The Road to Oliver’s
LitHub.com | Monday, Aug 26, 2019
This is the original extended version of the prologue to Weschler's book, And How Are You, Dr. Sacks? For additional excerpts from the book see "Blockage and Release" in the The Believer and "What Tom Gunn Thought of Oliver Sacks" in The Paris Review.
Heading out to Oliver Sacks’s recent homebase on City Island, just off The Bronx, that first time in June of 1981, I’ll grant you, I was trawling, vaguely, for another story.
I’d only just transplanted myself to New York City from my original home stomping grounds in Los Angeles, largely owing to the success of my previous story, which a few months earlier I’d somehow managed to sell, pretty much over the transom, to The New Yorker. Aged 29, I’d come home late one evening to my Santa Monica apartment to find the light blinking on my answering machine. Answering machines must have seemed pretty new-fangled in those days, because the feathery voice on the tape began haltingly, “Mr. Weschler, is this Mr. Weschler? . . . Mrs. Painter, do you think he can hear me? Should I leave a…Mr. Weschler? This is William Shawn of the New…aaaah, Mrs Painter, how can I tell if the thing is working? William Shawn of the New Yorker magazine, and I am just calling to say that we all very much admired the piece you submitted to us a few months ago and we were wondering if…oh dear, Mr. Weschler, if you are getting this message could you please call us back at the following number”—and so forth—“Mrs. Painter, I don’t think he got any of that at all.”
However, I did, I had, and in later years I’d be very grateful for the momentary filter of that answering machine: had I happened to have been home and picked up the ringing phone, I’m sure I’d have assumed it was one of my friends pulling my leg and blurted “Yeah, and I’m Bernardo Bertolucci” or something like that, and just hung up.