Frank Sullivan at His Best

Frank Sullivan at His Best

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by Frank Sullivan
     
 

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In the 1930s and 40s, humorist Frank Sullivan took dead aim at the American scene in hilarious pieces written for The New Yorker, the Saturday Evening Post, Town and Country, and other publications. Dispensing humorous commentary and criticisms that could be gentle or cutting, sad or sympathetic, he entertained without ever being mean-spirited or

Overview


In the 1930s and 40s, humorist Frank Sullivan took dead aim at the American scene in hilarious pieces written for The New Yorker, the Saturday Evening Post, Town and Country, and other publications. Dispensing humorous commentary and criticisms that could be gentle or cutting, sad or sympathetic, he entertained without ever being mean-spirited or condescending.
This delightful volume includes 42 of his best pieces. Selected from three earlier collections — A Pearl in Every Oyster, The Night the Old Nostalgia Burned Down, and A Rock in Every Snowball — they include an amusingly nostalgic account of "The Passing of the Old Front Porch," a humorous recollection of campus life in "An Old Grad Remembers," and a gentle put-down of the Lone Star State in "An Innocent in Texas." Readers will also enjoy such droll fare as "A Bachelor Looks at Breakfast," "How to Change a Typewriter Ribbon," and a selection of amusing commentaries by Mr. Arbuthnot, the cliché expert, on war, baseball, tabloids, and other topics.
Wonderfully good-natured, in the spirit of Robert Benchley, this vintage humor will tickle modern funny bones and keep readers chuckling at Sullivan's tongue-in-cheek comments on wealth of subjects from the not-so-distant past.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780486294353
Publisher:
Dover Publications
Publication date:
12/26/1996
Series:
Dover Humor Series
Pages:
192
Product dimensions:
5.37(w) x 8.45(h) x 0.43(d)

Read an Excerpt

Frank Sullivan at His Best


By Frank Sullivan

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 1996 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-14847-2



CHAPTER 1

Street Cries of New York


THE STREET CRIES of great cities have always been for me one of the most fascinating of studies. When traveling, I continually keep my ear to the ground for them, except when I am in a hurry or my back hurts. I daresay I could go blindfolded into any one of fifty cities scattered over the globe and tell you offhand where we were, merely by listening to the street cries.

In the richness and variety of its cries, New York is surpassed by no city; not by London, and not even by Benares at howdah-dusting time. The most favorable period for studying New York street cries is from about April 1st until the latter part of August. At the former date, the buyers of cash clothes and the vendors of bananas, geraniums, tulips, and ganeezles emerge from their hibernation and from then until well into August are to be heard constantly, from five in the morning until well past sundown. But at the end of August, when the hot weather has had its effect on the nerves of the city dwellers, the so-called Period of Mayhem starts. People begin to shy eggs, electric-light bulbs, and stone bookends at the street criers. A great many of them are maimed as a result and an equal number become panicky and stampede, so that from about the third Tuesday in August the cries begin to wane until they reach the ebb in mid-January.

In the spring, the tulip-vendors are almost invariably the first to appear on the streets with their wares. Their cry may be rendered as follows: "Ah wo-o-o hah! Ah wo-o-o hah!" Roughly translated, this means "Tulips for sale. Nice fresh tulips for sale." With their picturesque costumes of coat, cap, pants, vest, and shoes, the tulip-vendors are as real a harbinger of spring as the crocus or the robin.

Next to appear are the geranium-vendors, and when we see their carts, brilliant splotches of scarlet, pink, and green, we know indeed that spring is here. The cry of the geranium-sellers is one of the most arresting and ancient of street cries, and goes like this: "Ow wow ho-o-o! Ow wow ho-o-o!" It means "Geraniums!" Owing to the similarity in the respective costumes of the tulip-and geranium-vendors, many street-cry authorities claim that the geranium-vendors are nothing more than tulip-vendors selling geraniums instead of tulips, but we need not here concern ourselves with such fine points of issue.

"Ripa da banan'!"—When we hear this cry in New York, rendered usually in the majestic bellow that results from the action of Mediterranean sun and salt air on the larynx of the native Calabrian, we know indeed that spring is here. It is the cry of the vendor of the banana. Banana-vendors usually hail from Calabria. Translated roughly, the cry means "Nisa fresha banan' for sale. Who will buy my nisa fresha banan' for sale?"

"Bly whamp clew!"—This is the cry of the old-clothes solicitor and can be translated as "Buy cash cloe!" It is not dissimilar to the cry of the Paris delphinium-sellers: "Burrump badoo! Barrump badoo!"

"Ganee-e-e-zle!"—One of the most interesting of the New York street cries. Part of its charm is due to its mystery—at least it is for me, because I have never been able to find out what it means. I have repeatedly tried to collar a crier of "Ganee-e-e-zle!" but without success. He seems to be the most evanescent of all the vendors, and no matter how swiftly I chase down to the street on hearing this cry, I have never been able to find anything that could be identified as a ganeezle-crier. My researches were confined to the block in which I live—and it would be interesting to know if "Ganee-e-ezle!" is a purely local cry or common to the entire city. It has been suggested by a fellow-connoisseur of street cries, Miss Patricia Collinge, that the crier of "Ganee-e-e-zle!" sells ganeezles, and this seems a reasonable hypothesis, except that Dr. Collinge has not been able to establish what a ganeezle is. Any information on this point would be appreciated.

Now, I have confined this paper to street cries dealing only with vending or buying. I have not attempted to go into other phases of the street cry, such as the victorious scream of the child just released from school: "Yee-ow-w-w wow whe-e-e-e!" Or the peculiarly penetrating coo of the cop on the beat talking to the desk sergeant over the police telephone at three in the morning.

CHAPTER 2

A Bachelor Looks at Breakfast


IT IS A common impression that a man can not cook his own breakfast. This is a fallacy, due probably to propaganda on the part of the girls. There is no reason why a man should not cook his own breakfast and a number of reasons why he should, one being that it is good for his ego. Before I started getting my breakfast I was a timid, shrinking violet—well, perhaps more the rhododendron type, but certainly a timid rhododendron. You could not have engraved the Declaration of Independence on my ego. But I have been getting my own breakfast on Sunday mornings for the past three months, and as a result my ego is the size of a prize squash at a county fair.

All a man needs to get his own breakfast are the necessary ingredients and plenty of bulldog grit. The necessary ingredients are as follows:

One loaf bread

One dozen eggs

One pound butter

Coffee

Plenty of plates and saucers


For making the coffee I use a gadget that comes in three sections. The ground coffee goes into the middle section, and you pour boiling water into the top section. The bottom of the top section, which you must be careful not to confuse with the top of the bottom section, is perforated with holes, and the boiling water seeps through the holes, down through the coffee, emerging into the bottom receptacle as full-fledged coffee. There is no trick to it. Anybody who has had three or more years' experience in a chemistry lab can do it.

Once you have the water boiled, pour it into the upper part of the gadget and let it drip. Now you can give your attention to the eggs. Do not put the toast on yet, for if you make your toast too early, it will get cold while the coffee is in the making, and will curl up at the edges. Toast curled up at the edges is difficult to eat, as it eludes the bite. You think you are getting a firm grip on the toast, but find yourself biting into thin air. There is nothing so trying or so apt to ruin the disposition (and consequently the digestion) as unsuccessful attempts to snap at curled toast or limp asparagus which droops to your chin the moment you think you have it safely in your maw.

You will need a dozen eggs, whether you feel that hungry or not, because you will have to throw away the first ten until you grow adept at cooking your own breakfast, after which you will have to throw away only eight. If you try eggs with bacon, you will probably need more eggs, as these two victuals, in the hands of an inexperienced chef, are apt to nullify each other. I would advise the man who is a novice at getting his own breakfast not to try bacon for a year or two. Get the hang of eggs first.

Once you have your eggs frying you can safely put the toast on. If you own one of those robot toasters that fling the toast gaily into the air when it is toasted, you may have to exercise stern self-control, particularly if you are of a playful nature, because there will be a strong temptation to play with this gadget and feed it bread, just for the fun of watching it toss the toast into the air.

This pastime of playing catch with an electric toaster, while invigorating and harmless, can run into bread. I can testify to that, for I had one of the robot toasters, and it proved too much of a luxury for me. The overhead in bread was too high. I used to feed it as many as four or five loaves at a time, and the neighborhood bakers were beginning to whisper.

Anyhow, that kind of toaster makes a man soft. It can not burn the toast, and therefore it makes life too secure for the cook. I want a toaster that will challenge and defy me and never give me a dull moment; an old-fashioned toaster that will burn the toast if I take my eyes off it for a second. That's the kind of toaster I like. It puts me on my mettle. Man grows by pitting his wits against nature, other men, and electric toasters, and the security of knowing that no matter how he neglects the toast it will not burn is apt to make a man soft and lead him into moral and mental stagnation. The man who is used to watching his toast is the man I want at my side, or in front of me, in an emergency.

Furthermore, I like burnt toast, at least when I get my own breakfast. It takes away the taste of the rest of the meal.

By the time you have your coffee, eggs, and toast all on the fire and cooking merrily, the doorbell will ring, and it will be the boy with the Sunday papers. There will probably be a good murder on the front page. You will pause a second to take it in. In that second your first batches of toast and eggs will have burned, and it will be apparent that something is wrong with the coffee. Put new batches of eggs and toast on and take a look at the coffee. You will find that the little holes through which the boiling water drips have got plugged up.

Unplug the holes immediately and turn to the toast. At this moment the doorbell will undoubtedly ring again. This time it will be the superintendent of the apartment house, wanting to know if your apartment is afire, as people on the street have noticed smoke pouring from your windows. By the time you explain to the superintendent that it is only eggs and toast burning, another batch of eggs and toast has gone up in flames. I trust it is beginning to be apparent why I stipulated a loaf of bread for one breakfast.

After you have burned three or four more batches of eggs and toast, you will have a feeling that perhaps the simplest thing to do is to eat the next batch, come what may. So you sit down to a breakfast of charred eggs, ebony toast, and coffee that should have quotation marks around it.

The advantage of eating this kind of breakfast is that it will give you heartburn, and there is really a lot to be said in favor of heartburn. Throughout the ages it has been the victim of much malicious gossip, but the truth is that heartburn is a great stimulus. There is nothing like it to spur a man to action. Most of the great deeds of history have been accomplished under the lash of dyspepsia. Napoleon won the battle of Jena in a mood of desperation and fury resulting from a severe attack of heartburn, and he never would have been licked at Waterloo had he not foolishly taken bicarbonate of soda just before the battle.

If you are a placid soul who does not care to win battles or accomplish great things, then of course you can forgo heartburn and the pleasure of eating the breakfast you prepare. That is what I do. I do not care to win battles. I know I never shall be President now. I haven't really got a great voice, nor have I the soul of a poet. Therefore, although I enjoy feeding my ego by getting my own Sunday breakfast, I do not feel that I have to eat said breakfast.

That is why, on this very Sunday morning, I stepped downstairs to the restaurant and ate my breakfast at the pleasant table in the sunny corner by the window. I had orange juice, golden-brown buckwheat cakes with lots of butter and maple syrup, fresh country sausage, and three cups of excellent coffee with cream and sugar. And some bananas and cream.

CHAPTER 3

A Cliché Expert Testifies on Crime


Q: MR. ARBUTHNOT, you are an expert in the use of the cliché as applied to crime reporting, are you not?

A: I guess I ought to be, Mr. McReynolds. Many's the hot murder mystery I covered for the old Graphic.

Q: In that case, there is no doubt you're the man who can help us.

A: I'd be glad to, and if you don't mind my saying so, I can see you're not much of a cliché expert yourself, sir.

Q: No?

A: No. If you were, you'd have said "help us out."

Q: I'll try to remember that, Mr. Arbuthnot. Now then, in your opinion as a cliché expert, what causes murders?

A: A murder is the result of what we call a tangled web of human emotions.

Q: Who commit murders?

A: Well, men shoot the women they love because they love them so well. The women shoot the men for the same reason. A gangster shoots another gangster because it is believed the latter "knew too much," as the underworld saying goes. When the body of a gangster is found after he has been taken for a ride, he is at first an unidentified man of about thirty until his fingerprints identify him as a criminal with a long police record. Or lengthy police record.

Q: Any other kind of people get murdered?

A: Yes, elderly spinsters living alone and believed to have large sums of money hidden about the house. In such cases, robbery is the motive, police believe.

Q: Where does a murder take place?

A: In a sparsely settled region, or section of town. That is, if it takes place out of doors. If indoors, it usually takes place in a love nest, a waterfront dive, a gangster hideout, or a sumptuously furnished apartment.

Q: With what are people usually murdered?

A: Some blunt instrument was used in the commission of the crime, police aver.

Q: Who finds the body?

A: Small boys playing in a vacant lot come upon the still form, huddled in a heap. They notify the police.

Q: When?

A: Immediately.

Q: What happens then?

A: A crowd gathers.

Q: What kind of crowd?

A: A crowd of morbid curiosity-seekers who stand riveted in horror at the gruesome sight.

Q: What then?

A: Then the coroner arrives.

Q: What does he do?

A: He performs his grim task. He pronounces the man dead.

Q: What does an autopsy do?

A: An autopsy reveals.

Q: What do the police suspect?

A: Foul play.

Q: What do the neighbors do?

A: They report that they heard a shot during the night but thought nothing of it, believing it to be the backfire of an automobile.

Q: What is there no sign of after the crime?

A: There is no sign of a weapon.

Q: What does a murder do to the police?

A: It baffles them.

Q: What do they do in an effort to become less baffled?

A: They comb the city, spread a police dragnet, search all known haunts of underworld characters, and try to find a clue.

Q: What kind of clue?

A: A promising clue.

Q: What happens then?

A: The police expect a break in the case any moment. They announce that a solution of the murder will be arrived at within twenty-four hours. Or forty-eight hours.

Q: Never twenty-three hours, or forty-seven?

A: Oh, no, Judge. That would be decidedly irregular. A cliché expert using such a term would risk severe censure and possible ostracism by his colleagues.

Q: What happens to the victim just before the crime?

A: He is last seen alive.

Q: Ever cover a bank robbery, or pay-roll holdup, Mr. Arbuthnot?

A: Loads of 'em.

Q: Good. Who commit holdups?

A: A band of masked bandits.

Q: What do their guns do?

A: They bark.

Q: After the holdup the bandits escape, of course.

A: Oh, no. Bandits never escape. They make good their escape.

Q: How?

A: Oh, Mr. McReynolds, surely you know the answer to that one. Everybody does.

Q: It is a question of getting it on the record, if you don't mind. Will you answer the question, please?

A: Well, in a high-powered car. How else? A high-powered car that drew up to the curb before the holdup, and had been waiting there, with motor running.

Q: What always happens to one of the bandits?

A: One of the bandits is believed to have been wounded in the getaway.

Q: What kind of car is used in gang killings?

A: A death car.

Q: Who flee?

A: The assailants flee.

Q: What kind of accomplices do criminals have?

A: Only one kind—alleged.

Q: What kind of intruders break into houses?

A: Unknown intruders who were seen lurking in the vicinity shortly before the crime.

Q: What does tragedy do?

A: Tragedy stalks.

Q: What are suspects under?

A: Under police surveillance.

Q: Now then, Mr. Arbuthnot, if the culprits do not escape—I mean, do not make good their escape—it is logical, is it not, to assume that they are caught?

A: Oh, not caught. They are apprehended. Or, even better, taken into custody. Never say caught when you can say apprehended or taken into custody.

Q: After they are taken into custody, what is it they do about their innocence?

A: They protest their innocence.

Q: And they deny—?

A: All knowledge of the crime.

Q: Then what happens to them?

A: They are grilled.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Frank Sullivan at His Best by Frank Sullivan. Copyright © 1996 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Frank Sullivan at His Best 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Frank Sullivan is one of my favorite humorists, and this collection is a fair representation of his work. But the title is a bit misleading. Although there are many Sullivan classics in the book, including 'A Garland of Ibids for Van Wyck Brooks,' 'The Night the Old Nostalgia Burned Down,' 'An Innocent in Texas,' 'Pencil-Chewing,' 'How to Change a Typewriter Ribbon,' 'A Bachelor Looks at Breakfast' and some of his famous 'Cliche Expert' pieces, there are other pieces that do not rank among his best. Fortunately, even mediocre Sullivan is better than the best of a lot of other humorists. Unfortunately, few people have even heard of Frank Sullivan, much less read his stuff. He was a contemporary of the great Robert Benchley, and almost as good (nobody was as good as Benchley). Like Benchley, Sullivan did not write cruel or mean-spirited humor. His was of the kinder and gentler variety, much like that of Erma Bombeck and Art Buchwald, but that doesn't mean it wasn't funny. Like Benchley, Bombeck and Buchwald, Sullivan was frequently hilarious. Although he died in 1976 at age 83, and his best and most productive years were in the 1920s, '30s and '40s, Sullivan's stuff, which dealt mostly with small matters of everyday life, still has contemporary appeal. If you can find a copy of 'Frank Sullivan at His Best,' get it. He'll make you laugh, chuckle and smile. And these days, we need all the humor we can get.