Friday, October 19, 2012

Flipping the Big Bird

It’s October, and the weather has started to finally cool off here in the desert Southwest.  The evenings are pleasant again, and the mornings are cool and dry and perfectly luscious.  With the start of each day, we get to savor the decline and fall of another endless summer.   It is a time of great rejoicing, and a general sense of giddy relief floods over the land… 

I have been very busy working outside this last week or so.  Every year around this time, I get very enthused about the idea of starting a winter garden, and so I have set about my annual ritual of clearing our garden space of all the dead branches and discarded junk that tends to collect there over the summer.  Unfortunately, this has caused me to fall woefully behind on my writing schedule.  So, to keep things moving along here at thunderstrokes, I have invited a prominent writer acquaintance of mine to contribute a post.

Mr. Clive Cumberbun is the executive director of the Center of American Values for America’s Americans, a conservative think-tank based in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.  While he was unwilling to provide me with an original piece of content (only because of an absolutely brutal polo schedule, according to his email), he did give me exclusive permission to post an item he recently wrote for the Center’s official newsletter, "The Rabid Pachyderm."  Gee, I hope they aren’t riding rabid pachyderms while they play polo…

Enjoy.  I’m going back outside.     

Reprinted with the author’s permission from The Rabid Pachyderm, originally published 10.08.12 
By Clive Cumberbun

In the aftermath of the first presidential debate, Mr. Romney has taken a great deal of undeserved political flak for daring to suggest that PBS and shows like Sesame Street be kicked off the public coffers.  While his position seemed to surprise much of the viewing audience, those of us who have been following this election cycle know that Mr. Romney has been quite vocal on this issue since the primaries began.  For example, in March Mr. Romney appeared on Sean Hannity’s show, trying to alert the American people to the critical problem represented by public television: 

For nearly a year, Mr. Romney has been remarkably consistent when it comes to cutting funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which provides funding for both NPR radio as well as PBS.  Thus it earns the distinction of being one of his most enduring, if not endearing, political beliefs (his other, ‘I believe in baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, but not Chevrolet,’ goes all the way back to 2009).

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Zen of Doggy-Doo, Part 2

In Part 1, I introduced you to the crappy problem we’ve been dealing with:  people from a nearby apartment complex letting their dogs to take a dump in the alley behind our house and leaving it for someone else to clean up, and how that someone, under threat of being fined by the City of Phoenix, turned out to be me.  Part 1 ended with me in the alley, shovel and pail in hand, considering how I was going to get out of the fecal-fest I found myself in.

There’s a certain social contract that has always existed among men.  It’s one that’s so fundamental to the free and agreeable interactions of people that it’s rarely mentioned, but always assumed.  It’s been a deeply embedded part of civil society for countless generations.  It was so self-evident that Thomas Jefferson felt no need to even mention it in the Declaration of Independence, and so obvious that God Himself felt it would have been redundant to put it in the Ten Commandments.  But if He had, it might have gone something like this:  Thou shalt not alloweth thy dog to shitteth upon another man’s home, or even the alley behind his home. 

Okay, I might have added that part about the alley. 

The fact that so little has been committed to writing on the topic only added to my frustration as I contemplated how to respond to the small group of dog-owning apartment people who were using our alley as their own private pet poopery.  I searched everywhere for some written shred of support I could wave in the face of the next person I caught back there, walking a dog that even gave the subtlest sniff that it was thinking about cranking one out.  I was hoping Shakespeare might have addressed the issue, maybe in one of his minor historical works, or perhaps Dante had met someone who was guilty of breaking this sacred injunction in one of hell’s lowest circles; but no luck.  All I found to show those reprehensible apartment people the error of their ways was one brief passage in the biblical book of Deuteronomy*, which says:  “The man who permits his dog to unburden itself in a public place and stoops not to clean it while yet warm has defiled both himself and his dog.  This man shall be unclean for three days, and must purify himself in the following manner, by bathing both himself and dog before even each day, and sprinkle with hyssop both himself and dog before even each day.  On the third day, this man must also wash his dog with the ashes of a heifer, and make a sacrifice of one fourth of a ram, and a tenth part of an epaph of flour mingled with a hin of oil, so that both dog and man will be purified.” 

*God bless Deuteronomy; they have a rule for everything, including one about not plowing with ox and ass together (Deut 22:10).  Aside from revealing clear micromanagement issues, who among the ancient Israelites would’ve wanted to do such a thing?  It seems obvious that if you yoke an ox and ass together you’ll end up plowing in a circle, either because of the ox’s superior strength, or the ass’s superior stubbornness.
While I think this passage clearly shows the seriousness with which the ancient Israelites viewed this kind of transgression, I had no idea what an epaph and hin were, let alone hyssop.  I elected not to use it on the basis that it would require too much explanation to be effective in any conceivable alley situation.  
Just how are you supposed to handle those who refuse to acknowledge one of the basic courtesies by which most of us live?  I had already decided I wasn’t just going to roll over and accept being the neighborhood’s manure man, its feces facilitator, its poop patsy.  But I also couldn’t just hold my nose and let nature take its course either, not with the constant threat of a fine from the city squatting over our heads. 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Zen of Doggy-Doo, Part 1

We’ve been dealing with a crappy problem for quite some time at our house.  Actually, crap is the problem.  And of all the crappy problems one could possible have, actual crap may be the worst. 

Oh, by the way, I should warn you; if you’re already getting put off by the multiple uses of the word ‘crap,’ you may want to stop reading now.  It’s only going to get worse. 

My mom’s kind of squeamish that way.  Strangely, not when it comes to dealing with the real thing (she raised six kids after all); no, it’s the vocabulary words that get to her.  Whenever my mom hears someone say a word as mild as ‘crap,’ ‘poop,’ or ‘ca-ca,’ her eyes start to flutter; anything stronger and she appears to be coming down with a case of the vapors, which I didn’t realize even still existed.  The term she prefers to use when referring to the biological process of eliminating solid waste is the cryptic letter combination ‘B.M.’  It wasn’t always that way, though.  When we were kids it was simply ‘potty,’ or if she needed to be more specific, ‘number 1’ and ‘number 2.’  Those two numbers were in such common usage in my house that when I got to first grade, I would argue with my teacher whenever she tried to tell us that 1 + 1 = 2.  Even from what little I understood about the digestive process, there was just no way that could be true. 

But now it’s ‘B.M.’  For the longest time, I didn’t even know what ‘B.M.’ referred to.  Mom, who would sometimes take care of our oldest daughter when she was little, first sprung that one on me when I stopped by after work one day to pick her up.  She was casually debriefing me on the day’s activities when her voice suddenly dropped almost to a conspiratorial hush, and she said, “Jessica had a ‘B.M.’ today.”  She paused, presumably for dramatic effect, before adding, “It was fine.”  Then she went right back to her normal conversational tone, telling me how Jessica had given the cat quite a scare by dropping a block on its head while it slept.  I went the better part of a year thinking a ‘B.M.’ was some kind of beverage, like a V-8.  I figured the reason for the low voice was that it somehow involved granddad, who had probably invoked his grandparent’s prerogative again, and disregarded our strident plea to limit drinks to either milk or watered-down apple juice. 

I thought nothing more of my mom’s sporadic ‘B.M.’ references until the day she sidled up to me while Jessica was in the corner, preoccupied with trying to put her shoes on.  She leaned in close, looking serious and slightly worried, and whispered, “Jessica had a ‘B.M.’ today, but it was a little off.” The word ‘off’ was accompanied by a contortion of her face into a brief, but intensely pained, expression.  She then peered around me, to make sure Jessica wasn’t listening before she continued.  “It was a little on the runny side.  You may want to keep an eye on that.”  Well that threw me, because it no longer sounded like we were talking about drinks at all.  Maybe ‘B.M.’ referred to a certain way of making eggs.  For some reason, I wanted to associate ‘B.M.’ with food, which, in a roundabout way, I guess it does, kind of.  Anyway, not wanting to embarrass my mom further by belaboring what was obviously such a delicate issue for her, I nodded gravely in response, and said something like, “Well, we’ll see to it she doesn’t have any more of those today.”  It was my wife who finally clued me in that ‘B.M.’ stands for ‘Bowel Movement.’

Monday, October 1, 2012

Fountain Hubris, Arizona

As a kid, my folks stopped to see the Fountain Hills fountain once on a trip to Payson. It was the middle of the afternoon, in the middle of summer.  The first time I saw the fountain go off, shooting water so high into the sky I couldn’t look all the way up to the top without sneezing, I thought they had discovered an ingenious new way to keep cool.  Maybe it was some great new form of evaporative cooler, one that worked by chilling the air around an entire town with one giant column of water.  It was exciting.  I dreamed that I was seeing the future, and that someday every town would have a giant fountain like this, and kids would finally be able to play outside all summer long.  But then, after a few minutes spent on the sizzling concrete at the edge of the man-made lake, and still feeling every single one of the 113 degrees it must have been that day, I realized that, as far as providing relief was concerned, the fountain was an abject failure.  My short-lived dream was dashed.  I returned to the car, which my mom had never left, and watched the fountain finish in air-conditioned comfort. 

Yes, I was disillusioned at an early age by the Fountain Hills fountain, and my animosity has only grown with the years. 

People have tried to tell me that the Fountain Hills fountain is a landmark.  People see that fountain from miles away, they contend, and so they know exactly where they are.  To which I say: Really? What good is a landmark that only appears for five or ten minutes every hour?  Is this the sort of thing we should trust our navigation to?  I’m fairly sure that commercial airliners don’t rely on a once-in-a-while plume of water to find their way safely home.   I did have to agree on one thing, though.  The fountain does tell you exactly where you are; when you see that fountain you know with absolute certainty that you’re thirty minutes away from Phoenix.  Aside from that, though, I can’t see their point. 

The business leaders in Fountain Hills like the fountain.  They say it boosts business.  I say, if it’s so good for business, why are the city’s residents being asked to shoulder the two million dollars needed for essential repairs, and pay almost $150,000 a year for the electricity to operate the thing for a few minutes every hour?  If the fountain really packs in the tourists like they say, why don’t those businesses come together and provide the necessary money?  Then they could run it as much as they want, maybe even all the time, and it really could be a landmark. 

What’s that?  Oh, I see, it’s not that good for business…

Perhaps they’re somewhat overstating the economic impact of the fountain.  Look, I’ve been living here since 1979, and in all that time I’ve been to the fountain exactly twice.  And the only time we have ever spent money in Fountain Hills has been at the McDonalds on Shea, right there by the Beeline highway.  Now that was a smart business decision. 

Let’s face it:  only in Arizona would we think that people will come from far and wide to see water spew into up into the sky and then watch it come down again.  There’s a reason why competitive fountain-building is such a lonely sport.  It’s because no one else cares.  It’s water.  For most places, water is as common as clouds, or wet sidewalks.  Trust me, nobody’s sitting in a cafĂ© in Boston, Chicago, or Seattle, talking with a friend about how they just have to get out to Arizona to see the most excessive display of needless water propulsion in the country.