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Page 242

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
neces-serely so.)

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
with you.]

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 coming thing.

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 universe!

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