by Clarence Brown
American Reporter Correspondent
SEATTLE, Wash. -- Walking on the treadmill and watching (with no audio) the tv instant captions, the source of infinite hilarity, I read that one American division in Iraq was proud of being called the tip of the sphere (spear, I suppose). Another: swept on by the tied of war.
These captions must be done by some machine, of course. No human, at least no human in the vicinity of Safeco Field, could mistake the name of the Mariners' amazing right fielder, Ichiro, as Itchy Roe. Sounds like the solution to a great crossword clue: fish eggs with a rash?
Consider an entire column written as it might appear if conveyed by instant captioning.
Name of column: Inks Oxford University Press. Dateline: SEA TURTLE, WA.
But no... The imagination faints at the prospect.
Better idea: an entire column in which every sentence turns on one of the predictable words of the untalented crossword puzzle composer: ache, Ada, adit, afar, ago,aloe,alto, ami, amie, ara, arf, aria, asea, atom, Ava, axe, DDE, easel, ecru, eerie, eke, elal, elan, Eloi, eon, EPA, epee, etch, ete, Etna, Evel, GBS, HST, inn, ion, iota, JFK, lava, nada, odor, ole, once, opal, ore, ort, Ossa, oven, perm, rani, sera, spa, SRO, sst, StLo, TSE, tse-tse, tuba . . . .
But perhaps I should abandon the effort to be amusing. My buddy Dale told me one the other day: Had I heard that just before the bombing of Baghdad Wal-Mart had moved out and Target had moved in? No, said I, in all innocence, is that a fact?
This must have reminded him that I am the age of his father, but far slower on the uptake.
How, Dale asked, had we got the news during World War II? He could scarcely believe me when I said there was no tv. We had the newsreel, I said.
Newsreel? What is that? A movie?! No, it came with the price of a ticket; the feature, the newsreel, and a short subject, such as a James Kirkpatrick travelogue, which always ended, "And so, as the sun fades into the west, we bid a fond farewell to Riker's Island..."
Dale asks me the sort of question that he would ask his dad, who lives several states over, in Montana. The difference is that he is my buddy, not my son, so I must be careful what I tell him, for he believes me.
In return, I told him a joke from the Soviet era that I heard first in Moscow years ago and again this morning from a Russian comedian: Americans land on the moon. Brezhnev calls in his cosmonauts and says, They put men on the moon. We are going to put you on the Sun!. But Comrade Brezhnev, that is impossible - we will burn up. Brezhnev: Do you think I' m stupid? You will land at night!
But it is time to be serious: something is happening to our cat Huck. He is either going crazy or senile or both. I hope he has not caught it from me. But his meowing is even different. It is more baritone, as if someone had slipped him a few testosterone shots.
There is the problem of the female cat next door, who is in heat. The other night she even wandered into the kitchen to ask me if Huck could come out. I've tried telling her that there is nothing Huck can do to assuage her desires, but she says, rightly, that those words are too big and could he come out or not? No.
Later, she sent me E-mail: "Could you afford a prosthesis? I've heard those work. Yours ever, Sandra."
Clarence Brown is a cartoonist, writer, and Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature at Princeton University.