Project 52: Toppling Atlas

1 short story a week. 52 weeks a year.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Week Fifty One: February 14th - February 20th

Working Title: Comedy

To Miss Marie,

     I have received the letter regarding your uncle, and I would be more than happy to respond. However, unless you personally feel similarities to the man, it would be impossible for me to tell you what Edgar Valentine was going through when he killed himself. People find both humble, and interesting ways to end their lives all the time, but at the time of his death, no one had ever climbed to the top of the world, only to jump. Since I cannot possibly tell you how he felt, let me tell you more about the man himself; perhaps knowing these things will help you feel for him as he deserved.
     Edgar Valentine was the child of a minister in a small Indiana town that you couldn't even hide a cough in. He had seven brothers and sisters, and an overprotective mother. Like the countless numbers of fictional characters Edgar read about, he set off for Hollywood at a young age to make his way in the world. They say that things don't always turn out like they do in the stories, but the truth of the matter is that even those few lives that do manage to mimic stories aren't all full of good luck and smiles. Those kind of stories are still read from oily pages covered in grime and sweat.
     He would one day come to be recognized as the single greatest comedic actor the world had ever seen, but it wasn't always that way. No, at first he was like the rest of those heavyhearted, but high-hoped youth that crawled the town. He drank heavily, he fought often, and he auditioned constantly, but he did very little acting. In fact, it wouldn't be until a casting director heard a quirk of his that he got any real work at all. When Edgar would sneeze, it would come out as a shrill “achoo”, followed by the throwing of his body in motion to the sneeze. If you have seen any of his movies – as I hope you have - you'll know it as his signature joke.
     For all of his success later in life, he was always known as a recluse, and a shy man off of the set. He would spend hours in his room drinking after the day was done, but everyone thought that the “world’s funniest man” just enjoyed a drink or ten to relieve stress. I suppose we can't really blame them without blaming ourselves as well though, now can we? Some say that if Edgar were alive in the present day acting scene, things would have gone differently, but that is neither here nor there. The point of this letter to you is so that you may understand that Edgar tried his hardest to fix what was broken inside of him, and if he were alive today, he would still be trying his best to make people laugh as hard as he himself could not.
     The last conversation recorded with Edgar was with a reporter that is notorious for this interview. After what happened, he was promptly fired, and hated by one and all for the rest of his life. I do hope you won't hold what happened against this young reporter though. To be fair, this man was just the last jet of oxygen inside a balloon before it popped. It wasn't his fault, but I will still tell you what happened.

     After his third installment of “The Kensington Thief” series, your uncle truly was king of the world in the media. Besides himself, there wasn't a person alive who didn't love your uncle; but looking back, we all should have seen how he was behaving that day. He was so very nervous, and he appeared to be on the verge of tears all day. He was required by contract to perform an interview with Douglas Black of the “Hollywood Delve” magazine in regard to his career so far. The lights were dim, and none of us could see the tears that dampened his face until it was too late. Looking back though, never having dealt with this kind of thing before, perhaps it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. I lost so much sleep over it - nights of tossing and turning and crying and wishing - but I finally learned to live with the fact that none of us had any idea such a thing was possible, and perhaps somehow your Uncle helped out Hollywood more than he thought by presenting the possibility to us.

     “Mr. Valentine, thank you- may I call you Edgar?” Douglas asked sitting across from the man. Responding to the nod from Edgar, Douglas continued. “Thank you for showing up here today. This is a very important article for us, and we hope for you as well,” he said while scribbling notes onto a pad of paper. “My first question is what do you think of your own movies? Do you ever watch them and laugh yourself?”. Edgar shifted his weight on the chair, and exhaled slowly before answering. Carefully stepping around the second question, Edgar responded with a simple “I think people enjoy them”. The reporter didn't even give the situation a second thought as he laughed to himself, and replied with a “I'd say so, what with your Thief series being the all time biggest movie success yet!”. Edgar only shrugged his shoulders, and spoke a quick agreement. The reporter still went on though with these useless questions that Edgar had already answers in countless other newspapers and magazines.
     After about fifteen minutes into the conversation, we began to worry over Edgar. He was shaking in his chair, and only answering questions with single word answers.We finally decided that enough was enough, and prompted Douglas to wrap things up. To this day, I wish we didn’t allow him to ask “just one more question”. That “just one more” damn question was the killing blow to your uncle, and later, the final straw on a long list of grievances against his own life. The reporter placed his notepad on his lap, and leaned down over it, peering towards Edgar in the dim light, and tightened his eyes for what he knew to be a serious question. “Why don't you try serious acting,” he asked, “why do you only make comedy movies?”. Unknown to us, this question finally pushed poor, sweet Ed over the edge. Jumping out of his seat, and throwing his chair across the room, Edgar grabbed the reporter by the shirt, and pulled him in close. Screaming, Edgar said “Because I don't want to be serious!”. Letting the reporter, now wide-eyed, fall back into his chair, Edgar stared off at nothing particular, and whispered “Because I need comedy like a drowning man needs oxygen,” and with that, he slowly walked out of the room, and went home. To this day, it still gives me chills seeing how ominous his analogy of a dying man would be.
     Only a few of us heard what he said, and because of this, the newspapers fought over what had really happened at that interview, and how it connected to his death later that night. Being your uncle’s best friend, I regret to inform you that the newspapers all had it wrong. It wasn't some mistake made by a brain heavily drowned in alcohol. It wasn't an accident by not paying attention to what he was doing. Your uncle sat down in his bed, swallowed half a bottle of Seconal, and passed away in his sleep; the poor bastard wasn't even smiling! My biggest regret is that even in giving up the weight that for so long pushed down his shoulders, he still couldn't find joy.
     For the longest time, I thought he left very little of himself in this world. A hastily scrawled will, dispersing his assets to friends and family, media war that would rage for years, and a body were all that I thought he left behind. It wasn’t until very recently that I realized he left behind something infinitely more important than anything you and I will ever hope to contribute. He left behind him a legacy of movies that gave people what he so desperately needed in life. A sincere smile, lacking conditioning, that appeared on a face wholeheartedly, and without regret. A red face, and a hand raised to a mouth. A nod in agreement, a slap on a knee, a pat on a young child's head, and most importantly a laugh. Throughout his entire life, all he ever wanted to do was to make sure no one had to feel as he did, and that by watching his movies, they could remember to laugh.
     I guess what I'm trying to say it that whatever the reason you sent me this letter, I hope upon reading this, it won't be one of some sort of depressed obsession with finding out who your uncle was. Even if you never met him in person, the only thing you ever needed to do to know who he was is watch his movies. Everything he would have wanted you to see rests in them, and that delving into the hows and whys of his life would only cause him to be upset. Just laugh, that is all you need to do to show your uncle how much you loved him. All you need to do is laugh.
                                                                    - Richmond Alexander

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