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On Tuna

Speaking at a campaign rally in Moon Township, Pa., Trump reiterated the claim that protesters have used canned food as weapons against law enforcement officers during demonstrations against police brutality in Minneapolis and Chicago. Only this time he singled out Bumble Bee brand tuna as the weapon of choice. Washington Post, September 23, 2020

FIRST, let's land on the Moon… Township. It's not some distant redneck dark side in rural PA, it's a suburb of Pittsburgh—well-educated, affluent, mostly homeowners. T-word was there because it's near the airport. And he didn't say anything that had to do with Moon Township, Pittsburgh, or even Pennsylvania. What he said, according to HuffPost, was:

"They go out to buy tuna fish and soup," Trump said, referring to demonstrators in

cities like Portland, Oregon, and Minneapolis. "You know that, right? Goya, I hope.

Goya; he’s great, isn’t he? Good guy." *

As the HuffPost interpreted it (The Words of T-word's, like other mystical utterances, do invite interpretation) "Trump apparently was referring to Goya Foods," a company which self-describes as "the largest, Hispanic-owned food company in the United States."

But, then, according to all reports, T-word shifted—or lost—his focus on Goya and Latino cuisine and spoke of… tuna. Canned tuna. Bumble Bee brand canned tuna, to be precise. T-word revealed unto us that #BlackLivesMatter protesters had been throwing cans of this Bumble Bee brand tuna at police officers opposing their demonstrations.

One wonders whether the police would be more less insulted by solid white in water than by chunk light in oil, but this T-word did not specify. He did, explain, however, the cans were "the perfect weight, tuna fish, they could really rip it, right, and that hits you? No, it’s true. Bumble Bee brand tuna and you can throw that sucker. You can put a curve on it, you can do whatever the hell you want, and the cops in Chicago, you saw it, they were going like this." At that point Tword dodged an incoming tuna which no one else could see.

Nobody else saw any incoming tuna, in Chicago or anywhere. Give T-word credit: he has rendered the classic exemplar of news, MAN BITES DOG, obsolete. Now the exemplar is PRESIDENT TELLS TRUTH—or would be, if that ever happened. T-word is not lying, understand. But, as those in T-word's inner circle are painfully aware, T-word can go off-script, even if he writes it himself. It drives them crazy. Ask Brad Parscale, once his medication is adjusted and he's released from involuntary commitment.

Unfortunately, many Democratic/Liberals tend to dismiss T-word's fanciful utterances, assuming everything he says as pure fabrication. The fact is, nothing T-word says is pure anything. His babblings do invite comparison to the burblings of the deranged, but even mental patients with complex disorders (e.g., low self-esteem complicated by narcissistic personality disorder and Alzheimer's-like dementia) usually have a kernel of connection to present or past reality. Likewise, T-word's discourse has niblets of fact, like bits of undigested corn in… well, you know. Somewhere in his irrationality there is some kind of rationale, and in his prevarications, a pattern. This is not to say the rationale is rational, or the pattern consistent; only that a very stable genius might find sense in T-word's stream of… consciousness.

For example, his reference to Goya—who is not a guy, but a brand name. In July, the president of Goya Foods visited the White House and declared "We’re all truly blessed… to have a leader like President Trump," which would make him a "good guy" to any person with low self-esteem, even without narcissistic personality disorder. Indeed, it would it make him a "good guy" to any politician running for re-election, although most politicians—except Joe Biden—would remember the guy's name was not Goya, but Unanue. Even so, most would avoid trying to pronounce it. Which is what T-word wasn't crazy enough to do. My point is, T-word is not all crazy, all the time; he had a valid political motivation for giving a shout-out to Goya Foods.

But… Bumble Bee tuna? Does T-word eat canned tuna, even albacore? Word is, ahi tuna martinis are on the menu at Mar a Lago. Do Donald Jr. or Eric own shares in Bumble Bee? Someone named "Jameson" wondered on Twitter: "has the 'stable genius' hit upon a brilliant plan to help Bumble Bee's stock rise? Who ever thought of throwing cans of tuna at police before? Now we will see a run on Bumble Bee tuna & the poor can get free tuna after every riot." Or perhaps there is a spiritual connection; mayhap T-word identified with former Bumble Bee executive, Christopher Lischewski, who, in June, was sentenced to 40 months in jail and given a $100,000 fine for price-fixing. As Lischewski is not a black American, it could have been worse; sentencing guidelines allowed up to ten years and $1 million. Even so, is T-word contemplating granting a pardon?

Or perhaps T-word's passing fixation on Bumble Bee tuna stemmed from seeing the company's Twitter ID is: "Proud tunaficionado, connoisseur of culinary delights, fitness guru, outdoor adventurer, ocean fanatic, and purveyor of seafood greatness." That's enough to attract T-word's attention; his envy, in fact. For those who, unlike T-word, read full sentences, the company's website proclaims: "We love seafood so much that after a night filled with dreams of wild-caught salmon and sustainable sardines, we wake up, make ourselves a tuna scramble and get to work challenging ourselves to rethink how we source, produce and consume all the nutritious goodness the ocean has to offer." Truth told, since emerging from bankruptcy and paying that $25 million fine for price-fixing, Bumble Bee has had gotten… wifty.

In the midst of this speculation, I recalled of my own introduction to Bumble Bee tuna. It was in the mid-1970s; I was living in New York, with a real job and for the first time affluent enough to buy a color TV. One of the first full-color ads I saw was a bunch of kids—not a gang; they were all white—gamboling along a beach, towing a giant, Macy's Day parade-sized helium balloon—a white-faced cartoon character wearing a white chef's hat and a black-and-yellow-striped t-shirt—and singing this weird jingle: "Yum, yum bumblebee, Bumblebee tuna/We love Bumblebee, Bumblebee tuna…" The visual was inane—except for the black and-yellow-striped t-shirt nothing said "bumblebee," much less tuna. The tune was annoying, but also, as the Madison Avenue folks say, catchy.

I caught it. It was like a low-grade virus; not enough to waste a sick day, but hard to shake. I heard that jingle in my mind's ear. I found myself fitting my stride to it while walking or running in Washington Square Park. Sometimes I caught myself humming it. Once, riding home on the #6 train, I saw a bag lady staring at me and realized I'd been singing it. Under my breath, of course (hum, hum, humblebee) but the bag lady got off at the next stop.

Perhaps because I was on the train, I was reminded of Mark Twain's story, "A Literary Nightmare," in which Twain is infected by a jingle that invades his mind—an almost true story, apparently. The jingle, in original form, was a sign found in New York streetcars. A journalist at the New York Tribune found the language poetic and converted it into lyric form and, it being a slow news day, convinced his editor to publish it in the morning edition.

As the story goes, Twain reads the paper over breakfast, gets caught up in the jingle and suddenly can't recall what he's eaten, or if he's eaten. Worse, he can't remember what he was going to work on that day—possibly Huckleberry Finn. All he can remember is the jingle; he can't get it out of his head.

He seeks help from his friend and minister—probably Joseph Twichell, if there's truth to the tale. Of Twichell, Twain wrote elsewhere: "You have the touch that heals, not lacerates." In the story, the minister does heal, but is himself afflicted; the jingle now jangles in his head, destroying his concentration, corrupting his meditation, causing him to preach in jingle rhythm. His sermon infects his congregation; they begin to sway in time. Twain didn't put it this way, but that jingle converted a white minister into a gospel preacher, and his congregation responds like… well.

Remembering Twain's story forced me to admit my life was becoming unmanageable, and to take steps before I hit bottom. I started reading Whittier and Hemingway. I started listening to WQXR. But it took time to get that jingle (Yum, yum bumblebee, Bumblebee tuna/We love Bumblebee, Bumblebee tuna) out of out of my head, especially after a new version of the ad included black kids—Advertising Age news at the time. What freed me was a quasi-romantic experience. I was engaged in certain… erotic ministrations, which I presumed were having welcome and pleasurable effect. Then I realized what I'd taken for moans of ecstasy were actually" Yum, yum bumblebee, Bumblebee tuna… But that was in another century, and besides, the wench came out. My point is, that, in this century, T-word's words suggest a new a new strategy for social change, which, although not entirely divorced from the NAACP/SCLC marching and singing tradition, takes advantage of 21st Century capabilities.

The next time demonstrators gather to protest that a police officer who has killed an unarmed black person because said police officer felt fear for their lives has been exonerated by internal investigation and gone uncharged due to a prosecutor's discretion and/or inability to persuade a grand jury to indict the proverbial ham sandwich, rather than displaying posters of the deceased as they appeared at high school graduation and shouting "No justice, no peace!" the demonstrators should deploy large, helium-filled, bumblebee-shaped balloons and sing Yum, yum bumblebee, Bumblebee tuna/We love Bumblebee, Bumblebee tuna… ad infinitum. The police will be confounded; even SWAT can’t justify

swatting balloons or beating demonstrators singing Yum, yum, Bumblebee, Bumblebee Tuna…

And that will not end it. For the tune is catchy, and will be caught. Even by tone-deaf cops can't help but hear it, and once it's in their heads, Some, like Twain, may forget how many donuts they had for breakfast. Prosecutors may hear it too, and like Twain's minister, speak in a different rhythm. Some grand jurors, like the congregation, may suddenly find it reasonable to indict the proverbial ham sandwich, though wears a uniform. Even some judges may sway.

Yum, yum Bumblebee, Bumblebee Tuna/We love Bumblebee, Bumblebee Tuna… Say it loud and say it proud, for through that jingle in a broken tongue we shall overcome.


* Blum, Jeremy "Trump Says Protesters In Democratic-Run Cities Will Throw ‘Bumble Bee Brand Tuna’ At You" (HuffPost, 09-23-2020)

David Bradley is the author of South Street (1975) and The Chaneyville Incident (1981). He is the winner of the Pen/Faulkner Award (1982) the 2014 O. Henry Prize for his story "You Remember the PinMill" and the 2015 Nothing Hill Prize.

editor's note: David Bradley shared this unedited essay with a group of friends. received his permission to publish it.


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