Dear Benny…there’s something you need to know…
#oped, #shapiroreport, #opinion, #personalstories
Monday, December 31, 2018
Dear Benny…there’s something you need to know…
There’s something important I have to share with you, and because in a way it pertains to history, it’s a good idea that I do it publicly, the better to allow others to look back and verify what happened.
To that end, I’m using the online newspaper created by your mother, The Milpitas Beat. Throughout much of 2018, this endeavor has been a raging passion for your mother and I, giving us a chance to write about culture, community, politics, and so much more, during very uncertain and rapidly changing times for our whole country. It’s been an honor to weigh in on such a diverse range of topics, but rarely does one have a duty to write something, and that makes this letter to you even more of an honor to compose.
As you already know, the first president of our country was named George Washington. What you don’t yet know is that you and President Washington have a very unique and special connection, spanning across more than two centuries…
You see, not long after George Washington became president, he met a little boy who had been named after him — Washington Irving. Upon learning of the 6-year-old boy’s first name, the president placed his hand atop Irving’s head and blessed him. As time went on, Washington Irving, who became a famous writer and historian, would say, “I have reason to believe he has attended me through life…I can feel that hand upon my head even now.”
As his life unfolded, Washington Irving formed a friendship with a man named George Putnam. Putnam had a son, also named George Putnam, to whom Irving passed on The Washington Pat — placing it atop George Putnam’s head just like the president had done to him. Putnam would go down in history as a leading writer and publisher.
When it came time for George Putnam to pass on The Pat again, he extended it to one Allan Nevins, who lived not far from him in New York. Nevins made his mark in life as a major historian and journalist.
In a book later penned by author Irving Wallace, Wallace recalled how Allan Nevins passed The Washington Pat on to his daughter, Amy. Irving Wallace’s later account and Washington Irving’s earlier account are the most detailed ones available before this letter you’re now reading. As to the intervening passes of The Pat, we are dependent upon the word of Irving Wallace, by way of Allan Nevins…
Wallace recalled Nevins paying him a visit, during which he told the grand story of The Pat. Amy Wallace, who was 10 years old at the time, sat spellbound by the tale. At its conclusion, Nevins touched her atop the head and said, “Amy, I pat you on behalf of General George Washington.”
Amy Wallace didn’t wash her hair for a week. This was in the mid-1960s.
Over 30 years later, in 1997, your mother and I met at Emerson College in Boston. At the time, we were both obsessed with movies. Indeed, one of our first bonding experiences was when your mother, age 18, fished through my drawer of videotapes (what we used to watch movies on, before the advent of streaming, tablets, and iPhones), saying that she, like me, loved films like “Reservoir Dogs” and “Goodfellas.” She even had gangster movie posters on her dorm room walls, which to me made her the coolest girl who’d ever lived. In time, we’d outgrow our obsession with these films (her more than me), as well as their violence and profanity (her more than me), but not before we graduated from college and spent 14 years living in Los Angeles, working on some films of our own.
We made films. We wrote screenplays. I wrote and published crazy, dark fiction. We paid the bills working as ghostwriters, writing speeches and manuscripts for all different clients. It was an enormous adventure, with all different characters passing in and out of our lives, and in time our path crossed with that of a gentleman named Scott Bradley.
Scott (I say this with the utmost affection) was a lunatic — the only film geek I’d ever met who seemed like he might knife you if you disagreed with his opinion on a given movie, book, or other work of pop art. He was from Missouri, but talked as fast as an East Coaster (not unlike your Jersey-born dad), and looked not unlike John Cusack’s character from “Bullets Over Broadway.” In 2007, Scott was co-editing a book called “The Book of Lists: Horror”, which was exactly what it sounds like — a book made up of all different fun lists having to do with the horror genre: horror books, horror films, horror TV shows, and what have you. When Scott asked me to send him a list for the book, I was not only beyond honored, I had made myself a new friend.
And with Scott came another friend — his girlfriend (and “Book of Lists: Horror” co-editor), Amy Wallace.
It was over too fast. We’d go to parties at Scott’s place. First hit a restaurant, then retire to his book-and-BluRay-lined apartment. He introduced us to all these luminaries: You had Scott’s writing partner, Peter Giglio, a crackerjack talent who’d drive in from Nebraska for long weekends of book signings and booze-drinking. You had F.X. Feeney, the affable film critic who was like a West Coast Roger Ebert, only with more poetic lyricism in his prose. You had John Skipp, the extraordinarily bright bestselling author who’d crushed it with a series of hit books in the 1980s and 90s, and still boasted the energy of a man half his age (with the reckless abandon to match). You had Will Huston, also from Missouri, a guy who could work any job on any film crew, all the while caressing you with his legendary, tobacco-tinged, Southern-fried vocal rhythms.
But in the center of it all, always, were Scott and Amy. They weren’t married, but they may as well have been. Their temperaments were different, but their souls were both sweet. Amy in particular, just by chatting with you briefly, could make you feel as though you were the most important person in the world.
In her day, in the 80s, she’d been a bestselling author, one among a family of successful scribes. When we knew her, she spoke of a deeply changed marketplace. So many people were publishing books nowadays. The publishers weren’t offering the same advances anymore. Authors usually couldn’t even make a living from their work.
And so, as time went on, Amy called me asking for some pointers about ghostwriting.
During one such call, she told me she’d made a decision. I had no idea what she was talking about. But she turned from the phone, running the idea past Scott before bringing it to me:
“I’m gonna give Benjamin The Pat, OK?”
“OK, yeah,” Scott said, fully onboard.
She came back on the line and brought me up to speed: George Washington, Washington Irving, George Putnam, Allan Nevins, Amy Wallace…and, if we accepted her offer, Benjamin Shapiro.
She complimented your mother and I, saying that although we’d only been parents for a year or so, she trusted in the child whom we’d created, and whom we’d go on to raise.
She gave you The Pat the next October. We were at a horror bookstore called Dark Delicacies. I videotaped the moment on my phone. You were too young to know what was going on, but for your mother and I, it was a special moment, one which blessed the life of such a special little boy.
You were Benjamin then. You’re Benny now. We know not what avenues your life will take. And we don’t see The Pat as anything you should feel pressured by. You should feel called, in your life, to do what brings you joy, and you should see this gift granted unto you as first and foremost a compliment: a way of somebody saying that they liked you.
As life goes on, you’ll come to learn just how precious compliments can be.
Amy gave you The Pat in 2012. In 2013, she passed away. It was sudden. All our hearts broke. And then everything ended:
No more long nights at Scott’s place. No more books co-authored by Scott and Pete. In fact, in time, Scott would move back to Missouri. Will Huston would move up to The Bay Area. John Skipp, to Oregon.
Your mother and I — and you and your brother, Henry — to The Bay Area, as well.
Regarding your brother: Henry wasn’t born yet when you got The Pat. Please try to never make him feel bad about it, or left out. He and his life are every bit as special as you and yours.
It’s almost 2019 now. I’m writing this letter on New Year’s Eve. It’s hard sometimes to think about the friends you’ve lost. In life, you find that even the longest friendships can go by quickly. If you’re lucky, you’ll have some friends who accompany you the entire way. Most, however, will come and go.
Amy Wallace came and went. We’re not in touch with Scott Bradley anymore. That whole scene, in the end, was some fast, fleeting moment. In its wake now are memories.
And The Washington Pat.
It’s yours now, boychik: blessing you and blessing your life. Someday, you’ll have to make a big decision, and pick somebody to whom to pass it on.
But you’re a young boy, still, with a long way to go.
So for now, just enjoy it all. Your life is a good one. Your mother and I love you so much. We are here to make sure you have everything you need.
And in the meantime, with you, always, as well…is President George Washington.