The most recent maps of ozone-depletion show that the phenomenon is centered approximately .9 kilometers from the McMurdo station, at precisely the point at which exists the largest and perhaps oldest rookery of penguins in the world. These maps show, of course, that the ozone hole extends in all directions—down to the South Pole, up toward the nether regions of South America, etc.
Skeptics have written to us and asked, not always in the professional tone that is characteristic of true scientists, how the MJTT’s hypothesis stands up to this fact. One writer, purporting to have an affiliation with the McMurdo “beakers,” as the support personnel refer to the scientists at that station, asked how the MJTT accounts for the presence of the ozone hole at the aforementioned spots.
Disregarding the unkind, in fact sneering, tone of the email, we answer thus:
As for the South Pole, we hypothesize that a significant number of amateur trekkers to that illustrious spot begin their journeys from the McMurdo Station. Being typical American tourists, their pre-trek regimen includes a visit to the aforementioned huge rookery. That rookery, we have no doubt, is replete with penguin droppings, and any visit thereto involves treading on layers of dung that have been accumulating for millennia. As is the case with any animal dung, the penguin variety has adhesive properties. It sticks to boots. Thus it should surprise no one that, though there are no penguins at the South Pole, there is, given the tourist traffic between McMurdo and the South Pole, a significant amount of their vile and dangerous leavings at and around the latter spot.
Further study is needed, of course, to verify or disprove this hypothesis. But such empirical research is outside the scope and charter of the MJTT. We leave this investigation to the National Science Foundation (NSF).
As for the extension of the ozone hole toward South America, we need only refer to the much-decried breakup of the Antarctic ice pack, resulting in the creation of New-Jersey-sized icebergs, which have no place to go but north. Though the oft-cited reports of this catastrophic event are content to explain it by using the disputed canard of a general global warming, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that these mammoth icebergs were caused by millennia of penguin fecal activity; their northward drift might well, in turn, explain the expansion of the hole in the ozone layer in that direction.
This again is hypothesis. Assuming for the moment that there is something to it, and that the general hypothesis generated by the MJTT proves sound, we venture the following proposal to solve the very real problem of the depletion of the ozone layer.
If penguins are indeed the source of this environmental menace, the solution is simple: just as the elimination of mad cow disease can be effected by slaughtering the offending bovines, so the elimination of the ozone problem can be effected by slaughtering the offending penguins.
A drastic solution? Perhaps. But dire problems require just such measures. And there is legal precedent for this modest proposal. I refer, of course, to the American hunting laws. Let the American tourists who flock to Antarctica in quest of adventure be encouraged to purchase licenses to shoot the pests, setting the bag limit at, say, fifty per adult tourist per season. In addition, let there by a reverse bounty on each penguin bagged. In other words, charge the tourist, say, ten thousand dollars for each bird successfully slaughtered. The proceeds would go toward reducing the national debt, thus in effect killing two birds with a single stone.
We at MJTT believe that this proposal would enjoy support from two groups often thought to be political foes: the NRA and the Greens. As for the animal rights activists, we can only suggest that they might consider ways to change the diet of the penguins, making their droppings environmentally sound. Perhaps, for example, these stately birds might thrive on a diet of Purina cat chow, or even of deceased mad cows.
In considering the continuing but now sadly neglected problem of ozone-layer depletion, we at the Myles na Gopaleen Jr. Think Tank (MJTT) were influenced, indeed inspired, by the theory, positively confirmed by the EPA, of the causal relation between the belching of bovine ruminants and the alarming growth of methane in the atmosphere. Plainly put, methane emissions from livestock such as cattle, water buffalo, sheep, goats, pigs, horses, and caribou now account for upwards of fifteen percent (15%) of the annual anthropogenic methane emissions. This fact, of course, has profound implications for the global environment. Other think tanks have been pondering this problem; one of them has concluded that the rational and necessary solution would be to declare all livestock, beginning with the ordinary cow, as mad, then do the reasonable thing and simply slaughter them—except, of course, for the caribou of Alaska, whose breeding and calving grounds are considered sacred by various tribes of the environmentalist persuasion. It cannot be denied that there are political problems with this solution. India, with its veneration of the cow, comes to mind. But this political quandary might possibly be solved, in the view of the MJTT, by a trade-off allowing the caribou of India to be declared “mad” and the cows of Alaska to be viewed as merely “potentially hazardous to the future of the planet.”
But the MJTT is not an advocacy group. We are resolute in our determination to stand above the fray, to discover the truth by constructing theories and, where possible, checking them out but, where not possible, suggesting ways in which other non-advocacy groups (NAGs) might confirm or disconfirm our hypotheses. Only then do we make suggestions for fixing the world for future generations of rocks, vegetables, and animals, including humans.
The theory of livestock methane emissions, now firmly established, stands, as I said, as the inspiration and source for our hypothesis. Frankly stated, we are now in the position of opining that the hole in the ozone layer above the continent of Antarctica is caused, primarily if not totally, by the excessive droppings of the penguins in and around the McMurdo Station located on or near the Ross Ice Shelf.
Our reasoning begins with the logical argument that, if the belching of cows and other ruminating creatures possessing as many as four stomachs can cause upwards of 15% of all anthropogenic methane emissions, thus causing irreversible damage to the global environment, what is to prevent the conclusion that the droppings of penguins causes the irreversible depletion of the ozone layer on which the planet’s future depends? Simple reflection on this proposition leads to the twin questions: (1) where within human ken is the ozone layer in the most dangerous process of irreversible depletion? And (2) what species dominates the landscape of that place? To our knowledge, there are only two answers: (1) Antarctica and (2) the penguin.
A recent trip across the Pond was the occasion for an “aha” episode, the kind of experience other deep thinkers—Einstein, Darwin, and others of that ilk—must have had.
I was flying from New York to Frankfurt on a flesh carrier. The sun was setting as our jumbo jet took off from JFK, filled with tourists and business travelers and pilgrims headed to their homeland and Mormon missionaries and flight attendants and, quite possibly, international snoops.
We were past Long Island and into the night when the bombshell of my idea hit.
On my trips abroad, I am not inclined to read. Nor am I enthralled by the television fare such overnight flights commonly offer. I just sit. An occasional thought exercises my brain. Between trips to the rest room I attempt, if not to sleep, at least to nap. “Attempt” is le mot just; I am seldom, if ever, successful.
But to the bombshell. My rising irritation with this aerial ordeal led me to consider the possibility of a fix. Glancing around the section of the cabin in which I and my fellow-travelers were temporarily and rudely ensconced, I did a quick calculation of the number of persons, following this with an educated guess of the cubic footage the average person occupies. I then multiplied the two. After performing these simple exercises, I strode carefully down the aisle of my section of the cabin, discovering by this method the length of said section. Then I reached for the ceiling and was able to determine the height of said section, both at its apex and its lowest point. I subsequently estimated the width of the cabin section. In this way I was able to calculate the approximate cubic footage of the cabin.
The rest of my computation consisted of dividing the number of persons into the cabin’s cubic footage. “Aha,” I then told myself, “the resulting number is of a much higher order than is necessary for humane trans-oceanic flight!” Or, to use the common idiom: There’s more room in a jumbo jet than you thought.
The corollary of this well-considered computation is that with proper design, the bodies flying about the friendly skies in a plane can be made more comfortable. To be more specific, there is no reason an ordinary person in coach class can’t get a good night’s sleep while hopping over an ocean.
While navigating the mazes that are the Frankfurt airport, I, like Mary before me, pondered these things in my heart.
My ponderings yielded fruit. While roaming the streets of Frankfurt, I happened to pass a hospital named after one saint or another. This scene brought to mind the thought of mortality, followed closely by the image of a morgue. Not being a morbid person, I did not dwell on the morose thought of mortality; my attention was drawn instead to the morgue’s efficient design.
When contemplating such a design, the thoughtful mind is immediately drawn toward the vaults into which the cadavers are placed soon after the last rites have been administered by the attending priest and the medical profession has pronounced the former person deceased.
At this point, I sat down on a pigeon-bespattered bench, taking care to place a copy of the Die Zeit on the spot on which I planned to rest and consider the implications of morgue design for the problem of a happier trans-oceanic flight.
Could, I asked myself as I sat there in pensive mood, the principles of morgue design be applied to the passenger jumbo jet?
To which I answered, Yes.
How, I continued, could this be accomplished?
By replacing passenger seats with vaults!
These vaults could be equipped with a firm mattress; a pillow; a reading light, for those who cannot or do not wish to sleep; a movie screen, with a menu of film selections, including contemporary fare as well as classics; Airplane! comes to mind.
My mind then scurried about, seeking potential problems with this admittedly brilliant idea.
What about claustrophobics?
This gave me pause, until I settled on the idea of providing each vault with a recording of a Buddhist, or Hindi, meditation lesson.
Suppose two persons wish to share the same bed?
Simple: double-wide vaults, for which a discount could be made available. (For three persons, triple-wide vaults, etc.)
How would such an aircraft load its passengers?
Furnish the plane with people-movers. Only hire flight attendants who are able to hoist, say, 300 pounds into a vault.
Wouldn’t all these measures be expensive?
Certainly. But the cost would be easily recovered: a plane so equipped could carry twice the number of passengers as in the present awkward, unpleasant arrangement.
Thus, I concluded, the idea of a vault-designed trans-oceanic carrier could be translated into a system that is efficient, passenger-friendly, and lucrative.
Immediately upon arriving back in America, I applied for a patent, which my lawyer tells me is pending.
The circumstances of my birth were humble. 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 boy friend 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.
What can I say about my family tree? I am proud of its diversity, ethnic and religious. I am also thinking of running for public office.
My great-grandfather, Orville Slack I, was born in a cave. This was somewhere in the panhandle of what is now Texas, Oklahoma, or Kansas. At that time the region was part of Mexico, which accounts for the fact that I have a bit of Hispanic blood coursing through my veins—or, to be more accurate, I had Hispanic blood etc. 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 country 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 Orville Slack IV’s humble background, a background that would be the envy of Abe Lincoln.
It is a universal truth, acknowledged by all, that there is nothing like a good, solid liberal arts education.
It is equally true, as a hefty minority have learned, that the best place to pick up such an education is in the serene safety of a bar. And knowledgeable aficionados of such establishments agree that a Western bar is more than the equivalent of an Ivy League university, especially where the basics of debate and public speaking are concerned.
I speak as an authority on bars.
The first one I entered, at the age of 21, was in Kiev, South Russia. I was making my escape from the Czar, via the underground railroad, and heading for America. That particular bar, I believe by informed hearsay, was typical of Russian bars. Men of all ages sat around in a pose that could be mistaken for meditation, drinking vodka while staring into space. The word that comes to mind is “stupor.”
German bars have a charm of their own. The decibel level in, say, a Bavarian establishment is an indication of stout, healthy intellect at work. But if I recall, back in 1906 you could not emerge from a bar with your head held high unless you knew your Hegel and Marx. In a pinch, an acquaintance with the works of Dostoevsky would keep you in the game.
English and Irish pubs need no comment.
I sailed directly from Hamburg to New York, the bars of which have an excellent reputation for the drink-think-talk combination. As I recall, a slight knowledge of English—say, an ability to use the words betokening agreement or disagreement, would go a long way toward maintaining a reputation as being a person with an active mind.
But your Western bar—it beats all. Only in such a place as the Hôtel Adobe Watering Hole can you find an elderly gentleman carrying a briefcase in which is stashed the first draft of a manuscript concerning the history of the Dead Rights movement. The working title of this 70-page would-be tome is The History of Dead Rights.
I did not have the opportunity to read that manuscript with the care it deserved. In fact, if memory serves and the truth be known, I did not have the opportunity to read anything but the beer-stained cover page. What I did have the opportunity to do was hear the gentleman—his name escapes me—hold forth on the contents of the manuscript he was peddling about to agents and a large smattering of pretenders to that trade.
His main point was that dead rights, especially the right of an ex-American to vote, is not a new thing. It has a long tradition, beginning with the era of city bosses, rising to its highest peak in the 1960 election, in which the mayor of Chicago, Hizzoner Richard J. Daley, extended the franchise to dead Democrats, thus creating the Camelot from which America has never recovered.
A must-read book. In fact, I recall having composed a note to myself to read it before I placed my candidacy for the position of President of the United States before the American people, ex-people, and talking parrots.
Mr. Ennis escaped Russia in 1906 at the age of twenty-one to seek his fortune in America and to avoid the Czar’s draft.
He learned English from reading girlie magazines. His literary tastes took a turn for the better while reading Lolita, the masterpiece of his fellow Russian emigré Vladimir Nabokov. This experience taught him that erotica is compatible with fancy prose.
Either through shyness or a wish to keep his moral reputation impeccable, he kept many of his book reviews and other scribblings in a shoebox, which he stashed behind a still in his landlady’s attic. At the time of his death in 1958 he was working on a Tolstoy-sized novel on post-Revolutionary Russia entitled Nyet! This unfinished manuscript was discovered by an anonymous editor, who, with a grant from the National Endowment for Dead Writers, is currently translating the book from Russian into Yiddish. It is due for publication in 2020.
Ennis was posthumously awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2002, though the news of this honor has been kept from the American public by the influential New York publishing establishment. This slight of Mr. Ennis, whose work is well-known in Europe, is considered by experts to be a major cause of the rift between America and the Continent.
Mr. Ennis remains active despite his wife’s decision to follow his instructions to cremate him; though his brain now shares the ashen state of his former body, it is still able to function—read, write, talk, etc.—with the aid of his non-deceased companion, Ms. Betty Bedwell.
The Kachina Round Table of which Ab Ennis and Myles na Gopaleen Jr. are a part—more about this in a future post—meet in the Watering Hole of the Hôtel Adobe, located in the Old Town section of bustling Small Southwestern City, which is built around the turquoise trinket trade. The décor of this grand hotel is retro Old West. The barmen in this high-end establishment are dressed as cowboys, all the way from their silver-spur-fitted boots to their bullet-studded holsters to their sallow faces and hoary beards, all topped off with state-of-the-art Stetsons. The bargirls are attired in late sixteenth-century Kachina dress and coiffed accordingly. The typical meal is beef jerky sprinkled with sage and inundated with beans; it is washed down with a choice of tequila or a fine Mexican brew. In accordance with local law, all customers check their six-shooters at the cloak room; a trio of deputy sheriffs armed with sawed-off shotguns enforces this ordinance from their stations within the Watering Hole, where they are wont to gather for the purpose of both fiddling with poker chips on a turquoise-inlaid round table of their own and transferring funds from one person to another while emitting, respectively, shouts and sobs. For more information on this fine hôtel, check out their website at the obvious location.
Once upon a time there was a hotly-contested World Series in which the two teams were so marvelously inept that a full ninety percent of the runs were scored on errors. In the seventh and deciding game, the American league team cobbled together a run in the last of the twenty-first inning on a hit batsman, a balk, a throw to second that allowed the slowest runner in Major League history to take third, and a wild pitch in which that runner hesitated, then lumbered down the third-base line in a move designed to send the game into the twenty-second frame. But alas, the catcher’s throw to the plate escaped the gloved claws of the pitcher and sailed into center field, where, after fumbling the ball, the center fielder made a wild throw into the stands, where an eager fan reaching for the ball dropped it onto the field, and it was finally picked up by the first baseman, who threw to the plate and hit the inattentive umpire, who was at that time bending over that plate whisking away the accrued dust just as the aforementioned runner, after paring his nails, was bearing down on the scene. Instant replay showed that the runner might or might not have touched the plate, but the first-base umpire who made the call from his perch on the far side of the first base deemed that the limp-legged “runner” was safe.
The National League fans disputed not just the call but results of the Series, citing the fact that in the aggregate, their team had scored more total runs. Their dispute led them to take to the streets and to Facebook, contending that the rules governing the Series should be changed so that the total runs be the determining factor in determining the winner of the World Series, adding that the American League fans were appallingly execrable. Or worse.
I stand before you today to announce my decision to concede that I don’t have it in me to continue to pursue my lifelong dream of becoming the first legally dead, Russian-born, literary critic, and robot to become president of these United States.
I’ll make this short. Though Mr. Slack and I have recently seen ourselves rising, nay surging, in the polls, I must reveal to one and all that I have been receiving death threats. I attribute these threats to the spirits of the deceased who wish to be forgotten; who no longer seek to remain citizens, for one reason or another; who have “had it” with the deplorable state of our body politic; and who adhere to the long tradition of [words indecipherable by reason of the cacophonous slamming of pewter mugs on the faux-mahogany bar] . . . Thank you. Thank you very much . . . grateful . . . been my pleasure . . . etc. . . . Drinks on the house!