Sharon Oard Warner

Sharon Oard Warner

Must-Read Novella in the Era of Trump

16 Jan­u­ary 2018

Jerzy Kosinsky Being There

I will always remem­ber the cir­cum­stances:  I read Jerzy Kosin­s­ki‘s Being There at the Tides Book­store in Sausal­i­to, CA.  (I am sor­ry to report that the Tides is closed now. )

This would have been 1971, when I was nine­teen and liv­ing on my own in north­ern Cal­i­for­nia. I didn’t have the mon­ey to pur­chase the book. (I was work­ing as a live-in babysit­ter.) If I couldn’t walk to my des­ti­na­tion, I hitch­hiked. (Once, in Marin Coun­ty, I got a lift from none oth­er than Jer­ry Garcia.)

One Sat­ur­day, I hitch­hiked to Sausal­i­to for the express pur­pose of read­ing Being There, a 140-page novel­la that some­one must have told me about.

I recall sim­ply stand­ing at the shelf and turn­ing page after page. No one object­ed or com­plained. (In those days, book­stores didn’t pro­vide chairs for cus­tomers.) When I reached the last page, I returned the book to the shelf and left the store, task completed.

By 1979, when the movie ver­sion star­ring Peter Sell­ers and Shirley MacLaine pre­miered, I was new­ly mar­ried and liv­ing in Austin. Ted­dy and I were pay­ing cus­tomers at the film, a bril­liant adap­ta­tion of this pre­scient book.

The pro­tag­o­nist of Being There is Chauncey Gar­den­er, a sim­ple­ton who stum­bles out of the gar­den and into the White House. He can’t read, but he is an avid tele­vi­sion view­er. His vocab­u­lary is lim­it­ed, and his tru­isms, culled from tele­vi­sion and his work as a gar­den­er, are heard by the pub­lic as nuggets of wisdom.

Those who are aston­ished by the cur­rent state of affairs in Wash­ing­ton will find this sto­ry illu­mi­nat­ing. Chauncey Gar­den­er is some­thing of an emp­ty ves­sel, ready to be remade in the image of whomev­er he meets. Because he doesn’t have facts or expla­na­tions, he sim­ply repeats the few things he’s learned from his work as a gar­den­er: “As long as the roots are not sev­ered, all is well and all will be well in the garden.”

Lis­ten­ing to Trump, I often think of Chauncey Gardener.

Sausalito California
Sausal­i­to California
Jerzy Kosinski Being There
Jerzy Kosin­s­ki, Being There
Being there, the movie poster
Being There, the movie poster

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