My Anecdotal Life: A Memoir by Carl Reiner
Rating: ••• (Recommended)
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As one reads the stories in Carl Reiner’s memoir, My Anecdotal Life, you can almost picture him sitting around a dinner table and telling these stories to close friends. The stories he tells are often uproariously funny, and occasionally poignant and emotional. Here’s a sample of a faux pas as related in Chapter 5:
(A SECOND SHORT TALE OF SHMUCKERY)
For my second short tale, I must take you back with me to Washington, D.C., the city to which the army chose to send me in 1943. For some reason, the army thought that if I studied French at Georgetown University for nine months I would be qualified to go to France and be a French language interpreter for our American officers, who were desperate to know what their French counterparts were saying to them. I did learn how to speak the language well enough to order food in French restaurants and understand French films without reading every English subtitle.
After graduating from Georgetown, our company of French interpreters were shipped to Hawaii, and the company of graduating Japanese interpreters were sent to Paris. We were totally confused by the logic of those assignments, but who's to argue with the results? We won the war. "Confuse and conquer!" might have been our strategy.
While at Georgetown, when I wasn't in class struggling to master the more difficult tenses of the verbs and learning how to ask a French girl if she wanted to go to bed with me, my good buddy, Sol Pomerantz, and I would go into town on our days off and visit the local USO canteen to see a variety show or participate in one. After a year at the Gilmore Theater in New York, two years at the Rochester Summer Theater, performing roles in twenty-six plays, and a season touring with the Avon Shakespearean Company, I never lost the urge to get up on a raised platform and show off. To that end, I had worked up a comedy act that was good enough to get me invited to perform at the canteen. This was to be my second appearance there. I had not too long before plied my craft at Georgetown, having produced a Christmas show in which I did a monologue and a too-accurate impression of the dean of Foreign Services, Father Edmond Walsh, and the other good Jesuit fathers who taught various subjects in the School of Foreign Service. For that performance, I received the best audience reaction of my career and a serious request from Father Walsh never to do another performance like it. Since Georgetown was no longer an outlet for the ham within me, I was grateful to have the USO.
As I came through the USO foyer that led to the canteen ballroom, I spied a comely young lass seated on a white wicker settee, and she was smiling—at me. Since the dance portion of the evening had just ended, I assumed that the attractive girl had been dancing and was taking a breather before going back in to see the show. Her smile broadened as I approached her, and I smiled back. I had not intended to stop but did when I heard a melodious "Hello, there!"
"Hello," I sang back.
"Are you going to perform again this evening?"
"I am," I said, enjoying her smile. "Were you here last week?"
I was. You were so funny." She giggled. "I hadn't intended to come tonight, and I'm glad I did."
"I hope I don't disappoint you. I'm trying some new things.
Well, nice talking to you," I said, starting off.
"Don't you remember me?" she asked brightly.
"I'm sorry," I said, "did we meet before?"
"Well, not formally," she said, coyly, "but we did share a few moments together."
Not possible, I thought. If I had shared anything with this pretty girl, I would remember. I decided to white-lie myself out of the situation.
"Let me look at you," I said mock seriously, looking her over from head to toe, pausing to stare at her lovely legs which were daintily crossed at the ankles. "Of course, I remember you. Now that I see those pretty legs. I'd never forget legs like yours!"
I had made a bad joke, paraphrasing the cliche, "I never forget a face!" but the young lady found it funny and chuckled. It was an honest flirt, because I have always appreciated women's legs.
During my turn onstage, I looked about to see if my leggy girl was laughing, but I couldn't find her. As I ended my program, I spotted her at the back of the hall and caught a glimpse of her lovely legs. My heart leaped, or I should say, fell! I was right about one of her legs, it was perfection, but the other was polio stricken, supported by a metal brace. I didn't know what to do or say. What do you say to someone whom you have, inadvertently or not, offended? "How could I ever forget legs like yours?!" Damn!
While accepting compliments from some soldiers, I was thinking. How can I face this girl? What do I say to her? Do I have to face this girl? Do I have to say anything? Is there a back door I can scoot out of? Am I a shit? I decided I wasn't one and raced to the foyer, not sure she would be there—or whether or not I wanted her to be there. She was there, seated on the settee, and, without asking her permission, I sat down next to her.
"You were wonderful!" she said. "Your new jokes were funny."
"Thank you. Some of the ones I did onstage were pretty good," I heard myself say, "but the one I made to you about your legs was god-awful, and I apologize."
The part of my psyche that controls assuaging of guilt and the reclamation of mental comfort put those words in my mouth. Whichever prophet said, "The truth will set you free" was one smart prophet. That young lady, who had lived with her problem since she was a child, immediately put me at ease by telling me that she knew I was not aware of her condition and admitted to enjoying the compliment her good leg received.
"Well, let's see, now," she said, proudly, showing it off to its best advantage by extending it and pointing her toe. "It is a pretty nice-looking leg, as legs go."
Had I not been committed to a Bronx lass I had met a year earlier, who also had great legs, who knows what might have developed. I remember sitting and chatting with her for a long time and being openly flirtations. I meant to reaffirm something she probably already knew, that she was a most attractive and desirable young woman.
I do not remember her name, but I would love to know that she had a good life. I feel that she did.
Invite yourself into Carl Reiner’s living room, sit down at his table with some good food, and listen to him tell some of the stories from My Anecdotal Life.
Steve Hopkins, May 27, 2003
ã 2003 Hopkins and Company, LLC
The recommendation rating for this book appeared in the June 2003 issue of Executive Times
URL for this review: http://www.hopkinsandcompany.com/Books/My Anecdotal Life.htm
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