Can you think of two more disparate humans than George Carlin and E.B. White? Probably not, but both are personal heroes of mine and both are on my mind this morning.
The late profane-but-sweet comedic genius and pretend-misanthrope Carlin’s daughter Kelly posted a tweet last night soliciting favorite quotes to honor her father. He’s been gone three years now, astonishingly.
Also last night, I finished Michael Sims’ Story of Charlotte’s Web. White was a gentle and inoffensive man, exquisitely precise with words, filled with boundless empathy for nature and all its creatures. I worked alongside Sims many years ago, and knew him to be cut of the same cloth.
What’s the connecting thread here? Maybe it comes down to what Sims calls White’s understanding of “the necessity for pursuing whatever fire delights and sustains you.” Carlin’s humor took sustaining delight in the quirky inconsistencies and absurdities of people, and of their words. Being deeply human himself, none was foreign to him.
My favorite Carlin quotes:
Religion has convinced people that there’s an invisible man…living in the sky, who watches everything you do every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a list of ten specific things he doesn’t want you to do. And if you do any of these things, he will send you to a special place, of burning and fire and smoke and torture and anguish for you to live forever, and suffer and burn and scream until the end of time. But he loves you. He loves you and he needs money.
And of course:
Baseball is a nineteenth-century pastoral game. Football is a twentieth-century technological struggle.
Baseball is played on a diamond, in a park.The baseball park! Football is played on a gridiron, in a stadium, sometimes called Soldier Field or War Memorial Stadium.
Baseball begins in the spring, the season of new life. Football begins in the fall, when everything’s dying.
In football you wear a helmet. In baseball you wear a cap.
Football is concerned with downs – what down is it? Baseball is concerned with ups – who’s up?
In football you receive a penalty. In baseball you make an error.
In football the specialist comes in to kick. In baseball the specialist comes in to relieve somebody.
Football has hitting, clipping, spearing, piling on, personal fouls, late hitting and unnecessary roughness. Baseball has the sacrifice.
Football is played in any kind of weather: rain, snow, sleet, hail, fog… In baseball, if it rains, we don’t go out to play.
Baseball has the seventh inning stretch. Football has the two minute warning.
Baseball has no time limit: we don’t know when it’s gonna end – might have extra innings. Football is rigidly timed, and it will end even if we’ve got to go to sudden death.
In baseball, during the game, in the stands, there’s kind of a picnic feeling; emotions may run high or low, but there’s not too much unpleasantness. In football, during the game in the stands, you can be sure that at least twenty-seven times you’re capable of taking the life of a fellow human being.
And finally, the objectives of the two games are completely different: In football the object is for the quarterback, also known as the field general, to be on target with his aerial assault, riddling the defense by hitting his receivers with deadly accuracy in spite of the blitz, even if he has to use shotgun. With short bullet passes and long bombs, he marches his troops into enemy territory, balancing this aerial assault with a sustained ground attack that punches holes in the forward wall of the enemy’s defensive line. In baseball the object is to go home! And to be safe! – I hope I’ll be safe at home!