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Ask A. Brain – Close Captioning?

A. Brain himselfQuestion: I’m in a bad way. Almost 30 years ago I subscribed to the New Yorker. At that time a government employee wearing short blue pants would hand-carry an actual physical copy of an ink-and-paper magazine to my door, which was located some 3000 miles from the city of New York. I paid a promotional rate of maybe 75 cents an issue. The publisher and the government must’ve both taken a bath on my six-month subscription. I even received some sort of a canvas tote bag for signing on to the deal. Unbelievable!

Anyway, I soon tired of reading about Manhattan events I couldn’t very well attend, and reviews of fancy French and Italian restaurants tucked away on the Upper East Side tended to make me feel dissatisfied with my local Del Taco. And I was disappointed by the quality of the vaunted New Yorker fiction: nothing at all from Salinger and one tepid piece from Updike in the entire six months. But the cartoons! I’ve missed the cartoons.

Another loser.Fast-forward to a couple of years ago. The online version of the magazine is a joy to read. It features the best, snootiest typeface on the Internet. I can almost smell the glossy paper and soy-based ink. It’s intoxicating! In two years I haven’t stumbled once upon its theater listings or a single restaurant review. I don’t even know that the “Talk of the Town” section still exists. Glorious! Salinger and Updike are dead, so I don’t expect much from the fiction editor. But the cartoons … ugh!

Classic New Yorker cartoons have gone extinct. No longer can I find the sort of inscrutable humor that used to leave me puzzled for days. What did that trench-coated panhandler mean by “Need to spend a penny, mate?” How to interpret the “Stirred?” spoken across a table to an anthropomorphic reptile by a fashionable woman holding a martini? Profound non sequiturs, teasing uppercrust in-jokes, or just an inebriated editor–who could say? I miss those days and have been fighting every week to bring them back as I submit entries in the Cartoon Caption Contest.

RogerLately though, I just haven’t managed to summon the requisite ennui. I’m too earnest. I try too hard. My entries reek of the Upper Midwest prairie, not the Algonquin. I know this sad cri de le plongeon huard[1] is too long, too pathetic, and too Lutheran to run in one of your columns, but I have to ask: should I give it up? After all, even Roger Ebert submitted more than 200 losing entries. Now it appears primary schoolers are in the game. I don’t stand a chance. Please advise.

— [Name and city withheld by request]

Answer: Fear not Bach-o, the length of your whining missive is no more a disqualifier than is its postmark from the frozen wasteland of St Paul. In fact, I get paid by the word here–and that includes your words (my agent is sharp!)–so no need to apologize my quixotic friend.

I read through your letter. Skimmed it, really, because it is overlong and uninteresting. I’d be tempted to respond “just write shorter captions, Steve-o!” on a hunch, but you were generous enough to send me several examples of your efforts, and so I feel obliged to respond in more detail. (And, of course, there is that per-word incentive.)

What it is that makes you think your pedestrian captions recall the glory days of New Yorker cartoons I couldn’t possibly say. Almost every example I saw made me pine for the humor of the worst of the “Nancy” comic strip.[2] Not since Richard Nixon on Laugh-In have I been exposed to your level of comedic ineptitude.

Oh, your “At first, I didn’t want him to see a shrink” (above) almost drew a half-chuckle, but a comparison of your entry in this week’s contest (below left) with an entry chosen at random from the efforts of Miss Bonita’s 3rd-grade class (below right), should serve to illustrate your sad incompetence as a humorist.

No chance. This could win.

James Thurber surely rolls over in his grave each time some unfortunate intern joylessly rejects another of your captions. Calvin Trillin probably wishes he had a grave in which to spin. Upwards of 6000 entries are submitted weekly to the put-upon judges of this meaningless contest. Give them and yourself a break. Find a new outlet for your, um, creative talents. Maybe write a crossword.

With highest regards, et cetera.

— A. Brain


  1. See Wikipedia’s Plongeon huard. [^]
  2. As funny as I'd remembered. [^]


A. Brain himself Every week Once a month Occasionally, Mr Adelbert B Brain answers one of your questions exclusively for Bachblog. He is a self-taught holistic podiatrist, currently in search of office space in a location promising high foot traffic. In his spare time he collects discarded lottery tickets and listens to the music of Wreckless Eric. He lives in a van and watches television surreptitiously at his local Best Buy.
The Complete A. Brain:
04/12/2018 Close Captioning?
03/10/2017 The Pelican Dylan
10/09/2013 Cometology
01/31/2013 Shakespeariana
10/31/2012 The Mayans, Santa Claus and Bacon
04/03/2011 Potholes and Sinkholes
11/28/2010 Snoring Crosses the Line
10/14/2010 An Agony of the Feet

See also About Adelbert B. Brain

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