and we mean that in the etymologically precise sense of the word …
Rock Island, IL
As a certain professor of political science puts the finishing touches on his undergraduate slave-labor support-staff preparations for the second annual meeting of the Lords of Front Porch Misrule—which this professor does by canceling classes so he can sneak in his 56th round of golf since Labor Day—a deracinated champion of localism bending south about ninety minutes—a political theorist by day and an internet troll by night—tries out different hairstyles and hair products. At last he settles upon a combination, stands on his tip-toes, looks admiringly into the mirror, and says into his own peerless eyes, “don’t hate me because I’m beautiful.”
East, and a bit north, in the so-called burned out—or is it burn-out?—district of the Empire State, a writer of unpopular books about unpopular topics throws back the evening’s twelfth Genny Cream Ale and tries to remember what it was like to have hair.
In the American southwest, more specifically in the nation’s second biggest civic blunder next to Las Vegas, a place manifestly without a future and certainly not capable of rising from its own ashes, another Porcher, thinking his agreeable surname a laurel made for resting on, considers the number of Single-A baseball games he can take in on the way from his 3,000-mile breakfast to the airport. “I’ll write my talk on the plane,” he says to himself as he depresses a thumb pin into a map of minor-league ballparks. “Heh, heh heh,” he says. “Oh, yeah! Burlington, Iowa, here I come. It doesn’t get any more local than that. And right on the way!”
In Kansas a hireling thinks of all those dull and onerous duties that befall such flunkies as hitch their rickety wagons to the State’s dim star. “Oh, hell,” he says, as did Lucifer of old. “What do mine eyes with grief behold?” He envisions raptures not for him ordained: jocularity, rounds, toasts, and rarest of all the image of himself, enthralled, as at the feet of a learned Jester he sits, fulfilled at last. He sees it all and thus in defeated apostrophe says,
And, should I at your harmless innocence
Melt, as I do, yet public reason just . . .
. . . compels me now
To do what else, though damned, I should abhor,
whereupon he fashions a voodoo doll and … well, the rest were best unspoken, for what happens in Kansas should stay in Kansas, as the sheep will tell you.
Below the Ohio river two members of the fairer sex meet in hushed tones, one to the other saying, “I like them not, nor stands it safe with us to let their madness range.”
“Pshaw!” says the other. “Don’t you remember who my daddy is? Why, there isn’t a joke between here and Gary Snyder’s front porch I haven’t heard.”
“But there’s this Bar Jester fellow …”
“And I’ll thank you not to intervene when he gets started. I especially want to hear the one about the old man who gets pulled over by the cops.”
“I just hope” says the other, as she stuffs a gallon of disinfectant into her suitcase, “that you know what you’re getting into.”
“Oh, I do. Honey, I was born into mischief.
Somewhere in western Illinois a waggish fellow fells three trees on college property—without asking permission—and, envisioning his new high tunnel, says, “that’s what I’m talking about.” He comes home, rinses the mortal coil, pulls from thin air a meal to die for—smoked barbecued ribs, corn on the cob (in a stolen moment he whispers to a certain shimmering creature that there will be porn on the cob, whereupon a certain pair of eyes roll and a certain goddess walks right on out of sight), cabbage slaw with peanut sauce, and French bread with basil, tomato, garlic, and olive oil.
And wine. Local stuff (if you’re from South Africa).
Later he throws a few things into a duffel bag: cigars, sunglasses in case the light should catch a certain Batavian forehead, a five-gallon pale of mouthwash, three books of limericks, Boetje’s mustard for the host’s staff, and an at-the-ready shaving kit, complete with bottle opener, cork screw, and aspirin. All he needs now is something to say.
Meanwhile, somewhere in that convoluted buffer region where northern Virginia keeps eastern West Virginia from touching Maryland a lanky redheaded professor of government takes last minute instructions from his wife. “And above all,” she says, as she licks her thumbs and wets down his eyebrows, “do not under any circumstances follow that awful terrible filthy repulsive Bar Jester into any places where your snow-white reputation might be sullied by the filth of his … his … his … his so-called wit. Give me your word, my darling. Promise me.
“I promise,” he says. And behind his back the middle and index fingers of his right hand cross like a pair of killer legs.