From the creator of the HBO series Bored to Death, the story of a young alcoholic writer and his personal valet, a hilarious homage to the Bertie and Jeeves novels of P.G. Wodehouse.
Alan Blair, the hero of Wake Up, Sir!, is a young, loony writer with numerous problems of the mental, emotional, sexual, spiritual, and physical variety. He's very good at problems. But luckily for Alan, he has a personal valet named Jeeves, who does his best to sort things out for his troubled master. And Alan does find trouble wherever he goes. He embarks on a perilous and bizarre road journey, his destination being an artists colony in Saratoga Springs. There Alan encounters a gorgeous femme fatale who is in possession of the most spectacular nose in the history of noses. Such a nose can only lead to a wild disaster for someone like Alan, and Jeeves tries to help him, but...well, read the book and find out!
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Jonathan Ames is the author of I Pass Like Night; The Extra Man; What’s Not to Love?; My Less Than Secret Life; Wake Up, Sir!; I Love You More Than You Know; The Alcoholic; and The Double Life Is Twice As Good. He’s the creator of the HBO® Original Series Bored to Death and has had two amateur boxing matches, fighting as “The Herring Wonder.” For more information visit JonathanAmes.com.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Jeeves, my valet, sounds the alarm · A physical description of my uncle Irwin, the gun fanatic, and a rundown of his morning regimen · I rush through my toilet and yoga · A delayed ejaculation of fear
"Wake up, sir. Wake up," said Jeeves.
"What? What is it, Jeeves?" I said, floating out of the mists of Lethe. I had been dreaming of a gray cat, who, like some heavy in a film noir, was throttling in its fists a white mouse. "I was dreaming of a gray cat, Jeeves. Quite the bully."
"Very good, sir."
I started slipping back into that cat-and-mouse confrontation. I wanted to see the little white fellow escape. It had very sweet, pleading eyes. But Jeeves cleared his throat respectfully, and I sensed an unusual urgency to his hovering presence which demanded that the young master rally himself from the luscious pull of dreams. Poor mouse would have to go unsaved. No happy ending.
"What's going on, Jeeves?" I asked, casting a sleepy eye at his kind but inscrutable face.
"There are indications, sir, that your uncle Irwin is no longer asleep."
It was only under these alarming circumstances that Jeeves would interrupt my eight hours of needed unconsciousness. He knew that the happiness of my morning was dependent on having as little contact with said uncle as possible.
"Groans from the bedroom, Jeeves? He no longer dreams -- probably of firearms -- and is staring at the ceiling summoning the courage to blight another day?"
"His progression into the morning is further along than that, sir."
"You heard his feet hit the floor and he's sitting on the edge of the bed in a stupor?"
"He's on his stationary bicycle and he's davening, sir." Jeeves had picked up the Anglicization of the Yiddish from me, adding the ing to daven (to pray) as I did.
"Good God!" I said. "This is desperate, Jeeves. Calamitous!"
Coming fully awake and now nearly at the height of my sensory powers, I could make out the spinning of the bicycle's tires, as well as my uncle's off-key Hebraic singing -- his bedroom was just fifteen feet away down the hall.
"Do you think there's time, Jeeves?"
"There is very little room for error, sir."
I am usually unflappable and rather hard-boiled, if I may say so, but this predicament first thing in the morning shook me to the core. For several months now, with rigorous discipline, I had just about managed never to see my uncle before noon.
"How has this happened?" I asked. I didn't want to fault Jeeves, but he had never before let my uncle get so far as the stationary bicycle without awakening me.
"Your uncle has risen quite early, sir. It is only eight-thirty. If you'll excuse me for saying so, but I was performing my own toilet during the first stages of his morning program."
"I see, Jeeves. Perfectly understandable." I couldn't expect utter vigilance from the man -- after all, he was my valet, not a member of the Queen's Guard -- and my uncle had thrown everything off by getting out of bed more than two hours ahead of schedule. This was an anomaly beyond the palest pale, and so our best defense -- Jeeves's keen eavesdropping -- had been wanting.
Well, I was in a bad way, but I like to think of myself as a man of action when shaken to the core, and so I threw back my blankets. Jeeves, anticipating my every move, handed me my bath towel, materializing it from his person, the way he is apt to materialize things from his person when they are needed, and so I dashed out of my lair, wearing only my boxer shorts, and shot myself into the bathroom, which is right next to my uncle's bedroom.
I had my own morning program to adhere to, but I was going to have to rush through it if I wanted to avoid my nemesis. Hurrying did not appeal to me -- I would probably feel anxious the whole day -- but an encounter with the ancient relative before noon would be worse. Then all my nerves would be completely unraveled and the day would be lost.
To avoid such an eventuality, Jeeves and I had memorized, in order to map out my every move, my uncle's morning schedule, which was as follows:
(1) Uncle Irwin's wife, my aunt Florence -- my late mother's sister -- would leave at dawn to go teach special education at the local high school, and she did this year-round, teaching summer school, as well. She was in her early sixties, but still working very hard -- an angel in human form. My uncle would say good-bye to her each morning but immediately fall back to sleep. He was in his early seventies and a retired salesman of textile chemicals, though in the afternoons he peddled ultrasonic gun-cleaning equipment to police stations.
My uncle was a firearms expert and the house was equipped with a small arsenal. He was ready for another Kristallnacht or a siege by the FBI if there was a repeal of the Second Amendment. In case of a surprise attack, guns were hidden all over the place -- behind shutters, in heating ducts -- and he often wore a gun in the house, utilizing a special hip-holster. He called this packing, which has metaphorical resonance, I understand, in the homosexual community as well as in the NRA, which makes perfect sense since there is nothing more phallic than a gun; even phalluses seem less phallic, though, of course, the phallus did precede the firearm.
(2) Around ten-thirty each morning my uncle would awaken. He would groan several times and yawn lustily -- his large stomach acted acoustically as a sort of bellows. He was a short, round man with a coal black mustache and a very white beard, and this unusual bifurcated arrangement of his facial hair gave him an uncanny resemblance, despite his Jewish origins, to a Catholic saint-in-waiting -- a certain Padre Pio. This was discovered when a sweet and pious Italian woman nearly fainted at the local Grand Union and pressed upon my Uncle Irwin a laminated card with an image of this Pio. My uncle then wrote to a Catholic organization and got his own such card, which he kept in his wallet as a form of identification, flashing it if he was in a playful mood at the synagogue or the shooting range or any of his other haunts. Pio was on the verge of sainthood due to his having stigmata -- bleeding from the palms -- and my uncle said that his carpal tunnel syndrome, brought on by years of clutching a steering wheel as a traveling salesman, was his stigmata.
(3) So after two to three minutes of these nerve-rattling, church-bellish yawns, whose purpose was to deliver oxygen to his organism, the blankets were thrown off. He would then turn on a small mustard-colored radio, which only picked up one station -- a round-the-clock government weather report. The broadcaster's voice was dreary and unintelligible, and it enthralled my uncle for a good five to ten minutes each morning.
(4) Having then been apprised of the current meteorological conditions, he would go to the bathroom and pass water.
(5) After flushing, he'd come back to his room and begin to pray -- on average about fifteen minutes.
(6) After prayer, he bathed -- ten minutes.
(7) After bathing, around 11 A.M., he was down to the kitchen for his breakfast: microwaved oatmeal, banana in sour cream, hot water with lemon. He ate this hearty meal while reading The New York Times and listening to CBS news on the kitchen radio, which was played at maximum volume. The breakfast, due to the enormity of The New York Times, sometimes lasted as long as two hours, at which point he'd head out for the day to mix with the constabulary and speak of the benefits of keeping the barrel of one's gun free of dust and oil.
Well, that's the schedule -- so if I played my cards right, I had bathed, breakfasted, and was safely sequestered back in my room before he even reached the kitchen table. Granted, the explosive radio-playing of CBS was unnerving and did not respect the boundary of my bedroom door, but at least there was no physical contact between myself and the relative. To feel properly aligned, mentally and physically, not to mention avoiding being shot or pistol-whipped, I needed solitude in the morning. You see, solitude is essential to producing art, and art in my case was literature: I was writing a roman à clef and needed to be left alone. Jeeves was about, but Jeeves was trained to be invisible. They teach you that at valet school.
Sometimes, though, if I was a little off my program, my uncle and I would pass each other on the three-step staircase that led from the kitchen to the bedrooms -- it was a small, two-story, Montclair, New Jersey, house -- and this was disquieting, but not the end of the world. He'd shoot me a withering glance full of disapproval, but the lighting was poor on that staircase, and so his mien undid me a little but not completely.
What was bad -- avoided at all costs -- was to be in the kitchen when he began to eat. Not only would he paralyze me with numerous withering glances, his eyes exuding all the compassion of iced oysters, but he generated in me an irrational reaction to the concussive sounds of his chewing. Without any doubt, the noises he made were obscene, but my response was uncalled for. I was his houseguest -- well, practically a permanent resident for the last few months; he and the aunt had taken me in during a difficult time, acting like parents; I was only thirty, relatively young, but my mother and father had been deceased for many years -- and so I should have been more tolerant of Uncle Irwin, but I found myself completely unraveled by the slurping cries of a sour-cream-soaked banana meeting its doom between his crushing molars and lashing tongue. Listening to him eat, my spine turned to jelly and I couldn't think straight for hours, which is why I had so precisely mapped out his schedule -- the relative had to be avoided!
So, on the morning in question, the third Monday in the month of July, year 1995, I was in the bathroom, massaging my chin, and I decided I didn't have time to shave because of the crisis at hand, though it would be the fourth day I hadn't shaved -- the old spirits had been a bit low, an...
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