“Fragile!” - or - Nine Characters in Search of Their Names


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Speaking of Gossip, several of his fellow chess masters (a bloc including Najdorf, Falkbeer, Ruy Lopez, Philidor & Pal Benko, but not, of course, Block*) object to the confiscation of their names by certain chess opening variations. The players claim that they only intended to lend their names to these openings, but now the openings stubbornly refuse to give them back. Lawsuits seem imminent.**

Marcel’s countryman Voltaire, accustomed to a daily quota of some sixty cups of coffee, can’t find an electrical plug here that fits his espresso machine. For now, he subsists on Folger’s Crystals (he licks them up dry from the palm of his hand) & complains bitterly — despite the results of independent taste tests — that this is the worst of all possible worlds. Voltaire brushes aside suggestions that he simply use an electrical adapter, insisting in his brusque, hyperkinetic manner that the very Volt itself was named after him. Here he forgets the claim of Alessandro Volta, whose pioneering experiments put his name into wall sockets the world over. It is only a matter of time before a new surname is foisted upon Voltaire, but our copyright committee hesitates to do so while he is still in the throes of espresso withdrawal.

Voltaire’s plight alarms Pirandello; desperate to invest his own name with meaning, the playwright executed a series of clumsy pirouettes until Dr. Strong, our busy lexicographer, scared the dickens out of him by informing him that alliteration doesn’t count. Now Pirandello’s checking milk cartons for six shady characters who, he claims, are searching for him.

A man named Glasscock is banging on the door, but certain of the more juvenile members of our convocation persist in their merciless laughter & their taunting cries of “Fragile!”

Everyone is dreading the one inevitable event that will rend the fabric of our little universe: the impending arrival of that long-winded British politician, John Word. Soon words will become sentences, sentences will become paragraphs, & paragraphs will become monographs. How will we get anything done?



* Who restricts himself to tic-tac-toe because the game allows him to block.

 ** Our judicial proceedings, involving, as they do, artists & intellectuals, are always amusing. When the prosecutor asks, for example, “Where were you on the night of August 26th?”, the defendant might answer, “in my customary state of perplexity.” At which point a juror might bemoan the atrophy of modern man’s awareness of the physical world. If the judge were then to bang his gavel & call for order, some wiseacre in the cheap seats might instigate a discussion on the Judge as Tribal Wise Man in Post-Industrial Society, & the case would then become hopelessly sidetracked.


Originally appeared in Agni



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