Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Tag: Dorothy Parker

How Could They Tell?

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday March 16 2017

 


How Could They Tell?

 

Last week I wrote about speculation surrounding the death of the 29th president of the United States, Warren Gamaliel Harding. There was also speculation about the death of Harding’s successor, Calvin Coolidge. Dorothy Parker was reported to have said, on being told by Robert Benchley that Coolidge was dead, “How could they tell?” I heard a different version of that story. Peter Benchley, creator of Jaws and the grandson of the Algonquin wit Robert Benchley, (Robert sent a telegram to his editor at the New Yorker, Harold Ross, upon arriving in Venice for the first time. “Streets full of water. Please advise.”) was speaking on Ned Sherrin’s BBC Radio 4 programme Loose Ends. According to him, Robert Benchley said, “Coolidge is dead”; Parker said, “How can they tell?”; Benchley responded, “He had an erection”.

The renowned lawyer Clarence Darrow dryly summed up Coolidge: “The greatest man who ever came out of Plymouth Corner, Vermont!” Coolidge had a reputation for taciturnity although some of his remarks could be interpreted as quietly witty. In that, he reminds me somewhat of Clement Attlee, although their political philosophies were totally different – Attlee was a founder of the welfare state whereas Coolidge was a small-government conservative.

Weaned on a Pickle

Coolidge was commonly referred to as “Silent Cal”. A woman once said to him, said to him, “I made a bet today that I could get more than two words out of you.” He replied, “You lose.” Coolidge often seemed uncomfortable among fashionable Washington society; when asked why he continued to attend so many of dinner parties, he replied, “Got to eat somewhere.” Teddy Roosevelt’s daughter, Alice Roosevelt Longworth, loathed Coolidge: “When he wished he were elsewhere, he pursed his lips, folded his arms, and said nothing. He looked then precisely as though he had been weaned on a pickle”.

He did have a sense of humour, albeit a somewhat infantile one. He buzzed for his bodyguards and then hid under his desk as they frantically searched for him, presumably fearing him kidnapped.

“His ideal day,” HL Mencken wrote, “is one on which nothing whatever happens.” Walter Lippmann described Coolidge’s philosophy as “Puritanism de luxe, in which it is possible to praise all the classic virtues while continuing to enjoy all the modern conveniences.”

Irving Stone wrote in 1949: “Calvin Coolidge believed the least government was the best government; he aspired to become the least president the country had ever had; he attained that desire”.

Coolidge has generally been regarded as something of a joke but some historians have tried hard to find something positive about this accidental, do-little president who rose without trace to the highest office in the USA. Some have suggested that he created his image deliberately as a campaign tactic. He himself gave some support to this theory telling Ethel Barrymore: “I think the American people want a solemn ass as a President and I think I will go along with them.” “The words of a President have an enormous weight,” he would later write, “and ought not to be used indiscriminately”.

Continuity

He was the first vice president to attend cabinet meetings although he kept a low profile in the administration. There has been no suggestion that he was personally corrupt as were many of Harding’s cabinet. Nevertheless, he kept most of them on because he believed that, having attained the presidency because of Harding’s death in office, he was morally obliged to retain his predecessor’s appointees and policies until he won an election in his own right. Many expected that he would not be on the ballot in 1924 but he was and won convincingly.

Coolidge strongly believed that the accused were entitled to a presumption of innocence. He felt that the Senate investigation of allegations relating to the Teapot Dome scandal would suffice although he did personally intervene in demanding the resignation of Attorney General Harry MDaugherty after he refused to cooperate with the congressional investigation. He was methodical in seeking detailed briefing on the wrongdoing with Harry A Slattery reviewing the facts with him, Harlan F Stone analysing the legal aspects for him and Senator William E Borah assessing and presenting the political factors.

Coolidge ensured continuity with most of Harding’s policies, including immigration restrictions. Just before the Republican Convention began, Coolidge signed into law the Revenue Act of 1924, which reduced the top marginal tax rate from 58% to 46%, as well as personal income tax rates across the board. He has often been derided for saying, “The business of America is business”. What he actually said was: “It is probable that a press which maintains an intimate touch with the business currents of the nation is likely to be more reliable than it would be if it were a stranger to these influences. After all, the chief business of the American people is business. They are profoundly concerned with buying, selling, investing and prospering in the world”.

Laissez Faire

Coolidge is admired by those who share his belief that that America and its business will prosper if the federal government does not interfere. Coolidge spoke in his inaugural address about lynching, child labour and low wages for women but did not attempt to solve these problems. One could not imagine a person less like Donald Trump than Coolidge. However, like Trump, he followed a “foxes in charge of the hen house”” approach to government departments. The Federal Trade Commission was given a new boss, William E Humphrey, who had constantly opposed its work. In 1925 the government received $677 million more than it spent but there were still drastic cuts. The Interior department saw its budget fall from $48 million in 1921 to $32 million in 1928.

 

Great Depression

Some claim that his do-nothing philosophy led to the Great Depression. Historian Robert Sobel points out “As Governor of Massachusetts, Coolidge supported wages and hours legislation, opposed child labour, imposed economic controls during World War I, favoured safety measures in factories, and even worker representation on corporate boards. Did he support these measures while president? No, because in the 1920s, such matters were considered the responsibilities of state and local governments.”

Under Coolidge, the stock market swelled into an enormous bubble, inflated by borrowed money. Coolidge managed to get out of office before the bubble burst but that does not absolve him of blame. “Nero fiddled,” HL Mencken said, “but Coolidge only snored.” Hugh Brogan says of Coolidge: “As president, he thought it was his duty to mind the store while the republicans ran the country as they saw fit. He intervened in the economic process only to veto the proposals of more active men in Congress … He was almost equally supine in foreign affairs.”

Model for Reagan?

Another historian, David Greenberg, argues that Coolidge was a model for Reagan. Like Reagan, he cut taxes, drastically reduced federal programmes and refused to compromise with striking government workers. He avoided entanglement with the World Court and the League of Nations. Coolidge liked to take a nap in the afternoon. Greenberg claims that Coolidge mastered radio in the same way that Reagan mastered television. To compare Silent Cal with the Great Communicator seems a bit of a stretch. A contemporary claimed that Coolidge could be silent in five languages. “If you keep dead still,” he advised Herbert Hoover, his successor, regarding visitors to the White House, “they will run down in three or four minutes. If you even cough or smile they will start up all over again.”

Achievements

The best that can be said is that John Calvin Coolidge Jr restored public confidence in the White House after the scandals of Harding’s presidency; he was very popular when he left office after deciding not to run for a second term. He told Chief Justice Harlan Stone, “It’s a pretty good idea to get out when they still want you.” Claud M Feuss wrote in his 1940 biography of Coolidge: “He embodied the spirit and hopes of the middle class, could interpret their longings and express their opinions. That he did represent the genius of the average is the most convincing proof of his strength.”

Coolidge’s retirement was relatively short, as he died at the age of 60 in January 1933, less than two months before his immediate successor, Herbert Hoover, another member of the Harding administration, left office.

 

 

 

My Dog Tosca

A version of this article appeared in Lakbima News on February 13 2011. For some unaccountable reason they chose to illustrate it with stock photos of fluffy cute puppies rather than use the pictures of the real Tosca which I provided. I restore the real Tosca here.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Some people have pets thrust upon them. I don’t mean in the Richard Gere kind of way (that story about a gerbil was an urban myth apparently). I mean that, although I did not have much experience of pets as a child, now I am surrounded by animals. A misguided aunt gave me a tortoise called Cuthbert whom I was too young to understand or appreciate. It seems that I killed him trying to wake him up not realising he was hibernating. As Dorothy Parker said on hearing of the death of President Calvin Coolidge, “How could they tell?”

We briefly had budgie that my father won in a raffle. It was very cranky, refused to speak or sing and pecked us whenever we went near it. One day we found it at the bottom of the cage, toes curled up. Perhaps its depression was induced by an identity crisis – he was called Paddy, as was my father (whose real name was Jeremiah), my uncle, my cousin and my goodself. I was too young to understand how cruel it is to keep a creature of flight in a cage. As William Blake almost wrote: “A budgerigar in a cage/Puts heaven in a rage”.

I tended to avoid animals after that but in later life they started coming after me. I was once sleeping with the windows open during a hot Wimbledon summer when I woke to find a black cat on my chest. This was Charlotte who had crawled across the roof from next door. After that, she often used to come through the back door and sit on my lap watching TV. Charlotte was particularly fond of football – one could see her head moving from side to side, as she intently followed the flow of the play.

My good lady wife suffered from a similar kind of animal magnetism, initially with cats. Bumble was dominating her household when I first met her but I understand Socks had preceded him as an uninvited guest. Bumble expired but soon Lucy, Uncle Monty and Maurice took up residence. Throughout our married life, we have found that there is some kind of feline equivalent of Facebook which allows the animals to know when a space has become available.

We took three cats with us to Ireland. When they departed in various ways, three Irish cats arrived to replace them. We brought those three with us to Sri Lanka. In Ireland, three disreputable dogs came to the house every day to take us for a walk.

Since coming to Sri Lanka over eight years ago, we have been inundated with dogs through no fault of our own. I had thought about writing something called “Reigning Cats and Dogs” but found that someone had already used that title. We first lived in rented accommodation in Bandarawela. The owners claimed to be animal lovers but threatened to poison a couple of street bitches that hung around the place and ordered their workers to beat them. Those people have since gone to their heavenly reward.

I noticed Tosca on my way to the kade. She had a horrible abscess hanging out of one eye but had a very benign expression. Dogs are not supposed to smile but she seemed to do so, beatifically. She seemed to take to us and, somewhat nervously started approaching our house. One night we noticed her sleeping in a drain near the house and she was not alone. A female companion, who later became known as Daisy, was huddling with her for warmth.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We gradually, in the face of disapproval from the owners and the neighbours, adopted these two as our own, although we could in no way believe that we owned them.

Unfortunately, Tosca, in particular, became prey to the rampaging males of the area and was often subjected to gang-rape. One rather timid fellow we named The Suitor, was doing the business when Hendrick, a disreputable one-eyed old roué who lived on the estate and considered he had prior rights, urinated on him in mid-coitus.

The result of all this attention was a litter of pups. One very small one died soon. Two of them were later found homes and given the names Lucky (a bad choice) and Sando. More of those later. Silky remained with us and is still here today in the home we moved to six years ago.

When the pups were first born, Tosca was perhaps not an ideal mother. One got the feeling that she thought a different kind of life was her due. She remained rather plump after the pregnancy and she reminded me of one of those 1950s blonde pneumatic movie stars like Mamie van Doren or Jayne Mansfield (I’m showing my age here, readers). She would often abandon the pups and come to hide from them with us in the sit-out. The little monsters always managed to find her and squawk and bite and scratch at her abused undercarriage.

Luckily, we knew a good vet who was able to perform surgery at our home to remove the abscess from the eye and to sterilise her. A lot of veterinary attention was needed. On one occasion, she seemed very ill and was hiding in the bushes. The vet thought she might have been poisoned. We took her to the Veterinary Faculty at Peradeniya where she was admitted for observation. Tosca loved motor travel. In fact, she demanded to get in whenever we went shopping. Children looked in and told their parents there was a beautiful dog in the car. She serenely took such compliments as her due. If she saw another dog passing by she would bark at it imperiously.

The journey to Peradeniya was not too difficult, but Tosca clearly did not think the accommodation was up to her standards. When we went to collect her after six days she was very huffy and walked briskly to a white car and demanded to be let in. Unfortunately, it was someone else’s car.

When we moved to our own house, Tosca, Daisy, Hendrick and Silky came with us. The intricate social dynamics of this ménage, particularly the antics of Tosca and Daisy in their lesbian love nest, must be the subject for another article (or scholarly thesis or porn movie).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Tosca continued to enjoy her status as motor-mutt with the plus of long walks through the tea estate and mud-baths, the dirtier the better. She is no longer with us. Like most street dogs, she once had a home with humans who abandoned her. She endured with dignity. She survived a long time after being diagnosed with mouth cancer. I am not ashamed of appearing sentimental when I say that I hope we added something to her life.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In the New York Review of Books, Catherine Schine reviewed an animated movie version of JR Ackerley’s wonderful memoir My Dog Tulip.

“What strained and anxious lives dogs must lead, so emotionally involved in the world of men, whose affections they strive endlessly to secure, whose authority they are expected unquestionably to obey, and whose mind they never can do more than imperfectly reach and comprehend. Stupidly loved, stupidly hated, acquired without thought, reared and ruled without understanding, passed on or ‘put to sleep’ without care, did they, I wondered, these descendants of the creatures who, thousands of years ago in the primeval forests, laid siege to the heart of man, took him under their protection, tried to tame him, and failed—did they suffer from headaches?’

My Dog Tosca

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Some people have pets thrust upon them. Although I did not have much experience of pets as a child, now I am surrounded by animals. A misguided aunt gave me a tortoise called Cuthbert whom I was too young to understand or appreciate. It seems that I killed him trying to wake him up not realising he was hibernating. As Dorothy Parker said on hearing of the death of President Calvin Coolidge, “How could they tell?”

We briefly had budgie that my father won in a raffle. It was very cranky, refused to speak or sing and pecked us whenever we went near it. One day we found it at the bottom of the cage, toes curled up. Perhaps its depression was induced by an identity crisis – he was called Paddy, as was my father (whose real name was Jeremiah), my uncle, my cousin and my goodself. I was too young to understand how cruel it is to keep a creature of flight in a cage. As William Blake almost wrote: “A budgerigar in a cage/Puts heaven in a rage”.

I tended to avoid animals after that but in later life they started coming after me . I was once sleeping with the windows open during a hot Wimbledon summer when I woke to find a black cat on my chest. This was Charlotte who had crawled across the roof from next door. After that, she often used to come through the back door and sit on my lap watching TV. Charlotte was particularly fond of football – one could see her head moving from side to side as she intently followed the flow of the play.

My good lady wife suffered from a similar kind of animal magnetism, initially with cats. Bumble was dominating her household when I first met her but I understand Socks had preceded him as an uninvited guest. Bumble expired but soon Lucy, Uncle Monty and Maurice took up residence.

Throughout our married life we have found that there is some kind of feline equivalent of Facebook which allows the animals to know when a space has become available. We took three cats with us to Ireland. When they departed in various ways, three Irish cats arrived to replace them. We brought those three with us to Sri Lanka. In Ireland, three disreputable dogs came to the house every day to take us for a walk.

Since coming to Sri Lanka, we have been inundated with dogs through no fault of our own. I had thought about writing something called “Reigning Cats and Dogs” but found that someone had already used that title.

We first lived in rented accommodation in Bandarawela. The owners claimed to be animal lovers but threatened to poison a couple of street bitches that hung around the place and ordered their workers to beat them. Those people have since gone to their heavenly reward.

I noticed Tosca on my way to the kade. She had a horrible abscess hanging out of one eye but had a very benign expression. Dogs are not supposed to smile but she seemed to do so, beatifically. She seemed to take to us and, somewhat nervously, started approaching our house. One night, we noticed her sleeping in a drain near the house and she was not alone. A female companion, who later became known as Daisy, was huddling with her for warmth. We gradually, in the face of disapproval from the owners and the neighbours, adopted these two as our own, although we could in no way believe that we owned them.

Unfortunately, Tosca, in particular, became prey to the rampaging males of the area and was often subjected to gang rape. One rather timid fellow we named The Suitor, was doing the business when Hendrick, a disreputable one-eyed old roué who lived on the estate and considered he had prior rights, urinated on him in mid-coitus.

The result of all this attention was a litter of pups. One very small one died soon. Two of them were later found homes and given the names Lucky (a bad choice) and Sando. More of those later. Silky remained with us and remained with us in our new home until she died eight years later in March 2013.

When the pups were first born, Tosca was perhaps not an ideal mother. One got the feeling that she thought a different kind of life was her due. She remained rather plump after the pregnancy and she reminded me of one of those 1950s blonde pneumatic movie stars like Mamie van Doren or Jayne Mansfield (I’m showing my age here, readers). She would often abandon the pups and come to hide from them with us in the sit-out. The little monsters always managed to find her and squawk and bite and scratch at her abused undercarriage.

Luckily, we knew a good vet who was able to perform surgery at our home to remove the abscess from the eye and to sterilise her. A lot of veterinary attention was needed. On one occasion she seemed very ill and was hiding in the bushes. The vet thought she might have been poisoned. We took her to the Veterinary Faculty at Peradeniya where she was admitted for observation.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Tosca loved motor travel. In fact, she demanded to get in whenever we went shopping. Children looked in and told their parents there was a beautiful dog in the car. She serenely took such compliments as her due. If she saw another dog passing by she would bark at it imperiously.

Tosca clearly did not think the accommodation at the Veterinary Faculty was up to her standards. When we went to collect her after six days she was very huffy and walked briskly to a white car and demanded to be let in. Unfortunately, it was not our  car.

When we moved to our own house, Tosca, Daisy, Hendrick and Silky came with us. The intricate social dynamics of this ménage, particularly the antics of Tosca and Daisy in their lesbian love nest, must be the subject for another article (or scholarly thesis or porn movie).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Tosca continued to enjoy her status as motor-mutt with the plus of long walks through the tea estate and mud-baths, the dirtier the better. She is no longer with us. Like most street dogs she once had a home with humans who abandoned her. She endured with dignity. She survived a long time after being diagnosed with mouth cancer.

I am not ashamed of appearing sentimental when I say that I hope we added something to her life.

In the New York Review of Books, Catherine Schine reviewed an animated movie version of JR Ackerley’s wonderful memoir My Dog Tulip. “What strained and anxious lives dogs must lead, so emotionally involved in the world of men, whose affections they strive endlessly to secure, whose authority they are expected unquestionably to obey, and whose mind they never can do more than imperfectly reach and comprehend. Stupidly loved, stupidly hated, acquired without thought, reared and ruled without understanding, passed on or ‘put to sleep’ without care, did they, I wondered, these descendants of the creatures who, thousands of years ago in the primeval forests, laid siege to the heart of man, took him under their protection, tried to tame him, and failed—did they suffer from headaches?’

Julie MacLusky

- Author and Blogger -

HoaxEye

A fake image is worth zero words

Poet's Corner

Poems, poets, poetry, writing, poetry challenges

Casual, But Smart

Pop Culture From An Old Soul

PN Review Blog

‘The most engaged, challenging and serious-minded of all the UK’s poetry magazines’ - Simon Armitage

The Manchester Review

The Manchester Review

Slugger O'Toole

Conversation, politics and stray insights

Stephen Jones: a blog

Daoism—lives—language—performance. And jokes

Minal Dalal

Spreading resources for potential living.