Larry King is a marvel. Gloriously out of touch, this wrinkly, womanizing recovering gambling addict has built a fairly successful career on little more than chutzpah, relentless references to his Brooklyn childhood, and a steadfast refusal to go away.
For years, he had a column in USA Today. It was the least literate segment in the least literate paper ever printed, a stream-of-consciousness ramble, idle thoughts separated by ellipses, allusions to faded pop stars, ridiculous predictions, touts of altogether unworthy D-listers, mini book and movie reviews, and commentary on sports and current events, strung together like some weird wampum belt: "Call me nuts, but Angie Dickinson has the greatest gams in Hollywood...For my money, Bronson Pinchot is America's greatest living actor...that Dalai Lama is a sweetheart of a man...the missus and I caught a sneak preview of "The Tooth Fairy" last night, and trust me, the Oscar buzz around Duane "The Rock" Johnson is the real deal...Call me nuts, but that Donovan McNabb is a sweetheart of man, and he has the greatest gams in the NFL."
He managed to parlay this stuff into an enviable career: Larry King's byline ran on the pages of USA Today for something like 20 years.
I imagine the creative process went something like this: Larry reclines in his enormous marble bathtub, a cold compress pressed down across his eyes, one hand pushing against his forehead, the fingers of the other absently tracing through the fine, grey down blanketing his ancient, sunken chest. An enormous Great Dane sleeps tubside. A Filipino houseboy, his black shoes brilliantly shined, his white linen housecoat perfectly pressed, stands at attention, a tray of martinis in hand. Perched on the edge of the toilet, nervous, desperately trying to avoid laying eyes on the wizened figure floating in the water, a young stenographer sits, pen and pad at the ready. She's new, fresh out of secretarial college: Larry changes stenos with the frequency that lesser men change their socks.
The Great One speaks. The stenographer puts pen to paper, her hand ever so slightly trembling. The houseboy stares into the middle distance; he's thinking of Manilla. "Call me whacko, but there is nothing more satisfying than creamed corn on toast. ELLIPSES!" The dog lifts his giant head, momentarily stirred by his master's outburst, then settles back to sleep. "I don't know about you, but I miss Perry Como. ELLIPSES! What ever happened to David Cassidy? That kid is brimming with talent. ELLIPSES! For my money, you can't go wrong with bagels for breakfast. ELLIPSES! The Yankees look good this year, but not as good as Jackie Robinson when he played for my Brooklyn Dodgers. ELLIPSES! OK, sweetheart, that's enough for today. Type that up, and fax it to my editor. Ernesto, where's my drink?"
For twenty years, he did this. It is amazing. And I read it, not often, but often enough. It was awful, but endearingly awful, hypnotically awful, memorably awful. If my mind works like a lint trap, than Larry is the Lint King, constantly, relentlessly pulling in the great clouds of detritus, the numberless names of hangers-on and has-beens, the never-weres and never-will bes, perpetually being churned out by popular culture. Larry caught them all, caught them so that we wouldn't have to.
Somewhere deep inside, I fear that I'm a little like him, happily, no, GLEEFULLY self-absorbed and checked out. It's always bothered me that Gordon Hinckley publicly named Larry King as one of his close personal friends, one of those wince-inducing moments where you wish you could have pulled him aside and said, "Um, this is a really bad idea -- I beg you, please don't do this," like when President Bush stood under that "Mission Accomplished" banner, or when the girl from "Precious" agreed to host "Saturday Night Live". But maybe President Hinckley knew what he was doing. Lint traps need love, too.