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Tuesday, December 31, 2002

What's in a Name?

I have mentioned a little bit on this page about my ancestral roots on the French side of the family. I have yet to explore my German heritage in any serious way. I suppose this is because I tend to gravitate to the French side for many reasons: I look French; I have studied French since tenth grade; I love French culture in general; I love how they go crazy over a bicycle race every year; cheese is good; wine is good.

I began the study of my German heritage by exploring the meaning of my German name. As you may already know, most European names are derived from a person’s occupation. My name in the original German form means not the actual guy on a road construction crew who waves cars by with a flag. Not that guy, but the guy who traditionally stands next to the flag guy, leaning on a shovel and regaling the flag guy with stories about how drunk he got the night before, and how he probably could have scored with some chick except he got thrown out of the bar before he could close the deal. The English translation, I admit, is a bit long-winded but the Germans—sticklers that they are for details—actually have a word for this guy, and that word is my last name.

It is probably a good thing that the people in my family got thrown out of Germany in the early 1900’s. Had they been around for the Nazi era who knows where these idlers would have ended up, probably either in a camp, or promoted straight to the top. They came to America and continued their ignoble traditions. But let’s face it; compared to Nazis, being simple white trash is a badge of honor, an honor I wear with pride and a certain degree of distinction.

At one point in my life I made a very half-assed attempt at learning German. It just didn’t seem to suit me. I have spent a considerable amount of time, money, and effort exploring my Mexican roots although my relatives keep telling me that no one from our clan hails from there. I think that it is only fair that if a German, a Frenchman, or a Mexican can come to this country and declare himself to be American, I should be able to learn French or Spanish and call myself a citizen of those places.

Thursday, December 26, 2002

Joining the Club

What do you do to get yourself out of a rut? A dry spell of humor has plagued the dim chambers of my so-called wit. Chez moi, jokes come and go at their leisure, sometimes staying around for weeks on end—like bad house guests-while at other times I hardly hear from them.

I thought that I had made a good, secure home for humor here at Leftbanker and now comedy has abandoned me during the holidays. No note, not even a phone call, and after all I’ve done for it. Fucking ingrate.

Well screw you too, humor. I’ve changed the locks on the doors and the password on this web page. I can get along just fine without you.

From now on I’m going to keep this site completely free of humor and self-deprecation. From now on the only midgets and dead cheerleaders will be headlines, not punch lines. I’m adding a new function to my spell-check that automatically deletes irony. From now on I’m going to be the polar opposite of humor. That’s right; I’m going to be a right-wing warblogger.

I can’t wait to start writing pithy, one-line comments on 20-30 ephemeral bullshit news items each day. I can’t wait to feel the thrill and exhilaration of having a bottle of Yohoo in one hand and my mouse in the other all the while laying low the ideals of equality and justice for all (Just how I operate my computer with both hands full remains a mystery to me. I guess all this is covered at the meetings).

All of this will lead to the big day, the high mass of warblogging: The Warblogger Meet up. Just the thought of being in a room with so many angry white men who never get laid is enough to make me swoon. But who needs the fairer sex when the mere mention of “Arms of Mass Destruction” and “The War Against Terrorism” (TWAT) is enough to send a few drops of testosterone south while forcing bile onto the keyboard. Who needs a Victoria Secrets catalogue when you have a picture of Donald Rumsfeld washing his car in a pair of tight cut-offs and no shirt? Not me.

Saturday, December 21, 2002

Music Geek

Sir Ludwig von Köchel’s Chronological-Thematic Catalogue of the Complete Works of Wolfgang Amadé Mozart was published in 1862. It lists Mozart’s work in chronological order and stands as the supreme reference to Mozart’s music. Although appended a few times--because some music geek discovered some flaw in the original--Köchel's guide has remained the standard. This explains why all of Mozart’s pieces are accompanied by the letter K and a number.

Mozart’s wrote his first piano sonata in C major when he was 18. K.279 is the catalogue number, which means he had already written 278 pieces of music before this. His last piece was the Requiem in D minor, K. 626. As we all know, he died young. He was 35.

I pass on this little historical aside because I am in the process of putting all of my music on my laptop. I will give away all of my CD’s and my stereo when I have completed this task. We have all played the game of deciding which one record we would take to a desert island. I have a similar dilemma as I have only a paltry 25 gigs of hard drive space allocated for my music. It can’t all come with me.

As of this writing I have over 26 hours of Johann Sebastian Bach and probably an equal amount of Mozart. I don’t listen to Rock but I will throw a few of my old CD’s on just for nostalgia.

It has been fun listening to a broad selection of music, as I have been in a rut of only putting on piano music for a long time. I enjoyed hearing some of my favorite Salsa and Brazilian Samba tunes that I almost forgot I had lying around.

I can’t believe what a geek I’ve been about organizing all of this stuff on my computer. I use the Realplayer Realjukebox application as I find their new player lacks some of the great features of the old one. I love the playlists where I can put all of Mozart’s slow movements in one file to listen to when I am falling asleep or drinking coffee in the morning.

The best part about this whole thing is that I won’t have to spend an hour putting CD’s back in their cases after having people over. Point and click from now on.

Tuesday, December 10, 2002

Merry X-Mas, You're Fired!

Notice to all employees of United Holiday Festivities Amalgamated (UHFA) at Amalgamated North Pole Village:

We here at UHFA regret to inform you that as of today at 4:00 p.m. December 24, your employment will be terminated. At the end of today’s shift—or X-mass funday as we like to call it—you will be escorted by security to the changing area. There you will receive your final pay with any deductions resulting from improper upkeep of costumes.

We hope that this holiday season has been rewarding for you, and never forget that although you earn minimum wage, you cannot put a price tag on the joy you have instilled in the hearts of the countless children who visited Amalgamated North Pole Village this year (To be precise it was 12,325 children at $12 a head not including merchandise sales and refreshments.)

Although we take no responsibility, we do regret, how shall we say, the overzealous approach our security staff took in the recent unionization efforts of a few bad apples among our holiday associates. As the security detail is a private concern outside the control of UHFA, we had no way of knowing they would use live ammunition to disperse off-duty elves passing out leaflets. That was a bad day for UHFA, as you can imagine what the effect of a hail of assault rifle fire has on a business dealing mostly with children and the feeble minded. All of the poinsettas that aren’t already dead will be donated to the families of the deceased.

A tragic event. But still, we don’t think there was any need for a union and after spilling a very limited amount of blood we are once again one big happy family--minus the casualties. That is until today’s layoffs in which case we will all go our separate ways.

As you are clearing your lockers of personal items and empty liquor bottles, try to reflect on all of the good you have done for the community instead of taking the selfish route and worrying about how you will feed your families. Think of the joy of waking up on X-mass morning without having to worry about going to work. Priceless.

Have a Happy Holiday.

P.S. We will be requiring the employment of many of you from the elf department to work as leprechauns for our Saint Patrick’s Day exhibit.

Monday, December 09, 2002

Bread and Circuses and War

iam pridem, ex quo suffragia nulli vendimus, effudit curas; nam qui dabat olim imperium fasces legiones omnia, nunc se continet atque duas tantum res anxius optat, panem et circenses.

Now that no one buys our votes, the public has long since cast off its cares; the people that once bestowed commands, consulships, legions and all else, now meddles no more and longs eagerly for just two things -- bread and circuses.

Decimus Iunius Iuvenalis AKA Juvenal (ca. 60 A.D. - 140 A.D )

With a mail-in rebate you can now buy a personal CD player for something like $14. It is truly an amazing age of technology we find ourselves inhabiting in these first years of the new millennium. Perhaps this globalization thing really is panning out for the average American. You would think this until you read that there has been a 67% increase, in the last four years, in the number of American households that spend over half of their income on rent or mortgages.

This is only one indication amidst a tidal wave of evidence that points to this nation’s rapid adoption of a class system that will soon make the old European monarchies look like the salad days of democracy. In the past two decades we have been dismantling the safety mechanisms established during the earlier years of the past century that were put in place to further equality and care for the citizenry. The New Deal has been replaced by the new slogans of Winner Take All and All For Yourselves.

We have been told for so long that government is bad and private industry is good that some of us now believe this simplistic aphorism. More are the citizens who have been brainwashed into thinking that their vote doesn’t count, that they are no longer required to participate as voters.

The wealthy and powerful have convinced some of us that they stand for morality and decency. They oppose abortion but wealthy women will always have access if something should occur. They are tough on crime unless it is they who are brought in as defendants. When that is the case, usually a well-paid lawyer is all that is required for them to circumvent the laws that most of us never think to break. Instead of jail time, rich drug offenders (The President’s niece, for example.) opt for rehabilitation—the Liberal’s answer to all of our drug problems—which they claim is being soft on crime.

The rich send their children to private schools as we let our public educational system deteriorate. We are very family-oriented these days. Nothing but the best for our children but best keep them away from the lower elements. Why bother supporting public schools when we have so many prisons to build?

Our popular entertainment today is hardly as sophisticated as the Roman Circuses. The gruel of pop culture is watered down with celebrities and our fascination with their personal lives. The low paying jobs that are unhindered by benefits is the price so many of us are willing to pay for reality TV and professional sports. Just when we are angry enough to sit up and take notice we receive another offer for a credit card with a 19% financing.

And now we are told there looms the threat of war. We are told our own military needs to be strengthened to defeat an enemy who defected in droves the last time we faced in the oil fields of the Middle East. Who can speak of expensive social programs when we have a constant threat of terrorism from every airline passenger with a penknife? Forget about an unemployment rate of 6 percent, we have real problems that can only be solved by a strong and unquestioned executive branch.

While we are content with bread and circuses, a few in this nation gain personal wealth that defies comparison, defies the imagination, defies decency.

Thursday, December 05, 2002

Holiday Gift Ideas for Your Leg-Humping, Shoe-Chewer

Giant advances in technology are rapidly changing the way we live. I’m sure that statement will go unchallenged, but I never thought that I would find evidence of our brave new world in the neighborhood grocery store, of all places. It was there that I first saw a doggie chew toy that looks remarkably like a sandwich. This rubber squeak toy could very well represent the single greatest advancement in canine entertainment in our lifetimes.

Imagine the look on your dog's face when he finally runs down this virtual hoagie you have thrown, only to find that it is not layers of meat and cheese on an onion roll but an adorable plastic plaything that squeaks. Do you think the dog really thinks he’s chasing a sandwich or do you think that he’s simply bored and would chase a bookshelf if you threw it far enough? We may never know the answer to what is undoubtedly one of nature’s greatest mysteries.

Tithing is a practice of the Mormon religion in which the faithful donate 10% of their incomes to the church. For dog owners 10% of total income is recommended for the purchase of chew toys. It is not recommended that you buy all of the toys at once, but that you stagger their purchase over the course of the year, which will prevent man’s best friend from turning 1/10 of your salary into a froth of mangled plastic and dog spit in a matter of hours, leaving him the rest of the year to contemplate the entertainment value of mauling your footwear and furniture.

After speaking with my accountants the other day, I learned that my stock portfolio now consists of two half-off coupons from Domino’s pizza and a cash value of $1.59 in stock for a company called sendmeyourmoney.com. In an effort to diversify, I have decided to combine my love of dogs with my aversion to real work and manufacture my own line of dog toys. The following is the Leftbanker Dog Toys catalogue for 2003.

1) A plastic stick that meows so your puppy has the joy of chasing a stick added to the thrill of sinking his fangs into a cat.

2) Plastic replicas of your $450 hand-sewn leather wing-tip shoes. If Rex chews one of your real shoes you can wear one of his plastic toys to teach him a lesson. Caution: Squeaking may distract other symphony-goers if you try to sneak out to the bar before intermission. Comes in sizes 8-12.

3) A $6,000 full-sized leather sofa that squeaks. He’s going to chew it up anyway so you may as well make it fun for the little guy.

4) A bound and gagged mailman. Note: A live human being sold as a chew toy may be prohibited in some states—even U.S. Postal workers. I told you the Republicans would turn this country into a police state.

5) A scale model of our president made of rawhide. Fun for the whole family. Especially entertaining when you take Fido for a walk to see what shape the president (with undigestible head) will take after going through the dog's intestinal track.

Wednesday, December 04, 2002

A Rainy Day in Paris

This is from something I wrote during my last trip to Paris.

It was pissing down rain yesterday so I went into the giant underground mall of Les Halles a block from my hotel. This area was once a giant outdoor market that served the city everything from fresh fish to flowers. They moved the market to the outskirts of town a few years ago to make things hipper (and cleaner) downtown. I barely remember the old market but this new area is pretty terrific--not just the underground mall but the pedestrian center at street level.

Wandering the many levels of the mall I ended up in this enormous bookstore. I tried to track down a few authors I read about in the Sunday supplement to Le Figaro. The books that I found didn't look all that interesting and it occurred to me to look for books by my great-uncle, Marc Bernard. I have a couple of his books at home. They only had one at this store, La Mort de la Bien-aimée, (Death of the Beloved). It's the chronicle of the death of his wife.

We learn in the book that his wife, Else Reichman, was a Jewish intellectual who fled Vienna after the Anschluss in 1938. She was on her way to America when he met her at the Louvre in front of the Venus de Milo and they fell in love at first sight. The book opens with a quote from Marlowe: Who ever loved that loved not at first sight? I am pretty sure that his books have not been translated into English so it is up to me to translate parts of his stuff for my family although I believe that an American publisher would be interested in doing a translation simply because this book I am reading now is such an incredibly romantic story.

I can to read it with not too much difficulty. I'll translate for you one passage that I found particularly touching and I hope that my deceased relative will excuse my clumsy attempt to make his thoughts accessible to the English reader. He is at his wife's deathbed. She is dying of a tumor at the age of about 68 (he hasn’t mentioned her age, yet). She is very close to death. When they discovered that she had a terminal illness he considered dying with her but she insisted that he survive her and continue writing. He has been holding her hand and speaking to her for hours even though he is pretty sure that she cannot hear him. "Soon I would be the sole possessor of our memories, of our secrets, of a language spoken only by the two of us, with references and things known only to us, of everything secretly binding two beings who understand one another before anything is spoken."Bientôt je serais le seul dépositaire de nos souvenirs. de nos secrets, d'une langage que nous n'étions que deux à connaître, avec des références à des faits connus de nous seuls, de tout ce qui lie secrètement deux êtres qui se comprennent avant même d'avoir parlé...

I’m interested in learning more about their life together. How did she survive in France during the war? France protected French Jews but many recent Jewish immigrants were sent to their deaths. He mentioned that he fled his home in 1942 and two days later the Gestapo came looking for them. He hasn’t mentioned how they rode out the rest of the war. He also mentions a young American studying for the priesthood who came to visit him which was probably Tim Clegg, my next door neighbor when I was a kid.

He wrote three books about his life with Else and today I am going to try and find the others. The bookstore in the mall could order them but I don't have the time. It is pretty remarkable that his stuff is still in print. He won the Prix Goncourt—something like the French equivalent of the Pulitzer—and the Prix Interallié. He died in 1982 in Nîmes, the city of his youth that he chronicled in his memoir of my family called Pareille à des Enfants. I wish I could have met him.