FIRST, here’s a drawing I did, white and dark on medium-toned paper. I can’t seem to get a white that will work. I had a paint pen but it clogged up, didn’t work twice.
Won’t work twice, it’s all right. Ma. Unnecessary allusion.
HERE’S my explanation for the cut scene: Including the exchange between Joey DeFreines and the writer/editor is a pretty conscious effort/shoutout to the sardonic and wise (and I always associate the two) writer/editor who managed to work through “Swamis,” the unexpurgated version, and provide me with… I don’t want to say ‘guidance,’ no one seems to suggest a better storyline… constructive criticism of my manuscript.
I have changed the first hundred pages enough, cut out enough, that the story is… it’s different. I did, I thought, let the story kind of work itself out, with a certain goal in mind, a last line planned before the first line was written (and subsequently, re-re-re-written). Most of the storyline of Joey/Jody in his later years has been cut. SO…
The next day, after Rudolph had several quite distraught visitors (never introduced to me) whom he seemed to have to console, after lunch, after a nap (I slept longer), Rudolph, smiling, put down his own tablet, said, “Kafka. Supposedly he… serious stuff to most… readers… supposedly he was laughing his ass off while he was writing.”
I was writing, wasn’t laughing.
Rudolph made several disparaging comments on the current state of popular fiction, looked at me, pointed at my laptop with his tablet. “Your book’s on there, right?”
“Oh? That’s sarcasm. Fine. Don’t really know you, but… I do know writers; fucked-up crazy egotistical fucks… mostly; so… don’t take this personally, but… fuck you.”
Later (and not that much later), with Rudolph, evidently, having had enough of CNN (“Too redundant, too many commercials, too many panels of experts”), he switched the channel to Fox News, flipped off Sean Hannity. Both hands. “Double eagles,” I told him. Since I also had a remote, I switched to MSNBC; Rachel Maddow (“Love her; don’t think she loves me back”). Rudolph switched the TV off.
Rudolph- “Have any sex scenes in there?”
Rudolph- “No, not yet, or, no; never had sex?”
Me- “Not yet; but I hear it’s kind of fun. Ha. Ha. Really, it’s not that kind of book.”
Rudolph- “Oh. Well; every kind of book needs a little… sex.”
I hit ‘save,’ shut down the ‘Word’ program. “So, Rudolph… you do know publishers?”
“Sure. Not as many as I once did; worst kind of pricks. Not, um, needy, like writers, but used to feeling needed. It’s worse. Still, they spend some time on their knees. Publishers, now; scared shitless of not making their money back.” He held back for a second. He seemed to enjoy that I was enjoying his commentary. He had the inside information, dissected and delivered in a sarcastic/realistic way. “But, really, my temporary roommate; Amazon. Self-publish; it seems to be the way.”
I reopened the program, hit the ‘Pg Dn’ button until I got to the end, kept writing. Typing, backspacing paragraphs, rephrasing. I thought about laughing, just to mess with Rudolph.
“You know,” Rudolph said, during the setup for some BBC crime drama, one I had seen before; “I’ve never really watched a writer write before.” I looked over at him, did a ‘was I drooling’ wipe at my mouth. “Let me tell you… it’s an ugly process.”
“That’s why I don’t put on my writer clothes,” I said, “and go down to the café and fire up the laptop.”
“’Light up… light up the laptop,’ it’s better;” Rudolph said, editing, as if changing my words was amusing. “I assume you’ve google-searched for information on writing and publishing,”
I chuckled, gave him a ‘just a second’ gesture, went back to typing. Rudolph said, somewhere during another ‘begging for money’ break on the local PBS channel, “Of course you have. It’s sixty to ninety thousand words for a novel.”
Me- “Not a novel.”
Rudolph- “Yeah; it is. If you changed one name, forgot one thing, it’s… it’s your take on things. There’s what’s the true truth, and there’s… it’s a novel. Yes, all writing is, in some way, autobiography; but, Joseph; it’s a novel. Where are you at, right now?”
Rudolph- “No. Words. Jeez.”
I was at a little over twenty thousand at the time. I was at 25,931 when I started writing about Rudolph, but I keep going back. Every time I open up the (yeah, I guess) novel, I tend to start at the beginning, get bogged-down. In the time I have, with the energy I have; I’m not moving forward; at least not quickly. I’m editing. Editing. It sounds like cutting things out; but no; there’s always something I thought of overnight.
Something new. Something old, rather, but newly remembered.
“This is my new addiction,” I told Rudolph, “I look forward to writing the way I’ve always looked forward to surfing. I miss it when I can’t do it.”
“This surfing;” he said, “the water’s cold, huh?”
“Can be.” I had to add more. “Probably, around here, gets up to 75 degrees or so, for about a week… August; goes down to 55, for about a week, middle of January, probably; again, for about a week. In the old days, 60s, if you put on a wetsuit; and we only had short johns, before, say, December 10th or so… water down to 58 degrees… that was the cutoff; or if you put on a wetsuit before Easter; again, 58 degrees… you were a pussy. Nowadays…”
Rudolph was smiling. I stopped talking. “60,000 words; shouldn’t be a problem.” We both smiled. “Do you ever think about… drowning?”
“No; I mean, I have but, I’ve seen people who have drowned… I mean, any real surfer has had experiences where… I’ve just decided against it. Cold water. Bodies turn kind of… seaweed, um, green.”
“Yeah. So, not dying, then. Better to die in… Las Vegas, maybe. Toasty… I’m thinking about the colors… tourist tan-burn. Yes! Hot, but dry.” Realizing he was enjoying the moment, the conversation, a bit more than he might normally allow himself, Rudolph nodded toward my laptop. “You finish it, I’ll give it a read. When it’s done. First draft, at least.”
“Whoa!” I pointed at Rudolph, pointed back at the laptop. A few seconds passed. We both seemed to know I would ruin the mood. And I did. “Are you sure you’ll live long enough to read it? I mean, you’re saying you will… read it; and I… I appreciate that… I just want you to tell me about… style. I want to write it the way I want, but… I feel like, I believe I have a… style.”
“Fucking writers. Egotistical fucks.”
“You said that… before.”
“Well, thanks for fucking listening to something other than the voices in your head.”
I laughed. “Yeah; that’s what I’m in here for. Voices.” I tapped on my head.
I waved my hand to suggest I was kidding. I smiled, blinked several times. “They don’t want to, uh, remove them… the voices; some doctor thinks she can translate them… into, uh, German.”
“Okay. All right. Look; If you live long enough to finish it, Joseph; I’ll live long enough to tell you it needs work.”
“Deal,” I said.
Rudolph seemed to be, over the next hour or so, doing what I do, replaying the conversation in his mind. For most people there’s no replay, no rewind, no editing. Most people. My recall isn’t perfect, quite. I replay the ones that seem important. Over and over if I’ve fucked up somewhere in the back and forth. There are, I’ve discovered, few conversations, ever, that I’ve not fucked up somehow.
Sometime during the eleven o’clock news, after another nurse, Martha, had come in to introduce herself to Rudolph, check on him, with a cursory check on me; Rudolph took his phone from the side table, and said, “Let me give you my address. You’re fine. Do some of that surfing or something. Thrive. It’s, my address; it’s a condo. Solana Beach. On the bluff.”
“Solana Beach is wall-to-wall condos,” I said. “I remember when…”
“Yeah, of course you do. Remember. But, hey, Roomie, if I might get a word in here; remember, remember when that swimmer… last guy in a group… got killed by the shark?” Pause. He nodded toward our big, shared window (view of apartment buildings, mostly). “Happened right out my window.”
“You saw it?”
“No, but I felt as if I had. I’m not a fucking writer, but I can… (he twiddled his hands in the air) visualize.” He pointed to my cell phone, close to the edge of the bed.
I didn’t visit Rudolph in his condo. I tried to call. He never answered. I wouldn’t leave a message, but would call back, let it ring once. Missed call. Or I’d text, something like, ‘working on it,’ or ‘the narcissists are in bloom.’ He would text, occasionally, something like, “Any SEX yet?” or “Entertaining the HOSPICE people. Pre-hospice. Counselors. Like manic-depressive humorists.” Followed by, “Almost said BLACK HUMORISTS.” “Different group. DOUR lot.”
I texted, “Dour. Good word.”
I missed an actual call an hour or so later. The voice mail message was, “Oh, so now you’re not picking up? Probably quoting Shakespeare to seagulls or something. Anyways, dour. Yes, I prefer it to ebullient.” In a higher octave, “’Yes, you’re dying; but, hey, look on the bright side.’ Ebullient.”
When I did visit Rudolph, he was back in the hospital, one room over from the one we’d shared. Same view, slightly different angle.
“They, the bastards, didn’t kill the child,” he said. He wasn’t talking about the doctors, though he said he had given up hoping another test would have a different result, another consultant would have another opinion, a better prognosis. He was talking about Nazis. “But, in a way, see, they did. I never got to be a child. I, my life; I look for errors, for mistakes; and I envy the writers who have, like you; a sense of wonder. Wonder. What does that mean? Passion, longing, wanting to fucking know, wanting to feel, to touch the magic.”
“Uh huh. Yes.”
“So, that’s good is what I’m saying. Shit, man; I’m pouring it out here, and you, best you can do is ‘uh huh.’ Writers?”
“Sorry, Rudolph. It’s just that…”
“It’s just that, Joseph; I hope you don’t… sixty thousand words; that’ll take the wonder out of it; but not… not the magic. Nobody… nobody who matters gives a flying fuck about flowery passages and perfect sentence structure; even about the… overall… construction. Just tell the fucking stories.”
Rudolph and I did exchange some stories. He had felt passion, wonder, love; he was even capable of forgetting, briefly, that he had been robbed of a childhood.
Rudolph, who didn’t die in the concentration camps, who repeatedly told me the bastards would get him; eventually; never read a word.
I read some early chapters to him on one of his last days, in his condo on the bluff, looking out his windows, imagining the shark picking off the last swimmer. One of his sons (looked up his name- Jacob) and Jacob’s two children (didn’t get their names) were there at the time, along with, briefly, a quite dour Hospice nurse (didn’t bother with her name). My name, evidently, was on some sort of list.
Rudolph kept dozing off and waking up, possibly disappointed he was still alive. I kept reading. I could tell when something I’d written was awkward or wrong. Jacob would look over at his father.
“Needs work.” That was the last thing I said to Rudolph.
“Perfection,” Jacob said. “My father says, ‘perfection is difficult to attain, and impossible to maintain.’”
Rudolph woke up just before I was leaving the condo. He didn’t seem to notice his son or me, but did look, through the afternoon glare, at the sliding glass doors. Jacob’s two girls were playing, outside on the little deck, pressing themselves against the panels, salt stained, seventy-five feet above the ocean, their movements creating the on-glass equivalent of snow angels. Jacob and I both noticed, smiled. Not that we were ebullient.
See you out there. Somewhere. Soon.