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The Essay
Show #370
David Gunn

Pestilence. Poverty. Illiteracy. Decrepitude. Sterility. Terminal illness. The economy. Panic. Terrorism. Torture. War. Anchovies. It's so easy to focus on the more unpleasant aspects of life, which seem to be with us in such abundance these days. Starvation, colonoscopies, avarice, lust, pride, envy, gluttony, anger and sloth--i.e. the South American arboreal mammal whose long, hooklike claws allow it to hang upside down from tree branches and feed on leaves, buds, fruit and the occasional small child of the Zapara tribe whose overactive kibble gland produces an aroma irresistible to the otherwise herbivorous animal. Bad news, vibes, minton and gers are the rule, rather than the exception. Mankind is in a rut. Well, before we--and I'm including some of the Great Apes here--are overwhelmed by any more malificences (though I think gluttony and lust deserve a second chance), let's change the mood. Forget about melancholy, depression, the apparent closure of this radio station and other gloomy events. Today, letís be happy!

What does it mean to be happy? Who better to ask than the experts: a clam, a lark, a clown, a hog in mud, a boarding house pup, and a trigger.

Clam. The clam is the traditional similitudian appositive of happy, as in "as a clam." But it was not always so. For millennia, this marine animal was the veritable sourpuss of the mollusk phylum. Its two symmetrical shells which, along with a dorsal hinge joint, form the mouth, were nearly always pulled down in an expression of underwater glumness. Bivalvologists attributed it to their habitat, which was disagreeably moist, sticky and cold to the touch, i.e. clammy. But once the entire phylum was relocated to a huge artificial seabed at Sea World, where the water temperature is a balmy 78 degrees and the TV is always tuned to the Pelecypoda Channel, their spirits improved with littleneck speed. From gloom to glad took only a few score of generations. Today, it's the pariah clam that is not happy.

Lark. The lark is neither happy nor sad. It's just a bird, after all, with a brain the size of a tiddlywink. The personified happy entity is in reality larkspur. This common perennial plant of the buttercup family boasts feathery leaves and loose racemes of blue, white, pink and purple flowers. Alas, it's happiness is tinged with rancor, for its degree of glee is in direct proportion to the number of livestock that die from grazing it. Thus, to be as happy as larkspur suggests a sinister side to the attendant smirk.

Clown. It's the job of the clown to appear happy, comical, ludicrous, goofy. But as you might expect, itís all a ruse, a sham, a subterfuge. Who knows a clown who inwardly isn't morose, depressed, forlorn, spermicidal? The erstwhile television cynosure Happy The Clown, for instance, was a psychiatrist's dream patient. Complementing his zany on-stage antics was an off-stage temperament rich in harrowing pathologies. The more risible his public shenanigans, the darker, more dangerous were his private thoughts. Consequently, it's important to differentiate between happy as the clown and happy as a clown, which is the accurate analogy.

Hog in mud. Are you kidding? Does anybody really say this? I think the more graphic but less radio-admissible "un porc dans la merde" is the more appropriate metaphor for happiness today, given contemporary society's burgeoning appetite for things scatological.

Boarding house pup. During the early 19th and late 20th centuries, resourceful young tatterdemalions in the villages of England, Gondwanaland and Aaroncopland rounded up stray dogs and carted them off to the municipal abattoir for recontextualization into foie faux gras, in exchange for a shilling apiece. Alarmed at its growing loss of market share, the genuine foie gras industry countered by hiring mercenary social workers to liberate the dogs. The industry even constructed small houses in which to temporarily shelter the animals. The structure was crude and rough, often no more than a few dozen boards slapped together. But this "house of boards," or maison des conseils, gradually gained the reputation of a sanctuary for both four-legged and two-legged refugees. And today's boarding house, while a few accommodation degrees shy of a B&B, is still a place cozy enough to make even the stray pup happy.

Trigger. To be trigger-happy, or to shoot a firearm before adequately identifying the target, was once attributed to the disposition of the organism with the firearm. But anthropomorphologists have shown that the trigger itself is the root of both the action and its concomitant happiness. At the slightest pressure from the gun toter's finger, the little lever releases cheery little pheromones, instantly imbuing the gunster with thoughts of utter happiness.

Serendipitously, the interview portion of today's 370th episode of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar features a performance artist whose latest touring production is entitled "Happiness," and whose name, if I mentioned it, you'd recognize in a New York minute, almost as fast as if, even with one lip tied behind my mouth, I'd said the name Kalvos.