The moans, groans, complaints and pontifications have begun as the Christmas marketing season of 2011 commences. Which side are you on?

By Dr. Jeffrey Lant

Author’s program note. Every year, it seems, the opening date for Christmas marketing creeps forward, adding days, not just hours, to the already lengthy selling season. This year my cadre of Christmas watchers reported seasonal catalog and store sightings as early as Labor Day, September 8 . But you can count on this: as people worldwide read this article, they will surely report even earlier sightings. This happens every year… and as it does one of the interminable debates of our times reignites: when is this much too much Christmas?

Ask this query in a crowded room and, hey presto, there will be pandemonium, mayhem, and strident calls for the public lynching of the people who so tamper with and wantonly extend the most important and revered holiday of the year. Christmas creep is here… and you have an opinion on this matter; I’m sure of that. Everybody does.

Christmas is the promised land — for merchants everywhere. That’s the problem.

Christmas purists, and their number is legion, never tire of beating up the merchants who are, they aver, at the bottom of Christmas creep. From this moment of the year forward, a large percentage of Americans will get up on any soap box to hand and excoriate, insult, belittle and besmirch people who earlier in the year they knew and attested to be good, hard-working, service-providing, tax-paying citizens. But where Christmas creep is the issue, truth and justice are early casualties.

People will creep… it’s as American as apple pie.

Know any folks from California? Or Oklahoma? I do. They are some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. They are also the descendants of creepers.

Take California for instance. There a grand gentleman named John Augustus Sutter was peacefully minding his own business when James W. Marshall on January 24, 1848 discovered gold on Sutter’s land, at Sutter’s Mill, near Sacramento. The nation didn’t say, “Good for you, Mr. Sutter.” No way. Instead they took to creeping on to old man Sutter’s land, a little bit here, a little bit there… until the creepers had everything and Mr. Sutter had nothing but lawsuits and a footnote in history. A little bit of gold in them thar hills and a whole lot of creeping got us the State of California, and that’s a fact.

Or consider the folks in Oklahoma. They’re not called Sooners for nothing. In 1889, the federal government organized the great land rush, whereby folks who wanted land could get it free by racing for it against other land-hungry folks. Problem is, a good many of the wanters couldn’t be bothered to wait… and so they crept out early and grabbed the good stuff. Yup, they were creepers and some of the best families of the state started that way, and that, too, is a fact. Creeping pays, and only a Grinch would disagree.

But Grinches proliferate the closer Christmas comes and its insistent, unrelenting messages.

Although there have been plenty of Grinches in our history, lives, and culture, the actual character debued in the 1957 children’s book by Dr. Seuss, who was by all accounts a Grinch himself. It was titled “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and was adopted into a popular television special in 1966. In an instant people with anti-holiday spirit and growly disposition were indelibly tagged as partisans of that scowling hermit with green fur, red eyes, and boots who lives in an isolated cave near Whoville.

Now exuberant Christmas lovers had just what they needed to characterize and lambast the nay sayers, “Don’t be a Grinch,” causing the justly labeled Grinches to writhe and squirm. Just as they deserve. We all know it’s fun — and de rigueur — to pick on each and every Grinch we know.

It’s a question of dates.

After the fall in 1815 of Napoleon and his gimcrack empire, a peace conference was convened in Vienna to divvy up the spoils. Participants included Russia, England, Prussia, Austria and — drum roll — the France now ruled again by its Bourbon dynasty and represented by the Prince de Talleyrand. One day Tsar Alexander I of Russia, who always made such a bad impression as he rattled on about God and morality, was being particularly insufferable on the matter of how to divide the Kingdom of Saxony, which had, in his imperial view, stayed loyal to Napoleon a little too long. Its king, he insisted, should be losing half his country, or more.

Talleyrand, polished, aristocratic to his manicured fingertips, the ultimate cynic and realist, scanned his colleagues, each of whom (but the English) had made deals with Bonaparte, and renigged on them, snapped out that toxic phrase, “That, sire, is a question of dates.”

And so it is with our Scrooges, our Grinches.

The person who wants no Christmas festivities at all, just strict, gloomy adherence to what they suppose has been ordained and sanctified…. are Scrooges to the people who want the Christmas season to exist for a day or two, but not more. These, in turn, get dubbed as Grinches by those who want more… and there are always those who do. And so it goes…

… merchants trying (especially nowadays) to make up for one punk month after another, delving deeper into the calendar….

… thereby fueling yelps of outrage and righteousness from folks who raise the cry of too much self-seeking commercialism too early…

… thereby forcing those who might even agree in theory, to push the adamant seasonal marketing forward and forward again, as an act of mercantile preservation and profit.

Each says, “Enough is enough”; each points fingers and mouths frantic imprecations; each postures, preens, pouts, and always acts and speaks as if truth lived in their house and only their house. So there!

Whoa! The baby at the center of Christmas has indeed been thrown out with the bath water, and this will never do. Thus some thoughts of reconciliation, offered humbly and with trepidation.

Christmas has had a significant commercial aspect since the three wise men of the Orient, who came so far and at such inconvenience, approached the manger and offered their expensive presents. Did they just happen to find such offerings — gold, frankincense, and myrrh — in their saddlebags? Doubtful. More likely, they had gone shopping at one of the great bazaars along the way; such bazaars, blazing with the riches of the rich lands of the East, were the malls of their times… even unto parking their camels, always malodorous and mean spirited. In such a place, even the most fastidious desires of the most demanding could be met, including those who shopped for the King of Kings, for whom they employed their most discriminating tastes and ample means, never rushed. Thus, commercialism and Christmas go hand in hand… as they always have.

These suggestions will help you cope with and better enjoy this best of all holidays:

1) Let every man set his own acceptable level for just the amount of Christmas he desires. A laissez faire attitude is not just useful, but mandatory. Stop worrying about whether the man next door is asking too much or too little from the holiday and instead concentrate on making yours the best ever.

2) Leave the merchants alone. They have had a bad year; even if we think they are going over board, let them get on with it without our jeremiads, lamentations and snide remarks. Where would we be at Christmas, after all, without them?

3) Remember Henry Ford II’s celebrated line, “Never complain, never explain”. Since the very inception of Christmas the Thought Police have attempted to coerce uniformity. Mr. Ford was right… you owe it to no one and nobody to adhere; simply believe in your own way and style. As the song says, “Have yourself a merry little Christmas…”

4) Select a few of your favorite Christmas carols and seasonal preferences and load them into your audio player. You’ll be a lot happier when you enter some establishment with music you detest, no matter how venerable, if you can hear the tunes you particularly like.

And one more thing, whether the Christmas you celebrate is long or short, the single day itself, or the 12 days with five gold rings and lords a-leaping, or something else altogether, remember this: the gift you should most give and be most fortunate to receive is love… it is the only true and essential element. All else pales beside it.

One of the proudest days of my life… the day I give you Internet success through a unique gift you can only get from me!

By Dr. Jeffrey Lant

Author’s program note. Today is a red-letter day for me… one of the most important days of my life. For such a day nothing short of one of our weary world’s greatest masterpieces, Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.” (1824), will do . Please play it before you read this article. You cannot but feel the thrill and exultation. If a human being can do this, human beings can do anything. Find it in any search engine and turn up the volume. Then you’ll know how I am feeling now as I prepare to give you a gift only I can give and which has taken me a lifetime to perfect.

Deaf… sublime.

When great Beethoven sat down to compose his 9th Symphony, of which the “Ode to Joy” is perhaps the most celebrated part, he was stone deaf. Yet in his capacious, extraordinary brain the music rang out to thrill the world. He could have said, “a deaf person cannot compose,” everyone would have understood such a conclusion and offered the usual words of sympathy… but that is not the way of people with a mission to improve the world. They recognize no obstacle! Do not give way to defeatism! And reach deep into themselves to find what they alone can give the world and its people who rely upon such genius for relief! Instruction! And improvement! For you see those who have such a gift must give such a gift… and today I give such a gift, the greatest I have ever given, to each of you.

The struggling world… and the profound promise of the Internet.

I have now been on the Internet over 18 years, about a third of my life. During these years I have witnessed humanity’s struggle to make sense of this monumental invention which has the undoubted power and demonstrated potential to connect people everywhere and enable them to say what they want to say without shackle or inhibition.

Now think a moment: for the first time, the very first time, in the long cycles of humanity each person can, with the simple expedient of an Internet connection, present himself, in all his wonderful uniqueness, to others who have the ardent desire to do the same, without the pernicious intrusion of any of the world’s Thought Police who have intervened with impunity and malice in all previous epochs.

The Internet brooks no interference… no one telling you what you can do…when you can do it. Yes, for the first time in human history each person has a voice that can be heard… that must be heard…. and so transform the world — for good and ill.

Is it any wonder then that I have selected “Ode to Joy” and recommended that you play it now… for on our troubled planet we need all the help we can get and the Internet is here to provide it.


From the very first minute far sighted folk saw that such a means of connection could prove to be a superb means of commerce. But how? Most didn’t know and so, without guidance, commenced a struggle which left them frustrated, confounded, angry and, too often, embittered. How, they wondered, could this astonishing invention produce a golden outcome for them? It was a question that millions asked — and continue to ask — but which only a comparative handful have ever answered successfully. With the almost daily assistance of my cherished partners George Kosch and Sandi Hunter, I have found such success… and been given the opportunity to give it to others. Today we celebrate that opportunity and its ability to uplift! Enrich! And empower people worldwide.

It all started with a blank sheet of paper.

I am not just a writer, but a published writer, which is a very different thing. To write to connect should be every writer’s objective… and it has certainly been my objective since my first article appeared in print 59 years ago, when I was 5 years old. You may well imagine what a heady thing it must be for that child, any child to experience such excitement. Once you’ve had it, you spend the rest of your life wanting more and doing what is necessary to get it. In this regard I have been most fortunate… having written thousands of articles and 18 books, mostly on business themes. My word has been carried — and frequently, too — on radio, television and on the lecture circuit. But my connection with the Internet has radically transformed the entire matter of content and given me the means to give you substantial advantage every single day.


As I have often said and frequently written and emphasized, “the list is the business, the business is the list.” Thus each person desiring to succeed in business must spend a significant amount of time building a list, and this activity must be a part of each and every day that you desire to remain in business and increase your profit.

But maintaining your list, growing your list cannot, on the Internet, be your sole objective; that would be protecting your list and ensuring that you can use it daily to email ad copy to your subscribers. The problem is, if you only email ads day after day to these subscribers, they will quickly become disenchanted, even disgusted, with you… and manifest their displeasure by unsubscribing your list, thereby depriving them of all benefits you offer and yourself of their golden custom.

This is the exact situation in which most Web marketers find themselves… and why so many of these people are killing their lists, thereby killing their profits.

Here’s where I — and Bill Gates — enter the scene and why you need to pay attention to our message. Gates has famously and enigmatically said of the Internet, “Content is king.” What does he mean? Just that people will not put up with an unceasing avalanche of ad copy; they need more, much more. They need content… and if you create a blog and give them this content you can accompany it — every day — with the ad copy that generates the revenue. Problem is, most people cannot write engaging, meaningful copy and cannot afford the cost of hiring the people who could create such copy for them; it’s just too expensive.

That’s where I come in… I can and will produce such copy — for free. And today we recognize and celebrate the completion of the first 365 articles, one for every day of the year. These articles, all about 1500 words in length, are timely, intelligent, often provocative, always informative and, my signature and pride, beautifully written. Let me explain the importance of these articles and why you are fortunate to have them: they save your all-important lists from being destroyed by your subscribers, people who want more than a steady diet of ads and as such are invaluable.

Let us be very clear with each other: if you email nothing but ads, you will kill your list and thus obliterate your business. Thus, you have these options. Email the ads anyway and test my thesis (suicidal); try to write such copy every single day yourself (highly unlikely given your writing skills). Or you could hire the necessary talent to do the work, thereby breaking the bank. Or…

You could use the copy I have created for you… and which I give to you, thereby enabling your list and with it your business to grow and flourish while I provide the necessary (and always beautifully written) copy. And that is why we are celebrating today… not just for what I have written… or how well I have written — but because with these often lyric articles I am keeping your online business on the profit path.

“You millions I embrace you,” and give you the best of which I am capable for our mutual joy — freude! So now finish as we began… with Beethoven and his “Ode to Joy”. For we, now working together, have everything to be joyful about! Let the celestial sound soar… as we do — together! Freude!

The students return to Cambridge, August 2011…. I welcome them, remember… and smile.

By Dr. Jeffrey Lant

Author’s program note: There could only be one song to accompany this article, the theme from the 1970 film “Love Story,” written by Harvard classicist Erich Segal. You see, this article is about a love story, too, a love for a special place… and for a lifetime of memories launched from this very neighborhood. Start by going to any search engine and finding the lush “Love Story” theme… designed to put you in the mood for memories… deep, poignant, infinitely touching, forgiving.

It has been 42 years now, almost to the minute, since I first arrived in Cambridge, Massachusetts to commence my Harvard education. It was, in fact, the Friday of Labor Day week-end, and I arrived here without benefit of previous visit, without knowing a single person, and with an incipient case of mononucleosis. To compound the challenges, I had about $50 to my name.

And yet, when I first saw Harvard Square… then Harvard Yard… I knew that I was exactly where I wanted to be… exactly. Such insistent insights irrevocably change lives.

The privileged students of Harvard are now just beginning to arrive, the anxious freshmen… desperate not to show the anxieties they could not hope to conceal; the insouciant upper classmen, omniscient, whose every move tells the world that they have been here before and are now the repository of the Harvard mystique, which they know… and defy the rest to find, if they can.

The returning students are keen to put you in your place by retailing the stories of their life-shaping, exotic, privileged summer vacations. This one drops the name of a well-known candidate with at least a chance for the White House. “I had lunch with him just the other day,” the student avers. He does not say the candidate had dropped into a sandwich shop in New Hampshire to shake hands.

He bought a tuna on dark rye, extra pickles, to go. He gulped a bit, handed the balance to the student who was go-fer of the day. Such was the lunch they shared… but while the actuality was unimpressive, the massaged tale more than serves its purpose of enhancing the student’s perceived altitude in the pecking order, where perception is everything. And every Harvard student is a master of perception.

Other returning students drop the names of congressmen in whose crowded offices they interned. There are the many who served the green movement… the others who scrutinized the “must see” locations of a dozen European countries, including the young woman entertained at dinner by the president of Latvia, who just happened to be a distant cousin. The welcoming meeting was capped by a photograph of the president en famille with cousin, autographed of course, very much on display in the student’s dorm room where the flag of Latvia was immediately visible and impressive upon entrance. Harvard students know the value of presidents, to whose powers and office many naturally aspire.

The returning students have a pecking order for everything, including just when and how they return. Upper classmen in positions of power and influence (like editors of “The Crimson,” the most influential student newspaper in the nation) come early. They wish to demonstrate their seriousness and control. The best writers, including those already published in “Cosmo” or the “Village Voice” with even a soupcon of name recognition, come later, at the very last moment. They wish editors to know they are beyond the mundane banalities of time and place… from the very way they enter the newsroom, they tell you the paper is the better for their presence, not the other way round. It’s an advantage they intend to press.

Such students, an early book and film deal already in the offing, know not only the essentials of smooth condescension but the knack of sailing near the edge of impudence and imprudence, without missing a beat. Too, they know the secrets of a glamor so serviceable on a walk down Holyoke Street… or a book jacket with attitude. They walk. Heads turn and boys from small towns and respected families know the misery of sharp desire… never to be fulfilled.

These students, who scoff at the unending ways aristocrats at the Court of Versailles insulted their inferiors while toadying to those they intend to insult tomorrow, are themselves and undeniably masters of such nuances. Who is greeted, how they are greeted, whether there is allowable physical contact or not and where, all these are subject to the most arcane rules and procedures. You have only to watch a small group of students as they walk through the Yard to see it on full display. Find the person in the middle of the group, the most verbal, the most voluble, the most directive, without even a scintilla of hesitation or doubt. He is on display… a beau brummell, for all his shoes are scuffed and jeans ripped. A coxcomb, a popinjay, he yet has claims to your life… and makes suggestions with impunity on what you must do and how… whilst his followers listen, follow and take no liberties, for all they want to. Their time will come… and they will put these invaluable insights to work…

Some students, of course, do not participate in these tribal rites of the young and upwardly mobile. Instead, they sit in their unkempt rooms and vow terrible vengeance on the chosen ones whom they envy and dream of. Years from now they’ll write novels and memoires about how miserable and oppressed they were. They were neither, of course, they just didn’t know what to do and lacked the gumption required to take their places amongst the glorious.

Jenny Cavalleri could have gone either way.

Jenny Cavalleri was a character in “Love Story” so great a hit that people worldwide came to Harvard to see where its protagonists cavorted, played, and loved. She came from no family either and, but for an accident of fate, might have gone through four lackluster years at the College, and then married a suitable Italian boy passing muster with her father. But she knew how to wisecrack… and one deftly timed comment opened her way to a world as unknown as Mars, where those selected by God and birth to flourish had names like Oliver Barrett IV and Harvard buildings named after clever ancestors, the better to mark you, too, for life and ease your way.

Oliver Barrett IV was most assuredly in… and he was determined that Jenny should be in, too… but she, famously, died young, the experiment incomplete and inconclusive.

Youthful disdain.

Like many people in Cambridge, I did not read “Love Story” or even see the film in 1970. They were, after all, infra dig and would never do. I probably thought like many hereabouts that he, a renowned classicist, had let down the side by writing something so un-Harvard. But then I was firmly in the thrall of what one did and didn’t do to make friends and influence the right people.

Years later, when I did my book “Our Harvard” (1982) I asked Erich Segal class of ’58 to provide a chapter. He couldn’t have been nicer or more professional to work with. He opened his essay with this paragraph:

“In September 1954 I and a thousand or so other freshmen gathered in Cambridge, sharing the confident assumption that, having been chosen for Harvard, we were, ipso facto, the best and the brightest. And that very first day we learned the most painful lesson of our young lives: most of our classmates were better and brighter. We spent the rest of our college years coming to terms with this and spent the rest of our lives trying to disguise it. This is the root cause of the infamous Harvard arrogance.” Now a brand-new crop of Harvard students is arriving, each to learn this truth and promptly lock it away, as they master the ways of getting others, especiailly those better and brighter than they, to believe what they want them to believe… When they fully learn this lesson, they will not only be a success at Harvard… they will be ready to take on the world and leave it breathless at their high skills, unmatched abilities, and, most of all, a charm that moves mountains and peoples of every kind. And it will all occur just paces from me… while I watch and enjoy, as I have for so very many years, with many more to come.

How to read an auction catalog and intelligently participate in auctions worldwide.

By Dr. Jeffrey Lant

Author’s program note. The autumn auction catalogs have begun to pour in, a stunning library of things rare, notable, luxurious, just the kinds of things you know are necessary for the “look” that screams your name. You are — or want to be — a collector on an international scale… but you don’t know how to get started. You are seized with curiosity for what’s available but need a knowledgeable friend to show you the ropes. I am that friend, and it’s time to start your education.

I have selected Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” for today’s background music. Written in 1874, it is lush, grandiose, opulent in the Slavic style, just the kind of music that gets you in the mood for seeking the treasures which will enhance your life and present you to the world just as you like. Go now to any search engine and find the rendition of your choice; make sure to include the celebrated “Kiev Gate” portion. Then come along with me as I open a spectacular world to you… by giving you the practical details you need to participate.

A word about your guide… me!

For the last twenty years and more, I have been an active, even obsessive, participant in the auctions presented by the greatest auction houses in the world… Sotheby’s and Christie’s in New York, Rome, Paris, London, Amsterdam… Bukowskis in Stockholm… the Dorotheum in Vienna. Each sale always had a catalog… and I have learned what only other collectors, connoisseurs, museum officials etc. know: how to read an auction catalog and know the essential, hitherto unpublished facts, the facts which crack the code on participating successfully in these auctions. For you see, what the cognoscenti know they are not anxious to share with you. They want to hoard this information and keep it from you; the better to gather the treasures of the earth unto themselves and themselves alone… without being bothered by… you! That changes today…

The pivotal fall sales of the world’s great auction houses are now underway; nearly daily from now until the great pre-Christmas December sales take place, the eye-popping, mouth-watering catalogs arrive to titillate, frustrate, unsettle… for that is what these and all auction catalogs are so artfully designed to do… they aim to plant the seed of desire in your mind and so haunt you night and day. I know that siren song too well; it has insinuated itself into my brain often and expensively over and over again. And if you have an insistent eye for beauty and a need to acquire, it will insinuate itself into yours, too.

First, start today.

Success in auctions is based on these key factors:

1) the development of an “eye”

2) doing the necessary homework for each item of your interest

3) finding and listening to your experts

4) setting and living within a realistic budget.

Let’s look at these points one at a time:

1) Developing your “eye”.

Great collectors, sage and savvy collectors, are people who can see within even the most battered and mistreated object not just what it is now… but what it once was and with tender loving care can be again. This skill is pivotal and can only be developed by constant and detailed artifact review. ALL collectors know the value of doing their homework. The development of the Internet has made this easy, for the information you need is as near as your computer.

Gathering this information long precedes acquiring objects or having the necessary funds to do so. Thus, start visiting the websites of the auction houses mentioned above. ALL now post their catalogs online available for your scrutiny 24 hours a day, a benefit your parents and grandparents could only have imagined. With these e-resources you are able to be better informed than any previous generation of collectors. Use this advantage to develop the all-important eye.

The “eye” that it takes a lifetime to acquire through constant viewing, reviewing, and careful judgements is not something you can rush. Its development is predicated on constant catalog review, reading what experts have to say, attending museum lectures and events… assiduously working on seeing, perceiving, looking beyond the surface into the soul and meaning of each object. This is a lifetime’s occupation and should be undertaken as early as possible. People who do not do this are and always will be at the mercy of the market and will never develop a collection of merit that showcases your impressive knowledge and success on the never-ending hunt.

2) Doing the necessary homework.

Many wealthy people buy art and artifacts by the yard, advised by decorators who may know something about arrangement but who almost universally lack the essential knowledge of history, provenance, and underlying value and significance possessed by real collectors.

Like it or not (and you’d better like it) all true collectors understand the need for intense analysis of any item in which they’re interested. This information comes first by studying the catalog; then requesting a “condition report” from the auction house. This reports consists of what the auction house knows about the object in question. It will be honest but it may well raise more questions than it answers. If so, check the catalog to get the name of the auction house’s designated authority on this object. Either email or call. You will find these experts personable, candid, anxious to be helpful. Just remember at all times: they want to sell this object, and so condition reports must always been read with a grain of salt.

3) Finding and listening to your experts.

Because auction house experts all work to sell, you need your own experts, people who have no other thought than honestly advising — you. Where do you find such people? Auction house experts can help, by making referrals. They will know everyone who is anyone in the field. You will need their expertise. Take full advantage of it. As I can attest these folks, zealous in your service, can spare you the pain of expensive, embarrassing mistakes. Listen carefully too what they tell you, especially once you know they have that all-important eye.

4) Setting and living within a realistic budget. Have you begun to master the key points above? Good! Now it’s time to gather the funds you need to participate. Begin at once.

Depending on your particular area of interest, you may be able to start for as low as a few hundred dollars. Start small, start careful, go slow, as you come to know the vicissitudes of auctions. Remember, these great auction houses have existed for hundreds of years. Move forward with due deliberation. But don’t let deliberation become procrastination. Care is needed but so is the ability to take action as necessary, while always setting and living within your inviolable budget.

Last Words.

You are now ready to begin one of the most important and exciting journeys of your life… as you commence your walk down the red carpet towards the most beautiful, valuable, and important objects on earth. One last thing: don’t expert those who don’t appreciate such things to appreciate you and your sublime and never-ending search. Don’t let their uninformed remarks and blindness infuriate or irritate. By following these steps you will leave such people in the dust while embracing all the connoisseurs, experts, and knowledgeable friends who henceforth enrich your life. Be sure to include me amidst their number… and let me know how with this candid advice you get on with your passion.

* * * * *

A tale of the city. Someone to watch over me.

By Dr. Jeffrey Lant

Author’s program note. This article will touch you more deeply than you might otherwise allow if you find one of the innumerable renditions of George Gershwyn’s “Someone To Watch Over Me”. (1926, from the often-revived musical “Oh, Kay!”) The one by the late chanteuse Amy Winehouse (given the tragic and squalid circumstances of her end) is both ironic and haunting for she most assuredly had no one to watch over her… much less save her from herself.

Go to any search engine now, find the singer you like… play it once or twice…for this is the desired, unmistakable sound for today’s tale…

It starts with a boy from the Prairies…

“Know thyself!” is perhaps the most famous (and surely the shortest) command (and admonition) of our culture. Pausanias, a Greek writer of the second century A.D., had the words chiseled in the wall of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. There’s been plenty argumentation ever since, as curious offspring seek to live those words, fully, completely, ardently…

… while protective parents, wiser to the world’s ways, say and will say to the end of the universe “Over my dead body, buster! And be back by 11… or else!”

If I tell you, confess really, that I was the boy who always was home early and never (except for one notable occasion, too notable to tell you here) knew what transgressing against “or else” might mean, you will perhaps have an inkling about the subject of this tale. I was always “The Best Boy”, sheltered, protected, indulged… I was not insensible of my privileged situation… but deep within (so deep for years I didn’t even know the notion existed) there was a desire to taste forbidden fruit and find out what happened when you walked on the Wild Side in dead of night

Others were anxious to help me out of my deep-seated predicament. Once, at university, a determined bunch of boys, affronted by my puritan outlook, tied me to a chair and, for an unblushing hour or two spat every four-letter word, every expletive (none deleted), and every vulgar configuration known to advanced eighteen year olds at me… my hands tied to my side, no chance of protecting those virgin ears. I was appalled… horrified… but I emerged, despite their strenuous efforts, unscathed. What was more notable than their failure to brand me was the fact that every one of my outspoken captors, every single one, was a clergyman’s son… the apple of the bishop’s eye being by far the most advanced and knowledgeable about the devil’s flamboyant lexicon. In due course, he, too, became a clergyman…

It didn’t matter where I was, people, being the helpful souls they are, sensed my situation… and wished to autograph it with a unique imprecation, malediction. One day, in about 1967, I attended a packed poetry reading given by Kenneth Rexroth (1905-1982). It was standing-room only; I know. I was standing.

Rexroth, with Satan’s own radar, read a poem, perhaps it was about innocence, then announced he would, dowser-like, find the most innocent boy in the crowd. As he searched, he made his way closer to… me. And then, to my acute embarrassment, he announced he had found him… and that he was…. me. Thereupon he planted a fervent wake-the-dead kiss on me. I sank to the very earth, red, abashed, humiliated… most of all for the unwelcome designation that came with the buss: the most innocent boy on campus. Worst of all, it may have been true…

And, if so, it stayed true, for I was on the determined path to fame and fortune, which had not so much been prophesied as promised me… and I meant to have them, all of them, just as fast as possible….

It was then I discovered Nick and Nora Charles. Quick! Do you know who they are? Your parents could tell you. They were the utterly attractive couple invented by Dashiell Hammett (1894-1961) the crime writer and brought so memorably to life by William Powell and Myrna Loy in a series of 14 “Thin Man” films from 1936-1941. They were what ever boy wanted who was sure life was what was happening wherever he wasn’t… and he yearned to go to that place at once, no questions asked, full speed ahead. As a result, I didn’t merely watch… I scrutinized Nick and Nora and every aspect of their wonderful lives.

This included the way they dressed, how they made their martinis…. and how they comported themselves when they’d each had one too many (crucial for a boy who had never tasted alcohol at all)… and of course just who was included amongst their extensive acquaintance. Why, they knew everyone on both coasts, governors, mayors, congressmen, thieves, murderers, marauders of every kind. And, of course, a small army of the “little people” who keep big cities going 24 hours a day and who see everything and everyone.

I learned a lot from just how Nick and Nora (who was always quick to follow Nick’s fancy footwork) treated these folks: always with courtesy, good humor, and no “side” whatsoever. It was an eye-opening revelation; you could be a convicted felon and yet be treated, by respectable folk, like the human being you were. I saw the same truth at work when in “Gone With The Wind” Melanie Wilkes met Belle Watling when Belle dropped off a pocketful of gold for Atlanta’s desperately needy hospital. Miz. Wilkes said she was proud to be under an obligation to Miz. Watling… This, I learned for good, was what a real lady would say.

And thus, firmly convinced that each person I encountered, no matter how black their history or damning their circumstances, deserved my politeness, my empathy, my kindness, I embarked on Life 101 and began to collect an astonishing grab-bag of people from the gutter up. One day one of the most troubled of these, a young man whose life, at just 22 or so, so, resembled nothing so much as the essence of chaos, confusion, mayhem and pain, said that he respected me because I treated him the same way I treated everyone else, not like a petty criminal with a rap-sheet as long as my arm. It was one of the most profound compliments I have ever received. Such people called me “Dr. Jeffrey” and said that in the certainties of my life they found a refuge, no matter how limited, for the uncertainties of their own. And, of course, the “helps” (as Queen Victoria called them) helped, too; the food, the clothes I (the least fashionable of men) no longer needed, the few bucks that cost me so little to give… all these were thankfully received. Most of the time, it was just the thought that counted and the unjudging ear.

But just the other day, the potential hazards of my behavior was borne home to me when I received a phone call from the bank that someone had just tried to cash one of my checks, only to discover just how well known I am, since the teller knew (as she would) that the signature was not mine. The miscreant fled… in unnecessary trouble for just sixty dollars. I probably would have given it to him… after all I know he has a young child.

My valued bank officer Helen read me the riot act. How could I have let him in, into my house of all houses… and left my checks out? How could I explain… she would only say, and rightly so, that I might have been killed. But she knows nothing of writers and their needs; hers was the advice of common-sense and bankers. I took the dressing down like a boy of 20, not a respected man of 64. Then later that day I called the lady and thanked her for looking out for me, grateful for her concern and even the sharp words delivered with her Irish up. You see, I have someone, and maybe many such, to watch over me… while the thief I befriended faces misdemeanor charges and perhaps the dawning recognition of the worst that’s yet to come…. without anyone to watch over him.

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About The Author

Harvard-educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant is , where small and home-based businesses learn how to profit online. Dr. Lant is also a syndicated writer and author of 18 best-selling business books. Details at