“Head Pats”

by Sam Buntz

It’s kind of funny that the strategy employed by schoolyard bullies, cult-leaders, and Vladimir Putin-type guys toward their respective cronies is essentially the same: striking the right balance between patting said cronies on the head and ignoring them.  You’ve got to make them work for the head-pat… but you can’t withhold the head-pat for too long.  You need to constantly keep in mind which crony is ripe for a head-pat, and whose turn it is to squirm in the shadow of your icy indifference.  This simply has to be exhausting for everyone involved, especially considering that the goal of most of these cronies is to eventually be the guy dishing out head-pats.  You have to do your time, cycling through the world of head-pats and no-head-pats, a process which is most likely to last until you die, unless you become head head-patter.

But in the meantime, you’ll have plenty of sub-cronies below you on whom to deal out practice-head-pats, while these sub-cronies busily linger about, intent on gaining more power for themselves while handing out selective head-pats to their sub-sub-cronies…  Again, it sounds exhausting. Like Franz Kafka said, it’s possible that Alexander the Great could’ve looked out over his future domain, and just stood still, letting the weight of his body get the better of him.  That sounds so much easier, so much simpler.  It’s surprising it doesn’t happen to more politicians.

I remember one of my teachers said that it strikes us as having inherently more dignity to be a tyrant than to be a slob—but, personally, I’d go with being a slob, if those were my only choices.  Bluto Blutarksy needs to trump Stalin, ethically at least, in addition to having a better time.  For that matter, I think I better understand politicians who seek power in the same way that other people seek money and fame—say, for the purpose of filling a swimming pool with Jello and inviting super-models over, or getting Kanye West to play at their birthday parties.

That makes sense—that’s the kind of thing that Silvio Berlusconi did, or that Bill Clinton or Jack Kennedy did.  It remains within the realm of comprehensible human activity.  But to seize and pursue power purely for the purpose of wielding it—of dealing out more and more head-pats, and more and more carefully cold silences—seems to me monstrous.

The rewards of seizing Crimea (or, to be fair, Iraq)—despite what rationalizations the leaders may offer—are ultimately pretty tasteless, scent-less, invisible, inaudible and intangible.  Monetary rewards may accrue for certain businesses and industries, but they might as well have gained them in any number of peaceful ways—the real motive lies in the leaders’ attitudes to power.  The true purpose of such invasions and excursions is simply to expand the field in which such calculated head-pats can be administered and refused.

When Alexander the Great went to meet the philosopher Diogenes—who lived in a barrel—Alexander asked him if he (Alex) could do anything for him, given his sorry and destitute state.  Perhaps sensing that this might be but the first head-pat of many, Diogenes cleverly cut off the possibility, saying, “Yes, you’re standing in the sun.  Get out of the way!”  Fortunately, Alexander thought this was funny, and left Diogenes alone… I wonder if there is, somewhere, a Ukrainian Diogenes who might level the same reply at Vladimir Putin?  After all, it may be the only honest response anyone can make to an advancing head-patter.  It saves both one’s head and one’s dignity.

 

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“Confessions of a Square”

 by Sam Buntz

 I’ve been calling myself a liberal for awhile, but “conservative” is actually probably a better label for my inner nature—despite my strong liberalism on most social issues (particularly LGBTQ Rights) and, I guess, on some economic issues too (I have no real knowledge about economics).  Yet, the innermost sanctuary of my Self was constructed in a very definite shape: Square. (Maybe the fact that I still use the term “square” is itself strong evidence of this?)  I’m a conservative in a sort of mental and emotional character-based way, as opposed to a political way, and also insofar as I strongly resent the implication many collegiate liberals make, that you need to get really into leather or open-relationships if you ultimately want to help “The Cause.” 

Of course, I support medical marijuana and a goodly amount of decriminalization, but I have no interest in drugs (except for the caffeine included in Irish Breakfast Tea), absolutely no interest in going to crazy street fairs where they sell lots of whips and things, am heterosexual and fundamentally monogamous in a possibly boring way, and used to wear a lot of lame sweaters, in addition to being preoccupied with some fairly stodgy religious concerns (they may get mystical, but are decidedly not freaky).  Even though I’m not an Episcopalian or Presbyterian (or even an orthodox Christian of any acknowledged variety), I believe most people would be better off if they were.   

Also, this isn’t inherently conservative, but I really dislike loud bars—in a manner rather akin to that of the unsavory crowd of bow-tie wearing Young Republican weirdoes, who sit around smoking gigantic pipes and wishing it was the British Raj or whatever (which I don’t do), I regularly fantasize about a nice quiet pub with no music, where you can just sit down, and have a nice boring conversation about PBS documentaries (though that last part sounds pretty liberal, indeed).  Apparently, there’s a novelty bar in Brooklyn based on this concept—so maybe liberals are actually more into it, in the end. 

And, again, to re-iterate: I don’t believe in free love—love should be in chains, thanks.  But not literal chains—again, that’s starting to sound like more ultra-liberal S&M talk.  Also, in the final analysis, I really strongly disapprove of the Academic Reds who think you can substitute Allen Ginsberg for Shakespeare and magically levitate the Pentagon with nude, Shamanic rituals and all that kind of stuff.

Basically, what makes me so secretly conservative, is that, at the end of the day, I believe you need to buy into an idea of order.  You can’t live your life gleefully making confetti out of other people’s graph paper, wallowing around in your own personal chaos—you’re supposed to do that in your head, not in the actual world.  The tramp-Kerouac persona is utterly distasteful to all right-thinking people—and people who adopt it for more than their first two years of college are probably hitch-hiking serial killers.  As far as being a Square goes, having four sides really grants you a good, even abundant amount of personality—if you start to have too many sides, being excessively open-minded about opium pipes shaped like hobbits and the collected poetic works of Maya Angelou, your character morphs under the conflicting pressures of an unwieldy emotional and mental promiscuity.  And that starts to look like having no sides, which, in Nature, is best conveyed by the appearance of that particular form of matter we call “slush”. 

“I Was a Teenage Beer Keg”

by Sam Buntz

Well, only twice, actually—I was a teenage beer keg first, I think, during Homecoming, and then once during a hockey game in the winter.  If this statement sounds confusing, it’s because I’m needlessly making it sound that way, to generate suspense:  the college I went to (*cough* *cough* Dartmouth College *cough* *cough* Ivy League *cough*) had and, as far as I know, still has an unofficial mascot, an anthropomorphic beer keg named “Keggy,” who would show up at sporting events and on other festive occasions.  Being a member of the humor magazine, which was responsible for creating and maintaining Keggy, I played him on two separate occasions during my freshman year.  (Complete clarity now dawns on the reader as the title begins to make sense.)

Being inside the beer costume felt pretty uncomfortable—an experience probably not at all equivalent to being one of those Viet Cong couriers who would crawl through networks of tiny tunnels, but why not daringly make the comparison?   Since the costume was literally a trash can that had been repainted, it lacked any padding for the skull—in fact, without some sort of intervening layer of matter, you wouldn’t be able to see out of the costume’s mouth-hole, which would be at shoulder level while your head hit the top of the can.

However, a very clever mechanism had been devised to prevent this from happening, probably best described as “a block of wood wrapped in a sweatshirt.”  (And since the sweatshirt would inevitably fall off at some point during the night, it would really just be a block of wood resting against your cranium.)  You wore the old metal framework of a hiking backpack, with the wood block and sweatshirt attached to it, sticking out above your head, while a helpful pair of people—as equally deluded as yourself—slipped the actual “keg” over your head and torso.  You also wore white plastic “Mickey Mouse” gloves, shorts, and green nylons.

(I’m not sure if that paints a very vivid picture—if it reads like Hemingway describing shooting a hippo, or whatever other animals he was into killing.  That’s what I was aiming for, anyway.  But given that no sane person would ever demand a very vivid picture of this beer-keg-costume’s internal apparatus, I guess it’s best not to worry.)

But, wait—we’re plunging heedlessly into technical matters, before we’ve even touched on the bigger, more profound questions.  I’m thinking principally of “Why?”—a one word query which could be extended into this non-truncated form: “Why would you ever dress up like an anthropomorphic beer keg? Particularly given the high level of discomfort involved, as you yourself just described?”

The anthropomorphic beer keg, as I understand it, is supposed to be knowing and ironic.  It’s a self-conscious parody of Dartmouth College’s reputation for being a school full of debauched frat-boy alcoholics—a post-modern gesture, if you will, which deconstructs the very fundaments of… (Sorry—I lost interest in that explanation as I was making it.)

A friend of mine claims that the real reason for dressing up in the Keggy costume is that it’s a way of escaping the knowledge of our impending mortality by diving into a wholly absurd, pretend universe where death is impossible, and where engaging in carefree nonsense is the only possible existential response.   But, to be fair, he says that about everything.

So, why did I dress up like a beer keg at the tender age of 19, and parade around the College Green and the Hockey Arena—shepherded by other humor magazine people, since I could only see about four feet in front of me?

Dude, I have no idea.  I was, like, 19.  Maybe I did it so I could write some sort of blog post about it or whatever, six years later…  Who knows?

“1001 Floors”

by Sam Buntz

Right now, there’s a book lying around my family’s apartment entitled 1001 Floors.  If I had to describe the book, I would say that, essentially, it is a guide to floors.  It makes sense that my parents have this book, because they’re moving into a new house, and at least one of the rooms is going to require a new floor—it’s not like they’re looking at it recreationally or something.  However, speaking for myself, I think that a lot of horror stories would be much more effective if, instead of having the main character enter a chamber and confront an ancient evil, the main character entered a chamber while the door snapped shut and locked behind him, sealing him inside, alone with a copy of 1001 Floors.

Interestingly enough, the magical, indeed talismanic associations of the number “1001” are probably partly derived from The Thousand and One Nights (which is the same thing as The Arabian Nights, in case you don’t know anything), a book in which newlywed princesses are casually murdered by a psychopathic sultan, and genies and evil viziers wreak havoc at will.  But, despite these violent overtones, the purpose of the book is, basically, to evoke a sense of wonder—or, in Arabic, ajaib.  Perhaps this was also the goal of the authors and editors of 1001 Floors—hence, their allusion to the classic Arabic folktale collection I have just described.

Back during Pre-Islamic times in ancient Arabia, saying that there was “one thousand and one” of something was (probably) the equivalent of saying that there was an infinity of the item in question.  Intentionally or not, “one thousand and one floors” also happens to sound very much like “infinite floors.”  The book itself isn’t very thick, so maybe part of the magic or ajaib of the thing is that that many floors can be crammed into so small a space—a miracle of compressed plentitude, like Jesus multiplying fish and loaves.

Of course, it’s not that hard to give someone a fairly comprehensive idea of what a floor looks like—all you really need to show someone is a square, with the floor’s pattern printed on it.  So, theoretically at least, one thousand and one floors could all be presented with a fair degree of scope in two hundred pages or less.

I think that 1001 Floors so obsesses me—like Lady Macbeth agitatedly trying to wipe the blood off her hands, or Edgar Allan Poe’s madman distracted by the ticking of the tell-tale heart—because it provides a striking vantage point from which one can observe the lone and level sands of adulthood: the joys of shopping for door hinges at Home Depot and Lowe’s and the rest.  The inescapable finite, material contingencies of the world are most brutally demonstrated by such practically helpful and necessary works as 1001 Floors.  It’s why I prefer to limit my own material concerns to the microwaveable and the off-brand buyable.  The labyrinth of life contains enough twists and turns, without needing to face-off with the Minotaur of too-much-style-and-design, who will not hesitate to impale us on his horns and drink our blood.