Recently divorced and out of work after 9/11, what would you do? Drive up to Canada to see the girl you were crazy about 25 years earlier–but never even kissed–carting along your 77-year-old former writing professor who can’t sit more than two hours at a clip and swears he’s vegan despite the fact that he has a butcher (with great boobs)?
Nearly destroy the girl’s business, bringing Canadian men back in touch with their masculinity? End up in bed with her–and her sister (not at the same time, I swear) after being accused of trying to blow up the Prime Minister of Canada with a Super-8 projector?
That’s NOT what you would do? Oh…well, here’s the story of someone who did.
WARNING: This is a silly book. You may giggle like a girl, even if you are one.
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I had just finished ‘The Bequest’, which was a beast. It took me over two years and many pints of blood. It was three months to the day after 9/11, I’d been out of work for four and I’d just been told I didn’t have cancer. So-I exhaled. I sat down at the desk and started making shit up, just for fun. Pretty soon, I was writing a chapter a day and sending it to my friend Dianna on email so we could share it and howl.
The book is wonderful to me because it’s an example of what the story is about-the joys of improvisation. And it’s wonderful because I’m madly in love with every major character in the thing. Except me. I play the fool, which I always do. I suspect I make my main characters idiots in the hope that the real me will seem dignified by comparison. But I have a huge admiration for the woman who was the inspiration for Nora and a hole in my heart to this day for the man who was the model for Nikos.
His widow, in real life, doesn’t like the book or the portrait of him and I understand that. It’s surely a caricature-the whole book is a caricature. It’s the most straightforward farce/satire I’ve ever written. But I caricatured something that was very real and for which I’m very grateful. My teacher (and second father) Papa Joe saw something worthwhile, worthy of consideration, in every person or thing that crossed his path. Even better, he saw the humor in absurdity that transformed the things that drive us all crazy into moments of pleasure, of grand tear-dripping cathartic laughter. If you were in his presence, he would force you simply by that pleasure to see the world through those rich eyes of his. He bestowed that blessing on everyone who knew him. It’s the essence of art and the part of him that I miss almost every day (and that I hear inside my head whenever I take the time to listen). So thanks Joe-maybe I’ll get around to a better portrait someday. In the meantime, this one still makes me laugh.
On that note, I highly recommend ‘Sullivan’s Travels.’ Preston Sturges, Joel McCrea and Veronica Lake. No civilized human being-and certainly, no person who thinks ‘seriously’ about art-should live a life without seeing it at least once. Better on a movie screen, if you can find a theater that shows 1940’s films.
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