Pete McArdle is clinically old, and when a bad ticker ended his long but unremarkable athletic career, he decided to wow the world with his writing....read more A wecent, er, recent spate of published stories has done nothing to dampen his delusions of literary grandeur. Sadly, some editors have found his work "just not right", eerily echoing the sentiments of Pete's third-grade teacher re Pete.
This could be my big break, thought Chad, an exclusive interview with the great Norman Gross, billionaire author and recluse, the most prolific writer in English history. Now Chad was a decent writer himself, he had a flair for the right words and phrases, and no problem churning out pages. He could not, however, get the publishing hierarchy's attention, he possessed lousy people skills and not a single connection.
But now things would be different, Chad had nailed a plum assignment for People magazine, an entire day with the literary lion in his East Hampton mansion. In addition to scoring a national byline, Chad would get to sit at the knee of a master storyteller and soak up his style and M.O., share some food and some laughs and who knows, maybe Gross's agent or publisher if Chad were lucky.
As he packed a small valise with his recording device, sweater, allergy pills, tissues, notebook and pens, Chad felt like pinching himself to see if he was dreaming.
“O-o-w!” he cried, rubbing his pale skinny bicep. That overly enthusiastic pinch was going to leave a mark but it confirmed Chad's fabulous, amazing, life-changing luck. Time to hop in the old jalopy and head for the Hamptons!
The first surprise Chad had at Norman Gross's sprawling waterfront mansion was the greasy, rumpled affect of the man who opened the door and motioned him in. The man was wildly overweight, his hair was just frightful and he reeked of garlic, tobacco and sweat. The second surprise was that this was no hygiene-challenged domestic, the man was, in fact, Gross.
“I know,” he grumbled as he led the young journalist into a sparsely-furnished room overlooking the ocean, “I've let myself go. And never quite got around to changing that photo on the dust jacket of my books. That was me a quarter century ago.”
“Well, Mr. Gross, you, uh, certainly don't look, um . . . ,” said Chad, digging himself into a deep hole. “Hey, will you look at this view!” Cheeks aflame, Chad rushed over to the picture window and beheld the majestic sun-splashed Atlantic.
“Yes, I love the water, always have,” said his malodorous host, appearing at Chad's elbow. “Instead of bathing, I go swimming in the cold briny deep, at least once a week.”
“That often?” said Chad, instantly regretting his tactless remark. No wonder he couldn't get ahead.
“How 'bout a glass of Scotch?” said Mr. Gross, blithely ignoring the fact that it was not yet ten in the morning. “And please, call me Norm.”
“Er, no thanks, um . . . Norm, alcohol gives me the runs. Do you have any sparkling water?”
“Nah, I never buy that crap, I drink my water straight from the tap,” said Norm, lumbering over to the bar and reaching for a bottle of whiskey. He filled an Old Fashioned glass to the brim with the clear amber liquid. “They say Hemingway loved his Glenfiddich neat. And if it's good enough for Papa, well, it's good enough for me.” The man downed half the glass in a single gulp.
“Ha, ha! Perhaps I should call you Ernest, then,” said Chad, the laughter dying in his throat as the other man's expression remained unchanged.
“And what's your name again, young man?” Norm asked before taking another healthy belt of his drink.
“Um, Chad. Chad Fairchild.”
“Uh . . . yeah, that's my name.”
“A-mazing,” said the great man, absent-mindedly stroking his beard. “I've written more books and short stories than any man alive and not once have I named a character 'Chad'. Not once!”
Gross drained his glass, picked up the half-empty bottle and poured himself another. “Are you sure I can't interest you in a drink, son?”
“No, Norm, uh, really, I'm fine,” said Chad, nervously adjusting his glasses.
“Then what can I do for you?” said the literary icon, looking out the window with a thousand-yard stare. His large hairy gut peeked out from under an old sweat-stained undershirt.
“Um . . . I'm here to interview you for People magazine,” said Chad.
“Ah, yes, People magazine. And what does that tawdry purveyor of pablum wish to know, my favorite sex position or the title of my newest release? That's easy, they're both The Missionary.”
“Ha, ha! The Missionary, I get it!” said Chad. “A heart-pounding exploration into the darkest recesses of---”
A murderous glare from his host cut Chad short. He took a long deep breath and determined that he was not having an asthma attack, just a severe case of hoof-in-mouth.
“Seriously, Mr. Gross, er . . . Norm,” said Chad, “the world knows your work but next to nothing about you. The magazine sent me here to learn who you are and how you do it. Frankly, I'm most curious to know your views on writing, what the process of writing means to you, how you find your muse.”
Norm walked over to a wooden box on the bookshelf, took out a half-smoked stogie and lit it up. “It's all been done, my boy,” said Gross, pulling hard on the cigar before blowing a big cloud of smoke in Chad's face. “There's simply nothing new to write, it's all just a rehashing of the same old stories.”
After a brief fit of coughing, Chad wrote in his notebook: It'sall been done and Next time, bring your rescue inhaler. He cleared his throat then said, “But how do you do it? That's what everyone wants to know. How does the legendary Norman Gross keep turning out classics, what's the secret of your amazing fecundity?”
Norm cracked up, cigar smoke spurting out his nose. “Fecundity? I'm not sure I know the meaning of that word but I like it, it sounds dirty.” He took a sip of Scotch then wiped his mouth on the back of his hand.
“I like you, kid,” he said, beginning to slur his words, “so I'm gonna show you how I do it. But this is strictly off the record, are we clear on that?”
Staring into the man's bloodshot eyes, Chad felt a sudden pang of fear---or perhaps it was just irritable bowel. “Crystal,” he said.
“Alright then, follow me.” Gross ambled over to a wood-paneled wall, pressed a button and a door miraculously opened, the door to an elevator. “Now listen, bubbeleh,” said Norm as they stepped into the elevator, “keep your hands in your pockets, the bastards bite.”
Norm punched a button and the elevator dropped like a stone, eventually slowing and coming to an abrupt stop far below the Earth's surface. The elevator door opened and Chad and his mentor stepped out into a scene of complete and utter chaos: a room full of monkeys. As The Macarena blasted from hidden speakers, a howler monkey swung from the chandelier, an orangutan ran circles around the room and two chimpanzees played ping-pong with a paddle in each hand. The room stank of urine, scat and spoiled fruit, some of which adorned the floor, walls and ceiling, and a huge lowland gorilla was somehow napping in the corner.
“This is the rec room,” yelled Gross, ducking as half an apple flew past his head. “But what you want to see is in here.” He led Chad though a door and down a long and blissfully silent corridor.
“Everything's sound-proofed,” the legendary author explained, “or else you'd lose your friggin' mind. Here we are.”
A pair of double-doors slid open and the two men entered a room that looked like nothing so much as a busy newsroom at a major metropolitan newspaper. Industrial-strength fluorescent lights shone down on a honeycomb of at least a hundred desks and chairs, the only sound the loud staccato tapping of keys. But instead of intrepid cub reporters and hard-boiled journalists, these seats were occupied by a variety of monkeys whaling away on old-fashioned typewriters.
“Gotta use typewriters,” said Norm, “they type too damn hard for keyboards.”
Chad simply stood there, mouth agape, and watched as a bearded tamarin plucked a flea from his neighbor's head then swallowed it. Chad closed his mouth and through clenched teeth said, “Uh, Norm, what on Earth are they doing?”
“Why, they're working, me fine bucko,” said Gross, grinning widely through a hazy cloud of cigar smoke. “Slowly adding to the collected works of Norman Gross. This is one of fifty production rooms in the facility, five-thousand monkeys typing in twelve-hour shifts.”
“Typing?” wheezed Chad, now suffering significant asthma symptoms thanks to the wealth of monkey dander. “Typing what?”
“Oh, pretty much anything. Poetry, love stories, textbooks, whodunits and of course, huge amounts of garbled nonsense.” Norm took a moment to pick his nose and after carefully examining the dried, crusty treasure, wiped it on his pants leg. “I gather the monkeys' work at the end of the week and sift through it for anything I can use. They're generally good for five to six novels a month and a couple dozen short stories. I publish the good stuff under my name and the genre work under pseudonyms. We donate the textbooks to schools and send the completely unintelligible crap to the literary journals.”
Chad was speechless, not to mention increasingly short of breath.
“So go ahead, young master Fairchild, have a look around,” said Gross, flashing worn, tobacco-stained incisors.
Young master Fairchild proceeded to do just that, taking a stroll down one of the side aisles and looking over the monkeys' shoulders as they worked.
A pygmy marmoset typed Blln sune92 m skk!*7 Ij&43.
A spider monkey wrote His heart pounded frantically as heslipped his hand down the back of her white lace panties. Then the cheeky furball winked at Chad as he walked by.
A black and white Colobus stared at blank paper, undoubtedly blocked.
And from a tufted capuchin, this: It was a new dawn for vampires and werewolves. They would have to unite against the blood-sucking lawyers or face extinction!
Chad could not believe his eyes as he toured the room. From a thousand furry fingers came nonsense and iambic pentameter, total crap and rocket science, wasted paper and porn, some of it quite good. There was an elderly lemur wearing a green eyeshade whose work would have been perfect for Reader's Digest.
So this is how the greatest author of our times does it, thought Chad, shaking his head. And I went and agreed not to tell anyone about it. He shot a look of disdain at his host but Gross was busy scratching his ass and didn't notice.
Chad now came upon a wizened baboon in the corner. He watched as the baboon wrote It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness . . .
“Why, that's fantastic!” Chad exclaimed in a raspy voice. “You're a genius!”
Thanks wrote the baboon.
“Um . . . you understand English?”
Duh! typed the monkey, rolling his eyes.
“By any chance, uh, do you know how to text?”
Tap, tap, tappety-tap-tap. Double duh!
Chad took a quick peek at Gross---he was drinking from a pocket flask---before slipping the baboon his cell. “This is my work phone, my personal number's in there under Fairchild, Chadwick.”
The baboon's fingers were a blur. Chadwick? Seriously?
“Now don't you start!” snapped Chad. After taking a moment to regain his composure, he smiled winningly and said, “Let's start over. What's your name, old fella?”
“Well, Barry, it was very nice meeting you and I look forward to texting with you,” said Chad, resting his hand on the beast's hairy shoulder.
Like that Barry snapped and Chad leapt back, howling like a banshee and waving his bloodied hand.
Gross came waddling over and after giving the baboon a dirty look, escorted the bleeding, wheezing interviewer out of the room and into a nearby elevator.
“I told you they bite,” Norm grumbled as the doors whisked closed.
A short time later, Chad sat on a couch in the study, his shoulder sore from a tuberculosis vaccination, a bag of frozen peas on his bandaged hand. Although it was only a little past noon, his host was totally plotzed, already well into his second fifth of Genfiddich. It was clearly time to go.
Standing up, Chad thanked Norman Gross for his time---although there was practically nothing he could use for his magazine piece---and said, “There's just one thing I don't understand, Norm. The monkeys were going wild in the rec room, howling, pounding their chests and throwing shit at me. How do you get them to behave so well when they're working?”
“Simple, my boy,” said the famous scribe, grinning crookedly. “Their collars contain tiny two-volt batteries and I've got this.” He reached into his pocket and held up what looked like a TV-remote. “They sit still and type---twelve hours a day, seven days a week---or zaap, they get a nice little shock for their trouble. I got the idea from a Peter Gabriel song.”
Chad was aghast. His idol was a drunken lout, a phony and worst of all, a user and abuser of monkeys. Chad handed the man his frozen vegetables and left without a word.
Later that night as he lay in bed, unable to sleep, Chad received a text-message from Barry, the silver-haired baboon.
Sorry bout the bite. Its act U ly a sign of affection.
Chad replied: Id h8 to C U pissed off!
Barry: LOL! Seriously, U must help me escape. I h8 it here. Id B good 4 U, Id B surprisingly good 4 U.
Chad: Is that from West Side Story?
Barry: No, Evita. I just luv Madonna!
Chad: LOL!! Barry, I think thish is the beginning of a B U tiful friendship.
Barry: Here's looking at U, kid! See U 2morrow, midnite, by the pool house.
Chad pulled into the driveway a little too fast and skidded to a halt perilously close to the garage door. The Lamborghini Diablo was clearly going to take a little getting used to.
He hurried inside and up the spiral staircase, past the glass-enclosed living room and all the way to the combination kitchen/patio on the roof.
“Sorry I'm late,” he said, setting his packages down on the stainless-steel counter. “But these nitwits at the grocery store kept pestering me for my autograph.”
“No worries, mate,” said an electronic voice with a passable Aussie accent. Barry's furry fingers flew on a small laptop. “What's for din-dins?” said the tinny voice.
“Well, I'm having a nice steak with a tossed salad and a baked potato. For you I got some fresh boysenberries, two dozen crickets and a freshly-killed rabbit I found by the side of the road.”
“Ah, nothing like a little bruised hare on the barbie, eh?”
“And that's not all,” said Chad, hastening over to the table and lounge chairs where Barry sat, all decked out in flowered jams and gold Ray-bans, watching the sun slowly set over the still Pacific.
Chad reached into a paper bag and pulled out a bottle of Dom Perignon '07.
“To celebrate our latest bestseller, Bond Time For Bonzo, the heart-warming story of a poor circus chimp who somehow makes it big on Wall Street.” Chad popped the cork, filled two crystal flutes to overflowing and handed one to the elderly baboon.
“To Bonzo,” toasted Chad.
“And to us, mate,” chirped the laptop as man and beast clinked glasses and took a sip of the bubbly.
“Oy, that's a wee bit of wonderful,” said Barry, typing away. “But I thought alcohol gave you the shits.”
Chad plopped himself down in the lounge chair next to Barry's and patted his burgeoning gut. “Actually, I'm developing a taste for it,” he said.