Your RDA of Irony

The Curses of Good Manners and Hygiene

Obama Wins Nobel Peace Prize

The Nobel Committee awarded him the Prize simply for not being George Bush. Nonetheless, I think that the award was premature. Perhaps he should have been given half the Peace Prize now; he could get the other half once he actually accomplishes something.

To be honest, I think that I deserved this year’s Peace Prize.  Consider the heroic self-control I demonstrated.

It has been 40 years since I survived my high school–the Yiddish production of “Lord of the Flies.”  I received repeated telephone calls from the chronic organizer of  my class reunions.  (He was a complete mediocrity in high school, but apparently he is nostalgic for a past that he never had.)  As you may have discerned, I don’t share his sentimentality or morbidity.  Do I really want to count toupees or see which cheerleaders now weight more than me?    So I didn’t return the first two calls. After his third attempt, however, I felt guilty enough to call back if only to tell him that I was not interested in attending.   The news must have shocked him; he must have overestimated his charisma, too.  In his disbelief, he kept saying, “Well, that’s your right…”  (Yes, and that right was guaranteed by the Magna Carta–clause 43.  Of course, in 1215 the British barons only wanted to avoid Oxford University class reunions.) I politely said nothing, but I was seething.  “Blessed are the peacemakers”–obviously not my Testament.

Recently I ran into another high school classmate and he asked me if I was going to the reunion.  I replied, “Only if I have Ebola.” 

And now we resume our usual pedantics…
October 9, 1003:  Leif Erikson Lands in North America and Earns a Holiday in Minnesota

The Vikings are notorious for this vices, but they apparently possessed one fatal virtue: hygiene. Whether it was their fondness for saunas or the antiseptic cold of Greenland, the Vikings’ cleanliness ruined their chance to colonize North America. Starting with Leif Ericson in 1003, the Norse attempted to settle “Vinland.” Of course, the original inhabitants objected but the Vikings were never shy about other people’s property. Beyond their extrovert personalities, the Norse also had the tactical advantages of iron and steel armaments. The native American arsenal was still in the stone age. Nonetheless, the sheer number of the natives (Skraeling was the Viking name for them) made the prospect of slaughtering them rather demoralizing. And the Vikings’ damn hygiene eliminated the most effective weapon for depopulation: disease.

The Norse had nothing to infect their opponents, not a single small pox to share. Even their livestock was healthy. The “Skraelings” would have had no resistance to European germs; measles would have been a fatal plague. The Vikings then could have had Vinland to themselves. Just imagine how history would have changed: North America could have been one vast Minnesota. But the Vikings were too clean to succeed.

The Skraelings had a 500-year reprieve before they were introduced to the Spanish, French, English and small pox.

  1. Michele says:

    Eugene, I would say that I feel your reunion pain, but the moment I left high school, my family moved and all contact with the school ceased. In fact, it ceased so instantaneously that I never received my final report card. I like to believe this was intentional.

  2. Rafferty Barnes says:

    Like you. I was invited to my 10 year reunion this year. I have happy memories of high school-I spent most of my time with my history teacher Mr. Olson, who ran all the academic teams. Without him I wouldn’t have had much use for the place. Now Junior High, I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

    I like the idea of splitting the Nobel in half. It was surprising to see him get it, but they do sometimes give them to people whose first start they wish to encourage, e.g. Yasser Arafat.

  3. Eugene Finerman says:

    What, no one wants to discuss Viking cleanliness!

    Here is one more anecdote about my “invitation” to the reunion. The organizer’s idea of small talk was to mention how many of our classmates had died. In case, you are wondering–the tally is 15 out of 376. He seemed surprised; apparently, he was unfamiliar with the concept of mortality.


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