Monday, August 15, 2011

The Rake's Progress

"Stay, Madam, it appears I importune you overmuch . . . ," I continued, gently - by a sly leg insinuating myself from the parlor into the conservatory - yet bating that withal, not without some heat.

"Whist!" she cried. "Silence, Sir, lest my brother overhear your urgency and, like a very Catamount, spring 'ponst us both."

"Didst mean to say Mountebank, my Dearest?"

"'Tis one or t'other," she murmured, "indeed, it had a '-mount' in it."

"I am of like mind, Madam," said I, "I know the very word you intend," and proceeded to close negotiations. "Fie, Sir, you are but a naughty dog," she whispered from behind a pomegranate tree. 

"Nay," quoth I, gently seizing an interposing limb, "only so far as mutual inclination may warrant and as Madam may permit." She fled to an hibiscus. "These exertions overwarm me," she said.

"Not a bit of it, Madam," I assured her. "They are most salutary, and put a fine flush to your countenance."  She fingered a leaf. "Would that I had my breviary," she sighed.

"Piety is no refuge," quoth I. "Only count love as the best of pieties."

"Love, Sir!" she expostulated. "Would I had my pug by me."

"But a dog provides surety to his Mistress," said I, "only so far as his own interests extend. And in the present case, my interests extend much farther."

She fondled a pineapple, albeit, as I noted, distraitly. "Vexing creature," she murmured. "You - or I, Madam?" I ventured. "The dog," she answered.

"Most emphatically," I said.

* * * * * 

So it chances that Miguel and the maitresse of Chateau de Montaigne are marrying on the east lawn after a scant 13 years of romance, cohabitation and shared financial shenanigans. Wonder is that she should marry me at all, having never herself had any inclination to sample the blandishments of that institution, and knowing me as she does by now. I, on the other hand, have essayed it several times (the last nearly a quarter-century ago) - the first time stunned and nonplussed, the second time reckless of the clear and inevitable disaster awaiting, the last time with a reasonable optimism which, in the event, left me at least with a good friend. Probably as much as I could ever have bargained for, given the paucity of forethought with which I generally entered the lists. 

Hume (Treatise, Bk. III, sec. xii, "Of chastity and modesty") offers an admittedly partial account of marriage as a relation between the sexes based on the "trivial and anatomical observation" that "in order to induce the men to impose on themselves this restraint [of rearing and educating children], and undergo chearfully all the fatigues and expences to which it subjects them, they must believe that the children are their own and that their natural instinct is not directed to a wrong object . . . . 

(Wasn't counting)

"Now if we examine the structure of the human body, we shall find that this security is very difficult to be attain'd on our part; and that since, in the copulation of the sexes, the principle of generation goes from the man to the woman, an error may easily take place on the side of the former, tho' it be utterly impossible with regard to the latter." 

In short, a man can always claim that the kids aren't his, but a woman, never.

 (Wandered over from the neighbors.)

Admittedly only a partial account ("Were a philosopher to examine the matter a priori, he wou'd reason after the following manner.") But a posteriori, as there are plainly no children to enter into the calculation, and we're getting married anyway, the strict economic view fails to account for the palpable joy and excitement surrounding the event - the heartfelt wishes of friends and family, the sense of rectitude and satisfaction prevailing here at the chateau, the anticipation of - well, of more of the same, I suppose.Yep, I've been saving those red Ray-Bans for this day.

So the mail arrives daily, filled with notes of benediction, good wishes, and offers for discount hearing aid batteries (for which, as I've noted before, I have no use). No matter, I never thought I'd consider the prospect again. But what with the anticipation of our friends drinking our health on the lawn, having attained an age at which we can marry free-form, without ceremony, we can remain friends joined by the blessings of friends. The only thing I need to figure out now is where to throw 75 rented champagne glasses when there's no fireplace in the place.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Caught By His Ears

If you've been reading these posts with any regularity (and who hasn't?) it has occurred to you by now that they lack a thread or unifying theme. I never know what will set me off and so am that much more susceptible to a good outrage whenever I cross paths with one. It is purely chance that throws them in my way now and then. Today's outrage arrived in the mail. 

We are, by and large, a liberal and progressive nation, forward-thinking, fostering such national virtues as intelligence and industriousness, tolerance for others, broad-mindedness, civility, the give-and-take of vigorous public discourse - in all, a peaceable kingdom - well, republic. We have been schooled in the easy acceptance of differences and the avoidance of damaging stereotypes, as demonstrated in this video of New York police arresting an elderly Chinese man for playing the violin - clearly "elderly Chinese man playing the violin" could not possibly be a stereotype . . .

. . . just like "bearded Muslim guy in salwar kameez traveling on an airplane" could not possibly be a stereotype. . . which brings up another sort of stereotyping - "size-ism" or the stereotyping of really large people on airplanes. Our culture discourages us from thinking of them only as frolicsome, cuddly or adorable obstacles to the public comfort - always the first concern of airlines, but that may have to wait for another post.

The particular kvetch I'm getting around to is this: when I totter out to my mailbox, which I can still manage to do periodically, I generally have to clean it out - I refer to it as "cleaning out the mailbox" rather than "going to get the mail." It is usually adrift, after a day or two, in unwanted flotsam of an anonymous nature that piles up in it like leaves on a front porch. The senders don't know who I am, care only that I may have more money than brains, and may be duped into parting with some of my hoard by their cheesy solicitations.

Solicitations du fromage

By now I am accustomed to the hectoring pamphlets of the Medicare insurers, invariably featuring a grinning pair of dodderers who have evidently forgotten the last half-century of marriage and think they've just found one another on the golf links at an assisted living facility. But today's mail held a bonus - an invitation to be part of a groundbreaking experiment in the Digital Revolution. Why is it that now I'm getting solicitations for hearing aids if not that I've been blatantly, unfeelingly stereotyped as being amongst those elderly who clearly can't hear the crickets chirping at their graveside.

"Old F-A-R-T!"

Moreover I am offered the opportunity ("once in a lifetime," considering my advanced years, and obviously on the presumption that I'm looking about for ways to pass my remaining lonely days) to meet a balding young "nationally known hearing aid expert" half my age, whose expertise will presumably help me to lead a fuller, richer senescence by 'enabling' (one of my least favorite words) me to hear, for example, the solo parts of cell phone conversations conducted in public, parents badgering their children or vice versa, the accursed ice cream truck with the electronic chimes that parks on the corner for an hour, the neighbor's Harley coasting home at 2 a.m. You get the picture.

No thanks, thinks I to myself. At least I'm old enough to know that the power of speech and the cognate power of hearing, without which speech is useless, are at best mixed blessings. 

I think I hear your cell phone ringing. Or maybe it's just my ears.

"Answer it yourself."

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Bowling for Kansas

I'm just back from Kansas, where the heat has broken, at least temporarily, and everyone is as happy as they could be for having just lost the better part of both their wheat and corn crops.  (And as the secessionist and Texas Guvuner Rick Perry might have said, if he hasn't already, thank the Umighty Lord for federal farm subsidies and crop insurance.) Yep, if it weren't for God and Gummint (in any order you choose), them farmers would have been living in some hellish Cairo slum since a long while back.

"It's not much, but at least we don't have to take farm subsidies."

And while I'm at it, here's a handy site where you can look up your neighbors to see who's cheating on their libertarian Tea Party credentials - search "Bachmann" (deceased) in Buffalo County, Wisconsin (as in "Michelle Bachmann") just to see how slick it works.

But among the many things I really do enjoy when I'm in Kansas (besides everyone I know there) is the self-imposed news blackout. In the darkened caverns of my motel rooms I can watch Turner Classic Movies (when's the last time you had to watch a Lew Ayres' "vehicle," willingly or un-?) instead of CNN or the charade of Faux News. Selective hearing, in a way, but relief nonetheless. When I speak with people, it's about genuine concerns like whether it will rain or exactly when their wells might dry up or whether there's enough water deeper down to sustain their farms. They're as chary talking about politics as I am, and being farmers, just as socialist as I am whether they know it or not. Probably they don't talk about it for the same reasons that I try not to write (much) about it (unless by innuendo), like we don't go into details about train wrecks.

So the climate in western Kansas is congenial to me in a way I never imagined it could ever be - in the summer it's bloody awful hot, it's dry and it's almost always windy (which of course is why I'm there anyway). Nonetheless (and given a modicum of air conditioning), I like it. But more than that, the people, as conservative and evangelical as their reputation and as much so as I am the contrary in every respect, seem to be possessed of a common sense that transcends the idiocy of their elected representatives and hired clergy. They are capable of conversation that does not degenerate in anger. On most topics, they are clear-minded. They can bowl together without rancour.

When among them I always feel welcome. I am admitted to the Mennonite ladies' Tuesday Sewing Circle, where in the church basement they prepare a lavish weekly Kansas farm lunch for their working husbands and sons in the off-seasons of fall and winter; have a standing fishing invitation at a marina in Oklahoma owned by a friend in the neighborhood; have standing invitations across two counties to stop by for dinner or supper (those being successive, seperate meals in Kansas); standing invitations to go pheasant hunting - a sport I've never tried nor been drawn to.

"Oh, dwat - sowwy."

I like it out there in the flat spaces with the curlews and the hawks and the coyotes and the Mexican restaurants and the oversized hamburgers and every grocery store bragging "the coldest beer in town." It's a forgotten place where the only tourists come for the tornado season. Bummer.

"Oh shit, Dorothy, we're in Kansas!"

Sunday, August 7, 2011

God and Texas Hold'Em

Said the rainmaker to the people, 'Tell me what you are prepared to pay. . . '
Said the rainmaker to the people, '. . .and I'll conjure up a rainy day.'
                                                                           - Harry Nilsson, "The Rainmaker"

I just spent two solid weeks in Kansas, and the bank thermometers were hitting thermal jackpots like a drunk in a casino. It's been a hot summer so far.

(Thought he might need that overcoat.)

The air conditioner in my 16-year old pickup barely makes a dent in the sweltering prairie heat - I don't see there's much to be done except get an air-conditioned motel room and cool down between hurried sorties into the blistering countryside. But I'm only one man, a private citizen at that. I don't have much to say about the weather and so I try not to talk about it (present instance excepted, naturally, and I hope forgiven as well).

No, I'm no Guvuner Rick Perry. Perry is the current guvuner of Texas who on Saturday last, with true Texan brio, overlooked the Constitution's separation clause just long enough to convene some 30,000 fellow evangelicals from around the nation in Houston for a good old "inclusive" state-sponsored prayer rally. "The Response," as he dubbed it, was intended as a sort of rain dance in which participants get to ask God for stuff they need or think other people need (like rain, or that "wisdom" be granted to President Obama, who definitely stands in need of some but couldn't make it to Houston). Houston, for the day, was hallowed ground.

Rick among the New Apostles

It was the ultimate Glenn Beck Moment - in fact, Perry may have out-Glenned the Beck. The Houston Chronicle reported "a day of singing, praying, praising and — for some — fasting." Fasting is, like deer hunting, something evangelicals consider a divinely sanctioned blood sport, though the Chronicle reporter conceded that "Long lines besieged concession stands throughout the day." (Where two or three are gathered together in My Name, you can count on long, well-upholstered lines at the concession stands - the link between hot soup and evangelical fervor is an historic one.)

  "SevenEleven corn dogs - only way we can get 'em in here."

According to one news source, "The event was Perry's idea but was financed by the American Family Association, a Tupelo, Miss.-based group that opposes abortion and gay rights and believes that the First Amendment freedom of religion applies only to Christians." (Surprising they'd fork over their good money after Perry as much as said that the State of New York is within the law to grant resident gays the right to marry.)

In his harangue, Perry conceded to the Almighty that, "as a nation, we have forgotten who made us, who protects us, who blesses us. And for that we cry out for your forgiveness." It was so Glenn, a jeremiad against our national waywardness. So Old Testament for all of that . . . I had an image of Peter Lorre in "Casablanca," chased by Nazi goons into Humphrey Bogart's bar, pleading piteously, "Rick, Rick - save me, Rick!"

The Golden Calf (another bad idea)

Oh, well. When you can't figure out what to do about the weather and the drought and the national economy, and you can't plausibly blame the President's political party for all of it, and you don't believe that expertise may be the first step in looking for a solution, then it can appear that the only recourse is either a willful ignorance, prayer, lethal injection or any combination. 

Personally I'm not aware of any transgressions that I need to answer for, but Perry may be a wiser man than I - after all, anyone who thinks that God is the sort of thing to which personal petitions and grocery lists can be addressed probably is also the sort of brash fellow who approaches God like he would approach some poor sod he's caught cheating at Texas hold'em - someone, in other words, who is likely to do whatever he's asked.

"Paint my house."

The Chronicle reporter further remarked that "the seven-hour event resembled nothing more than a boisterous Sunday-morning worship service at evangelical churches across the nation. The prayers were long and heartfelt, the remarks earnest, and the music - gospel and Christian rock - inspired rapturous frenzies of arm-waving, swaying and singing along."

For my part, 30,000 people swaying and arm-waving to Christian rock should be penance enough to satisfy a lust for adulation in even the most monstrous of deities. Taken altogether, the day sounds so . . .  tribal.