by Stanley Cohen
(Ed. Note: I recently discovered this column, which was submitted to me several years ago but which I apparently misplaced. It was written by Stanley Cohen, who grew up near Broad and Olney in West Oak Lane, graduated from Central High School and Temple University and went on to teach English in Philadelphia public schools for many years. He died of cancer a few years ago at the age of 68. – Len Lear)
A great many people in this world now subscribe to the belief that small is beautiful. I am one of them, having always preferred the small view framed by a few trees to the panoramic view of a few counties seen from high up on a mountain.
Lately, however, I have come to the conclusion that short is even more beautiful than small. I am rapidly becoming convinced that the pleasures of this life should be taken in sips and that everything, certainly in the field of entertainment, is far too long.
When I wrote movie reviews for weekly newspapers a few decades ago, films lasted no more than 90 minutes. Now, many seem to take a minimum of two hours, and one emerges from the theater battered, tired and deafened, too, since it seems that extremely loud is also supposedly a beautiful thing to be. Not to mention restaurants that are so loud, you cannot even hear your wife, who is sitting three feet away from you.
Plays, to which I am addicted, are mostly all right lengthwise unless they are Shakespeare’s, the cutting of which I am scandalously in favor of. In the early 1600s in England, there was not much else to do except stay in your theater seat for several hours, but now we have electricity, so I can actually go home and read a book or newspaper. Speaking of nights, they are also far too long unless, of course, on rare, delightful occasions, they are too short.
And then there are those critically praised six-hour dramas on HBO, one hour a week for six weeks. That is too much time to take out of my life. Since these interminable stories can easily and effectively be told in two hours, I watch the first hour and several weeks later the last hour, and that is definitely more than enough. All the stuff in the middle is basically just filler. And in the case of the mostly unfunny sitcoms, is there anyone on earth (except for the producers) who doesn’t think there is way too much canned laughter? Actually, any amount is too much because if the allegedly amusing sitcom was really funny, there would be actual laughter in your living room and no need for the fake kind.
Concerts have always been too long, and I have happily reached the degree of seniority when I can leave the theater at intermission without appearing rude. My mother used to say, “A little of what you like does you good,” and I like to rise from a musical feast nicely fed but not sated. By the time I have listened to some Bach, Vivaldi and Beethoven (who never knew when to stop), I am happy to leave the theater and, as if I am seeking a glass of lemonade, walk straight out into the hall and into the street, leaving the second half of the concert, which is probably Berg and Schoenberg, to those with much larger musical appetites.
Trips overseas in helpful, amicable groups are basically everything the culture vulture could desire, but there again, so much could be shortened. I do not take the prescribed two hours to look at Michelangelo’s “David” or the Sistine Chapel or more than 10 minutes to admire Benvenuto Cellini’s salt cellar, so I would be delighted to start an hour later in the morning and finish an hour earlier in the evening.
I often think it would be nice to have a small child come running along the road to greet me or perhaps a cute little fuzzy dog in a flurry of wriggles doing the same thing. But when this does happen (not often), I like our get-togethers to be quite short, much shorter in the case of children than dogs since the former can be so dreadfully demanding. After half an hour or so, I long in my curmudgeonly way for some kind soul to come and take them away.
In fact, enough is as good as a feast. More is a surfeit. And though I am aware that shortness carried to extremes can be absurd — I had a friend who found among his late mother’s belongings a tin box marked “String too short to use” — on the whole, weighed against long, short is undoubtedly the more beautiful.