"You have to get all the stories."
More about me.
Most likely you’ve already seen the bio in my book, or you will, I hope. So no need to recapitulate the same details here.
What else can I tell you about my six-plus decades of life? Enough to fill several volumes, possibly, though it would be highly fictionalized. I follow in the footsteps of my mother, who never lived a story that couldn’t be embellished. Uncle Frank calls that lying. I call it creative writing.
I wasn’t always a writer, I’ll tell you that. I wasn’t even a reader. When my first grade teacher told my mother I’d never make it to college (true? I don’t know—I already told you about my mother…), she decided to take matters into her own hands and teach me to read. My elementary school didn’t use a phonics-based approach, but my mother did. I took to it so well that every day, in the middle of a lesson, I’d select the biggest knife in the kitchen and remove myself to the shade of the peach tree to kill myself. And we hadn’t even gotten to the “kn” digraph.
Mom knew a bluff when she saw one. She stuck with the lessons, we eventually cracked the code, and the empires of Freddy the Pig, Danny Dunn, Henry Huggins, Miss Pickerell,and so many others, were mine. The kingdoms of Ray Bradbury, S.E. Hinton, A. E. van Vogt, H.P. Lovecraft, Vonnegut, Tolkien and all the rest soon followed. We didn’t have YA books in those days—just books. Man, I even thought the assigned reading in high school was fantastic. I was hooked.
Though I smoked plenty of pot in college, it didn’t appear to have caused lasting damage; I didn’t even consider being a writer until I was well on the path to business school.
Are you the kind of person who’s always craning over a stranger’s shoulder to see what they’re reading? Yeah, me, too. I was sitting on the beach, studying for the GMAT, and a guy had me babysit his book while he went for a run. Pentimento, by Lillian Hellman, which they adapted into the movie “Julia,” with Jane Fonda. Like someone would really walk off with that, right? Leave the wallet, the car keys—but grab the book!
This random conversation with another reader was a turning point. It made me rethink everything I’d neatly planned for my life. For the next seventeen years, I tended bar and wrote screenplays.
Anyway, when the guy came back we talked—and somehow this random conversation with another reader was a turning point. It made me rethink everything I’d neatly planned for my life. For the next seventeen years, I tended bar and wrote screenplays.
You can see why my stepkids warn my wife not to let me talk to strangers. They’re training my grandkids not to allow it, either. But I’ve still got the granddog wrapped around my finger. As long as I take him for a walk, he’ll let me stop and schmooze all I want.
My career path was a bit hard for my New York Granny to handle. When people would enquire about her eldest grandson, Granny would reply in an arch tone, “Oh, yes. George is at the bar…” hoping they’d think I was a lawyer.
Like that’s better than being a bartender? If you need a lawyer, you probably need a drink…
Well, as Pauline Kael wrote, “Hollywood is the only place where you can die of encouragement.” You couldn’t call what I was doing a career, any more than homelessness is a choice of accommodations. It was finally time for a change—and with the dramatic shortage of bilingual teachers in LA and my college Spanish holding up okay, I was in an LAUSD classroom before you could say, “emergency credential.”
I thought being a teacher would give me plenty of time to write. Ha ha, say all the teachers reading this. Dumb ass. I was never stretched so thin in my life. If it weren’t for El Cholo margaritas, my buddies and I wouldn’t have made it through that horrific first year.
I thought being a teacher would give me plenty of time to write. Ha ha, say all the teachers reading this. Dumb ass. I was never stretched so thin in my life.
Yet, in writing the chronicle of those traumatic days, I found my narrative voice. You had to laugh, or else you’d cry. And you had to tell the stories. Even Uncle Frank agrees with that. “Most of life is bad,” he says. “But you have to get all the stories.”