Have you ever revisited a favorite work of fiction from your youth, only to discover, with crushing disappointment, that it doesn’t hold up? This happened to me the other day with “Casey at the Bat,” that cautionary drama of baseball, hubris and the frailty of hope, doled out in flawless iambic heptameter. As poetry, it’s still good. But as baseball, uh-uh.
You remember the story: Ninth inning, the Mudville Nine behind by two runs and down to their last out. Improbably, transcending their mediocrity, the inept Flynn and the despised Blake come through with a single and double, bringing the mighty Casey up to bat with runners on second and third. Women cheer, men shout, tongues applaud, etc. The imperious batsman takes the first two pitches for strikes, then hacks and whiffs at the third, famously leaving no joy in Mudville.
Lame, lame, lame. Sure, the visiting team got lucky, but by using hopelessly old-school strategy. That’s no way to manage in the era of “Moneyball.” To make any sense today — to give the poem even a shred of verisimilitude — I had to rewrite
Oh, somewhere men are laughing,
And somewhere women talk,
But the game’s still on in Mudville,
Mighty Casey — the best hitter coming to the plate with the game on the line, a two-run deficit and first-base open — drew an intentional walk.
This satisfying literary solution led me to look around for other classics that might need retrofitting. They turned out to be everywhere, some so obvious and easily modernized that they barely need mention, e.g., “Portnoy’s Ill-Advised Tweet.”
“Ask not for whom the phone vibrates …”
And, of course Moses comes down from the mountain to deliver the Ten FAQs (Q: Is it okay to covet your neighbor’s wife? A: If it’s just coveting, I guess it’s okay, sayeth the Lord, but show some class. Don’t, like, hide a webcam in her shower.)
Updating these works was simple and easy. But I soon found myself considering renovation of some more challenging texts, such as the Second Amendment.
I am no fan of the Second Amendment, inasmuch as it tends to be the refuge of bumpkins and yeehaws who like to think they are protecting their homes against imagined swarthy marauders desperate to steal their flea-bitten sofas from their rotting front porches. But I am a realist. I admit that the Second Amendment is here to stay, so we might as well clean it up to reflect modern political sensibilities.
The old version: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
What a mess! It’s got mangled syntax, extraneous punctuation, and, above all, mealy-mouthed caveats and qualifiers. If you are going to allow arms, allow arms.
My new Second Amendment:
“You have the right to bear arms, including but not limited to handguns, tommy guns, assault rifles, bazookas, zip guns, grease guns, blunderbusses, howitzers, flamethrowers, grapeshot cannons, shoulder-mounted surface-to-air missiles, medieval-style catapults that can launch a putrifying, disease-ridden horse carcass over a castle wall, and Al Pacino’s ‘lil’ fren’ from ‘Scarface.’ This amendment should not be construed to rule out ordinarily, non-lethal devices that might be weaponized, such as plowshares, pitchforks, and handheld, riled-up roosters.”
Next week: Freud, revised, featuring “Vagina