The first time I met Edmond Manning, he was in an Easter Bunny costume, handing out deviled eggs. Though I may have conflated two memories, for although Edmond corroborates the deviled egg story, he claims he didn’t get into the bunny suit ’til later in our relationship, whereas in my mind, my first view of him was this:
…leaving eggs, deviled or otherwise, at my apartment door.
Now, this was a long time ago, so all these memories are suspect–especially Edmond’s. We met when I was in my early 20s, living in my very first apartment ever, in Minneapolis. I was struggling to be a writer, which meant I wrote short stories at every available hour in the booth in my kitchen while working as a waitress, a prep chef in restaurants whose staff attire included a chef’s hat shaped like a garlic clove, and a bookstore manager. I was also leading a double life, interviewing Holocaust survivors for the Stephen Spielberg Survivors Of The Shoah Visual History Foundation. Once, in the restaurant where I had to wear the garlic clove hat, I was cubing baguettes to make croutons when one of my survivors came in. I hit the floor.
I was working on a very early draft of my first novel, THOSE WHO SAVE US, then too. It was called “The Fruhstuck Review” (Fruhstuck, you should forgive the missing umlauts, means “breakfast” in German) and was about a recent college grad who wanted to be a writer traveling through Germany with her colorful mother, each asking the other, “How did the Holocaust happen here?”
I admit, Edmond was a witness to all this.
He was one of few people (I hope) to see me like this, at Matt’s bar, home of the infamous Jucy Lucy, in Minneapolis:
Edmond saw me writing, smoking pack after pack of cigarettes and downing gallons of coffee.
He saw me waiting as avidly as any junkyard dog to pounce on the mailman, all the better to tear open my rejection letters.
He saw me–and smelled me–coming home from the restaurant, reeking of garlic. And returning from survivor interviews with mascara stains on my face (I cried in my car post-interview, listening to Brahms). And leaving the building before dawn to get to work at the bookstore, a BORDERS flagship store I had the privilege of helping open, the only job I ever had that I loved.
Edmond also saw me as a new bride, a young woman grappling with the idea that being married meant I couldn’t date whomever I wanted, a woman who despite loving her young husband had no idea whatsoever how to be wed. And then a young separated woman trying to figure out how to be alone by throwing lots of dinner parties, crying, and writing a lot. And writing even more.
Edmond CLAIMS I used to stomp around in heavy boots in my apartment, which was right above his apartment, but I debate the veracity of that.
Edmond was there to listen to me dream aloud about publication, to hear me whine when I got yet another rejection, to comfort me when my marriage was breaking up and to laugh with me every single day, no matter what. He was the first person to teach me a neighbor could be a dear friend, that sometimes your chosen family parachutes into your life by the happy accident of apartment geography. We were close as family, in each other’s living rooms at all hours, constantly popping in and out like cuckoos–including whenever one of us left town. Then, we had keys to each other’s homes, ostensibly to water plants (and, in my case, to take care of Edmond’s yellow cockatiel Buddy). Instead, what sometimes happened was something like this:
This is Edmond and Plastiqua, my plastic blow-up doll, in my bed. Plastiqua was a wedding gift to me by the best man (which actually explains a lot). Plastiqua got around, especially in our building. One evening when Edmond was on a date, Plastiqua somehow migrated into his bed, where, bringing his date home, Edmond discovered her with a copy of the New Yorker and–Edmond CLAIMS, though I have absolutely no memory of this–an artfully positioned banana.
Edmond’s date naturally wanted to know why there was a blow-up doll in his bed and, since Edmond is gay, why she was female.
Edmond subsequently appeared at my door demanding to know how I was going to compensate him for destroying a date and maybe a relationship with a man who’d had a lot of potential.
I said I had no idea what he was talking about.
I came home from a trip the following week to find Edmond and Plastiqua enjoying the New Yorker in my bed.
I don’t remember whether Edmond told me then that he wanted to be a writer. He probably did, and I probably blocked it out because my reaction in those days to people telling me they wanted to be writers was a mental Yeah, yeah. I was working a lot of temp jobs, waitress jobs, restaurant jobs, among people who had big dreams they liked to talk about but didn’t really feel like pursuing. The statement “I always wanted to be a writer!” was inevitably followed by, “…But I watch too much TV.” Or, “But I never seem to find the time. Maybe I’ll get around to it one of these days.”
With all the arrogance of my early 20s, I internally sneered and thought: If you were a real writer, you’d READ instead of watching TV. If you were a real writer, you’d FIND the time.
I still firmly believe you can’t be a writer without reading and that success in writing means understanding words; dexterity–through practice, talent, and luck–in putting them together; and finding the time. No matter what.
I knew Edmond understood words. His Christmas newsletters were the funniest things I’d ever read–never mind that he sent them out in July. They made me cry with laughter each time I reread them, which I did, often. Maybe I didn’t want to believe Edmond wanted to be a writer–because who needed that kind of competition? Living right below you in the same building, no less.
Then I moved away, to go to grad school in Boston, get divorced, get hundreds more rejection letters, start teaching, keep writing, finally publish my first novel. I missed Edmond sorely and kept in touch with him the way we did in the pre-Facebook olden days: monthly emails. The occasional phone call. Seeing each other when work brought us to each other’s cities. Our bond was always there, remarkable in that it was unremarkable: we were just as dear friends as ever.
Then Edmond told me he was working on a novel. I was in Minneapolis on book business for THOSE WHO SAVE US, and we were sitting in the grape arbor he’d built in his backyard. We were drinking wine and eating raspberries he’d picked, sun-warm, from his bushes. Edmond talked about the writing process, how miraculous it was when words came from nowhere, how pretentious he felt referring to himself as “a writer,” how protective he felt of his work–how much he dreaded the inevitable, innocent question, at parties, at job sites: “What’s your book about?”
I thought: Huh. I always KNEW Edmond could write. That’s a no-brainer. But he’s DOING it! He’s a writer! Edmond is the real deal.
And now, 20 years after Edmond appeared in my life in his Easter Bunny suit with his deviled eggs (it’s MY story so I’m gonna tell it how I remember it), his first book is out:
One reader on Amazon describes KING PERRY like this:
“This novel is at once gay vision quest and urban farce, all set in familiar locations in and around San Francisco. The main characters are sexy, smart and endearing, in turn fallible and fearless. The story has as many curves as Lombard Street and in the end touches the deep-rooted need especially of gay men to be appreciated for their strengths and nurtured for the transformational power of their perceived weaknesses….This is a beautiful and fun read.”
I haven’t yet read KING PERRY because I’m waiting for my pre-ordered copies to be delivered. But it doesn’t surprise me at all that Edmond’s novel is full of magic and humor; fearful things to be faced; the reality of love–that it’s not always perfect and its all the stronger because of it–as its abiding theme.
I can’t wait to read KING PERRY.
And I hope that next time I get to Minneapolis, where Edmond still lives, the author–who has proved himself to be as full of never-give-up determination as every writer must be to realize his dream–will sign it for me.