Remembering Norman MailerPublished November 13, 2007
Norman Mailer was a dog person. He owned and loved a Standard Poodle. Even so, he was one hell of a writer. So I can forgive him that one fault. I never met the man, except through his work. But a friend of mine, Mordecai Siegal, author of dozens of pet books, including (close your ears, kitties) Dog Spelled Backwards; Soulful Writing by Literary Dog Lovers, did. But only after idolizing him for over 40 years. "It was back in the 60's and I used to hang out with a bunch of writers, and we held Mailer up as our hero," explains Siegal. "We were all just trying to get in print, and here was this guy, who was only nine years older than we were, and he'd not only written books and gotten published, but he'd also won a Pulitzer to boot. He gave us hope. We wanted to be like him." "And it wasn't just the depth of Mailer's writing," Siegal recalls. "It was the depth of the life he lived and shared through his writing that made him larger than life." Siegal remembers those times, and how he stood across the East River and looked over at Brooklyn, thinking, Norman Mailer lives there. So close and yet so far. Wouldn't it be great to meet him? Siegal knew of people who used to pal around with the legend when he visited Greenwich Village. "Mailer was very accessible. He collected people like charms on a bracelet. He was an icon. But you always knew that he was within your grasp. Not like Hemingway. You never had a prayer of seeing him or meeting him, but with Mailer, there was always that possibility. He created the Village Voice, which was in my neighborhood, and he was a presence there. So I always felt like there was a chance I'd meet him." On March 3, 2006, Siegal did just that. A friend of both writers, Jeffrey Michelson, arranged for Siegal to attend a ceremony where Mailer received the highest literary honor the French can give, the "Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur." "My friend Jeffrey introduced me," recalls Siegal, as a 'man who has written 33 books,' whereupon Mailer shot back defensively, 'So have I.'" The two-time Pulitzer-winner was not to be outdone, ever. "After all his accomplishments, he was still as competitive as ever," says Siegal. "He was all about competition." But Mailer wasn't afraid to show his human side, either. "When I told him I'd read the Naked and the Dead on a ship on the way to Korea and almost jumped overboard because of how he portrayed the Army," says Siegal, "he roared with laughter. We had an instant bond, and I was one happy guy." "Meeting Mailer, for me, was a sense of completion," says Siegal. "I felt like after all these years, I've finally met the man. And I'm so grateful for having had that opportunity." The same friend who introduced Siegal to his hero also advised him of Mailer's death. "My friend Jeffrey called me really early in the morning before I had had a chance to read the papers, and told me Norman was dead. And you know, I felt really lousy because I knew someone very important, someone not like anyone else, had just drifted out of our lives." Like I said, I never met the man, except through his writing, but like Mordecai Siegal and thousands of Mailer enthusiasts around the world, KittyLiterate feels pretty lousy, too. Read the entire story of The Norman Conquest on Siegal's forum at www.goodnewsforpets.com.
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