Wednesday, February 11, 2009

pineapple (REVISED: grapefruit)

LATE REVISION: Harry Gilonis (polumetis) nudges me: wasn't the fruit in question a grapefruit, rather than a pineapple? And – note my bum-covering "sieve-like memory" reference below – I think he's probably right.* So, another go-round**:
Oh yes, the Louis Zukofsky / Whittaker Chambers / Pinchos Zukofsky / Pineapple Grapefruit story – since you so kindly asked. (Among those nudging me, I note, is Chambers's grandson...)

This by way of Guy Davenport, who had it verbatim from LZ. HOWEVER – as many of his interlocutors have probably noted over the years, Guy had a habit of embroidering anecdotes with repeated telling; and conversely, I have a lamentably sieve-like memory for these things. (Frankly, that's probably a good thing for a biographer, since it forces me to rely on documentary evidence.) So I can vouch for neither the accuracy nor the completeness of the story; but it goes something like this:

The young LZ, attending Columbia ca. 1920 or '21, tells his immigrant family that he's bringing his goyish buddy Whittaker Chambers over on an upcoming evening. While LZ & WC are en route from Morningside Heights, a scene worthy of Buster Keaton unfolds in the family tenement apartment. The new icebox, it turns out, makes the kitchen too small for a guest to sit down in; Pinchos Z., having learned something of the lore of hospitality, has purchased a pineapple grapefruit, but has nowhere to put it. The icebox is shoved into a closet. Chambers & LZ arrive; Pinchos – who, remember, has probably somewhat fewer words of English than I do of Yiddish – greets him enthusiastically, opens enigmatically the kitchen closet, and dramatically offers up the pineapple grapefruit: "Welcome – MR. SHEIM-BERG!!"

For what it's worth.

*I seem to have closely-after-the-visit notes from several conversations with Guy, detailing all of the juicy anecdotage (sorry, folks – we're dealing with still-living people, for the most part), but not from the conversation in which Pinchos & the fruit came up.
**Harry also points out that the word "like--?" plays a role in the anecdote, but this bit of 3rd-hand lore's gotten too complicated already.


Vance Maverick said...

This is a great anecdote. Its uncertain veracity only adds to it somehow -- situates it as lore among lore.

Archambeau said...

This is why the gods gave us blogs.