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Be Sweet
by Roy Blount Jr. (Knopf)


Be Sweet From Chapter 3, "Who Dat Say Who Dat When I Say Who Dat?"

Then the tenth anniversary literary lion gala came around. Ten batches of lions, some two hundred in all, assembled at the library. We had cocktails with the patrons, then we were led to a hallway outside the glittering dining hall. Meryl Streep said a profound thing once to the graduating class of Vassar: "You're leaving college now, and going out into real life. And you have to realize that real life is not like college. Real life is like high school." Sometimes, in fact, it is like grammar school. For in that hallway a harried man with a clipboard lined us up alphabetically.

There we stood, waiting to make our individual entrances. I now know where I stand in the contemporary pantheon: between Harold Bloom and Judy Blume. I got along fine with Judy, but Harold and I didn't really hit it off. I thought I would break the ice by mentioning The Book of J, a new translation of an ancient scroll alleged to be the kernel from which not only the Old Testament but also the Koran and the Torah eventually derived. Bloom had contributed an introduction, in which he contended that it was in this prototype sacred work that the original Jahweh character was created, and that the author of the work must have been a woman.
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So I say to Harold, lightly, "That must be a good way to meet women, to be able to say, 'Hello. I'm the man who says that a woman made up God.'"

"No!" he replied, I had it all wrong. Feminists didn't even like his theory, he said, and he went on to decry the decline of the Western sense of humor, meanwhile looking around for someone more congenial to hobnob with.

That sort of thing was happening all up and down the line, apparently, because L's were drifting over to chat with A's, N's with S's and so on. To the consternation of the man with the clipboard.

"People!" he cried. "I can't do this if you won't stay in order! And please, shhhhhhh!"

Well, when you're a literary lion you hate to be shushed, somehow, but it was all in a good cause, so we muttered and got back in line and behaved.

As the man with the clipboard peered through a crack in the door to the glittering dining hall, he would grab the first lion in line, wait for just the right moment, and then thrust him or her into the great room.

Being a B, I was among the first to be seized and injected. I stepped into the great, gala space there and heard a highly amplified familiar voice. I looked to the podium and saw that my introducer was, by gosh, Barbara Walters. Cool. Feeling, I must admit, heightened, I strode -- no, let's choose exactly the right word: I proceeded, as literarily as possible, toward the table to which I was pointed.

"AND NOW," I heard Ms. Walters saying, "A HUMORIST . . ."

As I proceeded past a woman in what appeared to be a gown of sewn-together black pearls, I believe I actually winked.

". . . A NOVELIST . . ."

Very nice. Barbara Walters was aware that I had written a novel.

". . . AND, INCIDENTALLY, A VERY GOOD COOK . . ."

That threw me. I have done a number of things over the years, at night, that I couldn't remember the next day. One morning I awoke in my New Orleans hotel room, hauled myself unsteadily to the bathroom and looked into the mirror.

There, in the middle of my forehead, was a big, thick gout of dried blood.

Well, I thought to myself, I am going to have to change my way of living. I thought back over the preceding evening. For the life of me, I couldn't remember having been shot.

Then I switched on the light and looked more closely, and saw that it wasn't blood. I had just slept on my complimentary mint....

At any rate, I couldn't imagine, as I approached my table in that gala library hall, that I could possibly have cooked dinner for Barbara Walters and forgotten it. For one thing, I was pretty sure I had never met Barbara Walters. For another thing, I can whip up a pretty interesting soup or spaghetti sauce, but a great cook? No.

". . . NORA EPHRON!" concluded Walters.

Somehow, for all the careful planning that must have gone into this very impressive occasion, the list of lions had gotten jumbled. Barbara Walters went through the first half of the alphabet, and then Tony Randall took over and did the second half, and every name was wrong. At one point Randall said,". . . GEORGE PLIMPTON!" and a diminutive Indian woman (the very engaging and accomplished novelist Bharati Mukherjee) walked out.

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Excerpted from Be Sweet, by Roy Blount Jr.. Copyright © 1998 by Roy Blount Jr.. Used by arrangement with Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. All rights reserved.

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