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It occurs to me that I haven’t posted a story by W.L. Alden in a coon‘s age. (The lifespan of a raccoon is several years, so that estimate is about right.)

If you aren’t familiar with William Livingston Alden (1837-1908), you can correct that by reading his stories I posted in 2014 and 2015.

Alden was an interesting character from an era that, to us thoroughly modern folk today, seems decidedly quaint. As quaint, in many ways, as Alden’s humor.

———

The Explosive Dog

By W. L. Alden
Published in Chapman’s Magazine of Fiction, Christmas 1895

I had shut up my own house, and was keeping bachelor’s hall with Professor Van Wagener one summer while his wife was away on a visit to her mother. Whenever Van Wagener went in extensively for chemical experiments, Mrs. Van Wagener always went to stay with her mother.

She used to say that she never knew from one minute to another when Van Wagener would blow himself up; and to sit in her room waiting for an explosion, and wondering whether there would be enough of her husband’s remains left to satisfy the life insurance company that he was really dead, was more than a weak woman’s nerves could bear.

There was nobody in the house except the Professor and I, and his big St. Bernard dog. We used to get our own breakfast with a spirit lamp, and go to the nearest hotel for our dinners. Van Wagener was in his laboratory nearly all day, and as my room was in another part of the house I was not much disturbed by the small explosions that I heard now and then.

One evening the Professor came into my room while I was smoking my after-dinner cigar, carrying a tea-cupful of a sort of thick bluish paste. He set it down on the table, and then, dropping into a chair, informed me that he had just succeeded in perfecting the greatest invention of the age.

“I have known you to do that at least thirty-four times,” said I. “What sort of an invention is it this time?”

“I have invented,” said Van Wagener solemnly, “the most powerful explosive in the world. As compared with nitroglycerine it will explode with at least two hundred times greater violence. You see that teacup. It holds just about an ounce of my explosive. Well, sir, if that was to explode at this minute there wouldn’t be a piece of this house left large enough to submit to chemical analysis.”

“And you calmly bring the diabolical thing into my room and put it on my table!” said I. “Van Wagener, I must bid you good evening. I’ve an engagement down town, and I shall probably have to go to Chicago tonight.”

I meant what I said, for I hadn’t the least confidence in Van Wagener’s inventions, and I was expecting that his tea-cupful of the new explosive would get its work in before I could escape from the house.

“That’s all nonsense!” said the Professor. “My explosive is absolutely safe. You can set fire to it, or you can pound it with a hammer, and you can’t make it explode. The only thing you have to be careful about is not to bring it into contact with any animal fat. Drop the smallest particle of lard, or butter, or anything of that sort into that teacup, and you’ll see the most tremendous explosion that has taken place since Krakatoa blew up.”

I didn’t make any reply, but I just took that teacup and its contents and carried it out to the extreme end of the backyard, and set it down under a gooseberry bush, saying my prayers meanwhile. Then I came back to the house and told Van Wagener that if he didn’t manage to get rid of it the first thing next morning, I would not only leave him, but would have him arrested as a dangerous lunatic.

I will say this for him, that he was the sweetest tempered man in the world. He only laughed at me, and promising to dispose of the explosive in some safe way, proposed that we should walk down to the post-office, so that he could mail a letter to his wife.

We were gone about an hour, and when we returned I went with Van Wagener into the backyard to see him bury his explosive where it would be perfectly safe, and where he could dig it up after Mrs. Van Wagener had returned, and I was out of the house.

We took a tin can and a spade with us, but when we came to the gooseberry bush we were knocked all in a heap, as you might say, to find that the teacup was empty, and as clean as if it had been washed in hot water.

Van Wagener couldn’t understand it, but he was inclined to think that some rival scientific man had got wind of his invention, and had stolen the explosive in order to analyze it.

I didn’t take any stock in this theory, for I knew that if any one had stolen the explosive he would have stolen the cup as well. Even a first-class scientific man would have sense enough to do that, so I made up my mind that no man had stolen the thing.

“Has your explosive any taste?” I asked.

“It tastes very much like warm ice cream,” said Van Wagener, though where he ever saw any warm ice cream he didn’t condescend to explain.

“I suppose you mean that it is soft and sweet?” said I.

“Exactly,” he replied. “I think you’d rather like the taste of it, and it wouldn’t do you any harm to eat it — that is, if you didn’t eat any fatty substance at the same time.”

“Then I can tell you what has become of it,” said I. “That idiot of a dog of yours has eaten it up. I’ll run over to my house for a gun, and we’ll shoot him at once, before he explodes.”

“You won’t do anything of the kind,” said Van Wagener.

“Why, my wife thinks almost as much of that dog as she does of me, and I’d as soon commit murder as kill him.”

There wasn’t anything more to be said, and the Professor and I turned back towards the house. There on the front step was sitting that infamous dog, licking his chops and wagging his tail with the general air of having earned a good dinner by hard and honest labour.

Van Wagener stopped suddenly, and said:

“Come to think of it, there is a possibility that the dog may explode. If he were to get hold of a bit of butter, or a greasy bone, before he digests the explosive, he might manage to blow himself and all the rest of us into the next county.”

“If you won’t kill him,” said I, “at least chain him up as far from the house as possible.”

“You may chain him up if you can,” said the Professor, “but he doesn’t like me, and will never let me touch him.”

“No, thank you!” said I. “You don’t catch me meddling with an explosive dog. I prefer one with the hydrophobia. Let’s get into the house and lock the brute out, and hope that the stuff will poison him before morning.”

It was very easy to propose to get into the house, but the dog didn’t see it in that light. There he sat on the step, and we didn’t dare to go near him, for Van Wagener kept remembering that he had seen the beast licking a greasy plate sometime in the afternoon, and even while we were talking about him he began to lick his paws, to which it was very likely that something of a fatty nature had adhered.

So we sat down to wait till the dog should get good and ready to come down off of the front-step, and permit us to go into the house.

We waited for at least an hour, and that dog made himself comfortable on the doormat, and never paid the slightest attention to our wishes. About eight o’clock, however, the idea seemed to strike him that perhaps he had not been quite as sociable as he ought to have been, and that possibly he might have hurt our feelings.

So all of a sudden he got up, and came running over to us to make his apologies. We didn’t stop to listen to him, but seized the opportunity to make a run for the house, telling the dog to “get out, you brute!” in a tone that would have convinced any sensible beast that we didn’t wish for his society.

But he was a forgiving animal, and affecting to regard our manner towards him as a mere joke, he trotted after us, and squeezed by us into the house. I didn’t care to kick him, for I wasn’t by any means sure that the Professor’s new explosive couldn’t be exploded by concussion; and as for the Professor himself, he knew that the dog would pay no more attention to his requests than would Mrs. Van Wagener herself.

We managed to get upstairs and into my room a yard or two ahead of the dog, but no sooner had we shut the door and bolted it than he sat down, began to paw the panels, and whined for us to let him in.

“How long will he stay there?” said I.

“Probably all night,” replied my friend; “that is, if the explosion doesn’t take place in the meantime.”

“We’ve got to get him downstairs and outside of the house,” said I. “He’s your dog, and you ought to brace up, and make him mind. Try him with one of those biscuits that are there on my table. Walk in front of him and show him the biscuit, and the chances are that he will follow you downstairs, especially if he thinks that you prefer to have him stay here.

“If that plan don’t work we must just let ourselves down out of the window by tying the sheets together. It would be bad enough to be blown up by an Anarchist, but to be blown up by a fool of a dog would be simply disgraceful.”

Van Wagener said he would try the biscuit game, but that he hardly thought it would be a success. It wasn’t. No sooner had he opened the door with a biscuit in his hand than the dog snatched it away from him, and then, being full of gratitude for what he supposed was an act of kindness, he jumped on the Professor, knocked him over, and sprang over his body into the room.

Van Wagener picked himself up, remarking that he hoped there was nothing of a greasy nature about that biscuit, but he rather thought that it felt as if it had been slightly in contact with butter. Then he came over to the corner of the room where I was crouching behind the sofa, and said he was most sincerely sorry for the annoyance he had inadvertently caused me.

The dog meandered around the room in a most genial frame of mind, upsetting small objects with his tail, and now and then barking in a cheerful and friendly way. Presently he caught sight of Van Wagener and myself squeezed together in the corner, and he came and sat down in front of us with his tongue hanging out, and an expression of imbecile goodness in his face that was simply sickening.

“We must get out of this house at once,” said I. “If that brute explodes here we won’t have the ghost of a chance, but an explosion in the open air might not be as certainly fatal as you say it will be. Come along, Professor! Perhaps we can manage to set the dog on a stray cat, and slink away from him while his mind is occupied.”

So we went downstairs again, and out of the house. The dog kept close to us, running around us in a circle, and trying now and then to jump up and put his paws on our shoulders. Nothing I could say could hurt his feelings and depress his spirits. When we came to a street lamp I took a newspaper out of my pocket, and read out loud part of a speech made by an Irish Congressman, showing the ease with which the American-Irish could send two hundred thousand men to England and exterminate the entire English population.

The speech would have sickened any ordinary dog, but that dog of Van Wagener’s never turned a hair. I even made Van Wagener sing a verse of a funeral hymn, but it had no sort of effect.

We walked about a mile away from the house, but we didn’t meet a cat, or anything else that might have distracted the dog’s attention. So at last we gave up all hope, and sat down by the side of the road to rest, and wait for the worst. The dog sat down close beside us, and tried to lick my face. He was the most infernally affectionate brute that I ever saw.

We had been sitting there about ten minutes when I saw the light of a bicycle coming down the road. Now if there was one thing that the dog hated more than another it was a bicycle, and he had got Van Wagener into no end of rows by chasing every bicycle that passed the front gate. I called the dog’s attention to the approaching machine, and when it was close to us, I remarked, “sic it!” in a low tone.

For the first time in his life that infamous dog looked at the bicycle in silence, and never moved a muscle. However, the man on the bicycle made up for the dog’s want of interest. He had heard me say “sic it” to the dog, and he informed Van Wagener and me that we were a couple of murderous tramps, who had tried to set a dog on him; and that he should recognize us the next time he saw us, and have us arrested for trying to upset his machine in order to rob him.

By this time it was getting pretty late, and I was getting tired and reckless. I told the Professor that I was going to my own house to get my gun, and that I would shoot that dog, no matter what he or anyone else might say. Van Wagener made no objection. He was a sensible man in some few things, and he recognized the fact that our only chance of saving ourselves and New Berlinopolisville from an explosion was to kill the dog.

We walked rapidly back towards Van Wagener’s house, which we had to pass in order to reach my own house. The dog trotted along with us, keeping close to my legs, and trying to rub his nose against my hand. It did seem a little cowardly to kill an animal that was so full of affection and confidence in me, but it wasn’t the time to lavish sentiment on an explosive dog. Besides, other people’s lives were at stake as well as mine and the Professor’s; for if the dog should explode within range of the nearest houses, they would be wrecked, and their inmates would perish in the ruins.

But when I got to my house a new difficulty turned up. I had left the key of my door in my room at Van Wagener’s house, and in order to get my gun, I must first get my key. So I gave up the idea of shooting the dog, and being pretty angry with myself, and all the rest of the world, I told Van Wagener that I should go to my room and go to bed, and that if he survived the explosion, and I didn’t, he should put on my tombstone an inscription, saying that my life had been fooled away by a stupid dog and a mad scientific person.

Van Wagener said that of course he would be happy to comply with any wish that I might express, and we opened his front gate and went in without any further words.

We had hardly entered the front yard, and had not yet shut the gate, when a big black cat rushed out past us, and bolted down the road with the dog in hot chase of her. Hope sprang up once more in the bosoms of the Professor and myself. We made haste to shut the gate, and to get into the house. Thanks to that cat there was a chance that our lives would be spared!

The dog was safely outside of the yard, and the fence was so high that we knew he could not jump over it. At the worst he couldn’t explode within thirty yards of our front door, and proud as the Professor was of his new explosive, he admitted that an explosion at that distance would not be absolutely certain to destroy the house.

My own hope was that the dog would chase the cat for a mile or two, and then blow up at a safe distance from any house or person. It was what he owed to us after his idiotic conduct that night, but of course I couldn’t feel any real confidence that he would do his duty.

I sat down in my room to smoke another cigar and calm my nerves a little, and Van Wagener sat down with me, and made no end of apologies for his dog’s aggravating conduct.

I let him talk on for a while, and was on the point of telling him that I wasn’t in the least alarmed, and didn’t believe his new explosive would explode at all, when there took place the most tremendous explosion that I had ever heard — and I had heard a good many tidy explosions in my time; having once been blown up in a powder-mill; and having been quite near to Butler’s powder-ship when it blew up opposite to Fort Wilmington.

This explosion was like three powder-mills and half-a-dozen tropical thunderstorms rolled into one. It broke every pane of glass in the house, and made the whole building rock as if an earthquake had shaken it.

The Professor’s face was just beaming with delight.

“That’s the dog at last!” said he. “I do hope nobody has been killed; but you must admit that an ounce of my explosive is the only one in the world that could possibly have made such a tremendous noise.”

“We’ll go out and see what damage has been done,” said I. “If you’ll listen to me, Van Wagener, you’ll not say a word to anyone about your explosive. There won’t be dog enough left to be identified as yours, and if you keep quiet no one will suspect that you have had anything to do with the explosion.”

We opened the front gate to go out, and nearly fell over the dog, who was sitting there waiting to be let in, and looking as innocent as if no explosion had ever taken place.

“I see it all now,” said Van Wagener. “That poor dog never touched the explosive. It was a stray cat that ate it, and has paid the penalty, and we have been suspecting the dog wrongfully all night.”

That was just what had happened. That dog was as innocent as a child unhung. He was no more liable to explode than a frozen Eskimo, and yet Van Wagener and I had been living for the last eight hours in mortal terror of him.

I didn’t know whether to apologize to the animal or to kick him; I did know, however, that I should have liked to kick myself, if it had been feasible.

That explosion made a great deal of talk in New Berlinopolisville. It didn’t do any harm, for when the cat exploded she was at least a mile from any house, and she merely made a hole in the ground about as big and as deep as the cellar of a house.

The police made an investigation, and decided that the explosion was the work of Anarchists, and that in all probability the wretches had themselves fallen victims to their own dynamite.

Well, I don’t know that they weren’t right, for as a general rule a cat is about as thoroughgoing an Anarchist as can be found, with the single exception that a cat washes herself.

St. Bernard

 

The Questions…

1. The Pentagon, headquarters of the Department of Defense, has 284 restrooms, twice as many as the occupant level requires. Why is that?

2. What American president financed his first run for public office with poker winnings?

3. Canada has more lakes than the rest of the world combined. How many?

4. In 1865, Robert Todd Lincoln, the oldest son of President Abraham Lincoln, fell from a platform in a busy New Jersey train station into the path of an oncoming train. Who stepped forward from the crowd and pulled young Lincoln to safety?

5. Rodney Dangerfield, the “I don’t get no respect” comedian, died in 2004 and is buried in Westwood Cemetery in Los Angeles. What epitaph is inscribed on his tombstone?

The Answers…

1. When the Pentagon was under construction in 1943, Virginia insisted that it have racially segregated restrooms in accordance with state law. To avoid a hassle, the feds complied and built extra restrooms. But they never posted white and colored signs, thus leaving the facilities open to both black and white employees. Touché.

2. Richard Nixon. He was a skillful poker player while an ensign in the Navy, and he used $5,000 of his winnings to finance his successful run for Congress in 1946.

3. Nobody knows exactly, but at least three million.

4. The well-known actor Edwin Booth. A few months later, Booth’s brother John assassinated President Lincoln.

5. “…There goes the neighborhood.”

Pentagon

Dangerfield

 

Feats of Magic

One of my go-to spots for a pleasant walk in the woods these days is Sandy Creek Nature Center in Athens. SCNC is a 225-acre park, half woodlands and half wetlands, located where Sandy Creek and the North Oconee River merge on their way south.

The park features several miles of trails, a visitor center, a small museum, classrooms, and a gift shop. Activities include classes on woodsy lore, programs for kids, nature walks, etc. It’s a good place to get your nature fix.

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By now, I know the park thoroughly. I’m familiar with all the trails, the terrain, and the various features that help make the place interesting — such as a reconstructed log house from the early 1800s and the ruins of an old brick-making factory.

A topo map of the park would show a long, elevated center ridge dropping off to lowlands on both sides. The river on the west and the creek on the east have created extensive wetlands, some seasonal and some permanent.

Even in dry seasons, the wetland areas are mostly boggy and impassable. And, being important habitat for plants and animals, the swamps and ponds are the pride of the park staff.

Claypit Pond

A century ago, long before the park existed, human activity had a major impact on this locale. In 1906, the Georgia Brick Company built a factory here on a hill overlooking Sandy Creek. Using a newly-patented “tunnel kiln,” which was six feet in diameter and 300 feet long, the company produced 25,000 bricks per day.

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Ruins of the old brick factory. Ironically, a fire put the company out of business in 1923.

This being North Georgia, the red clay soil needed to manufacture bricks is, literally, underfoot everywhere. Georgia Brick Co. excavated it at the bottom of the hill where the factory stood.

As the years passed, the excavation site became a small lake thanks to rainfall, flooding from Sandy Creek, and the work of beavers. It’s known today as Claypit Pond.

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Claypit Pond.

The south end of Claypit Pond has a well-defined shore, but the north end does not. It tapers off to swamp and bog, varying with the amount of water present at the time.

Now that I’m aware of the pond’s ebbs and flows, I have a habit of noting its size when I go walking at the park. The difference from visit to visit is easy to see.

The Beavers

Beavers are fascinating creatures. As you probably know, they are large rodents adapted for an aquatic life. Adults usually weight 40 or 50 pounds and live 10 to 20 years.

Beavers have large, sharp front teeth — incisors — that are designed for serious incising. Their hind feet are webbed for swimming. Their large, flat tails are used (1) as a rudder when they swim, (2) as a prop when they are sitting upright, and (3), when they smack the water sharply, as a way to warn the group of danger.

A beaver’s mission in life is to modify the environment to its advantage, usually by building dams. At a spot where water is running, the beaver will collect fallen branches, cut down small trees, and assemble them to block the moving water.

Why? Because it creates a pond of deeper water that helps protect the lodge and the beavers from predators. It also creates a new area of calm water where aquatic vegetation will grow, thus providing a food source for the beavers.

In addition, new vegetation will sprout around the edges of the pond — another source of food and building material. As a bonus, the new vegetation filters contaminants from the water in the pond.

Typically, beavers eat the tender parts of the plants they harvest, store some for future consumption, and use the rest as construction material. They are most active at night, working from sundown to sunrise and resting in their lodges during the day.

Beavers have lived in Claypit Pond for as long as the staff can recall. The beaver lodge in the middle of the pond is about six feet high and is hard to miss.

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A typical colony consists of four to eight related beavers. They will accept no outsiders in the group and will drive off any newcomers who try to settle too close to their territory.

When their own offspring become sexually mature at about two years old, they are booted out of the colony. In most cases, the youngsters go out into the world, find a mate and a suitable spot, and start a colony of their own.

Apparently, that is what happened at SCNC this year.

If the park staff is right, and they probably are, a young male recently left the Claypit Pond colony, moved to a spot north of the Audubon Society Bird Blind (see map), and constructed a new dam. And a fine dam it is, worthy of a seasoned veteran beaver.

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The new dam flooded the swampy area behind it, creating a new pond that, for the moment, extends north almost to the high ground at Cook’s Trail.

Accordingly, an area of the park that once looked like this…

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… now looks like this.

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The question now: is the pond a permanent feature? Will it survive the dry season? I’m curious to find out.

Beavers are a good example of why we should be in awe of the natural world. Amazing ecological systems are all around us — systems that evolved to perform important functions, even if we don’t understand them — systems that can perform virtual feats of magic when people don’t get in the way.

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A few weeks ago, someone left this stone next to the Claypit Pond Trail. I don’t know if it’s an offering, a statement, a celebration, or what, but I sure agree with the sentiment.

 

More comedy routines by the great George Carlin, may his memory long endure.

———

I Love My Dog

I love my dog. I love all my dogs. I love every dog I ever had. I remember ’em all. And I love every one of ’em. Still love all my dogs, and I’ve had me a lot of (expletive deleted) dogs.

In my lifetime, I have had me a bunch of different dogs. Because you do keep getting a new dog, don’t you? You just keep getting one dog right after another.

That’s the whole secret of life. Life is a series of dogs. It’s true! You just keep getting a new dog, don’t you? That’s what’s good about them. They don’t live too long, and you can go get a new (expletive deleted) dog.

Sometimes, you can get a dog that looks exactly like the dog you used to have. Right? You shop around a little bit, and you find a dog identical to your former dog.

And that’s real handy, ’cause you don’t have to change the pictures on your mirror or anything. Right? You just bring the dead one into the pet shop, throw him up on the counter, and say, “Give me another one of them. That one was real good.” And they’ll give you a carbon copy of your ex-(expletive deleted) dog.

Now, my favorite dog that I ever had in my whole lifetime was Tippy. Tippy was a good dog. Some of you remember I’ve talked about Tippy. Tippy was a good dog. Tippy was a mixed terrier. You know, that word mixed that the veterinarian puts on the form when even HE don’t know what the (expletive deleted) you got.

You bring in a little mixed puppy to a veterinarian and say, “What is it?” He’ll say, “Well, it’s definitely not a monkey.” Tippy was actually part Dodge Dart.

Poor Tippy was full of guilt. So much so, in fact, she’s the only dog I ever had who committed suicide.

Yeah, well, we don’t say it like that around the house. We say she put herself to sleep. But she ran out in front of a milk truck. That’s (expletive deleted) suicide.

But that was her decision. That’s what Tippy wanted to do. And that’s the way it is in our family. If you want to commit suicide, we back you up.

So, we supported Tippy in her little suicide decision. Then we brought her into the pet shop, threw her up on the counter, and said, “Give us something bigger. We’re trading up.”

We was looking for a bigger (expletive deleted) dog, ’cause Tippy had been teeny, even before the truck came by. Truck had made her teenier. Ha. Wider, but teenier.

Carlin-4

Euphemisms

I don’t like words that hide the truth. I don’t like words that conceal reality. I don’t like euphemisms or euphemistic language.

And American English is loaded with euphemisms. ‘Cause Americans have a lot of trouble dealing with reality. Americans have trouble facing the truth, so they invent kind of a soft language to protect themselves from it. And it gets worse with every generation. For some reason, it just keeps getting worse.

I’ll give you an example of that. There’s a condition in combat. Most people know about it. It’s when a fighting person’s nervous system has been stressed to it’s absolute peak and maximum. Can’t take any more input. The nervous system has either snapped or is about to snap.

In the First World War, that condition was called shell shock. Simple, honest, direct language. Two syllables, shell shock. Almost sounds like the guns themselves.

That was 70 years ago. Then a whole generation went by, and the Second World War came along, and very same combat condition was called battle fatigue.

Four syllables now. Takes a little longer to say. Doesn’t seem to hurt as much. Fatigue is a nicer word than shock. Shell shock! Battle fatigue.

Then we had the war in Korea, 1950. Madison Avenue was riding high by that time, and the very same combat condition was called operational exhaustion.

Hey, we’re up to eight syllables now, and the humanity has been squeezed completely out of the phrase. It’s totally sterile now. Operational exhaustion. Sounds like something that might happen to your car.

Then, of course, came the war in Vietnam, which has only been over for about 16 or 17 years, and thanks to the lies and deceits surrounding that war, I guess it’s no surprise that the very same condition was called post-traumatic stress disorder.

Still eight syllables, but we’ve added a hyphen! And the pain is completely buried under jargon. Post-traumatic stress disorder.

I’ll bet you if we were still calling it shell shock, some of those Vietnam veterans might have gotten the attention they needed at the time. I’ll betcha. I’ll betcha.

But, it didn’t happen, and one of the reasons is because we were using that soft language. That language that takes the life out of life. And it is a function of time. It does keep getting worse.

I’ll give you another example. Sometime during my life, toilet paper became bathroom tissue. I wasn’t notified of this. No one asked me if I agreed with it. It just happened. Toilet paper became bathroom tissue.

Sneakers became running shoes. False teeth became dental appliances. Medicine became medication. Information became directory assistance. The dump became the landfill.

Car crashes became automobile accidents. Partly cloudy became partly sunny. Motels became motor lodges. House trailers became mobile homes. Used cars became previously-owned vehicles.

Room service became guest-room dining. Riots became civil disorders. Strikes became job actions. Zoos became wildlife parks.

Jungles became rain forests. Swamps became wetlands. Glasses became prescription eyewear.

Drug addiction became substance abuse. Soap operas became daytime dramas.

Gambling joints became gaming resorts. Prostitutes became sex workers. Theaters became performing arts centers. Wife-beating became domestic violence. Constipation became occasional irregularity.

When I was a little kid, if I got sick, they wanted me to go to the hospital and see a doctor. Now they want me to go to a health maintenance organization, or a wellness center, to consult a healthcare delivery professional.

Poor people used to live in slums. Now the economically disadvantaged occupy substandard housing in the inner cities.

And they’re broke! They’re broke! They don’t have a negative cash-flow position. They’re (expletive deleted) broke!

‘Cause a lot of them were fired, you know. Fired. Management wanted to curtail redundancies in the human resources area, so many people are no longer viable members of the workforce.

Smug, greedy, well-fed white people have invented a language to conceal their sins. It’s as simple as that.

The CIA doesn’t kill anybody anymore, they neutralize people. Or they depopulate the area.

The government doesn’t lie, it engages in disinformation. The Pentagon actually measures nuclear radiation in something they call sunshine units.

Israeli murderers are called commandos. Arab commandos are called terrorists. Contra killers are called freedom fighters.

Well, if crime fighters fight crime and fire fighters fight fire, what do freedom fighters fight? They never mention that part of it to us, do they? Never mention that part of it.

And some of this stuff is just silly, we all know that. Like on the airlines, they say, “Want to pre-board?” Well, what the hell is pre-board? What does that mean? To get on before you get on?

They say they’re going to pre-board those passengers in need of special assistance. Cripples! Simple honest direct language. There is no shame attached to the word cripple that I can find in any dictionary. No shame attached to it. In fact, it’s a word used in bible translations. Jesus healed the cripples. Doesn’t take seven words to describe that condition.

But we don’t have any cripples in this country anymore. We have the physically challenged. Is that a grotesque enough evasion for you? How about differently abled. I’ve heard them called that. Differently abled! You can’t even call these people handicapped anymore. They’ll say, “We’re not handicapped. We’re handicapable!”

These poor people have been (expletive deleted) by the system into believing that if you change the name of the condition, somehow you’ll change the condition. Well, hey, cousin — ppsssppttttt. Doesn’t happen. Doesn’t happen.

We have no more deaf people in this country. Hearing impaired.

No one’s blind anymore. Partially sighted or visually impaired.

We have no more stupid people. Everyone has a learning disorder. Or he’s minimally exceptional. How would you like to be told that about your child? He’s minimally exceptional. Oooh, thank God for that!

Psychologists actually have started calling ugly people those with severe appearance deficits.

And we have no more old people in this country. No more old people. We shipped them all away, and we brought in these senior citizens. Isn’t that a typically American 20th Century phrase? Bloodless, lifeless, no pulse in one of them. A senior citizen.

But I’ve accepted that one, I’ve come to terms with it. I know it’s here to stay. We’ll never get rid of it. That’s what they’re going to be called, so I’ll relax on that.

But the one I do resist, the one I keep resisting, is when they look at an old guy and they’ll say, “Look at him Dan! He’s 90 years young.”

Imagine the fear of aging that reveals. To not even be able to use the word old to describe somebody. To have to use an antonym.

And fear of aging is natural. It’s universal, isn’t it? We all have that. No one wants to get old. No one wants to die, but we do! So we (expletive deleted) ourselves.

I started (expletive deleted) myself when I got to my forties. As soon as I got into my forties, I’d look in the mirror and I’d say, “well, I guess I’m getting… older.”

Older sounds a little better than old, doesn’t it? Sounds like it might even last a little longer.

(Expletive deleted.) I’m getting old!

And it’s okay, because, thanks to our fear of death in this country, I won’t have to die. I’ll pass away. Or I’ll expire, like a magazine subscription.

If it happens in the hospital, they’ll call it a terminal episode. The insurance company will refer to it as negative patient-care outcome. And if it’s the result of malpractice, they’ll say it was a therapeutic misadventure.

I’m telling you, some of this language makes me want to vomit.

Well, maybe not vomit. Makes me want to engage in an involuntary personal protein spill.

Carlin-5

Offensive Language

Now, I’d like to begin tonight with an opening announcement. Because of the FCC, I’m never sure what it is I’m allowed to say. So, I now have my own official policy — this is the language you will NOT be hearing tonight.

You will not hear me say: bottom line, game plan, role model, scenario, or hopefully. I will not kick back, mellow out, or be on a roll.

I will not go for it, and I will not check it out; I don’t even know what it is. And when I leave here I definitely will not boogie.

I promise not to refer to anyone as a class act, a beautiful person or a happy camper. I will also not be saying what a guy.

And you will not hear me refer to anyone’s lifestyle. If you want to know what a moronic word lifestyle is, all you have to do is realize that, in a technical sense, Attila the Hun had an active outdoor lifestyle.

I will also not be saying any cute things like moi. And I will not use the French adverb tre to modify any English adjectives. Such as tre awesome, tre gnarly, tre fabou, tre intense, or tre out-of-sight.

I will not say concept when I mean idea. I will not say impacted when I mean affected. There will be no hands-on, state-of-the-art networking. We will not maximize, prioritize, or finalize. And we definitely will not interface.

There will also be no new-age lingo spoken here tonight. No support-group jargon from the human potential movement. For instance, I will not share anything with you. I will not relate to you and you will not identify with me.

I will give you no input, and I will expect no feedback. This will not be a learning experience, nor will it be a growth period. There will be no sharing, no caring, no birthing, no bonding, no parenting, no nurturing. We will not establish a relationship, we will not have any meaningful dialogue and we definitely will not spend any quality time.

We will not be supportive of one another, so that we can get in touch with our feelings in order to feel good about ourselves. And if you’re one of those people who needs a little space, please, go the (expletive deleted) outside.

Carlin-6

I Ain’t Afraid of Cancer

Yeah, about time for me to get a little drink of water. Figure this stuff is safe to drink, huh? Actually, I don’t care if it’s safe or not, I drink it anyway.

You know why? ‘Cause I’m an American, and I expect a little cancer in my food and water. That’s right, I’m a loyal American, and I’m not happy unless I’ve let government and industry poison me a little bit every day. Let me have a few hundred thousand carcinogens here.

Ahh, a little cancer never hurt anybody. Everybody needs a little cancer I think. It’s good for you. Keeps you on your toes.

Besides, I ain’t afraid of cancer. I had broccoli for lunch. Broccoli kills cancer. A lot of people don’t know that. It’s not out yet.

It’s true. You find out you got some cancer, get yourself a (expletive deleted) bowl of broccoli. That’ll wipe it right out in a day or two.

Cauliflower too. Cauliflower kills the really big cancers. The ones you can see through clothing from across the street. Broccoli kills the little ones. The ones that are slowly eating your way from inside, while your goddamn, goofy, half-educated doctor keeps telling you, “you’re doing fine, Jim.”

In fact, bring your doctor a bowl of broccoli. He’s probably got cancer too. Probably picked it up from you. They don’t know what they’re doing. It’s all guesswork in a white coat.

Here, let me have a few more sips of industrial waste. Ahh.

Maybe I can turn them cancers against one another. That’s what you gotta hope for, you know — that you get more than one cancer, so they eat each other up instead of you. In fact, the way I look at it, the more cancer you got, the healthier you are.

Well, I know, some people don’t like you to talk about those things. I know that. Some people don’t like you to mention certain things. Some people don’t want you to say this, some people don’t want you to say that. Some people think if you mention some things, they might happen. Some people are really (expletive deleted) stupid!

Did you ever notice that? How many really stupid people you run into during the day? (Expletive deleted), there’s a lot of stupid (expletive deleted) people walking around. Carry a little pad and pencil with you, you’ll wind up with 30 or 40 names by the end of the day.

Look at it this way: think of how stupid the average person is, and then realize that half of them are stupider than that.

Carlin-7

Organ Donor Programs

Organ donor programs. Does that (expletive deleted) bother you a little bit? Sound like Josef Mengele has been sitting in on some of those meetings or something.

The thing that bothers me the most about it is, they’re run by the motor vehicles bureau. It’s the motor vehicles bureau in most states who sends you the little card you’re supposed to carry right next to your driver’s license in your wallet.

A little card. You’re supposed to fill it out, and on it, you’re supposed to list the organs you’re willing to give in case you die.

Are these people out of their (expletive deleted) minds or something? Do you honestly believe that if a paramedic finds that card on you in an automobile accident, he’s going to try to save your life? (Expletive deleted), he’s looking for parts, man!

Absolutely. “Look Dan, here’s that lower intestine we’ve been looking for. Never mind the oxygen, this man’s a donor.”

(Expletive deleted.) They can have my rectum and my anus. That’s all I’m giving, take ’em and get out of here. Put ’em in your bag and get the (expletive deleted) out of my life. That’s all I’m giving.

I don’t want some guy poking around in me, hoping I die. I want to live, I don’t want to die.

That’s the whole secret of life: not dying! I figured that (expletive deleted) out by myself in the third grade.

Carlin-8

 

 

 

 

I am no stranger to profanity, God knows, but I prefer to use it sparingly. That way, it adds flavor and emphasis to the conversation. Overdoing it is like dumping too much chile powder into the stew. But that’s just one guy’s opinion.

The subject came to mind recently as I was reading the transcripts of some old George Carlin comedy routines.

Carlin, the celebrated comedian, died 10 years ago. People remember him as a caustic critic of society and culture — a master of black comedy, satire, sarcasm, and, notably, profanity.

As you may recall, Carlin’s “Seven Dirty Words” comedy routine made legal history. In 1973, a father complained to the FCC that a radio station in New York had broadcast the routine without bleeping the dirty words. The FCC reprimanded the radio station. Lawyers promptly filed lawsuits.

In 1978, the Supreme Court upheld the FCC in the case and said the FCC has an obligation to censor as appropriate to shield children from offensive material. (Carlin’s routine, the court said, was “indecent but not obscene.”)

Carlin was hugely talented, one of our greatest comedians. But sometimes, I found myself wishing he would dial back the profanity. His routines (not counting “Seven Dirty Words,” mind you) wouldn’t suffer.

As it happened, spicy Carlin was the only option. And I’m okay with that.

My personal favorite Carlin routine is “A Place For My Stuff.” Another winner: “Interview With Jesus.”

Here are the transcripts.

Carlin-1

A Place For My Stuff

Actually, this is just a place for my stuff, you know? That’s all, a little place for my stuff. That’s all I want, that’s all you need in life, is a little place for your stuff, you know?

I can see it on your table. Everybody’s got a little place for their stuff. This is my stuff, that’s your stuff, that’ll be his stuff over there. That’s all you need in life, a little place for your stuff.

That’s all your house is: a place to keep your stuff. If you didn’t have so much stuff, you wouldn’t need a house. You could just walk around all the time.

A house is just a pile of stuff with a cover on it. You can see that when you’re taking off in an airplane. You look down, you see everybody’s got a little pile of stuff. All the little piles of stuff.

And when you leave your house, you gotta lock it up. Wouldn’t want somebody to come by and take some of your stuff. They always take the good stuff. They never bother with that crap you’re saving. All they want is the shiny stuff. That’s what your house is, a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get… more stuff!

Sometimes, you gotta move — gotta get a bigger house. Why? No room for your stuff anymore.

Did you ever notice when you go to somebody else’s house, you never quite feel a hundred percent at home? You know why? No room for your stuff! Somebody else’s stuff is all over the (expletive deleted) place!

And if you stay overnight, unexpectedly, they give you a little bedroom to sleep in. Bedroom they haven’t used in about 11 years. Someone died in it, 11 years ago. And they haven’t moved any of his stuff!

Right next to the bed, there’s usually a dresser or a bureau of some kind, and there’s NO ROOM for your stuff on it. Somebody else’s (expletive deleted) is on the dresser.

Have you noticed that their stuff is (expletive deleted), and your (expletive deleted) is stuff? God! And you say, “Get that (expletive deleted) off of there, and let me put my stuff down!”

Sometimes, you leave your house to go on vacation. And you gotta take some of your stuff with you. Gotta take about two big suitcases full of stuff when you go on vacation. You gotta take a smaller version of your house.

It’s the second version of your stuff. And you’re gonna fly all the way to Honolulu. Gonna go across the continent, across half an ocean, to Honolulu. You get down to the hotel room in Honolulu, and you open up your suitcase, and you put away all your stuff.

Here’s a place here, put a little bit of stuff there, put some stuff here, put some stuff — you put your stuff there, I’ll put some stuff — here’s another place for stuff, look at this, I’ll put some stuff here.

And even though you’re far away from home, you start to get used to it. You start to feel okay, because after all, you do have some of your stuff with you.

That’s when your friend calls up from Maui, and says, “Hey, why don’t you come over to Maui for the weekend and spend a couple of nights over here?”

Oh, no! Now what do I pack? Right, you’ve gotta pack an even SMALLER version of your stuff. The third version of your house. Just enough stuff to take to Maui for a couple of days.

You get over to Maui — I mean, you’re really getting extended now, when you think about it. You got stuff ALL the way back on the mainland, you got stuff on another island, you got stuff on this island. I mean, supply lines are getting longer and harder to maintain.

You get over to your friend’s house on Maui, and he gives you a little place to sleep, a little bed right next to his window sill or something. You put some of your stuff up there. You put your stuff up there.

You got your Visine, you got your nail clippers, and you put everything up. It takes about an hour and a half, but after a while you finally feel okay, say, “All right, I got my nail clippers, I must be okay.”

That’s when your friend says, “Aaaaay, I think tonight we’ll go over the other side of the island, visit a pal of mine and maybe stay over.”

Aww, no! NOW what do you pack? Right — you gotta pack an even SMALLER version of your stuff. The fourth version of your house.

Only the stuff you know you’re gonna need. Money, keys, comb, wallet, lighter, hanky, pen, smokes, rubber, and change.

Well, only the stuff you HOPE you’re gonna need.

Carlin-2

Interview With Jesus

I: Ladies and gentlemen, we are privileged to have with us a man known all over the world as the Prince of Peace: Jesus Christ. How are you, Jesus?

JC: Fine, thanks, and let me say, it’s great to be back.

I: Can you tell us, after all this time, why you came back?

JC: Mostly nostalgia.

I: Well, could you tell us, Jesus, a little about the first time you were here?

JC: Well, there’s not much to tell. I think everybody knows the story by now. I was born on Christmas.

I: Yes.

JC: And, uh, actually, that always bothered me, because, uh, that way, I only got one present. You know, if I was born a couple months earlier, I woulda had two presents. But look, I’m not complaining. It’s only material.

I: Were you really born in a stable?

JC: Nah. I was born in a hospital. Bethlehem Jewish Hospital. But the hospital was located in a stable. That’s how the story got started.

I: And is it true that there was no room at the inn?

JC: Oh, no, they had room. It’s just that we didn’t have reservations. My father, Joseph — God bless him — he was a simple man. He didn’t travel much. He forgot to make reservations.

I: There’s a story that there were three wise men.

JC: Well, there were three kings who showed up. Uh, I don’t know how wise they were. They didn’t look wise. They said they followed a star. That don’t sound wise to me.

I: Didn’t they bring gifts?

JC: Yes. Gold, frankincense, and, I believe, myrrh, which I never did find out what that was. You wouldn’t happen to know what myrrh is for, do you?

I: Well, I believe it’s a reddish-brown, bitter, gum resin.

JC: Oh, great, great! Just what I need — a gum resin! What am I going to do with a gum resin? I’d rather have the money. That way, I could go out and buy something I need. You know, something I wouldn’t normally buy for myself.

I: What would that be?


JC: Oh, I don’t know. A bathing suit. I never had a bathing suit. Maybe a Devo hat. A bicycle. I really coulda used a bicycle. You realize all the walkin’ I did? I musta crossed Canaan six, eight times. Up and down, north and south. Walkin’ and talkin’. Doin’ miracles, tellin’ stories.

I: Tell us about the miracles. How many miracles did you perform?

JC: A total of 107 miracles, not counting the loaves and the fishes.

I: Why don’t you count the loaves and the fishes?

JC: Well, technically, that one wasn’t a miracle.

I: It wasn’t?

JC: No. Turns out, a lot of people were puttin’ ’em back. Didn’t like ’em. Actually, not all those miracles were pure miracles anyway.

I: (Surprised) What do you mean? What were they if they weren’t miracles?

JC: Well, some of them were parlor tricks, optical illusions, mass hypnosis. We had hallucinations, even acupressure. That was how I cured most of the blind guys. Acupressure.

I: So, not all of the New Testament is true.

JC: No. Some of that gospel stuff never happened at all. It was just made up. Luke and Mark used a lot of drugs. See, Luke was a physician and he had access to drugs. Matthew and John were okay, but Luke and Mark would write anything.

I: What about raising Lazarus from the dead?

JC: First of all, he wasn’t dead. He was hung over. I told people that.

I: But in the Bible, you said he was dead.

JC: Uh-uh. I said he looked dead. I said, “Hey! He looks dead!” You see, Lazarus was a very heavy sleeper. Plus, the day before, we had been to a wedding feast and he had put away a lot of wine.

I: Ah, was that the Wedding Feast at Cana, where you changed the water into wine?

JC: Uh, I don’t know. I, uh, we went to an awful lot of wedding feasts in those days.

I: But did you really ever turn water into wine?

JC: Not that I know of. Uh, one time, I did turn apple juice into milk, but I really don’t remember the water and wine thing.

I: All right, speaking of water, let me ask you about another miracle: walking on the water. I mean, did that really happen?

JC: Oh, yeah, that was one that really happened. You see, the problem was, I could do it, the other guys couldn’t do it. They were jealous. Peter got mad at me, so he got these shoes made. Special big shoes that if you start out walkin’ real fast, you can float on the water for awhile. Then of course, after a few yards, lalalalooms, he goes right down into the water. He sinks like a rock. That’s why I call him Peter. “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock, I shall build my Church.”

I: Well, that brings up the Apostles. Uh, what can you tell us about the Apostles?

JC: Well, they were a good bunch of guys, you know. They smelled a little like bait, but oh, they was a good bunch of guys. Thirteen of ’em we had.

I: Thirteen? The Bible says there were only twelve.

JC: Well that was according to St. Luke and I told you about Luke. Actually, we had 13 apostles. We had Peter, James, John, Andrew, Phillip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James — that’s a different James — Thaddeus… Let’s see, how many is that?

I: That’s 10.

JC: Okay. Uh, Simon, Judas, and Red.

I: Red?

JC: Yeah. We call him “Red the Apostle.”

I: Red the Apostle?

JC: Uh-hmm.

I: He doesn’t appear in the Bible.

JC: Nah. He kept pretty much to himself. He never came to any of the miracles. He was a little strange. He thought the Red Sea was named after him.

I: What about Judas?

JC: Hey, don’t get me started on Judas.

I: Okay. Well, what about the other apostles. Uh, say for instance, Thomas. Was he really a doubter?

JC: This guy, Thomas, you couldn’t tell him nothin’, you know? He was always askin’ me for my ID. Soon as I see him — “Got any ID?” To this day, he doesn’t believe I’m God.

I: Are you God?

JC: Well, partly. You know that. I’m a member of the Trinity.

I: Yes, in fact you’ve written a book about the Trinity, haven’t you.

JC: That’s right. It’s called, “Three’s a Crowd.”

I: “Three’s a Crowd.”

JC: Um-hmm.

I: As I understand it, it’s nothing more than a thinly-veiled attack on the Holy Ghost.

JC: Listen, it’s not an attack. You wanna know what it is? I don’t get along with the Holy Ghost, all right? So I leave him alone. That’s it. What he does is his business.

I: Well, why? What’s the reason?

JC: Well, first of all, you never know who he’s gonna be. Every day he shows up, he’s somethin’ different. One day he comes in the meetin’, he’s a dove. Another day he’s a tongue of fire. Always foolin’ around. (annoyed) Listen, I don’t bother with the guy. I don’t wanna know about him. I don’t see him. I don’t talk to him.

I: Well, let me change the subject. Is there really a place called Hell?

JC: Oh, yeah, there’s a Hell. Sure. There’s also a Heck. It’s not as severe, but we got Heck and Hell.

I: What about Purgatory?

JC: No. Don’t know nothin’ about no Purgatory. We got Heaven, Hell, Heck, and Limbo.

I: What is Limbo like?

JC: I don’t know. No one’s allowed in there. If anyone was in there, it wouldn’t be Limbo. Then it would be a place.

I: Getting back to your previous visit, Jesus, what can you tell us about The Last Supper?

JC: Well, first of all, if I had known I was gonna be crucified, I woulda had a bigger meal. You never want to be crucified on an empty stomach.

I: The Crucifixion must have been terrible.

JC: It was awful, I gotta tell ya. Unless you’ve gone through it yourself, you could never know how painful it was. And tiring. It was very, very tiring and embarrassing. I think, more than anything, it was embarrassing. You know, right in front of everybody to be crucified. But I don’t know, I guess it redeemed a lot of people.

I: Were you scared?

JC: Yeah. Near the end, I thought it was gonna rain. I was afraid I might get hit by lightning. But, all in all, I would say when I was here, I had a good time.

I: What do you think about Christianity?

JC: Well, I’m a little embarrassed by it. Uh, if I had to do it over again, I think I would start one of them Eastern religions, like Buddha did. Now, Buddha was smart. That’s why he’s laughing.

I: You wouldn’t want to be a Christian?

JC: No. I would never want to be a member of any group whose symbol is a man nailed onto two pieces of wood. Especially if it’s me! Buddha’s laughing, I’m on the cross!

I: I have a few more questions; do you mind?

JC: Hey, be my guest. How often do I get here?

I: Are there really angels?

JC: Well, not as many as we used to have. Years ago, we had millions of ’em. Today, you can’t get the young people to join. You know, it got too dangerous, with radar and heat-seeking missiles.

I: What about guardian angels?

JC: Well, we still have guardian angels, but now it’s one angel for every six people. Years ago, everybody had his own angel.

I: Do you really answer prayers?

JC: No. First of all, most of ’em don’t even get through. I mean, you got sunspots, you got radio interference. Years ago we answered them all. But years ago, there were less people. And people prayed for something simple then — to light a fire, to catch a yak; somethin’ like that. But today, you got people prayin’ for hockey teams, people prayin’ for longer fingernails. We just can’t keep up with it.

I: Well, I think we’re just about out of time. I certainly want to thank you for visiting with us.

JC: Hey, no sweat.

I: Do you have any last thoughts or words of advice?

JC: What — you mean how to remove perspiration stains from a garment, somethin’ like that?

I: No, I mean spiritual advice.

JC; Well, I don’t know how spiritual it is, but I’d say one thing is, don’t give your money to the church. They should be givin’ their money to you.

I: Well, thank you Jesus, and good night.

JC: Well, good night. Thanks for having me on here today. By the way, big bands are definitely not comin’ back.

———

In my next post, more classic Carlin.

Carlin-3

 

This Just In

TAMPA, FLORIDA — A Tampa contractor claims in a lawsuit that he entered a condominium to conduct a fire safety inspection and was attacked by a bobcat.

The contractor claims that the bobcat was illegally-kept and unrestrained and inflicted permanent injuries. He asks for a jury trial and unspecified damages.

According to the condo owner, the contractor entered the apartment illegally because he wasn’t accompanied by a building employee as the bylaws require. Furthermore, she said she owns a small domestic longhair cat, not a bobcat.

A Florida wildlife official went to the condo and was introduced to Calli, a 10-pound housecat with a tortoise-shell-colored coat. The official’s report concluded that Calli is not a bobcat, inasmuch as bobcats are larger animals with light-colored, spotted coats, tufted ears, and bobbed tails.

The contractor’s attorney declined to comment.

Calli

MINOT, NORTH DAKOTA — Employees at a Hobby Lobby store called 911 last month to report that a white male was fleeing the store pushing a shopping cart loaded with stolen merchandise.

When police arrived, they found the shopping cart in the parking lot, lying on its side in deep snow. It contained about $4,000 worth of stolen items. Employees said the man tripped and fell, the cart overturned, and he fled on foot.

While inspecting the scene, officers found a wallet that contained photo identification and an address. A 22-year-old man who resided there was arrested on felony shoplifting charges.

Shoplifter

BOWMANSTOWN, PENNSYLVANIA — As family members watched in horror, their small pet dog was snatched from the back yard and carried away by an eagle.

Zoey, an eight-pound Bichon Frise, was playing in the yard when the eagle swooped down, grabbed her in its talons, and soared away. The distraught owners began a fruitless search of the area.

About two hours later and four miles away, a woman found a dazed Zoey lying on the ground and took her home. After reading a Facebook post about the incident, the woman returned Zoey to her family.

Zoey has a slight limp, but apparently was otherwise unharmed, although the owners say she is hesitant to leave the house. No one knows how she escaped from the eagle.

Zoey

 

All My Rivers

Homo sapiens! Greedy, pathetic fools with a genetic mania to destroy all the sanctuaries that feed their souls. Well, hell, I don’t give a damn if we’re blotted out. I don’t want to be a part of the human race when I see the pimps in government and the whores who do their bidding. I’d rather be a coyote.

— Katie Lee, ardent conservationist

———

Last November, when I heard about the death of the indomitable Katie Lee, the news hit me harder than I expected. I rarely respond so emotionally when someone famous dies.

Katie Lee (1919-2017) was an actress, folksinger, writer, photographer, river runner, and environmental activist. She was a nature lover and a glorious free spirit. To anyone with a heart and a shred of concern for the planet, she was an inspiration.

She certainly inspired me. I admired her passion, her dedication, and her willingness to live life her way. This is a woman who, at age 80, bicycled nude in downtown Jerome, Arizona, in tribute to a deceased friend. The license plate on her Toyota Prius read DAM DAM.

Consider what she did in her 98 years…

———

Kathryn Louise Lee was born in Illinois, the daughter of architect Zanna Lee and Ruth Detwiler Lee, an interior decorator. When Katie was three months old, the Lees moved to Tucson, Arizona. Katie grew up there and learned to understand the importance of the natural environment.

When cast in a play in high school, she discovered that she not only had acting skills, but relished the limelight. She had the added advantages of being likable, attractive, and uninhibited.

KL-1

After earning a degree in drama from the University of Arizona, Katie moved to Hollywood, the mecca of the young and hopeful. She never attained major stardom, but she acted regularly in small stage and screen parts, as well as in dramas and musicals on radio.

In the 1950s, Katie also began writing and singing folk and country music. Due in part to her engaging personality and irreverent sense of humor, she became friends with many of the music stars of the time. Burl Ives reportedly said, “The best cowboy singer I know is a girl: Katie Lee.”

In 1953, after a performance in Tucson, Katie watched a home movie of a high school friend running rapids on the Colorado River. Katie was smitten, and she pleaded with her friend to take her on his next trip. He did.

Over the next several years, Katie rowed, paddled, and motored the Colorado and San Juan Rivers regularly. She became just the third woman to run every rapid in Grand Canyon.

KL-2

She also became enchanted with Glen Canyon, upstream of Grand Canyon. “That’s when the 186 miles of pure Eden that is Glen Canyon captivated me and made me its slave,” she wrote.

Katie adored Glen Canyon’s majestic cliffs and intricate side canyons. She explored them all, bathing nude under the waterfalls. The breezes, she said, were like voices speaking to her. She wrote books and songs celebrating Glen Canyon and the crucial role of rivers everywhere.

KL-3

Then, in the early 1960s, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation began constructing Glen Canyon Dam, which would generate power at the expense of submerging Glen Canyon beneath Lake Powell. Katie joined Edward Abbey, David Brower, and other conservationists who opposed the dam.

I had a cause!” she said later. “A cause that didn’t center on me-me-me. One that asked nothing of me, really, yet was far from mute. I’d never had a cause before, but now there was a place, almost a person, that needed my help.”

KL-4

Attempts to block construction of the dam failed, but Katie Lee remained a constant voice in opposition to the dam’s presence for the rest of her life.

There are good dams that are built for the right reasons and in the right place, but this dam was built in the wrong place for the wrong reasons,” she later said. “When you kill a river, you kill everything around it for many, many miles.”

The only reason she didn’t blow up the dam herself, she often said, was that she didn’t know how.

After the dam was built, Katie used music, books, and film to disparage government bureaucrats for destroying Glen Canyon. Her protests were constant, fierce, and creatively profane. She became one of the national symbols of the movement to protect natural places from being destroyed in the name of progress.

When they drowned that place, they drowned my whole guts,” she said. “And I will never forgive the bastards. May they rot in hell.”

She refused to visit Lake Powell, calling it an abomination, and she never again rafted the Colorado River below the dam.

Katie was married twice. Her first husband was race car driver Brandy Brandelius. After his death, she married and later divorced businessman Eugene Busch, Jr.

For a time, Katie lived in Aspen and other Colorado mountain towns. She performed locally, singing and playing guitar, and was often seen driving her vintage Thunderbird.

When Aspen became too rich and haughty for her taste, she left. In 1978, at age 59, she set out on a trip around the world.

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In Australia, she met Joey van Leeuwen, a Dutch immigrant 12 years her junior who worked at a furniture factory in Perth. The attraction was powerful and immediate.

By 1980, Joey and Katie were living in Jerome, Arizona, population 444, a quaint old mining town favored by retirees, artists, and hippies.

The names of Katie’s record albums through the years are revealing…

– Spicy Songs for Cool Knights, 1956
– Songs of Couch and Consultation, 1957
– Life is Just a Bed of Neuroses, 1960
– The Best of Katie Lee Live, 1962
– Folk Songs & Poems of the Colorado River, 1964
– Love’s Little Sisters, 1975
– Colorado River Songs, 1976
– Ten Thousand Goddam Cattle, 1977
– Fenced!, 1978
– His Knibbs and the Badger, 1992
– Glen Canyon River Journeys, 1998
– Colorado River Songs (Again!), 1998
– Folk Songs from the Fifties, 2009

So are the titles of her books…

Ten Thousand Goddam Cattle A History of the American Cowboy in Song, Story & Verse, 1976
– All My Rivers are Gone: A Journey of Discovery through Glen Canyon, 1998
Sandstone Seduction Rivers and Lovers, Canyons and Friends, 2004
Glen Canyon Betrayed A Sensuous Elegy, 2006
– The Ballad of Gutless Ditch, 2010
– The Ghosts of Dandy Crossing, 2014

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Katie usually is remembered for her folk and protest songs, but many were humorous and satirical. Consider these lyrics from “Stay as Sick as You Are.”

I love your streak of cruelty,
Your psychopathic lies,
The homicidal tendencies
Shining in your eyes.

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Stories about her abound, but nothing showcases the real Katie Lee, or is more revealing of her character, than “Kickass Katie Lee,” a 10-minute documentary made in 2016.

Katie’s partner Joey was a skilled woodworker, and he continued his carpentry work when he moved to Jerome to be with Katie. Over the four decades they were together, he made repairs, helped care for the city parks, planted trees around town, and served on several city boards and commissions.

Quiet and polite by nature, he had a special love of birds. He made paintings and wood carvings of them and even wrote and illustrated a book, The Birds of Jerome.

Joey was widely admired and respected, and he was seen as Katie’s anchor as she continued her activism into her 90s.

On November 1, 2017, Katie Lee died peacefully in her sleep. The next day, Joey van Leeuwen committed suicide. He was 85.

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