The International Writers Magazine: On Chance
John M Edwards
Coming to literary loggerheads with a blood relative of your dad’s favorite writer seems too serendipitous a sendup to actually be true. . . .
I was smoking a Nat Sherman outside the SoHo Grand Hotel on West Broadway in New York City, when, one of their wealthy and celebrated guests wearing a smooth caramel suit approached me like an unsteady Three Card Monty maestro on smoko, holding out an unrequited snap for an extra cigarette.
“That’s okay, you don’t have to pay me,” I said in glum commiseration about how expensive the sin tax on tobacco was proving, and how disastrous it was to the economy.
“Yeah, there is no place else left to smoke.”
“I’m John Edwards.” I reached my hand out a mile.
“Pleasure. I’m Roger Waugh.”
“Hey, no relation to Evelyn Waugh, are you?” I jested.
The legendary Evelyn Waugh was like the Roxy Music of the early twentieth-century literary “demimonde” (whatever that means)—too ahead of his time to not be famous during his own lifetime, and as familiar as an old friend we meet on occasion at a café in the brisk high-risk “City” of London.
I hoped I wouldn’t have to explain to this potential prettyboy imposter that the nancyboyish effeminate-sounding “Evelyn,” who shared his hard-to-pronounce surname from some happenstance of geneology and good breeding, was a MAN!
Alas, I hadn’t read many of Evelyn Waugh’s novels other than The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold--(a fine piece of surrealism based on something that really happened)--and Scoop (a classic comedic romp which I left half-read for another day). My favorite title of the unreads was “Vile Bodies.” However, now this is important, I had read absolutely all of his travel writing. . . .
Which is generally regarded as being among the finest of its period, which is my personal favorite: travel writing between the wars.
There was a long pause. (That’s how I found time to compose a long paragraph in my head, like a half-remembered dream notion fogging your cranium a few seconds after being roused awake.) The thought: Evelyn Waugh, I remembered, had converted to Catholicism before he died, all because something had spooked him.
“Why yes,” Roger began to circumnavigate the issue.
Then out of the wild blue yonder came the punchline: “I’m his grandson.”
I could tell by the pleasant expression on his face that Roger was inordinately proud of his grandfather, and who wouldn’t be.
The expression on my face was a thousand times worse.
“GRANDSON?!” Total hero worship washed over me, combined with an eagerbeaver social con seething with reptilian mirth and fawning overfamiliarity. Just knowing that Roger was a famous “progeny” turned me from MAD’s Sergio Aragones’s Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions guy into, oh, I don’t know: “Do you have any manuscript scraps I could buy?”
“Uhn!” My voice quavered like Alfalfa crooning The Barber of Seville on “The Little Rascals.”
Some of us will live forever.
“I do have a lot of his letters.”
Roger handed me his business card, and I was momentarily startled to see that he was a business exec with Mercedes-Benz.
“I have some WWI tin soldiers I could swap?” Only abject luxury would do within his highflying set, I imagined. Was I also a tiny tad disappointed: as the confident smile disappeared from my face, as if after a punchup from The Invisible Man by H. G. Wells, I wondered why wasn’t he a writer, too?
“Evelyn Waugh is one of my favorite writers!” I gushed like a teen hoodlum with a pinchhitter at a Jonas Brothers concert. “Do you pronounce your last name Whoa! or Waah!”
© John M. Edwards, New York - August 2010
J M E's writing has appeared in Amazon.com, CNN Traveller, Missouri Review, Salon.com, Grand Tour, Islands, Escape, Endless Vacation, Condé Nast Traveler, International Living, Emerging Markets, Literal Latté, Coffee Journal, Lilliput Review, Poetry Motel, Artdirect, Glimpse, Verge, Slab, Stellar, Trips, Travelmag, TravMonkey, Traveling Stories, Danse Macabre, Smoking Poet, InTravel, Mango, Big World, Vagabondish, Glimpse, BootsnAll, Hack Writers, Road Junky, Richmond Review, Adventure Journey, DVD Express, Borderlines, ForeWord, Go Nomad, Mango, North Dakota Quarterly, Michigan Quarterly Review, and North American Review. He recently won a NATJA (North American Travel Journalists Association) Award, a TANEC (Transitions Abroad Narrative Essay Contest) Award, a Road Junky Hell Trips Award, a Literal Latté Travel Writing Award, a Trips Millenium Contest Award, a Bradt Independent on Sunday Travel Writing Award, and three Solas Awards (sponsored by Travelers’ Tales). He lives in New York City’s “Hell’s Kitchen,” where you can eat ethnic every night with soul survivors from Danté's Inferno. His future bestsellers, Move and Fluid Borders, remain unpublished. His new work-in-progress, Dubya Dubya Deux, is about a time traveler. He is editor-in-chief of the upcoming annual Rotten Vacations.