Columns » Bob Lancaster




The gloomy, spiteful, unpleasant antihero of “Notes from Underground” has nothing on Ol' Moi insofar as being totally paralytically seasonally bummed, sick and tired of the downturn, swine flu, torture, extremists, imbeciles, malfeasance, gunplay, sexting, steroids, child abuse, and rain.

Mostly it's the rain. Rain following dreary rain, first drowning my doughty cucumbers and then the rest of the nascent truck, then taking my yard ornaments and the yard itself, the topsoil, then the subsoil, finally opening sinkholes like the giant one in those Little Rock people's yard into which it got to seeming that the whole gloppy continent might soon wash.

My pets and relatives and acquaintances began last weekend to take on the moldy zombie green hue that so befreaked The Hulk.

 I think the weather might have been a factor too in the other immediate demoralizing sequence, which involved two weeks of trying to deal with the telephone company over a service matter that is apparently impossible of resolution. These ISP rooster-lollipops and I apparently will go to our respective graves in a bitter deathlock over why a piece of domiciliary fiber-optic wire quit working and who is responsible for the failure. They're some tough mothers, I'll give them that. As unmoved as inerrantists by what is plainly reasonable.

It's not impossible for an enfunked old columnist in such a chthonic state to choose an appropriate column topic and conjure up some wry or trenchant commentary on it — 600 to 700 well-chosen words, in addition to the preceding ones, that might inspire you whorehopper and ne'er-do-well alleged readers to scan this space in your usually slovenly fashion and grudgingly concede that this week anyhow you got your money's worth out of me, which of course in context is not saying a whole hell of a lot. We know that's not impossible because James Thurber did the trick regularly for a long time, and Thurber might've been the meanest, sourest, hatefulest old humorist there ever was.

Out of such depths Thurber could pick a winning topic but I can't. Not this week anyway. Not with these mildewed haunches and washed-out cerebral potholes. So I did what all the big-time latter-day columnists are doing. And no it's not plagiarism. Not exactly. What I did,  I consulted the Newspaper Column Topics Registry, which for a nominal fee supplies blocked or frazzled members of this elite fraternity with suggested column topics. For an additional nominal fee, the registry will supply the research and prefabricate you an early draft, so that finishing the rascal, adding your personal touches, is as easy as moving into a Jim Walter home and presenting yourself as both its architect and building contractor.

These convenient column-topic bundles aren't sold in stores. Satisfaction isn't guaranteed, but the registry goes so far as to send along a sampler of old Franklin P. Adams, Damon Runyon, Heywood Broun, Robert Benchley, and S.J. Perelman columns in which the references have been updated and on which the copyrights have expired. You can plunder these or publish them whole under your own name and avatar, if your conscience, your ego, and your superiors will let you.

Such “borrowing” was not an uncommon practice in bygone days. I well recall the late great Karr Shannon cribbing H.L. Mencken columns from the American Mercury  for the insatiable hole he had to fill every day in the old Arkansas Democrat. Karr was proud that he “only swiped from the very best,” which Mencken indubitably was, and nobody ever objected to the petty theft. Karr's scrapbook gained stature as a result, and Mencken might've liked worming incognito into the daily cogitations of us provincials that he thought of as gaping primates.

Just about all of Maureen Dowd's columns sprung already half-blown from the registry, I've heard. And it was obviously a registry-suggested topic when George Will recently sallied off ungirded against climate change — the merciless hooting he got for it a reminder to the rest of us that even with furnished material we might want to bone up  before launching too ardent a polemic. 

 One of the topics in my bundle was “recent weather developments,” with sub-topics including “What is the origin of the expression ‘raining cats and dogs.'?” And, “What exactly is an occluded front, and who the hell cares?” There were also a couple of nice fuzzy-focus YouTubes of Ned Perme playing Christmas carols on the piano.

And a list of severe-weather do's and don'ts that I was encouraged to pass along. One example: “If you are outdoors when a tornado touches down nearby, DO take cover by lying flat in an open ditch.”  That  DO becomes a DON'T in rather short order, though, when the ditch in question has a flash flood roaring through it.

The package also had some good weather quotations — from Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, Shelley Winters — that I was invited to pretend that I had made up. But the last one of these, from a dour 17th century English clergyman, gave me pause. It warned that weather gab is the discourse of fools. I don't agree with that, but I've become sensitive here in the geezer twilight to intimations of participation in foolish discourse, and so I've decided against nominating “recent weather developments” as this week's topic.


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