The Cartoonist

by whatsthatyousaymrsrobinson

House parties have held a particular terror in my suddenly single life.

You are placed in proximity with those whom you both know very well and those whom you don’t know at all. In theory it should be good, because you’re not rattling around your own lonely apartment, and yet there’s inevitably a point in the weekend when you experience a vicious stab of panic and you wonder how long you can keep up your impersonation of a functioning human being.

So I was pleased to discover that at my most recent one, there came a time when I expected to feel that way, but I didn’t.

Friends invited me to their house in the woods for Thanksgiving. To say the least, their invitation was generous. “Bring lovers, friends, children, dogs and bartenders,” it read. I replied that while I had no lovers, friends, children or dogs I could certainly rustle up a bartender or five.

 And I packed a bag and got on a train.

Part of the reason the weekend was so easy was that I didn’t feel guilty about doing nothing. I hiked not one single step. One morning when others had lit out for parts wooded, I sat on the couch and enjoyed the sight of a young, cowboy-fashioned Kevin Bacon in ‘Tremors’. And ate potato chips. It was ugly. I knew my hosts did not care.

The most effort I expended was in cooking bo ssam for 15. A process that involved lifting a basting bulb once an hour. And washing some lettuce. And spooning some kim chi and salted shrimp onto a plate.

The core of the crowd were sports journalists, so when they talked about Athens or Sydney or Beijing, which they sometimes did, they were referring to the Olympics. They have known each other a long time. They’ve clocked several Olympics. Summer and winter. They’ve worked together for a while.

There were a couple of professional wine people of the party and the drinking of very expensive wines began at a satisfactorily early hour. We would sit on the floor in the kitchen and eat and drink and gossip. It was comforting in a way that I can’t describe to my satisfaction. But I didn’t feel quite so other. I felt as if I belonged. Or at least as if I could fake belonging. 

The only time I stepped outside the house was to go mushroom hunting with an Argentinian, an experience which involved sitting on the cold ground, paging through a mushroom identifier book and trying to figure out by touch, color, smell and stem size whether the mushrooms we were looking at would kill us if we ate them. It’s a process that focuses the mind. I hope to do it again quite soon. I would like to. 

At Thanksgiving dinner I was road testing the story in my previous post—the one that started with the gay sex and ended up with the Russian and the cutie—seeing how it played out for a general audience. And the cartoonist got up from the table for a few minutes. When he came back he’d illustrated, in a surprisingly modest, and very funny way, the part about the gay sex sling. In his imagination it was a design feature of our hosts’ first apartment.

When I was talking about my work he drew me, fully clad, in the clothes I was wearing when I told the story, horizontal on a stripper pole.  (A metaphor that has sometimes sprung to my own mind.) 

The cartoonist counts himself amongst the sports journalist crowd, but his hobby is his gift. His work is whimsical, powerful and viciously, viciously funny. As a Jew, he says if you can’t laugh at the Nazis then you’re basically fucked. I hesitate to even mention the cartoon he drew that features swastika bathroom tiles. Not because it’s utterly tasteless, which it most certainly is, but because I cannot do justice to how freaking funny it was. “She thinks Nazis are hilarious,” he said after I’d picked myself up, gasping, off the floor.

When I texted him after the weekend was over to ask if it was okay for me to write about him, he texted back. “Okay, but the title has to be ‘The Christ Killer’.”

The cartoonist doesn’t talk much. He watches and listens. Over the weekend he wrote funny little notes to the children in the party and pretended they were from the dog.

When I said that the cartoon of me on the pole would have been funnier if he’d drawn me in my Park Slope approved Danish clogs he shot back with another drawing. Me, semi-clad this time, wearing shoes that are taller than I am. “Hey, look! Giant stripper shoes!” the caption read. And in the box to one side, “Stripper rules: 1. No clogs. 2. Have fun out there.” 

On Saturday morning when I was sitting in front of the fire the cartoonist came up to me and silently handed me a stack of papers.

They were his cartoons. On those pieces of paper he had mapped out the history of the group. The people whom I was spending time with, but whom I didn’t really know.

He’d drawn the weekends at our hosts’ other house. The one on the Hudson river. All those times at the Olympics. The time at the bar in Athens when they saw some famous athletes and couldn’t get a taxi. The time at the rehearsal for the Beijing opening ceremony which had bored on for hours. The very many times on the river when one of them had flashed passing tugboats. 

It was a beautiful map of interlocking professional and personal friendships of very many years’ standing. There were running jokes, faithfully adhered to. The cartoonist explained the backstory when I needed it and I felt like I knew all of them a little better when I reached the bottom of the stack.

I laughed the entire time. The cartoonist is that good. I’m a tough sell. I laughed like a drain.

I asked the cartoonist if I could take a photo of the first one he’d drawn of me on the stripper pole. And he said I could have it 

But I don’t want to have it.

I want me on the pole in my stripper high heels to be part of that stack of paper. To be part of that wonderful, congenial, collegial, funny, relaxed and clever group of sports journalists.

However briefly.