[The following was read as a eulogy to TRR senior editor Bert Feldman at his memorial service on Sunday, February 7.]
I met Bert ten years ago — not in person, but, as many of us have, through his writing. I had just started working in newspapers, and one of my first duties was to edit Bert’s column, "The Recusant Reporter."
Bert was by then a well-seasoned journalist, whose first assignment at age 16 was covering the 1939 World’s Fair, and he was nobody’s fool. He saw through all the species of chicanery, double-dealing, knavery, rascality, humbuggery, pettifoggery, tomfoolery, pretentiousness, blarney, foolishness, ineptitude, and lunacy that paraded as authority (these words have, no doubt, made their way into his columns over the years), and he exposed them for what they were.
He loved to prick balloons of bombast and watch them deflate. He took such puckish joy in the work, one got the feeling that, although the selfishness and general dumbness to which he bore witness frustrated his natural sense of what was right and good and smart, he loved all the world and everything in it, and wouldn’t, in the last analysis, have had it be much different than what it was.
Another great satirist, Jonathan Swift, had it writ on his tombstone: "No longer does savage indignation lacerate his heart" — but this would not suit Bert Feldman. The savage indignation that spurs so many satirists to acts of creation was not natural to Bert’s gentle and generous character, which was marked not by a propensity to anger but rather by a willingness to be amused. He was often passionate but always humane and humorous. His love of people, for him an endless source of delight and fascination, was evident in every line he wrote. He is closer in spirit to the comic dramatist Terence, who wrote: "I am human, and am therefore indifferent to nothing done by humans."
Bert had a boundless faith in people, and in the power of commonsense and goodwill and redemption. In an explication he wrote of his favorite novel, "Moby Dick", he posed the question: "Why is Queequeg, a ... cannibal..., the kindest member of the crew in his treatment of Ishmael? When one first meets Queequeg, [he] is flourishing a tomahawk at Ishmael, and threatens him. ... Yet, only a few pages on, Queequeg and Ishmael share a bed and smoke a pipe together, the pipe being the very same tomahawk."
This was Bert’s noble vision — not, as in the clouded view of the cynic, that what seems good is probably bad, but that what seems bad is likely to contain the most good — the brandished tomahawk will become the peace pipe, and those we most fear, who are most terrifyingly different from ourselves, are indeed our brothers.
I have never in my life met anyone even remotely like Bert, who was at once so knowing and sensible and yet so dreamily optimistic, so outrageously, unremittingly funny. I have never spent a moment in his company that I have not felt completely happy. The reason is simple: he made me laugh. Laughter is salvation. Laughter makes life worth living.
Bert’s life-giving talent is rare in this world, which would rather grieve than laugh, and, for that reason, is all the more needed. Most of us mortals come into and go out of the world crying, but Bert entered it laughing, and laughing did he leave it.
Good-bye, dear friend.
Pamela Chergotis former TRR editor
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