Friday, May 29, 2009

It'll Make a Good Story

In high school, my friend H and I wrote three journals we refer to as "The Trilogy." Each recorded a separate event: vol. I, a choir tour up the Eastern seaboard; vol. II, a camping trip on our friend Scoob's farm; and vol. III, our senior ski trip. (There were also some minor works, but I'll decline from cataloging them here.) H and I had matching pocket thesauri and a shared love of purple prose. We esteemed ourselves artisans of the written word, transforming each mundane experience into a harrowing adventure or epic melodrama. We considered ourselves extremely funny, although I suspect you had to be there, and more importantly, be us.

Actually, we really were funny. Damn funny. Still are. But not as funny as Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men in a Boat.

Jerome's popular work (written in the late 19th century) pairs Wodehousian humor with idyllic descriptions of the English countryside. But really it's just three young guys and a dog boffing about in a boat on the river, experiencing the kind of comical mishaps everyone has on a camping trip, with a generous dose of good-natured bickering. Jerome also has a great tendancy to go off on tangents, and his chapter opener summaries are a hoot. I've laughed so hard in several scenes that tears ran down my cheeks, and when I tried to read sections out loud to Ickie, I hyperventilated.

For your enjoyment, here's an excerpt. "J", Harris, and George get excited about a tin of pineapple, only to discover they haven't packed an opener. Madness ensues.

"Then Harris tried to open the tin with a pocket-knife, and broke the knife and cut himself badly; and George tried a pair of scissors, and the scissors flew up, and nearly put his eye out. While they were dressing their wounds, I tried to make a hole in the thing with the spiky end of the hitcher,and the hitcher slipped and jerked me out between the boat and the bank into two feet of muddy water, and the tin rolled over, uninjured, and broke a teacup.

Then we all got mad. We took that tin out on the bank, and Harris went up into a field and got a big sharp stone, and I went back into the boat and brought out the mast, and George held the tin and Harris held the sharp end of his stone against the top of it, and I took the mast and poised it high up in the air, and gathered up all my strength and brought it down.

It was George's straw hat that saved his life that day. He keeps that hat now (what is left of it) and, of a winter's evening, when the pipes are lit and the boys are telling stretchers about the dangers they have passed through, George brings it down and shows it round, and the stirring tale is told anew, with fresh exaggerations every time.

Harris got off with merely a flesh wound.

After that, I took the tin off myself, and hammered at it with the mast till I was worn out and sick at heart, whereupon Harris took it in hand.

We beat it out flat; we beat it back square; we battered it into every form known to geometry--but we could not make a hole in it. Then George went at it, and knocked it into a shape, so strange, so weird, so unearthly in its wild hideousness, that he got frightened and threw away the mast. Then we all three sat round it on the grass and looked at it.

There was one great dent across the top that had the appearance of a mocking grin, and it drove us furious, so that Harris rushed at the thing, and caught it up, and flung it far into the middle of the river, and as it sank we hurled our curses at it, and we got into the boat and rowed away from the spot, and never paused till we reached Maidenhead."

1 comment:

Jenny said...

Love, LOVE Jerome K. Jerome. I was hyperventilating too - at too many parts to mention. I did like the theory the boys had about getting the teapot to boil - going downstairs and complaining LOUDLY that they would rather have coffee instead, who needs tea? Then the teapot would get mad and boil...

Or the one about how you have never taken a boat upriver unless you have been towed by girls. LOVE it!