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Friday, February 20, 2004
[ AUTHOR IN A BOX ]

Now that Spalding Gray - author, monologist, performance artist and actor - is missing and presumed dead, I thought it time to take another look at his book, Monster in a Box.

I found it on my bookshelf, between my copies of It's Always Something by Gilda Radner and William S. Burrough's Naked Lunch and, in a particularly delusional moment, I began to feel guilty. Why had I placed it there? Why didn't I put it between copies of the latest novels by John Grisham and Al Franken? What the hell was I thinking? Why didn't I at least alphabetize my library, while I still had the chance? Oh dear lord, what have I done? I obviously cursed somebody I didn't even know, by bad book placement, and now look what happened.

And then I started thinking, "Why did this have to happen to Spalding Gray? Why couldn't it have been Limbaugh, or some ghost-writer I've never heard of?"

Before I knew it, I had worked myself up into a frothing, barking frenzy and had to lay down and put a cold compress on my head. I collected my thoughts and reflected.

I had always felt a certain affinity with Gray. He often wrote about the people and events in his own life. So do I. He wrote in a lively, understated humorous style. So do I. He hailed from the New England area. While I don't hail from there, I do speak proper English. In fact, I speak it more better than most people I know. And that's close enough for me.

So I sat in my easychair and went to crack open the book when I realized what I really needed - what would complete my reading pleasure - was a big cup of coffee. Now, luckily, I live right down the street from a coffeehouse. I'm in there all the time, so much so that it's kind of like Cheers but without the beer or commercial breaks. It is so close, in fact, that I jokingly call it my "living room." I remember one Sunday morning, a time of day I'm not usually up much less going for coffee, when I walked in there and none of the "regulars" I knew were there. But the place was packed with some other people who apparently think drinking coffee at 8AM on a weekend is the thing to do, and I'm like, "Who are all these people in my livingroom?"

I frothed and barked but they all ignored me, assuming, of course, I was just another victim of over-caffeination. They had seen it all before and were having no part of it.

Anyway, before reading Monster in a Box, I went down the street and bought myself a cup of coffee.

Printed on the side of the Styrofoam cup was the phrase

WHEN I AM EMPTY PLEASE DISPOSE OF ME PROPERLY

Hey, some days, I know exactly how that cup feels.

While I was there, somebody said to me, "Pete, you're not a 60-watt bulb. You're fluorescent!"

I think it was meant as a compliment.

At least I hope so.

I left with my coffee in hand, and was soon walking back down the street. Again.

By the way, I really need to stop doing that.

But, anyway, there I was walking - just minding my own goddamn business - when a car pulled up to the curb next to me.

The passenger rolled down the window and I saw that the occupants were two transvestites.

Now I don't know about you, but I can spot a guy in a dress from fifty paces.

Sometimes it's the voice, or the hands, or the demeanor or just the way she walks. Or, if he's really really bad at it, the five o'clock shadow gives it away.

So, the transvestite said to me, "Honey, do you want a ride?"

I declined.

She then asked, "Do you want to party with us? We're going to buy some more beer right now."

Yeah, that's what I want to do on a sunny afternoon: Get shit-faced with a couple of half-loaded transvestites.

That always turns out well.

So I made my excuses and soon found myself back home.

Easing back into my chair, I settled down for what I knew was going to be a good read. Before I could make it through the Preface, however, I was distracted by this spu-lunk sound coming from the bathroom. When I turned to look, I saw my cat racing from the bathroom and running into the farthest corner she could find. She looked, wide-eyed and traumatized, back in the direction she had come from. So I got up to investigate.

Monster in a Box would have to wait. Spalding Gray was dead so he wouldn't mind.

I found large puddles of water on the toilet seat, so I went to investigate the cat. There she still sat, in the corner of the room, mewing a sad, pathetic "I've been traumatized" meow. I picked her up and, sure enough, all four paws were wet. I think she had what they term a "close call."

"Keep jumping in water," I told her, "and, sooner or later, you're going to drown." She, of course, ignored me.

That's what cats do. It's expected, so I didn't take it personally. So I left her to her trauma and got back to the book, so I could write this review.

I got to page four, in which Gray wrote, "I mean, I'm kind of a control freak and I like to create my own hells before the real ones get to me. I kind of like to beat hell to hell."

"Sometimes it's hell trying to beat hell," I thought, reflecting on Gray's apparent death. Then I began to think something extraordinarily profound, something which would have both made sense of his tragic suicide and wrapped up my review quite nicely.

One of those pithy phrases that tie together life, death, and the transcendental power of the written word.

But then the phone rang, interrupting my rather profound thought and, by the time I was done with the call, I had forgotten where I was going with it.

And, soon after that, I had some things to do. I didn't have time to finish the book.

So now I'm stuck with a review that doesn't even review a book by a guy who wrote a book about how he couldn't write a book.

Even if nobody else does, I think Spalding Gray would've approved.



posted by Pete 1:40 PM



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