Wednesday, December 7, 2011

At the Bookstore

Monday evening I stopped at Second Story Books with a couple of books in mind. I found neither, but found two that I would not have expected: the Audubon Society's Field Guide to North American Weather, and Alexander Theroux's The Enigma of Al Capp.

The Audubon Society's Field Guide to North American Trees: Eastern Region is handy--it helped our group identify a couple of trees during a neighborhood tree inventory some months ago, and I refer to it now and then. But I have seen most of the varieties of North American weather, tornadoes excluded, and feel confident that I can tell a chinook from an ice storm. I passed on the weather volume. Visitors to the country might find it handy.

The combination of Theroux and Capp, at $3.50, I did not resist. "Li'l Abner" was nearing the end of its run when I started reading the newspapers. Of Capp, I knew next to nothing. I remembered hearing that he was distinctly conservative as he got older, though only one of the sequences I remember reflected this.*  I had remembered a few of the expressions that came out of the strip--triple whammy,  Kickapoo Joy Juice--and found others that I had forgotten (Skonk Works) or had never known came out of it (Nogoodnik).

Anyone who has seen Li'l Abner knows Capp's enthusiasm for the female form. Those who didn't share it, he said, could read "Little Orphan Annie". In the newspapers this occasionally led to problems. Theroux mentions, for example,
... the wildly savage Wolf Gal, who with her feral lewdness, always ran [the Sadie Hawkin's Day] race and whose costume, a light tunic with only one shoulder strap and a half open miniskirt, drew the wrath of national Mother's Clubs, especially since a Philadelphia high school close her as their class symbol, and Al had to add a strap and sew up the sides of this skirt.
But Theroux writes of a number of occasions on which Capp passed from simple lechery to harassment or assault. Grace Kelly considered bringing charges in the 1950s, the University of Alabama expelled him from its campus in 1968, and a woman in Wisconsin did bring charges in 1972. In the last case, he pleaded guilty to attempted adultery. The publicity from the case led many newspapers to drop the strip, which may account for my memories of it ending about 1970.

Of the admirers mentioned, I remembered only Marshall MacLuhan. Theroux quotes Alan Resnais as describing Li'l Abner as
America's one immortal myth and the dominating artistic influence of my life.
(But then one never knows what the French will discover in America.)

* As I recall it, Lower Slobbovia employed an instrument of torture called the Snapple. Consuming a Snapple caused one to become 18 again, an atrocious punishment because one needed to be at least 40 to have enough body fat to get through the winters there without acute discomfort. The product escaped to the US, where it threatened the privileged position of the baby boomers. You could look it up.

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