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Archive for the ‘Humor’ Category

Not long ago I saw an advertisement in a local paper for what looked like a most fascinating class. My life had grown stale; it was high time for me to try something new, so I enrolled. The idea of learning about subjects as diverse as shipbuilding, sailing, swordfighting, pillaging, loot appraising, and fine rum thrilled me.

It turned out the class actually was about proper breathing, something called a “powerhouse,” and a series of exercises designed to increase flexibility and core strength. I can’t say I didn’t feel stronger and more lithe after just one class. Moreover, my classmates were quite friendly; indeed, as the only male in the class, I was (despite the skull-and-crossbones t-shirt I’d chosen for my first day of school outfit) pretty much catnip. Still, I felt a tad let down, like I’d been the victim of a bait-and-switch routine — until I reviewed the ad for the class and realized I’d misread one letter in the course name.

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Students of the folk-lore of the United States of America are no doubt familiar with the quaint old story of Clarence MacFadden. Clarence MacFadden, it seems, was ‘wishful to dance, but his feet wasn’t gaited that way. So he sought a professor and asked him his price, and said he was willing to pay. The professor’ (the legend goes on) ‘looked down with alarm at his feet and marked their enormous expanse; and he tacked on a five to his regular price for teaching MacFadden to dance.’

I have often been struck by the close similarity between the case of Clarence and that of Henry Wallace Mills. One difference alone presents itself. It would seem to have been mere vanity and ambition that stimulated the former; whereas the motive force which drove Henry Mills to defy Nature and attempt dancing was the purer one of love. He did it to please his wife. Had he never gone to Ye Bonnie Briar-Bush Farm, that popular holiday resort, and there met Minnie Hill, he would doubtless have continued to spend in peaceful reading the hours not given over to work at the New York bank at which he was employed as paying-cashier. For Henry was a voracious reader. His idea of a pleasant evening was to get back to his little flat, take off his coat, put on his slippers, light a pipe, and go on from the point where he had left off the night before in his perusal of the BIS-CAL volume of the Encyclopaedia Britannica—making notes as he read in a stout notebook. He read the BIS-CAL volume because, after many days, he had finished the A-AND, AND-AUS, and the AUS-BIS. There was something admirable—and yet a little horrible—about Henry’s method of study. He went after Learning with the cold and dispassionate relentlessness of a stoat pursuing a rabbit. The ordinary man who is paying instalments on the Encyclopaedia Britannica is apt to get over-excited and to skip impatiently to Volume XXVIII (VET-ZYM) to see how it all comes out in the end. Not so Henry. His was not a frivolous mind. He intended to read the Encyclopaedia through, and he was not going to spoil his pleasure by peeping ahead.

P. G. Wodehouse, The Man With Two Left Feet, in The Man With Two Left Feet and Other Stories (1919).

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THERE were three distinct stages in the evolution of Annette Brougham’s attitude towards the knocking in the room above. In the beginning it had been merely a vague discomfort. Absorbed in the composition of her waltz, she had heard it almost subconsciously. The second stage set in when it became a physical pain like red-hot pincers wrenching her mind from her music. Finally, with a thrill in indignation, she knew it for what it was—an insult. The unseen brute disliked her playing, and was intimating his views with a boot-heel.

Defiantly, with her foot on the loud pedal, she struck—almost slapped—the keys once more.

‘Bang!’ from the room above. ‘Bang! Bang!’

Annette rose. Her face was pink, her chin tilted. Her eyes sparkled with the light of battle. She left the room and started to mount the stairs. No spectator, however just, could have helped feeling a pang of pity for the wretched man who stood unconscious of imminent doom, possibly even triumphant, behind the door at which she was on the point of tapping.

‘Come in!’ cried the voice, rather a pleasant voice; but what is a pleasant voice if the soul be vile?

Annette went in. The room was a typical Chelsea studio, scantily furnished and lacking a carpet. In the centre was an easel, behind which were visible a pair of trousered legs. A cloud of grey smoke was curling up over the top of the easel.

‘I beg your pardon,’ began Annette.

‘I don’t want any models at present,’ said the Brute. ‘Leave your card on the table.’

‘I am not a model,’ said Annette, coldly. ‘I merely came—’

At this the Brute emerged from his fortifications and, removing his pipe from his mouth, jerked his chair out into the open.

‘I beg your pardon,’ he said. ‘Won’t you sit down?’

How reckless is Nature in the distribution of her gifts! Not only had this black-hearted knocker on floors a pleasant voice, but, in addition, a pleasing exterior. He was slightly dishevelled at the moment, and his hair stood up in a disordered mop; but in spite of these drawbacks, he was quite passably good-looking. Annette admitted this. Though wrathful, she was fair.

‘I thought it was another model,’ he explained. ‘They’ve been coming in at the rate of ten an hour ever since I settled here. I didn’t object at first, but after about the eightieth child of sunny Italy had shown up it began to get on my nerves.’

Annette waited coldly till he had finished.

‘I am sorry,’ she said, in a this-is-where-you-get-yours voice, ‘if my playing disturbed you.’

One would have thought nobody but an Eskimo wearing his furs and winter under-clothing could have withstood the iciness of her manner; but the Brute did not freeze.

‘I am sorry,’ repeated Annette, well below zero, ‘if my playing disturbed you. I live in the room below, and I heard you knocking.’

‘No, no,’ protested the young man, affably; ‘I like it. Really I do.’

‘Then why knock on the floor?’ said Annette, turning to go. ‘It is so bad for my ceiling,’ she said over shoulder. ‘I thought you would not mind my mentioning it. Good afternoon.’

‘No; but one moment. Don’t go.’

She stopped. He was surveying her with a friendly smile. She noticed most reluctantly that he had a nice smile. His composure began to enrage her more and more. Long ere this he should have been writhing at her feet in the dust, crushed and abject.

‘You see,’ he said, ‘I’m awfully sorry, but it’s like this. I love music, but what I mean is, you weren’t playing a tune. It was just the same bit over and over again.’

‘I was trying to get a phrase,’ said Annette, with dignity, but less coldly. In spite of herself she was beginning to thaw. There was something singularly attractive about this shock-headed youth.

‘A phrase?’

‘Of music. For my waltz. I am composing a waltz.’

A look of such unqualified admiration overspread the young man’s face that the last remnants of the ice-pack melted. For the first time since they had met Annette found herself positively liking this blackguardly floor-smiter.

P. G. Wodehouse, The Man Upstairs, in The Man Upstairs and Other Stories (1914).

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The feelings of Mr J. Wilmot Birdsey, as he stood wedged in the crowd that moved inch by inch towards the gates of the Chelsea Football Ground, rather resembled those of a starving man who has just been given a meal but realizes that he is not likely to get another for many days. He was full and happy. He bubbled over with the joy of living and a warm affection for his fellow-man. At the back of his mind there lurked the black shadow of future privations, but for the moment he did not allow it to disturb him. On this maddest, merriest day of all the glad New Year he was content to revel in the present and allow the future to take care of itself.

Mr Birdsey had been doing something which he had not done since he left New York five years ago. He had been watching a game of baseball.

New York lost a great baseball fan when Hugo Percy de Wynter Framlinghame, sixth Earl of Carricksteed, married Mae Elinor, only daughter of Mr and Mrs J. Wilmot Birdsey of East Seventy-Third Street; for scarcely had that internationally important event taken place when Mrs Birdsey, announcing that for the future the home would be in England as near as possible to dear Mae and dear Hugo, scooped J. Wilmot out of his comfortable morris chair as if he had been a clam, corked him up in a swift taxicab, and decanted him into a Deck B stateroom on the Olympic. And there he was, an exile.

Mr Birdsey submitted to the worst bit of kidnapping since the days of the old press gang with that delightful amiability which made him so popular among his fellows and such a cypher in his home. At an early date in his married life his position had been clearly defined beyond possibility of mistake. It was his business to make money, and, when called upon, to jump through hoops and sham dead at the bidding of his wife and daughter Mae. These duties he had been performing conscientiously for a matter of twenty years.

It was only occasionally that his humble role jarred upon him, for he loved his wife and idolized his daughter. The international alliance had been one of these occasions. He had no objection to Hugo Percy, sixth Earl of Carricksteed. The crushing blow had been the sentence of exile. He loved baseball with a love passing the love of women, and the prospect of never seeing a game again in his life appalled him.

P. G. Wodehouse, One Touch of Nature, in The Man With Two Left Feet and Other Stories (1917).

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One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans. All your patient sees is the half-finished, sham Gothic erection on the new building estate. . . . Make his mind flit to and fro between an expression like ‘the body of Christ’ and the actual faces on the next pew. It matters very little, of course, what kind of people that next pew really contains. You may know one of them to be a great warrior on the Enemy’s side. No matter. Your patient, thanks to Our Father Below, is a fool. Provided that any of those neighbors sing out of tune, or have boots that squeak, or double chins, or odd clothes, the patient will quite easily believe that their religion must therefore be somehow ridiculous. At his present stage, you see, he has an idea of ‘Christians’ in his mind which he supposes to be spiritual but which, in fact, is largely pictorial. His mind is full of togas and sandals and armour and bare legs and the mere fact that the other people in church wear modern clothes is a real – though of course an unconscious – difficulty to him. Never let it come to the surface; never let him ask what he expected them to look like. Keep everything hazy in his mind now, and you will have all eternity wherein to amuse yourself by producing in him the peculiar kind of clarity which Hell affords.

C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters 5-7 (Harper 2009)(1942).  HT: Sam Smith.

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“I am familiar with the name Bassington-Bassington, sir. There are three branches of the Bassington-Bassington family – the Shropshire Bassington-Bassingtons, the Hampshire Bassington-Bassingtons, and the Kent Bassington-Bassingtons.”
“England seems pretty well stocked up with Bassington-Bassingtons.”
“Tolerably so, sir.”
“No chance of a sudden shortage, I mean, what?”
“Presumably not, sir.”
“And what sort of a specimen is this one?”
“I could not say, sir, on such short acquaintance.”
“Will you give me a sporting two to one, Jeeves, judging from what you have seen of him, that this chappie is not a blighter or an excrescence?”
“No, sir. I should not care to venture such liberal odds.”

P. G. Wodehouse, Jeeves and the Chump Cyril (1918).

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I was just looking round for an empty table, when a man jumped up and came towards me, registering joy as if I had been his long-lost sister.

He was from the country. I could see that. It was written all over him, from his face to his shoes.

He came up with his hand out, beaming.  ‘Why, Miss Roxborough!’

‘Why not?’ I said.

‘Don’t you remember me?’

I didn’t.

‘My name is Ferris.’

‘It’s a nice name, but it means nothing in my young life.’

‘I was introduced to you last time I came here. We danced together.’

This seemed to bear the stamp of truth. If he was introduced to me, he probably danced with me. It’s what I’m at Geisenheimer’s for.

‘When was it?’

‘A year ago last April.’

You can’t beat these rural charmers. They think New York is folded up and put away in camphor when they leave, and only taken out again when they pay their next visit. The notion that anything could possibly have happened since he was last in our midst to blur the memory of that happy evening had not occurred to Mr Ferris. I suppose he was so accustomed to dating things from ‘when I was in New York’ that he thought everybody else must do the same.

‘Why, sure, I remember you,’ I said. ‘Algernon Clarence, isn’t it?’

‘Not Algernon Clarence. My name’s Charlie.’

‘My mistake. And what’s the great scheme, Mr Ferris? Do you want to dance with me again?’

He did. So we started. Mine not to reason why, mine but to do and die, as the poem says. If an elephant had come into Geisenheimer’s and asked me to dance I’d have had to do it. And I’m not saying that Mr Ferris wasn’t the next thing to it. He was one of those earnest, persevering dancers—the kind that have taken twelve correspondence lessons.

I guess I was about due that night to meet someone from the country. There still come days in the spring when the country seems to get a stranglehold on me and start in pulling. This particular day had been one of them. I got up in the morning and looked out of the window, and the breeze just wrapped me round and began whispering about pigs and chickens. And when I went out on Fifth Avenue there seemed to be flowers everywhere. I headed for the Park, and there was the grass all green, and the trees coming out, and a sort of something in the air—why, say, if there hadn’t have been a big policeman keeping an eye on me, I’d have flung myself down and bitten chunks out of the turf.

* * *

But somebody’s always taking the joy out of life. I ought to have remembered that the most metropolitan thing in the metropolis is a rustic who’s putting in a week there. We weren’t thinking on the same plane, Charlie and me. The way I had been feeling all day, what I wanted to talk about was last season’s crops. The subject he fancied was this season’s chorus-girls. Our souls didn’t touch by a mile and a half.

P. G. Wodehouse, At Geisenheimer’s, in The Man With Two Left Feet and Other Stories (1917).

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