Olive, the Other Reindeer

A girl with colitis goes by.

Actually, the words are “a girl with kaleidoscope eyes” – from the Beatles’ Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds – and this sort of mishearing now has a name. It’s called a Mondegreen, thanks to a girl who grew up in England hearing a folksong with the lines,

They have slain the Earl of Moray
And laid him on the green

It didn’t surprise her that an earl might come to a bad end. Earls get into battles. But why on earth did they have to kill poor Lady Mondegreen?

The young lady was Sylvia Wright, who later recalled her experience in an essay for Harper’s Magazine in 1954, “The Death of Lady Mondegreen.” She offered another example:

Haffely, Gaffely, Gaffely, Gonward …

… which might have sounded to Alfred Lord Tennyson like a line from his Charge of the Light Brigade – “Half a league, half a league, half a league onward!”

One of Ms. Wright’s contemporaries, a boy in America attending Protestant church services with his parents, was struck by a passage in a hymn, “Gladly the cross I’d bear.”

He kept scanning the aisles, hoping to see Gladly the Cross-Eyed Bear, but no such second coming ever came.

Wikipedia offers some additional history of the Mondegreen and a few more examples, including the Christmas classic we misappropriated as a title for this post.

Clive & Dirk Strike Again!

Demonstrating once again the fallibility of the Times Best Seller list, there’s another shit novel by Clive Cussler claiming that laurel for Poseidon’s Arrow, this time co-authored by his son, Dirk. Right. Dirk.

Have I read the book under review? Not for love nor money. One was more than enough, and I read Atlantic Odyssey years ago. Only by virtue of my Ronco $19.95 stomach pump was I spared a three-month intestinal spasm.

As you know, Poseidon didn’t have an arrow. He had a trident, which is like a large salad fork, but nothing is impossible in a Cussler. In Atlantic Odyssey, the idea was that Homer’s Odyssey took place not in the Aegean but in the Atlantic, where the Greeks had voyaged in hopes of conquering British tin mines, thus gaining control of worldwide bronze-making. At the end of the book, the hero meets none other than Clive Cussler, and they talk manfully about vintage cars, which Cussler collects.

That’s Clive Cussler. But all you really have to know about his adventure stories is the name of his hero:

Dirk Pitt.

Reminds me that in the old days when Joe Garagiola was an anchor on the Today Show, he once said that although his name was Garagiola, inside he was Nick Blake. Inside, Cussler is Dirk Pitt, the fantasy ego ideal after whom he apparently named his son.

Poor kid. Aside from the money (if it hasn’t all gone to vintage cars) and apart from being named co-author, where’s the fairness in that? Having to grow up with an egomaniacal shit writer as a father.

Ask any of my kids what it’s like to grow up with a father who writes book reviews like this one. Well, maybe don’t.

Fire the Liars

Trolling through the typeworms, A to Z:

Bad characters may thrive in present tense,
a thousand cures for cancer
lost at C

Their promise was immense; success
was not to B

But how on earth is anyone to know?

How fleeting the attention span of news,

Since herald angels sing about what’s hot,
once breaking news is broken, what is left?
They’ll not risk ratings publicizing that.
Give ‘em an F

Today’s untruths erase before exposed,
and rancid politicians
take their Q’s

As any fan of Rove and Goebbels knows,
strike fear with lies, then bigger lies, and more.
You’re gone before the imbeciles get wise.
So back to A

It stands for Assholes. Don’t buy what they sell.
#@&!%# bad characters

When you stop listening, they’ll P their pants,
fall off the Hill, and ask a second chance.
Say, “Go to L”

Then sleep like baby Jesus

Remember, Now

Much have I traveled in the realms of gold, but I forget if ginkgo biloba enhances memory or not. It’s the ginkgo that’s confusing. Biloba was the explorer who discovered the Pacific but later couldn’t remember where it was. Keats misremembered it was Cortez (he spelled it Cortes) who discovered the Pacific and thought it was a planet. So, remember — never trust a poet.


The foregoing is a psychological fitness test. If it struck you as utterly nonsensical, you’re good to go.


Oh, and that Keats sonnet? It’s in the first comment, as a refresher and refreshment.

The Big Bathtub

You probably know all about this; but, me, I get so far behind on breaking news that sometimes I don’t get the dispatches until they come out in hardback.

In 1992 a container ship on its way to Tacoma from Hong Kong went down near the Aleutians with cargo that included 28,800 plastic bathtub toys –green frogs, blue turtles (very rare), and yellow (what else?) duckies.

This prolific litterboat was operated by Evergreen Marine of Taiwan.

Free at last, some of the toys made their way toward Vancouver and, a year later, into Sitka, Alaska – inspiring Sarah Palin to establish a cargo cult, ‘Oil Dividends and Blue Turtles from God’. Actually, that last part may not have happened.

Other plastic castaways have circled Hawaii ever since in the North Pacific Gyre, hoping to find affordable beachfront property before they disintegrate, and some have reportedly circumnavigated the globe on the ocean currents.

Now a former Manhattan teacher named Donovan Hohn – who quit his job to follow the ducks as a way of mapping ocean currents and the swelling tide of plastic flotsam washing up on the world’s shores – has published a book full of echoes from Melville under the title Moby Duck.

Sure, call him Ishmael, but don’t bother looking for a great white ducky.

Appraising the book in the London Review, Emily Witt finds it interesting if a bit picaresque – certainly no game changer in the league of Silent Spring.

In Hohn’s travels to trace the migration (he visits the duck factory), he finally heads into the arctic on a cargo ship and sees a minke whale. That reminds Witt of the time a minke whale was spotted splashing about at the mouth of Brooklyn’s polluted Gowanus Canal. She gives us the lugubrious headline from the Times:

‘Frolicking Visitor Delights Hearts, Then Dies’

Witt finds neither apocalyptic visions nor strategies for redemption in Hohn’s book – just a suitable dirge for the ring we’ve left around the world’s bathtub. (I’m still puzzling about a cargo ship going into the arctic.)

There’s a lot here to sink about.

(Sorry. It’s just not the day for a tidy Aesopian moral.)

Parting Shot

As is well known by the legions of dilettante geographers who follow this site and laugh at our lapses, Parthia was an ancient land in northern Persia, the present day Khorasan region of Iran.

What they may or may not know when they take a parting shot at the end of one of their critiques is that they’re actually taking a Parthian shot.

The expression came from the legendary tactic of the Parthians of firing arrows over their shoulders as they retreated.

Useless information? If one of your ancestors fighting Parthians in the third century hadn’t known that, you might not be here.

Private IQ’s

Among genius private eyes, Hercule Poirot is a charming megalomaniac, Nero Wolfe a not so charming megalomaniac (“I have all the simplicities, including that of brusqueness”). But, to me, there are delights encountered in Rex Stout that you would never find in Agatha Christie. An example:


Wolfe: “As you know, the book came. I read it last night.”

Archie: “Why did you read it?”

Wolfe: “Don’t badger me. I read it because it’s a book.”

(from The League of Frightened Men)

Beach Blanket Book Review

Since vacation reading has devolved into Kindles and iPods with earphones, you may need at least one great, fat book to anchor your beach blanket against the wind. Here it is:

Debt: the First 5,000 Years

It must be interesting because it’s written by an anarchist (David Graeber), but don’t try to read it unless you’ve already finished reading your mortgage.

Dumb as they are, our book reviews are unflinchingly honest.