Monday, April 30, 2007

"...And Pearls Before Swine"

I’m not sure why I take such delight in put-down lines, but I somehow find them a guilty pleasure, especially when deserved. I was thinking yesterday of the wonderful, long-running feud between Claire Booth Luce and Dorothy Parker. No one did put-downs better than Dorothy, and I sometimes felt a bit sorry for poor Claire. I’m sure you’re familiar with most of them, but I hope you’ll agree they deserve repeating.

Arriving at the same function at the same time, Claire and Dorothy met at the door. Claire stopped short at the door and with a regal gesture, indicated Dorothy should enter first. “Age before Beauty,” Claire said. “And pearls before swine,” Dorothy replied sweetly, as she swept past Claire and through the door.

Defending Claire, an acquaintance observed to Dorothy: “But you must admit, Dorothy, that Claire is always very kind to her inferiors.” To which Dorothy replied: “Wherever does she find them?”

I’m not certain this one is attributable to Dorothy or not, but it sounds like her. “You know,” a friend remarked, “sometimes Claire is her own worst enemy.” To which Dorothy said: “Not as long as I’m alive.”

There are some memorable movie put-downs as well. Groucho Marx often used the regal Margaret Dumont as a foil. I can’t recall the movie, but at one point Margaret says, in a huff: “I’ve never been so insulted in my entire life!” And Groucho replies: “Oh, you must have been!”

And I know I have referenced this classic from the movie The Man Who Came to Dinner in which Monty Wooley’s character is greeted with the line: “At the risk of being swept away in mountainous waves of self pity, how are you?”

And the classic exchange between George Bernard Shaw and Winston Churchill when Shaw sent Churchill two tickets to the opening of his new play with the note: “Do bring a friend, if you have one.” Churchill returned the tickets with a note: “Sorry I can’t make the opening, but would like to exchange these for the second night’s performance, if there is one.”

I was in a bar with friends in L.A. when someone came up to one of our group with pick-up definitely in mind, and said: “I think I went to school with your sister,” and my friend replied, innocently: “But I don’t have an older sister.”

Along the same lines (as it were) the classic response to the old saw: “Where have you been all my life?” The response: “Well, for most of it I wasn’t born yet.”

The young preacher approached after his first sermon by a little old lady who asks: “Has anyone ever told you you were absolutely wonderful?” Flattered, the minister replies; “Why, no.” And she responds: “Then wherever did you get the idea?”

Ah, there are a ton of ‘em.

New entries are posted every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Puck Was Right

I don’t know…it has to be a missing “comprehension” gene in my DNA. Other people glide so easily through life, fully aware and accepting of everything that goes on. They are never confused. They accept things which strike me as sheer idiocy at best or totally incomprehensible at worst. Shakespeare had it right when he had Puck say: “What fools these mortals be.” And Shakespeare lived long before the advent of cyberspace, the cell phone, and George W. Bush.

I am truly sincere when I say I simply cannot understand so many, many things. I see that Prince William may have broken up with his girlfriend, which apparently sent tsunamis of shock and deep concern across the face of the earth. And they have at last (oh, thank GOD! determined the father of Anna Nicole Smith (...who?)’s baby. And Brad and Angelina are adopting their 45th third-world baby (apparently there are not enough orphans in the United States)! Singing and dancing in the streets!! And what about them Bears? Did you see last week’s Big Game? I mean, like, wow!!! But my question is always the same: how could anyone not a friend or relative of these people possibly, possibly care?

Canned cat food comes in gourmet flavors (“Sliced Roast Guinea Hen in a delicious Bernaise sauce”), and people stand in line to shell out good money to buy it. They’re cats, people! They eat mice, for Pete’s sake! Do you really think they care? I recently saw a news item (I swear, it was a news item!) on people who pay $3,000 to have their cats painted in designer patterns and colors. Of course, the paint job only lasts a couple months, but it’s so...well, just precious!! And these people taking Fluffy in for a $3,000 touch-up may have to step over 20 homeless people to get to the paint shop, but who cares? And that is the Question of Questions: Who cares?

I have for the past three years been getting vital email messages from a number of people of whom I have never heard, let alone met, who apparently consider themselves my dear friends and therefore entitled to intrude themselves into my life. They are constantly informing me of astounding advances in medical science designed to improve my sex life (“Make your girl scream for more!” “We cure all disease!”) You’d think after three years of my hitting “Delete Spam” they might get the idea. If they don’t know by now I’m gay—perhaps they’re just in denial—and that I somehow doubt that they can cure a belch, I can’t help but question the true basis for our relationship.

Whenever I sign on to something on the net, I must approve the conditions of membership, which generally consist of a five-minute scroll down page after page of legalese to which I will be bound should I hit the “I Agree” button. I am considering starting a website and doing something similar, and slipping in a line somewhere: “I agree to give up my firstborn child or, having no children, to turn over the entire contents of my bank account (including savings accounts, CDs, IRAs, contents of any piggy banks in my possession, etc.). Perhaps that is already in those “I Agree” contracts I’ve already signed. Who would know?

I do not comprehend why we are sheep. Why, when served cold food in a restaurant, we do not send it back? Why, when we are treated with utter contempt by some petty civil servant, we do not demand to speak to a supervisor then and there and, while doing so, demand the name and addresses of the supervisor’s supervisor. We are so often taken advantage of because we let ourselves be taken advantage of, and if that is the case, then we deserve what we get.

I have not run out of material for this subject, you can be sure…just out of space for now. I’ll be back.

New entries are posted every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

A Proud Day

On April 16, 33 people died in glorious defense of the inalienable right of every citizen to bear arms: a truly proud day for the NRA...I’m sure their offices will be flooded with new membership applications.

But I have one small two-part question: having heard over and over and over again that every decent, God fearing American must be able to defend him/herself—which I find hard to dispute—my question is this: 1) of the 30,242 people who died of gun-related deaths in the United States in 2004 (the last posted figures) how many of them were the result of decent, God-fearing Americans defending themselves and/or their families, and how many were victims of deranged individuals with a grudge; and 2) is the ratio defensible...and if so, how? The “well, criminals could still get guns” defense strikes me as a rather petulant and weak rationale.

In a classic case of the sum being greater than its parts, the vast bulk of individual members of the NRA are indeed decent, God-fearing people. It’s not them we have to be concerned about: it’s the fact that the NRA as an organization also implicitly protects the rights of those who take advantage of this same “inalienable” right to wreak their form of vengeance upon others.

This is a very short entry, and I am sure only one of thousands of blogs addressing the massacre, but I would very much appreciate it if you could ponder my questions and get back to me with an answer I can understand.

In the meantime, Charleston Heston, poster boy for the NRA, has said he will give up his gun only after it is pried from his cold, dead hands. I will happily volunteer for that job.

New entries are posted every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Cheating, Sort of...

When I went to post today’s blog, I discovered that I didn’t have one. I normally do it the day before, but things have been a bit hectic of late—which, knowing me, I’ll probably touch on in a future blog. So, with your permission and indulgence, I’d like to post an entry from my Navy-letters blog, A World Ago (, recounting an incident I still remeber vividly from my Naval Aviation Cadet days. If you’ve already read it, I apologize for the duplication. But if you haven’t, I would hope it might pique your interest in going back in time with me. To start with the first letter, you'll have to scroll back through the "Archives" option, but I hope you might find it worth the effort.

I promise to have a new entry next time, and as always appreciate your bearing with me.

16 May 1955

Dear Folks

I awoke this morning at about five o’clock and, though it was really too dark outside to tell, decided that we weren’t going to fly today. It seemed as though I had been sleeping for several years, and had full intentions of sleeping several more. At five forty-five, though, I forced myself out of bed, got dressed, folded my bedding (I haven’t made my bed since pre-flight), washed, & straightened up my room, which always seems to be in a state of high disorder. By morning formation, at six thirty, the clouds covered about nine-tenths of the sky, but there were still some hopeful-looking holes.

Dual hops were sent out on schedule at seven-thirty, although they held solos on the ground. By eight, the western sky (where we do most of our flying) was getting ominously dark. Mother Corry began getting anxious, & called her chicks home. I stood outside the hanger and watched the little yellow J’s running home, chased by dull, flat-bottomed clouds. As soon as the planes landed, they were tied securely down, and the wind started blowing. On the horizon I could see the rain, a grey curtain hanging beneath the clouds. Finally the rain came, very undramatically, & it has been drooling monotonously ever since. Everyone is sitting around the hanger waiting for the magic words “Secure from flight operations.”

Friday was what I consider a beautiful day for flying. I went out on a solo first thing in the morning—the sky was full of huge, billowing clouds that reminded me of mountains of whip cream. We aren’t allowed to fly through them, or even get within five hundred feet of them, but it is fun to know that you could, if you wanted to . I like to dive down toward them & then pull out & skim over them. Also it’s fun to go behind the clouds, to see what’s there. Friday I found a clear spot, like a valley in mountains, completely surrounded by huge puffs of clouds. I played around, doing my acrobatics, all by myself and having a wonderful time.

On the radio, which solo students must have turned up all the time, I kept hearing someone calling the tower at Corry: “Corry Tower, this is Charlie Baker 302 (CB are on all our planes): I am on a B2 solo and would like to know if Magnolia Field is open for Corry planes.” Magnolia Field is one of our small outlying surfaced fields, usually used only by Barin Field students, but one of the fields we always use, Summerdale, is being resurfaced, & we’d been allowed to use Magnolia in the afternoon while they worked on Summerdale. B2 students are on their very earliest solos—their second, in fact (A20 is their first—B1 is a dual, & B2 is the second solo). He kept calling & calling the tower, which evidently didn’t hear him, for it never answered. Finally he shut up, and about two minutes later, someone called “Crash! Crash! Crash! Plane down one mile southwest of Magnolia Field.” I thought “Oh, oh….” I was sure it as the poor little guy who couldn’t get the tower.

Although you aren’t supposed to go near the scene of an accident lest you get in the way of rescue operations, I headed toward Magnolia, flying down alleys & corridors between the clouds. On the way, I was kept busy listening to the radio—the crash crew from Magnolia had reached the scene…the plane was completely demolished, in at least twelve pieces…they had not yet removed the pilot…Search and Rescue had launched a helicopter from Corry Field….no word yet on the pilot’s condition….

By this time I was in sight of the field. It is a fairly large field, with four runways, arranged so that, from the air, it looks like an arrow pointing to the south. They were using the Southwest/Northeast runway, taking off toward the Southwest & Mobile Bay.

Very close to the end of the S/w runway are a large grove of trees, and beyond them, plowed fields. I had used that runway the day before, & several times just missed the trees while taking off. This guy had evidently hit the trees and crashed into the plowed field beyond. I got close enough to see the crash truck and several cars around, and the tail section of the plane lying on its side, sticking up into the air. I didn’t want to get too close & have them take my number, so I headed back to Corry in a light rain shower. On the way back I learned that it hadn’t been my radio friend but some O.I. from Barin. He wasn’t killed—just broke his hip, several ribs, an arm or two, & severe lacerations. Incidentally, it was Friday the 13th.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


I’ve always loved Shelley’s poem, ‘Ozymandius’. The very name conveys power and authority with a strong undercurrent of threat and menace.

And for some reason, I associate this concept of ominous threat with “political correctness” which is slowly but surely taking over our world, righteously stomping out any vestige of variation from what is considered (by whom I’ve never been sure) “acceptable”.

Like many things that get totally out of control, the basic idea behind political correctness is a good one: we should be aware of what we’re saying before we say it, and we should always be conscious of the feelings of others. But good Lord! It’s reached the point where no one can say anything without bringing down the ire of some group or another.

The recent brouhaha over radio show host Don Imus is a perfect example of the totally inane overreaction to an admittedly stupid comment. So it was stupid. So he acknowledged that it was stupid. So he apologized. And apologized. And apologized. Enough, already! Let it go! What do these people want: a public beheading?

What should dictate a response to a comment someone finds offensive is the speaker’s intent. I don’t like being called a “fag”, but if I’m sure the person using it doesn’t mean it in a derogatory way, it may still rankle a bit, but I can just let it go. I might even go so far as to let the user know that it might hurt some people. But I certainly wouldn’t demand his or her head on a platter.

I find the lyrics (if an unending string of explicatives can be considered lyrics) of a great portion of today’s popular music to be deeply offensive. Many of those who have dared to speak in Mr. Imus’ defense have pointed out that African American (Politically correct. Not “black” and definitely not “negro”) rap “artists” use the most derogatory filth when referring to women. But that’s okay. Somehow that slips under the P.C. radar. There is the odd double standard that I can call another gay man a “fag”, or an African American (sigh) can call another a “nigger” without being subject to attack, on the basis that “well, I am one, so I can say the word.” Bulls...t (to say “bullshit” would not be politically correct)!

Just consider for a moment the ridiculous lengths to which P.C. has already taken us. When’s the last time you heard Stephen Foster’s classic Amerian folk song “Old Black Joe”? Exactly what was derogatory in its message? No matter. Ban it!.

Did the children’s story “Little Black Sambo” have a strong message that this little boy was inferior to anyone else because of his being black? Of course not. But can you find a copy in any bookstore today? Of course not. Perhaps it was the powerful Defenders of Tigers League which objected to the tiger turning into a stack of pancakes. Well, that would certainly incur my righteous wrath.

What happened to the Irish jokes? And the Polish jokes? Oooooooooooooohhhh, we mustn’t demean the Irish and the Polish! The fact is that to forbid anyone from telling an ethnic joke is a perverse form of intolerance in itself. The implication is clearly that the sensibilities of Irish, for example, are obviously too fragile to withstand the blazing hatred clearly evident in a story about Paddy walking into a bar.

Political correctness is a form of blatant Puritism, which has done this country and our culture incalculable harm. And we all just sit back and let it happen.

Awareness and intent! Awareness and intent! That’s the key, and we’d better start replacing “political correctness” with those two simple concepts before we reach the rapidly-approaching point where no one dare say anything about anything.

But just as Shelley’s poem underscores the ultimate pointlessness of assuming that authority and control will last forever, I trust that one day common sense will prevail, and “political correctness” will be like those two “trunkless legs of stone” standing in the desert.

My name is Ozymandius, King of Kings. Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!

New entries are posted every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007


A friend asked the other day why I am so obsessed with writing. “Life’s getting shorter every day; you shouldn’t spend all your time writing.”

Actually, that is exactly why I spend so much time writing. Fervently as I hope and much as I may want and intend to live forever, I realize it is unlikely in the extreme, and that some day I will no longer be here physically. And on the same general principle as squirrels tucking away nuts for the coming winter, I want to leave as much of me as I possibly can behind.

The subject of one’s own mortality is one I sometimes believe the human mind is really incapable of fully understanding or even recognizing, and the thought of knowing when you are going to die is one I simply cannot grasp. Yet I’m not and never have been afraid of death itself; it’s the idea that there will come a time when I am no longer able to dream, or write, or get angry over petty little things, or talk with friends, or laugh, that truly shakes me. I grieve for that time, and for myself.

So, like Dr. Frankenstein, I have set out to keep alive, through my writing, as many bits and pieces of those non corporeal things that make up who I am. I want to keep reaching out to others, just as I am reaching out to you now, long after I’ve returned to that eternal nothingness that was interrupted only briefly by my existence.

It’s all summed up in a poem you might already have seen, but because it is so germaine to the subject at hand, I’ll repeat here.

Words as Amber

The need to write; the will, the drive
to leave some proof I was alive
for future years—so they may know
I once was here, and loath to go.

A face caught in a photograph;
a tombstone’s faded epitaph
are all that most men leave behind
no hint of soul, or heart, or mind.

They live awhile in memories
till those who knew them also cease
and go the way of those before,
to be remembered nevermore.

If I believed in heaven, then
it might not matter if or when
others might know that I was here;
like them felt joy and pain and fear.

But words are amber: caught within,
the essence not contained by skin;
to read mine is a gift you give,
for when you do, once more I’ll live.

New entries are posted every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back.