Laughing at life
As an antidote to the solemnities of Passover and Easter, one turns to humour and calls to the defence the old aphorism that "a little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men". I have thoroughly enjoyed the 650 pages of delightful nonsense in "The Complete Cartoons of The New Yorker". It was a gift from a former student, now in mid-life, whom I had taught and later recommended to friends in Ottawa. He is now a senior civil servant and an occasional world traveller.
Like the Toronto in which I grew up, I no longer think of New York where I lived for a time as a preferred place of residence.
The N.Y.C. museums and universities, 'theater' and opera are wonderful but the feel of too many rats in one cage is a perception to be set aside without regret.
Here and now, Dufferin County in its 125th year, and its environs, is the better place to live and is "so nice to come home to". Still, an old make that, 'former' teacher enjoys seeing and hearing from '40-something' students whether or not they come bearing gifts.
As for the cartoons, they remind me of my late friend Dr Edward Jeffery who administered the first dose of insulin for Sir Frederick Banting. He used to say that "The New Yorker" was a weekly gift to thinking people. So be it. Personally, I have always gone for the cartoons. I cite here some in which only two characters appear. Sometime later I may enlarge the cast.
* The scene is a seaside verandah. A frazzled writer sits forlornly by his 1950s typewriter. His wife comes out of the house and says "I've got an idea for a story. Gus and Ethel live on Long Island. He works sixteen hours a day writing fiction. Ethel never goes out, never does anything but fixes Gus sandwiches. In the end she becomes a lesbokiller whore. - Here's your sandwich".
* Turning the years back, there were those two dinner-jacketted men talking confidentially in 1929 while an elegantly gowned woman reclines out of ear-shot. Over drinks the one says to the other "I never told her about the Depression. She would have worried".
* Two men float on an inflatable raft far out at sea. One says to the other "Your being a vegetarian certainly takes a load off my mind".
* Then there are the two explorers in pith helmets. They are almost up to their necks in quicksand. "Shoulder deep or not, Barclay", says one of them, "I have half a mind to struggle". I thought of the old quip "I have half a mind to get married". "Well, go ahead ", said a companion, ""That's all you need". (That is said, of course, without prejudice).
* I loved the 1945 cartoon in which one llama says to another "I llove you". It was reminiscent of Ogden Nash's rhyme, A one 'l' lama is a priest,
A two 'l' llama is a beast.
A three 'l' lama is a fire.
It helps to have a Baston or Havahd accent for that one.
* In a posh Cold War era mid-town apartment an upholstered woman asks her husband who is sitting at the other end of a silver-laden dinner table, "Has anyone ever thought of winning the Communists over to our way of life?". And some say that the age of prophecy has ended.
* As the atomic age began, a New Yorker cartoonist pictured two men in prison stripes splitting rocks. One says "I suppose that in a few years all this will be done by atomic power". And as the primitive practice of bodily tattoo returned in the 1960s, a woman looks at a male torso covered with figurative images and says "Sorry. I prefer abstract art".
* Around the time of "The Birds" film, a cartoon woman on the ground shouts up to her husband who is being carried away by a predatory avian, "George, George! Drop the car keys!". Come to think of it, have the world's Georges ever done us any favours? George Burns, maybe.
* In a Chon Day frame, reminiscent of too many malefactors, one jailbird says to another in their cell, "My big regret is that I didn't start earlier. I'da been out by now". It is paralleled by a Peter Arno piece in which two executive types watch a bank heist from their chauffered automobile. "At least", says one to the other, "they aren't waiting for a hand-out from the government".
* A 1957 cartoon has a husband and wife, both employed, saying to one another over dinner, "What kind of a lousy day did you have?". One wonders how often that dialogue is repeated almost 50 years later when domestic life and marriage are both being savaged by the demands of the down-sizing corporations that may yet be the death of our civilisation.
* In the same year a long pre-Bush would-be tourist asks her travel agent "Which country is least mad at us?". No wonder that so many U.S. tourists abroad now wear the Maple Leaf for safety.
* Having lived in New York in the '50s, I like the cartoon of a man and wife looking at the new Guggenheim Museum. "Are they allowed to do that on Fifth Avenue?", asks one of them. Well, look at the new ROM on Bloor Street in 2006.
* A preview of the CEO and Conrad Black problems pictured two portly gentlemen saying "You can't legislate morality, thank heaven". Clearly, one hopes, they spoke too soon.
* A delicious 1983 cartoon has a father putting his hand on his graduating son's shoulder. "You are all grown up now", he says. "You owe me $214,000".
* And a neoConservative comment has two men talking in a Manhattan clubroom. One says to the other, "The poor are getting poorer but the rich are getting richer. It all averages out in the long run". The neo-Con philosophy defined?