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Cecil (on talent)

This morning I accidentally saw a segment of the British version of “Somebody’s Got Talent”: a five-person a cappella boy group who were genuinely good; even Simon Cowell thought so. As I listened to them during the morning ablutions, it occurred to me that our friend Cecil Elliott’s death nearly fifteen years ago spared him the bulk of “reality TV”. One can only wonder what he would have made of it. “The Real Housewives of Keokuk”. “Funeral Parlour Rescue”. “Albania’s Got Talent”. “Say ‘Yes’ to the Nose Job”. He’d have loved them one and all, the way we feel compelled to watch an accident. It brought one of his many stories to mind.

Some of you may know that Cecil served in the U.S. Navy during 1944-1946—aboard a cruiser of some sort, despite an inability to swim. His job was plane spotting: identifying aircraft at long distance by their outline, their shape. He had to pass a test based on images of actual planes in flight and did spectacularly well—by cheating: he had memorized the identity of each plane not by its silhouette, but by the cloud types—cirrus, stratus, cumulonimbus, etc—that necessarily accompanied each image. How typical of him to have perverted the system in such an inventive way. Do you think the end of the war was ever in jeopardy?

He related a story about putting in to port—I believe it was Portland, Maine—and going ashore late one afternoon to a waterfront bar. You can imagine its clientele.

Alone and comfortably settled on a barstool for the afternoon, Cecil noticed a poster announcing the evening’s entertainment: a chesty female identified as a “song stylist.” Ever the linguist, Elliott sought a distinction between singer and song stylist, and the bartender explained: “Well, a singer sings. A song stylist has big tits.”

Elliott would have been a terrific asset on “America’s Got Talent” and made Simon Cowell seem downright courteous.


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