Saturday, December 28, 2019

We all need heroes

As a writer, I've had my share of dreams and fantasies. I've long since abandoned some of them--Nobel Prize, Pulitzer Prize, MacArthur Award and various other honors in a galaxy far, far away.

But then there are dreams and fantasies that may be highly unlikely, but not necessarily impossible. One of those is to tell my literary heroes (living, of course) how much they have meant to me. It's hard to describe how intimate a relationship you can have with someone you don't know when you're a writer. Those writers who have inspired you are often the only people who seem to understand what you're trying to do, even though you've never met them. They do, because, by writing, and by writing with passion and dedication, they tell you that what you're doing is worth it all.

Sometimes, they can even rescue you. Which is what happened to me. It was Laurence Wylie who did the rescuing. You probably don't know who he is. He wrote a wonderful book called Village in the Vaucluse about living in the South of France in the early 1950s in the hill village of Roussillon. Today, Roussillon is a hub of tourism, but not back then. Wylie went with his family to see what living in a small French village was like. The result is a sympathetic, fair, compelling and ultimately delightful book that takes the reader through all aspects of French village life, from birth to death. 

So, how did Wylie rescue me? In the beginning months of living in my small village in the South of France, I was lost. I didn't understand a lot of the ways and means of the villagers. They weren't friendly. And they essentially didn't recognize me. I, of course, thought I would instantly become everyone's best friend. There were a lot of books in the house (owned by Americans, it turned out) I was living in, and one of them was Village in the Vaucluse. The landlady recommended it. I read it, and then everything was made plain. I saw my villagers in Wylie's book and understood I was no exception as to how they led their lives. I was fine after that.

When my book about living in that village was published, one of the first things I did was to send Laurence Wylie a copy in care of his publisher. Along with it, I sent a letter explaining how he had rescued me and how his book would live forever because it was true. I had no idea if he was even still alive at that point. It was forty years after Village in the Vaucluse had been published.

Then, one wonderful day, I received a handwritten letter from Laurence Wylie. This, in part, is what he wrote:

"Your letter was important to me because it helped me shove aside a sort of feeling that at 83 my life is dwindling without my having made a difference by living. Your letter made me feel that I had done something, so I thank you."

That was beyond great expectations.

Two years later, he was gone. But his book lives on, and I believe it always will.  
                                                                 

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Richard Goodman's Christmas for the Lonely and the Depressed

Having spent my share of sad, dreadful, double-up-on-the-anti-depressants-Christmases, counting the hours until the fucking holiday was over, I thought I might create a way of not just surviving but actually coping with Christmasand invite you along.

What we're going to do here is to create a Christmas so bleak and desperate that nothing can be as bad ever.  And we'll do it together!

We'll start Richard Goodman's Christmas on Christmas Eve, because that's when things get serious, don't they?  All the happy people are huddled by the fire drinking their mulled wine and saying things like, "Ok, you can open one present--but only one!!!!!"

Not us!!!!  We'll be headed to the New York City subway system. We're going to catch the F train at 34th Street, a particularly crowded, noisy station, at 6pm and ride the train for the next three hours back and forth.  The train will be extremely crowded because of the hour, and I will have arranged to have six out-of-tune street singers perform, without stopping, directly in front of you.

At 9PM we'll get off the subway back at 34th Street.  We will emerge at Herald Square and walk west to the Hudson River.  On the way, we'll dine at White Castle, a hamburger chain known for its harsh fluorescent interiors and for being high on the Board of Health's watch list.

After dining, we'll head to the Hudson River where, if my past experience is any guide, it will be cold and windy and dark.  We'll stand there for two hours, shivering.

Eleven o'clock!  Time to head to the pay-by-the-hour motel I've booked you in just up the way on Eleventh Avenue near the Lincoln Tunnel.  The noise and pollution will keep you up most of the night.  But that's a good thing!  Because you won't need a wake-up call!

Christmas day!  This is the heart of the Richard Goodman Christmas!!!

We'll meet at 5am at New York's famed Port Authority bus terminal!!  Here's we'll enjoy a holiday breakfast of coffee in a Styrofoam cup and stale doughnuts.  Then we'll hop on a bus for a day in Staten Island, in one of the most isolated and xenophobic neighborhoods in New York, if not the worldNew Springville.  We'll knock on random front doors starting at 7am wishing the homeowners, "Merry Christmas!!!  Unless you're Jewish!!!!"  Then we'll sing "The Little Drummer Boy" six times to the lucky person who answers the door.  Those of us who are met with some hostility or even physical harm will be left to fend for themselves.

Time for presents!!!

Each one of you will have been given $3 to spend at the Dollar Store to purchase your gift.  And each of you will have the name of one person in the group who you exchange gifts with.  This ceremony will take place in an empty parking lot.

Time to have our big Christmas meal!!

We're going to a dumpster!!!  This dumpster, located in back of a local high school, will have treats from the two or three cafeteria meals the kids ate!  Chances are, you won't be able to determine what it is you're eatingbut, hey, this is an adventure!!

After our sumptuous meal, we'll take the bus back to Port Authority for an afternoon of pornographic films on Eighth Avenue!!  You'll be able to choose from classics like, "Inside Mrs. Claus," "Rudolph the Rimming Reindeer" and "Bite Christmas."

Guess what?  The holiday is almost over!  But not before we have our holiday toast.  We'll gather at Shaney's Irish Bar on the Bowery, known as one of the last bars for the downtrodden, where you can get a 50cent beer in an unwashed class!!!  What better way to close out our Christmas together.

We'll raise our glasses and make a toast!  "Thank God it's only once a year!!"

So, I hope you'll join me this Christmas for an incredible experience!!  It's just $53, which includes subway ticket and your room at the Tunnel Motel.

Let's celebrate the holiday togetherthe Richard Goodman way!!  No Christmas will ever seem as depressing again!!!