After astonishing jugglers bounced acrobatically to the wings,
Ed Sullivan would introduce (next on this wonderful shew tonight)
Senor Wences. A very funny man who kept a poker face
throughout his act, but must have laughed a lot off stage
he lived past age 100, like others in whom Hope
ever Burns. (He came, who knows Wences,
and went who knows whither to wither? It ain't
Senor Wences (whose real name, more Jewish
than Spanish, I've forgotten) spoke through and to a daffy
falsetto blonde girl (what WAS her name?) whom he created
before our very eyes by lip-sticking a pair of generous lips
around the "mouth" where thumb meets base
of index finger, then holding (somehow) a yellow wisp
of wig over the hand. And this mobile hand, as soon
as he spoke to it, would disappear, leaving only
(unforgettably) the gum-chewing, enthusiastic foil
to his suave, solemn, mustachioed straight man.
But some nights, he brought a more sinister friend, the Head
in the Box. The Box was about the size of a cigar box.
(It probably WAS a cigar box, but it wasn't
the cigar box that is sometimes just a cigar box.)
He'd flick open the lid and reveal to us
a dark-bearded head with glaring, Rasputin eyes.
Senor Wences would say to the head (rolling his Rs
with abrupt Yiddish accent), "Tsawrright?"
to which the head, moving only its mouth,
would reply, "TSAWRRRRIGHT!" Senor Wences would
CLAP the box shut, and we would laugh and laugh.
What a fine book of poems that would be!
I open it to a blank page, and
there you are. I ask you, "Tsawright?"
You sing out, "TSAWRIGHT!"
I clap the book shut.
The "you" would not be you, of course,
just my puppet, but somewhere,
someone laughing with me.
[Hell, if you prefer, you can laugh AT me.
I'll laugh at me too, so that you'll still be
laughing with me. Or you can simply
refuse to laugh. I'll refuse to laugh
Note: Like Senor Wences, Bob Hope and George Burns also lived
past their hundredth birthdays. Something about comedy? Wences suggests
whence, which leads to whither and wither, but if he or his work
live, he doesn't necessarily wither neces-serely, because
what withers grows sere. The part about the cigar box that is just
a cigar box alludes to Freud's supposedly saying (to poopoo those
who, calling themselves Freudians, too ardently sought sexual symbolism
in things) that "sometimes a cigar is just a cigar." Freud
may have said this in self-defense, not because his disciples were
more symbol-happy than he, but because Freud liked to smoke cigars,
and preferred not to consider his smoking a form of fellatio.
"Tsawright?" "Tsawright!" A brief Yiddishy
conversation. Translation: "It's all right with you?"
"Yes, it's all right with me!" Or "It's all right?"
"It's all right!" But it's SO much better in the
original phony Yiddish. Actually, nothing is phony to a conglomeration
like Yiddish. It consists of a combination of German, Hebrew and
other languages, varying from locality to locality and incorporating
as needed bits of Russian, Polish, Hungarian, English, etc.
a language by means of which Jews from a great variety of nations
could converse a hybrid or "lingua franca". I never
learned much of it, though my grandpa, who read his Yiddish newspapers
every night, kept suggesting I should learn it, that it was the
There were many Jews (lovers of Yiddish, which has it's own
literature, it's own theater) who resented the Zionists who said
that the new nation of Israel must make Hebrew its language. The
dissenters felt that Yiddish was now the language of and for Jews,
and a more modern language than Hebrew. Somewhere, no doubt, there
are books about how Yiddish is still a flourishing language, perhaps
journals of new Yiddish poetry, etc. What a lavish and abundant