Friday, December 10, 2004

Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Nostalgic Blog Post

I don't remember how I got there, but the other day I discovered the Modern Humorist's archive of Encyclopedia Brown parodies. They're probably old news to most people by now (the most recent is dated 2002), but they were new to me. If your as behind the times as I am and haven't seen them yet, by all means go check 'em out. They're all hysterically funny (especially The Case of the Death Row Dubya and The Case of the Pirated MP3s), and the authors have the style of the books down cold. They ended up making me kind of nostalgic for the genuine articles, which I devoured with a passion I usually only reserved for comic books as a little kid.

See, when I was really young, I used to love playing detective. I'd throw on this old fishing hat (the kind with the big brim and flaps in the back) that I thought looked like Sherlock Holmes's deerstalker cap, grab the little magnifying glass my parents bought for me at a yard sale and proceed to scour the neighborhood for "cwues and feevs" (that's "clues and thieves" for those of you who don't speak the dialect of Late 20th Century Suburban New England 4 Year Olds). My dad would often go with me, since sometimes I needed a Watson, but mostly because I wasn't allowed to cross streets by myself, and we'd walk up and down the street collecting "evidence" (which usually consisted of oddly shaped rocks, loose change and the occasional soda can). I never did solve any crimes, but I liked to think that was because my constant patrols scared off any potential criminal elements

So I suppose it was only natural I took to Encyclopedia Brown books the way that I did. This kid was living the dream! He really was a detective, and probably the smartest pre-teen in the world, to boot. He and his friend, Sally, ran an actual detective agency out of the garage (charging 25 cents a day plus expenses), and the entire neighborhood would come to them to solve whatever the problem of the moment was (usually Bugs Meany swindling some other kid, though there was other stuff going on, too). And if that weren't enough, at least once per book, he'd end up solving a legitimate police case for his dad, the town's chief of police. Chief Brown would talk about some new baffling case during dinner, and before desert was served, the kid would inevitably figure it out for him (and think about that... if the Gotham City police look bad for having to depend on a vigilante to do all their actual work, how useless must the Idaville PD be if they have to depend on a 10 year old for everything?).

Needless to say, I didn't want to just emulate this kid, I wanted to be him. Even more than I wanted to be Superman, and I wanted to be Superman a whole lot. From my point of view, the kid had it all: the job, the attitude, the eventual girlfriend (once he finally "saw" Sally, and you gotta figure that was inevitable), and best of all, he was a brainy kid who had friends and didn't get beat up all the time. To nerdy little me, that looked like the best of all possible worlds. I tried to emulate him, but it never really worked. Again, there was no real criminal element in my neighborhood, and my mom laughed at the detective agency sign I made, so that never even got hung up. And then there were those damn solutions in the back of the books; I was a pretty smart kid, and I'd figure out a few of the mysteries, but so many of them seemed to rely on some really arcane knowledge that no real little kid would ever actually know (Encyclopedia always did, though; the kid was like friggin' MacGyver, except not old enough to own a pocket knife).

So the Doughty Detective Agency never really got off the ground. With such a low batting average in the actual mystery-solving department, I figured I was probably better off leaving the sleuthing to the experts. Still, it would've been pretty cool. Though I would've charged way more than 25 cents. Maybe even a whole buck.
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