Academic journal article Chicago Review

Best Boy

Academic journal article Chicago Review

Best Boy

Article excerpt

What will Adam do when he sees the old man, whose voice on the phone bore his prognosis like a B-rated movie? What will he say for himself if the old man asks him probing questions in his raspy voice thick with pain? How can he explain his project, conceived out of vague interest and maybe perversity, if his grandfather says instead, "Where have you been for twelve years? Where in the hell were you? Adam, who used to call me Goopa, where the fuck have you been?"

"Sorry, Grandpa," he will say shyly, in the voice that becomes boyishly thin, childish really, when challenged by authority. And then he'll turn his back and set up the necessary equipment decorously and slowly, as if he were already making a strained condolence call. He'll run wires around the old man's bed or chair and tell him what a nice view he has of the lake. Can he actually see it from his bed? And then he'll take some shots to judge the best angles. Seeing his grandfather, small and concrete as a religious icon in the frame of the lens, he'll begin to ask questions.

No, he won't do that first. They'll probably talk casually. Maybe his grandfather will have a few insights on the recent news - his dad says he knows every crook in town. What's his take on the scandal? Are politicians involved at a high level? What's it like to be a crook, Adam will ask. No, he's not rude like that, not an investigative reporter, not here to exploit the man but to know him. Adam's ashamed that he thought even for a moment like his father, who's so bitter on the subject of Jack that his usual bland restraint cracks to hear his name spoken.

No, they'll be businesslike and discuss what they hope to accomplish. Maybe his grandpa will ask him questions similar to those posed by his graduate-thesis advisor with the graying ponytail and work-shirt opened to reveal a few black chest hairs and a scarab from Nepal worn on a leather choker. Will Adam's grandfather be a willing subject? Will he tell the truth? Will Adam have what's needed to coax it from him? Has he read Oriana Fallaci, seen Best Boy and Roger and Me, learned the editing techniques taught in Video 402, taken Ethnography 347, seen JFK, all of Ophuls, and read the latest feminist, Marxist, and deconstructionist critics, who view the camera as a phallus, a fascist, a false angel of order in a universe laid bare by chaos theory?

He smiles to think how far these questions will be from his subject's mind. What does his grandfather know of Jameson or Barthes, or phalluses, except his own? His grandfather is more likely to make a joke about getting laid! Or maybe he'll offer reassurance to his small, blond, stranger of a grandson in his tastefully hip black clothing, who appears to be dressed, prematurely, for mourning. "If you can't trust your own family, who can you trust?" his grandfather will ask. "Want some meat? Bread? Tea?" Monosyllables spoken without ambiguity, which was invented later than Jack Kaufman learned to speak. He's always been forthright with Adam. But Adam isn't like him; he can't imagine telling his father where he is going with his fancy camcorder and list of questions. Imagine his father seeing the proposal for the project Dr. Sherry has somewhere on his massive shrine of a desk with its computer and herbal candles and New Age crystals and photos of his too-young wife.

And even if it doesn't go well, Adam's half-cocked scheme to document this man he's never been allowed to know, its disastrous possibilities will create a marvelous tension. Carla, his latest girlfriend, had already given it her seal of approval, the withering "Oh-sure!" of her beautiful, playfully contemptuous gaze. It's not like writing a paper requiring huge and rigorous preparation, a thesis and an outline. It's more like taking a cruise and seeing sights as they happen into view. Whatever is revealed will suffice. In fact, its fallibility is what his advisor finally most appreciated, the fantastic disaster it could turn out to be, how Adam would have to redeem the project by letting it fragment into moments of poignant disconnection. …

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