Monday, January 2, 2012

David Meyer | On Ernie Summers

Coles Phillips, Know All Men by These Presents (c1910). Library of Congress.

The following passages are from David Meyer's memoir of his friend Ernest Summers, in Ernie and Me (c2003)—

His antics in restaurants were always entertaining. "As Shakespeare once said, 'What foods these morsels be!'" was his usual comment when a meal was served... He would scoop up unused silverware into his coat sleeves and let it spill out again as he was paying for the meal. He was never rude to waiters, but he often confounded them. He kept a stack of freshly minted one-dollar bills glued together at one end so they appeared to be a pad of paper. As Ernie tore off singles to pay a bill, the expressions on the faces of the wait staff or cashiers were wonderful to watch. Decades before the advent of portable cell phones, he carried a phone receiver with a cord attached to the inside of his suit coat. A ringing device was in his pocket. We would be in a restaurant and as the waitress was taking the order, Ernie would have the phone "ring." He'd reach into his coat, pull out the receiver and put it to his ear. After saying "Hello" and "Hold on," he would hand it to the waitress and say, "It's for you." No one I saw who was given that fake phone ever hesitated saying "Hello" into its receiver.


On our first introduction he asked me how old I was.
"Seven," I think I told him.
"D'you know how old I was when I was your age?" he asked.
"I was eight."
It wasn't only waiters Ernie confounded; children were included.
"If S-O-U-P spells 'soup,'" he'd say, "What does G-O-U-P spell?"
"No... 'Go up,'" he'd reply.
He'd also show how he had eleven fingers. "Ten, nine, eight, seven, six," he's say, counting backwards, "and five on this hand makes eleven."
Early on he gave me a piece of advice which I have never forgotten:
He who takes what isn't his'n,
Pays a fine or goes to prison.