You may have missed two recent tributes to Philip Roth, who died last week.
One is in The New Yorker, by the novelist ALI SMITH. She learned to her surprise that she and this admired older gentleman both swam in the same New York pool. When she consulted him about how to keep your mind active while swimming boring lengths, up and down, up and down, he told her that he made a point of fixing on a specific year, then recalling everything he could about it. He would tackle not only the events in his own life during that year, but in the city, the state, the country, the literary world, and the world at large.
Ali Smith tells us that he swam long distances, much faster than she did, and learned from him that his recipe for a mental workout also seemed to produce good results.
As the outdoor swimming season begins in much of Canada, I’m happy to pass this idea along.
Meanwhile, I hope that you read the National Post cartoon on May 24 by my friend GARY CLEMENT. It’s an 8-panel piece that runs for half a page, headed “Goodbye, Philip Roth.” The sub-heading says simply “True Story.”
I’ve been in touch with Gary to congratulate him, but complained that it strains the reader’s belief that his encounter with Philip Roth took place “on Columbus Ave., of all places”.
He swears that it’s true.
Gary and his wife and son were in New York when they saw an older man sitting quietly alone outside a coffee shop. Gary says “OMIGOD! It’s Philip Roth!”
Urged to go and say hi, Gary objects “YOU CAN’T JUST SAY HI TO A GUY LIKE PHILIP ROTH! HE’S A GOD OF WRITING! AN IMMORTAL!”
The family goes off for a hamburger.
Then, in mid-burger, Gary abandons his family, runs back, and blurts out “I’m sorry to bother you Mr. Roth but I just wanted to tell you how much your writing means to me.”
The story unfolds as you would hope.
“Turns out.. he was a real kibbitzer.”
Roth:”Normally when this sort of thing happens, people offer me a little cash.”
Gary:”I only have Canadian money.”
Roth:” I’ll take a cheque.”
Gary recalls: “It was like talking to my Dad!”
To Gary’s surprise, Philip Roth wanted to know more about him.
Roth:” What do you do in Canada?”
Gary:” I’m a cartoonist.”
Roth:” From this you make a living?”
At the end, “Finally it was time to go.
Gary:”I look forward to your next book…any hints?”
Roth: “I can’t say. I’m just READING books now.”
The superb True Story ends with Gary’s words: “Shortly after that, Philip Roth announced his retirement from writing. And now, he’s gone for good. Sort of…”
A lovely memory of Philip Roth late in his life. I wonder if his hair was wet.