26 July, 2014

Perelmania I: Beauty and the Bee

Note: This is the first of a two-part series consisting of articles by my new favourite humorist, S J Perelman. (He's Woody's favourite too, and inspired some of Woody's first New Yorker articles. First some quotes from Perelman, who you should definitely look up, and then an article.)


“And you were cruel,” I said.

“I’m sorry,” added Quigley.

“Why did you add Quigley?” I begged him. He apologized and subtracted Quigley, then divided Hogan. We hastily dipped the slices of Hogan into Karo, poured sugar over them, and ate them with relish.

---- From “The Love Decoy”

“Have a bit of the wing, darling?” queried Diana solicitously, indicating the roast Long Island airplane with applesauce. I tried to turn our conversation from the personal note, but Diana would have none of it. Soon we were exchanging gay banter over the mellow Vouvray, laughing as we dipped fastidious fingers into the Crisco parfait for which Diana was famous. Our meal finished, we sauntered into the play-room and Diana turned on the radio. With a savage snarl the radio turned on her and we slid over the waxed floor in the intricate maze of the jackdaw strut.

---- From “Strictly from Hunger”

Love is not the dying moan of a distant violin, it’s the triumphant twang of a bedspring.

Beauty and the Bee

It is always something of a shock to approach a newsstand which handles trade publications and find the Corset and Underwear Review displayed next to the American Bee Journal. However, newsstands make strange bedfellows, as anyone who has ever slept with a newsstand can testify, and if you think about it at all (instead of sitting there in a torpor with your mouth half-open) you'd see this proximity is not only alphabetical. Both the Corset and Underwear Review and the American Bee Journal arc concerned with honeys; although I am beast enough to prefer a photograph of a succulent nymph in satin Lastex Girdleiere with Thrill Plus Bra to the most dramatic snapshot of an apiary, each has its place in my scheme. The Corset and Underwear Review, which originates at the Haire Publishing Company, 1170 Broadway, New York City, is a magazine for jobbers. Whatever else a corset jobber is, he is certainly nobody's fool. The first seventy pages of the magazine comprise an album of superbly formed models posed in various attitudes of sweet surrender and sheathed in cunning artifices of whalebone, steel, and webbing. Some indication of what Milady uses to give herself a piquant front elevation may be had from the following list of goodies displayed at the Hotel McAlpin Corset Show, reported by the March, 1935, Corset and Underwear Review: "Flashes and Filmys, Speedies and Flexees, Sensations and Thrills, Snugfits and Even-Puls, Rite-Flex and Free-Flex, Smoothies and Silk-Skins, Imps and Teens, La Triques and Waiki-kis, Sis and Modern Miss, Sta-Downs and Props, Over-Tures and Reflections, Lilys and Irenes, Willo-th-wisps and Willoways, Miss Smartie and MisSimplicity, Princess Youth and Princess Chic, Miss Today and Soiree, Kor-dettes and Francettes, Paristyles and Rengo Belts, Vas-sarettes and Foundettes, Fans and Fade Aways, Beau Sveltes and Beau Formas, Madame Adrienne and Miss Typist, Stout-eze and Laceze, Symphony and Rhapsody, Naturade and Her Secret, Rollees and Twin Tops, Charma and V-Ette, La Camille and La Tec/'

My neck, ordinarily an alabaster column, began to turn a dull red as I forged through the pages of the Corset and Underwear Review into the section called "Buyer News/' Who but Sir John Suckling could have achieved the leering sensuality of a poem by Mrs. Adelle Mahone, San Francisco representative of the Hollywood-Maxwell Company, whom the magazine dubs "The Brassiere Bard of the Bay District"?

Out-of-town buyers!—during your stay At the McAlpin, see our new display. There are bras for the young, support for the old, Up here for the shy, down to there for the bold. We'll have lace and nets and fabrics such as Sturdy broadcloths and satins luscious. We'll gladly help your profits transform If you'll come up to our room and watch us perform. Our new numbers are right from the Coast: Snappy and smart, wait!—we must not boast— We'll just urge you to come and solicit your smiles, So drop in and order your Hollywood styles.

One leaves the lacy chinoiseries of the Corset and Un< derweai Review with reluctance and turns to the bucolic American Bee Journal, published at Hamilton, Illinois, by C. P. Dadant. Here Sex is whittled down to a mere nubbin; everything is as clean as a whistle and as dull as a hoe. The bee is the petit bourgeois of the insect world, and his keeper is a self-sufficient stooge who needs and will get no introduction to you. The pages of the American Bee Journal are studded with cocky little essays like "Need of Better Methods of Controlling American Foulbrood" and "The Swarming Season in Manitoba." It is only in "The Editor's Answers, a query column conducted by Mr. Dadant, that Mr. Average Beekeeper removes his mask and permits us to peep at the warm, vibrant human beneath. The plight of the reader who signs himself "Illinois" (I've seen that name somewhere) is typical:

I would like to know the easiest way to get a swarm of bees which are lodged in between the walls of a house. The walls are of brick and they are in the dead-air space. They have been there for about three years. I would like to know method to use to get the bees, not concerned about the honey.

The editor dismisses the question with some claptrap about a "bee smoker" which is too ridiculous to repeat. The best bet I see for "Illinois" is to play upon the weakness of all bees. Take a small boy smeared with honey and lower him between the walls. The bees will fasten themselves to him by the hundreds and can be scraped off when he is pulled up, after which the boy can be thrown away. If no small boy smeared with honey can be found, it may be necessary to take an ordinary small boy and smear him, which should be a pleasure.

From the Blue Grass comes an even more perplexed letter:

I have been ordering a few queens every year and they are always sent as first-class mail and are thrown off the fast trains that pass here at a speed of 60 miles an hour. Do you think it does the queens any harm by throwing them off these fast trains? You know they get an awful jolt when they hit the ground. Some of these queens are very slow about doing anything after they are put in the hive.— Kentucky.

I have no desire to poach on George Washington Cable's domain, but if that isn't the furthest North in Southern gallantry known to man, I'll eat his collected works in Macy's window at high noon. It will interest every lover of chivalry to know that since the above letter was published, queen bees in the Blue Grass have been treated with new consideration by railroad officials. A Turkey-red carpet similar to that used by the Twentieth Century Limited is now unrolled as the train stops, and each queen, blushing to the very roots of her antennae, is escorted to her hive by a uniformed porter. The rousing strains of the Cakewalk, the comical antics of the darkies, the hiss of fried chicken sputtering in the pan, all combine to make the scene unforgettable.

But the predicament of both 'Illinois" and "Kentucky" pale into insignificance beside the problem presented by another reader:

I have been asked to "talk on bees" at a nearby church some evening in the fall. Though I have kept bees for ten years, I am "scared stiff" because not a man in the audience knows a thing about bees and I am afraid of being too technical.

I plan to take along specimens of queen, drone and worker, also a glass observatory hive with bees, smoker and tools, an extra hive, and possibly some queen cell cups, etc.

Could you suggest any manipulating that might be done for the "edification of the audience"? I've seen pictures of stunts that have been worked, like making a beard of bees; and I've heard of throwing the bees out in a ball only to have them return to the hive without bothering anyone. But, I don't know how these stunts are done, nor do I know of any that ] could do with safety. (I don't mind getting a sting or two my self, but I don't want anyone in the audience to get stung, or 1 might lose my audience.)

I've only opened hives a few times at night, but never liked the job as the bees seem to fly up into the light and sting very readily. That makes me wonder whether any manipulating can be done in a room at night.

How long before the affair would I need to have the bees in the room to have them settle down to the hive?— New York.

The only thing wrong with "New York" is that he just doesn't like bees. In one of those unbuttoned moods everybody has, a little giddy with cocoa and crullers, he allowed himself to be cajoled by the vestrymen, and now, face to face with his ordeal, he is sick with loathing for bees and vestrymen alike. There is one solution, however, and that is for "New York" to wrap himself tightly in muslin the night of the lecture and stay in bed with his hat on. If the vestrymen come for him, let him throw the bees out in a ball. To hell with whether they return or not, and that goes for the vestrymen, too. It certainly goes for me. If I ever see the postman trudging towards my house with a copy of the American Bee Journal, Fm going to lodge myself in the dead-air space between the walls and no amount of small boys smeared with honey will ever get me out. And you be careful, American Bee Journal—I bite.

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