S J Perelman: The Body Beautiful


[ Among The Best Of S J Perelman is this article about the funny things one can find by scrounging around magazines meant for readerships which don’t include you. That’s always been a method of finding comedy, and Perelman even includes a casual mention here about how much work you might have to do in searching for stuff in order to find something that can be used.
]

Sometimes when I have worked for hours in vain over a difficult problem in Baker Street and my keen hawklike profile is drawn with fatigue, I like to take down my Stradivarius, pile it on the fire and curl up with a cop of Hygeia, the monthly magazine published by the American Medical Association. I don’t necessarily have to read it; all I have to do is curl up with it. In a few minutes my pulse becomes normal, my eyes glaze over, and I am ready to do business with the Sandman. I don’t know much about medicine but I know what I like, If the American Medical Association would only put up this magazine in tablet or powder form nobody would ever pass a white night again. Unlike other soporifics, Hygeia does not affect the heart; I have even read a copy without any ill effects other than a feeling of drowsiness the next day. It fulfills every requirement of the United States Pharmacopeia; it is clean, it is fresh every month, and it is standard strength. From the opening essay on flat feet down to the very last article on diabetic muffins, it is a guaranteed yawn from cover to cover.


The one oasis in this Sahara, however, is a sort of outpatient clinic where the layman is allowed to make a fool of himself in full view of the medical profession. I quote at random (random hell, I had to look through nineteen
copies to find it) a letter headed “Synthetic Saliva” appearing in the Q. and A. department of Hygeia:

“To the Editor:— How could saliva be duplicated? Where could the proper materials be secured to duplicate it or nearly so?— H.C.D., Illinois.

Here is a cry from the heart. Obviously some young Frankenstein has built himself a monster or Golem in his spare time out in the woodshed. With infinite labor and utmost secrecy, using bits of wire, tin, old bones and meat, he has created the perfect robot. Suddenly, on the verge of completion, he stops in sudden panic. He has left out saliva. The monster is beginning to growl ominously; he wants what all the other boys on the street have. But do you think the editors of Hygeia care? They fob off H.C.D. (possibly one of the most brilliant inventors of our time) with a few heavy-duty medical words and sink into a complacent snooze, unmindful that a raging monster with a dry mouth may be loose in the Middle West at this very moment. I don’t like to be an alarmist, fellows, but this is a very short-sighted attitude.

No matter how blase they imagine themselves, hypochondriacs from six to sixty will get a deep and ghoulish satisfaction studying the correspondence which appears each month. Those private maladies you have been pruning and transplanting couldn’t possibly compare with the things that bother Hygeia. readers. The pathetic query of J.I.B., Pennsylvania, will illustrate:

“To the Editor:— Is there any danger of contracting radium poisoning from the use of clocks painted with a radium compound; for instance, in case the clock crystal should be broken and the radium compound chipped
off?”

The editors, who pretend to know everything, reply that there is no danger whatsoever. This is pretty cold comfort to a man who probably glows like a Big Ben every time he enters a dark room. However, he might as well stop barking up the wrong tree; he wouldn’t get a civil answer from Hygeia even if he grew a minute hand and sounded the hour and half-hour with a musical chime.

I would like to think that the case of G.S., Ohio, is also one of hypochondria but it has a more ominous ring:

‘To the Editor:— Can the statements contained in a recent daily newspaper that bobbing the hair will cause girls to grow beards be verified? Or is it just a bit of propaganda?”

If that isn’t a tacit admission that Miss G.S. is sporting a grogan or an imperial around Ohio, I knock under. Even if she only thinks she has a beard, I wouldn’t give her house-room; but that is beside the point, as she has not asked me for house-room. She probably has the whole house to herself anyway. Much more understandable is the plight of the frightened Kansan who writes as follows:

“To the Editor:— My students tell me that surgeons have been able to transplant the stomach from an animal, as a calf or a goat, into man. Is this possible?— N.B.Z., Kansas”

I can sympathize with the poor fellow for I, too, get the same sensation when I drink black velvet. Actually, it only feels as if you had changed stomachs with a goat. One morning I even woke up convinced that I had swallowed a marble the night before. To make it worse, a man named Mr. Coffee-Nerves was standing over my bed in a white Prince Albert, helping me to hate myself. I got up and went right through him to the bathroom where I had a long look at my chest. At first I couldn’t tell whether it was a steelie or a bull’s-eye, but it turned out to be a clear glass agate with a little lamb inside. I managed to dissolve my marble with two aspirins in a glass of hot water. But thank God I’m no hypochondriac; you don’t catch me writing letters to the American Medical Association.

For a refreshing contrast to Hygeia, one turns to a live- wire little monthly called Estes Back to Nature Magazine, published at 1 1 3 North LaBrea Avenue, Hollywood, California. Its editor is Dr. St. Louis Estes, who modestly styles himself “Discoverer of Brain Breathing and Dynamic Breath Controls for Disease Prevention and Life Extension, Father and Founder of the Raw Food Movement, and International Authority on Old Age and Raw Foods.” (There is something to write on a library card when they ask you for your occupation.) Cooked vegetables, spices, and hair tonic are poison, says Dr. Estes, and although I have never tried the combination, I can readily believe it. But the Doctor is constructive, and I know no better answer to the cynicism and bigotry of Hygeia than a menu I found in his magazine. It was labelled “A Dinner Fit for a King” and it still haunts me:

“EGG AND FRUIT SOUP: To one quart of milk and one pint of cream, beat in thoroughly four eggs. Use as a filler cubed pineapple, sweeten to taste with honey. Serve in cups like broth.

“MOCK TURKEY-WHITE MEAT: Into one pound of cottage cheese mix and roll equal amount of raw flaked pecans, peanuts and Jordan almonds until it becomes a thick, solid mass. Season to taste with chopped onions, pimientos, green peppers, adding a dash of powdered celery, sage and horseradish. Serve in slices like white meat.

“MAPLE ICE CREAM: To one pint of whipped cream add one pint of pure maple syrup. Whip until thick. Then add the beaten whites of two eggs and one cupful of chopped nuts. Freeze.”

I froze.

Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there. He/him.

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