Sunday, December 30, 2007

City Fables (Playboy, 1957)

Playboy, November, 1957, pp. 50-1.


three modern, metropolitan folk tales

By Hoke Norris

Fables, traditionally, are little moral tales; but time changes all things, and in our own time, among the complex denizens of urban communities, a new kind of fable has been going the rounds: a kind of amoral -- or even immoral -- tale, usually involving infidelity. You have undoubtedly heard, and told, some of them yourself; others may have escaped your attention. Here are three of the best, collected and retold by Mr. Hoke Norris[.] [...] Says Norris: "I got the fables from men who swore they were true. Not that they personally knew the principal actors, you understand, but the fellow who told them said the fellow who told them..." Thus are all fables, moral or otherwise, born and propagated.

[A wife instructs the man with whom she is having an affair that if her husband ever answers the phone when he calls her, he is not to hang up, but "to make up an apocryphal number and ask if this was that one." It soon happens that the husband instead of the wife does indeed answer the phone, and the man asks if he has correctly dialed Chester 3-0912. Yes, says the husband. Taken aback, the man then asks if it is the Gibraltar Life Insurance Company. Again the husband responds affirmatively. After a pause, the man inquires, "Is Mr. Smith there?" He is informed that he is speaking to Mr. Smith. Outwitted, the man hangs up. "Wrong number," the husband coolly remarks to his wife.]

[A cheating husband tells his wife that he is having an affair with his secretary, an admission that she thinks is a joke. Whenever he says he is having dinner with his secretary, or taking her on a business trip, his wife laughs, and so does he. One day she suggests that they buy a new car, but he says they can't afford it because he has lost thousands of dollars betting on the horses. She thinks he is joking about this, too, but he shows her the check stubs. After this, when he announces that he is taking his secretary out to dinner, his wife's laughter is hollow.]

[The last tale involves an expensive ermine jacket given to an adulterous woman by her lover. To disguise its provenance, she deposits the jacket in a locker at a railway station and then tells her husband that she found its key in the street. He takes up her suggestion to go to the locker to see what it contains, but after taking the jacket, he gives it to his lover. His wife must be content with the box of chocolates that he claims to have found in the locker.] [Ernest Baughman, Type and Motif-Index of the Folktales of England and North America, K1581.12 (a, b)]