Jun. 15, 2005

The Drink

by Ron Padgett

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Poem: "The Drink" by Ron Padgett from You Never Know. © Coffee House Press. Reprinted with permission.

The Drink

I am always interested in the people in films who have just had a drink
thrown in their faces. Sometimes they react with uncontrollable rage, but
sometimes - my favorites - they do not change their expressions at all. Instead
they raise a handkerchief or napkin and calmly dab at the offending liquid,
as the hurler jumps to her feet and storms away. The other people at the table
are understandably uncomfortable. A woman leans over and places her hand
on the sleeve of the man's jacket and says, "David, you know she didn't
mean it." David answers, "Yes," but in an ambiguous tone - the perfect adult
response. But now the orchestra has resumed its amiable and lively dance
music, and the room is set in motion as before. Out in the parking lot,
however, Elizabeth is setting fire to David's car. Yes, this is a contemporary

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Charles Dickens's famous illustrator Hablot Knight Browne, better known as "Phiz," born in Lambeth, near London (1815). He illustrated David Copperfield, Bleak House, and A Tale of Two Cities.

It's the birthday of Saul Steinberg, born in a little village near Bucharest, Romania in 1914. He came to this country and became a long-time artist at the New Yorker magazine. He painted many covers, including his most famous, "View of the World from 9th Avenue," which shows a New Yorker's view of the country with New York City huge in the foreground and the rest of the country off in the distance, little bumps of details.

Saul Steinberg said of his childhood, "I got high on elementary things like the luminosity of the day and the smell of everything—mud, earth, humidity, the delicious smells of cellars and mold, grocers' shops."

His mother was a cake decorator. His father designed specialty cardboard boxes. As a boy, Steinberg liked to rummage through his father's supply of paper, rubber stamps, colored cardboard and blocks of type. He also loved to read, and he later said that he would have become a writer if he had inherited a better language, but instead he learned to draw.

He studied architecture in Italy, got a degree, and at the same time, started contributing satirical drawings to humor magazines. He got out of Europe in 1941, just in time to avoid World War II. He sailed for America from Portugal, carrying a passport which he had doctored with his own rubber stamps. Through the intervention of the editor of the New Yorker, he was allowed to enter the United States in 1942. He enlisted in the Navy, went off to fight in World War II, and then came back to draw cartoons and covers for the New Yorker. He parodied most of the popular styles of painting of the 20th Century, cubism and abstract expressionism, even children's art. His work was always playful and funny. In his drawings, he put Easter bunnies and the Statue of Liberty, the Chrysler Building, Santa Claus, Mickey Mouse. He once drew Uncle Sam as a bullfighter, fighting a turkey instead of a bull. He loved to make elaborate counterfeit documents—currency, passports, licenses, and especially diplomas.

It was Saul Steinberg who said, "The life of the creative man is led directed and controlled by boredom. Avoiding boredom is one of our most important purposes."

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