Early in his career, Louis Armstrong worked as a jazz musician on a riverboat. He watched as a fellow musician almost starved himself in order to get money to invest in cotton. The man went hungry, saved his money, invested it in a cotton crop—and lost all his money when the crop failed because of boll weevils. Mr. Armstrong decided then and there that he would never be rich—but he would be fat.
• Early in his career—in fact, during his first-ever job as a writer—Tucson Weeklycolumnist Tom Danehy wrote this sentence: “I’d like to see a high school football season go by without a cheerleader getting pregnant.” Of course, this is a sentiment that all can agree with, although some people do not care to see it in print. One of those people was the publisher, and Tom’s career at a writer—at least in that town—seemed likely to end soon, as in immediately. However, the father of a cheerleader, who also happened to be the bishop of the local ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a big shot in that town, and a close friend of the publisher, saved Tom’s job by coming to his defense, even though he and Tom had had some major disagreements. Tom ended up leaving the job, and the town, soon anyway, but he always made a point of talking to the bishop each time he returned to the town. Tom says, “We still disagreed about everything (foremost being that his church, at the time, didn’t allow blacks to enjoy full membership), but we were cordial, and it [their relationship] was cool.” Tom, of course, still continues to have and express opinions, sometimes controversial, including this one: “I’d like to have a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses come to my door, find out that I’m Catholic and say, ‘OK, we won’t knock on your door any more. See you in heaven some day.’”
• After five years as a Redemptorist, Father John Neumann was appointed vicegerent of the order’s American branch. As such, he did much traveling, and one day he visited the Redemptorist house in New York. Met by the porter, he asked to see the pastor of the house. The porter started off to get the pastor, and Father Neumann began to follow him, but the porter told him, “Stay here, if you please. Take a seat on that bench, while I call the superior.” Then the porter muttered his thoughts loud enough for Father Neumann to hear him, “This man thinks he can enter the cloister.” Quickly, the porter reappeared and asked Father Neumann for his name. Hearing the answer, the porter told him, “Oh, if you are one of the priests, do come in.” The porter was then astonished to see the superior of the house kneel and ask Father Neumann for his blessing, and the porter left quickly. Later, Father Neumann had a meeting with the porter and told him that yes, he had fulfilled faithfully his duty as a porter. However, Father Neumann added gently, “I think it might be wise not to think out loud.”
• Authors and illustrators often acquire special knowledge. For example, Paul Goble, who retells Native American folk tales in his books for children, has learned, “I cannot be creative when using a machine.” Therefore, he writes his stories in longhand, then uses an old typewriter to type what he has just created. (Of course, other people are able to be creative when using machines such as personal computers.) He does like old things, such as the recorders that his father, a maker of harpsichords, made in the 1930s and 1940s. Paul and Robert, his son, played duets on these recorders. Another thing that Paul has learned is that it is sometimes better to draw something rather than to take a photograph of it because drawing requires the artist to look closely. Yet another thing that he has learned is that the spirits will help you if you are persistent. A Native American woman once wrote him, “I’ve always thought the wanga (spirits) are close to you. Some of your illustrations reveal that the ancestors come to visit you in your dreams.”
• It is important to show respect for other cultures. When Val Halamandaris compiled his book titled Faces of Caring, he wrote about 100 caring people who lived throughout history (and some legendary figures). Along with the text, he included a drawing or a photograph of the person he was writing about. However, for Muhammad, the prophet of Allah and the founder of Islam, he did not include a portrait. Why not? According to Islam, images of Muhammad are forbidden. Therefore, instead of a portrait of Muhammad, Mr. Halamandaris used a verse from the Qu’ran. Translated, the verse says, “I seek refuge with the Lord of the Dawn.” One of Muhammad’s sayings is this: “Every good act is charity. A man’s true wealth hereafter is the good that he does in this world for his fellow man.”
• Bahlool the wise fool once announced that he was a prophet. Of course, his countrymen were skeptical, so Bahlool told them that a fair test that he really was a prophet would be if he could read their minds. His countrymen agreed that if he could read their minds that this would prove that Bahlool was in fact a prophet. Bahlool then said, “You are thinking that I am a fake and not a prophet at all, aren’t you?”
• A man questioned the Buddha, asking, “Are you God?” The Buddha replied, “No.” The man then asked the Buddha if he was the son of God. Again, the Buddha answered, “No.” Next the man asked the Buddha if he was a saint or a holy man. Again, the Buddha answered, “No.” Finally, the man asked, “What are you, then?” The Buddha answered, “I’m awake.”
• As a very young girl, modern dance pioneer May O’Donnell found confessing her sins a “trial.” The problem was not that she had horrible sins to confess. Instead, the problem was that she couldn’t think of any sins she needed to confess—so she used to make up sins to confess to the priest.
• Tenor Richard Tucker was Jewish, and he stayed Jewish, declining to wear a cross for any of his roles. For example, in Boris Godunov, instead of wearing a cross, he wore a brass medallion with no religious significance at all. When his character was blessed, the character was not blessed with the sign of the cross but with two hands.