“Dear Amazon.com customer,” it begins. “Many of you know John Updike as the winner of two Pulitzer Prizes and the author of great American novels such as ‘The Witches of Eastwick’ and ‘Rabbit at Rest.’ This summer, get to know him as the author whose words open our Greatest Tale Ever Told, the first-ever collaborative story written by Amazon.com customers.”
Who could resist the invitation? No one, it seems.
Begun by John Updike:
Miss Tasso Polk at ten-ten alighted from the elevator onto the olive tiles of the nineteenth floor only lightly nagged by a sense of something wrong. The Magazine’s crest, that great black M, the thing masculine that had most profoundly penetrated her life, echoed from its inlaid security the thoughtful humming in her mind: “m.”
Then Miss Tasso Polk without further ado,
Went in to her boss, Miss Jane Watt-Wehr-Hu.
“Good morning Miss Polk,” Jane began with a smirk.
“If it’s not too much trouble, let’s get down to work.
Now first, I need donuts, ’bout six hundred million,
And coffee, two sugars, no, make that twelve billion.
I want a new wardrobe! In silks, wools and leathers;
I want to grow taller, I want to grow feathers!
And finally,” she sighed, “As soon as you’re able,
Call up Four Seasons and book me a table.”
Now tend to your duties, I’m ‘fraid I must fly.
I’ve got an appointment with John Wenn-Howe-Wye.
We’re meeting, you see, to decide if it’s best,
To move the whole office to a large eagle’s nest.”
As Tasso prepared to go start her day,
Jane opened her window and flew right away.
“That’s that, job well done,” Tasso said to herself
While she dusted the Chum-Chum tree up on the shelf.
And waving good-bye, Tasso swept out the door,
Heading up to her office on the two-thousandth floor.
Tasso just managed to catch the elevator as the doors were closing. “You must be new here,” she heard a voice behind her, as smooth as single malt scotch. It could only be the managing editor, Lyman Braithwaite, ne’er-do-well wastrel son of the magazine’s owner and founder, Brixton Braithwaite — now, tragically, confined to an iron lung.
“Actually, Mr. Braithwaite, I’ve been at the magazine for 12 years.” He stepped toward her in the car. He was no fag, that was for sure. Weak-kneed, she stepped back until the pert melons of her backside brushed up against the rich mahogany veneer of the elevator.
“I see …” he said. “You know, the magazine needs a girl on the cover. A girl people can look at and say, ‘That’s the magazine I need to read, by God!’”
“But this is a financial magazine.”
“Never mind that. Have you ever modeled for a great deal of money before, and are you free for dinner tonight Miss, uh …”
“Polk. Tasso Polk.”
“Tasso? Rhymes with ‘lasso.’” He fixed her with his cerulean gaze, giving Tasso the distinct feeling of a roped calf waiting for a red-hot metal branding iron.
Isaac Bashevis Singer:
She took lunch every day at a dairy restaurant near the office. The people here argued, spitting ancient and potent curses, they wept tears of joy while they danced with their feet several inches off the floor, they rent their clothing in unspeakable agonies. On nights after eating there, Tasso was invariably tormented by dreams in which she found herself sporting the horns of a devil, the genitals of a man and her own woman’s breasts. She would awaken, heaving and terrified, vowing to never return.
Once, there came into the cafeteria a man in a dark greatcoat. He sat down and pulled from his mouth three black plums and a silver spoon. From a hole in his chest he produced a loaf of black bread and a golden-skinned herring. When he had eaten his lunch — augmented with a boiled potato and a plate of sour cream from the restaurant — he closed up his coat and flew away, leaving behind the smell of sulfur and fresh dung.
“A dybbuk.” spat the waitress, clearing his dishes. “And a bad tipper.” He had left behind him on the table a damp and faded note. “The man to whom you are mistress is not a good man,” it read. “You must forget him.”
If you ask me, there’s nothing more depressing than some old guy with dirty cigarette-stained fingers handing you some goddamn note in some cafeteria somewhere, as if he was letting you in on some big secret. It could just about break your heart if you thought about it for even a second. A goddamn note telling you that the guy you were going with was nothing but a phony who said nice things to you, and maybe took you for dinner at the Yale Club every so often. Like you didn’t already know that he was just some show-off from Groton or Philips who thought it was so damn original to ask the waiter his name and then call him by his name for the whole damn meal.
Tasso just couldn’t face the thought of going back to the magazine just then, having to pretend like everyone was her best goddamn friend, so she headed off to the Museum of Natural History. Maybe in the Blue Whale Room she could look at the kids. That always cheered her up; the kids running around like they were drunk, so happy ’cause they hadn’t found out yet that everyone would end up disappointing you and it was all a big bunch of phony crap and lies.
There had been a time in Tasso’s life when such a note, with its glaring eccentricity and specificity, would have brought on the thrumming aura of impending migraine and sent her to bed. A time when she had dated interesting boys in broadcloth shirts from Rogers-Peet who took her to parties where they would collectively engage in what was known back then, indeed what was a key metaphor of the Age, as “having fun,” as in “You should call up Trudy. She’s a lot of fun,” said, perhaps, about a girl, perhaps, who was amusing to be with (the particulars are what fade over time). A time in Tasso Polk’s life long before she could have imagined herself one day standing in an A-line dress on the tarmac of a jungle airport in an unnamed country.
Often, in lieu of pondering such things, Miss Tasso Polk took herself off to buy a pair of shoes or to have her teeth cleaned. But today, it was the Blue Whale Room at the Museum of Natural History, lying on the Western edge of Central Park, Frederick Law Olmsted’s highly designed expanse of sylvan contrivance that had nothing to do with, indeed was in no way affected by, the Space Program, the advent of highways — and consequently movie making — in California, nor the kidnapping of Patricia Hearst.
INT. MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY. BLUE WHALE ROOM. TASSO POLK and her boyfriend, NATHAN KANTER, are sitting on a BENCH underneath a very huge PLASTER BLUE WHALE.
Yeah, I mean … uh … it was really incredible. My analyst said that I never really got a note at that restaurant and that I’m just insecure about whether you really love me, and in my dream where I had the horns it was because you were Jewish, you know, and Grandpa’s always talking about those “horned Jews.”
Yeah, your grandfather’s a real Norman Rockwell type … whittling a swastika on the front porch.
And, uh … in the dream, my analyst said the male genitals part is clear, and I still had breasts because you’re always telling me that I’m flat-chested.
I am not. I … I mean, I think your chest is … dynamite.
Absolutely. I … I … yeah … I … tch … really think you should lay off the white fish. That cafeteria … sounds like some sort of kaballah drop-in center.
I know, Nathan, but I’m trying to like Jewish food, you know, and, and … I read that Heinrich Bvoll story you told me to …
NATHAN takes TASSO’s face in his hands. They KISS.
SOUND: LOUIS ARMSTRONG’S VERSION OF “YOU’RE MY THRILL.”
CUT TO: NATHAN against white background.
(Directly to camera)
You know, I really loved Tasso and I miss her a lot … and I’m reminded of the old joke — I think it’s Zeppo Marx — of the woman who opened her refrigerator and found a rabbit sleeping there … and … uh … the rabbit asks, “Isn’t this a Westinghouse?” And the woman tells him yes, and the rabbit says, “Well, I’m just westing.” And I think that’s how it is with love. We’re all just … uh, just looking for a place to west.