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I downloaded some Schoolhouse Rock recently. Needless to say, I learned a lot. "Elbow Room" taught me all about the Louisiana Purchase, and how the United States is always right. (It did not, however, teach me the meaning of the phrase "manifest destiny." I had to get my smart boyfriend to tell me.) "Interplanet Janet" told of a girl who went to all the planets, including the sun, which is the greatest planet of all. (It was a gas, by the way.) "The Great American Melting Pot" taught about diversity, and how the United States is always right.

            I feel like Schoolhouse Rock was a little out of its element teaching science and social studies. Where it really shined was teaching grammar. I can't think of anything more brilliant than songs that teach grammar. "Conjunction Junction" is a classic. It's sung by this gravelly-voiced guy, backed up by some ladies who are deliciously reminiscent of the ladies who sang "Shut yo' mouth!" at the guy in the Shaft song.

            The song that I'm here to talk to you about, though, tells a tale. One might call it the tale.

The Tale of Mr. Morton

This is the tale of Mister Morton
Mister Morton is who?
He is the subject of our tale
and the predicate tells what Mister
Morton must do

            The song starts out by laying out exactly what it's going to be about: subjects and predicates. Fine. Following this, the singer (another gravelly-voiced guy) begins repeating the simple subject and predicate after each sentence.

Mister Morton walked down the street
Mister Morton walked
Mister Morton talked to his cat
(Hello cat. You look good.)
Mister Morton talked

            The singer's voice is full of mirth as he imitates Mr. Morton's talking to the cat, and you can tell he considers himself infinitely superior to the subject of his tale.

Mister Morton was lonely
Mister Morton was

            The singer is full of soul as he sings this. He really feels Mr. Morton's pain. What I really like, though, is how we've now gotten insight into Mr. Morton's personal soul. He's a lonely guy. Later, we discover that this is because he is insufferably shy, and possibly has social anxiety disorder.

Mister Morton is the subject of the
sentence and what the predicate says,
he does

            I love, by the way, the portrait this song paints of the predicate as a merciless overlord.

Mister Morton knew just one girl
Mister Morton knew
Mister Morton grew flowers for Pearl
Mister Morton grew
Mister Morton was very shy
Mister Morton was
Mister Morton is the subject of the
sentence and what the predicate says,
he does

            Here is where I begin to have problems. He only knew one girl? Even if you stay in your house all day, you know more than one girl. Doesn't he ever go out? We know he walks around. Remember when "Mr. Morton walked down the street"?

            I wonder if this means that he knows just one person, or if he knows a few guys, but she's the only woman. Is this a post-apocalyptic world where there's only a few girls left? Does Mr. Morton live somewhere incredibly remote, like the Australian outback? He does have streets, so it can't be too remote.

            I guess it also depends on the meaning of the word "know". He probably has seen other women, but Pearl is the only one with whom he's exchanged many words. But they still don't seem to know each other very well. Perhaps he and Pearl live next door to each other (thereby giving Pearl the opportunity to enjoy the flowers while they're growing) and Pearl, a friendly girl, often bids her hermittish neighbor a "good morning" or "Nice weather, huh?" Knowing Mr. Morton, he probably gets sweaty palms and stutters an unintelligible reply before looking for the nearest escape route.

            Another possibility is that they mean "know" in the Biblical sense. My question then is, does "he knew just one girl" mean he has only ever slept with Pearl or that Pearl is the only girl he's currently sleeping with? In that case, "just one" seems to imply a society where polygamy is the norm. (You know those free-love seventies.) Another interpretation is that Pearl is the only women he's ever slept with, and he's currently still sleeping with her.

            Let's continue to moniter this relationship. But right now, we're getting into the breakdown:

The subject is a noun, that's person,
place or thing
It's who or what the sentence is about
And the predicate is the verb
That's the action word
that gets the subject up and out

            I love how verbs are always described as "action words". In the song, they've already used "was" twice, and they'll use it twice more, and "is" once. "Was" is not an action word, nor does it get the subject up and out. It leaves him, sitting there, stewing in his own loneliness. Poor, poor Mr. Morton, a slave to his cruel predicates.

Mister Morton wrote Pearl a poem
Mister Morton wrote
Pearl replied in the afternoon
Pearl replied by a note
Mister Morton was very nervous
Mister Morton was
Mister Morton is the subject of the
sentence and what the predicate says,
he does!

            My question is, is the poem and note the only form of communication Pearl and Mr. Morton have ever had? (Besides sex of course.) And is this their first time communicating in this fashion, or are they accustomed to poem-and-note correspondence? If so, Mr. Morton has little reason to be nervous. Still, any communication probably makes him nervous, being the self-and-cat-oriented person he is. And this is a letter from Pearl, after all, the woman for whom he grows flowers and writes poems.

            The next verse has nothing whatever to do with the Tale:

The cat stretched,
the sun beat down,
a neighbor chased his kid.
(come here kid - come on!)
Each sentence is completed when
you know the subject did.

            Then we get back to the plot.

Mister Morton knocked on her door
Mister Morton knocked

            Although we know that "her" refers to "Pearl's", since Mr. Morton knew just one girl and everything, we do expect more precise grammar from a grammar song. It's not like "Pearl's" is more syllables than "her".

Mister Morton sat on her porch
Yes, he just sat and rocked
when she opened up the door he ran.

            Mr. Morton's behavior here is important. It seems to verify my earlier caricature of him, nervous and sweaty and looking for a way to escape. He seems to adore Pearl (else he wouldn't grow flowers and write poems for her), but she can't get a good impression of him, and certainly she must think he doesn't like him.

Mister Morton climbed up his stairs
Mister Morton climbed
Mister Morton rhymed pretty words
Mister Morton rhymed
Mister Morton was lonely
Mister Morton was

            OK. The next and final verse ends out the song quickly:

until Pearl showed up with a single rose.
Who says women can't propose?
Now Mister Morton is happy
and Pearl and the cat are too

            Everything's wrapped up so neatly now. But this "proposal" worries me. Presumably, it's a marriage proposal. Now it really becomes important whether or not they have exchanged many poems and notes, or just the one each. They can hardly be sure they want to get married from one round of correspondence.

            But let's think about this marriage. Mr. Morton only knows one girl. There is little chance, then, that Pearl is the women most ideally suited to him. For all he knows, there's another girl out there a million times better for him than Pearl.

            On the other hand, if this is a post-apocalyptic world where there are few women left, it's probably good for him to snap up the first one he can find.

            Also, if "know" is meant in the Biblical sense, Mr. Morton and Pearl have already chosen each other (probably through lots of romantic correspondence) as appropriate sexual partners. In this case, they are simply deciding that, in their already romantic relationship, they want a lifetime commitment.

            Mr. Morton's behavior, though, does seem odd for that. He ran away when she opened the door. He cannot be comfortable around her, even if he does adore her. If they have a sex life, it must be very, very weird. She has undoubtedly known him for a long time, and probably sent many notes and recieved many poems, to know that he likes her, despite his aloofness. But it seems like marriage is too big a step, too soon, if Mr. Morton runs when he sees her. Does she expect that as soon as they're married his nervousness around her will immediately disappear? Knowing that she loves him unconditionally and wants to be with him and promised to love him forever, certainly, should assuage some of his fears, but still. I know things were different back then--people didn't as much live together before they married and stuff--but even so. They must learn to have conversations in person before they say "I Do."

            I love how, in all this entangled mess of interpersonal relationships and social anxiety and completely weird love, the big thing the narrator's worried about in Pearl's proposal is the fact that she's a woman.

They're the subjects of the sentence
and what the predicate says, they do

            They do indeed. But one wonders if it is for the best. I hope those two kids are gonna be all right. I hope.


- Laura