Dear Dr. Zack,
Please help me, as I am about to lose my mind, or what's left of it. For the past few years, instead of people saying “First of all ... Secondly, thirdly, fourthly ... Lastly,” they have been saying “First of all, Second of all, Third of all,” etc., and even Senator Bernie Sanders was caught saying “Second of all” on Thom Hartmann's radio program, causing me to tear so much hair out that I am going bald. Can anything be done?
Distraught as all hell,
New Bedford, Massachusetts
First, congratulations. It’s obvious that you are a sensitive lad. In times of yore you might have been a poet with a dangerous taste for freshly churned butter, or attached to a reformist prince as the Royal Wrangler of Hummingbirds, or an organic farmer-cum-stargazer whose observatory/herb garden was known as Thyme and Space. Most likely is that you were, like all of us, a wretched oaf who clubbed your neighbors to death over women and drink. Now, thank heavens, humankind has evolved to the point where our violence is righteous and moral, and thus we bomb our neighbors for their oil and to bolster the odds of being re-elected president.
Second, as that great Christian John Boehner will attest, 1 Corinthians 15:3 states: “For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures.” If the Bible can use “first of all” why can’t Bernie Sanders? Is it because, as Mr. Boehner might argue, Sanders is a commie hippie swine whose claim to language is unpatriotic and un-Christian? Is Bernie Sanders gay? Wait, or is that Barney Frank? Bernie, Barney, Obama, blimey! Suspiciously close, like the priest and confessor separated by the slimmest of walls. Forgive me, Father, but in a manner of speaking I have lusted in my heart and I know money is tight but my truck looks so much cooler with snow tires when I’m driving around West Hollywood on a Saturday night and the neon’s chased the stars from the sky and all the fear from my soul, if only until the light turns red.
Speaking of our esteemed representative from Ohio, one anticipates with relish upcoming headlines: “Loner with Boehner” (John delivers Final Four tickets to Idaho gun nut); “Sunny Boehner” (John dedicates Palm Springs plaque to deceased rock star, wife beater and political heavyweight); “Boehner Spotted in White House.” (Bill Clinton throws bi-partisan Oval Office sleepover while Obamas are away).
Third, the last conflict in which the United States formally declared war was World War Two, despite the annoying constitutional requirement that any acts of war must be approved by Congress before our brave men, women and undecideds can grease their guns and polish their turrets. Korea and Truman? No declaration. Vietnam and Kennedy and Johnson? No declaration. Kuwait/Iraq I and Bush I? No declaration. Afghanistan and Bush II? No declaration. Iraq II and Bush II? No declaration. Libya and Obama? No declaration. And these are the people who swear on a Bible to uphold the Constitution?
Fourth, in The Mother Tongue Bill Bryson reports that an early translator of the Bible into Iroquois created the world kummogkodonattootummooetiteaoganunnonash for the phrase “our question.” What was the question again?
If that seems a tad unwieldy for our lazy Latin-Germanic tongues, there was a Massachusetts lake that the First Nation tribes called “Chargoggagomanchaugagochaubunabungamaug,” which means, “You fish on that side, we’ll fish on this side, and nobody will fish in the middle.”
Fifth, by the third point it’s almost assured that the speaker has lost his audience, who have long since departed to fragrant meadows of fantasy concerning what kind of burger coupon deal can be downloaded on their iPhones, did they remember to set the Tivo for Dancing With The Stars, or if the pet psychic they took Rover to could be correct in her warning to beware of backyard raccoons when it hails. But still we cling to the life raft, the fig leaf, and the false prophet that is Sequential Order. (Ten, nine, eight, seven…)
Finally, what’s with sports announcers referring to some player or coach’s career as a “body of work”? Shakespeare, Tu Fu, and Charlie Parker have bodies of work, not University of Kentucky hoops coach John Calipari. I’ve heard pundits discussing the NFL draft say that some defensive overgrown tackle from Alabama has, despite being injured for two seasons and in jail for another, as “an impressive body of work.” Thirty-three unassisted tackles and two fumble recoveries? Oh Baudelaire, what can we do but love our whores and drink our wine?
Ken, I am forced to admit that in the long view there is no hope. Not for you, not for me, not for Colonel Kadafi’s elite bodyguard unit of buxom bottle blondes well versed in the arts of killing and kebabs. The corporate slaves masquerading (or, as in the case of John “Morning” Boehner, openly prancing) as public servants will continue to use First, Second, ad nauseum because the false rigid precision conjures a mirage of productivity, control, and progress. But, as I will address in an upcoming Papal Bull, time is not sequential. Yes, the stars degrade and shift in their relationship to one another, but so does luggage in the overhead compartment. Lincoln said “Four score and seven years ago today.” Palin says, “First, let’s kill all the grizzly bears.” Can there be any doubt that our planet’s number is up?