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‘Him with his foot in his mouth’

One of the memorable stories by Saul Bellow, the Nobel Prize laureate, is “Him with his Foot in his Mouth,” a 70-page novella published in book form in 1985. It is in the form of a long letter by the protagonist Shawmut, a PhD and college professor, apologizing to Miss Rose, the sweet old librarian whom he insulted years ago with his devastating wit.

When Shawmut encountered Miss Rose in the campus, he was wearing a baseball cap. As he narrates it, “Then, Miss Rose, you say ‘Oh Dr. Shawmut, in that cap you look like an archaeologist.’ Before I can stop myself, I answer, ‘And you look like something I just dug up.’”

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Later in life, Shawmut encounters a very rich lady, Mrs. Pergamon, whose bosom is laden with diamonds “which lay like the Finger Lakes among their hills.” The conversation is about money. Mrs. Pergamon mentions that she is planning to write her memoirs. Again, before Shawmut can stop himself, he blurts out: “Will you use a typewriter or an adding machine?”

The years pass. Shawmut is now beset by problems; he is in litigation with his brother. He is forced to hire a lawyer whom he doesn’t like. There is a letter to be written that is vital to the case. The lawyer (male) demands: “You do it, Shawmut. You’re the man with the words.”

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“And you’re the whore with ten cunts!”

Doesn’t this character Shawmut remind you of a popular personality in our midst who also has foot-and-mouth disease, except that he is more vulgar and less witty?

Ámadis Ma. Guerrero, 78, is a short-story writer, author and cultural travel journalist who has been regularly contributing to this newspaper since 1992.

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TAGS: Him with his foot in his mouth, Philippines, Saul Bellow
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