As little as I’ve been writing recently, I ought to be ashamed to do this. But I came across this piece from January 2004 and thought it was both funny and relevant.
Now you’re really going to have to listen to me.
I received a letter from Cambridge, England, notifying me that I had been selected as one of the 2,000 outstanding intellectuals of the 21st century.
That’s right, we bad. We bad.
Sorry, but I couldn’t help channeling Richard Pryor in “Silver Streak” for a minute there.
Seriously, here’s how the letter started:
“The Oxford English Dictionary defines intellectualism as the ‘doctrine that knowledge is wholly or mainly derived from pure reason’ and it follows by saying that an intellectual is ”a person possessing a good understanding, enlightened person.’ Surely, therefore, this definition is the reason for your selection to be included in this prestigious publication which is due for release in late 2004.”
Now I’m no slouch. I read two newspapers every day, I finish the crossword puzzle more often than not and I can usually beat the contestants on “Wheel of Fortune” to the correct answer. Sometimes I don’t even need to buy a vowel.
But intellectual? I’m not even the leading intellectual in my own family. My wife has doctorates in astronomy and geophysics, my daughter has two bachelors degrees – both with honors – from UCLA and my son just finished his first semester of college at Cal State Northridge with a 4.0 average.
In my house, I’m the freaking village idiot.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. If Bill Cosby, Elayne Boosler, Jerry Seinfeld and Steve Martin all lived together, one of them would have to be the least funny guy – or girl – in the house.
And if Willie, Mickey and the Duke lived together – when they were all living – one of them would have been the least athletic. I’m thinking Duke.
No competition at all.
So it’s all a matter of comparison. Put me in a phone booth with Dubya and I’d be the first one to find my way out. Yeah, I know he’s got degrees from Yale and Harvard, but my guess is the names “Pierce” and “Bush” – momma’s and daddy’s names – had more to do with that than any grades he actually earned. If Dubya had a brain, he’d be outside playing with it.
Put me up against ol’ Dub in a battle of wits and I’d refuse to fight. There’s no honor in beating an unarmed man, even if it would be soooo much fun.
Anyway, I’m no dope. Just ask the folks in Cambridge. Those limeys know brains when they see them. We’re talking about the land that gave us Billy Shakespeare, Bert Russell and Monty Python. I’m part English myself, on my mother’s side and way back on my natural father’s side. Of course, I’m part German too, and the Germans have a fine intellectual tradition of their own — Goethe, Nietzche, Goebbels.
Oh, never mind. Every nationality, every ethnic group, has its great thinkers and its morons. For every Benjamin Franklin there’s a Benny Hill, for every Apostle Paul there’s a Pauly Shore.
And for every Mike Rappaport, well, there’s a Mike Rappaport. Like most people, I’ve got my smart side and my goofy side.
But hey, Cambridge likes me. Cambridge thinks I’m one of the finest minds of my generation. Cambridge figures I might do something great someday.
Uh, Mike … Isn’t this another one of those books where they’ll put your name in a book with a few thousand other wannabes as long as you pay $300 or $400 to buy the special leather-bound edition?
Not at all. If you want the book, you can buy it for whatever they’re selling it for – in pounds, not dollars – but they stress that you don’t have to buy the book in order to be listed in it.
They love me for my mind. Not my money.
But didn’t you buy the book when they put you in “Who’s Who in America?”
Sure, but that was because I wanted to donate a copy to the public library. I didn’t want to be one of those prophets who was without honor in his own small city of 24,000 people.
Uh, yeah. Whatever.
Yeah, I bought the special leather-bound edition and looked inside at my bio once or twice. Then I donated it to the library. Dang book wouldn’t fit in the bookcase, and I needed more space in the bottom of my closet for my shoes.
That’s not the point, though. It’s one thing to be in “Who’s Who in America.” They’re not particularly selective. I think Dubya, Pee Wee Herman and the guy who mows my lawn are all in there. But if someone thinks you’re one of the “2,000 outstanding intellectuals of the 21st century,” that’s really something.
Now if you’ll excuse me, Vanna White is calling.