What's been going on around here lately
The Swedish Academy’s decision to not award the Nobel Prize in Literature this spring hit me hard, of course. I figured this would be my year and was counting on the cash prize of a cool million bucks. A man needs a little boost now and then. I know I do. People associate me with radio but I was also a Novelist — okay? Novels. With characters and dialogue. Lonely guys looking out rain-spattered windows at bare trees and wondering, “Who am I anyway?”
I did some of that last Saturday morning. I am married to a perfectionist, and so my faults are more clear to me than necessary. I am 75 years old, people. How many men of 75 are actively engaged in self-improvement? Are there rehab programs for us? Inspirational books aimed at us? No.
I was looking out a rain-spattered window, thinking long thoughts, when a wild turkey strolled into our backyard and onto the terrace as if he owned the place. My love and I live in the middle of a big city, but on the steep wooded slope behind us, raccoons live, and a fox, and wild turkeys who roost in the trees and grow very large because we’re all liberals around here and nobody has a shotgun to shoot them with.
The turkey stood preening himself ten feet away from me, unconcerned about trespassing, and it made me think about freedom, which I experienced for a few years in my childhood. We lived in the country where a boy could disappear into the woods and run around without adult supervision for most of the day. Believe it or not, we had no pagers or cellphones on us to allow our parents to keep close tabs. Kidnappers could’ve descended and taken us away, bound and gagged, in souped-up roadsters and demanded a ransom of a million in nonconsecutive bills. They didn’t because our parents didn’t have the dough. And my parents had other children. Spares. So we were safe, tearing around shooting cap pistols, waving our cowboy hats, and re-enacting white racist violence against native peoples in a way children would not be allowed to do today. When I see a pickup truck with NRA and Confederate flag bumper stickers on it, I see myself when I was eight. Been there.
And in this moment of reverie, my true love said to me, “You really need to do something about your desk.”
I don’t run a perfectionist desk. Like our president, I believe in the creative power of chaos. I thrive on confusion. And my wife is sort of the Washington Post in my life. I come out with a big pronouncement and she says, “But yesterday you told me —” etc.
Marriage to a perfectionist offers many benefits, don’t get me wrong. The kitchen is tidy, the rugs harmonize with the furniture, tools and other necessities are well organized so you don’t run around looking for toilet paper and find it stashed in the china closet.
On the other hand, there are moments when I realize I’m being observed as I perform some simple task such as pouring water out of a boot — she is watching to make sure I do it correctly. She goes through my wastebasket and extracts tiny recyclable things and shows them to me. She has carried on a long-running campaign to get me to take a daily walk at a brisk pace and thereby live longer so she can go on perfecting me into my eighties and nineties.
What I need at this point is a big burst of self-esteem and so I imagined the phone ringing and a Swede announcing that I — me — yours truly — not Philip Roth, not some unknown Lithuanian poet — had won the Nobel Prize in Literature.
And I would walk into the kitchen where the love of my life is standing by the refrigerator, and she’d say, “You left a full carton of milk sitting out on the counter and I don’t know how long it’s been sitting here, do you?” And I’d say, “We’re going to Stockholm this fall. We’ll fly first class. We need to buy some dress-up clothes. I won the Nobel Prize in Literature, Babe.”
This column is a mess and I know it. Very poorly organized. But if I were a Nobel laureate, you’d think it were a work of genius. You wouldn’t think, “Should that be ‘were’ or should it be ‘was?’” You’d think, “He won the Nobel, it must be ‘were.’” And so it is.