Archive for July, 2014

An American Tragedy

July 23, 2014

Kathy and Bob Martin and their two adorable children, Tommy and Jenny, lived in Commercial Village, where all those people you see in commercials live. They lived there until budget cuts forced them to leave and set up housekeeping in Oak Acres, Illinois.

The adjustment was rough. Bob was unaccustomed to doing any real work; he was used to going to his office, having a humorous tussle with the copy machine, and then hanging around the water cooler comparing notes on health insurance. Having to actually prepare reports, deal with neurotic coworkers and be generally unappreciated and unvalued was exhausting. He was so exhausted that his ever-important golf game suffered.
Kathy found that actually cleaning house was a lot more work than simply spritzing a miracle cleaner onto something and giving it a quick wipe. Doing that in Oak Acres didn’t magically erase all the dirt. She had to scrub and scrub and scrub, and the “fresh pine and lemon scent” suddenly seemed noxious. She was also distressed that sometimes when she flipped pancakes they tore apart in the middle, and she was more shocked than she should have been to find that flipping them by giving the skillet a toss no longer worked.
Their Oak Acres carpet, touted as “stain-proof” didn’t live up to expectations. The very first day in the new house, little Tommy, as was his custom, dumped a bottle of Chocolatina syrup (which, incidentally, tasted not the least bit like real chocolate) onto the living room carpet. The carpet did not seize up like their Commercial Village carpet, forcing the syrup into a neat little blob that could be easily picked up, leaving no trace behind. It took some hard scrubbing and the rental of a steamer (which was fiendishly hard to operate) before the carpet was even superficially clean.
Both kids suddenly seemed to lose a lot of their charm. When they caught colds, which they seemed to do approximately two days after they’d gotten over the last cold, they didn’t just have a few cute sniffles. Their noses leaked copious amounts of variously colored slime unlike anything Bob and Kathy had ever seen before, and they learned to whine and talk back. Their backtalk wasn’t even witty as it used to be.
The Martins’ dog, Rocky, had changed too. He got into everything, forgot how to talk and dance, and there was more. Bob and Kathy scoured the supermarket (which was crowded with cranky customers and incompetent employees) and bought the most expensive gourmet dog food they could find. It was billed as “A luscious feast of free-range chicken, wild rice, Gruyere cheese and a touch of organic watercress.” It sounded so appetizing that Kathy and Bob made half-jokes about eating it themselves some night. Rocky ate it up with gusto and the Martins were proud of themselves, until later that night when they found out via an angry phone call that Rocky had knocked over the neighbors’ garbage cans and eaten the disastrous remains of a Hamburger Helper casserole.
It went on and on like that. Repair people didn’t arrive cheerfully on the doorstep thirty seconds after an appliance quit. Bob’s miserable work days were not brightened by the antics of a talking camel. When Kathy got a job for herself (for they found that a family of four plus a dog simply could not live comfortably on Bob’s salary alone) she didn’t get to drink huge foamy coffee drinks at her desk, her lipstick did smear, and her nylons ran like crazy. Their car mechanic turned out to have served multiple prison terms for vandalism and fraud, both of which he happily practiced on their temperamental car. Their cereal didn’t stay crisply afloat in the milk when they took a break from breakfast to watch a beautiful sunrise; it turned to mush. The kids refused to eat anything not brightly colored and/or coated with sugar or salt, and their table manners were nonexistent. All their toys ran on batteries, and those batteries either ran down after two minutes or never seemed to die. The louder and more annoying the toy, the longer the batteries lasted. Tommy’s Space Warriors Assault Vehicle has had the same batteries for six months of daily use and it’s still going strong.
Worst of all, Kathy and Bob found out the hard way that nobody cared about their medical complaints. They couldn’t just go into a store and strike up a friendly conversation with the overworked pharmacist about their constipation. Kathy didn’t make any BFF’s trading girl-talk in the feminine hygiene aisle. And nothing ostracized Bob from his fellow office workers faster than a water-cooler revelation about his dry scalp.
The Martins have entered the world of Reality, and it isn’t agreeing with them.


Poetry Corner

July 17, 2014

I confess without shame that I am not much on poetry. In fact, if the truth be known, I haven’t progressed much beyond the wacky verses of Shel Silverstein, a true genius. I like my poems to rhyme and become perturbed when they don’t.
A particular style of poetry I enjoy is known as “The Little Willie” poems. These first gained prominence in the late 19th century, and there was actually a craze for them, with newspapers and magazines running contests to see who could produce the best Little Willie poem.
The format is simple: a fairly short, humorous poem about a little kid, often but not always named Little Willie, who comes to some grisly end due to his own bad behavior or insatiable curiosity.
Anybody who thinks that The Good Old Days were a kinder, gentler time of high-minded literature, I recommend they look up some of the classic Little Willie poems. Their great popularity lay in their dark, irreverent humor, and while they may have had the side benefit of being cautionary tales, that was not their primary intended purpose. Their primary purpose was simply to amuse and entertain.
Here’s what some claim to be the prototype Little Willie poem:
Willie saw some dynamite.
Couldn’t understand it, quite.
Curiosity never pays,
It rained Willie seven days.

And here’s one of my own creation; I’m kinda-sorta working on a collection of poems for not-very-nice children, and several Little Willie-style poems will be included:
Little Willie, on a dare,
Pushed his grandma down the stair.
Gram descended with a clatter,
And at the end her hip did shatter.
Mother, alerted by the cries,
Scolded, “No TV if Granny dies!”

Note that the parents of the Little Willies often react in this blase manner to their offspring’s outrageous antics.

What’s It Worth To Ya?

July 12, 2014

A recent discussion with a friend started me thinking about boycotts. (“What the hell kind of friends do you have, Ghostess?” wonders Statler, or maybe it’s Waldorf, in the balcony. Answer: “Friends that start me thinking about boycotts.”)
Anyway, boycotts have been around since before they were called boycotts, and there’s no doubt that they can be a powerful force for change. One of the cornerstones on which the American civil rights movement took shape was the Montgomery Bus Boycott, when thousands of black Alabamans quit riding the city’s segregated bus system. These riders made up a majority of the bus system’s regular passengers, and without their business, there was little choice but to desegregate the buses.
But lately I hear the concept of boycott being tossed around and rendered almost meaningless. Case in point: PETA encourages people to “boycott” the circus due to what it calls inhumane treatment of elephants and other animals. Now, whether circuses are inhumane or not is a perfectly fair question, and of course the answer varies according to the viewpoint of who you are talking to and which circus you’re talking about. But what exactly does boycotting the circus accomplish?
Think about it. The circus comes through town once a year. You either go or you don’t go. Then it leaves town. There will always, always, always be enough people who do attend so that the circus doesn’t lose too much money. This doesn’t mean that people who feel strongly about the treatment of circus animals should just give up and keep quiet; it only means I think that a boycott is innefective and sort of like taking a lazy way out.
The dictionary doesn’t say anything about how to be a true boycott, the people doing the boycotting must somehow be inconvenienced or endangered, but from where I sit, the most effective boycotts do pose hardships for people besides the business or organization being boycotted. Back to Montgomery and the bus boycott; at that time, few black people could afford cars, but they still had to get to work and to the store like anybody else. When they decided not to ride the city buses, they now had to think up ways to get where they needed to go; few employers (usually white employers) would have been very understanding about late arrivals or missed workdays. So people rode bicycles, walked, formed carpools, and made do. Add to this that such a bold gesture of defiance didn’t sit well with many whites in the city, some of whom were willing to resort to violence and intimidation to maintain the status quo, and you can see that the Montgomery Bus Boycotters were really sticking their necks out. Kudos to them all!
Now let’s fast-forward and talk about Chik-Fil-A. Chik-Fil-A is a Christian-owned company whose non-support of gay marriage has rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. So there was a lot of talk about boycotting Chik-Fil-A.
I see several potential problems with that. First of all, as is usually the case when we’re talking about franchises and large corporations, the first people to suffer due to a lack of customers, for whatever reason, are not the head honchos being targeted. No, the first losers are the lowly individual franchise owners and their employees, who, we should keep in mind, do not have a say in company policy, much less in the political or religious views of the folks at Headquarters. Doesn’t seem fair or egalitarian to punish the Little People for the perceived sins of the Big People, does it?
Now, if a particular Chik-Fil-A was using discriminatory practices in hiring employees or serving customers, boycotting that particular outlet would possibly do some good. But that apparently wasn’t the issue here.
Also, I heard a lot of people on the Internet saying things like “I never go to Chik-Fil-A, but now I’m definitely never going to go there!” They said this as if we should congratulate them on their sacrifice, their bravery, their Social Conscience. No dice, hipsters; you get no points for effort. All you’re doing is what you’ve already been doing, the only difference is you’re making more noise about it.
There is a word for people who do this kind of thing, and I am going to use it even at the risk of sounding like a pundit for Fox News. The word is slacktivist. A slacktivist thinks he’s being a pioneer for change even when all he is doing is passing along chain emails he gets warning “Send this to ten friends! Hurry! People are dying of malaria!” and thinks that his passing along of this spam is somehow a mark of his concern for people with malaria. Or he self-righteously declares that he will never eat at Chik-Fil-A “again” despite the fact that 1. He never eats there anyway. and 2. There isn’t a Chik-Fil-A within two hours of him.
A boycott should be like hot pepper sauce; use it sparingly and in the right circumstances, or you risk burning the wrong people or numbing everyone’s pain receptors.