Christie's, the auction house in London, is among the millions of firms and individuals who have no real idea how the world turns or what people want.
A fellow came to them with a bronze medal inscribed "For Gallantry" that had been awarded to a splendid hen pigeon (if that's not sexist) as the outstanding pigeon of World War II.
Worth maybe $120, Christie's estimated, but the guy who owned the medal, Harold Catchpole, said go ahead and auction it off anyway. Young Catchpole is the son of that Catchpole who owned the pigeon. The pigeon was named Mercury (if that's not sexist), and she flew nonstop 480 miles across the North Sea in 1942 with a message from the Danish underground.
Well, the medal brought $7,750 at auction, which is more than $120. The buyer was Louis Massarella, who is said to have done well in an ice-cream business and who now understandably raises thousands of pigeons, since he can now afford the rich full life.
It was explained that Massarella did not want this treasure, the medal for gallantry, to leave England, so he paid a higher price than the estimate.
Just this month I was thinking of the widespread but little-known interest in pigeons while reading a little piece on Mr. Al Porco, noted pigeon fancier, in the current issue of The American Pigeon Journal, to which I subscribe. Mr. Porco is a man you would like to know better, let it go at that.
Readers of flawless memory may recall I recently alluded to--indeed, quoted from--the notable magazine about Japanese carp called Rinko and I am prepared to be called oddball for now mentioning the pigeon machine, and I shall not quote from it.
But I doubt I am nearly so far from what is laughingly called the Heartbeat of America as you might think. At my dentist's office recently I encountered People magazine. For my follow-up appointment I brought along the new Pigeon Journal, because it seems to me too great an insult to be endured to be offered People magazine which, it turns out, is about morons and written by them.
The pigeon and carp magazines have what so many other magazines lack: a serious belief in their subject. The pigeon magazine photographs leave something to be desired, technically, but have the advantage of not disclosing the race, sex or national origin of the persons photographed. And there are typographical errors, but then there are everywhere nowadays, now that nobody gives a fried damn one way or another.
I used to think you could not fool readers much. That is, I believed readers could tell pretty quickly whether you were on the level with them or whether you were not. I am less sure of this than I was.
But life is so short I no longer read junk merely because everybody else does. It has been more than two years since I last read "Don Quixote," and if there's leisure for pleasure-reading, I certainly intend to read that again and not some magazine addressed to 10-year-old pre-pimpled folk.
The strength of Rinko and the Pigeon Journal is that the subscribers to both are keenly interested in notable kohakus and famous giant runts (varieties of carp and pigeon, respectively). There is something real there, even if not everybody is interested.
It must be the same with the National Carburetor Review, if there is one. I am not into carburetors much, but such a magazine would be treasured by those who like to get greasy and go varoom.
Elements of the media--inspired by television, I suppose--have departed so far from anything that might interest a real man or real woman or real child that we have entered a sort of ritual era, a sort of conventionalized era. In many forms, such as the dance, religion, painting, architecture, you find rules and gestures and actions that have a symbolic value, perhaps, and which make no sense outside the formal framework of their particular game.
Thus a building is no longer required to be livable or workable to be considered wonderful. It suffices if it rings the right bells, so to speak.
Even in the press one may detect--no bigger than a man's hand--a drift toward ritual and convention and camp and abstraction and games that you have to be in a long time before you understand. There is a drift away from real things likely to interest real people, such as carps and pigeons, in favor of (say) the budget of Painted Seesaw, Idaho, which has significant meaning for the direction of America. It says.
This confusion of real things versus totally imaginary problems has gone far. It led Christie's, for example, to think a pigeon medal is worth $120 instead of the true hard-cash fact of $7,750. If Christie's, and a few other institutions, kept in better touch with genuine humans, as I do through the carp and pigeon journals, etc., etc., they would make fewer financial errors.