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Stumbling across one of these little bastards nibbling away at the phlox in my garden last evening, I have every red-in-tooth-and-claw sympathy for this poem:


Gassing the woodchucks didn’t turn out right.
The knockout bomb from the Feed and Grain Exchange
was featured as merciful, quick at the bone
and the case we had against them was airtight,
both exits shoehorned shut with puddingstone,
but they had a sub-sub-basement out of range.Next morning they turned up again, no worse
for the cyanide than we for our cigarettes
and state-store Scotch, all of us up to scratch.
They brought down the marigolds as a matter of course
and then took over the vegetable patch
nipping the broccoli shoots, beheading the carrots.

The food from our mouths, I said, righteously thrillingbr>
to the feel of the .22, the bullets’ neat noses.
I, a lapsed pacifist fallen from grace
puffed with Darwinian pieties for killing,
now drew a bead on the little woodchuck’s face.
He died down in the everbearing roses.

Ten minutes later I dropped the mother.  She
flipflopped in the air and fell, her needle teeth
still hooked in a leaf of early Swiss chard.
Another baby next. O one-two-three
the murderer inside me rose up hard,
the hawkeye killer came on stage forthwith.

There’s one chuck left. Old wily fellow, he keeps
me cocked and ready day after day after day.
All night I hunt his humped-up form.  I dream
I sight along the barrel in my sleep.
If only they’d all consented to die unseen
gassed underground the quiet Nazi way.


–Maxine Kumin

Alas, I had neither gas bomb nor pellet gun, but only a stick.  I chased the furry little cuss about a bit, for some reason imitating a bear, until he got to his bolt hole under the fence and scarpered.  I’ve seen the signs for some time now, various carefully-selected plants razed to the level of about two feet or so.  I was puzzled at first – the damage was too high to be caused by rabbits, and I couldn’t see any sign of deer getting in.  Now, alas, I have all the evidence I need. 

 When we were visiting the Mothe up in Maine, I came this close to sneaking Dad’s old BB gun into our luggage for the return trip.  It was only a last second vision of the trouble Mrs. R would cause about it upon eventual discovery that stopped me from carrying through.  I wish now that I had been of firmer resolve.  How on earth I’m going to fortify the garden against these pests with anything short of a ten-foot-deep moat full of piranhas is beyond me at the moment.

Yes, this evening Mrs. R and I attended a performance of “Jerry Springer: The Opera”.

Well, now.

The “plot”, in case you’re interested, is that Jerry, after hosting a typical program of abject misfits, is gunned down by his warm-up guy because WUG has just been fired for letting the show’s crowds get too rowdy.  Jerry wakes up in hell, where Satan demands that he host a “show” in which he, Jerry, should attempt to reconcile Satan, God, Jesus, Mary and Adam & Eve.  When they’re all out on stage, a typical Jerry-style fight breaks out, which only Jerry, having realized What He Had Done In His Life, could resolve.  And would you like to know what the moral is in the end (I hope you’re sitting down)?  There is no Good or Bad, only Choices! And if everyone chooses to respect everyone else’s Choices, we can all live in Harmony!

Dayum is that deep!  Or, as one of the choruses of the show might put it, f*ckity, f*ckity, f*ck is that f*ckity deep!

Once we had said goodnight to our hosts, Mrs. R asked me if I had been offended.  “Not really,” I replied, “The truth is that the whole business was so utterly infantile that the question of offensiveness almost didn’t apply.”  I suppose that everyone involved thought that they were being wicked clever with their potty-mouths, their cross-dressing and their mockery.  But as I said in my previous post on the subject, so does a 3-year old.

As I sat down to think about it all, however, some recollection kept tugging at my brain, some parallel of evil employing childishness.  Then suddenly I remembered: In C.S. Lewis’s Perelandra, the hero Ransom must face up against the Devil (in possession of the body of Ransom’s arch-enemy Weston).  Weston torments Ransom in part with a seemingly never-ending series of mindless children’s tricks.

Well, Ransom had to endure days upon end of ceaseless vigilance.  Fortunately, I only had to listen to it for a couple hours, and even then, the fate of the world did not hinge upon my paying attention.

(Oh, btw, for what it’s worth, the “music” was a load of fetid dingo’s kidneys.)

Needless to say, I did not clap, even though most of the rest of the audience did so rayther enthusiastically.  As someone remarked of a particularly foolish horse-buyer in one of the Irish R.M. stories, “Faith, he’s aisy plaised!” 


Conversation at dinner this evening between the 8 Year Old and Self:

8YO: Daddy? When you meet the boy that I’m going to marry, could you kind of go easy on him?

Self: Sweetie, if I think that he’s worthy of you, I’ll be as friendly as you like.

8YO: Oh, good!……Um, Daddy? What happens if you don’t think he’s worthy?

Self: Well then I’ll have to kill him, of course.

Most of you have never met my daughters so I may sound like EveryDad, but trust me on this one:  This particular gel combines proto-babe looks with an absolutely charming personality and, in a few years, is going to have the boys lining up round the block.  I reckon I’m going to need a good deal of ammo.

***A current Rodney Atkins song.  Mrs. R and the gels burned it on to our recent vacation road-trip CD as a joke for my benefit.  Personally, I think there’s a great deal of sage advice in it.

(Image filched from Wikimedia.)

This is Mather Gorge, literally just downstream from the Great Falls on the Potomac River.  Mrs. R and I (and the gels) are planning to go hiking here Sunday afternoon with some old friends of ours.  Our friends live in Maryland while we live quite close to this spot in Virginia.  Over the past day or two, there has been some gentle back-and-forth tugging about which side of the river we would hike (there being trails on both sides).   While it has all been in fun, it is nonetheless emblematic of an underlying, but very real, deep-seated hostility between the two states about which I occasionally muse.

Very broadly speaking, and with all the caveats about generalities and exceptions and the like, Marylanders and Virginians dislike each other pretty intensely.  (For purposes of this split, I would mention that denizens of the District of Columbia almost invariably side with the Marylanders.)  People from Maryland believe that they are enlightened, socially conscious and hip, while their neighbors across the River are gun-toting, secret-bedsheet-wearing, knuckle-dragging rednecks.  Conversely, Virginians view Marylanders as priggish, self-satisfied carpetbaggers, while seeing themselves as possessing the better attributes of the Old South tradition.  

I suppose this divide is a legacy of the area’s history: It is, after all, the frontier between North and South.  And while Maryland was a fairly mushy Border State during the War, most of its current population are (I believe) the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of people who came down from New York and the like during the Kennedy Administration, bringing with them their Yankee prejudices and contributing to the current polarization of attitudes here.

What is funny is the fact that this is a highly transient part of the Country, and yet these mutual caricatures are readily adopted by people who settle here even if they have no local roots whatever.  I felt it myself when I came to the area 17 years ago: I had no connection with the region apart from having gone to law school in Virginia.  Nonetheless, the idea of living in Maryland was (and still is) perfectly appalling to me.  Conversely, our friends, who are house-hunting in connection with their upcoming marriage, refuse point-blank to consider the Old Dominion.

Yes, in one of the odder twists of life, Mrs. Robbo and I have been invited to attend a performance of “Jerry Springer: The Opera” tomorrow night. The story, apparently, is that Jerry is killed on the set of his show and then visits Heaven and hell. Or something. Says reviewer Gary McMillan:

Attention is bound to be paid to this extraordinary production. Like the cast recording of Avenue Q (”The Internet Is for Porn”), your [sic] not likely to play Jerry Springer: The Opera on your computer at work, but I defy you to rid your mind of songs “Talk to the Hand,” “This is My Jerry Springer Moment,” “Mama Give Me Smack on the A**hole,” “Eat, Excrete and Watch TV,” and “Jerry Eleison”.

Now you’ve probably heard two things about the show. First, that it was a major success in London, running over 600 performances and winning major theatre awards. Second, there have been spirited protests concerning the “religious” depictions in the show, including attempts to stop a national television broadcast and to intimidate local theaters into cancelling productions. This situation reminds me of the first time I saw the movie Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? on television. An opening screen displayed a warning to the effect that some sensitive individuals might find the content and language offensive or objectionable. Which, of course, is exactly the opposite, psychologically speaking. Insensitive folks might well be up in arms, but only “sensitive” individuals would UNDERSTAND the work.

Jerry Springer: The Opera has something to offend everyone, to be sure, if you are of a mind to take offense. This is an hilarious satire of a slice of real-life Americana. It’s a two and a half hour window into popular culture and mass audience taste (and I use the term loosely). Sally Jesse, Montel, Maury, Dr. Phil and so on. God love ‘em all, I hope each one gets an opera of his own.

Yes, Mr. McMillan, ain’t it cool? Let’s display our sophistication by being as vulgar and irreverent as possible! It’s satire, after all, so anything goes! Let’s bait those bourgeois sticks-in-the-mud and dare them to object! Ha, ha! They’ll never do it because the last thing they want anyone to think is that they are somehow…..insensitive to “Real” Art!

Puh. Leeeeze.

Honestly, doesn’t the avant-garde get, well, bored with constantly dropping its pants in front of us and demanding that we be shocked? Then again, I used to wonder the same thing about three-year-olds.

So why on earth are we going, do you ask? Well, because we were asked by some folks who are trying to make an effort to be friends and who genuinely believe that we will find the thing interesting and funny, and we don’t want to be churlish in the face of their hospitality. (I’m hoping that by maintaining this attitude throughout and basically ignoring the barbs that will be hurled from the stage, I can avoid having to go to Confession again on Saturday – I just went yesterday – but somehow I don’t know if that’s going to work out.)

Life imitates Art. From the Telegraph:

Magpie steals woman’s engagement ring and buries it in nest for three years

The platinum ring was finally recovered when her fiancé found it in a bird’s nest at the bottom of their garden.

Julia Boaler, 36, thought the £5,000 ring had been stolen when it vanished while she was taking a shower at home.

Miss Boaler and her partner Justin Laycock, who live in Gleadless, Sheffield, were baffled at how the pear-shaped diamond could have vanished.

Miss Boaler, project worker for homeless children, said: “I was heartbroken when my ring vanished and Justin was not best pleased either.

“I left it on the bathroom window ledge when I took a shower but it wasn’t there when I returned.

“I thought it must have fallen in the bathroom or even fell out of the window but it was a complete mystery.

“When Justin got home I told him what had happened and the pair of us searched everywhere.

“We ripped up the bathroom lino, pulled up floorboards and even took the panel off the bath thinking it must have somehow slipped through but still it was nowhere to be found.

“I tormented myself for months looking all over the house for it thinking that my mind must have been playing tricks on me.

“I repeatedly rummaged through drawers and lifted carpets and turned the car inside out.

“I even accused the window-cleaner of swiping it as the window was open, but he swore blind that he knew nothing and I no proof.

“We eventually gave up looking.

“A few years later we had to put the wedding off as I gave birth to our son Luis.

“Needing more space we found ourselves putting the house up for sale so I made Justin tidy up the garden and cut the trees back.

“He started to prune our big oak tree and noticed an old nest in the branches so he nipped up a ladder to have a look inside and found my missing ring.

“I was gobsmacked.

“The bird must have swooped down and nabbed it from the open window.

“It’s amazing the ring was still there but I’m so glad to get it back.”

Still engaged, the pair have now insured the ring and are planning to tie the knot in the very near future.”

Of course, I’m pretty sure the line, “A few years later we had to put the wedding off as I gave birth to our son Luis.” does not appear anywhere in Rossini’s opera, but never mind.

Today is the Feast of St. Augustine of Hippo, one of my patrons.  I have nothing particularly profound to say about him, except that I have taken to the practice of reading his Confessions straight through during Lent: The autobiographical part documenting his gradual break with the vices of the world and his embracing of Christianity is inspiring (and is of obvious appeal to a convert), while the part in which he speculates about the nature of everything around him is brain-twisting enough that I consider reading it to be an act of penance.

After a number of years of trying, I have finally reached the point where I can mentally pronounce “Lieutenant” either as the British “Lef-tenant” or the American “Loo-tenant” more or less automatically, depending on the author, the character involved &c.

A modest achievement, perhaps, but I’m rayther proud of it.

(And before any smart-ass tries to catch me out on it, yes, I know Waugh is pictured above as a Major. But it was whilst reading his Sword of Honour trilogy that I first perfected this skill. You should see me batting against the ubiquitous and oily Lt. Padfield: There’s nothing the Loot can bowl that I don’t send to the boundaries.)

Plans to hold a “Miss Sister Italy” beauty pageant for nuns have been scrapped by the originator of the idea, Italian Priest, Fr. Antonio Rungi. I originally posted on his proposal a couple nights ago after reading about it over at Fear and Loathing in Georgetown. However, I yanked the post next morning because it was just too poorly written. The upshot of my argument, however, was that I though Fr. Rungi, while well-intentioned, was making a mistake by attempting to fight his battle to show the inner beauty of nuns on enemy territory. Evidently, Fr. Rungi’s superiors agree:

Father Rungi wanted to hold the contest online on his internet blog but changed his mind after the local religious authorities expressed their displeasure.

“My superiors were not happy,” Father Rungi said from the town of Mondragone, near Naples.

“The local bishop was not happy, but they did not understand me either.

“It was interpreted as more of a physical thing,” he said. “Now, no one is saying that nuns can’t be beautiful, but I was thinking about something more complete.”

He said he had intended to showcase the good works that nuns do, especially in education and health care, so as to boost interest in religious vocations.

“We have to draw more attention to the world of nuns, who are often not sufficiently appreciated by society,” he wrote in his blog.

“Nuns are – above all – women, and beauty is a gift from God,” he said before he cancelled the project.

He had wanted nuns to send their photos to him, so that internet users could then choose the winner.

Now it’s true that Fr. Rungi did not actually contemplate putting his contestants up on a catwalk. But just by calling his project a “beauty pageant”, I’m afraid the Padre sent the wrong signals.

(And as an aside, let me tell you that it was hard, hard having to post the pic above in order to illustrate my point. Oh, the agony!)

UPDATE: Speaking of enemy territory, Kathy the Cake-Eater is all over the rayther startling and, frankly, disgusting claim by US Magazine that Jenna Jameson, pron-queen extraodinaire, is a “devout” Catholic.

I tried to leave a comment to Kathy’s post but her spam watchdog wouldn’t let me through.  The gist of my remark was that as horrifying a statement as this may be, we must remain calm and trust to Higher Authority to deal with it:

Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.  For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.  And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.  As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.

Galatians: 7-10.

This is a Samsung “Juke” telephonic device.   Why do I post a picture of it? Because we just bought one for the ten year old gel.  Yes, my 10 y.o. daughter now has her first cellphone.  (I didn’t get my first personal cellphone until, oh, about three weeks ago.)

On the one hand, I plead practical reasons.  To date, we have had a rayther complicated schedule of job commutes, school runs, social calls and sport practices.  More than once last year there were some last-minute changes of plan that might have worked out much more smoothly had we all been able to communicate with each other.  This schedule is going to become even more complicated by the fact that the gel will be entering 5th Grade next week not at St. Marie of the Blessed Educational Method along with her sisters, but at the local public elementary school.  (More on that later.)  In the face of all this whizzing about the NoVa suburbs, I realized that I would feel much better if the gel had some way to get hold of us at need.

On the other hand, I know that I am going to be drummed out of the Honourable Companie of Luddites for this.  I can see it now, the Members forming a hollow square while the Committee proceeds to snip off my cockade and confiscate my wooden shoes.

Ah, well.

The gel already has called me several times Just Because She Can.  She’s also become the latest authority on contact lists, speed-dialing, photos and something the young persons call “text messaging”.  Of course, I predict that she’s going to lose the bloody thing before the week is out.  I have tried to retain some shred of dignity by insisting that if she does, she will not receive another one.


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August 2008