I’m having to go over the uncorrected proofs of my new book. This means that I spend my days on the sofa, rearranging commas and anticipating a never-ending series of law suits. I’ve tried disguising certain characters, but my idea of disguise is to give someone straight red hair rather than curly red hair. Reading proofs causes me to chain-smoke, filling the apartment with a thick, nasty fog. I’ve moved from two to three packs a day (which tends to ruin the taste and enjoyment of each cigarette). The best way to clear your smoking palate is to cry. Cigarettes always taste better after you’ve spent a few minutes sobbing. I tried, this afternoon, to think sad thoughts–and when that failed to work, I turned on the TV, switching channels until I arrived upon a maudlin talk show.
I came in late, but from what I could gather, the program was devoted to people who had lost a family member during a happy occasion. Names flashed upon the screen. “Maureen: Daughter killed on 16th birthday,” and “Judy: Mother slain on golden anniversary.” A fellow named Daniel spoke about losing his twin brother on his (the brother’s) wedding day. The prospective bride and groom were flying in by private plane. “And then … and then … ” The man’s face buckled, and he struggled to regain his composure. His cheeks quivered, and he covered his eyes with his hands. He clearly needed a moment to pull himself together.
“Let me remind the audience that this tragic accident took place not 10 days ago, not 10 weeks ago, but 10 years ago. Isn’t that right, Daniel?” The host saw that his guest was suffering and used the opportunity to rub salt into his wounds. “Ten years ago, you lost your twin brother–but the feeling is still fresh. The hurt is still there, because twins have a special bond, don’t they? He was there for you on your wedding day, wasn’t he, Daniel? He was not only your brother but also your closest friend, and now he’s gone forever.”
The audience joined in, doing their best to push this man over the edge. A woman stood up to say, “I lost my brother 18 years ago, and I just want to tell Daniel that the hurt will never go away. If tomorrow is good, I’ll guarantee you that the next day is going to be a real whopper.” The woman gave a slight smile, and rubbed her hands together as if she were warming them by the fire.
The brotherless twin broke down and sobbed. I did the same. It doesn’t work in the movies, but as far as TV is concerned, nothing gets to me quite like the sight of a crying man. I sat at the kitchen table and bawled, unsure if I was weeping over Daniel or because I was sitting at home watching TV in the middle of the afternoon. If you watch too many talk shows, you soon become immune to their pleasures. I try to tune in only once or twice a month, and consider myself lucky when I come across a sob-fest. I enjoyed a good cry with Daniel, and then lit a cigarette that tasted so fresh and invigorating, I felt as though I’d just woken from a 12-hour sleep.
I went early this evening to the World Financial Center to watch Santa turn on the lights to the Winter Garden. It’s a strange place, the Winter Garden. They’ve transplanted enormous palm trees that stand in a high-ceilinged esplanade, surrounded by the same shops you find in any suburban mall. The pageant began with the chorus and orchestra of PS 234, the neighborhood elementary school, singing a medley of Hanukkah and Christmas songs. After the last number, a spotlight shone on the grand staircase, and Santa appeared. He wore a collarless button-up shirt and red pants with a knee-length velvet coat trimmed in fake fur. This was Santa wearing his best After Six formal wear. His gray beard was finicky, cut close to his face as if he’d just quit shaving the week before Thanksgiving. It was a stylish Sean Connery sort of beard that brought out his tanned, handsome features. This was clearly not the real Santa, but the children were willing to accept him as a temporary stand-in. They applauded mildly. Their mothers, though, practically gave him a standing ovation. They whistled and stomped their feet, craning their necks and elbowing one another to say, “Get a look at that one.”