Getting Back to Normal
Episode 54: Hungry Mungry, The Dirtiest Man in the World – Shel We Read a Poem?
British Voice: Shel We Read a Poem?
Russ: Hello all and welcome to Shel We Read a Poem. I’m Russ.
Russ: From this moment on, we bark our names directly into the microphone with no context whatsoever. Poem! Russ! Lauren!
Lauren: No verbs allowed.
Russ: Articles. What are those? Are we doing our drinks update for the day? Is that the lovely glass of rosé?
Lauren: Yes, it’s not from Oregon this time though. I think it’s from France.
Russ: Ew. French. Tastes like presumption.
Lauren: I saw something on the Twitters where some awful Republican politician, I think, was saying that France would never put up a fight to an invasion and a lot of people were responding with how very famous the French Resistance was to Nazi Germany.
Russ: And to this day, like anytime they try to institute some new traffic law or some new like, work stipulation, the French just start burning stuff down.
Lauren: Every day is Bastille Day.
Russ: Every day is Bastille Day. “Oh, guys, would you mind not running red lights? Oh, god, it’s all on fire. Oh, all of Paris. Oh, Jesus. Okay, okay, keep running red lights. Holy shit. Oh, god.”
Lauren: Do you have any good plans for this weekend, Russ?
Russ: Last night was very interesting and kind of scary. Things are basically almost normal around here. And I went to a restaurant with like 20 other people.
Lauren: That is really scary, because although the rates of transmission have gone down, there are still a whole lot of cases, just a whole lot.
Russ: It was a work function and like the first time that I’ve been sitting next to someone that is an immediate stranger to me, and I’m touching them. It was wild.
Lauren: Yeah, that’s terrifying, because you have no idea whether that person is vaccinated, and even if they are vaccinated, they can still transmit it. And ahhhh!
Russ: Well, the good news is that BC is still doing its vaccine passport thing.
Lauren: Oh good.
Russ: So I can assume a fair amount of certainty that everyone that was vaxed.
Lauren: Although at this point, the vaccines aren’t doing a great job of preventing transmission. They’re just doing a great job of making sure you don’t get very sick.
Russ: And that’s what I’m counting on. I figure we’ll all get it eventually and on you go.
Lauren: Yeah, I mean, it is possible that we’ve already gotten it and don’t know.
Russ: It’s true, but I feel like I would have known.
Lauren: Yeah, probably if I do actually get it, I will know.
Russ: Well, what are we talking about today?
Lauren: What are we talking about today? Okay, let’s do “Hungry Mungry.” I’m doing “Hungry, Mungry.”
Hungry Mungry sat at supper,
Took his knife and spoon and fork,
Ate a bowl of mushroom soup, ate a slice of roasted pork,
Ate a dozen stewed tomatoes, twenty-seven deviled eggs,
Fifteen shrimps, nine bakes potatoes,
Thirty-two fried chicken legs,
A shank of lamb, a boiled ham,
Two bowls of grits, some black-eye peas,
Four chocolate shakes, eight angel cakes,
Nine custard pies with Muenster cheese,
Ten pots of tea, and after he,
Had eaten all that he was able,
He poured some broth on the tablecloth
And ate the kitchen table.
His parents said, “Oh Hungry Mungry, stop these silly jokes.”
Mungry opened up his mouth, and “Gulp,” he ate his folks.
And then he went and ate his house, all the bricks and wood,
And then he ate up all the people in the neighborhood.
Up came twenty angry policeman shouting, “Stop and cease.”
Mungry opened his mouth and “Gulp,” he ate the police.
Soldiers came with tanks and guns.
Said Mungry, “They can’t harm me.”
He just smiled and licked his lips and ate the U.S. Army.
The President sent all his bombers—Mungry still was calm,
Put his head back, gulped the planes, and gobbled up the bomb.
He ate his town and ate the city—ate and ate and—
And then he said, “I think I’ll eat the whole United States.”
And so he ate Chicago first and munched the Water Tower,
And then he chewed on Pittsburgh but he found it rather sour.
He ate New York and Tennessee, and all of Boston town,
Then drank the Mississippi River just to wash it down.
And when he’d eaten every state, each puppy, boy and girl
He wiped his mouth upon his sleeve and went to eat the world.
He ate the Egypt pyramids and every church in Rome,
And all the grass in Africa and all in ice in Nome.
He ate each hill in green Brazil and then to make things worse
He decided for dessert he’d eat the universe.
He started with the moon and stars and soon as he was done
He gulped the clouds, he sipped the wind and gobbled up the sun.
Then sitting there in the cold dark air,
He started to nibble his feet,
Then his legs, then his hips
Then his neck, then his lips
Till he sat there just gnashin’ his teeth
‘Cause nothin’ was nothin’ was
Nothin’ was nothin’ was
Nothin’ was left to eat.
Lauren: Yeah, gee. The illustration here is rather simple. This poem spreads two pages, and on the left page, there is an upper jaw with teeth, and on the right page, there’s a lower jaw with teeth, as if he is eating the poem and this book.
Russ: Is Hungry Mungry entropy or time or…
Lauren: Less that. I’m thinking more in terms of mostly human-created activities. I’m thinking a lot about the concept of hunger and how we assign a moral quality to it. Whether it’s the hunger of greed, or the hunger of power, you’re rarely hungry for anything good. Although I suppose you could be hungry for passion or a spice of life or something like that. But the idea of hunger is usually associated with capitalists and plutocrats. And, well, Putin, right now, for sure. And he might just eat the entire world by blasting us all to glass. Also, when I think of hunger, particularly this poem, and something eating everything, and then eating itself up, I also think about cancer, and how that is the body’s cells becoming so savage and greedy for resources that they kill the rest of the body. It’s essentially like a parasite, but you are the parasite. It’s odd when I take a step back and think about the idea of hunger being a bad thing is kind of strange. You need to eat.
Russ: This isn’t hunger in like, a sensible sense. This is, you know, cannot be sated, will consume everything.
Lauren: Like your dude.
Russ: Tarrare, that guy.
Lauren: Yeah. Your man, Tarrare.
Russ: It also falls into that class of Shel poems where he just really enjoys listing things.
Lauren: It’s true. And children, I think, enjoy hearing things listed. I think it gives you a lot of different anchor points, like your ability to imagine vast incomprehensible things. Well, I mean, I say “vast incomprehensible.” You find very vast things very incomprehensible. And so you get a moment to focus on each little bit and piece and it makes this feeling of something being big just by all the things in it.
Russ: It’s really funny. We’ve been, you know, reading this book for a year now. With some of these poems, I have a memory from childhood, and with “Hungry Mungry” I don’t remember it at all.
Lauren: I don’t remember it either. I’ve sensed a slight emotional memory to it. And that I find exciting, that I think as a kid, I found it exciting. Like, oh my gosh, this kid’s gonna eat everything. That’s amazing. Rather than a feeling of dread like oh my gosh, this poem means he ate me.
Russ: I was looking to see if maybe it was added in like the special anniversary edition or something but it looks like it’s always been there.
Lauren: No, it feels familiar, even though I don’t remember it. Children read The Very Hungry Caterpillar, too, and that’s also exciting. Like, “That ravenous caterpillar. Oh, that old sport.”
Russ: For what are you a glutton? If you had your selection…
Russ: …what would you never stop eating? You never stop… Watermelon?
Lauren: Oh my gosh, I love watermelon. I have been known to eat myself sick. I can eat a 30 pound watermelon in a day and a half.
Russ: Laughs. All right. That’s very interesting. I just thought it was a cute bicycle helmet that you had.
Lauren: Oh no, I really like watermelon and I’m a little bit picky. I only like ripe watermelon, but if I get a ripe watermelon I am just the greediest fucker.
Russ: What are the rules for a watermelon? How do you know you have a good one?
Lauren: Well, I’d like to say that I know from being able to knock on it and everything, but I don’t really. I would say with ripe fruit in general try to go for density.
Russ: I had read somewhere that like if the striations were two fingers wide, that was a good sign.
Lauren: Maybe. I know that scarring is supposed to be a good sign because that means that the sugar broke through or something like that.
Russ: Have you seen the trend going around where you put a toothpick in it and flick it and it explodes open.
Lauren: Uh no.
Russ: Oh hang on. I feel like this warrants a watch
Lauren: Watermelons have been known to explode on their own.
Russ: Is that true?
Lauren: Oh yeah.
Russ: I’ve seen the thing that people do where they take rubber bands and surround a watermelon with multiples until it explodes.
Lauren: No. Watermelons are known to sometimes expand the flesh far greater than the rind can hold and just explode.
Russ: That is wild. Anyway I sent it in a chat.
Lauren: Okay that makes me so hungry. I want that watermelon. I just want to eat that watermelon.
Russ: Can that happen though? Because podcasting is a visual medium: This person takes a toothpick and sticks it next to the butthole of a watermelon.
Lauren: The flower end. I guess the opposite of the flower, that is the end opposite the vine.
Russ: And sticks a toothpick in there and gives it a couple of good thumps with their finger and it splits wide right open.
Lauren: I don’t know, but considering that watermelons will explode on their own from the expansion maybe if it’s very very ripe you can do that.
Russ: Science, everybody.
Lauren: What are you absolutely ravenous for us?
Russ: Oh my god, sweets. Anything sugary. Specifically, like if I had to choose a favorite sweet, it would be either like a truckstop candy, like cherry sours or an eclair.
Lauren: See I dislike candy but I like eclairs.
Russ: The shittier the candy the more I enjoy it.
Russ: Like gummy worms and those orange circus peanuts and I’m salivating just thinking about them.
Lauren: So repulsive.
Russ: Candy corn.
Lauren: Oh god.
Russ: And the much greater lord of candy corn: candy pumpkins.
Lauren: See, I just don’t like… I like complex flavors with my sugar.
Russ: Oh and I am seven children. I can put sugar directly in my face! Oh boy.
Lauren: You’re not the only one who’s like that. I have friends who are like that as well but I just… Not my thing. If you gave me an eclair, I would probably only want a nice eclair. Otherwise, I’d be like, “This is just too sweet.”
Russ: And I will take any eclair. It can be from the donut shop up the road or from the nicest French brasserie.
Lauren: Well, sometimes the donut shop up the road is amazing. What are you reading today, Russ?
Russ: I am reading “The Dirtiest Man in the World.”
Oh, I’m Dirty Dan, the world’s dirtiest man,
I never have taken a shower.
I can’t see my shirt–it’s so covered with dirt,
And my ears have enough to grow flowers.
But the water is either a little too hot,
Or else it’s a little too cold.
I’m musty and dusty and patchy and scratchy
And mangy and covered with mold.
But the water is always a little too hot,
Or else it’s a little too cold.
I live in a pen with five hogs and a hen
And three squizzly lizards who creep in
My bed, and they itch as I squirm, and I twitch
In the cruddy old sheets that I sleep in.
In you looked down my throat with a flashlight, you’d note
That my insides are coated with rust.
I creak when I walk and I squeak when I talk,
And each time I sneeze I blow dust.
The thought of a towel and soap makes me howl,
And when people have something to tell me
They don’t come and tell it–they stand back and yell it.
I think they’re afraid they might smell me.
The bedbugs that leap on me sing me to sleep,
And the garbage flies buzz me awake.
They’re the best friends I’ve found and I fear they might drown
So I never go too near a lake.
Each evening at nine I sit down to dine
With the termites who live in my chair,
And I joke with the bats and have intimate chats
With the cooties who crawl in my hair.
I’d brighten my life if I just found a wife,
But I fear that will never be
Until I can find a girl, gentle and kind,
With a beautiful face and a sensitive mind,
Who sparkles and twinkles and glistens and shines—
And who’s almost as dirty as me.
And the illustration is the dirtiest man in the world. Just a fellow coated in disgusting hanging out with some pigs and a couple of chickens.
Lauren: Well, Russ, why this one? You’re a fairly fastidious fellow.
Russ: Every now and again, I’ll meet someone who goes more than a day without showering. And that gives me the heebie jeebies. Because…
Lauren: You know, sometimes I do.
Russ: Oh yes. I know. And, like, I don’t know anyone that like smells bad because of it. But I get that feeling on my skin, where it’s just like, I feel unshowered. It’s like I gotta fix this right away. Yeah, I’m, a once in the morning kind of person.
Lauren: Although at times, I’m also a more than once a day showerer. It really depends on what’s going on with my body. Like in the summertime, when it’s really hot and I have no air conditioning, I may take all sorts of showers during the day.
Russ: That is a wonderful turn of phrase. What are “all sorts of showers?”
Lauren: Well, there are hot showers and cold showers. There are showers where you’re really focused on getting clean. There are showers where you’re more focused on the temperature. If I’m out and I get really cold, I might need to go into the shower to warm up and then you know, I will clean a little bit, but for the most part, I’m just in there for the hot water. Same thing with the summer, sometimes I’ll go into the shower just to cool myself down. And it’s less about keeping clean.
Russ: One of the things that I mentioned on last week’s podcast was that, post pandemic, I felt that I had lost a lot of empathy. And I would learn that I’m not alone in this. And there is a study out of Indiana University that wanted to track empathy, such as it was, and found that since about 2000, empathy, particularly among college age students has fallen pretty dramatically, or feelings of empathy, to the tune of about 40%. Now they’re banding around questions like “How does this happen?” You know, empathy is a human impulse. So why would that fluctuate on such a large scale?
Lauren: For college students, I would assume it’s because there has been a shift in the cost of college. And so maybe more college students are more wealthy than they have been in the past, although maybe that’s the opposite. Maybe there’s actually been more of a variety of people from economic backgrounds going to college.
Russ: I’m quoting an article here by an author named Jason Pargin. These are surveys going back decades asking students about their obligation to help a stranger in trouble, or if they have a duty to see things from someone else’s point of view, that kind of thing. And no matter how you ask the question, or measure the results, there’s a sharp drop since about 2000. Was 9/11 the triggering event, the rise of Fox News, increasing wealth inequality, the popularity of social media and other platforms, which encourage everyone to be the most antagonistic version of themselves, or all of the above. And as the author of the study explains, empathy for strangers has been replaced with intense loyalty to one’s own group, which in turn creates a hatred for strangers. And you know that if you’ve ever used the internet, or been near anyone who has. And it was so interesting seeing tribalism play out in myself, because when it came to anti-vaxxers, I immediately saw them as subhuman. How dare you? There is no excuse for this. You’re an awful human being. And that was the end of it, as far as my thinking process went.
Lauren: Yeah, but they’re also putting you at risk. It’s not that they have a different opinion, and you’re mad about it, they are putting you at risk, especially when the vaccines worked really well against the closer to the original strains. Back when they were a factor in preventing the transmission, people who were unvaxxed were a danger.
Russ: Doesn’t it feel good to be part of the same tribe?
Lauren: I mean, it’s a true thing, though. Also, unvaxxed people are less of a danger now that, you know, the vaccines don’t prevent transmission as much but…
Russ: And so if nothing else, “The Dirtiest Man in the World,” of course, the kicker for that poem is the very last line, “find a wife who’s almost as dirty as me.”
Lauren: Right. Trying to find someone who matches you in some way, but is better, slightly better than you, I guess. Not necessarily the dirty part, that he wants someone that’s just slightly less disgusting than him, but that he wants someone that has all these amazing qualities. And we don’t know if he has any of those qualities.
Russ: And what I think is funny is, I don’t think he’s actually looking for amazing qualities. I think he’s just someone who will tolerate someone who’s this filthy but and is just as filthy, but maybe not quite as filthy. I feel like Dirty Dan is reveling in his filth, and if he found someone who was just as dirty as he was, he would be quite happy.
Lauren: And you like that for a fictional being?
Russ: I don’t want to be dirty, but I like that Dirty Dan knows what he’s about and knows what he’s looking for.
Lauren: Yeah, it sounds like he would probably respect this person. I think that a lot of times people aren’t always looking for someone who’s a real person rather than someone who’s an idealized version of what they’d like to have in their life. And maybe that’s what Dirty Dan is doing. I don’t know.
Russ: And for me, this was more a reminder to me that I’m not all that hot shit. And maybe being conscious of not being as empathetic as I used to be… Admitting you have a problem is the first step toward solving the problem, I guess.
Lauren: Well, what is the solution? Is the solution to be more empathetic? I’m not sure it is.
Russ: That’s a good question. Do I just revel in hating certain groups of people? Or do I do something about it?
Lauren: An interesting thing in animal rescue is that there are some people who are so empathetic that they become ineffective.
Russ: Oh, tell me about it. How does that work?
Lauren: So there are people who are trying to save every animal. They’re against things like spay abortion, which is when you find a pregnant animal—in my case, it’s always cats—and then you get the pregnant animal spayed, no matter what stage of gestation that animals in. And there are people who won’t —when they trap cats that are semi feral—they won’t put them back where they came from. And they just want the perfect outcome for every cat. And then there are people who are more like me who are like, “You know, saving some cats means that I don’t have time for others. And if I try to work on the semi feral cat, I won’t be able to help a whole bunch of younger cats that are not yet feral.” And so that’s where my thing with negative utilitarianism is, is that you’re trying to reduce the suffering for the most amount of people or in this case, animals, rather than trying to make sure that each one is in the happiest situation that comes into your care.
Russ: Hmm. And here in my brain, I think of animal rescue as “those people who rescue animals” and now here I find out there’s tribes within animal rescue.
Lauren: Oh my gosh, there’s so much drama and tribalism within animal rescue, oh, my gosh, I don’t really participate in it because I don’t… Well in part because I have that pragmatic empathy, where I’m like, “I don’t care what your drama is. I’m just doing my thing over here. And if I can be of service to you, that’s great. If not, whatever.”
Russ: Amongst your circle of friends, have you found a lot of people, or a lot more people, actually believing in astrology?
Lauren: Recently? No, it’s not a recent thing. I’ve known people who have been into astrology. I don’t know anybody… I don’t know that many people, and I’m not close to anybody, who really firmly believes in astrology. I know a lot of people who think it’s fun and it’s a tool of interpreting your world. And for that, I like that. I think it can be fun and a tool of interpreting your world.
Russ: Ugh. Yeah. I don’t care for that.
Russ: Because that’s magical thinking.
Lauren: People think the Myers Briggs thing is something but it’s the exact same thing. Pretty much.
Russ: Yeah, I don’t like that either.
Lauren: I don’t think any of them are real, but I think that having different lenses and frames to view things can help you create a more coherent narrative for yourself. That makes you a more functional human being.
Russ: Hmm. Sounds an awful lot like church talk to me.
Lauren: I don’t think it sounds anything like church talk.
Russ: Well, do you have any uplifting thoughts to leave the listeners with?
Lauren: It’s been rather sunny today and I’m working on starting seeds.