As you ramble on through life, brother,
Whatever be your goal,
Keep your eye upon the doughnut,
And not upon the hole.
This “Optimist’s Creed” could be read from the thirties through the seventies on every box of Mayflower Donuts, and on the walls of its stores. It was, says the New York Times, “the personal motto of the founder, Adolph Levitt.” But its true author has been lost to the mists of time: Levitt’s granddaughter told the Times that he’d seen the doggerel framed in a dime store and made it his personal credo. Presumably someone working at a greeting-card company tossed it off one day; we can only imagine said copywriter’s impotent rage when the Mayflower chain took off and the slogan appeared everywhere.
For the rest of us, though, the Optimist’s Creed evokes nothing but jollity. The words were presented in a vaguely medieval, nursery-rhymish way: two jesters—a sort of doughnut of tragedy and one of comedy—juxtaposed against a large sinker.
A company called Cool Culinaria has made it their business to revive the Optimist’s Creed: one may purchase from them, along with various old menu prints and ephemera, a series of mugs, dish towels, coasters, and even a throw pillow, all emblazoned with the motto.
Usually, seeing records of defunct restaurants fills me with melancholy. Each one looks so perfect, so glamorous, so wholesome, so wholly desirable. And yet Mayflower Donuts, though it’s long gone, continues to inspire, thanks to the creed. Of course, I see that it’s your basic glass-half-full ideology, but somehow that’s much more fun, much more believable, when the world’s a doughnut.
Looking at the Mayflower menu can incite era envy—a “Fruit Shortcake Donut with Whipped Cream” for twenty cents!—but if you keep your eye upon the doughnut, everything assumes its proper perspective. When world events take the glamor out of sepia, take a breath and thank God for, at least, the palliative of the Internet, where nothing dies.
Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.