The Personal History, Adventures, Experiences & Observations of Peter Leroy
The Personal History, Adventures, Experiences & Observations of Peter Leroy
🎧 759: I felt . . .
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🎧 759: I felt . . .

What a Piece of Work I Am, Chapter 53 begins, read by the author
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I FELT MYSELF GROWING more and more comfortable with the role of the suave interviewer, so, in that manner, I said, “Naturally, your new popularity—or perhaps I might say notoriety—brought with it closer attention and new demands. If you were simply on display before, now you were under magnification—”
     “—under surveillance.”
     “Did you feel that?”
     “At times.”
     “And did you resent it?”
     “I never resented the watchful eye. It was the critical eye—”
     She let that float in the air as it was, inviting us to complete it ourselves, while she narrowed her eyes and scanned the front rows.
     “The reviews you got—” I began.
     “What about them?” she asked, prickling a bit, it seemed to me.
     “Did you pay attention to them?”
     “Oh, yes. Certainly. I’ve been very concerned about what people thought of me, of my performance.”
     “Did the reviews—bother you?”
     “At times. But I learned to shrug it off. At first, it was very disturbing, very disturbing to find myself being reviewed. Judged. Assessed. Evaluated.”
     “You’ve been so closely watched, and you have—provoked strong feelings—”
     “From acidulous to saccharine.”
     “Not ‘acidulous to zealous’?”
     “Are there Ariane zealots?”
     “Sure. In the sense of ‘people who manifest extreme and often uncritical ardor, fervor, or devotion in an attachment.’ Fans. Fanatics. And it gives you that nice A-to-Z coverage. Closure.”
     “Okay, zealous, if you like.”
     “Good. Let’s start with the acidulous. Sometimes you were—well, you were really taken to task.”
     “Oh, yes, indeed I was. Raked over the coals. Dumped on. Flayed. Excoriated. You know what I mean?”
     “Excoriated—” I said, stalling.
     “Having the skin abraded. Rubbed raw. It’s like that, being given the critical treatment. After the skin gets raw enough, even caresses begin to hurt.”
     “You build up scar tissue, of course—”
     “—but that takes a long time, and besides, who wants to be numb to the world?”
     Suddenly she stepped right to the edge of the stage, held her hands out to the audience, and said, “I began asking myself ‘Why me? Why are they picking on me?’ And of course the answer was that I had invited them to pick on me. I had set myself up for it. After a while, though, I stopped feeling sorry for myself and realized that life is like this for everyone. For you as well as for me. We’re always being criticized. The world keeps a critical eye on us. Almost all the time. So, you know what happens—you develop a thick skin. You stop feeling. You give up feeling the caresses in order not to feel the pain. That’s a mistake, a terrible mistake. Don’t do that. Feel it all.”
     This was greeted by the sound of people shifting uncomfortably in their seats.
     “When did you—uh—begin making that sort of admonitory plea?” I asked, since I thought I should confront the problem head-on.
     “About a year ago,” she said, without hesitation, as if she had been expecting the question. “Whenever it was that I decided I was going to leave here. When I decided to let myself go.”
     “And you’ve been saying that kind of thing more and more often.”
     “I suppose I have.”
     “A certain segment of your audience loves it, I know.”
     “A growing segment, I think.”
     Scattered applause.
     I said, “They’re the ones I had in mind when I suggested that there were Ariane zealots; it seems to me that more and more people are coming to see you, not to see how one life, yours, is lived, but to find out how another life, theirs, ought to be lived.”
     “Maybe. Maybe I have found myself at a point where I have something to say and no longer think it presumptuous to say it.”
     “The more sophisticated critics—”
     “—hate these outbursts!”
     “Yes.”
     “And the greatest contempt and loudest ridicule comes from those who used to love me. They loved me when I was living a life for them to examine without complicating it by examining it myself.”
     I said, “Don’t be annoyed with me, but I think I have to say that even some of your staunchest admirers—admirers of the earlier Ariane—find themselves embarrassed—embarrassed for you—when you come to the edge of the stage and begin, it seems, imploring your viewers—”
     “—not to do as I have done.”
     “Yes,” I said. I did not confess then what I will confess here, now: that, to my shame, I was one of those who squirmed when her tone shifted and she began beseeching the audience to learn something from her. Instead, I said, “I remember hearing someone who was sitting beside me in the audience mutter, ‘Oh, shit, she’s going to talk to us. I hate it when she talks to me. I just want to watch her; I don’t want her to notice that I’m here.’ ”
     “Sure.”
     “And on another occasion, I saw someone get up and leave, saying, ‘Let’s go; she’s going to get sincere.’ ”

[to be continued]

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The Personal History, Adventures, Experiences & Observations of Peter Leroy
The Personal History, Adventures, Experiences & Observations of Peter Leroy
The entire Personal History, Adventures, Experiences & Observations of Peter Leroy, read by the author. "A masterpiece of American humor." Los Angeles Times