Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Veiled Worry

  My fear of being buried alive began when Sister Eubestrabius told us the story of a man who was being considered for sainthood. The Devil's Advocate ordered the candidate's body exhumed. Hair was found under the corpse's fingernails. It was surmised that he had come back to life in his coffin. Naturally enough he went mad and possibly cursed God. Sainthood denied. You really shouldn't tell stories like that to young children. In fact I feel bad repeating it even now.
  Then our scoutmaster read us Edgar Allan Poe's The Cask of the Amontillado about a guy who gets his rival drunk and walls him up in the depths of his wine cellar. When I told my aunt about this she asked if I'd heard about the soldier who'd been found walled up in the fort on Castle Island in Boston Harbor. It was surmised that his enemies had done away with him. His disappearance was dated back to the time that Edgar Allen Poe had served as a soldier at the fort. Not that Poe was involved, but he probably heard rumors which inspired The Cask.
  I was just a kid, but I was already worried about being buried alive. My mother said that in these days of embalming, there was no way a person could survive the funeral. But lately I've opted for cremation to save money. Now I picture myself waking up as my coffin is being conveyed into the furnace.
  There's a school on the shores of Lake Superior where you can make your own coffin. I'm going to install a little popup flag that can be operated from inside. My will shall specify that no one gets nothing till someone from the family witnesses my coffin reduced to ashes.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Red-Neck Summer Camp

  The lead article in a recent New Yorker said that Donald Trump won the Republican primaries because he tapped into white discontent. Certain whites, those who jumped into marriage before college, and now find themselves old, divorced, and poor; have but three choices: alcohol; opioids; and suicide. The New Yorker calls this despair. But to those living it, it's just another day.
  David Brooks, the columnist, admitted in a recent column that he had been blindsided by the Trump triumph. His explanation to himself was that he had been hanging around too much with people of his own ilk. He wanted to do something about this but did not say how. Perhaps he'll lunch at Manhattan's Country & Western themed restaurants.
  Getting in touch with the lower depths takes time. It may be too late for Columnist Brooks. But not too late for his children. At the least, he needs to send his kids to Redneck Summer Camp. I know it sounds scary. But your child can start gently, in a Red county in a Blue state: e.g. Roseau County in northwestern Minnesota.   Your child will spend his or her week with a certified and screened family of the redneck persuasion. You'll surely shake your head over the duct tape hammocks  your child has crafted, and possibly throw up over the redneck truck stunts gone wrong your child took part in. But hey, your kid made it home, albeit with a first degree sunburn. As you sit by your child's hospital bed, there'll be time to debate with them whether liberalism is or is not a mental disorder.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Out of the Tar Pits

If you ever get out to Los Angeles, be sure to visit the La Brea Tar Pits. They're amazing. I first learned of them in a comic book at age ten. I already had a fascination with quicksand, but with quicksand, you can always grab an overhanging vine and you'll be ok. In the tar pits however, your a gonner. It was mostly mammoths and saber tooth cats that sank into the pits. Also dire wolves. Many dire wolves. As well as every other creature that roamed the area.
  Most animals are too cautious to step into a pit of bubbling tar. But during the winter the pits would crust over. Leaves would blow onto the crust and soon the pit had it's next victim. This was all shown in my book. First the mammoth would get stuck, then the saber tooth cat would attack the struggling mammoth and he was a victim too. Pathetic.  I resolved to visit La Brea even though my home at the time was 3,000 miles away.
  When my son passed through LA I insisted he visit LaBrea. He said it was just ok. He hadn't read the comic book at the right age. It took three trips to LA before I finally managed a visit to the tar pits. Our friend Ana was living in LA at the time and she got her dad to watch her three little girls while she drove us to the site. I imagined the tar pits would be off in some deserted part of town with just a road and a small visitor center, but I was wrong. The tar pits were surrounded by one of LA's many downtowns. We had to use a parking garage. Only a few acres remain of the original extensive tar bogs. Within a fenced area you can still see pits. A big museum displays the reassembled fossils. Out back there's active excavation going on at Pit 91.
 A photo in the museum shows the scene in the early 1900s. It was then the desolate scene I had imagined, with several oil drilling rigs in the background. For many years people had been using asphalt from the pits to patch boats and roofs. In the early 1900s scientists finally figured out the bones in the pits were ancient fossils. Animals had been getting stuck in the pits for 40,000 years. Most of the fossils were retrieved between 1913-14. They focused on the large animals and birds. In the late 1960s they started excavating again, concentrating on smaller animals, rodents, seeds, etc. It was cathartic for me to understand how all this came together. Only one human has been found in the pits. But probably the most haunting image was the dozens and dozens of dire wolf skulls lined up on back lit walls as though they were precious art objects, which they are.

Would you walk out here for a $100 bill?