When I was very young I had a thing for George Washington. Both Virginians, we were born precisely two hundred and twenty-nine years apart. I was most grateful for this latter circumstance, because until the disrespectful skunks in George’s own city combined his birthday with Lincoln’s and called the resulting compromise date Presidents’ Day, I always had my birthday off from school. Spending many of my formative years in the commonwealth of Sic semper tyrannis, Washington was never far away. I recall, for example, an early foray to Williamsburg, where I watched a film on the making of the American Revolution, in which Washington was shown to great advantage. He was an imposing guy. In a tavern scene, he is asked to show that he can crush a walnut between his thumb and fingers, which done, another character remarks, rightfully impressed, on the ‘imposing demonstration of digital strength’ (I was intrigued by the use of the word ‘digital,’ and hence have remembered the phrase these forty-some years) displayed by my hero. He was strong, he was a leader, he was impeccably honest (the cherry tree, you know). He was everything a young boy looks for in an idol, a liberator, a founder, incorruptible, adored by his countrymen. I would have given anything to be like him.
The other character I strongly identified with was Wile E. Coyote.
Guess which one of them I am most like.
‘Wile E. Coyote, super genius,’ he says, caressing each syllable, in awe of himself, in some of the later episodes, in which the original rules have been broken, and he is allowed to speak.
Wile E. stars in a cartoon that may have the simplest plot in the history of the universe. A roadrunner runs down the road. A coyote tries to catch him.
Unfortunately, Wile E. is no ordinary coyote. An ordinary coyote would have managed to hide behind a rock and successfully ambush the roadrunner by the third episode or so. Wile E. hatches schemes. Clever ones, too, but not generally very well thought out.
Some of his schemes fail due to the faulty nature of many of the ubiquitous Acme Company’s products. Sometimes they fail due to the delayed or unpredictable operation of the laws of physics. Chuck Jones notes that Wile E.’s worst enemy is gravity. But really, his worst enemy is himself.
When I was young, I felt that I, too, was some species of super genius, and really I should have taken more seriously the lessons that Wile E. had to offer. I could see quite clearly that he was a fool to his own cleverness.
Chuck Jones (the cartoon’s creator) also notes that the guys at the studio once calculated that the show depends on a grand total of only seven gags.
If I were to sit down and take a good hard look at my life so far, I bet I would find even fewer than seven reasons that I have not yet caught the roadrunner. For a year now, however, I have managed to stay more or less focused on him. I’ve pretty much abandoned my faith in the Acme Company. I’m just about over any notion that I’m a super genius. I’ve embraced my inner and very ordinary coyote, and I’m getting better and better at doing what coyotes do best.