Wednesday, February 17, 2016
What's My Wednesdays: Random Thoughts
If his memoirs are to be believed, Bennett Cerf (second from right, as if Café regulars didn't know that) had a marvelous life.
On the reading list this week was Cerf's posthumously compiled book of "reminiscences," At Random, and while it's by no means a work of deathless literature, it's enormous fun. Breezy and thoughtful by turn (and largely, blessedly free of Cerf's near-addiction for atrocious puns), it recounts a story that goes from strength to strength - a popular kid remembers the old neighborhood, goes to good schools, has fun on the debutante circuit, hits Wall Street, decides it's not for him, and puts a little money into publishing. A few decades later, he sells the result, Random House, for $40 million, and in the interval he meets (and adores - a word that pop up frequently, as does "great," "lovely," "terrific," and, of course "marvelous"- the man was an appreciator of the first the water) basically everyone and anyone of interest in American cultural life of the twentieth century.
If there's any disappointment for today's reader, it's that between his hijinx with the likes of Eugene O'Neill, Gertrude Stein, William Faulkner, and Truman Capote, there's relatively little space given over to our beloved What's My Line? (or even his other show-biz pals who didn't publish at Random House), although he waxes poetic on the joys of his resulting fame. He's not shy, in fact, about his genuine enjoyment of every aspect of his success - he makes sure you know all about that $40 million, and how he got it. His unrelenting emphasis on it also reminds one what a force, once upon a time, was the Book of the Month Club - it was clearly both a marker of literary prestige (popularity division) and a major cash cow. His glee at success and its accoutrements is really rather refreshing, in these days in which despite living in age of oligarchic greed that would shame an Astor, all and sundry (well, at least all this side of those Kardashians) are insistent on just being regular middle-class Joes. None of that for Cerf, who lived and reveled in a Manhattanische way of life that's as vanished as the dodo (and a great deal more attractive).
I recommend it highly.
In other news, it's been a good thing to have a good read to occupy one, as the weather in Our Nation's Capital has been particularly vile. It's as if February is intent on reminding us why we really don't, in the best of circumstances, like it. Snow, ice, lashing sleety rain, and cold of an almost Zhivagoan intensity have beset us, and the terriers and I are officially sick to death of it.
Which is why we're escaping in a few days, more of which anon.
I got the final go-ahead for long-distance travel from the good people over in cardiology on Tuesday, as well as my lab-work test results, which were (pardon my Cerfian exuberance) stellar. Every number bang where you want it to be, and my old bête noire, Cholesterol, down ten points overall, with the mysterious Good Cholesterol up sharply. Everyone is terribly pleased, although my own rejoicing was quickly tempered when I learned that my travel permit comes with one caveat: while in transit - and they're going to be long flights - I have to, shame of shames, wear supp hose (and all the way up - no knee-highs for me). I've duly laid in a requisite supply, and while it's true that they do reveal that for a gentleman of my age I have a pretty terrific set of gams (really - Dame Edna's got nothing on me), there's no question that the whole thing is more than a little ridiculous. Still, to get out of this cold, it will be worth even this humiliation.
In sadder news, as presaged a few weeks ago, we got the news this morning that my father has died. He went peacefully, in a sleep that had been more or less continuous for the better part of a week; he was 91. As I've said, we were far from close, and it will come as no surprise to those that know me that the first thought I had, unbidden, was a snippet from A Chorus Line: I felt nothing. Perhaps I will, at some point, but not right now. I'll keep my distance from the Evil Stepmother for the moment, but My Dear Sister indicates that the bigger funeral (and I'm guessing it will be big indeed - he adored formalities, and if he hasn't changed his plans, there will be a full-scale military ceremony, with caisson, honor guard, bugler, and - his own touch - bagpipers) will be in our hometown once the ground has thawed. We shall see.