Opinion » Bill Cope

Say That Again?

And what's your point, anyway?


"Pataphysics: The science of imaginary solutions ... will explain the universe supplementary to this one." (Alfred Jarry, 1873-1907)

Another thing I do is collect good quotes. They're scattered all over. They're everywhere you look if you're looking in the right places, and all you have to do is pick them up. I drop them in my Good Quotes file and save them. It's like finding marbles some little kid lost decades ago, only instead of ending up in a jam jar in the garage, they end up in my computer.

Some of them I get from Bobby Wolff's bridge column. He publishes six columns a week, and he leads off every one with a quote. The other day, he introduced a two no-trump hand with this one: "Every advantage in the past is judged in the light of the final issue." (Demosthenes, 384-322 B.C.) I didn't file that one away. Frankly, I didn't think it was a very good quote. It's a good idea, sure. It's like saying you can't know how good or bad anything is--from a plan to a child, from to a presidency to a movie--until you see how it turns out.

However, I think the idea could have been stated better. Maybe in the original Greek, it had a little more of that spit and sparkle I look for. In translation, though, it comes off a tad flat, don't you think? And I mean no offense to Bobby Wolff. I suppose when you have to come up with six quotes a week, you can't afford to get too bogged down with the spit and sparkle.

So the reason I collect them is that I hope to use them later. Like in one of my own columns, see? I have always admired the practice of one writer quoting another, generally someone more famous or more prestigious, in context with what he or she is writing. It adds a splash of class, doesn't it? Like topping off a clean shave with a snappy cologne. And believe me, it sure doesn't hurt to be trying to make a point and having, say, Aristotle or Mark Twain on your side.

For instance, as soon as I found the following: "If we begin with certainties, we will end in doubt; but if we begin with doubts and bear them patiently, we may end in certainty" (Francis Bacon, 1561-1626), I knew if I ever wrote another column about how stupidly ideological the Republican Party has become, I could start off by showing that Bacon and me are mental blood brothers, or something like that. The Sir Francis Bacon. It's like co-writing an essay on gravity with Isaac Newton, or an article on dieting with Oprah.

Unfortunately, I not only forget which quotes I have stashed away in my Good Quotes file, but more often than not, I forget I even have a Good Quotes file. Since I picked up that Bacon quote, I have probably written... oh, I don't know... maybe 30 columns on how stupidly ideological the Republican Party has become, and never once remembered I had Sir Bacon at my back.

Here's another one: "Such labored nothings, in so strange a style, amaze the unlearned, and make the learned smile." (Alexander Pope, 1688-1744) Now, who's that make you think of? Glenn Beck? Sarah Palin? The entire slate of Republican presidential candidates in last year's campaign? I could have used it on any or all of them, had I only remembered it was tucked away in my computer.

But no, dummy me. I totally forgot that I had on tap something witty that Alexander Pope had to say about idiots long before Michele Bachmann or Donald Trump were around to demonstrate his point.

And speaking of points, by now you may be wondering what mine is. Well frankly, friends, so am I. The truth is, I have entered my summer doldrums. It happens every year, usually around mid-August, when so many indicators are indicating summer is packing up for its annual trip south. This mood is typified by a marked lack of interest in what, as a political columnist, I should be interested in. In fact, I find myself not giving a rat's fanny about anything that doesn't involve me being outside, looking and smelling and hearing outside stuff while I still can, before the summer folds into all the other summers that have come and gone.

Get it? No? OK, I didn't say it very well. I meant it to be, you know, poetic. Or something like that. But it came out sort of flat and dull, not a whiff of that spit and sparkle I look for. And worst of all, now you're wondering what the hell I'm talking about, am I wrong?

Ah, but looky here! Look at what I've found in my Good Quotes file. Maybe this will clear things up: "I think that by retaining one's childhood love of such things as trees, fishes, butterflies and ... toads, one makes a peaceful and decent future a little more probable." (George Orwell, 1903-1950)

And isn't that what separates summers from the long gray interims? Trees and fishes? Butterflies and toads? I would add fresh tomatoes and new corn and neighbors walking by with their kids and dogs, not having to put on socks, and listening to birds sing even after the sun has gone down.

So then, in lieu of a point of my own, I hereby endorse Orwell's "peaceful and decent future" as the point to this column. It's what I meant to say all along, even before I started digging through my computer looking desperately for an idea to write about and stumbled upon my Good Quotes file. You can believe it or not, that's up to you. And I realize where we've ended up has absolutely nothing to do with how we started out: "The science of imaginary solutions," remember? But you know what old Demosthenes would have to say about it, right? "Every advantage in the past is judged in the light of the final blah, blah, blah." Or something like that.