Tuesday, April 22, 2008

My Eric Von Zipper Story

Is this story what it appears to be, a rambling reminiscence of a particular day? Is it a piece of writing inspired by an actual day but then pleasantly embellished? Is it carefully crafted and completely fictional?

One Degree Of Richard Brautigan

In that same era from when I met Del Close, back when I was hanging out with show biz wannabes, one Friday night my friends threw a party in a borrowed apartment just off Sheridan road, right where Chicago turned into Evanston. The idea was to make it easy for both north side people and Northwestern students to come.

Mostly the same people came who always came—show biz wannabes, in my experience, mostly hang out with the same people all the time, commiserating about how hard it is to be “in the business” and compare notes about which part time jobs aren’t as bad as others.

But at this particular party there were three women nobody knew. Although I was only close friends with two or three of the people at the party, I was a wannabe novelist and I always paid attention to people as possible characters so I knew, in passing, who everybody was. But I didn’t know those three women.

They were beautiful. They weren’t just beautiful. They were the kind of really beautiful that normal beautiful women dreamed of being. They were super-model beautiful.

And they spent the party standing by themselves because even the guys with good hair, the wannabe actors, were intimidated by how beautiful the women were. Even the guys who thought they looked like Don Johnson—‘Miami Vice’ was big back then—were intimidated by how beautiful the women were.

I hatched a kind of plan to meet the women.

I worked my way to behind the bar. That got me close enough to the three women so that I could hear what they were saying. As I was passing out cans of beer or pouring vodka and orange juice into glasses, I listened to the women talk.

They were talking about who they thought was the sexiest man on the planet. They very quickly agreed that they thought the sexiest man on the planet was Harvey Keitel.

Now even back then I was a cinema buff so I knew who Harvey Keitel was. He was this guy. A Brooklyn guy who made a lot of European films. Gruff and quiet looking. Tough looking. Always plays cool characters. I knew who he was.

But you know how sometimes in our brain we get a wire crossed? You know how sometimes in our mind we connect one name with another person? You know how sometimes you mistake one person for someone else because something about their names is similar?

Well, that night at the party that happened to me.

When I heard the name “Harvey Keitel” I instantly connected the name with the person of actor “Harvey Lembeck.” The guy in the middle of this picture.

Now, they’re both ‘Harvey’ but that’s about all they in common.

The actor Harvey Lembeck is famous for playing the role of Eric Von Zipper in the old Beach Party movies, famously called the world’s oldest juvenile delinquent. He was a slapstick character who always spoke in a silly Brooklyn accent even though he was leading a motorcycle gang around the beaches of California.

So there I am behind the bar listening to these three magically beautiful women talking about who they think the sexiest guy in the world is and I think they say the actor who played Eric Von Zipper.

So I think to myself, wow, it’s true what they say, really beautiful women do have their own standards for judging men . . .

So I think to myself, well, I know I’m not Clark Gable, I’m not going to win any good looks contests, but I think I can live up to the physical standards set by Eric Von Zipper!

There’s this thing about me—if my thinking is clear about something then I don’t have a lot of worries. If I understand—or think I understand!—a situation then I am very comfortable diving in like an Olympic diver relaxing and testing out a new board.

And that’s what I did.

I just walked around the bar, walked up to the three beautiful women and smiled and said, “Hi. You know, those old beach party movies were pretty cool, weren’t they? They don’t make films like that any more. Fun films. Somebody should make fun films like those beach party movies.”

Then there was a moment. Like you drop a coin that lands on edge and sways as it rolls before deciding whether to fall heads or tails. There was one of those moments.

The three beautiful women looked at me and they kind of glanced at each other then they all smiled and nodded and said, kind of all together, “Yeah, those beach party movies were cool!”

And we all started talking about beaches and movies and vacations and surfing and California and just about any other topic we could derive from beach party movies.

Their names were Shelby, Shelly and Jay-jay. (Yes, I later used their names in the Green Sweater story [pt. 1 and pt. 2 and pt. 3]) Shelby and I would become friends. I got to know Shelly a little. I never got to know Jay-jay much at all.

This is what happened with the Harvey Keitel thing.

About two weeks after that party, Shelby and I were going to spend a Friday night in, renting a movie and making root beer floats. So Shelby and I went to a neighborhood movie rental store—this was in the days before Blockbuster—and as we were walking around looking at tapes, the TVs in the store were showing clips of up-coming releases. One of the clips was of a film starring Nastasha Kinski and Harvey Keitel. As I walked past the screen, I looked up and saw a freeze frame of Harvey Keitel with the text label of ‘Harvey Keitel’ under it.

‘Harvey Keitel,’ I thought.

And then it hit me.

Harvey Keitel was Harvey Keitel, not Harvey Lembeck.

In an instant—like some kind of movie visual effect—in my mind I flashbacked to the party and I realized the three beautiful women had said nothing at all about Harvey Lembeck, nothing at all about beach party movies, and I had walked up to them and started talking about beach party movies . . .

My stomach twisted up into a knot and for an instant I thought I was going to throw up.

But then Shelby walked over to me and took my arm and pulled me over to the new release wall and my brain—all by itself!—somehow said to my terrified, conscious self, “Hey, there’s no reason for the fox to be afraid of the guard dog when the fox is already inside the hen house!”

And instantly my stomach unknotted and don’t think I even thought about my bizarre mix-up again that night.

But I never forgot it, either. And I’ve never forgotten the bizarre, silly-ass farm metaphor [!?] my brain somehow came up with in the clutch to stop me from freaking out about my mix-up.

That night Shelby and I took home a movie called, “The Stunt Man.” It’s a very cool film about how sometimes even when things are exactly what they seem to be, sometimes they are, at the same time, too, nothing at all like what they seem to be.

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