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July 03, 1976 - Image 12

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Publication:
Michigan Daily, 1976-07-03

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Page Twelve THE MICHIGAN DAILY Saturday, July 3, 1976
'I HEAR AMERICA SWINGING'
; De Vries' Bicentennial book

By JEFFREY SELBST
OW THAT WE hAVE approached
the week of the orgiastic tribute
to the Bicentennia!, that seven-day
period of national self-twiddling, it is
only fitting to speak of a book that
rightfully ought to make history in
American belles-lettres and that sort
t of thing.
I Hear America Swinging is a funny,
fine novel. I say that not merely be-
cause its author Peter DeVries is one
of my favorites, but because no book
in recent memory lampoons all of
America so ruthlessly, so uproarious-
ly, or so gently.
The old one-two punch is administer-
ed to the sophisticated as well as the
hopelessly square, and no one fares
any better than another in this clever-
ly contrived modern farce.
Dr. Bill Bumpers (Ph.D., Demeter
U., English) is a young would-be mar-
riage counselor who ventures off to
Middle City, Iowa, to begin practicing
his profession. He is immediately en-
gaged by Mrs. Brown and her mother,
Mrs. Sigafoos, to save the faltering
union of the Browns.
IT SEEMS THAT Heck Brown, for-
merly a Bible-thumping Iowa farm-

er, has gone New York sophisticate,
under the influence of the fast crowd
with which he has fallen in, headed
by Ma Godolphin, home-canning queen
of the county. Mrs. Brown cannot cope
with the changes.
Mrs. Sigafoos herself is Ma Godol-
phin's principal rival, and a reluctant
admirer. She refuses adamantly to sell
her own Lands Sakes Brands to the
greedy Godolphin conglomerate. She
pines for the days when no one opened
sentences with "Look," "Tell toe," and
no one drank their coffee after the
meal, but rather, with it.
What DeVries is doing is parodying
the conventions of each pole of society
- the home-and-hearth set and the
jet society. But in its frustrations and
its tenor, the book covers every facet
of modern Amferican society.
FOR EXAMPLE, the Godolphin-Siga-
foos home-canning war is a re-
ductio ad absurdum of corporate con-
glomerates vs. the little person. The
"Brook Farm" experiment which takes
place at the Brown farm (known as
"Pretty Pass") combat the hedonism
of the swinging orgy club known as
the Baredevils.
The "Brook Farm" experiment is a

result of Dr. Bumpers' meddling in the
home life of the Browns. Heck decides
he needs a concubine, a sculptress
named Opal of whom we see little,
and then Mrs. Brown takes for a lover
one Clem Clammidge, who later starts
to run around with a librarian.
ONE OF THE BEST scenes occurs
11 when Clammidge, who at the per-
suasion of Bumpers becomes an art
critic for a local daily, has a nervous
breakdown upon being fired for over-
intellectualization, Von Flivver, the
general practioner, is called in to ex-
amine him.
Clem spouts the phraseology of his
trade in delirium, taking cues from
the doctor's diagnoses as he examines
Clem's throat:
"That tongue is no bargain either.
What are all those little papules on
it?" The doctor peers at Clem.
"Sprackled longitudinalities. Visual
pandemonium."
"You're telling me. That dog's tongue
is no prize either . . . No, it's mainly
the strep throat. I'll just take a cul-
ture."
"Sub-bourgeois counter-culture." Clem
answers.
'HE LANGUAGE USED is rich and
witty, ranging from some of the

more obvious examples above, to the
less obvious pronouncement made by
Mrs. Sigafoos to Bumpers, "You know
doctor, you yourself said geriatrics
is still in its infancy."
By setting such inherently bottom-
heavy characters up on their ends, De- k
Vries is assuring that they will fall g
down like bowling pins. Yet the man- g
ner in which he has placed them with
relation to each other makes the fall
wildly comic.
EVERYONE HAS GONE more affect-
ed than Brown, and at last, he
is driven up a wall. He and his wife
make a go of their relationship once
again. Not in the old way-nothing can
go back to the old way-but in a new,}
conceivably enlightened way. Whatever
they become, they'll never again be
completely phoney.
The book has a moral, if you can
dig through the only semi-serious froth
and find it - what goes up must come
down, and what puffs up will pop. It
is a verbal steeplechase, and a parable
of America.
Buy it for yourself for the Bicenten-
nial. And laugh.
Jeffrey Selbst is the Daily Editor of
Taste.

Philly follies: Betsy,
Ben and the Bell

-. (Continued fro Pa e 7:
hunched over to get within ear-
shot of a diminutive sightseer.
"Donald," came a weak reply.
"And where are you from,"
Sam inquired.
Donald either fell into a state
of shyness or severe mental
lapse.
"Are you from Pennsylvania?'
asked the towering Sam.
Donald, confused, looked up
at his parents, and answered
with a meek affirmative.
"Oh, no you're not," came his
mother's voice, tossing Sam an
apologetic glance. "Now tell Un-
cle Sam where you're really
from."
"California," tDonald said.
"California!" said Sam lof-
tily. "You've come a long way
to see the Bicentennial."
Independence Hall, the former
home of the Liberty Bell, is
carefully preserved in its revo-
lutionary decor. Of course its
history is not so gracious as
the eighteenth century Georgian
architecture. Four days after
the Declaration was adopted
there, a crowd stormed into the
courtroom, where elegantly
coiffed, black-robed judges pre-
sided, and ripped down the por-
trait of Britain's King George.
With great glee, they then
burned the painting-for they
were no longer the king's sub-
ject..
Nobodv was ris'ping down any-
thing this - week. as gates and
ropes nrote-ted it and other co-
lonial foisimiles along with in-
numerable varioss authentic
keensakes. sich as the brass-
tipned w-lkine-stick Thomas
Jefferson "sed while traversing
the narrew. Philadelphia lanes.
A ND THE ONLY voices heard
over the din of the traffic
were not those of protestors -
Ibut the ice-vendors peddling
their fruity treats by landmarks
like Betsy Ross's house.
"Best Italian ices in Philadel-
phia-I got cherry, lemon, lime
. ." cried one young man,

hurling his pitch to the sweaty
grossp, reading up on Betsy from
thin pamphlets while they wait-
ed to enter the house.
"Ices here," screamed an old-
er, heavily-accented man, throw-
ing a threatening glance at his
co'nmpetition. I also got cold
suds and hot and cold sand-
wiches . .
Meanwhile, as the line began
to mn"ve, a curly-haired woman
whose voice suggested a north-
estern upbringing, turned to
har disinterested son,
"Look, Jonathnn, this is Betsy
R ss's ho-se," she said excited-
Iv. "Betsv Ross made the flag."
tt F COURSE Betsy Ross and
her family were nearby
n/""hsors of Benjanmin and Deb-
or-h Franklin, whose hosse was
dewalished 160 years ago. The
Frsnklins are buried in a plain
grave marked by a simple white
tombstone off the busy corner
of Arch and Fifth Streets, in
the small cemetery of historic
Christ Church. This past week,
the tombstones have been blan-
keted with a mint in small
change, as visitors take heed to
Ben's now-famous words, "A
penny saved is a penny earned."
Two women hired by the Parks
Department look after the
graves.
"Do you know where Frank-
lin is, girls?" inquired one man,
as he approached the inconspic-
uous stone shaded by a tree
and the shadow of a nearby
skyscraper.
The women pointed to the
stone and the man extracted a
penny from his pocket, then
flinned it onto the stone, whose
ansole coinage snelled respect
for Philadelphia's best-known
human asset.
Meanwhile, tp the block, two
maintenance men busily scrub-
bed cleansing solution on the
fine white marble of the Second
Bank Building, trying to defeat
three large words scrawled in
black painting: "Down with
Bycentennial."
It would have made Ben cry.

Wrestling with

(Continue from Page 6)
No chance.
Whatever anyone says or im-
agines about the fireworks, one
thing that's certain is the dis-
play will draw a lot of tourists.
All this while the monuments
are swarming with Boy Scouts,
at the foot of the Jefferson Me-
morial, at the Capitol. Like the
seven-year locusts they've come
this year in droves worse than
the tourists, they mull around
in a class by themselves.
They have come to be a part
of fhe city's official Bicenten-
nial rally.
Judging from the flood of press
releases the rally has generated,
it will be a nauseously optimist-
ic patriotic free-for-nBl, high-
lighted by an address from Vice-
President Rockefeller, known by
some around here as Vice-Pres-
ident Exxon. The show will also
feature appearances by Johnny

Cash and the Mormon Taberna-
cle Choir.
AND TO COUNTER that the
PBC has invited its own
lineup of celebrities-Jane Fon-
da, Tom Hayden, Rubin "Hurri-
cane" Carter, and Jesse Jack-
son.
Jesus, what if there's a fight
between the official rally and
the PBC?
Wait, let's be reasonable.
There won't be any such fight.
No, far from containing any
surprises, this Bicentennial will
salute and fall right into line,
while the television crews broad-
cast the Vice-President's aristo-
cratic profile into homes across
the nation,
Somehow it seems that the
least distressing of the night's
broadcasts will be the pictures
expected at about eleven o'clock
from spaceships landing on
Mars. The whole rocket-ship
routine brings to mind the old

reality
line about how ironic it is that
we can send projectiles to out-
of-the-way places in the solar
system, but we can't house and
clothe most of our people de-
cently.
It's like that around Washing-
ton's Capitol Hill district. The
Capitol building commands a
sweeping view of most of the
district-and among those build-
ings are some of the saddest,
seediest, most broken-down,
bug-infested homes in the city.
But the idea of landing a rock-
et on Mars isn't completely de-
pressing. Somehow, it's promis-
ing - in a faint way - of so-
cial progress. Meanwhile, the
city keeps churning out Bicen-
tennialism. There's lots of red,
white and blue bunting aroud.
there are lots of media splash-
es about Fourth of July events,
and its very hot,
People are waiting to see what
happens.

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