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In Billy Wilder’s 1960 film The Apartment, C. C. Baxter, the main character, played by Jack Lemmon, works for an insurance company in New York. The date is November 1, 1959, and Dwight David Eisenhower is president of the United States.

   His take-home pay is $94.70 a week, Baxter tells us. It’s not much, but it’s a living wage. He lives in the West sixties, half a block from Central Park. The rent of his batchelor apartment, modest but comfortable, is $85 a month.  

  Baxter falls in love with Fran Kubelik, a uniformed elevator girl, played by the young Shirley MacLaine. What more could he (or you) ask for? It’s a wonderful, silly uplifting movie. I recommend it highly.

    Back in 1959, I too worked in an insurance company, although in a much smaller office, and had a desk outfitted with a massive IBM® calculator just like Baxter’s. My office was at Westerford in the Cape Town suburb of Newlands. Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd was the prime minister of what was then still the Union of South Africa—it only became a republic in 1961. I can’t for the life of me recall what I earned, but it was a living wage (i.e., I lived on it), or what rent I paid at Grassy Corners, the house I shared with a bunch of like-minded folk—four young men (including me) and two young women (not including my girl, Marijke, who had a place of her own). It was just half a block or so from the main offices of the Southern Life Association. I could walk to work in five minutes.

    So I too had met my Fran Kubelik (but Marijke was a student at UCT, not an elevator girl). We were together for about twelve years. (I doubt Fran Kubelik and C. C. Baxter would have lasted either. How long could she have stood his silly laugh!) I lost Marijke during the sexual revolution, at which point we lived in Athens, Greece. She stayed there after I was expelled from the country by the military regime that seized power in a coup in 1967. She’s buried in a grave in the Peloponnese with a view of the Taygetos Mountains.



Note: Sigmund Freud uses the term Schnorrerhoffnungen to describe his hopes as “a poor, young human being tormented by burning wishes and gloomy sorrows” (Peter Gay, Freud: A Life for Our Time [New York: Norton, 1998], 50). Gay translates the Yiddish term as “scrounger's hopes."

“A schnorrer is distinguished from an ordinary beggar by dint of his boundless chutzpah,” Wikipedia claims.

Jerry Seinfeld says a schnorrer is “someone who picks the cashews out of the mixed nuts.”

   When I came to America in 1972,

Richard Milhous Nixon was president. It seemed like a hopeful country. And it was, for me.

Halloween 2023


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