The Last Day of the Week

A Passage from Luminous Airplanes, or Things As They Were: A Hyperromance

Only which was the last day of the week? Football games were held on Sundays—even at Bleak College, football ducked the prohibition against working on the Sabbath. But a contingent of Seventh-Day Adventists maintained that the Sabbath was properly observed on Saturday, the last day of the ancient Judeo-Christian week, the Sunday business being some grafted-on Nordic error. At no other school would their complaint have been taken seriously, but the Rector of Bleak College had, in the 1940s, emended the song, not because he was himself an Adventist, but because he recognized that the scholarly grounds for calling Sunday the last day of the week were less than firm—even in non-Adventist circles, wasn’t it maintained that the week technically began on Sunday?

Bleak men returned from the Second World War to find their fight song changed. Now they had to sing,

Fishes, fishes, burning Bleak
On the
first day of the week,

etc., which provoked a certain amount of protest. Hadn’t America won the war? And didn’t that mean that everything ought to stay the same as it had been before? Alas, no. The song was changed; the Rector would not allow it to be changed back. So what you got were a certain number of people—the administration, the junior faculty, the compliant members of the entering classes—singing the new version, while others—tenured faculty, alumni, and troublemakers—sang the old one. At this point the song became,

Fishes, fishes, burning Bleak
On the
[mumble] of the week,

And so on. The problem being that Bleak was a school of smart-alecks. The inaudibility of the middle of the second line was noted, and people started to sing,

Fishes, fishes, burning Bleak
On the mumble of the week,

which amused the Bleak side of the stadium and baffled everyone else. Many things at Bleak were like that.

By the time I got there, the approved workaround, mumble, had itself become dated. Some people went back to last, others to first, and some sang,

Fishes, fishes, burning Bleak
On the last day of the week, or the first day, as the Seventh-Day Adventists would have it,

staccato. I don’t know if anyone was enlightened by this, but it was fun to sing, even if it was really just a longer mumble which even the singers themselves couldn’t recognize as words. That was how it was at Bleak, in the end we baffled even ourselves.

It wasn’t until years later that I realized that the Seventh-Day Adventists were an offshoot of the Millerites.

© 2008-2021 Paul La Farge. All rights reserved.