"Although you may remember me as the world's foremost sciolist," writes Dr. Robert F. Kaufmann, interim minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church, Long Beach, "you are probably unaware that I am also the founder of Nonentities Anonymous."
Kaufmann says he does not know the names of any other members, "if, indeed, we have any."
Hoping to make his membership more exciting, he says, he is trying to set the world's record for name-dropping in a single sentence. "It is here that you may help me," he adds.
He recalls that some years ago he had lunch with Norman Cousins, the late man-of-the-world. "Something I said reminded Norman (note casual use of his first name) of the time that he, as he put it, 'was in Rome to deliver a message from John Kennedy to the Pope and the Pope asked me to go on to Moscow to give the same message to Khrushchev.' "
Kaufmann was awe-struck. "Three great names dropped in one sentence! Then I realized that I could go him one better by telling people that something they said reminds me of the time I had lunch with Norman Cousins and he was reminded of . . . Kennedy, the Pope, and Khrushchev."
Then Kaufmann saw how he could extend it one more name. "If you will write this, then I can build my one-sentence name-dropping record to five. I can tell people that something they said reminds me of the time that Jack Smith wrote about the time I had lunch with Norman. . . ."
What Kaufmann fails to realize is that I, too, am a member of Nonentities Anonymous, or should be. My name is known to a number of readers, of course, but beyond that circle I have no celebrity whatever. Whenever I am introduced to anyone at Hollywood parties I am usually asked, "Are you \o7 the\f7 Jack Smith?" I have learned to say no. They usually mean somebody else.
One day I was walking on the Paramount lot and two teen-age girls approached me with autograph books in their hands. As they drew within hearing distance, one put a restraining hand on the other and said, "He's nobody." How right she was.
I am puzzled, though, by Kaufmann's reference to himself as the world's foremost sciolist. I thought that honor belonged to another correspondent of mine, Robert Barnai of Beverly Hills.
It was Barnai who first called \o7 me\f7 a sciolist, then wrote to define the word. "In your column today about your art collection and your Christmas-present book, entitled 'The Timetables of History,' you mention your love of superficial knowledge and your facile gift for pretending to more knowledge than you have. Ah, Mr. Smith! Welcome to the club. You are a sciolist. That is, one whose knowledge is superficial and who likes to pretend to more knowledge than he or she possesses, or, vulgarly, has. We're sure that you have much to contribute, and we hope you will be happy among us."
Barnai went on, perhaps by way of proving his credentials as a sciolist: "It is, of course, possible that you are a sneak and a cheat and a backslider from pure, devout, orthodox and sincere sciolism and that you already knew you were a sciolist, eager to destroy my innocent pleasure in displaying my superior superficial knowledge and telling you.
"Well, I'm onto you, Smith. We get plenty of your kind, low, nasty, treacherous big phonies, coy as hell, who come creeping round claiming the highest qualifications as sciolist candidates and then turn out to be as learned as twenty consecutive editions of the encyclopedia. College professors usually.
"But there are always a few smart-alecks like you who lead people on in the mass media too. Go to hell, Smith, and take your timetables with you. But have a happy New Year, at least superficially."
As the object of that diatribe, delivered by a man who must indeed be the world's leading sciolist, I cannot accept Kaufmann as the world's leading sciolist unless he has been similarly anointed.
He is right, though, in recognizing that being an eminent sciolist will not disqualify him from membership in Nonentities Anonymous. If I were asked whether I was \o7 the\f7 Jack Smith and answered, "Yes, I'm the eminent sciolist," I doubt that anyone would be impressed.
I'm happy to know that I'm a sciolist, if only fraudulently, and I don't mind being nobody.
As Emily Dickinson wrote:
\o7 I'm nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody too?
Then there's a pair of us
Don't tell! They'd banish us, you know.
How dreary to be somebody!
How public--like a frog
To tell your name the livelong June
To an admiring bog!
\f7 Only a true sciolist would presume to quote Emily in this context.