There is a nameless something that often vexes me when reading. I’ll be moving along down the page, as always, generally finding what I expected to find. But now and then, there will appear a side note or brief summary of something else, obviously greatly potentially interesting, but on which the author, for whatever reason, chooses not to elaborate. Perhaps the term “unrequited aside” would suffice to cover what I’m describing, but the reader can decide.
This is a phenomenon that in one form or another goes back some time, but in its pure form is a feature of the contemporary world. In the classical age, it could generally be assumed that allusions to myth would be picked up on by the educated readers of the educated author, with only later generations being oblivious. Likewise the Bible, where swapping shoes and burning bushes had a shared relevance that only hermeneutics can resolve today. So these are only half examples, as those authors could thus not truly be said to leave threads hanging like the more modern examples to which I refer.
I came across this example of the UA in its early modern form. Hillaire Beloc, in his interesting Characters of the Reformation, notes that Queen Elizabeth had a “mind diseased on the erotic side.” He begs off dwelling on it, and is as good as his word, noting only that “her relations with men were continual, but they were not normal and they were the more scandalous for that. Like others who have suffered the same tragic perversion in mind and body, it seemed to increases upon her with age. Already within sight of the grave and approaching her seventieth year, she was shamefully associated with one whom she had taken up as a lad, a young fellow nearly thirty-three years her junior.” (103) Well, what was it? One might be inclined to think lesbianism, were it not for the mention of men, or pedophilia, though the “young fellow” in question would have been in his thirties. So . . . he’s just going to leave it, though like the ancients, he seems to assume that his audience will pick up on what he’s getting at.
The true Unrequited Aside is a giant begged question. I probably first encountered it, or at least noticed it, in the Red and Black, the UGA campus newspaper. A fraternity was accused of hazing, and the story had come out because a father “had seen his son’s injuries as he stepped out of the shower one weekend several weeks earlier.” And just like that, the story moves on to the fraternity being suspended. Well, how do you just happen to see your grown son’s paddled ass as he steps out of the shower? The story doesn’t mention the son drawing his father’s attention to it, and one is left to assume that the father was just sitting there watching his adult son bathe when he noticed the presumably Pi Kappa Pi shaped indentations on the bottom he used to powder. Which is much weirder than the hazing, and worthy of elaboration. But no, the article just lets it go.
Another example comes from one of my minor interests, sports riots. I find them far more interesting than the games, mirroring in fact the way the UAs are sometimes more interesting than the main story. It was Ten Cent Beer Night, a spectacularly poorly thought out promotion in which the surly denizens of a city being rapidly destroyed by globalization were encouraged to drink while watching their mediocre team play a hated rival. This quickly turned violent, and in what can only be described as an Unrequited Aside, “[a]s the game progressed, more fans ran onto the field and caused problems. Ranger Mike Hargrove, who would later manage the Indians and lead them to the World Series twice in 1995 and 1997, was pelted with hot dogs and spit, and at one point was nearly struck by an empty gallon jug of Thunderbird.” Where to begin? Ten beers for a dollar, and someone still feels it’s worthwhile to bring in a gallon of Thunderbird, a beverage recommended by Bumwines.com as follows: “If your taste buds are shot, and you need to get trashed with a quickness, then “T-bird” is the drink for you. Or, if you like to smell your hand after pumping gas, look no further than Thunderbird.” How do you smuggle a gallon jug into a stadium? Did he drink the whole gallon (it may explain why he missed)? Did he live after having consumed that much hobo-poison? Never addressed, the author just keeps moving.
Sometimes the examples are bizarre, and thus all the more frustratingly interesting. My favorite of these is the story of Wallace Fard. The founder of the Nation of Islam claimed a dozen or so names and racial identities, but even stranger is one of the few undisputed records of his existence. Wikipedia states that in California, a “Wallie D. Ford . . . [was] arrested by Los Angeles police on November 17, 1918, on a charge of assault with a deadly weapon, by the Los Angeles police January 20, 1926, for violation of the California Wolverine Possession Act.” Wait, Wolverine Possession Act?!?! Why was wolverine ownership such a problem that the State of California had to ban it? Why did Ford or Fard or whoever have one? How did he get caught? Was the wolverine the deadly weapon? This and so much more we will never know, and a strange episode in the life of a strange man passes by.
So if you write, please be mindful that there are people out there like me who want to know these things. Spare a moment and fill in the gaps. Otherwise, what would otherwise be a compelling narrative will drive people like me to madness. Just like Lord Kinbote said.