Essay 23: A Good Name for This Magazine
If I was going to have a magazine, it would be called “Popular Dog”. At the back of each issue would be a section where my brother profiled a new and upcoming dog he’d seen around town. Likes, dislikes, how funny is it, does it seem embarrassed by its name, what job would it have if it had to go out and earn a living, tail size etc. That would be it, as regards dog-related content. People would tell me to call my magazine something else. Popular Dog isn’t a good name for this magazine, they would say. Especially since this issue seems mostly to be about your neighbour’s cat, Leonard. I would suggest a name change for that issue: Popular Leonard. They would have none of it: Nothing to do with popular animals, please. This magazine is mostly about how scared you are of caterpillars. I wouldn’t listen. Popular Dog is a good name, I would say. Leave me.
If I had a column it would consist of unsolicited advice, and ideas I have for different kinds of inventions. The column would be called RosaTown, or Hotel Rosa, or Rosa Spells It Out. My inventions would not be good. My advice would be useful only as it served to expose me as someone never to take advice from.
If I was going to have a cat, it would be called either Chicken or Spinach or Pepita. If it was a robust boy cat who was grey and not so fluffy, it would be called Rooster. If it was an old lady cat who needed a good home, I would name it Chitters.
This, all of the above, is my idea of a really good joke. Or not a joke, really. This is the kind of thing I find funny. This is not the sum of it, obviously, or even a tiny bit of it. This is just what I thought of when I sat down to write. I can’t explain why any of this makes me laugh, and I definitely can’t explain why it makes me laugh so much. All I can say is that this is my particular sensibility. But humour isn’t really like taste: you can train yourself to like olives or Alban Berg, but you can’t make yourself find something funny when you don’t. I have persuaded myself that I like black coffee and neat whisky, and that I prefer Wallace Stevens to Robert Hass. I have read Ulysses for fun. Taste can evolve. I can go stand in front of a painting that my 18 year old self would have thought was the shittest thing ever, and love it so much I want to weep. Taste grows up. Taste alters itself in the cause of pretension and aspiration. It can be worked upon. Taste rewards effort, and casts a flattering glow. “Liking Alban Berg” and “Being the kind of person who likes Alban Berg” are the same thing. But humour doesn’t work this way. It’s harder to control, it responds less well to grooming. What I mean by all this is that there will never be a day when I don’t find Prince Philip funny. He is a terrible person, but he makes me scream with laughter and I cannot help that. Humour lives in the reptile part of the brain. There is no point trying to understand it, but I like to try. I like to make lists.
- Christopher Guest as Harlan Pepper.
- I went to Cape Point once and heard some of the Park Rangers talking about the baboons under their care. The baboons were huge and cruel-seeming, and threatening to steal our food at any second. I heard the Park Rangers talking about them with great fondness, using their names a lot, like you do when you are talking about someone you are in love with. Their names were: Valentino, Sparkle, Freddie Mercury, Michael Jackson, and Fingers
- My upcoming magazine, Popular Leonard
- The word “muscly”
- Dogs wearing button-up shirts
- My brother, a long time ago, looking in the window of a fabric shop and saying VELLLLLLLLLLVIT in a loud voice.
- Alec Baldwin lurching forward in a sudden movement and shouting I’LL MAKE YOU PROUD OF ME YET, COLLEEN at the floor.
- “He’s an unfortunate man of some kind.”
- The Harvard Dialect Survey
- M saying “I feel like with you I’m really coming into my own as a physical comedian.”
That’s my list for today. Partial and incomplete and completely beside the point. There is no point in trying to understand it.