Ron Rosenbaum

Moonwalk Reflections (2): The Best Short Story Is...

…”Just Back From the Coast” by Bruce Jay Friedman. It’s from his collection About Harry Towns brilliant short stories, feturing the hilariously self-lacerating title character that have been newly repurposed as a novel. (I dont have a problem with that.)

You really should read Friedman whose recurrent subject, the temptation and guilt of Urban Man has had no better expositor over the years.

In this one he’s having a fab trip to Beverly Hills; his marriage has broken up, his son’s lonely at sumer camp, but he’s staying at the pink palace of the Beverly Hills hotel on some movie producer’s dime and he’s finally breaking through to ” a special tribe of long legged golden women” who have haunted his El Lay dreams on past trips. While meanwhile Apollo 11 has taken off, and his son wants him to be back in New York for him and…

No spoilers, just that Friedman captures the contrast between the petty longings of the earthbound and the allegedly heroic dream the astronauts are fulfilling. It finds a new way of asking the ancient questions of literature and philosophy: why can’t we be better than we are? What does it mean to be a hero.

Another movie recommendation: the original Elaine May adaptation of Friedman’s short story “The Heartbreak Kid”. That’s Friedman’s theme: the advances of modern life are just new pathways to old heartaches. Did walking on the moon do anything to answer those ancient questions, soothe those heartaches? Hey, they played golf! Mailer captured the profound boredom of it long ago in Of a Fire on the Moon.