Monday, December 3, 2012

Randall Pound: My New Hero

My list of heroes grows as often as the books I proudly own, which is not all that often. They have to make such an impact on me, and garner my undying admiration in such an unshakeable way that I can't imagine living each day without being reminded of them in some way.

Thus far, my heroes are Neil Simon, Stephen Sondheim, Quentin Crisp, Noel Coward, Johnny Carson, Jeff Bridges, Aaron Sorkin, Benny Binion, Diamond Jim Brady, Helene Hanff, Joshua Kadison, Mike Royko, Sam Shepard, and, in the fictional realm, Andy Capp, Baloo the bear in The Jungle Book, Murray N. Burns (Jason Robards) in A Thousand Clowns, Judge Harry Stone (Harry Anderson) on Night Court, Lord John Marbury (Roger Rees) on The West Wing, Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) in the Back to the Future trilogy, The Dude (Jeff Bridges) in The Big Lebowski (I'm wearing a t-shirt with a drawing of him that has the banner "He Abides"), and Brian Hackett on Wings.

Recently, deciding to branch out from The Memory of Running, one of my favorite novels that features two of my favorite characters in American literature (the overweight Smithy Ide and the wheelchair-bound Norma), I set out to read Ron McLarty's three subsequent novels: Traveler, Art in America, and The Dropper. I finished Traveler yesterday, and to my list of heroes, I add Randall Pound, whose description can only come from McLarty himself. I transcribed every scene featuring Pound so I'll always have it long after I return Traveler to the Whitney Library. All of it follows below. Renee, Jono's girlfriend, is a New York City firefighter, to give context to the bit from page 48:

Pg. 25-27 – “I pulled some beers, mixed a Tom Collins, and blended a frozen margarita. Getting the orders over the reverberation of the front room requires a great deal of concentration. I’ve become a passable lip-reader. I pulled two more McSorley’s, and the sandwich was here. I squirted a glassful of club soda and took it to the end of the bar, where Randall Pound spilled over his usual stool.
“Hey, Jono,” he said quietly.
Randall put a dog-eared paperback down on the bar and sipped an espresso. It’s amazing to see the tiny cup on the edge of his fingers. Randall Pound is a shade over seven feet tall and proudly keeps his weight at 390. His neck is surprisingly long for a man of his great size. A contemplative, almost aesthetic Slavic face sits on top of it, with huge green eyes, long proportional nose, and thick shiny black hair combed tight into a short ponytail. At thirty he carres an agelessness about him. Seven years ago Lambs entered into a frustrating period where bar fights and loud, aggressive customers were becoming a nightly occurrence. After I tried to break up one fight, both the combatants turned on me. The next day, nose flattened, both eyes black, and reeling from a mild concussion, I ran an ad for a bouncer in the Village Voice. A lot of impressive men turned up (and one woman with a black belt in karate). But it was the quiet, dapper Randall Pound who won the job. The interview went like this:
“I’m Jono Riley.”
“I’m Randall Pound.”
“If guys start getting out of line or fighting, what would you do?”
“They won’t.”
“They won’t what?”
“They won’t get out of line or start fighting.”
He always wears a tailored sharkskin suit. He owns seven of them. All metallic blue. He sits on the corner stool like he has every evening, without fail, for the last seven years. At the first sign of a problem, a waitress or a bartender will whisper to the offender and point down to Randall, who will slowly wave and smile. He was right. No one gets out of line. No one fights.
“You’re early.”
“We only did the first act,” I said. Then I added, “Audience walked out.”
Randall nodded thoughtfully. “I enjoyed it, Jono. I thought you rose above the limited material.”
“Theater, the printed word, language in the general sense has entered into a decline,” he said quietly. “I attended a seminar at Columbia just last week where Bill Gates’s futurist talked about the inevitability of fine and performing arts being marginalized.” He held up the paperback. It was a copy of Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis. “Tell that to Lewis. Tell it to Hem or Billy Faulkner,” he said.
“Is that the last one?” I asked through a mouthful of tuna.
Randall is a true eccentric. His life plan, as he has explained it to me, is to experience as many varied occupations as possible while devouring the whole of American literature.
Our Mr. Wrenn is the last of Sinclair’s canon,” he said. “It was his first book. It’s going to be the last one I read to complete it. After Babbitt, that is.”
Randall’s ten-to-four shift at Lambs is the only constant in an inventive and eclectic career that has included truck driving, construction working, hot-dog vending, supermarket stocking, bank telling, box-office managing, flower arranging, copywriting, street sweeping, census taking, and I forget what-all, but it’s still only the tip of the iceberg.
“How come you never tried acting?” I asked.
He looked at me, concentrated and serious. “Because I’m an odd person doesn’t mean I’m mentally challenged.”
I nodded, took some fries and soda. He took a delicate sip of the espresso. I must have been wrinkling my eyebrows or something.
“What?” he asked.
“What, what?”
“You’re pensive. Something’s bothering you, all right.”
“Uh-uh.” I chewed.
“Look, it’s reasonable to feel uneasy. You have chosen a dangerous profession. Peter Brook rather darkly ruminates about the deadly theater in The Empty Space.”
“You read that?”
“I found it unsettling. I thought about you. It made me sad.”
I held up my hand while I finished a bite. “Randall, I like it. It pisses me off a lot, but mostly I like it. Actually, there’s something else on my mind.”
I gave him a brief rundown of Cubby’s letter and some background. When I finished, Randall sighed thoughtfully.
“O’Casey says it correctly,” he said. “ ‘The world is in a terrible state of chassis.’”

Pg. 48 – “A half hour later, I hugged Robert and Jeff, and then Renée and I strolled over to Astor Place and took the Lex uptown to Lambs. I got two coffees, and we went to an alcove behind Randall Pound. He swiveled in his chair, and Renée got tippy-toed to kiss him.
“How was it?” he asked quietly.
“The audience stayed,” I said.
“He was great,” Renée said in her sort of serious way. “He is such a wonderful actor.”
Randall held up his espresso in a silent toast. He sniffed. “You been to a fire?” he asked Renée.
“Yeah, nothing much.”
He sniffed again. “You smell like toasted raisin bread.”
“Yeah?” she said.”

Pg. 224 – “We crossed the street and headed down to the Biltmore Bar, where there was a phone next to the men’s room. I punched in my calling card and my 917 service code. I had two messages. The first one was Randall Pound’s soft voice.
“Hey, Jono. I finally finished all of the Sinclair Lewis canon. Just now closed Our Mr. Wrenn and wanted to tell somebody. I’m on to Fitzgerald now. Making progress. Say hey to Renée. I’m on my stool and we miss you at Lambs.”

Pg. 259 – Chapter 36 – “Everything I wanted to keep after thirty years in New York City filled about half of the small van I had rented. Discards of my life flowed over cardboard boxes and plastic bags piled high in front of my old East Eighty-ninth Street walk-up.
I slid into the passenger side. “It’s like I was never here.”
Randall Pound nodded behind the steering wheel. “You were here, Jono. Things are things. They’re not important. Remember what Mrs. Joad said when the preacher asked her why they had brought everything they owned to California?”
“What did she say?”
“She said, ‘I don’t know.’”
We took Eighty-sixth Street over to the West Side. The apartment was in a brownstone on West Eighty-seventh between Columbus and Central Park. It had taken the two of us all day long and ten trips, the van bulging, to get Renée’s things up from Chelsea and a half hour for mine. I handed Randall a Coke. It became miniature in his enormous hands. I took one, and we drank in silence, our eyes swinging around the sunny room.
“It’s a big thing. Moving,” he finally said. “It’s like death and it’s like birth.”
I laughed.
“No, really, Jono. Any way you look at it, it’s something new. It’s an adventure. Sandburg, in a lot of his work, points out the essential insignificance of people. In the long term, I mean. These are the kinds of things that put the lie to that. You and Renée moving in, I mean.”
I dropped Randall off at his place and returned the van to a garage on West Twenty-third across the street from Pier 63."