I am sitting here with a cold in my head and a wart on my foot, attempting to compose a column that will catalogue, with some degree of warmth and human decency, a year that drains from our lives like dirty water from a dog's tub. I'm not sure I'm up to it.
Not that a head cold and a foot wart are particularly incapacitating. You learn to live with pain and discomfort after awhile and, in fact, come to find they're probably beneficial if you're a newspaper columnist.
Colds and warts provide a kind of stark reality to what otherwise might be interpreted as whining self-pity.
Notwithstanding that mixed blessing, however, I am still having a hard time thinking of anything tender to write about today. It was my wife's idea that I undertake such a quest this Dec. 31st.
"Surely there's something positive you can offer on the last day of the year," she said the other night. "Wait, strike positive and make that happy . No, strike happy , make that normal ."
"Strike normal ," I said, "and make that funny ."
"And offensive," she said.
"Like when you signed the Christmas cards 'From Jesus and the Supremes.' "
"It was descriptive."
"They were Wise Men, not pop rockers."
We were in the living room. She was reading and I was watching a National Geographic special on animals of Africa. It was 60 minutes of mating and killing.
"I've never seen so many passionate lions," I said. "When they aren't bringing down a wildebeest, they're fornicating."
She glanced up. "It isn't just the lions."
"Right. They're all doing it. How come we were in Africa for three weeks and never saw any of that?"
"I'll take you to the zoo next spring," she said. "Maybe the koala bears will get it on for you."
"I'm not advocating animal porn," I said.
"That's not porn, that's procreation."
"It's cinematic perversion. Can you imagine waiting a week for zebras to mount each other?"
She shrugged. "How long did the Miami Herald stake out Gary Hart?"
"That's different. There aren't any dumb animals entering presidential primaries."
She looked at me with a quizzical expression.
"On second thought," I said, "maybe there are."
She went back to reading and I continued watching television. A frog was eating another frog. He was just about finished when a snake ate them both.
"Man," I said, "talk about irony! A snake just ate a frog eating a frog."
"That makes you smile?"
"I wasn't smiling. I was . . . well, I'm not sure what I was."
"You were smiling, all right. You like the idea that a snake ate a frog eating a frog. That's probably why you write a column."
"Not necessarily," I said. "It's just that you don't see a snake eating a frog eating a frog too often. In fact, the first frog was eating a grasshopper when he was eaten by the second frog who in turn was eaten by the snake."
"So you've got a snake eating a frog eating a frog eating a grasshopper, right?"
"Right," I said. "All we need now is an eagle swooping down on the snake. Then you'd have a snake-eating eagle eating a frog-eating snake eating a frog-eating frog eating an insect-eating frog."
She put down her book. "What is it you want of me?"
"A column idea that isn't tender and inspirational."
"Like the snake and the frog business."
"Why don't you just list your best columns of 1987? By best, I mean the ones that offended the greatest number of people."
"Hey," I said, "now you're cooking. But instead of columns that offended, how about groups of people who were offended. Like vegetarians, feminists, dwarfs, old ladies, cops, patriots . . . "
She joined in: "Christians, Jews, Hindus, psychologists, geneticists, paleontologiests, male prosti . . . "
"Hold it," I said. "I didn't even write about paleontologists this year."
"Bernice Cooper's husband is a paleontologist."
"The one who believes the UFOs are from Zeta Reticuli?"
"Paleontologists, data processors, telephone repairmen, botanists, pathologists . . . hey, look!"
I pointed to the television set. A lioness had killed a wart hog for her three cubs. The cubs were about to dig in when the wart hog suddenly recovered.
"It's a miracle!" I said. "That's my column for Thursday. A resurrected wart hog! Talk about your spiritual overtones. They'll be humming hosannas all over Hollywood."
"Look again, Martinez. The lioness brought a stunned wart hog to her cubs in order to teach them how to kill it themselves. Unless you are amused by death, it's a wash."
"There goes 'The Miracle of the Wart Hog.' Oh, well. Bee-keepers, bottle-cappers, milkmen, editors, fry cooks, animal activists . . . "
"Wives, gays, children, neighbors, bag boys, gynecologists, charity workers . . . "
"Philogynists, philatelists, numismatists, puppeteers, flower-arrangers. . . . "