That seems like a terrible thing to say about witty, erudite, talented and acclaimed author Allegra Goodman, so before I go any further I think some elaboration is in order.
Allegra and I both attended Punahou School growing up in Hawaii. We were not school chums, we did not attend classes together—I can’t imagine we had occasion to exchange three words in the six years we both were there. It wasn’t a question of mutual enmity; we didn’t hang with mutually opposing cliques or anything. In fact, as far I can tell, neither of us were part of any group sufficiently self-perpetuating or reinforcing as to call itself a clique. God knows I wasn’t.
A little background: I came to Punahou in the sixth grade. When I entered its hallowed halls I was a highly intelligent, totally insecure geek with a small group of friends and a desperate need to be liked. By the time I left I was a highly intelligent, dangerously angry survivalist with a small group of friends and a desperate urge to scare away anyone I perceived as a threat. I trust my readers can fill in the blanks between those two bookends of my pre-college school life.
My time at Punahou was marked by academic performance that might best be described as “spotty”. I don’t cotton well to “book larnin'”; my ability to buckle down and study is limited. I learn best by trying things out on my own. I looked at the crushing load of work expected of me by my teachers—Punahou is an incredibly rigorous institution, more so than many colleges—and decided that ignoring it might be the most prudent plan of action. Perhaps it might go away on its own, or over time compost itself into something more palatable to me. Say, weed, for instance.
I have nothing solid to back this up, but I imagine that Allegra was quite the opposite. She seemed at the time and to my peripheral observations to be the consummate bookworm, a slender ghost haunting the halls, a textbook delivery device passing almost unnoticed through the campus. Something about her simply shrieked “FUTURE ENGLISH LIT MAJOR!” (This is not meant to be a deprecating observation: to the impartial observer, I myself probably screamed, “FUTURE BELL-TOWER SNIPER!” So who am I to poke fun?)
Since I did not perceive her as a threat—and she boasted none of the mammalian nonlinear hypertopology that informed and influenced the other 90 percent of my brain—Allegra barely registered at all on my sensorium throughout our mutual time at Punahou. I was far too involved with more pressing concerns, such as getting high, drinking Mountain Dew and scaring people I thought deserved it. I certainly don’t think I registered on her radar either.
It was only after I had left high school that my long-running, highly traumatic relationship with Allegra really began.
It all started with the release of her first book, [whatever it was], released in [some date I’m sure I could track down if only I cared]. During the course of a phone conversation with the family back home while I was away at college, my Mom brought up the news of the book’s release. Apparently it had to do with the Hawaiian Jewish community (that is, the community of Jews living in Hawaii, not a bunch of mokes in peyos curls and yarmulkes), and was causing something of a stir. “Do you know this Allegra Goodman?” Mom asked me. “I know of her,” I replied. “She was in my graduating class, but we never had any contact with each other.”
I think this is a good time to point out that I’m a bit of a disappointment to my parents. That is to say, they are delighted that I’m still alive and managed to somehow con the most wonderful woman in the world into taking me into her life, but I didn’t turn out to be quite the adult they were hoping for. Thankfully, none of us Lenzer kids did, so there’s no markedly better sibling to be compared to. We’re all just sort of getting by, making it up as we go along: no doctors, no statesmen (that’s left to my nephew Ben, who will some day rule the earth, so don’t make fun of his oversized head), no great writers. “Author” was supposed to be my role to fill, that or a renowned academician like my father.
So when a former classmate of mine popped up on the literary scene with a fabulous, well-reviewed, controversial work of fiction, one might understand why my mother might become just a tiny bit obsessed with her. On the other hand, why she chose to spend the next few years torturing me with the news of Allegra’s comings and goings, waxings and even-waxingerings, is pretty much beyond me. Like the newspaper articles about the health effects of smoking that Mom would occasionally clip and tape to my sister Elizabeth’s bedroom door, there was no malice involved in these acts. It was just information, after all. Didn’t I find it interesting that Allegra’s new book was doing so well in its first week of hardcover release? Don’t I want to read this fascinating interview with her and her new husband in last month’s Atlantic? Isn’t it nice to know that a former classmate of mine is doing so well, that she’s so successful and happy?
It took about five years for me to get it through Mom’s skull that, no, in fact, I was not interested in Allegra’s newest book, her latest escapades, her warm, wise and wonderful traverse through the sunlit garden that is her life. That in fact her constant reminders to me about Allegra’s ongoing, scintillating ascendance into the literary firmament was to me just yet still another reminder of just how little I had accomplished, or seemed likely to. For her successes, Mazel Tov, I’m happy. I just don’t care. And I certainly don’t want to hear about it any more.
Thusly things remained. Until yesterday, when my friend and fellow Punahou grad Mike, completely out of the blue and for no reason I can think of, sent me the following email:
“You guys catch the story and photos of Allegra Goodman in this week’s Entertainment Weekly? March 24’th issue, pages 39 and 40.”
Huh? Fucking huh?? What am I missing here? Have Mike and I ever discussed Allegra Goodman in any form or context whatsoever? Have I ever expressed so much as a scintilla of acknowledgement of (much less interest in) her existence, to him or any other of the narrow band of high-school friends with whom I still have contact? Is he, in fact, so strapped for cash that he would accept a contract job in the employ of my mother?
Here I thought that I was finally, completely free of Allegra Goodman, despite having never spent five minutes in her company nor exchanged a complete sentence with her in my life….and someone decides to drop the A-bomb on me yet again. It’s devastaing, in a sad, cottony sort of way. Like being severley beaten with a sofa cushion.
Allegra, should you ever stumble across this entry whilst idly Googling your name from the comfort of your back porch on a brisk Cambridge morning, let me just say that I hope you are happy, content and secure in your achievements, both personal and professional. I’m sure you deserve no less.
But if you do happen across this post, please extend me the courtesy of not attempting to contact me, should you for some wierd reason be tempted to do so. Let this wound, of which you had no hand whatsoever in inflicting, finally heal.