A Lovely Thing Happened on the Way to QMOT
I spent most of today preparing my physical organic chemistry final, doing a bunch of QMOT problems, when during a study break I picked up Jim Holt’s book “Why Does the World Exist” which I have very much enjoyed and am almost finished with. In the book, Holt asks many great thinkers teh big question: Why is there something instead of nothing, it’s avery enjoyable read, not to mention thought provoking. In the final interview he talks with writer John Updike about the question of existence.
As I was reading it I came across these few lines:
Updike chuckled softly. His mood appeared to lighten.
“The whole idea of inflationary expansion,” he continued, “seems sort of put forward on a smile and a shoeshine. granted, it solves a number of cosmological problems that were embarrasing….”
“A smile and a shoeshine”?! I know that line! it’s from Death of a Salesman and I’ve always been very fund of that line. (Which is why it is in my page’s description above) I’ve never been able to quite put my finger on what I love about it, probably because it captures what great playwriting is to me, a simple phrase, not with fancy words or complicated ideas, rather a phrase that in an instant gives you the complete image of a certain person. You hear that a person is “trying to get by on a shoe shine and a smile” and you instantly know who it is. Or maybe, my reason for loving that line is more personal than creative, sometimes I feel that way myself.
My mind drifted off with thoughts about this phrase and image, and I had to force myself to go back to reading, but my reading further was amply rewarded:
(Continued, Holt speaking first)
Wait- a smile and a what?
“A smile and a shoeshine…”
I’d never heard that expression, I said. It’s charming.
Oh, that’s what Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman was out on. He was was out there, as they say at his funeral service, ‘on a smile and a shoeshine.’ You’ve never heard that?”
I confessed that I was a theatre philistine.
“It’s a praise I can’t shake, because, in a way, a writer too is out there on a smile and a shoeshine. Although people don’t shine their shoes much now. It’s hard to shine a running shoe.”
I raised my head from the book,
It’s hard to shine a running shoe.
And with that I closed the book about why the world exists and returned to preparing for my exam.