BACKTRACKING

 

You’d Have to Invent Me.

 

By Terry Hogan

 

The VAR appeared at my computer the other night, as I was struggling for a topic to inspire me.  The VAR is a gnome-like creature that inhabits power lines and vibrates at 60 cycles per second. He appears before me from time to time, when he has something to say.  The VAR offered the observation that “If I didn’t exist, you’d have to invent me.”  I said that this sounded familiar, but I thought it was referring to God.  The VAR just grinned like a Cheshire Cat from a volume of forgotten lore.

 

The VAR pointed out that I often write about his observations on the failing of mankind, e.g. the Enron scandal. The VAR said if he didn’t exist, I would have had to create him for that purpose, not unlike Archy, the cockroach that had been a poet in a previous life.  I looked at him in a way that apparently made it entirely too clear that I had no idea what he was talking about.  The VAR turned a shade of electric blue, leaned back against a floppy disk pile, and began this story.

 

Archy and Mehitabel were famous creatures in a newspaper column and books, written by Don Marquis.   The VAR went on to elaborate that the readers incorrectly assumed that they were fictional characters invented by Don Marquis to express satire, humor and cynicism about events of the day.  Archy was a literate cockroach who typed by jumping from the top of the typewriter, headfirst, striking a key with sufficient force to type one letter.  By this slow and presumably painful process, he could type a full page during a night. Because he couldn’t strike more than one letter at a time, his distinctive writing style was free of capitalization and punctuation. Archy first appeared in print in the Sun Dial Column in March 29, 1916.  Archy’s view of mankind was somewhat different since he was reincarnated as a cockroach.   

 

According to the VAR, Mehitabel was a friend of Archy. She was an alley cat who claimed to have been Cleopatra in a former life. Mehitabel was a cat of the world, and was worldly. Experienced, one might say.

 

The writer of the column was Donald Robert Perry Marquis who was born in nearby Walnut, Illinois in 1878.  He was the son of a local doctor.  According to the VAR, Marquis even briefly attended Knox College.  Marquis wrote, “I have always had a very strong sentiment with regard to Knox College -- an almost inexplicable sentiment, when you consider that I was never there more than a couple of months. I am, in fact, loyal to the college education I might have had if I had had one; loyal to the college I should have gone to if I had gone to college.”*

 

The VAR said that Don Marquis started his young career writing for small town weekly newspapers, but “unlike some, he moved on to bigger and better things.” (I tried to ignore the comment).  For a while he was even an associate editor of Uncle Remus’s Magazine.  The VAR looked rather smug with his obvious depth of knowledge on this subject. (I have to wonder if the VAR has somehow tied into broadband cable shipped along the power lines, giving him nearly an unlimited source of “on-line” information).

 

Don did much of his writing in poetic form.  He also came up with some pretty good “one-liners”:

 

A charlatan is often a great man who was found out just a bit too soon by reporters and historians.

The sort of man who brags about his ancestors is never bragged about by his descendants.

One trouble about resisting a temptation is that it may never come again.

But the VAR noted that the most insightful comments about mankind came from Archy, the cockroach –

know mankind is doing the best it can

but hellsbells boss

thats only an explanation

its not an excuse

-- archy  

Then the VAR became serious for a moment.  He said that laughing at life is not without risk. Like a kicked dog, life might turn around and bite you in the rear. From 1921 to 1931, Marquis suffered family tragedies.  His five year old son died. His first wife died. His 13-year old daughter died. Then in 1935 and 1936, Marquis had a series of strokes that kept him from walking and writing. His second wife, who took care of him, died in 1936. It was reported to have been a drug overdose. A year later, on December 29, 1937, Don Marquis died.

*From a Letter to Mr. Edward Caldwell of New York City February, 1930 -  http://www.donmarquis.info/knoxalumni.htm