Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Scaramouche in the Sunshine.

It's one of those rare days in New York. The sun--even the sun at 7:30 AM seems high in the sky. The air has a hint of autumn in it, and the lighting is like the kind you pay for when you hire a great director.

People, the millions of people you see walking their dogs, getting their dry-cleaning, filling up on caffeine, running for a bus, slumping to the train, or hustling to a cab, seem happier and more alive on a day such as today.

Even with the arrested-penile-development heads of two countries, North Korea and the United States, rattling nuclear missiles at each other, the world seems to wear a smirk, bordering on a smile.

I think about Rafael Sabatini's legendary opening of his novel "Scaramouche." "He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad."

No one's read Scaramouche for probably 70 years. Yet that sentence, on a day like today, when so much of New York seems to be smiling while fallout potentially falls out our way, killing further our earth, not to mention hundreds of thousands or millions of innocents, caught in a battle of egos between two diseased immature psychopaths, yet that single sentence, which I committed to memory twenty years ago, seems more adroit and resonant than ever.

Flip taught me the line. 

Flip worked at the old Gotham Book Mart--the bastion of civility in the middle of the Diamond District, until it closed for real-estate profit 15 years ago. Flip accosted me when I was doing research on a book I was writing on the history of Jewish pirates.

"You haven't read Sabatini?" he accused. 

"No. I had a cruddy childhood," I therapied.

"He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad," he recited. "It's up there--if it doesn't surpass--'Call me Ishmael.'"

I bought two copies of Scaramouche, and read the opening over and again.

New York used to be the kind of place where even with a Master's degree in English Literature from Columbia University you were less well-read than half the denizens of a dozen good bookstores.

I went through Sabatini like the Nazis through Poland, taking no literary prisoners. I read The Sea Hawk, the Black Swan, Captain Blood and more. I read Scaramouch and saw the fairly perfect movie with Stewart Granger, I think, in a pair of truly absurd spandex leggings. 

He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad.

We could all use a bit of Scaramouche, today, on this beautiful day on the edge of the world being blown to smithereens by two immature madmen. 

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