When I was in high school in the 1960s I read an essay by Robert Benchley titled “The Tooth, the Whole Tooth and Nothing but the Tooth,” a humorous account of going to a dentist in 1922. I was recently reminded of this essay while sitting in the office of an oral surgeon who was preparing to extract two of my molars that had outlived their usefulness. I thought about how apt Benchley’s insights from a century ago still were. I also thought about sharing this realization with my oral surgeon but was prevented, as one always is in a dentist’s chair, from conversing with an open mouth while people were poking around inside.
As some alert readers (ARs) most assuredly know, Benchley was a founding member of a group that met regularly for lunch at The Algonquin Round Table in New York and whose conversations were distinguished by witticisms, wordplay and repartee. When I first read about The Algonquin Round Table, I was doubly inspired. I told myself that if I ever opened a restaurant or bar, I would want to foster conversations like those at The Algonquin in its heyday in the 1920s; and I also had ambitions to be a writer like those invited to sit around this distinguished table.
When we opened The Schlafly Tap Room in December of 1991 we made a conscious decision not to install a TV, hoping to encourage conversations among our customers. We still do not have a TV in the south bar at The Tap Room; and I would argue that our other bars that now have TVs still feature lots of lively conversations, some of which rise to the level of The Algonquin. If anything is now a deterrent to Algonquinian conversations it would be cellphones, not TVs.
As for my ambitions to become an author, I published my only book in 2006. ARs may recall that A New Religion in Mecca was written for the 15th anniversary of Schlafly Beer. I selected the title because when we first opened in 1991 the idea of starting a brewery in St. Louis, in the shadow of Anheuser-Busch, was considered heretical. As I said at the time, it was almost like starting a new religion next to the Grand Mosque in Mecca.
Lo and behold, something that I would have thought inconceivable back in 2006 is now actually happening. As was recently reported in The Wall Street Journal, Rabbi Jacob Herzog, an Israeli with an American passport, has traveled to Saudi Arabia and announced that he intends to become the Chief Rabbi in the Kingdom. Granted, Judaism antedates Islam by a couple of millennia, so it’s not exactly a “new religion.” Nevertheless, it’s not especially welcome in the Muslim Kingdom. I mention this incident to illustrate the limitations of my literary imagination. I always thought the idea of a new religion in Mecca was preposterous. Now that someone has declared his plan to become The Chief Rabbi there, it’s apparently a reality. I take my hat off to those writers whose imaginations are clearly more expansive than my own.
As most ARs know, Saudi disapproval isn’t limited to non-Muslim religions like Judaism and Christianity. The government is also hostile to alcoholic beverages. In that respect it has something in common with The Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, which would not have approved of the lunches at The Algonquin Round Table, not only because of the libations that fueled the discussions, but also because the women present wore lipstick. I am not making this up. After the WCTU and its allies succeeded in passing the 18thAmendment, thereby imposing Prohibition on the nation, their next target was cosmetics for women. At the organization’s annual meeting in San Francisco in 1921 a speaker exhorted the group, “Let’s go after the lipstick and the rouge, and those other beautifying instruments. There is no room for smeared lips in America.” The group later abandoned the plan because “The women who use lip-stick are not the sort we can educate.” In other words, the women of the WCTU thought the women at The Algonquin, like the brilliant writer Dorothy Parker, would not have been susceptible to being “educated” by the likes of them. I’m sure they were right.
Fifteen years have elapsed since I published my first and only book, meaning Schlafly Beer is now 30 years old. Men and women who reached adulthood and drank their first legal beer after we opened in 1991 are now eligible to join AARP. I can’t help but be reminded of a slogan popularized when I was in high school in the 1960s: Don’t Trust Anyone Over 30. It’s often attributed to Jack Weinberg, who uttered it in connection with the Berkeley Free Speech Movement in 1964. It was later most commonly associated with the countercultural icon Jerry Rubin.
Sitting in the the chair in the oral surgeon’s office, I was reminded of the term “long in the tooth,” a colloquial term for being elderly. One of the earliest uses in English was by William Makepeace Thackeray, who in 1852 described a woman who “was now of more than middle age” and “lean, and yellow, and long in the tooth.” Ouch.
One of the earliest recorded uses of the phrase in the United States was in the Huron, Michigan Daily Huronite in 1889, the year Robert Benchley was born. By my standard, the brilliant Benchley, who died in 1945 at the age of 56, never got to be long in the tooth. Neither did Jerry Rubin, who also died at 56, in 1994, 26 years after becoming no longer trustworthy.
Chairman – The Saint Louis Brewery