A Gilded New Year

Harry Drabik

Contrary to appearances and temperament I do not remember what was then termed the Gilded Age in America. For ease of understanding, gilded America was roughly akin Victorianism in ye merry olde stiff necked England. For a literary and comedic talent such as Sam Clemens the era provided a good time and place to live plus a trove of satirical material to work with. What better to satirize than what we are surrounded by, that is for those who don’t take themselves too-too seriously, as some will do. Humor relies on them doing so, but satire depends even more on the over doers of seriousness showing little awareness of anything but their own serious conclusions. It’s funny seeing a true huff-puff of seriousness reach true pomposity. True humbug done well deserve appreciative applause for being authentic (or convincing) pretense of a style modeled on piety. Just think, more than a hundred years ago people found rich humor in other folk bowing their heads to mutter insincere incantations to supreme Deities they call upon in name only.  

America’s gilded age (a term ironic) was a time of great change and development; exactly ripe for those ready to run with tales of glorified achievements or horrifying doom. I think any “age” from gilded to industrial to electronic to information and so on will run wildly in two directions at the same time. The positive possibility of an age find a twin in its likelihood of ruinous excess. Though in many ways one of them as Sam Clemens, his other side as Mark Twain saw abundant humor in images of full bellied prosperity preaching the virtues of austerity, to others of course. Among his better lines was Twain’s observation that “Nothing needs reforming so much as other people’s habits.” Well that hasn’t changed, has it? The marketplace for correcting the wrongs of others is a boom place for all persuasions to take swings at the fabled piñata of notoriety. And a glorious thing it is to spear the foibles of others. And great the ability to grasp and take command of the universal design; except when it comes to particulars, that is. But then believers in the true thrive on repetition by rote and are more inclined to quote passages than risk the ways of skeptic inquiry.  

A century past every quack, con, reformer, and preacher of fanciful conviction found an ample and willing audience for their claims to know exactly and precisely what everyone else was doing wrong. They could prove it and were loved for it. Then nothing much came of it and they all moved along to the next set of revelations from another source inspired to point out the ills and bad habits seen so clearly in others. The sickness is all around. It’s everywhere. Beware say they as was warned in the past, of the past, by the past for as long as there’s been fault to find we’ve found it and were sorry for it; weren’t we, aren’t we? Now that last one was really an impossible sort of sentence, but made for a point. The point is that I’m doing much the same. Hyperbole ain’t hard to find. I’m sure of my own and finding sufficient critical material to work with as long as there’s a sinner alive point their finger at whatever environmental, religious, social, economic, or other transgression of the truest faith espouse prophesized, known, and proclaimed by those favored by fateful fortune to see with zealous clarity that which is revealed to them with blinding (them as much as us) vision  

I apologize for the preceding too-long sentence. But when on a lexicon roll it’s damn hard to stop the tumble. I’m a victim of Webster’s (not alone by any count) fecundity. But how not to be in a verbose and celebratory mood seeing how bountifully blessed our nation is with expertise so immediate and immense? My God but we’re lucky to have so many knowing so much about all there is. That leaves me with what’s left over. May be lean pickings, but left with little but a bare from or foundational footing might be enough to clear my head. Yes indeed, free of propounding talk I see all those trotted-out experts like the room full of elder and maiden aunts I’d once faced at family gatherings where advice was given (being asked for was beside the point) on “what to do with that boy.” They were unanimous in knowing offending boys should get a good spanking, be put in reform school, be circumcised, sent to a nunnery (non-surgical version of the previous), join the Army, get a good talking to, or be married. I humbly confess, dear readers, but where I am supposed to see a pontificating policy experts the image I see is of overbearing aunts (their male counterparts busy in the garage where the beer was kept; uncles no wiser, but they kept that to themselves).  

I remember how busybody relatives smelled, an odor of moth balls and perfume or pungent after shave. I will lay a wager with you. If any of us was to creep up behind one of the brought-forth-at-need experts to sniff where a bit of necks shows you’d sniff the ages old scent of busybody decanted with Eau de Grande Self-importance. Well, it’s true that when persons know so much from having themselves done so little it’s perishingly difficult not to be vitally impressed with your own brilliance. Why, after all, would an expert be called if not to demonstrate their vast knowledge? (Put aside their expertise is comfortably programmable, they are on call, respond as desired, or work cheaply, and etc. as explanation.) I’m confident asserting a person can be as much know-little ass before a million viewers as in a living room with a dozen. And one other thing I’ll say with certainness. Possession an expert’s crystal balls makes moving at any speed very near impossible. In addition to smelling odd, experts are bowlegged and slow moving as fits spectators.