His reputation for outrage extended even to the world of children's literature, which is no easy thing. When Görbe gave readings it wasn't rare to see a crowd of a hundred or more in attendance, and not the usual moms and dads and kids and teachers, but people you'd never have expected Brooklyn hipsters, businessmen in blue suits, specialty booksellers with stacks of first editions Görbe would sign and they'd sell at inflated prices (they all had to put a wad of bills on his outstretched palm before he signed anything), and even some skeletal blondes cradling tiny dogs that trembled so bad they looked as if they were going to disintegrate. Each one was crazy about Görbe, many knew him personally, and when they lined up to have books signed he made sure to say something memorable to every one, statements so outrageous I was sure someone would burst into tears, either that or assault him. Instead they only laughed or turned to friends and said, "See! What did I tell you?" and Görbe nodded almost imperceptibly, made a flourish with his pen, and handed back the book. It seemed to me, looking at the lineup, that they loved him, and it was only later, near the end of the night, after I realized I hadn't seen one person open a book, or overheard a single comment about the writing, that I realized what was beneath it all: a fascination that was all about Görbe's appearance and character. It was him they were there for. The signings were one of those New York events you went to to prove your coolness. Worst of all, I sensed Görbe not only knew this but encouraged it, as if he spent as much time rehearsing the crazy diatribes and remarkslike some kind of comedy routineas he did writing the books. This, too, was part of the process.
During his career Görbe had sold millions of books, gone on innumerable book tours, and the few times he invited me to his apartment in Queens I peeked at some of the royalty cheques on his desk, amazed to think he made that much and still lived in such a hole. There were only two places in the apartment that made it look as if he hadn't given up on life: the draughtsman's table where he did his work, spotlessly clean, the various tools neatly organized; and the mantelpiece where photographs of his wife, Zella, sat carefully arranged so each image could be seen in its frame. I looked at the pictures, then around the house again to see if I'd missed anythingan article of clothing, a pair of shoesthat might suggest a woman was also living there. But I saw nothing.
Görbe came into the room carrying two huge snifters filled with Crimean Cup à la Marmora, his belly brushing the doorframe as he squeezed through with a scraping of shirt buttons. "What're you looking at?" He stopped when I pointed to the pictures of his wife. "Zella," Görbe said, adding nothing more, just standing there, drinks in hand. I asked where she was. "Zella is away," came his quiet response. "In a better place." This seemed to break him out of his trance and he handed me a drink and changed the subject.
Whenever Görbe spoke about his work there was a complete absence of the technical or practical aspects of publishing. Just as when he read to my sons, he spoke as if he was a privileged reader rather than the author. He was never sure, he said, where the story was going even as his writing and drawing proceeded, always one step ahead of his conscious intentions. This was the real Görbe, I always thought, not the clown at the bar and readings, but the guy who, when he talked of his work, seemed eased of all the flesh he carried, his need to filter the world through a cigar, his overindulgence with booze and food. The real Görbe grew excited talking of clouds hollowed out by sparrows, of fire escapes woven out of iron roses growing miles into the air, of bricks made of compacted song turned into choruses conducted with wrecking balls. I'd seen him like that with my kids, and guessed that when he went on tours to the tiny libraries of Idaho and Arkansas and Nebraska he was like that toonaive, filled with wonder, released from the persona he climbed into, like some fat suit, every morning in Queens.
Excerpted from Siege 13 by Tamas Dobozy. Copyright © 2013 by Tamas Dobozy. Excerpted by permission of Milkweed Editions. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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