, please?


Haley
Grandpa, you're so impatient. Hey, who's the woman on the wing of that airplane?


Grandpa
Burn, ye foul brew! Recompense these barbarians back to the stonehenge. Airplane? What?


Jan
I'm Jan Naj with the Action News Panic Alert Team! 


Trixie
How you get that plane to hover so close to the ground, lady?


Grandma
Mind your manners, Trixie. That there lady is a star.


Jan (from wing of plane)
What can you folks tell us about this fire?


Grandpa
She's a scorcher, that's what she is.


Grandma
She's talking about the fire, Luke.


Grandpa
Aw, shut up, Gladys. I know that. Hey there, Jan! Wanna sell a poor family some high powered jet fuel?


Grandma
My name is Caroline.


Grandpa
Mine's Rudolph, but we all have to make sacrifices.


Jan (Still on wing)
Now what would you folks want with jet fuel?


Haley
Grandpa wants to keep the fire going. Are you really a star?


Jan (Not relinquishing the wing)
You better believe it, kiddo. (Singing) "I could have been an actor but I wound up here."


Grandpa
Time's come to heal this evil planet with a holy blaze.


Jan (Somewhat stubbornly clinging to her position)
 Sounds like a plan. Let me check with Roger.


Plane roars high up above.


Ted (Back in the studio)
Folks, I've been in this business for eight long days and I'm here to tell you I've never seen anything quite like this. We will be back with more on our ongoing real life catastrophe right after this paid political renouncement.


Bert (Commercial politician)
  Hi. I'm Bert Treb. Are you tired of sweating out your life in a state of constant confusion? Erus uoy era. With oil prices skyrocketing and employment opportunities wetter than a hound dog's saliva, why not do what I always do and vote for a winning candidate like me? Senator Huxley couldn't take the pressure. Lieutenant Governor Orwell followed a holy man to India. That leaves you folks with me. While I may not have all the answers, I have my share of questions and someday I'll be happy to tell you exactly what they are. 


Announcer
Bert Treb. Someday he'll ask the right questions. Paid for by the Bert Treb for Governor Magistrate Commissar Commissioner Committee, Chicanery Consortium. 


Jan (Back on the wing of the low-to-ground airplane)
Roger the pilot says it's a deal.

Ted (back in the studio)
Is that "Roger" as in "ten-four," or "Roger" as in the name of the captain?

Jan (Hanging on)
There was no comma after the word, Ted, indicating a subordinate clause, so rest assured--

Ted (Back in the studio)
If I only could, Jan.


Grandpa
Hot damn! Let her drop!


Jan (Smiling despite her perilous position)
Just one thing: That fellow in the ninja outfit? Is he with you people?


Grandma
Oh, him? He's been following us since we left Detroit. No idea what he wants.


Trixie
He's getting kind of close, Grandma.


Grandma
Well, you kids mind your manners.


David the Jihadist (A bit out of breath)
Surrender, infidel swine!


Grandpa
On whose authority, masked man?


David the Jihadist
I am David the Jihadist! I demand your surrender on behalf of the silver star of Bathsheba and the Temple of Terror.


Grandpa
Aw, you don't scare us, ya sissy.


Grandma
Get back to the auto plant, boy. We've seen real troubles.


David the Jihadist
I shall smite thee into submission, thou wretched wench. And why are you suddenly blue all over?


Grandpa
Ya ain't even figured out the name pattern, have ya, Ahab?


David the Jihadist
Listen! It's my first week, okay? I was selected by my sleeper cell due to my unyielding courage--


Grandma
You got any money, Jihad Boy?


David the Jihadist
I have no need for your bitter currency!


Grandma
Look, freeloader. We're trying to bring about the ruination of civilization as we know it, okay? 


David the Jihadist
Me too!


Haley
See? We're not really all that different, after all, are we? 


Ted (Still back in the studio)
   We will be right back after this message about what you can do to help get that reckless fire engine from clogging up our nation's freeways.

The next thrilling episode begins here.

Friday, July 17, 2015

THE WORKS IN A DRAWER

     Car Salesman (Commercial)
   It's 2000 years in the future. Will the 450 horsepower Hotlegs Convertible you buy today still be driving itself to and from the office? Will it be humming outside your front door cell waiting for your return like Lassie in an old movie? 


   Eve Eve (Commercial)
  Wait! That's not an automobile! That's a stone cold cheeseburger (with the taste of real porcelain).


  Car Salesman (Commercial)
  My God, woman! You may be right!


   Eve Eve (Commercial)
  I may be crazy.


  Car Salesman (Commercial)
  It just may be a brand new car I'm looking for.


Eve Eve
Am I not the customer?


Car Salesman
It's just that kind of thinking that landed us all into this mess.


Ted (interrupting with news bulletin)
  We interrupt this commercial to bring you the latest Action News Panic Alert. I'm Ted Det. Women across the country are turning the color blue. Oxen are suddenly bleating the word "Sapphire!" Senator Huxley resigns amid allegations of rampant ramping. Outside in downtown Chicanery it's a balmy 130 degrees. But first: A fire seven inches wide and eleven hundred miles long rages between California and the state of New Mexico. For an on-the-spot report, we join Jan Naj, already in process.


   Jan (On wing of  airplane above the burn)
Thank you, Ted. As you can see, I'm standing on one wing of a DC-10 flying half a mile above the fray that inspectors say was started in Chicanery, California and now stretches all the way to Taos, New Mexico. Only seven inches in width, the steady inferno has been holding an average speed of seventeen miles per hour. Stranger still, while the blazing has been raging for over a week now, the Fire Police claim no one got around to reporting it until just a few hours ago. I spoke with Fire Police Captain Roger Regor Mortis just a few minutes before take-off.


Roger (Standing outside grounded plane)
   We've had more than three thousand brush fires this summer, Jan. I guess nobody thought this one meant that much. Heck, everybody has their own personal favorite.


   Jan (Voice-over)
   Oh, I can relate to that, Roger. I always liked the Tapio Mia fire over near the dried-out wash basin.


Roger
Yeah, the wife and kids brought back some great wireless photos on that one.


Jan (Voice-over)
What kind of car they drive, Roger?


Roger
Hotlegs convertible. Fire engine red. Boy, that thing'll eat up the road like a fat man slurping spaghetti when he thinks nobody's looking. 


Jan (back on wing of airplane)
  Captain Regor Mortis is piloting this plane, carrying a payload of what the Captain calls "fire retardant." He says just as soon as we find someone willing to pony up the money to reimburse him for the jet fuel, he'll be glad to snuff out this nasty little blaze. Ted?


   Ted (Back in the studio)
  Jan, I don't know if you can hear me?


Jan (Still on wing)
  Not a word.


Ted (In studio)
  In that case, let me just say that I've always found you extremely attractive. I've been on this job so long, I'm getting burned out.


Jan (On wing, looking off the edge)
   Ted, I don't know if you can hear me, but we've just spotted a strange procession of people--it looks like maybe a dozen of them--walking along the side of the fire. If I had to guess, I'd say it was a family. There's a man with a cane, a woman with a walker with those cute little green tennis balls on the legs, some middle-aged people of several different races, and a bunch of little white children. 


Ted (In studio)
  Can they see you, Jan?


Jan (Wing)
I can't hear you, Ted, but if I could, I'd reply that you're one fine looking man.


   Grandpa (On ground next to fire)
Burn, damn ya! Come on, little fire. Don't quit on us. Engulf this heathen civilization into your teeming bowels.


Grandma (Following husband)
Dammit, pa! Not in front the grand kids!

   Haley (The youngest child)

That's alright, Grandma. We like it when the old fart cusses.



Grandma
Don't you young-uns get smart with me.


Trixie
How come Grandma's turning blue all over?


The show continues right here.