I love quotes from the famous and infamous. They stimulate the mind and spring me loose from my default state of…who knows.

There’s a great quote written in cement in front of the building in Washington housing the originals of our Constitution and Declaration of Independence, “What’s Past is Prologue.” It’s from Shakespeare, modified, in music, by Justin Timberlake (who I wouldn’t know from a cord of wood), to “what goes around comes around.”

By the way, I love the Tip O’Neill expression “I wouldn’t know him from a cord of wood.” You gotta love Tip! (The Speaker of the House, for Math Majors) I call him “Tip” for two reasons. Most importantly, he’s dead and he can’t say he “doesn’t know me from a cord of wood” and, secondly, I actually did meet him twice and the second time he called me by name. You’ll just have to take that on the, admittedly, flimsy support of, my word.

There are certain people that just cry out to be quoted. Like Dorothy Parker, for instance. She was known for being known, doing some writing and having an acerbic wit. Dorothy described a Broadway starlet who recently arrived from Hungary as “speaking seven languages but unable to say ‘no’ in any one of them.”

Many Jews claim Dorothy as one of theirs. But, without being argumentative, I will point out that her Mother was Celtic (Scotch, Irish, Welsh…not NBA) and Dorothy attended The Convent of the Sacred Heart Elementary School on 79th Street in Manhattan. I’ll always claim her as one of mine, at least partly.

For what its worth, there is a Private Library across from the Convent School on 79th St, of very distinguished history from which my own self and George Washington, at different times in history, enjoyed borrowing privileges. I can report that I am no longer a Member, and my overdue fines have been paid. I have to assume the same for George.

Another person who cries out to be quoted is Lyndon Johnson. Doris Kearns Goodwin is great at telling stories about Johnson. She spent time with him right after he left the White House and went back to his ranch in the West Texas Hill Country. For Johnson fans, Robert Caro is the “go to” source for wonderful detail on LBJ.

A quote on LBJ that I heard long ago described how he felt sort of “out of his element” when he went on the ticket with JFK in 1960. The Kennedys were from Harvard and Money and it showed in their speech and dress. Johnson talked about being around JFK and noticing little things about dress and manners and feeling like a country bumpkin, saying to a friend, “my clothes look like ‘Iron Boy’ work clothes.”

LBJ may have come to Washington as a poor country boy, he sure as heck didn’t go back to Texas that way. Johnson used to talk about a legendary figure in West Texas who came up from nothing and became a financial and political power saying, “All he wants is that which is his and that which adjoins it.”

Some quotes are just so good that its almost unimportant if they are historically accurate. One I love involves Nixon and Kissinger planning what began as a secret overture with China in Nixon’s first term. Kissinger was assigned to take a secret trip and meet with Chou En Lai, Mao’s number two, to see if such a trip would be well received by the Chinese.

Chou was an intellectual and very sophisticated. He had studied at the Sorbonne in Paris. Kissinger, no slouch at all, did his homework studying up on things he knew were near and dear to Chou’s heart, like, for instance, the French Revolution of 1789. The story goes that in their first meeting Kissinger and Chou spent a bit of time on pleasantries and Kissinger decided to move the conversation into substance asking Chou what he thought “were the lasting effects of the French Revolution.” Chou responded, with Chinese inscrutability, “It’s too early to tell.” Hmmm.

There are some that hold that the conversation did not go down like that…the heck with them. It’s too good not to have happened!

Which allows me to introduce a conversation of my own that took place in a small hotel in Paris ten years ago. There was a young guy working weekends on the desk at the hotel. I asked him what he did during the week. He said, studying Philosophy at the Sorbonne. Having been educated by Jesuits and knowing a smidge of Philosophy I asked him if he had read Immanuel Kant’s Critique on Pure Reason, thinking I had control of the conversation. My friend didn’t say a word as he reached into his backpack and handed me Kant’s “Critique on Pure Reason.”

Oops. Game, Set, Match. And, not for me.

But, I did pick up a great quote on a philosopher the fellow at the hotel was studying, Gilles Deleuze. The quote, “Do Something Incomprehensible.” Interesting.

Didn’t every advance in human history start with somebody’s decision to “do something incomprehensible.”


Let me put this baby to bed with a Dorothy Parker poem that I’m sure she didn’t learn from the Good Sisters at the Convent School on 79th Street in New York City:

I love a Martini,
Two, at the Most,
Three, I’m under the Table,
Four, I’m under my Host!

Comments are welcome at tomc[at]wednesdayswars[dot]com. Comments will be addressed in subsequent posts.