Mysteries of life: Twice I have been famous

As I mentioned, I’ve been sort of famous a couple of times. I wish it had been three times because then I could write “thrice,” but I’m stuck with twice.

I’ve retreated from the edge of fame a number of times in my life, but the fame I’m talking about here concerns my writing, from which I do not retreat.

A number of years ago, in a state of high anxiety, I wrote a satire called “Inner Turmoil,” about states of high anxiety. It was couched as a erudite study in a psychiatric journal, with a stack of totally invented references, such as “(6) Strump EG: “Lumping,” J. of Crit.Crp., p. 1-2, Vol V/3, 1976.” Oh, and “(5) Soucurates EG: The Twelve Minute Hour, New York, 1980.”

(I haven’t looked at this damn thing since who knows when, so just noticed that all the fake authors I cite had the initials “EG.” I have no idea what I was thinking, but it makes me chuckle now so OK.)

There was only one suitable journal to which I could submit the manuscript: The Journal of Irreproducible Results: Official Organ of the Society for Basic Irreproducible Research, a delightfully wacky mag with a sterling editorial board of scientists, physicians and other high-level professionals, created as a needed satirical escape from super-serious, life-and-death day jobs.

I guess you could call it the Sacha Baron Cohen of scientific journals.

Just before I received the JIR official acceptance letter (and before there was caller ID), I got a phone call from a rather excited guy who told me he’d read my piece. He raved about it. I was, like, “Huh? You read my piece? How did you do that?” Because I hadn’t yet been informed my piece was accepted and already in print and rocketing around the small world of scientific satire.

He was a subscriber to the JIR, he explained. Apparently subscribers got their issues before the writers were notified. No matter how disorienting, the phone call was flattering. Getting a call from a stranger, saying great things about my brains and talent?

So, sure, I accepted his invitation for coffee. In person, he was an odd, even attractive guy. I remember nothing of what we chatted over and never was in touch with him again but it was, you know, kind of elevating.

To make the incident even more delightful, the man I was then seeing (whom I didn’t love at all and often realized I disliked) got very jealous.

A few years later, the Times published my first football article, “Confessions of a Gentlewoman Fanatic,” to huge excitement on my part, most likely including a trite yet spontaneous episode of jumping up and down and squealing. My dear friend Susan Brenner, through a friend of hers who worked at the Times, did magic and sent me the actual printing plate of my piece mounted on a wood panel. (It is hanging a few feet away from me right now.)

One night, a couple of months afterward, I took a bus home from a Lincoln Center concert and sat next to a man who was reading a Leos Janácek score. I am fond of Janácek and made some comment. He was impressed: I’d pronounced Janáchek’s name correctly. I was impressed he was impressed.

So we chatted. He was a musician, obviously. He asked me what I did. I said I was a writer.

The next question is always tricky for me. “What do you write about?” I’ve never known what to say, exactly, because as a writer I’m uncontrollably eclectic — a fancy word for having too many Platforms on which to stand. But the Times piece gave me a respite from my usual confusion.

“Well, I just had a piece about professional football in the Times,” I said.

And then a wondrous thing happened, a thing that could qualify as an ancient Greek myth involving the Delphic oracle. A woman’s voice — floating, it seemed, around the ceiling of the bus — said, “And a very good piece it was, too.”

I probably did the equivalent of a double take. And then thought to turn around. A older lady, radiating majesty and wit, was smiling at me. My mouth dropped open. “I sent the article to my niece who also loves football,” to assure her niece that there were other women who were knowledgeable football fans.

I floated on that moment of fame for months. In fact, I’m still floating on it.







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