Tuesday, June 29, 2010


"X" is for "EXpatriates"
This is a bit of personal history.

Flash back with me to the time when an eager young writer-producer, bright-tailed and bushy-eyed, was on a first assignment for a major production company: I was to write and produce a film on Paris, which would have a sequence devoted to the American expatriates of the 1920s. It was for Universal-International and was to be titled “One Man’s Paris.”
Doing my research on the scene, I was pleased to learn that Sylvia Beach, another famous name from those Parisian roaring twenties, was still around. I phoned her and asked if we could get together. She suggested meeting at the cafe named Le Select. The Select! That rang a bell. There couldn’t have been a better place for such a meeting.
“’Café Select,’ he told the driver, ‘Boulevard Montparnasse.’” (Jake Barnes in Ernest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises.”)

Cafes then were, and to a degree still are, central to Paris life – writers wrote in them, painters painted them – and the Select (which has only been around for eighty years or so) represented the best traditions of the Parisian café. Sylvia Beach arrived and we had a wonderful conversation. She was then an elderly lady, but was full of youthful energy and vitality and she became very interested in the documentary I was there to make. She knew everything about the era in question, about all those earlier expatriate Americans, where they used to live and the cafes where they used to hang out.
La Coupole was just across the street, and that was just steps away from La Rotonde and Le Dome at the next corner, but Le Select was the jewel of the crown – not just for the Americans but for people who came from all over the world. It was indeed a pleasure, sitting in that famous café, to have pointed out to me just where in the place Henry Miller used to meet Anais Nin for afternoon drinks, where Luis Bunuel sat, and which was young Pablo Picasso’s favorite spot. In our 21st century groups of Japanese tourists continue to show up, asking to see Hemingway’s table.

No question, the Select had its attractions, but it was no more interesting than the lady I was talking with. Living in Paris at the end of World War I, a New Jersey girl named Sylvia Beach had opened an English language bookstore and lending library that thousands came to know as Shakespeare and Company. She started her store just as the franc dropped in value and the exchange rate became very favorable so the shop flourished. It became a hangout for Americans.

As I spoke with her, I remembered that Shakespeare and Company had gained considerable fame after she more or less single-handedly published James Joyce’s “Ulysses” in 1922, as a result of Joyce's inability to get an edition out in English-speaking countries.

She had gone into debt to bankroll the publication. Joyce would later show his gratitude by financially stranding her when he signed with another publisher, leaving Sylvia Beach in debt and suffering severe losses from the publication of that book.
Things went from bad to worse for her because of the depression of the thirties. She managed to stay open because André Gide organized a group of writers into a club called Friends of Shakespeare and Company, which got a lot of publicity and helped the business to improve.

Then came World War II. The shop tried to remain open after the fall of Paris, but by the end of 1941 Sylvia Beach was forced to close. She kept her books hidden in a vacant apartment.

It's now a fable of our time that, as Paris was being liberated, Ernest Hemingway – reckless, flamboyant, heroic – drove up in a jeep to liberate Sylvia and her bookstore.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Magpie #20

“I got it! I think I got it. Of course, I won’t know for a day or two; there were a couple of other actresses at the audition. One of them was really good. But this time I just have a feeling – I think I got it.”
“Maria, calm down. We’ve got to talk.”
“Maria? Hey, remember? You’re not supposed to call me ‘Maria.’ I’m ‘Tracy’ now. That’s important. The agency will be calling and won’t know who you’re talking about if you say ‘Maria’ isn’t here.”
“Maria Bagnuolo is a beautiful name; nothing wrong with it; it’s you. But we’ll go along with Tracy if that’s what you want.”
“It’s not just what I want. There’s a whole new career out there for me. If I land this commercial I’ll be off to the races: I’ve got to have a suitable name. Who would have guessed that someday I’d be on TV!”
“I know. It’s exciting. But we have to talk about our – situation.”
“Ah, yes. The relationship. I thought we’d done enough talking about that.”
“Come on; some time soon I’d really appreciate an answer.”
“Sure. Of course. But asking me for an answer now, when I’ve just landed my first TV commercial, or just about landed it, is – well, this isn’t the time.”
“But by now you must know, deep down, if you want me as your husband.”
“Jeff, listen. When I met you I was impressed. You told me of your creativity, your artistic imagination, your dedication to original thinking, and how important these all were to you in your profession. So it was a bit of a letdown when I learned your profession was, you sell used cars.”
“But I’m not just another salesman! That artistic imagination, that creativity, are extremely important in my profession, the personal marketing of pre-owned vehicles.”
“Well, I guess so. But there are other things…”
“You’re talking about that toothbrush, aren’t you?”
“That’s one of them, yes.”

“Look. That morning I had lost my toothbrush and I had an urgent meeting with a customer and I couldn’t be late. So, just once, I used your toothbrush. I never thought it would bother you so much.”
“I thought it was disgusting. If that was what life with you was going to be like, you using my toothbrush and maybe other personal things…”
“But it was just once! It was an emergency. And God knows, we’ve done so many intimate things in so many ways I can’t see why my having your toothbrush in my mouth should be upsetting for you.”
“Well it is. Although… You know, this is kind of funny. This morning as I was rushing around getting ready for the audition, I couldn’t find my hair brush – so I used yours.”
“You used my new Swiss Oakwood hair brush!? You got some of that sticky crap you use on your hair on my brush? Those are genuine boar bristles on that brush."
"I'm glad to learn they're genuine boar. There are so many fake boars running around these days."
"That hair brush has caused two different customers to tell me my hair looks like George Clooney’s”
“Well, I would have said George Costanza’s. But anyway, I only used it once.”
“But it’s disgusting!”

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


“W” is for “Waiting”
So the plumber calls and tells me he’ll be at my place next Tuesday some time between 9am and 12noon.
On Tuesday I sit home all morning waiting for the plumber like a person condemned to house arrest, except that I’m not wearing the legal ankle bracelet. He calls around 12:30 to apologize, seems he’s running a bit late, but he’ll make it by 2.
As good as his word, he shows up around 2. Evidently he had been too busy to call between 9 and noon.
Remarkable. I got to thinking of the business I ran for quite a number of years. If I ever called a client and said I’d come to his office for a meeting next Tuesday and I’d be there some time between 9 and 12, I would not have a happy client.
And if I then showed up at 2, I’d never see that client again – not even from a distance.

So come on, plumbers, painters, carpet cleaners, refrigerator repairmen, give us a break. Mention a time when you plan to show up and then make an effort to arrive at least within an hour of that time. If you see you’re not going to be able to make it, remember that great invention of Alexander Graham Bell (who invented the Graham Cracker) and give us a call.
How about you? Ever have a waiting-for-the-plumber experience?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Magpie #19

“Whaddya mean, have I ever seen it before? It’s a very common knife, an Opinel. They’re known all over the world.”
“We’re only interested in this one, Frank. And we think you can help us. And maybe we’ll be able to help you.”
“Help me? I don’t need no help. When you don’t do nothin’ wrong, you don’t need help from cops. Why are you so interested in this shiv?”
“Well, it was involved in a little event a couple of days ago. Sort of a homicide. Ever hear of a girl named Jenny Towler?”
“Yeah; heard of her. Seen her around. Why? She in trouble?”
“Worse. She’s dead.”
“So that’s the homicide. I don’t suppose it’s worth pointing out that I had nothin’ to do with it.”
“No, but we think you know who did.”
“Tell me, maybe I seen too much TV, but are you the good cop or the bad cop?”
“Oh, I’m a switch-hitter – good or bad, whatever the situation calls for. Look, let’s cut to the chase. We’re looking for your pal Mac. All we want to do is ask a few questions. You’ll actually be helping him if you let us know where he is because we’ll be able to clear him that much faster.”
“Yeah, sure, I’d bet on that: all you want to do is clear him.”
“And by the way, you know that Meier robbery that’s been in all the papers? We’re pretty sure Mac pulled that off. So there’s a hefty reward if you want to cooperate.”
“I’ll tell you a funny thing about Mac, but maybe you know it already. He does some heavy stuff – why do you think they call him ‘Mac the Knife’? – but no one ever pins anything on him and whenever they question him he knows nothin’ about nothin’. You got your work cut out, man.”
“But you had your disagreements, to say the least, with Mac in the past. This is a chance to get back at him.”
“Take a good look at a shark. He’s got all his teeth right up there in his face. Mac, on the other hand, usually walks around with a knife, like this Opinel, but you’d never see it – until it was too late. So I guess I’ll have to turn down your offer.”
(This is my attempt to use “The Threepenny Opera,” which opened in Berlin in 1928, and especially its famous song “Mack the Knife,” as inspiration for my 19th Magpie tale.)

“Und der Haifish, der hat Zahne
Und die tragt er im Gesicht.
Und Macheath, der hat ein Messer
Doch das Messer sieht man nicht.”
“Oh, the shark has pretty teeth, dear,
And he shows ‘em, pearly white.
Just a jackknife has Macheath, dear,
And he keeps it out of sight.”

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


"V" is for "Vehicle"
I’m ashamed of my vehicle.
How do you think it makes me feel? To have to drive around in an eleven-year-old automobile without a sun (or, as far as that goes, moon) roof, with doors that have to be opened with a key, and without a system that would show me my global position?
It’s humiliating, that’s what it is.
I don’t have any strange woman with a soothing, cultivated voice emanating from my dashboard telling me how to drive. I don’t have digital maps to study (while I try to drive) that indicate where my favorite restaurant is to be found; I don’t have basics like a huge, surround-sound, multiple-speaker system. I don’t have a “spoiler” on my rear “deck.” (In fact, my car doesn’t even have a heated steering wheel, an air freshener or leopard-skin seat covers.) The list of things my present vehicle doesn’t have goes on and on.

All I have is a 11-year-old vehicle like the above that is good to look at (the design of the ’99 model was classic and holds up nicely today), works well, never causes headaches or problems, and gets top highway mpgs.
And I'm fairly convinced that it could last another 11 years.
Surely a highly successful business entrepreneur like me (ha!) should instead have a very expensive, spiffy, luxury car with the whole panoply of gadgets, gizmos and other often useless accessories that so many of the newer models have. Without such items, how will I impress people as I drive around?
As I say, it’s humiliating. But I guess I'll put up with the humiliation for a few more years. :-)

Friday, June 11, 2010

Magpie #18

“It’s such a beautiful house; too bad they have to leave it.”
“Yes, but life in the Bahamas isn’t all that bad, especially if you’re the Governor’s wife.”

“But think of it, our pal Wallis is not only world-famous, she could almost have been Queen of England! Who could have imagined such a thing when we were kids back in Baltimore?”
“So where is she? We’ve come for a visit and all we do is wait. She may not even be home.”
“Oh, she’s here all right. One of the servants told me she’d be coming down shortly. He said she’s eager to see old friends. You know Wallis; she’s going to take her good time getting ready to make an entrance.”
“Well, she didn’t make it to Queen, or even Royal Consort. What is her title nowadays, exactly?”
“It’s a bit complicated; you know British protocol. She’s officially the Duchess of Windsor, but the phrase that usually accompanies that title – ‘Her Royal Highness’ – is not permitted for her.”
“H’mm. Bet that makes Edward angry.”
“Of course. They’re both angry. The Royal Family refused to so much as meet her. And of course Edward was forced to give up the throne. They’re both mad as wet hens.”
“I imagine that trip they took to visit Hitler didn’t sit well, to say the least, with Whitehall. And now they're shipping them off to the Caribbean to keep them out of trouble while Britain goes on with the war."
“You know, just between the two of us, what in God’s name does he see in her? Wallis is okay; she was always bright and knew how to turn on the charm and all that – she was fine as a school chum – but I mean, as far as the British are concerned, as a potential spouse for a king she has everything in the world wrong with her: she’s an American and she’s not only divorced, she’s been divorced twice!”
“Yes, but there’s no question, Edward is crazy about her. I think one of the things he loves is the sharp, sarcastic attitude she has toward the Royal Family; as Prince of Wales he had never come across that before. She calls the Queen, who after all is his mom, ‘Cookie,’ because of her fondness for food. Her name for the Queen Mother is ‘Cake,’ because Wallis feels that her fashion sense makes her look like a wedding cake. And she calls the girl, the Princess Elizabeth, ‘Shirley,’ as in Shirley Temple.”
“Incredible. By the way, what on earth is this doing here?”

“Ah, that. That’s a gift officially sent by Princess Elizabeth, but Wallis feels it was sent by the whole Royal Family as a kind of insult. The Coronation of George VI in 1937? What else could she think? It’s as though they’re saying, you brought this about. You caused Edward VIII to abdicate and now you’re going to get nothing! So she puts the thing right here on display and keeps it filled with pencils to show how little it means to her.”
“You know, it’s as though our Wallis experienced the ultimate fairy tale: becoming the adored favorite of the most glamorous eligible bachelor of his time, and now – well, it all seems to be going wrong.”
“As fairy tales often do.”

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


“U” is for “Unforgotten”
It’s been a year now since Cordelia left us. She was fourteen years old; that's an elderly lady in cat years. It was a long life and I believe it was a happy one.

The vet referred to her as a "kitty." Look at her. Stately, dignified, Cordelia was not a "kitty."
Very much a member of the family, she is missed – definitely unforgotten.
She was named after King Lear's favorite daughter, Cordelia. Lear: "Her voice was ever soft, gentle and low." Very true.
If there is a cat heaven somewhere, she, of all felines, will have made it in.

"If having a soul means being able to feel love and loyalty and gratitude, then animals are better off than a lot of humans." James Herriot.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Magpie #17

“I have to admit, Mill, that I’m a bit surprised. When you said you wanted to talk, I never dreamed you’d show up with a lawyer.”
“Well, let me introduce myself. I’m Bob Confrey, of Mannix, DeVito and Confrey, of New York. I’m here just to take part in a friendly conversation and make sure that you are aware of your sister-in-law’s position. Now, as I understand it, Mr. Schmidlapp, you have developed a new product?”
“You can say that again. I have created something new, really new, in the world of soft drinks. My product leaves the past behind; it’s totally 21st century. It’s called ‘Guacamuley,’ the first carbonated beverage ever marketed that is made from and tastes just like guacamole. They've had quacamole in liquid form before, but mine is the first carbonated, fizzy, beverage, sold in bottles just like Coke, Pepsi and Dr. Pepper! My logo so far has been a kicking mule, hence the name ‘Guacamuley,’ but some time back I stumbled upon something that will be a marvelous addition to our advertising, something that is going to send this wonderful product shooting off to national success.”
“And that something, I take it, was a work of sculpture by your sister-in-law?”

“Exactly. I stumbled upon this in their garage. It was amazing. Mildred, without realizing it, has created an entire advertising campaign for my product. That girl’s head that she had sculpted caught the exact moment so many have experienced when they’ve taken their first sip of Guacamuley – a look of surprise, delight and anticipation.”
“But you see, Mr. Schmidlapp, you don’t have the right to use her sculpture in your advertising.”
“But good heavens, Mill, I’m not doing anything bad for you; what I am doing is good. This ad campaign of mine is going to make your work famous”
“Your sister-in-law wants to be taken seriously as an artist.”
“Oh, come on. I mean, I love Mill – she’s the best thing that ever happened to my brother; she’s family. But she isn’t Michelangelo, right? She makes these little things as a hobby out back in her garage, part of an art class or something. And you talk about getting taken seriously as an artist? How do you do that? Well, you get what you do seen by a great many people. You’re never going to be known by anybody if you make something and it just sits in your dam’ garage.”
“Richard, I’d appreciate it if you’d stop saying ‘garage.’ That place is my atelier.”
“Atelier, garage, boudoir, whatever. I want to be sure you understand, Mill: these ads of mine are not only going to get you known all over the country, they’re going to turn into a solid source of income for you for the next few years. Once Guacamuley gets marketed nationally and the money starts rolling in, you can be sure you’ll get your share.”
“You don’t understand, Mr. Schmidlapp. The better galleries will never take her work if she is identified with a beverage called, er, Guacamuley.”
“What? You’re afraid to reach the common people? You think Jeff Koons worried about such a thing, that Warhol appealed only to the upper clahsses? They reflected the modern world. Reflected what’s happenin’. My ad campaign is a chance for my sis-in-law Mill to do the same.”
“Well, I’m afraid that we must insist that you not use that sculpture, or any picture of it, in your advertising.”
“Have you ever tried Guacamuley, Mr. Confrey?”
“I, er, had a sip of it.”
“Then you’re aware of its potential. I’m going to send you a prospectus; I think you’ll agree that the development and marketing of Guacamuley is a great investment opportunity.”
“Yeah, sure. By all means. Send it right over.”

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


“T” is for “TINTINNABULATION.” Also Known As NOISE!!!
(Restaurant Music Division)

I was reading a restaurant reviewer recently and came upon this sentence in his review: “…rock music that blasts you out of your seat doesn’t enhance an otherwise pleasant ambience”
Right on, brother.

A few weeks ago we literally fled – I believe that’s the right word, fled – from a similar restaurant when the loud heavy-metal music drove us to the door. We weren’t able to finish the meal; I just paid the bill and we left.
The word “tintinnabulation” originally meant the loud clanging of bells, but it has come to be a general term for excessive, ear-splitting noise.
I got to thinking later, if I ran a good restaurant and I wanted to provide the right kind of background music for my clients, what type of music could I use that would please everybody? Or at least, not irritate a large percentage of them?

An older couple might like the soft strains of a Mozart string quartet in the background; some might prefer for their meal the familiar melodies of Celine Dion or some similar artist; and there are those who would like what we know as “elevator music”: soothing and basically dull. But in addition, as I learned a few weeks ago, for many the music has got to be loud and clanging or it isn’t really “music.”

So, as to the question, what type of music could I as a restaurant-owner use to please everybody, the answer is simple.
There is no such thing.
I vote for trying silence. It might catch on.
What’s your opinion?
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