by Craig Pettigrew

March 13

I'm telling.

I have to. Wouldn't you? Of course. No question.

It's a grim, unsavory Los Angeles morning. I sit at my computer, sweating, staring at a clock that reads "3:13 AM." The caffeine is making me testy. There is no outline this time. I am ready to start. Onward.

I met him three years ago in the Hughes Market on Beverly Boulevard.
I was 29. Grocery shopping at the improbable hour of 1 A.M., I cajoled my
short, slight frame through what seemed like aisles upon aisles of food I
knew I needed, but did not necessarily want.

On this particular night, an unsettling, untrustworthy calm permeated the market. The coffee bean grinder, an old friend that I visit often, sounded like a child's raygun blasting through galvanized steel. The air conditioner's compressor stopped and started with a loud, labored whir. The muzak tape was yanked abruptly, silencing Dean Martin as he sang "You're Nobody (Till Somebody Loves You)." I was alone. Almost.

Forcing my rusted cart from the aisle of condiments over to the display of fresh fruits, I noticed a hulking man in the Liquor section, his back to me, wearing a tattered, caramel-colored overcoat, staring into the whisky display, firmly holding on to a large green bottle. Without warning, he began
to sing: "I am the very model of a modern Major General..."

He looked around, a grin creasing his ample jowls. Before we could make
eye contact, I decided to resume shopping, carefully weighing some apples I
had no interest in eating, and pulling three green bananas apart from their
ripening bunch.

I stole another glance in the man's direction. He was still standing there, busy being mollified by calm, amber liquids. I wondered if he, like a horse, had fallen asleep in a standing position.

Minutes later, as I pushed my basket into the only open check-out line, my Gilbert and Sullivan aficionado from the Liquor section was not only not sleeping, but furiously rummaging through his coat, ostensibly looking
for some actual money in order to pay for his liter of Tanqueray.

"I've always said," he muttered, as he began invading his pants pockets,
"that money is the root of all wealth."

Was it the English accent that tipped his hand? Or the daunting profile,
with the dense, bushy eyebrows and the swollen, alcoholic's nose?

"And since I'm wealthy," he continued, "it would stand to reason that I
might possess at least a modicum of walking cash. N'est ce pas?"

"My shift ends at two. Try not to bust my chops between now and then,
okay?" the cashier said. (Name tag, pinned on crooked, said 'Viola DeGamba')

"Excuse me," I said, "can someone open up another check out line?"

Viola looked away, grabbing her jet black curls and shaking her head in
disgust. But with razor eyes and pursed lips, he, the man impeding my
exit from the store, looked squarely at me, emoting outrage. He became, if
only for a moment, the famous photograph of thirty years ago, a daunting
picture that looked out at the reader from the back cover of his "Four Plays,"
underneath where it said 'About The Author.'

"I seem to have misplaced my money clip," he said, with no trace of apology.

I looked away from him, trying to meld the fixed image from my college
days with the almost surreal, obese aberration which stood before me.

"Sir?" I began, motioning toward his gin.

"Yes?" he said, momentarily startled.

"May I buy you a drink? Uh, Several?" I added, attempting humor.

"Yes. No. Fuck," he rambled, still searching through his clothes. Finally, he produced from his inside coat pocket a matchbook, a paper clip, a Post-It note folded in half, two wadded dollar bills, and a rumpled, blank

I handed him my Waterman pen. Full, round, beads of sweat were beginning to fall from his forehead.

I decided, based on nothing concerning etiquette or protocol, to upstage my hero. I sang: "What a day this has been, what a rare mood I'm in."

He became, without hesitation, Lerner to my Loewe: "It's almost like being in love."

"Christ," he continued, with a sudden urgency, "I love that word 'almost.' Gives the song - life itself - a breath of possibility. 'Almost like being in love.' You see what I mean?"

He afforded me a brief smile.

"Are you two, like, famous or something?" Viola asked, staring us down
with what I took to be a murderous gaze.

"Yes, Miss DeGamba." His head remaining tilted long after he deduced her name. "We're the fucking Glee Club from the Schoenberg Institute," he
barked, projecting spittle. He then turned to me and, holding up my pen,
said, "Waterman... Absolutely my favorite." His basso profundo voice, warm
from singing, boomed, surprising even Viola, whom, I had come to think, was
impervious to anything shy of gun fire.

"Years, years since I've seen one of these," he continued, his voice trailing off.

He poised himself to write a check, but his hands shook, as if he were rolling octaves on a piano. He scribbled some circles where his name was to go, but even that seemed a Herculean task. He looked beleaguered, as if he
had just signed the Magna Carta.

"Famous or not, I still need to see identification," she said. "That'll be $15.84."

"Put it with my order."

Viola quickly began adding my items to his total.

"Are you quite sure?" he asked, deliberately.

"Please. It would be an honor."

"Well, yes, thank you, thank you very much," he said moving away from me,
grabbing his gin, pocketing my pen, and meandering toward the front of the
store. The blank check remained on the counter.

My initial impulse was to pick up the wadded check and return it tohim. My more devious inclination Çô and the greater of two evils always seems more
attractive Çô was to pocket the check and save it for a darker, storm infested day.

If I had that blank check in front of me now there might possibly beno need for what I am about to, in words, put down. Why didn't a bell go off? A sixth sense kick in?

A bell did go off. As I picked up my bags of groceries, he set off the store alarm as he exited through the automatic doors.

"Oh, Christ," he bellowed. He waddled back inside and removed a bottle of
Bushmill's from his lower overcoat pocket.

"Right, then. Lad, can you cover me on this one too?"

I threw Viola DeGamba a twenty and quickly sequestered The Big Man into the passenger side of my Volvo, an aging beauty that I still own. He sighed deeply several times, using the folded Post-it note to wipe the perspiration from his forehead. He didn't speak, and the enormity of his presence - literal and figurative - kept me in abeyance.

Until now.

Baylor Tuckwell. There. I've said it, written it.

You know who he is: The "author" of "Punch Drunk?" The bloated, talk show
habitu ? The literary critics' churlish darling whose name is never mentioned
without the word "resurgence" wedged into the same sentence?

He is also a literary hero, an ex Angry Young Man who disappeared from the world in the late sixties as ferociously as he had arrived over a decade previous.

I, Martin Leeds, authored "Punch Drunk." Every word.

Released nine months ago upon an unsuspecting public, "Punch Drunk" garnered rave notices and thrust Baylor Tuckwell into Fiction's brightest spotlight. He was photographed endlessly, his formidable presence at countless parties, on slick magazines, always with a drink in hand, and a
young woman by his side. The novel spent four months on the New York
Times' Best Seller's List. Three weeks ago it won the National Book Award. This
award, along with the accolades, and all other mentioned amenities,
rightfully belong to me.

I want them.

Have you placed him yet? He made the cover of Newsweek? Wearing that ridiculous plaid vest with half the buttons missing? How about the "Tonight"
show? He's virtually a regular, eating up the show's final eight minutes with
his pithy chat about quirky English behavior which, he's fond of saying, is

Yes, he can be funny and charming. But do not be fooled: Baylor Tuckwell
is a corpulent, slothful scum who would have you believe in his manufactured, artistic renewal, rather than his ongoing, self-made ruin.

Since Tuckwell does not discuss the 'Hows' and 'Whys' of his creative
undoing, I'd like to quote from a Ph.D thesis entitled "Mad Dog, Englishman,"
written by Canadian R.J. Randall and published, in 1986, by Queens
University press:

The critics, furious at what they thought was a blind opportunist, simply waited for Tuckwell's next theatrical salvo aimed at the American condition. Here was a writer who had scored major successes in his own country, and whose work, so long as he remained a British subject, traveled well. But when Tuckwell came to America, to "liberate her with a new, reflective theatrical tradition," the critics blanched.

"Carry On, If You Can" opened at the Biltmore Theater in 1969 to unanimously torrid reviews. It closed in three weeks, despite healthy
advance sales. It was simply not the play that was expected. 'Carry On' was not this savage belittling of America, but rather a dense, stylistically surreal
drama about a British lower class family whose son, Derek Rawlings, turns out to be a genius. Derek, who has intellectually aligned himself with such
American groups as the SDS and the Black Panthers, strives to prove, throughout the play, that violence is the only recourse for positive change. He is ultimately killed by his own father, who has come to regard Derek as a
literal threat to the family's survival. And quietly, ironically, as the play ends, the plight of the Rawlings begins to improve.

It is not Tuckwell's most cohesive work. But it is also in a different and daring style, and the critics found an opening which they could force open wider.

"Pure poppycock from the imagination of a desperate man," cried one critic. "Playwrighting like driving should require a license, renewable every five years. 'Carry On' is a collision caused by drunk and careless driving. Mr. Tuckwell, we revoke your license until further notice."

And so forth.

Vowing to return, and under his own terms, Tuckwell slipped from sight. But no plays nothing with his byline has come forth since. When pressed,,he politely insists that he is still writing, "much like my friend J.D. Salinger. We simply choose not to publish at this time..."

"Mr. Tuckwell," I finally said, after we had been sitting silently in my car for longer than my patience could tolerate, "no offense, but you're in no shape to get behind the wheel of a car. Can I drive you home?"

"May I drive you home. And how do you know who I am?"

"You're...sort of my hero. Well, one of them."

"Really?" He smiled and looked away. "First of all," he continued, regaining his stern composure, "I walked. The brisk night air...So necessary to clear one's head for the impending, important work, which always seems one step ahead and ten years younger."

"It always seems that way, doesn't it?" I added, with a chuckle.

"Are you a writer? Or are you like everybody else; a screenwriter?"

"I'm a ghostwriter, Mr. Tuckwell."

The Volvo windows were now fogged over. It was getting chilly outside, and neither person inside possessed cool, pristine breath, He opened his bottle of Bushmills.

"Well," I mumbled, having nothing new to say, "off we go." I started the car.

"Hurry. I have to piss."

He got out, a mile later, at the front gate of a house illogically diffident by Beverly Hills standards. But, like the Tuckwell that would emerge later, the character of his home was deceptive. Set back from the road, its enormity was disguised by a sequence of well-placed palms and a series of low angle lights, both which enhanced the height of the 'A' frame while secluding the house's oblong and obtuse depth.

He didn't invite me in for a nightcap. Disappointed, I stomped on the
accelerator, a motion my Volvo was unaccustomed to.

"Martin, stick around for Act Two."

I swerved my car around so that my headlights illuminated Baylor Tuckwell. He unzipped his pants and began to urinate into his bush of Ayreshire roses. Then he started to sing. He downed slugs of Bushmills between each musical phrase:

"What a day this has been... what a rare mood I'm in..."

He put down his bottle and glared at me. "Well come on, lad, finish the line."

"It's almost like being in love," I spoke back, putting the car in reverse.

I sped home to my apartment, a stucco box with two dingy bedrooms and
coffee-stained carpets. I re-read "Safe As Houses," Tuckwell's first play,
and marveled anew at his talent.

By the time I met Baylor I had already been ghostwriting for four years.
Before that, not long after arriving in L.A., from Chicago, I wrote a
Hollywood comic novella, entitled "Loman On The Totem Pole." It was a
gimmicky, jokey thing, putting Willy Loman in Hollywood and imagining
what his life might have been like had he been a screenwriter instead of a
salesman. Not at all brilliant, but the L.A. Weekly, the Yugo hatchback
of literature, published it as a separate "pull-out" insert. I ended up getting
a lot more recognition than I deserved, and my career - dare I call it that?
- had begun.

I wanted to write novels. I wrote one. My agent, looking for quick and easy cash, rather than trying to place my book, found instead the squalid world of ghost-written celebrity tell-alls. Danny convinced me that sure, instant money would then buy us some time to "dwell in the world of high quality." My life then, such as it was, started revolving around the patterns and peculiarities of the celebrity at hand.

Usually an actress. Usually a young actress with a flaming beauty, a
Canasta deck of credit cards, a need to be taken "seriously," and a drug
habit which she vows to quit but doesn't.

Off to Betty Ford's she goes, only to emerge months later with beauty intact, an eagerness toward self-disclosure and, remarkably, a talent for writing.

It always starts with a call from the star's publicist or agent. There is never an admittance that the star does not, or cannot write. Ghostwriting is a word that is never mentioned. The celebrity, according to the publicist "has a story to tell." And would I be "available to help bring her story to life?"

What that really means is that would I be available to bring the star herself to life. Because two things have already happened; she's fallen off the wagon and the word on the street is that every film insurance company considers her unemployable. The agent will finally admit to me that the actress is "wallowing in self pity," and needs "serious personal evaluation." If she could only see, the agent will say, the highlights of her life in print, then maybe she could again start to believe in herself.

My job, then, is to "revisit and refresh" these highlights, inventing a childhood replete with Bible School and Girl Scouts, and deleting (or denying) her one-time fondness for cocaine enemas, especially when administered poolside by the rich and famous.

You say you want proof? Oh, you're one of those, the sort who sifts his dirt through a sieve looking for the maggots.

If you're standing in the book store and you've read this far, do me a favor: Wander over to the Biography section (or is it in Self-Help, or Self-Pity?) and pull out Susan Hofstrau's "In God I Trust (All Others Go To Hell)"

Oh. Her you've heard of.

Yes, during a weaker moment, I thought up that ridiculous title, and then
wrote every word of that book inside of three weeks.

The celebrities, regarding their own biography, have been no help whatsoever.

In Susan's case, there was an initial meeting, with promises to "work closely" with me. Within a week, there came a follow up phone call and a
series of lunches which usually ended with Susan weeping in her gazpacho.
Then she disappeared, only to emerge months later on talk shows, promoting the book, smiling at the camera, and thanking God for her new found writing talent.

I 'tell' on her because she still owes me from a personal loan given to her after a particularly melodramatic, drug Çôrelated crying jag. Five hundred
bucks that, I was happy to find out later, went to her favorite charity: Her
boyfriend's arm.

Almost everything that's a clich about being a celebrity is, in fact, rooted in truth: They were always full of money, and forever receiving relentless adulation.

Here's the clincher: Never were they more than an arm's reach away from
having meaningful physical contact with attractive strangers.

I ache for that. No, I really do: Onanistic pleasure has become oxymoronic and, frankly, boring and humiliating. At least once I would like to meet a woman and, after a nice evening, find myself in bed with her as if it were the unquestioned punctuation at the end of a first date. Just once. Celebrities, it seems, do it routinely.

There is, too, in this melange of rant and revelation, a surprisingly obvious yet unreported motivation:

Money. I've earned it. Yet Tuckwell has it. In addition to the accolades, I want the cash, too.

Let me briefly alert you to how this ghosting arrangement works.

Tuckwell, by contract, will receive the entire lot of the royalties. He will also receive a huge percentage of a movie sale and, of course, a big pile of dough when "Punch Drunk" goes to paperback.

I took to the bank $15,000 dollars, a flat fee delineated from his advance. Period. No royalties, no further payments.

But promises were made. To me. Handshakes firmly offered. Bonus guarantees from both Tuckwell and publisher Franklin Reynolds, money
that has yet to materialize. Then came the important F.R. assurance: The
publication of my own novel, "Points Of Departure," a work very close to the bone, very dear to my heart.

That promise, so warmly and orally delivered, has gone unfulfilled. I didn't shop it to another publisher out of fervent loyalties and in the naive belief in personal vows and guarantees. I blame myself for being so gullible and trusting.

I wanted - want - that book published! Under my own name. This is important. Christ, it's been, what, years since I've had more than the
occasional magazine piece under my own by-line. I entered into ghostwriting,
initially, in order "buy" some real writing time.

There are, as I've implied, others involved no less guilty and equally deserving of the exposure I'll soon give them. My agent, for example: Danny Kwapis, The Fool On The Hill. Albeit a Beverly Hill. I promise complete explication of his character in the following chapter.

I'm referring, for the most part, to those who wander aimlessly the hallowed halls of publishing. These people are enormously gifted at sticking their noses in places other than their immediate sphere of business.

You watch. I'll be found out long before I finish this exaltation of the damned. Someone will discover what it is I'm up to, especially when deadlines for Tuckwell's second book come and go. Everyone thinks I'm gearing up to
write Tuckwell's second book.

I am. This is it. "About The Author." Perfect title, if nothing else.

The sun is now beginning to peek over the horizon.

Corrugated gates several blocks away are beginning to open, sounding like a thousand screeching cats having their tails stepped on. The Post Office gears up for another day.

Have you read "Punch Drunk"? Not a bad book, if I say so myself.

The novel begins in early 1964, when Tuckwell (under the fictional name
Frederick Lowell) gets off the plane in New York with The Beatles, thinking
that the "screaming girls in their loose knickers" had all come for him. The book continues by following Lowell through a series of professional and carnal misfires. That much is pure Tuckwell biography.

Then, our hero finally gets on track when he is asked to write an open-ended "relevant" Travelogue for the Village Voice, entitled "Here, There, And Everywhere," the idea being that an Angry Young Man's point of view regarding America's accumulating afflictions might just be the fresh
perspective from which everyone can learn. This was my invention, a turn-around for the character. In truth, Tuckwell merely continued misfiring.

Long off the Village Voice's payroll, Lowell ends the decade by watching
Armstrong's walk on the moon. Drunk, he sits entrenched in front of the
TV. To his surprise, he has something of a revelation: He understands, even
knows Armstrong, and comprehends that what the astronaut is really thinking has nothing to do with the bit about 'Man' and 'Mankind.' Neil has come all this way, and there are no girls with loose knickers to greet him. Nothing but rocks and dust and the capsule's radio perpetually squawking, "We read you loud and clear."

'Yes, he's on the bloody moon,' Lowell thinks, 'but now what?' Lowell begins to contemplate - and this is where the book ends - his own "but now what."

"Punch Drunk" was the first of a proposed trilogy. The second book would have taken him through his years of teaching "girls half my age square in the middle of the sexual revolution," and book three would have situated Lowell in Hollywood, as he attempts to come to grips with "The New World" and his hilarious and misconceived attempts at screenwriting.

Baylor Tuckwell was my hero, the man who could, in one brief and brilliant exchange, define class struggle and dramatically dissect societal ills and hypocrisies.

Let me remind you of how good he once was. This is just one brief exchange from his play "Class Dismissed," my favorite:

ANDREW is an American exchange student in London. Before he meets his
mentor, with whom he has come to study, he happens upon a young GIRL
who, unbeknownst to him, is a tart. But he tries to impress her anyway,
using, literally, a textbook cliche .


Well, you know what I think; I think that "true art is the absence of definition."


I'm sorry, but a blow job still costs eight quid.

A brilliant snippet of work...

I would stop writing "About The Author" this instant if Tuckwell were to call me and say that he'd started writing again. But that won't happen. Because when he does call, he's usually soused and belligerent. Which shifts to a tone of despair and apology, which in turn finds me driving over to his house, only to ultimately agree to be his errand boy for the afternoon, ending up at Hughes Market, staring at the calm, amber liquids...

Never, ever, has Tuckwell said a quiet and simple, 'Thank you.'

So I look to myself and ask, 'Am I doing this "telling" out of some skewered psychological need?'

No. I may be many things; a fool, a narcissist, a patsy, a literary grifter...But Judas I'm not. Iago has no home within me.

When I caught my high school English teacher drinking shots of Tequila before class, did I tell? Use my information to extort a better grade? No. He
was thirsty and I was already an 'A' student.

The time when I saw my father between a pair of legs that did not belong
to my mother...Did I run and tell her? No. But I gave fuckhead Dad four flat
tires and some nasty panties in his glove compartment. (My parents, Dick
and Jane - their real names - divorced a few months later)

My filthy little secret no longer exists merely within the four walls of Tuckwell's opulent study, where books sit caked with dust, as the manual
typewriter of his once proud youth sits in the desk's bottom drawer, losing
its battle with raging corrosion, rendering the Underwood keys, so like its
owner, rusted and unyielding.

My condolences to the typewriter.

Are you, Baylor Tuckwell, reading this?

Tell me: Do you, after a quart of booze, open the drawer and gaze at your
antique typewriter and think back on a youth that was vibrant and purposeful? Or have you made too much money? Wouldn't the sight of that decomposing instrument just be too awful to bear?

Go ahead, Tuckwell, recline in your Eames chair, crack the spine of this
book, read again what I've just written. You've come off saintly, so far, considering what is to come: The lies, the deception, the ugliness of
what you call "integrity." No need to get up. A drink in your left hand? Of
course. A woman of miscreant morals tugging at your zipper? A certainty.
One must have the proper trimmings to go with one's turkey. Your right hand? Once you remove it from the young girl's head (no need to force - you have too much money and she knows it) you'll have a truly terrific, page-turning encounter. Here's hoping.

This won't take long, Baylor. You know the story...