Oregon City, Oregon
I met Ben Tripp by accident. It was 5 am, left coast time, in mid-March 2002. The air in Oregon City was the color of wet wool. It had been raining for six months and three days. Moss covered the old manse, only, come to think of it, the manse wasn’t that old. The coffee tasted like effluent from a factory farm, hog division. Bush had spoken the night before. Strike that: uttered. The Selected One urged us to buy a Hummer to demonstrate our loyalty to America and Exxon and keep an eye trained on our neighbors, a closer eye than usual. Playing Peeping Tom was now an act of patriotism. So, I was in a foul mood-a Class 5 Bush hangover raging in my frontal lobe–as I said my morning salutation to my Macintosh, downloading the 1,317 messages that had piled up the night before, the way snow used to on Mt. Hood before global warming kicked in.
Most of it was run-of-the-mill spam, not filthy enough to bother opening. One claimed to be from an obviously pseudonymous front called Ben Tripp. I aimed my mouse toward the delete button, like laser in Bush’s space war scheme, to extinguish it and, ridiculously, hit the open button instead. So much for the vaunted Email Defense Initiative.
Well, it wasn’t penis-enlargement spam; at least, not the usual kind. No, it appeared to be another submission to our website CounterPunch.org, probably, I assumed, by some junior professor of cultural studies seeking to pad the resume for that upcoming tenure battle with a Lacanian exegesis of the music of Slim Whitman. We get dozens of those every day. I’ve gone blind as Milton just trying to decipher the footnotes. We don’t do footnotes at CounterPunch.
Nope. The first paragraph ended in a punchline. And a delightfully un-PC joke, at that. Now, we’re getting somewhere. This was no ordinary liberal. They don’t snicker through the graveyard.
I posted Tripp’s tract on Bush as Jesus on our site. Within hours hundreds of emails came roaring in bristling at the crude impertinence of Tripp’s prose. Ah, just the kind of writing we crave. The masses were offended, but they were reading.
A week later another piece came hurtling over the virtual transom. It was even better, a stream of pun-ridden-high-octane-ranting that offended even more of the prudish minds that have hijacked the psyche of the Left. Tripp knows where the soft spots are of the Left and Right and his pushes, prods, pinches and, occasionally, tickles them until they finally scream “Uncle!.”
Then nothing for weeks. Who was this man? Where had he gone? Did he only have two bullets his arsenal? Had he shot his wad and retreated into a Salingerian silence?
I sent out a distress call. Weeks later, Tripp replied. He’d been working at his real-make that reel-job. Doing what? Writing screenplays. Oh, no, one of them! Instead of using CounterPunch to get tenure, Tripp was padding his vitae to get entrée with Harvey Weinstein.
The Bush regime resists parody. How is it possible to satirize a Pentagon briefing led by Donald Rumsfeld, the Polonius of our time? Where do you go after Bush mistakenly – at least, we assume it’s muff – refers to Condoleezza Rice as his wife and a few weeks later Rice calls Bush her husband. Dan Quayle was just an opening act compared to the spectacular pratfalls of the Bush crowd.
It calls for a touch as light as a Tandoori chef. A pinch too much curry and you blow the whole thing. Screwing up at this point is a luxury none of us can afford. Fortunately, Tripp has a deft hand, a gift for unexpected twists and anarchic explosions worthy of the great Chuck Jones.
A warning. As any connoisseur of the Bard knows, the best comedies are much darker than the tragedies. Go reread Measure for Measure. The goings-on in that masterpiece are at least as ominous and unsettling as the Grand Guignol of Macbeth and a lot more pertinent to the chamber of horrors that now confronts us. So it is with Tripp. The puns may be low, but the stakes are very high indeed.
We find ourselves at a perilous juncture for our Republic. There’s a tidal pool of wet blood soaking the ground beneath our feet. There are puritan ghouls prowling our bedrooms, sniffing our garbage, scrutinizing the books we read. The opposition party is inept and most of the time doesn’t even seem to stand in opposition the political psychopathology that is eating away at the country. It’s only natural to want to avert your eyes. Skilled comedic writers can lure us into looking at subjects we’d instinctually avoid. And Tripp is one of the best to come along in years, a worthy addition to a select lineage that includes Twain, Flan O’Brien, S.J. Perelman, Joseph Heller, Monty Python and The Fugs in their prime. His riffs are a juicy antidote to the daily traumas inflicted by dangerous dolts now running roughshod across the globe. On most days, Tripp’s amusements area at least as pleasing as multi-tentacled hookah primed with fresh Humboldt bud. Better, yet, they go down swell together.
Square in the Nuts doesn’t take long to read. You’ll want to peruse it at least twice to catch all the jokes, the merciless punning, the secret spells and curses lifted from the Skull and Bones Fake Book. But keep it close at hand so that when Bush descends on your town you can deliver it to him personally. Just drop kick it in his direction. You know where to aim.
From the Introduction to Square in the Nuts by Ben Tripp.