Where are you going with that?

The One Big Happy from 4/3, recently in my comics feed: the tough neighborhood kid James and his sledgehammer:


What I hear in the first panel is an echo of a quotation with an ax, not a sledgehammer:

‘Where’s Papa going with that axe?’ said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.

One of the great first lines in English literature, just grips you right off, does E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web.

The Ax(e). From Wikipedia:

(#2) Fern confronts her father over the ax (illustration by Garth Williams)

Charlotte’s Web is a children’s novel by American author E. B. White and illustrated by Garth Williams; it was published on October 15, 1952, by Harper & Brothers. The novel tells the story of a livestock pig named Wilbur and his friendship with a barn spider named Charlotte. When Wilbur is in danger of being slaughtered by the farmer, Charlotte writes messages praising Wilbur (such as “Some Pig”) in her web in order to persuade the farmer to let him live.

Tools, literal and metaphorical. Axes and sledgehammers — similar handles, different heads for different purposes, while the names ax and sledgehammer are both easily metaphorized, and also easily verbed. From NOAD:

noun ax (also axe):…[a] a tool typically used for chopping wood, usually a steel blade attached at a right angle to a wooden handle. [b, metaphorical] a measure intended to reduce costs drastically, especially one that involves elimination of staff: thirty workers are facing the ax in the assembly department. [illustrated in #2]

verb [verbings of the noun]: [with object] 1 [a] end, cancel, or dismiss suddenly and ruthlessly: the company is axing 125 jobs | 2,500 staff were axed as part of the realignment. [b] reduce (costs or services) drastically: the candidates all promised to ax government spending. 2 cut or strike with an ax, especially violently or destructively: the door had been axed by the firefighters.


noun sledgehammer: [a] a large, heavy hammer used for such jobs as breaking rocks and driving in fence posts. [b, metaphorical] [as modifier] powerful; forceful: sledgehammer blows. [c, metaphorical] [as modifier] ruthless, insensitive, or using unnecessary force: under his sledgehammer direction, anything of subtlety is swamped.

verb [verbing of the noun]: [with object] hit with a sledgehammer.

A personal note on the pleasures of (literal) sledgehammering. Many years ago, back in Massachusetts, Ann and I were asked by friends to help with alterations in their new house — especially, removing an interior (non-load-bearing) wall to make two tiny rooms into one room of reasonable size. Sledgehammers were involved.

It was dirty, dusty, noisy, sweaty work. But enormously satisfying. James is right: smashin’ stuff can feel real good. And in that case, it was also useful work.

The First Line. Charlotte’s Web is justifiably famous here; electrifying violence interrupts the blandest of daily routines. And we hear about the violence first, before it’s set in a context. Another opening in violence, but this time leading (before the sentence is over) to an astonishing context:

Many years later, as he he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. (Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude)

Versus this one, a featureless opening that quickly opens out alarmingly:

We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. (Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas)

Within just one more clause, there are, omigod, “huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car”.

Tool time in Symbolia. Well, of course, axes and sledgehammers are phallic symbols, and more generally, symbolic representations of masculinity, strength, power, savagery, and destruction (separately or in combination). Much of this, plus all of the symbolic potentials of guns (see the finger-gun section of my 4/27 posting “A standout in his shorts”), got packaged for comic purposes in the title character of the American tv show Sledge Hammer!. From Wikipedia:

(#4) Left to right, the characters Trunk, Hammer, and Doreau

Sledge Hammer! is an American satirical police sitcom produced by New World Television that ran for two seasons on ABC from 1986 to 1988. The series was created by Alan Spencer and stars David Rasche as Inspector Sledge Hammer, a caricature of the standard “cop on the edge” character.

… Inspector Sledge Hammer is a stubborn, narrow-minded, opinionated, sexist and reactionary [also absurdly hyperactive] … detective from the San Francisco Police Department. His most prized possession is his .44 Magnum Smith & Wesson Model 629 revolver (a stainless steel version of the Smith & Wesson Model 29) with a customized grip, featuring an engraving of a sledgehammer. Hammer sleeps and showers with his gun, (it has its own satin pillow) and even talks to it, referring to it as “her.” [AZ: Well, some men refer to their dicks with female names — an indication of affection, not gender fluidity.] He believes in shooting first and asking questions never. Despite this, Hammer is never seen killing anybody on-screen during the whole 41 episodes of the show. [First, he’s monumentally incompetent. Then, he’s given to literal overkill, like blowing up an entire building to take out a single bad guy inside it.]

… Hammer’s partner is Detective Dori Doreau (Anne-Marie Martin) [the repository of all the reason, intelligence, professional competence, patience, and empathy on the show]

… Hammer and Doreau are supervised by the chronically uptight, Pepto-Bismol-guzzling, apoplectic Captain Trunk, played by Harrison Page, [as] a parody of police precinct captains from popular 1970s–1980s TV cops shows.

Jacques and I enjoyed it enormously.

4 Responses to “Where are you going with that?”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    When I saw the title, I was expecting there would be something about the metaphorical “Where are you going with that?” with the suggestion that there’s more to whatever the person being addressed has said.

  2. Robert Coren Says:

    A note on the pleasures of wielding a sledgehammer: A summer camp that I attended between the ages of 8 and 12 used a “bell” to advertise transitions between activity periods, which consisted of a length of (somewhat rusty) railroad rail suspended by a chain, along with a two-pound sledge; the section of rail, when struck with the sledge, produced a resonant ring. It was a special privilege, as a camper, to be allowed to sound the bell.

  3. maxvasilatos Says:

    While my collections of marvelous very small hand tools is known (at least to some), the thing with size has led to a parallel acquisition of remarkably gigantic hand tools, mostly for lumberjacks. I will show you my slick some time. For reasons, I’m not allowed a sledgehammer.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: