Flavin’s Corner

Shelf Life

To everything - turn, turn, turn
From "Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is a Season)," by P. Seeger.

With satellite-feeds and the Internet, sometimes a news story is delivered as it's developing or taking place.  At other times, say for Condit to speak publicly, it takes awhile.  Last week it was announced that in January an explorer found a 1937 Hershey’s chocolate bar at the South Pole (a military Field Ration Bar from Admiral Byrd’s third expedition), which was buried sometime between 1939 and 1941.  Also, this week it was revealed that somebody stole a Chagall painting in June and is holding it hostage until there’s peace between the Arabs and the Jews in the Mideast.  Sometimes a news item grows “legs” and leads to related stories, which keeps the main story in the public eye for a long time.  Other stories don’t have that long of a shelf life and are quickly forgotten.  Stale candy and stolen art probably won’t stay in the news long.  We have short attention spans.

Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn, b.1606-d.1669;
Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee.

For over a decade now Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum has been missing its almost priceless Rembrandt painting, The Sea of Galilee (1633).  It’s an okay painting, but I enjoy Rembrandt’s other works more.  I’m a bit taken aback that of the paintings stolen in the wee hours after St. Patty’s Day in 1990, the big reward money is for Jan Vermeer’s The Concert (1665-1666).  A few other Rembrandts (including a work by Flink, until recently thought to have been a 'Rembrandt'), five works by Degas, a Manet, and a Chinese bronze beaker, were also stolen.  Okay, so I’ve seen prints and postcards of The Sea of Galilee in more than a few homes.  It seems to be a popular work and it’s a shame Whitey Bulger has it hanging in his basement right next to the first port-o-potty stolen from the Big Dig.

Jan Vermeer, b.1632-d.1675; The Concert.

Even when we have unexpected long attention spans, a particular outrage fades and another takes its place.  O.J. is still free, JonBenet Ramsey is still dead, and the shelf life of a story expires, perhaps to be mentioned yearly in a nostalgic piece.  Sure, the vicious continue to bring up Michael Jackson being a homosexual pederast, Eddie Murphy’s taste for transsexual toes, and Pee Wee’s not-so-big adventure at an adult theater.  Those with global sensitivities might pine for the last few Nazis, the liver of Idi Amin Dada, the arrest of several high ranking Khmer Rouge officers, those responsible for the Rwanda genocide, or any of many other unresolved issues.  But, it seems even atrocities have a shelf life.

The saying “Nothing lasts forever” is understood by most to mean that everything has its time and, though the times vary, everything ultimately passes.  Sir Frederick Hoyle, the theoretical astrophysicist who inadvertently coined the term “Big Bang” in conjunction with a model for the creation of the universe, reached the limit of his shelf life last week, though his recent work promoting interstellar bacteria invading Earth may linger a bit for the amusement of those who need amusing.  I read his October the First Is Too Late science fiction novel when I was in seventh grade, and though I didn’t then understand steady state cosmology (which, of course, I do now ;)), I was impressed by the lack of the genre standards, i.e., bug-eyed monsters from space and ray guns.  It was science fiction written by a scientist and it’s to our loss that he didn’t write more novels.  After a fashion, Fred Hoyle believed 'nothing' does last forever.  We’re going to have a real long wait to verify that one! 

According to the latest U.S. government projections, I’ve got a shelf life of another thirty years or so.  I’m within a few weeks of passing the age of my father when he died, and mortality seems to butt into the conversation more and more, so the thought of another three decades in the flesh seems too much like playing Powerball for me to gamble with speculation.  I've long wished to write an epic science fiction novel, as well as a sequel to The Lord of the Rings, a teenaged Conan story, do a black velvet painting of a dying Elvis with a needle in his arm and sitting on a toilet, as well as invent a globally receptive ketchup alternative which even Bill Gates and the Pope would use.  I’ll be lucky if I can manage to write the next three columns!  We go when we go.

The stolen Chagall is unfortunate, but at least it was on loan from Russia, so it’s really their loss.  Holding a painting hostage until there’s peace in the Mideast is a lame concept.  Even threatening every canvas hanging in every museum in the world wouldn’t soften the hearts of those involved.  Well, maybe if the cost level rose sufficiently, say in the 500 million to 1 billion dollars range, maybe some arrangements could be made.  Cash for peace has been discussed for years with some Palestinians using models of reparation based on settlements which have arisen from the Holocaust.  Maybe the dollar figure would go into the billions or maybe, as in the case of the Lakota Sioux and payment for the Black Hills, no amount of money will do.  Money can sometimes cut through the mixed metaphors of art and blood, but not always.

A Hershey’s Foods webpage states that their milk chocolate bars produced today have a shelf life of about a year.  It’s not unheard of for some to hold their unused Halloween candy over another year, and as we haven’t heard of any reported deaths due to bad candy, perhaps there’s a margin of edibility that extends to two or three years.  I remember being on camp-outs in the mid-1960s and having old K-Rations from WWII and the Korean War.  The chocolate bar didn’t have a taste “just a little better than a boiled potato,” but still wasn’t as good as a store-bought Hershey’s Bar.  Maybe it did taste bad and I just don’t remember correctly.  Ah, the good ol’ days...  Today, giving kids 20 year old rations would probably be classified as child-abuse!

going for the top-shelf stuff,

Return to main page