Lucky Alan : And Other Stories (9780385539821)

BOOK: Lucky Alan : And Other Stories (9780385539821)
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Also by Jonathan Lethem


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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2015 by Jonathan Lethem

All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Doubleday, a division of Random House LLC, New York, and distributed in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto, Penguin Random House companies.

and the portrayal of an anchor with a dolphin are registered trademarks of Random House LLC.

The following stories appeared, in slightly different form, in the following places: “Lucky Alan,” “The King of Sentences,” “Procedure in Plain Air,” “The Porn Critic,” and “Pending Vegan” appeared in
The New Yorker
; “Traveler Home” in Walter Martin and Paloma Muniz’s
; “Their Back Pages” in
; “The Empty Room” in
The Paris Review
; “The Dreaming Jaw, The Salivating Ear” in

Jacket design and illustration by Ben Wiseman

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Lethem, Jonathan.
[Short stories. Selections]
Lucky Alan and Other Stories / Jonathan Lethem. — First edition.
pages; cm
ISBN 978-0-385-53981-4 (hardcover)—ISBN 978-0-385-53982-1 (eBook)
I. Lethem, Jonathan. Lucky Alan. II. Title.
PS3562.E8544A6 2015


For Desmond Brown

Lucky Alan

In the months after I’d auditioned for him, I would run into the legendary theater director Sigismund Blondy at the movies, near-empty Thursday matinees of indifferent first-run films—
North Country, Wedding Crashers
—in the decaying venues of the Upper East Side, where we both lived: the Crown, the Clearview, the Gemini; big rooms chopped into asymmetric halves or quartered through the balcony. Blondy saw a movie every afternoon, he said, and could provide scrupulous evaluations of any title you’d ever think to mention—largely dismissals, though I do recall his solemn approval of
A Sound of Thunder
, a time-travel film with a Ben
Kingsley performance he’d liked. I’d see Blondy when the lights came up—alone, red scarf and pale elegant coat unfurled on the seat beside him, long legs crossed—unashamed, already hailing me if he spotted me first. Blondy dressed in dun and pastel colors, wore corduroys or a dancer’s Indian pants; in winter he had holes in his knitted gloves, in summer a cheesy Panama hat. He towered, moved softly and suddenly, usually vanished at any risk of being introduced. Soon I’d scan for Blondy whenever I entered a theater, alone or not. Often enough I’d find him. We never sat together.

If this multiplex-haunting practice didn’t square with Blondy’s reputation as the venerated maestro of a certain form of miniaturist spectacle (
Krapp’s Last Tape
in the elevator of a prewar office building, which moved up and down throughout the performance, with Blondy himself as Krapp, for cramped audiences of five or six at a time), it didn’t matter, since that reputation hardly thrived. I’d auditioned—talked with him, really—for a role in a repertory production of several of Kenneth Koch’s
One Thousand Avant-Garde Plays
. Dianne Wiest sat with us in the back room of the SoHo Italian restaurant in which the Koch cycle was to be staged, and where this evaluative tête-à-tête took place. She followed our conversation soberly, her unexplained presence typical of Blondy’s Zelig-like infiltration of the city’s culture. Within weeks I’d learned that Blondy’d had a falling-out with the restaurant’s proprietor, stranding the enterprise. I’d waited, expecting some revival of the project, for months.
Eventually I assumed I’d been replaced and kept half an eye on the
for a notice of the thing. But the Koch never surfaced, nor did anything else. Maybe Blondy’s run was over. Or on hiatus in some deep ruminative lag. And then, in the months that followed, he gradually became my moviegoing doppelgänger.

The ritual was made official the first time he invited me out for a glass of red after the movie, as though that were the real point of the afternoon. We’d sit at some Madison or Second Avenue wine bar in the dimming hours, invariably alongside those waiting for their dinner dates, those who made even me feel old. Whether Blondy ever felt old I couldn’t guess. His grandiosity, his U-turn anecdotes, his contempt for the obvious statement didn’t invite such guesses, only the tribute of gratified awe. I gave it. Blondy was like a skater up his own river, a frozen ribbon the rest of us might have glimpsed through trees, from within a rink where we circled to tinny music. The first time we left a movie theater together, before even finishing a glass, I told him I had quit acting. Blondy’s intimate smile seemed to say, not unsympathetically, that it was all for the best. We rarely talked about the film we’d just seen; instead we discussed great works—the Rothko retrospective, Fassbinder’s
Berlin Alexanderplatz
, Durrell’s
Alexandria Quartet
, whatever formed his present obsession. After two or three glasses on an empty belly had made me dizzy—Blondy never showed any effects—we’d part on the sidewalk.

By the time it occurred to me that I hadn’t seen
Sigismund Blondy in a while, I couldn’t have said how long a while was. Four months? Eight? It seemed to me he’d been in holey-gloves-and-red-scarf mode the last time we’d slipped from a theater to a bar, but that didn’t narrow it down much. We were headed back to scarf weather now. Maybe Blondy had summered somewhere—Provincetown?—and decided not to return, enlisting some local company to mount spectacles in a dockworkers bar or a bowling alley’s lounge. Sig Blondy, big fish in a small pond? I knew no more consummate New Yorker, so I started to worry.

Neither of the two people whom Blondy and I knew in common had any reason to know that the director and I spent afternoons together, but when I called—the first didn’t have Blondy’s phone number, and the second had one that he thought was the “old number,” then found another he recommended I try—neither was interested enough to ask why I wanted to track him down. Perhaps these days Blondy was less well remembered than I’d assumed. Blondy, likely in his early sixties, always seemed to me terrifyingly vital, but those in their early sixties might suddenly fail. Had I entered, without noticing, some quiet bargain struck among the proud bachelors of Manhattan to get one another’s backs? In my rapidly evolving fantasy, Blondy became pitiable, myself a rescuer. I rang the number. Blondy’s machine was set to pick up on the first ring. It figured he’d be an old-school screener.

“Grahame,” he said, interrupting my message. His
tone was munificent, as if congratulating me for having the name I did.

I’d been reaching for words to distill my concern but now scrambled, defensively, for a joke. His relish at having lifted the receiver in the thick of my fumbling seemed akin to his pleasure at our old, ambiguous encounters in theater lobbies, before we’d begun drinking. What I said now was “Don’t you go to the flicks anymore, or are you ashamed to take the senior discount?”

“Oh, I go. Every afternoon. Just not in the old

“I miss you,” I blurted.

He explained that he’d moved downtown, to Minetta Street. Hiding in plain sight, he called it. He’d spoken in the past of his devotion to the block of Seventy-eighth Street, where for decades he’d held down a rent-stabilized bargain, and of his persistent enchantment with the tribes of dog-walkers and nannies he’d mingled with there, once calling the Upper East Side “the last of the true Manhattan.” But I didn’t get a chance to ask him why he’d abandoned it. “I’ve got some questions I want to ask you,” he said. “When can you get here?”


“Better than questions, a
. You’ll see.”

“You want me to come to Minetta Street? Today?”

“Look, Film Forum is doing Mizoguchi—
. Ever seen it?” There was something of the director in his bullying and beguiling, but it was in my nature, I suppose, to be directed.


astonished me. Discussing it after the two-fifteen matinee, while we looked on Sixth Avenue for a restaurant with a suitable bar, Blondy said that for years he’d felt that two scenes toward the end of the film were reversed from their ideal order—the only flaw, he’d always thought, in a perfect work of art—but that today, sitting at Film Forum, waiting for it, he couldn’t spot the flaw he’d earlier been so certain of. “What’s pathetic is that I’d presumed to go around all these years sure I knew better than Mizoguchi! It’s as though I had to defend myself against the film’s perfection.” I was awed, as I maybe was supposed to be, at the scrupulousness with which he dwelled on what he cared for. Perhaps I was also awed at the change in our friendship. We’d gone to a movie that Blondy cared about, instead of trash, and for once we’d sat together in the theater, so I could smell Blondy’s faint but unmistakable doggish odor. It felt as though I’d stepped into Blondy’s script, was now simultaneously the featured performer and the sole audience for the most infinitesimal of his productions.

When we’d settled down with two glasses of Syrah, Blondy drew from his pocket several worn photocopies. “Okay, these are the questions I’ve been wanting to ask you,” he said, as if he’d been expecting my call in the first place.


“They’re from Max Frisch’s
Sketchbook 1966–1971
. Ready?”


“We won’t do the whole questionnaire. I’ll pick and choose.”

“Sure, fine.”

“Are you sure you are really interested in the preservation of the human race once you and all the people you know are no longer alive?”

BOOK: Lucky Alan : And Other Stories (9780385539821)
10.96Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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