H'rumphs

People of Earth...

THE SKIES LOOK different to me these days. The soft and tranquil clouds of my youth that often reminded me of cute Disney characters—a misty Dumbo drifting languidly overhead—have mostly been replaced by dark and threatening formations, more reminiscent of Disney’s lesser-known films, such as Godzilla vs. The Little Mermaid: This Time It’s Personal. More specific, the violently roiling skies of late are like a scene from Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, where intense storm clouds heralded an alien invasion.

Which is why I always carry a prepared speech of surrender in my backpack, in case I need to immediately declare loyalty to a superior race. Although, so far, the alien presence has been pretty unimpressive, consisting mainly of crude, humanoid Kardashians attempting to assimilate quietly. One hopes that when the next prototypes arrive, they will better conceal the vaguely reptilian features of their planet’s indigenous life forms. Not to mention vice presidential hopeful “Paul Ryan,” whose hairline displays the telltale widow’s peak once thought to be a unique facial characteristic of earthly vampires, until NASA rovers spotted it on a rock on Mars. (Mars reportedly privatized its health care for seniors decades ago, and just look at the place now: not an elderly person in sight.)

BUT WHAT WAS I talking about? Oh yes, the weather. The typical forecast this summer included phrases such as “hurricane-force winds,” “damaging hail,” and “start hoarding toilet paper.” Of the four mature trees in our yard, only one remains, having survived repeated gale-force winds through pluck and attitude, although having a trunk the circumference of a grain silo probably helped. (I could never get my arms around it for a hug, back when I used to do that sort of thing.)

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An Author's Cry for Help

AS AN AUTHOR whose book sales have, shall we say, peaked, I took particular interest in the rising popularity of Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics, by Catholic Sister Margaret Farley. Until recently, her book had enjoyed only modest success, the predictable result of a title that gets the public’s blood racing with “sexual,” then quickly disappoints with the word “ethics,” the marketing equivalent of taking a cold shower while wrapped in a wet blanket. Toss in the word “Christian” and your sales possibilities are further reduced to a half dozen seminary students still looking for a thesis topic.

All of which violates the advice my grandmother gave me years ago: “Put sex in a book title, honey, and it’s money in the bank.” At least I think it was my grandmother.

But then a miracle happened. When officials at the Vatican read the book—between pensive walks in long robes (that’s what they do in the movies)—they were shocked and stunned, and immediately (six years later) declared it scandalous. This caused sales of Just Love to skyrocket. (Which proves the other thing my grandmother said: “No wait. I got it wrong. Have the Vatican criticize your book and then it’s money in the bank.”)

Vatican officials objected to Sister Farley’s frank theological exploration of modern sexuality which, anyone could have told her, is just not done when affiliated with a powerful religious institution that thinks “modern” means “the most recent part of the Middle Ages.” And back then, people didn’t talk about gay marriage or masturbation or any of the other issues Sister Farley thoughtfully ponders, not without enjoying the church’s hospitality sitting in wooden stocks for a few days.

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Plunging into the Political Fray. Or Not.

Rubber stamp illustration, Jason Winter / Shutterstock.com

THE TAR SANDS in Alberta, Canada, have been in the news a lot lately, since they appear to be a promising source of energy for the United States, a nation hungry for a fuel derived by despoiling pristine forests, fouling fresh water sources, and enriching oil executives. (Nobody said capitalism would be pretty. Cute and cuddly, perhaps, but not pretty.)

Actually, I’m not familiar with this new type of energy source. Is it the tar we want, or the sand? Probably not the tar, since it’s too sticky and is mainly used as a preservative for saber-toothed tiger skeletons in California, something I learned in an eighth grade history book with lots of pictures. (I like pictures.)

So it must be the sand, which one day our cars will run on, to which I must add: Are our scientists brilliant, or what?!

Unfortunately, extracting this energy source domestically could be a direct threat to our beaches, the nation’s principal source of sand. Which is why I plan to Occupy the Beach of My Choosing later this summer, and stand in powerful protest—or, after a heavy picnic lunch, lie on a blanket in powerful protest—against exploiting this valuable resource.

Come to think of it, Saudi Arabia has lots of sand. So maybe we can get it from them.

BUT ENOUGH ABOUT energy. It’s an election year and things are heating up. So let’s talk politics.

Sojourners’ attorney: Let’s not.

Me: Uh, who are you?

Attorney: What, you can’t read? And it’s in bold face, for crying out loud.

Me: Well, I’m trying to write a column here, so why don’t you go work on some legal briefs. Or are they boxers?

Attorney: Look, my job is to protect Sojourners’ nonprofit status, which is at risk if you show the slightest partisanship in your ... “humor.”

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Born to Pedal...

THE FIRST BUG was a surprise, glancing off my front teeth to lodge in the nosepiece of my fashionable clip-on sunglasses. Note to self: When biking to work, keep your mouth closed. So the second bug was totally my fault, but I defy you to bike three whole miles without exuberantly singing songs from Broadway musicals. (“Oklahoma” is particularly susceptible to bug ingestion.)

Fortunately, the second insect was quite palatable: chewy, of course, but with an aftertaste of fresh clover and just a hint of oak, suggesting it might go well with a nice pinot noir or, on a particularly hot day, a carafe of iced sangria. (Note: When June bugs are out in force, replace wine with a mint-flavored mouthwash. And flossing is a necessity.)

I BIKE TO work these days because the District of Columbia has strongly suggested I do so, in lieu of spending a year in jail and up to $5,000 in fines. Frankly, I could use the time incarcerated to catch up on my reading, but it seems to me that in imposing a fine they’re just trying to punish me. (Although there’s a chance that was their point.)

This was communicated to me in a letter from the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles (SATAN). Using the terse and unforgiving language of a junior high school principal, it informed me that my license has been suspended for 180 days. But I can explain:

You know how it is when you’re northbound on I-95, a highway of mind-numbing flatness, like Kansas, but with more Starbucks. And you know how it is when you’re driving your hybrid electric car and feeling your oats—or, for younger people not familiar with that expression, feeling your Red Bull—and you want to see how fast you can go while STILL getting 58 miles per gallon.

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New, Improved Terrorists!

EVERYONE CAN USE a fresh start from time to time. When Enco and Esso oil companies combined in 1973, they came up with the name Exxon—a word that at the time had no meaning or connotation—and then moved forward as a completely new company. Now, of course, we know that Exxon means “Lucifer’s Henchperson of the Coming Darkness.” So when Exxon and Mobil combined in 1999 to become the most powerful oil company in the world (Saudi Arabia is a small subsidiary), they wanted to distance themselves from the high negatives of the old name. So they came up with ExxonMobil, leading a confused public to ask, “Gee, I wonder what they sell?”

The point is, sometimes institutions need a makeover, and who better to turn over a new leaf than al Qaeda, an organization that, for at least the last decade, has suffered some really bad press.

As documents from his not-so-secret compound have revealed, al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was concerned about the deteriorating reputation of his organization. The brand had become a problem. Too many mistakes in targeting and execution had tarnished all the positives of the proud al Qaeda name, which used to be synonymous with acts of mercy, community building, and the delicious cookies they sold door to door. (Thin Mints were my favorite.)

Shortly before his death, bin Laden had drafted a letter to associates asserting that al Qaeda should get a new name and, since ExxonMobil was already taken, he came up with a few possibilities, such as the following, translated into English (you’re welcome):

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Like Father, Like Sun...

BELATED CONGRATULATIONS to North Korea’s new leader, the 20-something Kim Jong Un, whose exact age is being withheld while government officials review celestial events to choose which one specifically heralded his immaculate birth. This precedent was set earlier by Kim’s charismatic father, Kim Jong “Let-A-Smile-Be-Your-Umbrella” Il, who, according to North Korean textbooks, was born during the appearance of a new star. North Korean textbooks also stated that Il was an excellent golfer and that he produced no urine or feces—a helpful combination if you’re playing 18 holes without a cart.

The young Kim’s inauguration was done in typical North Korean modesty, with thousands of identically dressed people filling the square in Pyongyang, moving in perfect synchronization to honor the new leader and, secondarily, to celebrate the fact they’d all eaten beforehand. Regular meals is what they get in Pyongyang, as opposed to citizens in the rest of the country, who eat—as human rights groups have documented—less often.

Kim reportedly had very mixed feelings about the impending death of his father and his quick return from the Swiss boarding school where he had been living. He’ll miss his dad, of course, but he got out of final exams. And as any college student can tell you, it’s better to be in the history books than stuck in a campus Starbucks reading them.

I’m wondering if Kim will continue the powerful reminder of his nation’s nuclear capability by adopting his dad’s mushroom-cloud hairstyle. I notice this kind of thing because I, too, have bad hair. But, sadly, I have no nuclear weapons to casually mention to people making fun of me at a party. “Oh yeah? What’s your address again? Anywhere within a 50-mile radius would be fine.”

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2-for-1 Bomb Sale! Supplies Unlimited!

CONGRATULATIONS to the Brazilian navy for launching its newly refurbished Tupi Class (Type 209/1400) submarine. It’s not clear if we should send gifts or maybe hum the Brazilian national anthem on our lunch break, but it’s definitely a special moment. I don’t have to tell you that the 209/1400 has needed modernization for several years and, well, it’s about time.

Actually, I think about the Brazilian navy ... uhm ... never. Didn’t even know Brazil had a navy. (Must be near an ocean, right?) In fact, my knowledge of Brazil is limited to that tall Jesus statue overlooking a city, and the fact people can be naked on the beaches, while speaking Portuguese.

But the submarines I know about because I read Jane’s Defence Weekly, a British publication that spells defense with “c” and regularly arrives in my email even though I didn’t ask for it.

According to Jane’s Defence Weekly, Jane’s Defence Weekly is the world’s most trusted source of military-related news. And she wouldn’t be wrong about a thing like that. (Oops. Actually, the founder was a man named Fred. T. Jane, who published the first issue in 1898, a time when being a guy named Jane probably required some quick thinking when local thugs approached on the street. “Morning lads. Did you hear they’re putting double hulls on the new ironclads? Didn’t think so. Ow! Mind me new knickers! Second pair this week! Oof!”)

Jane’s is not only a comprehensive review of the military industrial complex, it’s also the largest collection of acronyms in the history of long words you don’t want to have to keep saying. “U.S. NAVAIR has just completed flight-testing its AAR as part of the UCAS-D programme [that’s another word Jane’s mispelles] to de-risk AAR.” It doesn’t report how the test went, but de-risking is always a goode idea.

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There's Something in the Water...

AS A GENERAL rule, it’s a bad idea to skip church. Not only could you miss an instructive sermon, but you also risk the wrath of a vengeful God who, depending on His or Her mood on the day of your transgression, could be thumbing through the Old Testament for ideas. On a recent Sunday morning I decided to risk all and go to the gym instead.

This was a mistake.

Distance swimming is my exercise of choice, but counting laps is about the most boring thing a person can do, aside from sitting through an instructive sermon. So I try to occupy my mind with various reveries of proven distraction. This time I had selected the Rock Star Scenario, and after a few laps my mind was fully into the altered state of being the lead guitar player at a stadium full of screaming fans. Backing me up was Paul McCartney on bass, Bruce Springsteen on rhythm guitar, and my granddaughter on drums. Despite her small size, she can lay down a driving beat and only occasionally needs to be nudged upright by stagehands. (She’s only 1 year old and tends to fall over if nobody’s watching.)

I had just launched into a blazing riff that Eric Clapton would have envied when I noticed Springsteen stepping up to the microphone. He does this a lot, and had I not checked him with a preemptive glare he would have launched into one of his boring monologues that has nothing to do with me. (Is it too much to ask that I be The Boss in my own fantasy?!)

Suddenly a huge wall of bubbles erupted in front of me, followed by the breaching of an enormous humanoid figure, clad all in black, spouting air and spray from what I assumed was a blowhole on its back.  Streaming out the rear of its head was a thick strand of blond hair, presumably the undigested remains of its last victim.

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Learning from Our Mistakes (...kidding)

IT’S TIME ONCE again to make our New Year’s resolutions, that annual act of self-delusion that we Americans are particularly good at. (We’re also good at ending sentences with prepositions, which there are a lot of.)

My new approach this year is not to promise better behavior or new experiences, but to simply look back at the mistakes of last year and avoid repeating them. Instead of making grandiose promises that would be impossible to keep—such as saving money or loving my neighbor as myself—I plan to focus like a laser on the stupid things that happened in the past 12 months and suggest a corrective. To wit:

  • Next time we have a major earthquake on the East Coast, do not run down the office stairs trying to escape. It turns out that stairs are constructed with a much lower weight tolerance than walls and floors, which may sway threateningly but won’t spontaneously collapse like the tower of blocks my year-old granddaughter knocks down before I’ve finished stacking them. (It’s her taunting laugh afterward that annoys me the most.)

This wonderful nugget of information I discovered about a week after the actual event, which started with the sound of a locomotive passing underneath my office—say what you want about the fiscal uncertainties of Amtrak, at least it keeps its trains out of office buildings—and then my award plaques started falling off the walls. Not all of them, mind you, just the first-place awards. The honorable mentions remained conspicuously in place, silent but painful reminders to fleeing passers-by of my past failures.

Anyway, I fled down the stairs, dodging the elderly and infirm whom I felt had lived sufficiently long and productive lives and didn’t need me to interfere with the hand of fate, on account of I was in a hurry. I was also screaming, with a calm and manly authority.

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Do Superheroes Get the Flu?

MY DREAM OF being the vanguard of a new super race of elderly came to an end recently when I spent a week in bed with bronchitis.

I had been preparing for my new role by carefully watching instructive documentaries on two of our greatest citizens, Captain America, a hero whose muscles are swollen with patriotism, and the Green Lantern, a man empowered by a secret alien force that controls the universe, like the Koch brothers, only with better special effects. These two superheroes are using their powers to fight evil, such as job-killing regulations that are stifling American business innovation.

Speaking of which, I’ve been thinking of inventing a disposable shirt sleeve for people who, like me, have recently spent the last month coughing into their elbows. This is the doctor-recommended technique for controlling your germs (as opposed to my preferred method of coughing out the window of a speeding car, although you really have to get the angle right). But after a while, your target sleeve starts developing its own ecosystem, supporting life forms more typical of, say, a rainforest. I didn’t mind the moss, and the ferns were kind of pretty, but when an equatorial lemur started crawling up my shoulder I thought it might be time to change sweaters. But why not slip on a new disposable arm sleeve instead, I asked myself entrepreneurially. Unfortunately, since I’m not a rich job creator, I couldn’t move forward with the idea. Plus, my friends told me it was gross.

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