Sunday, November 08, 2009

Living in New York City--Turning Up a Well-Written Funny Book

Foto by tgw, "Moon Over Manhattan," New York City, 2009.
Reality Is So Unreal
There's a book I heard about a zillion years ago but never read. Recently, I was reading in something, either Charles Ives's Memos or Gunther Schuller's Musings--maybe--everything's "maybe" when it comes to where I read things because I'm reading 20 books at once. Anyway, I came across mention of this book Three Men in a Boat. It's by Jerome K. Jerome. This reference to this book caused me to memo myself an attempt to either get my mitts on a copy, written in 1889, or else.... This attempt hung up on "or else" for several weeks and then a couple of days ago, I Googled the book and sure 'nuff, there it was sittin' pretty on the Internet, free for me to read. I immediately gobbled up the first 4 chapters--and let me tell you, I've not read anything so outright funny in quite a spell. I'm a guy who thinks Nabokov's Lolita is the funniest book I've ever read. I also would include Joyce's Ulysses in that category, too. But now, and I'm only four chapters into it, I'm thinking I may add this book to those two. Here's a great example from the 1st chapter showing what I'm driving at (my kind of man, Jerome K. Jerome, too):

We were all feeling seedy, and we were getting quite nervous about it. Harris said he felt such extraordinary fits of giddiness come over him at times, that he hardly knew what he was doing; and then George said that he had fits of giddiness too, and hardly knew what he was doing. With me, it was my liver that was out of order. I knew it was my liver that was out of order, because I had just been reading a patent liver-pill circular, in which were detailed the various symptoms by which a man could tell when his liver was out of order. I had them all.

It is a most extraordinary thing, but I never read a patent medicine advertisement without being impelled to the conclusion that I am suffering from the particular disease therein dealt with in its most virulent form. The diagnosis seems in every case to correspond exactly with all the sensations that I have ever felt.

I remember going to the British Museum one day to read up the treatment for some slight ailment of which I had a touch - hay fever, I fancy it was. I got down the book, and read all I came to read; and then, in an unthinking moment, I idly turned the leaves, and began to indolently study diseases, generally. I forget which was the first distemper I plunged into - some fearful, devastating scourge, I know - and, before I had glanced half down the list of "premonitory symptoms," it was borne in upon me that I had fairly got it.

I sat for awhile, frozen with horror; and then, in the listlessness of despair, I again turned over the pages. I came to typhoid fever - read the symptoms - discovered that I had typhoid fever, must have had it for months without knowing it - wondered what else I had got; turned up St. Vitus's Dance - found, as I expected, that I had that too, - began to get interested in my case, and determined to sift it to the bottom, and so started alphabetically - read up ague, and learnt that I was sickening for it, and that the acute stage would commence in about another fortnight. Bright's disease, I was relieved to find, I had only in a modified form, and, so far as that was concerned, I might live for years. Cholera I had, with severe complications; and diphtheria I seemed to have been born with. I plodded conscientiously through the twenty-six letters, and the only malady I could conclude I had not got was housemaid's knee.

I felt rather hurt about this at first; it seemed somehow to be a sort of slight. Why hadn't I got housemaid's knee? Why this invidious reservation? After a while, however, less grasping feelings prevailed. I reflected that I had every other known malady in the pharmacology, and I grew less selfish, and determined to do without housemaid's knee. Gout, in its most malignant stage, it would appear, had seized me without my being aware of it; and zymosis I had evidently been suffering with from boyhood. There were no more diseases after zymosis, so I concluded there was nothing else the matter with me.

I sat and pondered. I thought what an interesting case I must be from a medical point of view, what an acquisition I should be to a class! Students would have no need to "walk the hospitals," if they had me. I was a hospital in myself. All they need do would be to walk round me, and, after that, take their diploma.

Then I wondered how long I had to live. I tried to examine myself. I felt my pulse. I could not at first feel any pulse at all. Then, all of a sudden, it seemed to start off. I pulled out my watch and timed it. I made it a hundred and forty-seven to the minute. I tried to feel my heart. I could not feel my heart. It had stopped beating. I have since been induced to come to the opinion that it must have been there all the time, and must have been beating, but I cannot account for it. I patted myself all over my front, from what I call my waist up to my head, and I went a bit round each side, and a little way up the back. But I could not feel or hear anything. I tried to look at my tongue. I stuck it out as far as ever it would go, and I shut one eye, and tried to examine it with the other. I could only see the tip, and the only thing that I could gain from that was to feel more certain than before that I had scarlet fever.

I had walked into that reading-room a happy, healthy man. I crawled out a decrepit wreck.

I love that. I like that kind of writing. It's brilliant to me. I laughed my ass off reading it. How about some more:

WE pulled out the maps, and discussed plans.

We arranged to start on the following Saturday from Kingston. Harris and I would go down in the morning, and take the boat up to Chertsey, and George, who would not be able to get away from the City till the afternoon (George goes to sleep at a bank from ten to four each day, except Saturdays, when they wake him up and put him outside at two), would meet us there.

Should we "camp out" or sleep at inns?

George and I were for camping out. We said it would be so wild and free, so patriarchal like.

Slowly the golden memory of the dead sun fades from the hearts of the cold, sad clouds. Silent, like sorrowing children, the birds have ceased their song, and only the moorhen's plaintive cry and the harsh croak of the corncrake stirs the awed hush around the couch of waters, where the dying day breathes out her last.

From the dim woods on either bank, Night's ghostly army, the grey shadows, creep out with noiseless tread to chase away the lingering rear-guard of the light, and pass, with noiseless, unseen feet, above the waving river-grass, and through the sighing rushes; and Night, upon her sombre throne, folds her black wings above the darkening world, and, from her phantom palace, lit by the pale stars, reigns in stillness.

Then we run our little boat into some quiet nook, and the tent is pitched, and the frugal supper cooked and eaten. Then the big pipes are filled and lighted, and the pleasant chat goes round in musical undertone; while, in the pauses of our talk, the river, playing round the boat, prattles strange old tales and secrets, sings low the old child's song that it has sung so many thousand years - will sing so many thousand years to come, before its voice grows harsh and old - a song that we, who have learnt to love its changing face, who have so often nestled on its yielding bosom, think, somehow, we understand, though we could not tell you in mere words the story that we listen to.

And we sit there, by its margin, while the moon, who loves it too, stoops down to kiss it with a sister's kiss, and throws her silver arms around it clingingly; and we watch it as it flows, ever singing, ever whispering, out to meet its king, the sea - till our voices die away in silence, and the pipes go out - till we, common-place, everyday young men enough, feel strangely full of thoughts, half sad, half sweet, and do not care or want to speak - till we laugh, and, rising, knock the ashes from our burnt-out pipes, and say "Good-night," and, lulled by the lapping water and the rustling trees, we fall asleep beneath the great, still stars, and dream that the world is young again - young and sweet as she used to be ere the centuries of fret and care had furrowed her fair face, ere her children's sins and follies had made old her loving heart - sweet as she was in those bygone days when, a new-made mother, she nursed us, her children, upon her own deep breast - ere the wiles of painted civilization had lured us away from her fond arms, and the poisoned sneers of artificiality had made us ashamed of the simple life we led with her, and the simple, stately home where mankind was born so many thousands years ago.

Harris said:
"How about when it rained?"

You can never rouse Harris. There is no poetry about Harris - no wild yearning for the unattainable. Harris never "weeps, he knows not why." If Harris's eyes fill with tears, you can bet it is because Harris has been eating raw onions, or has put too much Worcester over his chop.

Join me in reading this wonderful whimsical book written in that wonderful glorified British sense of put-down humor--you can link it over in The Daily Growler "Blog List" to the right of the post at "Three Men in a Boat."
Here's the Wikipedia on the book:

Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog),[1] published in 1889, is a humorous account by Jerome K. Jerome of a boating holiday on the Thames between Kingston and Oxford.

The book was initially intended to be a serious travel guide,[2] with accounts of local history along the route, but the humorous elements took over to the point where the serious and somewhat sentimental passages seem a distraction to the comic novel. One of the most praised things about Three Men in a Boat is how undated it appears to modern readers - the jokes seem fresh and witty even today.[3]

The three men are based on Jerome himself (the narrator J.) and two real-life friends, George Wingrave (who went on to become a senior manager in Barclays Bank) and Carl Hentschel (the founder of a London printing business, called Harris in the book), with whom he often took boating trips.[2] The dog, Montmorency, is entirely fictional,[2] but "as Jerome admits, developed out of that area of inner consciousness which, in all Englishmen, contains an element of the dog."[3] The trip is a typical boating holiday of the time in a Thames camping skiff.[4] This is just after commercial boat traffic on the Upper Thames had died out, replaced by the 1880s craze for boating as a leisure activity.


There is nothing better to me than to come across a well-written book I've never read--to stumble across it, not knowing anything about it except a reference to it in another book.

I am being bitten by a mosquito as I write this. Mosquitos have been nightly visitors to my domain nearly every night for the past couple of years. Worse mosquito problem I've ever had. I blame it on the construction site next door. Standing water is abundant all over that irritating, mentally disturbing site. Never have I heard so much hammering. Never. Saturday they hammered steadily, almost perpetually, from 8:30 am until 5 pm. It was the worst hammering noise I've heard since they started hammering back at the beginning of summer. A wild chorus of hammers; a symphony written by John Cage. So along with progress comes mosquitos; devilish female mosquitos; bent on draining the blood from my body. My right ankle is itching like mad now due to one just having feasted on my blood in that area, a favorite area of these mosquitos. I think they live in the back of my G4 PowerMac tower. I spray mosquito repellent back there and tons of mosquitos and palmetto bugs come marching out in defiant order. I had a good friend who was a passionate cigar smoker who claimed mosquitos never bothered a cigar smoker. The son of bitch mosquito just bit me on my other ankle.

Mosquitos, rats, roaches, mice, et al., will survive long after human beings are extinct.

for The Daily Growler

1 comment:

Marybeth said...

From Allen Ginsberg

New York Blues

I live in an apartment, sink leaks thru the walls
Lower Eastside full of bedbugs. Junkies in the halls
House been broken into. Tibetan Tankas stole
Speed freaks took my statues, made my love a fool
Speed freaks took my statues, made my love a fool

Days I came home tired nights I needed sleep
Cockroaches crawled in bed with me my brain began to creep
My work was never done, my rest'll never begin
I'll be dead and buried and never pleasure win
I'll be dead and buried and never pleasure win

Lover boy threw meat at me cursed the day we met
Speed freaks and bedbugs New York City's what you get
Someday they'll build subways get rid of all the cars
Cops kill all the bedbugs speedfreaks land on Mars
Cops kill all the bedbugs speedfreaks land on Mars