Each week The New Yorker has a caption contest at the back of the magazine. Readers can submit an idea for a caption online that would accompany a quirky cartoon drawn by one of the magazine’s cartoonists.
Members of the editorial staff then sort through what must be thousands of potential captions and narrow them down to three, which are then put to an online vote so readers can determine their favorite.
The winner is acknowledged as such in a subsequent issue and receives an autographed original of the cartoon with the appropriately credited caption.
Since brevity is the soul of wit, winning captions are invariably witty and brief. I’ve submitted several entries over the past few years and haven’t even made the final three. Either I haven’t found the formula or my captions just aren’t very good, or both.
Take the most recent contest I entered last month. The cartoon shows a scene inside a funeral home. The deceased is lying in quiet repose for an open viewing while a couple in mourning stands alongside paying their respects.
Both are wearing sunglasses, and she is seen to be quietly murmuring something as he gently places a reassuring hand behind her shoulder. The twist is that an IV line is found sneaking out of the casket where it is attached to a bag of fluid suspended from an IV pole. What’s the caption?
Well, I wrote down a couple of things, including “He always was a bit of a drip.” I’ll submit that, I thought. Why not? It’s brief, witty (maybe), with a touch of curmudgeonly irony, and even has a certain metric rhythm.
The editorial staff wasn’t impressed. Their top three choices were, “We’ll eventually miss him,” “He never could commit” and “He had great health insurance.”
Readers will have determined their favorite by the time you read this, though if you went online, you might have found at least one write-in vote. Hmm, I wonder whose that was? (Just kidding, no write-ins allowed.)
And in the humor department, did you hear the one about the fellow who went to his doctor and asked if he’d live to be 100 by giving up liquor, tobacco products, red meat and sex? “No,” the doctor replied, “but it will certainly feel like it.”
The piece here a couple of weeks ago about the old county library building generated lots of response. Interestingly, none of the letters I received stood up for the bedraggled structure, although one defending the old library did run on the editorial page several days ago. Here’s a sampling of the commentary:
Jenny Bevan, of the architectural firm Bevan and Liberatos, whose presentation inspired my remarks, says, “The library’s preservation worthiness is a ‘hot’ and complex topic and you managed to address the issue with both depth and grace.
“Even though our local preservation ordinance is guided by the tradition and the national standards descend from international modernist manifestos, it is the national standards which now guide the Preservation Society. It is endlessly frustrating to see Charleston’s local culture usurped by the fashions of international preservation. The inability of the national preservation standards to reconcile with a community’s local culture is their main failure and the cause of much contradiction in the minds of those preservationists who love old buildings and are being taught that we ought not build them anymore.”
The Rev. Brian McGreevy, Porter-Gaud’s school chaplain and a member of the clergy at St. Philip’s Church, knows a thing or two about preservation, having worked in a previous life for the Historic Charleston Foundation, the National Trust and the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation. He also participated with the International Council on Monuments and Sites and Les Vieilles Maisons Francaises.
He writes (in part), “It has been a source of increasing dismay to me to see the architectural community in Charleston falling slavishly in line with the flawed tenets of modernism ... I feel that I have at least a clue about this topic, and it is truly dismay-ing to see the priceless ambiance of Charleston being tawdried by these intrusions.”
In addition to “unfortunate older structures” such as the former county library, the writer cites the Jewish Studies Center at the College of Charleston and the “horrific proposed Clemson Center” as among “the new blights on the city.”
J. Addison Ingle Jr. gets in a good-natured and all-too-accurate jab: “May I take you to task for poor punctuation? Late in your article you said: ‘and you have a modernist structure that belongs ... well, outside the Historic District.’ I am SURE that you meant to say, ‘... a modernist structure that belongs well outside the Historic District.’
Here’s an amusing vignette from Dave Fortiere. “My wife, nee Nancy Siegling, tells me an anecdote related to the library. She was attending a Junior League function downtown about the time the library was built, and the subject of it came up in conversation. Her comments and observations were very much like yours, but then it was pointed out that the architect’s wife was standing right next to her and overheard everything. It was nearly the end of her Junior League experience.”
Edward M. Gilbreth is a Charleston physician. Reach him at edwardgilbreth@ comcast.net.