Tuesday, July 29, 2014

When Pigs Fly

Originally published in
Rock Island Argus &
Moline Dispatch
June 5, 2014

As a New Yorker, I grew up believing the Midwest was behind the times, last to the table when progress was being ladled out. Maybe this was true in the days of corsets, sickles and Professor Whitaker's Cure-all Tonic. But I’m here to tell you that within the last six months, the Midwest has produced a pair of achievements that give us plenty to brag about.

Last winter's Arctic temperatures and blizzards brought much of the the country to a standstill, particularly in the Midwest. One small Michigan town was so cold in January that everything came to a stop. Even the snowplows were frozen in place. In a brief lapse of judgment, the mayor, according to BBC radio, put his car key in his mouth. He said he “had to go and throw water” on his mouth because the key “stuck to my lips.”

Why did the story of a cold snap in a Midwestern hamlet make international news? Because the town that frigid temperatures brought to a standstill wasn’t just any town. It was Hell. Hell, Michigan. The thing we’ve always considered unlikely to happen in a million years has come to pass. Not in Dallas or Seattle, but right here in the Midwest.

Hell has frozen over.

The effect was immediate in Illinois. We scrambled to find a new saying to describe the likelihood of the Cubs winning the World Series or a governor meeting his maker without first doing time in the Big House. “When pigs fly” was voted into office, but its term expired early. Why? Because once Hell has frozen over, anything is possible.

And just a week ago in eastern Iowa, pigs flew.

It happened as a truck full of pigs was approaching an intersection on Route One in Iowa City. According to an ABC story at www.kcrg.com, “The truck driver said he hit the brakes at a stoplight and the pigs went flying. The semi driver described it as ‘raining pigs.’”

I should mention that the pigs in question were dead. My curiosity has its limits, so I have not looked into the details of why this guy was driving around Iowa City with a truckload of pigs whose souls were, shall we say, in hog heaven.

Nor do I understand why it took so long to clean up the carnage. The cops and the driver got the carcasses back into the semi but left the truck and its deceased occupants sitting there overnight. By the following afternoon, the neighborhood, once a nice place to live and raise children, was swarming with flies, maggots and residents who weren't seeing the humor in the situation nearly as much as you and I are.

I guess the folks on the so-called “progressive” East and West Coasts are changing their opinions about the Midwest. No matter how you try, you can’t minimize this accomplishment. Any jealous New Yorker or Californian who tries to downgrade it--“Well, that doesn't count; the pigs were dead”--will have to face an uncomfortable reality:

The flight of dead pigs is the ultimate rarity. When you say to someone, “When pigs fly,” you’re saying that the chances of her assertion being realized are remote and hardly worth consideration. But to say “When dead pigs fly” is saying Not Gonna Happen, Period. Can't Happen, No Way, No How.

But it did happen. Take that, New England. How does it feel, Pacific Northwest? We in the Midwest aren’t waiting to catch up. The waiting is over.

Hell has frozen over and pigs have flown.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

It Happened at the Fair and I Hope We All Survive.

The County Fair supplied us with a lot more than the usual prize pigs and blue-ribbon pie recipes this year.

A few nights ago, the 2013 Fair Queen turned over her crown to her successor. As the retiring queen walked off the stage, the love of her life got down on one knee and proposed marriage.

Wide smiles and good cheer abounded, but I wouldn't put money on the public joy lasting long. Because both of them, the outgoing queen and her intended, are women. It's legal here in Illinois, don'tcha know.

A friend of mine was there and is certain that most folks, like her, mistook it for a traditional, if rather public, hetero proposal. And why not? The outgoing queen was in her gown, her love had short hair and was wearing trousers.

Social media quickly came alive with commentary, pretty much what you'd expect: it's sick, it's wonderful, it's sin, it's none of your business. Aside from that, the public furor has been comparatively minor. But believe me, it's gonna become major in a few days.

Because there's more to come. My wife is a Googler Par Excellence (GPE). Internet research is her game, and she's adept at ferreting out info, locating the lost and finding the forbidden. She's uncovered a bit of news that the local press, radio and small-town grapevine haven't yet made public:

The outgoing queen's girlfriend, to whom she is now engaged, is transgendering from male to female.

If you live in New York or L.A., you're probably saying, "And?" But that's not what we're saying around here. Believe me.

Here's my two cents on the subject:

Cent One: How tacky. A marriage proposal is one of the most serious events in your life. It's not a midway sideshow. For God's sake, people, is there left no decorum? No propriety? A touch of class, no matter how minuscule?

Cent Two: I don't make the rules about other peoples' marriages. If they're happy, I'm happy. It's none of my beeswax, and if I don't understand it, who cares?

Still, I don't get all the nuances. Outgoing Queen is in a same-sex relationship. This means she's gay, right?  No problem, except the woman she's marrying is becoming a man. Does that turn the queen straight?

No. Person A's sexual identity does not change Person B's sexual orientation.

I think.

But, then, whom is the Outgoing Queen engaged to, the woman she loves, or the man the woman is becoming, and will he still be a lesbian? Was that even a sentence?

As I say, it doesn't matter to me. Times are tough around here, and if these two want to hitch up and fight the battle together, I'm all for it.

And battle there will be. Because those who have already been offended by hearing about a same-sex marriage proposal in front of God and everybody at the County Fair will be doubly-offended hearing about a same-sex marriage proposal from a transgendering male to a lesbian in front of God and everybody at the County Fair.

This will barely register on my sympathy meter. Taking offense is a choice. When your stomach turns at the thought of things that have nothing to do with you, hurt no one and spread a little joy into the dark corners, you deserve the cramps.

Fortunately, there's a simple remedy. Add one teaspoon of mind your own business to a cup of grow up, shake well and take as needed.

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Unappetizing Truth

I'll be listening to a radio advertisement for, say, Billy's Steakhouse or the Family Roundup and everything will be fine. Then the announcer says, "You'll love our 'appeteasers'" and suddenly everything is not fine. Everything is bad. Very bad.

Attention all employees of every dining establishment in the universe: Do not ever, offer me an "appeteaser."

Offer me an appetizer. If you must, ask me if I'd like something to munch on. You can even beg me to chew on your shoelaces.

But don't offer me an "appeteaser."

You, the restaurateur or menu designer who came up with this word: kill it, dump its remains down the toilet and flush until midnight. "Appeteaser" should not be allowed to exist. I feel dirty just typing it.

I pity you, the server in a restaurant that offers "appeteasers." It wasn't your idea. You didn't decide to pervert a perfectly good word into a word that serves no function, that makes you sound like you don't know how to pronounce the word "appetizer." You're just doing your job.

Which you should quit. A job that requires you to offer "appeteasers" to intelligent human beings is degrading.

(I insist on putting the word in quotes because it is not a real word. It is an incorrect, false, self-hating word in drag masquerading as something it is not: clever. I put "appeteasers" in quotes only because I cannot put it in leg irons.)

I am not a word purist, one of those self-appointed grammarians that love to quibble over "who" and "whom" or the contextual strengths of "yadda yadda " versus "et cetera." Such fine points often lead to questions that have no firm, universal answers.

But there is a firm, universal answer to the question, "How often should Frank Mullen have to hear the word 'appeteaser' spoken in a restaurant?"

Never. Not ever.

All you in the restaurant business who would desecrate the English language with the filth of this vulgar word, hear my solemn vow: if you offer me an "appeteaser," or if I even see the offensive world on your menu, I will pick up my coat and hike around the salad bar, past the cash register and straight out the door.

You are warned.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Another First in Communication

May 24, 1844. After 12 years of work perfecting the world's first system of long-distance, instant communication, Samuel F. Morse sends the first telegraph message:
"What hath God wrought?"
Dec. 24, 1906. After working for a decade to adapting Marconi's radiotelegraph to carry the voice, Reginald Fessenden speaks the first words broadcast over radio:
"Glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace, goodwill to men."
March 31, 2014. After 11 hours trying to figure out what "texting" is and attempting to contact his wife's telephone upstairs from his computer in the basement, Frank Mullen sends his first text message:

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Who do you remember on Memorial Day?

People disagree on the intent and customs of Memorial Day. I've been to ceremonies that honor every deceased veteran, whether they died of injuries in war or old age in the nursing home. Some families decorate the graves of all loved ones on Memorial Day, whether or not the departed served in the military. Sometimes you can't tell the difference between Memorial Day, Veterans Day, Armed Forces Day, great-great-uncle Hezekiah's birthday, a beer blast and a half-price sale on suntan lotion.

I grew up observing Memorial Day as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs defines it, a day that "commemorates the men and women who died while in the military service."

So, on Memorial Day, I particularly remember my grandfather. LCDR Frank Aloysius Mullen, USN, retired during the Great Depression, was called back to service in World War II and died in the last year of that war. As a child, we hung the flag that draped his coffin out the front window of our house every Memorial Day. As an adult, and a veteran myself, I continue that tradition.

I was born a few years after his death, so I have no specific memories of my grandfather. I remember him in the broadest of senses; at times we are called to ponder and reflect upon people we did not know and experiences we did not witness, yet whose legacies still affect us. For reasons that I cannot explain, because I don't fully understand them, I doubt that Frank Mullen III would ever have found a home in the Navy were it not for the family stories and remembrances of Frank Aloysius Mullen.

Who do you remember?