Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Butfirst Disease

Rudyard Kipling is said to have written "How the Whale Got His Throat" in three sleepless and famished days. It is my favorite of his ten Just So Stories, a children's tale, a political satire, and a cry against powers-that-be. And it's short, not even 1,000 words.

My friend Jane Feather, the best-selling author of some 40 books, routinely writes 2000 words a day, which may explain why more than 10 million copies of her works are in print.

Me, I doubt I've ever written more than 1,500 at one sitting because I suffer from butfirst disease. I am full of good intentions from the moment I wake up, and my promise to write write write until my finger tips are bloody from hitting the keys is a heartfelt one, but first...

Well, but first I have to feed the cat, make my bed, water the plants, take a shower, drink two large espressos,  sweep the kitchen free of the detritus aforementioned cat brought in and see if the pumpernickel bread is still edible. I have to look at the paper because perhaps something has occurred that may influence my life. This hasn't happened in a decade or more, but you never know. There is email correspondence,  text messages sent to me while I was asleep, and voices to reckon with on the answering machine. Then there is a laundry to do, a lawn to mow or a driveway to shovel free of snow, things to take to the post office, a 12-step meeting. At noon, I have lunch with friends, and at two there are bills to pay. So I am always eager and willing to write, but first...

Kipling, of course, had servant to do his butfirsts, and I do not, but I'm almost certain that even with a retinue of butlers, maids, chauffeurs and cooks, my habits would not change. I would find things to do and gather enough impediments to delay sitting down and writing for the better part of a morning or afternoon.

The strange thing is that I love writing. It's what I do best, and possibly the only talent I know for sure I possess. There are few things I find more pleasurable than spending two or three hours at a clip establishing a character, creating a dialog or defining a scene. It's really a shame I don't do it more often. Too many butfirsts.

Even as I write this, I'm thinking I should really take down the hummingbird vine that is overpowering my gutters. Also, I should hardboil some eggs for later, because if I wait too long to boil them, they'll be too hot to eat by the time I'm ready to eat. It all makes perfect sense.

Lately, at the suggestion of editors and friends, I've been redoing a novel I wrote several years ago and have not managed to sell. The book follows the adventures of a newly married couple in Paris in 1920, when the center of the artistic universe was in one neighborhood, Montparnasse. The problem with the book, I think, is that I put too much into it. I always want readers to have ahha moments when they read my stuff; I want them to be amused and amazed, and so with Montparnasse  I think I have created a literary turducken. I have famous writers, painters, composers and playwrights elbowing each other for space in the pages. The result is that the ahha moments get in the way of the plot, which is moderately complex as is.

Once again, though, the butfirst disease strikes. I will do anything to avoid this rewrite. Part of it, of course, is that I do not want to take a hatchet to my deathless prose and in fact, I am suddenly realizing that even writing this blog is simply another avoidance technique.


All right. Montparnasse, page 116. Gotta edit Ernest Hemingway out.  I only put him in to show people how smart I am. Bye, Ernie. James Joyce to follow.



Monday, August 27, 2012

Session Two

Today is poison day, i.e., I go to the doctor and have noxious stuff injected in me in order to kill even more noxious stuff. It is Session Two out of six, or possibly 12, or maybe 25 depending on how the cancer cells react. It's an unpleasant procedure for which I have no kind words.

I am tired of having cancer. It's been a year of uncertainty, fear, poor diagnosis, pain, bereavement and anger. I've allowed this nastiness to define my life and it's all I have to talk about, it seems, and that somehow is not right. I hate the unknown. I still don't know what to expect when the chemo really kicks in around Session Three or  Four; I am told the derivatives may be cumulative. The first session last week had relatively few side effects; I was slightly nauseous for a while and now I find myself exhausted most of the day. I suppose this is normal; the Battle of Agincourt is being fought in my innards.

I've been having strange dreams, not always unpleasant but often disturbing. I also suspect a lot of my  thinking has become irrational lately. Chemo, when all is said and done, is a large event, commensurate with the incomprehensible change that is happening within, where tiny, nasty cells are multiplying and setting up outposts. My brain makes bad assumptions (never assume, since it makes an ASS out of U and ME), and I promise this and swear that without the least intention of following through. I am not even sure to whom or to what I'm making these wild commitments. Most of the time, I end up doing nothing save rewriting a book I finished years ago, or cooking too much of something barely edible. Also, I am collecting cheese. Really. I can't seem to go to a food store without bringing back a wedge of Roblochon or a hunk of Gruyere. This is truly worrying as my Internet research has yielded no relationship between cancer and an addiction to  fromage.

And then last week I read that Richard Thompson,  creator of the wildly successful Cul de Sac comic strip and who was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, had decided it was time to put his pen down. He and I had a brief email exchange a few years ago--we're both Washington Post alumni--and his strip is the first thing I read in the morning, it is the best thing to happen to comics since Calvin and Hobbes. I give his books to friends for their birthdays and have all his collected works, a desk calendar, and even a French translation of one of his early books. It cost me an arm and a leg and is worth every penny.  His tragic situation puts mine in a clearer perspective.

I'm still OK. In fact, compared to him I'm a wimp. I can write, I see friends, I hike, I play tennis. I barely feel whatever is happening inside me, and its influence so far as been more emotional and intellectual than physical. I'm the one who has given my blessing to feeling how I feel. My paralysis is strictly consensual and I can revoke this contract made between cancer and me.

So I think I will do just that, after I take a nap.

Oh.  I know I've noted all along that my condition brings out the strangeness in some folks. Recently, a man I know slightly  told me he had come to believe in the goodness of God because God created crepe myrtles, and any entity capable of creating such a gorgeous bush had to be good, and therefore everything was going to be all right.

This was heartening, since I have a half-dozen crepe myrtles in my yard. Then he wrote his telephone number on a slip of paper and pushed it into my hand. "Call me," he said, "I have a lot of even more important things to tell you." I was tempted to throw away the number but I didn't. You never know, he may have a lot more wisdom on tap than I do right now.




Sunday, August 26, 2012

Madame Sokolov and the Art of Eating Alone

When I was a kid in Paris, my parents would occasionally ask the one-floor-up neighbor at 3, rue de la Terrasse, to babysit me.   These were rare occasions and I always enjoyed them as Madame Yelena Sokolov's apartment was far more interesting than the one I lived in, and she always addressed me as Jeune (young) Monsieur Thierry.

Mme. Sokolov--I never learned her first name--was the daughter of a White Russian refugee, and she claimed a direct if confusing link to Nikolai Alexandrovich Romanov, the last tsar of Russia.

Mme. Sokolov smelled of lavender. Her white hair was always up in a tight bun, she had high cheekbones, thin and serious lips, an aquiline nose and piercing blue eyes. In her younger years she must have been stunning. My father occasionally flirted with her--or tried to. She was not particularly amenable and, in retrospect, it is clear she thought my family was one step up from barefooted serfdom.

Mme. Sokolov fixed herself three complete meals each day and never ate leftovers. Sometimes, when I was in her apartment, she would set the table for one with two forks, two knives, three glasses and two linen napkins--one for the main course and one for desert, which was usually sherbet in a silver cup. I was never invited to sit at her table. I had a special small chair, and was given a tray to balance on my knees, which I did fearfully. She served me minute amounts of her own minute servings. I remember veal in a sweetly bitter sauce, fish so white it dazzled the eye, tiny potatoes no bigger than grapes, and only once a thin slice of bleeding meat that may have been Steak Tartar or perhaps a Russian version of Beef Carpaccio. Everything she cooked, she consumed. When she ate, it was with both hands on the table, holding a fork with the tines pointed downward, and a small, very sharp knife. Her back was absolutely straight, and if mine was not, she would mutter, Votre dos, Jeune Monsieur Sagnier. Nous ne sommes p-as des paysans." To Mme. Sokolov, being called a peasant was the ultimate slur. 

I remember thinking it must be very sad to always cook for one's self.

Now I do it two or three times a week, sometimes sadly, but mostly not. I seldom set the table, though I always sit, and think eating while standing is a crime against taste and worthy manners. My cooking repertoire is rather limited. I make a good Salade Niçoise and decent shepherd's pie. My ratatouille is famous, my rice and beans acceptable. I often cook in large quantities and eat the same thing for a week or longer. I throw out too much food and feel guilty for it. I occasionally bake, more often grill, and on rare occasions invite people to my home to dine.

I often think of Madame Sokolov's lonely culinary exploits, and where I had seen aloneness, I now believe there existed a wonderful expression and reward of the self. Madame Sokolov never once evinced the slightest hint of melancholy. She was proud, kind in a manner that no longer exists, self-contained, her manners impeccable. She had an elegance that brooked no nonsense and the manners of an exiled princess which, for all I know, is precisely what she was.

I have no idea what became of Madame Sokolov.  Her name, it turns out, is among the most common in Russia. It is cited in a 1920's book titled "The Last Days of the Romanovs." Grigori Sokolov is a celebrated pianist.  Alexander Sokolov is a champion armwrestler. Authors, painters, and several families in Minnesota also bear the name. I doubt her history will ever be known. But I think of her teaching manners to a small child of another culture,  cooking alone in a minuscule kitchen, among the last of her class and bearing, a proud survivor of the Russian revolution. I hope she was celebrating herself.


Tuesday, August 21, 2012


Lately I've been doing a lot of reading on Suzanne Valadon and Maurice Utrillo. Both were highly talented artists whose works are found in the best museums and beyond purchase by anyone but the wealthiest collectors. They lived in Montmartre, a Parisian neighborhood known for it's Bohemian allure, almost all their lives. Both were splendid drunks, and Suzanne was Maurice's mother. She died in 1938; he died in 1953. Maurice never found out who his father was, and if Suzanne knew (she was known for the assortment of lovers she maintained over the decades) she never let on, though it is possible that Maurice was sired by the painter Renoir. I suppose you could say the son and mother had a strange relationship, but that's not what I want to write about, since all relationships are strange in one way or another.
No, what I'm interested in is the critics' fashion of parsing an artist's work--and by artist I mean a writer, dancer, musician, sculptor, the whole gamut of people who cannot but be creative--into meaninglessness.
Look at a painting; read a book. What happens? Your imagination, and the writer or painter's creation work together to form an alliance. This pact moves you--you feel joy, sadness, revulsion on occasion, pity perhaps, even lust or envy. You and the artist form a symbiotic entente cordiale. He or she presents their work for your consideration, with the understanding that the artist is powerless over the audience. You, the audience, are willing to make a gift of time to the work. You read, you listen, you watch. In the end, both parties are affected by each other's willingness to devote a small period of life to pleasuring the other. An artist without an audience ceases to exist, and with no art there are no spectators.
The critics want to take this process over by dictating their views--which are assuredly more learned and educated than yours or mine ever will be. An author, critiquing Valadon's Nude Girl Sitting on a Cushion, wrote: "...Valadon's intense characterization is translated through the deliberate distortion of certain forms, the importance of which is enhanced by their unexpected size... Most of the time the children's alienation is expressed through reductive images whose effectiveness is enhanced through their simplicity."
I have no idea what this means. Obviously the critic and I are not looking at the same work. I see a small pencil and chalk drawing of a young dispirited nude. It's an evocative work, and I suppose I resent the critic's muddying of what is, all in all, a very basic piece of art.
For the past few years I've spent a lot of time reading autobiographies of some noted painters, and I have yet to find one describing his or her work in the same language as that of the critics. I wish those who write or broadcast opinions on the quality of things such as art, literary works, and society as a whole would do their own thing instead of parsing the works of others. That seems like a waste of time, a second-hand way of relating to creativity without adding any creativity of one's own. Or maybe it's just that I don't like critics, or for that matter anyone who tries to make something creative into something incomprehensible.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Smoking Cessation Down Under

It's not that often that one can say this, but here goes: The Australians have it right, at least regarding a ruling by their High Court that cigarettes be sold in plain packages. The law was passed by Parliament last year and requires cigarettes no longer be peddled in bright and cheerful, logo-infested packs. Instead, they're to be marketed in drab and dark packaging with graphic images of cancerous lungs and the comeuppance of other smoking-related diseases.

The major tobacco companies, up in arms, naturally enough challenged the new law, arguing that the plain packaging was unconstitutional, since it amounted "to an acquisition of intellectual property without adequate compensation," according to the Washington Post.  Nuts to you, said the High Court, perhaps having secretly read various reports issued by health authorities in Europe and the US that claim that cigarettes--and not the oft-maligned marijuana--are, along with alcohol, the real gateway drug.

The studies argue that drug consumption among the very young is often peer-related and that the use of cigarettes provides such users with various incentives. The youth get to act illegally by purchasing cigarettes while underage, or stealing them from parents. This is a cheap thrill--breaking the law with no or minimal consequences--but it prepares them for the more seriously illegal act of later buying drugs. Since consuming tobacco products is also illegal for young people, the adventure surrounding illegal acquisition is compounded by the act of using. Again, this is good preparation for graduating to more serious drugs. 

That, though heavily taxed, cigarettes remain cheap is another impetus. Even at five or more dollars a pack, they are within reach of most kids who can recoup their initial investments by going Asian and selling their surplus butts individually to their friends.  Sound like Dealing 101 to you? Hmmm.

Cigarettes are also highly branded, which kids respond to with gusto, just as they do branding in shoes, clothes, sunglasses and hair gel. Removing the Camel, or the bright red and white motif from a pack of Marlboros or Winstons, is likely to make the product less attractive. Big Tobacco, having spent billions in creating and marketing their brands in the first place, is fully aware of this.

According to NIDA, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, "the experience of smoking can teach youngsters to use a psychoactive drug to influence mood and alertness, as nicotine does, and then reinforce that behavior. Smoking cigarettes prepares young people for the relevant mode of ingestion for one of the next drugs in the sequence namely marijuana."  NIDA points out that drawing a foreign substance into the lungs is not a normal behavior for humans or other animals - it is a behavior which "has to be learned and rewarded enough to overcome the aversive experiences which usually result."

Additionally, says the 1994 Surgeon General's report, 12- to 17-year-olds who reported having smoked in the past 30 days were three times more likely to use alcohol, eight times more likely to smoke marijuana, and 22 times more likely to use cocaine, within those past 30 days than those 12- to 17-year-olds who had not smoked during that time.

Still not persuaded? Here's a handy chart put out by the National Center for Health Statistics relating to problem behavior among youth.  The first percentage figure is for kids who don't smoke. The second figure is for kids who do.

You can put it on your refrigerator door.

Alcohol use in past month                  23%                /                       74%

Five or more drinks in a row                9.5%             /                       50%

Marijuana use in past month                1.5%              /                       50%

Carried a weapon                                  9.5%              /                       25.6%

Physical fight in past year                  29%                /                       55%

Smokeless tobacco use

  in past month (boys)                          4%                 /                   28%                                        

So yeah. Go Aussies!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Writers Past

A few decades ago, I was convinced being a writer was largely a matter of appearance and attitude. Tweed jackets, briar pipes, alcohol--a lot of alcohol and occasionally some other drugs--a vaguely supercilious manner that barely dissimulated my great pain and anguish. I worked on an aged Royal manual typewriter bought at a pawnshop, was convinced of my genius and talent, and, best of all, owned a complete set of Harvard Classics. Back then (I've since sold them) the books, trimmed with gold leaf and bound in leather, were my proudest possessions.
The Harvard Classics, 51 volumes in all, were known as Dr. Eliot's Five Foot Shelf. Eliot was the President of Harvard University when the collection was first published in 1909, and he believed a well-bred gentleman could achieve a respectable education by reading this compendium of every major literary figure, philosophy, religion, folklore, and historical subject through the twentieth century. A few years later, Eliot created a separate 20-volume selection entitled the Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. I owned that as well.
What's interesting about Eliot's 51-volumes of disparate selections is that many of them, exactly a century later, have sunken into whatever Stygian obscurity ill-fated writing goes to when it dies. Who nowadays has read Volume 18, Modern English Drama, featuring Sheridan's School for Scandal, and All For Love by Dryden? Personally, I never got through Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous in Opposition to Skeptics and Atheists by George Berkeley. Nor did I read the second volume of Elizabethan Drama, which includes The Shoemaker's Holiday (Thomas Dekker), Philaster (Beaumont and Fletcher), The Alchemist (Ben Jonson), or A New Way to Pay Old Debts (Philip Massinger).

In all fairness, there were truly important works in both collections, books every one should read, or at least skim--Aristotle to Dickens, Maupassant to Herodotus. Thousands of non-Harvard students read the Classics in their entirety and were the better for it. In time, Eliot's idea spawned other collections. After the Classics came Great Books of the Western World in 1952, and since then a host of other tomes have promised instant erudition for the common man.

I remember trying my luck with the 20 volumes of fiction, where I found--among other works--such deathless titles as Pepita Jimenez by Juan Valera, A Happy Boy by Bjornstjerne Bjornson and Skipper Worse by Alexander Kielland.
I mention all this because it's my belief that the majority of writing, like any other endeavor, is merely the product of its time. Some may survive, most does not.
Not that long ago a young man by the name of David Foster Wallace committed suicide at his home in California. Wallace, 46 at the time of his death, was the Great White Hope of modern American Lit. His work found its way into the New Yorker, Harpers, Atlantic and a host of other publications. Reporting on his death, the New York Times said, "the world of contemporary American fiction [has] lost its most intellectually ambitious writer."
When it first came out in 1996, I remember picking up what would become his best known work, Infinite Jest, with both hands--literally. It is a very heavy volume, 1,079 pages, footnote-filled, complex and, to me, eminently unreadable. Proust by way of Joyce with here and there some Kerouac and ee cummings; a touch of Howl and a whiff of Hunter Thompson.
Following Wallace's death, The New Yorker published a ludicrously over-long article on his career, followed by one of his short stories, Wiggle Room. The piece opens with a 400-line-long paragraph. For the second time, I gave up trying to read Wallace's prose.
So I wondered, who decided this guy was great? I canvassed my friends. Some had heard of Wallace, most had not. One had gotten to page 27 of Infinite Jest and dropped the book back into the library bin. Not one person I spoke with had actually read the work in its entirety.
So it stands to reason that one of two things is true, and both possibilities are frightening: the New York publishing world is putting one over on us. Either that, or all my friends are dolts.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Bring in the Legion

“You’re not gonna like this,” said The Good Doctor, TGD from here on. No surprises there, I haven’t liked much of anything TGD has done to and for me in the past year. Three surgeries, five or six bladder exams, enough drawn blood to make a good-sized boudin sausage, hours in the waiting room, the pre-op room, the post-op room and an entire collection of dehumanizing moments as various people handle various parts of my body, that. in my estimation should be handled only by someone near and dear. Now TGD is telling me I have to undergo six weeks of something called Bacillus Calmette-Guérin therapy to eradicate the cancer in my bladder. The treatment, he says, was invented in France, which of course makes me feel better, but, he adds, no one really knows how the therapy works, it simply does, most of the time, just like a lot of things do in France.

So I do my research.  What I have is a condition called low grade noninvasive papillary urothelial carcinoma (LGNPUC), a not particularly sexy type of cancer with a really bad acronym. There doesn’t seem to be a lot written about this particular malady, so here’s my take on it:  Imagine you have a nice home and you go on vacation and when you come back, an extended family of truly malicious squatters has taken over the place; there are a few dozen of them and they inhabit every nook and cranny of your house, using the pool without showering first and not flushing as often as they should. They cook really nasty smelling food on a campfire in the middle of your living room, don’t mow the lawn and never separate the recyclables. Basically, these are not the people you invite to the country club. Instead, you call the sheriff (TGD) who, after a brief tussles, evicts them (surgery). The sheriff is justifiably proud of his work and declares you squatter-free, but wait! He’s wrong! He returns a second time, performs another eviction, but it’s pretty obvious that these squatters are resilient and sneaky; they practice guerrilla warfare.  So the sheriff (TGD) calls in Bacillus Calmette-Guérin, the French S.W.A.T. team. Or maybe it’s the French Foreign Legion, I’m not sure.

At any rate, Monday in a week, noxious chemicals will be injected into my bladder. Then I will pretend I am a chicken on a rotisserie spit and spin horizontally for a while so said bladder is coated with the poisonous substance. After that,, more than likely, I will get sick, puke, and go home. I’ll do this six times over the next six weeks. Since I do not want to puke good food, I plan to stock up on raisin bran, Twinkies and Slim Jims.

All this is unpleasant but the alternatives could have been far worse.  At one time, TGD thought I had Carcinoma in Situ, and combating that is the chemotherapy equivalent of World War One trench warfare.

By comparison, LGNPUC is small pommes frites.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Book Sale

The librarian who works weekends and whom I'm slightly scared of wasn't at the book sale on Sunday.  She's a largish woman with a port wine stain on her forehead, and in a decade of going to the library, I have never seen her smile. Children do not run, shout or cry in her library. In fact, they barely breathe. When she's on the job, the loudest sound is the thin hum of  computers that have replaced the index cards, and the faint rustling of turning pages.  I suspect she's not a fan of the tri-annual sale, when the library rids itself of surplus books.  For seven dollars, you get a grocery bagful of fiction, reference, photo books, children's classics and as many back issues of National Geographic's as one family could  sanely handle.

It's as raucous a scene as can be found in any library, and I suppose it's not the weekend librarian's cup of tea. I go there even though I don't need more things to read, indeed, I donate books three or four times a year, and this time around found some items for sale that came directly from my shelves.  I was tempted to buy back my Doonesbury collection--I had donated it in a moment of weakness--but resisted the impulse. 

Still, I bought a few things. The complete works to date of  David Guterson, a writer whose Snow Falling on Cedars I admire. A replacement King Rat because the middle 60 pages of my copy vanished some years ago during a move. Two *** for Idiots that need no explanation, nor does a mint Pocket Book edition of Harold Robbins The Piranhas.

Pawing through the stacks and boxes, I found myself in competition with immigrant families that, while their command of English might have been limited, displayed unbridled enthusiasm for the treasures offered. Asians and Latino children raced through the hallways while their parents filled grocery bags with everything from romances to Readers' Digest collections. An ancient man who might have been Vietnamese had appropriated a grocery store cart and filled to the brim with travel and computer books; the library volunteer at the checkout table had to call a staffer to decide how many bags equaled a shopping cart.

One stack caught my attention--twenty-or-so volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica, circa 1999. A sign wedged between two tomes read, "Complete Set, $10." Someone had scratched out the ten and replaced it with a five. Twenty-three years ago, I bought a complete set of the  EB for almost $1,000. It still presides over my small collection of reference works. I was tempted to buy this one too, so I'd have a separate set in my basement office. While I pondered, a brown-skinned little girl took the top volume, opened it randomly and started reading aloud, one small index finger tracing the line of print. Her mother, wearing a burnt-orange and green sari stood behind her.

"Did you want to buy these?" the mother asked me. I said no, I already had a set at home.

Did I use it much?  I had to admit that I didn't any more. Like almost everyone, I relied on computers now.

"They are no longer printing them, you know," the woman told me and I answered that yes, I had read a few months ago that the Britannica people had decided to forego printed editions in favor of digital ones.

"Very sad," she said. "In my home in Delhi, we had these books and my father made us read 10 pages every day."  I told her that when my family first came to the United States, my father had decided that, pound for pound, the World Book Encyclopedia was a better bargain, so we'd gotten that instead, one volume at a time from the Giant Food store that sold the set at a discount.

Soon the woman's husband appeared, a whip-thin man with a white short buttoned all the way to the neck. The family spoke a minute or two, and the father nodded. "I will purchase these if you do not." He and I found cardboard boxes to stack the books in; he paid for them and I volunteered to help carry the Britannicas to his car.

The weekend librarian of whom I am a little scared would have been proud.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Gérard and Me

There are only two French people in the world, me and Gérard Depardieu.

I say this with a degree of certainty because every time I turn on the French channel on cable, there he is—Gérard jeune, Gérard vieux,  Gérard in his 30s mince come un fil (thin as a thread), Gérard in his 40s balaise (hefty), Gérard now abolument gigantesque, (absolutely gigantic), Gérard en Francais, en Anglais and for all I know Gérard en Farsi.
Personally, I like Gérard. No one will mistake him for Maurice Chevalier and start singing "Sank 'eaven fur leetle gurls." Looks-wise, he’s no Alain Delon, though he might give Jean-Paul Belmondo a run for his Euro.  He has become, somehow, so quintessentially French that the whole image of the average Frenchman has changed from the baguette-carrying, beret-wearing, and Gauloise-smoking rotund little guy to the frighteningly overweight cro-magnon-lout-in-a-cheap-leather-jacket-who-likes-to-punch-people. I think this is a positive development. Enough of Pepé Le Pew, I say.

I like Gérard as an actor, too. He mumbles like Brando, postures like Newman and has the kind of grin that made Cruise famous. Also, he's pretty wide-ranging—from Cyrano de Bergerac to Georges in Green Card, and I suspect his nose needs its own visa when they both travel.

Gérard and I share a few similarities.

  • He was in Les Miserables. I have read the book.
  • He was born in France in 1948. I was born in France two years earlier.
  • We are both males.
  • He starred in Green Card. I had a Green Card.
  • He owns an island in the South Pacific. I own some worthless snake-infested land in South Virginia.
  • He speaks English. I do too, and better than he does.
  • He likes saucisson, smelly cheeses, and boudin. I do too.
  • He once spent $5,000 in a trendy New York club.  I once got lost in New York.
  • He's gained a lot of weight. So have I (but to be fair, he has gained way more than I have.)
  • He smokes Gauloise cigarettes. I stopped smoking Gauloise cigarettes 13 years ago.
  • He once drank a $1,000 bottle of Scotch whiskey in three hours. I once drank a $5 plastic liter-and-a-half of Popov vodka (from New Jersey) in an evening.
  • We both have large jaws. I got mine from my grandmother. I don't know about Gérard.
  • His mother told Depardieu that she had tried to abort him with knitting needles. My mother almost aborted me when she fell off her bicycle at seven months pregnant.
  • We both like Johnny Haliday a lot.
  • We both wish we could have starred opposite Catherine Deneuve (actually, Gerard did, but it was in Potiche, possibly the worst French movie ever made. And I include Last Year in Marienbad in that statement.)
  • He studied dancing under Jean-Laurent Cochet. I have danced once in the last 15 years.
  • He is scheduled to play disgraced International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss Kahn. I worked at the World Bank, which is across the street from the IMF.
  • He peed in the aisle of an airplane when the bathroom was occupied.
  • I.... No, I never did anything like that.

But anyway, Gérard and me, we're almost twins.