Article by Willard Manus

S.J. Perelman arrived in Lindos on a spring day in the early 1970's. It was the same day that Zalichey our old yogurt-lady died. It's too bad, because Sid (as he liked to be called) would have been amused by Zalichey, who was a Turkish-Greek woman living by herself in a hovel high above the village. Zalichey (which means "dizzy one" in Greek) was one of the ubiquitous black-clad crones one saw everywhere around town. Her mental condition was the result of a traumatic experience, losing her husband and children to starvation during World War Two. She had two crooked, yellow teeth in her mouth and much facial hair on her pointy face, but our baby daughter Lisa adored her and was never so happy as when Zalichey picked her up and crooned a Turkish folk song. Zalichey loved Lisa in return and treated us as special, bringing us fresh eggs, milk and yogurt every day.

The way she delivered these goods was disconcerting. She would arrive
at dawn, march through the courtyard, fling our bedroom door open, look
down at our naked bodies and scream, "Thelete yiaourti?" (do you want

Sid allowed that Zalichey could have stepped whole right out one of his
satirical sketches.

He himself had been sent to us by Emily Boxer, a former colleague of mine at the Macmillan Company who had gone on to become publicity director of Simon & Schuster, Sid's long-time publishers. Emily and her husband John had visited us on Rhodes a couple of years earlier and had sung Lindos' praises to Sid, who traveled widely in a conscious effort to provide himself with fresh material. The worse the experience, the better for him. "Humor," he said one night, doing an imitation of a German pedant and pounding his fist on the table for emphasis, "is aggression, aggression!"

We picked up Sid at his Rhodes hotel. He was a small, dapper gent with
a waxed, pointed moustache and round, owlish glasses. He was dressed in
an immaculate blue blazer, grey slacks and a polka- dot foulard. We
estimated him to be in his late 60's, though he seemed fit and alert,
with a ready laugh and a crisp, quick voice.

We set him up in a friend's house on the main-bay side of the village.
The house was small but had a large, bougainvillea-filled courtyard that
crested the hillside and had a panoramic view of sea, hills and undulating coastline. Sid loved the place and announced he would work outside, under a canopy of vines, with a glass of iced tea by his hand, like "the Yiddische Somerset Maugham."

Sid was as witty in person as in print and was a superb raconteur.
Having written screenplays for the Marx Brothers and Mike Todd, he had a
fund of Hollywood stories, most of them savage. (He so mistrusted Todd
that he wouldn't hand him new script pages unless he got cash in return). Sid had also written plays and musicals, some with his late wife Laura (who was Nathanael West's sister). Their biggest success was One Touch of Venus, which starred Mary Martin and had music by Kurt Weill and Ogden Nash. The followup to it, Sweet Bye and Bye, bombed on Broadway and closed after a couple of nights, causing Sid to coin one of his memorable lines: "comedy is a hard dollar."

Sid satirized in print many of his celebrity friends, such as the choreographer Karen Nudnic, the playbroker Gaston Farblondget, the Hollywood producer Harry Hubris, the world-weary playboy Poultney Groin, and Monroe Sweetmeat, head of Subcutaneous Pictures.

He also enjoyed poking fun at himself, making himself out to be much
more of a shlemiel than he really was.

Sid was at his best at a small dinner party, where he didn't have to fight to be heard and where he could be the center of attention. Put him in a large, competitive group, though, and he'd clam up and become a listener. He was also a bit of a ladies' man and came most alive when he could play to a pretty young girl. He liked his martinis and was a non-stop smoker, though he tried to cut down on nicotine intake by using a cigarette holder.

Sid's delivery was much like his writing-- cutting, precise, sprinkled with Yiddishisms and jargon from a dozen professions. He was erudite and well read, especially in classic and contemporary fiction. He told us he had started out to be a novelist, another James Joyce, his hero ("the great comic writer of our time). It was from Joyce that he took his love of language--wordplay, metaphor, irony, parody, paradox, symbol, free association, the whole figurative arsenal. But when he failed early on to write an American Ulysses, he quit fiction for satire, starting first as a cartoonist (contributing one classic caption to cartoon lore: "I've got Bright's disease and he's got mine") and moving on to the sketch form (he liked to call these pieces feullitons).

Later in life, Perelman had this to say about his work as a humorist: "It may surprise you to hear me say--and I'll thank you not to confuse me with masters of the paradox like Oscar Wilde and G.K. Chesterton--that I regard my comic writing as serious. For the past thirty-four years, I have been approached almost hourly by damp people with foreheads like Rocky Ford melons who urge me to knock off my frivolous career and get started on that novel I'm burning to write. I have no earthly intention of doing any such thing. I don't believe in the importance of scale; to me the muralist is no more valid than the miniature painter. In this very large country, where size is all and
where Thomas Wolfe outranks Robert Benchley, I am content to stitch away
at my embroidery hoop. I think the form I work can have its own distinction, and I would like to surpass what I have done in it."

With Sid you could have a conversation on just about any subject, except his immediate family. He said very little about Laura (though seemed to miss her) and, when asked about his son and daughter, merely replied, "We're not close."

Sid had published nineteen books by the time we met him and was working
on a new one, Eastward Ha!, which he hoped would include some Greek
pieces. Despite his fame, he was still unable to enjoy financial security. "You can't make a big living writing for the New Yorker," he explained. "And more and more in recent years they've been rejecting pieces of mine, which gives me great tsurris."

He complained bitterly about Simon & Schuster as well. "They are convinced my readership is loyal but small even though I did have a bestseller with Westward Ha! Not only won't they do extra promotion on my books, but I have to compete with my own editor, Michael Korda, for attention. He writes crappy best-sellers and seems to mean a hell of a lot more to the company than I do."

That's why he still kept writing plays. "Because if you click with one and have a Broadway success, you can live off it for the rest of your life."

Whether or not gelt was the spur, Sid worked all of the time he was in
Lindos. He'd sit in the shade of the trellis, clad in shorts and sandals, a towel wrapped round his neck to keep the perspiration from dripping down onto the page, pounding away at his portable typewriter. He stopped only to take a quick lunch. Then it was back to the typewriter, tap-tap-tapping until the sun slid down behind Mt Krana and the terrace turned dark.

Sid never once went down to the beach, even though it was a mere two
hundred yards away from his doorstep. He wasn't interested in swimming,
he said. Why? "It's very simple--I don't mess with nature."
Another reason he worked so hard was that he was an inveterate rewriter. "I work a piece over dozens of times to get it right," he confided. He showed me the file he had brought with him; it was jammed with fuellitons he'd been polishing, off and on, for as long as ten years.

Sid may have worked long hours, but he wasn't a drudge. If there was a
picnic or party, he was always up for it (especially when there was a good sprinkling of pretty women). He even took part in some of the late-night revels we organized: a cook-out on the beach at Pefkos, a winefest atop the acropolis, which meant having to climb over a locked fence in the dark and shinny down the other side, no easy feat for a man his age.

Sid was looking forward to one of the biggest adventures of his life. After Lindos he was planning to fly to London and start on a trip that would emulate the itinerary of Phineas Fogg in Around the World in 80 Days (the film version of which he had written for Mike Todd, earning himself an Oscar). The modern-day version would avoid the use of air-travel where possible. Sid's sponsor was the Sunday Times, whose editor Harold Evans was a good friend. Sid was going to make the trip in the company of an attractive and enthusiastic blonde girl he had met at a party. She was from Arkansas,
he said. "I've always had a soft spot in my heart for southern belles."

As it later turned out, the girl drove him crazy with her complaints and grumbles. "She was a natural-born shrew," he wrote. "She also turned out to be a female version of a character in a play of mine, The Beauty Part, that of Nelson Smedley, the right- wing bigot. When she began spouting loudly about white supremacy while we were traveling through Malaysia, I had the feeling I'd become shackled to a Klu Kluxer in drag."

By the time they reached Hong Kong, Sid's nerves were broken. He handed Sally Lou Claypool (the fictitious name he gave her in his Times pieces, aptly titled Around the Bend in 80 Days) a ticket back to Arkansas. Later on he commented ruefully: "In the immortal words of the late Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia, when I make a mistake, it's a beaut."

Sid ended up writing only one piece about Lindos in Eastward Ha! It dealt with his experiences in having a suit made by a local tailor pseudonymously named Vlakos, who promised to make him a fine tropical suit out of white cotton cloth purchased from a shop known as the Looms of Lindos. Sid supplied Vlakos with a suit he wanted the new garment modelled on. Vlakos went to work, bending over his manually-operated Singer sewing machine for long hours. When Sid tried the suit on he found it "a bit snug in the derriere."

Also, the pants pockets were too shallow. "Whenever I sat down, paper
money, coins and keys tumbled forth," Sid complained, "By a conservative
estimate, every time I wore the suit it cost me between sixteen and
eighteen dollars in lost currency."

Sid went out into the village in search of Vlakos. His shop was boarded up and no one knew where he was. "At last, by intensive sleuthing, I discovered that he had forsworn the needle for a job as scullion in a seaside restaurant," Sid wrote. "The steam and hubbub in its kitchen, where I found him ladling out goulash and souvlaki from a couple of vast copper drums, made it a somewhat less than ideal setting for our chat, but I had too much at stake to bother with niceties."

When Sid confronts him about the pants, Vlakos denies all responsibility and claims to be merely a cook.

A heated argument follows in which Sid calls him a "black- hearted
Peloponnesian dog!"

Vlakos finally agrees to repair the trousers. A week later, when Sid has not received satisfaction, he goes round to the taverna again and finds his trousers "spread-eagled on the floor ...with Vlakos kneeling on them and frantically snipping oblongs out of a ragged pillowcase...Shortly after midnight, an urchin with a knife in his belt delivered my altered trousers, liberally streaked with souvlaki grease, together with a bill for 490 drachmas, or fourteen dollars, which I paid without protest."

The story jumps in time and describes a communication that the curator
of the costume department of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York
receives from "a gentleman traveling in the Middle East."

The gentleman explains that while on Rhodes he had purchased an article
that was, so far as he knew, "uncatalogued and sui generis. It was a pair of cotton pants with graduated pockets, in each case a shallow pouch attatched to a deeper one."

The design is a faulty one, "inasmuch as the pockets are sealed off from one another."

The letter-writer asks whether the Museum would like to acquire the garment, "either by purchase or, if all else fails, as a gift."

The letter-writer never hears back from the Museum and concludes that
"my letter probably went straight into the wastebasket."

That's all right, he adds. "So did the pants, along with some illusions I had nurtured from youth about the glories of the Turquoise Coast and the Dodecanese. But that too is O.K. If all else fails, I've still got the Aleutians."