Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Mice That Ate My Car

Mack Hall, HSG

The Mice That Ate My Car

The micezillas are eating my car.

Why do mice eat the wiring of some makes of cars but, apparently, not of others? My mother’s pickup, made by Brand X, has lived in the country for years, and has yet to host the first mouse. My car, on the other paw, Brand Y, is like a cruise-ship buffet for the better class of rural rodentia.

This is probably because of man-made global warming and so is your fault for not using squiggly light bulbs.

The folks at the dealership are kind and patient and helpful, but lately they look from the gnawed wiring to me and then back to the gnawed wiring, all with profound disappointment, not unlike my parents when they saw the algebra grade on my report card.

The latest manifestation of rats in the wiring was the failure of my right-turn signal. I was quite worried about not having a right-turn signal, not only because I did not want a ticket but because of the safety issue. Further, I felt that good people would stare and point, and dismiss me as unworthy of civilized company because I wasn’t deploying the signal for right turns. I needn’t have worried; in East Texas folks almost never use turn signals at all. Indeed, the safe driver who signals for a turn is an eccentric.

But I drove the afflicted vehicle for a while because I could not endure the guilt-making of the guys at the shop. No sidewalk yellevangelist appears to be as despairing of your soul as a quiet, mournful service writer who really wants the best for you but can only shake his head at your miserable failure to control your rats. A yellevangelist loudly demands “How’s your soul, sinner!?” A service writer quietly and sympathetically asks “Do you know how much a new wiring harness will cost you?”

Were mice one of the plagues of Egypt? Was the harness of Pharaoh’s custom-built chariot cursed with critters? “So let it be bitten; so let it not run.”

I have sewn the ground beneath my car with rat poison, but anything that feasts on wiring laughs scornfully at poison. Someone suggested mothballs, which seems illogical since the wiring is not being eaten with moths. I placed sticky traps, which stuck nothing. After a water moccasin beat itself to death with a shovel (because, PETA knows, I would never, ever wish harm to one of our reptilian co-inhabitants of Gaia, the Water Planet) I respectfully flung its corpse underneath the car as a critter-deterrent.

If I had placed the snake on the windshield it would have been a windshield viper.

And yet the mice cometh and they goeth, and they doeth so in insolence.

In my despair I turned my hopes to a higher power, the internet, which sayeth unto us that some new wiring is coated with soy-based insulation which rats and mice find a part of this complete, nutritious breakfast. Hey, it was on the internet, so it must be true, right?

The ‘net says that I should spread forth rat poison, mothballs, and sticky traps, which I had already done, and avoid soy-based wiring harnesses. The dead snake was my idea; I’m thinking of getting a patent for it. As for the putative soy-based insulation, is there anyone who ever asked a car salesman about the nutritional quality of the wiring harness? Is the battery labeled for its calorie count? Are cruise controls fattening?

I’m at my rats’ end in the matter of the micezillas, and am definitely open to suggestion.

In the meantime, as you go to sleep tonight, remember that The Mice of the Baskervilles might be coming for your car in the hours of darkness when evil is exalted. They might even be under your bed, lurking there, grinning, with glowing green eyes, waiting to feast upon your soy-based flesh, waiting, waiting, waiting….


Sunday, April 17, 2011

Russian Easter Overture

Mack Hall

Russian Easter Overture

Rimsky-Korsakov’s orchestral piece “Russian Easter Overture” premiered during Christmas of 1888. This is not necessarily an irony since, as the old saying goes, there is no Easter without Christmas and no Christmas without Easter.

REO lasts about as long as “Bye, Bye, Miss American Pie,” that once well-known whine about the local and the temporary, but is a sound poem that celebrates the universal and the transcendent. REO begins very solemnly with echoes of Russian Orthodox hymnology as an image of the grimness of Holy Saturday: Jesus has been murdered and all is darkness and waiting. The music then transitions to the glory of the Resurrection on Easter morning, and finally in the third part is light and frivolous, symbolizing the innocent fun of feasting and merriment that is fitting and proper in its time and place.

The progression of the piece, then, is mourning, joy, and secular delight, all sanctioned by God.

But here’s a problem: to understand the Russian Easter Overture in any of its parts one would have to know more about the Easter than plastic Easter eggs made by slaves in China toiling under their argus-eyed masters.

This is not to deny that Easter eggs should be hunted, even though whole forests have been leveled by Republican (no doubt) chainsaws so that bleak, humorless scriveners sourcing Jack Chick comics could write newspaper articles (their number is legion) denouncing Easter eggs as pagan.

Well, they probably are.

And so are Christmas trees. And, come to think of it, marriage pre-dates Christianity too.

But as St. Teresa of Avila said, there is a time for penance and there is a time for partridge, the partridge part meaning a good, merry meal with lots of jokes and laughter.

I am sorry that I can’t remember anything else St. Teresa said; I should have paid better attention in Sunday school.

Our parents taught us that dessert comes after the meat-and-potatoes. First we eat a good, solid, no-nonsense meal so that we may enjoy good health, and then, if we have been good, we are permitted ice cream or cake. Easter is like that, and so is Christmas. First comes the sense, and then comes the nonsense, and both are good in their proper sequence.

One reads of such events as community Easter egg hunts being held not after Easter morning, but before, and even on Good Friday, and that is teaching our children that they may gorge themselves on candy and not bother with the meat and vegetables at all.

And speaking of vegetables, you may have noticed that most of the secular calendars and even some Christian ones have been bullied this year into recognizing next Friday as Earth Day, which is silly at best. On this planet every day is an earth day, just as on Venus every day is a venusian day. C. S. Lewis, in his brilliant A Preface to Paradise Lost, observes that in Milton’s brilliant poem Adam and Eve, who became too proud to bow to God, ended up humbling themselves before a tree, a really large vegetable. Enviros have never met any created life form, including an amoeba or paramecium, to which they are unwilling to degrade themselves and sacrifice other humans.

Rimsky-Korsakov remembered what he was taught in Sunday school, and so did not write the “Russian Earth Day Overture.”


Sunday, April 10, 2011

With Our Number Two Pencils We Will Rule the World!

Mack Hall

With Our Number Two Pencils We Will Rule the World

The other day I spent several hours proctoring a standardized test of the sort so beloved of a multinational entity named Pearson – young Texans sitting alphabetically at tables in a gymnasium and silently blotting bubbles and writing essays within the lines.

If you want to know who or what Pearson is, go to and, well, good luck. I think Pearson, not China, owns us.

The State of Pearson, um, Texas gave me not just one but two different booklets explaining my difficult task, and a sheet of paper with an oath of secrecy requiring me not to know anything about what a hundred or so young’uns were doing and not to speak to anyone about that which I did not know about what a hundred or so young’uns were doing, and what could be more logical than that?

As I walked my post in an unmilitary fashion for Pearson-ness I thought upon these things:

1. I am old.
2. I am overweight.
3. I am holding a coffee cup.
4. I am supervising people who are working but am not actually doing anything useful myself.
5. Thus, I must be a Chief Petty Officer.

Some works of literature will never serve as sources of gobbets for standardized tests. You may have noticed that there are now only three contemporary categories of fiction, one for men and two for women.

The covers of every new book for men feature, in dark tones, any combination of the following: 1. an image of the Moscow Kremlin, 2. an image of an onion-domed Russian church, 3. a swastika, 4. a hammer-and-sickle, and 5. a semi-automatic pistol.

For women there are two categories. All the covers of books in the first category show precisely two – never one, never three – Adirondack chairs on a beach. As we all know, every woman’s life is centered on two Adirondack chairs on a beach and not on her job at BurgerX-Treem while her parasite accessory hangs out in their trailer all day playing video games. Also note that the beach is never cluttered with ranks of rotting seaweed or piles of beer cans.

The second category of fiction for women is all about a pale, rather vacant-eyed young blonde wearing a white beanie with two white strings hanging down. I have no idea why.

What is The Main Idea? Give support from the text. Do not write outside the lines.

As for me, I look forward to seeing a book with a cover featuring a Chinese girl wearing a white beanie while posing in front of the Kremlin with a semi-automatic pistol, tap-dancing on a swastika, and proctoring a standardized test, all at the same time.

Let us compare notes by candlelight, in a hidden underground bunker outside Prague, about conspiracy theories, albino test proctors lurking in shadowy Vatican corridors, secret Templar codes, hidden Nazi gold stashed in a 1939 Imperial Airways passenger plane submerged at the bottom of Lake Sam Rayburn, the Club of Rome, the Third Murderer in Macbeth, the 666 Beast Computer in Belgium, demented Navy CPOs on secret missions to poison the world’s supply of lapsang souchang, and King Solomon’s DNA hidden in a microchip – they can all be traced back to (dramatic pause) Pearson’s. Bwahahahahahahaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!


Sunday, April 3, 2011

The EuroGuitar, the Train, and the Squiggly Light Bulbs

Mack Hall

The EuroGuitar, the Train, and the Squiggly Light Bulbs

“Guitar” is a French word for kindling, but a great many people enjoying listening to the guitar as well as burning it. A very few can play it well, and too, too many fancy they can play it without inflicting acoustic distress, but their haunted families will painfully scream a dissenting view if asked. But you’d have to ask loudly.

The other day I was at the store looking at music albums, which still exist physically as little plastic discs and so can still feature cover art, though much reduced from the grand days of 33 1/3 rpm albums. On any album on the rack in which guitar music was featured, the cover art featured the artist wearing a guitar. One young musician was depicted (1) playing her guitar, (2) posing on a railway line with her guitar slung on her back, and (3) in bed with her guitar.

Photo #1 makes perfectly good sense – the album photograph accurately advertises the fact that the young woman plays the guitar, and so if the customers wants guitar music he can purchase that album.

Photo #2 is less logical and heavily overdone. Everyone who has ever made a noise with guitar strings has had his picture made while posing soulfully on a railway line and wearing his guitar slung over his back. As we all know, rail passenger traffic declined in the early 1960s because the famous trains, such as the Santa Fe’s Chiefs and the Missouri Pacific’s Eagles, were wrecked in a devastating series of collisions with country-and-western singers. It is a little-known secret that this is the reason air travel become popular.

Photo #3 – I’m not going there, folks, other than to wonder if the guitar were a reincarnation of Les Paul.

Flutists, you will observe, do not pose on railway lines with their flutes strapped to their backs. Satchmo wisely kept his trumpet and himself out of the way of The Sunset Limited. Concussionists generally don’t carry their drums, cymbals, gongs, bells, and other crashy-bangy things about at all, and delicate people are grateful for that. I’m not sure about bagpipes. Since bagpipes sound like a muscular Celt squashing a pig to death I suppose the sound could stop a train.

Herbert von Karajan never required his Wagnerian ensembles to muster in a marshaling yard with their spears and helmets, and James Levine would look plumb silly trying to direct “Orange Blossom Special” with that little baton.

Other occupations avoid posturing on railway lines. The plumber does not gaze artistically upon his premiere pipe wrench while trodding the crossties, and the electrician does not cross the rails with his most expensive circuit-tester. A CPA is never shown gazing down the line with a calculator slung over his shoulder, and a nurse never listens for that lonesome whistle while trying out a new chord on her rectal thermometer.

Enviros have yet to stand in the way of trains while arranging garlands of those poisonous squiggly light bulbs around their necks, but one wishes they would.

Libyans seem to be inadvertently standing in the way of The Cannonball Express, and its stops are unscheduled, its destination is unknown, and no one seems to know who the engineer is.

Perhaps someone will take a photograph of a guitarist in the middle of the runway at the airport as he sings a song about growing up poor and barefoot in a broken-down old Boeing 747 and being snubbed by the rich kids in the AirBus A380 down the long and winding dusty long-lost country road through those old cornfields back home in the condominium where Grandma thawed her special recipe PETA-friendly critter-pie in the microwave lit by one of those squiggly light bulbs giving off down-home country radioactivity.