The Chuckletrousers Decades


So back on the 17th of March, 1994, the newspaper-syndicated humorist Dave Barry was reading something on Usenet, which was becoming a thing back then, and he wanted to write back to his friend who was there, and as is the fashion, he wrote a snarky little thing that used a couple of the words you can’t use as a newspaper-syndicated humorist, and made prominent use of the name “Mister Chuckletrousers”, which he’d recently picked up on a trip to Britain from a headline he didn’t understand. And after finishing his little reply he realized that instead of replying to the author, he’d replied to the post, putting it out for everyone in the newsgroup to see.

The newsgroup, where he’d been lurking, was alt.fan.dave_barry.

This was rather an exciting time to be in alt.fan.dave_barry, as you might imagine, as it set off a lot of debate about whether this was actually Dave Barry or just someone pretending to be him, and what the “Mister Chuckletrousers” thing could possibly mean, and, well, if it was him then what did it mean that the guy the group was gathered round to talk about was actually there in the group listening? Which doesn’t sound like anything today, but back in 1994, you only got direct contact with people you were a fan of by the traditional methods, like, their being minor characters on a Star Trek series and your going to a convention and paying money to get their autograph.

Anyway, somehow, the guy Dave Barry was responding to didn’t see it, and asked if someone could send him a copy of the post, and the newsgroup displayed an electrifying energy and complete lack of common sense and a few days later the guy asked that people please stop as he had received 2,038 copies and didn’t need any more.

Over the coming weeks there’d be confirmation that the Chuckletrousers Incident really did happen and really did involve Dave Barry: a guy who shared his ISP said it was him (and who could doubt that?), a mention of Chuckletrousers came up in his columns, and then, the number 2,038 started getting mentioned when the text needed some arbitrary number to be included. Eventually Dave Barry himself described the incident for his book Dave Barry In Cyberspace, which is the sort of late-90s explain-the-Internet book that’s fascinating because it captures a bunch of the memes and obsessions of the Internet of the summer of 1997. Both Chuckletrousers and 2,038 still turn up in Dave Barry’s writings, a little joke sent out to a community of people who witnessed flaming Pop-Tarts (which is what the Internet did back before the Mentos and Diet Coke thing was discovered) that has long since left behind alt.fan.dave_barry.

I also delurked on alt.fan.dave_barry in the middle of March, 1994, but nobody noticed at the time.

I also meant to write this in mid-February, because my brain insists on thinking this all happened shortly after Valentine’s Day that year, but it didn’t, so I didn’t, after I checked.

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.