Pavane for a Dead President

It is at times like this (that is, 25 minutes before our deadline) that we philosophers stop to think about the important things in life, particularly when we are in need of something to write about.

Let’s see. Important things in life. Family, friends, wisdom, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, earthquake safety… Ah ha! Earthquake safety!

But before I get to that, let me mention the other topic — Washington and Lincoln. Their birthdays are coming up this month, and they were two very remarkable men, although they would be even more remarkable if they were alive today, as they would be a couple hundred years old each and could probably get real low airline fares.

Nonetheless, they are both dead, and we are celebrating their birthdays. But how much do we really know about our two greatest presidents? Not much, we’re hoping, because if you do know a lot, then you will probably notice that we have made up most of the facts in this extremely informative column, which is actually about earthquake safety.

George Washington was born February 22, 1732 in Westmoreland County, Virginia. For reasons not mentioned in the encyclopedia in which we found our information, at age 11, George went to Mount Vernon to live with his half-brother, Lawrence Olivier. (We are not sure of Lawrence’s last name; we thought “Olivier” looked good. We are journalists, so we can do that.)

In 1753, Virginia governor Robert Dinwiddie (we are sure of that last name, although we kind of wish, for Robert’s sake, that we had made it up) sent a 21-year-old George to the Ohio Valley to warn the French that they were encroaching on British territory. The French, of course, knew good and well they were encroaching on British territory; in fact, they were encroaching all over the place, and enjoying it, but they still told George (in French) “Your mama.” On his way back, George had to walk most of the way, an Indian shot at him, and he almost drowned in the Allegheny River. We’re not sure what he was doing, swimming in the Allegheny River in the middle of winter, but he sure was.

In the 1770’s, Great Britain began enforcing the “Intolerable Acts,” so called because they were intolerable. George wrote, in a letter to someone, “Shall we supinely sit and see one province after another fall prey to despotism?” Loosely translated, this means, “Are we gonna sit on our butts and let England push us around?”

The colonists’ answer was resounding. “Probably not!” they resounded. The rest, of course, is history. George led the colonies to victory in the Revolutionary War, and if he hadn’t, we would all be speaking English now.Then he was president for a while and died.

Abraham Lincoln was born February 12, 1809 in a log condo in Kentucky. As a boy, he loved to read and greatly desired an education. Unfortunately, he lived in Kentucky, where it is illegal to be educated. Not that he didn’t try. He would sometimes walk 20 miles through the snow just to get to school. People would say, “Abe, why do you walk 20 miles through the snow to go to school? Why don’t you go to the one downtown?” Then Abe would get this thoughtful look on his face and start babbling something about “Four score and seven years ago.” His family thought he was nuts.

In 1842, he married Mary Todd, who, in keeping with the current trends in ugliness among women, looked like Moe, of “The Three Stooges.” She and Abe had four sons, three of which died shortly after looking at their mother, whose face alone ended the Civil War by frightening General Lee into surrender.

Abe was elected president in 1860. Before he knew it, the Southern states were seceding right and left. There was only solution to the rebellion — grow a beard. This caused the Civil War.

In 1863, Abe issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which only freed the Southern slaves. The Northern slaves, who had been pretty smug about living in a part of the country where the government hated slavery, were pretty ticked about this, and in response sent Abe two tickets to see a play at Ford’s Theater. While Abe was enjoying “Cats” with his wife, a weird Confederate actor named John Hinckley, Jr. snuck up behind him and shot him in the head. If he had snuck up in front of the couple, where he could see them both clearly, he probably would have shot Abe’s wife, and the evening wouldn’t have been spoiled. As it was, she couldn’t even get a refund on Abe’s ticket.

Next week: Earthquake safety. I promise.

Some people accused me of copying from Dave Barry, which is exactly what I was doing. I don't think I copied any specific jokes (except for in the very first sentence), but in tone and subject matter, I was stealing from "Dave Barry Slept Here." (That book, by the way, which is his version of American history, is probably the funniest book I have ever read.) I was also stealing from myself, as this column, in only a slightly different form, first appeared in the school paper.

In publication, Eric Grimm the editor removed the part about the slaves sending Lincoln the theater tickets. He didn't want it to look like I was blaming Lincoln's death on the African-Americans. In retrospect, as usual, he was probably right.

The title for this column, by the way, is a play on "Pavane for a Dead Princess," a classical music piece by Maurice Ravel (better known for his "Bolero"), dedicated to his daughter who died as an infant. (My dad refers to it as "March of the Dead Babies," which I find tasteless and amusing.)