Live and Let Live

Damon Runyon

Our Old Man said it was truly remarkable how much good advice he could think of to give his fellow men and how little of it he took himself. He said no man or woman who followed his advice to the letter could possibly fail of success in life, yet he remained pretty much of a failure because he was unable to take his own medicine.

He said for instance one of his stock pieces of advice to others was to do no favors and trust no one. He said the soundness of this advice could scarcely be questioned, though it might be open to criticism on the ground of selfishness and possibly even of inhumanity.

But he said he was speaking of advice from the standpoint of utility, and on that basis he considered this advice unassailable. Particularly, he said, as he could point to half a dozen men right there in our old home town of Pueblo, and to several women, who had taken the advice and as a result were flourishing.

Our Old Man said that so far from following his advice himself he took just the other tack. He said he did favors whenever and wherever possible. He said he had often got up in the middle of the night to do a favor and that his well-known willingness to do favors made him the recipient of innumerable requests for same. He said this entailed a great loss of time that he might better have devoted to his own interests.

He said those who had followed his advice escaped these requests and this loss of time because they had established themselves as no-favor doers. Moreover, he said, they suffered none of the criticism that fell on him when, after doing a million favors, he found himself for some reason unable to do one more. Our Old Man said that most of his enemies in our old home town were persons for whom he had done many favors only to finally fail to do one more, and that in every case the enmity traced to the single failure in that particular case.

Our Old Man said it was much on this basis that he sometimes advised others not to strive too much for absolute perfection in life. He said he thought it was a good idea to occasionally make a mistake, even if one had to make it deliberately. He said it had been his observation that a person could live in a community for years without deviating from a path of perfection and get no credit, yet at the first faltering everybody knocked his brains out.

He said on the other hand a wavering by one never perfect attracted no attention. He said he was not suggesting that periods of disorder were to be recommended, but that he felt something a little short of 100 per cent was all right, at least until communities took to pinning medals on perfection, and allowing for a slip into the bargain.

Our Old Man said that instead of following his own advice and trusting no one, he trusted everybody and that thus he had experienced a succession of swindles and betrayals, and a slight disintegration of his faith in his brethren and sistern, especially his sistern. He said contrariwise those who took his advice could not be swindled or betrayed because they never offered swindlers or betrayers the opportunity. No one went to them to endorse a phony check because it was known that they were not in the endorsing business.

Our Old Man said he sometimes felt a bit aggrieved at his brethren who had violated his trust, but that he never really got sore at the sistern. He said he had placed implicit trust in the sistern all his days and that he hoped to continue to do so until the sod closed over him because he considered the crossings-up he had received at their hands just so many beautiful experiences.

He said that while those who followed his advice to the letter might be spared much anguish of heart and soul and the pangs of jealousy, they nonetheless missed something without which life was incomplete. Our Old Man said that was illusion. He said he loved to recall, in his old age, the illusions he had created for himself in another day around the personalities of various of the sistern—illusions of loveliness and charm and of faithfulness unto death.

He said he admitted it was sometimes a shock to him to learn that the object of one of his illusions was meeting another fellow in back of Stone’s livery stable immediately after leaving him, but Our Old Man said incidents of that nature never completely destroyed his trust in the next one, thank God.