|ABOUT THE AUTHOR|
by Craig Pettigrew
"And since I'm
wealthy," he continued, "it would stand to reason that I
"My shift ends
at two. Try not to bust my chops between now and then,
"Excuse me," I said, "can someone open up another check out line?"
Viola looked away,
grabbing her jet black curls and shaking her head in
"I seem to have misplaced my money clip," he said, with no trace of apology.
I looked away from
him, trying to meld the fixed image from my college
"Sir?" I began, motioning toward his gin.
"Yes?" he said, momentarily startled.
"May I buy you a drink? Uh, Several?" I added, attempting humor.
"Yes. No. Fuck,"
he rambled, still searching through his clothes. Finally, he produced
from his inside coat pocket a matchbook, a paper clip, a Post-It note
folded in half, two wadded dollar bills, and a rumpled, blank
I handed him my Waterman pen. Full, round, beads of sweat were beginning to fall from his forehead.
I decided, based on nothing concerning etiquette or protocol, to upstage my hero. I sang: "What a day this has been, what a rare mood I'm in."
He became, without hesitation, Lerner to my Loewe: "It's almost like being in love."
"Christ," he continued, with a sudden urgency, "I love that word 'almost.' Gives the song - life itself - a breath of possibility. 'Almost like being in love.' You see what I mean?"
He afforded me a brief smile.
"Are you two,
like, famous or something?" Viola asked, staring us down
"Yes, Miss DeGamba."
His head remaining tilted long after he deduced her name. "We're
the fucking Glee Club from the Schoenberg Institute," he
"Years, years since I've seen one of these," he continued, his voice trailing off.
He poised himself
to write a check, but his hands shook, as if he were rolling octaves on
a piano. He scribbled some circles where his name was to go, but even
that seemed a Herculean task. He looked beleaguered, as if he
"Famous or not, I still need to see identification," she said. "That'll be $15.84."
"Put it with my order."
Viola quickly began adding my items to his total.
"Are you quite sure?" he asked, deliberately.
"Please. It would be an honor."
thank you, thank you very much," he said moving away from me,
My initial impulse
was to pick up the wadded check and return it tohim. My more devious inclination
Çô and the greater of two evils always seems more
If I had that blank check in front of me now there might possibly beno need for what I am about to, in words, put down. Why didn't a bell go off? A sixth sense kick in?
A bell did go off. As I picked up my bags of groceries, he set off the store alarm as he exited through the automatic doors.
he bellowed. He waddled back inside and removed a bottle of
"Right, then. Lad, can you cover me on this one too?"
I threw Viola DeGamba a twenty and quickly sequestered The Big Man into the passenger side of my Volvo, an aging beauty that I still own. He sighed deeply several times, using the folded Post-it note to wipe the perspiration from his forehead. He didn't speak, and the enormity of his presence - literal and figurative - kept me in abeyance.
Baylor Tuckwell. There. I've said it, written it.
You know who he is:
The "author" of "Punch Drunk?" The bloated, talk show
He is also a literary hero, an ex Angry Young Man who disappeared from the world in the late sixties as ferociously as he had arrived over a decade previous.
I, Martin Leeds, authored "Punch Drunk." Every word.
Released nine months
ago upon an unsuspecting public, "Punch Drunk" garnered rave
notices and thrust Baylor Tuckwell into Fiction's brightest spotlight.
He was photographed endlessly, his formidable presence at countless parties,
on slick magazines, always with a drink in hand, and a
I want them.
Have you placed him
yet? He made the cover of Newsweek? Wearing that ridiculous plaid vest
with half the buttons missing? How about the "Tonight"
Yes, he can be funny
and charming. But do not be fooled: Baylor Tuckwell
Since Tuckwell does
not discuss the 'Hows' and 'Whys' of his creative
The critics, furious at what they thought was a blind opportunist, simply waited for Tuckwell's next theatrical salvo aimed at the American condition. Here was a writer who had scored major successes in his own country, and whose work, so long as he remained a British subject, traveled well. But when Tuckwell came to America, to "liberate her with a new, reflective theatrical tradition," the critics blanched.
"Carry On, If
You Can" opened at the Biltmore Theater in 1969 to unanimously torrid
reviews. It closed in three weeks, despite healthy
It is not Tuckwell's most cohesive work. But it is also in a different and daring style, and the critics found an opening which they could force open wider.
"Pure poppycock from the imagination of a desperate man," cried one critic. "Playwrighting like driving should require a license, renewable every five years. 'Carry On' is a collision caused by drunk and careless driving. Mr. Tuckwell, we revoke your license until further notice."
And so forth.
Vowing to return, and under his own terms, Tuckwell slipped from sight. But no plays nothing with his byline has come forth since. When pressed,,he politely insists that he is still writing, "much like my friend J.D. Salinger. We simply choose not to publish at this time..."
"Mr. Tuckwell," I finally said, after we had been sitting silently in my car for longer than my patience could tolerate, "no offense, but you're in no shape to get behind the wheel of a car. Can I drive you home?"
"May I drive you home. And how do you know who I am?"
"You're...sort of my hero. Well, one of them."
"Really?" He smiled and looked away. "First of all," he continued, regaining his stern composure, "I walked. The brisk night air...So necessary to clear one's head for the impending, important work, which always seems one step ahead and ten years younger."
"It always seems that way, doesn't it?" I added, with a chuckle.
"Are you a writer? Or are you like everybody else; a screenwriter?"
"I'm a ghostwriter, Mr. Tuckwell."
The Volvo windows were now fogged over. It was getting chilly outside, and neither person inside possessed cool, pristine breath, He opened his bottle of Bushmills.
"Well," I mumbled, having nothing new to say, "off we go." I started the car.
"Hurry. I have to piss."
He got out, a mile later, at the front gate of a house illogically diffident by Beverly Hills standards. But, like the Tuckwell that would emerge later, the character of his home was deceptive. Set back from the road, its enormity was disguised by a sequence of well-placed palms and a series of low angle lights, both which enhanced the height of the 'A' frame while secluding the house's oblong and obtuse depth.
He didn't invite
me in for a nightcap. Disappointed, I stomped on the
"Martin, stick around for Act Two."
I swerved my car around so that my headlights illuminated Baylor Tuckwell. He unzipped his pants and began to urinate into his bush of Ayreshire roses. Then he started to sing. He downed slugs of Bushmills between each musical phrase:
"What a day this has been... what a rare mood I'm in..."
He put down his bottle and glared at me. "Well come on, lad, finish the line."
"It's almost like being in love," I spoke back, putting the car in reverse.
I sped home to my
apartment, a stucco box with two dingy bedrooms and
By the time I met
Baylor I had already been ghostwriting for four years.
I wanted to write novels. I wrote one. My agent, looking for quick and easy cash, rather than trying to place my book, found instead the squalid world of ghost-written celebrity tell-alls. Danny convinced me that sure, instant money would then buy us some time to "dwell in the world of high quality." My life then, such as it was, started revolving around the patterns and peculiarities of the celebrity at hand.
Usually an actress.
Usually a young actress with a flaming beauty, a
Off to Betty Ford's she goes, only to emerge months later with beauty intact, an eagerness toward self-disclosure and, remarkably, a talent for writing.
It always starts with a call from the star's publicist or agent. There is never an admittance that the star does not, or cannot write. Ghostwriting is a word that is never mentioned. The celebrity, according to the publicist "has a story to tell." And would I be "available to help bring her story to life?"
What that really means is that would I be available to bring the star herself to life. Because two things have already happened; she's fallen off the wagon and the word on the street is that every film insurance company considers her unemployable. The agent will finally admit to me that the actress is "wallowing in self pity," and needs "serious personal evaluation." If she could only see, the agent will say, the highlights of her life in print, then maybe she could again start to believe in herself.
My job, then, is to "revisit and refresh" these highlights, inventing a childhood replete with Bible School and Girl Scouts, and deleting (or denying) her one-time fondness for cocaine enemas, especially when administered poolside by the rich and famous.
You say you want proof? Oh, you're one of those, the sort who sifts his dirt through a sieve looking for the maggots.
If you're standing in the book store and you've read this far, do me a favor: Wander over to the Biography section (or is it in Self-Help, or Self-Pity?) and pull out Susan Hofstrau's "In God I Trust (All Others Go To Hell)"
Oh. Her you've heard of.
Yes, during a weaker
moment, I thought up that ridiculous title, and then
The celebrities, regarding their own biography, have been no help whatsoever.
In Susan's case,
there was an initial meeting, with promises to "work closely"
with me. Within a week, there came a follow up phone call and a
I 'tell' on her because
she still owes me from a personal loan given to her after a particularly
melodramatic, drug Çôrelated crying jag. Five hundred
Almost everything that's a clich about being a celebrity is, in fact, rooted in truth: They were always full of money, and forever receiving relentless adulation.
Here's the clincher:
Never were they more than an arm's reach away from
I ache for that. No, I really do: Onanistic pleasure has become oxymoronic and, frankly, boring and humiliating. At least once I would like to meet a woman and, after a nice evening, find myself in bed with her as if it were the unquestioned punctuation at the end of a first date. Just once. Celebrities, it seems, do it routinely.
There is, too, in this melange of rant and revelation, a surprisingly obvious yet unreported motivation:
Money. I've earned it. Yet Tuckwell has it. In addition to the accolades, I want the cash, too.
Let me briefly alert you to how this ghosting arrangement works.
Tuckwell, by contract, will receive the entire lot of the royalties. He will also receive a huge percentage of a movie sale and, of course, a big pile of dough when "Punch Drunk" goes to paperback.
I took to the bank $15,000 dollars, a flat fee delineated from his advance. Period. No royalties, no further payments.
But promises were
made. To me. Handshakes firmly offered. Bonus guarantees from both Tuckwell
and publisher Franklin Reynolds, money
That promise, so warmly and orally delivered, has gone unfulfilled. I didn't shop it to another publisher out of fervent loyalties and in the naive belief in personal vows and guarantees. I blame myself for being so gullible and trusting.
I wanted - want -
that book published! Under my own name. This is important. Christ, it's
been, what, years since I've had more than the
There are, as I've implied, others involved no less guilty and equally deserving of the exposure I'll soon give them. My agent, for example: Danny Kwapis, The Fool On The Hill. Albeit a Beverly Hill. I promise complete explication of his character in the following chapter.
I'm referring, for the most part, to those who wander aimlessly the hallowed halls of publishing. These people are enormously gifted at sticking their noses in places other than their immediate sphere of business.
You watch. I'll be
found out long before I finish this exaltation of the damned. Someone
will discover what it is I'm up to, especially when deadlines for Tuckwell's
second book come and go. Everyone thinks I'm gearing up to
I am. This is it. "About The Author." Perfect title, if nothing else.
The sun is now beginning to peek over the horizon.
Corrugated gates several blocks away are beginning to open, sounding like a thousand screeching cats having their tails stepped on. The Post Office gears up for another day.
Have you read "Punch Drunk"? Not a bad book, if I say so myself.
The novel begins
in early 1964, when Tuckwell (under the fictional name
Then, our hero finally
gets on track when he is asked to write an open-ended "relevant"
Travelogue for the Village Voice, entitled "Here, There, And Everywhere,"
the idea being that an Angry Young Man's point of view regarding America's
accumulating afflictions might just be the fresh
Long off the Village
Voice's payroll, Lowell ends the decade by watching
'Yes, he's on the bloody moon,' Lowell thinks, 'but now what?' Lowell begins to contemplate - and this is where the book ends - his own "but now what."
"Punch Drunk" was the first of a proposed trilogy. The second book would have taken him through his years of teaching "girls half my age square in the middle of the sexual revolution," and book three would have situated Lowell in Hollywood, as he attempts to come to grips with "The New World" and his hilarious and misconceived attempts at screenwriting.
Baylor Tuckwell was my hero, the man who could, in one brief and brilliant exchange, define class struggle and dramatically dissect societal ills and hypocrisies.
Let me remind you of how good he once was. This is just one brief exchange from his play "Class Dismissed," my favorite:
ANDREW is an American
exchange student in London. Before he meets his
Well, you know what I think; I think that "true art is the absence of definition."
I'm sorry, but a blow job still costs eight quid.
A brilliant snippet of work...
I would stop writing "About The Author" this instant if Tuckwell were to call me and say that he'd started writing again. But that won't happen. Because when he does call, he's usually soused and belligerent. Which shifts to a tone of despair and apology, which in turn finds me driving over to his house, only to ultimately agree to be his errand boy for the afternoon, ending up at Hughes Market, staring at the calm, amber liquids...
Never, ever, has Tuckwell said a quiet and simple, 'Thank you.'
So I look to myself and ask, 'Am I doing this "telling" out of some skewered psychological need?'
No. I may be many things; a fool, a narcissist, a patsy, a literary grifter...But Judas I'm not. Iago has no home within me.
When I caught my
high school English teacher drinking shots of Tequila before class, did
I tell? Use my information to extort a better grade? No. He
The time when I saw
my father between a pair of legs that did not belong
My filthy little
secret no longer exists merely within the four walls of Tuckwell's opulent
study, where books sit caked with dust, as the manual
My condolences to the typewriter.
Are you, Baylor Tuckwell, reading this?
Tell me: Do you,
after a quart of booze, open the drawer and gaze at your
Go ahead, Tuckwell,
recline in your Eames chair, crack the spine of this
This won't take long, Baylor. You know the story...