Saturday, December 31, 2005


I feared going to school the first day. The school was nearby, and I knew how to get there--I thought. I would go through my back yard, go to the corner, and turn right. But I worried about it.

I worried more about the new outfit my mother had bought me. It had short pants and straps with buttons. I feared that if I had to go to the bathroom, I could not open my pants. I worried that yes, I would have to go to the bathroom.

In school…yes, I had to go to the bathroom! But the teacher, perhaps Miss Smith, noticed my look of pain and unhappiness-and asked me if she could take me to the bathroom. I said yes, and she helped me.

Bless you, Miss Smith.
But she left me back. Maybe I shall explain why in a subsequent post. (I did skip the 1-b. I recall Miss Horowitz, the first-grade teacher, bringing in the kindergarten teachers to see who was skipping, and Miss Smith's look of amazxement at seeing that I was skipping. I hope she also noticed, years later, that I graduated second in my high school class.)

First Grade

In first grade, we were required to recite the Lord's Prayer every day. Some days, I had trouble remembering how it began. But then I hit upon a mnemonic device. A pretty girl who sat near me had a name that reminded me of the Lord's Prayer. Dolores my shepherd….
I was known as the Number Boy in first grade because I could count to 100. I was also, I suppose, advanced in writing. I once wrote something on my pad in front of me, and the teacher, Miss Horowitz, came over to look at it.

I thought she would be mad. But she was amused. She showed it to another teacher, Miss Salinger, and the two of them seemed pleased. I had written: "I am souperman." I had learned to spell "soup" and "man."
Miss Salinger was our substitute for the day--a pretty young woman. She told our class that she was going to marry Bernard Schneider--a charming boy in our class. He was about 6.
I raised my hand.
"You won't marry him! You'll be too old!" (I could be pretty rude then, too.)
She laughed uproariously--and told the other teachers what I had said.
I had no idea why she thought what I said was funny.


Near the top of my pantheon of heroes is Mark Twain. The right opinions, astonishing sense of humor, and so smart. He was not just a humorist; he was a very wise man. He even knew the truth about King Leopold of Belgium.

Ben Franklin, too, whom I began to admire only a few years ago, when my book club read the Morgan biography. What a gifted human being!

Also: Bernard Shaw. The singer Jussi Bjoerling. Meriwether Lewis. Joan of Arc. Left-wing writers like Paul Krugman, Eric Alterman, the Frank who wrote "What's the Matter With Kansas," Nicholas Kristof, Al Franken, politicians like Corzine and Barbara Boxer. Yes, and both Clintons. And Harry Truman.

Among investors: Warren Buffett (although he has fibbed); Jimmy Rogers, although unlike his former partner, George Soros, he is not opposed to the abolition of estate taxes. Soros, although I have never met him. Marty Whitman.

And perhaps at the very top: Beethoven. What pleasure he has given me throughout my life! What future pleasure I will get from listening to music of his I haven't heard yet!

My ranking of the symphonies: 9, 7 and 5, 6, 3, 8. (E. M.Forster wrote about the 5th: the most sublime noise that has ever penetrated the human ear.) (In college, the cynical jaded young men in a class of mine APPLAUDED after hearing the 7th.)

My favorite piano sonata: the Appassionata. Piano concerto: 3.

WQXR begins its Classical Countdown today, and I am pleased that the symphonies always dominate the top of the list. The 9th always is No. 1. I'm somewhat disgusted that Dvorak's New World symphony sometimes breaks into the top ranks.

The three B's are Beethoven, Mozart, and Shubert.

He was anti-Semitic. But...

I ask my friends: Are you a Beeethoven lover? Many say no. I have resolved: Buy recordings of the 7th and distribute them to my friends. How can anyone go through life without enjoying Beethoven?

How to describe his music: Absorbing. Electrifying.

A fresh idea, even a great pun, can produce a small, wonderful explosion in one's brain. A delightful "pop!" Beethoven's music can be -- this is the best word -- thrilling.

***Comment re antisemitism from anonymous:

in a little-known novel, "The Man Who Thought He Was Messiah," Reb Nachman of Bratslav and Beethoven go on a walking tour of Vienna, and Nachman sings niggunim -- tunes -- that Beethoven uses in his music -- a lot of fun.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Alfred Kazin on Jack Kerouac

"He couldn't describe a dog peeing."

Someone's comment:
A critic wrote about Kerouac, that's not writing, that's just typing."

Lorraine's party

When I was 11 or so, Lorraine Gigler, a classmate, invited me to a party at her house. All of us were, I believe, in the seventh grade. At the time I thought that I was a thoroughly repellent human being, but I decided to go anyway. Lorraine was a sweet lovely person.

I went to her party. Her parents, very friendly, asked me to open a box -- they were having trouble with it. I opened it was a jack in the box! Lots of laughter.

What else I remember about the party. I had a good time. We played spin the bottle -- very daring at the time. And I dared to kiss all the girls! Me!

Not long ago, Lorraine, who married Eric, another classmate, was badly injured in an auto accident. But we're optimistic. Her husband assures us that she will attend our 55th reunion in 2007.

Today I had breakfast with another classmate, Joansie. Very clever woman. A while back she emailed me that she had to bring some wine to a party. What brand of wine would I recommend? I told her. Today, at breakfast, she brought me two bottles of that wine! That was her way of finding out what wines I liked. Clever woman. And very generous -- her way of paying me back for giving her an extra ticket to a concert.


Thursday, December 29, 2005

Matisse on Art

A woman examined a painting by Matisse, then said to him, "The woman's arms look too long."

Said Matisse, "That is not a woman. That is a PAINTING."

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Jan. 22

I knew that Lord Byron was born on Jan. 22, my birthday--and Sir Francis Bacon, too. But I didn't know what Byron had written on his 33rd birthday... in 1818...

Through life's road so dim and dirty,
I have dragged to three and thirty.
And what have these years left to me?
Nothing except thirty-three.

Strindberg was also born on Jan. 22.

Calvin and Hobbes

So, what is this cartoon all about?

Possiby: Hobbes, the tiger, is a parent. Easy-going and understanding but...with awesome power, and you have to watch out.

King Kong? A version of Moby Dick? Don't contend with powerful forces of nature? Or is it just about miscegenation? King Kong should have mated with Queen Kong? Stick with your own kind? Big powerful hairy stupid hairy apes should keep away from our cute little blondes?

Surprise Entry

I look up people I know or once knew on Google all the time. The other day, I looked up Mark Howat, former journalist for the Bergen Record.

The first entry was a comment he made to the Columbia Journalism review, published in 1993, saying that the reason the paper had gone downhill was that Malcolm Borg, the publisher, had been a drunk for 8 years.

Something he later regretted saying, I believe.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

King Philip and the Archer

Reading about Philip of Macedon in Little History of the World reminded me of a tale about him -- and I confirmed it via Google:

An archer named Aster came to him just before he began this war. This man offered his help to the king, and began to boast how well he could shoot.

[He said he could hit a starling at 100 paces -- I'm guessing at the number.]

Philip, who believed only in spears for fighting, sent the man away, after saying that he would call for his help when he began to war against starlings and other birds.

This answer made Aster so angry that he went over to the enemy and enlisted in their ranks. Philip soon came to besiege the city where Aster was stationed; and as soon as the archer heard of it, he got an arrow upon which he wrote, "To Philip's left eye."

Aster then went up on the wall, took careful aim, and actually put out the king's left eye. Philip was so angry when he heard of the writing on the arrow, that he ordered another shot into the city. On this arrow was written, "If Philip takes the city, he will hang Aster."

The city was taken, and the archer [hanged]; for Philip always prided himself upon keeping promises of this kind.

Copyright (c) 2000-2005 Lisa Ripperton. All Rights Reserved.

Lesson: Curb your anger, especially when the object of your anger has a great deal of power.

Monday, December 26, 2005

IB Singer Quote

All the leaders of the world...

"They have convinced themselves that man, the worst transgressor of all the species, is the crown of creation. All other creatures were created merely to provide him with food, pelts, to be tormented, exterminated. In relation to them, all people are Nazis; for the animals it is an eternal Treblinka."

Intelligent design? Maybe, then, Iago was right in believing in a cruel god.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Shaw and Wilder

Thornton Wilder visited Bernard Shaw -- and it was dislike at first sight. (According to Literary Anecdotes.)


My first guess: Both men were accustomed to being fawned over by their visitors. Here, neither condescended to do any fawning. And if Shaw hadn't read any Wilder, I can imagine that any conversation was one-sided. (I remember reading that John Dewey and Sinclair Lewis attended the same party, and each was miffed at the attention the other received.)

Or maybe Shaw was jovial, witty, and cynical...and Wilder was not that sort.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Memorable Quote

"The lust of the goat is the bounty of God." -- William Blake


Poem sent to me by a friend:

Philip Larkin 1922-1980

This Be the Verse (title)

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another's throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don't have any kids yourself.

The poem I had sent that person:

Edwin Arlington Robinson. 1869–

Richard Corey

WHENEVER Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.

And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
"Good-morning," and he glittered when he walked.

And he was rich—yes, richer than a king,
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.

So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.

The Larkin poem: I had never read it. I've felt that way, recognizing defects of mine that stemmed from my parents. (Eg, eagerness to impress others.) But recognizing the defects is a first step toward ameliorating them -- even if that does sound sappy.

As for Richard Corey: The point o the poem is that the rich and the privileged can be depressed, just as you and I. I had thought, a while back, that it meant: The conventional life can be painfully boring. Various interpretations are possible, and they can be perfectly acceptable. My recent interpretation: He was ashamed of his homosexual impulses.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Comment: De Maupassant

from Anonymous...

When I took French at college, we were assigned to read Maupassant's "Une Vie," a depressing novel about a woman's wasted life -- wasted largely because she had no children. Unbenknownst to her, her husband prevented conception by performing coitus interruptus, only referred to obliquely. I was 17 years old and had no idea what was meant. I couldn't figure out how what he was doing and how it kept his wife from conceiving. We were so innocent then....

DeMaupassant and Henry James

Guy de Maupassant is an undervalued writer. I've read all four of his novels, and they were fine.

As a child, I read his short story, Boule de Suif (Ball of Fat). I had been told that it was scandalous. I didn't understand it. I waited a few months, or maybe years, then read it again. I still didn't understand it. What had happened? The last time I read it, when I was grown up, I understood. It's about bourgeois ingratitude.

De Maupassant once said that marriage is an exchange of bad humors by day and bad odors by night.

I was startled by this story in the Literary Anecdotes book:

Guy, sitting in a restaurant in London with James, pointed to a woman sitting at a table and asked James to "go over and get her for me."

James explained that in England one had to be properly introduced.

Guy pointed to another woman. "Surely you know her, at least? Ah, if I only spoke English!"

When James declined, for about the fifth time, to introduce him, de Maupassant said, irritably, "Really, you don't sseem to know anyone in London."

Tolstoy and the Nobel

The first recipient of the Nobel Prize was NOT Tolstoy, according to an article in the current New Yorker. Even though he was still allve then. An obscure Scandinavian won the prize. The Nobel committee was criticized for this neglect. So, in the next few years, it DELIBERATELY overlooked Tolstoy.

I wonder what the psychology involved is here. To convey the message, we're so powerful, we can do whatever we want -- even if what we do is obviously wrongheaded? I guess "perversity" is the right word for this.


actually, selma lagerlof won the prize one of those years he didn't, and though obscure, she WAS a wonderful writer. but of course tolstoy gets MY prize.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Psychology and Sex

Sex and Psychology

I was on a crowded subway many years ago, and I was pressed up tightly against someone. Should I get…excited?

Well, was I pressing up against a man or a woman?

If it was a woman, was it an attractive woman – not an old woman, not a child? With regular features and a good figure?

And…what was I pressing against? A hip? A shoulder? A breast?

When I talk about this episode, people question me: What was it? Did I let myself get aroused?

I don’t remember. I do remember how startled I was to realize how dependent on psychology my response was.

SOMEONE'S COMMENT: "You're obviously not polymorphous perverse."

The D.O

When all of us first encountered her, we were enchanted. Brilliant. Slight, fragile, pretty – and brilliant. She belonged to a higher order of Mensa than Mensa – yes, there is such a thing. She talked about Fibonacci sequences and Fermat’s last theorem. We competed to take her out to lunch. But then, gradually, all of her discovered, sadly, that she had a chickenshit personality.
She was always and forever seeking to reenforce her positive view of herself – which consisted entirely in her being so smart. Oh well, she also wanted attention – desperately. She would actually wear earphones and listen to music while walking in the office -- until HR told her not to.
I became disillusioned when we were holding contests on the email at the magazine where I worked. The D.O. (as we referred to her) always won – naturally. Then someone in the library told me that the D.O. would visit and consult some books before submitting the right answers. When she gave as an answer to the question, who had the highest batting average in history?, as Tyrus R. Cobb instead of Ty Cobb I knew she was cheating.
I offered to teach her how to play chess. She did not show up. And later I saw her outside talking with other people. When I confronted her about her missed appointment, she blamed ME for not reminding her of our date. She looked so proud of her cleverness in seemingly turning around the situation. My fault, not hers. I stared at her. You are out of my life, I thought – you could not even apologize.
Everyone became disappointed with her at around the same time. One woman said that she saw the D.O. coming toward her office, to chat, so she ducked under her desk. “Even the D.O. got the point.”
Someone sent me a message. “I pity her husband.” I wrote back, “Knowing her for 2 weeks is like being married to her for 20 years.” I accidentally sent it to her. Quick as a flash, she asked if I was referring to her. I denied it.
Out of the need for attention, she had an affair with our magazines art director. And she told everyone about it! I heard about it from other people. But then she actually said to me, “My affair is not going well.” The art director had dumped her.
I want attention, too; I also want other people to reflect my positive conception of myself. But on a scale of 1 to 10, in terms of needing attention and admiration, I’m a 6 or 7. She was a 10. And with no insight and therefore no attempt to cure herself.
When a mutual friend died, there was going to be a funeral dinner. But when I heard that the D.O. was coming, I bowed out.
Maybe because her flaws and shortcomings were too like my own. Or maybe because I was just so repelled by her – “My affair is not going well.”
The name “the D.O.” stood for the Demented One.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Practical Joke

From James Jones by Willie Morris:

Jean Castel, a friend of novelist James Jones (From Here to Eternity) and his wife in Paris, ran a popular bar and restaurant in St. Germain. The establishment and its owner for a long time had been terrorized by an old Rumanian woman, who stood outside in a dirty flowing dress and played an out-of-tune mandolin, occasionally shouting obscenities through the doorway at Castel.

Castel complained about this woman to one and all. She was ruining his business, and her awful din was driving him crazy. He even talked of a lawsuit.

Then Castel announced to his friends that he was going to take a vacation to Tahiti - he needed one badly. A long ways from Paris.

Then, led by the Joneses, 25 of Castel's friends put up $100 apiece…and bought the Rumanian woman a round-trip ticket to Tahiti the day before Castel was to leave Paris.

He boarded his plane, and many hours later landed at the airport in Tahiti. He descended the ramp and almost collapsed at the sight that greeted him: the Rumanian woman plucking her mandolin and saying, Welcome to Tahiti, Mr. Castel.

My blog:

COMMENTS: So, did they fall in love and get married?

Also: That was so cruel!


In her 70s, my grandmother was very much overweight. She rocked from side to side when she walked.
One morning she decided to walk to the synagogue, a mile or two away, and asked me to accompany her.
I was maybe 8.
She leaned heavily on me as she walked. She struggled past one block, a block and a half. Gasping for breath. But afraid of her husband’s ange if she did not arrive – he was already at the synagogue, waiting for her. (Why didn’t she drive? Why didn’t someone drive her? I just this minute wondered. And came up with the answer: It was Saturday, and Jews are not allowed to drive on Saturday.)
She kepy saying, he will be so angry with me!
She decided, sorrowfully, to return home. I was so relieved. I couldn’t imagine her actually walking all the way to the synagogue.
I'e harbored resentment against my grandfather ever since that day.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Dr. Johnson and Adam Smith

That book of American literary anecdotes is full of stories about meetings between famous people. Some of the encounters seem apocryphal. Indeed, there are two different stories about Hemingway's roughing it up with Gene Tunney, in both of which Hemingway is humiliated. (Both stories cannot be true.)

I'll relate some of the encounters later, but now I want to recall a famous encounter between Samuel Johnson, the writer and lexicographer, and Adam Smith, the economist.

Smith had recorded notes about the death of David Hume, the philosopher, and made no mention of Hume's alleged last-minute religious conversation -- although, apparently, there had been rumors to that effect.

So, when Dr. Johnson met Smith at a party, he said to him, you lie!

Replied Smith, You, sir, are the son of a bitch!

Funny. And appalling.

Einstein's Mistake

Two recent revelations:

1. Despite Einstein, God DOES play dice with the universe. Einstein had it exactly wrong.

2. The residents of Sodom and Gemorrah were honest, pious, God-fearing people. They despised sin in all its forms.

The calumnies circulated about them were sordid attempts to justify the ways of God to man.

I came to these conclusions after reading a book about the Johnstown flood -- and learning that several ministers had maintained that the residents of Johnstown had brought it on themselves by their errant ways. Of course, several prominent religious people blamed the sinful ways of Americans for 9/11 and for Katrina.


Comment from anonymous:

there is something wrong with the human brain (and as so often the case, what's wrong is also what's right with it).

we seek connections, and when we don't find them, we invent them. this is one reason why we can be so creative -- and also why we can be just plain wrong.

there are actually pious jews who believe that we brought the holocaust down on ourselves for -- of all things -- not keeping the sabbath.

and they even believe that if everyone kept the sabbath, the messiah would come -- so it's all our fault that he is tarrying.

the theologican richard rubenstein wrote, in "after auschwitz," that this kind of quid pro quo is not tenable -- there are connections to be made, to be sure -- the centuries of christian "contempt teaching," the scapegoating of the jews, etc. -- but the sins of the victims did not create the holocaust -- rather the sins of the perpetrators did.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

A Famous Poet

I’m reading “The Oxford Book of Literary Anecdotes,” edited by Donald Hall.

Dorothy Day, of the left-wing Catholic Worker, was fined $250 because her apartment house for derelicts was not up to code. As she walked to court the next day, past a gathering of bums looking for handouts, a shabbily dressed man came up and pressed a piece of paper into her hand. ‘I just read about your trouble,’ he said. ‘I want to help out a little bit toward the fine. Here’s two-fifty.”
Miss Day, pleased with receiving $2.50 from a derelict, thanked the man.
In the subway going to court, she looked at the check.
It was for $250.
The check was signed by W.H. Auden.
Later, apologetic, Miss Day said, “Poets do look a bit unpressed, don’t they?”

In 1962, traveling from New York to New Haven to lecture at Yale, Auden sat in a club car and was watched by two Yale students. Finally they sent a note to him. “We can’t stand it a minute longer: Are you Carl Sandburg?”

Christopher Isherwood, the playwright, was living in Amsterdam, where he met Erika Mann, daughter of Thomas Mann. She had been threatened with the loss of her German citizenship as an enemy of the Third Reich, and wanted to marry an Englishman so she could become a British subject. She asked Isherwood to marry her; he declined. He suggested Auden. She wrote to Auden. He wired back: “Delighted….” They were married.
Auden tried to arrange other marriages f convenience. He said to E.M. Forster, “After all, what are buggers for?”

He lectured at Harvard in 1947 on Don Quixote. He had been drinking heavily. He began his talk b apologizing for his new dentures, then apologized that he had never finished reading Don Quixote. He added that he doubted whether anyone in the audience had, either.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Nice Quote

"Malt has done more than Milton to justify the ways of God to man." -- A.E. Housman

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Back to Dr. Livingston

I've finished the book--the CDs, actually--on Stanley and Livingston--

Dr. L. apparently had a son by a native woman--

Stanley, whom I had admired, turned out to have been a slaver, helping King Leopold with his slave trade--when he died, his funeral was in Westminister Abbey, but the dean of the abby refused to let him be buried there because of his activities on behalf of slavery--I'm surprised and disappointed--he seemed to have been a decent sort--

The Stanley-Livingston story was voted the most important story of the late 19th century by journalists--but now that men have walked on the moon, who cares that much about the exploration of Africa?

And who cares about trying to discover the source of the Nile -- which is what Livingston was after? Why was it such a big deal back then?

Stanley may not have said, "Dr. L, I presume," even though it quickly became a famous expression. His notebook has a page missing -- the page where he met Dr. L. The book suggests that he may have torn it out because it doesn't record what he later claimed that he had said.

Exciting book--clever device the author uses to head various chapters, "600 miles from Livingston" -- "300 miles from Livingston."

I realized that I am confusing Dr. L. with Dr. Shweitzer.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Teddy Roosevelt & Henry James

Roosevelt had invited Henry James, the novelist, to dinner.

Later, Roosevelt referred to James as "a miserable little snob."

James described Roosevelt as "the monstrous embodiment of unprecedented and resounding noise."

Emily Dickinson & Walt Whitman

I love something she said: "I have traveled widely in Amherst."

She wrote to a friend, about Walt Whitman, "I never read his book--but was told that he was disgraceful."

Hart Crane

Before jumping into a river and drowning, Hart Crane had -- I have just learned -- made indecent advances to a sailor and had been beaten up.

Gertrude Stein

After a long discussion, Gertrude said, "Hemingway, after all you are 90 percent Rotarian."

"Can't you make it 80 percent?" Hemingway asked.

"No, I can't."

Dr. Livingston, I presume

Into Africa, a book by Martin DuGard, quotes Dr. Livingston as writing, in his journals, that he had had relations with 300 African women. The minister was married at the time, his wife being back in England.

I once was to write a book called The Book of Secrets, about surprising and perhaps negative things about famous people. Florence Nightingale didn't believe the germ theory of disease, for example. Maybe I should consider working on such a book again. (The other book was turned down by a possible publisher after an editor inserted really raunchy stuff.)

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Practical Joke

Carl Sandburg, while he was writing another volume of his biography of Abraham Lincoln, would walk along the beach at Lake Michigan, reciting possible lines from his new book. He would always walk at the same time. The neighbors watched.

Then someone had an idea.

The neighbors hired a tall, thin actor. They asked him to don a long beard, a stovepipe hat, and a shawl -- and to try to look as much as possible like A. Lincoln.

Then they had him walk on the beach -- opposite Sandburg -- and encounter him at a point where the neighbors could watch.

They watched. The actor walked next to Sandburg.

Sandburg looked up, said something, and walked on.

The neighbors rushed down. What had Carl Sandburg said?

The Lincoln impersonator reported:

"He said, good morning, Mr. President."


Handwritten sign I spotted on a store, Generations, on Eighth Ave in NYC last night:


Years and years ago, I saw a sign on a movie theatre that showed sexy movies:


Sunday, December 11, 2005

Gertrude Stein

Remember Bennett Cerf, from "What's My Line?" The Random House editor.

He once interviewed Gertrude Stein ("Pigeons in the Grass Alas") on the radio.

"Gertrude Stein, here you are on a coast-to-coast hookup. This is going to be your chance to explain to the American public what you mean by these writings of yours." He added: "I'm very proud to be your publisher, Miss Stein, but as I've always told you, I don't understand much of what you're saying."

She promptly replied: "Well, I've always told you, Bennett, you're a very nice boy but you're rather stupid."


While I was working as an editor at Fact magazine, in the 1960s, we hired a new receptionist. She wasn't pretty. But she had an astonishing sense of humor. Every time I passed by her desk and said something to her, she had a bright smile and a startlingly funny comment. I thought about her. I thought: I should tell her to become a comic writer, she was so remarkable. And I thought: I should invite her out to lunch.

But I was busy--and she left to work elsewhere.

She became a famous comedienne: Lily Tomlin.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

People I Dislike

B dislikes G. Unusual for her to dislike anyone. I guess it's because G is continually out to prove her worth--her intelligence, her accomplishments. And she is truly formidable. Heck, I'm like that, too.


There are at least two types of unlikable people.

1. People whom it's no fun to be wwith--who are abrasive and hostile, or know it alls, or out to prove their superiority. Along with bores and people with just one or two ideas. And dull conversationalists. I was out party, and a man said to the group, "I know a man who owns a Cadillac, a BMW, and a Lexus." Then stopped. Clearly, not my type of person.

2. Really nasty people. People who are simply cruel. Often, these are people in power -- they can readily get away with being sadistic. Jennifer Borg, for example, at the Bergen Record. I think her father raised her to believe that being cold and cruel were worthy goals. I heard him once describe her, proudly, as "hard as nails." Her monicker around the office was: the bitch on wheels. Bill Rukeyser, my editor at Money, was like that. He enjoyed inflictng pain. A young female editor was allergic to smoke. He would go into her office -- and smoke a cigar!

Manipulative people belong here, too -- people who are always thinking about how to advance their own causes. Well, they don't have to be manipulative, but they tend to be. I knew a fellow named Shelly G. I envied him. No doubts in his mind, no Hamlet-like indecision. Everything in life was solved by his asking himself: Is this good or bad for Shelly G?

Anyway, getting back to B and G. G is a Category 1 person, not Category 2. And tolerable. Being determined to show off is not a sin against the Holy Ghost.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Memories of the First Grade

In first grade, we were required to recite the Lord's Prayer every day, under the tutelage of Ruth Horowitz. Some days, I had trouble remembering how it began. But then I hit upon a mnemonic device. A pretty girl who sat near me bore a name that reminded me of the Lord's Prayer. Dolores my shepherd…

I was known as the Number Boy in first grade because I could count to 100 - other children could not. I was also advanced in writing. I once wrote something on the pad in front of me, and the teacher, Miss Horowitz, looked at it. I thought she would be mad. But she was amused. She showed it to another teacher, Miss Salinger, and the two of them seemed pleased.

I had written: "I am souperman."


My grandparents owned a handsome oval black clock, a Hammond, which ran wonderfully smoothly, and if you spun the second hand backwards, the clock would run backwards.

My older cousin Lennie Epstein, sassy and smart, was visiting. I was--who knows?--maybe 12 at the time.

I had set the clock to to run backwards.

I called to Lennie, in another room, to join me.

"What does 'counterclockwise' mean?" I asked innocently.

A feigned look of disgust. He looked around. His face lit up. "Do you see that clock? Do you see--" He did a classic double-take. He stared at the clock. He smiled.

"Is that why you called me in here?" he asked, as if I had wasted his time--but he was still grinning.

"Yes," I said triumphantly.

Forty or 50 years later, I reminded him of this triumph. He didn't remember it.

Horatio Alger Jr.

That 19th century writer who became wealthy writing about boys who went from rags to riches? I've just read that he had been a minister, and was dismissed because he had molested the boys in his charge. How contemporary.

Red-Headed Kid

I was thinking of this grammar-school kid, red-headed, freckled, always wore faded jeans and a faded red shirt. He was in a few of my classes. He sat behind me once, tapped me on the shoulder, and said very proudly that he had gotten five words right on a spelling test. He had a funny way of speaking. "You got five WRONG?" I said. No, he said, looking hurt, five right. There were 20 words on the test. I was amazed.

Miss Borg, my third grade teacher, was a single woman, very homely. This was at Public School No. 6 in West New York, N.J. She decided, one day, to line up all the children according to their intelligence. At first I wound up in the top 25%. I was relieved. But then she told me to move down--down toward the end of the line. Humiliating.

The kid who was last on the line was the red-headed kid. He began to cry. I think that even Miss Borg recognized that she had done something wrong. She never did it again.

Miss Horowitz, my first-grade teacher whom I became friendly with as an adult, told me that that red-headed kid had just one pair of trousers, blue jeans, and efforts were made to get him to wear better clothing. Today I still associate blue jeans with poverty.

I remember all my grammar-school teachers--and my high school teachers. And all the little girls I had crushes on. In almost every grade I was in.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

I Finally Spoke to S...

She was gorgeous. Black hair, black eyes, white skin, oval face.
She was my classmate in grammar school and high school.
All her classmates were in awe.

Teachers hated her.
They were -- it was so obvious! -- envious. These old, dried-up, sex-starved prunes.

They picked on poor S.
They sometimes made her cry with their criticisms -- if a paper of her was a little messy, for example.
I can see now -- 60 years later -- how pleased Miss H. was when little S. began to cry.

I never spoke to S. in grammar school or high school in West New York, N.J.

I spoke to her for the first time maybe 15 years ago. I gave a talk about real estate; she was in the audience.

We chatted.

S, I said to her, you may not know this, but in grammar school the teachers were so envious of you, of your beauty, that they picked on you. They even made you cry.

And S. said...

It happened to me not only in grammar sschool, but in high school.

And it's happening to my daughter now.

Favorite Quotes (1)

I just recalled one of my favorite quotations from
Ambrose Bierce:

"The gambling known as business looks with austere disapprobation upon the business known as gambling."

From James M. Barrie: "If Sir Francis Bacon did not write the plays of Shakespeare, he missed out on the best opportunity of his life."

From Eric Partridge: "A dirty mind is a constant joy."

Rebecca Boroson: "Yes, some pigs have wings. They're called pig-eons."

Ibid.: "She looked at the world through morose-colored glasses."

Lewis Carroll: In college, we learn laughing and grief.

Hi, I'm Martha...

I heard Martha Stewart being interviewed on Sunday. Charismatic woman.

She was in a K-Mart, and heard a male customer reject a piece of clothing of hers, saying he would not buy anything from a convict. (She served 5 months in prison on a charge of lying. KMart sells her line of clothing.)

She went over to him. Hi, I'm Martha.

She suggested that he buy the item because it was good and cheap and his wife would like it. He bought it.

I loved the, "Hi, I'm Martha."

You can read the column at, under "business."

My Best...


On a general story about cannibalism...

Better than "All About Cannibalism"!

Story about how Olympic records of the past have all been broken, thanks to the larger pool of contestants (among other things). Even the swimming records set by Johnny Weissmuller, who went on to portray Tarzan in the movies, have all been shattered.

In the 1950s, a swimmer named Jane Cederqvist broke Weissmuller's record--and came in third about the women swimmers!

And certainly we need an explanation when Jane can swim faster than Tarzan.

Best Line.
Article on work addiction: "When work addicts travel far and wide on vacation, it is not the natives but the tourists who are restless."

Monday, December 05, 2005

I Saw Tigers Last Night

I worked up the courage to ask my older brother, Roger, about it.

I saw tigers last night, I said...hesitantly.

That was a dream! he said.

I looked at him. And looked.

He explained what a dream was. Something you think about when you sleep.

I was maybe 3 or 4 or 5.

Dr. Johnson Story (Uncorrected)


> A man attended a party at the home of Oliver Goldsmith, the 18th century writer.
While he was chatting wwith some other people, he noticed, standing by a window, a portly man, poorly dressed, talking to himself and sputtering.
> He figured: an idiot relative of Mr. Goldsmith's
> The idiot came over and listened to their conversation for a few moments...
> and then made extraordinarily brilliant and insightful comments.
> And Oliver Goldsmith said...
> I would like to introduce Dr. Samuel Johnson.

The Unified Conspiracy Theory

Sir Francis Bacon shot JFK,

and Lee Harvey Oswald wrote the plays.

-- Bram Boroson

Speech Before a High School Class

9 Things I Wish I Had Known When I Was 17:
Speech Before a High School Graduating Class, ca. 1995

A man had been asked to speak before a high school class on the subject of what young people must do to become successful in life. The evening of his talk, he still didn’t know what to say. Then, as he entered the auditorium, he saw the word PUSH on the door. Suddenly he knew what he would tell the kids about what they needed to become successful.
Talking to the kids, he suggested that if they wanted to know what they needed to fulfill their ambitions, all they had to do was look at the word on the door of the auditorium. All the kids looked. The word they saw was PULL.
The talk I’m going to give tonight will be fairly short. Only 15 minutes. (A murmur of appreciation ran through the audience.) I’m going to talk about things I wish I had known at your age. But I am aware that some of the important things I’ve learned may not mean anything to you – because you and I may be very different kinds of people. For your sake, let’s hope so.
1. Don’t have much of your sense of self-worth depend too much on your being smart. All of you ARE smart. But there are a LOT of smart people out there, and quite a few who are even smarter – as you will find out when you go to college. In other words, have other things about yourself to be proud of – not just that you’re smart.
When I was your age, suspecting that I was intelligent was almost all I had going for me. I was cynical, sarcastic, angry, lonely, unhappy. But I always made the honor roll in high school and I got good grades in college. Still… it wasn’t enough to persuade me that I really was smart. After all, I studied like mad.
Then one day it occurred to me that I didn’t necessarily LIKE smart people. Know-It-Alls. Competitive people always eager to show you up, to point out your mistakes, or demonstrate that they’ve read a book you haven’t read, or that they know Edgar Allen Poe’s wife’s maiden name or who discovered the gas Freon.
The people I liked, instead, were kind, generous, conscientious.
And suddenly it didn’t matter that much whether I was smart or not. The question was: Am I a decent person? And suddenly I realized…that of course I was smart. Because it was no longer that important.
Today, when I met people who are very smart, and who are compulsive in letting me know that they are smart, I look elsewhere for company.
2. Instead of just being smart, try to be a well-rounded human being. A Renaissance man…or woman.
Being inquisitive and eager to learn and experience new things will help you get the most out of life. Read books on subjects you know little or nothing about…listen to music you’ve never heard before…visit new countries…play games you’ve never played before.
Let me assure you that someday you are surely going to love the music of Beethoven and Mozart, the writings of Jane Austen and Mark Twain –if you don’t already. And you will surely discover how fascinating history can be, and sociology, and biography, and psychology, and astronomy, and even the subject I write about, believe it or not – investing.
That’s why, when you go to college, you should be sure to take courses in subjects you know little about.
One of my biggest regrets in life is that when I was younger I didn’t do more adventurous things—travel more, work in different cities, take more risks with my career. Because for many people, like myself, changes are scary -- and we don’t want to appear foolish or ignorant.
I know of some medical doctors who worked like mad all their lives, and then they retired. And they didn’t know what to do with their free time – and all their money. So they bought model airplane sets and out together models. Or some other silly thing.
So, one of the goals of your youth and middle age is to develop enough enthusiasms so that yours can be an enthusiastic old age.
3. Being popular, like being intelligent, is nice, but again don’t exaggerate its importance. If you don’t think that highly of yourself, you may work too hard to win the approval of other people. I meet people whose main goal in life, even as adults, is to try to make everyone like them. Even admirable, gifted people.
Plutarch, who wrote biographies of ancient Greeks and Romans, wrote about a Greek called Aristides the Just. As a fair-minded judge, he was without equal. And then there was an election—and one person did NOT vote for Aristides the Just. So the Greeks found out who that person was, and they asked him: Why didn’t you vote for Aristides the Just? His answer: He was fed up with hearing him called Aristides the Just.
In other words, some people are just not going to like you. Maybe you remind them of their nasty Aunt Gertie or Uncle Max. Or you have too sunny a personality. Or you’re too good-looking. Yeah, that’s it. Or too smart. So, just shrug it off. Those people would probably not have voted for Aristides the Just either. The only people whose opinion of you you should care about, really care about, are people you know and admire.
4. Having a lot of good friends should be one of your goals. Friends can cure loneliness; their company can make life more pleasurable; they can give you good advice. Helping a friend can also be a source of pleasure.
Friends are so important that you should always be in search of new friends. And keeping up with old friends. If something sours between you and a friend, try to patch it up. A polite note may work. Friendship is like a flower; you must water it and give it sunlight.
But be picky about your friends. There are a lot of people out there, so you can be choosey.
My friends tend to be people with strong consciences. I like people who are wise, funny, lively, and so forth, but above all I admire people with strong consciences. You can trust them to be honest and fair and decent. And probably to vote Democratic.
People to avoid include those who are always just out for themselves. 24-7. You will meet a lot of them in life. Also avoid Republicans.
5. Something else you want in life is a good job. I suggest you decide on 2 careers. Your life’s dream – a movie star, a baseball player. And a fallback position – an accountant, a financial writer. I myself had wanted to be a novelist when I was your age. But let me tell you that being the world’s greatest financial writer isn’t so bad.
The best career is one that you thoroughly enjoy. Mark Twain once said that when he discovered that he could make a living by writing, he never did a lick of work again for the rest of his life.
5. On the subject of love, get to know a lot of different boys and girls. I think people are programmed to fall in love in their youth, and you don’t necessarily want to fall in love with the kid who happens to live next door. You can probably do better….if you meet a lot of different people. That’s one reason you should try to get to know as many people as possible, as you will in college.
There’s evidence, by the way, that similar people tend to have the most lasting marriages. Opposites may attract, but they also repel.
Another word of advice: You may fall in love with a pretty face or a handsome face, but don’t marry just a pretty face. Henry David Thoreau, who wrote Walden, once said that the mere fact that a woman has regular features doesn’t improve her conversation. Boy, was he wrong! Nicole Kidman could say dada-dabba-doo and I would be enthralled. Still, I think that we tend to overrate physical attractiveness. And I’m not just saying that because I happen not to have been blessed in that regard.
6. Don’t worry so much that you may be different from other people. In my entire life, I have met only three or four normal, conventional, well-adjusted, ordinary people. And were they ever boring!
7. If you ever fail at something, don’t let it throw you. Tell yourself that you will learn from the experience, and that you’re more likely to succeed next time. It’s probably true. And if someone criticizes something you’ve done, it may hurt –but if it’s warranted, you should welcome it. Think of yourself as a work in progress: always improving.
In my own case, I expect to be a perfect human being by the time I reach 90.
I knew a writer of 20 who could not stand any criticism of what sshe wrote. Say anything less than full of praise about anything she wrote, and she would glare at you. She’s 60 now. And she’s still a rotten writer. Because she closed the door on criticism that might have helped her.
8. Set goals. Don’t just drift through life. What do you want to accomplish during the next 10 years? It could be helping sick people become well. It could be raising happy healthy children. We sure could use more of those.
One of the saddest stories I ever heard was of the man who had known the poet John Keats. And before he died, he saw to it that on his gravestone was written: A Friend of Keats.
That was the greatest accomplishment of his life. He had met John Keats. Now, I wish that I had befriended Keats, too. But I’m sorry that he had nothing else to boast about on his tombstone.
8. Did I tell you how bad at arithmetic I was?
9. Okay 9. Try not to take everything so seriously. There’s a saying you may not have heard: Don’t sweat the small stuff. And there’s another saying: It’s all small stuff. Actually, it’s 95% small stuff.
Finally, I’m going to pass along with some advice from a greeting card I saw recently. The card was given to someone celebrating an 18th birthday. Here’s what it said:

Don’t grow up!
Wear your jimmies all day!
Don’t get married!
Don’t have kids!
Stay little!
Eat candy for breakfast!
Watch cartoons until your brain melts!
Let your parents do all of the worrying!

Now, some of those suggestions are really helpful, and others are just plain dumb. Unfortunately…I’m not sure which is which.
Anyway, good night and good luck.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Horse Play at Home Depot

The latest issue of Forbes reports that an employee of Home Depot was glued to a toilet seat as a result of a prank perpetrated by fellow workers.

He sued.

And collected $3 million.

The Facts of Life

When I was 7 or 8, my somewhat older brother, Roger, told me the facts of life.

I knew it was a lie.

I told my grandmother what Roger had said -- to Roger's mortification. My grandmother seemed upset.

I went to our bookcase and read the chapter on Reproduction in Morris Fishbein's Home Medical Adviser.

Son of a gun, Roger had it right.

Thirty years late, I am working as a writer for Medical World News. The editor in chief is Morris Fishbein.

He rarely comes to our office in Manhattan, but when he does, I mosey over to him. And tell him that he once explained to me the facts of life.

He laughed appreciatively. Over the years, he said, hundreds of young men have told him that.

Why I Quit

Among the reasons I resigned from the board of the NNJ AAII: I proposed that we invite Muriel Siebert to speak -- she had already accepted my invitation. Then two board members complained: "She's too old."

Black Irish

The following story, which I had placed into my Daily Record blog, was killed by the copyeditor, who considered it racist. He spoke to other editors about it, but did not talk to me.

From A Book of Anecdotes, selected and edited by Daniel George, Citadel Press, 1957

Irish Emigrants

In Greville’s diary for November 12th, 1829, is the record of a party at Lord Clifden’s. Among those present was Tom Moore, who told the following story:

“Some Irish had emigrated to some West Indian colony; the negroes soon learnt their brogue, and when another shipload of Irish came soon after, the negroes as they sailed in said, ‘Ah, Paddy, how are ye?’ ‘Oh, Christ!’ said one of them, ‘what, y’re black already!’”

Saturday, December 03, 2005

This is what happens when you tell your cat your password

Haha! It is me, The Chairman Meow! Bet you thought "Chaing Kai Boroson" was going to tell you about mutual funds or something, right?


I'm here to tell you that I want to go outside! I mean inside! Outside Inside! Inside Outside! What's so great about being outside inside?

It's warm filled with rodents annoying to those big freak hairless bipeds!

Now give me some catnip and I'll go away!