Tuesday, Oct. 2, 42 A.D.

An Entry Too Damn Lazy To Go Out And Apprehend The Title It Deserves

Joyce Carol Oates was in town last Friday night.  She said that she's written as many books as she has simply because she has cats.  "I start writing and one climbs up on my lap and after that, well, what can I do without disturbing the little dear except keep writing?"  That's a paraphrase, based on my doubtlessly inaccurate memory of some unknown newspaper reporter's account of the talk Oates gave at the Columbus public library.  If you can provide me with a better account, please do so.  Please.  (I have an aching need to be corrected right now, since if I'm wrong about anything, no matter how small, maybe - just maybe - I'm wrong about everything, and I really hope I am....)

As far as I know, this is the first time Ms. Oates and I have spent part of the night beneath the cozy cloud cover of the same town.  Figures that I didn't even know it was happening until it was over.  On the other hand, I doubt that she realizes that it happened at all.  That makes me better than her - right?  Smarter?

If only my cat saw fit to sit on my lap while I'm at my computer, maybe I would have trumpeted my superiority over Ms. Oates days before now.  In fact, maybe that's the only thing keeping me from becoming a famous writer - the lack of a good lap cat.  Yes, I'm sure that's it.

That and the fact that I can't keep my mammoths and my mastodons straight when I send out my notifies.


I'm sorry - I'm really not rambling.  I'm just having an allergic reaction to the war foreplay we're engaged in right now.  It's hard to write coherently when one's mind is distracted by an intense feeling of inevitability, by the knowledge that one's all out of bloodshed control devices, that soon the world will again be pregnant with the scent of death and destruction.

Or something.


Saturday.  Saturday I ventured down to the OSU campus for the first time since my move here.  It was a beautiful day, and like so many beautiful days lately, it was swallowed whole by surrealism.  A greeting card in the art center's gift shop featuring Mary Richards and Rhoda sitting up in bed together, naked.  An art show featuring dimly lit rooms designed by Helio Oiticica in which we, the spectators, were expected to become participants by walking across the plastic-covered sandy floors and kick orange balloons around or do our nails (nail files provided) while reclining on mats and watching cocaine-smeared photos of Marilyn Monroe flashing on all four walls as Jimi Hendrix blared from multiple speakers.  Lunch with a sociologist friend of mine at a cafe where we calmly licked our bagels while discussing world events as anti-war protesters rallied directly across the street from us, perfectly framed by a restored 19th century picture window.  My friend offered his expert opinion:  "I keep waking up in the morning hoping to find everything is just a dream... but it's not."  Not wishing to dwell on the fact that even PhDs who have won Professor of the Year awards sometimes need to escape reality rather than better understand it, I asked a simple question as my eye noted the ugliness of the "An Eye For An Eye Leaves The Whole World Blind" sign across the way: "Has anyone's reaction surprised you?"  My lunch companion thought a moment.  "Yes.  There's this friend of mine.  Tiny guy.  Rather gentle.  Very sweet.  He said that what we ought to do is tell the Afghan people to head to the borders, give 'em a day or so, then drop The Big One on Kabul."

We said our goodbyes soon after this.  My friend headed back to a seminar at which cartoonists like Lynn Johnston and Pat Oliphant discussed the art of being funny while I walked past the protesters to reach a display of original "Calvin and Hobbes" artwork. Most memorable images: A Calvin fantasy in which dinosaurs piloted F-15s....  and another Calvin fantasy in which an out of control airliner, an out of control train, and an earthquake all were about to converge on a small farmhouse occupied by a simple, unsuspecting man....

Sunday.  Sunday I had relatives visit for the first time in over a month.  We flipped on TV and watched The Big News unfolding right before our eyes: The Cleveland Indians winning their division title.  I'm told this is a good thing.  Then why did at least half the players in the stadium look so sad?  No one said, and I didn't ask.  I suspect the information is classified.

Monday.  Yesterday.  I learned all about Pancho Villa.  In the early morning hours of March 9, 1916, Mexican warlord Francisco "Pancho" Villa and his men swept into the border town of Columbus, New Mexico.  They stole horses and guns and left Columbus a smoking ruin by noon. The American public was outraged.  President Wilson was, too.  He quickly ordered Gen. John "Black Jack" Pershing to rush into Mexico with 10,000 men and track the fiend down.  Pershing spent the next 11 months trying to do just that.  He succeeded in clashing with Mexican soldiers and poisoning US-Mexican relations for decades, but Villa successfully eluded him. Seems Villa was simply too popular with the people and the government - and too familiar with the terrain - to be captured....

I learned something else yesterday, too:  Writers are losing their jobs because of what they're writing.  Tom Gutting, city editor of the Texas City Sun, wrote a column in which he called Bush a crippled president and a puppet.  The next day, the publisher fired Gutting and issued a front page apology ending with the words "God bless America!"  In Grants Pass, Oregon, another newspaper columnist was fired after he wrote that Bush had been "hiding in a Nebraska hole" the day of the attacks.  "Dissenters now have an obligation to think twice about saying some of the stupid stuff they say in peacetime," Jonah Goldberg, online editor of the National Review, informs us.  "The reminder is to all Americans that they need to watch what they say," White House press secretary Ari Fleischer told us last week after Bill Maher, host of ABC's Politically Incorrect, said something politically incorrect (i.e., that Americans were the real cowards for lobbing cruise missiles at people from 2000 miles away).  "This is not the time for remarks like that," Fleischer said.  Sears pulled its advertising and my local affiliate pulled his show.

Who's next?  You?  Me?  Should I run the following remarks past Fleischer before I post them lest you be corrupted, or your patriotism undermined, or your children reduced to tears, or your plants made to wilt?

Dangerous Thought #1:  Why shouldn't we let the airlines go bankrupt?  I mean, THEY chose to entrust the safety of their planes to poorly trained, minimum wage workers who consider a job waiting tables at an airport restaurant a step up - right?  Why should WE bail them out now that this decision of theirs has turned out to be predictably disastrous?  Aren't we just subsidizing irresponsible behavior?

Dangerous Thought #2:  Last year, over 16,000 Americans were killed in car crashes involving alcohol.  Tobacco kills over 430,000 Americans every year - the equivalent of 6 World Trade Center attacks every month.  When can we expect the cruise missiles to start hitting the breweries and cigarette factories?  When can we expect those countries which continue to harbor liquor stores or give sanctuary to tobacco farmers to be labeled outlaw states and threatened with invasion?

Dangerous Thought #3:  If Osama bin Laden is even half as cunning as he seems to be, he'll give himself up and demand to be tried in the United States.  After all, if a jury found "reasonable doubt" in the mountain of evidence arrayed against OJ Simpson, how can a jury not find reasonable doubt in a case where the accused wasn't even in the country at the time the crime was committed?

That's all for now.  I don't want to overload Ari.  After all, there's a chance that someone else out there is still daring to write something mildly controversial or tasteless and the poor guy is utterly swamped.

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(©Now by DJ Birtcher while living in the largest city in the world named after the guy who set in motion the events leading to the deaths of
millions of Native Americans [photos unavailable at press time])


PS - Curiously, Neil Diamond was here in town on Friday night, too.  Yet I've still never seen both Joyce Carol Oates and Diamond at the same time in the same room - and neither has anybody else I know.  Can this really be a coincidence??  I think not!

PPS - I'm REALLY sorry I messed up my last notify.  It obviously had one mastodon too many in it.  Had I not been painting my carpet while simultaneously trying to write, I would have realized this, I assure you.

Here is the notify I SHOULD have sent:

Sept. 26, 2001 - "Of Mammoths, Mastodons, Bushes, And Gods"

FYI: Mammoths stood about 12 feet tall.  Mastodons were a tad shorter,
measuring between 8 and 10 feet at the shoulder.  If you grab one of
each, stack 'em, then climb on top and look south you just might see
clear to the end of my rant today.


NOTE: I do NOT know if these mammoths and mastodons were measured in their stocking feet or not, so please - check with your hotel before making reservations if it makes a difference to you!