John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and other manifestations of human frailty. Comments welcome. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to jemcintyre@gmail.com, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. Back 2009-2012 at the original site, http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/mcintyre/blog/ and now at www.baltimoresun.com/news/language-blog/.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Sons, take heed




The Library of America, may it go from strength to strength, has released editions of the short stories and novels of John Cheever; and if you don’t have them in your possession, you should be lusting after them.

Much on my mind this week, as my son prepares to graduate from St. John’s College in Annapolis, is the glorious passage of advice to sons that rounds out The Wapshot Chronicle. It is a sheet of maxims from old New Englander Leander Wapshot discovered after his death:

Never put whiskey into hot water bottle crossing borders of dry states or countries. Rubber will spoil taste. Never make love with pants on. Beer on whiskey, very risky. Whiskey on beer, never fear. Never eat apples, peaches, pears, etc. while drinking whiskey except long French-style dinners, terminating with fruit. Other viands have mollifying effect. Never sleep in moonlight. Known by scientists to induce madness. Should bed stand beside window on clear night draw shades before retiring. Never hold cigar at right-angles to fingers. Hayseed. Hold cigar at diagonal. Remove band or not as you prefer. Never wear red necktie. Provide light snorts for ladies if entertaining. Effects of harder stuff on frail sex sometimes disastrous. Bathe in cold water every morning. Painful but exhilarating. Also reduces horniness. Have haircut once a week. Wear dark clothes after 6 p.m. Eat fresh fish for breakfast when available. Avoid kneeling in unheated stone churches. Ecclesiastical dampness causes premature gray hair. Fear tastes like a rusty knife and do not let her into your house. Courage tastes of blood. Stand up straight. Admire the world. Relish the love of a gentle woman. Trust in the Lord.

11 comments:

  1. wise words indeed. Congrats to John Paul and to you both for enduring parenthood up to this point.

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  2. Many thanks for a reminder of my favorite Cheever family and a hearty congratulations to your son upon his upcoming graduation!

    St. John's College is a jewel of a college.

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  3. I am considering offering this advice to our baby, our fourth son, upon his being graduated from St. Mary's College of Maryland this Saturday, one of two Physics and Mathematics graduates. Alas, his dream of teaching was corrupted by the researchers at the Patuxent Naval Air Station where he can while away the hours developing ________________ (redacted).

    Like his brothers before him, he will find that he has heard much of the advice throughout the preceding twenty-two years.

    My thanks to facebook for informing me of this continuance of our dialog.

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  4. Although I suspect any New Enlander named Leander Wapshot would object (or at least scorn) my choice of words, I think his words are elegant and lovely. Thanks for sharing!

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  5. "Don't bother with whiskey. It's a metabolic poison and causes a disease. What's more, you have to worry about how to spell it, which means you have to worry about where it comes from. Life is too short to remember such tripe."

    My wife is the furthest thing from gentle, but I relish her love anyway.

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  6. Thank you for the recommendation. I just bought it. Anyone who understands the need to protect the taste of your whiskey is OK in my book. Good bartenders with well-stocked bars carrying exceptional liquors are hard to find. Last night my husband and I went on an unsuccessful mission to find a particular drink in our hometown. We hit four "upscale" bars and were very disappointed. It's also very important to bring your drinks with you when you travel (not packed in rubber -- haha). P.S. I don't know why, but I constantly have trouble using my google account to sign in here, so I will sign in with a different option, if I can. Tracey

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  7. Ecclesiastical dampness! I wish I'd thought of it myself.

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  8. Wonderful advice--almost up there with Laertes.

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  9. I heard it this way: Beer and wine, mighty fine, beer and whiskey, mighty risky. It works.

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  10. I recently worked my way through the Library of America volume of Cheever's short stories. They're uneven--I would recommend skipping anything to do with Italy--but the best of them are superb. My childhood was mostly in the 1950s, mostly in Manhattan, and Cheever's dead-on pitch-perfect evocation of that milieu was particularly poignant for me.

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  11. My mother in law had a saying:

    Drinking wiskey is very risky.

    What one says is very true?

    Cannot remember what the true line is

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