The most-quoted lines from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance are “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” Today the line should be adapted to “When in doubt about someone, call that person a legend.”
Recently, when I opened a CD case holding a collection of the greatest hits of Waylon Jennings, a leaflet fell out promoting other CDs by the country “outlaw.” On the cover is a photo of the black-garbed singer, cigarette in hand, slyly smirking next to the words “He didn’t become a legend by following the rules.”
The spring issue of On Wisconsin, a periodical sent to alumni of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, features a full-page tribute to a prankster which begins “When former student Leon Varjian passed away last September, UW-Madison lost one its true legends.” Leon’s claim to fame? He was a leader of the Pail and Shovel Party, a group that stuck a flock of plastic pink flamingoes on campus one day and also planted a torch and head resembling a partially-submerged Statue of Liberty in frozen Lake Mendota. The Party’s mission was simple: to waste as much time and money as possible. The large photo accompanying the encomium shows a grimacing Varjian in 1983, strutting down State Street at the head of a boom box parade. The author of the tribute does include one salient point: though elected to the Wisconsin Student Association for two years, Leon never earned a degree and “in fact, he appears to have earned only one academic credit.”
In the same issue of On Wisconsin a four-page salute is given to “the man who saved pinball.” Maybe the word legend is not used in that article because the man is still alive. There will be plenty of time for that later. We have enough living legends already. Just listen to announcers describing any sporting event.
Now I know what I have been doing wrong with my life. By obeying regulations, attending classes faithfully to earn degrees, engaging in meaningful occupations, and by becoming a productive member of society, I have doomed myself to a life of obscurity. No more of that. There still may be time for me to become a legend before, during, or after my time.
So far, claiming to be D.B. Cooper has proven to be a poor gambit. Everyone keeps saying, “Show me the money.” I also have no answer for “What color was your parachute?” Maybe I should claim to be Gambit and tell them to look for me in the funny pages.
Sometime this year I intend to take my Gene Autry Silvertone guitar to the Autry Museum of the American West where I hope to get thrown out for not following the rules by singing “Are You Sure Gene Done Back in the Saddle This Way?” at the top of my lungs.
In my basement I am building a replica of the prow of the Edmund Fitzgerald which I will drive into the ground near the harbor in Duluth before publicly declaring that portion of the city a haven for sluggards.
This spring I plan to spend considerable time marching around the campus of defunct Milton College with a drum major baton and battery–powered cassette player booming out the strains of “Hey, look me over before you book me downtown.”
I have to get started right away on my scheme to force-feed indigestible pellets to chickens on a farm outside of town if I want to gain the title of Pinball Gizzard.
If all else fails in my inglorious quest, I am going to do something that is really hair-raising. For now it is a secret. Just don’t shoot at any gangling creature you might see shuffling through the woods in the coming months. If you don’t think I would stoop that low to find out what becomes a legend least, you don’t know Sasquatch.