On Fig Newton

Of all the people named after biscuits, we ought to consider first Fig Newton. We should begin, candidly, with his head, that head of his, the peculiar Fig Newton head. But before we do, I think it is important to dispel the myth that has accreted around him, that his given name, Fig, was short for something longer, something like Figworth or Figgleton or Figland. It was not. It is telling, in this context, that there is rarely any agreement on what this longer Fig- word was. One would expect, if he had been named Figstrand or Figgleby or Figlop, that those bandying about the suggestion would be able to prove it one way or another, and there would be no doubting the matter. Here, they would say, brandishing some sort of certificate or registration coupon, look!, this is the evidence. But there is never any evidence, due to the simple fact that Fig Newton’s given name was just Fig. That was the simple three-letter word which his parents, with biscuits in mind, chose for him, and by which he was known to all and sundry throughout his pointless life.

I will be charged by some with pejorative intent in saying his life was pointless. But there is a sense in which all lives are pointless, at least in the grand scheme of things. It is on the scale of grandeur that I tend to operate, for better or worse, so you need read nothing more into it.

The same goes for my hint, just now, of his peculiar head. By this I did not mean that there was anything strange or remarkable about that head of his, Fig Newton’s head. I did not mean that it was akin to Neville Chamberlain’s head, which Lloyd George said was a “wrong-shaped head”. I meant merely that Fig Newton’s head was peculiar to him, it was his head and nobody else’s. That may seem obvious, as obvious as the pointlessness of all lives in the grand scheme of things, but I must speak plain, for words are treacherous things. They are as treacherous as ice.

An ice-head of Fig Newton’s head was made by an ice carver, once, and lodged for posterity in an industrial refrigeration facility. It is still there, reportedly, as cold and solid as the day it was carved, when Fig Newton himself was still alive and his brain still throbbed inside his head. Redolent as his name is of a type of biscuit, the head, whether flesh and bone or ice, is not. It could not look less like a biscuit. And I know, because I have studied biscuits, and I have studied heads, and I have studied ice. Not all at the same time, of course, that would be too much of a stretch. One can spread oneself too thin, when engaged in study, if one is not careful. Then the brain can become overheated, and a lethal casualness creep into one’s studies, so edges are blurred and details lost. A discrete fact about biscuits can get mixed up with one about heads or ice, or one about heads with one about biscuits or ice, or one about ice with one about biscuits or heads. And then all hope is lost, through cross-contamination. That is something else I know much about.

When I say I have studied heads I would not want it to be taken as a claim that I have studied Fig Newton’s head in particular. I have not. Nor have I studied the ice-head carved from the likeness of his head. Indeed, I confess I have never even clapped eyes on the ice-head, though not for want of trying. For several years, in between my other studies, I tried to track down the location of the industrial refrigeration facility where it is said to be kept. My search proved fruitless.

Now, while all lives are ultimately pointless in the grand scheme of things, it does not follow that all searches are fruitless. Grandeur of scale is an irrelevance. A simple example will suffice. Only the other day, I went looking for a plum, and I found one. It was a Carlsbad plum. I let out a yelp of triumph when I found it. I knew I had it somewhere, but could not remember where I had put it. In the normal run of things I would place a plum in my fruit bowl, but this particular plum I had put somewhere else, God knows why. When the signal impetus of my being was to lay my hands on that damnable plum, I went straight to the fruit bowl. I had completely forgotten that I had put the plum elsewhere. I could not then rest until I found it. But find it I did, in the fullness of time, after turning the house upside down until it looked as if it had been at the centre of a whirlwind. That was how desperately I wanted the plum, at the time. How easy it is to become so fixated. All thoughts of Fig Newton and biscuits and heads and ice and cross-contamination and other matters I have studied, or dabbled in, were expunged. Plum, plum, plum. The word tolled in my head like a cemetery bell. The tolling ceased only when I found the plum, in a basin in a cupboard under the sink, where I had put it for reasons I am still unable to fathom. The point I am making is that my search succeeded, it was not fruitless, though my life be pointless.

The plum is pertinent, too, because there were times when Fig Newton’s head, that head of his, was roughly the colour of a plum. In size it was of course bigger than a plum, much bigger, but in colour it could almost match the colour of a plum, when he was enraged. He was often enraged. He was an angry man, Fig Newton. It is one of the things everybody says about him. “He would fly off the handle at the merest provocation.” “He seethed with fury from the moment he woke up in the morning to the moment his head hit the pillow at bedtime.” “He was a hothead.” Those are three quotations taken from the archival records.

We might ponder the fact that a man named after a biscuit who is called a hothead has a copy of his head, stone cold, carved from ice, preserved for posterity in an industrial refrigeration facility. It certainly gives us something to think about. And it is always well to have things to think about while we winnow away our pointless lives.

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