CATCH ME IF YOU CAN
by Clarence Brown
American Reporter Correspondent
SEATTLE -- "Have a nice day! Have a nice day!" Hearing this incessant wish from people who could not care less what sort of day you're about to have can spoil the day for those who might otherwise have actually had a nice one. My friend Paul Fussell, the famous curmudgeon, and author of best-selling books about literature, war, and uniforms, had an answer to this:
"Thanks, but I have other plans."
I have used this line from time to time, but one must be careful to whom one says it.
Saying it to my barber, for instance, was ill advised. He is the salt of the earth but a tad literal-minded and was genuinely distressed to hear that my day promised to be anything but nice.
My elaborate explanation that it was only a joke did little to reassure him concerning my mental health.
One could write a brief history of our time using only catch-phrases as the rubrics.
Take this bumper sticker, which covered the whole bumper: DON'T BLAME ME--I VOTED FOR GORE (LIKE MOST PEOPLE). Up to the parenthesis, this is a tired switch on an old theme. But what is in the parentheses will be the subject of constitutional debate for years to come.
Or this, seen on a tee-shirt worn by a timid little man at my gym, so mild-mannered that he apologizes for perspiring in the sauna: IF YOU DON'T LIKE MY ATTITUDE, THEN The last four words are in a larger type size than this newspaper will allow to a mere columnist.
Or take this, which was not on a tee shirt but actually tattooed in a bluish black ink across the chest of a man not in his earliest youth: DO NOT RESU.S.CITATE.
So far as I know, no one has had the courage, or the impertinence, to ask whether this is a sardonic joke or a serious directive to the paramedic who might find the fellow collapsed on the street.
If the medic thought it a macabre joke and revived him, he might be sued for malpractice. Or if he took it seriously and did nothing... ? What legal standing does a tattoo have?
Catch phrases are the staple of cartoonists. Among my files of unsold drawings is one that I for one thought hilarious. Boxer, to his opponent, whom he has just rendered unconscious with an uppercut: "Does your mother know you're out?"
(Note to David Remnick, Princeton '81, Editor of the New Yorker: This is still available, in case you'd like it.)
(Note to Dr. Soup: We don't run stuff that's already run in columns. And have a nice day.--DR)
Really great cartoonists don't start with a catchphrase, of course. If they happen to be the immortal James Thurber, they draw cartoons with captions that become catchphrases. "All right, have it your way, you heard a seal bark!"
Or: "What have you done with Dr. Millmoss?"
OK, David, here's another unsold drawing. A Quaker (colonial hat, knee buckles) well known for bringing in converts: "Some of my best Friends are Jews!"
No? Just thought I'd ask.
Clarence Brown is a cartoonist, writer, and Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature at Princeton University.