Jerome Shea       March 30, 2008      Weekend Wonk

Yes, a grab bag, and I reserve the right to enlarge on some of these ideas and crochets in future wonks. So many things seem to be coming in, most of them absurd.

For example, the other night I was channel surfing and stopped momentarily at a cheesy quiz show called “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?” Well, this contestant was not. She could not name the continent—the continent!—that the Danube river runs through. And this young woman was a high school English teacher. Ok, I realize that I have ticked off a bunch of you readers already, so let me admit there are many areas in which you could probably run rings around old Shea. But…the Danube, for pete’s sake? “The Blue Danube” waltz? Vienna?

Stay tuned for a wonk on “cultural literacy.”

On a brighter note, the founders of the Sons of Ditches Running Club, Harvey Buchalter (“Anamal”) and Shea (“Chickenlegs”) and their wives journeyed south to El Paso, Texas, recently for the Masochists’—I mean the Transmountain—20k. Six+ miles up the Franklin Mountain highway and six+ miles back down. A race is not a real race unless it is really painful, and the Transmountain qualifies in spades. Harvey distinguished himself by coming in fourth in his class (M 60-64). As for Shea, he was deeply depressed over his lackluster training these last few months, sure that he was heading for a well-deserved humiliation. He slept fitfully the night before and he had eaten, at dinner, a whole jalapeno (what was he thinking?) so his bowels were in an uproar before the race, and ten yards into the race he realized that he had forgot his knee brace. “Well, this is as good as it gets, you old fool,” he said, and started humping up that long hill. To cut to the chase, Shea wound up shaving a minute off his last year’s time (2:01:00) and coming in second (last year, third) in M 65-69. Sometimes absurdity has its upside.

Chickenlegs is unbelievably pumped, Wonkers! Bring on the San Diego Marathon!

The Longsuffering Diana recently downloaded for me a CD of Paul Robeson songs. Never heard of Paul Robeson (1898-1976)? He had, arguably, the most astounding voice that this country has ever known. He made “Old Man River” famous. Other songs in his repertoire included “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child,” “John Brown’s Body,” “Deep River,” and “Shenandoah.” You get the idea. Basso profundo and basso cantante. And he himself was astounding. All American at Rutgers, professional football player, law school graduate, actor, singer, writer, social activist, and ultimately a twisted and tragic figure. Oh, yes, expect a wonk on Paul Robeson.

What surprised and delighted me was to find out that he did a cover (as they say) of “Danny Boy”! Take that, you ^%$%# tenors!” I shouted, and boomed along with Paul, my new best friend, terrifying the cats.

And in local news, a couple of years ago (the case is only now coming to trial) a man struck a whole family—some on foot, some on horseback—on a rural road with his pick-up truck, killing the horses and seriously injuring one of the kids. His blood alcohol level was almost twice the legal limit for New Mexico. But his lawyer, surely one of the brightest stars in the legal galaxy, was not troubled by this pesky fact:

“Dan Marlow, Tomlinson’s attorney, said during his opening statements on Monday that Tomlinson is ‘an experienced drinker’ who ‘drinks beer like we drink water’ and that alcohol had nothing to do with the accident.” (Albuquerque Journal account).

No, I didn’t make this up, this new benchmark for both the legal and the medical communities. Mothers Against Drunk Driving may as well just pack it in and stop hectoring us. Evidently if you drink enough (Tomlinson admitted to being an alcoholic) you—what?—come through to the other side and are not drunk after all? Or is this homeopathy raised to new heights? I would wager that 95% of those arrested for Driving While Intoxicated are “experienced drinkers.” I guess it’s the amateur drinkers, those feckless dilettantes, that we have to watch out for. I hope that Marlow is in the running for the Chutzpa Award.

I’d drink to that.

And in national news, two sisters from Virginia are selling, on eBay, a Frosted Flake shaped uncannily like the state of Illinois. Bidding, at last count, stood at $1,025.00. I will not mar that perfect absurdity with my feeble comments.

Lastly—and not at all absurd—this month saw the passing, at 82, of William F. Buckley, the man who reinvigorated the conservative movement in the middle of the last century. It is true that Buckley—with his quasi-British drawl, his studied unflappability, his flicking tongue, and his arcane and precise vocabulary—was a ripe target for parodists. But he was also a man who could attack and dispatch unworthy ideas—and do it more eloquently than anyone else—without attacking those who espoused those ideas. Such rare and civilized behavior will be sorely missed. Now we are left with the Limbaughs, the Coulters, and the Hannitys. Seems we have wound up absurd after all.

See you next week.

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