QUESTION: Why do you never see wild hamsters?
ANSWER: Keep in mind that hamster lore, hamster trivia, hamster biological data and true hamster facts of any kinds can be a powerful secret weapon during conversation lulls at a cocktail party. Don't just stand there in silence, looking like an idiot, when you can knock 'em dead with something like, "The Syrian golden hamster may hoard up to 100 pounds of food for its winter store." Trust us, you won't go home alone.The reason you never see wild hamsters - at least, wild Syrian golden hamsters, the kind traditionally sold in pet shops and persecuted by millions of children - is that they are native to only a small region of Syria, mostly around the town of Aleppo. There are also common black-bellied hamsters throughout Europe, but these mousy little creatures are pests, not pets. (Say that 10 times.)
Not until 1930 was a Syrian golden hamster captured alive. Zoologist Israel Aharoni captured a female and 11 pups in a farm near Aleppo. Unfortunately, the mother became so freaked out that she killed one of her young, which in turn so enraged one of Aharoni's fellow hamster hunters that he submerged the creature in cyanide. Aharoni carefully nursed the still-blind, nearly hairless pups and within a year, thanks to hamster fecundity, had 150 hamsters.
They turned out to be ideally suited for (presumably horrifying) laboratory experiments, and then after World War II the home-hamster market flourished in the United States. Every pet hamster in America, at least until very recently, was descended from the matriarch captured by Aharoni. There are no reports of escaped hamsters surviving in the wild in America.
QUESTION: Why do you never see the parents in the comic strip Peanuts?
ANSWER: First we should note that Charles Schultz, to his credit, never did what so many other creators of pre-teen heroes have done: kill one or both of the parents. Lassie rescued Timmy after he ran away from an orphanage. Nancy, that awful little girl created by Ernie Bushmiller, mysteriously lives with her Aunt Fritzi. Jody and Buffy of TV's "Family Affair" lost both parents in a place crash or something terrible like that. Batman's teenage sidekick, Robin, lost both parents in a trapeze accident. Spiderman alter ego Peter Parker went to live with his Aunt May after a burglar killed his folks. Opie Taylor lived with his father Andy and his Aunt Bea. And so on.
Back to Peanuts. We called the office of Charles Schultz in California and were given the official, traditional line: "Adults are never mentioned or shown because the readers are supposed to see the world through the eyes of children."
We found this a bit unsatisfying. We would prefer to float our own theory: The children don't need parents because they're not really children. They are proxies for everyone, of all ages. Listen to Peppermint Patty and Charlie Brown:
Patty: Do you think I'm beautiful, Chuck?
C.B.: Of course. You have what is sometimes called a `quiet beauty.'
Patty: You may be right, Chuck. I just wish it would speak up now and then.
Charlie Brown's father is a barber, his mother a housewife, according to a 1958 strip. He also has an aging grandfather who inspired one of our favorite strips.
C.B. My grandfather says that after all these years he's beginning to forget the multiplication tables. The nines went first . . . Now the eights and sevens are going . . . It's very sad . . . I wish there were something I could say to him . . .
Linus: Six times six is thirty-six.
QUESTION: Why don't we know the names of TV directors?
ANSWER: Thanks to the "auteur theory" of film, popularized in the early '60s, it is now intellectually mandatory to think of movies as having a single author, specifically the director. Thus we all religiously study the oeuvre of Hitchcock, Capra, Spielberg, Lucas, Woody Allen. Of course, in most cases this author business is a little overdone, since it cuts the actual screenwriter and the producer right out of the picture, along with those billions of people listed in the credits (and by the way, how they get someone to accept a job with a title like "gaffer" and "best boy" is beyond comprehension).
Now we have on our hands an emerging auteur theory of TV, thanks to a new wave of TV scholars, notably David Marc and Robert J. Thompson, authors of "Architects of the Air: The Makers of American Television." They would have us pay homage to Aaron Spelling, Sherwood Schwartz, Jack Webb and Quinn Martin.
Thompson told the New York Times, "Look at American network garbage television very, very carefully, the way I used to look at Plato and Locke and Wordsworth, and you would be amazed at what it can yield." We have to agree with the reaction of NBC programming boss Brandon Tartikoff, "Heaven forbid students should be sitting in class in the year 2030 studying the pilots for `Supertrain' or `Manimal' or `Pink Lady and Jeff.' "