December 27, 2005

Year-End Greetings, 1932

I've been browsing a little in my recently purchased DVD collection of the complete NEW YORKER magazine, and it occurred to me to wonder, What were they doing at this time of year way back then, those unfortunate primitives? It was a totally other world then, wasn't it, inhabited by people who didn't have the capacity to intrude on one another electronically at every instant, and who didn't have the insistent rhymes of rap music and the soothing phrases of self-help books guiding them through life, and who weren't ragged from sleepnessness and overwork and neurotically worried about the ingredients of their food? Those people who thought in all innocence, for instance, that the French were their allies?

I pushed Disc 8 (1925-1936) into the slot and felt my way toward the Dec,. 24, 1932 issue, and in the Talk of the Town section the editors were giving a humorous summary of leftovers in the in-box from the year just past:

•"A patriotic lady called up to complain about...advertising French products now that France had defaulted on her debt payments."

• "Daily success guide -- 'Did you get sufficient sleep last night? Did you inhale deeply today? Did you eat any raw fruit?' A thoroughly nasty little book," the editors concluded.

• for proto-Maureen Dowd fans: a study on "The Marital Condition of Gainfully Employed Women"

• an elegant solution to the Merry Christmas vs. Happy Holidays dispute: "The Department of Motor Vehicles Wishes You a Happy New Year"

Further along, I found that the nation was curious, and in some cases alarmed, about the undue influence on President-elect Roosevelt of one Professor Raymond F. Moley, who was called "the Mind Behind the White House." Nope, nothing like that around these days.

The League of Nations was under criticism for passing the buck on the Manchurian crisis -- hmm, haven't heard anything like that in a while...

Meanwhile, the magazine was viiglant about the problem of music piracy -- a phrase used in a Profile of the founder of ASCAP, the organization founded to ensure that songwriters received their due royalties.

All this in the first few pages.

What had drawn me to this issue initially was that it contained the first-ever "Greetings, Friends!" poem by Frank Sullivan (1892-1976), who wrote that feature annually for some 40 years: a long comic poem in rhymed couplets, mentioning by name oodles of people, famous or obscure, who had done noteworthy things during the year or who happened to provide a rhyme for something he wanted to joke about:

To my friends upstate in Saratoga Spa,
To Huey Long and the people of La....

I wish a maximum of Yulidge
To Mr. and Mrs. Calvin Coolidge,
To Alma Gluck and Charlie Schwartz
And those who suffer from wens and warts;
To those susceptible to coryza,
To Edward Johnson and Theodore Dreiser...

Alas, there was something in the poem that departed unpleasantly from later mores: some comic use of racial epithets for Asians and of a mock-Chinese accent. On the other hand, however, Sullivan came up with something that would turn out to be of consisderable usefulness to satirists seventy years later: a rhyme for "W.": "trouble you."

Greetings, blogfriends!