Paul Tibbets is dead. I predict a Bob Greene column in the next few days, remarking on how reclusive the man was, and how rarely he gave interviews (except to BOB). Note: I’ve read at least half a dozen of these rare Tibbets interviews over the years. And I haven’t even been looking for them.
Well, I was half right. The column appeared as expected, in the New York Times, but didn’t mention his reclusiveness. Although, of course, it leads with an anecdote illustrating their special relationship:
My mother, who is 88, told me last month that it had been a long time since she’d seen Paul Tibbets in the Bob Evans restaurant on the east side of Columbus, Ohio. She thought this was odd; she ate lunch there so often, and he ate lunch there so often, that his absence worried her.
As the Bob genre goes, this is lacking is sucktasticness. There’s the blah blah rehash of what’s already been gone over for decades, the soldier-who-did-his-duty nod of the baby boom to the greatest generation*, the banal you-are-there details only Bob could provide:
On the road, I would see him make up his hotel room or clear his plates in a restaurant. When I would tell him that other people would do that, he would say that no able-bodied man should expect another person to do this work for him.
Bob’s signature purple prose isn’t as evident in this one. He’s either improving, or has a better editor at the Times. I only found one example of why-say-it-once-when-you-can-say-it-twice Boblines:
On this Veterans Day I will think about the men and women in their 70s and 80s whom I would see when I was with Mr. Tibbets. These were soldiers and sailors, now grown old, who had expected to be sent to Japan for the land invasion, and perhaps die on those shores.
I love how Bob feels the need to underline that people in their 70s and 80s are “now grown old.” As a reiteration of what we’ve read a dozen or more times since Tibbets died, it’s just average. What is happening? Is Bob getting better? Ah, that question is answered in the tagline:
Bob Greene is the author of “Duty,” a book about his father and Paul Tibbets, and the forthcoming “When We Get to Surf City.”
* A peculiar sub-genre Joe Queenan summed up, and dismissed, in a sentence: “I want to spend the whole of my youth reading books deploring the moral bankruptcy of my parents’ generation, then, when I am in a position to inherit their life savings, ostentatiously cover the coffee table with stacks of kiss-ass, My Pop the War Hero-type memoirs praising their extraordinary valor.” — from “Balsamic Dreams”
So how was your weekend? Mine was fine. I see Norman Mailer died. Roy Edroso has his quibbles with the NYT obituary, but I found it alternately delightful, fascinating and repellant, and it pulled me through to the end. I thought it was a fair portrait of a man who could be called, quite truthfully, both an irresponsible asshole and one who never wasted a day. I ran hot and cold on his writing, but now that I think about it, I haven’t read much — “The Executioner’s Song,” “An American Dream,” parts of other novels, a bit of journalism and some essays here and there, including “The White Negro.” I have a general rule that I try to follow when considering the work of artists like Mailer, that they should be judged by their art, not by their lives, and that if you must judge them, it should be by the standards of the times they lived in. It’s particularly hard to separate the man from his output in this case, however — they were too closely intertwined. Much of Mailer’s poor behavior was, regrettably, standard-issue intellectual-class mulishness for the time, which doesn’t make it any better, just more understandable.
But running through the story of his life is another strong theme, and the flip side of his more regrettable antics — fearlessness. Mailer never shrank from anything, it would seem. If one wishes he’d chosen his battles better — Jack Henry Abbott, anyone? — you can’t really fault him for getting out there and taking his shot. I heard an interview with him on NPR, around the time “The Spooky Art,” his book on writing, was published. Still haven’t read the book, but listening to him talk about writing, what it takes, what it gives back, what it means, was rapturous. An Amazon.com reviewer sums it up pretty well:
Mailer is like a great coach in this book, inciting the reader to be braver, to work harder, to want more, to cultivate appetite and a certain recklessness that is an antidote to what he calls the “paranoid perfection” imbued by writing programs. I think Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird is a kinder, gentler counterbalance to Stormin’ Norman’s inspiring hectoring to step up to the plate–in life and in writing–and is also an excellent book on writing. Where Lamott is compassionate, gentle, a chamomile tea-offering, hand-holding tutor, Mailer is a grizzled veteran exhorting us to throw ourselves into the mix, to take chances, to aspire to more than we may ever achieve.
That’s good advice for anything, including life in general. On that note, I’ll quit the blogging for today and go throw myself into the mix, thinking of Mailer. (I have to drive to Ypsi. Hope the Mailer in me doesn’t have an accident.)