View Full Version : Tense Question About Damon Runyon

Chez Guevara
08-29-2001, 08:16 PM
I have a copy of Damon Runyon's 'On Broadway'. The book comprises three sets of stories viz. 'More Than Somewhat', 'Furthermore' and 'Take It Easy'.

In his introduction, E. C. Bentley writes as follows:

'In all the Runyon stories, as published in America, I have found only one single instance of a verb in the past tense. It occurs in one of those (stories) included in this book'.

I have read these stories many times, but never specifically to check this assertion. I am curious to know whether any Runyon reader has come across the item in question.

Many thanks.

08-29-2001, 08:20 PM
I must admit that I am not the type what checks the tense on his Runyon. As far as I am aware, all Runyon is in prensent tense and this is the way I am liking it.

So while it is possible that this fellow's assertion is true, it is one which I have not tested. Besides, if I am reading Runyon, I am busy savoring the prose, not parsing the sentences.

Nicely-Nicely Fenris, who is pleased to see a Damon Runyon thread!

Chez Guevara
08-29-2001, 08:28 PM
A fair comment Fenris. I would never go through these stories specifically to look for an anomaly. I am hoping that someone has spotted it by accident as it were.

08-29-2001, 08:39 PM
I am understanding this and I am interested in it too! Please do not think that I am criticizing you! I just wanting to add my two cents to any Damon Runyon thread and admit that if there is anomaly noticing to be done, I am not the man what does it! :)

Fenris (Damn, that syntax is hard and doesn't sound a third as good as Runyon's!)

Rodd Hill
08-30-2001, 12:45 AM
I am thinking it is indeed a small world, as just last Sunday I am entering a small used bookstore, which, although I have passed by the front door many times while heading to the track, I have not entered before.

Now it is by no means unusual to find me in such an emporium, although there are those who will suggest that it is, and furthermore will give you 8 to 5 that I am choosing books with short words and many illustrations.

When I am nearly through casing the shelves, one volume is catching my eye, and I soon see that this is a book of short stories about various citizens, many of whom I am thinking are not the sort of citizens who will welcome their business being discussed in public. Furthermore, I am thinking that this mook Runyon will be well advised to hop a tub and avoid Broadway for no little time, as several of these citizens are rodded up, and maybe they will think that Mr. Runyon needs to be cooled off.

It turns out that the introduction to the book is being written by a foreign body by the name of Bentley, who is giving out with many comments about Runyon and these stories, including the comment that Runyon is using only the present tense, with the exception of one verb, and this verb is being found in one of the stories in this book. However, even though I am reading these stories several times, I am not finding this verb, although I am thinking that it is many years since I am in short pants in grammar class, and perhaps I am not looking for the right word.

While this is not a situation that I am inclined to lose sleep over, I am mentioning this Bentley's proposition to the citizens in Mindy's Cafe, as it is well known that Mindy's cafe is such a joint as will attract many citizens who are reading materials other than Little Isadore's racing form.

Rodd Hill
08-30-2001, 12:46 AM
Damn! Two past tense verbs in the first paragraph!

08-30-2001, 02:23 AM
A creditable effort otherwise, as I am not noticing the errors without you pointing them out.

08-30-2001, 05:42 AM
"passed" and "entered". And I do not think "Mook" is a Runyonesque word. But aside from these two points, I must say that Rodd Hill's Runyonese is much better than mine. :)

Also, if you are liking Runyon and Science Fiction, the writer Spider Robinson has written a short story what can be found in the collection Melancholy Elephants, the short story being called "Chronic Offender", which is about a resident of Broadway getting his mitts on a time machine and what comes after. And Robinson, at cursory glance, seems to succeed in writing a time-travel story without the past tense! Very funny and highly recommended.


08-30-2001, 06:52 AM
I am also noticing this guy Bentley's statement, and in fact I am possessing the first edition of a Runyan collection, the editor of same being this guy Bentley. The name of this book is escaping me at the moment, and I am considering finding the book, but when I realize that I probably bury it in a box in the attic and would have to dig around more than somewhat, I am saying to myself that it is not worth the trouble.

Nonetheless, when I am reading this collection, I am also missing the past tense verb Bentley is speaking of, which is causing me to think that either this guy Bentley is off his rocker, or that Limeys are speaking a different language altogether, and just calling it English. Of course, Spanish John is of the opinion that it is both, and gives 6 to 5 on it, which is not bad odds, at that, although how you could prove it and collect your bet is beyond me.

All in all, though, I am agreeing with Fenris that I am reading Runyan and savoring the prose. And while a citizen might think such a mistake as this guy Bentley speaks of would jump out and sock the reader in the eye, I am thinking, since it hasn't, that I will merely continue my recreational reading.

That, and I am also thinking that perhaps I ought to get in on Spanish John's 6 to 5, after all.

08-30-2001, 07:30 AM
Fenris is the one who is originally saying this
But aside from these two points, I must say that Rodd Hill's Runyonese is much better than mine. :)
And I must say that mine is even worse than yours, as I am finding the words myself even before I am posting the first time but am not able to be making that clear in the first post. I am thinking that this is because I am only a college doll and I am only reading "More Guys and Dolls" before trying this more than somewhat convoluted syntax. Although I am seeing "Guys and Dolls" twice when I am ten years old...

I am also thinking that this thread is a weird coincidence, as just yesterday I am walking past the library and thinking that it is a long time since I am reading new things for fun. After a long walk through the stacks, I am finding a Nero Wolfe novel to read and as I am leaving, what should jump off the shelf and into my bag but a copy of "Bloodhounds of Broadway," which I start reading before the book by this guy Stout that I am going into the library to find in the first place.

TV time
08-30-2001, 08:10 AM
FWIW--I highly recommend "Gentleman of Broadway" as a wonderful biography of Runyon.

After reading all of Runyon's fiction and many of his friends' references to him (most notably Gene Fowler's) I had heard "Gentleman" was the best biography on the man. I believe it is. It is unfortunately out of print, but usually can be found in the better used bookstores.


08-30-2001, 10:11 AM
Didn't your English teachers ever tell you to avoid Run-yon sentences?

08-30-2001, 11:06 AM
(I'm not even going to try.) I too read Bentley's statement, and wonder and wonder. But then one day, it just springs out at me.

The Lily of St Pierre. This is one of Runyon's sadder stories, and I think it is no mistake that he slips in one past tense. Of course, this is merely my opinion, and you may be one of those who has other opinions.

"But perhaps he had time to remember the Lily of St Pierre."

I quote from memory.

Chez Guevara
08-30-2001, 01:23 PM
I am busy minding my own business, doing not very much, when along comes this post from loser concerning 'The Lily Of St. Pierre'.

Well, this is one of my favourite stories, as stories go, and I begin straight away to search out the book in order to check out this proposition.

It takes me a while to do this and finally I read the story when something comes up, as follows:

Along comes a guy by the name of Fingers saying that Louie the Lug dies at the Polyclinic, shortly after Jack O' Hearts puts a couple of slugs in Louie, and Jack is asking what does Louie say before he dies.

'Not a peep,' Fingers says.

'Well,' Jack O' Hearts says, 'it is sloppy work at that. I ought to get him the first crack. But maybe he had a chance to think a little of Lily Dorval.'

08-31-2001, 06:50 AM
Let me take this occasion to also add my kudos to loser as he answers the question by way of memory.

And while I find it gratifying that such a guy as this ups with the answer, I also find it more than somewhat distressing, as I am just back from making a sucker bet with Spanish John on the sanity of this guy Bentley.

But then, if I have a nickel for every citizen on Broadway who ever makes a sucker bet, I will have no need of Spanish John anyway. As for me, I am off to Mindy's for a slice of cheesecake and a cup of java, after which I will play klob at Goodtime Charlie's, shunning his drinks, as always, as Charlie is not such a guy as will serve his hooch to citizens he counts as friends.

08-31-2001, 06:53 AM
Actually, to spurn the Runyonese for a moment, I agree with loser in the assessment of the stylistic lapse. Given the quote Nostradamus posted, as well as the sentimentality of the story (a fine one, IMHO), it seems Runyon broke his stylistic tradition to soften the final line. If you change it to "has" it doesn't have the same emotional impact, I think.

Any discussion?

Let's not see the same hands over and over again...

Steve Wright
08-31-2001, 08:26 AM
Ever since I am first reading Damon Runyon, I am remembering this question. I am never spotting this one past tense verb, although I know it is there, because Mr. Bentley says so, and I know him to be by no means a slowcoach when it comes to the writing game.

So now that loser is finding this one instance (and I agree with him that Runyon is not a guy who makes mistakes with words), I am wondering whether some editor or sub-editor is "correcting" this one in my edition, since these are often such guys as will horn in and change things, even when their opinion is not wanted.

Chez Guevara
08-31-2001, 09:36 AM
Originally posted by DAVEW0071
it seems Runyon broke his stylistic tradition to soften the final line. If you change it to "has" it doesn't have the same emotional impact, I think.

Any discussion?

It seems that many citizens are interested more than somewhat in this proposition, and loser comes up with the answer from nothing but his memory, but Bookie Bob is laying 6 to 5 this is a misprint. I do not see that the impact is lost by continuing in the present tense.

Anyway, the whole of life is 6 to 5 against.
Big Nig is down taking the waters in Hot Springs, and anything else there may be to take in Hot Springs.....

09-01-2001, 08:56 AM
I am now in a most difficult position indeed, as these posts boost my curiosity more than somewhat on the story in question. In fact, I am so curious I up and search my attic for the book I tell you about, which is no mean feat, as I must bend over and walk like a duck the whole time or else bang my head on the rafters and see more stars than are in the sky on a clear night in Saratoga Springs.

But I am lucky, as the very first box I peer into contains the book I speak of, and my trip to the attic is profitable and short, at that.

It is a volume which comes out in 1940, according to the copyright page, and it carries the title "The Best of Damon Runyon: A Choice Selection Made by E. C. Bentley." I look up the story "The Lily of St. Pierre" and find the sentence loser speaks of. Well, you can knock me off my pins with one of Miss Adelaide's peacock feathers when I read "But maybe he has a chance to think a little of Lily Dorval."

So I am thinking that maybe loser is wrong, for all that, but I will be a stand-up guy and say that more than likely it is some editor or proofreader who changes the text, as editors and proofreaders are notorious guys for such things as changing text.

Still, this guy Bentley says in his introduction that one of the stories has a verb in the past tense and it is included as he finds it, as he is not such a guy as will change things like this, even if it strikes him as not being on the level, literary-wise.

So I guess the mystery will continue, unless Judge Goldfobber steps in and settles it, although personally I see no percentage in his doing so. Still, now that I dig out the book from my attic without bonking my noggin, I may well reaquaint myself with the stories, and keep a watchful eye out for this verb in the bargain.

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