While we were getting JAM TODAY ready for press last year, right after the first galleys went out, my friend Hercules Bellville died. The last time I’d heard his voice was on my message machine, when I called into it from the Denver airport. I was on the way back from my first meeting with our lovely distributor, Consortium, in Minneapolis; before that I’d been with Alex, who was shooting REPO CHICK in Los Angeles. I hadn’t been home in weeks. I had no idea how long that message had sat there, on my machine.
But it was so odd for Hercules to call. He usually waited for us to call him, announcing an imminent arrival in London, which would mean a lunch somewhere, where he would eye the single sitting at the next table, and stage whisper that he loathed ‘lone diners.’ If it ever looked as if the poor man (for it was always a man, I now realize; Hercules kept his greatest tenderness, his uncompetitive side, for us women) was at all interested in our conversation, he would turn and glare at him, and say loudly, “Thank you very much!”
And it would mean dinner, for the first few years we knew each other always a tussle since Herc inevitably insisted on going out somewhere expensive and chic, and always insisted on paying. There was no stopping him. Even if one of us got up in the middle of dinner and silently went to the manager to try to forestall this, it always turned out that Herc had gotten there, mysteriously, first. I only managed to beat him once. For his birthday, at the River Cafe.
The manager, Charles, let me arrange to pay over the phone before any of us even got there. And since we all knew that whatever beer Herc would inevitably order, he would inevitably send back, insisting it wasn’t cold enough, Charles and I arranged to have a beer frozen in a block of ice, surrounded by birthday candles, to be ready for the exchange.
I was rather proud of that one.
In later years, it was so crystal clear that what the three of us preferred was dining at his house, on the couch, with the telly on, that I don’t think we dined out once–unless it was at a restaurant particularly known for its food, which he thought I’d enjoy. He was so thoughtful that way. As in so many other ways. As long as he didn’t think you’d caught on.
Anyway, something about there being a message from him alarmed me. There was an undercurrent of tenderness in his voice, too, which was usually reserved for very special occasions indeed. So I called him back from the airport, got his machine, told him we’d both try to call him later. We did, but we never got through. Of course I know now that he probably never got any of the messages; he went into the hospital before I even picked up his, and, shortly after, too quickly for us to fly over and say good bye, he died.
So I added a piece about him to the finished JAM TODAY, really, just for myself, just to make myself feel a little better. It was my secret favorite part of the book. Then not so secret, since when I read from the book, I inevitably chose that piece. Sometimes I’d serve the eggplant caviar mentioned in it alongside. To my great delight, in Los Angeles, at Skylight Books, a woman, a fellow writer, came up to me afterwards and said, “Was that Hercules Bellville you were reading about? I thought so. I’m good friends with his goddaughter.”
That was lovely.
Then Alex filmed the talk and put it up on You Tube, and asked if there were any tags I wanted put with it, and I said, “Put Herc’s name.” Because I had a kind of fantasy that someday, another one of Herc’s friends would be idly Googling him, and find it, and maybe get in touch. He had so many friends, Hercules. He was gifted that way.
And it happened just that way. Today I got a letter, beautiful handwriting on beautiful paper, from just such a person, in London. A friend of Herc’s, thanking me for the book, saying the part about Hercules made her cry, and now she loves eggplant.
I’ll write her back. And when I go to London, I’ll ask her out for tea. We can have a good laugh, or a good cry, or both, together, which is a very good thing indeed.
So that made me think that the world being a small place is not a bad thing at all.