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Robert Lax And The New Yorker Magazine

     Every time I sit down to write I know it's going to be a struggle. That's comes with the job and I accept it. There are occasions, however, when my gut tells me that no matter how hard I struggle, nothing is going to come of it. Fortunately, those occasions are few and far between. Unfortunately, I'm in the midst of one right now.

An old writer friend of mine advised me that the best way to contend with this dilemma was to 'keep priming the pump'. Sometimes he said that involved nothing more than practicing the mechanics of the craft. In other words, simply writing a, b, a, b was better than writing nothing at all. As a young man, his great ambition was to be a writer for The New Yorker magazine. That was back in the 1940s when Harold Ross was still the editor. Through the intercession of E.B. White, my friend was hired. He was positively elated for his dream had come true. Sadly, as it turned out, his elation soon began to wane and his dream became a nightmare. He couldn't think of a damn thing to write about. So, he sat in his office day after day typing a, b, a, b, a, b. In the next office sat S.J. Perelman who was one of the great humorists of the era and a highly esteemed contributor to the magazine.

Two weeks after my friend was hired, Perelman walked into Harold Ross's office and tendered his resignation. Ross was flabbergasted and asked why. Perelman's reply was something like: "Damn it, you know I've been suffering from a severe case of writer's block lately and you put some young punk next to me who's been writing non-stop all day, everyday for the past two weeks. He's driving me crazy! I quit."

Of course, Perelman had no idea that the 'young punk' was suffering from an equally severe case of writer's block and was only typing a, b, a, b. It was an amusing anecdote, if nothing else. I believe Perelman was persuaded to remain on the staff. My friend quit shortly thereafter.

I met the fellow in 1982 on the Greek island of Patmos. His name was Robert Lax and we remained friends for seventeen years. He died at the age of 83 in 2000. I learned a great deal from Bob over the years and, oddly enough, he learned a few things from me, as well. So he said, anyway. Many people came to think of him as a saint. We both knew that wasn't true but, Bob was happy to let people think that and he played the part well. What I enjoyed most about him was his sense of humor. Certainly not a trait usually associated with saints. Especially, the ribald sort of humor that we got such a kick out of together.

There are two memoir pieces regarding Bob Lax in a book entitled 'Out of the Loop' which people are welcome to read in order to get a better sense of the man… 'Sublime No Rhyme' and 'Ah, Poets'. Otherwise, check him out on the Internet. He was no saint but, on a good day, he was a damn fine writer. And, Bob had more than his share of good days. And, this is what I write about when I can't think of anything to write about…a, b, a, b, a, b…

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McFinn is from Chicago and currently resides in Cambodia. He has a degree in Philosophy from Georgetown University. Much of his work should be considered humorous and fictionalized memoirs. There are also satirical essays. Location settings include Thailand, Cambodia, India, Burma, Morocco and Greece. Excerpts, reviews & purchase information are available via his website:

Posted on 2013-05-23, By: *

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Note: The content of this article solely conveys the opinion of its author,

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