" For the essential thing about art is that it is work, and very hard work too"
Joyce Cary 1888-1957
Several years ago I was at a party in Summit NJ - I believe it had a 50's theme. At least there were miniature hotdogs wrapped in dough and a layered jello mold of various color with canned mandarin oranges trapped inside. While holding my whiskey sour with the maraschino cherry dropped in for authenticity, I was challenged to dig up some cocktail party talk. I heard from across the room someone mention he was reading "The Ha Ha" by Dave King. Now I was also reading this book. It had just come out with great reviews in the NY Times book review.This has become the only thing I ever read in the Times, as Arts and Leisure and the Travel section leave me with too much wistful envy. I immediately crossed the room and we began discussing the book. In brief it's about a man who has lost his speech caused by a trauma to the head in the Vietnam war. The liner notes said something about how we were privileged to know this man who was flawed and funny; complex and tragic, - in other words - unforgettably human. We enthusiastically dove into our what have you read lately conversation. Hal is a successful playwright, painfully articulate, a former writer for some soap operas with a brilliant ear for dialogue. We immediately started our own two person book and movie club meeting for breakfast every couple of weeks to dissect and recast recent books and movies. Oprah's Book Club favorites? Eh. "The Corrections"? -way overwritten. Wally Lambs recent? - both disappointed.
Hal orders the broccoli and cheddar omelet with potatoes. I order the spinach and feta egg white omelet without potatoes - toasted rye, butter on the side, please. Of course we digress with our small but ever present complaints. Are we the only two people in our exclusive little east coast version of 90210 that rent? Surely we are not the only two who are not investment bankers. Although, we do leave large tips for the amount of time we sit there and have coffee poured. The latest set of books we have taken to discussing are self-help books. Those daily profound, truthful little meditations for the disconnected and isolated, mostly and hopefully because of the nature of our work. If only I could practice and remember them two minutes after closing the book! He is also very proud of his talented son who has been the star of every major high School production over the last four years. Hal's favorite lament - when did I turn into Mama Rose!?
One July 4th, we were invited over to Hal and his lovely wife Diane's for dinner. Hal had just perfected Aunt Bee of Mayberry's famous chili recipe. When I walked in I noticed five Emmy's humbly sitting on his mantel. I was sufficiently impressed. Right, he said, that and a quarter could get you on a bus to Bayonne. And... we never did make it to the fireworks.