Are we ready now for some deeper “foibles” stuff? Some of that gossipy and psychologically-related personal material I’d promised myself. In part I can blame Shepherd himself because of the intriguing enigma with which he surrounded himself and the reality that his chummy persona sometimes slipped into when he was on the air. Let’s delve a bit and ferret out a foible. My dictionary defines foible as “a minor weakness or failing of character, slight flaw or defect.” Remembering the Shepherd comedy album titled “Jean Shepherd and Other Foibles,” I think we ought to consider that the quirky sound of the word and the humorous context of it in a comedy recording suggests a whimsical connotation. That seems about right and puts it some distance from where the word finds itself in a thesaurus, surrounded, one hopes unfairly, by “blemish, vice, taint, moral flaw, and besetting sin.” So much for a definition; now onward to some more specific foibles, the first regarding his head-thumping skills, when he said:
…and so it is with kopfspielen. I have spent weeks working on one phrase—believe it or not. Even unbeknownst to some of my best friends. You don’t tell people about the things you’re really serious about. (Syndicated broadcast)
“You don’t tell people
about the things
“You don’t tell people about the things you’re really serious about.” How self-contained! How enclosed within himself, how isolated! From a number of Shepherd’s friends, family, and coworkers, one gathers evidence of his frequent lack of empathy and even cruel treatment of others. Though only rarely does this become apparent in one of his broadcasts, one’s first reaction is that Shepherd could be cold and cruel. Although I don’t have a radio program to broadcast it, I know that I sometimes have similar sentiments—don’t you? And I can remember a friend telling me that I was secretive—don’t we all keep a certain part of ourselves to ourselves? If there’s a part of ourselves that remains inside and not out there, none of us tell people about some of the things we’re really serious about. That, in part we are all disconnected. That, as some mystics complain, few (or maybe none) of us are all in tune with the universe and our fellow humans. Here comes the cliché, folks: we have our bad side as well as the good. Broadcaster Larry Josephson had said:
“I don’t think it’s possible to perform at the level that Shepherd did and have that kind of ego and drive…and yet be a sensitive, caring, loving human being.”
And with all that, I suggest that we many-sided humans respond to the many-sided genius of Jean Shepherd’s real self out there on the airwaves, his improvised—and thus sometimes uncensored—persona, because, maybe more often than we’d like to admit, he’s expressing part of all of us—in spades!
Maybe the following “barnacle story” coming up in Part 2 is one of the times when what he says expressed something one can interpret with some certainty as essentially true about himself. The following transcript, with no context or other indicators of a concocted riff, sounds like a genuine self-description. The effect is a Jean Shepherd with a cold and unfeeling attitude toward friends and loved ones. He was “just being funny,” maybe? No doubt he would have said he was merely telling the truth about human nature—that this attitude is far more common than we are willing to admit.
I don’t fix things. I’m a non-fixer. When a house goes bad I throw it away. You know, that’s the way life is. I’m not a grubber. Never have been. In fact I’m profligate. Yeah! I’m probably the only guy you know who throws away ballpoint pens that don’t work anymore. I know people that keep ‘em. I know one guy that’s got ‘em stacked up like cord wood in his basement. He figures, “You never know,” you know?
I said, “What do you mean, ‘You never know’?”
He said, “You never know. May start working again.”
I said, “No, it won’t. Nothin’ starts working again.”
You’re listening to the only guy who ever actually threw away their watch! Just threw it away! Why? It was rotten. I threw it away. Why do you throw anything away? Why do you throw away potato peelings? Or don’t you? Heh heh. Well, nevertheless—I’m profligate. I’m very profligate. Reminds me of a story.
Folks, the barnacle Shep-story is in Part 2.
Here’s the anatomy—