Major to Minor


“Time Enough At Last” The Twilight Zone

In my last blog post, I was very critical of my own writing, which led one of my followers (all right, smirkers, though they are few and far between, there are some) to say the following:

(Note to self: Self, make a note of that)

You are too hard on yourself. Stop comparing what you write to anyone else’s writing. I’ve always said just open your brain and let it spill on the page. You’ll be the next sensation to sweep the nation.

Get out of your own way.

xoxo ❤

Well, I will try to do just that. And at the risk of sounding disingenuous I might add that I wasn’t serious about my stated opinion that I am a terrible writer. It’s just that I get so many ideas, and one thing leads to another, so I am just trying to cut to the chase and be more succinct. That’s all. Just trying to be a little more sequitur, and not so non. Perhaps startling juxtapositions will always remain a fixture of my writing, but I am trying to be judicious in my usage.

So anyway, I was just randomly surfing the Internet and before I knew it, I had a ton of material that I wanted to put in a blog post. There was stuff about fairies and inmates of asylums and goodness knows what. So, I just am going to limit it to a few examples and not overindulge and go hog wild. So, it was mainly about the strange case of W. C. Minor, who was a doctor in the U. S. Civil War. William Chester Minor then went to London where he went insane and killed a man that he thought had broken into his room repeatedly to torment him. George Merrett was merely going to his job as a bottle washer (Ed. Note: actually his job was to shovel coal and stoke the furnace. Could that be considered a coal porter?) at the Lion Brewery, then home to his pregnant wife Eliza and their six children. Minor was held pre-trial in London’s Horsemonger Lane Gaol. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity and incarcerated in an asylum.

While there he spent his time looking up quotations and submitting them to the editor of the Oxford English Dictionary. The editor, Dr. James Murray, used many of them and it was quite a while before he learned the details of Minor’s confinement.

So, I wondered, what was Minor’s rank as an Army surgeon? If he had been a Major, wouldn’t that have been something? Major Minor.

But I was not able to ascertain his rank, or to be quite frank, Sinatra, I actually found out that he wasn’t a Major. Perhaps I was thinking too much about Catch 22, where there is a character named Major Major Major Major, whose father named him Major Major Major as a cruel prank, compounded by a computer glitch which promoted him to that rank. His story is related in Chapter 9. Here is the final cadenza of that chapter of Joseph Heller’s novel:

Major Major’s father had a Calvinist’s faith in predestination and could perceive distinctly how everyone’s misfortunes but his own were expressions of God’s will. He smoked cigarettes and drank whiskey, and he thrived on good wit and stimulating intellectual conversation, particularly his own when he was lying about his age or telling that good one about God and his wife’s difficulties in delivering Major Major. The good one about God and his wife’s difficulties had to do with the fact that it had taken God only six days to produce the whole world, whereas his wife had spent a full day and a half in labor just to produce Major Major. A lesser man might have wavered that day in the hospital corridor, a weaker man might have compromised on such excellent substitutes as Drum Major, Minor Major, Sergeant Major, or C. Sharp Major, but Major Major’s father had waited fourteen years for just such an opportunity, and he was not a person to waste it. Major Major’s father had a good joke about opportunity. ‘Opportunity only knocks once in this world,’ he would say. Major Major’s father repeated this good joke at every opportunity. Being born with a sickly resemblance to Henry Fonda was the first of a long series of practical jokes of which destiny was to make Major Major the unhappy victim throughout his joyless life. Being born Major Major Major was the second. The fact that he had been born Major Major Major was a secret known only to his father. Not until Major Major was enrolling in kindergarten was the discovery of his real name made, and then the effects were disastrous. The news killed his mother, who just lost her will to live and wasted away and died, which was just fine with his father, who had decided to marry the bad-tempered girl at the A&P if he had to and who had not been optimistic about his chances of getting his wife off the land without paying her some money or flogging her.

All right, already. You have been more than indulgent. Enough of this, but let me finish with one final anecdote: W. C. Minor was still very much the victim of delusions. He believed that he was being abducted nightly and taken to locations as far away as Istanbul where he was forced to perform unspeakable acts. To prevent this he performed an auto penectomy using the knife he used for his dictionary work. His health continued to deteriorate, and after interventions on his behalf by Dr. Murray and Home Secretary Winston Churchill he was sent back to the U.S. where he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and confined in an asylum in Hartford, Connecticut until his death in the year 1920. So, as Cole Porter wrote, and Ella Fitzgerald sang:

When you’re near
There’s such an air of spring about it
I can hear a lark somewhere
Begin to sing about it
There’s no love song finer
But how strange the change from major to minor
Ev’ry time we say goodbye

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