Saturday, April 30, 2011

If I Get Sick, Call Washington

Applying for Medicare has got to be a landmark in anyone's frail and tenuous existence. I have attained that social pinnacle, having sent my online application to the Social Security Administration just a week ago. It seems that I may be getting in just under the wire, although it hasn't been entirely smooth sailing for the new Congressional budget geniuses. 

Head Genius

I will only say, vis-a-vis the application process, that it wasn't all that difficult to figure out, although I can see that it might be if you've been sick or intend ever to be sick. Fortunately there's nothing wrong with me that a course of antidepressants and a good talking to couldn't cure, but I guess I'm just one of the lucky ones.  
My medical regimen

My last major landmark, as nearly as I can remember it, was turning 60, which seemed (in anticipation, at least) pretty much the end of things for me. But the party came off in style and the morning following witnessed the return of my vital spirits, general elan, and the knowledge that I had my Medicare to anticipate. I recall that celebration with great pleasure now - so much so that I give you the invitation I sent out asking friends to share in the revels:

Miguel de Montaigne desires that you convene with select friends to celebrate the near approach of his Senescence, Obsolescence, Decrepitude, Desuetude, Detumescence mental and physical, general Diminishment, and existential Dread on the occasion of the Sexagesimal Anniversary of his Natal Day. See the Dimming of his Faculties; watch Reason forsake her Throne. Revels to include:
  • Sacrifices, Burnt Offerings in the Old Style, with a cake
  • Recalling Names and Telephone Numbers of People I knew in the Forties, by Sir Alisdair Pevin-Jimson
  • Chalk drawings (with comic attempts to rise from his working position), by centenarian sidewalk artiste Gulley Jimson
  • Reminiscences of Lost Youth, by Murgatroyd Poindexter de Montaigne, recently parolled uncle of the celebrant
  • The Exotic Dances of the Jimson Sisters (formerly the Sisters Khapadia) of the Tolleygunge Club, Calcutta
  • The Lamentations of Job, sung by the Northern Macedonian Male Chorus of Agios Hilarios and Dimitrios
  • Impersonations of the 18th Century’s Great Men of Science, by Wladislaw, natural half-brother to Prince Ludwig the Mad of Bavaria 
  • The Highland ballads and musical stylings of Wee Stanley MacGregor 
Indeed turning 60 was not the end of the road, pass it did, and my current state almost feels like a graduation of sorts . . . 

It doesn't get any better 
(than being eligible for entitlement programs)

So I enter the ranks of the Medicare-eligible, being in sound health, having lived a clean and wholesome life, having exercised pretty regularly, having mostly eschewed fatty viands. . . 

Chicken fried everything

 . . . having learned in some measure to control my states of agitation, annoyance, pique, petulance, ill-temper, savoir-meilleur, and those emotions (save but one) that raise the heart rate and render the humors overly dry, sere and heated. At the same time I remind myself that Heraclitus accounted the soul as fire and thought that a dry soul was best. Dry, as I said, but not too dry.

 Medicare Plan D 
(prescription drug plan)

Monday, April 25, 2011

Why Are We Here? Who Are You?

Regular walking, I've read somewhere, enlarges the hippocampus, the part of the brain that controls short-term memory. Short-term memory is one of the first casualties of approaching geezerhood. Still, most people I know who are losing their STM couldn't care less if only a just and merciful god had seen fit either to put their hippocampus in control of other functions they find more important and enjoyable, or to allow that brisk walking might enlarge some humbler part. Memory loss has been the bane of the aged and the grist for more jokes than adultery, unless you consider those jokes that combine the two conceits (as in the one about the old priest who only remembers where he left his bicycle when, reciting the decalog for his flock, the seventh commandment proves the mnemonic key.)

"Oh, and here's my chasuble!"

Years back, when I was yet of an age to mock the forgetful, I was called to an elderly woman's house to inspect an antique bookcase she had advertised for sale. She answered the door and seemed nonplussed when I explained why I had come. After elaborate explanation and patient repetition, her old ganglions (ganglia?) sparked intermittently, fired, and off we went. She recalled placing the ad, recalled the item so advertised, and led me into another room to look it over. After I'd inspected it, she suddenly remembered another piece in yet another room she thought might interest me, abruptly chugged off in that direction with me in tow, halted in the doorway, looked beseechingly at me and asked, "Why are we in here?"

The question bore such existential cargo; I knew the moment would become eternity and none like it would ever again present itself; my baser self triumphed, I took the bait, the words came out: "You mean in general?" 

"Are we here - or peut-etre over there?"

But I was young - well, probably not yet 40, which seems young now. And generally my memory is good. I can find the car keys, never misplace my glasses . . . 

Here they are

. . . unfailingly remember the name of my helpmeet, my daughter-in-law's birthday, generally know the year of our Lord without checking my cell phone, and the name of every member of Congress who voted to dismantle Medicare.

So my short-term memory has not been a matter of concern to me - not, that is, until today. I did not, myself, forget anything at all, but inevitability was made manifest, and in this wise: having the health and happiness of my hippocampus ever present in my frontal cortex (try that, you young whippersnappers), I set out on my bicycle for a regular constitutional, meaning to raise the pulse, elevate the blood into the relevant parts, modulate the breathing and replenish the stock of beneficial serotonins which make me the sanguine, optimistic and unfailingly cheery spirit you all know.

So setting out this blustery gray spring day, I stopped at an intersection and met a friend (younger than I am by several years) striding vigorously along the sidewalk in a pair of shorts and a T-shirt, cheeks rosy, obviously in the middle of his own daily exertions. But it wasn't exactly a day on which anyone over, say 45, would willingly venture out in light gym clothes, and damp ones at that. I asked him where he was headed. "Home to get my bike," he answered. 

The poor chap. He'd walked the mile and a half to the downtown YMCA, changed into the garb I met him in, did his workout, returned to his locker to dress for the walk home, and could not to save his soul remember the combination to the very padlock he had opened an hour before.

I did not laugh. I seem to remember that I commiserated. I'm certain I must have.

The Anti-Resume

My friend, Paul Hamill, an accomplished and erudite chap, is a published poet and all-round litterateur.  His e-mails frequently include samples of his latest poems, and I very much enjoyed the specimen below, particularly as I have touched on the topic in another place. Not to mention that, for the nonce, I seem to have run dry myself.


In the darkened faculty building late at night
Professor Witlow pulled her resume
In wonder and dismay at the parade
Of entries, thinking: A senile king’s toy army:
Degrees, positions, papers, talks, a swamp
Of committees, and last, her eminent referees,
An Old Guard smiling on a mind’s regalia.

She thought: We all have anti-resumes 
And by meticulous habit laid hers out.
Where would one start? Too-early weaning? Her mother
Blamed it for forty years if daughter whined.
Her envy of her brothers? The eighth grade boy
Who cupped her breast?  Great teachers?  Family lies
Laid bare by an aunt’s death?  Marriage? Breakup?
Though none would ever see, she marched them past:
The Page of Fearful Vulnerabilities.
A Page of Stupid Choices. A section, Luck
With Friendships.  Items called, Mother Told You.
Silliest Moments, Shames Still Burning, Ways
I Disappointed.   The hard-to-edit Hotter
Than You Might Think.  A short list, Deaths That Changed
Everything; and last, the Log of Worst Betrayals.  

She thought of the old term professors use,
Curriculum Vitae: life’s little running-track,
The roster of what holds tenure in the soul.       

Monday, April 18, 2011

New Ways to Spend Old Money

A fool and his money are famously but nodding acquaintances. Particularly risky is the fool with disposable income who reads Bicycling magazine. Someone else is certain to dispossess him well before the Cat 4 season has ended and cyclocross has begun.

Bicycling is the premier shill of the industry, an indispensible driver in a relentless marketing effort. From bikes to clothing to aftermarket upgrades, Bicycling's fundamental premise is that everyone who rides a bicycle either races or wants to race, wants to go faster and will pay any amount of money to be able to do it. None of this is to fault the magazine for reporting on trends in the business or for collecting large advertising revenues or for taking a narrow, if profitable view, of a sport which was first a reasonable and civilized mode of transportation.  Still, its advertising and its articles commonly trade on that haunting feeling of inadequacy in the inadequate. It reminds them that, in the world of cycling, a primal fault separates the feckless nerd . . . 

Feckless Nerd

. . . from the True Cyclists. (As it happens, the feckless nerd in this photo is a feckless Rivendell nerd, so he's already spent at least as much on his fecklessness and nerdiness as the True Cyclist spends on Truth in Cycling.) The two worlds are as irreparably sundered as are the rich and the poor, the proud and the humble, the saint and the sinner, the halt and the strong, the sleek and the rumpled, the Republicans and Everyone Else. Follow the dictates of Bicycling as you would the counsels of your physician or lawyer, and Everyman can be a Cipollini. Nowadays I never go out on a bicycle unless I'm appropriately attired, as in the photograph below, and only to ride a time trial from my personal starting ramp.

Lookin' good, Mario 

Off the bike, of course, one should opt for a looser, more casual look - strive for the panache that comes of proper breeding and cannot merely be picked up at the newsstand. For my part, I like a pair of well-washed jeans, a nightshirt, and some stylish little poultice for my bad knee.

The smart consumer knows how to look every bit the professional cyclist by shopping for bargains - something you needn't admit to, but it's no crime to stretch the purse where one can. For 2011, Bicycling informs us, Sidi, the Italian shoe manufacturer with factories in China, has lowered its 2010 prices by 11 percent - the limited edition "Ergo 2" has dropped from $500 to $450 this year -  and money well spent. They'll look elegant beneath those Assos bib tights you've always wanted. (Assos is a Swiss manufacturer of cycling apparel whose corporate slogan is "Sponsor Yourself," as in "sponser yourself, sucker." At prices from $330-$440 American for bib tights, who else is going to pay for you to dress like Mario?)

The magazine's advertisements are as informative as the product reviews. For example, the Cosmic Carbone 80, a wheelset (hint: never say "wheels" when you can say "wheelset," "frame" when you can say "frameset," "brakes" when "brakeset" sounds better) - a wheelset, as I was saying, that's the "first wheel and tire specifically designed to work together as a system . . . and opens a bold new chapter in wheel-tire development."  This would explain why I've never been able to keep my tires on my wheels for even the length of time it takes to go from Paris to Roubaix - nor have any of my friends nor anyone I've ever known been able to, but then who knew that we needed to "control the variables between wheel-tire interface," for crying out loud? Nor, for my part, can I see how to "open a bold new chapter" and keep my eyes on the road at the same time, but the prospect is certainly a heady one. Cost of the Cosmic Carbone 80 "wheel-tire system": $1094.50.  

Of course you could wait and get the Mad Fiber wheelset for $2,600, gaining the satisfaction of knowing that they were made in Seattle, which is the next best thing to being made in Portland. Further, this "wheelset" or "wheel-tire system," the ad claims, "can save 14 seconds on a 40K time trial over its closest competitor." Much of the marketing of framesets and wheelsets strongly suggests that you needn't really bother much with pedaling the damn contraption - it just goes by itself, like predestination through a Pentecostal church camp, and you'll have all you can do to stop it. 

Which is where brakesets come in. A "brakeset" can stop you before you even buy it. The 'eebrake' (marca registrada) will set you back, if not stop you, by $569. They do however possess the recondite ugliness that attests to your seriousness as a cyclist: The name 'eebrake' seems an unfortunate one for a brakeset though, since "ee!" seems the last thing you'd want anyone to be saying as you apply them.


And you'll need some cables to go with those brakes - Bicycling's gear gurus suggest the Gore Ride-On Professional System sealed cables at $65, which seems a bargain if you consider that, being sealed, you'll never have spiders in your brake cables. 

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Back in the Saddle Again

From every indication, my recent retirement is coming to an end, my solitude shattered - at least for now. My people have been talking to their people . . .

"Miguel who?"
. . . who have expressed a certain tepid interest in my talents and minor achievements, and have further expressed a tentative willingness to give me some money for doing something or other of the same ilk. This is not a case of returning by popular demand to the acclaim of a grateful public . . . 

. . . so much as an offhand nod to my own importunings. But never look a gift horse in the mouth, as I remind myself every time someone hands me a horse. 

From a Grateful Nation

If everything goes as planned, I am off to Virginia City, Nevada to resume my duties in the wind industry, or "windustry". This endeavor will require enough driving about the countryside, leaving a carbon hoofprint sufficient to offset whatever ecological advantages may accrue to any greener world I might otherwise have left behind me.

Nevada is a place much like Utah with fewer Mormons, a fabled land devoid of "tabernacles" where a "ranch" is as often as not a brothel . . .

. . . which in turn is often indistinguishable from a "poultry installation" . . .

"Helloooo-eww . . . ?"

Without seeming to protest too much, I will be all business while in Nevada, neither having any taste for the demimonde of Mormonism nor that of the Playmate Ranch.

I couldn't have chosen a more appropriate place than Nevada in which to reemerge as a bona fide member of the labor force. First, it is a perfect Gene Autry backdrop where anyone worth his (or her) salt can always saddle up and ride again.

And I am not the first person with literary pretensions to have landed willy-nilly in Nevada. In fact, Virginia City furnished Mark Twain with much of the grist for "Roughing It," his memoir of travel to the Nevada Territory in the heighday of the Comstock silver district. 

 I mention this because Twain's memoir contains a succinct description of the wind in the Washoe country whose exploitation I am commissioned to assist. It's one of my favorite passages, one I wish I had written myself:

". . . [A]ccording to custom the daily "Washoe Zephyr" set in; a soaring dust-drift about the size of the United States set up edgewise came with it. . . . the vast dust cloud was thickly freckled with things strange to the upper air -- things living and dead, that flitted hither and thither, going and coming, appearing and disappearing among the rolling billows of dust -- hats, chickens and parasols sailing in the remote heavens; blankets, tin signs, sage-brush and shingles a shade lower; door-mats and buffalo robes lower still; shovels and coal scuttles on the next grade; glass doors, cats and little children on the next; disrupted lumber yards, light buggies and wheelbarrows on the next; and down only thirty or forty feet above ground was a scurrying storm of emigrating roofs and vacant lots. . . .

"The "Washoe Zephyr" (Washoe is a pet nickname for Nevada) is a peculiar Scriptural wind, in that no man knoweth "whence it cometh." . . . . It is a pretty regular wind, in the summer time. Its office hours are from two in the afternoon till two the next morning; and anybody venturing abroad during those twelve hours needs to allow for the wind or he will bring up a mile or two to leeward of the point he is aiming at."  

I can't say I'm sorry to return to the fray. I suppose I just haven't been retired long enough to get very good at it. Doing it properly, as I've mentioned elsewhere, requires a modicum of attention and practice. I know people who can fill their time by going off to Belize or Tobago or Tierra del Fuego and build schools and water systems. I had a late uncle who spent his dotage proseletyzing the Haitians back when there still was a Haiti, doling out tips in exchange for being called "bwana." But I lack the missionary spirit, whether for indoctrination or for infrastructure.

Going off to the river for a few days of fishing is, for me at least, a generally absorbing affair that fills my requirements for solitude. But if that's pretty much what there is to do when you require to relieve the mind of more pressing matters (like the lack of revenues flowing into the domestic oeconomy), then the pleasures begin to pale and the days seem empty of significance. On the other hand, maybe missionary work is easier than it looks.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Home Improvement: If It Isn't One Thing . . .

He that owns a house (to paraphrase Dr. Bacon) hath given a hostage to fortune. Or (to put it differently), it's always something; if it isn't one thing it's another; if something can go wrong it will. And so on. (Funny how the inevitable brings out the instinct for tautology in us: "if it isn't one thing it's another." Well of course, what else could it be? and what does that tell you in any case?) In this case, it all started before our holiday in Mexico last December. The hydrant in the front yard, the bloody Woodford Model Y34 without which the West would never have been won, was found leaking for the thirtieth time.

Unfortunately, only the top third or so of this same item is visible above ground. It connects directly to the water main, a vile and precarious-looking length of crumbling galvanized pipe installed deep in the pre-Cambrian layer, a paradigm of inevitability stretching about 40 yards from the street and entering the (basement-less) house at some indiscernible point beneath a layer of bricks, dirt, fossils, dog bones, prehistoric middens and the assorted detritus of forgotten civilizations. This is a time when the prudent homeowner seeks the services of a teenager or a paroled criminal to excavate the point of the difficulty by main force.

"Sod off?"

None of this is to speak ill of ditch diggers, arguably the font and wellspring of human civilization (even though they can be unreliable sources of heady conversation). When the Mesopotamians needed a ditch to be dug, they called out the ditch diggers.

So this heavy-caliber piece of plumbing had been lying about the front yard for several months now, while the botanical features, always carefully tended, slowly languished in an incessant spring wind and were badly in need of regular watering. In times of prosperity, of course, my preferred tactic would have been to find a plumber, go fishing, pay him for his services, and be done with it. These being leaner times, however, there was nothing for it except to arm myself with assorted pipe wrenches, crescent wrenches, hammers and mallet, channel lock, penetrating oil, plumber's tape - all laid out on the picnic table like a surgeon's accoutrements - and go at the thing hammer and tongs, finally reducing it to this:

I lack a deep understanding of how things work; I am promptly confused by basic spatial relationships, and hence diagrams and exploded schematics will not dock neatly in my brain. To disassemble a thing is merely, on my view, to enter a wilderness like a knight-errant whose weapons fall from his nerveless hands and all is confusion to his lusterless eye. Nevertheless, as the prescribed repair kit contained only five pieces (one of which was a washer), I felt my chance for error considerably reduced and, $50 and two additional trips to the plumbing supply later, the hydrant was reinstalled with the assistance of my friend and neighbor, Larry, who undertakes the technically complex projects on this ranch in exchange for the occasional meal.

But I cannot rid myself of the gnawing feeling that it's always something. In my dreams I have seen the ancient pipe slowly and noiselessly rusting beneath the ground, finally bursting like an old man's artery and turning this place into a veritable oasis on the High Plains. And, as my dream fades, I see a nightmarish scene, and hear a lone voice in the night:

"This is gonna cost ya, buddy."

Thursday, April 7, 2011

River of Screams: Why I Fish the Arkansas

Just back from two days on the "River of Screams," which is how in weak moments I refer to the Arkansas River. In the guide services brochures, the South Platte is the "Dream Stream" - I guess because the fish are so large, correspondingly dim-witted, and because it helps to have some marketing when you need to sell guide packages . . . 

Average day on the South Platte

. . .  whereas in the Arkansas, the fish are middling-sized, smarter than the average 10-year-old, and are what I call "entomologically specific," or (not to put too fine a point on it), "damned partiklar as concerns their diet." So more often than not I come home cursing the Trout God (which somehow I always expect will be me), the specific River God (depending on how the flow has been ordered and whether I have managed to keep my footing), numerous Insect Gods (whether for manifesting themselves or not I scarcely ever can predict), and of course the multifarious little gods and demons of wind, weather, sunlight and shadow - I generally wish the entire busload of them at the Devil. 

Not on this little foray into the wilds, however. I was blessed with the kind ministrations of the entire agency of godheads, not to mention an obliging audience of Salmo trutta (fario) in the 14-17 inch class. Which is about as big as they generally get in the Arkansas, and probably why it isn't called the "River of Dreams" because who dreams of small fish (no, on second thought just ignore that).

My Salmo trutta (fario) were bigger than this

First you should know that the river begins ("finds its headwaters" as the touristic sites tell us) in the mountains above Leadville, and is fed by tributaries flowing out of the Sangre de Cristos, which have a snowpack until July 1. So I never wade without waders of some sort until maybe August, when it feels safe to walk around, with some feeling in my extremities, in my nifty no-slip water sandals:

I've never slipped in these

Then you should know that most of the river bottom is covered in boulders which may have been there, growing smoother and slicker (as have fly rods, obviously) since the Late Pleistocene . . . 

No relation (with flyrod)

. . . the current is generally faster than you thought it might be, faster than it looked, than you thought your hip waders could handle, than you brought dry clothes for, than it is in Denver - remember, this is not the "Dream Stream." It can get unruly in a hurry.

River of Dreams (admittedly in the middle of Denver)

But late spring is the season of golden stone flies . . . 

and little green caddis larvae . . .

both of which I had in my scraps of tackle, which I keep meticulously in a series of labeled plastic grocery bags with occasional used flies which I seem to remember tying but always look as though they were purchased by a drunken charwoman at a rummage sale . . .

"I'll just have two of the wee tiny green thingys, and a pint of vodka."

. . . and the way it's done is to tie on the larger fly (the golden stone, in this instance) to your tippet, then tie a piece of tippet on the hook bend of your first fly, tie the smaller fly (the green caddis larva) onto the trailing tippet, and then toss the mess into a current of 3-5 feet, mend the line so that the contraption floats with the water and not with the drag the current puts in your flyline, and watch the tip of your line to see if it stops unaccountably or veers off in some direction that fails to correspond with the current in which you are fishing. Any such veer or arrest in its progress generally indicates interest in your wares, in which instance you raise the tip of your rod and hope to feel some weight as it comes up.

On this foray I was able to spend the cooler mornings trailing nymphs down the current, watching my line veer this way and that, and then spend the warmer afternoons fishing alongside the current in pools and seam water with dry flies, picking off the risers with a blue-winged olive. I figure by now the Insect God must have owed me a good day.

So there I was, talking to perfect strangers who would pull over and offer me a bit of advice or a place to park my camper where the river wasn't so "overfished." I thought it was all pretty good. And today I think I'm smarter than the average 10-year-old. We'll see.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Terry Jones and Jesting Pilate*

Certainly, it is heaven upon earth, to have a man's mind move in charity, rest in providence, and turn upon the poles of truth.
                                                               -  Sir Frances Bacon, Essays, ("Of Truth")

Paul Theroux, in a New York Times article recounting past travels to dangerous spots, tells of traveling in Northern Ireland in the 1980s during the times of indiscriminate IRA bombings: “I’m a Muslim!” a man cries out in a Belfast street in a dark joke that was going around at the time. And his attackers demand to know, “Are you a Catholic Muslim or a Protestant Muslim?”

It is a universal compulsion to shoehorn the truth into our own limitations, just one of the multifarious blindnesses coincident with being human. Within a miserably few, stark dichotomies - the small mental constructions that pass as currency for "the real world" - the Truth must surely fall. Are you a Catholic Muslim or a Protestant Muslim? It's a timely joke once again, when more than a score have now died because some good Christian in Florida with a convict's moustache and the intellect of a hamster burned a Koran and videotaped the sacrament. Are you an American, or a Muslim?

There's nothing to be said about the deed that isn't already obvious, nor about the right reverend's moral culpability in any of it.  What carries that debate (in a country that believes in its own "exceptionalism" and in the individual rights of each of its inhabitants to the exclusion of their responsibility to anyone else) is the overriding legality of any act that can be construed as "free speech." 

Stating the facts is saying something that is true - not the whole truth but a miniscule part of it. Sometimes the facts stare us in the face and then, it seems, the truth is easily known. But knowing the facts is simply knowing how to make a scant few true statements about the world.

It is also a part of the human condition that being able to make some true statements makes us think that we can also know "the Truth." As though, if there's a true statement you can make about something, there must be a True Statement you could make about Everything. Knowing "the Truth" is, on this view, a different sort of thing than knowing true love, or finding true north, or making a wheel true, or being true to your word, or proving a true friend, or any number of other perfectly ordinary meanings. No, "knowing the Truth" must contrast with "believing Falsehood" (although in how many of the examples I just cited is 'false' the correct antonym for 'true' in the phrase? If I don't get the wheel 'true,' am I left with a 'false' wheel?)

The truth, in contrast to particular true statements, is never that easy, even though there are too many like Pastor Jones, convinced that they know the truth and ready to take a pretty free hand with it. If there were some independent measure, apart from our common humanity, our shared experience, our powers of observation, induction, ratiocination, sentiment, comfort, security, sanity and survival, to gauge what is true, then we might plausibly speak of "the Truth," find it to be a self-evident corpus, instruct others in it to their benefit and improvement, and make peace on earth. 

But truth is never plain, is never revealed, scarcely ever reveals itself. It eludes our searching and changes when we grasp it. If something seems a certainty to me today, ask me tomorrow and I will likely give a different opinion. If beliefs I cannot espouse give others comfort and intellectual satisfaction, then what can I say except, "That's more than I know"? Truth is what I judge works for me to answer my puzzles as best they can be answered. If you see things differently and find the same resolution in a different web of beliefs, then what more do I know than do you? I certainly believe my own point of view and may argue it, but in the end when words no longer avail, I can only concede that your truth is your own and welcome to it.

None of this is to say that truths cannot be tested and proven workable. But "the Truth" by which we must all live or die is delusional, and there are no proofs against delusion. More than that, it is dangerous since it permits us to invent new sacraments of hatred. What single Truth can anyone ever know with the degree of certainty that could justify the death of innocents?  

* "What is Truth? said jesting Pilate; and would not stay for an answer." 
                                              -  Sir Frances Bacon, Essays, ("Of Truth")

For a contrary opinion, see

Friday, April 1, 2011

And All I Got Was This . . .

I went to see my tax man yesterday, that paragon of the green eyeshade.

"I'll do what I can, of course, but . . . ."

Today I wrote the check for my final payment to the relevant department of revenue and my indebtedness for last year's residency in the land of the free is gratefully and willingly liquidated. I am a citizen of the U.S. of A. without debt or blemish, although I still don't know who's been counting the keystrokes on my computer. Don't mistake my intent - this is not some jeremiad against the intrusive hairy arm of Big Government picking my pocket. 

"Well, we won't be needing this any longer, will we?"

Quite the contrary, in fact - I believe we should all pay up, in good cheer and with an unstinting openhandedness, for the privilege of living in a nation where the federal mileage rate is 51 cents per mile (not a bad bargain if you don't share my civic euphoria and decide to leave).

After all, a nation is among other things a commonwealth, which implies a mutual responsibility upon everyone in it to foster the well-being of everyone else. This is presumably why at least six states in the Union proclaim the month of April as Confederate History Month and encourage their citizens to dress up and run around in front of others of their fellows who may take a different view of such matters. (Diversity of background and belief is a watchword with me.)

"Rotchere's where they plugged Great-Grandaddy."

In any case, I take my responsibility for others seriously. So each spring, when I pay my taxes, I append a list of things I would like those funds to buy for the betterment of my fellow Americans. This year, knowing federal money might be in short supply with a national jobless rate of 8.9 percent, I kept my list pretty short. 

My priority of course is education - better schools and (just as important) school security are America's future:

"Gen'ly I won't fire if they look to be under twelve."

Secondly, I stipulated that a percentage of my taxes go to a sane energy policy, which means offshore drilling like you've never seen:

"Oil Painting" (by J.M.W. Turner)

Every time this topic is brought to the table, the sentimentalists are promptly in arms and papering the streets with photographs of poor pathetic pelicans. But a few pelicans measured against our nation's security? It simply doesn't compute. Sure, the little beggars drenched in crude oil are photogenic and unfailingly appealing to the weepy-eyed sentimental, but I've eaten smoked oysters that looked worse than this:


We really have to stand together on this one - our existence as a species, Homo americanus, is being threatened by our dependence on foreign sources of oil.

 Homos americani

I stipulated that a certain percentage should go to our national highway infrastructure. In years past, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) has supplied vats of house paint to neutralize nightime visibility, and turned the job of highway striping over to unemployed painters of the early Impressionist period:

Interstate highway in Colorado (after tax-funded upgrades)

Of course I would have wished to bespeak a small portion for the public health, but not even our federal government can bear costs like that:

"Sooo, you'll be requiring some insooorance, ehhhh?"

I've never had any acknowledgement from the IRS of my request for appropriate disbursements of my tax monies - nothing, that is, until I paid last year's taxes, when I received a nice postcard from the agency showing me what I had bought:

I paid my taxes, and all I got was this Tomahawk missile. Fortunately, it missed.