I grew up in Philadelphia, where not liking soft pretzels is akin to not liking a Philly cheese steak, which means not being a true Philadelphian at all. When I was a boy, I bought soft pretzels from old guys who sold them from wooden hand carts situated on downtown street corners. (Now you can buy them from a chain called the Philly Pretzel Factory.) The custom was to slather the pretzel with mustard and, if the pretzel was fresh, enjoy a prime eating experience. When my wife, Ida, arrived in Philadelphia from Dallas to attend the University of Pennsylvania as an undergraduate, she had never eaten a soft pretzel. The idea of eating one with mustard she thought to be stomach churning. But she learned to like them, although not with the ardor of a native. I loved hard pretzels too. In elementary school, as a fund-raiser, we kids were sent out to sell 16-ounce boxes of Bachman pretzels for twenty-five cents each. It was easy to sell lots of boxes because everyone loved them. My mother had to stop me from eating whole boxes at a sitting. Whenever I go to Philly these days, I always go to a grocery store to buy a few boxes of Bachman’s because Philly is the only place I can find them. Read this article and find out why a kid growing up in Philly would love pretzels. Hint: Pennsylvania was once the pretzel capital of the United States.
• My family was convinced that having a bird poop on your head was a sign of good luck. It is one of the five superstitions discussed in this article. I once had a bird poop on my head when I was an undergraduate. Nothing good happened that day or that week or that semester. I have had a good life, so maybe I need to take a larger view of the luck that was bestowed that day. Fortunately, the bird who air-bombed me was not a flying goose. With the loads geese release, I would have had more good luck than anyone could stand.
• Sigmund Freud used hypnosis for a time in his career but then abandoned it when he discovered he could get better results by having patients talk freely without hypnosis. I recently watched a 1960 B-movie called The Hypnotic Eye, starring Jacques Bergerac (who was once married to Ginger Rogers), Merry Anders, and Allison Hayes (who played the title role in Attack of the 50-Foot Woman), about an evil hypnotist who, during his shows, would give post-hypnotic suggestions to women he hypnotized to disfigure themselves to please his psychotic woman assistant who was secretly disfigured. It was a hoot. There is the obvious feminist read that women are vain and weak-minded, or that society has made them vain and weak-minded by making them center their worth on their looks. My immediate response, though, was: Good Grief, if hypnotizing people was this easy and so thorough that it was possible to make them willingly do self-destructive things, then all the psychopaths and sociopaths in the world would have learned the art and had a field day. But when one thinks about it, successful psychopaths and sociopaths, as well confidence men, high-pressure salespersons, clever political activists, and smooth-talking preachers do, in fact, perform a kind of hypnosis, diminishing the range of reality to their voices, to how they shaped the world for you, to compel you to believe what you are told and to behave in the way they wish for you to behave. Hypnosis, as the article informs us, is a real science but I also think it is a real art too.
• James Bond or Simon Templar, better known as the Saint, which character will better withstand the test of time? I put my money on the Saint. In the old Roger Moore television series, The Saint, there were a few occasions when Templar was confused for Bond or when a snide remark was made about Bond. There was a sort of wink-wink about all of this because Moore had auditioned for the role of Bond but was rejected because the producers thought, at the time, he was too young. He became the Saint and then finally became Bond when Sean Connery quit the role for good. Templar, for me, is a more interesting character than Bond but that might be because I think Leslie Charteris is more interesting than Bond author Ian Fleming. One day, someone will write a full-fledged biography of Leslie Charteris, the half-Chinese, half-English author of the Saint stories. My theory is that only a “half-caste” person like Charteris could have invented a pulp character like the Saint, a persona who was both inside and outside in a particularly stylish or stylized way of the society in which he lived. This article will convince you that someone needs to write a book about Charteris.
• It is interesting how we judge movies not simply by whether we think they are good or bad but by whether they are successful at the box office. Why should anyone who does not work in the movie industry or invests in movies care whether a movie, even your favorite movie of the moment, makes money? Some people, I suppose, enjoy a movie more when they know it is a hit. But the general public really cares about this, which is why we care about what movies fail. The more expensive the movie, the bigger the stars, the more famous the director, the more we seem to enjoy tap dancing on the graves of movies that go belly-up at the box office. This list includes movies that should never have been made. What mogul thought it was a good idea to make “Gods of Egypt” or a remake of “Ben-Hur”? If the odor of public indifference did not arise from the treatments or as soon as someone pitched these ideas, then these moguls are in the wrong business.