Evelyn Waugh eats the bananas
1. This week, in my capacity as an advice columnist I learned about "birthday spanking," a tradition I was previously unfamiliar with. My final ruling on the subject is that time marches on, that mainstream society has left behind lighthearted spanking-based customs in the same way we have generally left behind spanking as a Totally Unquestioned And Normal Thing We Do To Kids, and it's a great idea to let the birthday spanking recede into the past, along with littering after picnics and Fruitopia. This has resulted in a great many letters, mostly from men of a certain age, who wish to communicate to me three things, and three things only:
- Some people make a big deal over nothing
- A fairly detailed description of the birthday spankings they received as a child
- "I turned out fine"
Which, you know, I'm always happy to hear from people who are doing well, I truly am, but let's not be so hasty to assume the reason these men are all doing fine is because they received regular birthday spankings. The birthday spankings perhaps do not enter into the current fine-ness!
At any rate, I suppose what I am doing now is releasing the following intention into the universe: I no longer need more information about whether or not strangers were jocularly spanked on their birthday. Please deliver that knowledge elsewhere; I am currently at capacity.
2. I talked to Patricia Lockwood about her book Priestdaddy, Dad Internet vs. Daddy Internet, being a religious teenager at Denny's, and that one Evelyn Waugh story where he ate all those bananas to remind his children how much being a child in England sucks.
MO: Oh my God, now that we’re talking about memoirs and Catholicism I feel like we have to talk about the Evelyn Waugh banana story. You’re familiar, yes? It is the most Waugh story of all time and I love it. Here are the relevant components:
– Evelyn Waugh
– Wartime rationing
– Three beautiful bananas of unknown provenance
– One wife of Evelyn Waugh
– Assorted English children
Evelyn’s oldest son, Auberon, who would later go on to write five novels before renouncing novel-writing (allegedly out of fear of being compared to his father but like, a little late for that, Auberon, after the five novels) claimed that during World War II that Evelyn Waugh’s second wife, Laura Herbert, somehow managed to get her hands on three bananas and brought them home for their then-five children, whereupon Evelyn sat all the children down, peeled the bananas in front of them and sliced them (the bananas, not the children) into a bowl, covered them with cream and sugar, and ate them all himself. Which:
1. That is straight up raw Bananas Foster, that is horrible
2. Three bananas seems like a LOT
3. That feels a little over-the-top even for Evelyn Waugh
4. I think this is the opposite of Communion, can you confirm this?
5. This is the most English anecdote of all time because it combines withholding fathers, unspoken resentments, quietly desperate mothers, joyless desserts, excess without pleasure, public discipline, and peeling something.
Auberon concluded in his autobiography that “It would be absurd to say that I never forgave him, but he was permanently marked down in my estimation from that moment.” And I think that’s a genuinely beautiful line, and it struck me as really true of your book—that there’s a great deal of forgiveness in it, and not just the sort of forgiveness that really means not looking at bad things, I mean earned forgiveness, and forgiveness that isn’t based on the grace of the recipient. And there’s also more than a few moments of realizing that you have to mark someone down in your estimation, someone you love and want to be proud of, and it’s not the same thing as keeping score, but it’s painful and it’s necessary. This is not a score-settling type of book, I don’t think, although it is certainly possible to read Priestdaddy and feel very strongly that someone should be settling a score. Does that strike you as at all correct, or have I misread you utterly?
PL: Yeah. My dad is by nature and inclination a Three-Banana Eater. Though as I say in the book, when this tendency is pointed out to him in passing, he begins carefully offering half his food to whoever is sitting near him, like a chimp. It is impossible to know what people know about themselves. We assume they’re operating with full knowledge of their defects at all times, are even wielding their defects against us, but if you sat me down right now and told me my most glaring character flaw, the one that is most apparent to everyone else in the world, I would burst into tears from the sheer surprise of it, and also why are you being mean to me.
3. You guys have probably already seen this, but I hadn't, and so I wanted to share it anyways. Every once in a while I'll come across a piece that doesn't just delight me but also makes me long to cross a cold and silver sea in order to fling myself down at the feet of whoever wrote it and swear my undying fealty to them. I have, like Galehault, only ever longed to meet someone worthy of surrendering to. Daniel Kolitz is one of those writers. Riveyoncé Cuoknowles is another. They have created a world in which Drake and Sufjan Stevens are in love and married, which is the truest thing I have ever heard, even though it has never happened.
sufjan: Hello My Little Aubrey Drake Graham Cracker
drake: hey babe! i’m loving those wings
sufjan: Thank You I Painted Them Myself Using Pixie Tears
drake: so how’s your soundcheck going? sing me something!
sufjan: I Fell In Love Again, All Things Go, All Things Go, Drove To Toronto…
drake: ha! i love it
sufjan: Yes I Thought You Might Enjoy That Minor Lyrical Modification
drake: i do, i do… but hey, you don’t seem happy! what’s wrong?
sufjan: Well It Seems That This Effort To Document Our Improbable Yet Pulchritudinous Romantic Relationship Is Aggravating The General Populace
drake: what do you mean?
sufjan: The People Tag Our Dialogues With Phrases Such As “Delete This” And “I Am Screaming” and “This Is Literally The Worst Thing I Have Ever Seen”
drake: oh… sufy… babe… those are all good things, actually! i mean, i think? it’s just, uh… the cool thing now is to say the opposite of what you mean. like, if you see a funny joke, and you like it, you go, “i hate this! this is the worst!”
sufjan: Oh! I Understand! So I Would Say - By Way Of Example - “Aubrey, I Hate You, You Are The Worst Thing I Have Ever Laid Eyes Upon, I Scream At You”
drake: there you go, haha… you’re getting the hang of it
sufjan: Thank You For Explicating This Strange Trend I No Longer Feel Morose
drake: no worries, babe… and remember, you can always come to me if you’re feeling sad! there’s never a bad time or place to talk about your feelings! remember: we run through the six. with our woes. together.
sufjan: Oh Aubrey… Delete This
Last night someone very kindly told me I was texting too much during a meeting, and they were right, and I felt ashamed of myself, because I remember thinking to myself as I was texting during the meeting, "I am barely texting at all during this meeting. Someone should commend me for my tremendous restraint in sending and reading so few texts." I am almost never the best judge of what I am doing. I miss all of you.