On Tuesday I launched into yet another high-flying ode to creative freedom and the indie spirit. I railed against the curtailing powers-that-be, those nattering nabobs of negativism, wherever they may reside. I talked about my own experiences with indie publishing, and I cited the example of Martin Short and Harry Shearer, who found the freedom to create the all-time classic Men’s Synchronized Swimming sketch (“I’m not that strong a swimmer” and “I know you, I know you”) when SNL just let them go shoot the damn thing (which Harry contrasted with the rounds of meetings that had marked his experience in L.A.).
And then…a surprise! The comedy god and national treasure Harry Shearer stopped by! And he tweeted this helpful reminder:
@WriterJacke Although, to be honest, it got pretty damn hard to get something on air there, too.
— Harry Shearer (@theharryshearer) November 18, 2014
Wow! I feel like a king, blessed by the divine. (I mean that literally: when the creators of The Simpsons needed a voice for God, they turned to Harry.) And since my boys are discovering the wonders of The Simpsons Seasons 2-4, I am now Hero Dad, at least temporarily.
Here’s my hypothetical exchange with my boys, upon winning the Nobel Prize:
ME: Hey boys! I just won the Nobel Prize!
BOYS: Can we play Wii?
ME: No. So they’re flying me to Sweden to give a speech…it’s amazing. I won it for Chemistry, Physics, Literature, Peace, and Best Overall. It’s the first clean sweep they’ve ever had!
BOYS: When you’re in Sweden, can we play Wii?
That’s what my life is like. Except now, thanks to Harry, I had this actual exchange:
ME: Hey, guess who tweeted at me the other day?
BOYS: Can we play Wii?
ME: No. Harry Shearer!
BOYS: Who? Can we play Wii?
ME: Harry Shearer! Otto the Bus Driver! Principal Skinner! Reverend Lovejoy! Mr. Burns! Smithers! Ned Flanders! Scratchy!
BOYS: [mouths fall open]
And there were no more requests for Wii that day, because their attention was devoted to their dear old dad, suddenly a figure worthy of respect. It was as if Christmas morning had spontaneously broken out at our house…if Christmas morning also included Fourth-of-July fireworks, trick-or-treating, birthday cakes, and wishes that came true.
My little one jumped into my arms. The older one smashed into us. We group-hugged like the newsroom at WJM-TV after a successful seven-year run.
As many of you know, my parenting is best described as somewhere between woeful and pathetic (if “disastrous” can be included somewhere on that spectrum). So thank you, Harry! And by the way, five years from now, when my boys are teenagers and have decided they hate me and that I just don’t get it, my plan is to show them Spinal Tap for a little cross-generational bonding. So thank you in advance for that too!
And you know, I haven’t thought of this before, but I think Harry’s sensibilities have guided me in more ways than one. I don’t think I’d have written The Race without his political viewpoint (as expressed on Le Show and elsewhere). Here’s the passage where the Governor, having decided to run for office after destroying his marriage with a sex scandal, visits his wife to get her approval. Is this not Shearerlike?
But there was more: I knew how much this encounter meant to the Governor. I knew there was something deep within him that needed her to approve of his decision. She may have known it too. But she could not give it to him. I could see it on her face as he asked her to sit down and listen to a new proposal, and as she reluctantly sat across from the man she despised (with me, the unlikely witness lurking in the corner). Maybe it was spite, and maybe it was just sheer astonishment. Hadn’t she given enough? Hadn’t he taken more than his share? He had destroyed her present, and her future, and her past.
“You probably want to know why I’m here,” he began.
“I had hoped it was to see your kids.”
“That too! Of course!” he said. “Always love doing that, every chance I get. But there’s something else.”
“A change in the custody arrangement?”
“No…no, that’s fine. That’s for the lawyers. No offense,” he said to me.
“None taken,” I croaked.
“Tina,” said the Governor. “There’s a seat coming open. The First District. Lyle Larson’s retiring.”
“I can win it, Tina. U.S. Congress.”
“It’s a wide-open field. I’ll enter as the front runner.”
I thought Tina might faint. She put her head between her knees and remained there, bent over, for at least a minute.
The Governor must have seen this before. He smiled patiently, occasionally tilting his head back and forth in a not-much-longer gesture, until finally she reemerged, her face red and slowly draining as she took deep breaths.
“We can do it,” the Governor said with a campaign smile.
“Are you insane?”
“You could win it too,” said the Governor. “If you run, I’m out. I’d never interfere with that…I hope you know that….Are you interested?”
She looked at him, still stunned. “This isn’t happening.”
“You let me know. But before the deadline, which is tomorrow. I wanted to let you know I’m filing. I came here to get your blessing.”
“You don’t have it.”
The Governor barked a laugh and looked at me because he needed someone to share this with. I smiled weakly. I was still standing. My hands were somewhere or other.
“Well, okay, blessing isn’t the right word,” he said to Tina. His face turned serious again. “I just need to know you’re not opposed.”
“I am opposed,” she said. “One thousand percent opposed.”
He laughed again, harder than before, in a what will she say next way. He looked at me, shaking his head. This is why I married her. Isn’t she hilarious? This time I did not smile.
He cleared his throat. “Now, there’s opposed, like in your heart, and opposed, like you try to obstruct. Like for the latter, maybe you’d give an interview, or—God forbid—endorse one of the other candidates.”
She stared at him.
“The people love you, Tina, they always have.”
She said nothing.
I was riveted. This was flattery, maybe. Maybe it was a way to express his love.
She cut him off. Her face was not as red as before, but she looked alive, engaged, present. Her eyes were bright and flashing.
“You are the father of my children,” she said in a tone that made my skin tingle. “I will not criticize their father in a way that hurts them. For their sake I will not participate in the kind of public humiliation that you evidently feel compelled to inflict upon yourself. You should disappear, Tom. You should hide under a rock submerged in a lake in the middle of a country no one has ever heard of. Run for Congress? You should refrain from ever showing your duplicitous face in this state again. Opposed? Every time I see you on television or see your photo in a magazine it kills me. The memory of who I thought you were has been ruined by the knowledge of who you are. And it’s not just what you did to me, Tom. It’s what you did to a lot of good people. Your supporters. Your staff. People who believed in you…
“And I, who loved you. Who shared your bed, who bore your children. I, who financed your first campaign. I stood by you through everything—until you forced me to live through what no woman should ever have to endure. When you ran for office I gave up everything to help run your campaign. For nothing. Nothing but you, Tom, your goals, your dreams. Have you forgotten? Does it mean nothing? Does it not count? Do I not matter to you?”
She took a breath.
“I gave up so much for you, Tom. And it’s gone. And now I live with pain and humiliation that I share with no one. Who could understand what it means to be your wife, to have gone through the public shame you imposed on me?
“I will suffer in silence if that’s what my sons need. But if you need some kind of redemption, a return to your past, you will do that with my silence and suffering. You will be contributing to my pain. I am barely alive, Tom. I’m lying in a grave that you dug, that you shoved me into. Now you’re back—why? To extend a hand? Of course not. You’re here to whack my head with a shovel and tell me that soon you’ll be heaping more dirt on my body. And…”
She trailed off. There was nothing left to say.
The Governor took all this in. He paused to make sure she was finished.
The grandfather clock in the foyer ticked. In the quiet room it sounded like a sledgehammer slamming down on an iron spike.
At last the Governor smiled. “You could run my campaign,” he said. “You’d be absolutely fantastic at that. I could pay you this time!”
He smiled in a way that denied the possibility that anyone could truly hate him. It was not arrogant and it was not entirely oblivious. He was just trying to see the positives here, that’s all…
Tina was not joining him on the sunny side of the street. She was still in her grave.
“Get…the…hell…out of my house.”
She was not a woman who swore often; the hell carried a lot of weight.
We said some quick goodbyes that were not returned. The door slammed behind us; two deadbolts hammered shut.
We walked to the driveway and got in the car—it was strange again to see the Governor next to me, in the passenger seat of the car I’d rented. I drove around the circular driveway and back down to the gate, waiting for the Governor to say something.
He drummed his fingers on his leg, hummed a little as we turned onto the road and passed along the fence that lined his property, picking up speed.
You would not know he had just been on the receiving end of a furious cannon blast of a speech. You would think he was a guy who’d just won a minor lottery, a hundred bucks on a scratch-off, say, and who was on his way to play some golf with a few buddies before coming home to mow the lawn, which he didn’t mind doing on a cool evening.
I listened to him hum, trying to figure out the tune. It sounded like something from a Disney movie.
Finally, as we reached the main road, he spoke.
“Probably best to keep that one out of the book,” he said with a chuckle.
Yes, yes. That’s got Shearer all over it. Harry, we’ll have a part for you in the movie. We’d be honored if you’d participate.
Everyone, you can buy The Race at Amazon.com. Or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for a free review copy.
People, I have another Object in the hopper and should have it up soon (yes! finally!). Until then, Onward and Upward with a photo of Derek Smalls, patron saint of my attempts to play the bass guitar, as played by Harry Shearer, whom I’m today nominating as Patron Saint of the American Creative Spirit, He of the Dark Years When Creative Ideas Were Much In Need But Difficult to Execute Due to High Costs, Limited Tools of Production, and Mindless Groupthink on the Part of Stifling People Who Run Things.
May his blessed saintly energy guide us all…
Image Credit: theartsdesk.com