Monday, July 16, 2012


Having riffed on carrots I’m now reminded of that old saw, The carrot AND the stick or is it the carrot OR the stick or ON the stick? Maybe it works getting a mule to move the cart but I’m not fond of any of them as a way of behavior modification.

As applied to us humans it is even more abhorrent. I recall an English movie seen as a child, Tom Brown’s School Days, in which he was subjected to corporal punishment by a switch or whip or some other demented form of imbecility; knuckle-wrapping being the most benign in the sadist’s handbook. Whether this was a hand-me-down from those days of papal fervor or part of Brit imperialism or just garden-variety proto-Fascism I winced then and I wince now.

I’m realizing how that word, stick, is not one I use very much or have ever used except when attached to another word like stick-shift, chop-stick or drum-stick. As a kid a stick was that piece that held a popsicle or toasted almond bar together. It was your lucky day if your stick gifted you with a free Good Humor next time around.

After rain we would float them down the gutter in a race toward the sewer. On a sunny day I might have snapped a stick of wood from a tree and gone fishing for a nickel through a grate. Sticks were also a weapon along with stones which could break my bones but names could never….

My favorite stick was the broom which, when sawed off against the curb, became a stickball bat. Many a tennis ball got whacked with those vandalized sticks. I never once thought of the superintendant of the apartment building left with a disembodied collection of bundled straw.

Once upon a time this country was a coast-to-coast forest with branches sufficient to convey a squirrel three thousand miles. Non-stop trees were a super highway. Then settlers and our motherland put the axe to the woodland to create more pastureland and to get them through the winters. The big sticks also allowed Lincoln to build the log cabin he was born in. I doubt if stickball was on their mind or even cricket. In order for Britannia to rule the waves they deforested North America for their ships and steel mills.

As a boy scout I never figured out how to rub two sticks together to start a campfire. Maybe rubbing two boy scouts would have worked better. Raised as a street urchin I wouldn’t know about such things but why not just put match to candlestick? Before I sail down the River Styx I would, at least, like to think of myself as not just another stick-in-the-mud.

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