As I’m the most inefficient person at Yale, I haven’t got round to thinking of a subject for this column yet. Apart from the other attendant concerns, the Day of Judgment is going to be extremely embarrassing when Saint Peter produces the file with an exact account of precisely how much time I’ve wasted in my life. I just hope they’ve shifted my mother into heaven by that point.
Part of the problem is that this is my penultimate column (floral tributes only, please) and the final resting place for all those apercus and trivia that, even with my butterfly-minded habit of flitting from topic to apparently unconnected topic within 800 words, I was unable to shoehorn into any other piece.
For instance, here’s a ridiculous gag, courtesy of my parents:
A man rushes into a bar and breathlessly asks the bartender, “How tall is a penguin?”
“Gee,” muses the bartender, “about two feet, I think.”
“Shit!” says the man. “I’ve just run over a nun.”
And I’ve been saving for ages the following quote from British Airways’ in-flight magazine without ever finding a suitable occasion for its use:
“The ground-floor coffee bar in Prague’s Dancing House overlooks the Danube.”
That must be one hell of a view, considering the Danube doesn’t flow through Prague. And nowhere but in this column could I suggest that a CD be produced of the Harkness Tower Bells, with the proviso that they call it “What A Carillon!”
Okay, when the puns are that bad, it’s clearly time to go. But I have to mention this gem from the US Postal Service, referring to the benefits of a Post Office Box:
“You can generally pick up your mail first thing in the morning and take care of business earlier in the day. Of course, you may also pick up your mail later in the day, if you prefer.”
Gee, thanks, Post Office! It must be cosmically pointless statements like the above that caused Dennis Miller to note the irony that the Post Office was the only company in America not pushing the envelope.
I’ve waited to use the following since last summer but never found a good moment. It’s taken from a book by Lord [Noel] Annan, a British public intellectual and sterling committee member until his death in 2000, and he’s writing about the mobilization of clever people in World War II:
“The authorities treated intellectuals as a species to be preserved to do the jobs intellectuals can do. Scientists were offered jobs in secret laboratories, mathematicians and classical scholars were recruited as cryptographers, poets and novelists joined the fire service.”
Which puts those of us with scrivening ambitions firmly in our place. Some time ago I discovered a list of about 24 things that a modern Renaissance Man — excuse the oxymoron — should be able to accomplish. I could do one and a half, the half being something that I knew in theory but had never done in practice; build a fence or wire a plug or deliver a baby or scramble an egg or something. The one was to write a sonnet: if you’re going to attempt a real-life version of “Lost,” you really don’t want me with you, unless you think your plight would be improved by being cast into 14 lines of poetry.
As Adlai Stevenson once quipped, “Eggheads of the world unite — you have nothing to lose but your yolks!” And he was hammered twice by Eisenhower for being a smartass. But even so, why must people misuse the unfortunate word “decimate?” And why should cash be cold and hard? I don’t think I’d refuse warm, soft cash if anybody cared to offer me some.
There seemed no apposite juncture to warn against the peril of the spellcheck, so I do so now. Two of my Cold War students fell foul and announced “Stain” for “Stalin” and “gorillas” for “guerillas.” I should have told them the story of the unfortunate slip at the Mint whereby bills were produced with the (possibly more accurate) motto, “In Gold We Trust.” And if that weren’t enough, a typo in one production of Handel’s “Messiah” transformed “Our Lord God reigneth” into the alarming prospect that “Our Lord God resigneth.”
Only here can I mention Mrs. Woods, who taught me at elementary school, and who referred to clumsy people as “fairy elephants,” which I note because I want “Fairy Elephants” adopted as a new and improved name for Log Cabin Republicans.
And I’ve been trying for a while to share the apophthegm that “depression is to sadness as sunshine is to yellow” but could never slip it in without casting a pall over the entire edition. And although that’s a more or less justifiable use of apophthegm, I could never find a natural home for autochthonous, chthonic, vatic, velleity and eudaemonic, but which I include here because I like them.
So you see, you should never lightly discard pieces of information, because you never know when they might come in handy. As Abraham Lincoln once said, “You can fool all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but I still don’t know where belly-button lint comes from.”
Please, don’t thank me all at once. Too much adulation is a bad thing.
Nick Baldock adores non sequiturs.