Roy Blount Jr.
The Benchley Roundup (1954)
by Robert Benchley
By the tenth grade, since it is hard to build true greatness on, for instance, a three-inch vertical leap, the prospects of my becoming a three-sport immortal had dimmed. But what else could I do when I grew up that wouldn't demand much maturity? Fortunately, my English teacher, Ann Lewis, liked the essays I wrote for her class. One of these anticipated Marshall McLuhan's insight that the medium is the message: Instead of taking on the assigned topic, I wrote about my pencil. Miss Lewis urged me to write for the school paper, and also to read Robert Benchley.
Benchley had my initials. He had maintained a room in New York's Royalton Hotel—my middle name is Alton. Okay, he drank himself to death, but people really liked him. And The Benchley Roundup included an essay entitled "My Face." It began, "Merely as an observer of natural phenomena, I am fascinated by my own personal appearance. This does not mean that I am pleased with it...I simply have a morbid interest in it." I was a teenager, with pimples. You could earn a living making fun of your own self-consciousness? That got me through high school, and to quote Benchley, "It took me fifteen years to discover that I had no talent for writing, but I couldn't give it up because by that time I was too famous." Or in my case, I had a mortgage and a two-inch vertical leap.
Roy Blount Jr.'s new book, Alphabetter Juice, or The Joy of Text, came out May 10.