Among the theoretical questions people sometimes pose to themselves — if my house were burning down, what would I grab? If I won millions in the lottery, what would I buy? — is the classic, “If I had one day to live, what would I do?”
So I’m up at 5 a.m., too early to start working. Might as well browse online. As a change of pace, I slide over to the Daily Beast, the online remnant of Newsweek. Naming the site for the London tabloid in Evelyn Waugh’s comic novel “Scoop” surely seemed more clever when they first thought it up than now, when some slice of America must avoid it, assuming, with that name, it must be the house organ for Satan.
Fame is not fair. The names of bank robbers of the 1930s, for instance, still roll off our tongues: John Dillinger; Bonnie & Clyde; Pretty Boy Floyd. Crude thugs in souped-up Packards bursting into small town banks, waving guns and fleeing with a couple hundred dollars. Still they are immortal.
An endless flood of books pours into the paper. They pool in canvas-sided mail carts before being diverted into a windowless room where they linger, the literary version of an algae-covered retention pond. A few seep onto my desk, so I feel duty bound to flip each volume open and sample a few lines. That’s usually enough. Most can then be cast aside without another thought. But there are rare exceptions.
Comic strips never really die. Charlie Brown is forever about to kick the football that Lucy is helpfully teeing up for him. Dagwood eternally gazes in rapt anticipation at a sandwich a foot high. Krazy Kat swoons in expectation of his daily brick to the head.
When we lived in the city, my wife and I would load our two small boys into a big double stroller I called “the bus” and roll on over to the Lincoln Park Zoo to see our friend Adelor, the lion. He would welcome us with a low reverberating roar that you’d feel vibrating your sternum. That was in the late 1990s.
Criminals are stupid. Not all of them, of course. I suppose there must a few Prof. Moriarty masterminds out there, living quietly in splendor in Monaco, having pulled off whatever heists they managed to get away with, unapprehended.
Clint Eastwood’s new movie “J. Edgar” opens Wednesday, and anyone who saw its star, Leonardo DiCaprio, deliver his touching portrayal of the deeply weird Howard Hughes in “The Aviator” a few years back will be looking forward to what he does with another deeply strange figure in American history: J. Edgar Hoover.