John Train was once at Harvard studying comp lit. Reading a copy of Collier's one day, he came across a man called Mr. Katz Meow. This was in a column about real people with odd names. The column went on to give the following example of odd given names for women: Chlorine, Dewdrop, Dinette, Faucette, Larceny, Mecca, Twitty and Zippa. A methodical man, Train took out one of the little black notebooks he always carries and wrote them all down. Later, Train met one of Harvard's most distinguished figures, professor of humanities Howard Mumford Jones. He told Jones about Mr. Katz Meow. Jones replied that he had once known a Miss Magnetic Love. Train wrote it down in his notebook.
Bemused by this occurrence (as he puts it), Train went off to lunch with a man named Gregg and recited the entire tale. Gregg produced a postcard from an uncle in South Carolina, who wrote that his landlady was named Melissy Dalciny Caldony Yankee Pankee Devil-Take-The-Irishman Garrison. This made Train slightly dizzy but he managed to get the notebook out and record it.
All that happened on the same day. Critical Mass
Another time, Train led a band of Harvard students dressed as British redcoats into a crowd of several thousand unsuspecting citizens gathered on the Lexington Common to celebrate Patriots Day, the anniversary of Paul Revere's ride. They seized the platform and ordered the crowd to abandon their unlawful assembly and disperse to their homes.
It is the contention of George Plimpton (who claims to have been one of the redcoats) that Train seized the microphone away from the governor of Massachusetts when the crowd grew impatient and "delivered himself of a long, impassioned defense of the Stamp Act."
Train says this is not the case, that the speech was not about the Stamp Act. He says it was actually from T. S. Eliot's "Murder in the Cathedral," in which one of Thomas Becket's assassins orders the bereaved congregation, "do not gather upon street-corners or do anything likely to provoke a disturbance," and so on. Furthermore, Train says he did not seize the microphone from the governor. He ordered a retreat just as the governor's limousine arrived in the midst of the yowling mob and the lobster-backs fled in some disarray. Train is an absolute stickler for facts. Facts
The following facts are recorded in John Train's book "True Remarkable Occurrences": Mrs. Czermak's Descent
"Prague -- Vera Czermak jumped out of her third-story window when she learned her husband had betrayed her.
"Mrs. Czermak is recovering in hospital after landing on her husband, who was killed, the newspaper Vecerni Pravha reported today. -- United Press." Speak for Yourself, Wong
"Taipei -- A young Taiwanese man has written 700 love letters to his girl friend over the past two years trying to get her to marry him.
"His persistence finally brought results.
"A newspaper reported yesterday the girl has become engaged to the postman who faithfully delivered all the letters. -- United Press." Lovers Cut Free
"London -- a tiny sports car leaves a lot to be desired as a midnight trysting spot, two secret lovers have learned.
"Wedged into a two-seater, a near-naked man was suddenly immobiliized by a slipped disc, trapping his woman companion beneath him, according to a doctor writing in a medical journal here.
"The desperate woman tried to summon help by honking the horn with her foot. A doctor, ambulance driver, firemen and a group of interested passersby quickly surrounded the car in Regent's Park.
"'The lady found herself trapped beneath 200 pounds of pain-racked, immobile man,' said Dr. Brian Richards of Kent.
"'To free the couple, firemen had to cut away the car frame,' he said.
"The distraught woman, helped out of the car and into a coat, sobbed: 'How am I going to explain to my husband what has happened to his car?' -- Reuter." Pengo-Pengo
The offices of Train, Smith Counsel, the investment firm of which John Train is president, seem made laregly of glass. They are on the 41st floor of a building on Park Avenue. At dusk, everyone at Train, Smith may suddenly rush over to the west side of the office to watch the sky go red over New Jersey. Other times, just by sitting in your own office, you can, at times, look into almost everyone else's office. All this may possibly make up for the time John Train was a sergeant in the Pentagon writing speeches in an office with no windows at all. s
He has in his office now what looks like an abstract wooden sculpture. In fact, he says, it is the forcolo of a gondola. That is, the oarlock. He also has a framed photo showing the mayor of Florence, Italy, thanking President Johnson and other officials for American relief efforts during that city's flood. "Everyone looks cheerful and gay and the reason is that they can't understand a word he's saying," says Train, who is also in the photo.
He was acting as translator. He speaks six languages, or possibly seven. His first wife was Florentine. Their youngest daughter was born during the flood and Train thought of naming her Luvia, which is flood in Italian. He restrained himself and today she is Lisa. Not one of his children has a remarkable name. Brendan Gill, the New Yorker theater critic, has publicly claimed that Train himself was known to intimates from childhood as Johnnie Choo-Choo. "Complete invention," says Train. "All trains are, of course, called choo-choo, but me much less than most of them."
Train also has on his office wall some framed currency. The bills are Hungarian and the largest denomination is a trillion-pengo bill. Trillion. "That reminds you how life is," says Train. The bills were printed during the Hungarian hyperinflation of 1946-47, the worst inflation ever. Train once met a man who was there then and who said that he remembered having a trillion-pengo note. He used it to buy two pears. Remarkable Birth
After years of filling little black notebooks, Train finally just decided the hell with it and got a job printer in Connecticut to print up his annotated list of funny names as a book. He gave them away for Christmas presents. This was 12 or 13 years ago. The work came to the attention of the publisher Clarkson N. Potter, which eventually broutht it out under the title, "Remarkable Names of Real People." Later came "True Remarkable Occurrences" and "Even More Remabkable Names." The books are quite small and quite funny and Train contemplates more. For instance, he is thinking of compiling one on remarkable words and another on remarkable delusions. Paris Green
Train makes this bad assertion: "I have the extremely specialized distinction of being the only founder of the Paris Review who does not claim to be the only founder of the Paris Review. All the others say they did it alone."
Apparently, the details of this historic sounding are forever lost in a dim half-world of myth. We do know that it took place in the early '50s, when, according to Train, "it was generally agreed that the best thing you could do was start a literary magazine in Paris. It seems like a strange thing, but I promise you it is true."
Train was the first managing editor of the Paris Review. After awhile, publishing a literary magazine seemed a bit thin and Train went into finance. He is still there. Hare Trigger
Near Louisville, Ky., a rabbit reached out of a hunter's game bag, pulled the trigger of his gun, and shot him in the foot. -- The New Yorker, May 1947. Stock Answer
Train insists that finance is interesting. "The psychological moods are so extraordinary," he says. "The stock market, strange as this may seem, is the encephalogram of the human race. It's how the human race is feeling about things at the time."
What they do at Train, Smith is sit around managing family investment portfolios. Train takes this quite seriously, even thinks of it as a career. The little books about the remarkable, those are "just things that come along. They are extremely low on my list of priorities."
Train now gives you invaluable investment advice. Pay heed. "You have to get a profound sense that the whole world goes bananas regularly and with extreme conviction. That's the first thing that one has to have a feeling for in the investment business. It's a very hard sense to get. It takes years and years to do." Art
Train sincerely believes that the free-form nutty name is the only indigenous American art form. "That really is true," he says. "These astounding crazy names like Heidi Yum-Yum Gluck or T. Fud Pucker Tucker." He doesn't even mention Immaculate Conception Finkelstein.
Sometimes the names come alive. In "Names I" Train gave a few unauthenticated ones and appealed for confirmations. After some months a postcard arrived, stating: "Heidi Yum-Yum Gluck lives." It was from none other. Train listed her in "Names II," with this explanatory footnote: "Mr. Gluck pere, infatuated by Gilbert and Sullivan, named his son Nanka, after Nanki-Poo, another character from 'The Mikado'." It turned out that Heidi Yum-Yum Gluck is an artist from Brooklyn who was in fact giving a show on 75th Street, only two blocks from where Train lives. Grub Fake
Anything interesting in your current little black notebook? Train is asked.
"Yes," he says leafing through it. "Here's one called Dictoselium Discodeum. This is a microorganism which exists in a cloud of monocellular colonies around rotting trees and similar environments. And every now and again they reorganize themselves into a little grub."
The phone rings and Train answers it and has a perfectly normal conversation. Then he continues.
"In other words, there are all these little fellows that organize themselves into a little grub. The grub slithers around, it takes on the differentiation of a grub, with a digestive system and a head . . . then after a while the grub turns itself into a little toadstool and it spews forth spores downwind. That's its method of diffusing its life as a group of disconnected monocellular organisms."
Train puts down his little black notebook.
"Extraordinary, isn't it?" he says quietly. "Amazing." Basic Training
How old is Train? "Fifty," says Train. "No, actually, I'm 51. I must be 51. I was born in 1928."
What does Train look like? "He is a slight figure," says Plimpton, "with a long, quite melancholy face. It is a scholar's face . . ."
Plimpton wrote that in his preface to his friend's "True Remarkable Occurrences." The preface to "Names I" was written by S. J. Perelman. In it he said that names like Suparporn Poopattana and Sistine Madonna McClung had such a distinct lyrical rhythm that they could be used to chant oneself to sleep. He did not say that Train has white hair and pale blue eyes, but he does. He also has a regular column on investing for Forbes magazine. He comes from an old New England family whose first members arrived from Scotland in 1640. His father, Arthur Train, wrote hundreds of Saturday Evening Post stories about a shrewd old Yankee lawyer named Ephraim Tutt. John Train amuses himself climbing Alps and sailing off Maine. He smiles occasionally.
Without any further excuse, here are eight more remarkable Train names: Positive Wassermann Johnson, T. Hee, Zoda Viola Klontz Gazola, Zilpher Spittle, Zowie Bowie, Oofty Goofty Bowman, Magdalena Babblejack and Herman Sherman Berman.
The obscure ones in the book are even better. Irreverence
Speaking of Paul Revere's ride (which in fact we were, not so long ago), it must be noted in passing that Train is no admirer of the legendary commuter. Quite the contrary.
Paul Revere never made it to Concord and Lexington, he says. "He set out with two other guys for money. He was quite a despicable man. William Dawes and another man.They were paid two shillings each. He was arrested en route by the British. He turned stool pigeon and betrayed his two companions. And at the battle of Kennebunk he was cashiered for cowardice. He was managing the artillery at the time."
Train is fair, though.
"Marvelous silversmith." Caboose
Finally, an item from Train's "True Remarkable Occurrences."
"In 1895 there were only two cars in the whole state of Ohio. They collided."