Lately I have been reading the voluminous works of Ogden Nash, a silly poet who was taken seriously. How he managed to become widely known by working in the disrespected field of light verse is still perplexing. Nash died on this day, May 19th, in 1971. There has been no one like him since.
You hardly hear about Nash today. People have a way of vanishing. Even the most accomplished artists and statesmen can quickly become inconsequential, postmortem.
But during the many hours I’ve spent standing in the supermarket checkout line, one thing I’ve learned that you can stay relevant if you manage to perish under a cloud of suspicion. If you can’t do that, at least make your exit in some unconventional and potentially memorable way.
In 1971 the New York Times attributed Nash’s death at age 68 to kidney disease, a stroke, and ultimately heart failure, which I wouldn’t wish on anyone but at the same time it seems a bit too ordinary for a poet who liked to stretch out the last lines in his stanzas until they ended in an unexpected and often preposterous word.
I much prefer the alternative accounts – ones that say Nash died after eating “improperly prepared” coleslaw, – a case of Crohn’s Disease, aggravated by mustard and mayo. On any menu, coleslaw is the funniest side, which means eating it as a swan song is a great death for a comic poet.
Here is where we might identify some fame-extending mysterious circumstances. How could Nash, a well-known hypochondriac, so casually imbibe a lethal helping of such an unhelpful multi-layered vegetable? Was he force-fed into oblivion? Or was it intentional?
In pursuit of the truth, the public demands a dogged persistence.
Sadly, all it will get here is doggerel.
Did Ogden Nash, with his last breath, decide to die a funny death? His insides, in a state of ravage weren't equipped to process cabbage. Was it Fate that chose to slay him with a side of gastro-mayhem? Or did Nash select this gaffe to seal his doom with one last laugh? The final punchline: "Woe betide all those who chews coleslawicide."