Have you ever seen a juggler on a moving sidewalk? Ben Greenman, whose latest novel, The Slippage, (Harper Perennial, $14.99 in paper), a wry, wistful tale of marriage, lust and disconnection, ponders this and other wonders of life.
A novelist, short-story writer, humorist and magazine editor, Greenman — who appears Thursday at Books & Books in Coral Gables — has observed, proverbially speaking, all sorts of jugglers in all sorts of circumstances. The results of his observations earn him the on-spot tagline “a poet of romantic angst in contemporary American life.”
“I want to run out onto the balcony of my apartment and yell from there how snazzerific, how terrificadelic, how ubertastic this book is to the people gathered below,” wrote PopMatters’ Zachary Houle of Greenman’s What He’s Poised to Do.
Q. The latest book or movie that made you cry?
Where The Red Fern Grows (Wilson Rawls). I remember it well: it was 1979. Usually, I’m too acquisitive when I read books and too impatient when I watch movies. It’s not their fault. It’s my fault. Records, on the other hand, frequently make me tear up. Singers who can communicate sadness effectively are a tremendous natural resource.
Here’s one example that might be a bad one, or a cliche: recently I was in some kind of clothing store, and Rod Stewart’s version of I Don’t Want To Talk About It came on, and even though that song has been burned to death by FM radio and probably doesn’t mean anything anymore, I started thinking about it, and then about Danny Whitten, and then about the general pattern of despair — people get left behind by the people who they need the most, not because those people don’t know they’re needed, but because they do know they’re needed — and suddenly I had to pick up a shirt off the table and wipe my eyes with it. Confidential to whoever eventually bought that shirt: I think I slightly increased its value.
Q. The fictional character most like you?
This is an impossible question. To answer it I would have to see myself clearly, and who does that? I’ll defer to Woody Allen’s joke from Stardust Memories. His character, Sandy, is speaking to an audience. I’ll just go ahead and call him Woody.
AUDIENCE MEMBER #1: A lot of people have accused you of being narcissistic.”
WOODY: No, I know people think that I’m egotistical and narcissistic, but it’s not true. As a matter of fact, if I did identify with a Greek mythological character, it would not be Narcissus.
AUDIENCE MEMBER #2: Who would it be?
Q. The greatest album, ever?
That’s like asking me to pick my favorite child, except that I only have two children. The albums I listen to the most are either Sly and the Family Stone records or John Prine records or Prince records or Rolling Stone records or Miles Davis records or Frank Black solo records.
The albums that scoop me out the most effectively are either Mary Margaret O’Hara records or Captain Beefheart records or Mississippi John Hurt records or Aretha Franklin records or Public Enemy records.
Q. ‘Star Trek’ or ‘Star Wars?’
Q. Your ideal brain food?
Music without words. This is sort of the answer to the question I hated about favorite records. I like Miles Davis’ Filles de Kilimanjaro. It’s perfectly sequenced to play while I write. It relaxes and provokes and then challenges.
Q. You’re proud of this accomplishment, but why?
Once upon a time I won a national rock ‘n’ roll trivia contest and was awarded a car. That’s why I am proud: I won a car. I then sold the car right back to the dealer for much, much less than what it was worth.
Q. You want to be remembered for …?
I would like there to be another Ben Greenman that comes along in a little while, like maybe 50 years, and he should be good at something completely different. Professional sports? Science? Identity theft? Then in the distant future people will remember us together, and confuse us.
I want this sentence to happen in the future: “He wrote novels and robbed banks, and one never got in the way of the other.”
Q. Of those who’ve come before, the most inspirational are?
I like people who struggle with internal questions.
Q. Your hidden talents … ?
I can type pretty fast with a minimum of errors.
Q. The best piece of advice you actually followed?
There are two things that spring to mind. One came a long time ago, from my grandfather, who used to be annoying about things like the best way to prepare food or the best way to watch a baseball game. Once, in a fit of self-awareness, he said, “There’s a right way to do everything, though it’s not always the most interesting way.”
The other came from my older son. He was right around two, maybe a little older, and I was holding him up to the window to watch a snowstorm.
“Dad,” he said. “Where do the birds go when it snows?” I started to answer him. I think I said something about eaves and certain kinds of trees. He tapped me to interrupt me. “Who cares?” he said. My interpretation of that is that we don’t have to have opinions about everything, and it is very liberating to remember that.
Karen Zarker wrote this story for Popmatters.com