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Literature / Dave Barry Slept Here

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A thoroughly and scrupulously researched history textbook, whose narrative, detached from the author's personal views and experiences, makes interesting stories out of some arcane historical episodes, and incorporates thought-provoking and relevant discussion questions and detailed explanations of the important contributions of women and minorities...

...Well, if such a book exists, it would be everything this "Sort of History of the United States," written by Dave Barry in 1989, doesn't even try to be. But that book would be longer than Dave Barry Slept Here, and considerably less funny.

This book contains examples of:

  • The Abridged History: essentially what this book provides.
  • Art Imitates Art: One edition has the cover parodying Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze's "Washington Crossing the Delaware," with the river filled with ice cubes instead of water and a character resembling the author sleeping in the back of the rowboat. (The painting is not only referenced in the text but ruthlessly mocked.)
  • Attack! Attack... Retreat! Retreat!: In a non-military version, the famous "Oklahoma land rush," participated in by thousands after the U.S. government opens the Oklahoma territory up for settlement, is followed by the famous "rush to get the hell back out of Oklahoma."
  • Back from the Dead: Parodied: Richard Nixon, in his return to national politics in 1968, was "looking stronger than ever despite the holes in his suit where various stakes had been driven into his heart."
  • Best Known for the Fanservice: invoked Discussed in a passage where Annette Funicello is cited as the cultural contributions made by The Mickey Mouse Club:
    Annette had a major impact on many of us male Baby Boomers, especially the part where she came marching out wearing a T-shirt with her name printed on it, and some of the letters were considerably closer to the camera than others. If you get our drift.
  • *Bleep*-dammit!: In the Watergate Scandal's released tapes:
    NIXON: Because you have, you have problems with the, with the [expletive deleted], with the ...
    KLAUS: Yeah [garbled], with the, uh, with the ...
    NIXON: ... with, uh, with the [expletive deleted].
    KLAUS: ... with the ...
    NIXON: [Expletive deleted].
    KLAUS: ... with the Smoot-Hawley.
    NIXON: Shit.
  • Blood from the Mouth: The Five Token Bands who fought World War II in movies "would learn, despite their differing backgrounds, how to trickle syrup from the corners of their mouths to indicate that they had been wounded. In the actual war, of course, real blood was used."
  • Bonus Round: Abraham Lincoln became a contestant in The Lincoln-Douglas Debates, where he won the bonus round by answering the question "How much is four score plus seven?" This awarded him the Samsonite luggage and the presidency. John F. Kennedy wins the same prize in his televised debates with Nixon; the category chosen by Kennedy in the bonus round was "Graceful Handsome Boyish Wittiness."
  • Brick Joke: The last chapter has a bit about Donald Trump buying up, among other things, the planet Mars and, in a footnote, renaming it "Trump." This joke comes up again on the final page, which suggests the future possibility of landing a manned spacecraft on Trump.
  • Buffy Speak: A Sophisticated as Hell use of the anti-simile:
    Now the United States was no longer an infant nation, but a mighty young colossus, bestriding the continent—in the words of Mark Twain—"like some kind of mighty young colossus or something."
  • Carry a Big Stick: President Theodore Roosevelt always carried around a big stick, which he used to beat monopolists with when they leaned closer to hear what he was speaking very softly. The stick is also why nobody asked him exactly what he meant by "bully pulpit."
  • Crocodile Tears:
    In a dramatic televised moment, [Oliver] North, his eyes moist and his voice shaking, revealed to the committee that he was a courageous patriot, after which he became so overcome by emotion that he knocked over his bottle of Revlon eye moistener.
  • Defeat Means Friendship: Outright parodies this, repeatedly using the term "befriend" to describe Gunboat Diplomacy.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: At one point the book refers to the Soviet Union "simply" as the "Union of the Society of Socialistic Soviet Union Communist Russians."
  • Derailed Train of Thought: Thomas Jefferson, who is writing the Declaration of Independence in an all-nighter, lets the document's subject wander to people flushing inappropriate objects down toilets, among other things.
  • Double-Meaning Title: "Chapter Eleven: The Nation Enters Chapter Eleven."
  • Eskimos Aren't Real: The chapter on World War I claims that that Serbia "did not, technically, exist," even at the time that Austro-Hungary made the mistake of trying to invade it.
  • Even the Subtitler Is Stumped: A third of the words in Washington's famous presidential addresses are replaced by "[something]" (or, in one case, "[machines? birds?]") due to the fact that microphones didn't exist back then.
  • Everybody Hates Mathematics:
    And thus began the Space Race, which was to have an enormous worldwide impact on Mrs. DeLucia's fifth-grade class, which was where we were at the time. All of a sudden Mrs. DeLucia was telling us we were going to have to study a LOT more science and math, including such concepts as the "cosine." As if the whole thing were our fault.
    Discussion Question 2: Have you, or has anybody you have ever met, ever found any use for the cosine? We didn't think so.
  • Evil Minions: "A group of high-level Nixon administration aides, all of them named Klaus," who in their testimony before the Watergate committee "projected all the warmth and personal integrity of eels."
  • Express Lane Limit: The Seventh Amendment to the Constitution describes the right to count "more than one item produce of the same biological type, such as two grapefruit" as one item for this purpose.
  • Fictional Political Party: The fact is pitied that Teddy Roosevelt and his Bull Moose party lost in 1912, because otherwise it "might have started a whole new trend of giving comical animal names to political parties, and today we might be seeing election battles between the Small Hairless Nocturnal Rodent party and the Stench-Emitting Ox party, and this country would be a lot more fun." Previous chapters mention Presidents being elected with the support of the Anal Compulsive Party, the Party to Elect Presidents with Stupid Nicknames and the Let's Elect Presidents with Comical First Names party.
  • Flat World: The book says that, though many people once believed that the world was flat, today "we know that this is true only in heavily Protestant states such as Iowa."
  • From the Latin "Intro Ducere": According to a footnote, the word "ultimatum" comes "from the Latin, meaning 'a kind of thing that a person issues.'"
  • Full-Circle Revolution:
    Somewhere along in here the Russians overthrew the corrupt murdering scumball ruling aristocrats who for centuries had lived like kings while brutally oppressing the masses, and replaced them with the communists, who did the same thing but at least had the decency to wear ill-fitting suits.
  • Gagging on Your Words:
    And thus it was that on election day, October 8, 1968, the voters went to the polls and elected, as leader of the greatest nation that the world has ever seen, President Richard Milhous N...
    President Richard M...
    President R...
    Please don't make us do this.
  • A Good Name for a Rock Band: A passage containing the phrase "most Americans paid little heed to these events" carries this footnote:
    "Little Heed" would be a good name for a rock band. Also "Short Shrift."
  • Horny Vikings: The Vikings are described as "extremely rugged individuals" who used Zippo lighters to set fire to English tribespeople's thatched roofs just for fun, and sometime in the ninth century crossed the Atlantic for two purposes: "(a) try to locate North America and (b) see if it was flammable."
  • Hurricane of Excuses: The U.S. government offered multiple contradictory excuses for the 1960 U-2 incident before coming clean, including "the dog ate our homework."
  • I Call It "Vera": Davy Crockett is played by Fess Parker and his rifle "Betsy" is played by "Denise."
  • Inherently Funny Words: The author decides that "Gompers" is this, suggesting that it'd be the perfect name for a very large dog.
  • "Knock Knock" Joke: Readers are asked to finish this one as an "Extra-Credit Project":
    "Knock knock."
    "Who's there?"
    (Hint: this joke could involve lisping.)
  • Mechanical Horse: The "Iron Horse" that was used to pull heavy loads before being replaced by the locomotive is implied to be one of these, since it had the drawback of producing "Monster Piles of Iron Droppings."
  • Mixed Metaphor: The Great Crash of 1929 is described as the day when "the nation's seemingly prosperous economy was revealed to be merely a paper tiger with feet of clay living in a straw house of cards that had cried 'wolf' once too often."
  • Mr. Smith: According to the book, the leader of the Jamestown colony was "'John Smith' (not his real name)." The joke is that it was his real name.
  • Mysterious Middle Initial: The book claims that Harry S. Truman's family was so poor that they couldn't afford to put a period after his middle initial, and poses a "trick discussion question" about what the "S" stood for.
    (Hint: "Lucille")
  • Noodle Incident: The book pointedly refuses to explain the Ballinger-Pinchot Affair, a famous incident that occurred during the Taft administration, after acclaiming it as "truly one of the fascinating and bizarre episodes in the nation's history." Apparently, it had a part involving a dwarf goat.
  • Object-Shaped Landmass: The "Exploring the New World" map shows a landmass to the south of West Africa (visited by the seafaring route of a bold adventurer named Interstate 95) which is shaped like the head of, and is accordingly labeled, Godzilla.
  • Person as Verb: Regarding signing of the Declaration of Independence (October 8, 1776): "The members took turns lighting sparklers and signing their John Hancocks to the Declaration, with one prankster even going so far as to actually write 'John Hancock.'"
  • Pig Latin: Identified as the code invented by and named after Samuel Morse. Discussion Question #2: "An-cay oo-yay eak-spay ig-pay atin-lay? Explain."
  • Pistol-Whipping: American revolutionaries adopt this effective tactic at the Battle of Concord of hitting the British troops over the head with their muskets, simply because guns back then took forever to load. The failure of this tactic at the Alamo serves as a lesson to Sam Houston, who orders his troops to start actually firing their rifles.
  • Politically Correct History: A couple pages into Chapter Four: The Colonies Develop A Life-style, the Lemony Narrators interrupt the action to notify the readers that "a review committee... has determined that, so far, this history book is not making enough of an effort to include the contributions of women and minority groups. Unless some effort is undertaken to correct this situation, this book will not be approved for purchase by public school systems in absolutely vast quantities." Whereupon the narrators/authors "just now remembered... that during the colonial era women and minority groups were making many contributions, which we are certain that they will continue to do at regularly spaced intervals throughout the course of this book." From then on, the narrative is routinely interrupted by a sentence or two about all the contributions by women and minority groups... without listing any of them, of course.
  • Pony Express Rider: Pony Express riders traveled on telegraph wires, and their horses "would often get as far as thirty feet before they would fall off the wires and splat courageously onto the ground."
  • Potty Emergency: The chapter on the Revolutionary War begins with an excerpt from the camp song "Midnight Attack of Diarrhea":
    Out of the bed and onto the floor;
    Fifty-yard dash to the bathroom door!
  • Running Gag: The book has several running gags. For convenience of memorization, all major events in American history occur on October 8, his son's birthday (Most notably, the attack on Pearl Harbor happens on "the fateful December morning of October 8."). To satisfy the demands of education professors, there are periodic allusions to the contributions of women and minorities, none of which get specifically mentioned. The later chapters have the Inherently Funny Words "The Hawley-Smoot Tariff," and at several points the end of Richard Nixon's political career is widely predicted.
  • Selective Stupidity: Played with in the introduction:
    Tragically, many Americans know very little about the history of their own country. We constantly see surveys that reveal this ignorance, especially among our high school students, 78 percent of whom, in a recent nationwide multiple-choice test, identified Abraham Lincoln as "a kind of lobster." That's right: more than three quarters of our nation's youth could not correctly identify the man who invented the telephone.
  • Serious Business: The author calls The American Revolution "the single most important historical event ever to occur in this nation except for Super Bowl III (Jets 16, Colts 7. This historian won $35)." Likewise, in describing the major world events of October 1962, the World Series takes precedence over the Cuban missile crisis.
  • A Storm Is Coming: Parodied:
    For meanwhile, back east, the cold front of moral outrage was moving inexorably toward the low-pressure system of southern economic interests, creating another of those frontal systems of conflict that would inevitably result in a violent afternoon or evening thundershower of carnage. Also, it was time for the Civil War.
  • Take a Third Option: Played for satirical laughs:
    Nixon appeared to have only two options left:
    OPTION ONE: He could boldly remain as president and defend himself in the now-inevitable impeachment proceedings.
    OPTION TWO: He could spare the country further trauma by resigning in a dignified manner.
    Those of you who are well-schooled students of "Dick" Nixon will not be surprised to learn that, after carefully weighing the alternatives, he decided to go with Option Three: to stand in the Rose Garden and make a semicoherent speech about his mother that may well rank as the single most embarrassing moment in American history.
  • The Unintelligible: Senator Sam Ervin's language is Deep Southern, "similar to English, only unintelligible."
  • Unusual Euphemism: Invoked in one of the "discussion questions."
    How come there are never any sex scenes in history books? You know, like "James Madison, unable to restrain his passion any longer, thrust his ink-engorged pen into the second draft of the Federalist papers."

Discussion Questions:
Question One: A DWARF goat?!