As I mentioned previously, I have a few of my novels, novellas, and a collection of plays on Amazon. I told you that realism can be interesting, but realism doesn’t have to embrace a serious, heavy theme. Who says realism can’t be funny?
I laugh at something funny every day; it happened in real life; therefore, it’s realism.
Such is the case with my novel called The Ass, ass being synonymous with idiot, buffoon, and imbecile. The realism of The Ass is found in a great number of my English professors, who exhibited traits that my protagonist, William Rubin, portrayed.
Six days earlier my mother died and left me a fortune. (My father died three years and two months before she died.) I was not put out by either death and had already made investment plans for the money. Unfortunately, my mother split the inheritance down the middle, fifty-fifty, with me and my sister, and this split included our mansion. The first thing I did was buy out my sister’s half of the mansion (two million); then I put it up for sale at six million, intending to pocket a cool four million and reneging on my promise to her to keep it as a family vacation spot.
It bothered me that my mother—a completely respectable woman with a good head on her shoulders for business deals and financial markets—could be so stupid as to leave half her assets to her daughter, knowing her daughter’s whimsical ways and lack of ambition, and knowing that her son-in-law was equally inept with money. She would do nothing with it: she would sit on it and end up vacationing it all away, and her husband would buy electronic gadgets and toy around with them and feel proud of his newfound technical knowledge like a middle-aged factory worker.
I, on the other hand, would invest a great portion of my money in real estate. Not only would I be doing a good thing for myself, but I would be doing good things for the government (by paying taxes) and for people who needed somewhere to live (by renting them an apartment or selling them a condo). I was also intrigued with the possibility of opening a restaurant and, during the funeral at the gravesite, hit upon two feasible methods of accomplishing this. Right after the funeral, I called one of my business associates and gave him a rough draft of what was on my mind. He said that it sounded interesting and that as soon as he saw a written, itemized business plan, he would be glad to look it over. I worked on it for three days, called my broker, my accountant, my business lawyer, and, with characteristic energy and positive thinking, created an acceptable business enterprise for myself, my associate, and my banker (who is a sharp businessman and also wanted in on the deal), with clear profits flowing in after two or three years.
I was also (as an inheritor is) confronted with the problem of finding a tax shelter. Again, I called my accountant and, to my dismay, learned that I had to give some of it away, preferably to a charity in quarterly installments. But what charity should I give my money to? If I was going to give my money to a charity, I wanted to get recognition for it. What would be the best way to do this? What charity group was the most prominent? What group got the most attention from the public? One group was an environmental group. I decided to give them some of my money. There was also a group that sponsored children with muscular dystrophy, and another that combatted childhood cancer. I gave my problem ten minutes’ thought, then struck upon the solution. Why not divide the money among four charities, two environmental groups and two children’s groups, and look like a kind, caring soul who is investing in the world’s future? I called my accountant to make sure I could give to four charities and still accomplish my goals, and he told me that it would make no difference which charities I gave my money to as long as I got rid of it and documented it for tax purposes.I was regaling in my brilliance when the doorbell chimed. It chimed a second time before my wife opened the front door. Thirty seconds passed, yet I did not hear the door close.“The heat bill! She doesn’t think of the heat bill!” I raged, springing to my feet and flying out of my study.
A family was entering my home through the front door. Standing there was a man in his early thirties, a woman about the same age, and their three children: a seven year old boy, a five year old girl, and, in the woman’s arms, a sexless baby. (I say “sexless” because it was all bundled up and the only thing visible were its fat cheeks and round, brown eyes.) They were dressed after the manner of the lower middle class and they reminded me of low-class factory workers. What were they doing in my home?
“Hi,” I greeted them. “What can I do for you?”
I did not smile or frown: I had to get them out as fast as I could.
“We were just passing through and thought we’d drop in for a visit,” the man said, his plain, common, friendly face getting on my nerves.
“And if every idiot who was passing through thought he’d drop in for a visit, I’d have no rest!”
I fumed silently. However, I controlled my rage and asked the most logical question that presented itself.
“Who are you?”
The man seemed surprised by this.
“I’m your nephew. This is my family.”
He introduced his family by name, but I did not listen.
“My nephew!” I thought. “What’s the real reason he’s here? I inherit money and suddenly my nephew drops in for a social call! Something’s up! What does he want?”
I stared fixedly at my nephew, then vaguely remembered my sister’s son at my Ph.D. graduation party: he was that dirty little urchin running all over the place making noise and playing games. That little urchin had dug up some worms from the ground and chased the girls around the park. I utterly detested him then, and I understood that that boy had grown up, married, and bred.
I was in a dilemma: I had to get rid of them as quickly as possible and, in passing, had to find out the real reason they had dropped in.
My wife did not make things any easier. She knew what was going through my mind.
“Ohhh!” she exclaimed, smiling brightly at the baby in the woman’s arms and taking it in her own. “Please take your coats off and make yourselves at home. Hang them on the coatrack here and follow me into the living room.” She then set the baby (it was actually a ten month old boy) on its feet and began to unzip its snowsuit. As she tugged it off him, she looked up at me and smiled pleasantly. I smiled a tight smile in return, one that said, “I hate you.” and her smile became even more pleasant. I vowed we would have it out once these people left.
Cynthia took them on a grand tour of our large, middle class home. She acted like a tour guide, pointing at our paintings in our hallways and giving them a historical and biographical view (as if they could appreciate it). I followed the group, bringing up the rear, and saw that the two adults nodded and pretended to be interested, but the main reason I followed them was to keep an eye on their children. The older ones had parts of candy bars melted on their hands and around their mouths. The youngest one whined and whimpered incessantly, even after its mother picked it up.
“He’s tired. He also has an ear infection. We gave him his medicine before we drove up,” she explained.
“An ear infection!” I raged. “Now, not only do I have to worry about my walls, but I also have to stay away from that diseased creature.” I looked closer at it, decided that it was indeed sickly, and moved farther away from it.
I wanted those other two to wear gloves: first, I wanted them to wash their hands and then, no matter how clean their hands, don transparent, rubberized gloves, the kind surgeons wear. The girl had a candy bar in her pants pocket and, when she took it out and unwrapped it, her seven year old brother saw it, squealed, and tried to grab it.
“Shh! Quiet!” my nephew chided. “Share your candy bar!”
The girl pouted, but obeyed and broke it in half. The chocolate melted afresh in their hands. The boy leaned against the hallway wall, set the palms of his hands against it, and left two distinct handprints on it. Cynthia moved on from the hallway into my bedroom to show them the paintings in my room.
“Mom, I have to clean my face,” the girl said, brushing some hair away from her face with her chocolate-coated fingers.
“Just wait!” her mother commanded with an imperious snort.
The girl immediately frowned and looked around. She raised her forearm toward her face, but her mother caught it and stared at her angrily. The girl looked down and lowered her arm. Her mother turned her attention back to my wife. Suddenly, the girl darted away and jumped onto my bed. She smeared her mouth on it in one clean swipe and backed off the bed, dragging her hands, leaving two trails of chocolate and an elongated outline of her lips on my white comforter. She stood as if everything was fine now—but this was too much!
“Get out!” I roared. “Get out of my room! Get your hands washed! Clean your face! Don’t touch anything!
”I directed my attack at the two candy bar eaters and they both stared at me wide-eyed for second or two, decided I was sincerely angry with them, and, together, like a choir, burst into a long, sustained wail. Their father laughed and laughed (raising my ire) and their mother glared at me incredulously. Cynthia said something in remonstrance to me. I cursed her and told her to shut up. My nephew laughed anew. What was so funny? The only thing I could come up with was that he had been told something about me by my sister and had now verified it. What had he been told about me? It had to be an exaggeration of some sort. This suspicion began to torment me. I came up with several possible answers in the first few seconds, but my attention was arrested by my nephew’s wife.
Most of my attention had been focused on those children and, subconsciously, had noticed their mother’s snorting like background radiation on a Geiger counter, but now I shifted all my attention onto her. She was twenty-five pounds overweight and graceless. She had an extraordinarily solid earth-woman appearance and, after having her last baby, had not yet lost any weight. Her face, like everything about her, was a hodgepodge of gracelessness and could hold no charm except for her husband or for a drunkard around closing time. She wore expandable polyester pants and a checkered flannel shirt. No doubt she owned biker’s shorts and several pairs of shiny spandex pants to tease her husband’s drinking buddies when they went bowling. Her short, lifeless brown hair was bound together in a greasy knot on the back of her head with a pink rubber band. Apparently, she believed the feminine color pink gave her ultra-feminine figure that extra touch of enchantment.
Nonetheless, this woman had had the gall to glare at me in my own home after I chewed out her children for doing something wrong! Who was she to glare at me—a man of ideas and education!—like that? I had noticed that background noise (her periodic snorting) earlier, but now I focused in on it. For two minutes, I held my left wrist up and timed her nasal rumblings. Every fifteen seconds, four times a minute, she treated us to a snort.
Finally, Cynthia’s tour ended. Before I could lead our visitors to the front door and thank them for stopping in, Cynthia invited them to stay for supper. They accepted, and Cynthia said she would whip up a feast for a king within an hour. She asked them to make themselves at home in the living room.
“The bathroom’s down the hall to the right in case you want to clean up,” I added.
My nephew’s wife plopped down on the couch, frowned, waved at her kids to join her, and snorted. For some reason, that baby let up a piercing wail. I joined Cynthia in the kitchen.
“I can’t put up with this!” I roared in a frantic whisper. My wife, out of acquired habit, ignored me and continued her business. She reached into the freezer and pulled out a roast.
I shoved it back in and slammed the freezer door shut.
“No! No! No!” I whispered in an aggressive roar. “You’re not going to make them a meal with that! I’ll show you what you’re going to feed them!” I opened the freezer door, scanned the contents of the freezer, and pulled out all our T.V. dinners. “Here! This is what you’re going to feed them! T.V. dinners! I’m the moneymaker around here! They mean nothing to you! They mean nothing to me! … Now I have to go to the store to buy more T.V. dinners and spend money I shouldn’t have to spend, all because you want to play the part of the gracious hostess! … Why did I marry you?”
“Why did I marry you!” she retorted. “Maybe I’ll divorce you and take all your money.”
“Shut up! The next time white trash knocks on our door you don’t answer it.” I glared at her. My eyebrows peaked at their highest height, wrinkling my high forehead. This is always a sign of intense anger for me and is always accompanied by a high-pitched, squeaky verbal outburst, one that, unfortunately, does not scare anybody, so that at the end of my outburst, I’m more frustrated than when I began, because afterward I’m not taken seriously, and this makes me want to engage in physical action.
Cynthia has grown a thick skin to my outbursts over the years and has no problem shrugging me off, the way a horse flicks its tail at a pesky fly. This time, she literally shrugged her shoulders and began to heat the oven for the T.V. dinners, then calmly sat at the kitchen table and slowly peeled and ate an orange.
After blaming Cynthia for this social dilemma, I told her to get back to the living room to finish playing her part as the gracious hostess. She refused simply by shrugging her shoulders, knowing I would be thrown into a quiet rage by it, knowing that I would interpret it as saying that I was a man of no consequence even though I supported her half her life. Fuming bitterly and hating social protocol, I smoothed the anger out of my face and joined my nephew and his family in the living room. I sat down and smoothly crossed my legs, right over left, like a gentleman, like a man of the world, and smiled pleasantly.
“Ah! I see the little ones have been cleaned up!” I smiled at them. They stared back at me with their beady animal eyes and shrunk farther into the couch. Oh, how I detested them!
“You know, if you’re good little people, I’ll give you yum-yums after supper.” I was still smiling pleasantly, but my efforts at breaking the ice only made a bad impression on everyone. But why should I stoop to the level of a child?
Obviously, I was on the wrong track.
Cynthia entered at this moment and sat on the armchair to my left. She rested her arms on the armrests and let them go limp at the wrists and dangle over the edge, mocking my painted picture above the fireplace, crossed her slim legs, and gave the impression of one who is sincerely relaxed. Her friendly, socially-active face always seemed to take a sincere interest in whatever was being said, and this feminine quality, coming especially from her, had the effect of charming everyone (except me). True, my unwelcome guests would eat T.V. dinners, but, in Cynthia’s presence, they would leave feeling as though they had eaten a sumptuous Friday night fish fry at an exotic nightclub. (By the way, I, too, possess this quality, but not with these lower types of people.) I decided to take the most logical course.
“What did you say your name was?” I asked my nephew, who was an extraordinarily stupid-looking man of thirty-one. His hair was dark brown, shaggy, and messy. He could have used a haircut and a comb. He wore a dark blue T-shirt and faded blue jeans. His tennis shoes were dirty and worn out. He had a medium build, but much loose flab had built up on his body, particularly on his belly. It was obvious that soon his belly would be suspended in free fall below his belt.
“My name’s still the same.”
My eyebrows shot up. Was he trying to be funny?
“Thank God! And what’s that?”
“Oh, yes. Of course.” For a moment I had forgotten he was my sister’s son and had her last name. I looked at his belly. “Do you drink?”
“And what’s your wife’s name?”
“A pretty name.” I looked at her, my face caught somewhere between a smile and a grimace.
“What was your name?” she asked with sweet impudence.
“My name’s Mr. Rubin.”
“Ah, yes. Mr. Rubin,” she said. Then she snorted.
My wife put a finger up to her lips to cover a smile.
“You have a powerful nose, Amy,” I retorted.
“Yes, it always gets revved up when I’m allergic to something nearby. Usually molds.”
“It’s not the season for molds.”
“Then it must be something in the room, Mr. Rubin.” She sneezed, sending out a spray thick enough to cover the coffee table with a thin film.
For me, it was a moment of horror. I was not going to lower myself to talk to her anymore. I looked at her husband.
“So how are things at the factory?”
My nephew stared back at me quizzically.
“You do work in a factory.” I raised my eyebrows.
“No. I’m a mechanic.”
“Do you do construction work?” I was at a loss and felt as if I had taken a series of blows since I sat down across from these people.
“I know a thing or two about carpentry, yes,” he replied.
“Ah, yes,” I nodded. “So do I. I worked summers as a carpenter when I was a student. Good money.
”This was a blatant lie. I knew nothing about carpentry, had never hammered a board with a nail, and would never stoop so low. I was only searching for “common ground” on which I could equalize my position; then, when the time was right, begin an attack.
“It’s a demanding but rewarding job,” he stated, then: “Do you have any beer?”
“Beer?” I raised my eyebrows, unable to believe my ears. My nephew seemed determined to eat and drink me out of house and home. Before I could refuse, Cynthia bounced up and flounced into the kitchen to get him not a beer, but a glass of wine. She called in to my nephew’s wife and asked her if she also wanted a drink. Of course, she did!
Once again, I smiled pleasantly, but it was wasted on them and, I think, even created an unpleasant sensation. Their children were still frozen stiff, watching me the way teenagers watch M.T.V., but with a touch of fear. I relished their fear and wished only that their parents would soon feel the same way. But, looking at them, I knew it would never be: they reminded me of rhinoceroses, and why should a rhinoceros fear a man?
“The summer sun’s hard on one’s neck, isn’t it?” Where was I going with this? Was I even searching for common ground? If so, why? What was the point of talking to these things? I cursed under my breath.
“It sure is! One must be so careful these days,” he declared, and his wife laughed loudly.
His response, spontaneous and free-flowing, was a crushing rebuke, and his wife’s laughter was at my expense. My eyebrows shot upward and my face reddened.
Cynthia returned with four wine glasses on a silver tray. She graciously served my enemies and set the tray on the stand between her chair and mine. Then the two beasts across from me struggled to cross their legs like men of the world and finally did so after slouching to give their legs more freedom. They cupped their wine glasses tenderly in the palms of their hands and put self-satisfied, contented looks on their faces.
“Ah, they’re relishing the moment! Carpe diem!” I thought with disgust. “‘Shall we discuss Shakespeare and Homer or televise a political discussion and call it Meet the Press, Version Two?”
Cynthia carried the conversation and it went quite well. I sat there fuming, remembering how I, a well-informed English professor, a highly-educated intellectual, had been demolished by a few deft sentences from two animals. I hated the way they gave themselves airs, how they held their glasses and pretended to be something they were not. My eyebrows shot up and stayed up, and several times I almost exploded and told them to leave; but I controlled myself, knowing that my angry, highly squeaky voice would only make them laugh, and this would be even more degrading and humiliating. I did not venture another word throughout their visit and tried to hold my dignity about me. I do not know how I fared (and I assumed the worst) because it seemed to me that they saw through me. I firmly resolved to get rid of the coffee table that had been sneezed on, the couch they sat on, the glasses they drank from, and the silverware they touched—all within a day after their departure, and I would rearrange the room to wipe out the nightmare that had become associated with it. I no longer cared why my nephew had come to visit: I just wanted him out as soon as possible.
At the end of the meal, I took Cynthia into the kitchen and told her in no uncertain terms to get them out of my home. We returned to our guests. I made a great show of looking at my watch and Cynthia told them that we had a social engagement for which we had to get ready. As they left, Cynthia invited them to come again sometime. I know she meant it and, after they drove off, I chewed her out. She calmly ignored me, fueling my anger, and walked into her bedroom. She closed and locked her door (before I could slip my foot in) and played her favorite compact disc; she turned the volume up to drown me out. I pounded on the door; I ranted and raved. At last I gave up and, swearing I would kill her someday, fell asleep in my bedroom three hours later.
On Amazon. And a note regarding Amazon: nowadays, you can download writing onto any device—not just a Kindle. (It’s about time Bezos did this. It was too long in coming.)
If you’d like a bound, signed copy of any of my books that I mention in my blogs, please email me. Let me know which of my novels you’d like, and email me for a price.
Also, if you’d like me to email you a copy, again, let me know. I have Microsoft Word and WordPerfect, and can send them to you as an attachment. (They’ve been formatted in one of two desktop publishing programs, Corel Ventura 8 and PageMaker 6.5, so I’ll have to place the text in a word processor if you want it sent to you as an email attachment.)