Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Book Review: Thumbs Up for Hitchhiking with Larry David


I rarely do book reviews, but I couldn't pass up on this one. And besides, it has been a long time since I had something nice and hard in my hands that was so intellectually stimulating! Good lord, I spend so much time wrangling words, I rarely have time to tune out the world and read a BOOK, an actual book! 

So here goes ...

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of spending an extraordinary hour on the phone with an extraordinary man, Paul Samuel Dolman, author of Hitchhiking with Larry David, which recently came out in hardcover by Gotham Books.  Dolman had originally self-published in soft cover and the publishing house picked up the book.  That's a great story on its own.  If you are in the world of publishing, you know that's like a fragile soft shell crab becoming a long-lived hard knocks tortoise.

But I digress.

First, the book.

The memoir tells the tale of a former music industry executive who ditches corporate life after experience heartbreak with a woman who left him when things got rocky. He really couldn't commit or put his full heart in it, let alone put a ring on it. He heads to Martha’s Vineyard -- where his Florida family owns a summer home -- for a summer of self-discovery.

Now ladies, before you cry “asshole,” Dolman doesn't come across that way. This is totally a chick book.

An avid cyclist, Dolman sometimes opts for hitchhiking when his legs get tired (imagine those legs!) and meets many interesting folks along the way.

The narrative is chock full of endearing anecdotes and flashbacks that make the reader an “accidental tourist” in Dolman’s mind. Think of it as a portal into someone else’s memories, like Being John Malkovich, only this time it’s Being Paul Dolman.

Larry David, the sardonic humorist and creator of Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm is one of the famous guys who picks him up on the winding roads of the island.

Paul Samuel Dolman (left) and Larry David. 

But it's not just about hitching rides.  Dolman also bumps into Ted Danson and Meg Ryan throughout the summer at the various coffee and pizza shops he frequents.  He’s got a penchant for pizza and when you ride a bike for miles on end, you can get away with it.

Enter stage left, some oddballs: for example, a laid-off homeless woman and a Wall Street guy who drives a vintage Mercedes.

And then meet Dolman’s parents: a mom who suffers from dementia -- boy, I can relate to that -- and a sometimes reticent father.  Dolman's way of describing the relationship with his parents is witty, but also poignant.  Anyone who has visited a parental household full of tchotchkes and eccentric but somehow endearing dysfunctional behaviors will appreciate his way of describing home life.

Yes, this middle-aged guy found himself living with his folks for a while, down in the dumps, but high on spiritual ground. The book begins with rather mundane but entertaining details and then builds up to a crescendo of spiritual insights -- all this without getting too granola and farting rainbows, if you know what I mean.  Dolman keeps it real.

The book is also a travelogue of sorts. I went to Martha’s Vineyard many moons ago to go sea bass fishing and it was an experience I’ll never forget. This book brought the island’s beauty back to life for me.

The fact-checking Nazi in me wanted to know about the transparency of this memoir.

“I didn’t embellish because I felt like I was dealing with live humans,” said Dolman. “But through editing there was a tightness that normal life doesn’t have. A lot more crazy stuff happened that didn’t make it into the book.”

Although the book’s title includes the name of a Hollywood celebrity, it really isn’t all about that.

“We place a strange value on celebrity and fame,” Dolman continued. “But things happen in our lives that are really cool and it just seems more cool if it simply involves a famous person.”

Putting star-struck surreal encounters aside, Dolman writes about focusing on the present, being in the now and enjoying random interactions with people from all walks of life. Or eschewing sitcom reruns in lieu of a simple sunset, which really isn’t so simple, if you stop to think of the amazingness of it all.

How does that magic happen?

“If you tune in, are quiet and aren’t texting, you create space and pay attention to extraordinary things unfolding before you. You start listening to things,” he said.

“Oh,” I replied. “You mean like the Little Prince? Just a simple boabob tree and an elephant?”

“Yes,” Dolman confirmed. “Well said!”

And you do get that sense of wonderment and simplicity in this book, even as he humbly shares his raw and complicated feelings about his parents, his career and his heartbreak, which – I don’t want to spoil it for you – may or may not have taken a turn. In spite of my Mata Hari bat-my-eyelashes ability to poke and prod, he wouldn't budge. “Let's leave that for the sequel,” he replied.

Speaking of heart, this is a great read for anyone interested in honoring that organ that beats inside our bodies. 

A trained musician, Dolman played piano at bars in his earlier years.  The musical metaphor still resonates. “Listen to your heart, your song, not Larry David’s or anyone else’s,” he said. “Only you can find that.”

The book also touches upon the subject of career choices. Dolman had it all and gave it up because he felt like he was missing something – probably himself. (That's me talking, not the author.)

“It was hard to walk away from it because I had achieved so much,” he pondered. “Having a lot of money let me be generous with a lot of people. But there was a certain illusion of money, a sense of safety a security that wasn’t entirely fulfilling.”

Generosity seems to be what turns Dolman on.

There’s an episode in the book about a homeless woman that focuses on the pay it forward message.

“Giving is the best thing in the world,” he said. “Anyone can give, be loving and kind. Even mere eye contact is good.”

In a world of so much attention deficit disorder, Dolman seems to be practicing a kind of yoga of living.

At this point, I was simply rapt in conversation and forgot that I was interviewing, but I did get a few more nuggets.

“Some people have that frozen face, but you have to make the effort to weave through the rocks and get to the gold,” he said.

Nothing frozen about this face. The author, looking rather Hare Krishna like in golden light. I hope he put sunscreen on his noggin'.

It was starting to get too deep. So naturally, I turned to the topic of sex. Because, after all, this is Sex and the Beach, and we love beaches, islands and any romping that takes place near, on or in any body of water. Well, not just any body of water. Sewers and cisterns don't really count.

In Dolman’s book, there's one entire chapter dedicated to how he lost his virginity on Martha’s Vineyard. Imagine that -- the surf roaring nearby, the stars ablaze in the night sky and a soon to become legendary sleeping bag the only thing separating the couple’s naughty bits from the abrasive sand.

Ironically, the beach where the aforementioned epic copulation took place was called South Beach. Now you know, if this had happened in Miami, his wallet would have been stolen by the regular pickpockets (trust me, I know) and there would have been danger of infection from tossed heroine addict needles and plain old cigarette butts. In this case, the surroundings were apparently pristine -- not a bad place to pop a cherry or burst your nut for the first time.

But Dolman has also had some soul-searching encounters on beaches. One summer, with great hubris, Dolman dared to defy mother ocean. He almost brought it by going for a swim, in spite of rip tide warnings.

“I think that anyone who has ever felt the power of the ocean can relate,” he said.

I interjected his comments about nearly losing his life when this thought occurred to me. “You know, Paul, your book is like Eat Pray Love, written by a dude.”

He laughed.  “Yes, you're right! I hadn't thought of that.”

And it’s true. It’s a spiritual quest, dotted by carbs in the form of pizza and doughnuts, intense self-reflection, random teachers (read: people you meet just walking out the door), smelly skunks, and even memories of growing up in South Florida.

“Miami has changed a lot over the years,” I said. “What do you remember best?”

“Whenever I think about Miami, I light up inside,” he said. “When I grew up there, my best friend was a Cuban refugee. I watched the Dolphins at the old Orange Bowl. I loved Biscayne Bay, its green water. I used to fish in the Everglades.”

Of course, my heart skipped a beat when I heard fishing and Everglades in the same sentence.

Dolman continued.

“I loved Little Havana and the Cuban bakeries,” too.

So there you go, ladies: a charming, funny part-Jew, with a pleasant, deep voice, who appreciates life and all its wonders, who can bike for miles but still has a sensitive side, likes Cuban food and has a way with words. Pick up this book.

Of course, I would never recommend hitchhiking for women, especially in Florida. You know, we have some crazy drivers down here: i.e., that woman who got into an accident trying to shave her crotch with her spare hand on the steering wheel. I think Governor Scott should ban more than just texting and driving!

But think about ways we hitchhike every day -- in a spiritual way -- taking on random encounters with people, learning and observing, navigating energies, finding love and solace in even the simplest things.  Maybe it's just the scent of coffee. Or a luscious, juicy pepperoni pizza just dripping at the mouth.

I’ll end this interview with a quote from Derek Walcott and the inspired wish to return to Martha’s Vineyard, not to mention travel to many other islands. Sex and the Beach, after all, isn’t just about sex.
 And sex, as we know in tantric world, is just a means to an end.

Merely to name them is the prose
Of diarists, to make you a name
For readers who like travellers praise

Their beds and beaches as the same;
But islands can only exist

If we have loved in them.

Dolman has definitely loved on Martha’s Vineyard.  And if you love islands, you'll love this book.  Learn more about it here.


I got a free review copy of this book ... bla bla bla ... all opinions my own, of course, you damn big brother shits, whatever, all opinions are always my own! That's why they're called opinions!

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