Thursday, April 7, 2011

Jewish Logic

Here's the best bit from a collection Louis Untermeyer calls “Jewish Logic”:

Count Esterhazy was organizing an expedition to the Near East and beyond. He had engaged most of the helpers, but he needed a general factotum for the long journey. Knowing the position was hard to fill, he advertised for a seasoned traveler who spoke the languages of the Near East, a fearless swordsman, an intrepid rider, etcetera. The advertisement was worded to attract only the right man – and there were no applicants. After a week, the butler announced that a small and shabby looking fellow had come in response to the ad.

“He doesn’t sound very promising,” said Count Esterhazy, “but show him up.”

The man proved to be even less prepossessing than the butler’s description. But clothes do not always make the man, and the Count began by asking, “You like to travel?”

“Me?” said the little man. “I hate traveling. Boats make me seasick. And trains are worse.”

“But you are a linguist,” continued the Count. “I presume you speak Arabian, Persian, Turkish, Hindustani – ”

“Who? Me?” gasped the candidate. “I talk nothing but Yiddish.”

“Your swordsmanship?” inquired the Count.

“What do you mean, swordsmanship? What should I do with a sword?”

“And as a horseman?”

“I hate horses. I wouldn’t go near one.”

“But,” said the Count, “What did you come here for?”

“I saw your ad,” said the little man, “and I just came to tell that on me you shouldn’t depend.”

Call this passive-aggressive or what have you, it’s just hilarious. Wasting all the Count’s time, just to deliver the zinger: “Can’t depend on me.” Mr. Warmth would certainly understand the appeal in that.

Used under the fair use doctrine for commentary purposes.

This kind of humor just harks back to an era that, in many ways, is better than ours. Not everything was good, mind you -- that's the one thing that most people misinterpret with era nostalgia: they forget (and so do sometimes the nostalgists) to say they'd take the good of yesterday and combine it with the good of today in the hopes that the added good would displace the bad.

If only it were so. Sigh.

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