Remember the L.A. Times Columnist, Jack Smith?
Last week I found one of Smith’s old columns in a cookbook drawer. Don’t ask what it was doing there. I haven’t the faintest idea.
Jack Smith was a gentle humorist who loved words. Like thousands of his readers, I relished his words, no matter what he was trying to say. This column that suddenly appeared in my hands is about the boxer, Leon Spinks. What intrigued Jack Smith was a quote by Spinks headlined in the paper’s Sports section. The quote reads as follows:
Spinks: I AIN’T DENYING THERE WASN’T NO BOTTLE.”
Smith continues: “You can wait a long time for a triple negative that makes perfect sense, and I hope it is not thought that I am making fun of Spinks. Actually, I cherish his remark as an example of the vigor and adaptability of the language. He had something to say, and he got it said.”
After explaining that Spinks had bested boxing champion, Muhammad Ali, possibly as a result of stimulation by a drug he had taken from “a little black bottle,” Smith comments further. “Pedants who insist on logic in language might have a hard time with ‘I ain’t denying there wasn’t no bottle.’ I have tried to dissect it, to see where it comes out, but it has too many turns. Actually, if the word denying is taken as a negative, it is a quadruple negative, not simply a triple, and a quadruple negative is beyond the powers of even the most devious British playwright. Playwrights use the language. People like Spinks invent it.”
To tell the truth, this week I, too, tried dissecting Spinks’ comment, and I never did get it to make sense. In the meantime I was reminded of all the Jack Smith columns I found charming. In one of them he says (and here I’m quoting from wildly imperfect memory), “People have accused me of hiding behind the moniker Jack Smith, implying that my REAL name must be something else. Why does anyone think I would choose such an unimaginative pseudonym, when the world is full of so many better names . . . like Gaylord Gallagher, or Winston Wainwright, or Christopher Collingwood. Against all these elegant possibilities, do they believe I would voluntarily choose Jack Smith?”
In another column, Smith goes for a nature walk and claims that he saw (obligated by specificity) a bird called a Grackle. Ornithologists were quick to point out that no grackle has been seen West of the Mississippi. With that, Smith took off on a back-and-forth multi-column banter with these experts, finally claiming he’d seen two grackles. He defended himself beautifully. “If they think I hadn’t actually seen one grackle, I might as well claim I’ve seen two.”
One of my fondest memories is the time I appeared on the same library program with Jack Smith—who afterwards agreed to write a blurb for my memoir, “Higher Than Eagles.” Which he did.
A fascination with words has always defined certain members of our family. A lot of us do crossword puzzles or eagerly compete in the word game, Boggle. Two sons have contributed chapters to several of my books, while my husband Rob has written three books of his own.
I especially love what my lawyer-son, Kenny, came up with this Christmas. As the new grandfather of a two-year-old child, Ken decided the little boy—barely talking--should call Kenny GrandDude.
Which sends new echoes up the familial ladder. Logically, I suppose this now makes Rob, well . . . the Great GrandDude.
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