Philip Roth and Me, A Micro-Memoir

I told this as a twitter story. Posted here without hashtags. This story is 100 per cent true.

Philip Roth and Me. A mico-memoir.


Just married. 25 years old. Move into pre-war on Upper West Side of NYC.

Get in elevator one night, with my wife, Amy–and standing there, looking every bit like himself, is…Philip Roth.

Yep. Philip Fucking Roth. And I can’t help myself.

“Mr. Roth,” I say as the elevator man puts the thing in gear, “Portnoy’s Complaint is a very important book to me.”

Well, my son, did it improve your character?” Roth asks as the elevator arrives at my floor.

I gesture towards Amy and, thinking myself clever say, “you’ll have to ask her.”

We step onto our floor. But just before the doors close, Roth leans out and says, “Well, it’s not supposed to.” And chuckles.

Leaving me to look like an idiot in front of my 21 year old bride.

Turns out that Roth lives 10 floors above us.

Every morning on the subway to work back then (this is before I became a writer), I’d read. And I read two or three novels a week.

All sorts of shit.

One morning I was reading some sort of popular fiction. Real crap that I dug. And as I got to the front door I hesitated.
What if Roth saw the book? He’d think I was even more of a schmuck than he already did.

So I, in a fit of intellectual insecurity, left the book at home.

Of course, he wasn’t in the elevator. And I had nothing to read all day.

Worse, The train home gets stuck en route and I have nothing to read for the 45 minutes we are stranded.

All I do is sit there and stew at myself–how can I be both so intellectually insecure and also so egotistic as to…

1) care what Roth thinks about what I read and 2) imagine that he would either notice or give a shit at all.

This was Philip Goddamn Roth.

Why the fuck would he care what the kid in 5B was ingesting through the eyes?

And also, what were the fucking chances we would run into each other. I had still only seen him seven times total in the 3 years.

I resolve to read whatever the fuck I wanted from them on and to just generally calm the fuck down about all this crap.

So after that, I’d read whatever wherever.

Except. One morning I was carrying another popular novel. I got to the front door. Hesitated.

Remembered my promise to myself and kept moving. e

The elevator door opened. In I walked. And standing there was the man himself.

I quickly leaned against the wall, sliding the book behind my leg.

But he noticed. Hard. ”Eh, eh. Uh uh. What’ve you got there? What are you hiding?” said Roth.

“Um…this…” said I.

“Ah yes…” the great man said, already going into a strong Roman
accent, “Mario Puzo…” and he rolls the R sound…

And smiling wide, he continues, “The Last Don, one of the greats…”

“Well, I’m just…”

“It’s no use, young man. Curt here,” and he points to the elevator man, “is on assignment. He keeps records for me.

No matter what you do, you can’t hide! I always know what you’re reading.”

And then the elevator hits bottom, Roth gets out, and I am left standing there, all alone with Curt, feeling like a total ass.

I hear Roth laughing as he strolls the fuck out of the front door of the building, into his town car…

Leaving me standing in the lobby, not moving, book clenched so hard in my hand as to cause my fingers to hurt.

I just saw that Philip Roth died today. RIP, sir. You were one of the best who ever did the thing. And could bust balls with the best of em, too.

As The Father Of A Daughter

As the father of a daughter, I had trouble falling asleep last night, after watching the coverage of the shootings in Santa Barbara.
As the father of a daughter, I know how much those girls were loved, how badly their parents wanted to keep them safe, how hopeless the world must seem to them this morning.
As the father of a daughter, I watched the video of the killer with horror but not surprise. I’ve seen men with that look in their eyes. Young men and old men. Men who in other areas of their lives might be kind, empathetic and reasonable, but for whom women are objects, enemies, a battle ground to be won and taken.
As the father of a daughter, I want to tell her how to safeguard herself from men like that, teach her how to talk to them in a way that won’t rile them up, won’t make her a target.
As the father of a daughter, I know that isn’t possible. There is nothing a woman can do to prevent a man from deciding that he should possess her, dominate her, take her, own her.

As the father of a daughter, I worry about sexual predators. Rapists who murder, kidnap, assault. Rapists who act like friends, who might, until the very moment they get her alone, be friends. Rapists who sidle up next to her in a bar and drop something in her drink.
As the father of a daughter, I worry about men who, while not sexual predators, are–because there’s not a better word for it– creepy and whom might catcall her, grab her, slap her rear as she walks by, just make her feel weird and grossed out by how they look at her.
As the father of a daughter, I worry about how boys her age might objectify and pressure her, and how the group dynamic can turn ugly at a moment’s notice, attacking the weakest with recklessness and brutality.
As the father of a daughter, there are things I worry about that I cannot even write out, but that I could find without any effort if I just typed a few search terms into google.

As the father of a daughter, I wish that all men would take just a moment, today, to look inside, to decide if they are proud of the way they stare at women on the street, the way they talk to them in bars, the way they talk about them when they feel the women are just out of earshot.

As the father of a daughter, I feel complicit. I’ve been at poker games, football games, street fairs and business meetings, on message boards and in email chains, where I’ve heard comments about women, tinged with a particular kind of frustrated anger, that I have chosen to ignore. Because it’s easier to ignore them than to be ostracized, thought unmanly, excluded.
As the father of a daughter, I promise, from this moment on, to have zero tolerance, to be vigilant, to remember that all women are someone’s daughter, and to be brave enough to remind others of that, when they need reminding.

As the father of a daughter, I want so many things to be different. I want her to feel free, unselfconscious about what she wears, how she looks, who’s safe to be alone with. I want her to grow up and find love, and to be able to express herself sexually when the time is right (40, 50 years from now), without being made to feel used, cheapened, possessed. Without feeling shameful, slutty, wanton.
As the father of a daughter, I want to keep the doors locked and my little girl inside. But…
As the father of a daughter, I know she needs to learn, each day, how to survive, how to thrive, how to live. And…
As the father of a daughter, I recognize her strength, her instincts, and I have to trust that they will serve her, guide her. So…
As the father of a daughter, I hold the door open instead and smile as she walks through it, hoping she doesn’t see fear in my face.

As the father of a daughter, I am grieving for the fathers who felt about their daughters exactly how I feel about mine, only to have their special little girls ripped from them by a monster.
As the father of a daughter, I need to stop writing this now, so that I can go and give my daughter a hug, to tell her that whatever’s bothering her today will be gone tomorrow, but that I won’t be.