I fell in love with The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer when I was introduced to it in high school. It’s a satire of 14th century England, and it lampoons a whole series of character types. The characters are fictional, but some people link them to actual people living at the time. Either way, it’s brilliant.
What I love about writing is it immortalizes the subject in question. No mater what that person does after that time, his or her behavior is trapped, like a fly in amber, forevermore on the page, all at the whim of the author. That’s pretty powerful stuff.
Chaucer has shown us buffoons that, if living, would now be 700 years old. If you’re an idiot, beware, because a writer could be watching you, and you will be forever linked with your muddleheaded behavior. Take that.
Although I’m no Chaucer, in memory of him I’ll now immortalize a fool that I encountered once in my bridgetending career. I’ll call him the Hot Pink Glasses Guy. He shall wear those tacky glasses forever more within this blog, long after his taste in fashion has (hopefully) improved.
One day I was at work, and I began a bridge opening for a very large gravel barge that was making its way to a concrete processing plant. This barge passes back and forth on a daily basis. I’ve probably opened the bridge for him a thousand times. I could do it in my sleep if I didn’t care so much about minor things like not getting people killed.
It was a beautiful day, so I had the windows open. Because of that, I could hear someone shouting as he walked down the sidewalk. “Too soon! Too soon!” he screamed.
I had the bridge completely open by then and the barge was slowly passing through, so I looked out the window at the shouter. It was a skinny white guy, in his early 20’s, jumping up and down in extreme agitation, causing his hot pink glasses to fairly dance on his tense little face. “Too soon!”
Then he crawled under the gate and approached the bridge, which at this point is about 1 million pounds of lurching, swaying concrete and steel.
“Uh, sir, you need to get back behind the gate for your safety.”
“Safety? What do you know about safety? You’re an idiot! You don’t know how to do your job! You opened the bridge way too soon! I studied engineering at the University of Washington. I know what’s safe and what’s not! How is this not safe?”
I could have talked about the fact that the barge weighs more than 3000 gross tons, and can’t exactly slam on his brakes or do a u-turn in the narrow channel, and therefore needs a lot of lead time for safe passage. I could have listed all the people who have died on drawbridges while doing stupid things. I could have talked about my 18 years of experience. But what would be the point? Sigh.
“Well, sir, for starters, you’re behaving irrationally and I don’t know what you’re going to do next. I can’t close this bridge until you get back behind the gate.”
He sat down on the concrete, looking smug. So I added, “Sir, do you see all these other people? You’re holding them up. I could call 911 and wait for them to arrive, but you’re going to have a very angry crowd to deal with until then.”
And sure enough, people started shouting at him. (There’s nothing like public humiliation to get a bridgetender’s desired results.) He slinked back under the gate, but not before one more petulant retort. “Idiot,” he grumbled.
I closed the bridge, but before it was completely seated, this genius walked across the street, crawled under that gate, and crossed the still-closing bridge. Because that’s safe. Because he’s an engineer. He can do anything.
I just read an article that broke my heart. It seems that Mad Magazine will no longer exist in its current form this summer. The end of an era. But Alfred E. Neuman wouldn’t want you to worry, because you’ll still be able to get it with a subscription, or in comic book stores.
I have to admit that I haven’t laid a hand on Mad Magazine in decades. But it was a gigantic part of my childhood. I would read each issue over and over again. I probably didn’t understand its subtleties, but I loved the artwork, and it did make me laugh.
I don’t know exactly when I stopped reading it, or why. I’m sure I just got busy with other things, as one does, and then eventually I kind of forgot all about it. But a part of me was always happy knowing that it was out there, somewhere, doing its madcap, satirical thing.
But that article, and this one at historylink.org, also made me realize that I have a reason to be proud, too. It seems that Alfred E. Neuman was actually created here in the Puget Sound area, by a guy named Harry Stuff, back in 1914, long before Mad Magazine came to exist.
Now that I know that, it makes perfect sense to me. The Seattle area has a taste for satire. It takes an intelligent population with a sense of humor to pull that type of thing off, and those are two things that Seattle is known for.
So, while it might be slightly more difficult to enjoy Mad Magazine these days, I can smile, knowing that Alfred and I are neighbors. That’s pretty darned cool.
Of all the collateral damage caused by our Grand Poobah, I have to say I feel the most sorry for Barron Trump. If he’s not being criticized about being sleepy at 3 in the morning, he’s being called “Poor Little Rich Boy” or being accused of mental health issues.
Childhood is hard enough without being bullied by the internet trolls and the comedians of this world. We all have scars from the cruelties we experienced growing up, but there’s absolutely no excuse for this. Give the kid a break. There are some lines that no one should ever cross.
Barron Trump did not ask for any of this. He didn’t choose his parents or the paths they decided to take in life. He had absolutely no say in the matter. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be him. He will never experience the luxury of a normal life. His father is fair game, but he isn’t.
Satire is fine. Criticism is often necessary. Opinions have a right to be expressed. You don’t have to agree with me. I don’t have to agree with you. But direct your slings and arrows at the adults of this world. Pick on someone your own size.
Say what you will, but at the end of the day, this is just a 10 year old boy. And he’s a 10 year old boy who gets to look forward to experiencing puberty under public scrutiny. Can you imagine?
I love art. I love satire. I love Seattle. So when all these things come together, I’m particularly thrilled.
And oh, I was, when one of my faithful readers (waving at Linda!) pointed out to me an art installation that came to Seattle, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Cleveland. Called “The Emperor Has No Balls” and created by an activist group called INDECLINE (whose website, incidentally, is really fascinating), it is a statue of Donald Trump in all his… uh… glory?
Yup, he’s stark naked, and missing a certain part of the anatomy as suggested by the title. The statue looks pretty accurate to me. As a matter of fact, I’ll probably need therapy after this, even though I’ve only seen pictures of it.
Here in Seattle, the statue… uh… popped up… on the corner of Pike Street and 11th Avenue, but it seems to have been taken down after only a day. One article I read said it was still available for public viewing, but didn’t say where or how. Just knowing it lurks somewhere within the city limits, like the love child of Godzilla and a banana slug, is kind of unsettling.
But good art ought to shake you up and make you think. Some people, of course, are saying it’s tasteless, and as a general rule I disapprove of body shaming. But in this case, nudity is a metaphor for exposure. Exposing the man for what he really is.
And really, folks, he kind of asks for it. This is a man who has discussed his penis size in a presidential debate. It’s not as though he’s an otherwise dignified human being who is being unfairly targeted. He lives for this stuff.
Putting a statue like this in the middle of downtown Seattle is kind of like preaching to the choir, though. I hope the media buzz will open up some eyes, at least. The whole point is that if you take away all of Donald Trump’s bluster and ignorance and racism and misogyny, what you get is a distasteful… thing… that would turn any reasonable person’s stomach.
As far as I can remember, no other presidential candidate in the history of the United States has been depicted in this fashion. There’s a reason for that. Trump stands alone as the most inappropriate candidate we’ve ever had, and the fact that he’s gotten so close to the presidency is rather terrifying. He has no platform at all, and the wildly unimplementable opinions he espouses would be a human rights nightmare. He wants a police state that benefits no one but himself.
This art installation is meant to turn you off. Exposing Donald Trump’s ugliness is the very least we can do. Please vote.
Now that we’re all happily speeding along the cyber highway, word spreads more quickly than it ever has before. For the most part, that’s a plus. Unfortunately, just because it comes at you at a furious pace, that doesn’t guarantee that the quality of the information is high. It takes even more effort to wade through the B.S. than it used to. Sadly, not everyone makes that effort.
Here are some basic ways to weed out the stupidity before you post it on your Facebook page and look like a dope.
Consider the source. Ask yourself where this information originally came from. There are several humorous satire pages out there that report things with their tongues firmly planted in their cheeks for the laugh factor. The Onion, which calls itself “America’s Finest News Source” is one of these. I actually love reading the Onion, but it’s not meant to be taken seriously. This article called Faux News will direct you to many other satire sites. Know them. Enjoy them. But don’t take them as fact.
Then there are other news sources that claim to be true and want desperately to be believed, but cannot be trusted because they’re pushing a warped agenda. If Fox News is the only one who is reporting on an issue, it’s most definitely suspect. CNN is getting to be just as bad. And I have absolutely nothing against religion, but I tend to seek outside verification for any news item from any religious news network source. There is a difference between fact and faith, and when a reporter does not know or refuses to acknowledge that difference, I find it rather scary.
Also, at the risk of incriminating myself, don’t quote blogs as fact without verification. Any fool can have a blog. I could tell you the moon is covered in a thick layer of cocaine, but I don’t recommend that you send your favorite drug mule there. He’d be pretty pissed off at you by the time he got back. (But then, he’d also have plenty of time to detox, which is a good thing.)
Another thing that should have you bobbing in a sea of red flags is any news that implies a major conspiracy. It’s human nature that a secret can’t be kept by more than two people. If a story is going around that an entire agency or organization or country has been sitting on a secret for decades, the odds are that this story is extremely exaggerated at best. For example, I used to know someone who genuinely believed that there are secret concentration camps all over America and that US Citizens are disappearing at an alarming rate. My response to that is, if so, why are no one’s friends, relatives and Facebook followers screaming bloody murder? Do you think in this day and age, when we are linked together in so many complex ways, a large number of adults could simply go poof and no one would be the wiser? Poppycock.
Also, it’s very irresponsible to pass on a product warning without being sure that it’s true. Before you go boycotting Brand XYZ, make sure it really deserves such treatment. While I’m not wild about corporate America, you have to remember that many people just like you and me depend on these companies for their livelihood, and if too many people mistakenly think there’s nuclear waste in their pie filling, it’s those everyday pie fillers who will be laid off. The corporation itself will grind happily on.
One excellent source for verification is Snopes.com. They often track down the sources of misinformation like no one else can. When all else fails, check Snopes.
Also, if you receive an e-mail full of capitalizations and spelling errors and exclamation points, warning you to do, or not do, something, such as “IF YOU GET A E-MAIL FROM XYZ, DONT OEPN IT!!!!” Don’t panic. Use your common sense. It’s stupid to open an e-mail from an unknown source under any circumstances.
If a story begins, “This is a true story,” it most likely isn’t a true story. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is. Listen to your inner voice. Be skeptical. Don’t pass things on without verifying them.