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Archive for the ‘Humor’ Category

Rocky, you see, lived down on Long Island somewhere, miles away from New York; and not only that, but he had told me himself more than once that he never got up before twelve, and seldom earlier than one. Constitutionally the laziest young devil in America, he had hit on a walk in life which enabled him to go the limit in that direction. He was a poet. At least, he wrote poems when he did anything; but most of his time, as far as I could make out, he spent in a sort of trance. He told me once that he could sit on a fence, watching a worm and wondering what on earth it was up to, for hours at a stretch.

He had his scheme of life worked out to a fine point. About once a month he would take three days writing a few poems; the other three hundred and twenty-nine days of the year he rested. I didn’t know there was enough money in poetry to support a chappie, even in the way in which Rocky lived; but it seems that, if you stick to exhortations to young men to lead the strenuous life and don’t shove in any rhymes, American editors fight for the stuff. Rocky showed me one of his things once. It began:

Be!
Be!
The past is dead.
To-morrow is not born.
Be to-day!
To-day!
Be with every nerve,
With every muscle,
With every drop of your red blood!
Be!

It was printed opposite the frontispiece of a magazine with a sort of scroll round it, and a picture in the middle of a fairly-nude chappie, with bulging muscles, giving the rising sun the glad eye. Rocky said they gave him a hundred dollars for it, and he stayed in bed till four in the afternoon for over a month.

P. G. Wodehouse, The Aunt and the Sluggard, in My Man Jeeves (1919).

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Do you know Marvis Bay? It’s in Dorsetshire. It isn’t what you’d call a fiercely exciting spot, but it has its good points. You spend the day there bathing and sitting on the sands, and in the evening you stroll out on the shore with the gnats. At nine o’clock you rub ointment on the wounds and go to bed.

It seemed to suit poor old Freddie. Once the moon was up and the breeze sighing in the trees, you couldn’t drag him from that beach with a rope. He became quite a popular pet with the gnats. They’d hang round waiting for him to come out, and would give perfectly good strollers the miss-in-baulk just so as to be in good condition for him.

P. G. Wodehouse, Helping Freddie, in My Man Jeeves (1919).

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Adams never smiled during business hours—unless professionally, as it were, when a member made a joke; but he was storing up in the recesses of his highly respectable body a large laugh, to be shared with his wife when he reached home that night. Mrs. Adams never wearied of hearing of the eccentricities of the members of the club. It occurred to Adams that he was in luck to-day. He was expecting a little party of friends to supper that night, and he was a man who loved an audience.

You would never have thought it, to look at him when engaged in his professional duties, but Adams had built up a substantial reputation as a humorist in his circle by his imitations of certain members of the club; and it was a matter of regret to him that he got so few opportunities nowadays of studying the absent-minded Lord Emsworth. It was rare luck—his lordship coming in to-day, evidently in his best form.

“Adams, who is the gentleman over by the window—the gentleman in the brown suit?”

“That is Mr. Simmonds, your lordship. He joined us last year.”

“I never saw a man take such large mouthfuls. Did you ever see a man take such large mouthfuls, Adams?”

Adams refrained from expressing an opinion, but inwardly he was thrilling with artistic fervor. Mr. Simmonds eating, was one of his best imitations, though Mrs. Adams was inclined to object to it on the score that it was a bad example for the children. To be privileged to witness Lord Emsworth watching and criticizing Mr. Simmonds was to collect material for a double-barreled character study that would assuredly make the hit of the evening.

“That man,” went on Lord Emsworth, “is digging his grave with his teeth. Digging his grave with his teeth, Adams! Do you take large mouthfuls, Adams?”

“No, your lordship.”

“Quite right. Very sensible of you, Adams—very sensible of you.

Very sen — What was I saying, Adams?”

P. G. Wodehouse, Something New ch. ii (1915).

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Now, a great many fellows think that having a rich uncle is a pretty soft snap: but, according to Corky, such is not the case. Corky’s uncle was a robust sort of cove, who looked like living for ever. He was fifty-one, and it seemed as if he might go to par. It was not this, however, that distressed poor old Corky, for he was not bigoted and had no objection to the man going on living. What Corky kicked at was the way the above Worple used to harry him.

Corky’s uncle, you see, didn’t want him to be an artist. He didn’t think he had any talent in that direction. He was always urging him to chuck Art and go into the jute business and start at the bottom and work his way up. Jute had apparently become a sort of obsession with him. He seemed to attach almost a spiritual importance to it. And what Corky said was that, while he didn’t know what they did at the bottom of the jute business, instinct told him that it was something too beastly for words. Corky, moreover, believed in his future as an artist. Some day, he said, he was going to make a hit. Meanwhile, by using the utmost tact and persuasiveness, he was inducing his uncle to cough up very grudgingly a small quarterly allowance.

He wouldn’t have got this if his uncle hadn’t had a hobby. Mr. Worple was peculiar in this respect. As a rule, from what I’ve observed, the American captain of industry doesn’t do anything out of business hours. When he has put the cat out and locked up the office for the night, he just relapses into a state of coma from which he emerges only to start being a captain of industry again. But Mr. Worple in his spare time was what is known as an ornithologist. He had written a book called American Birds, and was writing another, to be called More American Birds. When he had finished that, the presumption was that he would begin a third, and keep on till the supply of American birds gave out. Corky used to go to him about once every three months and let him talk about American birds. Apparently you could do what you liked with old Worple if you gave him his head first on his pet subject, so these little chats used to make Corky’s allowance all right for the time being. But it was pretty rotten for the poor chap. There was the frightful suspense, you see, and, apart from that, birds, except when broiled and in the society of a cold bottle, bored him stiff.

P. G. Wodehouse, Leave it to Jeeves, in My Man Jeeves (1919).

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February 14, 2013

Dear Mr. Mitchel:

In asking me to steal Valentine’s Day, you have set before an old burglar one heck of a temptation.  Alas, I regret to tell you that, fun as it might be – or better say, precisely because I know I would find it so much fun, fun of a kind I long ago forswore – I have to decline your offer.

Indeed your proposal isn’t novel.  The thought of stealing Valentine’s Day occurred to me many years ago.

Valentine’s Day that year fell on Fat Tuesday.  That thrilled me.  For it meant, not only that I could get in a glut of larceny immediately before Lent, but that I could have my hard-stolen Valentine’s loot shipped overnight to New Orleans for Mardi Gras.  I meditated with a profoundly wicked pleasure upon the revels that would surely greet the unexpected arrival of a large shipment from the likes of me, with a note that read:

Happy Valentine’s Day,

Grinch

P.S. I’ve included the food for kicks, but if I were you I shouldn’t eat it.  For I have liberally seasoned it with Arsenic sauce.

For days I sat plotting the glorious burglary, down to the smallest detail.  My poor dog Max, who with his well-developed canine empathy had sensed that something was amiss with his master, received confirmation that my heart had indeed been reverting to its former size the day the UPS man delivered a Cupid outfit, three sizes too small for me.  With horror, he realized the outfit was for him, and that I was dragging him back into the holiday heist business.

But the plans that had ripened so gloriously in the days preceding Valentine’s Day were to wither before they could come to pass.  On the Saturday before the great heist, a local theatre happened to put on a performance of The Man Who Came to Dinner.  I politely accepted an invitation to attend — with no clue as to what I was letting myself in for.

It happened in the play’s first scene, when Mr. Whiteside told a story about an Elias P. Crockfield.  Having just been released from prison, Crockfield wandered into a church one St Valentine’s Eve, and, with larceny on the brain, proceeded toward the box of alms for the poor. But just as he laid his hands on the coins in the alms box, he was interrupted by a little girl of five, asking “please, Mr. Man, won’t you be my Valentine?”

In that moment, I stood convicted in the shoes of Elias P. Crockfield.  I pictured Cindy Lou Who as the five-year-old girl, holding aloft a Valentine and asking me, “Mr. Grinch, will you be my Valentine?”  And thus the great Valentine’s Day heist died.

That year I forswore grudge-nursing and larcenous thoughts for Lent.  I gave away all my crime novels (still miss the anthology Wodehouse on Crime).  I’m happy to say that, God being my help, I’ve been able to stay on the path I set out on that February.  To be sure, it hasn’t always been easy.  On occasion, I have found myself driving past toy stores that weren’t on the way home.  One year, the urge to scratch the old itch got so bad I enrolled in the local Kleptomaniacs Anonymous chapter.  The KA leader, and some of the chapter’s members, were less than amused by my attendance; other members were quite diverted, and one, mistaking my face for a mask, patiently tried to pull it off (“you’re gonna be in some kind of pain when you finally get this thing off!” he said).

In short, while I found your request that I steal Valentine’s Day quite flattering, and acknowledge that your arguments are not wholly without merit, I have no desire to take upon myself again the yoke of larceny.

By the time you receive this, the annual flood of pink and red will have subsided.  I do hope you weren’t too disappointed that Valentine’s Day went off as scheduled.  I hope that just maybe, you did something fun.  Or, at least, that you reflected gratefully upon the fact that the day comes but once each year.

Happy Valentine’s Day, and best wishes always,

Yours &c.

(more…)

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February 2013

Dear Mr. Grinch:

They say that where God closes a door, He opens a window.  And, your commendable repentance for attempting to steal Christmas notwithstanding, I think it’d be a shame if your burglarious prowess, your immense imagination for devising wickedly larcenous plans (how many villains have earned unfavorable comparisons to seasick crocodiles?), should come to naught.  Your talents could be applied in a more worthy cause; and I hereby submit such a cause for your consideration.

You should steal Valentine’s Day.

In the stealing of Christmas you encounter two distinct problems.  The thoroughly profaned, secularized, sentimentalized, commercialized, and truncated version, which millions observe today, is hardly worth stealing.  The original version – the high holy Feast, the celebration of eternal wonder, joy, and love – cannot be stolen.  You know that from hard experience, of course, but you’re not alone.  Not even the dragon in the twelfth chapter of St John’s Revelation could steal Christmas.  So to sum up: Larceny of profaned Christmas is unprofitable; and burglary of the real thing, impossible.

In stealing Valentine’s Day you’d encounter no such problems.  And just think about the public service you’d be doing by stealing Valentine’s Day.

Consider, for instance, the aesthetic atrocities for which Valentine’s Day bears responsibility.  No one possessed of sense and taste could approve of the proliferation of cheesy heart-shaped objects, which in February outpaces even the multiplication of cockroaches.  And what sensible person can tolerate with equanimity the slapdash application of various shades of rose, carnation, crimson, scarlet, ruby, cherry, and vermilion to any and every thing under the sun? G. K. Chesterton once said that painting the town red is a delightful thing – until you have done it.  Then the inhabitants of the red-hot hell of the red town will long, in vain, to see but once again a red rose in a green garden.  Why is it that every February, certain compulsives feel the need to prove, one more time, that what Chesterton said of a red town is at least as true, and perhaps more true, of a pink-and-red town?  By stealing Valentine’s Day, you could spare all our eyes at least one of the annual triumphs of kitsch over beauty.

More significantly, stealing Valentine’s Day would promote social harmony and justice.  It’s no secret that our nation presently suffers from profound divisions.  What with the Occupy Movement, the Tea Party, and the polarizing of our news sources, do we really need one more thing in which some revel, but at which others weep or gnash their teeth?  And lest you say “that’s life; you have to learn to deal maturely with disagreements and disappointments” (a reasonable rejoinder), do not think for a moment that I’m playing some variation on the politics of division and envy.  I’m talking about the alleviation of innocent, unnecessary suffering.  Consider the needless pains of exclusion that Valentine’s Day inflicts upon, say, the poor, innocent children who stay up all night, thoughtfully and generously composing Valentines to all twenty of their classmates, only to receive, say, three Valentines in return.  Or upon the single women who, through no fault of their own, sit at home dateless, flowerless, and possessed only of such chocolate as they purchased with their own hard-earned money.

And, unlike Christmas, on Valentine’s Day no one bothers even to pretend to spread the wealth.  At Christmastide the most crassly materialistic man might donate a few toys to his office’s toys-for-third-world-children toy drive, or some spare change to the Salvation Army, or a box of canned goods to the local homeless shelter.  Good luck finding any such general spirit of peace on earth and good will towards men on Valentine’s Day.  In its current incarnation, at least, it is an unrepentantly insular, provincial holiday.

Consider, Mr. Gringrinch heart sizesch, and act.  Act as only you can.

In appealing to your aesthetic and moral sensibilities, I have, thus far, assumed that your heart has kept the dimensions it acquired on that famous Christmas Day in Whoville.  But it’s possible that your heart has since reverted to its former size: two sizes too small.  If so, let me play Mephistopheles with you for a few moments.

First, if you stole Valentine’s Day, you would win the admiration of every man in America.  Oh, sure, the sensible ones wouldn’t care enough to hold celebrations or anything. And there would be some (the boyfriends of those described under item Third, below) who’d feign indignation at your grand larceny.  But you could rest assured that even these would secretly, in the depths of their repressed manhood, want to give you a (well-earned) high five.

Second, by alleviating the annoyance of a not insignificant number of women, particularly single women, you would by your larceny of Valentine’s Day quickly rise up the ranks of eligible bachelors.  Granted, your being green might slow your rise up the Hit Parade of Love a bit, but one heroic deed can go a long way toward overcoming an olivine complexion.  Just ask Princess Fiona.

Third – as perhaps I should have mentioned first – successfully burgling Valentine’s Day would certainly anger plenty of women.  You know, the ones who have boyfriends but no brains.  These would be up in arms.  And what fun is committing a crime if it doesn’t make you infamous at least to some notable demographic?

I have set forth only a very few inducements to revive your former larcenous intentions, and to transfer such intentions to Valentine’s Day.  Other inducements may well occur to you.  As to the manner in which you accomplish the great Valentine’s Day heist, I entrust all to your ingenuity and sound discretion.  Let your imagination run wild.  The only specific request I would make is that you somehow employ Max your dog in the business, and dress him in some outfit appropriate for the occasion – as Cupid, for example.

Rest assured that I am available to provide any assistance you may require in the great plot to steal Valentine’s Day.  Indeed my only regret in sending this letter is that by soliciting you to steal Valentine’s Day, and by offering my assistance, and inviting you to enter into a criminal conspiracy, I am disqualifying myself from serving as defense counsel if ever you are tried for this great crime.

I am, always,

Sincerely yours,

David

(Originally posted 2/11/2012 at While We’re Paused. Re-posted here, in advance of Valentine’s Day 2013, in the hope that the Grinch may do what he declined to do last February.)

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Muriel Singer was one of those very quiet, appealing girls who have a way of looking at you with their big eyes as if they thought you were the greatest thing on earth and wondered that you hadn’t got on to it yet yourself. She sat there in a sort of shrinking way, looking at me as if she were saying to herself, “Oh, I do hope this great strong man isn’t going to hurt me.” She gave a fellow a protective kind of feeling, made him want to stroke her hand and say, “There, there, little one!” or words to that effect. She made me feel that there was nothing I wouldn’t do for her. She was rather like one of those innocent-tasting American drinks which creep imperceptibly into your system so that, before you know what you’re doing, you’re starting out to reform the world by force if necessary and pausing on your way to tell the large man in the corner that, if he looks at you like that, you will knock his head off. What I mean is, she made me feel alert and dashing, like a jolly old knight-errant or something of that kind.

P. G. Wodehouse, Leave it to Jeeves, in My Man Jeeves (1919).

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