Column: The irony of it all

Published 8:34 am Friday, December 28, 2018

The St. Mia Farrow Shelter for Starving Artists and Underemployed Academics was established in 1968, to serve a burgeoning portion of the American youth movement. Now, the shelter residents of the ‘60s and ‘70s are in their sixties and seventies, and have shifted from the “Counter-Culture-Anti-Establishment” types to the “Pull-Up-Your-Damn-Pants-And-Stay-Off-My-Lawn–Establishment” types.

In those days, Baby-Boomer shelter residents fought long and hard to evict the Ozzie and Harriet mindset from the aging American conscience. And, nearly a half-century later, those same people are still struggling to keep that hard-fought way of life secure from the influences of politically incorrect holiday greetings, hip-hop music, and hipsters in horn-rim glasses.

These days, the lone shelter resident is a performance artist known by a single name — Sylvester. He scrounges discarded plastic shopping bags and, once a week, ties them to the light posts on Main Street as an act of artistic protest against the ravages of pollution. Usually, he finds himself being arrested for littering and subsequently given a three-day vacation, courtesy of the county taxpayers. As a bonus parting gift, Sylvester typically gets a community service sentence requiring him to remove the plastic bags from the light posts, place them in larger plastic bags, and toss them in the back of a truck headed to the landfill — where they will join billions of other plastic bags, diapers and abandoned cassette tapes to become the landmark know as the Mount Trashmore Landfill.

In 1968, the shelter’s charter provided that as long as one artist remained starving or one academic remained underemployed, the shelter would be open to serve that one need. With the proliferation of online universities, learning academies, and Yelp reviews, all of the underemployed academics are now gainfully engaged in income producing activities — in their bathrobe, from the comfort of their favorite recliner, while eating a cheese Danish.

This paradigm shift has left Sylvester as the sole reason for keeping the shelter doors open — and nearly half of the week he is comfortably lodged at the Graybar Hotel, enjoying three square meals a day.

“Welcome back,” mumbled Hannibal King. Hannibal is a lodge member of the Friends of the Grand Misconception, a fraternal organization dedicated to doing good for the community as an excuse for getting out of the house and away from their wives. As part of his FOG’M civic duty, Hannibal volunteers as the lead hash slinger at the St. Mia Farrow Shelter for Starving Artists and Underemployed Academics. As part of his community service sentencing, Sylvester also works the same hash line.

With Sylvester being the only shelter resident, the lunch rush is easy to get through. Together, the two slop a portion of mystery meat, a pale gruel that resembles mashed potatoes, another substance that could be applesauce (or maybe mayonnaise), and a fourth item that is expected to pass as a dessert — all on a four-compartment foam plate that is destined to join Sylvester’s trash bags at the top of Mount Trashmore.

Once that chore is complete, Sylvester shifts responsibilities from the serving side of the table, grabs his plate, and finds an empty chair at one of the banquet tables set up on the dining side of the shelter’s basement — all the while grumbling about how much better the food is when one is a guest of the county.

With a heavy shrug of his shoulders, Hannibal saunters over to the plastic table, slides down onto a plastic chair opposite Sylvester, and watches him eat from a plastic plate (collapsing in on itself due to the questionable ingredients in the potatoes) — all while contemplating the irony of it all.