Tuesday, July 05, 2016

He's alive! He's alive, I tell you! I saw him on a wall. He's alive!

Old icons never die. They just vanish for a while, and then show up on walls with a
new crop of facial hair.
I think the first time I laid eyes on him I was about 11 or 12. A kid in my class named Bernie Feuer turned me on to him. I'm talking about Alfred E. Neuman, the “What, me worry?” boy.

I always wondered what became of the "What Me Worry?" boy. Well, I've wondered about Bernie Feuer, too, but this piece is specifically about the face that lured me into Mad Comics.

For years, he kept me entertained. He kept me spending my dimes, and later my quarters, just to get a laugh from his gap-toothed mug. It was the face of what today you'd call a nerd. In those days, there was no such word as nerd.

Eventually I grew up and went to college. And then, decades later, the last time I looked at Mad, he wasn’t there any more. Or maybe he was confined to a page or two that I missed. At any rate, I didn't see him.

Was he brutally murdered in an editorial putsch? Was he exiled to some distant file drawer to wither away in our aging memories? Had he escaped to another country, where he now thrives by practicing, say, psychiatry or obstetric medicine, or acupuncture?

I don’t have the answer for sure. But it would appear that he became a surrealist artist, in the tradition of Salvador Dali. Or maybe he's just a fading dandy these days, paid by a shipping line to dance with single ladies on cruise ships.

Whatever the case, here’s how you can find him, today. Go to the northwest corner of Second Avenue and 35th Street in New York City. There he’ll be, at least for a while, up against a wall, staring at the garbage cans that would be at his feet, if he had any feet. He has been put on display in this fashion by something called The Bushwick Collective, or so they sign his portrait.

Hello, Alfred. Or may I call you Al? And by the way, after all these years you finally look a trifle worried to me. Perhaps you fear that a Republican congress will cut your Social Security and Medicare benefits. Or privatize them. Or both. Or is "privatizing" another way of saying they're going to cut you to the quick?

And question: if Donald Trump actually manages to get himself elected, and then actually manages to build a wall between the United States and Mexico, should your portrait be on the wall, too? And if so, on which side of the wall?

Anyway, I’m glad to think you’ve finally learned to worry. Why should you be any different than the rest of us?

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