In Beg, Borrow, Steal Michael Greenberg regales us with his wry and vivid take on the life of a writer of little means trying to practise his craft or simply stay alive. He finds himself doctoring doomed movie scripts; selling cosmetics from an ironing board in front of a women's department store; writing about golf, a game he has never played; and botching his debut as a waiter in a posh restaurant.
Central characters include Michael's father, whose prediction that Michael's 'scribbling' wouldn't get him on the subway almost came true; his artistic first wife, whom he met in a Greenwich Village high school; and their son who grew up on the Lower East Side, fluent in the language of the street. Then there are Greenberg's unexpected encounters: a Holocaust survivor who, on his deathbed, tries to leave Michael his fortune; a repentant communist who confesses his sins; a man who becomes a woman; a Chilean film-maker in search of his past; and rats who behave like humans and cease to live underground.
Hilarious and bittersweet, Greenberg's stories invite us into a world where the familial, the literary, the tragic and the mundane not only speak to one another, but deeply enjoy the exchange.
In these 45 thoughtfully crafted short essays written for London's Times Literary Supplement from 2003 to 2009, Greenberg (Hurry Down Sunshine) touches on his decades of trying to make good as a writer in New York City. Greenberg starts with early memories of growing up in Brooklyn, where he opted out of joining his father's scrap-metal business, instead dropping out of school in the early 1970s in search of a "blunt exotic experience" in Argentina and New York's Lower East Side. He ended up strapped with a young family of two children and faced years of plying odd jobs, like driving a cab, giving Spanish lessons, selling cosmetics on the street and ghost writing, all the while trying to write his novel. He fashions an anecdote for each of these experiences, in gently self-deprecating prose, such as writing for the movies and working the stock market, both to some success despite his na vet . He tapped into an enthusiastic group of dachshund owners when he had to find another home for his child-nipping Eli, a troublesome pooch with a "disgraceful domed head"; he devotes chapters to the Negro Burial Ground and the paupers' cemetery on Hart Island, in New York City. As well, he offers touching reflections on the life of novelist William Herrick and editor Ted Solotaroff, and chronicles some funny run-ins with New Yorkers of all stripes. These are graceful ponderings by a deeply sympathetic soul, a consummate New Yorker and terrific writer.