Our family dog, recognized in three different neighborhoods as Betsy the Poodle, seems convinced that she is able to drive my car, and is mightily disappointed that she is not routinely allowed the opportunity. She positions herself with forepaws against the steering wheel in the 10-and-2 o’clock position, and impatiently honks the car horn when she deems it necessary or proper, which is to say whenever the mood strikes. She will use her forehead to advance the transmission-shifter in an effort to make the car go faster. You have to appreciate this kind of gusto and verve from a canine life-form weighing around six pounds. But Betsy can still manage to be a dangerous pain in the ass during these situations, and she is not allowed to operate the vehicle.
I was attending a medical meeting in San Diego one time, when a very drunken stranger I’d encountered at an industry reception got it in her head that she’d like to try out my rental car, which may have been an off-yellow Nissan Micra, to see how it handled en route to Mexico. It’s true that I’m seldom a lot of fun at conferences, but I applied the unyielding Rules of Betsy to this inebriate: No! Not drive! But my auto enthusiast was as determined as she was garrulous, and predicted there would be more yuks in store on account of the night still being semi-young. “Will any of this include cleaning vomit off the dashboard?” I wondered. “Because Budget Rent-a-car can be pickier than you’d think, for a company named Budget.” And then something else caught her attention — probably a passing tray of spritzers — and we went our separate ways.
There you have two illustrations of why people like me aren’t in a hurry to hand over control of an automobile to an unqualified operator, just because they insist they’re up to the task. If only the Rules of Betsy had been applied when selecting Martha Coakley as the Democratic Party candidate for Ted Kennedy’s old U.S. Senate seat, this might have been a happier morning-after-the-election, and the course of future political events might seem something other than terrifying. Ted had a few faults, as Ms. Kopechne’s relatives will tell you, but you can’t say that he’d never heard of Curt Schilling.
Commentators agree, in the wake of the Massachusetts upset, that Coakley was a poor choice, and not at all what the people of the Bay State wanted. However, this is what political parties and movements do everywhere: cynically foist their jackass friends on an unimpressed electorate, knowing that the voting outcome can be manipulated and controlled. As much as I dislike what the Republican party stands for (and what they don’t), I’m still a little gratified to think that the sheep will occasionally follow their own instincts, rather than the poor judgement of their herders. Yes, the idea of electing the GOP was questionable, but there can be little denial that Coakley is an awful, disengaged mediocrity, not at all unlike the mute non-entity someone appointed to the Senate from Coakley’s neighboring state: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York. And neither of those two nebbishes could score any lower, under any fair rating system, than the selection of candidates emerging for the upcoming mayoral election in my home town of Toronto. Why don’t we save that part of the discussion for a future date, when I’m feeling a little more up to the task of considering this particular crop of local defectives and hooligans?
In any case, my suggestion to voters in all democracies is that the Rules of Betsy be applied to elections. If you wouldn’t trust an individual with your $20,000 Camry, you really shouldn’t permit them to run the gazillion-dollar economy of your city, state, or country.
A tragic outcome of the shocking election of Republican candidate and now Senator-elect Chumley R. Stupido (R.-Mass.) by Bay State voters was the instant death it induced in novelist Robert Parker at his home in Cambridge, Mass. Well, actually, it didn’t happen exactly according to that schedule, but Parker surely would have appreciated my manoeuvring events to better suit a dramatic outline. I was late in discovering Parker (who shouldn’t be confused with either Robert Parker the wine writer, or Parker, the single-named character in Don Westlake’s fiction), and didn’t see any of the Spenser for Hire TV programs based on his crime novels. Critics say he lost a step or two or three in later years, when he was grinding out three novels every 12 months, which were snapped up at airport bookstalls, Costco and Sam’s Club. Be that as it may, the guy did some of his best work as he entered his eighth decade. His western novels, a genre he undertook only recently, were surprisingly good, and he continued to branch out and test unexpected themes. Double Play, a book about baseball’s Jackie Robinson, was published in 2005, and may be recommended to anyone as an enjoyable fictionalized history. It’s a tribute to Parker’s accessible, reader-friendly prose that his books were allegedly read in the White House by its attention-challenged former occupant, Pres. Geo. W. Bush, Jnr. In that sense, Parker, an egghead living in liberal-laden Cambridge, Mass., could be eulogized as a uniter, not a divider. His heart gave out this Monday (01-18-10) while he was at his desk, writing another novel, at age 77. That is what’s known as dying with your boots on, and that is the way you want to go, sonny boy, when your time comes.