Sunday, April 18, 2010

Youth: The House of Mirth

Although you like to think of yourself as an adventurous sort, you come home from relatively few places. You come home from the Y, from a class, from a meeting with a client, from lunch with Conrad. from an outing with Sally. You come home from a bookstore or the post office, once in a while from Maryelle who trims your hair. Occasional runs to a market. A quarterly return from having your car serviced. As you think of these things, the sarcasm of irony mounts.

Sometimes on these occasions of return, there is a package from somewhere, a Fed-Ex or UPS, left in front of the garage or, if the deliverer is your swimming buddy, Rob, on the front porch. More often than not, you are not only aware of the content of the package, you are impatient for its delivery. It is a rare thing for you to come home to a package that forces your brow to pucker into a WTF scowl.

Yet packages do arrive and when you open them, you discover portions of scenes or conversations between two or more characters whom you do not know until you read a few exchanges. A batch of these arrivals have nothing you can see to do with the major project, the novel you call The Secrets of Casa Jocosa, nor any of the notes you've made to keep alive energy for additional long- and short-form works. You have to take them because they are somehow a part of your process. If you continue to ignore your process for very long, it will stop talking to you, creating all sorts of internal sturm und drang. The latest is a scene written almost entirely in dialog between two friends and the wife of one of the men. It's probable origin was a phone conversation of about a month ago in which you were contacted by Irzin Zucker, the publicist you used to employ back in the day when you were a rising editor at a publishing house that couldn't seem to make up its mind what it wanted to be. Irwin has kept in touch over the years. You still have on your desk a sort of good-luck charm he gave you when you left this publishing venture in order to sign on with a New York massmarket house. It is a slab of marble in the shape of a book, miniature but heavy enough to serve as a paper weight. Wishing you well at Dell, it says, a sincere but innocent gesture considering how that venture went and how you recovered from it.

"Would you believe I'm eighty two?" Irwin Zucker tossed off en passant and you guess that stuck with you because the end of the scene that arrived the other day ends with an exchange between the narrator and a character named Irwin who is not anything like the Irwin you know:

"Irwin? Have you been drinking?"
"Goddamned right I've been drinking. I've had two shots. Jack Daniels. How does a man like me come to have Jack Daniels?"
"It could come from plane trip. The bottles they serve."
"I do not take plane trips where I am given Jack Daniels."
"You're at home now, right?"
"You think I'm some sort of playboy out on the town? You think I'm calling my friend, Sid, because I'm somewhere I can't pay my bar tab and now they're threatening to break my fingers?"
"Take it easy, Irwin."
"What, Irwin? What is it?"
"Eighty-two is what it is, Sid. Eighty-two."

The actual conversation you had with Irwin Zucker was so completely opposite that you left it looking forward to being eight-two because he sounded so energized by it and comfortable with it, so you have no clue where this came from or where it goes. The entire scene is a bit over three pages. Your usual practice is to record such arrivals somewhere, then return to whatever it was you were doing or not doing. Like so many others, this may go nowhere or it may take its time, germinating, as your Beverly Hills line germinated so many years back.

You wrote what was supposed to be ad lib dialog for a TV series called I Search for Adventure.
One particular episode revolved around a man who brought in some remarkably well-photographed black-and-white footage of Africa by means of which he thought to write-off the entire cost of his African trip. The price was right so far as the producer was concerned, something like $500 and a screen credit. And so, after you had gone through the film on a movieola, timed it and wrote voice-over narration for it, you had Jack Douglas, the host, asking the filmer, "What was it that got you to Africa in the first place, John?"

And John's reply, straight out of your notebook of arrivals from the blue: "Jack, you've got to understand. I grew up in Beverly Hills. I've been trying to get out of Beverly Hills all my life and the farthest I ever got was Kingman, Arizona for a black-and-white Western with Vera Hruba Ralston. When this chance for Africa came my way, I knew I had to take it."

I Search for Adventure was not watched by enough persons to qualify for rating as such, but the episode with that quote seemed to have touched a nerve, and there is no doubt in your mind that satire may be the thing that closes on Thursday in New York, but in Los Angeles, it is as real as the palm and footprints in the lobby of Grauman's Chinese Theater. If you have any relationship to the old westerns of the 40s, you will remember Republic Studios, its flamboyant producer, J. Herbert Yates, and his wife, Vera Hruba Ralston, removing your suspicions that I invented her.

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