The Night People

Voice From Within A Cocoon

by Jean Shepherd

The Village Voice - November 14, 1956*

{The following curious document was found in a Piel's bottle washed up on Staten Island. It was unsigned and apparently written in great haste.---J.S.}

I  HAVE a rather difficult confession to make. This has been bothering me for some time now, and I might as well spill it before it backs up and really clogs my pipes worse than ever. It has to do with how I am and how I came to be this way. The comforting part of this simple exposition of frailties is that I do not stand alone.

Briefly it comes down to this: I have begun to realize that my philosophy of living is based largely upon a firm bedrock foundation of comic-strip ideologies. This includes many subtleties of Right and Wrong or Good and Evil as evidenced in politics or just daily living. I find that many of my pronouncements upon issues of our times have tinges of dialogue left over from Little Orphan Annie or Little Annie Rooney or The Little King or maybe Pogo. And, as I say, I'm not alone, Millions of Americans of my age bracket, the 30's, are obviously living in the same pulp-paper dream world where Right always triumphs over Evil and Daddy Warbucks shows up invariably at the right perilous moment, just in time to have Punjab behead the Evil Ones. Punjab always does so without consulting such old-fashioned Democratic relics as juries or judges or lawbooks, and seems to function independently of even laws of gravity.

The Way to Do Things

Occasionally I find myself believing that this is the way to do things--you know, really get things done. Then when I come to my senses I feel the gnawing bite of worry. Another thing that bothers me is that Punjab has the habit of appearing magically and disposing of the Evil Ones the same way. There are never embarrassing questions afterward, and no one seems to come around to inquire as to whether Punjab had an official or moral right to act as he did in this beheading business, even if the Evil Ones were sworn Little Orphan Annie enemies, and smugglers to boot.

I have no idea what would happen to Annie if Daddy failed to show, or if Punjab's magic words blew a fuse, but I don't like to think about such things. In fact, I won't. I'll trust to Daddy to do the right thing when things are rough, and I won't ask questions. Good old Daddy! You can understand why I worry about myself occasionally.

It's easy to see how I got this way. From the first time I could lift a Sunday Color Supplement to this very day, I have been immersed in the comic-strip world, with all it's peculiar philosophies and morals, far more than I have the editorial pages. And I stand not alone. Any managing ed. can tell you how the editorial page compares with the comic strips in this business of readership. I repeat, I'm not alone. More people are going along with Punjab, Daddy, and the Magic Wand than ever before in the history of man. When they are asked what would happen to mankind if Daddy didn't come through or if Punjab were to get himself beheaded by the Evil Ones, they either deny that this could possibly happen or they merely denounce you as a Prophet of Doom. An interesting view.

Will See the Error

Well, I'm sure the Evil Ones will see the error of their ways and finally admit that Annie is always right and will fall into line with us behind Daddy. But I can't help having an occasional sneaking thought that they might not. so much of the thinking of many of us is a cloudy hazy mixture of Cecil B. De Mille, L'il Abner, The Bobbsey Twins, the Boy Scout Oath, General Motors ads, Superman, Walt Disney, Dick Tracy, and all the calendar slogans ever penned by Ben Franklin, that it is no wonder our average brain has gone on a permanent three-day weekend in the country and has left the shop in care of a stack of Mottos for Every Occasion.

I must admit that I am no exception and that is why I can recognize Good and Evil so well and so quickly. I've read my Dick Tracy long and hard and know that Evil looks evil. He wears a funny hat or has a face that resembles a 45-r.p.m. record player and has a name to go along with it, perhaps Grooves, and I know he will get his in the end. This is infinitely comforting. First of all, it is great to know Evil when it shows up, since this has been a point that foolish non-comic-strip philosophers have been fighting over for centuries, and secondly, it makes things easier to know that Evil is bound to get a shot in the head by Dick before he gets too out of hand. Not only that, I have also found that Dick and myself are always on the side of good. This is nice to know, since it prevents confusion. I guess, really, I'm silly to have any of those little worries I mentioned a while back, now that I think about things. Forget it. Who wants to go down with me to that joint on the corner for a coconut-taffy apple? They're great!!

*This article was also reprinted in "The Village Voice Reader," edited by Daniel Wolf and Edwin Fancher, published by Doubleday, © 1962, The Village Voice, Inc.

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