I had to move most of what I own last week so that the electricians could rewire the apartment. There were some inconveniences, but also some benefits, chief among them being finding things I hadn't seen in quite awhile, and high on that list was a collection of Charles Addams cartoons which my father gave my mother for Christmas, 1942.
This was when they were still in college, which I find very encouraging. I think well of a man who would woo a maiden with Charles Addams cartoons, and of a maiden who would respond to such wooing.
And I like thinking of them as a couple who would marry, have children and then leave the Charles Addams collection where a very small fellow could pull it out, leaf through it and look at the pictures and contemplate them.
I've often noted that I used to look at their Barnaby collection before I could read and wonder about the odd little man who flew through that kid's window. Without being able to read the stories, I still knew that something not-so-conventional was going on and it fascinated me.
Well, I knew that the Charles Addams cartoons weren't too conventional, either, and that they were a whole lot darker than Barnaby, but it didn't bother me. I suppose it was the same thing as handing a corn snake to an infant: He'll play with it because he's not sophisticated enough to think he ought to be scared.
Which is good, because he shouldn't be.
I don't know what I got out of Charles Addams except a sense that the world sure was full of all sorts of things, and I know people who waited far too long to figure that out.
Our parents exposed us to "all sorts of things" before we were old enough to appreciate them. Which is why we were able to appreciate them when we were old enough.
I'm awfully glad they didn't keep this stuff up on a shelf.
That one word would indicate that the incident -- or, more precisely, the level of interest in it -- had, in fact, caught his attention, if only in a negative way. As Addams wrote the caption, he's simply making an observation, and rather blandly, and the contrast between that and what is going on in the picture is stunning and hilarious.
In that New Yorker way, of course. You're not supposed to actually laugh, even at the funniest cartoons in the New Yorker. It's not that kind of humor.
It's this kind:
So now I'm about 60 years older and I realize that there is nothing to get. The humor is that there's a man who obviously doesn't belong up there swinging from tree to tree doing just that.
And something about marriage. Or something. You shouldn't overthink these things.
Addams could draw a beautiful woman, but it's important, in this case, that she not be. A beautiful woman in this setting would ruin a gag that depends on her being a bit dotty, rather than actually evil.
By contrast, this cartoon requires a beautiful woman. Otherwise, it would smack of desperation, when the intent is, as the caption suggests, just the opposite. She's not desperate. She knows what she's got going for herself and she knows that it's going to get her what she wants.
I don't remember how I parsed this as a kid, except that I knew it was naughty. I didn't get the gag of the parson in hiding until I was much older.
But, just as the woman planning to shoot her husband has to be eccentricly drawn for the gag to remain in good taste, this joke doesn't work if the guy isn't drawn as a Casper Milquetoast.
I would note that Addams' fellow New Yorker contributor James Thurber wrote "The Cat Bird Seat" in the same year this book came out.
I don't know whether that means there were a lot of lives of quiet desperation being lived out in the offices of the New Yorker or none at all. But they were tuned in to something.
A GF of mine had a daughter who was an avid reader and good student, but one night, when the child was still quite young, her mother found her sitting up, weeping in bed, well after lights were supposed to be out. She had started her first chapter book and was not aware that, unlike picture books, you weren't expected to read them all in one sitting. She was exhausted, she wanted to go to sleep, but she wasn't DONE yet.
This poor child has a slightly better reason to be going on obsessively into the night: She's on a streak, and you can't just break that off, since stopping is stopping.
I do remember looking at this one, and I didn't just see a kid who refused to stop until she missed. What I saw was much more kind of Rod Serling or Alfred Hitchcock .. a red shoes kind of thing about a child who could not stop jumping rope.
I suppose it may have been the context, since why should this cartoon be any less dark in intent than those that surrounded it? In retrospect, I find it interesting that a small child should have a darker imagination than Charles Addams, for whom this was a comparatively innocent cartoon.
Compared to his usual, but also compared to my take on it.
I'm quite confident that by the time that dear little girl grew up, she would at least have learnt how to declare the evening over. She probably turned out like this: