CERF’S UP

In his comment to 20/20 BEHINDSIGHT (my May 20 post which contained a look back at TWENTY QUESTIONS), long-time blog buddy Don Frankel mentioned WHAT’S MY LINE? (another old TV game show). It so happens that one of the regulars on that show, humor writer and publisher (co-founder of RANDOM HOUSE) Bennett Cerf had chosen the 25th of May (1898) to be born; thus, today I honor his birthday by posting a selection of favorite Cerf puns and quotes (and high time I returned the favor, considering that lo, some twenty-plus years ago, RANDOM HOUSE published several of my poems in THE RANDOM HOUSE TREASURY OF LIGHT VERSE).

But first, let’s take a look back at one of the WHAT’S MY LINE? programs from the same year as the TWENTY QUESTIONS clip shown in my previous post:

There is little question, I think you’ll agree, that WHAT’S MY LINE? was a step up in class compared to TWENTY QUESTIONS…..so it’s time to hit the Cerf (as beach bums refer to the swells) and ride the wave….to wit:

Gross ignorance is 144 times worse than ordinary ignorance.

The confused young man couldn’t decide whether to marry Kathryn or Edith. Try as he might, he just could not make up his mind. Unwilling to give up either, he strung them along far too long. This indecision continued until both women tired of the situation and left him for good. Moral of the story: You can’t have your Kate and Edith too.

Then there was the young female comic who was promised good roles in a hit TV show. All she had to do was divide her favors between the star and the producer. But it was just a sham; she never got any air time at all. You might even say she was….shared skit less.

There once was a student named Bessor
Whose knowledge grew lesser and lesser.
It at last grew so small
He knew nothing at all
And today he’s a college professor.

The Detroit String Quartet played Brahms last night. Brahms lost.

I shouldn’t be surprised  — it was four against one.

And on that note, I bid thee a fond fare well.

 

 

 

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SPRING CLINGING

There’s something bad in everything good: when spring comes, can spring cleaning be far behind? — Evan Esar

Spring has come, but in my sequestered domain, this doesn’t mean spring cleaning must follow. Though my closets be crammed and my drawers be loaded — make that cluttered — I’ll have no problem leaving spring cleaning far behind (even if others stink otherwise).

Now, I’m not saying that spring cleaning doesn’t have its place. For example, it might be worth the bother if you’re young and in love:

Speaking of “young love,” how old do you think the above song is? If you guessed it dates back to the ‘Golden Age’ of popular music (1920s, 30s, 40s), welcome to one of my happy places. If you’re thinking I’m clinging to the best of those romantic old songs out of naught but nostalgia, nothing could be further from the youth — my guileless youth that Father Time gradually re-placed. But suppose the mature me were unable to relate to the ever-young work of, say, Twain, Stevenson and Swift — it wouldn’t be that their writing has become outdated.  I would simply have lost the capacity to appreciate its timelessness.

In like manner, whether it be seen as ‘gilding the lily’ of youth or burnishing the harmony of maturity, I still think of the oldies as younger than springtime….and on that note, I’ll tune out:

 

THE IMPORTANCE OF QUOTING ERNEST

Did you fathom that the title of my last post (THE OLD MAN AND THE SEASON) was a play on Ernest Hemingway’s last completed novel, THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA? Because that post was about aging and autumn, perhaps I was remiss in not including a Hemingway quote (such as the first one below) among those I gathered for the occasion.

This post will attempt to make up for that shortfall with a selection of Hemingway quotes, starting with this autumn-appropriate eulogy he wrote for a friend:

Best of all he loved the fall/the leaves yellow on cottonwoods/leaves floating on trout streams/and above the hills/the high blue windless skies./Now he will be part of them forever.

For a long time now I have tried simply to write the best I can. Sometimes I have good luck and write better than I can.

The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.

There is nothing to writing. All you have to do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed. 

When you go to war as a boy, you have a great illusion of immortality. Other people get killed, not you… Then, when you are badly wounded, you lose that illusion, and you know it can happen to you.

In modern war, there is nothing sweet nor fitting in your dying. You will die like a dog for no good reason.

True nobility is being superior to your former self.

No weapon has ever settled a moral problem. 

Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day.

There is no lonelier man, except the suicide, than that man who has lived with a good wife and then outlived her. If two people love each other, there can be no happy end to it.

But hold on — happy or not, this isn’t the end. The title of this post is another play on words, this being Oscar Wilde’s peerless comedy of manners titled THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST….a parody of Victorian age social standing previewed in this trailer for the 1952 film (not to be confused with the inferior 2002 remake) of the Wilde play:

Now (as the movie says when it’s over) this is THE END

Ten Things You Didn’t Know About Mistermuse: A Birthday Tribute

On this day, *ahem* years ago, mistermuse (aka my dad) was born. And so to mark this auspicious occasion, I have compiled a list of little known facts about his life. There are many things we already know about mistermuse – he’s a reader, writer, thinker, jazz aficionado and classic movie buff, and today, in honor of his birthday, here are ten things you didn’t know about the man who aMUSEs us all!

  1. His grandfather came from County Clare, Ireland and could “talk the blarney”. Perhaps this is where mistermuse got his way with words.
  2. As a boy he traded his set of original Superman comics for a BB gun. At least he didn’t shoot his eye out!
  3. He worked for the same company his entire career, starting out in the mailroom and working his way up. How many can say that today?
  4. He met my mom through a “computer dating service” – a newfangled thing in the 60’s. His first matches weren’t so hot and he was going to give up the experiment after his sixth and last match. Thank goodness my mom was the sixth and not the seventh!
  5. When I was five years old he brought home a pet for the family in a cardboard box – no, it wasn’t a puppy, it was a duckling! For the next ten years we had a duck waddling around in our suburban backyard.
  6. In his travels, mistermuse has visited eight countries (Canada, Mexico, Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany and Switzerland), all fifty US states, and has taken pictures of covered bridges in every state that had one.
  7. He retired at age 50 with a nice early retirement package and then worked for a couple of years as a building security guard. His favorite part of that job was getting to watch TV while working.
  8. Mistermuse has a sneeze with a decibel level high enough to set off our doorbell sensor. Thankfully, he has not yet blown down the house.
  9. He was always a devoted son and cared for his mother for the last 11 years of her life while she lived with our family.
  10. He is the best dad I could ever ask for. 🙂

So now you know ten more things about mistermuse than you did before and I hope you all enjoyed reading it too.

And finally,

Happy Birthday, Dad!

As poet I can’t compare – your wit’s sharpened on a strop,
but if Daddy I’m the bottom, you’re the top!

TITLES FOR BARE NAKED POEMS

Words should be only the clothes, carefully custom-made to fit the thought. –Jules Renard

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With the above in mind, I have tailored the following titles to fit a dozen poems fashioned to stir your imagination. WARNING: These poems may drive you stir crazy; do not take too literally.

WHITE OUT

I THOUGHT ABOUT EWE*

SILENCE OF THE LAMBS

EASY WRITER

THIS IS A PIECE OF CAKE

THE ICING ON THE CAKE

POETIC SUBSTANCE ABUSE

BLACK AND….

SNOW JOB IN SIBERIA

DRAWING A BLANK

SHAKESPEARE’S WORK BY BACON

LOVE’S LABOR#

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#The way to love anything is to realize that it might be lost.
–G. K. Chesterton

*In coming up with this title, I thought about this Johnny Mercer song:

 

 

BE MY GUEST

I’d rather be a great bad poet than a bad good poet. –Ogden Nash

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Today is the birthday, not of Ogden Nash, but of Edgar Guest (Aug. 20, 1881). And who, you might ask, was Mr. Guest, and why is he my special Guest for this post? (Sorry about that, but to paraphrase Will Rogers, I never met a pun I didn’t like.) Though he is all but forgotten today, in his day Guest was a poet so popular that he was known as the People’s Poet. Unfortunately for him, this lofty regard was not shared by more discriminating appraisers such as Dorothy Parker, who is reported to have declared:

I’d rather flunk my Wassermann test*
than read a poem by Edgar Guest.”

*a test for syphilis

Were his poems really that bad? Here are a few examples; you be the judge:

Home ain’t a place that gold can buy or get up in a minute;
Afore it’s home there’s got t’ be a heap o’ living in it.
–from his most famous poem, titled “Home”

When you’re up against a trouble,
Meet it squarely, face to face,
Lift your chin, and set your shoulders,
Plant your feet and take a brace.
–from “See It Through”

Now, I’m not saying I’d rather flunk a syphilis test than read a poem by Edgar Guest, but August 18 was/is BAD POETRY DAY, and one wonders why that date was chosen rather than August 20, which would have coincided perfectly with the birth date of the critics’ poetaster child for BAD POETRY DAY. Of course, it’s possible there are worse poets than Guest, so perhaps neglected candidates for the honor would have raised a stink (as opposed to raising a stinker, like the parents of a certain GOP candidate for President).

But I digress (the devil made me do it). Back on message, your humble host is more than capable of vying for the honor; as proof, he submits the following for your disapproval:

RAINED ALL NIGHT THE DAY I LEFT

It was a dark and stormy night
On the day I left to stay.
The sun was shining brightly
On yon shadows afar away.

I be starting on a journey
Just as soon as I know where.
I’ve packed a lot of nothing
To unpack when I get there.

They say the spirit’s willing,
But the flesh is weak as sin;
The former is my future —
The latter is where I’ve been.

So come, sweet spirit, raise me
From the heap o’ living dead.
I surrender — set me free from
My behind to look ahead.

And should I meet up with trouble,
I’ll meet it squarely and not duck;
I’ll shoulder my chin, a face lift face,
And just show all-around pluck.

And if that doesn’t take me
Beyond that unbending bend,
I’ll just declare this is where
Both journey and poem end.

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Back to Mr. Nash. I opened this opus with his “great bad poet/bad good poet” quote. There was a method to my badness: he was America’s preeminent writer of humorous light verse from 1931 until his death in 1971, a favorite of mine, and, apropos to this post’s focus on an August 18-20 time frame, he was born Aug. 19 (1902). So Happy Birthday, Ogden Nash — a wit as a light versifier and, I might add, no twit as a lyricist; witness his words to this tune composed by Kurt Weill, as sung by Eileen Wilson (lip synced by Ava Gardner) and Dick Haymes in the 1948 Hollywooden film version of the play ONE TOUCH OF VENUS:

 

 

TELLTALE TITLES

How much time and thought do you devote to coming up with just-the-right title for your story, poem or article? If you take writing seriously, the answer is probably: as long as it takes to nail it — which could be almost no time at all, if it comes to you in a flash — or, more time than a less intense writer is willing to allot.

Ernest Hemingway, for one, evidently wasn’t the latter type. Case in point: in writing his definitive Spanish Civil War novel, he didn’t settle for less than a killer title that would encapsulate ‘the moral of the story,’ eventually finding it in this passage from a 1624 work by the poet John Donne: “Any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

As a writer of (mostly) humorous poems and posts, I’m inclined to go for witty and/or wordplay titles. Many times, the title to a particular piece all but suggests itself, but more often, no such luck, and I’m stuck — until eventually (as with the title of this post) a eureka moment rewards my resolve….or a poem resists my labeling efforts, and I just settle for:

UNTITLED

This poem’s title is Untitled —
Not because it is untitled,
But because I am entitled
To entitle it Untitled.

If I’d not titled it Untitled,
It would truly be untitled….
Which would make it unentitled
To the title of Untitled.

So it is vital, if untitled,
Not to title it Untitled,
And to leave that title idled,
As a title is entitled.

Moving on, suppose we try a title quiz based on the Papa Hemingway model (sorry, those of you who’d prefer the mistermuse model). Here are five passages from classic original works from which later authors lifted titles for their novels. Can you name the five later works and pin each tale on its author (ten answers total)? If you name all ten correctly, you win the title (with apologies to Cervantes) of Donkeyote Of All You Survey.

PASSAGES FROM ORIGINAL WORKS:

Gentlemen-rankers out on the spree/Damned from here to Eternity/God ha’ mercy on such as we/Ba! Yah! Bah! –Rudyard Kipling

The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men/Gang aft a-gley/An’ lea’e us naught but grief an’ pain/For promised joy! –Robert Burns

By the pricking of my thumbs,/Something wicked this way comes. –Wm. Shakespeare

Come my tan-faced children/Follow well in order, get your weapons ready/Have you your pistols? Have you your sharp-edged axes?/Pioneers! O pioneers! –Walt Whitman

No Place so Sacred from such Fops is barr’d,/Nor is Paul’s Church more safe than Paul’s Churchyard./Nay, fly to altars; there they’ll talk you dead/For Fools rush in where Angels fear to tread. –Alexander Pope

TITLES (WITH AUTHORS) FROM  ABOVE PREVIOUS WORKS:

FROM HERE TO ETERNITY –James Jones
OF MICE AND MEN –John Steinbeck
SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES –Ray Bradbury
O PIONEERS! –Willa Cather
WHERE ANGELS FEAR TO TREAD –E.M. Forster

How many of the ten titles/authors did you get? That last title, parenthetically, became part of Johnny Mercer’s lyrics to this 1940 hit song composed by Rube Bloom:

And now I fear I must tread on out….before something wicked this way comes.