Friday, April 22, 2016


My wife often reminds me, ever so gently, that it is not all about me. But on this night it was.

I got to the room a half hour early, putting three pieces of paper on each of the 30 or so seats that had been arranged in three neat rows, all pointing at me, me, me. The papers contained some of my writing and were meant to whet the appetite of those who would assemble to watch me preen.  David Sedaris would title one of his books, "Me Speak Pretty." Me speak pretty too.

Actually, Mr. Sedaris was the reason I would be standing before an audience this evening. When I first read his work, it sparked that part of my brain which suggested that I too could chronicle my existence in ways that were self deprecating but enormously humorous. At least I would be able to achieve the self deprecating part.

I had cajoled and coerced the social director of our apartment complex into allowing me a platform to reveal myself to my fellow dwellers. She may have thought that this event was a result of her doing but I had pushed the concept in my "oh if you think it would be fun, sure" manipulating manner.

Even though it required only an elevator ride to reach their destination, I imagined that the room would likely be filled not with those who resided around me and were eager to learn of the wonder of me, but merely cluttered with a bunch of empty chairs. And thus I enlisted my sister, my children and a few unsuspecting family members with a solicitation I titled "I know. You have a headache next Tuesday." When my children arrived at the apartment shortly before I was to speak, I knew that my feigning disinterest in their attending my opening (and closing) night performance had not fooled them.

To almost everyone in this building I am but an occasional face, attached to no name and with nary a quality in the least memorable. Just another ship passing in the night. Would this change for those who wandered into this room interested principally in whether the small blueberry muffins would be there for the taking?

I assembled the Chicken Soup for the Soul books on the small table that had been set up next to the podium. I always thought I had been published in six different anthologies, with titles ranging from something to do with golf, to dogs, to mothers and beyond, but now I could only locate five. All  topics certain to pull at the heartstrings or arouse emotional replies, for better or worse. I was an author, one of a hundred faceless authors, retired school teachers, firemen, parents or children, all blended together to form one concoction of chicken soup to ease the soul.  As a prize for each winning entry not only did I receive a stipend (it sounds so much better than $200) but 10 copies of the book in which my story appeared. Several shelves in my apartment were filled with copies which I had been unable to give away. When even your Aunt Shirley is not interested, you know you are in trouble.

But the hook for my appearance had been my repeated success in convincing the editors of the New York Times that I had something worthy to say about anything and almost everything. Next to the books lay an accumulation of single pages of the New York Times, all sharing the distinction of my having written some not very insightful words that appeared on these now yellowing sheets. The first letter had only emboldened me. Now, so many years later, I was consumed with a burning desire to feed my ego with yet another sheet which I could rip from the paper, bracket my words and place in an ever growing receptacle. All these trophies were housed in the corner of my closet, not on the walls of every room as I believed I deserved. If I wanted my marriage to survive, it would be the closet for me.

A recently installed large screen  had been placed in our lobby, scrolling through upcoming events. My face, and a few morsels about me (written of course by me) were on constant loop in the days preceding my debut. I spent a minute of two each morning and evening staring at the screen, waiting once more, and then again, to discover myself.

"I am thinking of coming. What are you talking about? Is it going to be fun?" I wanted to suggest that the inquiry as to my skill set was unnecessary, but I politely gave her a brief overview of what was planned. "Oh, ok then, maybe I will be there." She wasn't. I guess I am a lousy salesman.

Fifteen minutes before I was to begin, the room was occupied by me, my mother-in-law and the social director. It was not looking hopeful. And then, little by little, people began to arrive, heading for the coffee, the muffins, the cookies. Everything I had placed on my table seemed of no import compared to this tableau of tasty treats. It was, truth be known, the only reason I had ever attended any of the board meetings. I love those bite sized muffins.

This room also serves as our library, the walls filled with books, most of which I have never read. Was there ever a less learned person pretending to be learned?

The chairs slowly filled with the now slightly satiated and then the moment almost no one had been waiting for arrived. I launched into my role with relish, happy to be the center of this tiny, tiny universe. And I was either good or bad, funny or failing, insightful or insipid. But whatever, I had the spotlight on me. Afterwards, I got the tributes that come, whether you are good or bad, funny or failing, insightful or insipid.

The next morning I received a beautiful handwritten note extolling my virtues. Now that was more like it.  Shortly thereafter,  I ran into one of the many who had not bothered to show up. He asked me how "show and tell" had gone. Greatness is ephemeral.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

How did I not know about this literary happening?