Sometimes, despite the best of intentions, one cannot help but to think of Jesse Jackson. Not the Jesse Jackson of hymietown fame, nor the Jesse Jackson of the stifling, impotent Democratic Party who likes to glad-hand reactionary dinosaurs like Al Gore and Madeline Albright and eat tarragon frisee at the White House. But the Jesse Jackson who specializes in leading potato-chip swilling middle schools as they chant, “Keep hope alive! Keep hope alive!”
But before all of my drug-addict friends call up and scream “Just say no to Nancy Reagan!” into my answering machine, let me state the obvious: the war on drugs is a joke, it’s corrupting and destabilizes entire countries, including this one. If the powers that be were serious about making America a better place, here’s what they’d do:
1) Arrest Barbra Streisand. For life.
2) Outlaw golf.
3) Reduce the size of the armed forces to 17 people, including three homosexuals and an Arapaho.
4) Reinstate a public service draft for all high school graduates. They can milk cows, do push-ups, plant flowers, pick-up trash, and play full-court basketball for a year. There’s plenty of time for college and 12-keg beer bashes when they’re in their 20s.
5) Decriminalize marijuana.
6) Criminalize McNuggets (the barbecue dipping sauce can be repurposed as a skin-cream for sun-burnt terriers).
7) Make Oprah put “War and Peace” and “Crime and Punishment” on her book list.
8) Forbid Steven Spielberg from making any more movies.
9) Don’t play the national anthem before any sporting events.
10) Replace astroturf with natural grass.
11) Make all Americans from age 3 to 45 spend three hours a day reading, and three hours a day writing, and three hours a day throwing rocks.
But don’t hold your breath waiting for these much-needed public policy revisions. It will be a nice day in Phoenix before any real change occurs.
Which brings us to the point of this emergency broadcast message: The Giants, those masculine fellows in poly-blend trousers, have cranked off 12 wins in their last 14 games, including seven big W’s in a row. A season that started off somewhere between the Titanic and the Battle of Stalingrad (see below) on the catastrophe scale has now righted itself quite nicely, thank you very much. Hence my renewed faith in the prospect of supreme victory, which led to my turgid contemplation of divine possibility and tulips and lots of Big Gulps with crushed ice to ease the pain of driving the Ukiah Road four times on a single sticky August day, which is how I came to recall those three fey words by Mr. Jackson. Hope is kept alive with every Shawn Estes fastball that paints the black, and with every Marvin Barnard infield single. Now is the easy time to be a Giants fan. There’s a fancy new stadium with the best views in the world and home runs down the right field line land in the Pacific Ocean. Can eternal happiness be far off? Has the Dark Lord of Crumpet been banished forever? What’s the point? That life is but a dream, of course. So change the sheets as often as you can and hope the pitching holds out.
Dear Dr. Zack:
Please settle a bet. This capital-J Jerk I work with says that the Charge of the Light Brigade happened at the Battle of Stalingrad, in World War II. I say bollocks. What say you?
Turner-on-Turner, Wales, England
Federico my friend:
I saw “bollocks” as much as I can. It’s one of the most fun, engaging, delicate yet perversely strong words in the English language. Its various meanings include but are not limited to: nuts, nut sack, ball sack, pills, bulbous naughty bits, manroot, fleshy mini-melons, family jewels, scrotum patrol, and gonads. So thank you for giving me an opportunity to use the word in a public forum.
As for the Jerk at Work who insists that the Charge of the Light Brigade occurred in the 1940s, I say bollocks with a capital CK. The Charge of the Light Brigade happened at the Battle of Balaklava in October of 1854. It was an indecisive military engagement in the Crimean War, which inspired the English poet Tennyson's “Charge of the Light Brigade.” In this battle the Russians failed to capture Balaklava, the Black Sea supply port of the British, French, and Turkish forces in the southern Crimea; but the British lost control of a critical supply road connecting Balaklava with the heights above Sevastopol, the major Russian naval center that was under siege. Early in the fight the Russians occupied the Fedyukhin and the Vorontsov heights, bounding a valley near Balaklava, but were prevented from taking the town by General Sir James Scarlett's Heavy Brigade and by Sir Colin Campbell's 93rd Highlanders, who beat off two Russian cavalry advances with heavy cannon and cruel epithets. The general in command of the British forces, Lord Raglan (who after leaving the military under Queen Victoria’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy diverted his attentions to textiles and Baroque-influenced interior design), was located above Sevastopol, and observed the Russians removing guns from the captured artillery posts on the Vorontsov heights. Raglan quickly sent orders to the Light Brigade to disrupt the hated Russians, but the order was misheard by the messenger, who had fallen in love with a Baltic girl while on leave. The confused love-struck messenger ordered Lord Cardigan (who also ended up as a fashion designer of sorts) to gallop his brigade down the valley rather than toward the isolated Russians on the heights. Big mistake. Trapped in a cocoon of horror, the Brits got the business end of the Russian utensils, and they weren’t samovars, I’ll tell you that. When all the tea had been boiled, 40 percent of the Light Brigade was dead, dying, or bored beyond tears, a figure that doesn’t horses, shower clogs, and flagons of whiskey. It is reported that at least 216 silver lockets containing daguerreotypes of young lovers and Arabian geldings were also lost to the Russians that fateful day.
The Battle of Stalingrad, on the other hand, was the bitter Nazi siege of the Russian city from August of 1942 to February of 1943. The eventual defeat of the German Sixth Army at this frozen hellhole dealt a crippling blow to Hitler's campaign in the East, and also marked the strategic turning point of the Second World War; it has now recognized as one of the greatest military debacles of all time. In mid-November of 1942, a surprise pincer attack by two Russian armies cut off the German Sixth Army, which was then locked in a bloody struggle for Stalingrad. Trapped in a Vessel, or cauldron, an egg-shaped line of defense thirty miles wide and twenty miles deep, the Sixth Army, under command of General Fredric Paulus, was ordered by Hitler to hold its ground rather than retreat west to join the vanguard of the German forces. In a matter of two months, from late November of 1942 until the end of January of 1943, a quarter of a million German soldiers, a thousand German panzer tanks, 1,800 pieces of artillery, an entire fleet of transport planes, 37 war elephants seized from a Hindu princeling, a backgammon set, a four-leaf clover, and untold quantities of military supplies were obliterated by the combined forces of the Soviet Army and even more venomous Russian winter.
Tell the Jerk at Work to shut the John Grisham book and turn on the TV to watch some World At War on PBS. It’s great fun, and enlightening too! Everything else is bollocks.