Thursday, October 13, 2011

From a Bum Joke to Joe Pesci in "With Honors"

I subscribe to this e-mail service called Arcamax (, which sends comic strips by e-mail the night before their publication in newspapers nationwide. I've rediscovered Curtis, my favorite comic strip when I was a kid, and I love getting Andy Capp, my favorite comic strip now, every evening.

They also provide columns such as Dear Abby, and political columns and cartoons, and also jokes, among so much else. I received the jokes e-mail just now and found this one at the top:

"The bum on the street

A bum asks a man for $2. The man asked, "Will you buy booze?"

The bum said, "No."

The man asked, "Will you gamble it away?"

The bum said, "No."

Then the man asked, "Will you come home with me so my wife can see what happens to a man who doesn't drink or gamble?"

It's funny, but right at the start, I wasn't thinking about the joke. I thought about Joe Pesci's role as the charismatic, homeless Simon Wilder in With Honors, which I've grown to like over time, mainly because Wilder, when he's introduced, is living in a boiler room under Widener Library on the Harvard campus, and clearly loves books.

Again, a boiler room. Under a library. Not my ideal living space, but Wilder is essentially living in a library. That is until Monty (Brendan Fraser), so worried about his Very Important Thesis that Wilder has gotten hold of, calls the campus police on Wilder and he's thrown out and arrested.

After Monty pays contempt-of-court fines leveled on Wilder during an appearance before a judge, Wilder hawks newspapers to passersby in a town square and then pointedly asks Monty what he sees. Monty replies, "A man," and Wilder fires back, "No, you see a piece of shit, Harvard." Monty answers, "I see a man who needs a home." Wilder replies, "I had a home. I had a warm place to sleep. 17 bathrooms and 8 miles of books. I had a goddamn palace."

Every time I hear the "8 miles of books" part, I get a little lightheaded (as if the shots of the inside of the library later aren't enough). I'm also reminded of the Strand Bookstore in New York City that I'd like to dive into one day, after visiting the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park. 18 miles of books at the Strand, as its reputation maintains. It's the kind of dream that makes me hope to win big in Vegas one day, somehow (even on penny slots), so I can charter a few jumbo jets to cart books home from the Strand.

And all this from one joke.


  1. I love the Roosevelt museum. Hyde Park is such a pretty little town. You can also visit Eleanor's "cottage," Val-Kil.

  2. Every time I read anything about FDR, I always have this great need to also read everything I can about Eleanor. In history, they can never be separated.