Introduction by Alfred Hitchcock
On a recent flight, I was drawn into a conversation with a young man in the next seat that proved to be both disturbing and enlightening. What began the discussion was the young man's woebegone expression. He had the look of one who had just bitten into an overly mature oyster. Thinking that he was air sick, I asked him if he wanted me to summon a stewardess.
He replied in the negative, then explained his downcast countenance. The young man was a candidate for a doctorate in psychology. Only a final paper stood between him and the coveted degree. He had discovered while looking for a subject to write on, however, that every possible facet of the American character had already been researched and written up.
'From "A" for anecdote-worship, practiced by biographers of the famous, through "0," for orgasms, and on to "Z," for zodiac-rejection, which is looking up your horoscope every day just so you can say you don't believe in that stuff, it's all been done,' he told me.
Needless to say, I was skeptical. I was familiar, of course, with the Masters and Johnson studies, which focused on the '0.' And I was told once by a young lady at a cocktail party that I was using body language when I inadvertently bumped her from behind while she was nibbling a pimento from a martini olive (she did not immediately volunteer what she thought I was saying and I did not linger to pursue the subject). Too, I had a vague impression of having heard or read about a number of other probings into human behavior. That all opportunities for further examinations had become exhausted, though, struck me as highly unlikely.
Being naturally helpful, I began suggesting possibilities. 'I've noticed,' I said, 'that Americans who chew their fingernails tend to chew the right-hand nails from left to right and the left-hand nails from right to left. There might not be a whole book in that, but a paper, surely.'
He shook his head. There is a whole book on it,' he advised me. 'Conscious and Unconscious Directional Signals Exhibited by Americans, Puberty through Expiration. By Hartley L. Grant, University of Alaska Press. Pre-puberty signals are covered in the sequel.'
Only mildly daunted, I suggested next that there might be something worth studying in the fact that male Americans usually cross their legs at the ankles, while female Americans cross theirs at the knees. He informed me that the matter had been thoroughly covered in a paper titled American Legs: Are They At Cross Purposes?
'It's hopeless,' he said. 'Buzz the stewardess and we'll have a last hemlock together. I'm buying.'
I had no intention of giving up that easily.
'There's an idiosyncrasy of mine that I occasionally find mirrored in certain Americans,' I told him. 'I sneeze in threes. Never once. Never twice. Always thrice. Sneeze. Pause. Sneeze. Pause. Sneeze. I've always considered it rather fascinating. If you'd care to interview on it now ... or if you'll come around the next time there's pepper in the air—'
'Been done,' he informed me. 'The Sneeze - Origin, Patterns And Potential. By V. M. Porkni. The chapters on potential are especially interesting. Porkni proposed harnessing the sneeze as a source of energy. But before he even got it off the drawing board along came the steam engine.'
I plunged on. 'Americans butter their toast,' I said. 'Not all peoples do.'
'The Buttered Toast Compulsion,' he responded. 'By Alexander Drybell. Published only last year in three installments in an underground newspaper called Stagnant Pebble. It's Drybell's contention that buttered toast stimulates the aggression glands. It's no coincidence, he claims, that on the day that Johnson sent bombers into North Vietnam he had buttered toast for breakfast.'
'There's your subject!' I said triumphantly. 'Aggression glands!'
'You're kidding. Drybell not only blamed aggression glands, he invented them. He announced the discovery in an earlier three-parter. Why We Fill in Ant Hills, also in Stagnant Pebble.'
I am, fortunately, a person who knows when he has been defeated. I buzzed the stewardess and ordered two hemlocks, straight up.
Happily, I can guarantee you that the stories in this volume have never been done before. They are originals, and the very best of their kind.