The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Thursday, November 20, 2003  

(Requisite Allusion Disclosure: The New Yorker)

An old friend writes:

Hey, Jim, I notice in one of your new posts that you say you almost majored in chemistry. That’s a new one on me, and I remember you from way back when. [Ed.: Not college, exactly, but almost that far back.] Chemistry? Really? I remember psychology, biology, and the whole “psychiatrist or ophthalmologist” thing, and even the fling into art history, but chemistry? What else haven’t you told me?

Oh, my friend, there are many things I haven’t told you, but for current purposes I’ll assume you’re referring only to my undergraduate days, or at least that pick-a-damned-major-would-you part of my life.

Well, there were many, actually. In the hard sciences: biology, chemistry, and math, but not physics. In the humanities: German, Italian, classical studies, and art history, but not English. In the social sciences: psychology, history, and political science, but not sociology and not geography, and that despite the suspicious preponderance of jocks in the program that made majoring in the latter subject altogether too appealing.

Any wonder there are piles of books, magazines, and journals on all kinds of subjects strewn around my apartment?

[Post-publication addendum: I used to have, tucked in my mental back pocket, a very humorous, and pretty derogatory, quip about majoring in geography that was certain to get a laugh at parties and such (something to do with state capitals), but then my friend Joe, who studied geography as an undergraduate and a graduate student, was killed in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and now, even though Joe himself got a kick out of it, the joke seems kind of unfunny and downright disrespectful, and so I don’t tell it anymore.]

[Post-publication addendum: Way, way, way down deep, inside reference/joke: Someone else: “Do you take the New Yorker?” Me: “No, but they keep sending it to me.”]

[Post publication addendum: Oh, wait, here’s another one, even though I didn’t deliver the punch line, the “someone else” in the preceding addendum did. Man No. 1: “I can’t get this ring off my finger. It’s stuck. I’ve tried everything. What else can I try?” Man No. 2: “Butter. Eat less of it.”]

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