Nov. 18, 2008

They eat out

by Margaret Atwood

In restaurants we argue
over which of us will pay for your funeral

though the real question is
whether or not I will make you immortal.

At the moment only I
can do it and so

I raise the magic fork
over the plate of beef fried rice

and plunge it into your heart.
There is a faint pop, a sizzle

and through your own split head
you rise up glowing;

the ceiling opens
a voice sings Love Is A Many

Splendoured Thing
you hang suspended above the city

in blue tights and a red cape,
your eyes flashing in unison.

The other diners regard you
some with awe, some only with boredom:

they cannot decide if you are a new weapon
or only a new advertisement.

As for me, I continue eating;
I liked you better they way you were,
but you were always ambitious.

"They eat out" by Margaret Atwood, from Selected Poems 1965-1975. © Houghton Mifflin Company, 1974, 1976. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the 80th birthday of Mickey Mouse, as officially celebrated by Walt Disney. Mickey Mouse was actually "born" about six months before his official birthday, debuting in a cartoon where he played pilot Charles Lindbergh, but the cartoon failed to pick up a distributor. And so did a second cartoon, "The Gallopin' Gaucho," in which Mickey rides a rhea around Argentina, smoking, drinking, challenging men to duels, and acting like an outlaw.

But in his third reincarnation, released on this day in 1928, the creators of Mickey found success, in a cartoon entitled "Steamboat Willie," shown at New York's Colony Theatre. The cartoon featured a soundtrack synchronized to follow the visual animation of the story, which was new at the time. "Steamboat Willie" included a memorable scene in which Minnie drops her sheet music for the song "Turkey in the Straw," a goat eats the paper and the tune comes out of his tail, and Mickey uses the bodies of other farm animals on board the steamboat as instruments in an effort to impress Minnie — and all this was perfectly synchronized.

Within a decade, Mickey had appeared in more than 100 cartoons, and during these 10 years, he underwent some changes. White oval eyes with little black pupils replaced solid black ones, and his face became less angular and more rounded, to make him look friendlier. His personality became less cunning and more winsome. He was a commercial hit right away, and even during the Great Depression, Mickey merchandise sold well.

The name "Mickey Mouse" took on connotations that Walt Disney never intended. The name is used as an adjective to describe something foolish, amateurish, fake, or not to be taken seriously. A "Mickey Mouse class" at a college is an easy course. "Mickey Mouse hands" are used to explain the rules of card games, where hands are open and everyone can see the cards. In the military "Mickey Mouse work" refers to unnecessary tasks. And when she was Prime Minister of Britain, Margaret Thatcher called the European Parliament a "Mickey Mouse parliament."

"Mickey Mouse" has also become a standard write-in name on U.S. election ballots as a protest vote. Mickey has been a contender in nearly all the American presidential elections since his birth.

It's the birthday of novelist and poet Margaret Atwood, (books by this author) born in Ottawa, Ontario (1939). Her father was an entomologist who spent every year from April to November studying insects at a forestry research station in Northern Quebec. Atwood said, "At the age of six months, I was carried into the woods in a packsack, and this landscape became my hometown." She had no access to television or movies, and few children to play with. So she spent her time exploring the woods and reading.

Atwood's first novel, The Edible Woman, came out in 1969. It's about a woman who finds that she can no longer eat after her boyfriend proposes marriage. Atwood is best known for her novel The Handmaid's Tale (1985), about an imaginary America where religious fanatics have taken over the government. The book became an international best-seller.

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