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calculated exaggeration

"My Victims: How to Caricature" by Oscar Berger. Harper and Brothers, 1952.


“In that most attractively adhesive of Russian novels, Oblomov, the protagonist devotes his life to finding more and better reasons for not getting out of bed. He finally stops going to the coffeehouse to see his friends because he knows that they will want to argue about the current situation in Turkey, and since none of them has ever been to Turkey, what they will discuss will be something that the newspapers have made up and called Turkey. So why not stay at home in bed and dream one’s own Ottoman Empire?”
–Gore Vidal, from Screening History Screening History: Harvard University Press, 1992. 'As I now move, graciously, I hope, toward the door marked Exit, it occurs to me that the only thing I ever really liked to do was go to the movies.'

The guy who stops believing what he is told is the guy who doesn’t want to get up in the morning.  But he gets up anyway because his wife is out of town with some friends and he has to take his kids somewhere or they will eat his face off. He’s driving them to the maul and his son asks if there are any tigers left outside of the zoo. The guy says “not very many.“ And inevitably his son asks, “Why not?”

The guy tries to come up with an answer, and he instantly recalls looking down from the window of the airplane on his last business trip. He was feeling overwhelmed by the endless stretch of streetlights, houselights, parking lot floodlights, all twinkling like electric barnacles below. There is no space left at all on the eastern seaboard, but there is no decent reason to leave.

The guy’s son is waiting for an answer, so he takes his best shot. He ranges far from his knowledge base . . .Chinese medicine, crushed tiger bones, illegal powders, sub-saharan drought and deforestation. It doesn’t matter, his kids are little and they don’t know shit. He points out that there are still plenty of wild rabbits, though he is not sure this is true. They do see bunnies in their own backyard, but those bunnies are hardly wild, living in the suburban sprawl.

To end on a positive note, the guy observes that cockroaches are wild animals, and they are thriving. But again he doubts himself, because he is not sure a bug is an animal, but of course, he knows it is. His kids aren’t even listening anymore. Then he wishes that language didn’t exist, so his kids couldn’t ask him depressing questions.

A teacher told him, when he was a child, that the Russians had a bomb attached to a red telephone. This bomb could wipe out the entire eastern seaboard in fifty-seven seconds. But that never came to pass. The guy had secretly wanted it to happen, but only because as a boy his thoughts would go haywire if he got too tired. And he tired easily.

 

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