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After the Golden Age by Alvin Schwartz
Giving a glimpse into the formative years of comics and beyond.

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AFTER THE GOLDEN AGE for 10/11/1999
Column 22

As I explained here in an earlier column, Superman didn't learn to fly until I got put in charge of him. Before that, he "could leap tall buildings", et cetera. Well, since a grown man can't keep bouncing around like someone permanently trying out for the OIympics, it seemed to make more sense if we simply expanded his leaps into flight. But I've had my say on this story already. I mention it here just by way of a lead-in to a dog I once had named Angus. Angus was, in actual fact, a flying dog. And here's where I hope some reader can help me out. Many years ago, sometime, I would say, between 1948 and 1950, I wrote a long Sunday continuity featuring Angus, the flying dog, and Superman. I remember only a few interesting things about that continuity. I especially enjoyed doing it. But I don't really recall the details, least of all how Superman was involved in it. As I explained, my kids swallowed up every comic I ever produced and I have no file to refer to.

But Angus was as real as Superman was to become in my life many decades later, when that fictional character, (Superman) was to become, in fact, a little more real than even Angus-and I produced my memoir, An Unlikely Prophet as a consequence.

Today, however, we're talking about Angus. And he could fly, in a unique and remarkable way. I was even well acquainted with his teacher, who happened to be, of all things, a crow.

I don't remember where I picked up Angus. He was one of those irresistible strays who walks into your life and just stays there until he becomes part of the family. He seemed to be part airdale, and part something fluffy which I can't define. Smaller than a springer spaniel, larger than a cocker spaniel. My wife and I were living in a rented cottage in Springs, East Hampton, way out on Long Island and just across a small bay known as Accabonic Creek. Directly across the Bay was the home of Jackson Pollock and his wife, Lee Krasner.

There was another important critter in this story. Lee had found and domesticated a crow which for some mysterious reason she named Caw-caw. Crows are strange and wonderful birds. They do things that endear and delight and annoy people whenever they can. For example, on Mondays, in the town of Springs, it was always washday. And Caw-caw would set about visitng all the clotheslines in town, sparkling white with their freshly washed linens, and then proceed to pull all the clothespins out and send the nice clean wash scuttering into the mud and sand. A lot of people were gunning for Caw-caw because of that.

Caw-caw's other cute little stunt was to take a fancy to a certain brand of salami to which I alone in all of Springs happened to have a pipeline. The local general store, run by Dan Miller, used to bring it in just for me. But that's a whole other story. Anyway, Caw-caw took a fancy to that salami. And being a very precise, scheduled creature (clotheslines on Monday, Alvin's on every day of the week for salami) used to arrive at my home every weekday at precisely 4 P.M. I don't know why weekends were excluded, unless he joined one of a crew of conspiratorial crows who plucked at the bonnets of ladies going to church. It was so rumored, but I didn't think so. Domesticated crows are normally outlawed by the untamed flocks, and the theory doesn't account for Saturdays. It's a mystery I still think about from time to time now that I no longer have deadlines to meet.

Now the important part of this story is how Angus reacted when Caw-caw would show up everyday at four. Angus' kennel, by the way, was a cavernous hole he had dug under the house. He seemed to prefer that to living in the house which was small. But when Caw-caw showed up, Angus used to go berserk. He'd crawl out of his den and go charging straight at the bird. But Caw-caw disdainfully flapped his wings and lifted himself about three feet off the ground to land on a ledge that fully encircled the house. I don't know what the purpose of the ledge was originally, but it was just about wide enough to picnic on.

Angus, frustrated, would then charge at the bird on the ledge and fall back in defeat. He'd do this over and over again. And maybe for days in a row until Caw-caw sort of got the idea that an interesting game was going on. Whenever Angus's charges grew weak and he seemed about to abandon his futile efforts, Caw-caw would flip-flap down from the ledge and dance on the ground a few feet from the dog until Angus was provoked into charging again. And then, with another flap of his wings, he was back up on the shelf.

This game continued for a couple of weeks. It took that long. But by then, a change began to come over Angus. He had somehow figured out that Caw-caw's secret lay in his ability to fly. And therefore, he must have decided, if he could learn to fly too, maybe that would level the playing field. I started noticing it gradually, but Angus stopped leaping at the ledge. He had apparently noted that Caw-caw's flight to that sanctuary was always preceded by a flapping of wings. Well, consider-Angus had no way of knowing he wasn't a crow. So he began to try to flap his wings too as he leaped at the ledge. Actually, he flapped his legs, his head and his whole rear torso which was the clumsiest thing I had ever seen any dog ever attempt. Caw-caw seemed to understand what Angus was up to. He kept up his dance, encouraging it. It really became a game with the two creatures. And actually, Angus began to get closer and closer to the ledge. In total defiance of all the laws of aerodynamics too. But one day, Caw-caw apparently decided to pack it in. It was getting too dangerous. Angus was really getting good at this thing.

But the story isn't over yet. That fall, my wife and I moved to Chicago. We had a small house on the edge of the campus of the University of Chicago. And there was a low set of shrubs encircling the front lawn. And time and again, we both used to watch Angus go chasing off after someone we knew, outside the ring of shrubs, which he leaped, not as any dog might leap a low shrub, but with that fantastic body wiggle he had picked up from Caw-caw. In fact, Angus never again leaped anywhere like a normal dog. More as though he were a crow. After all, why leap when you can fly?

Which brings me back to my original query. Does anyone know any of the details of this story from the Sunday continuity in which it appeared? I do remember that in that story, Angus also learned to talk. But I suspect this was a little stunt that Superman was behind, using super-ventriloquism. At least, I think that's probably how I would have written it.

Can anyone help me out on this?

Alvin Schwartz

<< 10/04/1999 | 10/11/1999 | 10/18/1999 >>

Discuss this column with me at my Round Table.

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