The Last Picture Show

By Kauffman, Bill | The American Conservative, October 2011 | Go to article overview

The Last Picture Show


Kauffman, Bill, The American Conservative


Another summer has slipped away, he said in melancholic stupor. Thank God for the hardy perennials, led off by our baseball Muckdogs, who finished below .500, but who really cares about the score as long as one hears the crack of bat and sees the flash of glove? The game as gathering place is the thing.

For the second year, our daughter Gretel conducted a series of video interviews for thebatavian.com with the ballplayers, a likeably cocksure lot. Her toughest question--"What's your favorite book?"--provoked one relief pitcher to respond, with boastful incredulity, "Yeah--like I read'"

For those who do read, we finally installed a memorial bench this summer for Batavia's native son, the novelist John Gardner (Grendel, October Light). It's purple and yellow and sits outside the Pokadot, our unselfconsciously funky southside diner. Next time you're scudding along the New York State Thruway, Governor Dewey's soulless reprise of the Erie Canal, stop off at our fair town, grab a beef on weck at the Pokadot, and sit yourself down on the Gardner bench, which marks the literary-culinary epicenter of New York. (Elaine's and the White Horse Tavern are for poseurs.)

Hereabouts 'twas also a season of funerals, including two for nonagenarian great-uncles of mine: Uncle Johnny, an Italian who made the best dago-red wine that ever soused a toper, and Uncle Joe, the suave shortstop on the best town-ball team the tiny hamlet of Lime Rock ever fielded. How many times those dear men made me laugh ...

I also lost a friend who dwelt in that most sleepless precinct of the demi-world, the outskirts of fame. I wrote several months ago about Bill Clune, the highest-paid male model of the Mad Men age ("Meet the Marlboro Man," March 2011). Bill's twin brother, Peter, an actor, died at age 85 this past July.

Peter was a raconteur, a wit (especially in the sense that a wit is someone who laughs at my jokes), the most prodigious consumer of gin this side of Nick and Nora, and a bon vivant who could take and keep a scunner--to use one of his novelist father's favorite words--as fiercely as any man I have known. Peter once angrily returned a Christmas card to us because my sloppy penmanship had obscured his middle initial (H) on the envelope. In the annals of Peter H. …

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