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Most of the Most of S. J. Perelman

Overview

This book includes many of the greatest hits from 1930 to 1958--available only in this edition--by the devastatingly witty Perelman, the leading figure of The New Yorker magazine's golden age of humor and one of the most popular American humorists ever. In these hilarious pieces, the charmingly cranky Perelman turns his scathing attention to books, movies, New York socialites, the newspaper business, country life, travel, Hollywood, the publishing industry, and, last but not least, himself. His self-portrait: ...
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Overview

This book includes many of the greatest hits from 1930 to 1958--available only in this edition--by the devastatingly witty Perelman, the leading figure of The New Yorker magazine's golden age of humor and one of the most popular American humorists ever. In these hilarious pieces, the charmingly cranky Perelman turns his scathing attention to books, movies, New York socialites, the newspaper business, country life, travel, Hollywood, the publishing industry, and, last but not least, himself. His self-portrait: "Under a forehead roughly comparable to . . . Piltdown Man are visible a pair of tiny pig eyes, lit up alternately by greed and concupiscence. . . . Before they made S. J. Perelman, they broke the mold." Sophisticated and supremely mischievous, Perelman is an acrobat of language who turns a phrase and then, before the reader has time to finish admiring his agility, turns it again.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
From a letter from Groucho Marx to S. J. Perelman: "From the moment I picked up your book until I put it down, I was convulsed with laughter. Some day I intend reading it."

"The funniest writer since--himself."--Gore Vidal

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679640370
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 5/28/2000
  • Series: Modern Library Humor and Wit Series
  • Pages: 549
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.63 (h) x 1.25 (d)

Meet the Author

S. J. Perelman (1904-1979) was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. He was one of the most prominent humorists of his generation, writing countless pieces for The New Yorker, plays for the stage, and screenplays for the Marx Brothers. He won an Academy Award for his screenplay for Around the World in 80 Days, and he received a special National Book Award for his unique contribution to American letters.
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Read an Excerpt

NOTHING BUT THE TOOTH

I am thirty-eight years old, have curly brown hair and blue eyes, own a uke and a yellow roadster, and am considered a snappy dresser in my crowd. But the thing I want most in the world for my birthday is a free subscription to Oral Hygiene, published by Merwin B. Massol, 1005 Liberty Avenue, Pittsburgh, Pa. In the event you have been repairing your own teeth, Oral Hygiene is a respectable smooth-finish technical magazine circulated to your dentist with the compliments of his local supply company. Through its pages runs a recital of the most horrendous and fantastic deviations from the dental norm. It is a confessional in which dentists take down their back hair and stammer out the secrets of their craft. But every time I plunge into its crackling pages at my dentist's, just as I get interested in the story of the Man with the Alveolar Dentures or Thirty Reasons Why People Stay Away from Dentists, the nurse comes out slightly flushed and smoothing her hair to tell me that the doctor is ready. Last Thursday, for example, I was head over heels in the question-and-answer department of Oral Hygiene. A frankly puzzled extractionist, who tried to cloak his agitation under the initials "J.S.G.," had put his plight squarely up to the editor: "I have a patient, a woman of 20, who has a full complement of teeth. All of her restorations are gold foils or inlays. She constantly grinds her teeth at night. How can I aid her to stop grinding them? Would it do any good to give her a vellum rubber bite?" But before I could learn whether it was a bite or just a gentle hug the editor recommended, out popped Miss Inchbald with lipstick on her nose, giggling, "The Doctor is free now." "Free," indeed--"running amok" would be a better way to put it.

I had always thought of dentists as of the phlegmatic type-square-jawed sadists in white aprons who found release in trying out new kinds of burs on my shaky little incisors. One look at Oral Hygiene fixed that. Of all the inhibited, timorous, uncertain fumble-bunnies who creep the earth, Mr. Average Dentist is the worst. A filing clerk is a veritable saber-toothed tiger by comparison. Faced with a decision, your dentist's bones turn to water and he becomes all hands and feet.

He muddles through his ordinary routine with a certain amount of bravado, plugging a molar here with chewing gum, sinking a shaft in a sound tooth there. In his spare time he putters around his laboratory making tiny cement cupcakes, substituting amber electric bulbs for ordinary bulbs in his waiting room to depress patients, and jotting down nasty little innuendoes about people's gums in his notebook. But let an honest-to-goodness sufferer stagger in with his face out of drawing, and Mr. Average Dentist's nerves go to hell. He runs sobbing to the "Ask Oral Hygiene" department and buries his head in the lap of V. C. Smedley, its director. I dip in for a typical sample:

Question-A patient of mine, a girl, 18, returned from school recently with a weird story of lightning having struck an upper right cuspid tooth and checked the enamel on the labial surface nearly two-thirds of the way from the incisal edge toward the neck. The patient was lying on a bed looking out an open window during an electric storm, and this one flash put out the lights of the house, and at the same time, the patient felt a burning sensation (like a burning wire) along the cuspid tooth. She immediately put her tongue on the tooth which felt rough, but as the lights were out she could not see it so she went to bed. (A taste as from a burnt match accompanied the shock.)

Next morning she found the labial of the tooth black. Some of the color came off on her finger. By continually brushing all day with the aid of peroxide, salt, soda and vinegar she removed the remainder of the black after which the tooth was a yellow shade and there was some roughness on the labial surface.

Could the lightning have caused this and do you recommend smoothing the surface with discs?-R. D. L., D.D.S., Oregon.

Well, Doctor, let us take your story step by step. Miss Muffet told you the sensation was like a burning wire, and she tasted something like a burnt match. Did you think, by any chance, of looking into her mouth for either wire or matches? Did you even think of looking into her mouth? I see no mention of the fact in your letter. You state that she walked in and told you the story, that's all. Of course it never occurred to you that she had brought along her mouth for a reason. Then you say, "she removed the remainder of the black after which the tooth was a yellow shade." Would it be asking too much of you to make up your mind? Was it a tooth or a yellow shade? You're quite sure it wasn't a Venetian blind? Or a gaily striped awning? Do you ever take a drink in the daytime, Doctor?

Frankly, men, I have no patience with such idiotic professional behavior. An eighteen-year-old girl walks into a dentist's office exhibiting obvious symptoms of religious hysteria (stigmata, etc.) She babbles vaguely of thunderstorms and is patently a confirmed drunkard. The dentist goes to pieces, forgets to look in her mouth, and scurries off to Oral Hygiene asking for permission to smooth her surface with discs. It's a mercy he doesn't take matters into his own hands and try to plow every fourth tooth under. This is the kind of man to whom we entrust our daughters' dentures.

There is practically no problem so simple that it cannot confuse a dentist. For instance, thumb-sucking. "Could you suggest a method to correct thumb and index finger sucking by an infant of one year?" flutters a Minnesota orthodontist, awkwardly digging his toe into the hot sand. Dr. Smedley, whose patience rivals Job's, has an answer for everything: "Enclose the hand by tying shut the end of the sleeve of a sleeping garment, or fasten a section of a pasteboard mailing tube to the sleeping garment in such a position as to prevent the bending of the elbow sufficiently to carry the thumb or index finger to the mouth." Now truly, Dr. Smedley, isn't that going all the way around Robin Hood's barn? Nailing the baby's hand to the high-chair is much more cozy, or, if no nail is available, a smart blow with the hammer on Baby's fingers will slow him down. My grandfather, who was rather active in the nineties (between Columbus and Amsterdam avenues they finally got him for breaking and entering), always used an effective method to break children of this habit. He used to tie a Mills grenade to the baby's thumb with cobbler's waxed thread, and when the little spanker pulled out the detonating pin with his teeth, Grandpa would stuff his fingers into his ears and run like the wind. Ironically enough, the people with whom Grandpa now boards have the same trouble keeping him from biting his thumbs, but overcome it by making him wear a loose jacket with very long sleeves, which they tie to the bars.

I have always been the mildest of men, but you remember the old saying, "Beware the fury of a patient man." (I remembered it very well and put my finger on it instantly, page 269 of Bartlett's book of quotations.) For years I have let dentists ride roughshod over my teeth; I have been sawed, hacked, chopped, whittled, bewitched, bewildered, tattooed, and signed on again; but this is cuspid's last stand. They'll never get me into that chair again. I'll dispose of my teeth as I see fit, and after they're gone, I'll get along. I started off living on gruel, and, by God, I can always go back to it again.

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Table of Contents

Introduction to the Modern Library Humor and Wit Series vii
Part I 1930-1944
Waiting for Santy 3
Down with the Restoration! 6
Scenario 10
Somewhere a Roscoe... 15
Beat Me, Post-Impressionist Daddy 20
Counter-revolution 25
Nothing but the Tooth 29
The Idol's Eye 33
To Sleep, Perchance to Steam 37
Is There an Osteosynchrondroitrician in the House? 41
Woodman, Don't Spare That Tree! 44
Strictly from Hunger 48
Frou-Frou, or, The Future of Vertigo 57
A Pox on You, Mine Goodly Host 60
Our Unbalanced Aquariums 64
Button, Button, Who's Got the Blend? 68
A Farewell to Omsk 72
Captain Future, Block That Kick! 75
Kitchen Bouquet 80
Boy Meets Girl Meets Foot 84
Sauce for the Gander 88
The Red Termites 93
Caution--Soft Prose Ahead 98
Entered as Second-class Matter 102
Kitchenware, Notions, Lights, Action, Camera! 106
Swing Out, Sweet Chariot 110
Tomorrow--Fairly Cloudy 115
The Love Decoy 120
Hold That Christmas Tiger! 124
Smugglers in the Dust 127
Part II 1944-1950
Hell in the Gabardines 135
Garnish Your Face with Parsley and Serve 141
White Bimbo, or, Through Dullest Africa with Three Sleepy People 146
Dental or Mental, I Say It's Spinach 151
Take Two Parts Sand, One Part Girl, and Stir 155
Farewell, My Lovely Appetizer 161
Cloudland Revisited: Into Your Tent I'll Creep 168
Physician, Steel Thyself 175
How Sharper Than a Serpent's Tooth 181
No Dearth of Mirth--Fill Out the Coupon! 186
Pale Hands I Loathe 191
The Customer Is Always Wrong 195
Whatever Goes Up 201
So Little Time Marches On 206
Cloudland Revisited: Sodom in the Suburbs 211
Amo, Amas, Amat, Amamus, Amatis, Enough 218
Insert Flap "A" and Throw Away 223
Send No Money, Honey 227
Nothin' Could Be Finer Than to Dine from Manny's China in the Mornin' 232
The Sweeter the Tooth, the Nearer the Couch 237
Don't Bring Me Oscars (When It's Shoesies That I Need) 243
Danger in the Drain 248
Cloudland Revisited: Tuberoses and Tigers 254
Mortar and Pestle 261
Methinks He Doth Protein Too Much 267
Stringing Up Father 274
Sleepy-time Extra 279
The Pants Recaptured 284
Cloudland Revisited: Great Aches from Little Boudoirs Grow 290
Many a Slip 296
Swiss Family Perelman
Rancors Aweigh 302
Fifteen Dutch on a Red Man's Chest 309
Part III 1950-1958
Up the Close and Down the Stair 321
The Hand That Cradles the Rock 328
Is There a Doctor in the Cast? 334
Cloudland Revisited: Why, Doctor, What Big Green Eyes You Have! 342
No Starch in the Dhoti, S'Il Vous Plait 349
Genuflection in the Sun 357
A Girl and a Boy Anthropoid Were Dancing 364
Cloudland Revisited: Rock-a-Bye, Viscount, in the Treetop 371
Nesselrode to Jeopardy 378
Chewies the Goat but Flicks Need Hypo 387
Personne Ici Except Us Chickens 393
De Gustibus Ain't What Dey Used to Be 400
Cloudland Revisited: Antic Hey-Hey 406
Hell Hath No Fury ... and Saks No Brake 413
And Thou Beside Me, Yacketing in the Wilderness 421
The Frosting's on the Dry Goods, the Customer's in Shock 428
I Am Not Now, Nor Have I Ever Been, a Matrix of Lean Meat 434
Cloudland Revisited: When to the Sessions of Sweet Silent Films... 439
The Saucier's Apprentice 447
A Hepcat May Look at a King 453
Who Stole My Golden Metaphor? 459
Cloudland Revisited: Roll On, Thou Deep and Dark Scenario, Roll 464
Heat Yeggs in Vessel and Sprinkle with Hazard 470
On Me It Looks Wizard 478
The Yanks Are Coming, in Five Breathless Colors 483
Cloudland Revisited: Vintage Swine 489
And Did You Once See Irving Plain? 495
Pulse Rapid, Respiration Lean, No Mustard 503
Cuckoos Nesting--Do Not Disturb 509
Cloudland Revisited: The Wickedest Woman in Larchmont 515
I'll Always Call You Schnorrer, My African Explorer 521
This Little Piggy Went to Market 530
Nirvana Small by a Waterfall 537
Cloudland Revisited: It Takes Two to Tango, But Only One to Squirm 544
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