One of the many things at which I dabble but never take a deep interest in is ancient history — you know, all the really old stuff that happened in places like Rome, Sumer, Atlantis and so on. As a result of this wishy-washy, hot and cold, neither here nor there fascination, I have recently been reading a book on Sumerian literature, something that most people don’t even know exists (i should clarify that it is Sumerian literature, not books, of which most people are unaware. Obviously, many people are aware of the existence of books) and so I thought I would share some bits of this fascinating culture’s mythology with all the unwashed masses out there. Here, then, is an extremely informal retelling of the great Sumerian epic “Gilgamesh And The Echidna.”
One sunny Sumerian day, about five thousand years ago, the great warrior king Gilgamesh, whose name translates as “Big, Muscly Dude With Long Pointy Beard,” was sitting in the shade of a ziggurat in Uruk, a city known in its day as “The Las Vegas of the Euphrates,” being entertained by his pet echidna, Joseph Wilson, whose name translates as “Joseph Wilson.” Joseph Wilson was a very special echidna, for he had been made from the wood of a tree from the garden of Inanna, the Goddess Of Sarcastic Comments, and could not only play chess and checkers but also sing and dance – he was especially good at standards such as “I Got Rhythm” and “Singing In The Rain.” As Joseph Wilson was about to launch into the second verse of “Singing In The Rain,” Gilgamesh heard a terrible rumbling, as if the earth itself had eaten too much bad chili, and suddenly a crack appeared in the earth, and into the crack that appeared in the earth fell his beloved pet echidna, Joseph Wilson. Down Joseph went, sinking into the stygian darkness like a spiky marsupial falling into a very dark place, and causing Gilgamesh much distress, for Gilgamesh knew well that what lay under the earth was the dreaded Sumerian underworld, Irkalla – the Land Of The Dead and kingdom of Ereshkigal, Goddess Of The Underworld. Peering down into the hole, Gilgamesh saw that his echidna had landed in Ereshkigal’s arms and so he yelled out, “Oi! Give me back me echidna, ya bloody wanker!”
And up from the hellish depths sounded a sepulchral voice…
“I don’t think so, knucklehead. Joseph Wilson is a very entertaining little fellow, and we have no cable down here and our internet is always conking out on us! So nuts to you!” replied Ereshkigal before running away with Joseph Wilson lifted high over her head. Gilgamesh then realized that there was no other solution to this problem than to descend into the underworld to retrieve his musical marsupial. Usually this would be the kind of task that would fall to Gilgamesh’s servant, Stepin Fetchit, but that particular day Stepin was away at an NAACP meeting, so Gilgamesh had to do his own dirty work for once.
Storming home in a huff (a huff was a sort of ancient Sumerian chariot) Gilgamesh went into his armory to make ready for his excursion into the much dreaded Land of the Dead, a terrible place where souls were lost, the senses dulled, and the French fries always a little too salty. Putting on his armor, which, like pretty much everything else in Sumer, was made of mud, was a bit of a bother without Stepin to help him, so he called out to his neighbor’s Mexican gardener Enkidu, who came round and helped to strap him into the armor with the help of some Krazy Glue. Then Gilgamesh grabbed his shield, strapped to his belt a small bag full of odds and ends that might come in handy when facing the undead, and picked up a large petrified salami which he had brought back after his last trip to Italy. Making his way back to the hole in the ground into which Joseph Wilson had fallen, Gilgamesh tied a rope to the ziggurat and ordered Enkidu to stay by the rope till he was told otherwise or until the immigration people came round, whichever happened first. Then the great warrior king Gilgamesh climbed down the hole into the netherworld to retrieve his beloved echidna.
After what seemed like several hours of climbing down the rope and then some unpleasantly carpeted stairs, but was in fact only about 1 minute and 17 seconds, Gilgamesh arrived at the bottom of the crevasse ( a crevasse was an ancient, Sumerian hole in the ground.) At first, he could see for only about five cubits in front of him, so dark was the underworld into which he had bravely descended. But as his eyes adjusted to the gloom Gilgamesh was able to see more and more cubits, and eventually he noticed a sinister gated wall off in the distance. This, he knew from watching documentaries on the History Channel, was the first of the seven successive gates to the underworld. And so, steeling himself for the fearsome task ahead, his petrified salami in hand, the great warrior king set off to rescue his echidna.
Arriving at the first of the seven gates, Gilgamesh was stopped by its monstrous guardian, an eight armed creature wearing the skins of the dead, an undersized bowler hat, and garish, neon-green spandex tights. When this civil servant from hell asked Gilgamesh to surrender his underwear, Gilgamesh diplomatically replied…
“What the bloody hell for, ya wallaby’s arsehole?”
“It is the law of Ereshkigal, o’ foul-mouthed one. All must surrender an item of clothing as they pass each gate. Don’t blame me, dude, I just work here.”
“Bah! Screw the bloody rules!” said Gilgamesh, as he struck the many-armed guardian’s head with the petrified salami, causing him to cry out in much pain and reach for a bottle of aspirins. And so it went as Gilgamesh made his way through the seven gates. Each time the gate’s fearsome guardian would ask for an item of clothing, and each time Gilgamesh would knock them senseless with the petrified salami and continue merrily on his way. Finally, still fully clad in his mighty armor of mud, Gilgamesh arrived at the door to Ganzer, the underground palace in which Ereshkigal dwelt with her husband Nergal and a family of slightly retarded millennials. Gilgamesh thumped his mighty fist on the massive wooden door and yelled, “Oi, it’s Gilgamesh ‘ere! I’ve come for me echidna! Give him over if you know what’s good for ya, ya dumb wombats!”
At this stately introduction the door was opened by Charlie Chan, who had been invited over for the weekend and who explained that no other visitors were being permitted at this moment as the Queen of the Underworld and her family were in the middle of filming their reality TV show, “Keeping Up With ‘Kigal”. Displeased at this unexpected impediment, Gilgamesh kicked the door in and stormed into the gloomy palace. After beating the camera crew senseless with the petrified salami and choking several TV executives to death with their own beards, Gilgamesh confronted Ereshkigal and demanded she hand over his echidna.
“Oi! Give me back me echidna, ya platypus’s bollock!” he yelled ferociously while wildly waving his salami in the air.
But Ereshkigal was not one to be easily intimidated, for was she not the Queen of the Underworld? Did she not command an army of the undead? Had she not been the head of the AV club in High School? No, Ereshkigal was not one to give up her ill-earned echidna so easily, and so she repeatedly struck Gilgamesh with a can of salmon that she carried for such purposes till his head throbbed and his ears rang. Gilgamesh was so enraged by this piece of fishy business that he smashed Ereshkigal’s head with the frozen salami, causing her to bounce off the walls of her palace like a manic pinball (pinball was an ancient Sumerian game that involved bouncing dwarves off palace walls.) Neither Ereshkigal’s family nor Charlie Chan could let this pass, so they attacked Gilgamesh by throwing balls of mud at him, for in Sumer, below as above, there wasn’t much but mud. Overwhelmed by so many opponents and blinded by the mud in his eyes, all Gilgamesh could do was to swing his salami wildly around in the hopes that it would hit someone. It was at this point that Joseph Wilson, who had been sitting quietly on the sidelines, eating a bowl of sugared ants and enjoying the show, decided to take action. Grabbing a rope conveniently dangling from the ceiling, Joseph Wilson swung around like some spiky little Errol Flynn, kicking his master’s assailants in the back of their heads while singing an Irving Berlin medley which, for some strange reason, included snatches from Judas Priest’s “Beyond The Realms Of Death.”
Thanks to Joseph Wilson’s distraction, Gilgamesh was able to find himself a bottle of Seltzer and soon sprayed the mud out of his eyes. His sight restored, Gilgamesh and his salami swung into action. Undead bodyguards went flying all over the place, walls and ceilings came crashing down, and soon he and Joseph Wilson had laid waste to their enemies and the palace was littered with the corpses of the dead, the moans of the dying, and the sounds of retarded millennials taking selfies in front of the carnage.
By now Ereshkigal had stopped wildly bouncing off the walls and stood up, dusted herself off, and confronted Gilgamesh and his echidna. Furious, she pulled out a scythe and threatened to behead Joseph Wilson, stating that if she couldn’t have the magical marsupial, neither could anyone else. Enraged by this threat against his echidna, Gilgamesh reached into his little bag of odds and ends and pulled out a fistful of marbles, which he threw into Ereshkigal’s path as she charged towards them at full speed. Stepping on the marbles, Ereshkigal went comically flying through the air, allowing Gilgamesh enough time to grab the scythe and slice her head clean off. Being the Queen Of The Underworld, however, this did not kill her, though it did stop her from doing any line dancing for a while. Grabbing her head and placing it on a nearby pile of corpses, Gilgamesh told Ereshkigal to leave well enough alone and allow him and Joseph Wilson to depart in peace or he would call PETA and have her charged with echidna-napping – just imagine the furor that would cause on social media! Fearing that the outrage of millions of tweeting pinheads would be damaging to her incipient career as a reality TV star, Ereshkigal grudgingly allowed Gilgamesh and his echidna to depart for the upper world, but not before putting a curse on Gilgamesh that his mud armor would mysteriously turn to brown sludge as soon as the rains arrived – which is why you very rarely see Sumerians wearing mud armor these days. And so Gilgamesh and Joseph Wilson departed for the upper world, where they lived and danced and sang happily ever after, all while being very careful to avoid large holes in the ground.
And that, boys and girls, is the tale of how Gilgamesh vanquished Ereshkigal and her army of the undead and rescued his beloved echidna from the underworld. Some day, i will get around to telling you the story of how Gilgamesh convinced the IRS to given him a 30 day extension – but that is a tale for another day.
Have you ever looked at one of your friends through a goldfish bowl? No, of course you haven’t! What kind of idiot would do such a bizarre thing?!?!? But this isn’t about you, or your goldfish, or your friends! No, this is about an old TV show called “Lassie” and an old TV kid called Timmy Martin, so stop being so damn self-centered!
Being an urbane and sophisticated man of culture, I make it my business to acquaint myself with as many fine cultural products as I possibly can. More often than not, what this adds up to is looking through the bargain bins and thrift shops for DVDs of old TV shows. This is how I came to be acquainted with the old “Lassie” TV series, the one that was set on a farm, and which began in the Fifties and ended at about the same time as that war where the US got beaten up by little yellow men. Unlike many once-popular TV shows, some of which have ended up as palatable as a bottle of milk that’s been lying in the sun since the Eisenhower administration, this one has held up nicely and is still rather entertaining, albeit not quite what I expected.
A couple of things strike me as odd about the classic Lassie series. The first is Lassie herself. Sure, she’s a sort of Super Dog who understands everything the humans say, she opens windows and doors all by herself, and does all the family’s accounting, but I can’t help but notice that she also does a lot of whining. In fact, whining seems to be her most common vocalization. This leads me to believe that Lassie is some sort of neurotic worrier who is constantly fretting over the most minor of things and that she could probably use some Valium, or at least a week in the Hamptons. Really, the old girl needs to learn to relax or she’s going to get an ulcer or drop dead of a heart attack – and then who will get Timmy out of trouble?
And that’s the other odd thing – poor Timmy is always finding himself in some sort of trouble, usually rather bizarre trouble. These troubles are too numerous to enumerate, but a few instances seem especially worthy of closer analysis, so here goes nothing – and let’s hope I’m not attacked by the refrigerator while I’m writing this thing.
In “Lassie and the Tiger,” Timmy finds himself trapped inside the house with an escaped tiger. A German tiger, at that, and no doubt some sort of Nazi war criminal just stopping over on his way to Argentina. What happens is that young Timmy goes off to the local fishin’ hole to do some fishin’ and runs into a tiger that’s gone a-swimmin’. Yes, if anyone could do something as unlikely as run into a tiger while fishing, it’s our boy Timmy! Neither Timmy nor Lassie are terribly pleased at this turn of events, but at least Timmy has the good sense to not go chasing after the thing! Not that it does him much good, as the tiger somehow evades Lassie and manages to double back and follow Timmy home. Like a not-so-ancient mariner, Timmy knows that something frightful doth close behind him tread. But he’s too smart to provoke the tiger by making a run for it, so he just keeps walking, albeit with a rather worried look on his face! When they get home, Timmy cleverly closes the door before the tiger can follow him inside, but the tiger is offended at having the door slammed in his face so he climbs in through the kitchen window and now Timmy is trapped in the kitchen with a tiger who can’t cook! Poor Timmy is so freaked out that he starts climbing the furniture! But, luckily, this is a gourmet tiger who prefers pancakes and waffles to little boys, and so he retaliates against his host’s rude behavior by eating the breakfast leftovers! All turns out well, of course, when the tiger is captured by the police and taken off to the hoosegow while ranting about the Jews and the communists.
Then there’s “Timmy Pisses Off the Police,” in which our hero gets several tickets for running red lights and speeding while frantically driving a pregnant Lassie to the dog hospital. Luckily, the cunning little fellow has disguised Lassie in a blonde wig and one of his mother’s old maternity dresses, so the cops think they are dealing with a human pregnancy and end up giving Timmy and the missus an escort to the hospital. Unfortunately, it’s a human hospital so the doctors are all seriously freaked out when “Mrs. Martin” finally drops her six surprise packages! Fearing an epidemic of furry little children, the hospital calls in the Centers for Disease Control, who proceed to blame the whole event on some insidious plot by the communists, probably something to do with fluoridization of the water supply. In the ensuing chaos, Timmy, Lassie, and the kids manage to escape back to the farm by hiding in the laundry hamper and pretending to be some dirty shirts.
Unlike that other yellow-haired trouble magnet, Bart Simpson, Timmy never wound up trapped down a well — but he did wind up trapped up a cliff! This unlikely event befalls him in “The Rescue,” an episode in which, like some stupid cat, Timmy climbs halfway up a cliff face before realizing that he can neither continue upwards nor go back down! And now the cliff is starting to crumble! And there’s a scorpion in his shoe! And he needs his insulin! But luckily there is a man flying a helicopter nearby and he throws a lifejacket down to Timmy, proving once again that pilots are idiots! Now Timmy’s mom comes along and lights a fire to attract another, hopefully more intelligent, helicopter pilot. But the fire turns out to be a very smoky one, so now on top of everything else Timmy has smoke in his eyes and can’t see squat! And then things get even worse! The fire spreads! Now the whole countryside is on fire! And Timmy is still stuck up the cliff and waiting for his insulin! And Lassie is just sitting around looking like she doesn’t give a crap! But now a second helicopter pilot arrives. He lands and asks Timmy’s mother how the hell the kid got up there, to which Timmy’s mom earnestly replies that her son is a congenital idiot. Then the pilot gets back in the copter and lowers a rope. But he does so before taking off, and so it doesn’t work! Now he’s up in the air, and gets the rope to Timmy, and Timmy is finally off the cliff and back on the ground! But now there’s still the fire to be put out! Then Lassie, finally leaping into action, takes advantage of the pilot being distracted by putting out the fire to steal the man’s helicopter, no doubt for some nefarious purpose of her own.
In “Peace Patrol” everything starts out well — if you can call taking part in a program aimed at getting kids to give Richard Nixon their money “starting out well.” It would appear that back in the Fifties Uncle Sam had a government savings bond program for children, the idea being to con little kids into lending the government their pocket money by getting the Lone Ranger to spout some jingoistic claptrap. Timmy, being a typically naïve American, decides to take part in the program and starts saving up his pennies so he can help the Peace Patrol fight those damn dirty commies! Soon, however, the box containing all the Peace Patrol money goes missing and Timmy ends up being accused of being a communist himself and brought before the House Un-American Activities Committee. As per the usual formula, all turns out well after Lassie sneaks into the hearings cunningly disguised as a guy selling peanuts and tears out Joe McCarthy’s throat. Of course, as any amateur historian knows, McCarthy didn’t actually carry out the HUAC hearings, but on that particular day he was there just to gloat and his grisly death provided Lassie and Timmy with the distraction they needed to make a clean getaway…
In “Little Boy Lost,” Timmy somehow ends up trapped in the brand new refrigerator, which seems to be some sort of gateway to another dimension. While trapped in this other dimension Timmy can’t be seen, but he can be heard constantly pleading for some DDT as the place is crawling with more bugs than a Mexican burrito. Weary of his constant complaints, mom and dad tie a rope around Lassie’s waist and send her in to retrieve him. Finding the boy, Lassie takes his head in her mouth and drags him back to our dimension. But, Timmy being Timmy, right after escaping from the refrigerator he is attacked by a barrel and ends up spending six weeks in a coma!
Then there’s “The Space Traveler,” in which the poor little fellow becomes radioactive! I kid you not – he goes out playing in the woods and bumps into a NASA capsule that has dropped from space. Problem is, it was sent up into a radiation belt or some such thing and so just by handling it poor Timmy has become radioactive! You can tell he’s radioactive because when they run the Geiger counter over him the thing goes nuts! To make matters worse, there’s a guinea pig inside the capsule and Timmy accidentally sets it loose! So now he’s radioactive and being sued by the U.S government for stealing a highly trained, genetically modified guinea pig who, it was hoped, would one day run for the U.S senate! Once again all ends well when Lassie finds the escaped guinea pig down at the bank trying to cash in his Lone Ranger savings bonds so he can flee the country and Timmy is taken to the local army base to be de-contaminated.
In “The Champ” Timmy falls into an empty, abandoned, swimming pool while trying to rescue a piglet. Not such bad news, really, except that while trying to escape he knocks open some valve or something and now the pool is filling up! With the help of an improvised slingshot Timmy manages to hurl the piglet out of the pool and into the next county, but is himself still trapped. Presumably not having learnt to swim, Timmy realizes that he is about to suffer a biblical fate and needs succor real soon. Luckily this arrives in the form of Timmy’s dad, who has been summoned by the piglet, and who pulls Timmy out of the pool. Where Lassie is in all this, I do not know. Hell, maybe she’s finally spending that week in the Hamptons! This is also one of the few episodes that led to real life trouble for Timmy & Co, as the pig in question was part black and part white. This led Billy Bob Succotash, Grand Wizard of the Alabama chapter of the Klan, to lead a campaign trying to get the show cancelled, complaining that, “That there pig is miscejuh…er…miseguh…er. That there pig had a white momma and a black daddy!”
In “Bows and Arrows,” for some inexplicable reason, Timmy and an older kid with no chin and a really annoying personality are out trying to catch themselves a lynx. While chinless goes off to try to kill the critter with a bow and a stolen arrow, Timmy, being a more compassionate sort, busies himself setting up one of those snares where you bend a small tree, tie a rope to it, then put a noose on the other end, stick it on the ground and hope some idiot comes along and ends up hanging upside down from the tree. In this case the snare works and Timmy gets his wish but, alas, the idiot in question is himself! Yes, in classic cartoon fashion, Timmy somehow ends up snared by his own snare and hanging upside down like a side of pork! And to make matters worse, that lynx has decided to come ‘round and he thinks that pork looks pretty good! So now Timmy is swinging back and forth trying to avoid the cat’s attempts to rip his head off, and everyone is freaking out and in a general panic. But worry not, for Lassie, despite having been accidentally shot in the shoulder by the jerk with no chin, comes to the rescue and beats the ferocious kitty senseless with a baseball bat, and then a man comes along and shoots the bad kitty dead. Timmy is pulled down from the tree and, not wanting to waste the meat, takes the lynx home so he can make him into some lasagna.
Guess what happens in “Timmy Falls Through The Floor”? That’s right, the poor kid ends up lost at sea. No, I’m kidding – he actually falls through the floor. Seems young Timmy and his outsized friend Boomer (played by a young Meat Loaf in one of his earliest acting roles) are out gathering bioluminescent fungus as part of a dastardly plan to gross out some girls, when the two venture into some sort of abandoned cabin, the floor gives way (Master Loaf’s fault, no doubt) and both Timmy and Boomer end up trapped in what appears to be the cellar. To make things worse the place is condemned and due to be demolished – and guess when the bulldozer turns up! That’s right, several months after Timmy and Boomer have escaped! No, I’m kidding again – it’s while they are still trapped inside. Lassie tries to chew her way through the outside cellar door, but the old girl’s teeth just aren’t up to it so instead she just stands around looking pathetic. Luckily, Boomer saves the day by scaring the bulldozers away by belting out a stirring rendition of “Bat Out Of Hell,” an especially impressive feat as it takes place almost twenty years before the song was written!
And those are just the highlights. Don’t get me started on Timmy being attacked by geese, pecked by chickens, hassled by Krishnas, taking too much LSD and hallucinating about figures from Greek mythology, being freaked out by an eclipse, living on the world’s fakest-looking farm, causing army planes to crash, and getting an attack of appendicitis with complications ( the complications being that one of his legs falls off. ) Whoever would have guessed that the world of the Fifties was such a dangerous place for children? Maybe Timmy should have just drawn the curtains and stayed home all day, but with his luck a tiger would probably have broken in…