Saturday, November 20, 2004
Garrison Keillor: I was in New York on Wednesday for the National Book Awards, a big black-tie affair, and I don't know where my mind was at — I wore a long black tie and pink shirt and a white sportcoat with a pink carnation — I was so excited — ever since I found out I was a nominee—
Sue Scott (PHONE): Mr. Wyler?
SS (PHONE): Meg Carnivore from the National Book Awards — are you sitting down?
GK: Oh my gosh.
SS (PHONE): Congratulations, Mr. Wyler.
GK: Oh thank you thank you thank you...O thank you, God...
SS (PHONE): You've been nominated in the Senior Men's Fiction category...
GK: Oh. Senior men. Really—
SS (PHONE): It's a new category for men over sixty in the twilight of their career —
SS (PHONE): The regular Fiction category is based on literary excellence and we just thought that this was unfair to fellows like yourself.
GK: I see—
SS (PHONE): And the Fiction Award is announced later in the evening, around 10, and that's kind of late for you old-timers to wait. So we started the Senior Men's category. And there's been a little bit of controversy this year because — all five of the nominees are from St. Paul.
SS (PHONE): Girard Humboldt, Irving James Knox, Oliver Penn, and Russell Sheridan Thomas. And you.
GK: My face burned when I heard the names. Four of the biggest fakes you'd ever hope to meet. Their books all have happy endings in the sense that you're thrilled to come to the end.
SS (PHONE): I'll see you in New York, Mr. Wyler — November 18, at the Marquis Sans Culottes Hotel — we have a special table for you at the front of the room so you won't have to walk so far, should you win. (BRIDGE)
GK: Terrible writers. Irving James Knox was up for his insipid collection of prose poems entitled Limpid Droplets.
Tim Russell (IRISH): "Soar, soar, homing bird, aim your great heart toward the polar darkness, cry out to your comrades, 'I am here!'"
GK: What a fake. Where'd he get the accent? He's from Fargo. And Oliver Penn — don't get me started. This guy couldn't write a simple ransom note.
TR (TRUMAN CAPOTE): "The waters of the lagoon twinkled merrily as I dipped my pinky into the ravishing avocado pate and took a sip of the daiquiri. 'Oh Possum,' I said to myself, 'what say we skip the breast-beating and settle down for some good old-fashioned hedonism?'"
GK: This guy was giving self-indulgence a bad name. And then there was Russell Sheridan Thomas. What a dope. The most boring writer in Minnesota and that's a competitive category.
TR (MINNESOTA): "'You have such a vivid imagination,' she said to him. 'Oh really,' he said. 'Yes, I mean it,' she said. 'I don't know where you come up with some of that stuff you come up with.' 'Like what?' he said. 'Oh, you know, all those insightful things that make me laugh,' she said. 'You ought to write that stuff down.' 'You think so?' he said. 'Yes,' she said. 'Definitely.'" (BRIDGE)
GK: I headed for New York and — it was one of those days. A lot of small aggravations. Starting with airport security—
SS: You have been selected at random for a colonoscopy, sir. Please step this way.
GK: Me???? Why???? (STING AND BRIDGE) And then on the plane I sat next to a guy with a snoring problem— (FITS OF SNORTS AND GULPS) and then when I got up to move to the rear of the plane, he grabbed hold of me—
TR: PLEASE! DON'T LEAVE ME! (BRIDGE)
GK: I went to the rear and two minutes later, the flight attendant spilled Pepsi in my hair—
SS (MINNESOTA): Oh. I'm so sorry. I am so clumsy.
GK: That's okay.
SS (MINNESOTA): On the other hand, your hair looks better if it's wet down a little. I mean it. You maybe ought to think of using some kind of mousse or gel. (BRIDGE)
GK: I got in a taxi and we headed off at top speed (SCREECH OF TIRES, CAR ACCEL) the driver didn't speak English. (TR ARABIC) (STING AND BRIDGE) I got to midtown and the Marquis Sans Culottes hotel just in time for the nominees cocktail hour (CROWD AMBIENCE, SMALL ROOM) and that's where I noticed my wardrobe malfunction.
SS (FLEXNER): Hi. I'm Barbara Weinstein Chang Peterson. Love your pink shirt and carnation. Very original.
GK: Barbara Weinstein Chang Peterson! I love your work. It's me. Carson Wyler. We met at the Studs Terkel Tribute Dinner a couple years ago—
SS: Oh really. Were you there?
GK: Yes, I was at the table with Barney Frank and Frank Stella and Stella Stevens and Steve Martin and Martin Sheen and Sheena Easton —
SS: I remember a great big old gloomy guy at their table but I thought that was Ralph Nader.
GK: No, it was me. I had a sort of surprising haircut that day and my suit came back from the dry cleaners kind of puckered, but it was me
SS: Oh. — Well, you sort of look like Ralph Nader.
GK: I gave a big speech at that dinner about Studs Terkel's contributions to American history —
SS: I don't remember that.
GK: It was the keynote address.
SS: I thought the keynote was about the Arctic Circle—
GK: It was about Terkel! Studs Terkel! Anyway, I love your work. Ciao, baby. (BRIDGE) I hustled to my table which was off to the side — I was seated next to Oliver Penn.
TR (TRUMAN): I adore your most recent work.
GK: Don't talk to me, okay? Just shut up.
TR (TRUMAN): Oh my. Somebody got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning.
GK: And that idiot Irving James Knox sat on the other side of him.
TR (IRISH): I sure hope you win it, Carson. Luck of the Irish to you.
GK: Oh go stuff it. (STING)— We all stood and said the Book Publisher's Prayer —
ALL: God is great and God is good, And we thank Him for this food. His loving kindness never fails, his birthday is so good for sales. Amen. (CLATTER OF TABLEWARE, EATING SOUNDS, GRUNTING, HOG SNORTS)
GK: And then everyone tucked into the food. Authors are hungry people. You could see agents roaming around like wolverines and snatching people's desserts. (ARGUMENT, GLASS BREAKAGE) Editors fighting over the basket of rolls. And over where the children's book authors sat — you never saw such drunkenness. (DRUNK TALK, POURING, RIBALD LAUGHTER) And the librarians — they'd brought their own liter of gin. (SS SHRILL WHOOPEE) One of them had removed her blue smock and was climbing up on the table. Debauchery on every hand. Except old Oliver Penn sitting next to me.
TR (CAPOTE): This is so crass. So vulgar. I consider awards utterly meaningless.
GK: In your case, they would be, yes. (BRIDGE, SOUNDS OF EATING FADE) And then the room got very quiet as the awards ceremony began — (TR, OFF, ON P.A.: Welcome to the National Book Awards dinner, I am your executive director, James J. Houhynym...TR GIBBERISH CONTINUES, OFF) — and all over the room you could see nominees sneaking a look at their acceptance speeches — mine was going to thank my editor Mimsy Steele who had faith in me when nobody else did, back during a dark time when a whole big chunk of John Updike showed up for some reason in my second novel — what a time that was — people just didn't understand, you're under pressure to meet a deadline, you download a couple chapters of another author and you're meaning to change the words and, doggone it, you just don't get around to it — what is the big deal, people? It's only fiction, it's not like anybody loses their life over this — and now they were getting into the Children's Book category — (SS, OFF, ON P.A.): The nominees for Children's Books are— (SS GIBBERISH) and I said a little prayer — Dear Lord, give me this award and I am going to be a mentor to inner-city kids and visit the sick and light a candle in the dark, Lord — just give me this prize— and I could imagine myself in the hospital ward with sick children —
TR (SICK CHILD): You're so good to us, Mr. Wyler.
SS (SICK CHILD): Yeah. A big-time successful award-winning author like yourself taking time out of your busy schedule to come and mop our feverish brows and bring us candy, even though with this tracheotomy candy would kill me, nonetheless it's the thought that counts. (BRIDGE).
GK: And now they had read off the nominees — I could see Oliver Penn sliding his chair back, getting ready to jump up and run to the podium and then they called the name— (MOUTH TRUMPET) — I felt a little dizzy—
SS: THE WINNER OF SENIOR MEN'S FICTION IS...RUSSELL SHERIDAN THOMAS. (ECHOES)...
GK: And everybody looks and up gets this big dope —
TR (MINNESOTA): Well for heaven's sake. Isn't that something? Boy o boy. Quite the deal. I was sure you were gonna get it, Carson. Gosh. (HE CLOMPS FORWARD, TO AMBIENT APPLAUSE, MARCH UNDER...)
GK: I watched him clomp up to the stadium and I promised myself that if he should get some horrible debilitating disease, I would go perform at the benefit, and then I excused myself and went to the men's room and I sat in a stall and sobbed (SOFT WEEPING) and banged my head against the partition for awhile. (FIVE BWANGS) And I doused my face in cold water (SPLASH), and wiped my eyes, and walked out and— (INDOOR AMBIENCE) I saw Russell Sheridan Thomas standing alone by the railing looking out into the hotel atrium — at the cocktail lounge eight stories below, the bar, the white piano, the old guy playing "Hey Jude" — he was alone — I could tell the police that he had jumped and I tried to stop him and I was too late. I took a step toward him—
SS (YOUNG): Mr. Wyler? You're Carson Wyler, aren't you?
SS: The writer—
SS: I'm a writer too. Just starting out.
SS: Do you have any advice for a writer?
GK: Yes. My advice is eliminate the long descriptive stuff and the introspection and cut to the chase. (FAST FOOTSTEPS) — And I ran and I grabbed him (GK CRY)
TR: Why you— (STRUGGLE)
GK: I grabbed him by the belt and tried to lift but he weighed a ton—
TR: You're no good, you know that— (STRUGGLE)
GK: He got me around the neck and I tried to grab the trophy from him and brain him with it—
TR: Oh no you don't—
GK: And he lifted me up and threw me over the rail— (GK CRY, FALLING) (MAGICAL VIOLIN & PIANO) I fell towards the piano below. And then suddenly I realized that I wasn't falling, I was flying — I flew around the atrium. I was covered with white feathers. I was a small bird. I swooped down low and landed on the piano player's head. And out of the piano arose a myrmidon (SFX, MONSTER) and a man from Murmansk (TR RUSSIAN) and Ethel Merman —
SS (MERMAN): There's no business like prose business like no business I know.
GK: I had never cared for magical realism in fiction before but now it had saved my life. And now I wasn't a bird any longer. I was Winnie the Pooh (TR POOH HUMS) and then I was Edgar Allan Poe ( TR: Quoth the Raven: NEVERMORE) — I was Pooh and Poe and then I was Pa in Little House On The Prairie (TR PA: Let's go, Laura. Time's a wastin'. WOOF) and then I was myself again.
SS: Care for a drink?
GK: No, thanks. — I walked out of the hotel (BUSY CITY AMBIENCE) and into Times Square and I was happy. It's a good life, the life of a writer — because no matter what happens to you, you're the one who gets to write about it.
TR (MINNESOTA): Here— you take the award — you deserve it, by gosh.
GK: Don't want it, sir. Don't need it. I got her.
SS: Hi big boy.
GK: Hi darling.
SS: You are so handsome. So sexy. Kiss me, you fool.
GK: You bet I will. (MUSIC UP AND OUT)