Killing a Polar Bear

9 Apr

Tete-Michel was flying in from Paris to give a lecture at Manhattan’s Explorers’ Club. We’d never met, so Michael managed to get a ticket east and all three of us made plans to get together.

The night before Tete-Michel’s speech, Michael blew into town and met me at work. On the way to my office he’d helped a garbage man load up his truck, probably from an excess of high spirits, being back inNew Yorkagain. We picked up Scott and drove through endless rush hour traffic to my house. Michael had never been to my house – one of the first things he did was walk out to the back porch and then OFF the porch, plunging waist deep into a snow bank. It was a nice welcome for aJerseyboy too long in LA.

We caught Tete’s speech the next night, and met and hugged a man we’d developed a close bond with in spite of never having met him. It was weird to get a kiss on the cheek from him – it momentarily made me feel kind of girlish. Tete had immense charm without being a charmer – it was easy to see how people would extend themselves for him on first meeting. There was a natural, unforced friendliness between the three of us. In addition to the reprinting of An African in Greenland by the New York Review of Books, there was also a lot of interest in how the film was falling into place and Michael and I did a few on-the-spot interviews.

The next day we brought Tete to my favorite Korean restaurant in midtown, and drank a case of beer and feasted on Korean barbecue and kim chi chi gai. It was a blowout bonding lunch and later that evening we hustled into a cab for dinner at Tete’s publisher’s brownstone inGreenwich Village. It was the kind of scene I’m uncomfortable in – as though the upper class dogs in attendance can sniff me out as a lower middle class mutt. I did my best and if there’s one thing a bunch of literary types dig it’s a whiff ofHollywoodaction.

I said to Tete, “Well, we have you killing a polar bear now.”

He smiled and showed how savvy he was about how a script is written: “You know, maybe I really did kill a polar bear.”

When we said goodbye to Tete at his hotel that night, there was a lot of emotion.

Michael teared up, we all hugged and Tete did a funny thing. When our feelings were at their height, Tete turned and bolted into the lobby and disappeared, as though the display of emotion was more than he could bear.

(2004)

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