This is the second of ten stories Storyboard will post from a new collection honoring Michael Brick [see our 5 Questions on the project], each featuring an introduction by a writer who loved his work. Today’s entry is introduced by Ben Montgomery.
I once heard someone say that every sentence should be the act of earning the reader’s commitment to the next sentence. Topspin, it’s called. I’ve been envious of Michael Brick’s topspin since I first noticed his byline in The New York Times more than a decade back. Some of his stories, like the 459-word Shaken and Stirred column below, made me feel like I was rolling down some glorious hill.
A few years ago, Brick was kind enough to help me as I put a book proposal together. He shared his proposal for “Saving the School,” and let on that he was shocked by how much of the proposal was necessarily centered on selling the book.
Long into the process, he told his agent, “Soon we’ll be done with the selling, and I can really concentrate on the writing.”
“They’re the same thing,” she said.
“She’s right,” he told me. “We’re selling the next word, every time.”
Dusk of the Drummer
The New York Times, January 22, 2006
DATELINE: Brooklyn, New York
The showman wears suspenders and a red-trimmed cummerbund, an insurance policy for pants. His pleated shirt is ornamented with black studs and red bow tie, his pinkie with a silver ring. He smells like baby powder, and he spits when he talks and wipes his mouth with paper napkins, and he jabs at the air. He looks made out of old tires and paste.
His stage is a glass-walled barroom in Sunset Park in south Brooklyn, with lights done up for Christmas, dim chandeliers like Superman’s Fortress of Solitude and the television always on. He claims an audience of lawyers and doctors, magazine editors and titans of record companies, great favorites all.
The showman gives his full name as Peter Carmine Gaetano Napolitano, and he speaks of stages seen, bandstands of a bygone New York, disco halls and late, late nights and platinum records on other men’s walls. The telephone rings, and he answers:
”Good evening. You’ve reached Melody Lanes. How may we help you? Yes, this is the bowling place.”
When he hangs up, the show will start again for the unwatching eyes of the lane matron, the football fan and the bowler waiting for a bucket of beer. All the tribes of Brooklyn segregate themselves lanewise, skullcaps from ball caps, high-tops from combat boots. The loudspeaker plays Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam, and the bowlers drink and squint hard and say junior high seems unimproved this time around.
The showman announces he has cured writer’s block and the shakes, has a head full of invented phrases dictionary-bound. His patter is riled stream of consciousness and runs in figure eights.
”I don’t like motivational speakers, though they say I could do that,” he says. ”They’re talking to a group of successful people who are answering as a unit. Why would a successful person want to be in a place like that?”
A sign on the bar advertises Pete’s Special, ”It’s Green.” Every bottle in reach contributes to the mixture, but its inventor will not partake.
”It knocks me out,” Mr. Napolitano says.
Then the shots are gone, and 2 o’clock is gone, and the last customers are gone in outsize camouflage, cockeyed caps and big jeans and no belts. The showman takes out a duffel bag, and there are pictures of square sunglasses and leisure suits, chest hair and Pete on drums. Bearded Pete and his girl camera-ready before brown wallpaper long out of fashion.
”When I croak, I have this bag,” the showman says. ”I’m not alone. I’m not afraid. When you’re yourself, you say, ‘I did what I had to do.’ ”
Adapted from Melody Lanes
1 1/2 ounces Alize
1 1/2 ounces Wild Turkey
1 1/2 ounces Bacardi 151
1 1/2 ounces Malibu coconut rum
1 1/2 ounces pineapple juice
Dash blue Curacao
Pour ingredients in order over ice. Shake, strain, pour shots