The Passing Parade: Cheap Shots from a Drive By Mind

"...difficile est saturam non scribere. Nam quis iniquae tam patiens urbis, tam ferreus, ut teneat se..." " is hard not to write Satire. For who is so tolerant of the unjust City, so steeled, that he can restrain himself... Juvenal, The Satires (1.30-32)

Monday, August 22, 2005

THE... I like Robert Benchley's work, which probably doesn't come as a surprise to many of you, and the stories people told about him are almost as entertaining as the pieces he wrote. There's one story I especially like. Benchley had to write a piece for The New Yorker and was coming up on deadline for the thing. Now, when he had to come up with something for the magazine quickly, Benchley kept a typewriter to work on at Polly Adler's, a finishing school for young ladies of prominent New York families, and determining to finish the pesky piece for Harold Ross, the magazine's legendary head editor, once and for all, Benchley put a piece of paper into the typewriter and typed the word The. He then attended one of the several classes in applied physiology offered by Miss Adler's school, followed by a sightseeing tour of prominent Manhattan waterholes to see the press hyenas chew on the gnus and the opening night of a play on Broadway that subsequently flopped faster than Dick Fosbury on speed. After returning to Miss Adler's establishment only the slightly worse for wear, Mr. Benchley sat down behind the typewriter and looked at the word The for the next hour and a half, while steam escaped from his ears and gallons of sweat gushed like lava from pores erupting like so many mini-Krakatoas. At the end of this period, finding himself as bereft of ideas as he had been at the beginning of his nocturnal meanderings, Mr. Benchley leaned forward and, putting hands to keyboard, wrote, hell with it, and then went home.

I always liked that story, if for no other reason than there are just times when you absolutely cannot think of anything to write about. I am sure there are ideas out there, but for some reason or another, they are avoiding me like I had a bad case of something communicable and altogether loathsome. So just as soon as I think of something I will let you folks know.

And yes, the caricature is by Al Hirschfeld; I know I should have found one by Gluyas Williams, who illustrated most of Benchley's books, but I couldn't find one that went along with the theme here and this one did, so my apologies to any Benchley purists out there.
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