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[whitespace] Whoa!-ful: The curator of 'Lost and Found' numbs down history.


Notes on the revenge of the History Channel

By Jacques Boyreau

Title: Jumbo's Hide, Elvis' Ride, and the Tooth of Buddha

What It Is: An eclectic repertoire of historical booty and the great stories connected to these objects.

What it really is: A well-researched, thoroughly numb scoot-show of this, that and the other thing, but mostly nothing--and continuously so.

So here's the concept, guys: We take this book, see? And I write these brief info-packed essays about this crazy fucking assortment of historically significant things that still exist--everything from the Magna Carta to Galileo's finger to Tom Thumb's wedding cake to Freud's couch to the gat that snuffed John Lennon. See, this way nobody gets bored, cus my shit is movin'. And tone-wise we give everything a nice fact-laden polish and keep it all on the up-and-up, see what I'm sayin'? It'll be classy and you can read it on the toilet.

Ah, Mr. Rachlin, fortunately History is too totteringly mad to be roped by your professionalism and conned by your short-attention apologia. History is unavoidably aphasic and those who attempt to "sum it up" end up sounding more mealy-mouthed than the homums who fumble with a phrase or two. The power of terseness, the mystery of meaning, wariness regarding "facts," and a sense of fetishistic obsession--none of these warrior-instincts make it into your book.

Scattered to and fro, there are some excellent items about Edison's tinfoil phonograph, the life-after of the Bounty mutineers, a cannibal called Vendovi, and a reminder of (King) MacArthur's knack for eloquence ("We must go forward to preserve in peace what we won in war"). There's also the aforementioned crowded affair of midget-wedding bells ("Babylon was a rag to it"), as well as the sharing of George Washington's boyhood notations on decent behavior ("When in company put not your hands to any part of the body not usually discovered ... Labour to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience").

Nevertheless, the chapters on Buddha, Elvis and Lennon are injuriously feeble. Since their presence seems especially included to shine the book's History-is-cool badge, their hollowness may appall the reader. Putting aside a few quaffs of admirable data and library-spelunking, the specs of Jumbo's Hide, etc., are lockjaw with a trivia/game show, and that characteristic grows unseemly as the book progresses down a gantlet of neato discoveries. Here we have the perfect dregs of postmodernism--a concoction of the abundantly square and the obnoxiously well-informed.

'Jumbo's Hide, Elvis' Ride, and the Tooth of Buddha,' by Harvey Rachlin (Holt, 372 pages)

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From the April 3, 2000 issue of the Metropolitan.

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