Berra, who once said “I never said half the things they say I did”
ranks right up there with Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde and George Bernard
Shaw. If you happen to remember a favorite quote but not the author,
just attribute it to one of these three (or the Bible). No one will
know the difference - except perhaps your clergyman.
I was first introduced to Yogi through his appearance on bottle
caps of Yoo Hoo beverage in the late 1950s. I think it was an attempt
to get boys to trade bottle caps featuring baseball players instead
of trading cards. It didn’t work. To a ten year old, Yogi wasn’t
exactly the best spokesperson you could have and Yoo Hoo was widely
regarded as a drink for sissies. Now, had they come up with carbonated
Yoo Hoo, that might’ve worked.
It wasn’t until ripening adulthood when I fully appreciated the
“wisdom” of Yogi Berra. His brilliant observations accrued in my
mind over time. “That place is so popular nobody goes there anymore!”
That was Yogi. “That boy’s future is ahead of him!” Yogi again.
But (to me) the most memorable of all was his observation that “You
can observe a lot – just by watching.” An indisputable Class A aphorism
if ever there was one.
It ranks right up there with “You’ll never recognize the devil if
you expect him to have horns” or “Don’t teach your grandmother how
to suck eggs.” Both sayings from Spain.
Calvin Trillin wasn’t big on aphorisms, but he was big on food.
The thing he said that stuck with me was not advice, criticism or
even observation – but the answer he gave to a question. He was
sitting at a famous café in Vera Cruz, Mexico (now celebrating it’s
206th Anniversary). That was not a typo – the place has been there
for two hundred and six years. It makes New Orlean’s Café du Monde
look like an upstart.
Mr. Trillin was there with his daughter who was learning to do her
dad’s shtick and Calvin was killing time while his daughter went
running about – meeting some deadline. He was on vacation but was
making himself available in case his daughter needed some fatherly
I had spent some time in that very café. Rich black coffee is poured
by white-jacketed waiters and patrons must then tap their spoon
against their glass if they want milk – which is brought scalding
hot in a metal urn by waiters specifically devoted to milk delivery.
If you were looking for Café Parroquia – you could find it blindfolded,
simply by listening for the tinkling of spoons on glass.
An interviewer had asked Mr. Trillin, what he regretted about his
long career as an author and food critic. In other words, what would
he have done differently? His answer was swift in coming. It was
something like “I would’ve taken more time to sit around and enjoy
places like this.”
So now you see what these two very different men have in common.
They could easily take each other’s advice. Possibly, they do.
Me? I discovered that if you truly want to surprise or impress friends
or family, simply take their advice. That’s all there is to it.
The advice givers will be flattered or dumbfounded. Or both. This
is said on the condition that their advice doesn’t involve investments
or any purchases. Or entertainment. Or where to vacation. Or…
Come to think of it, let’s just forget the previous paragraph.
In fact, forget contemporary advice. Dead Romans or Greeks are a
safe bet. (You might want to place a moratorium on quoting Middle
East philosophers for awhile.) And nothing gets attention like stating
(in a flat voice) “I get advice from dead people.”
Celebrities and sports figures are not good life coaches, neither
are television doctors or the low life forms of “reality” television.
If any of your advice comes from television, you’re in trouble.
Currently I only listen to my wife and doctor. But only if their
advice ends with “…or you will die.” Free from the influences of
contemporary writers, I am free to seek the advice of people like
Shaw, Wilde or Clemons. The dead refuse to be dumbfounded and flattery
is wasted on them. Nor will they know if you decide to discard their
August 24, 2014 Column
© John Troesser
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