Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Rabbit Test, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Me



When I was invited to join this group, my mind immediately went to the movie Rabbit Test.

Remember that piece of classic cinematic triumph?  I thought not.

No one remembers Rabbit Test, and that’s probably a good thing.  The movie was a box-office flop for a variety of reasons, but the biggest was the fact that no one wanted to sit around for 90 minutes and watch a pregnant man make jokes about morning sickness, mood swings and the constant need to pee.

For those of you who are hopping over to IMDb right now to look up Rabbit Test, I’ll spare you the trouble.  The 1978 comedy was directed by Joan Rivers, starred Billy Crystal in his first movie role, and carried the unforgiveable tag line “The story of the world’s first pregnant man…it’s inconceivably funny.”  The setup is simple: Billy Crystal has unprotected sex with a woman and winds up pregnant.  It could happen to anybody.  What’s unexpected is how unfunny the movie turned out to be—even with cameos by Paul Lynde, Michael Keaton, Jimmy “Dy-no-MITE!” Walker, and Roddy McDowell in drag.  Critics were not kind; Janet Maslin wrote in the New York Times, “Whenever one does laugh, it's in spite of the movie, rather than because of it.”  Ouch!  I guess the world wasn’t ready for a knee-slapper about a pregnant man.

Eighteen years later, the world had softened its bias somewhat when Arnold Schwarzenegger decided not to terminator his pregnancy in Junior.  He and Danny DeVito mugged their way through another movie about “the world’s first pregnant man.”  This time, it was a research scientist (Schwarzenegger) who didn’t know what to expect when he was expecting.  The movie poster carried a familiar tag line: “Nothing is inconceivable.”  The box office for Junior was a bit more boffo, thus clearing the way for more feel-good flicks about preggo men.

Which brings me to me.  What’s a Hairy Chest like me doing in a nice place like this?

The Book Pregnant group was founded on the idea that, as writers, we all carry our stories, our characters, our paragraphs around inside us like prenatal passengers.  Right now, if you’re gestating a short story, an essay, a poem, a novel, a memoir, or even a book on the history of Pez dispensers, you are “with book.”  Your mind is swollen, your wrist joints ache, your feet need to be rubbed, and you’re distracted by the constant need to pee.  That’s right—we’re all about metaphor around here.  This blog is founded on the principle of symbolism.

But it’s a true metaphor, isn’t it?  As writers, don’t we constantly bear the weight of imagination and language?  Doesn’t it wear us down with distraction and fill us with delight in equal measure?  As a real-life father of three, I know from experience that my wife had her share of Good Days and Bad Days (along with Ice Cream Days, Mashed-Potatoes-and-Gravy Days, and I-Wish-We’d-Never-Had-Sex Days).  One minute, our work-in-progress is the happiest joy we’ve ever known; the next minute, it’s an insufferable beast of burden.

But then the day comes when we get the happy news: our manuscript is headed for publication.  We get the news not from our OB-GYN, but our agents, an editor, or the mailman who hands us a creamy-white envelope with the return address of a magazine where our work was under consideration. O frabjous day!  Callooh!  Callay!  We will be published!  We will deliver our words and they will grow and go out into the world to make us proud.

That’s when the real waiting begins.  Here at the Book Pregnant blog, we’ve come together as debut authors who have been sitting in the doctor’s office, waiting to be moved from Labor to Delivery.  We’ve commiserated, held back each other’s hair when our colleagues leaned over the toilet in bouts of morning sickness, and have given our share of foot rubs.

I—along with Sam, Wiley, and Robert—am proud to be among the pregnant men of the group.  If I were to turn sideways for a profile views, you’d marvel at my belly bump.  Strangers are always coming up to me and shamelessly asking, "Can I touch it?"

I conceived my book Fobbit—a dark comedy about war—seven years ago while I was in Iraq.  It wasn’t what you’d call an immaculate conception.  In fact, it was downright messy.  My thoughts were scattered, the scenes were hither and yon, characters were undeveloped.  It wasn’t even a novel.  It started life as a journal which I thought would eventually grow into a memoir about my time as an untested soldier at war.  It didn't take long for me to realize the world didn't need another boring, bland-as-vanilla Iraq War memoir.  So I spiced it up with fiction, injected some steroids, and watched it turn into an entirely new and different baby.

But kids have a way of surprising you, don’t they?  What you think is just an energetic fetus turns out to be triplets.  So it goes with my novel.  Over the past nine months—since I got the news from my gyne-agent—it has been reshaped by draft after draft of edits and revisions.  When it’s eventually delivered in September of this year, Fobbit will look nothing like it did when it first started as a mere embryo of an idea.

By now, I’ve probably pushed the pregnant metaphor too far.  You might even say it has stretch marks.  (Okay, I’ll stop.)

But really, I’m happy to have found this community of writers “heavy with book.”  When I got the Book Pregnant invitation, not only did I think of Billy Crystal’s absurd belly, I also remembered one of my favorite writing quotes I’ve been packing around for years (since my undergrad days at the University of Oregon in the 1980s) in that virtual battered and scuffed journal held together by rubber bands.  It goes like this:  “I was with book, as a woman is with child.”  That quote is from a dude—Clive Staples Lewis (C.S. to you and me).  And he certainly knew a thing or two about carrying a book to full term, didn’t he?

11 comments:

  1. I love this. You are too damn funny for your own good :)

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  2. Love this, David! Can't wait to read your book--you are so funny!This is Anne B by they way :)

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  3. HA! I kinda want to look up that Billy Crystal movie now. Hopefully Netflix will have mercy on my soul and NOT have it. I'm glad you're here, even though you're a DUDE.

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  4. Love this post! Thanks for making me laugh through my daily book pregnant mood swings.

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  5. And you wrote a comedy! Imagine that! (Actually, I DO remember Rabbit Test...barely.)

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  6. Fantastic post, David. You've RAISED the bar with this one. And unfortunately, I'm old enough to remember Rabbit Test. LOL

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  7. I've passed this column to Billy Crystal's agent.....I KID

    ReplyDelete
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