Tepper Revisited

Sometimes sitting alone in my car, I feel luxuriosly safe when all around me is too chaotic to bear. The car is parked, of course, and no one else is around. I listen to the classical radio station, close my eyes, and just drift. Sometimes I read old New Yorker magazines. Calvin Trillin’s Tepper comes to mind (from “Tepper Isn’t Going Out”); maybe it’s time to reread the book. But it’s on a shelf somewhere else, not here in my car.

I reviewed the book over ten years ago but I can still use it’s lesson in patience, especially now. Here’s my review:

A lesson in patience – that’s what the nurse said about her elderly patient. She will do what she wants, when she wants to – so time would be better spent accepting that idea and just being patient. The patient was teaching everyone around her to be patient – a recent lesson from my personal experience.

Patience in characters is hard to find. Often impatience is the character flaw that moves the story, but one of my favorite characters is Murray Tepper, the personification of patience. Tepper is the invention of Calvin Trillin, satirist who writes for The New Yorker. Trillin once noted that “…Marriage is not merely sharing the fettucini, but sharing the burden of finding the fettucini restaurant in the first place.”

In his book, Tepper Isn’t Going Out, Trillin gives Tepper patience and wisdom, mixed with lots of humor. For anyone who has lived or spent time in New York City, the complementary characters in the book, and the descriptions of New York neighborhoods and politics will make you smile.

Tepper sits in his car, patiently reading his morning paper in the evening, seemingly not bothering anyone. But, sitting patiently in a car becomes a red flag – and not only for those seeking a parking spot. Tepper becomes “the psychiatrist is in” Lucy from Peanuts to some, the guru on the mountaintop to a few, and a source of annoyance to others – as he sits patiently in his car. Even if the innuendo and satire passes over your head, the journey you will take in reading this book is hilarious.

Throughout all the hysterics of others, Tepper stays calm and Trillin brings the book to a calm and logical end. Patience is a virtue hard to acquire, and there are many who are willing to teach us a lesson in forbearance – we meet them everyday through bureaucratic jumbles and personal interactions – and Tepper is one of them.

Don’t Slam the Door on Your Way Out

Speculation on why the flight attendant jumped out of the airplane will be fodder for David Letterman and John Stewart soon.  If you haven’t heard the story, it’s no joke. Read the New York Times article “Fed-Up Flight Attendant Makes Sliding Exit”…


Soon we might hear how the stress of the job and caring for his ailing mother added up to the moment when a passenger provided the straw that broke Steven Slater’s public persona of politely gritting his teeth.  A friend once told me he saw a professional pour a pot of coffee over a  colleague – so much for that career.  Maybe you’ve witnessed moments of insanity  – or clarity?

Sometimes it’s hard to get that Ayurvedic balance, no matter how much green tea you drink and imaginary red roses you smash.  Sylvia Boorstein’s Happiness is an Inside Job cleverly uses humor in her own experiences with everyday annoyances, and without preaching,  applies  a simple three-step Buddhist call to mindfulness, concentration, and effort.

It might have taken a moment for Boorstein to find humor in a passenger’s luggage clocking the flight attendant’s head – maybe this anecdote  relates: an encounter with a French elderly entrepreneur who blatantly overcharges for a mattress responds to the buyer’s anxiety and demands with a shrug and –   “these things happen.”

“That’s life (says Boorstein).  Let’s (move on)…to the lamp store and look at end tables.”

Sometimes, slamming the door on your way out just feels good, but it’s hard to slam the door on the way out of an airplane.