Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Exciting Employment Opportunities for Pied Pipers

About a week ago I was watching a local public affairs show, one of those panel discussions, the topic of which was the burgeoning deer population, a recurring problem here in Northeast Ohio for the past 15 years or so. It seems Bambi and his buddies are once again popping up in the suburbs, and causing auto accidents by not properly following traffic signs or looking both ways when they cross the street. Some on the panel felt it might be necessary to cull the herd (if you're not sure what the word "cull" means, well, there's another word that sounds almost like it.) The host of this discussion was reminded of a previous public affairs show dedicated to this same topic (I told you it was a recurring problem), in which one of the guests referred to deer as "rats".

Rats? Deer are rats? How so? The host went on to explain that the guest had had problems with deer wandering in his yard and eating his shrubbery, and vegetables from his garden. That doesn't exactly sound like something a rat would do, but I got the overall point. Deer are now pests, vermin, and like rats are feeding off of, and taking full advantage of, human labor, human achievement, human civilization. Like vermin everywhere, deer want to enter human society without first having the common decency to domesticate themselves.

The deer comment made me realize that either rats have a big tent philosophy, or humans have a big tent philosophy on rats behalf. Whichever it is, here are some other candidates for rathood:

Crows. I'm sure farmers throughout history have regarded these creatures as even more of a nuisance than actual rats. Rats don't concern themselves with the corn harvest. There are no such things as scarerats. The odd thing about crows is they're not always confined to rural settings. I once saw a flock of crows in the parking lot of a 7/11, divvying up what looked like a Three Musketeers wrapper. If a cornfield's not nearby, then make do with the high fructose corn syrup they put in candy bars, and everything else, these days.

Pigeons . Another feathered flying rat. Well, hold on, some people take great pleasure in feeding pigeons. You never see anyone feeding rats. But pigeons can be a nuisance nonetheless. Especially for those charged with keeping our nations' monuments nice and spiffy. A hoard of rats can run up and down and in and around a Civil War hero's statue and not leave nearly as much mess as one incontinent pigeon flying overhead.

Canadian geese. This species of rat may be unique to Ohio, and, of course, Canada. They were also a fixture in my apartment complex for a couple of months. Signs went up everywhere warning us tenants not to feed them. To my knowledge, no one ever did. Why would we when whatever they ate soon became green spots on the sidewalk and parking lot that you had to tiptoe around? But the geese are no more. The apartment complex hired somebody to "get rid" of them. I'm not sure who, but I swear I saw some old guy on the grounds with cotton in his mouth mumbling about offers you can't refuse right before the geese "disappeared".

Squirrels. I know some of you will balk at this one. What's wrong with squirrels? All they do is collect acorns, and acorns come from God, not man. True enough, but that storm gutter where the squirrel stores his acorns for the winter came from the Home Depot three blocks away.

Raccoons. I'll admit a raccoon can look pretty cute when he lifts his head up to look at you. Of course, when he looks up and out of that garbage can you were planning to carry to the curb, you have to then wonder if corrugated steel transmits rabies.

Bats. Ever see a bat with its' wings folded in? Looks a little like a gerbil or hamster or some other cute, furry little animal you might see in a pet store. But then, FLAPAPAPAP, suddenly it's ten times bigger, circling the upper reaches of your living room, and taking the occasional dive toward your head.

Skunks. These just may be the most terrifying rats of them all. A whiff from one of these beasts through an open window has been known to send more than one suburban home owner scurrying down the basement stairs and under the pool table, where, shaking like a battery operated sex toy, he or she yells out, "Do whatever you want to the family dog, just please leave me alone!

Why, oh, why, must humankind be plagued with all these different varieties of rats?! Why can't all the crows, pigeons, Canadian geese, squirrels, raccoons, bats, skunks, and now deer just leave us be?!

Actually, they once did. Before the Industrial Revolution, the Renaissance, Christ, the glory that was Rome, the miracle that was Greece, the pyramids of Egypt, none of those animals knew or cared about humans. Then one day prehistoric man climbed down from the trees, promptly chopped down those trees they had just climbed down from, and built a little community of thatched huts. All the animals, including the rats, began running away. But one rat caught a whiff of something. He turned to his friend and said, "Hey, Charlie, is that mastodon stew I smell? Let's check it out!"

As the world's population increases (it's expected to hit 7 billion next year), and everything from adobe dwellings to aluminum-sided ranch houses to high-rise apartments are built on every available spot, expect aardvarks, antelopes, peacocks, quail, pandas, orangutans, kangaroos, penguins, rams, toucans, salamanders, hippopotamuses, koala bears, and duck-billed platypuses to join the long line of animals awaiting honorary membership in the second most dominant species on the planet.

At this point, you may be wondering, does the first most dominant species--we humans--have anything to worry about from the second? Might they try to topple us from our perch?

Relax. No rat, genuine or honorary, has an I.Q. high enough to come up with something like global warming.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Quips and Quotations

A tragic situation exists precisely when virtue does not triumph but when it is still felt that man is nobler than the forces which destroy him.

--George Orwell

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Fan Clubbed

The stuff that dreams are made of.

--The Maltese Falcon (movie)

What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?

--Langston Hughes

I once worked with a guy whom everyone assumed was a big sports fan. This is because he knew a lot about sports. Every sport. Every player. He also bet on these sports quite a bit, and everyone assumed his love of betting grew out of his love of sports. But once, over a couple of beers, he confided in me that the reason he bet on sports so much was so he could maintain an interest in sports. He found it impossible to do so otherwise. And, in the blue-collar milieu in which he lived and worked, maintaining an interest in sports was important.

I myself am a bit too angst-ridden to bet on anything other than a sure thing, so, to maintain an interest in sports, I basically root for teams with the name "Cleveland" in front of them. And even then they have to be doing very, very well. So, for instance, I was a big football fan at the beginning (Browns: Brian Sipe/Kardiac Kids era) and the end (Browns: Bernie Kosar era) of the 1980s. In the mid-1990s, I was a baseball fan (Indians: Two World Series appearances.) In recent years, I've developed an appreciation for basketball (Cavaliers: I'll get to the era that just ended in a second.) I guess you could say I'm a fair-weather fan, but it's not like I root for other teams during the dry spells. I still want the home team to win, even as I'm watching something other than sports. Rooting for a Cleveland team is like rooting for Greater Cleveland, where I happen to live. And rooting for Greater Cleveland is like rooting for...myself.

A word about Cleveland. When outsiders hear that name, they immediately think smokestacks and snowstorms. I won't lie. Cleveland has both of those (though the stacks have cut back on their smoking of late.) But there are other Clevelands. If culture's your thing, there's a world-class orchestra and some fine museums. If rock and roll's your thing, there's a hall of fame. If nature's your thing, there's both the Metroparks and the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. If water's your thing, there's Lake Erie. Yes, I know it was horribly polluted at one time, but it's been cleaned up quite a bit. I dare say its' beaches are now cleaner than those along the Gulf of Mexico.

Had "The Decision" gone the other way, I could have said: if basketball's your thing, there's LeBron James.

Not long after LeBron James made his "decision", I was watching a local call-in sports show. Most of the callers were expressing their anger with LeBron. Some were even on the verge of tears. Nevertheless, there was a scattering of support for King James. Here are some approximations of what was being said in his favor:

Why do you keep calling LeBron a hometown hero? He grew up in Akron, not Cleveland.

There's too much emphasis on sports in our society.

All this anger at Lebron is irrational. Burning his jersey in the middle of the street! C'mon, it's only a game!

I think all of us in Northeastern Ohio should thank LeBron for the seven wonderful and exciting years he gave us.

I'd like to address each of these.

Why do you keep calling LeBron a hometown hero? He grew up in Akron, not Cleveland. Cleveland is in Cuyahoga County. Akron is in Summit County. The two counties border each other. They're north-south neighbors. If you're ever in Northeast Ohio, pick up a copy of the Akron Beacon Journal and turn to its' sports section. You'll notice that Cleveland teams get lots of coverage. The Cavs current home is in downtown Cleveland, but for 20 years they played in Richfield, also in Summit County. From 1974 to 1994, it was a shorter drive from Akron to a Cavs game than from Cleveland proper. Of course, LeBron was only 10 when the Cavs moved back to Cleveland proper. Perhaps he got car sick on his first trip to the new arena, and has held a grudge ever since.

There's too much emphasis on sports in our society. Well, there's certainly a lot of emphasis on sports in Cleveland, and I sometimes chafe at that. But I heard this said on a sports show. That's a little like going to a zoo and complaining that there's too many animals. I suspect from the tone of the caller's voice, it wasn't the emphasis on sports that bothered her so much as the newly born distaste for LeBron James, which leads me to...

All this anger at Lebron is irrational. Burning his jersey in the middle of the street! C'mon, it's only a game! Well, if it's irrational to be angry at Lebron for leaving, was it rational for Cleveland fans to be so euphoric when he arrived in the first place? If it's somehow wrong to burn his jersey in the streets, what was so particularly right about plunking down hard earned money to buy the jersey and proudly wearing it down that very street during, say, the playoffs? Has the game become "only" only since Lebron left?

Spectator sports, on the professional level, involves a bit of fantasy, at least on the part of the spectators, the fans, themselves. After all, what's the first syllable of fantasy? You watch a bunch of strangers play a game, and decide, or have others with a more monetary concern in the game decide for you, that your well-being, your self-worth, depends on 50% of those strangers winning that game. Whatever you hate about your life, you'll somehow hate it a little less once you see those strangers get their rings or trophies, and the coach or manager of those strangers get dunked on the head with a bucket of Gatorade.

When fans turn ugly, when they throw bottles on the field, or burn the jersey of a once beloved player, it's easy to lecture them, to scold them, about it being only a game. Sorry, but by that time it's much too late. The fans have lived with the fantasy for so long, it's now cold, hard reality. They were expected to be happy when the going was good. Well, the opposite of happiness is not equanimity.

When the signs and pennants and team logos start going up all over town, when the stores start selling, and running out of, the jerseys and bobble-heads, and when the photo of the star player ends up plastered on one entire side of a skyscraper, perhaps that's the time to gently remind people it's only a game. Of course, to do so you risk looking like the turd in the fruit punch bowl.

Fantasies don't always make sense, but they can make cents. And dollars. Hundreds of millions of dollars in LeBron's case. So, if it's any consolation to anybody upset about that jersey burned in the street, hey, it's already paid for. LeBron won't lose a dime off it.

I think all of us in Northeastern Ohio should thank LeBron for the seven wonderful and exciting years he gave us. If LeBron thinks THAT is going to happen, he's got another fantasy coming.

Monday, July 12, 2010

In Memoriam: Harvey Pekar 1939-2010

Writer of the autobiographical comic book American Splendor

"I try and write the way things happen. I don't try and fulfill people`s wishes."

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Quips and Quotations (Fourth of July Edition)

"Myths and legends die hard in America. We love them for the extra dimension they provide, the illusion of near-infinite possibility to erase the narrow confines of most men's reality. Weird heroes and mould-breaking champions exist as living proof to those who need it that the tyranny of 'the rat race' is not yet final."
—Hunter S. Thompson, The Great Shark Hunt