buy" and don't give much of a hoot if
So much for following in Poppa Ralph's
And, devoted tea-sipper Chast may be,
but even this noble beverage has not
escaped her harpoon. A few years ago, she
published a ditty entitled "The Thabag
Man or woman,
Boy or girl,
You must try the
Wind her up and
Let her rip.
Think of this while tea you sip.
The accompanying illustration portrayed
Photo By Ricki Rose n
trills one matron); dumb sayings ("Dressed
to the nines" becomes "dressed to 'X,' the
Unknown"); and the strait laced world of
philosophy (In his summer at camp, Im-
manuel Kant "hated the food," was "mediocre
at tennis," "argued with his counselors"
and "didn't learn all the songs.")
So much for Kant's categorical im-
Roz Chast's world is peopled by "some
outstanding illogicians" who, to the
syllogism "if p, then q," promptly answer
"with jelly on it." It is inhabited by
Pavlov's cat, bird and plant, all of whom
flunk the Russian's famous saliva test. It
is visited by an umbrella-toting "Murray
Poppins" and by Ralph Nader's beanie-
topped children who "just like to buy and
"I thought, 'No way I can make a living at this' "
"Am I now or have I
ever been a cutup? Am -
I under oath?"
FRIDAY, OCT. 23, 1987
a man whirling a teabag above the head of
his demure dinner companion. Five tea-
bags are already plastered on the wall
For nine years now, Chast has been mak-
ing people chuckle, either through her car-
toons in The New Yorker, where she is a
regular, or in her book-length collections of
cartoons, Unscientific Americans and
Those who don't chuckle at Chast get
very, very upset. Not that she courts con-
troversy. In fact, she deliberately stays
away from it. Political satire, for instance,
said she, is "not where my head tends to
run. When I get irritated at political
things, it's like [her voice suddenly acquir-
ing a solicitous, scolding tone], 'Oh, that
Reagan: `Oh, why is that jerk being such
a jerk.' Now those are not particularly
Chast stokes controversy — because she
is deadpan, because she is surreal and
because she is blazing new frontiers in car-
toonery. But not everyone likes a dead pan,
surreal, frontier cartoonist whose work
may sometimes seem flat or, even, pointless.
As New Yorker art editor Lee Lorenz
said, Chast's cartoons have baffled many
of The New Yorker's readers — and even
some of its staff.
"Some people," said Lorenz, "think they're
being put on."
Knee-slappers Chast's cartoons are not.
They are quiet comments on our quiet,
humdrum lives. One four-panel cartoon, for
instance, entitled "Chapter One," consists
of the entire following narrative:
"It had been a strange day at the
"All day long, Mom was making cookies."
"Dad had an odd feeling."
"The twins were listless."
And in a take-off on a restaurant review,
a dining critic saluted "The House of
Tables' friendly staff" for placing "a fork,
a knife and two different-sized spoons in
front of you." Inside the bistro's menu
"about four inches to the right of each food
entry, orderers can discover exactly which
meal fits their pocketbooks. Very handy!"
And customers "do not have to clean up,
as this is done for you."
Very, very droll.
Chastian-inspired squabbling became
apparent to me a few months ago over din-
ner with Sarah and Fred, friends from
Washington. Just after the main course, I
excused myself for a few minutes from the
table. When I returned, Sarah and Fred
were bickering so bitterly I thought one
would take me aside and ask for a tip on
a good divorce attorney.
Sarah turned to me. Fire was in her eyes.
"Fred thinks that . . . that . . . that
New Yorker woman who can't draw is
"Oh, yeah! Roz Chast," I said immediate-
ly knowing the identity of "the woman who
can't draw." "She's great. Funny as they
Poor Sarah. She was on the outs that
day. My wife sided with Fred. My kids
sided with Fred. And in a rare alliance with
Fred (a top aide to George Bush and, thus,
in my eyes, a throwback to the days of
Herbert Hoover), I had even sided with
We quickly moved on to less controver-
sial subjects, such as resolving the balance
of payments and whether Bruno Haupt-
mann really kidnapped the Lindbergh
That tense dinner showed the fierce al-
legiance that Chast's cartoons inspire in
people. Debate has swirled around Chast's
work since July 3, 1978 when The New
Yorker ran the first cartoon it purchased
from her. That cartoon, "Little Things,"
had ten odd little shapes with odd little