Let’s make our planet good again
think pigeons their T Rex origin.
Oh wings of flesh and steel to fly
you must first grow feathers.
What cares the sloth slug squished
by dino or sprayed with Ortho?
As for Anthro won’t he be petrified
up to his waste in his own coprolite?
Rid us our original sins
let us be innocent again.
Imagine no water no fire no air
worse called in sick your au pair.
Earth responds ever was I a grand hotel
now is checkout time fare-thee-well.
I was walking in Mt Tabor Park the other day, on a path rarely taken, steep on the south side, affording views of the college campus, its low buildings in the shade of the giant trees, the wide swath of grass between Gray and the cafe green but empty. I paused to reflect, praying peace, happiness, and lightness of spirit might fall like gentle rain onto my old colleagues and former students, and just before I moved on, I spied a small blue pocket notebook, partially buried in the brush under a bush. I pulled it out and dusted it off.
On the cover was handwritten, in a swirling cursive style, “Survival Manual.” I paged through the little notebook, about the size of a hand, about 40 pages or so, unlined, filled with handwritten notes, instructions, recipes, doodles, lists – places to go, things to do, people to see, books to read, movies liked or disliked, and short poems with simple drawings, every page crammed full of such stuff until, like a Jackson Pollock painting, there seemed not a single space left for another drip or word. There being no place nearby to sit comfortably and study the notebook further, I stuck it into my back pocket and walked on, wondering what catastrophe, big or small, might have resulted in the notebook’s author having lost it.
Home from the walk, I tossed the Survival Manual, not feeling, perhaps naively, mortally threatened at the moment, onto my desk in the dining room, already askew with bad reading and writing habits, books with bookmarks stuck in the middle, notebooks covered with dust still full of the promise of empty pages. “Write in me!” someone had finger-written in the dust of one. Magazines and journals weeks, months, quarters old. Before long, “Survival Manual” was buried beneath more pressing, unfinished projects.
A few weeks drifted by, catastrophes here and there, near and far, sudden, usually unexpected turns throwing people overboard whatever ship they happened to be sailing at the time. Still, I lacked the necessary closeness at hand to bring me to my senses and recognize the plight of our planet includes, indeed, all of us, including me. I mean to say, I’m aware of our current risks, dangers, follies and what ifs, but what really am I proactively doing to come to the aid of our planet? I mean to say, is showering only every third day or so and recycling properly, enough? Then came, locally, yet another heat wave record, and finding that I was confined by the heat outdoors to the house, even in the evening, when the sun had gone down, I decided to direct an electric fan toward my dining room desk and clear the clutter. If I had to be so hot, I would at least be neat about it. The fan, of course, produces heat as an unnoticed but negative side effect, as does the laptop on which I’m now typing these notes, bringing to you, too, dear reader of the Toads, a mere suggestion from the “Survival Manual.”
I uncovered the survival manual, immediately set aside my goal for a clean desk, and sat down in front of the fan with the manual in hand to take a closer look. I decided the notebook to be the work of a genius or madman. Of course, now that we are old and among the awakened ones, we realize the two are often one and the same. The survival manual author, who I will now refer to as SMA, wrote in a kind of shorthand style, skipping superfluous parts of speech, using fragments ignoring subject or predicate, adding icon doodles to illustrate ideas, inventions. SMA apparently possessed an ironic kind of sense of humor, too. A few of the drawings were captioned with hopeless and unexpected explanations: “Planet Senile”; “Moving to the Moon – what to take along”; “Breaststroke for polluted waters”; “How to recycle the non-recyclable.”
I paused at a page titled “Under Extreme [Heat].” Rather than describe it, I’ve attached a pic taken with my cell, to wit:
It suddenly dawned on me that “Survival Manual” is a book of cartoons.
To my odd ears, usquebaugh, from which whiskey derives, reminds me of the wedding party that year in Berkeley, and he…, and he couldn’t say…, or, he could not pronounce…, but that was nothing to the question of how he got the overstuffed hotel room chair through the bathroom door and up to the toilet, where he “addle liddle phifie Annie ugged the little craythur” (Joyce, FW), the toilet bowl, that is, speaking or repeating “usquebaugh” to us when we asked if he wasn’t good to go. Meanwhile, Beckett seemed always ready and able to pull a root fruit from one of his pockets, a turnip or a radish, and we went back into the sleeping space, where we had a lovely view of the hotel gardens and of the ocean in the distance. The night crashed like a wave in slow motion. In the morning there were a few stale beers and day old croissants for breakfast, and everything seemed fine, but we no longer hear from Usquebaugh, who over time seems to have grown uncomfortable with the dearth, in the belief, no doubt, that wealth is Thee all purpose cleaner, and it’s no doubt true that to get things really clean you must first grow so small.
I suppose I could give Beckett a call even now and we might go off for 9 holes of pique or a day of thought at the beach or river. He was, after all, a man of action, someone who made something. But what he made had to have a use. It wasn’t enough to be a man of action; you had to be a man of practical action. What would be the point of wedding dearth?
All of which may serve as an introduction to Whiskey Radish – in as much as I actually don’t know much about whiskey, how to speak Usquebaugh, or the comics artist Whiskey Radish. So I looked it up, as James Thurber, nearly blind and with no idea “You could look it up” would evolve into “You could Google it,” suggested. Thurber was a comic who wrote and made drawings. So that’s the angle and the segue I’m going with here, as these things go, if they go at all. Segue does not at all mean uninterrupted. It simply means follows, even if what follows does not follow. You follow? What does not follow is not necessarily non sequitur. What follows is only non sequitur if your expectation was somehow otherwise. What else could he have said sitting in the big chair pulled magically into the tiny bathroom and conveniently and suitably up to the commode over which his head dangled, whispering “usquebaugh”? In any case, we were unable to repeat the magic the next morning before checking out and had to leave the chair abandoned in the bathroom. I suspect they must have had to remove the bathroom door to get the chair back out into the hotel room. There’s a cartoon there, Beckett in the plush chair pulled up to the awful all full bowl, but I’ve no caption for it, no text. “This seat taken,” maybe.
Whiskey Radish makes drawings, comic style, but with the telling swipe of a Picasso line, pen brush and ink, which include handwritten text. Comics. The narratives are characterized by obscure and everyday references, personal or learned, street lingo punctuated with French phrase suggestion. The characters are sometimes identifiable but always original, as is the case with the banjo playing “Sam Cat,” a bartender’s assistant, the lines and text sometimes sparse, laconic, suggestive, but often detailed, loquacious.
Satire and romantic themes, unrequited lines, drawings, jobs, entertainments. The life of the artist thematically underscored. There’s a “whozwho” of Whiskey Radish characters on the Whiskey Radish website. The text includes what is left out.
In the drawing enclosed, “une joile pose abandownee” (a pretty pose abandoned), we see, in black India ink over a thin acrylic base on rice paper, simple Picasso-like lines fulfill a statement that is an argument. There is a sleepiness in the eyes, a sadness, a triest, a torpor, a disappointment perhaps, or maybe that is the sense or touch or expression of abandonment, not of abandon, but of the abandonment that follows abandon, when one is not sure about one’s body, after all. And about the mouth, the lips, there is the indecisive shape of a pout that becomes a grimace that settles into a disregard, also after all. After all is said and done, whether we are finished or not, it’s over. Certain lines are crossed, crossed out, a kind of permanent erasure.
Technique is not style. Technique is something that has a beginning and an end, a procedure, a program, a convention. Technique can’t be abandoned. It can be unfinished, but that’s not the same as abandoning a work. Look at Kafka. Abandoned cartoons. Joseph K is Buster Keaton. Style is usage. Cartooning is vaudeville. You can only abandon style, because style can’t be finished. “A pretty pose abandoned” (the Whiskey Radish version) is graffiti over the 1897 “Baigneuse,” bather, by Jules Scalbert. It’s a study of a study. Do bathers pose? Is there a technique to bathing? Water paints. And the Whiskey Radish version is abandoned. Only abandonment can create style. Technique is inherited. The slow bath becomes the quick shower.
McLuhan explains: “The structural qualities of the print and woodcut obtain, also, in the cartoon, all of which share a participational and do-it-yourself character that provides a wide variety of media experiences today. The print is clue to the comic cartoon, just as the cartoon is clue to understanding the TV image” (McLuhan, 1964, “Understanding Media: the Extensions of Man,” Chapter 17, “Comics: Mad Vestibule to TV,” p. 151). Touch, McLuhan says, is the most involving of all the senses. And television, like the cartoon, is tactile; the cartoon requires audience participation. This is why we are drawn to drawings; we can participate. We must participate. We have to fill in what’s missing to get what was abandoned. We can listen to the radio while doing chores around the house, but if we turn on the television, we have to sit and watch and listen and participate, and the chores have to wait. That, for McLuhan, is the difference between hot and cool. We must get involved in a mosaic, the opposite experience from the detachment we might enjoy reading a book. “…the hot form excludes, and the cool one includes” (p. 37). Hot is technique; cool is style. The old newspaper cartoon pages were mosaics.
Considering the art and style of Whiskey Radish, we sense the abandon, the abandonment. The artist tries to bring something under control, only to give in to that control. The artist gives technique the deep-six. The cartoon disclaims and disavows, disses.
“Une joile pose abandownee” (abandonné?) is somewhere between cartoon and drawing. It’s Warhol technique; Andy was able to take a style and turn it into a technique easily reproduced. You walk away from the academic and the analysis and enter the real world, the world of cartoon and abandonment. Youth culture results from abandon and abandonment. One of the first oppressions to rebel against is the monotony of the anxiety of adultism, the balloon of the body now fully taut and now can only lose air and wither and wrinkle, lose static and fall to the floor where not even the cat will play with it anymore. The body is abandoned in cartooning. A new school of antic frantic fish frolicking in the warm water around the whale. Youth dreams are old dreams, just the same.
The copy abandoned, the idea of realism given up on, realism a losing argument, translation never finished, what’s abandoned is the drawing, a pretty drawing abandoned, that the viewer may be free.
“I’m going to legalize catnip!”
Sunday Morning Comics, featuring:
The Further Adventures of Scamble and Cramble, Two Hep Cats: