Fish Story

    Seventy years ago this spring, general Douglas MacArthur made his famous address to Congress, in which he reminded everyone that “Old Soldiers never die.  They just fade away.”  Though he was not the first to express the thought (it apparently comes from a song parody of around World War I) he made it his own in the drama of the moment.  AND he set off a joke craze.  Soon the world was filled with one liners based on it: “Old librarians never diel; they just check out” and “Old pilots never die; they ascend to a higher plane.”

    Since I had a record number of likes on my column comparing the postcard cartoonists and the unfortunate cow (I do not say a record HIGH number) I thought we might look at a few renditions of a gag which spread everywhere in the 1950s.  (If you check Wikipedia for information about the phrase “Old Soldiers, etc.”, this joke is specifically mentioned among those inspired by MacArthur.  I don’t suppose he’d feel flattered.)

    This version is prosaic, a mere picture of a fisherman about his crusade to save the world from being overpopulated by small fish.  He has not shaved in a few days, and he is wearing patched garments, but otherwise, there is nothing to emphasize the caption.

    This is no problem here.  We have added emanata, and now there is an audience to let us know exactly what they mean.  Having our onlooker (onsmeller?) be a skunk means we are receiving an expert opinion.  The fisherman himself is rather tidy, though: patched knees, perhaps, but otherwise rather trim and shipshape (dockshape?  How many words are we allowed to create in one column?)

    You will note that these happy fishermen do not have a LOT to show for their work.  This vacationer is happy to catch anything at all, and his kitten seems to feel his boots smell more interesting than those teeny fish just above her head.

    Of course, you don’t HAVE to catch anything big; this is another fisherman with a small catch who is explaining about the one who got away.  His puppy, however, again finds his boots smell more interesting than the actual fish he did catch.

    Now THIS fisherman is doing it right.  He is attracting flies, and repulsing a skunk, who is doing his best to get off this postcard.  Meanwhile, the cat has taken such an interest in the proceedings that he has devoured the first course of his fish dinner, and is thinking about the next.

    THIS fishing gentleman, however, obviously takes the gold in this competition.  Both a skunk and an outhouse are declaring his supremacy in the Stench Olympics, while the sun itself seems to have a clothespin on its nose, and flowers are wilting as he passes.  His shirt is missing a chunk, his pants are held up by a rope, and his hat and shoes have seen better days.  He has a catch he can be proud of, so much so that he isn’t going to tuck it away in a creel but carry it over his back, so the sun can bear down on it and impress his scruffy shirt with its odor.

    I have looked around the Interwebs, and I find that this joke has not faded away just yet, and although it is less available on modern postcards (modern postcards themselves being less available) you can find the sentiment on T-Shirts, coffee mugs, wall plaques, and bumper stickers.  And if you think these olfactory salutes are as distasteful as the joke about the unfortunate cow, at LEAST they developed THIS one, and not its competition “Old Fisherman never Die: They Just Can’t Raise Their Rod.”

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