Jack Is Recalling Two Old Men Who Kept Popping Up In Every Book He Tried to Write
So they kept cropping up and I kept inventing stories about their personalities, which, you know, I was just making up, and… that’s what you do. [Swallow.] But it started to be oppressive. I just, uh, they, I think they were—in a way, they were my writer’s block personified, they… they just came onto the page and would just squat there, like… toads… am I paraphrasing… Philip Larkin? Does—doesn’t he have a poem about toads squatting?
Something squatting like a toad? Maybe death. Anyway, these guys were doin’ that.
And, uh, now, lately, I’ve had a similar, a similar problem. I keep thinkin’ about this guy, I think about a fictional character who has terrible… feet! Terrible feet.
Frankie Gun and I have talked about this. He’s a novelist, which I don’t think I’ve mentioned.
Oh, but Frankie and I have talked about the fact that as you get older, your feet are really, they… they’re not anything you wanna take to the beach. You don’t wanna show ‘em off—I mean, certain people. Uh, certain people. Certain… certain people with certain… uh… telltale signs of decay and horror.
I mean, an old man’s feet are not…
There was that Jackie Gleason [laughter] movie.
There was a movie with, uh… Tom Hanks and Jackie Gleason, which somehow I brought up in a meeting the other day, and Dirk… Dirk, who’s only, maybe, five or six years younger than I am, he remembered it, and started, you know, telling the plot in surprising detail that I didn’t even remember, but… Jackie Gleason has diabetes and his feet are just like… aah! They’re blue and curled, they’re curled up like the witch’s shoes… uh, you know, I haven’t seen this movie since it came out, but the… feet… uhhhh… perhaps my imagination is, uhm, elaborating on the actual nature of Jackie Gleason’s horrific feet in that movie, but they’re pretty horrible, even without [laughter] any embellishment.
Uh, well, anyway, not to say when you get old your feet are necessarily going to be that bad, but they might be bad. You might not want people to see them. And Frankie Gun and I have often marveled at another male friend of ours who capers about barefooted… I think these issues have come up in my fiction before. [Swallows coffee.]
Many years ago… there was a literary conference and one writer of our acquaintance was walking around in sandals, which… I mentioned years later to another writer, my friend Sam Portal… He’s in upstate New York, and I’m gonna go read to his… class, I guess, in October, when it’s going to be… frigid and… uh… you know, the airplane will be caked in ice; I have a fear of flying that… should concern no one.
[Sniff.] But, uh, I mention, I mention these sandals, this guy wearing sandals, years later, t-t-to Sam, and Sam… uh, knew exactly what I was talking about, and I believe those feet… and those sandals ended up in one of Sam’s novels. They were so… so did they impress us with their wrongness, these nails that looked… these chalky, uh, horrible… uh, claws! That were coming out of these sandals.
Don’t wear sandals! If you got… feet like that, was our thought.
Then again, perhaps that guy’s the one who’s right. Who are we to judge the feet of others?
But anyway, I keep having this idea about this character who… he’s walking with his betrothed… betrothed, uh, bride… his bride-to-be… and… at night… and he’s been very careful to leave his socks on during their most intimate moments…
They’re robbed at gunpoint, and the robber makes him take off his shoes, because he wants them. And then, and, and then he makes him take off his socks… for… unknown reasons, and his intended sees his terrible feet, and subsequently calls off the marriage…
This is… [short laugh] This is an idea. This is what I call an idea. And, and I started to develop his character, and he was a stable boy, that’s something I know nothing about.
And then I thought, “Oh, the… the girl can be… uh, from, you know, a young woman from a wealthy family.” [Throat clearing.]
She’s gonna have a dinosaur bone at her wedding reception, a real dinosaur bone… which is something I overheard in a bar, uh, I heard some people talking about a wedding reception, I think, or a pre-wedding dinner, at which a giant dinosaur bone was on display to… [sigh] show how wealthy the family was…? Which I thought was a curious, curious item.
I mean, I overhead that in a bar probably in 2008 and it’s still… it’s sitting there waiting to be repurposed. [Dramatic throat clearing.]
I wonder what the adjective form of podiatry is. P-po… die… a—hmm.
[Coffee swallow. Satisfied sigh.]
Anyway, pedal matters. Uh… come up in some of my fiction. I remember going over to a writing student’s house and her boyfriend was down from Harvard, and he was going to business school, and… he was walkin’ around on his little feet.
Uh, you know, his perfect little feet. That ended up in a story.
She broke up with him, thank goodness, so—I mean, I don’t know, he was maybe a nice guy, but I just mean thank goodness because I dedicated the book to her, in part. And I didn’t want her to read my snide comments about her… boyfriend’s feet.
And why were they snide? I mean, so what, he’s got nice feet. What’s there to be snide about? What sort of snobbery is it that values… the… misshapen… uhhh… mmm… the misshapen hooves of… old… Southerners… over the shapely feet of well-bred gentlemen?
Jack Pendarvis has written five books. He won two Emmys for his work on the TV show Adventure Time. During a period of light employment, he spoke into a digital recorder whenever the mood struck him and transcribed the results, accumulating the two thousand pages from which this column has been extracted.