Robert Benchley: From Nine To Five (Excerpt)


[ Among the many talents of Robert Benchley was his capturing of a very specific sort of fumbling monologue; he could spin out meticulously crafted strings of words falling against one another. This is a segment of “From Nine To Five”, reprinted in Of All Things,a surprisingly lengthy essay about business, in which he describes his problems dictating, and how his self-aware discomfort feeds back on itself. Comedic fumbling is a most precious skill; Benchley was great at it. Those who haven’t heard Benchley’s voice well enough to know his speaking style might do almost as well imagining Bob Newhart reading it. ]

“ Good morning, Miss Kettle. . . . Take a letter, please . . . to the Nipco Drop Forge and Tool Company, Schenectady . . . S-c-h-e-c — er— well, Schenectady; you know how to spell that, I guess, Miss Kettle, ha! ha! . . . Nipco Drop Forge and Tool Company, Schenectady, New York, . . . Gentlemen —– er (business of touching finger tips and looking at the ceiling meditatively) —– Your favor of the 17th inst. at hand, and in reply would state that –— er (I should have thought this letter out before beginning to dictate and decided just what it if that we desire to state in reply)–— and in reply would state that –— er . . . our Mr. Mellish reports that — er . . . where is that letter from Mr. Mellish, Miss Kettle? . . . The one about the castings. . . . Oh, never mind, I guess I can remember what he said. . . . Let’s sec, where were we? . . . Oh, yes, that our Mr. Mellish reports that he shaw the sipment — I mean saw the shipment —– what’s the matter with me? (this girl must think that I’m a perfect fool) . . . that he shaw the sipment in question on the platform of the station at Miller’s Falls, and that it –— er . . . ah . . . ooom . . . (I’ll have this girl asleep in her chair in a minute. I’ll bet that she goes and tells the other girls that she has just taken a letter from a man with the mind of an eight-year-old boy). . . . We could, therefore, comma, . . . what’s the matter? . . . Oh, I didn’t finish that other sentence, I guess. . . . Let’s see, how did it go? . . . Oh, yes . . . and that I, or rather it, was in good shape . . . er, cross that out, please (this girl is simply wasting her time here. I could spell this out with alphabet blocks quicker and let her copy it) . . . and that it was in excellent shape at that shape — . . . or rather, at that time . . . er . . . period. New paragraph.

“We are, comma, therefore, comma, unable to . . . hello, Mr. Watterly, be right with you in half a second. . . . I’ll finish this later, Miss Kettle . . .
thank you.”

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Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there. He/him.

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