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Authors: John Warner

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The Funny Man (9 page)

BOOK: The Funny Man
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The funny man never knows what to do with himself in the last moments before it is time to take the stage, so he is shadowboxing, flicking his fists into the air, bobbing from foot to foot. The stagehands look at him a little oddly, but surely they’ve seen stranger. As he nears the entrance to the stage, the houselights go dark and the audience whoops and whistles. The funny man listens to their cries.

I haven’t even done anything yet, he thinks, but still, they love me.

9

F
OR SOME REASON
there is a ten-day hiatus before the start of my defense. Ostensibly it is to allow Barry time to prepare, but Barry is spending at least part of the interim in the Barbados, leaving me confined to the apartment, special, hiatus-scheduled twice-weekly visits to the therapist my only escape.

At least it leaves me some time to catch up on my “work.” It is not that the money is
gone
. That would be ridiculous, impossible even, but there is for sure much, much less of it, primarily thanks to the divorce, a fiscal cleaver leaving two halves, one of which I no longer have access to. The trial is proving to be spectacularly expensive and the offers hadn’t been rolling in even prior to the incident.

Not long before Beth and I were to get married, my father made us both scotches and took me aside to the porch and we sat together and my father raised his glass in a toast and said, “Son, I’m going to tell you the key to happiness.” He wanted to tell me about the importance of “the nut.”

I was surprised. This wasn’t our kind of relationship. Oh, there was love there. I felt it in the way the man knocked himself out for my mom and me, traditional-father-role-style, but it was almost all backstage, coming out from behind the curtain only on occasion, like once when I was around eight years old and the entire town had been buried in a blizzard and Dad couldn’t get to work and instead clomped down to the basement and dragged back upstairs with an armful of cross-country skiing gear that I’d never seen before.

We set off down our empty suburban street, everything doused with snow so high that even the hydrants and mailboxes at the curbs were covered. The plows hadn’t come through yet, and my father blazed the trail while I followed behind, mimicking his swinging arms and kicking legs as we made our way to the golf course, a perfect, almost untouched expanse of white save for the tiny paw prints of squirrels and rabbits. As we entered the course I could then see the undulations of the ground, little hills to chug up and slide down. At the top of one, the tallest one we’d encountered, my father paused and waited for me and said, “This is really something, huh?” before schussing down into a depression and coming to a quick stop, hockey style.

The way up the hill had been a gentle climb, but at the peak, I could see that the way down was rather steep and that my father had generated a pretty good amount of speed before slamming on the brakes. I hesitated. I’d never been on skis of any kind before and as far as I knew, cross-country was limited to flats only. These skis weren’t designed for this sort of move. But my father smiled up at me, eager for us to go on, and held his arms out, the poles dangling from his hands and said, “Come on, boy!”

I pointed my skis down, directly into my father’s tracks. Because the snow had been tamped down, I gathered speed very quickly. I tried to bend my knees to absorb any jolts and this caused me to go even faster and as my father grew in my vision I realized that I didn’t have the foggiest idea how to stop. Looking up, I saw my father’s eyes go wide and his hands push forward to brace for a collision. At the last instant, I did the only thing I could do: Fall heavily into him. My face filled with snow, numbing my nose and lips and I felt the tip of my father’s pole jab my leg.

“Ow,” I said.

“What?”

“My leg.”

My father tore his gloves off and started pawing his hands over my body. “Oh. Oh. Oh. Oh. Oh,” he said. He was obviously and instantaneously terrified, and seeing this terrified me and I began crying. “Oh. Oh. Oh,” he said. “I felt it. I felt the tip go in. It pierced you. I felt it. Oh. Where? Your leg?”

I shrieked now, my head bobbing frantically. This looked like the end of the world to me, the stoic man who stood on the sidelines of my baseball games and refused to scream like an idiot as did so many of the other fathers; the man who much later would look at a report card with two C’s and not yell, but instead shake his head sadly and say only two words, “wasted potential”; the man who brought me to the porch to give me advice and wisdom as I was about to embark on a marriage was melting down in front of my face.

He slapped the snow away and pulled up the legs of my pants and his hands searched my skin for wounds, for bleeding, and I couldn’t remember being touched like this by my father. When I was younger, my mother bathed me. When I got sick it was her hand that pressed to my forehead or rubbed menthol on my chest. She insisted on hugs and kisses, but not my father, never my father. Would he have liked that sort of thing? The hugs, the kisses? I’ll never know. “Here? Here? Here?” my father said. I could only shake my head because I had no answers. If this man did not know, who could?

Eventually, we figured out that I was fine. That I had not been pierced by the ski pole, that it had been a glancing blow and all our terror was overblown, a mutual misunderstanding. My father laughed halfheartedly as he plucked me upright out of the snow and placed me back on my skis. As we made our way home, I stared at my father’s back and willed my trembling legs to keep going because I did not want to let him down again by scaring him further. Neither of us said anything about the incident to Mom, but boy, did it make an impression. I mean, obviously because there it is all over again, and maybe that’s also because when faced with my own responsibilities to protect my son, I was an abject failure, but I’m not talking about that yet.

O
N THE PORCH
my father sipped his scotch and gazed out at the dying light of evening. My father was definitely not a drinker, but I’d counted this as the old man’s third cocktail. We had a little time before Beth and her parents were to arrive for a “get to know you” dinner that would actually go incredibly well as our mothers bonded over their mutual belief in their children’s stupidity and drown their disappointments in a mid-range Chablis.

“They key to happiness,” my father said, “is keeping your nut small.”

I spit my sip back into my glass. I didn’t care for scotch then. “What?”

“Your nut, your expenses. You’ve got to keep them under control, and I’ll tell you why it’s important. It provides flexibility.”

I stirred my finger inside my glass, trying to induce the ice cubes to melt and cut some of the harshness of the liquor.

“How long have we lived in this house?” my father asked.

“My whole life.”

“And six years before that, which means in eighteen months I own this thing outright.”

“And how many kids do we have?”

“Just me.”

“You know why?”

I sort of hoped it was because my parents had only had sex once. I just shook my head.

“Because I did some calculations that on my salary we could afford to provide completely, and I mean completely, for one child, so we had one child. Believe you me, we could’ve had more. Your mother is a sexy woman.”

“Dad, please …”

“Tell me, have you ever wanted for anything?”

I shook my head. I had not had
everything
, there were others with more, but there was no doubting that I had plenty, more than my share.

“And how long do I keep my cars?”

I pictured the American-made sedan in the garage. No one would call it stylish or contemporary. “Long time.”

“That’s right, seven years minimum, which is how long they’re designed to last without major issues. And where do we go on vacation?”

A slide show played in my mind, lots of miles in the back of the latest sedan, sunburns, costumed tour guides … “Let’s see, Grand Canyon, Mt. Rushmore, Colonial Williamsburg, Disney World, Santa Fe …”

“Right again, all in the good old U.S. of A., because I’ll tell you something, we’ve got a lot to see right here and Europe
costs.

I ventured another sip. Watered down, the scotch wasn’t so bad.

“Let me tell you something,” my father said. “I’m still south of sixty and eighteen months from retirement and if I wanted, I got enough dough to buy a boat, and when I get that boat, if I decide I want one, I’ll take it on the water where there aren’t any roads. Who can beat that?”

My father leaned forward, elbows on thighs, and looked down at his scotch. “Flexibility, son. It’s the key. Nobody owns me. Yes, I work for the man and I live in the suburbs and have a wife and a kid, but because I’ve kept my nut small I’m beholden to no one other than my own conscience. They think they have me, but they don’t. I’ve got them. They talk about the American Dream and this is it. What most people don’t understand about dreams is that they can look a lot like reality. I’ve lived my whole life this way and I’m the happiest motherfucker in the world. And I want to say that I’m proud of you.”

My father drained the last of his drink and smacked his lips and squinted at the sunset and then clapped me on the knee as he stood. “Time to face the music, son.”

I
’VE LONG AGO
lost control of my nut. My nut is like Godzilla, a baby reptile irradiated into a rampaging monster. The only person who could even guess the size of my nut is my accountant, who has been using words like
belt-tightening
,
reining in
, and
constriction
, which all mean the same thing. There are, of course, the residuals, the steady trickle of money tied to what I’ve done in the past, and there’s a standing offer of six figures plus for a “no-holds-barred” interview with British television, but Barry has forbidden it, and if I manage to get acquitted there are endorsement deals from Japan and Scandinavia stacked up like planes trying to land during peak travel hours. Turns out infamy might pay almost as well as fame as long as I’ll take it in yen or kroner.

But all of these possibilities are reserved for after, so for now, I sign things. Each week, a delivery, a giant rolling mail hamper filled with pictures and objects and unmentionables and it is my job to sign them. I receive twenty-five dollars for each signature and if I’m really humming, I can sign upwards of 150 items per hour. Ironically, this revenue stream was not open to me prior to my arrest and trial. In fact, I used to gladly give my signature away for free. (Almost always gladly, anyway, save the one unfortunate “elbowing” incident that was blown entirely out of proportion as an example of my “violent” nature during the prosecution’s case.) But now, suddenly, my signature has significant value, at least as long as it’s dated postarrest, which slows down the process a little, but not much.

I’ve been letting the shipments stack up, because, let’s face it, it’s not exciting work, but with nothing but idle time for the next ten days I dig in and get busy with a permanent marker. My signature has devolved into an illegible scrawl, but each scrawl is the same, so it is known to be mine. Each item has been previously opened by an assistant, the payment removed and verified. I’m almost certain the assistant steals some of the cash payments, but whatever. If I lose the case, he’ll be out of work, so maybe he’s just planning for the future. I sign dozens of pictures, concert T-shirts, CDs, commemorative posters, DVDs, all items I’ve produced, many of which I barely remember doing, making sure to keep them with their return addresses so my assistant can get them repackaged and sent. When I grow bored, I start to personalize each item at first with individual words chosen from the dictionary:

Hey Garth:

Logorrhea!

(Signature)

(Date)

… and then with nonsense (non)rhymes:

Janet:

Roses are red

Violets are blue

Monkeys share 98% of their DNA with humans.

(Signature)

(Date)

On a lampshade someone has sent, I begin a story, writing around its perimeter:

Gene:

A long time ago in a village far, far away there lived a man
with enormous testicles. The man’s testicles were so large that
he was forced to cart them around in a wheelbarrow. Over
and over he goes to the doctor and says, “Doctor, why are my
testicles so large? Can’t you please give me something that will
make my testicles smaller because I’m in love with a girl and
I’m afraid she will never love me back because of my enormous
testicles …

I enjoy my own story. It’s both silly and juvenile, my stocks in trade, and every time I write the word
testicles
, I giggle. I enjoy it so much that I work on it through the night and into the morning, covering the entirety of the lampshade in the text, the letters growing smaller with each revolution until there is no room left to even finish the story, let alone for a signature and date and I decide that I might as well keep this particular item and that it is probably now worth much more than twenty-five dollars anyway.

I consider sending it to
her
. I could do it anonymously, but surely she would know who it’s from. I can picture her opening it, the dawning realization on her face, like a flower opening to the sun. I see it like it has actually happened. I would like her to see my creative powers, such as they are. She is too young to know what it was like during my prime years, the phenomenon of me and yeah, it’s my ego talking, but I have regrets about that. But on second thought, isn’t it even better that there’s love there in the absence of that, that it’s not part of the equation? Isn’t it purer that way?

Of course, contact could land her in trouble as well. She has many millions of endorsements at risk that any association with me would surely taint. I am incompatible with her brand.

BOOK: The Funny Man
6.25Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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