Kill Them Softly, Tarzan

People break into two groups.  When people in group one hear the name Tarzan they think of the stories by Edgar Rice Burroughs, that strapping lad Johnny Weissmuller who played Tarzan in the movies, and that strange yodel.

bo derek tarzanPeople in group number two think of Bo Derek‘s boobs.  In fact, for group two even a minor element of the stories – cannibalism, how to build a treehouse, English nobility – can evoke images of Bo and her firm ta-tas writhing in mud, water, sand, or bed sheets, and who could forget the writhing in honey!  She really is the seminal figure in writhe-acting.

Until a few weeks ago, I was most definitely in group two.  But despite my fear of ruining these adolescent memories, I read Tarzan of the Apes at the insistence of some friends

Although I wasn’t impressed, I must admit that parts of it were fascinating to me, much in the way I imagine a paleontologist would feel being the first to discover a fossilized tyrannosaur vagina – these parts gave a clue about what our ancestors were like way back when.

Early in the story, for example, when Tarzan’s parents are abandoned on a beach, Tarzan’s mother says to his father, “I am but a woman, seeing with my heart rather than my head [but] I will do my best to be a brave primeval woman, a fit mate for the primeval man.”

And later there is the issue of Tarzan’s killing of men and beasts.  The narrator is understandably forgiving, adding that Tarzan really didn’t kill out of hate, or at least not that often, saying, “When Tarzan killed he more often smiled than scowled.” (Chapter 20) And then, as if to legitimize killing under any circumstance he says, “smiles are the foundation of beauty.”  Maybe I would have seen this, too, as an artifact of a long gone culture that so blatantly de-valued life if I hadn’t seen it alive and well while at a Christmas party.

The hosts of this party had decorated to a maximum.  There were three decorated trees but still many ornaments left over, so they were placed on side tables throughout the house.  There was also a display of back-lit snow globes arranged like an altar of votive candles in a cathedral.  Feeling like I was “in the presence,” I did what anyone would do.  I gently laid my hand on a globe in which was trapped a drowning and weary Santa hefting his bag up over a chimney top, and I said a prayer.  I need to address this to a saint, don’t I?  Dear St. Lucy (I took a chance and hoped there was a St. Lucy somewhere), please bless this buffalo chicken dip and warm chardonnay to the nourishment of my body.  Thank you.  Later on I found out that there is, indeed, a St. Lucy.  She’s the patron saint of bleeding from the eyes.

As I wandered back through the kitchen listening for a conversation I could join, I noticed a sign with colorful script lettering – “Rules for Our House” it read, or something like that.  But soon I realized it was, more or less, the ten commandments, though not the way I remembered them.  There was “Don’t put anything before God” and “Bad language will get you in trouble” and “Don’t obsess about all that cool stuff your neighbor has.”  Those were all fine I suppose.  But coming in at number six was “Don’t get your thrills from killing other people.”  I didn’t think that was quite right, so I read it again, and then again, just to be sure that it said what I thought it said.

Don’t get your thrills.  That’s a whopper of a loophole, I thought.

I don’t know.  Maybe Tarzan had it right.  If you’re going to kill someone just give ’em a smile, but only a little one – better not enjoy it too much.  Then get on with your life.

It’s Time For…The Grossinator!

One of the best and finest things I’ve ever owned was a thing called the Grossinator.

My parents bought it from Spencer Gifts, the kind of store that me and my teenage hormones would enter under the pretense of wanting to purchase a black light poster while, in truth, spending yet another 20 minutes inspecting the print of Bo Derek to determine if that smudge was just a smudge or a nipple.   

As designed, a user was to press the four buttons on the right in order.  The first button produced one of about five introductory phrases, such as, “It’s time for,” “You’re like,” or “How about.”  The next two buttons provided adjectives – “a horrible,” “gross,” “smelly,” or perhaps “putrid.” And the fourth gave the object – “fart,” “barf,” or my favorite, “mmmbooger!” Put them together and you could get “It’s time for…a disgusting…putrid…mmmbooger!”  It even had a belt hook on the back, in case the owner needed to prove his immaturity while running errands around town.

This video demonstrates its function, and note that my fellow connoisseur agrees with my belief in the supremacy of “mmmbooger”:

The Grossinator’s brilliance was in its simplicity but also in its appeal to a fundamental, maybe the fundamental, part of male childishness – bodily functions or abuses that violate behavioral norms.  I can imagine a teenager thirty thousand years ago falling on his butt and tooting to the appreciative, albeit guttural, laughter of his cave-mates.  From my personal experience and observation, male evolution hasn’t progressed even one nucleic acid sequence since.

For example, I was at the playground with my son not long ago when one of his friends brought out a small foam rocket with a stand and foot pump that, when stomped on, propelled the rocket about 30 feet in the air.  After two or three “appropriate” uses, they tilted the stand at an angle, formed a line in front of it, and took turns getting popped in the groin by the rocket and flopping to the ground like a Brazilian soccer player after a phantom foul, each time funnier than the last.  After a few rounds of this, one of the moms couldn’t bear it any longer and retired the crotch rocket program.

But there is another part of the Grossinator’s appeal that I have only recently discovered, and that is the language.  The word “putrid” alone barely raised a chuckle.  Adding an introductory phrase and an object (“How about…a horrible…burp”) and I may give a few snorts.  But the best combination omitted the adjectives altogether.  “It’s time for….puke” was a winner.

In writing, I occasionally pull out “the little book,” as it is known – Strunk and White’s Elements of Style.  I do this reluctantly as I am afraid to learn how many rules I am breaking.  And one of the hardest for me to follow is Style Item #4: Write with nouns and verbs.  “It is nouns and verbs, not their assistants, that give good writing its toughness and color.”

The point is not that the craft of good writing, a clever and thoughtful use of language, is a sacred act to be approached with humility.  Clearly, the Grossinator doesn’t do humility. Rather, at the risk of explaining and destroying the joke, it may explain the reaction I had to a particular statement coming from a five-dollar toy.

Some people may prefer that I say my tastes have matured.  Certainly they have changed, but I’m not ashamed to admit that they are merely different, and not a bit more refined.

Sadly, they don’t make the Grossinator anymore.  There are other toys with the same name – one you can record your own words or sounds on, and an Iphone app that plays barfing and farting sounds.  But they lack that simple and direct way of cutting straight to the, how should I say it, mmmbooger!