I walked a city street with a $70 bottle of scotch in one hand and John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley in the other. Both were gifts, the booze for a great friend who helped save my life, the book for Mark the Book Chat Man.
On my way out of the liquor store I spotted Mark sitting on his usual sidewalk, drinking malt liquor and reading a novel. No doubt he needed a new book. He reads one every two days. Thus, I made a short detour to the bookstore and picked out a title from the dollar table on the street. Mark prefers fiction, but since Steinbeck made up a lot of Travels With Charley, so what? It’s an America dog and road trip classic, a favorite of mine, and the first and best RV book in the history of world literature.
Mark saw me coming and said hello. I came up to him. He was reading V.C. Andrews’ Flowers in the Attic. I hadn’t read it but knew the horror novel had been a smash in the late 70s or early 80s.
I handed him Travels with Charley. He hadn’t read it! He said thanks.
He told me he’d just finished The Thorn Birds.
We dispensed with discussion about the novel in seconds, and went straight to the mini series starring Richard Chamberlain and Rachel Ward. YES, THE RACHEL WARD. AND THAT VOICE.
That launched a spirited discussion of Rachel Ward’s career and I told Mark my favorite performance was her incredible turn in the adaption of Jim Thompson’s depraved noir classic After Dark, My Sweet and the faded Levi’s cutoffs she wore to extraordinarily salacious effect.
Mark said he hadn’t seen it. I told him he was missing out on one of the great Levi’s cutoff performances in cinematic history.
As we discussed all things Rachel Ward, it occurred to me this was probably the only conversation in the history of human conversation about Rachel Ward’s cutoffs that took place on a sidewalk where one of the conversationalists was drinking malt liquor while sitting on the sidewalk and the other was holding a $70 bottle of scotch while standing on a sidewalk.
We wound down the talk and I was almost ready to depart when I asked Mark if he had any writing aspirations. I wasn’t sure where the question originated, but I asked it.
Mark told me he’d kept a journal for a couple years but his backpack was stolen and with it, the journal. The theft crushed him and he couldn’t seem to start writing again. I told him I would buy him one right now from the bookstore. He said he had one.
I suggested he start writing and record what was going on around him—he had a unique perspective during a unique time. Mark told me his daughter had urged him to write his stories for his four granddaughters.
Mark had a family. They knew where he lived. That posed about a million questions in my head.
Next Mark discussed his current girlfriend. Mark had a girlfriend? He told me he reads to her all the time wherever they crash outdoors in the neighborhood. It’s the only thing that calms her down and soothes the jag about how she’s Deborah Harry and wrote all the hits for Heart.
Who is this man? Why does he intrigue me so? Why is he on this sidewalk every day reading novels? What would he write if he started writing again?
I will continue to suggest he write, but I will not nag. That never works.