This unusual request came down from the cloud last week: "Would you ask Assmunch if he has a personalized version of the Hippocratic Oath? I guess you'd call it an Assmunchocratic Oath."
I asked Assmunch. He said yes, he did have such an oath, self-composed, and lived by it. I asked if he'd share it with us. He said: "I'll not 'share' anything in this space — opinions, experiences, recipes, baseball cards — and you should peremptorily absquatulate and bird me if I propose to."
I apologized, and he retrieved, from his budgie's cage-bottom, what was left of what he said was the only remaining copy of his legendary oath. An extract follows.
First, do only carefully calculated harm. Killing Hitler would've been harmful in the sense that the bell tolling for any one of us tolls for every one of us. But still the right thing in this case. Because killing one might've saved millions. Might not've, but might've. Worth a try. Truman used the same argument in frying them 100,000 Hiroshimans. Who can say the reasoning was specious in either case? Not easy playing God.
Second, if you get nothing else right, spell the names correctly. This rule becomes less imperative when there's a multiplicity of accepted spellings, as with the late billowing Libyan butcher now pushing up cacti. Did his last name begin with a K, a G, or a Q? Who cares as long as ends with an R, an I, and a P?
Third, fill the hole. With gold nuggets if you can. With brickbats and cowpies, nubs and cornshucks if you must.
These are other, lesser self-pledges:
Try to remember that your task here is to raise pup tents and not cathedrals.
The passive voice will be eschewed.
Don't be off flogging the bishop when a deadline looms.
Don't let your idiots blither.
Casting one's pearls before swine becomes not such an indignity when you remember it's also a swine doing the casting.
Thumbtack onto your cerebrum a reminder that every resort to a cliche is a plagiarism.
Don't confuse originality with shrewd cribbing.
Renounce the stupid pretense that there are two sides to every story — or any specific number of "sides."
Don't, as John Randolph said of Martin Van Buren, row to your object with muffled oars.
Don't accept bribes, even those seemingly made in jest. Maybe especially those.
Do your damndest to reck your own rede.
Remember that God and Christmas don't need your help.
Don't set up straw men and knock them down, one reason being the outside chance that one of them will return the favor.
Public references to snow as "the white stuff" might be forgiven when and if Hell freezes over.
Abstain from satirizing the overmatched. You have to go after them with hayforks and flambeaux. And hounds.
Don't cave and call it compromising.
"There is no cause for panic" is pretty much always going to be a waste of breath.
Don't bandy words with zealots.
Don't smart off gratuitously.
Remember that truth is the first defense against talk radio.
Always try, as Fowler counseled, to hit it between wind and water.
Don't weenie, weasel, empurple, cavil, waffle, preach, pecksniff, take out of context, blow out of proportion, sweep under the rug, throw under the bus, or take part in a "roast." Not on purpose anyhow.
Aim a little higher than getting the scoop on the precise degree of curvature in a presidential dong.
I'll not be coerced by a deity that hoosegows me in the belly of a giant catfish to think it over.
Don't streak, waterboard, or pitch juicers, even if someone double-dog dares you.
Don't make reference to "senior citizens."
Go with the Saxon over the Latin every time — well, with the lone exception of when profiling a Mafioso.
Abide by all 19 rules of proper composition enumerated in Mark Twain's essay "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses," paying particular attention to No. 7 and No. 16.
Memorize the six rules for proper composition enumerated in George Orwell's essay "Politics and the English." They'll serve you well.
Refrain from using words a foot-and-a-half long, such as the 14-letter one that means a foot-and-a-half long.
Consider calling dog-peter gnats by a politer name if you can think of one that adequately characterizes the little sons-a-bitches.
Don't give credence to any cow that can't come closer than that to spelling chicken.
Etc. ...The rest illegible, nonsensical, or too deep in parakeet doo to mess with here.