- The Western Middling Light Grey (not particularly dangerous in itself, but it smells so very much like a fried clam dish from that stall in the mall food court that nobody, nobody, has ever been seen eating from as to be distracting)
- The Razor-Beaked Wallaby
- Gorndrak, the Marsupial-Spirit of Unproductive Workdays
- The Antilopine Gossiping Kangaroo (its passive-aggressiveness can drive people mad)
- Red Kangaroos Driving Without Their Prescription Eyeglasses
Month: June 2013
The Real Boba Fett and Clams
I had a little problem with one of the games I play and wrote the company to complain about it. (In certain contexts the game no longer let one use the word “clam”, which was not actually the thing that bothered me.) A couple days later I got a response explaining that the problem was exactly what I said it was, which is good, since it reassures me that I wasn’t imagining the problem. The response was signed, and I promise you this is true, “Support Agent Boba Fett”.
I have to suppose that he’s not the famous Boba Fett, since after all, what are the odds of that? The real one is probably doing reunion tours at county fairs anyway, thrilling fans with his great bits like having a kind of familiar name and all that. Still, this Boba Fett I have to figure had a pretty unremarkable childhood up until 1980 — sure, “Boba” is a kinda weird name, but it was the 70s, and we had bigger problems with hair and colors and being told carob tasted “just like” chocolate but was better for something or other to distract us from names — and then it all got so annoying. I wanted to ask if he’s tired of people asking him about Star Wars except that even if he didn’t mind talking Star Wars, to be stuck talking about talking about Star Wars has got to be horrible, and I might never get to say “clam” in the game again.
My Next Doom: Nicknames
I have to start this with a bit of found-humor, and I hope you’ll forgive me for that. I was looking at the sorry state of my investment portfolio (that cheese un-slicer company was a fiasco) when I barely noticed something that looked too much like an advertisement to read. Then I thought about what it said, but I’d already clicked away from that page, so I went clicking back and forth on the site time after time until finally the ad-like structure came up again. Then I clicked past because I forgot what I was looking for, and finally stopped when I got back to this again after figuring I’d have to give up and just tell you about it.
Squirrels Solve Their Own Problems
So maybe you remember I was trying to keep squirrels off the bird feeder by having a stand-up comic keep them rolled up into balls of cackling fur that would roll downhill from the bird seed, and that this just ended up a mess as the comic instead on telling controversial material. After that horrible scene I just tried not looking in the backyard after all and trusted that I’d come to regret this for some original reason.
Now it turns out the squirrels were bothered by that comic too, and disappointed that I didn’t find anyone to replace them, which explains that week they spent kicking my shins whenever I went to my car. (This was more effective than kicking my car’s shins, so good on them.) Turns out they’ve organized an improv comedy troupe to keep themselves entertained, and set up a little proscenium at the back of the garage, and the local free weekly’s named them one of the Up And Coming Events (comedy division) for their summer program, “Not Every Block Of Four Words Is A Potential New Band Name”.
I have to admit, I don’t get it. I think it’s squirrel humor. But now there’s a bluejay squawking about putting on a modern-dress version of Ibsen’s An Enemy Of The People, which seems ambitious for a couple birds’ first time out, but who am I to call anything impossible now?
Ineffective New Police Programs
|Plurke’s Folly, NY||Seeding rumors of police zeppelins|
|Coral Peak, FL||Giant horseshoe magnet with “CRIMINALS” written across base|
|Borax, NV||Town closed up in 1938, abandoned since|
|Smuggler’s Cudgel, VT||Giggling sessions to leave miscreants feeling too self-conscious to continue|
|Tracks, WI||Painting pair of disapproving eyes glowering down from taller buildings|
|Joist, AK or maybe AR, whichever one’s Arkansas||Monthly civilian outreach programs teaching butter sculpture|
|Flinch, ONT||Turning lights on and off all night|
|Philadelphia, PA||Trying out that eyes thing Tracks just did|
What To Do With The Raw Data
These days pretty much everybody has raw data, as part of their work or their recreation or that horrible new blend, the recre-career in which you do what you want to do for a living, only without earning any money, in the hopes of building enough of a buzz to make a killing on the world molybdenum markets. The trouble is what to do with it. Here’s a recipe from my grandmother that pretty near always worked:
- 3-5 cups raw data
- 2 cups flour
- 1/4 cup milk (skim OK)
- 2 tbsp murfrews [ we can’t read her handwriting ]
- 1 tbsp anise
- 2 tsp tbsps [ we think she was joking here ]
- 1 tsp shelled morplex [ obviously a copyright trap ]
In salted pan, stir data, milk, anise together. Sift with flour into unsalted pan; dice with morplex until finger poked in belly produces giggles. Add murfrews, mix in morplex again if you forgot any. Bake at 350 or what have you until golden-brown; sprinkle chives on the cat [ She didn’t have a cat; maybe she copied the recipe from somewhere ]. Place on unpanned salt, cover with salted unpan. Correlates 4-6.
Where Has My Buzz Gone
I finally learned why it’s been so hard building any kind of buzz for my little humor blog here. Buzz is an essential component of building a blog that doesn’t peter out after a couple of months and become a series of “Sorry I haven’t been writing more but I’m going to get back into it now” messages at 78-week intervals.
It turns out — and I had no idea — that one of the key ingredients of buzz is molybdenum. Can you believe that I haven’t had any since I did the big apartment-cleaning ahead of moving out of my grad school apartment? I feel like an utter fool carrying on, and it’s only been the supportive phone calls of Pablo Bascur, the founder and CEO of the Chilean molybdenum consulting firm MolyExp, that’s kept me going. “It’s all right,” he’s explained, “Nobody ever tells you these things, and any responsible blogging platform should when you sign up.” Thanks, Pablo. Friends forever.
He couldn’t set me up with any right away, because of futures exchanges, but he did point out they expect there to be a tolerable surplus of molybdenum production this year as the word appears in more spelling bees.
Hype, meanwhile, looks to be in plenty supply as its most critical ingredient — nickel — continues record production levels. So I’ve got that right at least.
Molybdenum, man. I just … well, again, thanks, Pablo. I just have to tailor my writing to my molybdenum needs is all.
On The New Blogging Standards
I’m sure everyone’s heard by now that the International Organization for Standardization — the group that’s brought us best-selling hits like ISO 9000, ISO 9001, ISO 2000, and their mashup, ISO 9001-2000 — is proposing a change to the fundamental unit of blogging as set out in ISO 764 (“Horology: Magnetic Resistant Watches”). Naturally I’m torn about this and I’m surprised more people aren’t bewailing them. I grant that the old unit of blogging — making fun of the Superfriends — is tired, and not just because I’ve been desperately trying to think of anything fresh I could possibly say about the episode where the Wonder Twins are so wholly overwhelmed by a roller coaster with defective brakes they need the help of an actual superhero. But it’s been the style for a good long while, and it’s shaped how we think about blogging, and goodness knows, what if they change it to something like “pointing out Animaniacs episodes that don’t have jokes, just a big pile of pop culture references draped over each other” instead? I need to know what they’re changing things to before I can vehemently oppose the change correctly.
Found Comedy is one of the big revolutions in comedy from, like, forty years ago, so I thought I’d give it a try. Here’s a bunch of things I just happened to run across, then:
Maybe I’m not running right.
How I Started Consulting
So I realized I could use a little more income, at least for a couple of months. My first instinct naturally was to set a little money trap on the lawn, but our pet rabbit said I looked like an idiot holding a string tied to a stick that propped open a little box and that anyway I didn’t even know how to bait a money trap. I thought seat cushions would do it for sure, but all I did get were the peanut sprinkles from the tops of doughnuts. This lead me to the alternative route of consulting.
Consulting, I learned from my father, is pretty sweet work. The core of it is to find a company that wants to do a thing, walk around their offices while wearing a suit and nodding grimly, and then handing out a thick set of binders and tell them to go ahead with whatever they wanted to do, and then submit an invoice. It’s a toss-up which is the harder part, the nodding grimly or the suit-wearing, because I have these weird mutant feet that curve way too far to fit in any shoes. If I fit my heels into the shoe heels, my toes rip through the front of the shoes, and vice-versa; I’ve lost many heels to a stubborn shoe. The last comfortable pair of dress shoes I had featured a little sidecar shoe for my heels, causing people to stare at my feet and then sidle away. This was fine when I was someplace as an employee and not responsible for my presence or appearance, but it won’t do when I’m representing myself. I set out wearing the shoe boxes as camouflage.
It’s Lovable, But Is It Parkable?
Well, here’s another investment prospect I’m not sure about. It purports to solve one of the big problems of cities, that there’s nowhere to park except for parking garages. But nobody likes parking garages, because they look like parking garages, and once you’re past the age where you’re struck with wonder at how you drive around one way and you’re going up the decks and you drive the other way and you’re going down and somehow it doesn’t look like you’re going over the same decks you don’t even look at them with childlike wonder anymore. So, this company’s figuring to make parking decks that don’t look like parking decks: outside they may look like a giant roller skate (as one that they installed in Albany, New York, while the city council wasn’t looking does), and inside they might look like safari theme restaurants (to use an example from Des Moines, but not that Des Moines; it was just one of Dese Moines). They figure growth prospects are good as long as people keep needing cars and they don’t get taken over by a performance art troupe. Must consider.
Community Events: Running Of The White Sound Machines
Running Of The White Sound Machines Invoice Boulevard, 4:00 pm. The community’s longest-lasting yet least-heard parade-like activity enters its fourth year as volunteers bring their white sound machines and cover the Little Business District with a faint wave-like noise. Total running course 1.5 miles; extension cords provided for all but the last 1.485 miles. Sign-up sheets are located. The Running’s conclusion is marked by a starter pistol which typically goes un-heard.
On How To Make A (Silent) Comedy
The blog Movies, Silently reprints a Photoplay essay from 1925 in which Al Christie explains his formula for reliable comedy. Christie worked largely — I want to say entirely, but I’m not sure — in short subjects; his imdb.com profile lists 762 titles he produced, 460 he directed, and 173 that he wrote, stretching from 1912 to 1947, so I suppose we just have to hope he liked making short subjects.
I admit not recognizing most of the titles (although he apparently was an uncredited producer for the 1930, non-Jack-Benny, version of Charlie’s Aunt), since they tend to sound like Old Short Subject Titles, eg, Calling All Crooners (1937) or Short Change (1924). Well, Tillie’s Punctured Romance stands out, but this is the W C Fields version from 1928. (The Charlie Chaplin version is on archive.org, but Christie didn’t have anything to do wit it as far as I know.) Unfortunately short subjects are harder to appreciate than full-length movies; even Turner Classic Movies mostly uses them to fill in schedule gaps, and rarely has the time to curate or to put into cultural context any of the ones it does have. A occasional night of Robert Benchley shorts or of George Méliès films is great, and appreciated, but it doesn’t give the audience the chance to appreciate the whole field.
In his article Christie gives six “time-tested situations” that he says are reliable comic starters, and they’re probably still a sound base for plot-driven comedy, particularly visual comedy:
- Heaving the pie.
- The lover foiled.
- The Amateur Expert.
- The Crowner Crowned — or The Socker Socked.
- Papa and the Baby.
- Caught in the Act.
I’d like to think that “Papa and the Baby” has worn out its freshness, although if we take this to mean “father figure acts like a dope”, well, it may still have worn out its freshness but it’s also pretty relied upon, so it’s doing business for somebody. I’ve got a fondness for the Amateur Expert motif, which is good for (one) absurdist explanations to common things and (two) getting people into situations where they’re hopelessly outclassed.
The whole article, though, I think’s worth reading, not just because of its insights into how to make a short silent comedy that people will respond to, but also because these fine points about what people laugh at are written in a slangy mid-20s movie-publicity-magazine style that’s itself charming in its antiquity (“this goes back to the French farces of Moliere, and hence does not germinate with the Genus Americanus of Ribticklus”? Really, Al, you want to commit that to print?).
Science Fiction versus Fantasy Explained
|When A Hard Science Fiction Fan Calls Something||What He Means Is|
|Hard Science Fiction||“I liked it. It had spaceships and robots and lasers and stuff.”|
|Soft Science Fiction||“I didn’t like it, but it had spaceships and robots and lasers and stuff.”|
|Hard Fantasy||“I liked it, but it didn’t have spaceships and robots and lasers and stuff.”|
|Soft Fantasy||“I didn’t like it, and it didn’t have spaceships and robots and lasers and stuff.”|
What Father’s Day Card-Shopping Taught Me
Fathers are flatulent, beer-swilling, lazy, somewhat hen-pecked, horny creatures with some delusions towards being able to handle tools, playing sports with competence, or being able to interact with their kids except by hollering. Also, fathers-in-law don’t exist. And they’re satisfied with cards that aren’t all that funny. But the card market exists, however much I don’t really find it funny; maybe I’m just the one out of step. I’m also none too fond of funny birthday cards, which exist in the forms, “Ha ha, you’re old”, “What, you’re not dead yet?”, and “Wait, we’re both old yet not dead”, and yet the market seems to support that too.
But is it just my own peculiar tastes, or are funny cards just not, on average, funny?
Continue reading “What Father’s Day Card-Shopping Taught Me”
What-Nots That Were
Q. When someone talks about what-nots, as in, “taking care of this or that or what-not” (this isn’t a good example and I should fix that before I send the question in) what are they referring to?
A. Begin by considering things. Now rule out from the set of things: mathematical operations, griffins, pancake breakfasts, sandcastles, ham radio repeater stations, tool sheds, rock operas, and the things you keep in that compartment of your car’s armest but not where CDs are supposed to go. Now take the geometric mean of the things that remain. You can’t, because that’s a mathematical operation, which you ruled out, see? The what-nots are the trinkets you keep on your shelf so that it would be too much bother to remove them before dusting, as well as the receipts from ATM transactions and movie purchases that you keep because they might come in handy someday. Also included, optionally, are up to one quarter-cup of spices (any kind).
What Skeuomorphism Means to Me (it doesn’t)
I figured it was a good time to do some serious looking at this new OS X Mavericks and other stuff that Apple’s up to, because it’s all just come out and has finally got its visibility set to “yes”, and I’m in pretty urgent need of some click-bait. I’m bad enough at writing stuff people want to read that I still call it “click-bait”. I’m not sure anyone ever called it that, but I’m sure the people in the industry have a proper and more precise term for it, something like “isomorphic differentiable topological class structures”, because that’s the sort of phrase you never go looking for until you’re desperate for whatever the person using it was selling. My last attempt at click-baiting involved rubbing peanut butter on a USB hub, and that worked pretty well, right up until the thing was robbed by chipmunk, who made off with $2.38 in loose change. Off to looking.
Continue reading “What Skeuomorphism Means to Me (it doesn’t)”
Another Note To Consider
So, some good news for a change. Music called, and she turns out not to be angry about what our little band was doing. We’re welcome to try playing again, and Music suggested some good board games. So we got the Monopoly set and put a metronome on it. It turns out the Monopoly snobs are right, the game is really good if you play it in a 6/8 time signature. I lost. Who builds a hotel on Vermont Avenue for crying out loud?
“Yeah, ah, can I help you, fly?” I asked while swatting the annoying little creature that seemed awfully into my shoulder.
She said, “No, no, you’re doing very well, you’re all big and stationary and blue and that.” I have a lot of shirts, most of them the same blue one.
“I can help,” called out our pet rabbit. “I’m all set to eat a raisin.”
I swatted at the fly again, but she just landed on my ear.
I asked the fly, “If I walked over to the outside, you think you could take off from there?”
“Oh, absolutely,” she said. “That would be great!”
I stood slowly so as not to set off any reflexive extra flying around. Our rabbit said, “Maybe two if I tried. Yes, that’d be at least twice as good.” And I made my way, scooting sideways, to the door, where I fumbled getting the screen door unlatched because that always happens.
“There you go,” I told the fly while swatting at her again, and went back inside, where the rabbit offered to stretch himself out and try eating a whole three raisins.
I sat down, and that’s when the fly landed on my shoulder again.
“Come on, what did I just walk you outside for?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” said the fly. “I thought you just wanted to step out for a second? Anyway, you’re back here now.”
“Four raisins,” called our rabbit, “and that’s my final offer!”
Handwriting in the Modern Age
Since it is the 11th of the month I should make my regular update of how my cursive handwriting has progressed. As everyone knows I’ve lost the ability to write a script “Q”, but that’s because all humanity was drained of that knowledge by that visit of alien space bats who were trying to encourage block letter printing back in 1998, and no blame attaches to me for that. My lowercase “z” continues its gradual slide into being just a little scribbly cartoon of a lightning bolt, and I find today that it’s impossible to tell the difference between me writing the word “tuition” and me crossing out the word “tuition”. This will save time, in all those cases where I write the word “tuition” in cursive, scratch it out, and realize I wanted it there after all, and applications to this department for contexts in which I need to will be accepted through the 18th.
Community Events: Basic Computer Familiarity
Basic Computer Familiarity. The next installment of the Lesser Pompous Lakes Community Library and Media District’s course on Basic Computer Familiarity introduces timid students to the “Q” key as well as the one for increasing the volume, with explanations of how some keyboards don’t have the increase-volume key. Students comfortable with this will be then introduced to “mute”, as a concept, with the key to be introduced two weeks from now. Please alert the instructors beforehand if you are dropping into the course for the first time so they may make arrangements to bring you up to speed, by phone (preferred) or e-mail (snarky of you). Fledged Squirrel Room, 4th Fourth Street Library, Tuesday, 12:30 – 1:30, am or pm TBD.
Peter Finley Dunne: Avarice and Generosity
[ I’d like to offer another piece from Peter Finley Dunne’s Observations by Mr Dooley today, this one, about exactly what the title says. ]
Avarice and Generosity
“I niver blame a man f’r bein’ avaricyous in his ol’ age. Whin a fellow gits so he has nawthin’ else to injye, whin ivrybody calls him ‘sir’ or ‘mister,’ an’ young people dodge him an’ he sleeps afther dinner, an’ folks say he’s an ol’ fool if he wears a buttonhole bokay an’ his teeth is only tinants at will an’ not permanent fixtures, ’tis no more thin nach’ral that he shud begin to look around him f’r a way iv keepin’ a grip on human s’ciety. It don’t take him long to see that th’ on’y thing that’s vin’rable in age is money an’ he pro-ceeds to acquire anything that happens to be in sight, takin’ it where he can find it, not where he wants it, which is th’ way to accumylate a fortune. Money won’t prolong life, but a few millyons judicyously placed in good banks an’ occas’nally worn on th’ person will rayjooce age. Poor ol’ men are always older thin poor rich men. In th’ almshouse a man is decrepit an’ mournful-lookin’ at sixty, but a millyonaire at sixty is jus’ in th’ prime iv life to a frindly eye, an’ there are no others.
Continue reading “Peter Finley Dunne: Avarice and Generosity”
Money-Making is Also a Service
I’ve been doing some more reading about good investments, since I plan to make one someday, probably by accident. The strong candidates are all in services, which is a strong growth sector of the economy because everyone’s discovered that goods just don’t cut it. The problem is that whatever good you might try making, it turns out it’s cheaper to have it made somewhere else and shipped to you instead. Which would be fine for that somewhere else except they’ve found it’s just as easy to get the good made somewhere else and shipped to them, and so on. The last place in the world that actually made any goods — Snipatuit Pond, Massachusetts — closed up shop late last year when it was noticed that it hasn’t existed since 1946 and now everyone’s just in the business of getting the goods already made shipped to them to send out again in the hopes of making good on their good-making contracts. Shipping, of course, is a service.
Tiptoe through the mailbox
It’s been a while since I went through all my mail. I have this tendency to let the mail pile up, I think out of a primordial urge to see a stack of letters reaching from floor to ceiling, able to intimidate even the crazed amaryllis. In less primordial urges I wonder whether, if I gather enough information as presumably contained in the letters it’ll achieve self-awareness and I’ll have a tame if pretty slow-moving artificial intelligence. If I do, it’s going to be one that thinks I’m the Current Resident or, worse, Currant Resident. They shouldn’t be firing their copy editors. Let’s see what’s on the pile.
Ah, I’ve gotten pre-approved by the Eastside Community Self-Esteem Development Center, and don’t think I don’t see right through them. Oh, the pre-approval sounds like a good thing what with indicating that they figure I can build my self-esteem up just a wee bit more. Goodness knows if I’m to blog regularly I have to get my self-esteem up to the point where I believe tens of thousands of people are waiting for every fresh post and working up the courage to ask me where they can send me money since I don’t have a donation box on the web site. Ha. I see the trap: I’m being invited to apply for more self-esteem, which means, if they simply turn me down then I’ll be in such desperate need of their services that I won’t be able to resist going to their front door and begging for admission.
Another Word From The Rabbit
“Seriously,” our pet rabbit said, “you’ve got to let me do something about that plant.”
“Is this like when the `PIP’ button on the remote control was trying to undermine the foundation?”
“And I got to that in time, didn’t I?” He buried his head into his chest-fur. “Don’t see the house falling in on anyone, do you?”
I granted that. “How about the time the keyboard cord was, what was it doing exactly?”
“Someone would trip over that! I saved your life, I bet, and are you even giving me a little credit?”
“This is about me dropping hay on your head, isn’t it? Are you upset about that?”
“How would you feel about someone who dropped bags of doughnuts on your head?” And then he hiccoughed, because somehow we have a pet rabbit who hiccoughs.
Hours later, I still don’t know how I’d answer his question.
Robert Benchley: Odysseus to Penelope
[ Among the essays collected in Of All Things, Robert Benchely included a fairly substantial piece, “When Genius Remained Your Humble Servant,” about the changing tenor of letters. I don’t want to reprint the whole essay here, but enjoyed the amusing hypothetical exchange here that showcases the lovely blending of high culture and pedestrian business that is so fruitful for humorists. ]
So explanatory has the method of letter writing become that it is probable that if Odysseus were a modern traveler his letters home to Penelope would average something like this:
DEAR PEN: — I have been so tied up with work during the last week that I haven’t had a chance to get near a desk to write to you. I have been trying to every day, but something would come up just at the last minute that would prevent me. Last Monday I got the papyrus all unrolled, and then I had to tend to Scylla and Charybdis (I may have written you about them before), and by the time I got through with them it was bedtime, and, believe me, I am snatching every bit of sleep I can get these days. And so it went, first the Læstrygones, and then something else, and here it is Friday. Well, there isn’t much news to write about. Things are going along here about as usual. There is a young nymph here who seems to own the place, but I haven’t had any chance to meet her socially. Well, there goes the ship’s bell. I guess I had better be bringing this to a close. I have got a lot of work to do before I get dressed to go to a dinner of that nymph I was telling you about. I have met her brother, and he and I are interested in the same line of goods. He was at Troy with me. Well, I guess I must be closing. Will try to get off a longer letter in a day or two.
Your loving husband,
P.S. You haven’t got that bunch of sports hanging round the palace still, have you? Tell Telemachus I’ll take him out of school if I hear of his playing around with any of them.
Rising Tensions At The Forbidden Zone
“Good, you’re here,” said our pet rabbit as I got downstairs in the morning, so I was suspicious. “Because the amaryllis is making trouble.”
I was skeptical. After a somewhat roudy youth, the amaryllis had settled down to a reasonable maturity, taking up a good part of the living room and holding web interviews in which it rages about other cities’ bike-sharing programs. The plant’s crazy, but a well-behaved, faintly amusing kind of crazy.
“Seriously! I overheard it planning to break through the window and grab the neighbor’s car.” A previous owner sealed the dining room window shut, we suspect by vacuum-welding it. There’s one pane sealed so tight that light can’t get through.
The rabbit rattled his cage bars. “Just let me at it a couple minutes, I can get it under control!”
“I’ll consider it,” I said. If the amaryllis is able to get the window in the dining room to open I might just pay it for the carpentry work.
But I could swear the plant cackled.
Community Events, June 3, 2013
Fireworks Cancellation Night at Municipal Utilities Payment Center Field. Sunday, 30 minutes after sunset or 8:45, whichever comes first. Celebrate the nearly mediocre first half-month performance of the Snake Valley Grasshopper Mice in the division B (lower half) state leagues with an all-new series of excuses why there won’t be a pyrotechnic festival this week either. Fireworks Cancellation Night is as always sponsored by the Patagium Village Credit Dairy and Non-Fat Convenience Store unless they’ve changed their credit card number.
Jokes You Can’t Play Anymore
So, all you people who’ve done that joke where you’re hanging out with a rhinoceros, maybe getting something at a White Castle or something, and you tell him he has something on his nose? And he keeps trying to wipe it off, but the thing you’re talking about is his horn, so obviously he can’t wipe it off however many napkins he grabs, and he finally goes into the bathroom to wash it off and sees? Yeah, real funny, guys. You know because of you there’s no way of telling a rhinoceros when he has got something on his nose? Why, the one I had lunch with today even took one of my jalapeno cheese burgers as payment for the inconvenience. So, good one all around.
Calais Chronicle: A Great Swarm of Bees
I happend to be reading F J Levy’s Tudor Historical Thought, because I want whatever computer tries to predict my reading habits over in the university library to explode already. Levy writes a bit about how the tradition of chronicling had declined in the 15th and 16th centuries, with records that were kept turning to more conversational or chatty or simply oddball items, rather than things of historic import. He quoted one, no doubt because he knew it’d amuse the reader too, though he also pointed out the chronicler didn’t attempt to interpret it as a portent of anything, even though it’d seem to be rich with potential meaning:
1509, the 24. of Awgust, the 1. of Henry the Eighth, ther came a grete swarme of bees, and light on the bole undar the wetharcoke of S. Nicholas steple in Caleys, at xi. of the cloke, and at tyll iij. in the aftarnone.
I suppose I’m more inclined to chuckle at this because I have a circle of friends who find a sudden interjection of bees into the conversation to be funny. A sudden surprise can provoke a laugh — that’s part of what makes shock humor exist at all — and I must agree the word “bees” has a bit of a smile to it, a bit of childhood glee, at least when you’re not afraid the referent is coming after you. At some point it becomes a kind of in-joke: one laughs at “bees” because one is expected to laugh at “bees”, and it’d be rude to do otherwise.
Of course, one laughs at jokes because that’s the correct thing to do in response to a joke; so, if familiarity and friendship and fatigue have turned the word “bees” into something you laugh at, has that sufficed to create a joke?
I’m also curious whether the chronicler meant that the ball was unusually lighted, or whether he meant the bees alighted on the ball.