July 12th, 2010

max is fat and pathetic

The Last Harvey Pekar in Cleavland

One of my favorite stories from "American Splendor" has always been the one about how Harvey Looked up his name in the phone book when he got his first apartment, only to find there was another "Harvey Pekar" listed, and then a few years later another "Harvey Pekar" showed up in the listings. The story was about how he wondered about the other Harvey Pekars and their fates when one of them was dropped from the listings one year, and then shortly after that the other one disappeared as well.

When I worked security at the hospital in the early 90's, I was the third shift supervisor, the sergeant, and had a Master Key for the entire campus. I used to go on epic explorations of tunnels and the tops of elevator shafts, offices and operating theaters. And on one of those adventures, somehow, in somebody's office or something, I came across a Cleveland phone book. I looked Harvey up, and there he was. Still listed after one of his Letterman clips was used in a Sonic Youth video and everything...

I ripped that page out of the book and brought it home with me. I started sending him post-cards and little collages and assemblages I used to make when I was young and drinking a half-gallon of Carlo Rossi at 8:30 in the morning. Eventually I began to call the number. I usually got the answering machine, and I'd leave rambling, drunken messages until the machine cut me off. Eventually, one day I was leaving a message and he picked up.

You the guy who keeps sending me weird crap from Rhode Island? He started out with. I was startled, and was tempted to hang up, because up until that point my relationship had just been with his answering machine, but with my gut full of Carlo Rossi, I told him that I was sending him stuff, but that I sent things to a lot of people. He just happened to be on my address list. Which was true. Anyway, he asked me about one item in particular, which I don't have the time to get into right now, but he asked me about this one thing that he felt was vaguely threatening. I explained to him that it wasn't any kind of threat, and that if the things in his life coincided with that thing, it was a huge coincidence. He believed me, and we spoke for about an hour or so. Mostly about working at a hospital, and specifically weather it was morally justifiable to steal petty things from our respective hospitals. And I know I invited him to come to RI to do a reading at this performance space I was involved with. He respectfully declined.

Over the next year or so, I spoke with him and/or his wife maybe ten, twelve times combined. All of those conversations were short and to the point, Just calling to say "hello" type of calls. He was always kind, and honest. If he was irritated or not in the mood to speak, he'd tell me just that. If he wanted to talk to me he would. It was just that after our first conversation we really didn't have much to say because I didn't ever want to bring up his comic in conversation. I felt it would be declasse. As if blindly calling the guy wasn't in the first place. But he was never the angry guy I first saw on Letterman when I was a teenager. No, he was polite and honest. And kind. I think he could feel the loneliness and desperation that I suffered from through the phone lines. I think he could feel it, and he understood.

I got fired from the Hospital, and I met a girl I liked a lot. After that I began dating a different girl that I liked less than she liked me, but at least she made me feel not quite so alone. I got a "real job" as a Jr. Psychiatrist. I began to smoke a lot of pot. I stopped sending things to people "on my list". I was comfortable and comforted. Things were good for a few years there, before the big Heroin Craze hit Providence in the mid-90's.

I'll miss knowing that Harvey Pekar is alive and well in this world. I have a whole new bunch of people that I harass with long, drunken phone calls and messages now. But for a long, lonely time there Harvey was my (Imaginary) friend for when I was lonely and drunk at 8:30 in the morning.

Rest in Peace Harvey.

(Cross-posted from my journal.)