...in which the writer considers literary celebrity, recalls meeting a television actor, digresses.
Ernest Hemingway, Joyce Carol Oates, and Salman Rushdie are about the only fiction writers that I'd expect to recognize if they passed me on the street. Maybe I would recognize this guy.
In a series of unlikely and fortuitous events, last summer I found myself in New York's Strand Bookstore being photographed by the New Yorker's editorial photographer, Steve Pyke. Before then, the last time I'd posed for a photo was in the sixth grade. While the assistants adjusted pieces of cardboard and filled Tupperware containers with water in order to reflect small segments of light, I just looked on in wonder. Pyke had shot Donald Rumsfeld just a few weeks before. There were some soft drinks on a table and if I stared at them too long someone would fetch one for me. I felt like Stephen King and Lindsay Lohan rolled into one. In fact, I felt conspicuous for the whole six hours I was there.
But the punch line, if I can call it that, is that a month later I was recognized. I was visiting a psychiatric hospital when a psychologist matched the three-dimensional me to the two-dimensional me that he'd seen in his magazine. It didn't hurt that I was dressed exactly the same. He almost seemed impressed. I was reminded of my only personal interaction with a celebrity. Several years ago, I was working at a gift store that was an annex of a Boston bookstore. After eight months of arranging postcards, plumping teddy bears, and dusting mantel clocks, I found myself a third key, which meant I had opening and closing duties and could make management-level decisions. So, when Ed Begley, Jr. came in, it was only natural that I should assist him. I remember stammering. He made a point of shaking my hand. By and large, customers didn't shake your hand. Occasionally they would reach for their change or their purchase and we would misinterpret the gesture and a handshake would result, but with Ed Begley, Jr. it was very intentional. With this gesture he was telling me that, in his eye, we weren't so unalike (though he was much taller, paler, and had whiter teeth). So when the psychologist said, "You're Justin Tussing," I stuck my hand out. "Yes," I said. "Yes, I am."
* * *
Last night I read David Bezmozgis's story "Natasha" from The Best American Short Stories 2005, edited by Michael Chabon. I've been reading the series for twenty years and while I admire Chabon's writing, I don't find this to be a particularly memorable edition. I have the vague sense that he's serving too many masters. Bezmozgis' story, set among a family of Russian Jews living outside Toronto, is a standout. It follows one young man through a morally murky summer. When I finished it I wanted to sit down and read the other stories in his collection.