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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: September 29, 2007

 

SOME MORE VERY OLD STUFF
(from John Wilcock’s The Village Square; Lyle Stuart,1961)

A colleague of mine was typing some editorial copy about North Carolina gardens, recently, and he accidentally made “dogwood” into “dogwoof.”  Meaningful typos like this always remind me of the legendary ones of the newspaper business — you’ve probably heard most of them — about the newspaper that called somebody “a defective in the local police force” and later ran an apology saying they had meant “a detective in the local police farce.”

It was probably the same paper that referred to a retired Army officer who lived nearby as “a bottle-scarred veteran” and then ran a correction amending it to “battle-scared.”

Probably the most famous typo of all time is the one attributed to the London Times.  In this possibly apocryphal fable, the Times had been reporting the occasion when Queen Victoria officiated at the opening ceremonies for London Bridge.  “And then,” it said, “with flags and bunting flying, and to the cheers of the assembled multitude, Her Majesty cut the tape and pissed majestically over the bridge”.

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A guy I know with plenty of time on his hands has a system for what he calls “taking the guess work out of the blind-date bit.”  It’s a pretty simple operation, consisting simply of taking your pick of other people’s blind dates. The most popular spots where strangers agree to meet, it seems, are outside the main branch of the New York Public Library, beside the Washington Square Arch, under the clock at the Biltmore, and by the information booth in Grand Central Station.  At any of these places and many others, says my friend, pretty girls will always be waiting, with at least a few of them waiting for men they’ve never met.

“I look them over carefully whenever I want a date,” my informant explains, “and I pick out the ones who are obviously waiting for blind dates.  Somehow you can always tell; they seem more apprehensive.  Anyway, I choose the nicest-looking girl and, approaching very nervously, I say:  ‘Excuse me but are you…? — always letting the sentence trail off.

“She’ll invariably smile and finish it for me.  Then next comes the time when you must listen very carefully, because she’ll usually counter with: ‘Oh, you must be—?’  And you have to be very attentive, because that will tell you what your name is, or anyway what it’s supposed to be.

“Naturally you’ll make a mistake occasionally, but so long as you remember to be charming and a little shy, and to apologize and leave when you’re obviously not going to get away with it, you’ll find there’s scarcely any risk at all.”

(Incidentally, if you want to invest in a white carnation for your buttonhole, that’s fine, but you don’t really need it. Research has proved that the most common identification symbol among blind dates is a New Yorker magazine tucked under the arm.)

Once the contact has been made and the conversation is under way, my friend suggests all that’s needed are a few remarks like:  “Gee, you’re much prettier than I expected,” or “Excuse me if I seem a little nervous but I’ve never done this before.”

“By following developments pretty closely,” he adds, “you can usually bluff your way through.  But if she suddenly asks a question that throws you, or seeks information about some mutual friend that you have never met, I’ve always found a good way to play for time is to say:  ‘Well, let’s go have a coffee and we’ll talk about it.’  Once you get that far, you can even afford to be honest with her.  You’d be amazed how easy it is to salvage the date as long as you can convince her how much better you are than the man she was supposed to meet.”

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George Q. Lewis is a softhearted, stage-struck scriptwriter whose hobby is running an amateur-talent studio on West 46th Street where aspiring comedians practice their craft.  Most of their jokes aren’t very funny, but they’re trying (no pun intended).

The trouble is, says George, he has plenty of comics (15 — count ‘em — 15), but audiences are understandably sparse.  He’s tried taking his funny men to army camps and hospitals, but such captive audiences have a tendency to be indiscriminately approving. (“They act like it’s Marilyn Monroe they’re watching,” says Lewis, with some bewilderment.)

So now the comic’s friend has a new plan.  He wants to present live talent on the New York subway.  “Stand-up comics” — the ones that present continual strings of one-liners — are the type he thinks would be most suitable.  “On some express routes there’s as much as ten minutes between stops,” he says.  “That’s long enough for most comedy routines.”

Lewis wrote to Transit Commissioner Charles Patterson with the idea, but Patterson’s reply was noncommittal.  Said he’d think it over.  “If he wants to get passengers back onto the subways, here’s a good way to do it,” says Lewis.  “And if it was successful, maybe we could find enough comics to extend it to the commuter trains.”

It sounds like a good way to keep things moving—especially the passengers.

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I don’t know why people always sound so disparaging when they refer to “a typical Village girl.”  The sort of chick I visualize as a typical Village girl is pretty cute, and when I can find one she’ll suit me fine.

She has long hair, just like people say, because girls should have long hair.  (As far back as I can remember, the girls I’ve liked have had long hair and they’ve almost always been washing it when I called to ask for a date).  She lives in a comfortably decorated walk-up that, like as not, she converted with her own hands; sure, there are sling chairs and a big divan with bright cushions and a poster advertising Manolete’s appearance in Sevilla and Malraux’ Voices of Silence, which she’s never read, on the bookshelves. But the place looks untidy and yet neat at the same time, if you know what I mean.  It takes a Village girl to work a trick like that.

This girl, I guess, works uptown though she paints or acts or writes on the side.  She likes cooking and conversation and she’s pretty alert in the sense that she doesn’t miss any of the minor developments in our daily round.  When she finds herself in a strange neighborhood, she’s interested in what records are to be found in the jukebox — not necessarily anxious to play them, mark you; just interested — and she understands, though I don’t, why people like myself have a compulsion to stay awake so late.  (I once seriously considered compiling a list of girls I could call up around midnight and just talk to.)

She’s intelligent and not highbrow, this Village girl, and she can’t pass a dog in the street without wanting to pat it, and she likes wandering around and chatting and drinking beer and, of course, loves me madly, and where the hell is she?

John Wilcock is currently visiting Bermuda.