Wednesday, December 7, 2011

How I Met Dorothy Parker Guest Post by J.J. Murphy

It seems like I’ve known Dorothy Parker all my life, much the same way you seem to have always known, say, the taste of lemonade. You don’t remember when you first tried that bittersweet drink, you’ve just always known what it tastes like.

Dorothy Parker, as you may know, was equally bittersweet. A writer and poet who came to fame in the Roaring 20s in New York, she was as well known for her clever wisecracks as for her writing. Mrs. Parker was a charter member of the Algonquin Round Table, which was a group of like-minded writers, editors and critics who met daily for lunch at the Algonquin Hotel. The group became famous for their funny quips and insults, so much so that the hotel manager installed a round table placed at “center stage” of the hotel’s restaurant, as a draw for more patrons.

Okay, so I’ve never met Dorothy Parker in person—she died shortly before I was born—but I got to know her and her witty sayings when I was a child. And I’ve been bumping into her ever since.

I first heard Mrs. Parker’s most famous line when I was in elementary school. A teacher said to a bespectacled schoolgirl, “Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses.” The teacher was speaking in an ironic and empowering way (at least I certainly hope so). But then again, I don’t recall any boy making a pass at her.

As I got older, my uncle from New York introduced me to the other members of the Algonquin Round Table, with such phrases as Robert Benchley’s line, “Let’s get you out of those wet clothes and into a dry martini.”

It wasn’t until college that I was officially initiated into Mrs. Parker’s poetry and short stories. You may be familiar with “Big Blonde,” an award-winning short story that shows Mrs. Parker’s talents extended beyond clever quips. Later, I got to know her drama and book criticism: “This is not a book to be tossed aside lightly; it should be thrown with great force,” and “Dashiell Hammett is as American as a sawed-off shotgun.”

But her one piece that has stuck with me was just a short little thing, like the lady herself, but with a powerful kick. It’s “Résumé,” which is a brief list of ways to commit suicide and how they all come up short: “...Gas smells awful / Nooses give / Guns aren’t lawful / You might as well live.”


Very well written.
Keep up the good work!
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