A chip off the Block


Posted on October 15th, by James McAllen in Uncategorized. 1 Comment

Today’s blog requires a little back-story.

Back in 2006, shortly after the untimely death of my mama, I turned 40 and entered my mid-life crisis. Stuck in a job that I neither loved nor hated, I decided to throw caution to the wind and take a year off to pursue other endeavors. I saved up all my pennies and soda cans, and enrolled at the Connecticut School of Broadcasting with dreams of knocking Hannity off his lofty perch. That obviously hasn’t happened yet, but it was still one of the great moves in my life. I had a great time, and met some great people, and was exposed to some wonderful instructors. Among them was Party Marty Mitchell, who is now the morning man on Thunder 106. (You should check it out.) —> http://thunder106.com/djs

One of my other instructors was a gentleman named Paul Westlake. Paul was a great teacher in Avid video editing, and he was instrumental in my getting hired to do Voice-over at MLB.com back in ’07, for which I am eternally grateful. Paul also happens to be the son of the late, great mystery author, Donald Westlake. If you’re not familiar with his work, he a master of the genre, right up there with Elmore Leonard, Loren Elstleman, and a gentleman who we shall discuss shortly. I’ve have kept in touch with Paul over the years and one day, shortly after the release of Split Rock Road, I noticed that Paul was friends with the great Lawrence Block. Of course it made sense that Mister’s Westlake and Block would be friends; they wrote books together.

I thought about asking Paul if he would deliver a copy of my book to Mr. Block, but I agonized over the decision. I didn’t want to impose on anyone’s time or goodwill, and I hate when people bother celebrities just because they read their book or bought their record. I was almost ready to forget the whole idea when I heard my old man’s voice from beyond the ether –

Hey dummy. This is the reason that you netowrk with people, to make advances. People don’t go to Harvard for the education, you can get an education anywhere. They go there for the connections

I sent Paul an e-mail the next day.

Of course he was happy to pass along the book. That’s what friends do, and while he didn’t assure me that Lawrence would indeed read it and leave a glowing comment on my facebook page, he did say that he was a curious type and always liked to assist young writers.

I was just happy that he said young writers.

So I sent off two copies to Paul and was ecstatic when he informed me that Mr. Block did indeed receive his copy. I would alternately imagine my life’s work sitting prominently on his reading table, waiting to be opened and adored, and then I would stay up at night thinking of my lonely book in a box filled with other lonely books sitting in the dusty basement of Lawrence Block’s country home.

I had to push all thoughts out of my head, lest I lose sleep over the entire affair.

On Monday, after a long night at work and a wonderful rejuvenating sleep, I woke with energy and vigor. I needed to be out an about. I grabbed Valarie and we took off into the city. The city was alive last night. It was vibrant and electric; an artist’s dream. I was feeling haughty and pretentious, so we headed over to SEA in the meatpacking district. Dinner was wonderful until a gaggle of young 20-somethings came in to celebrate the 23rd birthday of one of the chicks in the party. I commented that I was so glad that I didn’t have to be 23 again, but Val seemed to recall that 23 was a good time in her life. All was fine depsite the rising noise level, until two of the guys decided to shake hands OVER Val’s head as we ate dinner.

I thought she was going to stab them with a fork.

The waiter politely asked if we wanted to move to another table, but I’m too stupid and stubborn. I was there first, I’m not going to let these punks break me. Of course, the rest of dinner was a race to finish and get the hell out of there. As we paid the check I was once again thrilled not to be 23 years old.

We headed out into the night, happy to be exploring the nooks and crannies of the MPD. We took a short walk on the high-line and then wandered up and down some of the last of the cobble-stone streets of Manhattan. Eventually, our twists and turns and misdirection took us down a street near the White Horse Tavern.

Out of nowhere, my spidey-sense went off.

One of the gifts that the good lord has bestowed on me, is a near photographic memory. I don’t always remember names or conversations, and I forgot nearly every time I’ve promised to take someone somewhere, but I rarely forget a face. When the face is that of a celebrity, no matter how obscure, my sixth sense goes off.

Right there on Hudson street, on a beautiful Monday night, was the great Lawrence Block. I knew him right away. He’s got a great and dignified goatee. Much like my literary output, mine is scrawny in comparison.

Valarie sensed what was going on, but never said a word. We let him pass in silence, and waited a moment before a woman’s voice spoke to us.

Are you guys lost?” She asked.

We replied that we weren’t, that we were just out enjoying the night when I decided to take a stab in the dark.

That’s Mr. Block, isn’t it?” I asked.

The lovely woman brightened up at my recognition. “Are you mystery fans?

Panic started to creep in; panic and doubt. I blurted out… I’m friends with Paul. His last name escaped me.

Oh. Paul so-and-so?”

I nearly crapped myself as I searched through my now empty skull.

No, Paul West….”  I nearly said Westhead… I almost said Westerberg… I finally forced out Westlake.

Once again, she brightened with recognition. She seemed happy to have met us. She asked where we were from and what we were doing. We spoke for a minute or two. Mr. Block kept on walking.

I finally told her. “I recently published a collection of short stories. Paul gave a copy to Mr. Block just recently.” Her smile was electric and inviting. I wanted to hug her. She called after him.

I panicked. “Don’t bother him.

I’m his wife, I bother him all the time.”

He came back and after a round of introductions, he acknowledged the receipt of the book with a nod and a slight smile. Parked on Hudson street was a bizarre looking car, made up to look like a mouse, proclaiming “Meece for Mayor.” We discussed it for a moment, wondering what it could be, and then it was time to go. The man had other places he needed to be. I don’t blame him. I wanted to get out of there as fast as I could, lest I embarrass myself with some half-baked effusive praise. I reached out to shake his hand, hoping that I would be able to siphon some of the talent and greatness away from him. He won’t mind. He’s got plenty to spare.

I walked away three inches taller and glowing. My tail was wagging like Snoopy on a Friday afternoon. I was sure that when they arrived home, the lovely Lynne Block would pester him and say, “Where is that book? I want to take a look at it.” He would mutter some vague direction, and the next morning my book would appear in a prominent place in the Block home. My day was complete. Almost.

After a block, I noticed that Valarie was even happier than I was.

I know that you’re gonna hit it good tonight.” she said matter-of-factly.

Hit it, indeed.

Writers always make the best lovers. I’m sure that Mr. and Mrs. Block would agree.

 

 





One thought on “A chip off the Block

  1. This writer, James McAllen, hits the nail on the head (amongst other things) with this relatable, engaging, funny piece… i’m a fan, not only ‘cuz I suffer from name-recall amnesia anxiety, but because his descriptive writing hits the right chord with humor and life-as he knows it. I look forward to reading more…connie.acoustic

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