- Originally printed: Vanity Fair, March 1918
- First reprinted in: Never Reprinted
- Original Byline: Robert C. Benchley
Benchley makes light of the somber state of affairs on the Faint White Way during the darkest days of World War One energy rationing. With the United States Fuel Administration, headed by the name-checked Doctor (Harry Augustus) Garfield, on an austerity rampage in early 1918, our author proposes a passel of pre-electric pastimes to the flaming youth of the soon-to-be-lost generation. Who knows? They may very well have lost themselves playing Blindman’s Buff in a blacked out alley back of Brown’s Chop House.
As with many of RB’s early Vanity Fair pieces, the title is way too long and the essay itself feels a trifle distended in its quest to elaborate upon a one-joke premise, which is essentially that it’s tough for a modern human-about-town to get around in the Great War gloom; but it certainly has its pleasurable aspects. It also provides an early glimpse of Benchley’s lifelong distaste for bureaucratic officiousness and the cant of expertise (would that be “Expertese” – a particularly obnoxious relative of Esperanto?). These objections are exacerbated in this case by his well-known opposition to the war itself.
We also get a palpable feel for his deep-seated resistance to anything that keeps people from leaving their homes. One shudders to imagine how RB would have reacted to some of the measures adopted during the COVID era. Fortunately, the march of time has spared your humble annotator from having to deal with the unwelcome image of our dinner-jacketed Diogenes hitching a ride on any kind of “freedom” vehicle.
But, gloomy as the situation may appear, our indomitable American sense of humor (which leads us through a six-day bicycle race every year without mob-violence being done to the promoters) should guide us in this crisis and help us to improve each shining kilowatt-hour.