Friday, October 14, 2011

Shiftless Little Loafers

Susan Orlean (b. 1955)
From The 50 Funniest American Writers: An Anthology of Humor from Mark Twain to The Onion

This past week The Library of America published its latest anthology, The 50 Funniest Writers, edited by Andy Borowitz. Story of the Week previously presented one of the book’s selections, “The Ransom of Red Chief,” written during the first decade of the twentieth century; this week we present a story from the final decade. It’s merely a coincidence that both selections feature younger members of our species; while O. Henry describes a ten-year-old who terrorizes his kidnappers, Susan Orlean offers her post-Swiftian take on the problem of babies and what to do with them.

Susan Orlean was born in Cleveland, “back when the Indians were still a lousy team, and before they became a really good team and then again became a somewhat lousy team.” She has been a staff writer for The New Yorker for two decades, a tenure which followed gigs at Rolling Stone and Vogue. Among her several books is The Orchid Thief (1998), a narrative about orchid poachers in Florida and the inspiration for the movie Adaptation, written by Charlie Kaufman and directed by Spike Jonze. About her latest book, Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, she writes, “After digging through hundreds of pages of archives and files and photographs, I came to understand that this was not just a story about a dog, or even the many different dogs who make up the Rin Tin Tin legacy; this is a story about a beloved icon who has played a role in decades of American popular culture.”

You can read more of Susan Orlean's writing at The New Yorker or follow her on Twitter.

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QUESTION: Why don’t more babies work? Excuse me, did I say more? I meant, why don’t any babies work? After all, there are millions of babies around, and most of them appear to be extremely underemployed. . . . If you don't see the full story below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!

This selection is used by permission. To photocopy and distribute this selection for classroom use, please contact the Copyright Clearance Center.


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Just happened to read this, then reread Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself" right afterward. Maybe this is a coincidence or maybe not:

"Song of Myself": "I loafe and invite my soul, I lean and loafe at my ease....observing a spear of summer grass."

"Shirtless Little Loafers": "One recent summery morning...the park was filled with babies all loafing around..." the baby turned his attention ferociously and uninterruptibly to one of his toes and then, suddenly, to the blade of grass..."

I think it points to the deeper theme Susan Orlean was exploring here. The story is funny, but the last paragraph beautifully articulates something basic about being human that we tend to forget and that babies and Walt Whitman might have down better than most of us. I'm pretty sure Whitman inspired her here!

Anonymous said...

Just can't get 'into' this one.

Anonymous said...

Funny, and after having three of them, I couldn't agree more....

Anonymous said...

I didn't really like it. It was just meaningless ranting in my opinion...babies are smart...and smart people choose not to work? What was that all about?