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INSIDE BARBARA WALTERS Richard Grayson
Art Pants Company –New York
Copyright © 2010 by Richard Grayson. All rights reserved.
Printed in the United States of America. Art Pants Company 87 Fifth Avenue New York, New York 10003 ISBN # First Edition
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS These stories originally appeared in the print magazines X: A Journal of the Arts, Willmore City, Maelstrom Review, and Aldebaran; and the webzines Yankee Pot Roast, Monkeybicycle, 3:AM, Storymania, and The Edward Society.
INSIDE BARBARA WALTERS
INSIDE BARBARA WALTERS
When Barbara Walters was in second grade, the teacher’s name was Miss Gura. One day Miss Gura got engaged and went up and down the aisles showing all of the second graders her diamond engagement ring. Each of the students had to say something about the ring, like “Ooh” or “It’s nice” or “Very pretty.” On Friday, Miss Gura told the boys and girls not to forget that Monday was Hobby Day and that they all must bring something from their hobbies to show the class. As soon as she got home from school, Barbara put her stamp album in the downstairs closet. But on Monday morning she was rushed and forgot it was Hobby Day. She didn’t
remember until she was on the bus and saw the other children with their stuffed animals and kites and coin collections. Barbara got a sharp pain in her stomach and wondered how she would get out of the situation. Hen she remembered that she had a book with her: Curious George Goes to the Circus. She had taken it along to get Miss Gura’s permission to do a book report on it. When Miss Gura called Barbara up to the front of the room to show off her hobby, Barbara brought the Curious George book with her. “My hobby is reading,” said Barbara, and she went into a three-minute impromptu speech about reading and how much she liked doing it. Miss Gura was very interested and no one ever guessed that Barbara had forgotten her stamp album at home.
Years later, Barbara brought a Curious George doll home to her daughter. Barbara liked to say things in a funny screechy voice and pretend that her words were coming out of Curious George. Her daughter would laugh till she cried. On Today, Barbara was interviewing Senator McGovern. “I’m curious, George,” she said. “How does it feel to be so overwhelmingly rejected by the American electorate?” “Not so hot,” Senator McGovern told her. “To what do you attribute your crushing defeat?” “I think it happened because I wasn’t as well-read as President Nixon. You know, former President Eisenhower always admired Nixon’s reading skills. That’s why he picked him as his running mate
in the first place. And I have to admit it: I just couldn’t keep up with Nixon in the reading department. Nobody can. Why, the President could tell you the author of any book – even the old Curious George ones we used to read when we were kids.” Denise Gura Kirmedjian, who had become a professor of Communication Studies after her children were born and her husband died, once graded a student’s term paper. The term paper was titled “The One-of-aKind Barbara Walters and Her Effect Upon Other People.” It was a bad term paper, rambling, disorganized, filled with comma splices and runons and fragments. Professor Kirmedjian gave it an F. She debated whether to write “I knew her when” with the rest of her comments on the
bibliography page. “President Nixon,” Barbara asked, “what is the biggest problem facing your administration today?” This was in 1973. “Well,” said the President. “I think we would have to say it was poor reading skills. Recent studies have indicated that one out of every five Americans is functionally illiterate. This means that they cannot write an effective paragraph or do simple sums or read even juvenile books like Curious George, not to mention adult books like my own Six Crises or General Eisenhower’s At Ease: Stories I Tell My Friends. Old Ike was such a good story-teller, you know, and it’s a damned shame many people can’t appreciate his stuff today.” Barbara nodded her head in agreement and thought: This
man is broadminded, shrewd, modest and kindly. We are lucky he reads so well. “I’m afraid your daughter is failing English,” said Ms. Ruga to Barbara Walters. “How can that be?” said Barbara, totally mystified. Ms. Ruga smiled. “Don’t be so alarmed, Ms. Walters. It is unbecoming in so famous a television personality. No, what I meant to say, what I should have said, is that your daughter lacks the necessary skills. It is no reflection on her upbringing, I assure you. But she just cannot read or write. She is a very good television viewer, however. She did an excellent report – oral, of course – on that new children’s series on CBS…you know, the one with the monkey.” Barbara frowned. “Yes, I let her watch it. It’s the first
situation comedy featuring a single character, only one, week in and week out. No other sitcom before it, no matter how realistic or bold or relevant or controversial, ever showed an individual isolated, alone, atomized….” “Yes,” said Ms. Ruga. “Other programs depend on a large cast of supporting characters, a family. I find this incongruous considering the current abominable state of family life in America. You are divorced like myself, I understand.” “This is true,” commented Barbara. Barbara Walters’s daughter could not get used to seeing her mother in person. Mostly she watched her on television. It was hard to get used to seeing her mother without problems in color adjustment, without the contrast too low
and the brightness too high, without ghosts in the reception, without the distortion of the rounded cathode-ray tube – without, above all, the essential 525 alternating lines of tiny electrons that formed the familiar picture of Barbara Walters. The little girl was more than a little confused. “Look at this,” Harry Reasoner said, showing Barbara a news item he had just ripped off the UPI ticker. It was about a school principal who had been discovered to be functionally illiterate. The man’s name was Dr. Georg Kyrios. “Why, that’s my own daughter’s principal,” Barbara exclaimed. “This man has written things like ‘This student was suppose to get there language instruction without
delay’s.’ Can you imagine that, Harry?” “No, I can’t,” said her coanchorperson. On television Barbara was interviewing a panel of scientists. These are some of the questions she asked them: “What is matter?” “In what way did the universe come into being?” “How does evolution work?” “Why is there sex?” All of the scientists just puffed on their pipes and shrugged their shoulders and looked at each other helplessly. Finally one of them said: “Our ignorance is atlantic.” “Could you be more specific?” Barbara asked him. When Barbara Walters went to the moon, she was accompanied by the President
of the United States. It was a long trip and they had to sleep on the way there. During this time, the neurons in the pontine stem at the back of Barbara’s brain fired rapidly and automatically, generating nerve impulses that activated her forebrain. Barbara’s forebrain imposed images and narratives on the arbitrary firing of her pontine. The results of all this were dreams. On the spaceship on the way to the moon, Barbara dreamed that she was back in second grade. It was Hobby Day and she had left her stamp collection in the downstairs closet at home. Miss Gura called on her and Barbara just stammered. “I…I forgot it,” she said.
Miss Gura looked very displeased and the children started to laugh. “You will never be a television personality now,” Miss Gura told her. Barbara felt ashamed and very small. She started crying because this mistake had cost her her destiny. Then the President shook her back to reality. “It was just a nightmare,” he told her. “Nothing to worry about. You’re here with me and millions of television viewers and we are on our way to the moon.” “Thank God,” said Barbara Walters. “You’re welcome,” said Curious George.
THERE ARE EIGHT MILLION STORIES IN NEW YORK; THIS IS ONE OF THE STUPIDEST Mark Schickler – no, let’s call him Alan Moskovitz – Alan Moskovitz is a law student in New York City, just like his grandfather never was. Alan, whose name is always misspelled on all official records as Allen Moscovitz or Alan Moskowitz or Allan Moskowitz or Alan Moscowitz (but never as Allan Moscovitz), is walking through the streets of midtown Manhattan, thinking about torts. While he is thinking about intentional torts, I (the author of this story) have him remember an episode of the old I Love Lucy series which takes place in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Ethel’s hometown. (There is no
episode of the I Love Lucy series which takes place in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, although many fans think there should have been.) Ethel is welcomed back as the hometown girl who made good in New York, good in this case meaning marrying a bald landlord who is best friend to a bandleader from Cuba and his nutty redheaded wife. A big banner is brought out, one that says ETHEL MAE POTTER WE NEVER FORGOT HER, and of course there is a show and everyone is jealous because the Albuquerquians only want to see more of their native daughter Ethel. Hmmmmn, Alan Moskovitz thinks, that is what I would not like my life to be like, I would not like to go back to my hometown, which I do not intend to leave anyway, and be greeted by banners which would probably only
misspell my name anyway and have to sing and dance in a show when I cannot. I would prefer to go on strolling the streets, thinking about intentional torts and other things I am learning in law school. I would like to cease all thoughts about an episode of a situation comedy that was first shown when I was three years old. Across the street from Alan Moskovitz, a man in a flannel shirt and levis is picking up an eight-year-old boy, a pint-sized hustler. The boy is also dressed in levis; he has on Frye boots, a red neckerchief and no shirt. Another, more timid man in a Brooks Brothers suit has just lost his chance with this boy. The flannel-shirted man who has not lost his chance (and who has in fact found his chance) says to the timid one:
“It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken.” At this precise moment, meanwhile, some fifteen miles away in Coney Island, Emily Pazitka – Alan Moskovitz’s notvery-good friend and companion – Emily (known as Ruby for purposes of this story) has been driving and has accidentally run into another man’s accident. While the author of this story (the “I” referred to earlier) does not believe in accidents, he will include this one in the story to prove that he is as liberal as Bella Abzug. (For readers in the distant future or those who are merely ignorant, Bella Abzug was a New York politician famous for her liberal views.) Anyhow, this man (the one who has not appeared yet and probably will) hits Ruby’s car head-on… no, not head-on; I mean he sideswipes her, from
the back, sort of… and Ruby’s car goes out of control and careens down Surf Avenue, through the amusement park and onto the merry-ground. Thankfully (note the incorrect use of this adverb) Emily – I mean Ruby – is not hurt, but her car is totally wrecked. And she has killed four of the horses on the merry-go-round with her car; another horse breaks its leg and has to be shot. These horses are imported from Cologne from a Herr Schadenfreude for a dear sum, and the amusement park will have to close down for a while and lose all its Labor Day weekend business (for it is September second when this occurs). There will be lawsuits aplenty: the amusement park against Ruby, Ruby against the man (who finally makes his appearance in this story, albeit briefly), and so on and so forth.
There will be enough lawsuits to keep Allen Moscowitz … no, Alan Moskovitz, happy and in the lawyer business for years to come. If he passes the New York State bar exam, that is. But no matter. None of this matters. Nobody cares about Ruby, that her career as a dental hygienist is ruined, that her face is not disfigured, that her life is not a gas. New York is a cold town, someone in Washington Square Park says. A black person says it. Another black person (male or female, take your choice) says, “Loose joints... loose joints.” This means that this black person is selling marijuana cigarettes, but someone walking by thinks it is a kind of arthritis. Who thinks that? Not Alan Moskovitz. No, another black person thinks that. All these black people live in New York City and
appear in this story, as if by magic. And why not? New York is filled with black people, all of whom have names not mentioned here. And just because there are no Chinese people in this story, don’t make it your business to assume that New York hasn’t got its share of them, either. Who do you think populates Chinatown, the Armenians? Actually, by a curious twist of fate, this is probably true, for what was once Chinatown, not the Chinatown that exists today (September 2, 1976), but the Chinatown of the eighteenth century, is now a dyed-in-thewool Armenian neighborhood. Everyone who lives there has a name ending in “-ian.” Some have intermarried with the original inhabitants of the neighborhood, and their names are Wongian, Leeian, Ngian, Wuian, and Chowian.
These Chinese-Armenians are precisely the New Yorkers that Alan What’s-his-name does not care about as he walks down the street (a new street this time) immersed in torts. Now there’s a phrase for you: “immersed in torts.” It conveys a brutal image on my part at least. Anyways, what does all this have to do with our protagonist? Who is the protagonist anyway? Why is the protagonist of this story hiding out somewhere, keeping himself or herself out of the public eye? Is he or she more than even Alan Moskovitz? Did he or she put Alan Moskovitz up to fronting for him or her while he or she goes about his or her dirty business? Isn’t sexism preferable to untidy syntax? Behind these mysteries there is no answer. There is a piece of egg roll left
over from last night’s dinner at Devrishian’s, however. But too many psychotics roam the streets of New York City and most of them are quite rude when angered. Who are these people of New York to us, anyway? What is Ruby’s accident to Alan Moskovitz? Do either of them care about the chickenhawks or the Chinese-Armenian-Americans, even the most famous of them, David Chowian, who has made the breakfast cereal Chowina (an anagram of his name) a household word? Ruby never affected Alan’s life but once, that one time being when her ex-fiancé, who is now a chickenhawk, through political influence in the Lindsay administration, got Alan Moskovitz a no-show job inspecting nothing at Kennedy Airport one summer while they were both in college. And Alan
hated that job at Idlewild Airport, as it was known so long ago. So he has no reason to care about Ruby or be grateful he is not in Ruby’s shoes (a pair of Swedish clogs purchased at Olaf’s Daughters, a store on Sixth Avenue, formally known as the Avenue of the Americas). The rock that falls on one’s head and kills one has no relation to one. That is what Alan Moskovitz thinks. Ruby thinks differently, but who cares what Ruby thinks? By this point nobody in New York City gives a damn about anybody else, and everyone outside the city wishes the rest of us would curl up and die. The minority groups have taken over New York City, especially all the politicians on welfare. The Zionists are the worst hypocrites of all – at least that is what one of the
aforementioned black people in this story says. So what kind of story is this that began so unpromisingly and has degenerated further into pure gibberish? Don’t you see what I (the author of this story, but a different author from the one at the beginning, who dropped dead of a coronary somewhere on the second page; I have tried to take over for him, but I am afraid I have contributed nothing but chaos) what I… oh, that parentheses was so long that now I forgot what I was going to say. No matter. New York is a dying city. A story like this is proof of its degeneracy. Alan Moskovitz knows this, Emily/Ruby knows this, the blacks know it (of course they won’t give us the satisfaction of telling us straight out), even the chickenhawks and the ChineseArmenians know this. If you
are reading this story and you live in New York City, let this affect your life. Take this story as a warning to leave. The air is purer in Kansas, the streets are cleaner in Vermont, the girls are better-looking in San Francisco, and justice is swifter in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where people used to hold up banners instead of gas stations. So let’s all move into an old I Love Lucy rerun and get out of this damn city. And for God’s sake, no more stories.
I am taking Arthur Goldberg’s photograph. The distinguished former Secretary of Labor, former Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, former Ambassador to the United Nations, is running for Governor of the State of New York. Arthur Goldberg is eating a hot dog. He is at a table with other politicians. With my Nikon I get a shot of Arthur Goldberg biting into a Nathan’s Famous hot dog. Through the lens I can see he is scowling at me. Off to the right a black family is also
angry with me for taking their picture without permission. Then my friend Mark comes over. He holds the camera as Arthur Goldberg goes into the dark, cool night. I walk over to Arthur Goldberg as nonchalantly as possible and Mark snaps our picture. When it is developed the photograph shows me, the candidate for Governor, a stop sign, and an anonymous man wearing a yarmulke. Sam Levenson is standing at the corner. I look him over. “You’re Sam Levenson,” I tell him. He smiles. “You laugh at your own jokes,” I tell him. He is still smiling. “You were poor as a child but overcame it,” I say. Sam Levenson’s grin grows more fixed.
“You wrote a bestselling book once.” He nods. The DON’T WALK sign becomes a WALK sign. Sam Levenson crosses the street. “You’re famous!” I yell to him. There is no response. He just keeps walking. Governor Rockefeller is riding a bicycle. I have my camera, but it is out of film. I curse myself. I wave to Governor Rockefeller. He does not acknowledge me. I make a face, stick my tongue out. No one seems to notice. I think about all the people who use the word “fucking” as an adjective, particularly my friend Joey. Joey has been known to say, “I’m fucking happy.” I tell Joey that Governor Rockefeller is the only person who can really say
that. Joey socks me on the chin, a playful sock, but it hurts a little. Governor Rockefeller bicycles past me. People are following him. It is Earth Day and he is being a good citizen by not polluting the air. Governor Rockefeller is going to beat Arthur Goldberg in the election. Arthur Goldberg cannot ride a bicycle at all. Ronnie Dyson is lying a few feet away from me. He is wearing a bathing suit and sunglasses. It is Christmastime in Miami Beach, and Ronnie Dyson is performing at the hotel. He is reading Herzog off and on. I don’t think he really understand it. He is only nineteen, the same age as me. That night I watch him perform in the nightclub. He sings “Aquarius,” from the Broadway show Hair. He
mentions Putney Swope, a Robert Downey film he is currently appearing in. He is very gracious and makes jokes about getting so black in the sun. The audience of white people laughs. On the way out I hear a woman say, “He’s pretty good but he needs more poise.” The next day I tell my uncle, “Ronnie Dyson’s pretty good but he needs more poise.” My uncle is not listening. Abbie Hoffman is on campus. He is on the steps of Boylan Hall. Everyone seems to be laughing at him. “This place sure is Vanilla University,” Abbie Hoffman says. “Where are the black people — on the plantation the college president keeps?” Everyone is laughing.
“You jerks don’t have the slightest idea of how to revolution,” he tells the crowd. Four students are dead at Kent State University. The crowd all shake their heads. “You’ve got to know the enemy before you fuck ‘em!” says Abbie Hoffman. I look at my chemistry professor, who is standing next to me. “Are you giving grades this semester?” I ask him. He shakes his head, says something. I cannot hear him because the crowd is cheering Abbie Hoffman. I am pissing into a urinal of a movie theater. I am thinking about Glenda Jackson. For some reason I look to my right. There is a man next to me, pissing into the next urinal. It is Alan King. I get excited.
I start to turn toward him, then stop myself before I can wet him. “Thanks,” Alan King says. “More people wet me that way.” Afterwards he gives me his autograph. Betty Friedan is walking across City Hall Park. She is not wearing a bra. Then I remember that I am not supposed to notice things like that anymore, that is the reason we are all here. Betty Friedan is speaking out against sexism. “Sexism” is a new word. An old lady shouts from the crowd: “Give it to them, Betty baby!” Everyone looks embarrassed, especially Betty Friedan. I just take photographs like mad. One girl calls me a pig.
Congressman Emanuel Celler is speaking. We have invited him to the college. He is eighty years old and can hardly stand up. My friend Mark, who arranged his appearance, has made one mistake. He has given Congressman Celler a lectern that has wheels on it. As the Congressman keeps talking, he keeps leaning over more and more and it is obvious that he will soon be at a forty-degree angle to the lectern. Everyone tries to be polite and pretends that the Congressman is not leaning farther and farther forward. I question Emanuel Celler about the war. “Didn’t you once say, Mr. Celler,” I ask, “that the dogs bark but the caravan marches on? Does that mean that we’re the dogs?”
Leaning very forward, Emanuel Celler squints down on me. “Could you repeat the question?” he asks me. “Never mind!” I shout back. Then Mark steps in an rescues the Congressman before he falls. I am walking home from the hospital. My grandmother has cancer. I am walking through the park, not looking where I am going. I am worried that my grandmother will die. A bicycle almost runs me over. “Watch out!” says the lady riding it, but she is not angry. Her voice is soft and her smile is wide. She is Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. I realize that ten minutes later. In the supermarket there is a priest in front of me. I
recognize him immediately. He is Bishop Fulton J. Sheen. He carries his groceries out of Gristede’s and into the street. I follow him, stay about half a block behind. At a candy store Bishop Sheen stops for Rolaids. It is there that I catch up to him. We walk to his apartment house. I tell him I am going to be a writer. I lie and say I’ve read one of his books. “Peace of Soul?” he asks. I nod. “That must be it.” “If you have talent, you shouldn’t waste it,” Bishop Sheen tells me. “That’s almost a sin.” “I won’t,” I say. “I can promise you that, I swear.” Then I laugh. Before I know it, Bishop Sheen is gone. Miami Beach again. The Democrats are nominating
McGovern and Eagleton. The New York delegation is having a cocktail party. I try to get near Roger Mudd and listen to what he is telling some fat man. When they see me, they go away. Then I go away. There is music. Mayor Lindsay is dancing with his wife. He is only a delegate now; his Presidential campaign is long dead. I tap Mayor Lindsay on the shoulder. “May I cut in?” I ask. The cameras are rolling, so reluctantly the Mayor has to agree. I dance with Mary Lindsay. “I hear Women’s Wear Daily would like to interview you,” I say. “Fat chance,” Mrs. Lindsay says. “Four years ago your husband seconded Agnew here,” I tell the mayor’s wife.
She steps on my foot and Roger Mudd cuts in. Beverly Sills is eating a tuna salad. “Are you Beverly Sills?” I ask her. “Thank you,” she says graciously. She is dressed very demurely. “I like your singing,” I say. She talks with food in her mouth. “Everyone says that,” she tells me. “Your brother the gynecologist delivered my baby brother,” I say. “It was a pretty easy delivery. My mother decided not to have any more kids. What about you?” I ask her. Beverly Sills motions to me. She wants to whisper something in my ear. I move closer to her and bend down a little.
“I’m at a loss for words,” Beverly Sills tells me. John Ashbery is walking down the street. I am coming the other way. There is no way our paths will not cross. He is my first Pulitzer Prize winner. He is carrying a shopping bag from the Strand Book Store. He smiles at me genially. “Congratulations on all your awards, Mr. Ashbery,” I say to him. He stops for a moment, tries to remember if he knows me. “What have you got there?” I ask, pointing to the big book taking up his whole shopping bag. “A dictionary,” he says. “Oh, which one do you find best?”
John Ashbery’s fingers run across his mustache. He chuckles. “I bet you carry that one around all day,” I say, “so you can always think of big words to put in your poems.” “That’s pretty good,” John Ashbery tells me. I nod. “Yeah. I guess so.” John Ashbery clears his throat. “I have to go now.” He motions ahead. “What’s it like, Mr. Ashbery?” “What’s what like?” “Being real,” I tell him. “I’ve always wanted to know.” John Ashbery points quickly to the right. “Look!” he shouts. “Barbra Streisand’s over there!” I turn my head. It is just an old lady. I don’t bother turning my head back. I know John Ashbery will not be there. No one ever is, in the end.
I LOVE SCRUSHY
This unforgettable sitcom lasted six seasons, during which the wacky, dictatorial but lovable star, HealthSouth CEO Richard M. (“Red”) Scrushy, stole millions and delighted millions more with his corporate shenanigans and auditing antics. The shows featured Scrushy’s zany attempts to satisfy his dreams of being a country music star, to meet celebrities, to make himself look important to the people of Birmingham, Alabama, and to surround himself with as much luxury as possible. The four major players employed brilliant comic timing in plots involving the screwball Scrushy, founder and head of a
chain of rehabilitative hospitals; his shopaholic third wife, Leslie; Scrushy’s best pal, former child star Jason Hervey (Wayne on “The Wonder Years”), HealthSouth’s inept vice president of communications; and Jason’s ditzy spouse, Shannon. Classic shows include: Episode 7: “Scrushy’s Band” Leslie and Shannon are annoyed that Scrushy keeps hogging the spotlight at workrelated functions by performing with his new band, which he’s named “Proxy.” They disguise themselves and convince Jason to hire them as musicians to play alongside Scrushy’s band at the annual shareholders’ meeting. The resulting “battle of the bands” creates such chaos that Scrushy’s plan to fill the board of directors with his
stooges almost fails to pass. Episode 19: “The Accountants’ Party” Leslie’s correspondence course in hypnosis seems like an utter waste to Scrushy until Jason tells him they need a new ploy to inflate the company’s earnings. Scrushy arranges a party for HealthSouth’s outside accountants and hires Leslie to be the entertainment – in the guise of “Marcella the Mesmerizer,” who will hypnotize the audience and order the auditors to cook the books. Unfortunately, the Ernst & Young employees take that command a little too literally and Scrushy must work fast to prevent his private library from going up in flames. Episode 26: “The Museum” After Leslie waxes enthusiastic after a trip to Atlanta’s Coca-
Cola Museum, Scrushy decides that she will be impressed if he creates his own museum – dedicated to the creation of the HealthSouth Corporation – just beyond the main elevator bank in the company’s headquarters. But when Jason is busy schmoozing Wall Street analysts, Shannon misreads the message on Jason’s BlackBerry and assumes that the Scrushy wants them to start an art museum and use corporate funds to buy pricey paintings by Picasso. Unaware of the switch, Scrushy calls a press conference and unveils what he says is a picture of himself at the opening of HealthSouth’s 1,000th rehabilitation center – only to discover that it is a Cubist painting of a woman with three breasts. Episode 35: “Scrushy’s
Highway” When he finds out that a stretch of highway near Birmingham is being named for “Gomer Pyle” star Jim Nabors, a jealous Scrushy schemes to have another part of the highway named for himself. After plying local politicians with food, drink, and campaign contributions, Scrushy gets his highway. Jason relishes the positive publicity, but the plan backfires when Leslie thinks the road named for Scrushy is a private drive like the one he uses to get to his offices at HealthSouth. Scrushy and Jason end up in a mad rush to stop Leslie from racing her Lamborghini against Shannon in Scrushy’s Rolls Royce Corniche. Episode 47: “Scrushy’s Bathroom Adventure”
Delighted by his successful plan to tap the phone of a female executive and blackmail her into faking invoices, Scrushy celebrates by building a 14-by-8-foot bathroom in his executive office. But when a claustrophobic Scrushy finds himself locked in the loo, Leslie is too busy with a fashion show for her pajama company, Uppseedaisees, to get him out. So Leslie gives scatterbrained Shannon the special elevator pass to the fifth floor of the HealthSouth HQ. Unfortunately, Shannon loses the pass in the building’s lobby, where it’s found by the very employee who’s mad at Scrushy for making her a white-collar criminal. Episode 54: “Copter Caper” The girls want to use “Bonus One,” HealthSouth’s corporate
helicopter – bought in a year in which the company stopped paying bonuses – for a spur-ofthe-moment shopping spree in Atlanta. But Scrushy and Jason want to take the chopper to Scrushy’s luxury family compound on the shore of Lake Martin so they can speed on Scrushy’s 38-foot cigarette boat and enrage the locals in their tiny vessels. When Scrushy and Leslie give the spaced-out copter pilot (guest star Cheech Marin) conflicting flight plans, pandemonium ensues. Episode 69: “Scrushy Meets Bo Jackson” Scrushy uses some of the millions he’s pocketed in stock options to build a statue of himself in front of Birmingham’s HealthSouth Medical Center. When Jason gets native Alabaman Bo
Jackson to help dedicate the sculpture, Scrushy’s bragging to the superstar about his own athletic prowess leads to a bet that forces Scrushy to put his beloved 22-carat diamond-andplatinum ring in jeopardy. This episode features a song by “3rd Faze,” a girl band of Britney Spears look-alikes that Scrushy created for his “Go For It” corporate roadshow. Episode 80: “The Scrushy Network” Scrushy orders Jason to start an in-hospital TV channel for HealthSouth that will deliver programming to patients at HealthSouth outlets. Jason assumes that the network will feature shows related to medical care and rehabilitative therapy – only to learn that Scrushy is more interested in appearing in his own music video, “Honk If You Love to
Honky Tonk,” from a CD that Scrushy made with his former band, “Dallas County Line.” Furious with her CEO husband for refusing to buy her a fourth home, Leslie tricks Jason into letting her put the lyrics on cue cards. When an unwitting Scrushy sings the words Leslie has written, he finds himself rapping about the adultery, embezzlement and suicide of his chief financial officer. Episode 88: “Bad News Bear” Jason and Shannon fret over how to tell Scrushy the bad news that eleven former HealthSouth finance and accounting executives have pleaded guilty to participating in a scheme to inflate the company’s earnings over many years. The Herveys concoct a plan to take Scrushy and Leslie on a rugged camping trip and fake an attack by a vicious
bear (really Jason’s former “Wonder Years” co-star Fred Savage in an animal costume), after which Scrushy will be so grateful to be saved from death that his imminent indictment on won’t seem so bad. Unbeknownst to Jason, his old cast-mate never shows up, and the bear he’s about to “rescue” Scrushy from is very real. Episode 95: “Scrushy in Court” Because Scrushy is so nervous about his next day’s appearance at a hearing in federal court, Leslie gives her husband a double dose of Xanax. Unaware of this prior medication, Jason gives Scrushy some Valium, and then Leslie gives the embattled exCEO a few of her Klonopin pills. When the judge orders Scrushy to answer questions about HealthSouth’s accounting
scandal and his lavish lifestyle, Scrushy is so calm that instead of pleading the Fifth Amendment, he pleads the Twenty-First – the amendment that repealed Prohibition – and declines to testify on rounds that he might “incinerate” himself. Look for Leslie’s “Slowly I Turned” burlesque comedy routine when the judge refuses Scrushy’s request to unfreeze his assets and get $10 million in emergency living expenses. Episode 119: “The Comeback Attempt” Despite Scrushy’s indictment and dismissal, his madcap lawyer (Donald Watkins) announces a plan to line up financing to buy HealthSouth, using Scrushy as an adviser. When Leslie reads in USA Today that this just adds to a “circus-like atmosphere”
surrounding Scrushy’s battles, she decides to get even with the press by hiring a posse of clowns with seltzer bottles to spray lye on reporters. But Leslie’s scheme goes awry when a bad cell phone connection causes Jason to think she wants the clowns to “spread lies” instead.
MY LIFE IN THE NEW YORK POST
It was enough to make you run for a valium: a letter from E.L. Doctorow, author of the acclaimed Ragtime, pushing for publication of a story entitled "Who Swings? Swaps? The Weird Sex Lives of Jewish American Novelists." Included in this tasteless (and witless) exercise by one Richard Grayson were supposed "dossiers" on the intimate preferences of such high quality literati as Bernard Malamud, Saul Bellow, Philip Roth, Cynthia Ozick and Isaac Bashevis Singer. This arrived on the desk of Village Voice book maven Eliot Fremont-Smith, along with an endorsement of "Eddie" Doctorow on his own letterhead, inquiring, "Are you man enough to publish such a hard-hitting expose?" No,
replied Eliot, who smelled a phony, and sent the stuff off to Doctorow, who forwarded it to his lawyers, who fired off a warning letter to the mysterious Grayson in Brooklyn, who swears he knows of "no such letter" but can't explain the whole darn thing, leading one to believe his literary career may be blessedly brief. - "Literary impostor at large," Page Six, 6/17/78 A Brooklyn College English professor, who says he's protesting the country's "circus-like" political campaigns, has decided to take a leave from the ivory tower and run for Vice President. Richard Grayson, 28, is even officially recognized by the Federal Election Commission. The federal agency has been flooding him with campaign finance forms since the day he wrote them – and they've never questioned his eligibility.
Grayson's biggest concern now is raising the bus fare to New Hampshire to campaign for the nation's first primary. He's already begun a furious campaign. He held a $10-a-plate bagel dinner, which brought in $10. His brother was the sole guest and contributor. The U.S. Constitution puts the age for holding the office at 35. While Grayson is too young for the job, his political spirit has not been dampened. Not particular about his political party, Grayson is waiting for an offer from any ticket: "Jimmy, Jerry, Teddy, they're all the same to me." - "Prof flips hat into 3-ring circus," article, 8/2/79 Richard Grayson of Brooklyn says he feels so guilty about patronizing prostitutes on Pacific Street that he wants his name announced on The John Hour. "I deserve to be publicly humiliated,"
Grayson, a 28-year-old writer, said, asking for his name to be read aloud on the controversial radio show ordered by Mayor Koch. But Mary Perot Nichols, president of WNYC-FM, says he'll have to wait until he's caught. "We can't put the name on the air of anyone who's not already convicted of solicitation,” said Nichols. Grayson says he needs the punishment: "It's the only thing that will stop me before I strike again." - "I want my name on show, says writer," article, 10/5/79 Nobody messes with Fred Silverman. Particularly not playful prankster Richard Grayson, who says he's aiming for the Vice Presidency in 1980 – with Fred as the head of the ticket. Grayson's even registered his "Elect Fred Silverman" committee with the FEC, and has gotten lots of publicity for his zany scheme – which includes
plans to alleviate the gas crunch with a televised "Bowling for Gallons" show. As usual, NBC's peacock finds her feathers ruffled by such shenanigans, and the network's attorneys have sent Grayson a letter with the tragic news that "Mr. Silverman is not a candidate for the Presidency or any other office." NBC also advises that unless Grayson ceases these "unauthorized, possibly illegal, and self-serving activities" they just might take him to court. Grayson's response: "I'd love it." - "Fred's wrath," Page Six, 12/17/79 Socialite Gloria Vanderbilt, who backed into prominence with her name on the rear of the jeans she designs may next turn up in the political arena. A new party, called "The Right To Be the Life of the Party Party," is pushing the ageless Gloria for U.S. Senator.
"Gloria is much more stylish than Bess Myerson and Liz Holtzman, who is downright frumpy," says Richard Grayson, "treasurer and beautiful person" of Gloria's election committee. Among other things, the Vanderbilt signature on U.S. money will strengthen the dollar, says Grayson. However, Gloria has not officially given her stamp of approval to this grand scheme. Through her lawyer, Tom Andrews, she said that the efforts in her behalf are "unauthorized and unappreciated." - "'Beautiful people' want to put Gloria label in Senate race," article, 12/21/79 He couldn't get Fred Silverman to run for President last year, so political prankster Richard Grayson's got a new choice for the Oval Office – Richard Nixon.
Grayson's Nostalgia Party has filed papers with the Federal Election Commission supporting a ticket of Nixon and the long-lost Spiro Agnew. Being elected Prez more than twice isn't allowed, but Grayson isn't worried. He's determined to bring back the days when "nobody was holding any Americans hostage except the North Koreans, and that was no big deal." - "Nostalgic," Page Six, 5/12/80 PASS THE AMMO: The war isn't being waged in boardrooms, but on Broad Street, near Wall Street, panhandler Richard Grayson is battling to take over R.J. ReynoldsNabisco if only he can come up with the $25.4 billion. - Caption on photo of man holding Wall Street Journal coffee cup and sign reading 'PLEASE HELP I NEED $25.4 BILLION TO LAUNCH A LEVERAGED BUYOUT OF RJR-
NABISCO - CHECKS, CASH, BONDS ACCEPTED,' 10/28/88 The Trump Rescue Fund isn't doing too well. West Side author Richard Grayson has been out on the street this week soliciting for the fund, which he created. "We're trying to drum up contributions to help Donald Trump fight off these business problems," Grayson told PAGE SIX. The would-be fundraiser has gotten lots of smiles, "but I haven't gotten one single contribution." Their entire endowment consists of one check Grayson made out "in the mid two figures." But Grayson isn't giving up. He's still pitching: "If people don't want the Trump era to end, they should give till it hurts." - "Till it hurts," Page Six, 6/8/90 Martha Stewart might have a few million in the bank – but she's
about to get a little financial help from her fans. One devotee of the domestic diva has launched "The Martha Stewart Defense Fund" and is urging supporters to send cash to Stewart's swanky Turkey Hill show home in Westport, Conn. Richard Grayson said he started the fund because he's horrified his culinary idol is being depicted as a common criminal in the media. "Martha is up against all the resources of the federal judicial system, led by John Ashcroft, who has made no secret of his dislike of anything resembling good taste. She will be forced to spend millions on her legal bills," said Grayson, a Florida lawyer and the selfappointed fund chairman. Grayson, 52, who's sent $100, says Stewart is being persecuted by the Bush administration because she doesn't believe in war, only "domestic harmony."
- "Fans $pring to diva's defense," article, 6/6/03
THIS PERSON IS ALREADY YOUR FRIEND Diego blamed Miranda for getting his medical license suspended, so he married Miranda’s mother and tried to humiliate Miranda by replacing Miranda’s father’s portrait with one of himself. After Miranda’s mother died, Diego decided to become friendly with Miranda’s husband and learned he had a brain tumor he was keeping a secret from Miranda. Diego lied to him and said that the brain tumor was causing blackouts during which he became violent, finally convincing the husband to leave Miranda for her own good. Then Diego framed Miranda for embezzlement and seduced Miranda’s teenage son. A few years later, Miranda learned about the existence of
Diego’s half-brother Kevin and married him. For a while Diego pretended to be friendly with the couple, but he had a plan. He lured Kevin to a ski spa in Vermont by phoning him and telling him that Miranda had broken her leg and needed him. Kevin arrived only to find his wife and another woman together in bed. That ended Miranda’s second marriage. Miranda and the woman moved in together, infuriating Diego. He decided to seduce the young man who worked as Miranda’s assistant. But Diego fell in love with him, and they were very happy for a while. However, when the young man died in a plane crash, Diego blamed Miranda for sending him on the fatal business trip in her place. So he persuaded a young college student to file sexual harassment charges against
Miranda’s partner, a professor of women’s studies. In retaliation, Miranda stuffed Diego into a trunk and moved him to a secret coal cellar, holding him captive for weeks. After she finally released him, Diego did something out of character. He said they were even and vowed to make amends with Miranda. Unfortunately, on his way to Miranda’s office to donate money to her pet charity, a foundation to help agoraphobic children, Diego accidentally ran down Miranda’s pregnant daughter-in-law and caused her to lose her baby and almost her life. Although it took many months for Miranda to forgive Diego for killing her grandson, eventually they buried the hatchet. When Diego confided to her that he was dying of prostate cancer, Miranda
arranged for him to go to Latvia for experimental treatments.
THE LIFE OF KATZ He is born and grows up. He marries Catherine, his childhood sweetheart. They live in Greenwich Village as he doggedly pursues an acting career. He gets a bit part as the doctor in a production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. His next role, Dogberry in As You Like It, catapults him into theatrical stardom. He and Catherine regularly put on the dog and dine on expensive steaks at The Cattleman. On spring afternoons they walk all over New York until their dogs hurt and they have to take catnaps under dogwood trees in Central Park. They have a baby, a son, and move to Brooklyn. Catherine insists the boy get a Catholic education, but Katz cannot abide dogma and hates
Father Malley, that hypocrite in the dog collar; still, Junior has his first catechism. Father Malley likes to hit the boy with his cat-o’-nine-tails. Junior becomes a strange, withdrawn child. He is forever going around their new house with hangdog looks; he spends hours in the backyard, dissecting caterpillars. Katz tries to be a father to his son for his wife’s sake. He takes the boy to Yankee Stadium to watch Catfish Hunter pitch but gets angry when Junior puts catsup on his hot dog. Junior says he would rather be home writing some doggerel or in the library, bending over the card catalog or reaching for some dog-eared book. “Doggone it,” Katz tells his wife, “there’s no reasoning with that kid.” Meanwhile, his own career moves in a new direction:
playwriting. The results are disappointing; after five years, he has two dogs and one turkey to his credit. The audience subjects him to catcalls. His life goes to the dogs. He can’t even get small parts as an actor anymore. Catherine is unsympathetic. “It’s a dog-eat-dog world,” she tells him. He takes up with a chorus girl, a cheap floozy who plays cat-and-mouse with him for a while. One dog day afternoon, they come out of a motel together, and Junior, walking home from school, spots them. The father categorically denies everything, but his son does not believe him. Finally Katz admits the truth and tells Junior to let sleeping dogs lie. But Junior lets the cat out of the bag, and Katz is in the doghouse with Catherine. She leaves him, taking Junior to
Catalonia, where a catastrophe occurs: on a catamaran on the Mediterranean, on their way to the Catacombs, there is a terrible accident. They both drown. Neither knew so much as the dog paddle. Katz breaks down at the funeral when he sees the two coffins on the catafalque. He is taken to a mental hospital. For eight months he is catatonic. Then who should come to visit but Father Malley, whom he hadn’t seen in a dog’s age. The priest has mellowed with time and helps him get over the cataclysmic events of his life. Katz grows old. He is sent to a nursing home in the Catskills. He develops cataracts. He becomes senile. Dying, his last words are: “It’s a dog’s life.” Father Malley presides at the funeral. “Odi et amo,” he
says in his eulogy, quoting Catallus. “That’s life,” a mourner says as the coffin is put into the ground next to the other two graves. “Whether you’re an underdog or sitting in the catbird seat, you end up in the same place.” “Requiescat,” Father Malley says.
ANITA HILL AT THE ROLLER DERBY Anita Hill may not have been the most accomplished athlete of her generation, but there surely were not many others who hit eight home runs in a single high school softball game. Anita did just that at Stella Maris Academy in Tulsa, and in fact was perfectly prepared to keep on going. However, the headmistress of the school, Sister Mary Catherine, in a gesture of sublime sportsmanship and Christian compassion for the team's hapless junior college opponents, told Anita that if she hit a ninth one out of the park, the Church would excommunicate her on the spot. Anita never forgot Sister Mary Catherine's threat.
*** SEN. LEAHY: How often did you discuss it with her? MS. HILL: Maybe once or twice. Not -- we did not discuss it very often. I can't say exactly how many times. SEN. LEAHY: What was the nature of your discussion with her? MS. HILL: Well, I was upset about the behavior. And that's what I was expressing to her, as a friend, that it was upsetting and that I wanted it to stop, and maybe even asked for advice or something to help me out of the situation. SEN. LEAHY: And did she offer advice?
MS. HILL: I don't recall her offering any advice. I'm not sure exactly what she said. I think she offered more comfort, because she knew I was upset. SEN. LEAHY: And did you discuss it with somebody else? MS. HILL: Yes, I have discussed it with other people. SEN. LEAHY: At that time? MS. HILL: Yes, at that time. *** These days, the shy former law professor drives to the scruffy Grand Olympic Auditorium in downtown Los Angeles at least twice a month. There Anita dons the red, white and blue togs of the San Francisco Bombers, slaps on
some skates and assumes the persona of Madam Avenger the wildcat on wheels Los Angeles Aztecs fans love to hate. Careening around the track at up to thirty miles per hour, Anita is all arms, legs and elbows as she does her darndest to keep opponents from scoring. Even when she's sidelined with an injury -- as she was a couple of weeks ago when the Bombers skated against the Aztecs -- Anita makes her presence known. She prowled the pit at the center of the track, shouting encouragement to her teammates as they whizzed by at breakneck speeds. She got in shouting matches with the referees when a call went
against the Bombers. And -despite wearing a knee-toankle leg brace -- Anita jumped on Aztec Gwen "Skinny Minnie" Miller, pummeling Miller with a helmet before referees pulled her off. The crowd - as roller derby crowds are wont to do - went into a frenzy of screaming at the spectacle of two women tussling on the track. When a Bomber teammate declared Anita the winner of the fight by holding up her arm in boxing style, the L.A. fans booed and gave a "thumbs down." Anita smiled and blew kisses to the crowd, oblivious to their hisses. After winning the game, her teammates took her out to dinner. ***
SEN. LEAHY: Where did you go for dinner that time? MS. HILL: I do not recall the restaurant, the name of the restaurant. SEN. LEAHY: Was it nearby? MS. HILL: It was nearby work. SEN. LEAHY: Do you remember the type of restaurant? MS. HILL: (Sighs) No, I don't. It wasn't anything that was memorable to me, the type of food that we had. *** Skating in the roller derby had long been Anita's ambition. When she saw her first match in Tulsa at the age of fourteen, Anita was hooked. The skaters
were nice. The announcer asked her to sit in front with him. The following year, Anita pleaded with her parents to let her sign up for roller derby school. But Mr. and Mrs. Hill, intent on a legal career for their daughter, steadfastly refused. Shaken, Anita turned to softball as an outlet for her athletic abilities. Her relieved parents were delighted that Anita had put away her dreams of roller derby glory for the more ladylike atmosphere of the baseball diamond. But then came the afternoon when Sister Mary Catherine refused to let her hit that ninth homer. *** SEN. LEAHY: You said in your
statement that at one point you were hospitalized for five days and did -- and am I correct in understanding your statement you felt it was related to this? MS. HILL: Yes, I do believe that it was related to the stress that I felt because of this. SEN. LEAHY: Had you ever had a similar hospitalization? MS. HILL: I had never had a similar hospitalization. SEN. LEAHY: Now when you think back on this -- you described how you felt at the time -- how do you feel about it today? MS. HILL: Well, I'm a little farther removed from it in time and -- but even today I still feel hurt and maybe today I feel
more angry and disgusted. I don't feel quite as threatened by the situation. I'm removed from it. *** Anita skates pivot, a position that allows her to be a sprinting jammer in one sixtysecond jam and a blocker the next. In one memorable game, Anita got into such a vigorous quarrel with a referee that two of the teeth flew out of her mouth, barely missing the ref's ear. "I don't mind you yelling," the startled official said, "but don't be sending your teeth out to bite me." ***
MS. HILL: I would have never even dreamed this up. I just can't imagine. SEN. BIDEN: Is it reasonable to state -- say -- that it was your hope and expectation that it would not come to this? MS. HILL: It was exactly what I was trying to -- really, very difficult -- I mean, very -- I made great effort to make sure that it did not come to this, and I was meticulous. *** To this day what riles Anita the most are those at Stella Maris Academy who claim that she made up the story of the eight home runs and Sister Mary Catherine threatening Anita's excommunication if she
continued her hitting streak. *** SEN. HEFLIN: Well, the issue of fantasy has arisen. You are -have a degree in psychology from the University of -Oklahoma State University. MS. HILL: Yes. SEN. HEFLIN: And you studied in your psychology studies when you were in school and what you may have followed up with, the question of fantasies. Have you ever studied that from a psychology basis? MS. HILL: To some extent, yes. SEN. HEFLIN: What do you -what are the traits of fantasy that you studied, as you
remember? MS. HILL: As I remember, it would have -- it would require some other indication of loss of touch with reality other than one instance. There is no indication that I'm an individual who is not in touch with reality on a regular basis that would be subject to fantasy. *** Although she approaches roller derby as a consummate professional, spending untold hours practicing and perfecting the meticulous combinations of strides and body moves for each phase of the game, some of her former classmates at Stella Maris Academy still wonder why Anita passed up a respectable future to become the gum-chewing, power-
skating, hip-bumping golden girl of roller derby. Was it merely because Anita possessed a body that seemed designed to bounce an opponent on her derriere? Or that she could easily hold her own in the hair-pulling, face-slapping, roll-around brawls that became one of roller derby's most crowd-pleasing attractions? Or was it instead a willful, childish, spiteful response to an incident long ago which led Anita to give up a promising career for the rollicking but rather disreputable world of roller derby? *** SEN. BIDEN: That's the problem.
MS. HILL: And it's really baffling me. I'm really confused by it. But it's meaningless to me. So, but would you -SEN. THURMOND: (Inaudible) -or not? MS. HILL: Excuse me, sir, just a moment, please, just a moment. SEN. THURMOND: I think whichever she prefers. *** When a reporter asks her about her transformation into the Avenger, Anita replies, "When I put my uniform on, I just convince myself it's somebody else. I know how Superman feels when he puts his Superman outfit on. I love the crowd, I love the fans, whether they are nice or mean to me. When they don't
like me, I can usually win them over. " *** MS. HILL: The desire was never to get to this point. The desire -- and I thought that I could do things and if I were cautious enough, that I could control it so that it would not get to this point. But I was mistaken. SEN. BIDEN: I thank you very much.
After the bus arrived at the Port Authority I started walking. I walked to the East Side and went into Bloomingdale’s. I was trying on cotton shirts in front of the mirror in their Young Men’s Shop and trying to see what I would look like in them when I felt him touch my shoulder. “You shouldn’t wear cotton shirts,” he said. I could see him in the mirror. He was just about an inch or two taller than me. “You should really wear knit shirts. Have you ever tried on a Huk-a-poo?” He brought one over, laid it out over my chest and stomach. “This should be your size. You’re a small, all right. Try this on.”
I went into the dressing room, took off the cotton shirt, put on the knit shirt. It was clingy and it had women’s faces as the design on it. He was waiting for me in front of the mirror. His own shirt was pulled up. He was examining his stomach. “That looks great on you,” he told me. “But you shouldn’t button those top two buttons. It looks sort of stretched-out over there.” He unbuttoned the buttons. “There! That looks nice. I wish I could wear these kind of things, but my belly sticks out. I’m doing a lot of situps now, thirty every night just before I go to bed, but they just make you firm, they don’t really take off the pounds.” I looked at us both in the mirror. A floorwalker was staring at us. I guess he thought we were brothers.
“I’ve been skipping rope also,” he told me. He was scratching his elbow. “Muhammad Ali does a lot of that. In fact, I think he endorsed the rope that I have at home. It’s called the Rope-aDope after him.” He and I went into the dressing room and I put back on my own shirt. It had a small mustard stain on it, from the frankfurter I got at the Port Authority. He didn’t watch me as I changed. He turned away but he kept talking. “Do you like yogurt?” he asked me. I shrugged. “Never tried it.” “No? Come on and we’ll get some frozen yogurt. I’m supposed to be eating yogurt anyway because I’m taking tetracycline for my acne. The etracycline takes away bacteria and if you don’t want diarrhea you should eat a lot of yogurt.”
He paid for my shirt. The cashier smiled at us when she gave me the package. “Of course frozen yogurt really doesn’t have that much bacteria,” he said as we walked out of the store. “I think it gets killed off when they freeze it. But you’ll probably like it better than non-frozen yogurt. I think you should get banana the first time. It isn’t so sour.” I really didn’t think much of the yogurt. The banana tasted pretty sour to me. It reminded me of when I was a little kid in Puerto Rico and my parents took me to a rum distillery and there were these big vats of fermenting rum. That smelled sour, too. I didn’t get sick then – in fact I even drank a rum coke they gave us for free – but in the fall, when I had a stomach virus up at school, I couldn’t get that sour smell of
fermenting rum out of my mind. So I didn’t eat much of my yogurt. He was disappointed. “You can’t just not eat anything,” he said, annoyed. “No wonder you’re so skinny. Frozen yogurt’s got less calories than ice cream, though.” He ate my yogurt, too. Then we went to the parking lot to get his car. “It’s a Chevette,” he said. “See, it’s good on mileage and it’s just small enough so I don’t have to be bothered chauffeuring all my friends around. I have a lot of friends and hardly any of them have cars. They depend upon me a lot, but I’m trying to stop them from taking advantage of me.” I frowned. He put his hand on my shoulder again. “Hey, I didn’t mean you….I’ll take you anywhere you want to go.
Except the Bronx. I don’t know my way around there too well.” Some man screeched up with the Chevette and we got in it. “My name’s Eric,” he told me as we drove off. “Eric St. James Cornell.” “I’m Ricky,” I told him. On Lexington Avenue he went through a red light. It was more or less decided that I was going to stay with him. He had a circular apartment. Every room was connected to every other room. The first thing he said to me when we got there was: “Listen, if the phone rings, I want you to answer it and say I’m not home. I can’t be bothered with any of my friends tonight. I’m tired and I want to cook us a nice dinner. Do you like stuff cooked in a wok?”
I said I wasn’t sure. “Don’t worry, you’ll like it,” he said, smiling. “It’s chicken, but Vietnamese style. There’s pineapple in it, and coconuts. You’re not allergic to any of that stuff, are you?” “No,” I said, and then I cleared my throat. I sat on the bed, which was round, too. I could hear his voice from the kitchen. He was cooking things already. “I bet you’ve been living on junk food,” his voice said. “I bet you eat all that stuff with empty carbohydrates and additives in it. Like Pringles Potato Chips.” He stuck his head in the bedroom. “You know they’ve got all these chemicals in it, don’t you?” “I like Wise better anyway.” He winked at me. Or maybe it was a twitch – I hadn’t known him long enough to be sure. “Wise isn’t so good for you,
either. You should try the sesame sticks I buy in the health food store. I’d let you have some now except I had a big party the other night and everyone ate them. I’ll get some more tomorrow.” He was back in the kitchen. I started to open his desk drawer, wondering if he could hear the noise. Then I heard him tell me to put on my new shirt for dinner. His table was low so we had to sit on the floor like Japanese. The Vietnamese chicken was pretty good. I didn’t eat the mushrooms. “…So then this girl said, ‘I’ve only had three major beaus.’ And I said to her, ‘That puts you two up on The Amateur Hour, except they had Ted Mack, too.”
He laughed so much he started coughing. I laughed too, a little. The phone rang. He sort of jumped up. “You answer it,” he ordered me. “Tell them I’m not home but be sure to find out who it is.” It turned out to be a wrong number. They wanted a lady named Diana. Eric didn’t talk much for a while. We had fresh pineapple slices for dessert. I figured he really must have liked pineapple a lot to have it twice in one meal. Suddenly he jumped up again. “My meeting!” he said. “I forgot. I have to go to this important block association meeting. I’m the head of the tree parent committee and I’ve got to bring the chart I made of all the trees on the block so that people can sign their
names by the tree they’re going to be tree parents of.” He rushed to the bedroom and got his chart. I could tell he had spent a long time on it. It was on oaktag, and he drew the chart with different colored magic markers. “Will you clean up?” he said as he hurried out. “Sure,” I said. But he had already slammed the door. I was nervous because it was three o’clock in the morning and he hadn’t come back. I couldn’t imagine a block association meeting taking that long. Nobody could argue for that many hours about what trees they were going to take care of. I started wondering if Eric got mugged or murdered or had an accident or something. I thought of calling the police but they would have asked me what I was doing in his apartment.
By four o’clock I was scared out of my wits. I began to think about the time they called me into the headmaster’s office up at school and told me what happened to my parents, and I hate thinking of that. The only pills in his medicine cabinet were tetracycline and Tylenol and I had already taken four Tylenols and they hadn’t helped. I found the number of an allnight drugstore who delivered in the phone book and I called them up. “Can you deliver to my apartment right away?” I asked the druggist. I gave him the address and then said, “The name’s Cornell.” “Certainly,” the druggist said. “I’ll send our boy out right away. What is it you want?” I thought for a moment. “Compōz,” I told him. I figured that would help me sleep.
“Well, you sound pretty composed right now, Mrs. Cornell,” the druggist said. He thought I was a woman. I guess I have a pretty high voice. I guess I sounded calm too, even though I was anything but. I laughed a little, trying to keep sounding like a lady. “Yes,” I said to the druggist. “But a little more composure couldn’t hurt.” I waited and waited but nobody came. I closed my eyes for just a minute and before I knew it, I was having this really bad dream. It was about my parents and the accident and Eric came in at the end without a head and said how he needed my head to replace his, which had been cut off. I woke up sweating bullets. The digital clock was it was after six a.m. I had no idea what to do. I put on the TV and
watched a test pattern. It made me feel less alone. At seven o’clock The Today Show came on. They were just about to have Floyd Kalber give the news when I heard the door open. “Eric?” I shouted out. “No, drugstore,” a voice said. At first I thought it was Eric joking, because it sounded a lot like him, but then I realized he wouldn’t have known about the drugstore. The boy came into the bedroom. He was wearing a Huk-a-poo shirt similar to the one I’d bought, only his designs were of dancers. “You wanted Compōz?” he said. I stood up and went over to take the package from him. He was just an inch or two shorter than me.
“How come you took so long?” I asked him. I opened the bottle and swallowed two tablets without water although it was probably too late. On TV Lew Wood was giving the weather. He shrugged his shoulders. I figured he was waiting for a tip. All night I had gone through all of the drawers and couldn’t find any of Eric’s money. I didn’t know what to do. The kid looked tired. He was Italian or Puerto Rican. “Hey,” I said, embarrassed. “I don’t have money for a tip and I don’t even have money to pay for the Compōz.” I thought he might get really mad, but he didn’t. “That’s okay, man,” he said. “Maybe I could make you breakfast or something,” I said to him. “I’m not sure of where things are in the kitchen, but
maybe I could find a skillet and make us French toast.” He smiled. “That’s cool, man. I dig French toast.” “Yeah,” I told him. We went into the kitchen. “Of course you have to be careful not to get too many eggs, for when you get older,” I said. “Cholesterol.” He sat down on the floor by the table, unbuttoned another button on his shirt. ”My name’s Rico,” he said. I found the skillet in a cabinet below the stove. “I’m Ricky,” I told him.
INNOVATIONS The rabbi tells a hilarious joke and everyone is in stitches, everyone except D.L. When I ask D.L. why he isn’t laughing too, he replies: “I’m not religious.” (Confession: I have always wanted to be known as a wag.) D.L. goes into a bank branch that looks like a split orange with spangled sunglasses. Because it is the third of the month, D.L. must stand in line with all the senior citizens and welfare mothers who are cashing their government checks. “Some line,” and old man says to D.L. D.L. just nods.
“What do you do for a living?” the welfare mother in back of D.L. asks him. “I’m a fiction writer,” is what D.L. tells her. “An innovative fiction writer.” The old man in front of D.L. snorts. “This guy thinks he’s too big to be called experimental. No, he calls himself innovative. What a crock!” D.L. gets off the line, crawls under the red velvet rope to get out, slinks silently away. He goes to his study to write an innovative novel. (For my own story I foresee immediate contempt followed eventually by an even securer status in a future Museum of Literary Culture. D.L. has taught me well.) Some of his students think that D.L. looks like a psychotic
D.H. Lawrence. Others claim he grew the beard only to lessen the effects of his huge nose. If you look at the dust jacket of his first novel, published in 1968 when they would publish anything, you will see D.L. clean-shaven. It is a jarring picture. On the dust jacket some blurber compared him to Malamud. Needless to say, that is never done today. D.L.’s favorite word of criticism is resonant. Without the word resonant, an innovative fiction writer could not criticize a thing. If one of his students’ stories is resonant, that story works. One time I brought in a story called “Resonance,” but D.L. didn’t like it and said it wasn’t the least bit resonant. I sat through the class but I cried in the men’s room afterwards.
(I’m not sure I like this story so far. I’m getting off the subject of D.L. Somehow these days most of my stories seem to be the fictional equivalents of all those recordings of “I’ve Got to Be Me.”) D.L. is not famous, but once an article about John Hawkes in The Village Voice mentioned a quote about Hawkes by D.L. The article did not identify D.L.; it just gave his name. D.L. came into class and said that that was the highest form of recognition. Most people who read the article just said, “Who?”when they read the quote by D.L. Of course half the people who read the article didn’t know who John Hawkes was, either. As for myself, I would rather not know. D.L. has been quoted (by me, in class) as saying, “There are only five American fiction
writers worth reading today: John Hawkes, William Gass, Grace Paley and Donald Barthelme.” That is four by my count. Guess who the other one is. (I don’t like to spell things out for the reader. The Trobriand Islanders have no words for “why” or “because”; to those happy people, things just happen. Needless to say, Trobriand Islanders do not read any fiction, innovative or not.) “Fiction is stranger than truth,” D.L. pontificates. “And far more interesting.” “Every story must have a beginning, a middle, and an end,” D.L. will lecture us. “Preferably not in that order.” “I don’t like ‘touching’ stories,” D.L. says with a smirk on his bearded face. He rips
my story to pieces – quite literally. Again he has told me. None of my stories will ever “touch” D.L. (It’s now fashionable to put quotes around any word that might be challenged. Just another way of saying, “Don’t hit me, I didn’t really ‘mean’ it!”) D.L. has been married three times. Once he introduced me to the woman who broke up his second marriage. The woman didn’t even know she had done it. D.L.’s son is a little younger than me, and so D.L. asks me what Christmas presents he should give his son. “He lives with my first wife, and I don’t know him,” is what D.L. tells me. Silently he says: “And I don’t want to know him,
either.” Aloud, to me, D.L. says something else: “He’s the only nineteen-year-old in America who likes Robert Bresson movies.” D.L. himself writes film criticism for some boring old quarterly. D.L. is hated passionately by the English Department chairman. D.L. is hated restlessly by his first wife. D.L. is hated cruelly by his oldest son. D.L. is hated demurely by his second wife. D.L. is hated lovingly by his daughter. D.L. is hated casually by this third and present wife, the former Veronica Lape. D.L. is hated incessantly by his two youngest daughters, who are just children, after all. And of course D.L. is hated most of all by me. “Never use the passive voice,” D.L. will say in criticizing a story.
(A friend of mine argues that the single most beautiful line in all of French literature is Racine’s “La fille de Minos et de Pasiphaë.” Not because the genealogy of Phèdre is inherently interesting, but just because the sound of the words themselves is beautiful. It takes all kinds, I suppose.) D.L. has me go down to the college bookstore to see if they need any more copies of his most recently published book of innovative fiction. All the copies of the book are still on the counter, all still unsold. I feel a little bad about this and tell D.L. they have sold only one since the last time I checked. He looks sad and I feel even sorrier for him. Being an innovative fiction writer is not an easy life. Of course, D.L. is also a full professor with tenure. He must make tons of
money compared to what I make as a student aide. D.L. and I go out to lunch where we always go, to McDonald’s. It costs D.L. less than it costs me because he saves those coupons. (Look, this story might not be very interesting to read, but then, is your own life really much more interesting? So don’t blame me. Blame D.L. if you must blame someone. Because I said so, that’s why.) D.L. is in his study where none of his children can bother him. He rents it out. He is writing one of his stories in which the main characters are named Francis Sinatra, Bobby Mitchum, Hank Kissinger and Ginny Woolf. It is so funny to have characters with these names.
In D.L.’s newest story, the one still in his mind, a character named Freddy Dostoevesky writes a book called Freud and Parricide and is made chairman of the English Department because of it. D.L. is not interested in writing about good, solid, external events and objects. As he himself has told me on several occasions, “Why should I be when a good, solid, external word like duty has been turned into a vague, uneasy, internal word like guilt?” And then D.L. says if I don’t help him out with the literary conference he is planning (“Can Literature and Publishing Co-Exist?”), I will really be letting him down. (As Calvin Coolidge once – or maybe twice – said, “In public
life it is sometimes necessary in order to appear really natural to be actually artificial.” Them’s my sentiments exactly.) So I have got my revenge on D.L. I have made him a character in a story and placed him in the time and place he called America’s armpit, Miami Beach in the 1950s – fifties Miami Beach with it uninhibited monuments to lavish and pretentious ignorance. D.L. is sitting in the lobby of the Fontainebleau Hotel. His most recent wife has divorced him. The Chairman of the English Department has had him dismissed, for good cause. (Having tenure didn’t help D.L. one bit.) D.L.’s students are spreading vile rumors about him – all except the Jamaican boy in the class; he is spreading vile rumours.
D.L. is a beaten man. Even I have deserted him. (And I will end the story there, leaving D.L. trapped in 1950s Miami Beach forever. He will never write another innovative story again. Of course, neither will I. But then I never got the hang of it anyway.)
ME AND MR. STARR In the fall of 1998, soon after the Starr Report was released, I awoke on a Sunday morning in suburban Fort Lauderdale, where I was living with my parents, to hear a report on National Public Radio that the Independent Counsel’s office was preparing to indict first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. The report would turn out to be false, but it so enraged me that I decided to send a postcard to Kenneth Starr’s wife Alice in their suburban Washington home, whose address I found by searching on the Lexis/Nexis database to which I had access as an adjunct instructor of writing courses at a nearby university. I got the postcard from a display outside the bathrooms of a restaurant in Miami Beach.
On one side was a photo of a South Beach hotel I had never heard of. On the other side, I addressed the card to Alice Starr, whom I did not like after reading the catty comments she made about Mrs. Clinton – they related to the First Lady’s hair – in an interview with a women’s magazine. I wrote, using printed letters: Dear Mrs. Starr, Your husband is out of control. You must try to stop him because his reckless actions will end up hurting many people – including people you love. Sincerely, Richard Grayson Below my name I wrote my address at the time, my parents’ home. Eleven days later, I was in my parents’ kitchen eating lunch,
having changed into shorts and a t-shirt after teaching a class in freshman composition, when the doorbell rang. My father, who had answered the door, came in, visibly shaken, to tell me that there were two men from the FBI outside who wanted to talk to me. Of course I knew what it was about. The two special agents from the Miami office of the FBI introduced themselves. Both were large men in their thirties. They mentioned that they had been driving around for half an hour trying to find the cul-desac the house was on, a street that had three different names as it wound around the subdivision, Oak Knoll Estates. “Well, we’ve made this hideout hard to find,” I said sarcastically. Hadn’t they ever heard of Mapquest?
“I suppose you know why we’re here,” the white agent said. “I haven’t the vaguest idea,” I said. He took out a photocopy of both sides of my postcard. “Did you send this postcard?” he asked me. I looked at it carefully. “Oh, yes.” “Are you aware that this could be considered a threat?” To my surprise, I did not feel scared. I was angry. “So now they’re sending the FBI to investigate people who are criticizing Ken Starr?” The black agent spoke up. “This seems like more than criticism. You’re threatening Mr. Starr’s family.” “No,” I said. “I said that he and his investigation are hurting people and that if he didn’t stop, he and his family
would get hurt too – emotionally, politically.” “Don’t you think this could be considered a threat by someone who read it?” “No,” I said. My father stepped out in front of the door – I didn’t want the agents in the house, and they hadn’t asked to come in. They showed my father the photocopy of my postcard and asked him if he thought this sounded like a threat. “I could see where someone could think that,” my father said. The agents asked me if I had any guns or other weapons in the house. “No, I don’t believe in the Second Amendment,” I said, and then realized how stupid that sounded. The agents exchanged a look. “And have you made any plans to travel to Washington?”
“No.” “So you don’t think what you wrote was threatening?” “I’m a writer,” I told him. “I use words carefully. I wasn’t threatening anyone. I know about federal laws regarding threats through the mail – I went to law school.” “Did you graduate?” “Yes, with high honors. But I never practiced or took the bar exam. I was just interested in the intellectual part of it.” The black agent smiled. Their next questions were about the postcard. Had I been staying at the hotel pictured on it and where was that hotel? I explained to them the concept of postcards as advertisements placed in racks outside the bathrooms of restaurants, bookstores, and cafes. They asked me my age and what I did for a living.
I told them the university where I taught four writing courses. “But, you know, it’s just adjunct work,” I said. The white agent nodded as if he thought this comment came from an insane person. After a few more questions, they let me go with the “strong suggestion” that if I want to express my views, I should write letters to newspapers. I told them that I often did and that I’d published a number of op-ed articles in newspapers, including the New York Times, in recent years. The black agent smiled again, this time almost sympathetically. I went back to lunch while they talked to my father. When he came in, my father said they had wanted to know the name of my psychiatrist.
“You’re lucky they thought you were crazy,” he yelled, and then started in about how I was going to lose my job because of this – as if I cared – and I guess I did get a little crazy because I tried to call the Miami Herald so it would be in the paper, and then my father really started screaming, and my mother, who worshipped the Clintons, started yelling that someone actually should kill Kenneth Starr, and that only made my father more hysterical A few months later, a legal studies professor at the university where I taught adjunct writing courses suddenly retired. I was asked if I could fill in and teach legal studies courses like constitutional history as a visiting professor for the next academic year. Of course I would – I’d been teaching
college classes at a dozen schools from the time I’d gotten my MFA – and this would only be my second fulltime, if temporary, position. When I was teaching undergrads Constitutional History the following spring, in March 2000, I got an invitation to attend a special class at the university’s law school. The class, Constitutional DecisionMaking, taught by former ABC Supreme Court correspondent Tim O’Brien, would feature Kenneth Starr as the guest speaker. The invitation stated there would be a luncheon afterwards in the law schools’ faculty study. I told my friend Dave, who taught the philosophy of law, that I would go if he would. He wanted to. He hated Kenneth Starr. The class was fairly interesting, even though Dave
and I stood in the nosebleed section of a large lecture hall with tiered seating. Starr took questions, and I got to ask how he felt about the Supreme Court’s decision in Morrison v. Olsen, in which they upheld the independent counsel law. He said he agreed with Justice Scalia’s dissent, which said that the office of independent counsel violated the separation of powers because the office was in the executive branch but was appointed by a panel of three judges. Starr didn’t explain why he accepted being the Whitewater independent counsel if he thought the office was unconstitutional. I felt a little funny going to the faculty study since I wasn’t familiar with anyone at the law school, and I felt kind of intimidated by the law professors. I tried to stick close to Dave. The luncheon was a
buffet of cold cuts, and you could sit anywhere you wanted. Dave and I put together our sandwiches, got drinks, and picked a table. As soon as I sat down, I had this strange feeling I’ve had a few times in my life – that I knew exactly what was going to happen in the next minute. In this case, I knew that Kenneth Starr was going to choose, of all the fifty or so seats he could have taken, the chair next to mine. And he did. Tim O’Brien was at the table, and Dave and I introduced ourselves and that’s how I found myself eating a turkey sandwich next to the former public official against whom the FBI thought I had made deadly threats. Ken Starr had roast beef on rye. It’s always odd to see in person celebrities you’ve seen
only on TV or films or in magazine and newspaper photos. You’re amazed that they look and sound almost exactly like they do in the media. Anyway, we all steered away from talking about Clinton and Whitewater and Monica. Ken Starr said he hoped to write a book about the Supreme Court, and we talked about my course in Constitutional History. A law professor brought up legal issues involving cyberspace, and I mentioned that my parents had recently voted by Internet in the 2000 Democratic presidential primary in Arizona, where they’d moved. Ken Starr seemed mildly interested in that, but soon he started asking Tim O’Brien and the law professors where the good bars in Fort Lauderdale
were. I was surprised that he drank, actually. I myself don’t drink. He seemed quite amiable, even charming. He told a joke, neither political or offensive, but the sort of mildly amusing joke you hear from a decent keynote speaker at a convention, half-chuckle at, and immediately forget. We shook hands as the luncheon ended. “It was a pleasure to meet you,” Ken Starr told me. decided I was definitely glad that I had never been able to reach the Miami Herald to tell them about my being investigated for making threats against him. It’s a good thing that never was in the paper. As we walked back towards the undergraduate building, I told Dave, “You know, when you’re with him, you can
almost forget that you hate him.” “Yeah,” Dave said, “but now I’m starting to hate him again.” “Me too,” I said, and I really was. In December 2001, I was hired a director of the academic resource program at that law school, and I’ve met Ken Starr twice since then. He is always very friendly and I am always very polite. Unless he reads this, he’ll never know the FBI thought I was going to kill him.
17 FRAGMENTS IN SEARCH OF A STORY 1 Simon Garfinckel’s the name, parajournalism’s my game. No, no, I might as well admit it: I’m not and it’s not. So why should I try and kid you, right? As my Grandma Tutie always says, “Never kid a kidder.” And she’s right, of course. You? You’re a kidder, aren’t you? Otherwise why would you be reading a story like this when you could be sitting around thinking of something important like how the OPEC oil ministers are meeting in Jakarta and how the next rise in petroleum prices will affect your life. This story won’t affect your life one bit. The most that
can happen is that you’ll say it was pleasant or fairly interesting or a big fat bore – but it won’t touch you. Not like the OPEC oil ministers’ meeting will. 2 My Grandma Tutie was born in Russia in 1907. Her cousin Tutie was also born in Russia, but in 1908. Grandma Tutie came to America. Her cousin Tutie went to Argentina. When Grandma Tutie’s cousin Tutie came to New York to visit her last year, we couldn’t tell them apart. They looked like two peas in a pod. (Yes, I know that’s a cliché, and no, they weren’t green, but let it pass, please). They even started dressing alike after a few days. To this day my Grandpa Schnitz isn’t sure if it was his wife or his wife’s cousin whom they
put on the plane back to Buenos Aires. 3 I was an alternate delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1972, the one that nominated McGovern and Eagleton. I drove down to Miami Beach with my buddy Fritz O’Day, who was one of the soldiers who had invaded Cambodia two years before. We got as far as Dillon, South Carolina, the first day of driving, and then we had to stop at the motel called South of the Border because I needed a bed and Fritz had to squeeze a pimple under his beard. I was still nervous because we had passed a billboard that showed a man with a white hood and a burning cross; the billboard said THIS IS KLAN COUNTRY . But Fritz said not to worry, it
was no worse than Cambodia. There were a lot of firecrackers in South Carolina and pecans in Georgia and oranges in Florida, and we got to Miami Beach the night before the convention. We stayed at Grandpa Schnitz’s condominium. He and Grandma Tutie can’t take the summers in Florida. 4 Sometimes I wonder if I’d be happier if I did something besides parajournalism, so I said to myself one day, I said, “Simon, you’re wasting your life trying to write stories that don’t make sense. Either fall in love or find a job as a messenger.” So I got this job in the city. I had to deliver pulsating showers to rich women on Park Avenue and Sutton Place. Sometimes they had me install the showers too, and a couple of times I even
had to demonstrate how they pulsated. It was an okay job. The rich women didn’t tip so hot, but I got lots of exercise and learned my way around Manhattan. I thought I’d get a lot of material for my stories, but I didn’t, and so there’s not going to be any more about that job in this story. 5 Grandma Tutie and I were playing pool in the basement once. Grandpa Schnitz and Uncle Wendell were watching us and playing cards to see which of them would get nexties. I was standing behind Grandma Tutie as she took her shot, and I wasn’t paying attention. I was thinking about changing my name from Simon Garfinckel to Fiedler Onderoof. Grandma Tutie’s cue stick went back and nearly poked out my eye.
“Wow,” I said to Grandma Tutie. “Now I can play Oedipus.” “No,” Grandpa Schnitz said. “You play Uncle Wendell next.” 6 I drove Grandpa Schnitz to the dentist so he could get his choppers cleaned. He’s an old man, but he doesn’t have dentures. Grandpa Schnitz is very proud of his teeth and his gums. He claims that’s why Grandma Tutie was swept off her feet by him. “She was going with your Uncle Wendell first,” Grandpa Schnitz told me. “But Wendell had rotten teeth, really stinky, you know? So I came downstairs to tell her Wendell had the hives and couldn’t take her out to the poetry reading, and I flashed my piano keys at her. That was it. We were balland-chained three weeks later.
Wendell was our best man; he had recovered from the hives by then.” “Come on, Grandpa Schnitz,” I said. “You’re just telling a story. None of that ever happened.” Grandpa Schnitz grinned at me ferociously. “An old man’s got to have some fun,” he said ruefully. “I expected you’d be the one person to understand that.” I nodded, and then we crashed into the back of a ’72 Dodge Dart. 7 I send my stories out to magazines and they come back with these rejection notices stuck to them. Sometimes there are coffee stains on my manuscripts. One editor just wrote back, “We get the feeling in your work of being told a story rather than entering one,
and that is the problem.” As the Great Schnozzola himself might have said, “Ha-cha-chacha, dey missed de boat completililily!” Holy smokes, ladies and germs, have you ever actually heard of entering a story the way a guy enters a barbershop or a kitchen or a house of ill repute? Actually, once my Grandma Tutie tried to enter a story while she and Grandpa Schnitz were on a tour of the Hawaiian Islands. She tripped on her first step inside the story because it was as dark as hell in the there, and poor Grandma Tutie ended up in the Wing Wing of Oahu General Hospital with two broken hips and a stiff concussion. It ruined the whole cruise for Grandpa Schnitz. 8 Fritz O’Day threw away all his Vietnam War medals on
Collins Avenue in 1972. A very sarcastic guy whose brother was a Wallace delegate from Tennessee exclaimed, “You’re throwing away America, son, and you’ll live to regret it.” Well, Fritz didn’t live to regret it, because one day he and Uncle Wendell were taking a constitutional on the Grand Concourse when some elevenyear-olds came over to them, bopped them on the heads, took their money and left them there to die. Uncle Wendell pulled through, but Fritz died because at the city hospital they stitched up his head with infected stitches and his brain turned to jelly. Luckily he died; otherwise he’d be a living vegetable today and I’d be stuck taking care of him. Now, whenever I go on the subway, I look out for ten- and eleven-year-olds. They’re the ones you’ve got to watch for. If
they commit murder, the most they can get is eighteen months detention. It’s like they have a license to murder. Serially, something should be done. How come the OPEC oil ministers never discuss things like that, huh? 9 Well, this is my story, Simon H. Garfinckel’s, so if I want to have it this way, I can. The OPEC oil ministers have called an emergency meeting in Jakarta to discuss the problem of juvenile crime in the Bronx. Sheik Yamani, the Saudi Arabian oil minister, thinks they should fill those young punks full of gasoline so that they’ll never kill a good goddamned American like Fritz O’Day again. Doctor Lopez Portillo of Venezuela thinks that inflation,
bad housing and bad breeding cause crime. “There are no bad boys,” he says. “Only misunderstood murderers.” Prince Khaleel of the United Arab Emirates gets on the conference table and starts jumping up and down wildly because I can’t think of anything else for him to do. The OPEC oil ministers vote 13-4 to end their participation in my story. Phooey on them, I say. 10 Grandma Tutie is going to Israel. Grandpa Schnitz is going to Palestine. They are both going to the same place. Because of pressure exerted by the OPEC oil ministers, it has been decreed that the two nations of Israel and Palestine shall exist in the same space simultaneously. Now there is no more war in the Middle East.
Everyone can go about his or her business. Nationhood is all in the mind. At a séance, I contact the spirit of my dead buddy Fritz O’Day. Fritz says he hopes the idea of coterminous nationhood will spread. Then people like him will not have to invade places like Cambodia anymore. People like Fritz can be put to better use rounding up preteen hoodlums and forcing gasoline down their throats. I ask Fritz what being dead is like. “It’s all right,” he tells me. “It’s better than being in the army.” 11 Grandpa Schnitz gets on the wrong plane and lands in Ghana in the year 1967. There are cows on the runway. Grandpa Schnitz does not know what to do in Ghana, but
eventually he cuts a few records and becomes Ghana’s top pop singer. His hit singles are “Ghana, Build a Mountain” and “Kwame, How I Love Ya.” Then he wakes up and he is sitting next to Grandma Tutie in the present, whenever that is, in an El Al airliner. 12 If it isn’t obvious to you by now that I’m not qualified to be a short story writer, then you must have taste up your ass. I’m floundering while my story is foundering. How do I put this all together to make some sense, to give Simon Garfinckel’s view of the multiverse? Maybe if I had more experience in life, my stories would be better. I should have traveled more, but I have a phobia about traveling. I’m scared to ride on planes because I think I’ll wind
up in Accra, Ghana, in a different year. I’ve been scared to drive ever since Grandpa Schnitz and I were in that terrible car accident. I’ve never been as far east as Boston or as far west as Pittsburgh, so longitudinally I don’t have much range. Latitudinally I’ve done a little better; I’ve been as far south as Miami Beach (when Fritz and I went to the Democratic convention, remember?) and I’ve been as far north as the Concord Hotel in Kiamesha Lake upstate. Yesterday I got a letter from my Grandma Tutie’s cousin Tutie in Argentina inviting me to spend the summer (their winter) in Buenos Aires, but I don’t think I’ll go. I think I’ll just sit in my room and write stories. If God had wanted me to be in a different hemisphere He
wouldn’t have given me all these phobias. 13 Confession: There never was anybody named Fritz O’Day. I never had a good buddy whom I went with to the Democratic National Convention in 1972. That was all fictional. I suppose I’ve always wanted one very close friend, somebody you could talk to and who would listen, somebody funny and cute and who invaded Cambodia. Not that I’m totally gay, mind you. But I’d probably have done something with Fritz in that motel room in Dillon, South Carolina, if only he’d asked me to. But I do have a Grandma Tutie and a Grandpa Schnitz. That part is real. And my name really is Simon Garfinckel. I told you it wasn’t because in these
short stories you’re not supposed to use people’s real names. I don’t want to get in trouble here. Come on, you knew all along that nobody could make up a name like Simon Garfinckel unless it weren’t real. 14 They say honesty is good for the soul, so I’m going to tell you something else. While it’s true that I have a Grandma Tutie and a Grandpa Schnitz, they’re not married to each other. They are only machatunim, as we say in Yiddish. Grandma Tutie was my mother’s mother and Grandpa Schnitz was my father’s father. They see each other occasionally, but they’re not really very close. I decided to marry them off to each other to give this story a semblance of
unity and structure, which, heaven knows, it cries out for. Yes, I’m beginning to feel much better, getting these things off my thirty-six-inch hairless chest. Perhaps I should stick to confessional writing. What I really need is to find something I’m good at. 15 Do I have to tell you I don’t really have an Uncle Wendell, or that I don’t even know anybody named Wendell except for the old TV host Bill Wendell who used to be on the program It Could Be You? 16 This story should be a real hit by this point. But it’s not. It’s another failure in my long endless stream of failures starting with my first premature ejaculation. I’m probably the only guy in the
world who ejaculates prematurely when he masturbates. By this point I’m really depressed. I can’t pinpoint the cause of my depression, but I think it centers around you. Why is it we seem to get close to people, open up to them all our secrets, and then despise them for knowing so many of our weaknesses? I also feel bad because I don’t think Grandpa Schnitz likes me very much. I sent him a birthday card but he didn’t say thanks or anything. I also wrote to Grandma Tutie in Florida even though she didn’t write me. All my friends – all two of them – have gotten letters from Grandma Tutie by now, and after all, I’m the one who’s her grandson. I wish I knew why I have this compulsion to be liked. 17
I just wanted to say goodbye. I’ve taken an overdose of sleeping pills and will probably be dead soon. I’m going to join Fritz O’Day in the Great Beyond. No, that’s not right – I remember now, there is no Fritz O’Day. I wonder if Grandma Tutie will cry when she finds out. I can’t concentrate on my story. I suppose that’s for the best. It’s funny, though, because now I think and all these thoughts are jumping into my mind, really important things I’d like to say, not trash like this story. Oh I’m scared. I wish you could come here and hold me, but nobody can enter a story, right? Try not to think too badly of me. I can’t write any mo
RICHARD GRAYSON is a retired law school administrator who lives in Brooklyn and in Apache Junction, Arizona. His books of short stories include With Hitler in New York (1979), Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog (1982), I Brake for Delmore Schwartz (1983), I Survived Caracas Traffic (1996), The Silicon Valley Diet (2000), Highly Irregular Stories (2005), And to Think That He Kissed Him on Lorimer Street (2006) and Who Will Kiss the Pig? (2008). His nonfiction books of diary entries include WRITE-IN: Diary of a Congressional Candidate in Florida’s Fourth Congressional District (2006), Summer in Brooklyn (2008), Autumn in Brooklyn (2009), Winter in Brooklyn (2010) and Spring in Brooklyn (2010)
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