Wednesday, March 1, 2017

"Sourish Grapes"

This one is about a reaction that surprised me.  Is that enough to make you want to read further?  It’s enough for me to want to write further, to find out what I’m talking about.  There is the possibility, however, that I am more interested in myself than you are.  (Imaginably a large possibility.)  I therefore leave the decision entirely up to you.  Though, to be honest, I could really use the company.  Emotional blackmail – it’s a family tradition.  Anyway, off I – or, hopefully, we Band of Brothers and Sisters – proceed.    

Normally, when someone does a joke that I had previously thought of I consider it a compliment.  How else am I going to react – “Hey, I already thought of that joke in my head”?  A feeble invective, at best, as the culpable “invect-ee” is rarely in the vicinity to receive the punitive attack.  Or is likely to be apprised of it afterwards.  So it’s useless.  So I might as well consider it a compliment. 

Truthfully, someone stealing my joke does not actually bother me.  (Am I protesting too much, or just the right amount?  I can’t honestly tell.)  All right, say it does actually bother me.  But not a lot.  At least not as much as on the – uncharacteristic, really – occasion I am about to tell you about.

The unexpected affront came in the form of a single-panel cartoon, the kind you see regularly in The New Yorker.  In fact, had I completed my version of the cartoon, I myself was thinking of submitting it to The New Yorker, where I have, unsuccessfully, submitted commentarial material in the past.  Hey, this was my chance of being rejected by an entirely different department.

The primary obstacle to following through – aside from trying to evade having my estimable effort thrown back stingingly in my face – is that I am congenitally unable to draw.  My artistic approach belongs identifiably to the wazat school and it always has.  The wazat school?  I draw a picture and the people I show it to go, “Wazat?” 

(Sorry.  Sometimes you just can't help yourself.)

Still, I had this idea, and I thought it was wonderful, in a humoro-philosophical kind of a way.  To me, it capsulized our contemporary predicament, wherein we do everything in our power to remain healthy and survive as long as humanly possible.

(Although I imagine people throughout history have done that, only their “Survival
Strategy” was leeches.   I am talking about the people of the past who could afford it.  For the lower echelons, their “Survival Strategy” was food.)

Today, we adhere strictly to the (ever-changing) recommended diet.  (Look out for sugar!)  We exercise regularly.  We consume supplements, in case the recommended diet missed some essential nutrients.  We do whatever it takes to keep breathing, our assiduous efforts becoming virtually an obsession.  And I may be overly generous about the “virtually.”   

So here’s my cartoon idea about that issue that I have retained for years and done nothing about.

A middle-aged man arrives at the “Pearly Gates.”  He sees Saint Peter, or whoever, and he says to him – and this is the caption of the cartoon –

“I did everything right… and I’m still dead.”

I just laughed again.  I hope you at least said, “Not terrible.”

To me, the cartoon captures our (understandable) foolishness.  Paraphrasing West Side Story,  “Somethin’s comin’, somethin’ bad.”  And however we try, there is nothing we can do about it.  Yes, there is a counter-rationale concerning enhanced “Quality of Life”, but two things:

One, how does it enhance your “Quality of Life” to continually obsess about your behavior?

“Oh my God!  I accidentally ate gluten!

And two, “Quality of Life” my ass.  You are trying like crazy not to die! 

Okay, so that’s my cartoon idea.  Now…
At this point, I was going to show you the cartoon that momentarily derailed the unbounded enthusiasm and effusive joie de vivre that I am famously identified with.  But it turns out that will not be possible.
I believe it was published in The New Yorker­ – compounding my annoyance – but when I thumbed through the recent issues I was unable to find it.  Which, in “Passive-Aggressive Land”, has been known to mean I don’t want to find it.  “Hiding in plain sight” being a behavioral euphemism for, “I see you, but for reasons too shameful to acknowledge I’m going to act like I don’t.”
As an alternative to showing it, I shall describe the cartoon I recently came upon in words.  Be prepared to say “Yours in better.”  I already have.  (Numerous times.)
There is a drawing of a cemetery with a prominently displayed headstone, and carved into that headstone is this chiseled inscription:
“And I Ate All That Kale.”
Mine is better, right? No, really.  That’s just about kale.  Mine’s an entire syndrome!
The point is… it’s over.  They delivered the concept.  And now, my fantasy of possible publication or a neatly-typed rejection note… that bubble is permanently kaput.
You know what else bothers me?  I could have drawn that cartoon.  Even a man who flunked “Stick Figures” can draw a headstone and some grass.  My version involved two people and heavenly gates.  Not that I’d have wanted to do the (READ WITH CASUAL DISDAIN) published version.  When it’s fried up and crispy, I actually like kale.
Still, here I am, lumbered with a preempted cartoon.  And more importantly, a long-held but now “wastebasket illusion.”
“I did everything right… and I’m still dead.”
It could have been my crowning achievement.
Instead, it’s a wistful blog post.


Mike T. said...

Well, you could still get the "neatly-typed rejection note."

I believe the cartoon to which you are referring is the last one in Ken Levine's post on his own attempt at becoming a New Yorker cartoonist.

I like your paraphrase of the headstone better than the original because it's less "on the nose." For similar reasons, I like the original cartoon a little bit better than your "pearly gates" version. (See how I put the compliment first? Did that help?)

Wendy M. Grossman said...

I actually like the specificity of the kale, especially because reading it reminds me how much I do not like kale.


Jedediah said...

Your joke's better cuz it says you did EVERYTHING right whereas kale, who the hell believes it's good for anything other than an emergency caulking necessity?

Mike said...

Wait a momemt... there's a Jewish afterlife?

“I did everything right… and I’m still dead.”
St Peter: "Let me see... you're due down below."