from November 15, 2004
Of the many letters I have received since my death 11 months ago, the majority have shown an unhealthy preoccupation with my sex life.
Though I consider this curiosity an especially acute form of perversion, I am also aware of my responsibilities to the many admirers who have taken the time to write me. They are, after all, my fans. Being an American icon, I feel compelled to answer their most frequently asked questions.
Q. Is there sex after death?
A. For most dead persons, no. For Protestants, no. For practicing Mormons, probably. For Catholics who have chosen the purgatory route, definitely. For Islamist terrorists, the opinions are mixed. For voting members of the Dead Rights Party, it depends. On what? you ask. On whether your urn has been outfitted by the robotic device designed and manufactured by Myles na Gopaleen, Jr. and Associates, a.k.a. the Myles Junior Think Tank (MJTT), and whether you have purchased the Luxury Edition, which includes all the right sex organs. The $25,000 basic robot comes with a 36 month, 36,000 miles warranty. The Luxury Edition, which will run you $100,000, is warranted for 10 years or 10,000 orgasms, whichever comes first.
Q. Are you now, or have you ever been, married?
A. When I was alive, a woman back in Panhandle County proposed to me daily. I cannot for the life of me remember her name. I wish I could say the same for her face and figure. Face like a chimp. Jugs like an unmilked Holstein. And no, I’m not presently married. Incidentally, I took the Luxury Edition option and am presently assembling a small harem, consisting of a mix of similarly-outfitted women and living ladies in the 18-64 year age range. For more information, you can usually find me at the Hôtel Adobe Watering Hole or in the vicinity. Ask for Orville . . . Oh. The woman’s name was Florence. Owned and operated the only bar and grill in town. Proposed to every male patron who walked through the swinging doors. Her father died before she was born—at least that was the general theory. It would explain the need. I don’t imagine there was that much of a lust factor. She must’ve been, oh, in her 80s.
Q. When you were alive, did you have any extra-marital affairs?
A. I wasn’t married, so No.
Q. What about the ladies? Did you fool around with any married ones?
A. I tended to keep away from that type. Lots of jealous husbands, and remember, this was back in Panhandle County, where a man’s best friend is his shotgun. So I specialized in widows. They tend to be grateful. I picked up that insight from Ben Franklin, the guy who invented electricity. Lived half his life in Pennsylvania, the other half in Paris. Paris: that’s probably where he got his theory about grateful widows. Never been to Paris myself. Wonder if they’ve got a branch of the Dead Rights Party? I’m thinking of course of an auxiliary branch.
So there you go. My sex life. I think I’ve pretty much covered the subject.
from November 1, 2004
Most vice presidential candidates don’t have a great record of accomplishment. I am proud to announce that in this regard, I am about average.
Back in Panhandle County, I was approached on numerous occasions to run for office on the Beg-Off ticket. Using my notorious skills, however, I was able to avoid public service. I am proud to announce that I followed the first rule for all doctors: I did no harm. Nothing that went wrong was my fault. Thus I have no need of excuses.
My competitors will say, of course, that back in Panhandle County, nothing went on. They will argue that if nothing went on, nothing could go wrong.
I refuse to haggle with my esteemed competitors on this point. I will say, though, that something did go on back in Panhandle County. We had our share of snake-oil salesmen, as they were called in those days. In fact, that is how our beloved county got its name. It was either that or Politician County. We maintained our dignity by avoiding the latter.
I am also proud as can be that I not only desisted from the temptations to join the snake-oilers, I also fought them. Not, however, in the tooth-and-nail tradition. My method was much more subtle. I followed the tradition of my great-grandfather, Orville Slack I, of my grandfather, Orville Slack II, and of my deceased father, Orville Slack III, by learning the tricks of the beg-off trade. As a matter of fact, I lifted that tradition to the highest pitch.
It was this skill that emptied the churches of a Sunday morning and brought the parishioners of various denominational persuasions to my front porch, where I held forth on the evils of the snake-oil trade and did case-by-case analyses of the tricks of battling that evil trade. This is how I made my good-got gains. Not that I made a pile: a hat on the floor can hold only so many nickels and an occasional dime, and I stood well within the law by owning a single hat. I still own that hat, which, like its peers, was of the ten-gallon variety.
Of course I was poor. In fact, I was tempted to hold midweek services to keep the books balanced. But seldom did I yield to that temptation. Once or twice a month, yes. Every week, no. And I did it as a public service.
The story goes that the so-called converts to my cause made periodic attempts to nominate me for sainthood. I must point out that they never succeeded. One excuse for overlooking my good works was that I was under-qualified. By this I mean that I was not a Catholic. I considered joining that denomination, but then I discovered that many Catholics attend their masses on Sunday, which was my work day. Ergo, I desisted, in deference to their piety and the good works they presumably performed. I knew Latin—that was not the problem, as my opponents have taken to say in their slanderous, snake-oil ways. I also knew logic.
Ergo is a Latin word. I can use it in a sentence without screwing it up. Therefore, I knew Latin. Also, French. Bonne nuit!
from October 15, 2004
It is a truth sometimes acknowledged, that it is incumbent on every candidate running for the highest office in the free world to skirt the question of his or her religious beliefs.
To this tradition I adhere—but only up to a point. My own position is that a candidate must both (1) come clean on the question of religions whose beliefs he or she does not endorse and (2) give subtle hints about his or her own religious beliefs.
I swear to you before God, if there is such a being, that I am not an Islamic terrorist. Nor am I a Christian pacifist, or a Jewish socialist. When I lived in dire circumstances back in my father’s decrepit shack, I admit that I held low-level talks with an itinerant Buddhist nun who had gotten off at the wrong station back in Panhandle County. One morning before breakfast she taught me the first steps of meditation, which consisted mostly of sitting on a rough surface with my legs crossed in an uncomfortable position that led to excruciating pain. From that point on, I was never tempted to achieve Nirvana. As for any ties to Hinduism, all I can report is that I read a book on Indian Philosophy and became thoroughly confused. In my admittedly amateur view, they give you just too many damned options, none of which are spelled out clearly. And I’ve never cottoned to primitive religions, even though their medicine men are supposed to be capable of doing hundreds of tricks. As an accomplished beg-off artist, I’ve always figured I can match them trick for trick.
Now for the subtle hints. I believe from the bottom of my feet that there is quite probably a God, maybe even more than one, though I wouldn’t want to put a number on it. I also sincerely believe that God, or even his possible competitors, wants America to succeed. He (or She) is on our side—except, of course, on those rare occasions when we are in the wrong, in which case He (or She) sends a supernatural disaster our way as a gentle reminder. I firmly believe in the power of prayer, and if that doesn’t work, you should be allowed to cheat a little on the side and/or take the law into your own hands.
Finally, I am intrigued by the various religions my colleague, Thalia Mews, is starting. Despite the fact that I have not signed, nor will I sign, on the dotted line of any of them, I would be the first to champion her right to get them going despite what many of my more orthodox friends say about some of her so-called “nutty ideas.” In fact, it was I who first mentioned the possibility that she be named Secretary of Religion in the first Ab Ennis administration. She is a charming, charismatic lady who speaks the truth as she sees it, except when she is doing the tongue-in-cheek routine.
from October 1, 2004
I was born on the Fourth of July. Let nobody, man, woman, or child, take that distinction away from me. I am, by definition, a patriot. Both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died on that date, in 1826, and neither has ever had aspersions cast on his patriotism to this beloved country. The fact that I was born on that date while my august predecessors died on that date is quite beside the point. What is not beside the point is that I died on that uniquely American holiday, Thanksgiving, as attested by my good friend and companion, Miss Molly Golightly.
As for my war record, what must be kept in mind is that I was born in the Year of Our Lord 1910. When World War I broke out, I was a mere lad of four and thus ineligible for the draft, which if I recall was introduced in 1916, but check that out. I would have served despite my ineligibility, but for the fact that the shack in which I lived back in Panhandle County had no mailbox. This explains why I did not know there was a war going on. Neither did we have a telephone. We were too poor to afford one and besides, the wires in our county had not yet been strung. Besides, I don’t recall that the radio had been invented. Even if it had, we wouldn’t have had one because many in my family thought of this newfangled device as the work of the devil and we couldn’t afford one.
On the day that shall live in infamy, December 7, 1941, I immediately took off for the Naval Recruiting Office with the full intent of signing on for a four-year tour of duty. I was 31 years old at the time and fit as a fiddle, except for the fact that, in my medical examination, the attending nurse discovered several slivers in my buttocks, probably from overuse of the rocking chair in my newly-purchased bungalow while advising neighbors on the art of begging off. I also did not know how to swim, having lived in the desert for my entire life.
I don’t remember anything about the Korean War. The day before it started I fell off my rocking chair and suffered a severe, lengthy concussion. I have the scars to prove it—or, more precisely, I had those scars until the day of my cremation, which I will never forget.
During the Vietnam War, which I supported to the very end, I begged my draft board to draft me despite my age. The chairman of the board listened intently to my pleas, and in the end, advised me that he would put me on the list. Disheartened by the length of the list, I began a correspondence course in needlework, offered by Panhandle University. I duly reported this academic work to the draft board and was dismayed when they granted me a student deferment. Disillusioned by this turn of events, when the needlework course was ended I signed up for a course in shoeing horses and received another student deferment. So disgusted by this action was I that I joined a student protest group. To this day I can recall the message on the needlepointed banner I carried as I was riding my newly-shod horse, Buck: “Let Us Old Guys Fight the Bastards!”
I remember the line of my hero, Nathan Hale: “I regret that I have but one life to give for my country.” To this noble, patriotic sentiment I would only add, “If they’d only let me give it.”
from September, 2004
My great-grandfather, Orville Slack I, was born in a cave; my grandfather, Orville the Second, though born in an adjoining cave, worked his way up to a sod hut; Papa, or, as he was known to the residents of panhandle country, Orville Slack III, climbed the social ladder by purchasing his own shack; and I, through my ingenuity and work ethic, now live in a small bungalow in the small town of Border, Oklahoma, which abuts the larger town of Progress, Texas, which is not that far from Liberal, Kansas.
But as one of our brilliant American thinkers has put it, “Behind every successful man is a woman, and behind her is his wife.” Before Groucho Marx made this observation, the famous French gardener, Voltaire, is quoted as having said, “Behind every successful man is a surprised mother-in-law.” Woman, wife, or mother-in-law: the point is that without the guidance and comfort of a succession of females, my forebears would have been total failures.
Who were these women?
Orville Slack I, my great-grandfather, was born to an immigrant Englishman and his mistress, a remarkable woman of Mexican descent. Marguerita Slack fended for herself and her son, Orville II, by mastering the art of riflery. Legend has it that she could shoot the burning end of a squat cigar out of the mouth of a deputy sheriff at fifty paces—quite a feat, considering the shortness of her legs. There was not a bank teller in panhandle country, so I’ve heard it said, who did not fear Grass-Widow Slack, as she was also known. In fact, a good part of an aspiring teller’s training came to consist of mastering the art of prayer.
At the age of 16, Grandpa Slack married a woman of American Indian descent. Sacajawea Slack was to bow-and-arrow hunting as her mother-in-law Marguerita was to bank borrowing. Her other notorious skill was the ability to guide U. S. infantry units through rattlesnake country—a skill, they say, that she had learned from her own great-grandmother.
In fact, it was on one of her expeditions that she came across a large group of Mormon women headed for the Promised Land. From this troop of lustful, lonely ladies who had answered Brigham Young’s ads, she chose her daughter-in-law, a black woman who had answered the wrong ad, thus inadvertently joining these ladies. This is how Orville Slack II became betrothed to my grandma, Matty Slack, and, as a wedding gift for her, purchased the sod hut that he suddenly found himself unable to pay for.
It was in this sod hut that Papa was born into a pool of English/Hispanic-American/ Indian/black Mormon genes. Grandma Matty, however, was a woman of industry who believed in the American Dream. Not long after her marriage to Grandpa, she insisted that he improve their standard of living by moving from the sod hut to a shack at the edge of Border, Oklahoma. How she earned the money for this purchase I do not know. There were, of course, theories. All I can say with any certainty is that shortly after she gave birth to my father, Orville Slack III, she left town with a Bible-toting circuit-riding Methodist minister who peddled snake oil on the side.
Papa was more fortunate, undoubtedly because of his firm commitment to the Protestant work ethic, which he had heard about at a revival meeting presided over by his mother’s secret lover. On one of his infrequent trips to Waco, Papa met and married Sarah Cohen, who, we later learned by reading her secret correspondence with a former boyfriend attending a yeshiva, was of Jewish ancestry. My mother, Sarah, came to this marriage with a small dowry, allowing Papa to climb the ladder of success.
It was Papa’s success that allowed me to make it through the sixth grade. At that time I met a charming woman of Asian ancestry, who, on the occasion of our first romp in the dried alfalfa, urged me to make her an honest woman. Unfortunately, Mother Sarah would have nothing of it. Though I would not go so far as to call her prejudiced, I sensed that she wanted me to marry someone more like herself. Thus I was forced to apply my family talent to the situation and beg off the planned matrimony. This fact, together with my mother’s longevity, is why I have remained a bachelor to this day.
from September 1, 2004
Being the great-grandson of the most notorious beg-off artist in Panhandle County was never a piece of cake.
Though it eventually reaped advantages, as I shall relate in my later columns in these Memoirs, my first years were a time of persecution. Naturally, the panhandlers, who made up a sizeable percentage of panhandle country, did not take kindly to having their schemes so cleverly countered by the techniques and advice that my forebears were selling to the panhandlees, a word that my spellcheck does not recognize as legitimate, though my astute readers will immediately understand its meaning.
That was a long sentence. Bear in mind, however, that I have a poetic license.
But back to the subject of early persecution.
This took many forms. Perhaps the most common one was outhouse-tipping, a sport that was once considered for inclusion in the Olympics but rejected on the grounds that it was (1) an exclusively American phenomenon and (2) was practiced in the middle of the night.
(I must explain to my younger readers that in my time, shacks were not equipped with indoor plumbing. When nature called, as nature likes to do, we old-timers exited the shack and hastily proceeded to an adjacent small building about the size of a large doghouse. This analogy breaks down, however, when one recalls the purposes of the two edifices. Briefly put, I have yet to see a doghouse built over a large hole into which one makes a periodic deposit I shall refrain from identifying. Suffice it to say that the word “hastily,” which I inserted into a preceding sentence, was put there for more than one reason. The astute reader will recall the phrase, “haste makes waste.” As the Good Book says, “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.”
(Note. Nature will occasionally call at 2 a.m. This is no problem, provided one has a lantern at the ready. It is a problem, however, on a cold winter night. This explains the origin of the bedpan, a device that is still used even in your better hospitals.)
Many were the times during my apprenticeship in my family’s art of begging off that I awoke of a morning to be informed by my father, Orville Slack III, that our outhouse had been tipped on its side and thus removed from its foul-smelling basement foundation. Implicit in this information was the request, disguised as a suggestion, that I “get my ass” out there to place the edifice on its intended base.
Later, of course, I recognized that my father’s request, far from being a form of persecution, was merely a test in my long apprenticeship. He was baiting me into thinking constructively about the problem of begging off from this unpleasant task.
This I did. If memory serves, I learned to reply that his request, if followed, would cause more trouble than it was worth. My reasoning was that the appointed task was beginning to cause me to heave my latest meal onto the outhouse, making it even more difficult to complete the task to be accomplished. In fact, I went the extra mile and showed him the results of my attempts to right the wrong.
He responded, not as an average American father would, by applying a leather strap to my backside, but by extending his right hand in congratulation. Though I had left the task undone, I had passed a difficult test and was well on my way to success in my chosen hobby.
It was at this point in our family history, I believe, that Papa developed the habit of sleeping in his rocking chair, which was set in front of the window that looked out on the edifice in question, his lap playing host to a 12-gauge shotgun.
from August 15, 2004
My great-grandpa, Orville Slack I, was born in a cave somewhere in the panhandle of what is now Oklahoma. At that time the region was part of Mexico, which accounts for the fact that I have a bit of Hispanic blood—or, to be more accurate, I had Hispanic blood before my martyrdom and subsequent cremation. But I still have a quarter teaspoon of tequila every evening, which has to count for something with the Hispanic voter.
Do I speak Spanish? Sí. And more than un poco.
About the cave. Orville Slack I was a semi-orphan. His father, a dissolute Englishman, skipped the light fantastic out of Panhandle County upon hearing of his mistress’s pregnancy. Abandoned by her lover of three months, Slack I’s mother was forced to fend for herself. This fending consisted of moving to the cave—there was no room for her in the inn—and living on cooked sagebrush, homemade tequila, and the occasional jackrabbit or armadillo she was able to gun down with the amazing accuracy that has been passed along to her child, her grandchild, her great-grandchild, and her great-great grandchild. (The latter would be me.)
Slack II, my grandfather, worked himself up from cave life to what must have appeared to him as a mansion: a sod hut. His work consisted of developing the art form he had learned from his father, the art that has come to be called “begging off”—the set of techniques I later developed to the highest pitch. After contracting with a sod hut builder, he refused to pay. In fact, he threatened a lawsuit on the grounds that there was an admixture of cactus in the sod. The builder folded and was run out of town.
My father, Orville Slack III, continued in this tradition, working himself up to a shack, which he shared with my mother until she ran off with a circuit-riding minister of the Gospel. It was at this point that the Slack family developed a small following. I distinctly remember the neighbors missing church of a Sunday morning and coming over to our paintless shack to ask for Papa’s advice on how to deal with medicine pushers and that type of con men. We’d all sit around the stove and discuss the problem of evil and how to fight it. Papa’s quick mind was always “running like sixty,” as they used to say in the Model T Ford days. His most perceptive advice would invariably cause the advisee to flip a quarter into the ten-gallon hat he always inadvertently left at his feet.
With the money I inherited from Papa, as well as the money I earned after he was shot in the head by a disgruntled creditor, I was able to purchase a small bungalow—ironically, this modest home had belonged to the creditor, who had been hanged by a righteously indignant mob consisting largely of Papa’s disciples. Unfortunately, the papers detailing this transaction have mysteriously disappeared from the county courthouse.
And this, my fellow Americans, is a short but accurate account of my 'umble background, which would be the envy of Abe Lincoln.
from July 15, 2004
Dear Orville Slack IV,
Off the top, I got an admission. I’m not a handsome guy. Fact is, my wife once called me ugly. She used other words to the effect that I’d look less round if I kept away from the fast food joints.
But does my appearance keep me from being propositioned, even in broad daylight? You guessed it. No.
Maybe it’s my personality. Also, the fact that I brush my teeth regularly. Well, maybe “brush” ain’t the word. I put ’em in a glass of water every night. This makes for a nice smile, which they say adds to my personality. “They” being the hookers.
Trouble is, I can’t afford their services. Bad investments is the cause. Before the stock market tanked I was flush and enjoyed their company even if it was for only maybe ten minutes, max.
Plus the fact that I’m a minister of the Gospel.
Get the picture?
—Troubled in Tuscaloosa.
I receive many letters from those of your type. Here’s my analysis and advice to the lot of you.
The classic solicitor is the hooker.
Slack makes no judgment about the legitimacy, either legal or moral, of this profession. He does, however, suggest that you utter one or another of the following statements in the event you choose to refuse the offer.
1. “You’ll need written permission from my wife.”
2. “Sorry, lady, I gave at the office.”
3. “Sorry, lady, I’m three months behind at home.”
In the event that you wish to roll the dice, you might consider merely asking, “Do you take MasterCard?”
from June 15, 2004
Dear Orville Slack IV,
I’m 23 years old and unmarried with no children, but does this situation stop me from getting snail mail from pessimistic life insurance salespersons?
You got it. No it does not.
—Optimistic in Olympia
The average American periodically receives a letter from a friend, acquaintance, or stranger extolling the virtues of life insurance.
Slack advises that you always reply immediately, before the sender has time to make good on his or her threat to follow up with a personal visit. As a time-saving device, you may wish to compose a form letter for all such occasions.
In the letter, begin by showing gratitude for the invitation. Then, remark that you have tried for years to purchase life insurance, but that the companies from which you have sought to buy it have been totally uncooperative. Mention that they have looked askance at your medical history. Be sure to conclude with the firm expectation that the insurance company in question will pay for the physical.
Another strategy is to compose a form letter filled with quotations from the Book of Revelation. This letter should contain multiple hints that you are a firm believer in the Second Coming and that you expect that event to occur in the very near future. It should conclude by inquiring whether the insurance policy in question covers cases of individual rapture.
Slack cautions that, in the event the friend or acquaintance knows you well, this second strategy would not be effective.
from April 1, 2004
Dear Orville Slack IV,
Just as we were sitting down for supper last night, a pair of strangers showed up at the door. They weren’t selling cookies or religion or anything like that, all they wanted to do was check out the place they used to live.
We finally finished our cold supper just before bedtime.
What did we do wrong?
—Fuming in Phoenix.
What you describe is an unusual situation, but it is not unheard of.
Occasionally a pair of strangers will appear at your door, introduce themselves, announce that they used to reside at your address, and ask to see “the old homestead.”
This typically happens in the middle of the evening meal.
Slack warns against inviting these strangers in. No matter how polite, attractive, or interesting they may appear, do not allow them into your home. They will ruin your evening. They will ignore the uneaten food on your table and expect you to give them a full tour. After the tour, which will last an hour and a half, they will stay for two or three more hours, ignoring your growling stomach. The primary topic of conversation will be your home and how you have changed it—which pictures used to hang on which walls, which bedrooms have been converted into studies, etc. And unless your home is a medieval castle or was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, it probably merits no more than ten minutes of detailed discussion.
The secondary topic of conversation is commonly the neighborhood— to what degree it has changed and to what degree it has remained the same. You will be quizzed about the current status of neighbors who have either moved far away or gone to their eternal reward. Studies have shown that you will not have known the vast majority of those former neighbors.
As for Slack’s advice in this situation. Simply call 9-1-1. Report a pair of intruders.