Apr 16, 2017

Matters of Legacy

It is important to my sense of macho self-image that you understand I was not a total nerd.

Nerd enough to get almost no dates with cheer leaders and to walk softly past the hallway intersections where the duck-assed gorillas struggling to pass shop class hung out. Nether the nobody-home prom queens nor the high-school mouth breathers wanted much to do with guys on the debate team who also devoted hours to the Boy Scouts and the Methodist Youth Fellowship.

To this day I don't know if I made the right trade offs, especially in not staying out for football where I was a little too slow and slightly underweight but blessed with some damn-fool instinct for cross-body blocking. I came into my own in that fleet airborne instant in the broken field when I  just knew I was on target to fold that big suety son of a bitch in half and make him go oooof.  The coach humiliated me in biology class the day after I turned in my shoulder pads. The chief accusation was no school spirit even though  I had explained to him that as a country kid without a car I could not make the practices without adding to my folks' other problems which were not insignificant.

(An aside) In those days schools hired men to coach football and gave them side jobs as biology teachers, hence STDs. These days they have them teach history and "social studies," hence Trump.

So I went out for debate and found that a natural talent for bullshitting had its rewards.  Eventually it saved me from a career as a beer-truck driver while the Boy Scouts and the youth fellowship kept me out of prison.

(Another aside) When in the company of nerds and an obvious example of the breed myself, I could buttress that internal masculine picture of me with only a small datum or two. One of them was a decidedly manly skill, the ability to bark a squirrel at fifty yards, and do it with my very own and paid for Winchester Model 69. (Used, about $15.) And I do mean 69, not the trailer-park upstart  69A which came along as Winchester began its long, slow demise into irrelevance and eventual oblivion. Like this one,  I mean, with the visible hammer and reassuring resistance of cock-on-closing: 


Nerds those days got to travel at the expense of the local tax payers. A dozen or so weekends  a year we would pile into the debate coach's car and cruise the two-lane pavements to the big cities. Ames. Cedar Rapids, Waterloo, and, among others, the metropolis of Des Moines.

We all looked forward to Des Moines. Four or five Gomer Pyles neck-stretching in a corn-field Gotham, so awed at the 10-story skyscrapers that we forgot to act world-wearily nonchalant.

The heart of the city was bounded by two landmarks, the famous Babe's, a downtown Italian joint of wide and sophisticated repute and, nearby,  the Des Moines Register building.

Babe's is really subject for another memory-lane trip. For now I mention only his waitresses, drop-dead beautiful  Drake coeds pleased to be part of the capital city's night life, pregnant with potential for rewarding liaisons with the congregated professional men and politicians. Us they looked through. Some of it was certain knowledge of a nickel tip. The rest was acne. We understood that after-dinner  flirting was futile and that we should quickly leave with whatever 15-year-old grace we could muster while wiping spaghetti sauce from our chins as we strolled over to Seventh and Locust, site of the Des Moines Register news offices and printing plant.

In an inspired marriage of marketing and architural/industrial design, those gargantuan presses were semi-subterranean and, at sidewalk level, enclosed by glass.  P.T Barnum would have appreciated the crowd appeal. Eero Saarinen may have conceded that some older genius had anticipated and  out-done his John Deere building over in Moline. His ghost may have lamented not including a foundry for visiting farmers to gape at.

The editions rolled off at what we would have called warp speed had we known the term.The building itself, all 13 stories, vibrated, the rumble penetrated to the outer world and made conversation difficult, and the sidewalk trembled in synch with the mammoths which told us of Russia's atomic blasts and Pat Nixon's respectable Republican cloth coat.

Five stories up were the dreary offices of The Associated Press where I would one day work. One story lower were the larger and brighter Register and Tribune news rooms. A staff -- men and a few women of a different species from what we now call journalists -- was busy grinding out the routine news of the day while incidentally keeping politicians honest and earning far more than their share of Pulitzer prizes.  It was a newspaper, an institution, a mighty force whose words were must-reading in the Middle West and damned near required all around the Reflecting Pool in Washington, D.C. Some one once called it "a grace and ornament to its profession."

Have you ever noticed that time marches on, things change, and not only Winchester rifles?

Three days ago  the Register digitally posted images of its one-time fortress. If you can't be troubled to follow the link, the message is simple.  The old girl has been sold and remodeled, "loft"apartments and a fern bar. The company will do its digital business from a floor an a-half of a glassy pile a couple of blocks away. There isn't an Underwood in the place.

Sayonara, and  I guess, on balance, that I am glad I dropped football.

Nov 21, 2016

Another Big Bang

There's this big hippie dude, see, strolling a side street in empty Lodi, California.  Big hair down to his waist,  wearing a gimme cap and a cool-message tee. "I gave up sex and drinking and it was the scariest 30 minutes of my life."

That is how it was according to Stephen King as he wrote about life in America after the super-flu wiped out some 99 out of every 100.

In a little house along that street lived Irma Fayette, 26 and virginal and a people hater. She particularly hated men because they would rape her. Her mother told her so, and she had spent most of her 26 years worrying and worrying about the evil-deed horror, possibly over and over in great clinical detail. 

Part of Mama's sex problem was her ex-husband. He was possibly also Irma's daddy, a sailor who planted a seed in Ma's garden and weighed anchor instead of hanging around to nurture.

Barnacle Bill is necessary to Mr. King's narrative because he left a trunk behind, stored for ages in Irma's attic.

She picked through it and found  a nice box with little brass hinges containing  "...a gun . A .45 calibre pistol. It lay on red velvet, and in a secret compartment below the red velvet were some bullets ...  green and mossy looking, but Irma thought they would work all right. Bullets were metal. They didn't spoil like milk or cheese. "

So she was armed when Mr. Hippie passed her porch, saw prey, and staggered her way.

"Irma pulled the trigger. The pistol exploded, killing her instantly."


Now see here, Stephen. That might have happened, but it almost certainly didn't. Far more likely, the pistol went click and Irma was soon suffering the fate worse than death. 

I've often thought a serious gun guy could earn a little side income editing firearms references. He could have advised Mr. King that "cartridges" was the term he was actually looking for  and that ancient cartridges don't get magically stronger. More likely their chemical contents weaken, if anything. 

Furthermore, while it is quite possible to make a pistol "explode" in one way or another,  I doubt that any shooter, ever, instantly killed himself. (Herself in the case of the unfulfilled Irma.) We see bloody   hands, faces full of powder burns and metal bits, smashed eyeballs, but hardly ever -- maybe never -- do we see instant death.


I like Stephen King anyway, and maybe this little piece is just an excuse  to say so. Allow me to repeat,  along with many before me,  that I wish he worked a little less in horror and a little more with straightforward stuff that doesn't  require so massive a suspension of your disbelief.  For instance as in "The Body" (his novella which became "Stand By Me"  when the movie ignoramuses got their slimy paws on it).

Never mind. I rarely reread King, but sometimes I'm drawn back solely by his power  to create characters who charm --or the absolute reverse -- readers. When King introduces a human player you know this character is going to engage your interest and your emotions. I know no one who does it better except John D. McDonald. I give him the edge because he could do it in sharper terms with fewer words.


We're awaiting an overnight strike of winter misery, so I decided to escape reality by leafing through  the monster edition of "The Stand," the 1153-page complete edition. Its blurb says it is "uncut." No shit Sam Spade? What gave you your first clue?  Maybe the three-inch shelf-width? (The Irma tale is on page 352.)

I may do something like this again. Stephen is sloppy on guns, and cosmic rulers require all of us gun experts to point out and dilate on the tiniest  departure from technical firearms truth.

Until now I have been doing it only with my silenced revolver.

Oct 17, 2016

The American Community Snoop

A sterling citizen for whom I have great affection opened his American Community Survey packet this morning. He demonstrated his sterlingness by actually reading questions and penciling in answers for two or three pages.

Then the sorry SOB looked into the mirror of his sterling soul and saw tarnish.   File 13.

The Constitution grants Washington the power to enumerate him, so there he stands,  hand dutifully up for easier counting,  giving the federal snoopers a pass on the Article One specification that he is subject to forced enumeration only once per decade, not at any over-secretion of the enumerators' window-peeping glands.

He decided that the demanded details of his life -- personal, professional, social, and financial -- were (1) an identity thief's dream and (b)  a facilitator for further nanny-state bungling and (3)  a violation of  Article 4 of the Bill of Rights.

He was unimpressed with:  "TheCensus Bureau is required by U.S.law to keep your answers confidential." Perhaps that is because, on reading that, something reminded him of Lois Lerner who also pledged to obey the the law while in the employ of another federal tentacle required to observe strict standards of confidentiality.

Sep 26, 2016

The television set, a cheap 19-inch flat screen, lives in my closet. It was last mated with 110 volts and a coaxial cable in January when it seemed a good idea to watch the State of the Union address, just to fact-check my opinion that  he is still in over his head; still nothing more than the almost accidental by-product of Chicago machine politics; still wedded to the narcissistic notion that the unicorns speak wisdom and speak only through himself? (Yes.)

And tonight the debate.  Should a citizen drag out his electric teevee, plug it in, and blow the dust off in order to witness our latest shitstorm of demagogy as it happens?

In a way it seems a waste. The winners are predetermined. Trump for those citizens wedded to the  Fox News school of journalism; Clinton for the special snowflakes suckled by MSNBC.

I believe nothing tonight will change the poll trends unless one of the stooges does an amazingly obvious pratfall. The she-thing, under pressure, might well slip into another foot-stomping door slam (what difference yada yada) The he (with a rolled up sock in his shorts?) is not beyond demanding an immediate declaration of war against China or South Ossetia or something because they're rapists.

N.B -- I think any disaster is more likely to happen to Trump.  His mouth still seems free of any restraint. Hillary's tongue lately is tightly leashed to her handlers and their focus groups.

Right now, my propensity is to leave the teevee where it is. If I feel the need for a cleanout, I think there's a partial pack of Ex-Lax still in the medicine cabinet. But maybe not. We'll see.