A few months ago, I translated an essay by Max Goldt, a German writer of prose pieces and comic strips. (The link above also contains a bit more of an introduction.) The response was encouraging, so here's another short essay.
I hope I don't need to remind readers that the original is funnier, nuances have been lost in translation, etc. (If you lot would just hurry up and learn German, I could go back to cultivating my beloved shelf fungi).
Without further ado, I give you:
Intact Abdomen thanks to Cool Behavior
by Max Goldt (translation by Andrew Hammel)
As a supporter of the environment, I am also a great friend of animals. If I see a fellow citizen approaching a kitten with a hedge-trimmer or saxophone, I call out: “No, my good man!” We all understand this. However, on the whole, animals are not as popular as animal shows on television. When you crack open a hazelnut and sees a maggot’s sickly grimace instead of the hoped-for nature-snack, joie de vivre takes a short break. Don’t start yelling at the maggot right then -- as we all know, it will one day develop into one of those precious and irreplaceable fellow-creatures which circle around idiotically in front of your mouth. It is unnecessary to treat lowly worms and the like with kid-gloves. The ecological balance is not a house of cards that will collapse if you squash a fly sitting on top of it. The beasts just love to sit on houses of cards anyway. So, I routinely squash unwanted flies, and hear nary a peep from my conscience. (Invited flies, of course, receive different treatment.)
We humans are just that way. If a million mites are going lip-smackingly about their daily business in our carpets, we would hardly be demoralized to find out that their population had been halved by a mite-world natural disaster. It doesn’t matter how “whole-earth” a nature-lover thinks – the tears that run down his cheeks after he squashes a silverfish in the bathroom will dry faster than those he cries after accidentally shooting a Siberian tiger in the bathtub.
How would the animal shelter employee look if you brought her a huge family of maggots milling about in a piece of liverwurst? I think she’d throw a fine fit! Thus, it would be an appropriate sign of sincerity if the local SPCA changed its name to “Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Generally Regarded as Nice.” Furry, cute, feathered, or at least rare – that’s how animals have to be if they wish to enjoy the undivided favor of us humans. There’s also a minimum-size requirement – you can’t really sympathize through a magnifying-glass.
But what happens when mice drop by? They’re, like, totally cute and can be seen with the naked eye. Theoretically, they should be popular. In practice, however, nobody likes them, because they shit in the Mozzarella, and that gives you cholera. Just because of their cute little eyes, though, the purchase of mousetraps is accompanied by nagging scruples. I’ve just read in the magazine nature about a woman who found a way out of this dilemma purely by chance. Not only did she have mice – as if that weren’t enough by itself – but also a son, and it was his birthday. He wanted a drum-set, got one, and began practicing diligently. The mice didn’t like it and left the house. Whereupon the mother set pen to paper and wrote a letter to nature on the theme of ecologically responsible mouse-persecution.
And what about spiders? Here, I advise you to remain calm. They’ll never be able to open the mozzarella package – they’re too delicately-built. They’re also too elegant to be really gruesome. Their legs are really nothing more than glorified pubic hairs. “Glorified pubic hairs?” I hear the critics calling. “More glorious than your pubic hair, maybe, but not ours!” Oh, alright, then – they’re not as glorious as pubic hairs. If you can get a spider to sit up and beg, though, it looks like a can-can dancer from a Toulouse-Lautrec painting. That’s certainly a more pleasant sight than critics’ pubic hairs. Unfortunately, spiders don’t consist solely of these dainty pubic hairs. Right there, where other people have their rear ends, there’s a rather unpleasant black ball called an abdomen, where spiders keep their guts. Because nothing ruins a cozy atmosphere faster than watching these guts soak into your natural-fiber carpet, one normally doesn’t squash spiders. I personally remain utterly cool when a spider pays me a visit. When a Czech farce has just begun on TV and I see a spider on the wall, I first watch the rest of the show, turn off the TV, and calmly drink a glass of lemonade. Only then do I scream in simulated horror: “Eek! A spider!“ I take a post-card and a sheet of paper. With the postcard, I scratch the eight-legged guest from the carpet, so that he tumbles onto the sheet of paper, and then – wuppdiwupp!* – straight out the window. Clean wall thanks to intact abdomen, intact abdomen thanks to cool behavior.
Because the media seems to be running out of actual news to report, one sees recently more and more stories about a trend toward ‘insect cuisine’. Insects, they say, are cheap protein-bombs that go easy on the cholesterol. In big cities, there are supposedly specialty restaurants already. Certainly, there must be spider dishes available there. (Yes, I know, spiders aren’t insects, but does the average chef know that?) You can just imagine it: fresh-squeezed spider-abdomen juice. Or spider-abdomen salad. At this point, I’d like to ask readers who feel obliged to use the phrase „spider-abdomen salad” in my presence to do so neither frequently nor loudly. Normally, I favor subjecting people who want to forbid the use of words like “fatherland” or “genuine concern” to unforgiving mental-competence tests. But I find “spider-abdomen salad” even worse than “risk-group” or “Power-Woman.”
Another word that tends to evoke a frown is barnacle semen. Recently, a nature film shamelessly glorified barnacles as the animals with the biggest penis-to-rest-of-body ratio in the entire animal kingdom. The penises looked like Chinese noodles. You saw close-ups of these wart-like creates waving their noodles about, and then, of course, the semen came shooting out, right into the nice clean water – and all this at 8:30 in the evening, when many children were still awake. Perhaps it’s not the melting poles that are causing the rise in sea-level, but rather the libidos of barnacles. Come to think of it, the water seemed a little slippery last time I was at the beach. 'Good God', I wondered, 'is Sylt Island is going to be swallowed-up by barnacle semen?' Can there be a nastier prospect? But of course! Anal sex with borrowed mummies. Sex with mummies is a pretty cringe-worthy subject in itself, but anal sex with mummies that don’t even belong to you is, without a doubt, the ne plus ultra.
I hereby advise all readers never to loan out their mummies. Even the best of friends are never totally sincere about their tendencies.
[Source: Goldt, M., 'Intaktes Abdomen dank coolem Verhalten' in Für Nächte am offenem Fenster: Die Prachtvollsten Texten von 1987-2002, pp. 333-37]
* Left in original. Now you know the German word for "to throw a spider out the window."