The Rittenhouse Review

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

Saturday, December 27, 2003  

I’m Mad at the Words

Yesterday while writing about a group of New Jersey schoolchildren who have taken to knitting in an elementary-school program that not only fills their recess hours but apparently instills in them a wide variety of academic and social skills, I quoted a young student participant, quoted by the New York Times: “[I]f I’m mad, instead of taking it out on someone, I take it out on the knitting.”

That quote took me back to a job I had years ago, one at which the editor, a man I truly respect but who offered the rest of us all too many unintentional moments of hilarity, once was overheard, by me, berating a subordinate in a manner that for me recalled a favorite trashy movie, “Mommie Dearest.”

At one point in the film Joan Crawford -- overplayed by Faye Dunaway, as that is the actress’s wont -- noticed her maid and her adopted daughter, Christina Crawford, cleaning the front entrance hall.

By all appearances the maid and Christina were doing a fine job, but Crawford was unconvinced. She hurled a large potted plant to the side, thereby revealing an accumulation of soil underneath, the appearance of which led her to scold both her servant and child for their neglect and malfeasance.

“I’m not mad at you,” Crawford (Dunaway) said, “I’m mad at the dirt!”

Well, upon hearing the editor knock a colleague down a peg or two in an exasperated tone that, despite my accomplished mimicking skills I still to this day I cannot quite replicate, and with a spate of words and commentary altogether beyond that required under the circumstances, all I could think of was Crawford (Dunaway).

Emphasizing the criticism wasn’t personal, the editor expressed frustration with sentence structure, transitions, diction, and the like. “You see, here . . .,” he said. “And now this, . . .” he added. On and on and on.

It was as if the editor were saying, “I’m not mad at you. I’m mad at the words!”

The line repeated itself over and over in my head until I shared it with my colleague, L.C. Unfortunately he had never seen the film, and so my quip relaying this simile, smart and appropriate as it was, went largely wasted.

So, for you, now, if you get it: Enjoy.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |