Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Sage in the Chevy

Reviewed by Nancy

If you're in the mood for some laughs, try reading Tepper Isn't Going Out by Calvin Trillin (F TRI Main).

In his book, Mr. Trillin, a staff writer for The New Yorker, gives us the story of Murray Tepper, a law-abiding, newspaper-reading, purveyor of mailing lists who simply wants to read his newspaper in peace. What begins to stir up a ruckus is that Murray sits in his legally parked car on the streets of New York city to read his paper. This aggravates other drivers who want his parking spot. They stop, they hover, they give him the questioning look that conveys, "Are you leaving? I want your spot," but Tepper isn't going out. He is reading.

Murray's fame, or notoriety, builds slowly. While parked in front of his favorite deli, the counterman slips into the passenger seat for a chat. Unwittingly, Murray helps the counterman with a problem that has been a burden to him for years. A couple of weeks later the counterman taps politely on the window of Murray's car, and introduces Murray to Jeffrey Green.  Jeffrey, the counterman's grandnephew, is a free-lance reporter. He enters the car, chats with Murray for a while and then writes an article which is published in "The East Village Rag."

After that, more and more people begin tapping diffidently on the window of Murray's car. They occupy the passenger seat briefly, listening to Murray's advice, which really isn't advice at all, but is rather more like simple statements of facts. Somehow they exit Murray's car enriched, clarified, and emboldened to go forth and wrestle life's problems with renewed vigor.

Then disturbances begin to occur. Occasional diffident taps on the passenger window are replaced by lines of anxious petitioners beside the car. People argue about who was where in line, and seekers of enlightenment block the street.  Drivers slow to watch the commotion, and, of course, to see if they can snag Murray's parking spot. Eventually the police have to be called in.

This earns Murray a new enemy:  Mayor Frank Ducavelli, a nut-case of a public servant, so possessed of a passion for order that he has made it illegal to step off the curb to hail a taxi, and so paranoid that all visitors to his office must submit to a full body scan before they are allowed to see him.

You can imagine how Murray gets under his skin, parking and drawing crowds of supplicants and onlookers. Mr. Tepper becomes acquainted with the city attorney who appears with a summons stating that he is in violation of a city ordinance prohibiting unlicensed demonstrations or exhibitions. But really, Murray Tepper was only legally parking and maybe buying some whitefish.

When the American Civil Liberties Union steps in to represent Murray, things gets really interesting.

There's the potential book deal, the court case, the concern of his family and friends, and the crowds cheering and chanting in the streets. Law abiding, unassuming Murray Tepper becomes a folk hero simply because he wants to sit in his car and read the newspaper.

Tepper Isn't Going Out
aptly demonstrates the process by which situations are sometimes blown totally out of proportion. If you need a break from what may seem like nonsense in your own life, spend some time with Murray Tepper.

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