Good People, a novel      Author's Note:       Good People, a novel by Steven Key Meyers  
        ISBN 978-1609106317 (paper, 186 pp.)

 

 

I wrote this book in 1999 in Silver Lake, Los Angeles, funded by a generous and unexpected $5,000 gift from my parents. Just months earlier, my Mexican roommate had let drop that his brother, after investing his life savings of $20,000 in Amazon, was so disgusted by its falling by half in the dot.com crash that he wanted to sell it. I jerked as though electrocuted. “No!" I cried out. “Amazon’s an excellent stock! They know what they're doing! Don’t let him sell!” Gratifyingly, my roommate reached for the phone, called his brother, his brother did not sell, and by now his stake should have made him a multimillionaire.

Well, writers have better things to do with money than invest it. Our formula is money = time. I knew I could convert my parents' gift to a good draft of a good novel, so got to work on what I first called The Gag Reflex before titling it Good People (beating the slew of books, movies and plays taking the same title since then; mine, the reader will find as early as p.2, is more nuanced than the others).

Good People began as a play called Gnashers that I wrote in Hollywood in 1994-95. Gordon Davidson wrote me a complimentary letter about it, but didn't mount it or produce a reading. The story had come about in the first place when I realized I was sole survivor of the little office where I’d worked in the mid-80s. Not sole survivor in the sense of my brother’s mother-in-law, who stayed home sick one day during the Blitz only to have her office and everybody in it blown to bits by a V-2. No, sole survivor in a recognizably American—if ultimately no less lethal—sense: Our boss’s pregnant wife was the office manager, but he had an affair with our armaments-heiress club booker, and when that secret came out, the marriage went poof! and so, too, the heiress, almost, with a cerebral event. Our A&R man eventually killed himself, and our club manager, my lover, died of AIDS after our breakup. And our boss lost not only his marriage but his business. (Did he ever bounce back? Oh, yes; reading about his selling his new apartment for $25 million made me remember when he couldn’t pay the rent on the old one.)

And all this against an antic background. Loved that job! Our comedy club was the hottest in town and making a mint of money, but the boss was spending it even faster in trying to take the company public (he eventually succeeded, too, but success killed the golden goose). Officially I was his assistant, but such was the office’s chaos that I had a hand in everything; gnomically, I chose to sign my letters “Events & Promotions.” My daily duties included: Knocking Gilbert Gottfried off the beeline he made for my boss’s desk to scan his papers when he dropped by every day; assuring Citibank Private Banking I was sorry (and surprised!) to hear more checks had bounced; calling up Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, Brett Butler, Larry David, Colin Quinn, Carol Leifer, Barry Steiger, Larry Miller, Joy Behar, John Mendoza, et al., to give them their performance times.

Our club’s assistant manager briefly was a capable Puerto Rican woman named Mimi, who happened to be a dead ringer for Seinfeld; for a while we had he-Mimi and she-Mimi, as proved by the photograph someone took. Here's a true story about how the joke that (as I like to think) put Brett Butler over nationally came about: One late afternoon the phones were ringing in the bullpen, and next to me I could hear our put-upon young booker bitterly saying over the phone to Bill Maher, "If I hear one more PMS joke, I'm going to kill somebody." I blurted out, "'Ashley,' that's funny!" "Wait, hold on, Steve's trying to say something." She put Maher on hold. "What is it?" "'Ashley,' that's funny!" "It is?" She double-checked with "Joey," asking him in her gravelly voice if "If I hear one more PMS joke, I'm going to kill somebody" was funny. "Joey" fell out of his chair laughing: "That's a riot!" "Hmm, maybe I'll give it to somebody," said "Ashley." "Who does it sound like? Brett? I'll give it to Brett." A few weeks later I saw Brett Butler on The Tonight Show saying, "If I hear one more PMS joke, I'm going to kill somebody." And the next thing anyone knew, she was, as she deserved to be, a star. Meanwhile, at the club most nights Kitty Bruce, Lenny’s daughter, would go along the bar asking, “Five dollars? Five dollars?”

“Rosetta Stone” is partly inspired by a most talented performer with an amazing background; though there was a lot of talent to sabotage, she appears to have managed it. “Siggy Brewster” is based partly on a honcho of a shady Wall Street outfit who was keeping a boyfriend, a cabaret singer of my acquaintance. Whenever his boyfriend was to perform, this guy limousined in from Scarsdale with his wife and daughters to catch the show. Siggy's porter's chair I saw at an antique restorer's in Chelsea where the proprietor identified it as the favorite chair of Jules Stein, co-founder of MCA and antique-collector extraordinaire. The restorer opined that Stein didn't realize it had so humble a purpose as to shelter a servant from drafts (I wouldn't be so sure).

“Conor” is inspired by my partner of the time, a supremely talented and tortured soul. I imagine the big source of his pain was his sibling's murder, but I didn’t care to use that for fictional purposes (Kinky Friedman had no such compunction in basing the plot of his first mystery, Greenwich Killing Time, on the disappearance of “Joey”’s real-life brother-in-law). I gave Conor a sexual trauma instead, based on what could have been mine: I attended for a year a loathsome Jesuit school where some of the priests and lay teachers were accustomed to putting their hands down boys’ shirts in the classroom and no one ever, ever said a thing. (Though I was not among their targets, seeing it done dropped it into a memory hole nonetheless, until recalled by seeing Lindsay Anderson’s great If, with its similar scenes.) But on one occasion I was summoned after class to my religion teacher’s apartment upstairs, and good Father Keating opened the door fresh from the shower wearing only a bathrobe, put my 14-year-old self on his couch next to him and proceeded to tell me how cosmopolitan I was; fortunately, I got away unscathed.

In the 80s the Mob controlled New York’s waste-disposal business and told us which garbage-removal company to use (gee, wonder if things have changed?). In our office there was a special telephone on the credenza behind our boss’s desk which, I was told (not by the boss), was connected to his secret Mob financier. When it rang, he’d go white and shove shut the glass door to the rest of the office before answering. (Thus “Joe. D.”)

“Rex Black” playing chicken with Madonna? In reality, my encounter. In those days runners in Central Park had to observe an elaborate etiquette regarding the running, biking and traffic lanes, whose use changed according to the time of day. One evening I was running along quite correctly when there came at me an entourage spread across all the lanes led by a diminutive woman in a baseball cap. First I recognized her bodyguard, then her boyfriend, then, as she wearily looked up and stepped aside, her.

The rat that goes up Rex Black's pants leg? Once I saw a rat leap from the sewer at 42nd Street and Vanderbilt Avenue, climb a passing businessman's pants leg and get shaken off back into the sewer, all in the space of a few seconds. At my suggestion “Conor” gave out Groucho glasses as a New Year's Eve party favor; seeing Woody Allen's Everyone Says I Love You made me wonder whether I'd made a permanent contribution to American culture (such as it is). The girls clutching each other at sight of “Conor”'s backside were the ones sitting beside me when Robby Benson turned around in The Pirates of Penzance.

The “Last Laugh” is, alas, based on truth; thought I really had something, and still think so, but failed to persuade anyone of it. The Come-Ons' evading recognition by trotting heads down across the sidewalk was suggested by seeing Alfonso Ribeiro do it when he was appearing in The Tap Dance Kid. The “Mugged in New York” coffee mugs? Another idea of mine—such a good one!—but the industry said, quote, it wouldn't care to be associated with such an idea. A decorator friend of mine had the ultra-picky blind client. And one night “Conor” came home shaking his head at what he'd just witnessed at the club: his friend Robin Williams for once unable to pull so much as a chuckle out of anybody. (Ah, in the end a writer gets to use everything.)

I was happy to set a chapter of Good People in Los Angeles. Funny how little L.A.’s contributed to my writing despite my living there seven years: all told, this chapter 31, a page or two in The Wedding on Big Bone Hill, the opening of All that Money and the entirety of a short (but excellent!) piece entitled Big Luck (in My Mad Russian: Three Tales). Apparently not my kind of town! ( Climate’s sublime, though.) I recommend as being among the most perceptive and entertaining fictional treatments of L.A. Alison Lurie’s The Nowhere City.

 

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