I’ve written about Cheever. God knows I’ve written about Weejuns—ad nauseam. I’ve even memorialized as my blog header; courtesy of my friend—the stunning on all counts, LPC, Weejuns as metaphorical currency when trading in stories that transcend just clothes and shoes. Writing about and for me, reading Cheever was a bit more onerous than scribbling about Weejuns. But I digress. Already.
Cheever wore size six Weejuns. Big whup, right? He was a little guy. Small enough to make me look less so. Rather like my favorite artist, American expat Whistler, who was referred to as a “pocket Mephistopheles.” Rather unlike Whistler, Cheever fought more devils than manifested them. Whistler wore attenuated little low-vamp pumps which accentuated his small feet. Cheever wore clunky shoes. But even clunky…or even Weejuns…in a size six…looks fey.
So AllanGurganus writes about the woulda now been a hundred years old, Cheever and his size six Weejuns in the New York Review of Books. And it motivated me to do this post for reasons beyond Cheever’s little Weejuns. First, it took me back to the onerous but couldn’t-put-it-down journey that I took a couple of years ago when I read Blake Bailey’s Cheever biography. Couldn’t put it down because I just couldn’t…in a drive-by-a-wreck-shouldn't-look-but-can’t-not…way. Onerous because I am Federico Cheever to my father’s John. And that shit still hurts and always will.
And second, I was reminded, through Gurganus’s voice, of the fine caliber of writer that comes out of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. Rocky Mount North Carolina’s Gurganus is such a product. So was the lexiconically overwrought, lupus laden Flannery O'Connor. And a woman who I dated right after my divorce. Gurganus met Cheever there and, well, you can read the story here. But for now, I’ll share with you a few of Gurganus's lines that caught me.
"We peeked into Cheever’s classroom. He was seated cross-legged on a blond oak desk and looked like a Noël Coward leprechaun. Blue-and-white-striped Brooks Brothers shirt, unpressed khakis. John Cheever wore size-six Weejuns. (You know? I’ve always wanted to write that! For its interior rhymes, for its being factual, for its snappy attempt at sounding both as smart and clear as, well, a John Cheever sentence. So, yeah, “John Cheever wore size-six Weejuns.”)”
“Cheever’s fiction celebrates daylight as a form of salvation. Of course his pages creating brilliance had to be offset by a contrasting ink-jet blackness, as dark as the pitchiest corner of a Goya masterpiece. Cheever’s impish human essence showed that same ratio of dark-to-light. He later guilt-tripped me into attending an Iowa Episcopal service; there, in the bone-plain church, he dropped a mid-aisle contortionist’s genuflection that looked downright papal.”
“Confronting Iowa hostesses who looked too much like Margaret Dumont, he’d goose those ladies. He would. The wisest of them giggled, “Oh, now John, you bad bad boy. Not again!” He was Cole Porter one minute, Groucho the next, suddenly a drunken stumblebum, then the wisest of Chekhov’s cynics. John was selfish and ruined. He was a child, he was a genius. He was a scamp, he was a man.”
“John taught me and, later, without my knowing, sent and sold my first story to The New Yorker. When gentle William Maxwell whispered this news by phone to my one-room apartment, I said, “Yeah, and I’m Mae West, who the hell is this?””
“His habits and unhappiness had nearly killed him. By now his cough could clear waiting rooms. He was the Pompeii where cigarettes go to die.”
“John later introduced me to his wife and kids. They all forgave me for having forgiven him. Weren’t we all fellow sufferers of his snobbish exuberance?”
Onward. At six on Sunday morning. Now turning my vague-ass writing skills back over to…the man.
ADG II … Wage Slave.