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ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

Now a few minutes to remember our commentator Ralph Schoenstein. He died yesterday at age 73 of complications following heart surgery. For the past decade, Ralph Schoenstein often surprised us with his wry sense of humor.

RALPH SCHOENSTEIN: Of the 50 American states, I live in the only one that's a punch line. Is there intelligent life on Earth? Yes, except in New Jersey. So you're from New Jersey? What exit?

SIEGEL: Ralph Schoenstein came to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED late in his life. After a long career writing for the New Yorker, the New York Times, Newsday, the New York Daily News and Playboy. He also wrote books with, that is to say for, celebrities, including Joan Rivers, Charles Osgood and Ed McMahon. Bill Cosby's bestselling Fatherhood was ghostwritten by Ralph Schoenstein.

His own books included The Block, about his childhood neighborhood on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Toilet Trained for Yale and The I Hate Preppies Handbook. That one was a bestseller.

It was the craft of writing that inspired some of Ralph's work.

SCHOENSTEIN: When I was a boy, my father told me son, the world can be cruel. Some day someone will call you a mid-list writer. You will simply have to go on.

SIEGEL: Being a mid-list writer was the least of Ralph's problems. He was also a worrier.

SCHOENSTEIN: For now I have to revise my worry list. I have to put that asteroid ahead of the ozone hole, my prostate, the collapse of Medicare and Oliver Stone making a movie about the great love affair between Thomas Jefferson and Joan of Arc.

SIEGEL: Ralph Schoenstein also worried about cigarette smoke, but he still found reason to suck it in.

SCHOENSTEIN: The scent of cigarette smoke always sends me not to a chest X-ray, but a vanished New York where there was romance and wrecking your lungs, where smoke hung in the air like mist on the moors. In restaurants, ballparks, Penn Station and even my home.

SIEGEL: Ralph Schoenstein's last commentary on this program aired just over a year ago. It was about an unfunny fact of life, aging. And Ralph still managed to make it funny.

SCHOENSTEIN: At a supermarket the other night, a teenage clerk looked at my gray hair and automatically gave me a senior citizen discount. Then he brightly said, and, sir, you get an extra five percent for Senior Appreciation Week. It was gracious of him to appreciate me, and I wanted to spit in his eye. Blanche Dubois may have depended on the kindness of strangers, but I can do without pity from the A&P.

SIEGEL: Ralph Schoenstein died yesterday in Philadelphia, not far from New Jersey. He was 73.

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