"Crap! I wish I hadn't seen Ricky on the sidewalk."

"You will be fine for 31 minutes. You will be dead in 32 minutes."

Thursday, May 2, 2013


It's getting tougher and tougher finding Robert Benchley books these days.  Thurber is still plentiful, Perelman less so, and Benchley is damn near impossible.  There was a time, twenty years ago, when every humor section in every good used bookstore had at least one or two Benchley titles for sale.  No more.

I first encountered Benchley in a college-level psychology text.  There was a chapter on memory and perception and the authors had included an excerpt from Benchley's "What College Did to Me:"

Things I Learned Freshman Year
1) Charlemagne either died or was born or did something with the Holy Roman Empire in 800.
2) By placing one paper bag inside another paper bag you can carry home a milk shake in it.
. . .
5) French nouns ending in "aison" are feminine.
6) Almost everything you need to know about a subject is in the encyclopedia.
7) A tasty sandwich can be made by spreading peanut butter on raisin bread.

Sophomore Year
. . .
2) Queen Elizabeth was not above suspicion.
3) In Spanish you pronounce z like th.
4) Nine-tenths of the girls in a girls' college are not pretty.
5) You can sleep undetected in a lecture course by resting the head on the hand as if shading the eyes.
. . .

Junior Year
. . .
2) All women are untrustworthy.
. . .
4) Marcus Aurelius had a son who turned out to be a bad boy.
5) Eight hours of sleep are not necessary.
. . .
10) It is not necessarily effeminate to drink tea.

Senior Year
. . .
3) Six hours of sleep are not necessary.
4) Bicarbonate of soda taken before retiring makes you feel better the next day.
. . .
6) Theater tickets may be charged.
7) Flowers may be charged.
8) May is the shortest month in the year.

Much as I love Thurber, he could be bitter and dark. Ditto Perelman.

Meanwhile, there's a delicious, mischievous quality to Benchley's humorous pieces.  Here's the opening of "Kiddie-Kar Travel:"

In America, there are two classes of travel--first class, and with children. Traveling with children corresponds roughly to traveling third-class in Bulgaria. They tell me there is nothing lower in the world than third-class Bulgarian travel.

Benchley was famous for so many things beyond his writing.  He was pals with Dorothy Parker, he starred in a series of popular short films, and he slept with a lot of prostitutes.

Extra points for all the wonderful illustrations by Gluyas Williams.

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