My exaggerated life, p.25
My Exaggerated Life, p.25Pat Conroy
“I don’t know, Herb. It’s just a different culture.”
“What a stupid culture you come from. God, what idiots. Saying hi to people you don’t know.”
Oh, he was lovely. He was a lovely man. I’ve missed him since his death. Part of my feeling bad for Lenore was I knew how terrible her parents were. My God in heaven, they were a sour pickle couple. He especially was the most unfeeling man, one of the most unfeeling men I’ve ever come across. When all the communists went underground because of the FBI, he just simply left one day, a Wednesday, and for a year. Lenore had fear of abandonment the rest of her life.
She did not have a chance, although Lenore was the first great beauty of the family. I think it shocked everyone that Lenore had turned out so pretty. But I never envy pretty girls. It’s always a problem for pretty girls. They attract too much unwanted attention too fast and from a lot of the wrong people.
She met the evil Alan Fleischer when he was in medical school in New York. They married and came to Atlanta for his residency in the neurosurgery department at Emory. Two kids, and he started having an affair with another mother at Paedeia. It was a small community, so if you had an affair with anybody, it was well known very soon. Also, they were not quiet about it; they were very open about it. It was a public affair. Public humiliation for Lenore. He made no attempt to hide, made no attempt not to stick it down her throat. He was a prick; that’s the technical term. And I don’t give out that honorarium without meaning it. That is high praise from me indeed. Alan was a loathsome, spiderous, cancerous, scorpious son of a bitch. There are some people—I hate living in the world they live in. They draw air that could be used by a dying cockroach.
When Lenore started dating me, he goes crazy. Before their divorce, Alan had me in court for alienation of affection, which I think is not even a law anymore, but I had alienated his wife’s affection from him and caused trauma between them. He was suing me I think for $100,000. That’s as I remember it. Now, later he would sue me for millions, but I think it started out kind of low, where I would just have to write one book of pornography to pay off my debts to him. I’d been depositioned several times. The legal fees for me were enormous at that time. I was up against a neurosurgeon, and they make more money than I do on a natural basis.
Even after the divorce, Alan’s one of these guys who—she was his forever; she belonged to him; he belonged to her. He’s one of these ex-husbands—you’ve heard of this type—they can’t let the ex-wife alone. They just can’t do it. Some weird tango of the spirit would go on with them forever. He also became obsessed with me. His kids told me that he had a pristine set of all my books, signed first editions, in his house.
One day after I had just been spending thousands of dollars paying my very nice lawyer, I was waiting to go to a bar mitzvah for Royce Bemis’s son. Royce was a great friend and one of the founders of SIBA; he was in charge of book sales for Houghton Mifflin in the Southeast. Cliff and I knew him well. I had been invited six months ago to this affair, so we’re going to the temple downtown. Lenore as usual is late because dressing for her is not easy. It took her a long time to get dressed. This is in Lenore’s condominium on Ponce de Leon, across the street from Paideia. Lions Gate I think was the name of it. All those housing developments and condo developments have ersatz poetic names. Martha Schein’s daughter Lara Alexander is the babysitter, and she’s brought over a friend from Paideia. Alan has the kids for the weekend, they’re coming back, and the exchange will be made. I’d been waiting for about half an hour, and I’m sitting there talking with Lara and the other babysitter.
We were late for the bar mitzvah, so I was trying to get Lenore to leave before the children got there, but she wouldn’t; she had to be there for her beloved children coming in. So I am waiting by the door, and I have a drink, which we used to call a traveler, in my hand. Lenore keeps saying, “I’ll be right down, I’ll be right down”; I’m still talking to Lara and her babysitter friend. The next thing I know, here comes Alan, and Alan’s one of these guys, their car is everything, their car is emblematic, something about his car always was huge with him, and he wore leather driving gloves. In those days I was still driving my Datsun station wagon. It looked like I was driving hogs to the market. Alan used to look at it with obvious disgust when he was coming to pick up the children. I could look down and see him staring at it with his nose twisted in horror at why anybody would drive such a vehicle.
On this particular day he’s driving with his brother, his brother is driving the supercool Porsche convertible, and the kids are in this little area behind the driver, so they jump out and run. I’m standing by the door in my coat and tie and my khaki pants, the best Conroy can do. I am dressed as I am usually dressed but nicer. So the kids come jumping out from the back of the Porsche and come running in. I think Alan’s message was they had to appear happier than they had ever been, just spending time with him, and lost and bereft as soon as they entered her household.
So little Gregory runs by me, does not say a word, and Emily, who I adored, still a child, says something like “We just left my father’s supercool Porsche convertible, and Mom will have to travel in that piece of shit Datsun station wagon of Pat’s.” She’s about eight then, was very articulate from a young age. I like the pain-in-the-ass kids; I admit it. So I laugh, I enjoy that. The supercool Porsche pulls off. I hear a little beep on the horn, so I turn around and look, and Alan gives me this grin and this limp-wristed little “I got you” wave. So I shoot him the bird, didn’t think much of it, just thought I’d answer the beep of the horn.
By this time Lenore’s on the stairs with her kids, and they’re telling her what a fabulous time they had. The next thing I know Alan is racing past me, screaming at his children, “Did you see what he did to your father?! He shot me the bird! That’s means ‘Fuck you!’ He said ‘Fuck you!’ to your father! What do you think about that, kids?! Do you like your mother dating somebody who says ‘Fuck you!’ to your father?! Can you imagine him saying “Fuck you!” to your father in the house your father paid for?!”
Well, I was about to tell him “Fuck you!” right in front of the kids and everybody else, but it was purely out of control. I’m standing there with my drink kind of astonished, and the babysitters were completely astonished. They’d never seen anything like it; I had never quite seen anything like it.
He comes up to me screaming, grabs my arm, and says, “I thought you were a Southern gentleman, Conroy! I thought you were a Southern gentleman! Everybody’s told me you’re a Southern gentleman! They were completely wrong! You’re nothing but a Southern redneck! I’m calling my lawyer right now! I’m getting the kids taken away!”
I look around, Lara is horrified, and the other little girl was, and they’re looking like this guy is absolutely a madman. Then he comes up to me and grabs me by the tie.
He does not know me. I do not like to be grabbed by the tie.
He keeps screaming and screaming, out of control. “I thought you were a Southern gentleman, Conroy! I thought you were a Southern gentleman! I won’t let somebody like you hang around my kids; I won’t let you be a part of my children’s lives that are precious to me.”
He’s screaming, out of control, and he then puts his hand beneath the glass I’m drinking from and throws the drink in my face. I had bourbon all over my face and eyeballs and the suit I was in, whatever that was.
Now. I went to the Citadel. That shit don’t work for me. Okay?
I normally do not explode because that would remind me of my father. Long ago I told myself I would kill myself if I found I was like my father in any way. Of course you know how nature answers you back with that one. One of God’s great cruelties is to make you exactly like the parent you like the least. When something snaps in me, Santini can bloom in my soul and come alive. Usually I control it. I don’t let it out. I don’t like it; I don’t agree with it. I don’t think that’s how somebody should be. But this was one of these times I realized I was i
All right, Alan runs.
He does not get far.
He was running fast, but Conroy was more youthful then, not the fat slob that sits Buddha-like today. Now there are no blood corpuscles left in my body, there is simply clear fluid swimming through my adrenal glands, keeping me barely alive, but there was much more blood pumping through my system then. You could run from me now, and I could not catch a fiddler crab, but at that moment I could have caught a greyhound. I go hauling out after him, grab him by the shoulders, and he turns around and says, “You touch me I will sue you for every cent you’ve ever made, and you’ll be in jail for a long time.”
I’ve had enough of this. I was enraged. I went nuts. I think first I tore his shirt off. Why I did that I cannot explain, but I did it. Then he told me I was going to be in jail for many years because this is assault, and that pissed me off so bad I picked him up, lifted him up over my head, walked him over to these boxwood bushes I think about six feet high, and holding him by the seat of his pants, I stuffed him head first into the bushes where his two legs were sticking out in a V.
All right, as I have stuffed Alan head first into this bush, the brother attacks me, tackles me from behind. I’m on the ground, and this guy’s throwing fists at me, but I noticed when he tackled me, I’m also dealing with a smaller man than I am. I am a fat rhinoceros-like man, and I did not like being on the ground, so all of a sudden I get up. I rip his shirt off. I have never been in many fights, and I did not know my first instinct is to rip a man’s shirt off. I still do not understand that particular beginning of a fight that I seem to have started. But these were expensive shirts and I ripped them off, so I’m facing this bare-chested man.
I said, “I’m gonna take your pants off, your underwear off, your shoes off, and I’m gonna take your car keys and throw them in the sewer. Now you do what you want, pal, but I’m telling you what I’m gonna do.”
The guy puts up his fists, and I laugh and say, “Please, please, just the way you did your fists is so pathetic that I cannot hit you because I’d break every bone in your face, okay, so I’ll walk you back, you get your brother, and you guys get out of here.”
And he’s saying, “You’re a beast just like Alan said, you’re a wild man, you shouldn’t be around these children, and you’ve lived up to everything Alan told me you were.”
I said, “Yes, but after I break your jaw, you’re going to think even worse of me, so I would like you to keep backing up.”
Anyway, Alan gets out of the shrubbery, shirtless. There was an indentation in the bushes for years. He’s completely humiliated. The neighbors are everywhere. He comes out and says, “Now you’re going to jail, Conroy. Now it’s jail time.”
I said, “But first you leave. Run back to that car, and when I tell you to run, you run.”
So they race back to the car, and I heard, “I didn’t know you were a Southern monster redneck, Conroy.”
“Now you know.”
Alan can’t let it go. He rolls down the window and says, “I don’t have to leave here.”
I said, “Don’t leave here. See this nice million-dollar rearview mirror? I will tear it off and I will make you eat it.”
“That thing cost $1,000, Conroy.”
I said, “I’ll put it on my Datsun.”
He says, “I want you to know that cunt in there has been well used by a great many people.”
I said, “Please go home and tell Alice I wish her my best. She’ll know what I mean.”
And with that I removed the mirror from his Porsche and walked with it back into Lenore’s house, trailing wires. This seemed to alarm him more than anything, and the next day I was in jail.
He had me arrested for assault and battery with intent to kill. That night the police came and arrested me. Arrested. My lawyer got where I could report the next morning, so I reported the next morning. They photographed me, handcuffed me, and I’m in jail all morning with about ten black guys, in this holding cell for four or five hours before my lawyer got bail. All of them but one were in for child support. I said, how much do you owe so you can get out of here? One guy said thirty-five, one guy said fifty, one guy forty-five, so I ended up paying all their child support while I was in there. I had nothing else to do. I got six guys out of jail. I think it was less than $200 to get all of them out. The other guy’s in for murder, so I said, “Sir, I do not think I can write a check to get you out of this, I’m so sorry.” He was scary too.
I said, “What are you in for?” He said murder. I said what do they say you did? He said they said I strangled my wife to death with my belt. I says “You do it?” Yup. I said, “Uh, good luck, sir.” And I went back to all the guys who owed child support.
So that was my day in jail, and then when we had the trial, I hired a lawyer from the best defense firm in Atlanta. John Nuckolls is his name; I thought what a great name for a defense lawyer. I knew that John Nuckolls was a great lawyer when he walked into court, took off his beautiful suit coat, and hung it beside the judge’s sport coat on the judge’s coat rack. It was great style. Then he eats these Fleischer boys alive. He just savaged their story. He was superb. He made them look like the two biggest liars that ever lived. Alan, you know, has suffered irreparable damage to the arm he uses as a surgeon. So John Nuckolls takes these records, looks at them and says, “Oh, by the way, Dr. Fleischer operated last night, and the operation took three hours. The day before he operated for six hours. He charged $40,000 for this, $75,000 for that, even after these terrible injuries.” And bang, it was gone. The case got tossed.
Now, here’s the question: why did I marry this woman after that? What insanity was I following? Why didn’t I walk away the next day? Of course, I was in jail the next day, so I couldn’t walk away. That’s the way Conroy’s life goes: a cheap novel, a bad novel. It is embarrassing; my life is embarrassing; I live the life of a fool. The problem is, when we’re young, we don’t know any better. It’s the first life we’ve ever lived, and since we’ve never lived a life, we have no idea how one is supposed to be lived. But I know exactly what happened to me: I was a fucking idiot. And when you’re a fucking idiot, you make mistakes. My brothers and sisters have always wondered how somebody that seems so bright can fuck up so many, many times. But I’ve got a certain genius for it. Although I have never sent naked pictures of myself to perfectly strange women.
Alan sued me for the rest of my life. This guy kept coming and coming, and being a brain surgeon, he knew he could murder a writer if he kept bringing these cases. He always knew he could find lawyers to bring them. That’s how lawyers make their money. He sued for custody of the children, because Lenore had had sexual relations with me. It was a mess. When he married Alice, of course this gave him great legitimacy. “I can provide. I’m a neurosurgeon.” He kept telling the court he drives a Porsche 280-Z or some shit like that. And I drove a ’76 Datsun station wagon. He kept mentioning his Porsche as compared to the level of automotive transportation his poor kids would be exposed to if he didn’t get custody.
Here’s how weird he was: he used to come to depositions to watch, which is very rare. He had depositions; I didn’t give a shit. But if Lenore or I had a deposition, he’d always come to watch us get uncomfortable under the questioning, and then he would snicker. Note that the fat boy does not like snickering, and the fat boy registers that in his darkest, darkest heart.
Alan came to one deposition that blew everything up. I started getting asked this series of questions about my sexual life with Mrs. Fleischer, and it was irritating me. Alan had sent a private eye to Fripp Island when I took Lenore and her kids down to meet my mother. A private eye had followed me to my mother’s house. They had pictures of Mom. That irritat
“Yes, sir, it is where my mother lives. I was introducing her to Lenore.”
“But you slept in the same room with Mrs. Fleischer.”
“Yes, I did.”
“And her children were in the next room.”
“Yes, they were, my God. To think what they must have heard, seen”—I was just irritated as shit by the whole thing.
So this thing went on and on, and then finally the lawyer sums it all up. Alan is sitting there grinning and smirking before me, about two feet from my face, and I am not enjoying myself.
The lawyer says, “Now, we can get out of here, Mr. Conroy, if you sum up a few things for me. You’ve been very honest with this, we all appreciate your honesty, and we’d like to thank you for that.”
So I am like a flounder buried in the sand looking for the tide to come swimming in over my head. Alan is just giggling and enjoying himself.
And the lawyer said, “Let me sum it all up. You admit to the court, and you admit under oath, Mr. Conroy, that you smoked dope with Mrs. Fleischer. Is that correct?”
I said, yes, I smoked dope with Mrs. Fleischer.
“So we have it on the record; it’s official that you smoked an illegal substance with Mrs. Fleischer?”
I said, yes, that’s right.
“And you have made love with Mrs. Fleischer, and that’s on the record also.”
He says, “Let’s sum this up. We can say you have smoked dope and slept with Mrs. Fleischer.”
I said, “Yes, that is very true. But we can go further than that. I admit that I have smoked dope and had sex with both Mrs. Fleischers.”
Alan’s cute little wife had not revealed that she had once come knocking on my door, and Conroy, at that time a young single man, found her cute as hell, and one thing led to another. Alan and his lawyers obviously did not know that, and it ruined the deposition for them. Alan goes out of his mind. He gets up screaming. He just went crazy. He stood up making motions like he’s going to beat me up, put up his fists like he was going to fight me, and his lawyers had to hold him back. I looked at him, “Alan, pray they hold tight, just pray.” He always made sure when he approached me with his fists there were people to hold him back, which I told him I had noticed. They had to jump on him. They had to grab him, and they dragged him out. You know, “I’ll get you for this. I’ll kill you for this. You’re not a gentleman. You’re not a Southern gentleman.”
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