Thursday, January 26, 2006
The Deer and the Antelope,
on Iconic Speech
Hot dog. “He was a real hot dog.” Well, surely he wasn’t a . . . hot . . . dog . . . and even if you figure out that it’s a suggestive sandwich with a sausage, that can’t be the real meaning either, can it? Rest assured, though, that a hot dog is not a cool cat.
Home run, pinch hit, touchdown, etc. etc. etc.
If I say ‘the deer’, it means the deer, if I say, ‘the antelope’, it means the antelope. But if I say ‘the deer and the antelope’, I’ve suddenly taken you onto the vast plains of the American West. Thundering herds of buffalo. (And forget that bison crap, we all know they’re buffalo). Under the starry sky above, Bill Cody sits by a lonely campfire.
If I say ‘cable car’, you can almost taste the sourdough bread, or at least the Rice-a-Roni. Tony Bennett is just around the corner. Fog rolls in. If I say clang, clang, clang; Rosemary Clooney, or somebody, is having her heartstrings zinged.
If I say ‘spotted owl’, a war breaks out between tough, grizzly types in hob-nailed boots and a group of elderly flower-children.
I say ‘flower-child’, and we’re right back in San Francisco, ca. 1968.
1968, and it’s Chicago and Mayor Daley is bustin’ heads. Milwaukee means beer. Detroit means cars; big ones, chrome-plated, and what’s good for G.M. is good for the country, and I’m back to Apple Pie. And Chevrolet.
Three Mile Island and the Exxon Valdez.
Hiroshima. . . . Holocaust. . . .‘Nam.
“Yer yeller!” “He’s a red, but he’s singin’ the blues, ‘cause he’s still kinda green.”
Ever wonder what people said before “redneck”? How did we know what to think about a state before it became red or blue?
Osama. Lenin and Marx. Lennon and McCartney. Johnny Cash and Johnny Carson and Johnny B.Good and Michael Moore.
Bush and born again and abortion and beat and hip and hep.
Marilyn and Madonna and Martha and Madonna & Child and Oprah. Venus on the Half-Shell and the Sistine Chapel and the Eiffel Tower and the Tower of Pisa. Katrina. Tsunami. The Golden Gate.
I suppose every society has these shorthand references which convey volumes of information, whether it’s the plum blossom of haiku, the cartoon of Nixon’s “V”, or the sight of an SUV – still, I wonder what future generations will make of it all when they try to read some mouldering documents found in the ruins of our time. I’m assuming that someone, somewhere will be able to read. I’m assuming ruin.
- Ralph Murre