Monday, March 03, 2008

The Old Man Was Right and Everyone in Your Dorm Room Was Wrong

"Blog" fave Werner Herzog interviews Errol Morris, and visa versa, in the new BELIEVER magazine. This brings up something that has been on my mind ever since I first read the back of the VHS box for Morris' film VERNON, FLORIDA (which is mentioned early in the article). The back of the box (and the film itself, I assert) invites the viewer to laugh knowingly at an old man who "thinks his pet turtle is a gopher" (or words to that effect). Here is what has been on my mind since the 1980s: DON'T LAUGH AT THAT OLD MAN! That kind of tortoise is CALLED A "GOPHER." That's what my grandfather called it. BECAUSE THAT IS WHAT IT IS CALLED. Say you were a scientist. You would call that animal a "gopher" or a "gopher tortoise." It would not mean that you thought your tortoise was a furry mammal such as you have seen digging up Jerry Lewis's garden and squirting water in Jerry Lewis's face in the film HOOK, LINE, AND SINKER or pestering Bill Murray in CADDYSHACK. In fact, my 1981 Webster's collegiate dictionary gives "land dwelling tortoise" as the PRIMARY definition of gopher. The PRIMARY definition, laughers! That means the old man should have been laughing at you! But he was probably too polite. The old man says, at one point, that his pet is "not a turtle," which would seem to add to the very "smart" hilarity. BUT HE IS MAKING A DISTINCTION, probably based on the gopher tortoise's landlocked, burrowing, non-aquatic lifestyle. In case you think I am lying, and that it is great fun to laugh at an old man who "thinks his pet turtle is a gopher," here is a "link" to a sanctuary where gophers are allowed to thrive far away from our wryly deadpan gaze. It's in Alabama! Boy, I'm glad I finally got that off my chest.