Over Easy: All the news that’s fit to buzz

  • Dan Mackie (Courtesy photograph)

For the Valley News
Published: 10/16/2020 10:13:46 PM
Modified: 10/16/2020 10:24:44 PM

A century ago, more or less, a miracle of journalism occurred, the likes of which I never thought we’d see again.

Let me tell you about it. Don Marquis was a long-suffering columnist (all columnists are, because of petty tyrants called  deadlines) for the Sun newspaper in New York City. One morning he found a piece of free verse already in his typewriter when he arrived at work.

“Expression is the need of my soul,’’ the verse began, but without the quote marks, commas or capital letters otherwise in use here. It continued:

i was once a vers libre bard

but i died and my soul went

into the body of a cockroach

it has given me a new outlook on life

The message asked the columnist to leave better food scraps out and to place a blank sheet in the typewriter every night. It ended with the revelation “you can call me archy.”

Marquis got a bounty of good material for his column from the wordsmithing cockroach, who reportedly had to hurl himself against the keys, one after another, to type. Using the caps key was beyond his powers but his musings led to three books and a Broadway musical that has been described as “short lived.” Such was the life of a columnist then and now: All we are is pulp in the wind.

I remember Marquis out of professional courtesy, but I don’t think many others do. I had thought his columns — and Archy — were old news, the stuff of yesteryear. Then on a recent morning I woke early and looked at my laptop, which had a message waiting for me.

i am americas fly the one

who rested on pence’s silver hair

my 2 minutes of fame

what is celebrity in these times

when everyone sees me

but no one knows me

you can call me flyboy

So of course I left my laptop plugged in the next night with the touch screen set at high sensitivity to make the fly’s labors less onerous. I left a series of questions about his debate appearance, but Flyboy swatted them aside. The next morning:

it’s a happy life, but a short one

only 28 days alas

so brief is winged fame

pence’s perfect follicles drew me in

like a moth to the flame so

to speak if I could speak

That night I left Flyboy a message that I was sure the Valley News would run a letter to the editor from him, or even an op-ed, a first from a member of the order Diptera (as far as the editors know.) He replied:

i am here today

and gone tomorrow, with miles to fly

before I sleep perchance near a manure pile

could you leave me some hamburg

high fat please

i prefer it aged

He is more complex than I anticipated. Over the course of the next few days I learned that Flyboy is flighty, and prone to flights of fancy. His messages are shorter than Archy’s, suited to Twitter. Though he thinks of himself as a seeker of wisdom, he is also drawn to all things rotten, again suited to Twitter.

Some of the messages were mean, others self-aggrandizing. He raged against his enemies: fly swatters, horse tails, pesticides — even the mainstream media, which he says portrays flies unfairly. He railed against those who blame his kind for spreading infectious diseases. Those maladies are all disappearing, he said. He advised against hand-washing or any such practices.

He offered no evidence for his claims, but I do not hold that against him. Flyboy, after all, has a fly brain. A fruit fly has 100,000 neurons in its brain, according to an article in Science magazine, while humans have roughly 100 billion which is, technically speaking, a lot more.

Nevertheless, a fly stole the show at our second national debate in this electoral cycle, so humans can’t be excessively proud of themselves at this point in the evolutionary process. His stealth, steadiness and reserve were universally praised. We saw him at his best in a time when humans have been showing their worst.

But then one morning Flyboy was gone. I don’t know if that had been his plan, or if he was just winging it. I had previously asked him if I would ever see him again if he went missing. He replied:

no, but my cousins might visit

my extended

family is like the stars

A 2017 book, The Secret Life of Flies by Erica McAlister, helps put the debate moment into perspective. For each human on Earth, there are 17 million flies. What were the odds that one of them would land on the vice president’s head?

I don’t really know, but we can vote and they cannot on Election Day. Don’t sit this one out. Don’t be a fly. Be a voter.

Dan Mackie lives in West Lebanon. He can be reached at dan.mackie@yahoo.com.

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