But what if the reclusive literary giant had finally emerged, but only to appear on some wretched game show, like Beat the Clock or Wink Martindale’s Tic-Tac-Dough? And what if he went apeshit over some porn bimbo?
Such was the premise of a short story attempt of mine, in Oui of Jan 1984. Little did I know—and was stunned to read in Salinger’s 2010 obit—that this nearly happened. Salinger had become infatuated with and pursued Elaine Joyce (a terrific B’way actress in her youth, now married to Neil Simon)—at that time host of The All-New Dating Game, and panelist on Match Game and I’ve Got a Secret. (And no matter how low-rent the strokebook mags were—see below—the hustlers who worked for them were still more honorable than the slime at mainstream media. And that’s no lie.)
Is that A Perfect Day for Bananafish in your pocket, or are you happy to see me?
J.D. Salinger pursuing Elaine Joyce, host of The All-New Dating Game.
J.D. Salinger pursuing Elaine Joyce, host of The All-New Dating Game.
Reprinted from Oui, Jan. 1984, in slightly altered form.
Nothing ticked off Ratsy Gold more than a terse refusal from some hack writer to appear in his magazine—though when such a flat No came from literary titan T.C. Gablinger to Ratsy’s desk, it fired him with the thrill of victory. People had stopped even trying to solicit output from the old man of letters years ago, because T.C. had never bothered to answer requests, much less refuse one—until now.
T.C. Gablinger, nearly 80, was known in his day as a sporting chap until he vanished into bitter seclusion after a brush with Hollywood. He published his swan song in 1958 (a sexual masterpiece), picked up a Nobel Prize and granted his final interview to Paris Match. Gablinger’s works had awakened the angst of an entire generation. But more legendary than his novels was his refusal to give interviews, answer his front door, and particularly his utter steadfastness in not releasing one written word, not with a cannon to his head. You might say he’d become more renowned for not writing. Yet Ratsy Gold, proud editor of Spud Plunker (“The mag of honest, loving sexuality”), examined the scrawled T.C. Gablinger rejection under his very nostrils. The first written word seen from the author since 1958. On a lark, Ratsy had dashed off an inquiry upon Spud letterhead requesting some new work. Or any “old, shitty ms. lying around.”
“No!” read Gablinger’s note.
“A Page Six in the Post,” Ratsy swore to his wide-eyed staff.
Ratsy Gold was considered by some a third-rate editor who couldn’t hold a job at any other magazine, giving the old shuck and jive to every model, writer and photographer who came to collect their due. Worse were his editorial skills with respect to language fundamentals, which couldn’t get him through a ghetto high school. “Let’s be hip, controversial,” he intoned to his staff, beaming at the thought. He was a freeloader who drove the company car, received free tickets, records and books with the promise of a Spud write-up, and wangled free dinners and women in similar fashion. Ratsy went unshaven for weeks on end, his hair tangled to the shoulder, wore T-shirts with trendy slogans (“A Million Dead Cops”), and was always on the roam for a free bar tab and long tits that resembled rippled water balloons, his favorites. He was a pear-shaped Romeo whose chief hangout was Big Wang’s in Chinatown. All the waiters there called him “Chee-chee” (penis in Mandaran vernacular). Give him a big-titted waitress and a bite off someone else’s dinner plate, he was in heaven.
Ratsy could also rip off a bar’s length of starving playwrights for stroke letters in the front of the mag. “Give me a JAP being gang raped by A-rabs up the ass while forced to watch the destruction of Tel Aviv from her hotel window,” he would bark, bouncing checks behind them. Ratsy also had a fondness for yarns concerning “oily blue Negroes” who came across white girls camping out in the woods, whom they would perform gross acts upon, then dismember. All of this in good humor, of course. “Stick in one of those oily blue Negroes,” he would whine contemptuously, to punch up stories.
Ratsy was foremost a champion deal maker, having penned six top-budget porn flicks. He was a brilliant schmoozer, to whom connections were sacred things. He was Editor-in-Chief of Spud Plunker.
After the amazing rejection arrived, the Rat, still glowing after a lunchtime schmooze with owner Irv of the Carny Deli, presented the document to Spud’s disbelieving staff.
“Does this count as new writing by Gablinger? Can we offer $500 to publish it?” Spud’s V.P. of finance, a six-footer named Gertel, protected the mag’s bankroll as though it were harbored in the canyon between her aging silicone marvels. Few dared for their life to reach in there.
“Over my dead body,” she gasped. Spud had never offered $500 for anything. Aside from her business acumen, Gertel ever so gently assisted in photo sessions of first-time models, posing them in “romantic positions.” Afterward, she would berate them mercilessly, calling them “disgusting sickos” for what they had done.
A letter postmarked from the same upstate town as Gablinger’s arrived the next day, in a shaky old man’s hand: “How about Nancy Shooter?” it read. “Co-starred with Johnny Wadd in Limo Girls. Fix me up with this angel and my next book will be delivered for installment in your publication. To be completed next month after 25 years of hell.”
Now, Ratsy Gold couldn’t give a rat’s ass for books or subjects beyond the oily blue rape genre, but he smelled history with a capital H. “I think he’s finally hit his home run,” said Ratsy to his staff. The letter, clearly the scrawl of a loon, contained no signature, but a quick handwriting analysis against an editorial colleague’s autographed copy of Death’s Innuendo proved it was T. C. Gablinger. Furthermore, embossed upon the stationery was the inscription “Hog on the Hudson,” which was known to be Gablinger’s houseboat hideaway, moored far up river all year round; it was never known to sail.
Publication of a new book by T.C. would create small international headlines; his decision to debut it in the pages of Spud Plunker would not only increase their print run into the millions, but Ratsy was sure to further his own personal splendor, perchance someday getting to deliver the mayor of New York to Big Wang’s in Chinatown for a photo op, inspiring a hundred free meals of gratitude from Wang himself. Big Wang’s brother and arch competitor, Little Wang across the street, already had a photo of the mayor dining there.
“Sounds like he’s hit the literary long ball,” said Ratsy, on the phone with agents all day. Surely there was some way to parlay the Spud installments into a subsidiary fortune. But no one believed it. The best response was hesitative, and even Page Six was reluctant to give credence to such a rumor. Nancy Shooter, on the other hand, was merely some porn bimbo, almost certainly used up in the biz by now, probably strung out on junk. Ratsy had met her three years ago on the set of “Two Nuns and a Donkey,” a 15-minute loop. Nevertheless, he dashed off the following on Spud letterhead:
“So, you go for Nan Shooter, eh? Promptly went through my Nan Shooter files and discovered the following two photo spreads, one from Snatch, Paps & ’Hind End mag (a disgrace to humanity), and the other, a hard-core book in which we also find our Nan in several foul and compromising activities. Hope this doesn’t rot your sweet tooth for Nan Shooter!”
This, the Rat figured, bumbling past any semblance of tact toward the Nobel Laureate, would really get him hot. Pix of the blonde actress when she was just over jailbait, each hole engulfed by oversized syphilitic dongs. These shots would have to hold Gablinger until the Rat could track down his gal, whose whereabouts he said in the note, he put a tracer on.
“And don’t worry,” continued the letter, “ol’ porn detective Ratsy here’ll have little Nan high on the Hog with you in no time. Name your photo, Ratsy tracks ’er down—though don’t hoist your sails yet. Meanwhile, how about the first chapter?”
It was two weeks before another feeble-pressured letter arrived to the Spud Plunker mailroom. There wasn’t a rat’s doubt in the Rat’s mind that the great T.C. Gablinger was about to emerge once again on the American literary landscape. It was “the last carnal love for a woman I will ever know,” he ranted, having fallen for her over his video machine, and he was sure he could conclude his book with her muse-like presence. It was now T.C.’s wish to assist in the hunt for Nancy Shooter, at least in spirit, with a suggestion: Had Ratsy checked with the photographers of both porn spreads? The fact was, he had. One lensman was dead, and the other spread was sold to Snatch, Paps & ’Hind End from a model agency, Twin Talent, in San Francisco, which didn’t recall the whereabouts of Miss Shooter since she stormed off a rainbow shower photo shoot, drenched in vomit, proclaiming she had “a classy image to protect.”
Wanting to hang on to the Biggest Book of the Decade for Spud, Ratsy waited for nightfall to plot his course at Big Wang’s crowded bar. “Always think better at crowded bars,” Ratsy advised his admiring staff. “The noise forces you to concentrate harder in order to block it out.” He dashed off the following:
“Making some progress in pursuit of the Nan. Seems she was off on some Third World porno tour, lead by Fran Trinkle last summer—photographed by that nomadic Love magazine group of folk pornographers. Seems our Nan contracted gastrointestinal diarrhea two days into Nigeria, and was whisked away in the vigilant care of some displaced American percussionists—ones who’ve become “Africanized,” found their roots in Black Classical Music. Thelonius Monkists, I think they’re called, terribly militant and oily blue. All this according to Miss Trinkle. Although La Trinkle sometimes suffers episodes of amphetamine psychosis. But no matter. Ol’ Det. Ratsy always gets his gal. Ace Spud reporters are also on the case. We’ll have lil’ Nan Shooter back in no time. . . though best not bank any spud on it just yet. (Would you consider Candy Pop or Trish Blacquelord instead?) How about those chapters?”
Gablinger’s next correspondence expressed a willingness to travel to Africa, gullible old genius that he was. Now truth be told, Ratsy couldn’t give a flying rat’s ass about the whereabouts of Miss Nancy Shooter. But he worshipped celebrityhood, which T.C. had in spades. Ratsy might finally collect his due in the Quality Lit world with this literary coup. His bewildered underlings at the mag were not quite connected enough to solicit useful information. For they knew it was the Rat, and only the Rat, who could come through with such privileged address. Yet all his leads fell short, directing him, via Spud correspondence, to San Diego housewives and cosmetics saleswomen, all with porn skeletons in the closet.
Obsessed with debuting T.C.’s comeback in the pages of Spud Plunker, while smashed on coke before his TV one night, Ratsy pondered sending the literary giant a one-way ticket to Lagos, Nigeria, in exchange for the book.
It was then that the very image of Nancy Shooter came over his screen—a model presenting a microwave someone had won on Cheat the Clock. This lookalike could surely fake out an old cadaver like T.C. She may have possessed a few more years and wrinkles than Nancy Shooter. But she fawned over kitchen appliances with the same ill-disguised contempt Nancy had shown for the largest peckers on screen. But then Ratsy stiffened in his shit-stained, baggy-assed boxers, hair a-frazzle, sleep-squinted eyes starting to widen.
It was the Nan!
Gablinger received the following telegram next morning:
“Hallelujah! Located our gal, back from Nigeria in good health. Says she’s ‘quit the life’ and gone legit, modeling toasters and luggage prizes on Cheat the Clock. Careful scrutiny reveals her ID as former Nan Shooter! But she’ll only boff Wink Hopperdale, the host. Best shot at stealing her from The Wink would be to make appearance on show. Each week, Cheat the Clock presents a celebrity guest, a $400 gig. Send book, prepare for show, and the fab Shooter snatch is yours. (Can you still plunk your spud?)”
Ratsy spent all day on the phone, pooling together his every TV resource, and then some. Spud Plunker had no media credibility whatsoever, but Ratsy himself had bounced around the dailies, leaving a marker here and there, which he called in. There wasn’t a connection left unturned in his Rolodex, and it took some doing before the straight press indeed speculated that T.C. Gablinger was about to surface for the first time in 25 years, perhaps even with a book. The tie-in with Cheat the Clock baffled some literary circles, but the show’s producers were delighted to have T.C. aboard. Ratsy, in his finest moment, acted as middleman, collecting 10 percent of T.C.’s $400. Maybe now they’d even honor the Rat by naming a sandwich after him at the Carny Deli, his most impassioned secret dream.
Wink Hopperdale, though a bit of a joke even amongst game show hoi polloi, was of the highest celebrity in hometown Kentucky, where he owned two Wink Hopperdale restaurants. He had once been a judge in the Miss America Pageant, and the local legislature debated renaming a boulevard after him, but decided not. El Winko, at 47, sported a Joseph Paris hairpiece and a freshly pressed tux for each segment. Though it seemed today, Wink was changing his shorts faster than his wardrobe could muster. It was to be one hot episode of Cheat the Clock!
Ratsy arrived at the morning press conference with a folksy smile and a cigar. “Am I a celebrity yet?” he wondered aloud, stumbling upon the dais to field reporters’ questions. There in the bleachers of Studio 17 was a buzzing audience of reporters, academics and Gablinger fans, some of them renowned men of letters themselves. Old English professors from New England, who’d flown in for the event, clutched tattered copies of Danny and Louie, Ten Fables and other Gablinger classics. Pressing on their minds was whether the Nobel Laureate would appear before the group for questioning. Ratsy apologized that T.C. wouldn’t, considering he was a budding octogenarian, and that he was off posing for the New York Post’s “Wingo” contest page.
“What does it all mean?” shot one of the Ivy League professors, followed by a colleague’s estimation that T.C. was driven into seclusion by the curse of the Nobel, and now chose to make some sort of statement by appearing in a vehicle representing the lowest common denominator of public vulgarity—a game show. “With this I can empathize,” he ventured. “But even so. . . why Cheat the Clock?”
“Have a T-shirt,” insisted Ratsy, the ever-dedicated editor-in-chief, handing out I’m a Spud Plunker! tops to the media at large. Representatives of The New Yorker were present, resentful that Spud Plunker was in the running over their own publication, where Gablinger had traditionally debuted his work. And a producer from Love Boat was there, hoping to wrangle Gablinger for a guest appearance. Wink was rather cranked up himself, trying to preserve the show’s meager dignity after wetting his trou.
“Will Gablinger abide by the rules?” shot some TV scribe. Wink was adamant that Cheat the Clock would be played in its purest, unadulterated form. The mere fact that T.C. was to appear in a slot usually occupied by down-on-their-luck lounge acts like Morty Gunty, Slappy White or Larry Storch was no reason to suspect otherwise.
Ratsy met the arrival of T.C. Gablinger backstage. The author was an old sea dog with wild, white hair and dry, parched lips. “Where is she?” he gasped, carrying a portable typewriter and a briefcase with him, which he said he’d hand over after things were squared with the Nan.
“She’s practically yours,” the Rat assured T.C., whisking him off into makeup, where two graduates of the Wilfred Academy of Beauty tried to cover a foul-looking conjunctivitis seeping from the old man’s eye.
A half-hour later, T.C. Gablinger emerged for his first public appearance in decades, the celebrity sub-host of Cheat the Clock. The Rat, waiting to be a contestant himself in the second half, with hopes of getting laid off of it, cheered him on from a side box. Ol’ T.C. looked to be a darn good prospect. He stood behind a podium with two fat housewives from Queens. El Winko had a morbid habit of threatening each female contestant with his cheek, which custom had them kiss. After this formality and a reflective pause to introduce the guest star (“What can I say, it’s an honor to have him, he needs no introduction”), Wink thrust his cheek menacingly toward Gablinger’s face. There seemed a deathly silence in the audience as T.C.’s twitching lips actually accepted the cheek with a bird-like peck. Wink Hopperdale then enthused, “Let’s cheat the clock, shall we!”
The ladies answered questions in the first category, Teenage Skin Problems. It was required that T.C. take a little hop around the game board in a potato sack, which the literary giant proceeded to do without a hitch. But T.C. really came to life in the bean bag toss, a healthy, old-salt shine coming over his face. Local news cameras whirred and the academic community seemed to be holding its peace commendably, albeit in a cold sweat. The fat housewives, finished at halftime, had with T.C.’s help won a year’s supply of baked clam breading.
At halftime, Ratsy weaseled his way into the models’ dressing room with his handy Daily News all-access press card, good for passing police barriers. Ratsy, whose wide, schmoozy smile always caught the gaze of women before his girth could get in the way, shot out with a resounding “Nancy, baby!” There stood the all-American porn starlet with the angelic face and the blonde curls, the only women to have deep-throated Johnny Wadd to the last inch, scrotum and all.
“Okay,” said the Rat, “let’s throw straight dice here, Nancy. T.C.’s next book is the hottest property in the world, and he’s willing to lay it on us over at Spud—if, that is, you’ll unretire some of that porn star pussy for a few hours.” He pulled out five crisp hundreds, the acquisition of which had been like obtaining blood from Gertel.
“I only fuck for love,” said the starlet, landing her eyes momentarily on the Rat’s black, baggy-jeaned crotch. Ratsy spied the dressing room for traces of soiled underthings he could slip in his pocket.
“What’s one more boff, after all those loops?” begged Ratsy. “He just surfaced from 25 years hiding underground.”
“Underground, schmunderground,” said the starlet. “I’ve got two kids, a house in Scarsdale. My husband would punch you out—”
“Just let him smell it!” Ratsy cried. “I need that book.”
“Ivory Soap wants me, goddamnit,” said Nancy. Then she reached for the bills.
In the second half of the show, Ratsy found himself behind the podium with an annoying red-haired male contestant whose face widened into an obscene grin whenever their eyes met. It was the Rat’s first TV exposure; he knew the eyes of Western Civilization were tuned into this historic broadcast of Cheat the Clock. Wink Hopperdale emerged to welcome both new players, then wave open Curtain Number One, which rose to the accompaniment of saccharine strings and a rapid-fire voiceover:
“Well, Wink, what do we have here? Why, it’s the long-awaited novel by T.C. Gablinger, coming down the stretch after decades of toil!”
Ratsy bolted upright in his seat, eyes focused upon ol’ T.C. banging away at his typewriter, a stack of finished pages on one side and Nancy on the other, striking perfect bimbo model poses, arm outstretched to present the grand prize.
“The Nobel Prize winner abdicates full North American serial and royalty rights for No!, a new book detailing the author’s day-to-day activities, like swabbing the deck, the mechanics of preparing toast, the permutations of solitary sex on the Hudson River. Yes, a fortune’s to be made for the next winner, who takes full legal possession of the work. The reader’s choice, more households prefer Gablinger. But don’t let that fool you, Wink, this prize contains more than a mere journal of senility—included is a carton of Rootin’ Tootin’ Root Beer.”
Gablinger, racing to cheat the clock, whipped the last page out of the typewriter simultaneously with the announcer’s finish, wiping his old brow with a well-earned “Whew!” The Nan reclined in a lounge chair, sipping root beer, pretending to enjoy the finished manuscript. Ratsy’s grinning, red-haired opponent quickly introduced himself.
“Lou Zucker, Spuzz Hole magazine,” he whispered, extending a hand. “The Gablinger book’s mine.” Ratsy instantly remembered Zucker as a Shakespearean scholar who became editor of the dreaded vagina publication so fiercely edging out Spud Plunker on newsstands.
“Gentlemen, you know the rules,” said El Winko. “The category: Shakespearean Sonnets. Let’s proceed to cheat the clock!”
© 1984, 2010 Josh Alan Friedman