The malaise of of November 8, 2016, drove Calvin Trillin to seek a diversion in order to fall asleep and cease dark thinking awful thoughts. This nocturnal dilemma brought forth some droll snark along with some surprising, little-known facts. Trillin's tormented thoughts drove him from geography and demography to the consumption of decapod crustaceans (shrimp) in Sin City, NV and the daily disposal of more than two million peeled shells. Trillin imagined slag heaps of peeled shells in the Nevada desert like the remains of depleted coal fields in Appalachia. As Trillin counted shrimp shells, he fell asleep. If this is a (fair & balanced) account of a political sleep disorder, so be it.
;x New Yorker]
By Calvin Trillin
TagCrowd cloud of the following piece of writing
Since the election, I sometimes wake up at three or four in the morning, disturbed by dark thoughts, and when that happens I try my best to think of the surprising amount of shrimp consumed in Las Vegas every day. We all have our own way of dealing with this thing.
My way is what might be called replacement denial. In order to avoid dwelling on a depressing or disturbing subject—the sort of subject that can keep you from falling back asleep—you concentrate on a subject that is so engrossing that it can drive the depressing subject from your mind. Concentrating on shrimp consumption in Las Vegas is not my first attempt at replacement denial. On previous nights, for instance, I’d done my best to contemplate the ramifications of a similarly surprising fact: the largest state east of the Mississippi, in land area, is Georgia.
Diverting ramifications were not forthcoming. All I could think of was that people who are asked to name the largest state east of the Mississippi tend to say that it’s Pennsylvania or Florida—both states won by the man I was trying to put out of my mind. After that, I tried to make do with the fact that Edna St. Vincent Millay’s middle name is not an old family name, as people tend to assume; she was named for St. Vincent’s Hospital, in Greenwich Village. But that staved off the depressing subject for only a moment or two, as I searched my mind for other poets with buildings in their names. I tried out, unsuccessfully, a few more geographical surprises, such as the fact that the second most populous city in Illinois is Aurora. Then I settled on shrimp consumption in Las Vegas.
I had acquired my knowledge of Las Vegas shrimp consumption from one of those interstitial statements that “PBS NewsHour” flashes on the screen to give viewers a sort of bonus fact about the segment they’ve just seen. What had flashed on the screen, after a segment that took place in Las Vegas but had nothing to do with shrimp, was this: “60,000 pounds of shrimp are consumed per day in Las Vegas, more than the rest of the country combined.”
On the first night I put that fact to use, I’d awakened at about 4 a.m., thinking, Could it really be that American children are going to be raised to look up to a coarse blowhard who has boasted about assaulting women?
“According to no less a source than PBS,” I replied to myself, “Las Vegas consumes more shrimp every day than the rest of the country combined.”
There was a slight delay. Was it working? Not yet, because this thought came into my mind: His appointments so far—people who are opposed to the mission of the departments they’re supposed to lead—seem to indicate an attempt to find a fox for every henhouse.
I countered with: “Where did that figure, sixty thousand pounds of shrimp, come from? It was confirmed, in an Internetish sort of way, by some sites with names like Fun Facts About Las Vegas.”
Had I chased away the depressing thoughts? Not quite. I could still envision him as President, giving out the Medal of Freedom to some beloved old television star. Instead of a few graceful remarks of the sort we came to expect on such occasions from, say, Obama or Reagan, he’s boasting that the ratings of the star’s show were nothing compared with the ratings of “The Apprentice,” which, he explains at length, was shafted by the Emmy Awards because the Emmy Awards are definitely rigged.
I was ready for that. “Saying that more shrimp is consumed in Las Vegas than in the rest of the country is not like saying that more toasted ravioli is consumed in St. Louis than in the rest of the country,” I said to myself. “St. Louis is about the only place where people actually eat toasted ravioli, so that would make sense. But think of all the shrimp consumed in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Aurora.”
But imagining that Medal of Freedom ceremony had started something. Now I could envision a state dinner for the President of France, during which, in the room where the cellist Pablo Casals played so memorably for the Kennedys, the guests are being entertained by a tag-team exhibition from World Wrestling Entertainment.
“And consider the shells,” I said to myself, even before the thump of huge men hitting the canvas faded. “There must be mountains of shrimp shells, piled on the desert like slag heaps in a played-out coal county. Let’s say that there are thirty or so shrimp to a pound. That means peeling two million shrimp every day.” I could envision the shrimp-peelers, probably paid by the shell, peeling and counting: “One million four hundred and eighty-six thousand five hundred and eleven . . . one million four hundred and eighty-six thousand five hundred and twelve . . .” Long before they got to two million, I was asleep. ###
[Calvin Trillin began his career as a writer for Time magazine. Since July 2, 1990, as a columnist at The Nation, Trillin has written his weekly "Deadline Poet" column: humorous poems about current events. Trillin has written considerably more pieces for The Nation than any other single person. Trillin also has been a regular contributor to The New Yorker since 1963, when the magazine published “An Education in Georgia,” his account of the desegregation of the University of Georgia. More than three hundred of Trillin’s pieces have appeared in The New Yorker. His most recent book is Quite Enough of Calvin Trillin: Forty Years of Funny Stuff (2012). A native of Kansas City, MO, Trillin received his BA (English) from Yale College in 1957. He served in the army, and then joined Time.]
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