Monthly Archives: February 2017





A friend of mine took it upon himself to write a brief, eloquent letter of condolence this week to my wife in response to a death which has occurred in her immediate family.

Such letters are difficult to write.

His letter included the following sentence: “Losing a family member, no matter what the relationship, is always a difficult and jaring experience.”

I noted the word “jarring,” which he misspelled (consonants are usually doubled in words used thusly).

He used the word perfectly. Absolutely the right word to convey, in its figurative sense, his intended meaning.

The dictionary definition of jarring is as follows:

jarring (adjective)

1. incongruous in a striking or shocking way; clashing

2. causing a physical shock, jolt, or vibration (“the truck came to a jarring halt”)






Coincidentally, I got to thinking the other day about the legendary and colorful Boston Celtics play by play announcer Johnny Most.

He made up alliterative nicknames for his favorite players which were meant to convey — in Homeric fashion — something that made the player stand out, e.g.:

Big Bill (Russell);

Slippery Sam (Jones);


Jarrin’ John (Havlicek).

Jarrin’ John. A brilliant coinage. Perfectly suited to the player. Havlicek was wiry and was a perpetual motion machine; he seemed to be all over the court. One could imagine him all elbows and knees fighting for the ball, jostling for position.

Did I say jostling?

That word works too — in fact, it’s a closer match — but Jarrin’ John sounds better. Who else but Johnny Most would have come up with it?

Perhaps, somewhere, wherever the legendary, raspy voiced announcer is — “high above courtside” — he will manage to smile.



— Roger W. Smith

     February 2017






Sports announcer Johnny Most (1923- 1993) was the radio voice of the Boston Celtics of the National Basketball Association.

He was, according to a Wikipedia entry, “as well-known a figure in New England as Bill Russell, Bob Cousy and Larry Bird.”

I became a fan of his listening to Celtics games on the radio when I was in junior high school.

Most is remembered for his animated, hysterical call “Havlicek stole the ball!” during the final moments of Game 7 of the 1965 NBA Eastern Division Finals. The play sealed the victory for the Celtics. I was at that game.

High Above Courtside was the title of Most’s autobiography.


— Roger W. Smith

Walt Whitman’s watering hole





Pfaff’s beer cellar, a bohemian watering hole and a center of literary life in Manhattan in the mid-nineteenth century, was located at 647 Broadway in what is now called Lower Manhattan.  (At the time, most of Manhattan was below 14th Street.)

The building in which Pfaff’s was located still stands. It is now occupied by a deli (see photograph below) and is on Broadway between Bleecker and Bond Streets.  Access to the cramped cellar where Pfaff’s was located is still possible.



— Roger W. Smith

   February 2017; updated June 2019





–The vault at Pfaffs where the drinkers and laughers meet to eat and drink and carouse
While on the walk immediately overhead pass the myriad feet of Broadway
As the dead in their graves are underfoot hidden
And the living pass over them, recking not of them,
Laugh on laughers!
Drink on drinkers!
Bandy the jest!
Toss the theme from one to another!
Beam up–Brighten up, bright eyes of beautiful young men!
Eat what you, having ordered, are pleased to see placed before you–after the work of the day, now, with appetite eat,
Drink wine–drink beer–raise your voice,
Behold! your friend, as he arrives–Welcome him, where, from the upper step, he looks down upon you with a cheerful look
Overhead rolls Broadway–the myriad rushing Broadway
The lamps are lit–the shops blaze–the fabrics vividly are seen through the plate glass windows
The strong lights from above pour down upon them and are shed outside,
The thick crowds, well-dressed–the continual crowds as if they would never end
The curious appearance of the faces–the glimpse just caught of the eyes and expressions, as they flit along,
(You phantoms! oft I pause, yearning, to arrest some one of you!
Oft I doubt your reality–whether you are real–I suspect all is but a pageant.)
The lights beam in the first vault–but the other is entirely dark
In the first


— “The Two Vaults,” unpublished poem by Walt Whitman








A GLIMPSE through an interstice caught,
Of a crowd of workmen and drivers in a bar-room around the
stove late of a winter night, and I unremark’d seated in a
Of a youth who loves me and whom I love, silently approaching
and seating himself near, that he may hold me by the hand,
A long while amid the noises of coming and going, of drinking
and oath and smutty jest,
There we two, content, happy in being together, speaking little,
perhaps not a word.



— Walt Whitman, “A Glimpse”








I am glad to see you are engaged in such good work at Washington. It must be even more refreshing than to sit by Pfaff’s privy and eat sweet-breads and drink coffee, and listen to the intolerable wit of the crack-brains. I happened in there the other night, and the place smelt as atrociously as ever. Pfaff looked as of yore


— John Swinton to Walt Whitman, February 25, 1863



“After the publication of “Leaves of Grass” Mr. Whitman became acquainted with most all of the younger generation of literary men across the river in New York, and especially with those who eventually enrolled themselves under the good fellowship of old Henry Clapp, who had been living a free and easy life in Paris and longed to establish a Bohemia in New York like Henry Murger’s “Vie de Boheme” in Paris. The headquarters — still well remembered — was at Pfaff’s restaurant in Broadway, near Bond st.

“I used to go to Pfaff’s nearly every night,” Mr. Whitman went on. “It used to be a pleasant place to go in the evening after taking a bath and finishing the work of the day. When it began to grow dark Pfaff would politely invite everybody who happened to be sitting in the cave he had under the sidewalk to some other part of the restaurant. There was a long table extending the length of this cave; and as soon as the Bohemians put in an appearance Henry Clapp would take a seat at the head of this table. I think there was as good talk around that table as took place anywhere in the world. Clapp was a very witty man. Fitz James O’Brien was very bright. Ned Wilkins, who used to be the dramatic critic of the Herald, was another bright man. There were between twenty-five and thirty journalists, authors, artists and actors who made up the company that took possession of the cave under the sidewalk. Pfaff himself I took a dislike to the first time I ever saw him. But my subsequent acquaintance with him taught me not to be too hasty in making up my mind about people on first sight. He turned out to be a very agreeable, kindly man in many ways. He was always kind to beggars and gave them food freely. Then he was easily moved to sympathise with any one who was in trouble and was generous with his money. I believe he was at that time the best judge of wine of anybody in this country.”
— interview with Walt Whitman by F.B.S., Brooklyn Eagle, July 11, 1886








hans-deli-grocery-july-2016 (3)



Han’s Deli Grocery, 645 Broadway,  New York, NY, through within which one can can gain access to the former beer cellar (photograph by Roger W. Smith).

Walt Whitman’s prescriptions for healthy living



Walt Whitman’s health manual, “Manly Health and Training” (1858) has recently been published. It was discovered in 2012 by a graduate student at the University of Houston, Zachary Turpin.

“Manly Health and Training,” written under the pseudonym Mose Velsor, was published in installments in the New York Atlas in 1858. (Van Velsor was the maiden name of Whitman’s mother.)

Whitman’s health manifesto contains advice and musings on topics such as diet, exercise, grooming, alcohol, dancing, sports, and even sex.

“[S]ome of the advice, like the poetry, can often sound particularly modern, while at the same time preserving the quaintness of its age.” (

The following are some quoted passages from the book on topics addressed by Whitman where his views are in accord with my own. I was surprised to find how often this was the case.


— Roger W. Smith

     February 2017




To spring up in the morning with light feelings, and the disposition to raise the voice in some cheerful song—to feel a pleasure in going forth into the open air, and in breathing it—to sit down to your food with a keen relish for it—to pass forth, in business or occupation, among men, without distrusting them, but with a friendly feeling toward all, and finding the same feeling returned to you—to be buoyant in all your limbs and movements by the curious result of perfect digestion, (a feeling as if you could almost fly, you are so light,)—to have perfect command of your arms, legs, &c., able to strike out, if occasion demand, or to walk long distances, or to endure great labor without exhaustion—to have year after year pass on and on, and still the same calm and equable state of all the organs, and of the temper and mentality—no wrenching pains of the nerves or joints—no pangs, returning again and again, through the sensitive head, or any of its parts—no blotched and disfigured complexion—no prematurely lame and halting gait—no tremulous shaking of the hand, unable to carry a glass of water to the mouth without spilling it—no film and bleared-red about the eyes, nor bad taste in the mouth, nor tainted breath from the stomach or gums—none of that dreary, sickening, unmanly lassitude, that, to so many men, fills up and curses what ought to be the best years of their lives, without good works to show for the same—but instead of such a living death, which, (to make a terrible but true confession,) so many lead, uncomfortably realizing, through their middle age, more than the distresses and bleak impressions of death, stretched out year after year, the result of early ignorance, imprudence, and want of wholesome training—instead of that, to find life one long holiday, labor a pleasure, the body a heaven, the earth a paradise, all the commonest habits ministering to delight—and to have this continued year after year, and old age even, when it arrives, bringing no change to the capacity for a high state of manly enjoyment—these are what we would put before you, reader, as a true picture, illustrating the whole drift of our remarks. ….



Walking, or some form of it, is nature’s great exercise—so far ahead of all others as to make them of no account in comparison. In modern times, and among all classes of people, the cheap and rapid methods of traveling almost everywhere in vogue, have certainly made a sad depreciation in the locomotive powers of the race.
We have elsewhere mentioned the formation of the habit of walking; this is to be one of the main dependencies of the in-door employee. It does not tire, like other exercises—but, with practice, may be continued almost without limit.







In that word is the great antiseptic—the true medicine of humanity … there is no withstanding the modern requirements of life, which compel myriads of men to pass a great portion of the time employed in confined places, factories and the like; and that, this being accepted, the health and vigor of the body must be carried to a high pitch, and can be. Still, it is to be understood that, as a counterweight to the effects of confined air and employment, much, very much reliance is to be placed on inhaling the air, and in walking, or otherwise gently exercising, as much as possible out-doors.

Few know what virtue there is in the open air. Beyond all charms or medications, it is what renews vitality, and, as much as the nightly sleep, keeps the system from wearing out and stagnating upon itself.







A gentle and moderate refreshment at night is admissible enough; and, indeed, if accompanied with the convivial pleasure of friends, the cheerful song, or the excitement of company, and the wholesome stimulus of surrounding good fellowship, is every way to be commended.

But it must be borne in mind that, as a general thing, the stomach needs rest as much as the other parts of the system—as much as the brain, the hands, or the feet. The arrangements of every individual, for his eating, ought to be so prepared, if possible, as to make his appetite always possess keenness and readiness in the morning. There is not a surer sign that things are going wrong than that which is indicated by no want or relish for food, soon after rising, or in the early part of the day.

Portions of heavy food, or large quantities of any kind, taken at evening, or any time during the night, attract an undue amount of the nervous energy to the stomach, and give an overaction to the feelings and powers, which is sure to be followed the next day by more or less bad reactionary consequences; and, if persevered in, must be a strong constitution indeed which does not break down.





The drink we recommend, and– not too much of that, is water only.





In by far the vast majority of cases, … medicines do a great deal more hurt than good … indeed, they often lay the foundation for a permanent derangement of health, destroy comfort, and shorten life.… to state the matter in plain terms, there can be very little, if any, wholesome effect produced upon almost any case of disease … from the mere taking of some more or less powerful drug into the stomach, to have whatever effect it may produce upon the bowels, blood, nerves, brain, &c. The more powerful it is, the worse it is.







The habit of rising early is not only of priceless value in itself, as a means toward, and concomitant of health, but is of equal importance from what the habit carries with it, apart from itself. … Summer and winter, he who intends to have his physique in good condition must rise early.

This is an immutable law. It is one of the most important points of thorough training, and is to be relied on as much as anything else.





The game of Base-Ball, now very generally practiced, is one of the very best of out-door exercises; the same may be said of cricket—and, in short, of all games which involve the using of the arms and legs.

thoughts about Elvis (with a nod to Monsieur Proust)



Détestez la mauvaise musique, ne la méprisez pas. Comme on la joue, la chante bien plus, bien plus passionnément que la bonne, bien plus qu’elle s’est peu à peu remplie du rêve et des larmes des hommes. Qu’elle vous soit par là vénérable. Sa place, nulle dans l’histoire de l’Art, est immense dans l’histoire sentimentale des sociétés. Le respect, je ne dis pas l’amour, de la mauvaise musique, n’est pas seulement une forme de ce qu’on pourrait appeler la charité du bon goût ou son scepticisme, c’est encore la conscience de l’importance du rôle social de la musique. Combien de mélodies, du nul prix aux yeux d’un artiste, sont au nombre des confidents élus par la foule des jeunes gens romanesques et des amoureuses. Que de “bagues d’or”, de “Ah! Reste longtemps endormie”, dont les feuillets sont tournés chaque soir en tremblant par des mains justement célèbres, trempés par les plus beaux yeux du monde de larmes dont le maître le plus pur envierait le mélancolique et voluptueux tribut – confidentes ingénieuses et inspirées qui ennoblissent le chagrin et exaltent le rêve, et en échange du secret ardent qu’on leur confie donnent l’enivrante illusion de la beauté. Le peuple, la bourgeoisie, l’armée, la noblesse, comme ils ont les mêmes facteurs porteurs du deuil qui les frappe ou du bonheur qui les comble, ont les mêmes invisibles messagers d’amour, les mêmes confesseurs bien-aimés. Ce sont les mauvais musiciens. Telle fâcheuse ritournelle que toute oreille bien née et bien élevée refuse à l’instant d’écouter, a reçu le trésor de milliers d’âmes, garde le secret de milliers de vies, dont elle fut l’inspiration vivante, la consolation toujours prête, toujours entrouverte sur le pupitre du piano, la grâce rêveuse et l’idéal. tels arpèges, telle “rentrée” ont fait résonner dans l’âme de plus d’un amoureux ou d’un rêveur les harmonies du paradis ou la voix même de la bien-aimée. Un cahier de mauvaises romances, usé pour avoir trop servi, doit nous toucher, comme un cimetière ou comme un village. Qu’importe que les maisons n’aient pas de style, que les tombes disparaissent sous les inscriptions et les ornements de mauvais goût. De cette poussière peut s’envoler, devant une imagination assez sympathique et respectueuse pour taire un moment ses dédains esthétiques, la nuée des âmes tenant au bec le rêve encore vert qui leur faisait pressentir l’autre monde, et jouir ou pleurer dans celui-ci.


— Marcel Proust. “Eloge de la mauvaise musique,” Les plaisirs et les jours, Chapitre XIII



Detest bad music, but do not despite it. As it is played, and especially sung, much more passionately than good music, it has much more than the latter been impregnated, little by little, with man’s tears. Hold it therefore in veneration. Its place, nonexistent in the history of art, is immense in the sentimental history of nations. The respect — I do not say love — for bad music is not only a form of what might be called the charity of good taste, or its skepticism; it is also the consciousness of the importance of music’s social role. How many tunes, worthless in the eyes of an artist, are numbered among the chosen confidants of a multitude of romantic young men and girls in love. How many “bague d’or,” how many “Ah! reste longtemps endormi,” whose pages are turned tremblingly every evening by hands justly famous, drenched with the tears of the moist beautiful eyes of the world, whose melancholy and voluptuous tribute would be the envy of the purest musicians — ingenious and inspired confidants that enable sorrow and exalt dreams and, in exchange for the ardent secret confided to them, give the intoxicating illusion of beauty. The people, the bourgeoisie, the army, the nobility, all of them, just as they have the same mail carriers, purveyors of afflicting sorrow or of crowning joy, have the same invisible messengers of love, the same cherished confessors. Bad musicians, certainly. Some miserable ritournelle that every well-born and well-trained ear instantly refuses to listen to receives the tribute of millions of souls, guards the secret of millions of lives for whom it has been the living inspiration, the ever ready consolation always open on the piano-rack, the dreamy charm and the ideal. Certain arpeggios, a certain “rentrée,” have made the soul of many a lover vibrate with the harmonies of Paradise or the voice of the beloved himself. A collection of bad Romances worn with constant use should touch us as a cemetery touches us, or a village. What does it matter if the houses have no style, if the tombstones are hidden by inscriptions and ornaments in execrable taste? Before an imagination sympathetic and respectful enough to silence for a moment its aesthetic scorn, from this dust that flock of souls may rise holding in their beaks the still verdant dream which has given them a foretaste of the other world, and made them rejoice or weep in this one.



— Marcel Proust, “In Praise of Bad Music,” Pleasures and Regrets, Chapter XIII



The following is the text of an exchange of emails I had today with a woman I became acquainted with on Facebook. The reason for us becoming Facebook friends is an ancestral connection, going way back. I noticed the similarity of her last name to my middle name, which is not a common one and which was a family name.



— Roger W. Smith

   February 19, 2017








I am Southern to the core, I was born in Mississippi. My father’s job moved us to Texas when I was nine and I’ve been here ever since.


Roger Smith

I grew up in New England. Loved it. Strong regional identity and much history and beauty. Great towns, each unique. I have always thought I would love the Deep South. Mississippi. Where Elvis came from!



Elvis is my very favorite!

I was in high school when he died and took it very hard. I took my daughter on a “girls’ road trip” and drove to Memphis and toured Graceland on my 50th birthday. It was on the VERY top of my bucket list.

I have always wanted to see New England in the fall. I’ve heard there is nothing quite like it.

As for the deep South, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

We have a “sort of” fall here, but no winter at all.

The heat and humidity in the summers here are brutal.


Roger Smith

Yes, I have heard the Southern summers are brutal. I love being able to experience the four seasons. Yes, the New England falls were gorgeous. I miss them. Nothing can equal them.

I became a rabid fan of Elvis in elementary school. That dates me. He hardly ever sang or wrote an original song, but he had an unmatched voice. I still love to hear him.



I grew up with him. LOVE everything he did. I guess if anyone could say I have an obsession, it is with Elvis.

He had his problems, but his talent was genuine and pure and his kindness and generosity were both legendary. Such a shame that his life ended so tragically. There are hardly any entertainers today that can pull off that kind of voice without the aid of synthesizers, etc.


Roger Smith

Agree. I read a story a long time ago in some magazine. Elvis was staying somewhere — I think he was at poolside — when a young girl somehow gained entrance and started to approach him. His handlers tried to whisk her away. No, he said, let her stay, and he was kind to her.

He didn’t try to duck military service. He was well liked and didn’t expect special treatment.

I think some of the early songs were among his best, although there were some very good later ones as well. I love “Can’t Help Falling in Love.”

It seems that “King Creole” may have been his best film.



I do love “King Creole,” especially since New Orleans is familiar to me.

And, yes, that song is GREAT.


Roger Smith

I bet he caught the flavor of the city. I have never been there.

Yes, I love “Wise men say …” I think it was from the soundtrack of “Blue Hawaii.”



It was from “Blue Hawaii” — another of his movies that I liked. And, New Orleans is a world of its own. It’s not for everyone, but it’s amazing. Basically, Louisiana is unlike all the other states.


Roger Smith

Elvis’s voice was very deep and masculine, but at the same time mellifluous.








a scholarly putdown



A friend told me a story the other day.

He was given the assignment of writing a poem as a sophomore in high school.

His teacher handed it back to him the next day and made the following comment: “Mr. ______, there just aren’t enough rhyming words in the English language for you, are there?”

“He meant it in a friendly way,” my friend said. “But he was saying, I have a pretty good feeling you are not meant to be a poet.”

— Roger W. Smith

     February 2017


“how about leaving the past alone?”










Yale Will Drop John Calhoun’s Name From Building

The New York Times

February 11, 2017



The article indicates that on February 11, Yale University announced — after years of debate — that it would change the name of one its residential colleges named after former U.S. senator and vice president John C. Calhoun. Calhoun, a nineteenth century Yale alumnus, was an ardent supporter of slavery.

The school is renaming Calhoun College after trailblazing computer scientist Grace Murray Hopper.

The “controversy over former Vice President John C. Calhoun’s legacy that had simmered for years and boiled over with campus protests in 2015,” the article noted.

“We have a strong presumption against renaming buildings on this campus,” Yale president Peter Salovey announced. “I have been concerned all along and remain concerned that we don’t do things that erase history. So renamings are going to be exceptional.”

Salovey said the case was exceptional because Calhoun’s principal legacy is at odds with the university’s values and mission.






A question.

How is it decided which cases are exceptional?

How about paragons of civic virtue such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. They both were SLAVE OWNERS.

Yes, one might say (whether rightly is another matter), but Calhoun was WORSE.

True, it seems. But, according to “Ten Facts About Washington & Slavery,” a posting on a website maintained by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association

Sources offer differing insight into Washington’s behavior as a slave owner. On one end of the spectrum, Richard Parkinson, an Englishman who lived near Mount Vernon, once reported that “it was the sense of all his [Washington’s] neighbors that he treated [his slaves] with more severity than any other man.” Conversely, a foreign visitor traveling in America once recorded that George Washington dealt with his slaves “far more humanely than do his fellow citizens of Virginia.” What is clear is that Washington frequently utilized harsh punishment against the enslaved population, including whippings and the threat of particularly taxing work assignments. Perhaps most severely, Washington could sell a slave to a buyer in the West Indies, ensuring that the person would never see their family or friends at Mount Vernon again. Washington conducted such sales on several occasions.

Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland was founded with the support of George Washington himself. Should the school change its name? Where is the campus outrage over his slaveholding past?

Then we have Washington University in St. Louis, which was named after George Washington, and The George Washington University in Washington, DC.

What about the city itself? To ensure that no one is offended, should we change the name of our nation’s capitol from Washington to a “generic,” anodyne name such as Capitol City? A bland name with no emotional connotation. One hundred percent guaranteed not to offend. Protest proof!





The past is the past. With all its glories. And all its horrors. May I make a suggestion? How about leaving the past alone? We should not try to alter it, historically speaking, nor erase from public memory the names of persons who played a prominent part in history, whether for good or for bad.



— Roger W. Smith

     February 2017







     — Of all the southern statesmen, we most admire Mr. Calhoun (barring certain items of opinion–not of much importance, however). He has an uprightness, an absence of trickery in politics, in his make. Without verging the least bit on rudeness of favoritism, he is “a plain blunt man that loves his friends.” He has a way, too, of amplifying and generalizing–a way that our politicians would do passing well to get in, all of them. He has a way of reducing things to first principles–by tests of right and constitutional correctness. Then he is sincere, above-board, not swayable by fear, selfishness, or favor. He is an honest politician.

— Walt Whitman, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, December 10, 1846

a fleeting glimpse of Abraham Maslow



I had a cup of coffee with Student Religious Liberals (SRL), an organization I belonged to briefly in the mid-1960’s while attending Brandeis University.

“Cup of coffee” is baseball lingo for a short time spent by a minor league player at the major league level.

I joined SRL, the organization for Unitarian youth of college age, in the mid-1960‘s after “graduating” from Liberal Religious Youth (LRY), an autonomous, youth run organization in which I was very involved in in my high school years.

During orientation at Brandeis, I met Randy Becker, a fellow student, who went on to become a Unitarian minister and a professor at several theological schools.

Randy encouraged me to attend an SRL meeting one Sunday evening on the Brandeis campus.

I would say that there were between five and ten people at the meeting, which lasted an hour or two. After a while, someone entered the room unobtrusively and took a seat near the back of the room: an adult with a quiet demeanor and kindly face. He sat there in a scrunched position for the rest of the meeting but did not speak.

Someone finally realized that it was Abraham Maslow. As the meeting was ending, she said, “Professor Maslow, we are indeed honored by your presence. Thank you for attending. Would you like to say anything?”

“No,” he answered, “I was happy to be able to attend. It was very interesting. Thank you for having me.” His manner was totally unpretentious and self-effacing.

— Roger W. Smith

     February 2017



Addendum: Abraham Maslow (1908-1970), one of the founders of humanistic psychology, founded the psychology department at Brandeis University and taught there during the 1950’s and 60’s.





Abraham Maslow in Office at Brooklyn College

Abraham Maslow