SHREWSBURY, Massachusetts – Back in the radio days there was a very good comedy called “Life With Luigi” about an immigrant trying to make a life for himself in his adopted country, and one of the running gags was his inability to think of a clever retort when someone sarcastically put him down, always thinking of things that he should have said after the fact though of course too late. I could and still can relate to that since I’ve never been glib enough to think of responses on the spur of the moment, but later on have come up with the most appropriate come-backs when obsessing over my lack of adroitness.
Real salesmen and politicians have the ability to always come up with clever responses at the drop of a hat and I’ve always known that those self-help books on salesmanship are just a rip-off since if you’re ever at a loss for the right thing to say and need a book for advice, you’re in the wrong business. Persuasiveness is an innate quality and cannot be learned… you either have it or you don’t.
A case in point. When I was in my late 40s I bought a Datsun 280ZX, a stunningly sleek silver and gray 2-seater sports car that was truly a thing of beauty. You could say it was my mid-life crisis car but I couldn’t care less since it was a terrific automobile that both my wife and I really enjoyed to ride in and drive. Our kids were gone, the dog had died, and we were footloose and fancy free.
One day an acquaintance of mine had evidently seen my new vehicle for he commented that his son (a boy in his late teens) would love to drive a car like that. Of course I immediately recognized the remark as a sarcastic jab at what the guy perceived as my immaturity, certainly instigated by envy, but despite my astuteness I was at a loss for something to reply and just let the criticism slide.
Naturally the snide remark bothered me and much later thought of a perfect comeback, though well past the time to do any good. I should have agreed with his observation and said that it’s a shame when people get too old to enjoy life and lose the wonder of youth. I know he would have gotten my meaning.
Yet another time was when a different acquaintance, a typical Yankee fan and Red Sox hater, cast aspersion against the Sox for being the last team in the Majors to sign a Black player. The criticism was true and well-deserved, but coming from a Yankee fan it warranted a response which I unfortunately couldn’t come up with. Again being tormented by the needling I dwelled upon the fact until finally thinking of the perfect rejoinder.
While the Red Sox didn’t integrate until Pumpsie Green joined the club in 1959, the Yankees didn’t sign their first Black, Elston Howard, until 1955, a full eight years after Jackie Robinson broke the color line with the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Yanks were hardly pinnacles of virtue and more to the point, while the entire state of Massachusetts only had 111,000 Black citizens in 1960, Harlem alone had 630,000 Blacks located only a few miles from Yankee Stadium. While it certainly wasn’t right, the Red Sox really had no incentive to sign a Black while the Yankees had a readymade fan base sitting right around the corner.
A more embarrassing time was when an older cousin of mine got a nose job, something she truly needed and which enhanced her appearance many fold. My wife and I went to visit her in the hospital but when she unexpectedly asked how she looked I was dumbfounded for the proper thing to say. The thought that raced through my mind was that if I said she now looked great, which she did, I’d be inferring that she looked ugly before. On shaky ground I lied that she really looked no different, but quickly added that I had always liked the way she looked. Thankfully she gave me a broad smile, obviously knowing that I was lying only to save her feelings. After we left my wife explained that I should have said my cousin looked wonderful, giving her assurance that the pain and expense was worth it.
Of course I instinctively knew my wife was right and felt like kicking myself for not being able to see the obvious. I truly envy people who always seem to know the right things to say, but I guess that’s why I write. It gives me plenty of time to think and also affords the opportunity to go back and edit any mistakes before publishing. Good thing.