|S.J. PERELMAN IN THE AEGEAN|
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
Sid allowed that
Zalichey could have stepped whole right out one of his
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
We set him up in
a friend's house on the main-bay side of the village.
Sid was as witty
in person as in print and was a superb raconteur.
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
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.
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
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
Sid never once went
down to the beach, even though it was a mere two
Sid may have worked
long hours, but he wasn't a drudge. If there was a
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,
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
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
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
The gentleman explains
that while on Rhodes he had purchased an article
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."
never hears back from the Museum and concludes that
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."