June 15, 2016
We are living once again in the shadow of a mindless nitwit attack. It's a dark time and I was tempted to record my own reaction to what happened. But it doesn't matter. My frustration would change nothing. The world is full of imbeciles, and some of them have a tendency toward violence. Usually aimed at people who've done them no harm.
Let's leave it at that. Let's escape the mood, and spend some time looking over books, some of which I picked up more than a half century ago, that are memorable for the laughs (and sometimes wisdom) they can provide. And which I enthusiastically recommend.
During my Navy days, I came across a poem somewhere by Don Marquis. It was supposedly written by a cockroach named Archy, who typed everything in lower case because he had to jump up and down on typewriter keys and he couldn't handle the shift. (The material is obviously set before the computer era.) When I found out Marquis had written a book titled The Lives and Times of Archy and Mehitabel, I wasted no time getting it. Mehitabel was a cat; Archy, in a former life, had been a poet. He describes Mehitabel as a typical loving mother who, 'if anything ever happened to one of her kittens and she found out about it, she'd feel just terrible.' And there's the story of Freddy the Rat, who intervened when a tarantula arrived from South America in a bunch of bananas and began bullying the animals. Freddy took it on, killed it, but also died in the battle. The conclusion: 'we dropped freddy off the fire escape with full military honors.'
Two or three years later I came across Stephen Potter's Three Upmanship. Basically, it's a brilliantly comic description of how to be a winner in whatever situation the reader may find himself. For example, when you play tennis, always make sure the sun is at your back. You can establish yourself as a brilliant chess player by taking on a master and resigning after the third move, explaining that you made a mistake and that the outcome was inevitable in sixteen moves 'unless of course you miss the opportunity to sacrifice your queen at move 11, which of course you won't. Right?'
"Of course not," says the master.
The Selected Poetry of Ogden Nash keeps the reader laughing all night. For example, "The Song of the Open Road":
I think that I shall never see
A billboard lovely as a tree.
Perhaps unless the billboards fall,
I'll never see a tree at all.
The Natural Inferiority of Women, compiled by Tama Starr, records interesting male observations. E.g., 'The Holy Scriptures show that it is clearly the will of God that man should be superior in power and authority to woman….No lesson is more plainly and frequently taught in the Bible, than woman's subjection….If the position assumed by the (suffragist) women be true, then must the Divine Word from Genesis to Revelation be set aside as untrue. –Rev. Henry Grew, 1854
If some of these crazy people who are dying to kill strangers had been exposed to a few laughs on occasion, maybe the world would be a better place.