George Blecher -- Famous Writers I May or May Not Have Met

George Blecher — Famous Writers I May or May Not Have Met

George Blecher telling two stories about the writing life — semi-true encounters with Dylan Thomas’s widow and the great Czech writer Bohumil Hrabal (Brno, July 31, 2011).

thank you for coming everybody thank you for coming how many people speak English pretty well does anybody okay i i i will say just a few words in English to give mark a chance to get upstairs this was I thought when I was coming here that this would be a reading just reading the text but he said well this is more of a performance so could you do American stand-up comedy love and because he knows that I'm an actor too and I said no of course I couldn't do stand-up comedy but what I could do is tell stories so that's what i will do today is tell some stories and since this is a literary festival i thought i would tell some stories about writers and so this oh then he also suggested couldn't we do some more audio visual things a little bit make it a little bit more dramatic so we have some little touches that you will see that to try to make it a little bit more interesting for you so this is my version of American stand-up comedy which is not very much like American stand-up comedy anyway for some reason people seem to want to know who writers really are now in America this isn't really so true anymore but maybe it's a little true and in Europe it may be a little bit more true but the only good piece of advice I ever heard about who writers really are came from the American writer Paul Theru who said that writers tend to be shorter than you think they are now right non writers are not the only people who want to know who writers really are writers themselves often pursue writers especially if they're young because they want to perhaps because they want some of the magic to rub off on them and and even writers themselves pursue writers they get caught up in a kind of chase chasing their own myth and they tend to think of themselves as taller than they really are so these are a couple of stories that I'm going to tell you about writers pursuing writers and I can warn you right now that these stories aren't totally true they are partly true partly not true but so you're not going to find out who writers really are except as much as fiction can tell you which is probably the best way to find out who writers really are anyway now the first story takes place in the winter of 1962 1963 and I'm 21 years old and I'm sort of bumming around Europe with a good friend of mine another American named Maurice weddington is a black composer from Chicago very handsome and funny guy and we're in Rome and we've come to Rome because we want a taste of la dolce vita and la dolce vita was a movie that that had just come out a few years before and it had created a whole myth about Rome and that was the myth that we were pursuing and we'll see if we can get some love but don't you've eaten now this was the Via Veneto so beautiful people and activity and cafes all over via veneto that's what we hope to me it was a total myth Rome was dead was empty no cafes are were open and in fact Maurice and I went to see film went to see dr. Strangelove four times and we SAT through them SAT through the newsreel four times because we didn't know what else to do and also because it was so cold in our rooms because it was it was december that we were and they didn't have heat in our room so that was rome for us not blood dolce vita anyway so now it's it's New Years Eve la eleven o'clock at night and he and I go out on the street we're living in the Pensione mr Goethe on via margarita which is right next to the Spanish Steps right in the center of Rome and we go out into the street looking for some kind of fun on New Year's Eve but Rome is totally empty there are no cars on the street that all the shutters are shot everything is black and strange and spooky and we should have known that something was not exactly right but at midnight the shutters all the shutters on the building's open people started throwing out furniture and books and bottles and Fitz is true everything you know pouring out and the light is pouring out and we run for cover because everything is crashing down on us we get in a doorway to hide after about 15 minutes we it stops but it's as if we have been in a blitz because the custom in Rome is to literally throw out the old and lead in the new on New Year's Eve so it was terrifying we can get some of some of my experience now that's good well that's a bit of an exaggeration but it was something like that anyway so after the attack after the new years eve at midnight we met some dutch students we went to their rooms and we had we started partying and so we woke up on New Year's Day about one o'clock in the afternoon and we're both hungover and Maurice is wearing his underwear and a beret he's a big tall guy and he decides to continue the New Year's tradition so he takes a bottle and he he goes to the window and he he flips it out like this an empty bottle and there's a sickening crash because and I run in my underwear to the window and I see that it has shattered the windshield of a Maserati because what happened is that they moved the cars back after New Year's Eve they move the cars back for new years day downstairs there's a crowd forming and they're looking up at the window to try to find out from which window this bottle came so I say hurry up get dressed get dressed let's get out of here let's do that so so we throw on our clothes a few clothes and we run downstairs and we join the crowd we say where did it come from we come from and the police are there too of course so everybody you know look because this doesn't happen I guess so we join the crowd looking up at the window until things calm down a little bit and then we go to a cafe that's right across the street just to keep an eye on things and after about some min an hour maybe an Italian guy comes in to the to the cafe and he goes up to us he sees the city says you're American and we say yeah we're American and he he's about 40 he's tough looking he's balding he looks like one of the characters in The Sopranos do you know that TV there's a TV series of mafia guys he looks like a mafia gangster and he he says to us he starts bragging about a lot of things and he says that he was an a pilot during the war and he shot down 12 American planes which was not a very good thing to tell Americans but so we're a little bit nervous about him and he said he brags about a lot of things he also tells us that he has dylan thomas's wife's lover licious anyway and it's dylan thomas has been dead for a few years by now so it's possible that that he is her lover but it doesn't seem very likely but so we're there and he's buying us some drinks and who should come in to the cafe this woman sort of 45 or so who's quite pregnant and she has two teenage children and the girl unfortunately is the spitting image of dylan thomas the goethe boy looks like hard she's quite a beautiful woman you know very fine features and very self-confident and so we're pretty sure that it has to be Caitlyn Thomas's that was her name she was quite famous now I had been to university with her oldest son I didn't know him but I knew that he was there so we had something to talk about and she was very interested in these two American guys who were traveling around Europe and she ignores Giuseppe the the Italian guy who was supposed to be her lover totally ignores him and she invites us to lunch says come come and visit to our place and for lunch one day and we live she lives on the outskirts of Rome and she writes her telephone number down and gives it to us so we're excited about it um and the kids are curious about us especially the 12 year old boy whose name is calm a week passes rome continues to be dead but we do meet one other famous writer as an American writer named Katherine Anne Porter who was quite famous in the time and she was she was in Rome because one of her books ship of fools was being translated I won't go into how I met her but she also invited us for a drink because everybody enroll in Rome that time seemed to be lonely so one that Saturday we decide we will have a literary day so we first decide will call up Katherine Anne Porter and about eleven o'clock in the morning we call her she answers she's very angry because we have gotten her out of her shower and this is not something you do she's a kind of aristocratic Southern woman actually from Texas and she is very offended by the fact we've gotten her out of her shower so she hangs up on us but it doesn't stop us because we're young we're arrogant we're American Americans can do anything in 1962 1963 so we call up Kaitlin Thomas and she says oh what took you so long come out and have lunch with us and we say now and she said yes yes come right on the bus and gives us instructions to go out now we get on the bus to a suburb of Rome and I don't know if you remember let dolce vita but it there was a lot of building going on around Rome and it's in the movie you see some of those half-finished houses and they're probably not so different from what they were building in the Soviet bloc is to not very attractive houses at all and they live in a kind of small development a horseshoe-shaped that the houses or maybe three stories high and there are new trees and new plantings it's not a bad-looking place so we walk up the stairs and colm the boy lets us in and there is a table set with food with a whole lunch with a fish with potato salad with salad and so on and a lot of liquor but not wine scotch because these people drink scotch for lunch which is are not so common in Italy anyway at that point I'm not a very good drinker but my friend Maurice is and Giuseppe who's used to drinking wine not hard liquor is not a very good drinker but Kaitlyn definitely is she's Irish Irish English so we sit down for for for lunch and we talk about dylan thomas we talk about london we talk about New York we talk about riding we talk about music this is a very literary afternoon very jolly and we're we're quite excited about it and because we're thinking this is this is what we came for this is what we came to Europe to live the artists life but as time goes on and we old are drinking more katelyn starts to pick on Giuseppe her lover and she starts to make little nasty remarks about him she says he doesn't know anything about art he doesn't know English why is she's why is she wasting her life with him and he's a pretty angry guide to begin with but now he is kind of getting more and more furious and more you know you can see him getting angrier and angrier and he one of the problems is that he thinks that Kaitlyn is flirting with Maurice which she is really man Maurice is flirting with Kaitlyn which he is but they're both of them are big flirts so it's not a big problem but to him it is and he wants to get rid of us so around five o'clock in the afternoon they decide to to take us home we're all drunk if we've been drinking the whole afternoon and the whole family goes in downstairs with us because giuseppe is going to drive us home back to Rome and they show us around the the apartment complex a little bit and then calm says I want to show them the swimming pool the piscina and Giuseppe does not like this at all not at all but just but Caitlin ignores him and says yes Jess course take them down to the piscina so we all walk down just barrese and I and calm walk down to the piscina and then we come back and when we come back call him is standing near Giuseppe and Giuseppe takes a swing at him like that with his open hand but a serious slap at him and I and caitlin says Jesus Christ Giuseppe it's just a fucking piscina it was a great line and but what happens is they all start walking upstairs and they forget about us completely so we don't really know what to do we're drunk we don't know how to get home they're not driving us anymore so we stand there for a while and then we say well maybe oh then we hear noise there's crashing and bashing up in the apartment and it's we have no idea what's going on so we decide well should we go upstairs or not we finally decide to walk up the stairs when we get upstairs the third floor the door is open but nobody has turned on the lights and as we go in we see that the place is destroyed that they have been throwing around the furniture they have been the the pictures are off the everything is turned over and Giuseppe who's standing on right here he he picks up this stone bust about this big and he's screaming at this boy and he froze it at this kid and it breaks maybe a meter away from his head and he keeps cursing at him and I am drunk and stupid and so I say to Giuseppe shut the fuck up and he he turns to me and he's smiling because this is just what he's been waiting for really he's so he takes a swing of me and I go down and I'm not unconscious but I go down on the floor and I'm in shock and then I hear Giuseppe I here Maurice oh I feel him he jumps over me and and jumps on Giuseppe and the two of them start wrestling throughout the the apartment and and really knocking things over crash bang everything going all over the place and finally they hit the the dining room table the dining of the legs go out of the table they fall splat on the table with the fish with the booze with everything dripping the fish juice of the the liquor and Maurice is on top of Giuseppe and I'm looking down at them and the kids have been cowering behind Caitlin they've been in a corner sort of like this so Giuseppe says who's under mauris says let me up let me up and Maury says only if you promise not to take a swing at me so he asked Caitlin and caitlin says asked Giuseppe and Giuseppe says okay I won't swing at him and then we look at Kate and and she she's like this and she says oh we do this every week so Maurice gets up and I I get up to and we leave but this time nobody is coming to drive us home they're talking with each other and we walk down the stairs and we sit down it's Twilight the car it's a kind of bamhi weather and we sit on the steps and to tell you the truth we're elated because we think this is just so exciting this is the life this is the life to be an artist to be with dylan thomas's wife's and so on now it just so happened that I had a tape recorder with me because because I was going to do an interview with her i thought i would do an interview about dylan thomas so i actually have the tape of part of that fight which I'll play for you see if you're going to hear from 1962 we're walking upstairs can you hear that's me so that's what worry says at the end mal how the fuck do we get home so we're there sitting on this stoop trying to get home and we decide to what we we will go to the highway and we start walking west because it's the warmest way to walk the Sun is coming at us and we don't know how to get home after we walk about 500 meters a little red Fiat going about a hundred miles an hour pulse screeches up next to us it's Giuseppe and he says get in he throws the door up and get in and we look at each other and say we don't know if it's a good idea but we get in so we drive to Rome it takes us about a minute and a half to get to Rome he's driving like this with the wheel in his stomach and we get to Pensione emaar goethe he throws that he reaches over maurice was in the front throws the door up and get out as we get out he starts driving back to Rome and we run upstairs and we call Caitlyn and see if it's everything is okay and she says she says oh yes everything is ok you should see us when we really have a fight oh there's a tough lady so anyway there's another week goes by and during this week I find that my my memories of this afternoon are I'm enjoying them less and less because what I'm remembering is this is the kids I'm remembering this look of terror and I'm also remembering Caitlyn's look she has a kind of excited look in her eye she's really enjoying it which is understandable except she really created the whole thing so Maurice and I he's composing his music I'm writing we're sitting at our desks and we don't talk about it much but I think we're absorbing that afternoon next saturday around two o'clock in the afternoon we decide to go out and have a coffee at the same cafe we walk in this is true we walk in who should be there Caitlin the two kids Giuseppe and another man in Englishman with a cut with horn-rimmed glasses in a tweed jacket and they invite us Oh Caitlin greets us like a long-lost you know who the prodigal son and Maurice and Giuseppe are kind of you know playing shake hands and hope kind of feeling each other out but Giuseppe is not not angry anymore in the same way he's he's the way he was before sort of cocky and and showing off so they invite us to sit down and it starts over again this time with wine and I've the the Englishman turns out to be dylan thomas's editor and he seems to be interested in Kaitlyn so and Kaitlyn is saying oh here are these very interesting young American boys traveling all around Europe so he's very polite to us and we're talking again about literature we talking about Dylan Thomas we're having another jolly afternoon but the there are people who were left out the same people Aaron called and Giuseppe and the kids look really miserable really miserable the girl is 19 years old and she should be sort of flirting with us but she looks much younger and she's really clinging to Caitlin the boy is 12 and he has this kind of eager feverish look in his eye an unhealthy look and Kaitlyn starts picking on Giuseppe once again and saying the same things and Giuseppe starts getting more and more angry and the kids kind of look smaller and smaller and shrunken so this at this point at some point Maurice and I look at each other across the table and we send a signal to each other so we we get up at the same time we thank them for the drinks and she says oh why are you leaving so soon we're just getting started and we kind of nod to each other and we wave to the kids and we turn our backs to them and we never see any of them again so that's the first story about the writers I guess the writer's life isn't what it's cracked up to be the second story takes place about 20 years later in nineteen eighty and I'm in Helsinki Finland with wife and two kids small kids I have a Fulbright grant and I'm studying and translating a fin land Swedish writer named henrik picked on it so I'm a writer but i'm not exactly doing the kind of writing that I want to do we live in a building with lots of other scholarship holders even some from Soviet bloc countries like Czechoslovakia uh and it's of course as you can imagine it's cold it's very very cold there and I remember one time we're I'm I was standing in this common room that we had together and looking out the window and I was standing with people from Cuba and from from Ukraine and from Bulgaria this kind of southern countries and we could actually see the cold coming at us like a kind of ice cloud anyway this story takes place at the beginning of march one evening I'm sitting in the sauna now every finished building has a sound every apartment building has a sound or beaker and everybody uses that sound or two or three times a week because you really need it the cold is very gets into your bones even in the middle of March and I'm sitting with a bunch of men the other people in the building and once they figure out that I'm American they there they they're aware of they get a little nervous because this is the time of AIDS but aids doesn't even have a name at this point and there's one man sitting over to my right who is short and he is bald he's kind of Slavic looking retarder eyes very clever looking kind of partly peasant looking partly clever men in his 60s and he moves his when he finds out I'm American he moves his towel a few inches away and and he says in German he says do you have the American disease ah because that's how it was known then and and I said in bad German 19-4 highlighted America which didn't make any sense at all anyway this was the first time I meet this guy now he's check I or Czechoslovakian uh he's a writer he's very famous in his country but I've never heard of him a few days later I was invited to a kind of party in the afternoon of drinking and eating a little bit from the other people in the Soviet bloc and I and I can see that this fellow was very respected and they take him very seriously but I don't understand a word he's saying because he's speaking Czech he's speaking Russian he's speaking adjournment and I can't follow what is what's going on except that I hear these names like Allen Ginsberg and Jackson Pollock and Jack Kerouac these American artists that and it's surprising to me but he's not really talking to me the other people in the group don't seem to to know who he's talking about it i do of course but he's not really including me so at first we didn't have much contact but after a while our relationship kind of warmed up now the first way that it warmed up was through my kids I have two kids at that point they are my daughter lily is nine and my daughter and my son whose nickname is booty is three years old even though we're in a house for scholarship holders they act as if it's their house completely so they run up and down the stairs they they they spread their all their toys in the common room they talked to everybody and this check guy seems to have a particular interest in them and he's I see him reading a finished magazine or pretending to read a finished magazine and eating an apple or an orange and kind of looking looking off through to the side and at times he likes especially my son and he actually grabbed his bread and peanut butter and pretends to eat it and but instead of my son getting angry at him he finds it hilarious he thinks it's great now the second way that our relationship progressed was because of my name blecker I was in the common room again and somebody said my name and he says in German he says ah this is alchemy nama and I don't understand that because his name is something else I i can't pronounce the name even but he says black on is his name and he explains that his name is blaka BL e CH a and my name is blacker BL eche are there different names his name means flee and he's trying to show me what that hits but he is like that and and tinsmith is my name you know blech schmiede and and so he's show it trying to show me that too and I kindly finally sort of figure out so we have a connection almost having the same name so as time goes on oh he said he also says to me he says since EU de and are you Jewish and I say yes and he looks sort of troubled but he doesn't say anything more about it than that so as I say I know he's a writer but I've never read I don't know his work and he doesn't have any of his books with him he says that he's made a movie they made a movie of one of his books and it's very famous all over the world but I I never catch the name so I don't really believe him I think he's kind of bragging a little bit like Giuseppe but what I could see is that he's lonely he's he's nervous he doesnt sit still he's making notes in the little notebook all the time but what he's thinking I don't I don't really know so my wife and I invite him over a few times and I get a little bit of information he says he's he has a wife named pip see he's off they don't have children he likes cats very superficial information because really what he likes to do was play with my son so there's a blanket on the floor and he plays they play on the floor together now one Sunday morning he comes up to me it's it's a little bit later now it's April and the days are getting a little bit longer and he comes up to me I'm having a coffee in the common room and he's but he's looking at something very intently he's got the finished newspaper helsingin sanomat and he's looking some at something very carefully here and he shows it to me like this and he says in English I didn't know that he had any English at all he says ye d so I'm here Lee at this point you what is difference between sexual and striptease off and I'm very surprised by the way his I'm here E and he is bull because my son's name his nickname is booty for Buddha and so he gave him the Knicks nickname boohoo which means crying in English anyway so I'm here to his boo hoo and he it occurs to me that maybe he's never seen a striptease or or a sexual so I try to demonstrate the difference can hope that of striptease you know taking off your clothes and a sex show absolutely you know I try to demonstrate uh and he gets this a light goes on in his eyes and he raises his finger like this he runs upstairs gets a piece of paper writes down some paragraphs and then he then he in check and then he tries to translate them into German so I'm going to you have them in check and I will read them in English but this is the passage that he read to me the older brokers would laugh and make jokes and treat the undressing of a woman as a collective game of strip poker removing her clothes little by little right on the table while they sipped their drinks from their crystal champagne glasses and savored the bouquet the girl would then lie down lie back on the table and the old brokers would gather around her with their glasses and plates of caviar and lettuce and sliced Hungarian salami and they put on their spectacles and study every fold and curve of her beautiful female body and then as if they were at a fashion show or life study class in some Academy of Art they'd ask the girl to sit or stand up or kneel or let her legs dangle from the table and swing back and forth as if she were washing them in a stream now I was you may recognize that passage I was really impressed it was so specific that Hungarian salami was great and it was so sad and so sweet at the same time and I I watched him he was he was watching me all the time for my reactions and I could see how enthusiastic he was about the picture that he was creating and that was the first time I saw this is a real writer you know and and I respected him so when he finishes he asks is this strip show or is his sexual or fifties so I said well it's kind of both would you like to go he's got the magazine there and he he looks a little worried and then he says you like and I said well I haven't been to a strip show for since I was a teenager really but yeah it could be interesting so let's go so he thinks for a while and thinks it over and he accepts he accepts the invitation so a few weeks later the big day comes now the days are getting longer and the twilights I don't know if you've been in Scandinavia but the twilights are very long and there's a kind of pink lavender color and they then maybe around ten o'clock 11 o'clock it kind of turns AB dark navy blue for a couple of hours but these Twilight's are very long so he'll sinking is not exactly a sin city or oh not a very lively place there were two strip teases to striptease shows one on either end of the town and they had only one performance a day each one and the first one was at four o'clock in the afternoon it's a very strange time for a striptease show four o'clock in the afternoon so we decide to go there and it's in it's in kind of a fancy neighborhood called tulip we take the tram number 14 tram and he's dressed up in a jacket and a strike the check shirt and shiny shoes and he seems nervous but I'm not quite sure why anyway when we get there the theater is closed and it looks like it hasn't been opened for four months and why they're advertising I have no idea but we're both of us are annoyed and were worried that we won't get to the other strip show now the other striptease show is at five thirty in the afternoon and the the taxis in in Helsinki are very expensive and I don't know how to get there by bus or tram so we walk uh now he's 66 years old and his feet are not so great but he's very determined he's going to get to the strip tease if it kills him uh and along the way he actually for the first time starts talking about he opens up a little bit and he starts talking about New York especially the white horse tavern and dylan thomas who went there and and finally he includes me and I can share things with him I'm I can share that I've seen jazz musicians which he whom he is heard of I saw Ginsburg and Orlovsky read and and Jack Kerouac even went to my high school for him for a year and he's looking very thoughtful and I get the sense of what it must have been like or what it was like for somebody living in the Soviet Union because this sense of of being trapped because he obviously saw these Americans as heroes but he couldn't go there he wanted to be there but he couldn't go there so it was I understood a little bit about him now we get to the show just before it starts at five thirty there about three people in the audience and the stage has a lot of furniture and the furniture is all covered up with sheets I don't know why maybe they were going to have a show later some others show but it's very strange because it's like you're in a storage room that hasn't been opened for for a long long time a screen comes down in front of us and they start showing a film and this is true absolutely they start showing a Charlie Chaplin film and the Charlie Chaplin film is not like any other Charlie Chaplin film that I've seen where I think that boo who has seen what happens in this Charlie Chaplin film is that he's having a tryst a love affair with a married woman and her husband who's one of these big guys with mustachios comes home and she dresses him quickly in him in a French maid's outfit and for some reason or another the husband accepts this and in fact he makes a pass at charlie as the french maid and the son comes home in heel and this is the new french maid and he also makes a pass at charlie and then the daughter comes home with her fiance and the fiance makes the pass of Charlie and this is very funny scene of Charlie in his french maids outfit sitting with the women and his consult he's patting the hands of all these women because of their disloyal men they're unfaithful men and it really was a kind of early porno film in a in a strange way but it was not oh so nobody in the audience is making it sound except there is one sound there's a fart but it's not a comic fart it's like hope expiring and we look at each other and you can see this is not what we came for at all this is not what we expected the lights come on again the furniture is still covered with with sheets and there's also a table with a stuffed eagle and a big clock on it I don't know this I don't know the symbolism of that but it's sort of like time passing in a depressing place and a girl comes out and this girl looks like she's walked through the wrong door she's in her 20s she's wearing a jeans sneakers a blouse kind of skinny and she looks like she could work in the ticket booth uh she looks also sort of numb she doesn't notice the people in the audience at all and of course maybe she was just afraid and behind her this jazz comes up but it's the kind of jazz Dixieland jazz that you would have for cartoons which is not the kind of jazz that you would expect kind of music for a striptease at all we should have some some cartoon jazz now yeah okay that's enough of that mr. okay so that's what she was attempting to dance to now she starts swaying and she's kind of looking off in the wings for help but nobody's helping her she looks very alone and I look at boo hoo and he's looking at very intently because this is his first striptease so he's waiting to see what she's going to do and i'm looking i'm feeling very sorry for her so she takes off her clothes more or less as if she's getting ready for bed and she even folds the clothes and puts them neatly in front of the the eagle um it's very painful because she's not sexy she doesn't know what if stripteases she doesn't know what performing is and we are feeling terrible because you really feel like you're her oppressor rather than anything else it was terrible so she strips down to her bra and her panties and then stops and the music stops thank goodness and I look over at boo hoo and he I think he actually has tears in his eyes because we're feeling so sorry to be there and about this girl and then she collects she collects her clothes and she kind of goes out in front of the audience and she curtsies the way you do in Scandinavia women and that's the first time that she looks like a normal person but she goes off the stage and the screen comes down again and they're going to show another movie and it starts but we we take our things and we leave because we've had enough go outside it's about eight o'clock at night and it's this very as I said it's very kind of lavender pink Twilight and it makes his his face look very rosy cheeked and young and but instead of talking about the striptease he starts talking about booty about my son and he says I really injure Minh and trying to understand him he says I really like the way you bring up your kids because you have this very relaxed way of bringing up your kids and we're it's different than Czechoslovakia it's more strict and maybe if we could bring up kids like that we would have had kids too and so I'm I was very touched by that because for one thing he's been observing he's been taking in everything he could take in about the West you know about us in the West and just observing but also it's very i find it very funny because here are these two men who set out to go to a strip tease and they instead of the striptease they end up comparing the way you bring up children in czechoslovakia and in the USA so we go we're walking along a little bit and I say okay let's go and get something to drink and eat and he again looks kind of nervous or you know troubled and and then I understand I understand why and I say to him no no it's okay it's my treat I'll pay for it you know I'm inviting you so we go in to this strip tease we go into this this bar and it's a typical Finnish bar which is kind of wood paneling and a kind of yellow light and sort of moldy smell and we have we get something to eat and we have a few beers and then we have a few more beers and a few more beers and there I can see that he's feeling more and more comfortable this is somebody who whose body is accustomed to drinking and he's relaxed now after the few beers and I the but the bar starts filling up with people who are actually in good spirits because it's the spring and Scandinavian people are always happy when the spring comes now you may not know that the tango is very popular in Finland and so some people play the jukebox and they play tango music and some and they start dancing now at this point I'm not a very I'm not a very good dancer but I'm drunk and so I want to dance with somebody and so I get up and I look around for somebody to dance and then boohoo I say we should dance and he points over there it's the strip tease girl whom I didn't notice and she's sitting there with with her girlfriend and they're having a coke and so I as I said he won't dance with her um and he says nothin if I won't that's so you you you go ahead and dance so I walk over to her and I sort of announced myself and I say in Swedish because i don't speak Finnish but I say in Swedish which is the second language there I say would you like to dance can you a beaut a pullout need answer MMA and she says no no she's very shy and so then I point to him and I say you know would you like to have a drink come over to our table and have a drink with us and they say no no no so I'm about to give up when he gets up and he he he claps his hands like this and then he gets up very strong looking a little drunk uh and then he goes over to her to the girls and he shakes hands with both of them and then he starts doing this most extraordinary thing he starts doing a dance now this dance I've never seen before I can't really do this dance but I'm going to try to show you a little bit of the dance so can we that's enough okay you get the idea now he's much better than I uh but what happens is that all the some men get up and they start dancing with him because it's and and it's definitely broken the ice we're now friends everybody at this bar now we spend more time at the bar and and in fact I did dance with the strip tease girl a tango a little bit and uh but I never told her that I had seen her in the audience I bet I was in the audience and she never recognized but she never said that she recognized me now I think she did but it was my it felt right that neither of us said anything about it and felt right so uh so anyway the next morning I go down to the to the common room and boo who is there and he thanks me he says now I know what is now I saw the striptease and he shows me something else he shows me a poem that he's written when he got home that night in in German about our experience this piece of paper I'll read it a little bit in German you'll have it in check so this is called blacker and blacker blacker and blacker Ginga now so medals 11 I'm Flo who nine black Schmid vite they'd won zoo house the Duke life with gtalk life lifan began sir start in the lavender fit in our sukkah nine allow co ba.n BL Mitchell when dinan snellen blick auf hoobsher pizza or you have it in check I'll read in English says blacker and blacker went out to meet the girls a flea and a tinsmith far away from home they walked all over town in the lavender finished night looking for a cozy bar ahead of foam and a peek at some pretty boobs it didn't go so well all they found was Charlie Chaplin dressed up in a skirt and a skinny girl who'd rather be home during the laundry but that was all right they found each other that blacker and blacker and a fairly cozy bar and a small head of foam and they danced the vert bunk and toasted the generations to come and walked all the way home in the lavender finish night which is true which we did afterwards we walked home and then he he looked more serious and he told me a story about uh when he was a stagehand in Prague working as a station in the early 50s and they had to to gut a synagogue because they needed the theater needed more space for their sets and he and a friend took the the wooden crown from the altar of this synagogue and and he put it in his living room and he and they took the rest some of the rest of the altar and used the wood for fire wood that that winter and he said he said that he didn't feel good about it but when he sat under that crown it made him feel like a writer and it made him feel more made him feel taller now the reason I can tell this story is because I in one of his book she tells the same story which which you may or may not have read anyway this is the first time that he asks about my writing he says what have you written what writers do you like what is it like to be a Jewish writer in in the US and I tell him that I've only written a few stories that I that I'm proud of and I'm afraid that I'm going to I'm I I'm afraid that I'm not going to do what I really want to do which is to stop my teaching job I was a professor and really devote my full time to writing and he says surprising he says I was the same way tipsy my wife had to push me to do it and it and it really looked as if he was describing something painful the very next day we get a call from the US and my father is ill he had a lung tumor and he had to have an operation and so within a week I packed up the whole family and went back to New York and I never got to show him my writing but he didn't really ask for it did he now it took me a long time and a lot of changes had to happen in my life but I finally did do what I wanted to do I did as he did I quit my job and finally became a full-time writer and it feels to me like telling you this story in his home country is like finally showing him I work thank

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