Tom Fleming’s Complainte

George Garrett used to tell the story of a young writer who visited him in York Harbor, Maine.  The writer, who had worked in a prison, wore a cap emblazoned with the letters SCUP, which stood for something like South Carolina Union of Prisons.  Sharing some of George’s sense of humor—which bordered on the wicked—he went through the streets of the resort town, stopped ill-dressed vacationers, and said in his most polite Southern manner, “Excuse me, sir, but I am with the South Carolina Ugly Patrol, and it is my duty to inform you that your attire and general appearance do not meet the standards of York Harbor.”

The bewildered tourist, oblivious of the impression his white running shoes, baggy shorts, Cubs baseball cap, and official Rick Steves travel vest would make on sensitive people, would usually answer with a bewildered “What?”—to which the writer replied, after reciting his spiel a second time, “I’m sorry, but you and your wife will have to get off the street.”  This was, admittedly, a cruel prank inspired by youthful arrogance, but the urgency of the question implied cannot be ignored: “Why does everything today have to be so ugly?”

I could easily fill this space with appalling examples of stupid ugliness, from the paintings of Picasso to the architecture of the Bauhaus to the famous Golden Arches of McDonald’s and...

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