The Last Straw

by Chris Van Orden

Dearest readers,

I’m very sorry to disappoint, but this is not going to be one of my typically knee-slap-inducing columns. I realize that you, my enormous and committed fan base, will be understandably devastated by the fourteen day span you must endure between selected offerings of the famous Van Orden wit, but, as I plan to show, I had no choice in the matter. You see, my writing process normally involves waking up from a drug-induced stupor on Thursday morning and hurriedly looking around at available objects for inspiration. For instance, a nail-cum-coat hook-cum-finger cutter provided the impetus for the brilliant yet misunderstood “What Kind of Fastening Device Are You?”. A brief Google search to be sure that I didn’t overtly plagiarize any preexisting pieces and it’s off to the proverbial presses and you, the adoring public.

For today’s update, I originally planned to write a fictional transcript of two academics debating the relationship between the American English idioms, the last straw and the straw that broke the camel’s back, as inspired by, what else, a straw left over from yesterday’s Slurpee. I can say with humble confidence this column would have been what I’ve heard the kids today call a ‘doozy’. Below, I’ve included a brief excerpt from the original, in case you doubt the hilarity of the abandoned piece:

Dr. Antonovich: Tom, please don’t tell me that you actually think that the last straw is the same straw as the one that broke the camel’s back. It’s ridiculous!
Dr. Lemmon: I do think they’re the same, Alexei, and it’s not ridiculous. The camel’s back is presumably being weighed down by a bale of straw nearly to the point of being broken. The weight of a single straw is all that hangs in the balance. That straw is the last one needed to break the camel’s back, so they are one and the same.
Dr. Antonovich: Ludicrous! The last straw is the penultimate straw! It’s the final straw that the camel’s back can withstand, which implies that there is, in fact, one more straw yet to be placed. To claim a straw to be the last is to insinuate the existence of yet another straw!
Dr. Lemmon: I’m sorry, Alexei, you’re just wrong. The two straws are, in fact, one.
Dr. Antonovich: No they’re not, damn it! Now I see the smug condescension your wife always talks about!
Dr. Lemmon: You leave Andrea out of it, you washed up hack.
Dr. Antonovich: That’s the last straw!

And so forth. This would have undoubtedly been a revolutionary work of fiction, had the 30 second editing and revision portion of my writing process not put the kibosh on the entire piece. The American Heritage Dictionary, the bane of pure artistry everywhere, turned up some sad news. The last straw’s etymology is as follows: “From the proverb “It’s the last straw that breaks the camel’s back”. (”. The joke was rendered moot. While I might have submitted the piece anyway, my comedic genius is surpassed only by my commitment to linguistic and journalistic integrity. And so, it was with a heavy heart that I sent the straw column to an early grave.

Having buried my labor of love, I was left with a recently expunged funny-gland and no submission. Hence this letter. I sincerely apologize to the millions and millions of fans who are forced to wait another two weeks to hear my comically insightful musings, especially those in the official Chris Van Orden Fan Club (only $20/mo, join now). I promise that I’ll never again let you down. I’ve seen firsthand the damage a lack of humor can inflict – my Uncle Bill didn’t laugh for a month and then, bam, hit by a bus. So apologies, readers, and hang in there. Only two more weeks until you can laugh again. Be strong.

C. Van Orden

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