Sep. 19 - "The new phone books are here! The new phone books are here!"

Most Americans recall these words as one of many signature lines from Steve Martin's masterpiece, The Jerk.

I remember it as the excited outburst of my best friend Phil Simon's father one morning in the autumn of 1973. We were eight years old, Phil and I, and his family had only recently moved to the area—the area being Port Washington, Long Island. We had become fast friends and seemed to have everything in common: we both liked burning things, we preferred Veronica to Betty, we liked to throw rocks at trees and pop wheelies on our bikes, and we both had crazy blond hair that would submit to no comb.

Phil's father was this incredibly interesting guy, I thought, because you could see him on television. He did a famous Lifesavers ad. I didn't think anything could be cooler than having a dad who was on television. Mine just went into the city, did things in a building, and came home. You never saw him on TV. But Mr. Simon—well, there he was.

Anyway, one day as Phil and I were burning leaves or GI Joe's or something in the backyard, there was a sudden whooping and hollering from the front yard. Mr. Simon came barrelling around the house, waving a big thick book in the air over his head.

"The new phone book's here," he cried with delight, "and we're in it!"

He plopped the book down on the patio boards and flipped through it urgently, breathlessly reading the names at the tops of the pages: "Rosenburg... Rodman... Salter... Sedgewick... Sherman... Silvers... here we go, here we go..."

Mesmerized, Phil and I followed his finger as it moved down the page.

"Ha!" he finally exclaimed, "Simon! Right there! Look at that! There we are!" He was so excited he picked the book up and ran into the house, calling gleefully for his wife. Phil and I were very impressed.

"He's on TV and the phone book!" I exclaimed appreciatively.

Phil milked my admiration. "Yeah," he shrugged, "Dad's pretty famous."

That evening I told my own father, with perhaps a touch of envy, that Phil Simon's father was on TV and in the phone book.

My father hardly looked up at me from his paper. "Everyone's in the phone book," he said. Anticipating my next question he quickly added, "Everyone with a phone."

A book that had everyone's name in it! How cool was that? Some day I'd have a phone, and then I'd be in a book, too! A book that anyone could look in and see my name. I'd be famous!

That's interesting, Moron, you're probably saying. But what does it have to do with anything?

The new Copenhagen phonebook came out today and I'm not in it. Neither is Trine. And it brought back all the resentment I felt when we first moved here and the Smoking Man told me I couldn't have a key to the sauna because I didn't exist.

I guess I still don't.

But I tell you, the day I see my name in the Copenhagen white pages is going to be a red-letter day in this household!

Bewitched, Bothered, and Burned

Giles Corey was accused of witchcraft in 1692. This put him in a difficult spot. If he pleaded guilty, he'd be burned alive at the stake. If he pleaded not guilty, he'd have to take a lie-detector test.

The state-of-the-art lie detector of 1692 wasn't any less accurate than today's models, but it was significantly rougher on its subjects. It was called "dunking." The tightly bound subject would be dunked repeatedly into a pond or lake until the truth emerged.

One of the primary symptoms of demonic possession was immunity to water, so those who survived the process were rewarded with a warm, dry burning at the stake. Those who drowned, on the other hand, were clearly innocent and received a favorable ruling.

Giles Corey wasn't eager to be burned at the stake, but he wasn't keen on posthumous vindication, either. A plea of guilty meant the stake; a plea of not-guilty meant drowning (or the stake, depending on the results of the lie-detector test). Mr. Corey therefore did what any reasonable person might have done: he claimed his Fifth Amendment rights under the Constitution and said nothing.

This was a foolish and costly blunder, as the Constitution had not yet been invented.

Baffled by the accused's refusal to enter a plea, the court pressed him for an answer. Literally. On this very date in 1692, Giles Corey became the first, last, and only American ever to have been pressed to death by his own government.

56 years ago today, the U.S. conducted its first underground nuclear test in the Nevada desert. This caused a major disturbance in the natural order of the fragile desert eco-system, ultimately resulting in Las Vegas.

Sunday is the last day of summer.

Birthdays and Holidays

The 19th is the birthday of Alison Sweeny (1976), Joan Lunden (1950), Leslie "Twiggy" Lawson (1949), Jeremy Irons (1948), "Mama" Cass Elliott (1943), Paul Williams (1940), and William Golding (1911).

Those born on September 20 include Sophia Loren (1934), Dr. Joyce Brothers (1928), Arnold "Red" Auerbach" (1917), Ferdinand "Jelly Roll" Morton (1890), and Upton Sinclair (1878).

September 21 birthdays include Ricki Lake (1968), Rob Morrow (1962), Bill Murray (1950), Stephen King (1947), Larry Hagman (1931), and H.G. Wells (1866).

The 19th is Liberation Day in Luxembourg and Independence Day in St. Kitts and Nevis.

September 21 is Independence Day in Armenia and Belize and "International Day of Peace" at the United Nations.

Enjoy the last summer weekend of 2003. (And those of you in the southern hemispher, you know. . . whatever.)

2003, The Moron's Almanac™

[close window]
[Daily Briefing Archive]