Bob’s been writing about the elderly lately–more than a third of the past month’s columns have either been chats with seniors or obituaries.
He’s only pandering to his core audience, which also explains why his books are such fixtures at flea markets and used-book stores. His fans die; their libraries are scattered.
I usually pass over the books with a wince. But I couldn’t help picking up a copy of Bob’s notorious 1984 Good Morning, Merry Sunshine for $1 at a book fair in a mall parking lot.
Of course I had heard of Sunshine, Bob’s attempt at a sentimental chronicle of his daughter’s first year of life. I had heard of the famous scene where Bob demands his dinner from his harried, exhausted wife. “How dare you,” she hisses, their mewling three-week-old infant slung over her shoulder.
But no amount of forewarning could have prepared me for the chilling psychopathography that this book presents on every page. Bob’s sense of self is so immense that even when he grabs at sweetness he can’t help but inject something awkward and horrible. He stares into his daughter’s crib. “I want you always to stay this exact age,” he says, then immediately elaborates to the reader, “I guess I have been thinking it to myself; it probably has something to do with the thoughts I had been having about whether we’ll have to move when she gets older.”
Much of the book is spent obsessing over changes the baby might bring to his own cherished life. Not that he is involved much in the care for the tot beyond smiling at her on his way out the door to the airport. He never once changes a diaper. He never once feeds the baby.
Bob’s second fixation is on the fact that his baby is a girl, who will undoubtedly have sex in her teenage years (which she should be entering into just about now, nicht wahr, Bob?). His solution? He hopes she’ll become a nun.
The book is presented as a journal, and the longest entry is August 13, the day that “for the first time my life was like it used to be.” Bob is sent to Omaha by Nightline to prepare a tribute to Henry Fonda, who has just died. Bob presents the journey in breathless detail–how he got his plane ticket, what time the flight left, the drama of a cameraman almost missing the plane, etc. Bob lovingly recounts his maudlin, generic commentary, written on the plane. (“When you’re from the Midwest, you learn early: don’t promise–just do.”)
As airtime approaches, Bob lapses into a minute-by-minute account of his struggles to produce the panegyric. Bob obviously thinks he’s Edward R. Murrow. “I heard my voice saying, ‘This is Bob Greene, for “Nightline,” in Omaha.'”
Nothing in the rest of the book–nothing about his daughter–has anywhere near the detail and description lavished on the Omaha entry, which is nearly twice as long as the next longest chapter–October 15, the story of his writing a column at the behest of the FBI as a futile lure to trap the Tylenol killer. He reprints the entire column, and, again, nothing about the babe. Ex nihilo nihil fit.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Illustration by Jeff Heller.