Christmas from another point of view. The Grinch has his day... astonishing revelations from his first-ever interview exclusive to me exclusively here.
Author's program note. You just never know what impact the printed word is going to have, and this tale of The Grinch proves the point. Thanksgiving Day, The Grinch (he insists upon the use of the capital "T" ) was sitting at home having polished off last year's holiday left-overs as his wont, when his eye happened to see a corner of an article used to wrap the garbage.
It was my report on "Squawk", the valiant leader of the "Young Turks" fighting for the freedom of turkeys everywhere.
The paper was greasy, ripped, noisome from the remainder of The Grinch's favorite morsels which stank to high heaven.... in fact, he could only finish the article by searching online for it at jeffreylantarticles.com. He liked what he read... and at that moment (as he later told me) he determined to break his lifetime of media silence. He wanted his story to be told, and he wanted me to tell it.
Within the hour, his invitation was en route to me, never mind that it was the middle of the night, 3:22 a.m. Eastern. The Grinch knew his man. You can sleep anytime; but such an interview comes but once in a lifetime.
The letter to me from The Grinch.
There was a sharp knock at the door, the kind of knock that summons you to Destiny. I couldn't immediately tell if it were real or a dream but its insistence made the point. There was a note under the door. It said, "Open the door!", nothing more. So more irritated than apprehensive, I did. There was a Christmas bouquet on the welcome mat, wilted, one half- eaten candy-cane alone amongst the dying foliage. And there was a message, too, on stationery engraved with this motto, "After me, you are the most important person on Earth."
The message couldn't have been clearer: "You have 10.5 minutes to get dressed and leave for your Exclusive Interview With The Grinch. Be sure to brush your teeth. Don't keep your car and driver waiting!"
I'm proud to tell you, nearly 66 that I am, that I was ready with a minute to spare, though there was, I confess, stubble on my noble chin.
A black limousine was waiting, sleek, important looking... and clearly in need of a good wash. The night was chill, the breeze off the snow piecing and unremitting. The door to my car was open, and I could hear rock music from within. It was Eric Clapton singing "After Midnight" where "we're gonna let it all hang out", where "we're gonna find out what it's all about." It was astonishingly apt music....
I slid into the back seat, where my full attention was immediately arrested by a pair of creme colored eyes looking directly into mine. At the same moment he merely brushed my hand by way of greeting.
It was fur, not flesh, and it was a shade of green I had never seen before. Then right beside a dog, his dog Max, a half-breed rumored to be The Grinch's only friend, faithful to his Master, his aspect anything but welcoming. Throughout our interview The Grinch idly stroked his hide. I liked him the better for it.
"Well, get in, Mack, it's cold out there," a directive swiftly followed by a short, sharp nudge to my rib cage. My encounter with The Grinch was well and truly underway.
"Ask me anything....", and he grinned broadly, the kind of grin of ribald remarks, very dry martinis perfectly made, and bottoms pinched just so. Thus I learned that The Grinch liked the good life. "Cookie, Mack?" He offered a box of demolished Christmas cookies with the air of a prince. There were dog hairs in the mix. I declined the dainty. "Your loss, Mack. Now what do you want to know?", and he told his driver to "get the lead out."
The Grinch's personal history.
"Tell me about yourself, Mr. Grinch," I asked. "Nothing I'd rather do, Mack. For as you know, I am a most interesting fellow". Max's tail wagged as if in confirmation. And so in a voice that mixed insinuation, wisecracks, and sweet self satisfaction, he laid out the broad outlines of his unlikely life, the life that made him one of the handful of the immediately recognized. He laid back, lit a stoggie (whether I liked it or not) and readied himself for his favorite story... his, at which there came into his eyes a look of reverie, fond remembrance, and Olde Lang Syne.
Yes, there he was, the creature of the hour, the creature the world loved to revile, sitting back, oozing self satisfaction, toodling through the darkness of the night, going nowhere in particular, loving the high life. It was all so wicked cool... and then he remembered this all had a purpose. "Now, Mack, what is it you wanted to know?"
"What started it off, sir?"
And darned if The Grinch didn't shake his tambourine and so begin his tale.
"Mack, it all happened a very long time ago, but I remember it as if it were yesterday. It was near Christmas. I was a shy kid and had only a small role in the school pageant. I played one of the extra shepherds who get put in the back because they have to be put somewhere. It was not my finest hour."
"It so happened that from the time I was a nipper I had a beard, full, rich, patriarchal. The day of the pageant, my mother decided her shepherd needed a freshly shaved look. But she was terrible, absolutely awful at what she was doing and cut me to ribbons. I was in despair knowing what the other kids would say."
"Mom, was horrified by what she had done. She took some ointment from the cabinet and applied it liberally. Then she kissed me and sent me on my way."
At this point he closed his eyes, the better to recall his affecting story.
"I thought the matter was closed, but as I got closer to school, the kids started pointing at me, using some pretty strong words I can tell you. To a certain extent I was used to them; after all I was a kid with a beard. But these remarks were nothing compared to what they were calling me this day. It was the worst ever and every single one of them was pointing at my face."
"As soon as I could I went to the boys' room to see what I could see. And what I saw horrified me. My whole face was green, I mean every single inch. It had to be that ointment." "I wanted to run away."
The hot words came thick and fast, every aspect of the incident at his fingertips. He decided to run home and hide. But he was grabbed by a teacher who thought he was trying to escape from the pageant, something boys did. He was deposited on stage... and then it happened.
The Grinch explodes.
"I couldn't stay on that stage. I couldn't face the teachers and all the kids who started to snigger and point the minute they saw me. I just had to get out of there."
He turned. He tripped. He fell on a pile of boxes wrapped like Christmas presents under the tree. He crushed the boxes. The tree fell. The crowd roared. The kids jumped all over the place pointing at me and shouting. There was the pop, pop, pop as incriminating photos were snapped in their hundreds.
And then The Grinch heard himself shout in a voice not his own...
"I hate Christmas. I hate everything about it," sing song like a chant. "I hate Christmas. I hate everything about it. I hate Christmas. I hate everything about it." The crowd went bananas.
Dr. Seuss heard it all, too, because he was in the audience that fateful day. And he knew a great story when he heard one. He went home and started work on the book which after many drafts and edits became in 1957, "How the Grinch Stole Christmas".
"Mack, I get a nice fat royalty check every Christmas, which enables me to live in the manner to which I've become accustomed."
The car was just pulling up to my house. The dawn was just about to break. I had just one more question to ask, but when we arrived, the door opened as if by magic. The Grinch poked my rib cage again, Max glowered at me.
"It's been real, Mack. Write me a good story." He told the driver to "put pedal to the metal". And he turned his head in my direction and seemed to say something. But Max was barking, while the car shot away and I couldn't be sure.
I thought I heard him say something like "Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night". But I can't be sure... it's so unGrinch-like.
And then I heard one more line from Clapton in The Grinch's unmistable voice:
"We're gonna cause talk and suspicion"...... and he was laughing, Mack, he was laughing.