Carnies, Clems, and Cheney

By Patrick Russell

Okay, so this one time in college I got SOOOOO fucked up…

Oh, wait a second… that's that other story. Never mind! Hi there, howdy-ho and how d'ya do? Welcome once again to Rantsville.


Tomfoolery, shenanigans, monkeyshines, escapades, grab-ass, random acts of goofery… any way you slice it, it comes up mischief. And in our modern Sponsored-By-Budweiser society, hijinks are almost a form of currency. They are certainly the fuel which keeps the whole thing thrumming along. And in my opinion that's not necessarily such a bad thing.

First of all, they're self-replicating, which is always a plus. You simply never hear tell of a single, solitary hijink taking place, do you? It's always plural. They always seem to come in squadrons. Like cock-a-roaches, when you see a hijink or two taking place, chances are there are many, many more hiding behind the wainscoting and under the floorboards waiting to sneak on out to grope your wife and steal your Twinkies. Rarely does one JUST get drunk and have done with it. You get drunk AND you get your face slapped for touching certain things, AND you steal a Big Wheel and cruise around the neighborhood whooping like a wild Indian (kneeing yourself repeatedly in the chin because you haven't been the three-foot tall child the infernal contraption was designed for for years now…) AND you pass out in the neighbor's sticker bushes, thinking that they're your bedroll and you're bunkin' down somewhere along the Chisholm Trail instead of lying in a sticker-laced pool of your own sick somewhere in Rogers Park.

No, I'm thinking we're in no danger of a catastrophic national Hijink Shortage any time soon.

I mean come on, think back to your childhood. Remember going to the county fair in the summer? That nice, small town, family values sorta scene where you'd go and eat cotton candy and ride Ferris wheels and gawk at penned-in livestock as if they might stand up and recite Longfellow if you watched long enough? Well, what I remember most about the county fair is that it was run largely by carnies—that strange, vaguely gypsy-esque sub-subculture in which a complete set of teeth and a fully-developed pair of opposable thumbs seemed to be something of a professional liability. What always amazed me was the fact that the Midway of a county fair was, for all intents and purposes, this weird dance between the supposedly "respectable" locals (who likely had some pretty weird skeletons in some pretty weird closets, some of them) and the shifty-looking carnies (who were, themselves, strangely straightforward in their dishonesty). This dance essentially consisted of the locals willingly participating (for a price, also willingly paid) in obviously rigged games of skill and chance, and allowing themselves to be strapped (also for a price) into thrill rides which all seemed to be one or two mostly-stripped bolts shy of whirling to pieces, while the carnies just counted the cash and continued their inimitable spiel to those who still walked the Midway with a little folding money in their pockets. The locals, call 'em "rubes," "marks," or "clems" or what have you, knew damned good and well that the carnies weren't shooting them straight, and yet they still forked over their money year after year to be bounced half to death on a Tilt-A-Whirl held together largely by rust and old hair grease, and to spend hours throwing weighted balls everywhere but through the little hoop for the singular honor of taking home with them a cheap plastic comb or a stuffed animal the size of one's pinkie… and it ONLY cost them thirty or forty bucks in game tickets!

Talk about your more bizarre scams… and right out there in plain sight, fueled by just the right mix of acceptance and denial on the part of rubes and marks everywhere. People know full well that they're being ripped off, and yet they keep going back for more! My mind exists in a perpetual state of semi-boggleage at living from childhood with this knowledge. Americans aren't offended or outraged by this sort of thing—they LOVE it! Hell, they love it so much that they've based their entire form of government on it!

(POLITICS?!?!? "Slllllooowwllllyyyy I turrrrnnnnn…" )

Of course, many people will half-heartedly protest when informed that they're being played like rubes at a county fair by their own government. But deep down, I think most people realize that the government and our elected "representatives" are engaged in a significantly larger-scale version of the same bald-faced rookery one expects (and invariably receives) from the average carnival barker. I'm not sure exactly what the psychological foundation is for this widespread willing acceptance of wholesale bamboozlement, but its existence can be neither denied nor avoided.

Look what we've got in Washington right now. We've got a completely unqualified (and questionably-elected) boob in the White House fronting for a bunch of oil-happy war mongers, and the public is apparently lapping it up like a saucer of drugged milk. Use the 9/11 attacks as an excuse to stage a de facto takeover of Afghanistan (as the Vice President was saying years ago that we should do so as to benefit American oil interests)? No problem! Give the head honchos of the biggest, most corrupt energy-trading corporation unprecedented governmental access, to the point where the CEO is granted hire/fire power over the head of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission? Fine and dandy! Give the police and the Justice Department unprecedented and potentially dangerous new powers, despite the fact that these powers really tend to apply to the terror war only inasmuch as buying an economy-sized box of Trojans applies to one's desire to make balloon animals? Okey dokey then! Revert to the sort of irresponsible runaway deficit spending we thought we'd outgrown after the Reagan era? Soitenly!!

The public just wants to eat their cotton candy and elephant ears and not worry about it. They don't want to even think about the fact that their president was so far in political hock to Enron that he was essentially letting them write their own regulations and interview (personally) and hire (by political proxy) the chair of the federal regulatory agency that oversees their industry. Bush also reversed the Clinton administration's effort to restrict offshore tax havens—tax havens that Enron specifically used to hide its shady deals. And furthermore, Bush actually had the Vice President over in India playing collections agent trying to get the Indians to pay up on a bill they owed Enron. Gee, y'know, if that's actually a significant part of the Veep's job description, I've got a few old poker buddies I'd like to send him out to talk to.

And speaking of ol' Dick, there's the whole issue of the Bush administration supposedly hiding Cheney in seclusion as a "security precaution" after 9/11. Hell, he still seems to be largely AWOL (like Prezzie, like Veep, huh?) except when he has to be onhand to accept a summons or two from the GAO, of course! This guy is off God knows where, doing God knows what, all on the public's dime, and I don't see bitch one being pitched about this! Everyone knows about it, nobody seems to care. He could be over at the Treasury stuffing hundred dollar bills into his suit jacket and could send a video of himself doing so over to CNN with a hastily-scrawled "Neener-neener-neeee-nerrrr!!" on the label, and the public would just roll right over like trained dogs to get their belly-wellies skritched! And somebody somewhere would inevitably (and loudly) claim that freedom and democracy—hell, the entire American way of life itself—depended upon Cheney's ability to stuff his pockets in just this fashion.

Criminally-stretched hyperbole on my part? Not when you've got Senators and Congressmen literally claiming (with impossibly straight faces, mind you!) that the institutional bribery which passes for our campaign finance system is a First Amendment issue! Corporate hijacking of the political process in which campaign money is poured on these elected officials by companies with the specific expectation of getting favorable legislation passed that will benefit said companies… and this is supposed to be a free speech issue? How much more rigged can that game be? Lemme use that one next time a cop pulls me over and I offer him a twenty to let me go: "Can't arrest me for bribery, ossifer! That'd be a violation of my First Amendment rights! Uh… you gonna finish that cruller?"

So, we were discussing our Vanishing Veep. Actually, recent photo surveillance indicates that Cheney seems to have called in a few favors and skeedaddled off to N'Awlins for some Mardi Gras hijinks…

(Think he's getting a kickback from Nike for the product placement?)

*** Breaking Bulletin***

I just received this from the "Word A Day" list (, subject line: "subscribe," for those interested) and I swear it's like a fucking Christmas present! Dig this:

Throttlebottom (THROT-l-bot-uhm) noun
A purposeless incompetent in public office.
[After Alexander Throttlebottom, a Vice Presidential character in Of Thee I Sing, a 1932 musical comedy.]

"Throttlebottom"!! It's so much more subtle and urbane than my preferred presidential epithet "rat-fucker," isn't it? Zounds! I think I've found a great new toy!

***We now return you to our regularly scheduled rant, which is already in progress!***

Which brings us to John Ashcroft—a teetotalling Pentecostal who is SO childishly embarrassed by the notion of sex that he has now seen fit to conceal with $8,000 curtains a female statue (ironically named "Spirit Of Justice") in the Great Hall in the Justice Department due to a (gasp!) single bared aluminum breast which seems to have gotten the Attorney General all tizzy-fied. Is there something ya wanna tell us there, John-Boy? Only in a nation of willing marks could a man such as Ashcroft who lost an election to a corpse, and who, a mere decade ago, was still fighting AGAINST racial desegregation be elevated to a position where he can sit there with a straight face and proclaim that anyone who doesn't blindly support the Bush administration is a terrorist sympathizer… and NOT have reasonable souls all over the country calling for his dismissal. One would also think that an Attorney General who makes public statements such as, "Islam is a religion in which God requires you to send your son to die for him. Christianity is a faith in which God sends his son to die for you," would catch at least a little shit… a little grief… a little public disapproval of some sort… and yet, not a peep from the peeps!

And see, this is where it starts getting not so much funny as scary. It's as though the public is so jaded to begin with, and then still so ausgeflipped from the 9/11 attacks, that they're just sitting there taking all this in like Martini at the card table in Cuckoo's Nest: "Hit me. Hit me. Hit me, Mac. Hit me." Or, God forbid, perhaps the public actually likes the fact that their government is getting away with all these assorted ethics-neutral antics. There's got to be SOME explanation as to why these hoodwinkers are getting carte blanc from the general public! Right?

One thing that it does is bring the crazies scurrying out of the woodwork and into the limelight. And as long as these people are kept away from blunt objects, sharp objects—well, basically just any objects at all—they can be a source of some of the weirdest entertainment imaginable. Take conservative columnist and closet leather freak Ann Coulter as an example. This is the bleached-blonde wonder of modern journalism who several months ago in her column said of the Muslims of the Middle East: "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity." (Ain't she just a peach?) This same spike-heeled troglodyte, within the past several weeks at a right-wing beer hall putsch out in them thar white trash mountains of Virginnie, went on record with the rational, well-informed, highly-evolved statement: "We need to execute people like John Walker in order to physically intimidate liberals, by making them realize that they can be killed too. Otherwise they will turn out to be outright traitors."

Only a in a nation like ours which celebrates mischief, the art of the bait-and-switch, and general overall lunacy disguised as respectability could a microcephalic rat-bag like Ann Coulter still have a job that involves the professional juxtaposition of any words other than "You," "Would," "With," "That," "Fries," and "Like." And yet, this rancorous hellbeast continues to make her living slinging grade-A prime cut ignorance (despite having been canned by the National Review for being a four-alarm loon) because she's apparently managed to con the right people into believing that she's capable of rubbing two thoughts together and generating a spark.

With this in mind, is there any lingering doubt that a significant portion of the American population absolutely craves the heady rush of being completely and utterly bullshat on a regular basis by anyone in a position to do so?

Now then, to cap this off with what may actually be the legendary final nail in Irony's proverbial coffin, I've just received word that, yes, President Shrubbie (along with his English butler Tony Blair) has been nominated for the NOBEL FUCKING PEACE PRIZE!! Now, ain't THAT just a punch in the cock? Hell, if I'd have but known that all it took to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize was to hyper-inflate the Defense budget to Cold War proportions, set fire to the Bill Of Rights, and simultaneously embark on a course of war which (according to Vice President Crash Cart himself) "may never end, at least not in our lifetimes"… jeez, it really is just that simple, isn't it?

That's it. I'm dumping my journalistic aspirations and embarking on a career as a professional Throttlebottom! I'm hereby declarin' fer the newly-formed Skullduggery Party! We'll hornswoggle y'all to within an inch of yer fleece-covered lives and have you erecting big ol' bare-tittied statues to us in gratitude! And if political society won't accept me as one of their own, and I think there's a fair-to-middlin' chance that they won't, well we all know the lucrative fallback career that would then be available to me, right?

"STEP riiiiight UP!! WIN the lovely little lady a KEWPIE DOLL!! Ya can't WIN if ya don't PLAY, and THAT'LL cost ya a BUCK!! One SINGGGGLE DOLLAR to go home a WINNER!! EVVVVeryone's a WINNER!! STEP riiiiight UP!! STEEEEEP RIGHHHHT UP!!"

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Copyright©2002 by Patrick Russell.

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