While you’re up

The Wayno/Piraro Bizarro from yesterday, on running evolutionary errands:


(#1) (If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 4 in this strip — see this Page.)

Venture Fish crawls out onto land, no doubt to return after foraging there, then will venture onto land again, and in time its descendants will have become amphibians, and then, well, you know the story.

But why does Venture Fish go on land? It insists on doing this for some reason — the primary reason for the act —  that is inscrutable to its aquatic companion, but Home Fish asks that Venture Fish meanwhile run an errand: fetch some things on the trip, thus supplying an additional, secondary reason for the act.  Home Fish uses the format BACKGROUND CONDITION + REQUEST:

BACKGROUND CONDITION: If you’re going out / Since you’re already up / As long as you’re up / While you’re up / …

+ REQUEST: (could you / would you / why don’t you / please /…) VP-BSE

— made famous in the slogan for an early 1960s ad campaign:

as long as you’re up get me a Grant’s

A Grant’s exemplar:


(#2) Grant’s is a blended Scotch whisky bottled by William Grant & Sons in Scotland (Wikipedia link)

Gender and language note. Though I left no gender flags in my comments on #1 above, you probably took Home Fish to be female and Venture Fish to be male, and you might want to reflect on those genderings.

In #2, the stationary member of the pair is given as male, and almost everyone took the Scotch-fetcher to be female. This was widely viewed as sexist at the time: the woman is being asked to serve the man. Later ads, in which the professional male was replaced by a fashionable or artistic woman, while intended to redress the gender differential, only made it worse, at least in the eyes of many viewers, who saw the woman as offering her charms and talents in exchange for the favor.

The differences between #1 and #2 are then worth further reflection. It would would seem that at least part of the answer has to be with fetching things inside vs. outside the home.

#1: Why go away? Four possible purposes:

— A: to run an errand, to fetch something. The explicit secondary purpose in the cartoon.

— B: to go on a quest, a journey to maturation, to find oneself. The purpose suggested by the title Wayno gave #1 on his blog: “Walkabout”. From Wikipedia:

Walkabout is a rite of passage in Australian Aboriginal society, during which males undergo a journey during adolescence, typically ages 10 to 16, and live in the wilderness for a period as long as six months to make the spiritual and traditional transition into manhood.

They then return home. But that would be a very long time to wait for the delivery of a grocery item.

— C: to leave home to take up adult life elsewhere. Cue the Beatles’ “She’s Leaving Home”. From Wikipedia:

“She’s Leaving Home” is a song by the English rock band the Beatles, written by Paul McCartney and John Lennon, and released on their 1967 album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Paul McCartney wrote and sang the verse and John Lennon wrote the chorus, which they sang together.

You can listen to the 2009 remastered version here (#3).

— D: to abandon a previous life entirely. They go out for a loaf of bread, or possibly some mealworms, and just never come back. It happens. Cue Bruce Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart”. From Wikipedia:

“Hungry Heart” is a song written and performed by Bruce Springsteen on his fifth album, The River. It was released as the album’s lead single in 1980…

Got a wife and kids in Baltimore, Jack
I went out for a ride and I never went back
Like a river that don’t know where it’s flowing
I took a wrong turn and I just kept going

You can listen to the official audio here (#4).

— E: for some social purpose, especially for male sociability, activities with one or more buddies (the guys, the boys). Sports events, hunting and fishing together, drinking together, going to strip clubs, things men in our culture do with one another, customarily without the company of female companions. Venture Fish is probably going out to score some larvae with his buddies, or for a gang spawn.

#2: the ghost cartoon. Apparently, a fair number of people who only dimly remember the Grant’s ad campaign in #2 have a vivid recollection of a New Yorker cartoon take-off on its ads and their slogan. The cartoon they recall has a male figure much like the one in #2, but at a desk, with piles of books and papers on it as well as the typewriter; he is obviously a writer or scholar of some kind, and the caption has him saying (to an out-of-frame character):

As long as you’re up, get me a grant.

I myself remembered this cartoon with great affection. I believed it to be the work of New Yorker cartoonist Charles Saxon, known for skewering the affectations of urban upperclass men. From Wikipedia:

Charles David Saxon (November 13, 1920 – December 6, 1988) was an American cartoonist known for his work for The New Yorker.

… Much of his New Yorker work gently pokes fun at the privileged denizens of prosperous suburbs; unusually, he wrote his own words, often highlighting clichés, as in an image of well-fed executives in a boardroom, the chairman stating “Of course, honesty is one of the better policies.”

Get me a grant would be so Saxon; if the cartoon were being done now, it would be by William Haefeli (who might even bring the addressee into the frame, making him the speaker’s male partner; the world has changed a lot in the last 60 years).

The only problem is that, apparently, there never has been such a cartoon, in the New Yorker or anywhere else. It’s a ghost memory, composed of shards of separate actual events, reconfigured in many ways. As I point out every few months on this blog, our memories are deeply undependable in their details; they are cobbled together from bits of real stuff, reworked by hearsay and imagination and often (unintentionally) altered so that they’re better stories than the actual events. Even when we are absolutely certain of their accuracy. (A lot of people get really angry when I point this out, but there’s a gigantic literature on the subject and I’ve looked at a fair amount of data first-hand.)

What do I know to be true? First,  As long as you’re up, get me a grant (or close variants of it) is actually well-attested as a purely verbal joke, without a drawing attached. Going back to the time of the Grant’s ads. For example, it’s the title of an article in Esquire magazine of June 1966: “As Long as You’re Up, Get Me a Grant” by Anonymous. And it continues to be used in pieces offering advice to grant applicants.

Second, there were at least two magnificent joke cartoons taking off on the Grant’s slogan in the early 1960s, but not involving grant in the ‘award, subsidy’ sense. From the celebrated cartoonist George Price of the old New Yorker and from the celebrated pinup artist Alberto Vargas.

From Price in the New Yorker on 12/21/63:


(#5) A wonderfully convoluted joke, involving the transposition of grant and up, Ulysses S. Grant for grant, and Up in the brand name 7-Up (naming a beverage parallel to Grant’s whisky). Also a joke that would be very hard to tell in words alone.

I suspect that anyone recalling a New Yorker cartoon — and that includes me — is recalling this one, which is just hugely more intricate than the simple and memorable get me a grant.

From Wikipedia on the artist:

George Price (June 9, 1901 – January 12, 1995) was an American cartoonist who was born in Fort Lee, New Jersey. After doing advertising artwork in his youth, Price started doing cartoons for The New Yorker magazine in 1929. He continued contributing to the New Yorker well into his eighties, displaying a talent for both graphic innovation (many of his cartoons consisted of a single, unending line) and for a wit that somehow combined the small issues of domestic life with a topical sensibility.

Then there’s the Vargas, from the May 1965 Playboy:


(#6) grants / pants

I seem not to have posted on Vargas before, but here are a few basic facts from Wikipedia:

Joaquin Alberto Vargas y Chávez (9 February 1896 – 30 December 1982) was a noted Peruvian painter of pin-up girls. He is often considered one of the most famous of the pin-up artists.

… Vargas’ artistic work, paintings and color drawings, were periodically featured in some issues of Playboy magazine in the 1960s and 1970s.

BACKGROUND CONDITION + REQUEST jokes more generally. Not involving /grænt/. A rich joke genre, turning usually on a contextually surprising or preposterous REQUEST. Two New Yorker examples, one from Charles Saxon himself (but in 1987) and one from a newcomer to the magazine, Karen Sneider, in 2019:


(#6) From 10/5/87


(#6) From 7/8/19 (note the eyelashes, conventionally indicating a female fish)

The queer option, not yet taken. I was mildly surprised to discover that the tag while it’s up (referring to an erection) seems not to have been exploited in the title of gay porn. Possible dialogue: “Oh look, Joey’s got a boner! While it’s up, let’s use it, guys!” Ok, maybe too subtle for the genre.

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