Jan. 14, 2010


by William Jay Smith

Polar Bear

by William Jay Smith


I think it must be very nice
To stroll about upon the ice,
Night and day, day and night,
Wearing only black and white,
Always in your Sunday best—
Black tailcoat and pearl-white vest.
To stroll about so pleasantly
Beside the cold and silent sea
Would really suit me to a T!
I think it must be very nice
To stroll with Penguins on the ice.

             For those who like the Arctic air,
             There also is the Polar Bear.

Polar Bear

The Polar Bear never makes his bed;
He sleeps on a cake of ice instead.
He has no blanket, no quilt, no sheet
Except the rain and snow and sleet.
He drifts about on a white ice floe
While cold winds howl and blizzards blow
And the temperature drops to forty below.
The Polar Bear never makes his bed;
The blanket he pulls up over his head
Is lined with soft and feathery snow.
If ever he rose and turned on the light,
He would find a world of bathtub white,
And icebergs floating through the night.

"Penguin" and "Polar Bear" by William Jay Smith, from Laughing Time: Collected Nonsense. © Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 1953. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist who said, "If there's one thing men fear, it's a woman who uses her critical faculties" — Maureen Dowd, (books by this author) born in Washington, D.C. (1952), the youngest child of an Irish-born cop. She majored in English at Catholic University and then worked as an editorial assistant at The Washington Star, where she said she "was almost fired every day because [she] couldn't take a decent phone message." She finally got promoted to reporter and was writing entertaining front-page stories with quirky details when the newspaper went out of business.

Two years after she'd applied to The New York Times, Anna Quindlen, then the deputy metropolitan editor at the Times, found some writing samples of Dowd's in a pile of old résumés and immediately offered her a job. Dowd joined the Times in 1983 as a reporter, and less than a decade later was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for national reporting. Then, in 1995, she got her own column on the New York Times Op-Ed page, just the fourth woman in the newspaper's history to do so.

In 1999, she won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished commentary, based on a series of articles she did on the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal. One of the articles began: "The president must not lose his job. Not over this. Certainly, Bill Clinton should be deeply ashamed of himself. He has given a bad name to adultery and lying. He has made wickedness seem pathetic, and that's truly a sin. Kenneth Starr, all these years and all these millions later, has not delivered impeachable offenses. He has delivered a 445-page Harold Robbins novel."

She has a reputation around Washington as being both cutthroat and irresistible. Clinton's White House spokesman once said: "It's hard to get mad at her for any length of time. I'd call and yell at her, and I'd always end up laughing." One reporter called her a "sorceress," and another said she employs "mischievous destabilization."

In 2005, Maureen Dowd published a collection of essays called Are Men Necessary?; her title is a play on a tongue-in-cheek manual by James Thurber and E.B, White called Is Sex Necessary? She said: "I always subscribed to the Carole Lombard philosophy. 'I live by a man's code, designed to fit a man's world, yet at the same time I never forget that a woman's first job is to choose the right shade of lipstick.'"

She said, "The minute you settle for less than you deserve, you get even less than you settled for."

It's the birthday of novelist John Dos Passos, (books by this author) born in Chicago (1896). He moved around so much that he called himself a "hotel child," living in Mexico, Belgium, England, Washington, D.C., and on a farm in Virginia.

Dos Passos later attended Harvard, where he was a classmate of E.E. Cummings. He went to Spain to study architecture after he graduated, but with the outbreak of World War I, he worked as a volunteer ambulance driver instead. He later enlisted in the United States Medical Corps as a private. He served in France and Italy, and that experience inspired his anti-war novels, One Man's Initiation (1920) and Three Soldiers (1921). When the war was over, he worked as a newspaper correspondent in Spain, Mexico, and New York. He said, "People don't choose their careers; they are engulfed by them." His other books include the Manhattan Transfer (1925), and the famous U.S.A. Trilogy, comprising The 42nd Parallel (1930), 1919 (1932), and The Big Money (1936).

He said, "If there is a special Hell for writers it would be in the forced contemplation of their own works."

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




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