Sunday, July 29, 2007

Paula Powerstone

Is that her name? Had never heard of her. But I saw her in Albany on Friday & she was most impressive. A dazzlingly quick mind. And audacious. What other comedian would admit being an atheist?


A little heavy-handed but powerful. Michael Moore is a national treasure.

Stand-Up Comedy

My career as a stand-up comic has begun and ended rather nicely.
I'm not sure why I was eager to do it--perhaps because I tell jokes every month at a social group I belong to & have developed a reputation for telling funny jokes.

Anyway, the people hosting this comedy night--at a Y in Wayne--seemed to be dubious about me.
They knew that I had no experience. That I was a financial writer. So I went on first.

Lots of laughs. All I did was tell 4 very funny jokes.

Lots of congratulations afterwards.

Really good for my ego!

Especially because I've been invited to give another stand-up performance elsewhere!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


I never watched it while it was running, but now that it's over, and its departure elicited such terrific reviews, I began watching. And I'm addicted. The acting--Tony's wife, for instance--is awesome. The stories and incidents, so persuasive they must have been derived from true events. And there's subtlety. Tony's wife is almost giving up--a psychiatrist told her to. She tests Tony. Will he agree to give $50,000 to Columbia? He senses that he had better say yes.

Tony is no doubt the American male's hero. Fearless. Takes no shit from nobody. (So to speak.) A Russian tells Tony's Russian girfriend that she should have married a Russian. Tony teaches him a lesson. And does he ever sleep around! America's answer to James Bond.

But...Tony's so contradictory. Sometimes kind, sometimes cruel.

It's a business story. Running a business where bad employees don't just get fired. They get whacked.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Add to Blacks Article...

When I lunched with Ann and Gloria, Gloria was the first black person I ever got to know. I remember thinking: She and I are more alike than Ann and I are. That was a revelation then; it sounds naïve now.

Walking in the Village, I saw an intellectual-looking, smooth-talking young black man, dressed in a suit, coming on to a very pretty young brunette. “You won’t talk to me because I’m black, that’s it, isn’t it?” he was saying. She was walking in front of him, looking pained, her face averted.
Maybe I should have said: “She doesn’t let herself be picked up by anyone – but that’s a good line you have.” I wonder, though, if that would have meant a fight.

Near Carnegie Hall, an unkempt white man shouting at a well-dressed, embarrassed black man… “You’re a nigger!” … In front of a supermarket in Passaic, a red-headed white kid taunting a startled black kid with the word “nigger.” … In San Francisco, early one morning, a black kid challenging a white kid (whom he didn’t know) to a fight, the white kid saying he had to go to work…

Time Inc. employees were on strike. A young well-dressed black man, a Time employee, was passing by us strikers, grinning, and making contemptuous remarks. I thought of calling him a blackleg.

Comment on Article About Blacks from HS Classmate

Hey Warren, I hate to be picky but...there were several black families in West New York while we were growing up. There were the Stiles, the Washington's, the Farrar's, and others whose names I have forgotten. As a matter of fact, I remember once going out on "strike" because Coviello refused to let the "black" footballer play in a game where Memorial was winning by one of those really lopsided scores. We picketed his office.

Also, in your commentary on inviting a Black male to join your group you state:

I would like to sponsor A black member. Must be male. He can live anywhere. I'll even pay the first year's dues, $50. Is anyone interested?

The parts I have highlighted in RED seem sort of racist to me? A black, why not several. And how nice of you to pay their dues, are you insinuating they can't afford the $50? All I'm trying to say is, if you look, you can find something to criticize.

As for having black friends along our journey of life, I have had many. At Fairleigh, in the 50's, there was a classmate, Sadie Davis. I do remember a group of us once going to lunch and realizing we were not being served because she was with us. We promptly got up and left, en masse. However, I had a male friend, whose name I don't remember, with whom I often went to lunch or for a drink after class. We never had a problem. All I'm saying is, maybe you were looking and so you found, while I just enjoyed the moment.

You mentioned the black reporter at The Record, and you are right. She was a racist. Her views were way out of line and not only was she arrogant, she was insulting. I for one, was not sorry to see her go. No matter what one's race, there is no reason to have "attitude." What's the expression, you can catch more bees with honey...?

Okay, enough for my soap box for today. Sorry if I went on and on but today has been a day for me to give my advice freely, asked for or not.


Friday, July 20, 2007

A Few Black People in My Life

In 1961 I worked for Pageant magazine, on west 47th Street in New York City. I was an associate editor; Pageant was sort of an imitation Reader's Digest. A little more lively, though.
I wrote articles Pageant on why blondes have more fun and on the actress Falconetti, who portrayed Joan in Carl Th. Dreyer's film, “The Passion of Joan of Arc.”
I would go out to lunch sometimes with two young secretaries who worked there: Ann and Gloria.
When Ann didn't come to work, Gloria and I did NOT go out to lunch together. Gloria was black. At the time, a white man and a black woman did not go out to lunch together in New York City. It would attract attention; it might provoke angry comment; it might be dangerous.
Gloria was a beautiful young woman; sometimes her brother would call and leave a message: Please have her call Jimmy. Jimmy, I learned later, was James Baldwin, the novelist.
There were no blacks in my neighborhood, in West New York, when I grew up. No blacks attended my elementary school, Public School 6. There were almost no blacks attending my high school, Memorial, also in West New York, which I attended from 1948 to 1952. There was one, just one. I saw him playing softball on the field near the school. He must have been the first and only black in the school. As he batted, swinging wildly, a small crowd of white high school students watched-and hooted at him. I was surprised and ashamed.
There were at least two blacks in my college class at Columbia. One was an intelligent young man who had an attitude. He seemed to be expecting hostility. Always on his guard. Alvin was his name.
The other young man was a football player-gregarious, cheerful, self-confident.
I once saw Alvin look with amazement at the other black man, surrounded by white admirers as all of us walked down the stairs in a college building.
Alvin was Alvin Poussaint, who went on to Harvard and became a psychiatrist of note.
Carol, a black woman, worked with me on a newspaper not long ago. She and I became friends--yes, we even went out to lunch together. Then I became her boss, temporarily. And she gave me trouble. She didn't like taking orders. When another boss took over, Carol continued being difficult and was fired. My parting advice to her, as she looked for a new job, was: Always butter up your boss.
Carol and I went out to lunch frequently. Once, as we walked in a parking lot, a tough-looking black man began following us. Carol knew what was happening and became nervous. I guess the fellow was checking me out, and I ignored him -- and continued chatting amiably with Carol. The fellow went away.
How different from 1961!
At the Bergen Record, there was a black woman columnist. She started writing opinion columns that were outrageously anti-white--and stirred up a hornet's nest. I suggested that she tone it down. “Don't lose the column,” I said. “You will probably never get a chance to write another column in your life.”
She left to go to the Daily News, and I learned later on that she had lost her job there just before dying of breast cancer.
I belong to a men's club in Ridgewood. There are 400 members and no blacks. I have recommended to the club's officers that they try to recruit a black; I quoted something that Tiger Woods said about golf: It should look more like America. (With more black people.) But the club's officers told me, superciliously, that that is not their job.
There was a black member once, I have learned, but he resigned after a club officer jocularly referred to him as “our token black.”
It's a fine club, and it's non-sectarian, even though it's sponsored by a Presbyterian church. Members go to plays and museums and sporting events. There's a book club, a bridge club, a computer club, a genealogy group, a music club. I run a lunch club (ROMEO, for Retired Older Men Eating Out) and the Investor's Club.
I would like to sponsor a black member. Must be male. He can live anywhere. I'll even pay the first year's dues, $50. Is anyone interested?
Today there's a very popular TV program called “Heroes.” In it, a beautiful blonde is married to a black man. The black man isn't a Sidney Poitier or Denzel Washington type. He's not very good-looking; in fact, he's a criminal. But he isn't portrayed as a villain. I haven't heard of any protests about their marriage.
I wonder: Will younger people believe that, in 1961, a white man and a black woman were afraid of having lunch together in New York City? I can hardly believe it myself.

Get a sneak peek of the all-new AOL at

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Wacko With a Ph.D.

I wrote an article quoting N.J. shippers as claiming that Southern shippers were trying to “steal our lunch,” to take our business away. So I jocularly referred to these Southerners as “crackers.”

A female copyeditor complained that this term was insulting—and actually succeeded in getting it taken out of my article! (The managing editor is always easy for other people to manipulate.) The copyeditor also managed to butcher the rest of my article. She has a reputation for editorial butchery. “Cracker” is a word Southerners often use to describe other Southerners. It’s about as insulting as “Yankee.”

This copyeditor is a woman desperate for attention. She has a Ph.D. from Seton Hall, where she teaches. In teaching English, she has the students study comic books—as a notable example of genre writing! Wacky. (How about English gothic literature of the 18th century instead? Now you have a clue as to why Seton Hall has such a deservedly lousy reputation.

The wacko with the Ph.D. recently objected to a perfectly unobjectionable article I wrote about two women who were seeking financial guidance. Why? Obviously, she’s still desperate for attention.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Jacques Barzun

Jacques Barzun is approaching 100

As a youngster I was determined to be judged Very Smart, so I bought a used copy of an Information Please almanac, and first encountered the name of Jacques Barzun. He was a panelist, along with Mark Van Doren, Franklin P. Adams, and others, on a radio program moderated, I believe, by Clifton Fadiman. (Information Please started in the 1930s and ended in the 1950s.)
I remember: Barzun said something outlandish, and the others ganged up on him. He was the youngest panelist, as I recall.
I encountered his name again when he, Trilling, and W.H. Auden were in charge of a very classy book club.
At Columbia, he taught a course on theFrench revolution and romanticism. Slight, good-looking, elegant. I took the class in 1955, I think. (I was proud of attending a school where celebrities like Trilling, Gilbert Hayett and Barzun taught.)
He came in, lectured in a precise, lively way, then disappeared. Once a student waylaid him: The student had to get Barzun to sign a paper. I remember once Barzun hesitated in thinking of a word—and wound up saying something rather trite, like “enlightened.” A female student involuntarily breathed her disappointment.
A smart, outspoken student named Seymour Mandelbaum (he was in one of my other classes) once asked Barzun if the anti-religious elements of the French Revolution actually constituted a religion. Barzun coolly refuted the idea. Seymour seemed annoyed. One day Barzun came in – and before class started, beamed at Seymour. Making amends. An ingratiating gesture. Seymour seemed to ignore him. And then Barzun turned—and beamed at me! I was shocked. So, I think, was he at my response. I guess that I had kept staring at him intently in every class. (When later on I underwent psychotherapy, the therapist told me that Barzun must have become a father figure to me.)
I wrote a paper on Wordsworth and the Romantic Revolution in English Poetry. I got an A-. Barzun’s comment on my paper was brief but laudatory. (The paper just repeated conventional ideas.) But this was the last time Barzun would teach; he was becoming dean (?) of the Columbia graduate school. And he requested copies of certain unusually good papers from that class, of which mine was one. It still makes me happy remembering that.
In 1985 I conducted a poll for an article on puns, writing to celebrities like Edward Albee, John Ciardi, Cleveland Amory, and Barzun, asking them to rate various puns.
I mentioned in my article that a TV newscaster had objected, in the Times, to the use of “an” before the word “historian.”
Barzun had responded that “an historian” is acceptable because the “h” in “historian” is barely aspirated and the stress is on the second syllable, not the first. Barzun concluded by expressing his “sorrow to see your contributor suffering from stress because his aspirations are misplaced.”
A good line to quote in an article about puns.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Nelly Gray

Oh, My Darling Nelly Gray

A few years ago, listening to this old song that I had heard and even sung when I was very young, I finally paid attention to all the words. They were a shock. When I told someone about those words, that person didn’t want to believe what the words said.
On a CD Thomas Hampson sings the words very distinctly.
Here are the words:

Darling Nelly Gray

(B.R. Hanby)

There's a low green valley by the old Kentucky shore
Where we've whiled many happy hours away,
A-sitting and a-singing by the little cottage door,
Where lived my darling Nelly Gray.

cho: Oh my poor Nelly Gray, they have taken you away
And I'll never see my darling any more.
I'm a-sitting by the river and I'm weeping all the day
For you're gone from the old Kentucky shore.

When the moon had climbed the mountain, and the stars were shining too,
Then I'd take my darling Nellie Gray.
We would float down the river in my little red canoe,
While my banjo so sweetly I would play.

One night I went to see her but "she's gone" the neighbors say,
The white man bound her with his chain,
They have taken her to Georgia to wear her life away,
As she toils in the cotton and the cane.

My canoe is under water and my banjo is unstrung
I'm tired of living anymore;
My eyes shall look downward and my songs shall be unsung
While I stay on the old Kentucky shore.

My eyes are getting blinded and I cannot see my way,
Hark! there's someone knocking at my door;
Oh! I hear the angels calling and I see my Nelly Gray
Farewell to the old Kentucky shore.

Final cho:
Oh, my darling Nelly Gray, up in heaven there they say
That they'll never take you from me any more;
I'm a-coming, coming coming as the angels clear the way
Farewell to the old Kentucky shore.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Best Puns

The Best Puns in the English Language

Some 20 years ago, I conducted a poll of a bunch of literary people – among them, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Edward Albee, writer Cleveland Amory, critic John Ciardi and historian Jacques Barzun.
The question I asked: Which are the best puns in the English language? And I listed my 41 favorite puns.
The lowest-rated pun, I am sorry to report, was my own contribution: “One man’s Meat Loaf is another man’s Adelina Pate.” (Adelina Patti was an opera singer – I assume that you remember Meat Loaf.)
Other good puns that did not make the top ten included:
“A fool and her money are soon courted.” (Helen Rowland)
“Half a love is better than none.” (Helen Rowland)
“Take care of the peonies and the dahlias will take care of themselves.” (Franklin P. Adams)
“Upon looking over this report, I find that I have knocked everything but the chorus girls’ legs—but nature has anticipated me there.” (Percy Hammond, drama critic)
“One man’s fish is another man’s poisson.” (Carolyn Wells)
“Time wounds all heels.” (Jane Ace)
“Peccavi” (I have sinned). Message of Sir Charles Napier, in 1884, upon disobeying orders and capturing Sind, a province in Pakistan)
“An historical novel is like a bustle, a fictional tale covering a stern reality.” (Augusta Tucker)
Review of the play, “I Am a Camera”: “No Leica.” (Goodman Ace)
“Every dogma must have its day.” (Carolyn Wells)
“Golden lads and girls all must
As chimney sweepers, come to dust.” (Shakespeare)
“When a man falls into his anecdotage, it is time for him to retire.” (Benjamin Disraeli)
Finally, here are the top ten puns as chosen by the panel of experts:
“Please return this book; I find that though many of my friends are poor arithmeticians, they are nearly all good bookkeepers.” (Sir Walter Scott)
“She was a good cook as cooks go; and as cooks go, she went.” (H.H. Munro)
“One man’s Mede is another man’s Persian.” (George S. Kaufman)
“The pretty girls in Utah mostly marry Young.” (Artemus Ward)
“Absinthe makes the heart grow fonder.” (Addison Mizner)
“We must hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.” (Benjamin Franklin)
“Verlaine was always chasing Rimbaud.” (Dorothy Parker, referring to two French poets)
“When I am dead, I hope it may be said:
His sins were scarlet, but his books were read.” (Hilaire Belloc)
“Nothing succeeds like excess.” (Oscar Wilde)
And the highest-ranked pun of all:
“You can lead a horticulture, but you can’t make it her think.” (Dorothy Parker)

Some other excellent puns:

A classics master taught Laughing and Grief. -- Lewis Carroll
A pessimist looks at the world through morose-colored glasses. -- Rebecca Boroson
Of course pigs have wings. They're called pigeons. -- Rebecca Boroson

Wednesday, July 04, 2007


What are MY goals, at age 72?

To live into my 80s--still working--
To win awards--and gain recognition for my writing--
To write more books--
To see my older kid, who has problems, live a decent life (I've given up on my younger kid, who is hopeless)
To see that my wife doesn't have a life of horror after I die--


I had a dream about Ralph Ginzburg last night--the publisher--he was launching a new magazine, with Herb Lubalin, the art director--I saw the ads, with his smiling picture--he offered me work at the magazine--$50 for each short sophisticated article--but not the editorship--

I guess I miss the notion that, if I were ever out of a job, I could go back to Ralph--


is about integration. Creatures the insiders consider rats may have virtues and talent.

The animation was amazing, but the movie predictable & slow.

Old Age

Old age is when young people no longer seem interested in you--especially young good-looking blondes.