National Treasure - 27 East


Southampton Press / Opinion / Letters / 1977196

National Treasure

Having had the pleasure for many years, I can assure you that all dialogue below is reported verbatim.

Reading first the excellent story on Jules Feiffer [“Q&A: Legendary Cartoonist Jules Feiffer On His Life’s Work And The Frustrations Of ‘Popeye,’”, May 25], and then only recently having read my own written record of one of the many conversations that I have had with Jules, I felt like he was once again in the back seat of my car, and I was once more driving him back and forth to Southampton’s Stony Brook Southampton — all of this “back in the day,” when he “taught” a course he had personally titled “Humor and Truth,” which was, I assure you, both pure improvisation as well as the sum total of the preparation and planning Jules did in his role as a college professor.

How so, you ask?

Not infrequently, after dozing between Exits 37 and 63, a regular feature of these rides, Jules would rouse himself, ruffling The New York Times, which he had fallen asleep while pretending to read, and ask me pointedly: “So, Robert, what’s the class going to be about today?”

“Well, Jules,” I would philosophically muse into the rear-view mirror, “why don’t we see what the Times is reporting today?”

“Ahh, I’ve got it! Here it is, right here: ‘Japanese To Open Maitake Mushroom Factory in Rural Sullivan County NY. Locals Not Hungry For Noodles.’ It’s perfect.

“Wake me when we cross the canal.”

And sometime in the late winter of 2005 (or was it 2006?), we had the following exchange:

Robert, to Jules, emphatically: “Jules, I’m an essayist, a serious nonfiction guy — I do funny, I don’t write funny. And I’m a prose guy, sometimes poetry that I’m never showing you or anybody. But besides that, I’ve never written a play!”

Jules, to Robert, energetically: “That’s exactly what I told them at Fox when they said they wanted a movie! I said, ‘I’m a cartoonist!’ They said, ‘Go home and write a movie.’ So I went home and I wrote a movie.”

And it was with this loving, almost paternal advice that I went home to write — and wrote my first play.

The only difference, of course, was that Jules went home and wrote the Academy Award-winning “Carnal Knowledge.” My first play, on the other hand, did not even win a nomination, let alone an Obie, or whatever it is that they give not Off-, or even Off-Off-, but so-far-Off-Broadway that nobody’s ever even heard of Sondheim.

“Yet …” I hear Jules, still cracking wise in my ear, “Yet …”

And that is exactly why, or one of the many reasons why, Jules Feiffer is a national treasure.

Robert Durkin

Roslyn, New York, and Juno Beach, Florida

Durkin is a former 40-year resident of the East End — Ed.