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Q and A with Jimmie Moglia

by: JIM CLARK, Jimmie Moglia sits in the Shakespeare Garden in Washington Park, where this cold spring’s “hoary-headed frosts fall in the fresh lap of the crimson rose.” (The “Midsummer Night’s Dream” quote is listed in his book under “Nature.”)

Every Friday, the Portland Tribune puts questions to a prominent - or not so prominent - local person.

It's hard to get a straight answer from Jimmie Moglia. Heck, it's hard to get a modern English answer from Moglia.

The Northwest Portland resident has just published his 1,387-page book, 'Your Daily Shakespeare.' The idea behind this tome is that there's an appropriate Shakespeare quotation for every social situation. Moglia uses the quotations, well, liberally.

Moglia, president of a computer printer products company by day, came up with the idea for the book when he held the title of European sales manager for Tektronix Inc.

'This started as a reaction to boredom in corporate meetings,' he says.

Tribune: Tell us about those corporate meetings.

Jimmy Moglia: Corporate language has two different requirements. Technically it must be simple, but it must appear intelligent. So there were people saying long statements, trivial in thought, but enigmatic in expression.

There was a sentence in 'Richard III' that struck me as very appropriate. Richard asks Stanley a question, and Stanley doesn't give him a straight answer. So Richard says, 'Why dost thou run so many miles about when thou mayst tell thy tale the nearest way?'

At that point I said, This is so proper I will try to find other quotes from Shakespeare that may apply to everyday situations. You can find 95 percent of the questions we inevitably ask ourselves addressed in one way or another in the plays, poems or sonnets. And he's a master of concision.

Tribune: An example, please, of a quotation you've used?

Moglia: I unwittingly turned left with my car from a lane where I should have gone straight. It was dark and I didn't see it, and the police were right behind me. (The officer) stopped me and ticketed me. So the next thing was to go to court.

The judge said, 'Do you plead guilty or not guilty?' I said, 'In the circumstances, I have to plead guilty.' He said, 'Do you have anything to say in your defense?' So I remembered a quotation from 'King Lear': 'I am a man more sinned against than sinning.'

Tribune: You said that to the judge?

Moglia: Yes.

Tribune: I'm betting you ended up with the ticket anyway.

Moglia: No. He dismissed me.

Tribune: OK, explain please, as concisely as you can.

Moglia: (The judge) was taken aback. It is my perception he understood I turned left not because I wanted to disregard the traffic signal. There were circumstances. But the quotation was the reinforcer.

The quotation said to him, 'Here is a guy who takes the time to remember 'King Lear.' ' And people who have this useless pursuit tend to be, as a whole, a little more honest.

Tribune: Wait a minute. I'm not so sure that people who can quote plays and sonnets are more honest.

Moglia: Just imagine you're speaking with a stockbroker. Your perception of the stockbroker is someone who is extremely shrewd, and if you make an error he will screw you. Somebody who pushes the useless, like I did in this case, already lends himself to a bit of commiseration. He's not after the big bucks.

Tribune: Have you ever used a Shakespeare quote and had it fall flat?

Moglia: This sounds extremely pompous, but no. The nearest I ever got to failure was at a Safeway counter. The lady asked, 'Do you pay cash or credit?' and I quoted a sentence from 'King Henry IV, Part One.' The Prince of Wales said, 'I pay cash as far as my coin will stretch, and when it will not I will use my credit.'

Tribune: And how did the Safeway cashier respond?

Moglia: She said, 'What?'

So I said, 'It's from Shakespeare,' and I repeated it. Perhaps she did not completely understand the quote, but she understood the word 'Shakespeare.' Shakespeare by association implied that there was sense in what I said before.

Tribune: So what you're saying is, if people quote Shakespeare, they will be assumed to be honest and smart?

Moglia: I wouldn't say smart. Cultivated. A person who is cultivated may be an ass, but it engenders some measure of respect.

Tribune: But what about humor? Shakespeare doesn't have what people think of as knee-slappers.

Moglia: I've got knee-slappers, too. A typical case is when you're in a meeting and someone says something nasty about you or what you said. There are about 300 insults in the book. One I like best is for when I don't have an immediate answer but I must gain time. I tell them, 'Thy lips rot off.'

Tribune: And that works?

Moglia: Absolutely. Few people ever visualize the idea of your lips physically rotting off. Without lips you cannot speak.

Tribune: But do people really laugh when you say that?

Moglia: I have a number of witnesses. When it happens in a real situation it comes as a surprise, and surprise is 90 percent of humor.

Tribune: Do you have one for this - my wife is glaring at me because I did some laundry but left it overnight in the dryer, which she wanted to use?

Moglia: The strategy for answering this one is to flatter and ask for forgiveness.

Tribune: But she's glaring at me, and I'm the one who just did the laundry.

Moglia: This is what I would suggest. The strategy of flattery and forgiveness are under the subchapter Change the Subject. One option is, 'Time will not whither you nor custom stale your infinite variety. Other women cloy the appetite they feed, but you make hungry where most you satisfy.'

Tribune: Geez, she'd think I was asking, 'What's for dinner?'

Moglia: In that case, you can try another one: 'How wonderful when angels are so angry.'

Tribune: And that will work?

Moglia: It should do it.

- Peter Korn