To enter into Mailer’s mind is to understand, if only briefly, that the parameters of life of man could be more accurately described as parabolas, whose borders touch us all. So who is to say that my return to Mailer after such a long absence did not, in fact, hasten the award that was announced only hours after I finished The Fight? Absurd, such influence I’m claiming! I concur, and I dare say that Mailer would, too. We recognize our own illogical impulses best in others, simultaneously rejecting then embracing them.
Using such logic, I could very well say that the one and only encounter I had with Mailer himself, at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto in 1995, changed the course of his life. Ridiculous! As mentioned long ago on this blog, after watching Mailer’s presentation of the life of Pablo Picasso, complete with pictorial slides, our intrepid chronicler somehow found the courage to take hold of the microphone during the Q and A to ask: “Did you see any similarities between Lee Harvey Oswald and Picasso?” A question only an unsuspecting nineteen-year old could ask, followed by a response that only a collection of wealthy, pampered prigs could provide. I heard every last one of their titters, felt every single smirk, smelled every grating whiff of expensive perfume and fuck-me cologne. The question did not seem absurd to me; Mailer had recently spent a year immersed in the life of Picasso, and even more years investigating Oswald’s life, even traveling to Russia to investigate the alleged assassin’s past even deeper. Surely there were points in common between the two biographical subjects. (And besides, I thought, you hoity-toity motherfuckers, I had the balls to stand toe-to-toe with Mailer and ask him a question, while you sat in your seats and flicked the lint off of clothes designed to impress the indifferent whims of arrogant strangers. And I at least have read his book!) Mailer answered my question thoughtfully and carefully. Aha! Here is a mind as strange and agile as my own, I thought. (Again, the ego of adolescence! To compare myself to Mailer!)
Later, while waiting in line for Mailer to sign my copy of his book, a kind soul approached me and said: “ Actually, I thought yours was the most interesting question asked.” Somebody had spotted my embarrassment, and thought to console me. Emboldened by such generosity, when my turn came to talk to Mailer I asked him for advice for a young writer. He told me; I listened. (And I still remember it.) He then signed my book, adding a phrase after the scrawl of his signature that I could not recognize, prompting me to ask his assistant to interrupt him in the midst of signing the book of his next fan. “What does it mean?” I wanted to know. “Sverta,” he said. “It means ‘good luck!” (Is it Jewish? Yiddish? No matter.)
So! From his mouth to my soul. If luck is a tangible thing, then it was passed from him to me that fateful night, and perhaps, just perhaps, my recent return to his prose nudged something in the fabric of the universe. Perhaps the luck he passed on had lodged itself carefully into the lodestone of my psyche, and perhaps, just perhaps, I was able to, unknowingly, hand it back to him.
Such are the thoughts one has when encounter Mailer – in person, in prose. If reading is the most intimate act of all – the sharing of one’s private thoughts with another – then reading Mailer is enough to make one believe that such communication not only has a purpose and a trajectory, but also a mystical necessity, a vibrancy, that lies at the core of who we are and what we can become. Luck may not be tangible, nor transferable, but even Mailer’s conception of such a concept, the potential of it, makes me wonder if the Gods that rule us all work in prose.