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Blog 2/12/2112: More American Funnies


Blog 2/12/2012: More American Funnies

About the above title: I recently recorded one of my video-lectures--in the second series, to be posted later this year--under the title “Old American Funnies” (about Gelett Burgess, Clarence Day--his Scenes from the Mesazoic--and the main subject, the great George Price). I think I will continue using the word “funnies” for catch-all collections like that one of materials by myself and others that seem to me funny and worth making public. “Funnies,” by the way, used to mean what we now call the comics--when the newspaper came, I might shout “Give me the funnies!” And there I would find the Katzenjammer Kids, Maggie and Jiggs, Mutt and Jeff and the like. (No, not Little Nemo--I’m not quite that old.) (Is anybody else alive who can still sing “Barney Google”?)

This collection I’m doing now could be sub-titled: Jottings While Semi-watching the Superbowl. I spent some hours today doing that, feeling some kind of cultural obligation and a certain curiosity about what I would see after all the hyped buildup. I’ve watched a number of Superbowl games over the years, some of them with my two pairs of children--I could have watched all 56 if we’d had a TV back in 1956 (how symmetrical!) and if I wasn’t too busy traveling and doing other things back then. Anyway, today’s was intermittently absorbing, even exciting--by the end of the first quarter I had figured out who the guys in red and the guys in blue were, and had been introduced to a young man named Brady who came from what used to be, for me, nearby San Mateo and looked like he could have been one of my undergrads--and who has a good throwing arm. One bit I still don’t understand is when one of the players carrying the ball made a mistake? by falling back over the line into the endzone. (No, don’t write and explain.) I wrote my daughter Sarah tonight, among other things:

“Today I watched some of SuperBowl 56, with all the accompanying stuff. Not for long--I’m not a football fan, really. Madonna’s halftime show wasn’t bad--she looks OK for her age, and still sings with a real voice, unlike the three who did “America the Beautiful” & “Star Spangled B.” at the beginning, all using the new mode of singing, through your nose with a kind of country-music twang and rhythm. I’m old enough to remember when it was the fat lady Kate Smith who always sang that at the opening of major occasions. (“It ain’t over until the fat lady sings.”) She really did it right. As for the commercials: ads for current and upcoming TV shows, all done in the super-fast new mode, no image on screen for more than a second--they drive me crazy, make me feel I’ve lived too long. I’ve been so pleased by the responses to my video-lectures from people who appreciate their leisurely pace. I’m sure there are others who find them boringly slow, but they don’t write to me, and it wouldn’t bother me if they did. Before I started my series I wrote, on somebody’s advice, to that commercial company that sells sets of lectures, the Teaching Company, which has all those full-page or half-page ads in the newspapers & magazines advertising their latest series--with phony “special savings” all the time. Their lecturers, good people, all have to do half-hour lectures, never longer--well, those on music get three quarters of an hour so they can play some music. That would have driven me crazy. They never responded. Thank god.”

Anyway, I had lots of time while semi-watching the game to jot down ideas for things to put into another catch-all blog, to join quite a few random memories that I’d already listed for future use in my “Blogs In Progress” (mental echo: “Progs in Blogless”) folder. So, here we go.

- How to Eat Pomegranates With Children

No, I’m not being a learned sinologue--yes, I know about how pomegranates symbolize lots of children (lots of seeds, get it?). I’m offering, from my own distant past, advice on how children can have fun while eating pomegranates. You get some large plastic drinking straws and after biting the pomegranate seeds (of which you hold bunches in your mouth) and drinking the juice you shoot the leftover bits at each other through the straws. Advice: Yes, this really works, I’ve done it. More advice: wear old and easily washable clothes because the seeds leave tiny pink stains.

- Advice for the Mischievous Young, from Old Trickster

I’ve meant for some time to recall and relate some of the tricks that we used to play on each other in Duffey’s Boarding House, where I lived for several years as a high-school student and UCB undergrad--it’s a big old three-storey house on Benvenue Ave. near Dwight Way in Berkeley, which was a boarding house run by Mrs. Duffey. Here are a few, for starters:

- Sitting at a long dining table with a plastic tablecloth hanging over the sides: if those seated on one side conspire to do this, they can lift up the edge of the overhanging part in their laps in such a way as to form a trough, and somebody at one end pours a glass of water into it and all the others raise their parts of it so that the water spills down into the lap of someone unaware seated at the other end. Believe me, this works.

- The steps leading up to the porch at Duffey’s Boarding House were directly under a third-storey window, and anyone mounting them who was unaware of what DBH boarders enjoyed doing was in danger of being water-bagged--a paper bag filled with water, that is, dropped on him as he came up the steps. I could relate some waterbagging stories, but won’t.

- My close friend Stephen Green, who didn’t live there but came often to see me, was waterbagged once by my roommate Eugene Ainger. Stephen’s revenge, typically devious and literary, was to have printed many thousands of little cards, each about ¾” square, with green lettering on one side saying “PRAISE EUGENE” and on the other, “PRAISE HIM.” These we placed everywhere so that Eugene couldn’t get through an hour without finding one--in his bed, his desk, his books, his clothing--I worked in the kitchen, and put one in his mashed potatoes. They are probably still to be found sometimes in that old house (which is still standing.) Another of Stephen’s plans--I don’t remember whether he ever carried it out--was to buy a huge stone lion from a monument sales lot in Oakland and have it delivered and carried up the stairs and put in the middle of Eugene’s study--I think this was only an idea.

- It was Stephen also who found a pharmacy in Oakland where he could buy metal canisters with spray valves of ethyl chloride, which dentists used to use as an anaesthetic--it was called Laughing Gas, and when you sprayed it onto a handkerchief and inhaled it, you would get a sudden high, feel exuberant, and start laughing. We all had fun with this for a while until Eugene inhaled too much and passed out on the floor of his room, where he was found by Mrs. Duffey, who called the police, who hauled us all off to the police station to receive a lecture on how ethyl chloride, harmless as it might seem, sometimes led the unwary young to go on to try marijuana, which in turn would lead to . . .

(Some time I will relate how Gordon Cyr and I spent our graduate night from Berkeley High in the Berkeley jail. Also how Stephen Green and I hung a sixty-foot sign down the front of the Campanile, during our first semester at U.C. Berkeley. You will find some of that, and similar stuff, on this website under CLP 157, "The Pleasures of EAL: An Art Historian's Recollections.")

I think I related here already, so shouldn’t repeat, how Stephen and I were sign-alterers, adding letters and lines to signs to alter their readings. The sign on the BAND HOUSE at the Music Department on campus we altered to read BAWDY HOUSE--only a few strokes of the brush & ink--it remained that way for many years, may still be there.

Others, from my jottings:

- Some early American humorist, I don’t recall who, it could have been Robert Benchley, wrote an essay dividing all of mankind into two great groups according to the way they ate their breakfast cereal--this was back in the days before pre-sweetened cold cereals, when you still had to put sugar on your cornflakes or Rice Crispies or whatever. The Milquetoasts (there was a comic strip character then named Casper Milquetoast) poured the milk on first, and then sprinkled the sugar over it--they were the cautious and ineffectual types. The Wozzlers, by contrast, sprinkled the sugar over the cereal first and then wozzled it all down with the milk--they were the bold ones, the high achievers. I used to watch people at breakfast and amuse them--or offend them--by explaining this distinction.

This is running quite long--I still have some jottings of old jokes and comic memories to be expanded into other Funnies, but will save them for a Part Two.

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