Sunday, February 27, 2011

Will Cuppy Tonight: A Pliny the Elder special edition -- "The Goose," "The Oyster," and "The Ostrich" (from "How to Attract the Wombat")


"Pliny the Elder says pearls are formed by drops of dew falling into the Oyster when he is yawning. Can't something be done about that man?"
-- Will Cuppy, in "The Oyster"
(from How to Attract the Wombat)


There are forty different kinds of Geese in the world. It seems as if there were more. The main problem about Geese is whether they are foolish as they are supposed to be.1 Dr. Feldkamp says the average Goose has a mental age of three weeks.2 On the other hand, Pliny the Elder states that Geese are extremely sagacious. But would he know? Pliny based his opinion on the old tale that a flock of sacred Geese saved Rome from the Gauls in 390 B.C. by cackling and gabbling in the night, thus arousing the citizens to their danger. Ever afterwards the Romans held Geese in the highest esteem, but the Gauls were so sore that they went back home and invented pâté de foie gras. I don't think those Geese had the faintest idea that the Gauls were approaching. Geese wouldn't know a Gaul if they saw one. They simply felt like making a racket at that unearthly hour, so they did.3 The fact remains that a good deal of history has been made by Geese. Sometimes a Goose will take a fancy to you and follow you round wherever you go, stopping when you stop and starting when you start and cackling every foot of the way about things that do not matter in the least. You can't get a word in edgewise. Some people naturally attract Geese and there is nothing much to be done about it. You just have to grin and bear it. Or leave town. A Goose always accompanied the philosopher Lacydes, head of the Academy at Athens, having singled him out when a mere Gosling as a congenial companion. They can tell. Personally, I don't expect any sense from a Goose, so I am never disillusioned. Their feathers are nice and soft and they lay Goose eggs and the Goslings are wonderful. What more can you ask? You have to take Geese as you find them. That's the way they are meant to be. Common Domestic Geese are monogamous. They look it.4 Wild Geese migrate in flocks, or gaggles, flying in V-formation and honking as loud as they can.5 When they fly north in March they are hailed wherever they pass as harbingers of spring. Everybody stops work and rushes, outdoors, shouting happily, "Geese! Geese! Spring is here!" I generally go right on with what I am doing. I know when spring is here.
1 Favorite remark of Early Woman to Early Man: "Oh, don't be a silly Goose!" His reply is unknown.
2 If I had time I would tell you more about Dr. F.
3 No proof exists that a flock of Geese saved Rome, either on purpose or accidentally, but to Pliny the Elder it was the gospel truth. That man would believe anything.
4 It is said that Geese choose their mates on Saint Valentine's Day. I always forget to check on it -- too busy with my own problems.
5 The mating call for the White-fronted or Laughing Goose is "Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!" What's so funny?
Drawings by Ed Nofziger

§ § §


The Oyster is so small when he is born that you cannot see him without a microscope. Something generally swallows him by mistake before he becomes visible.1 Only one Oyster in a million is lucky enough to grow up and be stewed. The infant Oyster swims around for a few days by means of his microscopic cilia, or eyelashes. If he had any sense he would continue to do this for the rest of his days, but he has other ideas. He starts to develop a shell, sinks to the bottom and fastens his left valve2 to some solid object with a little bag of cement which he carries with him for the purpose. He thinks he is fixed for life. Ah, youth! The Oyster has many enemies such as the Starfish, the Whelk, the Oyster Drill, and the Slipper Limpet.3 He also has friends who move him about from one Oyster bed to another so that he will be fat and healthy and a credit to the Pelecypoda, or bivalved mollusks. When he is four or five years old they tell him that he ought to be more of a mixer and see more people and pretty soon he is on his way to the Grand Central Oyster Bar.4 Oysters are good all the year round but you never heard an Oyster say that. They are busy spawning in the months without an R and prefer to be undisturbed, as who wouldn't?5 European Oysters change from male to female, or vice versa, whenever they feel in the mood. To an American or Canadian Oyster that would seem just silly. Oysters hibernate in the colder months. A frozen Oyster feels fine as soon as he thaws out unless he has been roughly handled. If you shake him hard or hit him when he is frozen, his machinery comes apart and he is never the same Oyster again. Pearls are found in the Pearl Oyster of tropical seas, if you don't mind diving among the Sharks.6
1 He was hardly worth seeing anyway.
2 I would call it his left shell but let's be scientific.
3 The Piddock is perfectly harmless.
4 Some hold that Oysters have no nerves. I say an Oyster on the half-shell is a nervous Oyster.
5 Don't believe all you hear about Oysters. The Emperor Vitellius ate twelve dozen Oysters for supper one night and nothing happened.
6 Pliny the Elder says pearls are formed by drops of dew falling into the Oyster when he is yawning. Can't something be done about that man?

§ § §


The Ostrich is our largest living bird. A full-grown male Ostrich is eight feet tall and weighs three hundred pounds stripped. He is really too big for a bird and it must make him feel rather foolish.1 Because of his size, the ancients regarded the Ostrich as part quadruped, even though he has only two feet. It is possible to think of a biped as half a quadruped if you have that sort of mind, but the proposition will not hold up in the long run. In order to settle the matter, Aristotle took a close look at an Ostrich and announced, "It differs from a quadruped in being feathered." Just came to him in a flash, I suppose. The story that the Ostrich sticks his head in the sand when pursued, in the belief that this action renders him invisible, has brought undeserved ridicule upon the bird. It was started by Pliny the Elder, runner-up to Aristotle as an authority.2 Can the Ostrich help it if some people are not very bright?3 The popular notion that Ostriches subsist largely upon a diet of horseshoes is quite erroneous. They swallow sand, nails, and glass to promote the digestion of their food, which includes watches, doorknobs, and pieces of old machinery. Horseshoes are merely an occasional luxury.4 The Ostrich's egg is about the size of a coconut. It contains as much egg as eighteen ordinary hens' eggs and is somewhat gamy. One of them makes a meal for two to six Hottentots, depending upon the size of the Hottentots. You boil it for fifty minutes and call in the Hottentots.5 The Male Ostrich in search of a wife seeks to interest the prospect by displaying his feathers, dancing before her, fanning her with his wings, and uttering strange popping noises. As often as not she pays no attention whatever, but the male Ostrich seems to make out all right. He is frequently seen wandering around the desert with four or five females who lay their eggs in his nest and help him hatch out the young. This has given rise to certain rumors which I prefer not to discuss. I never repeat that kind of gossip unless I practically saw it myself.
1 Flightless birds like the Ostrich are called Ratitae, as their flat breast-bone reminds birdologists of a raft, the Latin word for which is ratis. Oh, well!
2 Although the old tale teaches us nothing about the Ostrich, it does shed light on the mental processes of Pliny the Elder. Shows what he would have done if he had been an Ostrich.
3 Pliny the Elder perished in 79 A.D. when he refused to flee from the great eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, insisting that everything would be all right. It wasn't.
4 Horseshoes lack certain essential vitamns. They are harmful when swallowed to excess.
5 An Ostrich egg is a natural for the emergency shelf. Just the thing for friends who drop in unexpectedly.

TOMORROW in WILL CUPPY TONIGHT: "Alexander the Great" (from The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody)

THURBER TONIGHT (including BENCHLEY TONIGHT and WILL CUPPY TONIGHT): Check out the series to date

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