The Early Irving Flumberg Memorial Lecture
Well, thanks much for inviting me to your so-called auspicious gathering. At this juncture, the keynote speaker traditionally delivers a witty quip to set the mood and such, though I really don’t see what good that will do any of us. For one thing, you seem to have entirely ignored the introduction I had requested in favor of some rather feeble attempts at humor, which I found as tough to palate as the entrée.
If anyone has a Tums, I’d certainly like the opportunity to regain self-governance of my digestive system. Dear sir, please do sit down. What’s that? You have a Tums? For moi? Why, thank you. Yes, of course, you may approach the pulpit. Thank you for this. I-I—oh, dear. I really wish you hadn’t fingered the Tums yourself. You may return to your seat.
Pardon me a moment while I masticate. Oh, please do be grown-up with my vocabulary. Sir, this does not taste at all like a Tums. You say this is a generic brand? What sort of antacid? Le Acid? Never heard of it. Very well. Let’s hope it does the job.
I’m feeling rather dyspeptic today . . . What? A clarification on the word dyspeptic? Oh, my. Oh, no. Not good. We’ve gone from bad to worse before we’ve even begun. I’d much rather we save questions until the very end, if at all. Maybe catch me on the way out, like that President walking to his helicopter.
Dyspeptic. Think dystopian or dysfunctional, which are two very appropriate terms, given our theme today. Dys, prepositional, from the Greek, which we’ll call, for simplicity’s sake, abnormal. So dysfunctional will be abnormal function. Today I am feeling dyspeptic. I have abnormal pep, which renders me rather prone to the belch. As such, I will apologize once in advance for any and all muffled or gratuitous belching that might emanate from my mouth during the presentation. So, I apologize. And let us begin.
Despite my reservations on your chosen topic, I am indeed honored to deliver the first annual—and let me underscore my reluctance to the blind optimism with which you deem this the first annual anything. By nature of the way time works, we do not have the authority to anoint anything annual—assonance, hey!—until the second year. So, if you truly desire accuracy, this here, this evening, this is a lecture. It happens, however, to be a lecture delivered by me, so chances are excellent that I won’t botch it—unless, of course, my dyspepsia or your interruptions, ahem, prevent me from completing my presentation, which I now begin.
I am indeed honored to deliver the first annual Irving Flungberg Memorial Lecture. I can’t say enough about Irving. The people I call true friends I can count on one hand. Irving Flungberg was on the other hand. The hand I hold my hanky in when I feel a sneeze coming on. Or, to continue our vocabulary lesson, the hand I use to catch a dyspeptic belch.
I did not like the man. He was a cheat, a liar, a scoundrel, a thief, a scalawag, and a philanderer. I personally know twelve people who made inquiries into having Flungberg rubbed out. Four of them contacted me, asking if I knew anybody who knew anybody who would do the job. Hell, I said, for the right price I’ll do the job. Alas. Imagine how many former friends, colleagues, and adversaries were disappointed when Irving preempted their dreams by choking on that pickle.
Who chokes on a pickle? Irving Flungberg, that’s who. It was absurdly perfect. I picture the old man sitting down to supper with his bologna sandwich and a gherkin and choking, and all because he forgot to put in his teeth. Nevertheless, I find the postmortem Flungberg redeeming. The memory of his life and demeanor shine now the anti-beacon on those of us unfortunate enough to have known him. He demonstrated through his conniving ways how not to live.
Oh. Ah. I hear some grumbling dissent emanating from your vocal cords. I understand. I beseech you to take comfort in your naming of this event. Consider how much worse we’d be if this were the Irving Flungberg Honorary Lecture.
I beg your pardon. I seem to have strayed from my notes. I’d be just as happy tossing out rolls of Tums and calling it a night, but—by the way. Sir? Yes, you with the generic Tums? Le Acid? May I please have another? I found the first one rather tingly and refreshing. I thank you kindly.
You’ve asked for my views this evening on Irving Flungberg’s favorite song, “I am the Walrus” by the late John Lennon and the now Sir Paul McCartney. I-I just had an interesting thought I’d like to share with you, extemporaneously. Why do we say the late John Lennon or the late Irving Flungberg? They really weren’t late for anything. The deceased, they’re no longer with us. Wouldn’t it be more accurate to call him the early Flungberg? Anyway. Just a thought. Anyway . . .
Before we analyze the mess those mop tops called lyrics, let’s take a look at the title, shall we? Good. “I am the Walrus.” Not A Walrus. The Walrus. We can, therefore, deduce that the early Lennon and Sir McCartney were going for some quintessential icon here. Not A Walrus. The Walrus.
Am I going too fast? Excellent.
Though Irving Flungberg might have campaigned to embrace the quintessence of Walrus-hood, if you ask me, and let’s not forget that you have, he looked nothing like a walrus. If you insist on a connection, though, the walrus is a mammal and Flungberg was most probably a mammal, too. But to me, Flungberg looked more like a ferret. The ferret is also a mammal but one of the weasel family, so this connection would have been much more appropriate. Unfortunately, the Beatles did not record a song called “I am the Ferret,” so we’re stuck with the only conclusion I can draw thus far, namely that Flungberg thought himself the quintessential mammal.
Hello? I believe I requested questions only at the conclusion of my prepared remarks. Excuse me, sir? Oh, do sit down. What’s that? Well, yes, you do have a look of urgency about you. Well, I also have a strong need to evacuate, but you don’t see me rushing from the podium to use the facilities. Sir? Absolutely not, especially now that I’ve heard you, ostensibly a grown man but perhaps a child with hyperactive pituitaries, use the term “pretty please.” If you go, then everyone will want to go, and I’m not about to allow some mutinous insurgency. I did not choose this venue—mauve anything gives me vertigo and here it is, festooned on the drapes and the floor, as though Dracula had sprung a leak. But now that we’re here, I will not leave. As Descartes would have said, “I speak, therefore you remain.” I will not switch venues to some damp, dank men’s room, standing precariously on a toilet to deliver the early Irving Flungberg Memorial Lecture. You’ve gathered this evening to listen to me. Quite frankly, I’m here to listen to me. Here, amongst all the mauve. So hold your wee willy winkle until I’m done.
Let us now examine the first lines of “I am the Walrus.”
I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.
See how they run like pigs from a gun, see how they fly.
Good lord. I’m crying, too. What preposterous drivel. I am he as you are he as you are me and—it sounds like the last orgy before the fall of Rome. It reads as though someone grew quickly bored with the beginnings of a syllogism.
I would redact the statement as follows. I am a man as you are a woman, and since it’s just the two of us, what do you say? Makes a more reductive sense. Onward. See how they run like pigs from a gun, see how they fly. I-I find this simile maudlin and absurd. It requires almost no imagination to understand these Englishmen are referring to the old “pig shot from a cannon” tradition. Such practices, as you might recall, were outlawed in civilized society nearly two hundred years ago, on account of the inability after impact of the projectile to reconstitute enough meat for even a slice of bacon. And so, obviously, what the Beatles are alluding to is a sense of nostalgia. Now, combined with my minor adjustment of the first line, what we have in essence is the following. Looks like it’s just you and me, so let’s do it for old time’s sake. Followed, of course, by I’m crying, which tells me that whoever wrote these lyrics was going through a rather lugubrious patch of unrequited carnal lust.
Let’s examine a bit more, shall I?
Sitting on a cornflake, waiting for the van to come.
Corporation tee-shirt, stupid bloody Tuesday.
Man, you been a naughty boy, you let your face grow long.
Flungberg was a diminutive man, and I can indeed nearly imagine him sitting on a cornflake without breaking it. In fact, straying a moment from my prepared remarks and closing my eyes, I picture not Flungberg but myself sitting on a cornflake. How extraordinary! I am aware that in a corporeal sense I am standing in a well-pressed suit in front of you, but in an ethereal way I am in fact sitting on a cornflake, wearing a paisley toga. Quite remarkable.
And now I will, reluctantly, open my lines and return to the rest of my eyes. There. My, how you’ve changed! And the color scheme. I do believe I’ve adjusted quite well to the mauve.
Yes, as we were. As for the rest of that line, you wait for a bus to take you to school. It is a van that takes you to an institution. As most of you know, the late—or, as we’ve now determined, the early—Irving Flungberg was institutionalized for twelve years as chairman of the English department at Duke University. Corporation tee-shirt, stupid bloody Tues—Yes, in the name of humble objectivity, however brief, I will confide that Flungberg and I were quite chummy at one point. He phoned me after his dismissal from Duke. He was rather upset. “I’ve been dismissed!” he told me. “Those sons of bitches said they optioned my early retirement package. I told them,” Flungberg told me, “‘You can’t option early retirement because I’m only 52.’ And they said, ‘Well, then, consider this a very early retirement.’”
In all honesty, I found it rather funny. And now, recalling our conversation, I’m finding it funny all over again. Ha ha. Good lord! Does anyone else see my chuckle floating into the room? There. There it goes. It looks like an opaque blue soap bubble floating . . . it’s floating, and now landing, there, on that woman’s hat. Whup. You popped it. You’ve popped my chuckle! Extraordinary.
Here now we reach the chorus of our musical odyssey.
I am the eggman, they are the eggmen.
I am the walrus, goo goo g’joob.
Well, that’s it. Five thousand years of evolution. Five thousand years of cultural and scientific advancement. And we are left with the culminating pinnacle of Irving Flungberg, the so-called quintessential mammal, who choked to death on a pickle. Can we encapsulate and glean a worldview from the refrain of his favorite song? I am the walrus, goo goo g—good God. I am certain that in the synaptic mulch of Flungberg’s mind there was great clarity and comfort in such balder . . .
Ladies and gentlemen, I must stray once again from my prepared remarks to admit that right now, at this very moment, I feel like I am the eggman and you, too, are the eggmen, except for the eggwomen. And before I return to the lecture, I trust instinctively that you know exactly what I mean when I say to you, goo goo g’joob.
Mister city policeman sitting
Pretty little policemen in a row.
See how they fly like Lucy in the sky, see how they run.
I’m crying, I’m crying.
Ladies and gentlemen, fellow eggmen and eggwomen, I must apologize. As with the lyrics, as you can see, I’m crying, too. These tears are special tears. I’ve never known tears like these. They taste like orange marmalade! I must admit that I’ve never shed tears during a lecture, not to mention tears that taste like marmalade. I would not at all be opposed to any of you, especially one of the eggwomen, licking my face right now. Anyone? No? Very well.
Would someone toss me a spare dinner roll? Whoa. Did you see that trajectory? It’s still there! Clouds!
Wait a moment. Hold. I’m having a thought. My tears are speaking to me. They say I’m crying because I was so rude to that gentleman with his urgent need to evacuate. Sir, please accept my apologies. Go. Make haste. Make waste. I see the peanut that is your bladder. Trust me when I tell you that it will indubitably burst in three seconds, two, one. No? Well, what is time, really?
Yes, dear eggwoman. You’d like me to return to the lecture? Splendid. Let’s have a look at my notes.
Yellow matter custard, dripping from a dead dog’s eye.
Crabalocker fishwife, pornographic priestess,
Boy, you been a naughty girl you let your knickers down.
Did I ever tell you about the time Flungberg and I burned the midnight oil? But of course I never did. I’ve never met any of you, though I feel you all know me intimately, in a molecular way, as if our breathing the same air has allowed us to share genetic information. Flungberg, yes. Wonderful man, really. Wonderful sense of adventure. Admirable sense of longing. One night he brought over a bottle of hooch . . . Where was I? Please allow me to collect my thoughts. I-I-I must share with you the image I just had: me, with a wheelbarrow, collecting my thoughts.
Yes, then, so. On the night of which I speak, Flungberg and I burned the midnight oil, drinking a bottle of barely-distilled hooch, hooch that could take hair off a man’s chest. It was late in the evening when his tone grew somber.
“Irving,” he said to me . . . but wait, Irving was his name. My name is . . . oh, dear, I’ve forgotten my name. I’ve lost my identity. It feels marvelous.
Irving said to me, “A man should be good at one thing. He can dabble and dither. He can fritter and frolic. But when it comes down to brass tacks, there needs to be one thing a man is good at. Some are good at surgery. Some are adept with tools. Others are artists and writers, salesmen, pilots, engineers. I am good at one thing and nothing else,” he said. “I am an excellent scoundrel.”
“Flungberg,” I replied, “I see you as an excellent literary critic and educator. I don’t see the scoundrel in you at all.”
“Alas,” he said to me, “soon enough you will.”
Alas. Too true. Soon enough I saw perfectly well the scoundrel that was Irving Flungberg. For the truth of the matter, I confess, is that we were married to the same woman, though not at the same time. That would have made us reverse Mormons. Fascinating people, the Mormons. They’re like Star Trek without the special effects.
Yes, I was married to Martha first, and then Flungberg stole her away from me and so he was married to her second. Indeed, he made an excellent scoundrel. Yes, I was rather upset at the time, and I ask you to put yourself in my shoes for a moment—goo goo g’joob, hey?—and wonder if you would not have done what I did upon learning of his theft of my Martha.
I admit that turning his housecat into a tennis racket was not the cleverest thing I could have done—neither Flungberg nor Martha played tennis—but it was most convenient. There I was, alone with their cat and a vise . . .
Oh! I see your collective gasp and exhale of horror. Look at that! I never knew horror looked so-so-so horrified. It’s gathering above us in one great gray blob, rising toward the ceiling, no, no escape there, and now it’s searching, searching, and—egad! It’s rushed into the open mouth of that lady, there. Good golly Lucien Freud! I’ve never seen anything like that. My dear lady, you might want to engage in some extensive therapy.
But I’m afraid your horror was all for naught. Their housecat made for a rather impractical tennis racket. It looked more like an oblong flattened cat in the shape of a tennis racket. See? It was a symbolic revenge. But that, too, was all for naught, as our dear Martha soon divorced Flungberg and then, I believe, married herself, a feat not implausible, given her split personality.
Sitting in an English garden waiting for the sun.
If the sun don’t come, you get a tan
From standing in the English rain.
Gentle eggmen and lovely eggwomen, I must confess now that even if I were able to desire a return to my prepared remarks, it would make for an impossibly Herculean task, as the words on my page have left their assigned construction and now seem to be engaged in some sort of team-spirited conglomeration. The vowels are on one side, multiplying, and the consonants are seeping onto the podium. Cowardly consonants! Oh, my. Look at what the letter I is doing to that U. I implore you all to approach. Lick the marmalade from my cheeks and watch the words reconstitute on my cotton bond paper. Cotton. Cotton. Cotton. What a strange word. I’m feeling rather odd.
Ladies and gentlemen, gentle eggmen and lovely eggwomen, at this juncture I must admit that my formal remarks on the Irving Flungberg Memorial Lecture are but a shambles. But I’ve touched on something much more brilliant. I see my entire future laid out on a golden carpet, currently unfurling down the center aisle. You, sir, returning from the bathroom, would you kindly take an alternate route to your seat? You are stepping on my retirement account. Oh, much has happened since you left the room. I see that some of the lyrics have reconstituted on my page.
Elementary penguin singing Hari Krishna.
Man, you should have seen them kicking Edgar Allan Poe.
Ah. Poe. I know something of Poe. It was Poe who wrote, “All that we see or seem/Is but a dream within a dream.” He also wrote, “They who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night.”
I implore you all to dream by day, as Edgar Allan did, and don’t give much weight to the fact that he ended up face down in a gutter. For it is only when we are able to dream awake, which, remarkably, is happening to me at the moment, that life truly becomes worth living. Dream awake, gentle eggmen and lovely eggwomen, and you will be able to forgive Irving Flungberg, be he early or late, for stealing your wife.
I shall now be happy to entertain your questions. Goo goo g’joob.