Ask Palinode: Inaugural Edition

Success! Ask Palinode has gotten off a rip-roaring start, with not one but three questions on my plate. Things seemed a bit rocky at first, what with some people having trouble reading the FAQ, but I feel confident that the coming weeks will witness a smoothing-out, a laying of hot asphalt over troubles, and we will all drive around - wait, let's stop this sentence and move on.

Our first question comes from Brent Wagner, who asks Palinode:

If it takes 2 chickens a day and a half to lay three eggs, how long
would it take a one legged monkey to kick the seeds out of a watermelon?

This has been nagging at me for years. Hope you can help.

Brent Wagner, stop hoping and get ready for hope's surcease and a promise of rest, because I have come up with the authoritative definitive answer for this one. I also appreciate the nerdiness of the question. I'm not implying any nerdiness on Brent's part, but his question is stuffed to the blowhole with nerd, which gives me the opporutnity to indulge in my nerdy side. It's a fit, handsome, hard-working, hard-drinking nerdy side, but nerdy it is.

It's also a tough nut to crack. In order to answer this one, you need to be able to determine what is truly being asked here. Usually it's best to take a text at its face value and see where a literal interpretation leads you, but there's so much subtext in Brent's question that it overwhelms the literal text, one which involves the averaging out of motile monkey strength and the assumption of a sliced watermelon.

Let's be real, Brent. There are no chickens here, no eggs. There's no monkey. No watermelon. And dare I point it out - no seeds. This question does not occupy a discursive space contiguous to the real world. Instead, it's a fractured thought experiment, a genre-bending parody of a question, a strategy that subsitutes noise for signal and then challenges the observer to sort the semi-random groupings for an authentic pattern. You thought that we were the monkey, Brent Wagner, but we are no monkeys. Even though they share most of our genes and they look even better than humans do with their little vests and caps.

Brent Wagner, that monkey is your penis. Here's how.

In order to pull out this question from its parodic wrapping, let's first consider the genre that it spoofs. This is a take on the mathematical word problem, so often characterized by the 'two trains' approach, ie. "Train A leaves Station 1 heading east, while train B leaves Station 2 heading west". The atmosphere evoked is the classroom, that weird ant farm in which a roomful of adolescents is forced, despite all instincts to the contrary, to sit still and perform mildly boring tasks. At a fundamental level, these questions, when addressed in memory or parody, are not about the mathematical content; they are about boredom and the promise of release, the barely tamped down raging of the adolescent body.

Brent tips his hand by introducing chickens and eggs into the first half of the puzzle.

Chickens in this instance recall the classroom, insofar as they call to mind the barn, or henhouse. The evocation of the chicken forces us to remember the close association between the classroom and its original model, which can be found in mass animal husbandry. It is also the model for the factory floor and the office. Chickens represent the unconscious fear in the adolescent male of bodily functions: reproduction, respiration, excretion. Furthermore, chickens are obedient and overwhelmingly female - the use of chickens in riddles is part of a misogyny inherent in our agricultural roots. For the adolescent male, women's bodies and feminity are a source of mystery, desire and authority that seeks to confound his attempts to understand/possess/disobey. Thus we see a hegemonic wall of femaleness arrayed against the questioner.

Enter the monkey, the furry homunculus, the trickster. Instead of a fox in the henhouse, which introduces the too-graphic notion of eating offspring (eggs) or the parent (hens), we have a chaotic, libinous agent out to stir up some shit. A monkey in the melon patch, which can be seen as the gendered inverse of the first part of the question. It is also pretty clearly a sexual act, with the grotesquely emphasized leg standing in for a penis (Brent's penis, in this instance) - the repeated 'kicking' of the 'leg' eventually 'kicking' all the 'seeds' out of the 'watermelon'. The image of flying pulp and seeds evokes the battering of the flesh and an ejaculation all at once, a conflation of physical and sexual violation culminating in an orgy of gore and sperm. Yuck. Yuck! The question of duration refers to sexual stamina.

So the question, properly translated, runs thusly: Given that I'm inexperienced with women and that my body is filled with strange conflicting urges towards them, how long do you think I'd last in bed with one?

Since this question has bugging you for years, Brent, it's pretty safe to say that you're way beyond this stage and now enjoying a healthy adult sexuality (If sexuality ever gets truly healthy). But since this question is adolescent in nature, the answer should be as well.

Answer: Dude, don't you know? I scored with so many chicks already, I'm embarrassed for you. They were all so hot too. They all go to different schools. So you wouldn't know any of them. They're sluts. And they wouldn't talk to you anyway. And even if they did they wouldn't know who I was because I used a different name and I had my moustache and it was dark and they were wasted. Way wasted.

Do you have a question for the Palinode? Ask away! Send an email to: askpalinode @ gmail . com.