Saturday

Apr. 11, 2009

Banking Rules

by James Tate

I was standing in line at the bank and
the fellow in front of me was humming. The
line was long and slow, and after a while
the humming began to irritate me. I said to
the fellow, "Excuse me, would you mind not
humming." And he said, "Was I humming?
I'm sorry, I didn't realize it." And he went
right on humming. I said, "Sir, you're
humming again." "Me, humming?" he said.
"I don't think so." And then he went on
humming. I was about to blow my lid. Instead,
I went to find the manager. I said, "See
that man over there in the blue suit?" "Yes,"
he said, "what about him?" "He won't stop
humming," I said, "I've asked him politely
several times, but he won't stop." "There's
no crime in humming," he said. I went back
and took my place in line. I listened, but
there was nothing coming out of him. I said,
"Are you okay, pal?" He looked mildly peeved,
and gave me no reply. I felt myself shrinking.
The manager of the bank walked briskly up
to me and said, "Sir, are you aware of the
fact that you're shrinking?" I said I was.
And he said, "I'm afraid we don't allow that
kind of behavior in this bank. I have to ask
you to leave." The air was whistling out
of me, I was almost gone.

"Banking Rules" by James Tate, from Return to the City of White Donkeys. © Ecco, 2004. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It was on this day in 1945 that American troops entered the Buchenwald concentration camp near Weimar, Germany. About 56,000 prisoners died there. Even though many of the American soldiers had fought in the worst battles of WWII, they were unprepared for the horrors they saw there. Edward R. Murrow was one of the reporters covering the event, and he was so disturbed that he couldn't even talk about it for days. One of the inmates in the camp that day was a teenager named Elie Wiesel, (books by this author) who went on to write more than 50 books, including his memoir, Night (1958). In 1986, he won the Nobel Peace Prize. He said: "The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference."

It's the birthday of humorist Leo Rosten, (books by this author) born in Lodz, Poland (1908). He wrote The Education of H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N (1937), and The Joys of Yiddish (1968), a book about Yiddish words and phrases, full of quotes and jokes. He wrote about Yiddish words like schlep, klutz, schlemiel, glitch, yenta, schmooze, schlump, schnook, schlock, and oy.

It's the birthday of poet Christopher Smart, (books by this author) born in Shipbourne in Kent, England (1722). He had a religious conversion, and he prayed compulsively. Samuel Johnson wrote, "My poor friend Smart showed the disturbance of his mind by falling upon his knees, and saying his prayers in the street, or in any other unusual place." He was sent to St. Luke's Hospital for Lunatics, where he began to write two of his greatest works: A Song to David (1763) and his epic Jubilate Agno,in which he praises God for everything in his life, including Jeoffry, his cat. He wrote:

For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.
For he is the servant of the Living God duly and daily serving him.
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way.
For this is done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.

It's the birthday of poet Mark Strand, (books by this author) born in Summerside, Canada (1934). His father was a salesman who traveled all over, so growing up he lived in Nova Scotia, New York City, Cleveland, Columbia, Peru, and Mexico. He went on to study painting at Yale, and then he turned to poetry. In 1990, he was appointed poet laureate. He said, "Life makes writing poetry necessary to prove I really was paying attention."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®

 









«

»

  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
The Writer's Almanac on Facebook


The Writer's Almanac on Twitter

Subscribe to our daily newsletter for poems, prose and literary history every morning
An interview with Sharon Olds at The Writer's Almanac Bookshelf
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show
O, What a Luxury

Although he has edited several anthologies of his favorite poems, O, What a Luxury: Verses Lyrical, Vulgar, Pathetic & Profound forges a new path for Garrison Keillor, as a poet of light verse. Purchase O, What a Luxury »