Anything Can Happen

“Notes” is the key word of Roger Rosenblatt’s title, Anything Can Happen: Notes on My Inadequate Life and Yours, for these selections consist of the briefest of essays and humorous vignettes, some reprinted from earlier collections. Among them is the classic “New Year’s at Luchow’s,” an account from Rosenblatt’s youth, when his teenaged brother’s phone number differed by one digit from that of the famous New York restaurant. Weary of incessant wrong numbers, the boys invented some ingenious ways to discourage callers. Another updated favorite, “Ashley Montana Goes Ashore in the Caicos,” satirizes the superficiality of pop culture through a beautiful swimsuit model who thinks that Portosan is the name of an island. The wittiest writing includes an addendum to Sir Francis Bacon’s essays (on subjects like politeness, conservatives, and assisted living), and perhaps best of all, “Cliff’s Other Notes” on such literary figures as Cyrano de Bergerac, Dorian Gray, and Hamlet.

In the realm of political satire, Rosenblatt presents a scathing example of mass manipulation through an all- purpose, incoherent stump speech designed to elicit mindless enthusiasm. Likewise, with an anecdote concerning former President Lyndon B. Johnson and Senator Hubert Humphrey, he illustrates the effective abuse of power. Occasionally he offers a serious little gem like “On Aristocracy,” detailing the unexpected kindness demonstrated by young refugees in the Sudan. Another intensely moving, very brief piece recalls poet Walt Whitman and a dying African child.

Rosenblatt, a widely published journalist and essayist for Time and The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, is better known for his thoughtful, often poignant, full-length essays. Anything Can Happen is mostly Rosenblatt lite.