Carl S. from Illinois recently sent me a flattering invitation. He's compiling a book that features favorite sayings of "successful persons" - intending to inspire others and give them insights into the philosophies that help people accomplish significant tasks.

Carl wants sayings that have given me comfort, kept me focused on my goals, or inspired me during my life. The sayings could be my own or passed along from another source.

Carl advised me that "successful persons" like Oliver North, Martha Stewart, and Kenneth Lay have already submitted entries. While I'd like to join that illustrious company, I had to tell him I've never had one favorite saying that inspired, comforted, or focused me throughout my life.

Nor did I have any that would likely inspire someone else to lead a better life ... with the possible exception of "Never pet a porcupine unless he's asleep" - a Mr. Green Jeans line from the Captain Kangaroo Show.

At different times, a variety of sayings have helped me in one way or another. As a young man, I believed in a saying my mother passed on to me: "Always wear clean underwear, so if you get in an accident and go to the hospital, you won't be embarrassed." That's still a good idea, though I might add, "and no pastel colors."

Much later, as a Chicago Cubs fan, I believed in the saying that is familiar to many other Cub fans: "You win some and you lose some, but mostly you lose some."

Then there was Grandpa Joe's favorite saying: "Never trust a Russian." He said that long before the Cold War began. When I asked my grandmother what he meant by it, she provided me with another saying: "Never trust your drunken grandfather."

My brother Jerry's favorite saying, gleaned during his stint in the Navy, was "Don't never volunteer for nothing." But, he told me, it didn't make much difference, because if you didn't volunteer, they made you do it anyway.

Early in my musical career, a wise old tenor sax player passed along a saying that helped me become thriftier. He said: "Always stash away some [deleted] money, so if you get a boss you hate, you can say '[deleted] you' and quit." I'm still saving.

Another mentor - uncle Henry I believe - had a saying I tried to follow: "Be nice to the other boys, even if they're mopes, because they might grow up to be your boss some day." And sure enough, several mopes did.

Some fellow teachers - tired of hearing me complain about not having anything to write about ... once posted an inspirational plaque on my wall showing a little sailboat with limp sails and a man pulling some oars. It bore the words: "When there's no wind, row."

I later took it down and replaced it with a sign that said: "When there's no wind, book a cabin on a cruise ship, sit by the pool, order a cool drink, and look at the babes." Several of my friends had sayings like that, although I'm not sure what they meant.

I used to be impressed by the line John Wayne uttered in so many of his western movies: "A man's got to do what a man's got to do." But when feminists heightened my social sensitivities, I realized it was a sexist saying.

They advised me I could just as well say, "A woman's got to do what a woman's got to do" or "A puppy's got to do what a puppy's got to do." Oh, well. "That's life" - a favorite saying of the late Frank Sinatra.

My pal Fred always tosses off this salutation when saying good-bye to friends. "Stay out of the trees, watch out for the wild goose, and take care of your hernia." When I ask what it means, he shrugs and says: "Just do it; you won't go wrong." He's right, but I'm not sure that's advice to live by. Unless you have a hernia.

Finally, I fondly recall that inspirational line uttered by Ted Baxter (actor Ted Knight) in a memorable tribute to Chuckles the Clown on the Mary Tyler Moore Show: "A little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down your pants." Profound.

While I appreciate the kind invitation from Carl, I don't have anything consequential to contribute to his book. But he did give me something to write about. As I always say: "Another day, another dollar."

Observer correspondent Robert Brake can be reached at

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