Sunday, August 31, 2014

A Jasper Cop and the Museum of Elvis

Lawrence Hall, HSG

A Jasper Cop and the Museum of Elvis

Several weeks ago I was privileged to meet one of Jasper’s premiere citizens, a well-spoken, thoroughly professional, manly man with a fine sense of humor and a pretty car featuring lots of extra lights. We enjoyed a brief conversation about the inspection sticker on my own car, and he was so interested that he began writing about it.

When I modestly assured him that, really, hearing of its antiquity was more than enough amusement for me, he replied, “Now, sir, it is nine months out of date.”


Y’know, if your car inspection sticker is nine days out of date, asking for a little mercy is not unseemly; if your inspection sticker is so old that it was countersigned by Sir Robert Peel, you’d better just confess your sins to the judge and do penance before the awful majesty of the law.

The next work day I visited the nice folks who inspect cars, and they enjoyed the moment too. Then, hat in hand and new inspection sticker on car, I made a pilgrimage to the judge’s office. The nice girls (I can say “girls”; they’re young and I’m old, so there.) asked if I wanted to see the judge and make a defense, and I said no, that I just wanted to pay my debt to society and slink out the back door with my hat covering my criminal face. In the event the fine wasn’t much more than a few of those multi-adjective overpricedacinnos at Clever Literary Allusion Coffee Shop, and I took out my checkbook.

“Oh, I’m sorry, sir; we don’t take checks.” Well, that makes sense – if a man can’t be trusted to keep his inspection sticker up to date, what other perfidy might he be capable of? Actually, the problem is that some people write bad checks even to judges, who have as much problem collecting on them as anyone else.

While one of the nice young ladies found ways of making my credit card talk, I enjoyed viewing the Museum of Elvis. I’ve never heard of a judge’s office featuring an Elvis museum. Not even Andy Griffith’s office in fictional Mayberry had one of those, but there’s one in Jasper, Texas.

After I was released with a new suit of clothes and a caution to mend my ways, I drove over to the Belle Jim to drown my sorrows in a cup of coffee.

And that’s it. There’s no story here, and that’s how it’s supposed to be.

When the police officer required me to stop, I stopped. When he approached the car, I didn’t toss my cigarette at him. Well, I don’t smoke anyway. I didn’t call him a Fascist pig, and he didn’t call me one, and I didn’t demand to speak with another officer, One Who Looks Like Me. Which would hardly be possible – I do have a twin, but he doesn’t look at all like me (I’m the handsome one), and he’s not a cop, and he lives far away. The police officer was thoroughly professional, as were the staff in the city offices, and in every way the visits were enjoyable – well, except for that ticket thing.

As far as any assertion of rights, yes, there is the matter of rights – in this instance, the right of everyone around me to be safe when I’m operating a few thousand pounds of machinery. They have the right to expect me to drive my car in a sober and responsible manner. They have a right to expect that my car meets minimal safety standards with regard to lights, horn, turn signals, and brakes. They have these rights because everyone has the right to life.

So, yeah, I’m cool with all that.

Visiting the Museum of Elvis was cool too, but the price of admission was a little high.


What We Can Learn From DANGER MAN

Lawrence Hall, HSG

What We Can Learn from Danger Man

Although the names and numbers change, as is only right in a good spy yarn, we can infer that Patrick McGoohan’s flinty character in Danger Man (Secret Agent in the USA), Ice Station Zebra, and The Prisoner is the same man: John Drake. From these films a young person can learn that in the 1960s:

1. A fake travel agency can function in the center of London for years as a front for the British secret service without Communists, smugglers, crooked millionaires, corrupt members of parliament, or drug cartels figuring that out.

2. The same supporting actor, usually Aubrey Morris, can play a Chinese, an Italian, a Spaniard, and a Haitian, and no one is offended by that.

3. A secret agent travels with one small canvas bag which holds a business suit for the city, a tweed suit for the country, a dinner jacket, a trench coat, a turtleneck sweater, a pair of slacks, a change of shirts, a shaving kit, a large tape recorder, a large two-way radio, binoculars, a hat or two, sneakers for doing the cat burglar thing, and a pair of hiking boots.

4. A distinguished middle-aged man wearing a smoking jacket and holding a brandy snifter is a villain.

5. If there is an elderly colonel, and there usually is, and if he has a sweet, pretty daughter, and he usually does, she is always a traitor.

6. Scientists always wear white laboratory coats and eyeglasses rimmed in black plastic.

7. A computer is the size of a Ford Galaxie 500, clatters like a teletype, and features lots of dials and flashing lights.

8. Sometimes a character must get off the train or stop the car in order to call someone on a pay telephone. The pay telephone is convenient and always in working order, and the character always has the correct change.

9. Any airport terminal is about the size of a kitchen. When it is not an airport terminal it is a hotel lobby or a railway station.

10. A forest in Scotland, a copse in Kent, and jungles in central Africa, Haiti, and South America look exactly alike and feature identical plant life.

11. Almost all women wear dresses or skirts, except for Patricia Driscoll (nee’ Maid Marian) who rather daringly wears slacks.

12. Anyone can walk into any airport and immediately buy a ticket for any destination in the world on a plane that leaves within the hour.

13. Smoking is cool.

14. Coats and ties are required. A man sitting at the breakfast table will put on his sports jacket or suit coat before answering the door. When the police or military intelligence arrest someone they always give him a moment to tie his tie and find his coat before they take him away. Every man (except for Communists and other such low-lifes) removes his hat when entering someone’s home or office, and when dining.

15. In those funny little foreign countries airport staff are invariably surly and suspicious, wear moustaches, search luggage, ask nosy questions, and carry firearms. This would never happen in English, French, German, or American airports, where the staff are polite and helpful, and never snoop through travelers’ things.

16. Pan American is the preferred airline, though sometimes one must make do with BOAC.

17. All cars are English, French, or Italian.

18. The United Nations is a beneficent organization staffed by men (never women) of all nations and cultures. These men are good, wise, and honest.

19. London’s clubland rules the world.

20. Anyone stepping out of a hotel will immediately find a taxi available.

21. Typewriters. Newspapers. Telegrams. Rotary telephones.

22. Danger Man set the standard for complex gadgets hidden in pieces in shavers and pens, and which must be assembled over a period of minutes with much clicking and clacking.

23. When any woman enters a room, all the men present stand up. When greeting a woman a man (except for a Communist) removes his hat or at least touches the brim respectfully.

24. John Drake never carries a firearm. He can disable four or five armed villains with his bare hands, not unlike Walker, Texas Ranger. While one baddie is being subdued all the others jump around harmlessly in the background while waiting their turn to be bashed.

25. Most elderly women are dear, sweet things who serve tea with milk, lemon, sugar, and knockout drops.

This bit of fun shouldn’t suggest that Danger Man / Secret Agent is cartoonish. The series features well-developed plots, characterizations, and settings, and is always predicated on an ethical sense wholly lacking in the James Bond cartoons.

When in one episode Drake realizes that an evil man he has captured has been murdered by his own agency, he angrily confronts his boss. Drake sternly reminds The Colonel that if the English government is going to act like the Soviet government, then there is no moral ground for the country’s existence. This scene may be the impetus for the ongoing theme of The Prisoner: “Why did you resign?”

Danger Man / Secret Agent presents intelligent, ethical, and artistically staged stories that, unlike most twaddle from the Ministry of Truth, respect the viewer. And, in addition to the many other excellent qualities of Danger Man, there are lava lamps.


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Chess - the Most Dangerous Game

Mack Hall, HSG

Just Pass Some More Laws

Last week, two players died during a world championship chess match in Norway.

Given the documented dangers of chess, how much longer will we continue to sacrifice human lives to this mediaeval sport?

Where is the world’s outrage? Why hasn’t the President spoken up? Where is Westboro Not-Really-Baptist? Where is Al Sharpton – still on the line with his FBI controllers?

Chess is clearly a killer. If two lives are lost during only one chess competition in one day, how many precious humans die in a year, sacrificed on the pagan altar of checkmate?

Not only is this game physically dangerous, it is both sexist and anti-democratic.

Those lost souls addicted to this degenerate pastime assure us that there is no sexism in chess because the queen most powerful piece. But, aha! Notice that they refer to her as a piece. Is that not objectification? Further, the queen clearly has no power of her own. She is pushed about on the board by men, most of ‘em foreigners, who dominate the sport. Peer past the fog of sexist obfuscation and one can see that chess is just code for men continuing to dominate and use women.

Further, no American worthy of the name should ever play a game which glamourizes hereditary nobility. Did General Washington and the lads suffer through the winter at Valley Forge for kings and queens and knights? I think not.

As Benjamin Franklin said, here, sir, the people rule. And we the people rule through voting and through standing for public office. Not that we often do so. The polls are six miles away. And we need to watch that pretty girl with a new dress every day turning those letters. But, hey, we listen to the emo-boys on midday radio, and surely that counts as a vote.

And then some of the chessmen (never chesswomen, you will notice) are bishops. We just don’t need Christianity being smuggled into our board games. Children need to grow up playing good old fashioned games on their little Orwellian telescreens: Sullen Buzzards, Blandy Smash, Morbid Wombat, and Wannabes of Nerdcraft.

The American people, in order to be truly free, must be required to turn in their chessmen / chesswomen / chesspersons. For the first year under the proposed new laws citizens will be compensated for their chessmen if they report to police stations and turn them in voluntarily. After that, pursuivants will search out hidden chessmen from recusants, and special courts will be instituted to ensure that never again will anyone be permitted to roam the streets with unregistered chessboards.

Once this is accomplished, all problems will be solved, and all evil will be swept like chessmen from the board of life forever.


Catholic Pig-Wrestling

Mack Hall, HSG

Pig-Rasslin’ in Wisconsin

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
Of cabbages--and kings--
And why the sea is boiling hot--
And whether pigs have wings."

- Lewis Carroll, “The Walrus and the Carpenter

Pig-wrestling in Stephensville, Wisconsin, is an endangered activity.

The parishioners of St. Patrick’s Church, for reasons best known to themselves and to their porcine brothers and sisters, have for years hosted an annual pig-wrestle – or rassle – as a fund raiser.

And why? As with so many matters in Christianity, this is a great mystery.

One often sees statues of Saint Francis (in the garden department, next to the concrete gnomes and the rather satanic-looking frogs) blessing animals but never a statue of Saint Francis wrestling with a pig.

Presumably the pig-rassle is not staged in the church narthex next to the CYO bake sale.

Maybe wrestling pigs is the best Wisconsin can do for a rodeo.

The event is messy but harmless, and after the day’s merriment the pigs are returned to the farm to meditate upon their Four Last Things: bacon, sausage, pork chops, and footballs.

The Society of Prissy People Who Are Against Things are not happy with non-lethal pig-rasslin’, though, and some 42,000 people of the sort who believe that Disney’s Bambi is true have signed a petition demanding that St. Patrick’s cease and desist and de-oink.

The SPPWAAT have apparently clogged the telephone line and emails of St. Patrick’s, and the local deputies will be keeping an eye out in case innocent, old-fashioned merriment must be saved from the Miz Grundies.

Saint Patrick of Ireland made the snakes go away; too bad that doesn’t work with the sort of people who make idols out of critters.

You know, if the parishioners of St. Patrick’s Church in Stephensville want a real rasslin’ challenge, they ought to try prying a teenager’s fingers off a MePhone.

Taking down a porcupine with bare hands could be interesting too.

Judge Joe Folk tells of a pig and a chicken who were the best of friends. One morning while walking along the street they saw a little café that advertised a bargain ham-and-egg breakfast.

The chicken said “Hey, let’s go there for breakfast.”

The pig replied “I think I’ll pass. When it comes to ham and eggs, the chicken has made a contribution but the pig has made a commitment.”


No animals were harmed in the making of this joke.

And no pigs are being harmed at St. Patrick’s


Monday, August 4, 2014

Absolutely the Very Last End of the World

Mack Hall, HSG

Absolutely the Very Last End of the World

“The situation is hopeless, hopeless! But it’s not serious.”

- Finian in Finian’s Rainbow

Several weeks have passed since the previous End of the World warning, so we are a little overdue on this latest one: solar flares are going to destroy the planet at any moment. Thought you’d like to know.

Universal doom from the exploding sun can be avoided, however, if we all repent and ride bicycles, eat gluten-free pine needles, and give our paychecks to Al Gore, Gaia’s Holy Profit…um…Prophet.

If the Solar Flares of the Zombies crisp most of humanity and end civilization we can take comfort in this eternal truth: no matter how much destruction, suffering, starvation, or loss of life we endure in a world plunged into darkness, no matter if we’re all killed, we know that our internet service providers will continue to bill us.

We have suffered so many Ends-of-the-World in the past few years that perhaps we should giving them themes.

After all, weddings are no longer about the sacrament of matrimony, but about themes – hippie wedding (the bride and groom together set a unity match to his draft card) or Aggie wedding (with The Aggie War Hymn as the recessional) or one of those swampy weddings with the bouquet being tossed to the girl with the prettiest tooth.

Since The End of the World falls upon us so often, we must be imaginative in thinking up fresh new themes for the complete destruction of everyone and everything we have every loved:

Hippie End of the World – for this End of the World everyone dresses up in bell-bottoms, tie-dyed tees, and head bands while groovin’ to Peter, Paul, and Mary. If the wait for Captain Kirk to karate-chop The Continuum is futile and the planet succumbs to a Wagnerian demise, all the old hippies will be so toked out they won’t notice.

Aggie End of the World – On the Eve of Doom all true Aggies will dress in maroon and take turns making up brand-new-really-old Aggie traditions. They will name global destruction The Twelfth Man of the Reveillecalypse and build a bonfire.

Swampy End of the World – my distant cousins (and may they remain distant) will beat an alligator to death with a J. C. Higgins shotgun (because Cousin Cletus forgot the shells), skin it, gut it, and hang it out in pieces to dry in the coming Fires of the End of Time. “Yum, yum!” exclaims Cousin Clyde-een, “Tastes just like human!”

Westboro Not-Really-Baptist – At midnight the entire congregation will be commanded to climb up on the roof in unison to blame cosmic collapse on gay people. Substitute “USA” for “gay people” and you have the European response.

Newfoundland – Everyone along George Street in St. John’s will gather in the dozens of faux-Irish pubs, drink beer, and chant “I’s d’ b’ys” over and over until the Meteors of Vengeance begin falling, at which point Sean and Rory will end their vigil and bid farewell to life with the Newfoundland version of the Nunc Dimittis, “Eh.”

But wait…I think I hear a great roaring sound from the stratosphere. This could be it, everyone, so get your tinfoil helmets on and tune your Buck Rogers superheterodyne secret space receivers to the Glen Beck signal.


Some Other Planet

Lawrence Hall

Some Other Planet

A youth in his curiosity wants
To fling himself in a swift silver ship
To wander strange worlds in the far away
Where he may marvel at the wild unknown

An old man wakes from his Van Winkle nap
Which he didn’t even know he had taken
To discover at last this strange old fact:
He has always lived in the wild unknown

Mad Dogs and Whippoorwills

Lawrence Hall

Mad Dogs and Whippoorwills

In the gasping, colorless noon
A whippoorwill, with a poor will,
Opens his heat-exhausted bill
To sing. What is he, then – a loon?

The Importunate Deceits of August

Lawrence Hall

The Importunate Deceits of August

Grim August is the month of unbelief
When all the happy optimisms of May
Are but thin vapors writhing up as dust
And swirling formlessly into the sun
Thoughts flail about like headache-haunted dreams
Then fall apart in shifting fragment-light
To form again beyond reality

Deep Dusk

Lawrence Hall

Deep Dusk

The crescent moon presides in dignity
Over the twilight lawn, attended by
Tonight’s appointed wishing star who thus
Is deputed to catalogue the hopes
Of all who might petition for a gift.
Young lovers must enjoy priority
In hopeful messages from happy stars
In these few minutes safe from old folks’ eyes
When a hesitant hand might coyly seek
Another hand, waiting in shyness there

Saint Augustine of Africa

Lawrence Hall

Saint Augustine of Africa

Between the desert and the sea
Along an ancient Roman way
A man writes for eternity
Living words against a dying day

North of the Interstate

Lawrence Hall

North of the Interstate

First Nations lived here when the world was young,
And something of them still remains as shards,
Slight shards, of works and walks and DNA,
Slim arrow points from hunts in the long ago,
Strange ways in those who know more than they say,
And spirits of the wind and water and air
Like fireflies flit among the ancient oaks
Through an August evening’s deepening dusk.
Their cities and their graves are little marked,
Forgotten mostly, shadows in the forests, but here,
Beneath mysterious sighings in the pine tops.