Take the Funny and Run

So, I’m told that this issue of keepgoing.org is all about the ins and outs, the ups and downs, the hithers and yons, the liars and clowns of calamities. Now, given the endless, ever-present waves of crisis and/or lunacy evident in even a cursory skim of recent headlines, how could I possibly have a lick of trouble stringing together a progression of various and sundry rants, raves, and/or harangues about All Things Catastrophic? It would seem at first glance to be a barrel of heavily medicated fish.

So why was it so difficult to find something in particular to harangue about this time around? It’s because of the plight of one of the most overlooked, underappreciated, consistently shat-upon groups in our entire society. They are in real trouble right now, and if we lose them, well, I just can’t see how the whole crazy ball of twine won’t just immediately come unraveled.

I’m talking, of course, about bank robbers.

No society has ever managed to survive without their bank robbers. If the bank robbers go, that means the folk songs begin to dwindle to nothing, leaving us with only old, quickly decomposing coffeehouse ditties. You simply cannot have a decent folk song without sticking a bank robber in there somewhere. Even if a given song doesn’t contain a bit about a bank robber, you’ve always got to have that tension there where a bank robber just may show up in the lyric at any moment. Otherwise you’re just stuck with a bunch of random crap about lost love, murder, and hitchhiking — all fine concepts, of course, but without the connective tissue of bank robbery, they are (at least for the purposes of my current line of bunkum) hopelessly and pointlessly adrift in a sea of social consciousness and A-minor chords.

But okay, fine, if we can’t be bothered to worry about all those poor folk singers out there, can’t we at least Think of the Children? Where would our children be without bank robbers? Playing games of “Cops And,” that’s where. Oh sure, they could always get a game of “Cowboys And Casino Workers” going, but then somebody inevitably ends up being accused of counting cards and the whole thing degenerates into a whirlwind of blood, torn jeans, and bitter tears of recrimination. And while that might give a sour, cranky old bastard like me a few laughs, I’m pretty sure it’d also eventually get a lot of soccer moms siccing lawyers on one another and screaming in the middle of the street. Which, again, would give a sour, cranky old bastard like me a few laughs. Suddenly, I’m not really seeing much of a downside to this one for me.

So okay, maybe I’m not exactly whomping ’em out of the park with my feeble attempts at persuasive arguments here and should, instead, just continue drinking until I’ve forgotten all about it. My original point still stands, however: bank robbers are a dying breed.

How do I know that bank robbers are an endangered species in these troubled economic times? Because they can’t even afford getaway cars anymore.

A bank robber was captured on a CTA bus shortly after holding up a bank in the Lincoln Square neighborhood on Friday morning.

About 11 a.m., a man robbed a bank at 4800 N. Western Ave., according to a Lincoln District police sergeant.

Police News Affairs Officer JoAnn Taylor said the suspect implied he had a weapon but it was not known if he really had one.

Within 15 minutes of the bank robbery, someone saw a man matching the description of the suspect on a CTA bus a couple of blocks away and police officers were able to capture the suspect, according to the sergeant, who said no one was hurt in the incident.

You know things have gotten bad when the final stage of a bank robbery (which itself was evidently pulled off using an “implied” weapon, as opposed to the pricier “actual” version) involves standing around waiting at a bus stop and counting out exact change while a couple of elderly, dome-shaped Ukrainian women argue incomprehensibly nearby.

Of course, the plight of our bank robbers can’t get any media attention because of, oddly enough, bank robbers of a different sort. Not bank robbers as in “a robber of banks,” or one who robs money from a bank and takes it away to be spent on ski masks and pistols and perhaps the odd spelling lesson so as to increase the likelihood of actually producing a readable note to hand to the teller (as opposed to, say, something along the lines of “I am holding a gub. Apt natural or I will be forced to shit you.”) No, the bank robbers who have forced the more common stick-up artists onto public transportation are, in fact, robbers who happen to actually be banks.

Okay, so perhaps it’s not just Bank of America and Citicorp who have been doing the “robbering.” You’ve also got insurance firms like AIG, now-defunct financial services institutions such as Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns, and all manner of lesser forms of economic vampire, all of whom did their best to make massive piles of shady-ass money for a comparatively small number of people in the short term, but who then in the long term ended up handing the rest of us an almost completely destroyed economy. Basically they took our economy out for a spin (after promising they’d be real careful with it, fill the gas tank when they were done, etc.) and then eventually came walking home with a sheepish look on their face and our rear bumper slung under their arm.

Now, I understand that in the spirit of “bipartisanship” we are all supposed to pretend we all had an equal hand in decimating our nation’s economy; that the poor old Wall Street moguls were just as much a “victim of soikumstance” as the rest of us; that we shouldn’t dwell on past events; and that “we most go forward not backward, upward not forward, and always twirling, twirling, twirlinginto the future!”

And is so often the case, those who seem to be pushing this idea the hardest are those whose hands are the filthiest. “Okay, okay, so maybe the cruise ship did get run onto a reef and a whole lot of elderly shuffleboarders died as a result, and maybe I was technically the “captain” and all… but now’s hardly the time for pointing fingers!”

Strangely enough, I find this to be a triple-fisted helping of disingenuous bullshit. Of course this is the time for pointing fingers, especially if we’re supposed to be digging the nation into trillions of dollars of new debt by handing Wall Street a bottomless cuppa bailout money. We need to be talking very seriously (see my brow furrows of seriousity?) about exactly who fucked us and how. (To shamelessly rip off the old Bubba Clinton line, “It’s The Derivatives, Stupid!”) Otherwise we just end up handing all that money to the same people who got us into this hole, leaving at their disposal all of the tools they used to dig said hole in the first place.

Which seems, of course, to be exactly what the Big Plan is — or at least that’s what the wing nuts, in their current haze of straw-grasping desperation, would like it to be. Because if you think the economy is going down the johnny-flusher, the Republican Party is halfway out to sea by now. It has met its own Waterloo.

Yes, hoisted on its own petard, the GOP has reduced itself, via its blatant efforts to cater to bigots, religious nuts, anti-intellectuals, and flat-out sociopaths, to the point where evidently the only way to prove one’s own worth to the party is by publicly apologizing to Rush Limbaugh. I wish to Jeebus that I were making that up (because then I’d have probably been able to dream up something far funnier and more ridiculous than that), but I’m not. Ever since the GOP lost the election this past November, Limbaugh has been making every effort to declare himself the de facto leader of the Republican Party — only without literally saying so. In response to this, prominent Republican after prominent Republican has tried to publicly deny this fact, and to call Limbaugh out for the glorified, chicken-head-munching circus geek that he really is — only without literally saying so. And one by one, just about every last one of them has ended up being forced to publicly apologize to Limbaugh for having dared to say a word against him.

The mascot is trying to take over the team, folks. And the players, the managers, and the front office are all lining up to kiss his enormous, plush-swaddled ass. It doesn’t get any more pathetic than that.

Except, of course, that it does.

Back in late February, when the wing nuts had their big CPAC convention, at which (of course) Limbaugh gave the keynote address, the one speaker who had the crowd all a-twitter was a fellow named Jonathan Krohn. Mr. Krohn — who, immediately following his speech, was lauded by one and all as a future leader of the Republican Party — is a fourteen-year-old kid from Atlanta (homeschooled, of course) who started listening to right-wing talk radio at age eight, and who has since learned to do a great imitation of the overblown claptrappery he’s thusly absorbed over the past half-dozen years. Now obviously, this would be cute and funny if he were doing it as a shtick at a middle-school talent show. But not only is he serious about it, evidently (and hilariously) the shell-shocked Republican Party is too.

Now, a fourteen-year-old kid can certainly be forgiven for being mortifyingly earnest about the geekiest shit imaginable. I very clearly remember trying to talk one of the guys at my lunch table in junior high out of compounding an already-embarrassing love note (which, of course, he was planning to slip to a girl light-years out of his rather toadlike league) by signing it with the name of his Dungeons & Dragons character. (Would that I were shitting you on this one.)

But see, that’s just the point. Boys that age are just naturally goons, bereft of any true capacity for shame and often riding obliviously high on childish delusions of grandeur. Some think they’re gonna make the girls swoon by passing them notes that are nothing but page upon page of Tolkienian nerdings, others get their jollies by pretending to be George Will, and still others just go ahead and wax the ol’ carrot on an hourly basis without having to play dress-up about it.

However, when you’ve got a convention hall full of adults who are taking this shit as seriously as is the kid himself, it’s time to start flying in battalions of psychiatrists and quarantining the area until happy pills and electroshock can be administered to everyone involved, the voices in their heads ease up a bit, and their spit stops bubbling quite as insistently. A fourteen-year-old kid is the future of the Republican Party? Has the GOP gone full-blown NAMBLA on us? Who can tell? Is the next big right-wing “litmus test” issue going to be a Constitutional amendment lowering the minimum qualifying age for president of the United States from 35 to 16? At this point my jaw might not even drop at that one.

I’ll tell you what, though: if there’s one thing that is at least as pathetic as the mascot taking over the team, it’s the bat boy taking over the team!

It certainly goes to show that the Republican Party is currently lost at sea and looking for anything even vaguely resembling land. That being the case, they’re obviously going to be willing to buy just about anything that looks like a nautical map, and there are going to be plenty of flimflammers out there willing to sell it to them.

Kinda reminds me of a commercial I heard on the radio awhile back for something called “Immugo.” Sounds a wee bit like something you’d cough up just before your lungs turned inside-out on you, doesn’t it? But no. This particular product, I was assured by the dulcet tones of the on-air barker, is in fact “The Official Immune Support Product of the Hollywood Music Awards.”

Now, how can I be expected to leave something like that alone? It’s like advertising for “The Official Subdermal Child-Tracking Implant of the National T-Ball Association.”

So naturally I did a little prowling around online and found the Immugo website. All I really needed to see, of course, was the sentence “ImmuGo™ was created by Vitamin Gene Arnold, the vitamin guru to Hollywood stars,” and I knew this was pure gold. So ol’ “Vitamin Gene” and his wild west medicine show have been selling what appears to be the glitterati equivalent of Airborne (which itself was thought up by the marketing dorks to be a slightly more commercially viable name than that product’s original, more fittingly evocative title, “A Fizzing, Bubbling Load of Complete and Utter Bollocks”).

A little more snooping around via The Googles and I managed to scare up a list of the ingredients used in this wonder product. It’s basically ginseng, echinacea, ginger, and oregano, along with some secret proprietary blend of goop ol’ Vitamin Gene dreamed up. My first thought on reading this, of course, was that the last time I saw anybody trying to sell oregano as anything other than something to make your food taste a little bit more Eye-Talian was when a college buddy of mine dropped $30 on a quarter-ounce baggie of oregano in a McDonald’s parking lot.

And of course, when you get right down to it, Vitamin Gene is selling his magic health tonic to the same crowd that’s also Scientology’s best customer base, so there ya go. Hollywood’s germs may not be stronger than ours, but their innate capacity for self-delusion sure is. They’ll buy just about anything if it’s sold to them as a no-muss-no-fuss solution with a catchy name. Jam a bunch of it into industry swag bags, and you’ve got ’em hooked for life.

Y’know, there are times when I seriously consider sitting down and coming up with some repackaged line of horseshit like that to sell. Any time there’s a widespread problem, you can bet your ass that there’s a big ol’ market for easy answers to that problem. It’s as the late, great G. Barnabus Firesign said long, long ago: “There’s a seeker born every minute!”

So, I suppose a two-bit blarney artist like myself had probably best look to the written word as my chosen vehicle for exploitation of the masses, eh? Self help books for the coming economic apocalypse? Yeah, sure, why not? Hell, if I can get ’em racked up in the check-out line at the grocery store, where they probably belong anyway, then the newly ragged masses can even buy ’em with food stamps.

Just gotta come up with a few catchy titles and the rest ought to pretty much write itself. How about “I’m Screwed, You’re Screwed, Let’s All Have Pie”? Or perhaps, “50 Ways to Fillet a Derivatives Speculator”? No? Well, uh… why not “Running a Time Share in a Tent City”?

Tell ya one thing, though. When they finally do come after me for having bamboozled ’em out of what’s left of their money (or, barring that, when Woody Allen comes after me for stealing and mutilating his old jokes), screw the whole getaway bus motif. A genuine, self-respecting criminal mastermind always has enough scratch in his kick for a cab!

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