The greatest novelist of his generation and the most important columnist at the New York Daily News walked into a radio show — but it was a humble Brooklyn Paper editor who spun the most ethereal web of words.
Jonathan Safran Foer joined Brooklyn Paper Radio co-host Gersh Kuntzman of the aforementioned tabloid to talk about his stunning new book, “Here I Am,” but the show came to a halt when Kuntzman’s co-host Vince DiMiceli recalled the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.
At the prodding of Foer, whose earlier novel “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” centers around the terror attack of that day, DiMiceli recounted heading to the roof of his Luquer St. building after hearing a 1010 WINS report of the first plane hitting the towers and then watching the second jetliner make its fateful trip across New York Harbor.
“I yelled, ‘It’s a big f------- jet!’ ” DiMiceli recounted. “And then I saw it hit the building. I saw the explosion. Then I heard the explosion. And then I felt the explosion.”
Of course, DiMiceli ruined the moment by digressing that whenever a crisis strikes, he immediately takes a shower because, as he put it, “You never know if the water is going to go out!” That was DiMiceli’s reaction even when fire alarms started ringing in a building he was once in with his wife.
“I’m surprised evolution hasn’t weeded you out yet, Vince,” Foer deadpanned.
Mostly, of course, the conversation focused on Foer’s book, whose central story line focuses on the slowly decaying marriage of Jacob and Julia Bloch. Kuntzman couldn’t help but recognizing the similarities between the fictional couple and himself and his now ex-wife.
“Did you tape record the last days of my marriage?” Kuntzman asked. “Your couple breaks up just like I did: No arguments. No bitterness. Just drift.”
Foer explained that he did not eavesdrop on Kuntzman’s failed marriage, but merely observed something that is more or less universal in couples.
“Over time, (people) become better and better at interacting in a certain way: domestically, running the business of the family, if you will, and worse at a different kind of communication, making themselves vulnerable emotionally, sexually, etc.,” Foer said. “They start to measure and withhold. It’s one little tiny thing at a time, a game of chess that goes on until the board expands over time until it takes up all of a life.”
DiMiceli frequently tried to get the discussion away from Kuntzman’s alleged-though-never-proven failures as a husband and parent and back onto Foer and the great writer’s craft.
“I have a room full of reporters who all think they want to write novels,” DiMiceli asked, frustrated. “So they want to know, how do you do it?”
“I would love to hear the answer,” Foer said, adding that there’s no secret: “Sitting down and working is the hardest thing about writing. Professional writers are the ones who find ways to keep returning to the desk and the blank page, which is singularly frustrating. There are so many incentives to stop. It’s boring. It’s isolating. But returning every day is the most important thing.”
And in the show’s final moments, Kuntzman and DiMiceli allowed Foer to plug whatever pet cause was on his mind — and he promptly went after the hosts’ shared affection for meat and revulsion for Donald J. Trump.
“A lot of people are feeling frustrated by the election results and don’t know what to do, specifically about what Trump might do to the environment,” Foer said. “But the things we eat matter far more to the environment than anything this president could do to damage it. If you’re white hot with anger, eating differently is one way to affect enormous change very easily.”
Kuntzman knew where this was going: “You’re really saying I’m starting with the man in the mirror. And you’re asking him to change his ways.”
“What I’m saying is if we care about the things we’re marching about, we can make these simple changes,” Foer said.
“But do we care?” Kuntzman asked.
“That’s the question,” Foer said.
Also joining the show by phone was Coney Island U.S.A. founder Dick Zigun, who is calling for the so-called People’s Playground to secede from the United States and become its own sovereign nation.
“What would its chief exports be, Dick? Funnel cakes and disappointment?”
No, Zigun said, “Hot dogs and excitement!”
DiMiceli pointed out that the plan could only succeed if someone digs a moat to return Coney to its original island status.
“Or you could build a wall and have Bensonhurst pay for it,” Kuntzman quipped.
It’s all part of a jam-packed — and highly literary — episode of Brooklyn Paper Radio.
Brooklyn Paper radio is recorded and podcast live every Tuesday at 10 am (or thereabouts) — for your convenience — from our studio in America’s Downtown and can be found, as always, right here on Brook