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Robert A. Mills

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Blogs by Robert A. Mills

DING DONG, THE WICKED SUMBITCH IS DEAD
5/7/2011 5:05:52 AM
My daddy used to say, “All these important men are dying, and I don’t feel so well myself!” Although he never heard of Osama bin Laden (the “Art”ful Dodger passed away in 1971 along with Thomas Dewey, Papa Doc, Ogden Nash, Michael Rennie and Satchmo) he would give me a well-deserved whuppin’ if I wasted a column on the odious al-Qaeda madman. So I won’t. Good riddance to filthy rubbish. . . .

Despite the multiple orgasms Sen. Saxby Chambliss, (R) Georgia, vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, had over bogus pictures, I must, as an American, extend heartiest kudos to President Obama for orchestrating the demise of bin Laden and for not releasing the grisly photos of the corpse, saying, “We don’t need to spike the football” — gloating “is not who we are. . . . There is no doubt that we killed [the sumbitch.]”

On a more relevant issue, the last Self-Help book I read (in 1943) was the “Boy Scout Tenderfoot Manual.” It taught me — in 36 pages with illustrations — everything I would ever need to know about life, liberty and the purfuit of hapineff, except how to tie a sheepshank knot that any self-respecting sheep could not slip out of.

Since then I have avoided Self-Help books as if they were IRS agents.

I even eschew browsing in Borders or Barnes & Noble unless I’m accompanied by someone who can adjust my blinders should I wander too close to the perilous section.

“You wear blinders in book stores?” you ask, incredulously.

Of course. It’s a trick I learned from Cynthia Crossen, the Wall Street Journal icon, who once wrote, “History is boring.” And I agreed with her — until I discovered literary historical fiction. “A good historical novel,” she wrote, “transports readers, as though by a time machine, to a world where not only the curses, hairpieces and grog are authentic but also the beliefs and prejudices of ordinary people.”

That did it. Since then I have become addicted to historical fiction — in fact, all my novels fall, more or less, into that genre. I vowed never again to look at a Self-Help book.

All went well until David Savage, a close friend who teaches elementary school music and plays a mean piano, gave me for Christmas, 2010, “RULES FOR AGING, Resist Normal Impulses, Live Longer, Attain Perfection” by Richard Rosenblatt, formerly editor-at-large for Time, Inc. and now an occasional book reviewer for the NYT.

This 148-page tome, published by Harcourt, Inc., contains, according to the hyperbole on the dust jacket, “58 gems of funny, brilliant, wise and indispensable advice from the prize-winning essayist.” There are also blurbs (extremely well-compensated for, I’m sure) by Gasrrison Keillor, Jim Lehrer and Jules Feiffer with phrases like “My favorites are . . .” “well-worth the price . . .” and “wish I’d known . . .

”The book covers a multitude of rules like “Nobody is thinking about you,” “Let bad enough alone,” “Ignore your enemy or kill him,” “If something is boring you, it is probably you,” and “Stay clear of anyone — other than a clergyman — who refers to God more than once in an hour.” There are altogether a total of 58 “gems,” and if each is adhered to, you should live to at least 116.

However, Mr. Rosenblatt made one flagrant error. In Rule #39 he says everyone should “Dress for duress.” He points out that Tom Wolfe, Mark Twain, Marianne Moore and Arthur Schlesinger — and even the author himself — “is distinguished for more important things than clothing, but they deliberately chose outfits that would draw singular attention to themselves.” Moore had her tricornered hats, Twain and Wolfe their white suits, Schlesinger his bow ties, queens their crowns, Superman his supersuit and knights their armor — and Rosenblatt claims he is never without (publicly, anyway) his signature navy blue crew neck sweater.

Then why is the schmuck dressed in a jacket, shirt and tie in the photograph on the dust-flap? . . . See why I avoid Self Help books?

Be that as it may and to give the devil his due, I am, however, rarely without my Anchor Bay ($6.99 at WalMart) canvas “boat” slip-ons. I have eight pair, assorted colors, and I wear them in rotation, four days each pair; they should last 25 years.

Although I was not wearing them (against my better judgment) when I walked my youngest daughter down the aisle that first day of summer 2008, I was wearing them last Sunday when I took my wife, Christine, out for a sumptuous breakfast. I had seen an ad on the Internet for a “breakfast special” for senior citizens: 2 EGGS, BACON, TOAST AND COFFEE, JUST $2.99 – NO COUPONS REQUIRED!

I can’t remember if it was Denny’s, Waffle House, White Tower, IHOP or Huddle House — but I know it was one of our favorite places.

“Sounds good,” my wife said, “but I don’t want the eggs.”

“Okay, then,” warned the waitress, “but I’ll have to charge you $4.49 ‘cause you’re ordering á la carte.”

Christine was incredulous. “Do you mean I have to pay extra for NOT ordering the eggs?”

The waitress nodded. “You got that right, honey! It says right on the Internet: No substitutions.”

“Okay,” my wife stated. “You win. I’ll take them.”

“How’d you like ‘em?”

“Raw,” said Christine. “And in the shell.”

We carefully took the eggs home, and she used them to bake a cake.

Maybe my next book will be Self Help after all: HOW TO HAVE YOUR CAKE . . . Should be a best seller. (Aren’t they all?)



Excerpt from RULES FOR AGING, copyright©2000 by Roger Rosenblatt, reprinted by permission of Harcourt, Inc.

Copyright©2011 by Robert A. Mills


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