The semi-retired reporter could not help but seek out this J.D. Salinger of gaudy-colored paperbacks, the inspiration for more than one Ivy League student’s master’s thesis on the relevance of a ghetto genre at the turn of the millennium. One young woman’s paper had been published in The Iowa Review; she’d coined the term “Meta-Sci-Fi.” It was run up the flagpole of one publisher’s sales force and no one saluted. It, like Weems, is now forgotten.
The reporter, working on his own memoir and seeking distraction (please, Lord, anything but this crap again) was intrigued, as he was informed that Weems (or whatever his real name was) alternately taught creative writing at San Diego State, worked at a 7-Eleven in Carlsbad, lived under a bridge at the junction of the 805 and the 163, or was in the psych ward at Tri-City hospital in Vista.
After checking the Paul Mirabile Center roster, or last night’s bed check (this after much rigmarole with security and management), he found the name Wiley Alexander. An example of the younger man’s sense of humor, but, also, the older writer hoped, a signpost for someone, anyone, to find him. A breadcrumb along a trail.
When Fowler found Weems, the man (the kid?) looked a decade older than he’d pictured him.
One dust-jacket photo for Mythocide showed a boy in his early 20s, preppy, about to play tennis or go sailing. But the man before Fowler now was a grizzled street denizen with missing teeth. He was seemingly older than Fowler himself, yet youth lingered there…somewhere: in the curvature of cheekbones and lips; in the prematurely white, yet youthfully nascent facial stubble; in the eyes.
“Have you written anything recently, and why did you come to San Diego?” the graybeard with the recorder asked, desperate to get his questions in before Alexander or Weems or Clark Kent could drink the next Steel Reserve beer.
“No — and I don’t know. My social worker says I shouldn’t make any more income because they’ll just deduct it from Social Security. She advises me to write my biography and self-publish it for no profit. She doesn’t know what she’s talking about. ‘Vanity publishing,’ and that’s what it’s called, actually, it costs you money. Money I don’t have. And I have no interest in that. I have Hodgkin’s lymphoma, with maybe six months or a year to live, and I suppose I could get a book out of that, but I’ve put so much of my own life into my fiction, I figure, what’s the point? I feel like I’ve already written it.”
“You won a Galactic Award for best novella, didn’t you? Back in, what was it, 1980?”
“Yeah. That’s like the Special Olympics Award for literature. I gave it to my social worker. And one day I was over there and saw that she uses it to prop up one leg of her piano.”
“How did you end up on the streets of San Diego?”
“That was the fare I could afford from L.A. What was left I used on a room at the Plaza downtown. Total rathole.”
“What were you doing in L.A.?”
“I was technical advisor for the Syfy Channel on a pilot called ‘Centauri Pirates’ or ‘Pirates of Proxima.’ They hadn’t made up their minds yet. I was making $4500 a week, and after two weeks, that’s what I needed to live on in Studio City. Anyway, the series was flushed, and after nine weeks I had a bad coke habit and a taste for champagne that wouldn’t quit. This,” he lifted and drained a can of Steel Reserve malt liquor, “is the new love of my life, muse, agent…whatever.”
“You must have written something in the past few years.”
“Oh, well, I’ve taken certain approaches to my memoirs. I had a social worker/shrink suggest this. Oh, I told you. I may have some pages…ah…”
Here Weems handed Fowler a Jack-in-the Box wrapper for some sort of large burger. Among the grease stains was cramped but flawless handwriting in blue ink. The title seemed to be “Lust Bucket.”
It began: “I was born of poor but honest parents on a blustery December night in the city of Waukegan, Illinois, just north of Chicago, in the year of our Lord 1977. It was a ‘precipitous birth,’ said the doctor, one Luchesi Carmenetto. By which he meant, in the race between my mother’s death and my own, I won.
“For those of you who wish to read of events of my early life and forego the biographical details of my ancestry — which is every reader’s solemn right — please turn to Chapter #104, page #389: ‘I Emerge From the Womb: Infant of Destiny.’”
This burger wrapper was given to Fowler, who threw it away after being disgusted with the unverifiable interview. The scrap was clearly Weems’s sense of an intrinsic absurdity in autobiographies.
I have seen “Weems” myself, in line for a free lunch at St. Vincent’s. It must have been the man Fowler described, though he was incoherently drunk and insisted on being left alone. I later watched as security pulled him out of the line after he’d fallen twice, and they walked him to Imperial Avenue and told him to move on.