"You're the actor."
"Yes," I said.
"So, I'm doing the liner notes. For The City Is a Maze, I mean."
"I do a lot of them. Prelude to a Certain Midnight . . . Recalcitrant
Women . . . The Unholy City . . . Echolalia . . ."
"All film noir?"
"Oh, gosh, no. You've never seen Herzog's Echolalia?"
"Well, I wrote the liner notes, but it isn't exactly released yet.
I'm still trying to convince Eldred"
Perkus Tooth, I'd learn, called everyone by their last name. As though famous, or arrested. His mind's landscape was epic, dotted with towering figures like Easter Island heads. At that moment EldredSusanreturned to the office.
"So," he said to her, "have you got that tape of Echolalia around here somewhere?" He cast his eyes, the good left and the meandering right, at her shelves, the cacophony of titles scribbled on labels there. "I want him to see it."
Susan raised her eyebrows and he shrank. "I don't know where it is," she said.
"Have you been harassing my guest, Perkus?"
"What do you mean?"
Susan Eldred turned to me and collected the signed release, then we made our farewell. Then, as I got to the elevator, Perkus Tooth hurried through the sliding door to join me, crushing his antique felt hat onto his crown as he did. The elevator, like so many others behind midtown edifices, was tiny and rattletrap, little more than a glorified dumbwaiterthere was no margin for pretending we hadn't just been in that office together. Bad eye migrating slightly, Perkus Tooth gave me a lunar look, neither unfriendly nor apologetic. Despite the vintage costume, he wasn't some dapper retro- fetishist. His shirt collar was grubby and crumpled. The greengray sneakers like mummified sponges glimpsed within a janitor's bucket.
"So," he said again. This "so" of Perkus'shis habit of introducing any subject as if in resumption of earlier talkwasn't in any sense coercive. Rather, it was as if Perkus had startled himself from a daydream, heard an egging voice in his head and mistaken it for yours. "So, I'll lend you my own copy of Echolalia, even though I never lend anything. Because I think you ought to see it."
"It's a sort of essay film. Herzog shot it on the set of Morrison Groom's Nowhere Near. Groom's movie was never finished, you know. Echolalia documents Herzog's attempts to interview Marlon Brando on Groom's set. Brando doesn't want to give the interview, and whenever Herzog corners him Brando just parrots whatever Herzog's said . . . you know, echolalia . . ."
"Yes," I said, flummoxed, as I would so often later find myself, by Tooth's torrential specifics.
"But it's also the only way you can see any of Nowhere Near. Morrison Groom destroyed the footage, so the scenes reproduced in Echolalia are, ironically, all that remains of the film" Why "ironically"? I doubted my hopes of inserting the question.
"It sounds incredible," I said.
"Of course you know Morrison Groom's suicide was probably faked."
My nod was a lie. The doors opened, and we stumbled together out to the pavement, tangling at every threshold: "You first"
"Oops" "After you" "Sorry." We faced each other, mid-Wednesday Manhattan throngs islanding us in their stream. Perkus grew formally clipped, perhaps belatedly eager to show he wasn't harassing me.
"So, I'm off."
"Very good to see you." I'd quit using the word meet long ago, replacing it with this foggy equivocation, chastened after the thousandth time someone explained to me that we'd actually met before.
"So" He ground to a halt, expectant.
"If you want to come by for the tape . . ."
Excerpted from Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem Copyright © 2009 by Jonathan Lethem. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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