Fame & Fortune 

Thursday, March 10, 2005

"You wrote Fanny Hill?" he asked.

"Yes, I use the pseudonym John Cleland, you know, for privacy's sake. I can't deal with all those autograph hounds and the paparazzi - good heavens! Luckily my pitt bulls -"

"You writers have paparazzi swarming over you?"

"Well, those of us writers who've won Booker Prizes...you know like the Nobel Peace Prize?"

His eyes grew wider.

My tenth high school reunion was sweet revenge over those miserable years spent trapped in my locker, drinking puréed celery from a straw my friends supplied through the door slots.

On the day of my high school graduation, when the School Board finally hired the fire department to cut me out of the locker and I crawled home to my parents, I vowed vengeance upon those who thrust me into that four-year imprisonment.

I spent years feverishly reading everything about John Cleland and his Fanny Hill. Every night, while others slept, I memorized the complete Sonnets from the Portuguese and other tidbits from Cleland's oeuvre. Most especially, I practiced for hours in front of the mirror, reciting "I have nothing to declare but my genius" over and over again.

Unlike the ditzy girl in Romy and Michele's High School Reunion, I have no Janeane Garofalo to blow my Post-It Note cover. All of John Cleland's schoolmates are reassuringly dead.

And just like Post-It Notes, Fanny Hill is commonplace enough that everyone has a half dozen copies lying about. Everyone therefore knows that I am a serious big-time author.

Yet, no one associates John Cleland with any famous face.

And, with Fanny Hill's tricky subtitle, Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, everyone already half-suspects the writer's gender is a farce, making it harder for anyone to pin down what exactly John Cleland was. On the internet it usually works that way; anyone claiming to be a woman is a man and vice versa. Especially if that person is writing as a lady of dubious means. Everybody knows that the Diary of a London Call Girl is written by a huge Yorkshireman with a beard like a rhododendron bush*.

No feeling in my existence so far has ever been as life-affirming as the night of my high school reunion. By the end of the evening, the former high school jocks, then the stars of the football team, now stockbrokers, they were licking the pebbles wedged in the ridges on the soles of my boots. I gave them all autographs, of course, along with my fees for entertainment at children's birthday parties.

I think I'll publish The Canterbury Tales or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory before the twentieth-year reunion.

*My sincerest apologies to Messieurs Curtis & Elton.

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