Election Night

A dreary day descended into a depressing cold November night as Dale Whitmer sat on his bare mattress. He was new to town, new to the area and new to temperatures that fell below seventy. His soul was having a hard time adjusting to his unsavory surroundings, much like the critics had a hard time understanding his film. Leaving the “soon to have heat” one bedroom apartment a broker had procured for him the day before would be a chore, but his stomach could be silenced no longer. His options were simple—shake off the frostbite and leave his arctic abode or stay inside and chew on his frozen breath.

Dale chose option A.

Quite convenient for his present circumstances was a neighborhood bar down the block named, Etonner. Since he wasn’t looking for surf and turf and had no interest in trudging several blocks in his Burberry London Black Wool Single Breasted Trench Coat, the only jacket he ever owned, the quaint establishment would have to do. From the outside he could tell this would not be a most reputable of places. The awning that hung in front was weathered and no longer a confident green. The face of the bar was made up of ancient pinkish bricks that had been leaned upon, Dale surmised by the countless deadbeats who frequented this hole in the wall. He could see the cops arriving on scene to take away one drunk after another who attempted to headline their own main event.

Dale opened the door and several heads, along with the bartender, turned to look for a familiar face. As if belonging to a hive, immediate recognition that his particular face bore no resemblance to a regular came over the group and they resumed their drinking and carousing. Fine by Dale, he was there for a burger and a blast of hot air, preferably several blasts.

He walked up to the bar, already regaining sensation in his hands and asked the bartender for a table. When asked how many, Dale held up an index finger with not a hint of dirt underneath the nail. The bartender told him to take his pick of the many open tables to his right. He was a man in his early forties, Dale imagined, most likely a gym teacher who looked to earn extra money to support his family. Of course no one told him to have five kids, or to buy a house a little beyond his means. You are a product of your choices and this man probably had little of his own growing up.

Having seen too many Mafioso movies, Dale chose the table in the corner and sat against the wall, surveying his surroundings. This was the definition of a neighborhood bar; a shit load of pictures of who he presumed to be long dead regulars hung above the bar in cheap brown frames. They were a lineup of drunks and their soulless eyes met his stare and held. A local version of the Terracotta Army, guarding their emperor.

He pulled his eyes from the series of dead figures and continued his visual tour. The requisite dart board full of holes and chalk scoreboard full of permanent markings hung directly across from him on the other side of the bar. Most likely used by lonely men with a drink in their hand, looking to pass the time in their meaningless existence. The surrounding tables looked temporary and Dale guessed on weekends this space was cleared to make way for what the owner hoped to be a larger audience full of people with nothing better to do except stand next to other strangers.

There were two televisions, one flat screen and one vintage picture tube, on either side of the bar. They were muted, with closed captioning scrolling across the bottom of the screen. Dale was surprised the older box was a color one and knew its presence was due to a lower profit margin than expected. The election was today, and the the monitors were tuned to different news channels, with the political leanings of the bar readily apparent by what channel was on what screen. Both sides flaunted the same types of talking heads, each expressing the outcome of the race in the appropriate amount of joy or despair.

The actual bar itself was one big wooden plank extending itself along the entire eastern wall. The stools lined up were half full, Dale estimated only regulars would come out in this weather during the week and also assumed that his staring was starting to freak out some of the occupants. With a cough he reached for the menu standing on his table like a mini sandwich board and stared at his options. He could have a burger, with or without cheese, a chicken sandwich, a roast beef sandwich, buffalo wings or chive blini with crème fraiche and quail eggs.

Wait…

What?

Sensing the confusion, his waitress entered his field of vision and Dale already guessed her back story. She once had potential, was beautiful and full of personality and would have made a great wife to a great guy. Except birth control wasn’t a priority until it was. She was estranged from the deadbeat, happening only after they confirmed their poor choices with another. One was in college, one was in high school. She was once again alone, forgetting the random nights she woke up next to someone else. And this pattern went on and on until the entirety of her dreams flowed back into the sewer of life.

She had no interest in his back story or his blank stare and openly wondered if he was ready to order. Dale, shaking the fairy dust from his brown eyes asked her about the last item on the menu, the chive blini with crème fraiche and quail eggs. From her smile, Dale wondered how often she had heard those words and the resulting speech definitely put his guess in the upper hundreds. If Dale was going to condense her second act monologue into a concise statement he would say,

“Her boss lived in France.”

Sensing an opportunity to experience true beauty amongst the thorns, Dale ordered the exotic cuisine, along with a Grimbergen and gave a smile to dismiss the waitress. With his order taken care of, Dale was free to continue on with his examination. Looking over the occupants on the left side of the bar, he saw nothing but sport-themed hats and wretched faces. Men he felt who took an interest in gambling, ignoring their lack of talent in the activity. How much money had been collectively lost by the deadbeats staring forlornly into their dollar drafts? The rent, tuition, perhaps even a wedding ring hocked in desperation. These were men who did not know their limitations and in that ignorance remained in a prison of their own making.

A chime rang and in walked a gentleman in a three-piece suit, with the Webster’s dictionary definition of a Windsor knot. His thinning silver hair had a clean part commonly found on Wall Street and Dale guessed one would not find a piece of lint anywhere on the man’s body. A man with such distinction had to be a man who possessed some type of power and a man who possessed some type of power was certain to abuse the notion. Dale knew the man was full of avarice, cruel to his underlings with whom he expected to ring every drop of their soul until the last nickel was found. This was a man who shut his lights on Halloween and complained of too much revelry on New Year’s. His contempt was such that Dale had to mentally restrain himself from accusing the man of gross misconduct there on the spot.

Despite his outward appearance, the man was demonstrative in words and action. Dale anxiously stared at his hair to see if all his movement would shake a hair loose from its polish. This eruption of emotion was probably a passing storm, his true fury reserved from his mouse of a wife and the children he acknowledged with a handshake.

At that moment Dale realized this was the first bar he had encountered in a very long while whose only sound originated from its occupants. There was no jukebox and the televisions were silenced. Yet, based on an acoustic anomaly, he had a hard time hearing the older gentlemen who was deeply distressed by some event. Ignoring his inclinations to move towards the volume, Dale mentally took a step back and concentrated on the two younger men on the other side of the bar, one whom was in the middle of a Shakespearean monologue.

Based on the similarities in ages, Dale surmised the guy on the left was not lecturing the guy on the right. Perhaps he was giving some worldly advice, most likely involving women. The guy on the right was probably heartbroken, the Lothario who had met his match with a Don Juan who possessed an extra large wallet. The guy on the right listened, Dale gathered, to his friend tell him that there were other women, women who did not base their affections on quantity, be it physical or material. He would one day find the girl who mostly appropriately fit into the various nooks and crannies of his life. Until then, the young man should buck up and keep his eyes up—if not to see his upcoming happiness then to avoid tripping on his self pity.

His eyes darted back towards the older man who had offered the wrong opinion and was furiously holding fast to whatever position he maintained with another man, who could say to have his judgment influenced by his friends Jack and Daniel. Dale was able to hear the bartender attempt to smooth things over by offering both men a drink on the house, to keep the peace and tranquility the bar had tried to cultivate in vain over the years. With begrudging smiles, the two men agreed to disagree and saddled up to drink whatever tonic was being offered.

The excitement had ended.

His waitress came over and draped a place mat in front of him along with a carefully polished set of silverware. Before he could ask, she informed him her boss insisted that whenever someone ordered the chive blini with crème fraiche and quail eggs they received the appropriate eating utensils as well. Dale picked up the fork and felt like he held a talisman, for it brought him back to his youth when he was a dishwasher at his uncle’s restaurant. Regardless of his familial situation, his uncle was a stern taskmaster who would inspect his wash no matter how busy they were. If a fork was not polished to his satisfaction, his uncle would dump it back into the sink. Dale was warned from the very beginning, if his uncle had to do that three times he would be fired on the spot.

Dale held the fork to his eye, determined to spot the flaw. Then, the knife. Minutes passed as his eyes marched across the surface and Dale did not find a blemish. To the surprise of his waitress, who had arrived with his beer, he dropped his fork on the floor. Waiting a beat, Dale leaned over to his left and picked up the now filthy fork, placing it on the far left corner of his table. With a certain satisfaction, Dale sat up and locked eyes with his confused waitress. Her mouth began to open until she thought better and walked away. He stretched out his arms, a mixture of fatigue and exhilaration, took a sip of his Grimbergen and smiled. Dale didn’t need to check the televisions to know the outcome of the election, he already declared himself the winner.

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The True Story of The Lorax

On a rainy Tuesday afternoon I laid across my expensive and recently paid off leather couch desperately seeking some sort of diversion. I searched the thousands of movies available to me across a bevy of devices and found The Lorax. Throughout the film, I noticed details that seemed to reference deeper meanings. If nothing else I am a wannabe detective so I took my pursuit of the truth to the hallowed halls of Google, where strange enough, nothing could be found on Seuss esotericism.

While on line waiting for my car to get washed, an older gentleman overheard me talking about my Seuss frustration on my phone and offered up a tip — our local library had plenty of old moth infested books that could possibly possess some answers. Joy filled my heart and I felt the need to thank the man to which he insisted none was needed. Finally, he permitted a doff of my hat and I was on my way to the hallowed halls of the Great Kills Library.

Unfortunately, they were closed.

The next morning I returned and after hours of perusing various microfilms and filthy relics, I came upon an article written by James Cortelyou who purported to know the true origins of The Lorax. The headline screamed, “THE LORAX AND THE FRENCH REVOLUTION” and as I scanned down, all I saw was one big brown stain. Of course the rest of the article was illegible, due to a careless patron spilling coffee over the document.

Blast!

Ninety-nine percent of the time that’s the end of the story. Ninety-nine percent of the time whatever truth there is left to find is consigned to the garbage bin of history.

Thankfully, I am part of the one percent. A sentence, which when taken out of context will condemn me to countless hate mail from confused hippies.

With a recipe that is two-thirds ingenuity, a quarter high-speed Internet connection and three-eighths free long distance phone call thanks to Verizon, I managed to track down James Cortelyou at his house deep in the brass fields of Tecumseh, Oklahoma. At first he was hesitant to speak, most likely due to the intimidating Seuss agents residing all across the continental United States. Eventually, due to my easygoing nature and his need to unburden his heavy soul he opened up and told me the true story behind The Lorax.

Our tale begins in the year 1793, in the quaint French countryside of Fougères, located on the outskirts of le Mont St-Michel. Fougères is famous for having one of the only three belfries in Brittany, a former feudal state that existed for a time in France. For years, peace ruled the land until the winds of change came roaring in the form of The French Revolution. With the monarchy facing opposition from all sides and people thirsting for freedom it was the perfect storm for creativity and fresh ideas.

Enter Pierre de la Crème Glacée Parapluie, or simply Pete Parapluie to his friends. Pete was a simple glassmaker, one of dozens located in a town famous for its glass-making industry. The problem was Pete wasn’t especially fond of glass making. Every day, he would come home with little cuts all over his fingers from the fine nature of the glass. If that was the only hassle, historians are pretty sure Pete could have handled it.

The problem began with the upper crust of French society that came to buy pieces from Pete’s shop. They would come in their fancy clothes and powdered faces, shooting off their sneering glances and condescending attitudes. Pete did his best to fake smile and to tolerate them. After all, it was nearly impossible to find a French aristocrat at that time that didn’t sneer and condescend with a powdered face and fancy clothes. The crux of the problem was how the aristocrats came with their cats.

Not just a cat, Many cats.

Multiple cats.

Lots of cats.

Une multitude de chats.

Pete hated cats.

These cats would come and use his place as their own personal litter box. What was formerly a clean work shop turned into a disgusting toilet. Long after the aristocrats and their cats would leave, Pete would find nastiness in his shoes, in his glass machinery, even in his ears. This drove Pete crazy. Did you ever find shit in your ears? Not dirt, but actual shit.

It is not a pleasant feeling.

Enough was enough.

On the morning of January 20, 1793, he marched down to The Church of Saint Sulpice and demanded the attention of the townspeople. Quickly, a mob gathered, (as was the norm at the time) to listen to Pete’s words. There he gave a speech widely regarded as the most important in French history and the reason why King Louis XVI was executed the very next day. Before we get to those words, let me extend my apologies to those who speak French. Some of the meaning gets lost in translation.

My fellow countrymen!

I am tired! I am tired of making glass for these horrible rich people who think they are better than we are. I am tired of seeing their smug faces and having to hold my tongue as they talk down to me. But most of all I am tired of their cats!

To hell with their cats!

To hell with those useless animals that believe by virtue of their birth that they own dominion over all that they see. To hell with their belief that they can go to the bathroom wherever they want. I am tired of their shit, both literal and metaphorical. WE are tired of their shit. I know there isn’t a man alive here in our proud town that enjoys finding cat shit in their ears. I know there isn’t a woman alive in this town who enjoys having to ruin their brooms sweeping up all the cat shit. I say it’s time we give them back all the shit they have given us!

It is time to rise up!

It is time to cast off these bonds of servitude and force the rich to acknowledge whom truly runs this beautiful land we call France!

It is time to fuck shit up!

There was more but the rest of the speech is lost to the annals of history. Apparently after that last line the crowd went into frenzy and began to chant,

“A l’enfer avec les Royals et a l’enfer avecs leurs chats!”

Translated into English,

“To hell with the Royals and to hell with their cats!”

This sentiment raged across the countryside as hoards of angry French citizens attacked those they believe persecuted them. They wanted freedom, they wanted equality, and they wanted to be rid of those annoying cats. Thus, whenever French nobility was attacked, they would end the assault by placing all their cats into a sack and throwing them into a river.

In casting off their symbolic shackles, they cast off the cats.

The most impressionable of all were the French children, who watched this all go down. Psychologists later came to the conclusion that to deal with the horrors all around them, the French children created a game, that later became the impetus of the game “Freeze Tag,” complete with a song. The game would begin with all the children gathered together. Quickly, two children would be singled out. One would be “The Royalty” and one would be “The Cat.” The rest of the children would denigrate into a mob and chase “The Royalty” and “The Cat” all over. When they finally tagged “The Royalty” that child was forced to stand still and watch as the children then focused their attention on finding “The Cat.” Once “The Cat” was found, the children would carry “The Cat” and throw them into “The River” which was normally substituted with a mound of garbage. Once “The Cat” was thrown into “The River” the children would sing,

Nous sommes les enfants assez & petit

Nous jeter le cat dans la rivière

La Révolution vivent plus longtemps que le cat

C’est dans la rivière jeter

Le cat jeter

Le cat jeter

Le cat dans la rivière jeter

Le cat jeter

Le cat jeter

Et a l’enfer avec lui

Translated into English,

We are children pretty & small

We throw the cat in the river

The Revolution shall live longer than the cat

That’s in the river

Throw the cat

Throw the cat

Throw the cat

In the river

Throw the cat

Throw the cat

Throw the cat

And to hell with him!

Perhaps you’re wondering how this ties into The Lorax?

In the late 1960s, Theodor Seuss Geisel was traveling the French countryside with his second wife, Audrey Stone Dimond when they decided to check out the famous castle in Fougères, built in the year 1000. On the road to the castle he came across a plaque for Pierre de la Crème Glacée Parapluie. Seeing how Theodor couldn’t read or speak French, he asked a fellow traveler to translate the words on the plaque. Those words were the famous speech Pete made at the Church. Seuss was now intrigued at learning the rest of the story and by the time he arrived home in California, Seuss decided to Americanize the story and make it suitable for children.

Thus, The Lorax.

So the next time you read The Lorax to your children or watch the movie on Netflix, try to find the symbolic meaning behind The Lorax creature, representing the French peasants and the Once-Ler representing the French Royalty. Think of those simple French people. Think of all those French people who had to suffer with finding cat shit in their ears. Think of how cat shit led to the French Revolution, forever changing the way people lived and were governed. Think of how, without the cat shit, there would be no French Revolution and consequently no United States of America.

The next time you are frustrated with American politics remember we are a country founded on the principles of cat shit and throwing cats into the river…

Throw the cat

Throw the cat

Throw the cat

And to hell with him!