Last night's somewhat tame debate drove Gail Collins into a speculative reverie ("McCain: Bearish on Debates", 9/27/2008). Her ending:
Imagine what would happen if a new beetle infested the Iowa corn crop during the first year of a McCain administration. On Monday, we spray. On Tuesday, we firebomb. On Wednesday, the president marches barefoot through the prairie in a show of support for Iowa farmers. On Thursday, the White House reveals that Wiley Flum, a postal worker from Willimantic, Conn., has been named the new beetle eradication czar. McCain says that Flum had shown “the instincts of a maverick reformer” in personally buying a box of roach motels and scattering them around the post office locker room. “I can’t wait to introduce Wiley to those beetles in Iowa,” the president adds.
On Friday, McCain announces he’s canceling the weekend until Congress makes the beetles go away.
Barack Obama would just round up a whole roomful of experts and come up with a plan. Yawn.
Apparently Ms. Collins thinks of Willimantic as the only place in America more remote and intrinsically funny than Wasilla, Alaska.
This does strike me as funny, in a different sense, since I grew up in Mansfield Center, and Willimantic, just four miles away, was the local big city. It was where we went to buy whatever we couldn't find at the local general store, Barrows & Burnham. Some of my school friends' parents, the ones that weren't farmers, worked at what everybody called the "tread mill", the American Thread Company's factory that we were always told was the world's largest producer of thread.
I seem to be fated to live in places that other people find intrinsically funny. I worked for 15 years at Bell Labs in a bucolic area of northern New Jersey, and there are dozens if not hundreds of jokes whose punch lines depend entirely on the concept that New Jersey is in and of itself amusing. For example,
Q: Why are New Yorkers so depressed?
A: Because the light at the end of the tunnel is New Jersey!
On a train trip south from Boston, I once sat next to a group of high-school students from Bristol, CT, who were going to New York for the weekend. One them fell asleep, and as the train approached Penn Station, the others teased him about missing his stop and waking up in New Jersey. This stimulated a massive outbreak of group glee, with one after another gasping "New Jersey!" and falling down laughing in the aisle of the train. That's the only time I've ever seen anyone literally fall on the floor laughing.
Now I live in Philadelphia. W.C. Fields proposed for himself various versions of an epitaph suggesting that Philadelphia is marginally superior to death ("Here lies W.C. Fields. I would rather be living in Philadelphia." or "On the whole, I'd rather be in Philadelphia."). His other witticisms include "I once spent a year in Philadelphia, I think it was on a Sunday." and "Last week I went to Philadelphia, but it was closed."
What New Jersey and Philadelphia have in common, apparently, is being near New York, which makes them candidates for exclusionary disdain on the part of insecure residents of the metropolis. I guess that Willimantic's misfortune is being a small city out of commuting range of New York, with a polysyllabic name of non-Indo-European origin that starts with W. (OK, Wasilla comes from Russian Vasili, but via Tanaina.)
Are there intrinsically funny places in California, or in Britain, or Japan, or wherever? I've heard that the French regard Belgium as being intrinsically funny, in a similar way, but I don't think I've ever heard any good Belgium jokes.