Monday, January 29, 2007

The Parlous State of Our Nation's Highways: An Update

Perhaps there is some hope for our Great Democratic Experiment after all.

I came home from work this afternoon to find a handwritten note in the mailbox, on the stationery of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors. It was from Supervisor Sally Kurtz, who represents the Catoctin District on the board.

It was, of course, in response to my vengeful screed from a few weeks ago, in which I spoke bitterness about the awful design and dreadfully vague and inadequate signage
surrounding a newly reconfigured intersection in my town -- an intersection that I and several others unthinkingly blasted through on the morning of its unveiling, to the consternation of the local gendarme.

In her note, Ms. Kurtz supplied her home phone number -- her home phone number, folks! -- and asked me to please give her a call at my convenience. And so, with a few samples of my freshly acquired collection of early 21st-century Percocets beginning to make their life-sustaining ministration to my ravaged and grateful central nervous system, that is what I did.

Ms Kurtz, a funny and very amiable person, clearly has had her patience with the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) tested to the breaking point. This county -- for the last ten years and until the recent housing bust consistently rated one of the fastest-growing in the country -- has had its fair share of nightmarishly snarled traffic. She informed me that she has set up a meeting with our local VDOT District Engineer to discuss not only the intersection that brought me into conflict with the Heat, but also several other cases of inconsistent and vague signage -- including one in which some people were killed in an accident some miles from here. My letter, she said, would feature prominently in that conversation.

Supervisor Sally Kurtz: My Kinda Politician.

Fascinatingly, the mail brought another letter, this one from the Office of the Governor of Virginia, over the signature of the Secretary of Transportation. The nub of the thing was that VDOT had reviewed the design of the intersection -- created, apparently, by a local developer and not by VDOT itself -- and had concluded that it was "of a quality acceptable to VDOT." Apparently, the safety of the intersection had already been brought to VDOT's attention, and "as a result, additional signs were installed, pavement markings were modified, and a variable message board was added." (The variable message board, the Secretary did not go on to say, was removed after a couple of weeks.)

"These changes," the doughty Secretary concludes, "should eliminate any safety concerns."

I love the wording of that. The changes may or may not improve the actual safety of the intersection -- only time will tell if they do -- but boy howdy do they eliminate my concerns.

The Secretary concludes, "It is a difficult balance to provide motorists with information about a traffic pattern change and keep it concise enough to be understood as traffic moves at various speeds along a highway." I would like to engrave these words on a brushed-aluminum plaque and post it prominently at the entrance to every reputable industrial-design school in the world. It's a wretched surrender, an abject admission of defeat, to a simple problem of design. A second-year student of Human Factors Engineering could find a way to advise motorists, in clear and absolutely unambiguous visual language, of traffic changes ahead. It is a despicable capitulation, a rank failure of imagination.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Pain

In exactly one week plus a few hours, my body is going to be disassembled.

Oh, they'll put it back together again, no doubt, perhaps even in the right configuration. But in place of a failing left hip, I will have a titanium femoral ball connected to a long spike driven deep into the barrel of my femur. The ball will rest in a metal cup that's screwed into my pelvis, which will have been routed out to accept it.

In order to get at this peccant part of my anatomy, the leg will have to be -- there's no delicate way to put it -- taken off. Disconnected. Dissected. A large incision, some eight to ten inches long, will be made in my ass and thigh, muscles will be parted from their moorings, tendons and ligaments snipped, and the leg dislocated in a mighty heave that no doubt will require the amassed strength of every man-jack in the operating theater.

I picture my anesthetized body lying supine on the operating table, my leg cocked off at some bizarre and unnatural angle that it was never meant to describe, the ball-end of the femur exposed to air it's never met before, and to the surgeons' carpentry tools. Like a well-roasted chicken, I imagine, the drumstick-bone poking out through lacerated dark meat.

That I have agreed to allow this drawing-and-quartering of my body, and this sawing and chiseling of my skeleton, is a measure of what I'm willing to do to make pain go away. I had an operation back in June to try to save the hip, and since August I've taken two Voltarens a day to keep the inflammation down. For the most part, the drug had its effect, allowing me to function in a more or less normal way, as long as I took it easy and walked with a cane. Every once in a while I'd forget to take a pill, and the returning inflammation would remind me, like taking a rolled-up newspaper to a naughty puppy, just how thin is the line of chemistry that stands between me and serious agony.

Now, with surgery a week off, the doctor has ordered me to stop taking any sort of analgesic that might interfere with coagulation, and once again the pain is returning like a freight train. Sitting, standing, lying, walking, each presents its own unique little punishments. Through a stupid series of miscommunications, I wasn't able to get a prescription for Vicodin this weekend, and right at the moment I'm one sore naughty puppy.

Pain makes you withdraw from the world, and I'm very angry at it for that. I'd have loved to have gone to the antiwar demo down at the Mall this weekend, but even a leisurely walk around the Capitol with some like-minded enthusiasts would have felled me like an ox. I don't walk the dogs. I don't roller-blade, my once and (D.V.) future favorite pastime. I don't hike my mountain. Many things have been taken from me by pain.

I want them back. God damn it.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

NewCritics

Over at NewCritics (which I've added to the ol' Blogroll, along with a link to the John Crowe Ransom MySpace page) I've posted an appreciation -- a way of avoiding saying "a good long wallow in amateur humor-analysis" -- of a B. Kliban cartoon that nearly caused me to wet trou in that halcyon year 1975.

Friday, January 19, 2007

In Loving Memory

Since I've been soaking in all this death lately, I've been giving thought to preparations for my own demise. In particular, I've been pondering a good epitaph for my gravestone. For many years, I'd wanted "Little. Yellow. Different. Better." but it occurs that that might not age too well.

I think I've settled on a better one:

Here Lies
Neddie Jingo
1960 - 20XX

What the hell was all that about?

Off to revise my will...

Arlington


We buried CDR C. Chase Porter, USN (Ret., Greatest Generation) yesterday. Arlington National Cemetery. Military honors. He now lies next to his wife Dorothy, who died years ago.

It was an utterly lovely ceremony. They really lay the Nation's Heroes to rest in style. The funeral cortege was met by six sailors in impeccable peacoats and Dixie Cup caps. As we emerged from our cars, these men began the most amazingly formalized... I think dance would probably not be a word they'd approve, but that's the thing it most closely resembled to this civilian. Not a movement did they make that wasn't accompanied by some ornate flourish of hand or knee or ankle, motions of ceremonial, formalized theatricality, all of course in absolutely perfect martial unison. I was utterly transfixed by these flourishes -- which, I think, is their intended effect.

They formed two rows of three, crowhopped into formation an arm's length apart, surrounded Chase's coffin and, with glacial deliberation, carried it to the gravesite and laid it carefully, reverently, on the bier, suspended over the grave. They then began another stanza of the dance, this one centered on the flag that draped the coffin. Their hands and elbows began extremely slow, deliberate movements that were punctuated by snaps of sudden, violent motion, accompanied by more theatrical gesticulations. Military Kabuki.

They stood with the flag suspended between them over the coffin. The chaplain, a gentle, kind-looking soul, made a few tailored remarks, and recited the 23rd Psalm, which even to an old reprobate existentialist like myself is a mighty powerful bit of poetry: "...Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever."

We stood for Military Honors. I noticed off in the distance, perhaps fifty yards off, a Naval detachment that I at first thought was on some other task. But no: "Aim! Fire!" Seven rifles reported. "Aim! Fire!" Seven more. "Aim! Fire!" The last cracks reverberated into the distance, and a bugler, a similar distance away in the other direction, played "Taps."

At this point, there wasn't a dry eye graveside -- my own certainly not excluded.

More Military Kabuki: The flag is folded into its triangular shape. The sailors look as though they're playing an incredibly ornate, formal game of Cat's Cradle, their arms interweaving in their martial, snapping dance. The flag, now in its tightly packed, lovingly folded bundle, is now presented to my sister-in-law -- and the dance is over.

We walked slowly back to our cars, in varying states of bewilderment, grief, relief. I looked at the graceful, rolling Arlington hills, covered with their precisely planted white rows of stones, thought about how many times, how many hundreds of thousands of times, this tightly scripted piece of theater had been played in this place, how much raw grief, like torn flesh, had spilled in this place. Ours was a mellow grief; Chase lived a long and full life after his military service, raised a family, enjoyed his grandchildren. But on our slow walk out, as I conversed lightly with the chaplain, he gestured toward another part of the graveyard not far off, nearer the river, only half filled with stones, and said simply, "The Iraq fallen are over there."

I can't even begin to imagine the anguish that ground has seen.

Monday, January 15, 2007

A History-Mystery!

Remember this thing?

David Mull's chimney-stack, built sometime between 1759 and 1775. It sits at the southeast corner of my lot. Part of my house was built with the logs that were taken from this one-room log cabin and moved uphill in the 1870s, perhaps when the stream it sat next to dried up, or when the ground became marshy:


Just to the southeast of that chimney-stack runs a stone wall, which I believe (from the will of Mull's son, also named David) dates to about 1812, when the younger David died and divided his land up among his sons and daughters. Here's part of it:



Now, if you follow that wall to the south, you come to the corner of my lot. (You'd better do it in January, because if you try it in July, the dense undergrowth will make you one sorry and scratched-up hombre.) When I first tried this, a couple of years ago, I was rather surprised to find a gate at the southeast corner.

I was surprised because, at first glance, there's absolutely no need for this gate to exist at all. None whatever. It doesn't open out to a road, and it would appear to the casual eye that it would have simply led one into an empty lot -- one that has never been developed, as far as my researches have shown.

Here's one of the gateposts. Wonder Woman is examining the other:



Now, it can't be that old: Unfinished wood just doesn't last that long out in the forest, unprotected from the elements. But look at it carefully: It doesn't look manufactured. I would guess that a modern, milled post wouldn't have open mortises that have to be closed by a clapped-to second piece of lumber; I would think that a gatepost like that, if modern, would have those mortises mechanically routed through the center of the main piece for strength and durability.

I think it's handmade, in other words. And older than -- well, certainly older than me.

And it's a tantalizing hint that there are ghost-roads around here that we can no longer see.

Here's a rough, not-to-scale map of the relevant section of my lot:



The road marked "Modern" in this map is actually very old indeed; we have indications that it might be Payne's Ferry Road, built in the 1740s. It leads down to the Potomac, and for some part of its life actually went all the way to Harpers Ferry. "Modern," in this case, means still in use.

I can't eliminate from my mind the question, Why does that gate exist? When did it stop being used? What was it used for? How was this land configured and used before it stopped being farmed? When, for that matter, did it stop being farmed?

For a hint on that last question, here's a photo looking back through the gate toward the cabin:



There are many extremely mature hardwoods directly in the path that connects the old cabin and the gate; they've got to be more than 100 years old. Another data-point: The stone wall is quite clearly finished on either side of that gate, meaning that the gate itself was always intended to be there, from the date of the erection of the wall.

My belief (I guess you'd call it a hypothesis) is that that gate was the main entrance for this homestead, and access to the house through what is marked on my map as the "modern driveway" began in the 1870s, when the original homesite was abandoned and the house moved uphill. The former "driveway" (for lack of a better word) went through that gate and along the east wall.

But that demands an answer for an extremely tantalizing question: Why there? Why would you build the main entrance to your homestead where there doesn't appear to ever have been a road?

The answer, of course, is that a road once was there! Some 100 yards or so from that gate is the old Ebenezer Church Road, which is still visible in spots where it goes up and over Short Hill. I'd bet any amount of money that the 1812 directions to what would eventually become Jingo Acres went, "Pass Jacob Virts' place, and hang a right when the road starts to go uphill."

Here's about where you'd have taken that right:


So: What I need to know is, How old are those fence-posts? Short of, I dunno, carbon-dating them, I have no scientific way of knowing. I know that different kinds of wood decay at different rates, and the fact that the posts have stood upright rather than lying horizontal may very well have contributed to their longevity. But the answer to that question would tell me a great deal about what I want to know about my home's shadowy past.

Later Edit: Some of you asked about the nails and other hardware holding the parts of the post together. Here's another view, taken from the outside angle, that shows the hardware a bit better:


The nails are round-headed, galvanized (? at least not rusted through) and pretty clearly modern. The wire is also still pretty robust, but interestingly, the staples holding the wire in place are very rusted and nearly crumbling.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Bunny Man: Ned Ludd of the Exurbs

This morning a friend, citing my near-pathological loathing of the exurbs mushrooming in the farthest reaches of the Washington metro area, sent me a link to a truly strange and compelling story.

There exists among the schoolchildren of the Washington area the urban legend of The Bunny Man. It tells of a deranged killer who escaped long ago from a local mental institution; this person's particular mania manifested itself first as an obsession with rabbits -- locals reported finding hundreds of butchered and skinned rabbit carcasses -- and later with the adoption of a bunny-rabbit costume, worn while wreaking murderous havoc among, oh, you name it: lovers parked in cars, children lost in the woods, solitary motorists -- the usual urban-legend fare. His ghost is confidently reported to return every Halloween night to a certain bridge between Clifton and Fairfax Station his foul murders to perform -- making the bridge, naturally, a favorite "I-dare-you" spot for intrepid local teens.

I hadn't ever heard this legend -- though born on K Street, I grew up far from here and spent only brief periods here during my years of susceptibility to urban legends. However, this afternoon I mentioned this story to a young designer I work with, and he immediately knew what I was talking about: "Oh! That's the Bunny Man. Everybody who grew up here knows that one!"

A local librarian, Fairfax County Public Library Historian-Archivist Brian A. Conley, decided to investigate this legend and see if he couldn't find a source for it. The link my friend sent me this morning is the story of his investigation.

I'll spare you the details of the librarian's story (you can read the whole thing here -- and trust me, it's a fascinating one), save to say that he did trace the legend to a pair of reports that appeared in the Washington Post in October of 1970. In the first story, a man in a bunny costume appeared out of nowhere on Guinea Road in Fairfax, accused the car's occupants of trespass, and heaved a hatchet through the car window. No one was harmed. The second story states:
A man wearing a furry rabbit suit with two long ears appeared — again — on Guinea Road in Fairfax County Thursday night, police reported, this time wielding an ax and chopping away at a roof support on a new house....

Thursday night's rabbit, wearing a suit described as gray, black and white, was spotted a block away [from the location of the first incident] at 5307 Guinea Rd.

Paul Phillips, a private security guard for a construction company, said he saw the "rabbit" standing on the front porch of a new, but unoccupied house.

"I started talking to him," Phillips said, "and that's when he started chopping."

"All you people trespass around here," Phillips said the "Rabbit" told him as he whacked eight gashes in the pole. "If you don't get out of here, I'm going to bust you on the head."

Phillips said he walked back to his car to get to get his handgun, but the "Rabbit", carrying the long-handled ax, ran off into the woods.
And an Urban Legend is born...

While investigating these incidents, a county investigator was told that someone who worked at a development company had received an irate phone call from someone calling himself "the Axe Man." The Axe Man had said, "You have been messing up my property, by dumping tree stumps, limbs and brush, and other things on the property."

Look at one detail of the second story: The house the Bunny Man chopped at was new but unoccupied. Before the Second World War, Fairfax County largely resembled where I live now: Rural, sleepy, bucolic. I remember seeing a 1930s photograph of Tysons Corner -- the intersection of Chain Bridge Road and Lee Highway -- and it was... a gas station. After WWII, developers began to make inroads into the county to build homes for the hundreds of thousands of government workers who served the newly exponentially larger postwar federal government and its attendant Military-Industrial Complex. Tysons Corner is now a gigantic, hideous miles-wide morass of concrete and glass, and is home to two of the world's largest shopping malls.

The investigating librarian concludes:
Who was the Bunny Man, and what was he trying to accomplish? Sadly, we will likely never know his identity. Likewise his true motivations are known only to himself, but there are a few clues contained in the foregoing sources. On October 18 the Bunny Man accused Robert Bennett of trespassing. On October 29 the Bunny Man told security guard Paul Phillips that "You all trespass around here," and on November 4, the self-styled "Axe Man" accused the unnamed representative of Kings Park West Subdivision of dumping debris on his property. If we assume that all three incidents involved the same individual, then it appears that this young man was disturbed by the development of the area. Said development was extensive in 1970, too....

Being forced to watch helplessly while the face of your community changes around you can elicit strange behavior in some people.
And how!

Anybody have a bunny costume lying around you're not using?

(Concise summary of the Bunny Man Legend at Wikipedia)

Monday, January 08, 2007

Ah, But I Was So Much Older Then

From The Rocking Vicar: The earliest known (1851) photo of Bob Dylan.

Bad Shit

On my most pessimistic days, I can't scotch the dread that Seriously Bad Shit's a-Comin'.

I used to be able to pooh-pooh myself out of the idea -- just the usual, residual Former Doper Paranoia -- but I admit that occasionally the whole Global Warming/Fundy Nutjob/Peak Oil/Protofascist Right Wing/Loony Jihadist/Incredibly Stupid President ball of wax just jumbles all together in my poor little head and I just can't avoid the fear that we're headed pell-mell for a long, slow-rolling Katrina that leaves us all foundering in shit.

Saturday's balmy 75-degree weather played on the evening news like it was the greatest midwinter gift anybody's ever had. People out biking and sunbathing and marveling at the budding blossoms fooled into emerging. Me, I was quaking in fear all day. Absolutely immobilized, horrified. Yeah, yeah, I know, El NiƱo, not Global Warming, blah blah. Didn't stop me from fantasizing the complete and utter destruction of the hardwood forest on Short Hill. Didn't stop me from picturing palm trees in Purcellville. Polar bears dying on melting ice blocks in the ocean. Maniac religious cults, maddened from hunger and boredom, roaming my road looking for people to either convert or kill-- doesn't make much difference to them.

It says something about the times we live in when an unusually warm day in January can trigger that kind of panic.

Then I go and read this interview with Chris Hedges, author of the newly published American Fascists. Hedges, the former NYT bureau chief in the Middle East and the Balkans, knows as well as anybody the warning signs of Bad Shit. And he's not afraid, not too polite, to call a Fascist a Fascist. He describes the interior emptiness that drives people to its dubious comforts:
For me, the engine of the [Christian Fascist] movement is deep economic and personal despair. A terrible distortion and deformation of American society, where tens of millions of people in this country feel completely disenfranchised, where their physical communities have been obliterated, whether that's in the Rust Belt in Ohio or these monstrous exurbs like Orange County, where there is no community. There are no community rituals, no community centers, often there are no sidewalks. People live in empty soulless houses and drive big empty cars on freeways to Los Angeles and sit in vast offices and then come home again.
Jesus. There it is. Ashburn, Virginia. Mile after mile after mile of enormous, piss-elegant houses on a nightmare labyrinth of endlessly recursive streets, each one of them with three or four gargantuan flat-panel TVs spewing endless crap at the inhabitants.

I know that emptiness, dig? I fear that emptiness. I work hard to fill that emptiness with music and books and writing and loving and working. I understand how that yawning, unfilled nothing might lead you conclude that Jesus talks though your TV set, telling you to kill atheists, Muslims and fags. I've felt it. Driving through Ashburn, it shrieks at you from every phony brick facade, from every molecule of oil-depleting vinyl that wraps these thousands of hideous fuckboxes.

Just one economic bad patch, one big layoff at AOL or Verizon, one upward tweak of the interest rate on their jive-ass "creative" mortgages, one year of $10/gallon gas, one son or daughter killed in Iraq, one terrorist attack on the scale of 9/11, one natural disaster -- and that's all she wrote. It's off to the MegaChurch, the only thing that provides any explanation that doesn't consist of "You bought that fuckin' huge house and those three SUVs and the jetski and the eight cellphones and the Sybian, asshole. Live with the consequences."

Hedges explains the appeal of Christofascism:
This is a world of magic and signs and miracles and wonders, and [on the other side] is the world you hate, the liberal society that has shunted you aside and thrust you into despair. The rage that is directed at those who go after the movement is the rage of those who fear deeply being pushed back into this despair, from which many of the people I interviewed feel they barely escaped. A lot of people talked about suicide attempts or thoughts of suicide -- these people really reached horrific levels of desperation. And now they believe that Jesus has a plan for them and intervenes in their life every day to protect them, and they can't give that up.
I'm getting that book.

Oh, and Jim Kunstler is a real cheerer-upper today, too.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Placidyl


I had an unfortunate run-in with a series of kidney-stones back in the early Aughts. The first one, easily the worst and most painful, stayed with me for a couple of weeks before it could be sand-blasted out of my ureter by a surgeon. I've not had one since, owing to some easy dietary restrictions -- no more than a pound of Cheddar cheese at one sitting, simple stuff like that.

The pain from those things is utterly spectacular. I'm not about to try to compare it to childbirth, an experience I've never undergone, but you fellas will get this: Take the pain from getting a seriously good, solid, expert kick to the nuts -- with its attendant nausea, vomiting, rolling on the ground, etc. -- and move it a few inches north, into your lower back. Now imagine that that pain will not recede, as a ball-shot will, and that you know that it will be with you for hours, days -- basically, until you can get to an emergency room and the sweet, sweet relief of Sister Demerol.

Just to function in that kind of pain, you need vvbvgbvbvc w

(Sorry, I'll start that again. I'm eating a bowl of chili as I type this, and some just went down the wrong pipe and came up again, spraying all over my keyboard, which just went from ordinary finger-goo gross to Oh, my God! You regularly touch that thing? That was me, dabbing a napkin betwen the V and the B keys to fish out a chunk of kidney bean... Now, where was I?)

Just to function in that kind of pain, you need some major help in the opiates department. The urologist gave me some of the Heavy Gear they regularly shoot each other for in the streets of Des Moines. I was to take it whenever the pain threatened to come back.

Soon thereafter, I was back at work, and the phone rang. A technical developer asked me to swing by his desk to discuss a design wrinkle. As I walked down the hall, I began to feel Seriously Strange. No bats hanging from the ceiling, no Yellow Submarines floating by, but I felt extremely dislocated in time, and I was completely disconnected from my feet. I simply floated along. I reached my colleague's desk, and he began to ask his question. I stood by him, watching his head undulating in my vision, listening to his voice bubbling up from underwater, watching his hands point to things on his computer monitor, and finally becoming aware that he had stopped talking and was looking at me expectantly, waiting for my answer.

I realized I hadn't heard a single goddamned word he'd said.

"I'm sorry, Dave," I mumbled. "I can't answer your question right now. I am way too fuckin' stoned." I went back to my desk, explained my problem to my supervisor, and went and lay down on the floor of my pod until the worst of the seasick, dizzy, overnarcotized feeling went away.

What I had done, in effect, was recuse myself from responsibility, recognizing that, in my lotus-eater's reverie, I was unable to make proper decisions. No shame in it; I was only doing what my physician had told me to do. The shit got on top of me. Then it wore off. Drugs do that.

Apparently this wisdom was not with Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist during the years 1971-82. During this time, in which Rehnquist was addicted to a powerful (albeit nonnarcotic) sleep drug called Placidyl (what evocative names these potions have!) the court ruled on abortion in Roe vs. Wade, on obscenity in Miller vs. California, capital punishment in Furman vs. Georgia, and perhaps most historically, on whether the President of the United States is above the law in United States vs. Nixon.

And he was ripped to the tits the whole time. When he finally tried to kick the stuff in 1981, staff had to chase him down in the hospital lobby in his jammies, where he was trying to escape due to "a CIA plot against him" and "seeming to see the design patterns on the hospital curtains change configuration." The MSM is silent on the question of whether a butterfly net was employed to pluck him out of the air, but the conclusion seems inevitable.

By the time he reached this state, he was taking 1,400 milligrams of the stuff a day, nearly three times the beginning dose. Whether or not Placidyl makes one feel as I did trying to answer Dave's design question I can't say; but if it had one tenth the effect on Rehnquist, his irresponsibility bordered on the criminal.

By the way, Buried Lede Department:
The FBI file on Rehnquist, released last week under the Freedom of Information Act, reveals that in 1971, as Rehnquist's confirmation hearings for associate justice approached, the Nixon Justice Department asked the FBI to run a criminal background check on at least two potential witnesses who were expected to testify against Rehnquist. Then-FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover approved the request.

In July 1986, when President Ronald Reagan nominated Rehnquist to be chief justice, the Justice Department asked the FBI to interview witnesses who were preparing to testify that Rehnquist had intimidated minority voters as a Republican Party official in Arizona in the early 1960s. According to a memo in the Rehnquist file, an unnamed FBI official cautioned that the department "should be sensitive to the possibility that Democrats could charge the Republicans of misusing the FBI and intimidating the Democrats' witnesses." But then-Assistant Attorney General John Bolton -- who more recently served as ambassador to the United Nations -- signed off on the request and said he would "accept responsibility should concerns be raised about the role of the FBI."

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Monday, January 01, 2007

You Do Work Here...?

Saturday was Trash Day chez Jingo. Wonder Woman and I loaded up Truck-Truck* with the month's castoffs and made our merry way to the Loudoun County Landfill.

Saturdays feature the Household Trash Blue-Light Special down't the Dump. Other days, they weigh you on the way in, weigh you on the way out, and the difference determines the price you pay. Saturdays, with the big weekend rush, they charge a flat fee of $5 and forgo the weighing. This expedites the queue, certainly, and is a handy convenience for the Trash Do-It-Yourselfer.

On the approach to the entrance to the dump, a man stood accosting incoming vehicles, taking money from some and directing others, with burdens of something other than regular trash, to the scales. I rolled down the window, and said in my jocular Saturday way, "I've got some household trash to get rid of, and I've heard this is the place to do it."

Picking up on my jesting tone, he replied, "Well, only if you have five dollars!"

I reached for my wallet, fished out a sawbuck. About to hand it to him, I suddenly paused. My eyes narrowed and I said, mock-suspiciously, "Say, you do work here, don't you?"

Oddly enough, a similar thing happened at lunch. We were killing time between two of Freddie's soccer-tournament games, me, Wonder Woman, Freddie and the Matriarch. It was one of those chain places with antique-ish farming implements and sporting goods festooning the walls. I was well into a rather passable hamburger, having already three times reassured the oversolicitous waiter that yes, everything at our table was quite satisfactory and that we did not at this exact moment require any refills on our brimming drinks.

A rather large woman, wearing, I'm prepared to swear, not a single stitch of natural fiber in her somewhat severe clothing, approached our table. She caught my eye and enquired whether our meals and the service were to our satisfaction. (I'm being kind. I think she barked, "Everything okay here, folks?") Assured that everything was, in fact, no less than completely jake, she lurched on to other tables, frightening small children with her guttural obsequy.

"Do you suppose she works here?" I wondered aloud.

The incident inspired a train of thought. Suppose, just suppose, that one were to enter some restaurant, dressed in one's best managerial orlon and a natty little clip-on tie, and, without attracting the attention of the staff, proceed from table to table interviewing the customers: "Is your meal to your satisfaction, sir?" "Everything to your liking, ma'am?" "Can we get you anything else, folks?"

What a wheeze! A-and wouldn't it be great to find a table where the service has been lousy, the food worse, and the customer satisfaction level at a historic low? "This soup is stone cold, our second course is forty-five minutes late, and I can see the waiter out in the parking lot smoking a cigarette!"

What a chance to go all Basil Fawlty on his ass: "Oh, Jesus Christ, these people! You try managing this pathetic bunch! God damn it! I've told them and told them -- but do they listen? Oh, no!" I can imagine the hysteria in my voice rising with every utterance: "And the people we get in here! God almighty, they think they're the goddamned Queen of Sheba, demanding this and ordering that, acting all fucking put out because we use the wrong kind of fucking oil for Darling Little Madison's fucking peanut allergy! Go to hell! Just go straight to fucking hell!"

I reckon I'd have about four seconds to reach the door. Piece of cake.

This is something I'm going to have to do before I die.

-----
*Let's go riding in my Truck-Truck
Let's go riding in my Truck-Truck
Let's go riding in my Truck-Truck
Then we'll come home and fuck!