Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, March 27, 2015


The Age of the Tail by H. Allen Smith (1955)

Beginning at precisely 5:35 a.m., Eastern Daylight Saving Time, on September 22, 1957, every child born in the world was born with a tail.  (What?  You don't remember?  Lucky for you that H. Allen Smith does.)  Writing four decades after that momentous occasion, the author takes a look back at the cultural shifts a tailed population might affect.

There are strategic problems that accompany a caudal appendage.  How do you design clothes now.  Do you cover the tail or display it proudly au naturel?  Should the tail be bedecked with jewelry and goo-gaws?  What should on do with a tail when the weather is cold?  Chairs, toilets, cars...must they all be redesigned.  For those born pre-9/22/57, will they be facing discrimination as the number of tailed becomes larger than the number of untailed?  How does one protect a tail (which is literally an extension of the spinal cord) from injury at work or at sport?

For that matter, how does the addition of a tail affect common-day language?  Etiquette?  Self-esteem?  Advertising?  Entertainment?

What happens when the tail-boomers reach puberty and discover that the tail is an erogenous zone for females?

BTW, the tail exudes a slight unpleasant odor.  So how does one keep his or her tail at optimal cleanliness, vermin-free, and with a lustrous shine?

As with dogs, the human tail is expressive -- a distinct disadventage at business, politics, poker,,,Children have to be taught at an early age how to control their tailish instincts and how to invoke the commonly accepted tail movements that will help one navigate through society's expectations?  There are so many hours in a school day, so arithmatic and spelling must be deemphasized to make room for tail tutorage.

All this and more are covered by H. Allen Smith in this informal history of forty tailed years for humanity.

Smith (1907-1976) was a popular humorist in the the Forties and Fifties.  Many of his books (Low Man on the Totem Pole, Lost in the Horse Latitudes, Rhubarb, and Life in a Putty Knife Factory, among others) were national best-sellers.  He claimed (along with many others) to have had the first legally-bought drink after Prohibition was repealed.  One thing I did not realize:  he lived in the same New York town (Mt. Kisco) as my wife did when she was young; they never met.  His loss.

The Age of the Tail is a wry (and wise) satirical look at our society.  It's no knee-slapper, but it does provide many a pleasant smile and a nod of the head in agreement to his observations.

The time of best-selling humorists such as Smith, George Ade, Max Shulman, Will Cuppy, Stephen Leacock, Jean Kerr, and so many others has seemed to pass.  To steal a line from the Sage of Alvin, I miss the old days.


  1. I've read Rhubarb of course, hasn't everyone?, but I have no recollection of this at all.

  2. I haven't read RHUBARB yet, alas, though I have read a scrap of Smith along the way...your first graph, Jerry, correctly notes we're all born with a Tale...perhaps even an Urban Fantasy tale, as this one, thirty years before that term was offered as describing something New.

    1. My fumble fingers strike again, Todd. Fixed now.