remembering archy

Archy is a cockroach created in the 1930s by Don Marquis, who explains:
We came into our room earlier than usual in the morning, and discovered a gigantic cockroach jumping about upon the keys.
He did not see us, and we watched him. He would climb painfully upon the framework of the machine and cast himself with all his force upon a key, head downward and his weight and the impact ot the blow were just sufficient to operate the machine, one slow letter after another. He could not work the capital letters, and he had a great deal of difficulty operting the mechanism that shifts the paper so that a fresh line may be started…..

I copied this excerpt from b!X’s birthday present to me — a 1940 hard cover editon of the lives and times of archy and mehitabel. Mehitabel, one of Archy’s closest friends, is an alley cat who claims she was Cleopatra in a past life. I often quote from the Song of Mehitabel — “there’s a dance in the old dame yet.”
Archy’s writings, all in lower case with no punctuation marks (because he can’t use the “shift” key on the typewriter, having only the ability to pounce on one key at a time) include lots of commentary about life in America, which apparently hasn’t changed much since the 30s and 40s. For example:
what the ants are saying
no insect likes human beings
and if you think you can see why
the only reason i tolerate you is because
you seem less human to me than most of them
it wont be long now it wont be long
man is making deserts of the earth
it wont be long now
before man will have used it up
so that nothing but ants
and centipedes and scorpions
can find a living on it
man has oppressed us for a million years
but he goes on steadily
cutting the ground from under
his own feet making deserts deserts deserts
what man calls civilization
always results in deserts
men talk of money and industry
of hard times and recoveries
of finance and economics
but the ants wait and the scorpions wait
for while men talk they are making deserts all the time
getting the world ready for the conquering ant
drought and erosion and desert
because men cannot learn
it wont be long now It won’t be long
till earth is barren as the moon
and sapless as a mumbled bone
dear boss i relay this information
without any fear that humanity
will take warning and reform

I encountered Archy and Mehitabel sometime in the early 60s in a chapbook-type publication with pieces mostly about Mehitabel. I think I originally picked it up because of the illustrations by George Herriman, who did the Krazy Kat cartoons I remember from my youth.
There’s a lot of hokey wisdom in Archie’s words, and a lot of brave attitude in Mehitabel’s stories. Like the one that goes:
one life up and the next life
down archy but always a lady
through it all and a
good mixer too always the
life of the party archy but never
anything vulgar always free footed
archy never tied down to
a job or housework yes looking
back on it all i can say is
i had some romantic
lives and some elegant times i
have seen better days archy but
whats the use of kicking kid its
all in the game like a gentleman
friend of mine used to say
toujours gai kid toujours gai he
was an elegant cat he used
to be a poet himself and he made up
some elegant poetry about me and him
lets hear it i said and
mehitabel recited
persian pussy from over the sea
demure and lazy and smug and fat
none of your ribbons and bells for me
ours is the zest of the alley cat
over the roofs from flat to flat
we prance with capers corybantic
what though a boost should break a slat
mehitabel us for the life romantic

toujours gai

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