Archie and Saul and Fritz and Fred and even Orrie: Nero Wolfe’s Family

photo http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Rex_Stout_1975.jpg by Jill KrementzJust as Rex Stout became a writer late in life, I became a fan of his writing late in life. Though I was already a teenager by the time A Family Affair was published as Stout’s last Nero Wolfe novel, I didn’t discover the books until I was in my fifties.

I have no interest in writing the definitive treatise on Stout or Wolfe. You can find ten times as many words as Stout ever wrote written about his writings with even a superficial search.

What fascinates me, what draws me to Stout, is my belief that he would have recognized some of himself in me. Best Beloved has hinted that she sees both a wise-cracking, good-looking Archie Goodwin and a curmudgeonly genius gourmand like Wolfe in me (I even weigh, more or less, what Nero Wolfe weighed. I’m working on it).

When I was younger I wanted to be Nero Wolfe, even though I’d never heard of him. I wanted to be a sedentary genius with a team of marionettes who would do precisely what I wanted to accomplish my goals in life. I didn’t care so much if I was liked. I wanted to be respected, acknowledged for my brilliance.

As I’ve grown older I’ve become more and more aware of my shortcomings and limitations. I have realized how much I need other people in my life. I have realized that smart isn’t the best metric. I would love to be Archie Goodwin.

Archie enjoys a good meal as much as Wolfe does. Okay, not as much. But almost. He just gets far more exercise. He’s more likely to accept Fritz’s advice about what works in the kitchen. He’s more likely to be in the middle of things, getting things done, making them happen, recognized by his peers as a prime example of their trade.

He’s also far more likely to end up with the girl, which is where this started and how it ends.

(I wrote a song called Archie Goodwin’s Blues which I apparently once called “Brownstone Orchids” as if being obscure were cute. If you haven’t read the books, it will make very little sense to you and you’ll only hear how my drumming wanders from the beat. If you have read the books, you know these people as well as I do).

Archie Goodwin’s Blues

Seven steps up from West Thirty-Fifth
To an old brownstone
Whose bulky genius wouldn’t work at all
If I left him on his own

Hoisting himself out of that custom chair
Only exercise he’ll get
Elevator to his orchids fair
So he doesn’t break a sweat

If it wasn’t for my needling
He’d have nothing much to do
If there was no Archie Goodwin
There’d be no you-know-who

Inspector Cramer in the big red chair
Chews on his unlit cigar
He swears someday he’s gonna get us both
But we all know he won’t get far

Theodore up in the orchid room
Saul and Fred and Fritz and me
Jump through hoops to suit his every whim
Best you’ll hear is ‘satisfactory’

If it wasn’t for my needling
He’d have nothing much to do
If there was no Archie Goodwin
There’d be no you-know-who

Never leaves the house on business
Unless some flummery’s afoot
Maybe a meal upstairs at Rustermann’s
But he’d prefer to just stay put

So I go out with Lily Rowan
Flamingo lays out quite a spread
Back home a snack is always waiting
Big glass of milk and off to bed

If it wasn’t for my needling
He’d have nothing much to do
If there was no Archie Goodwin
There’d be no you-know-who

photo http://www.sxc.hu/photo/251787 by Pam Roth http://www.sxc.hu/profile/BubbelsThey come in droves to hire the genius
But disappointed out they go
He seems impervious to needling
Unless the bank account is low

But when he finally takes an interest
He sits and thinks and thinks and sits
Lips pushing in and out with eyes closed
About as active as he gets

If it wasn’t for my needling
He’d have nothing much to do
If there was no Archie Goodwin
There’d be no you-know-who

“Please sit down; eyes at a level”
“Will you have a beer with me?”
He doesn’t stand, he won’t shake hands
The author’s name his physiognomy

I’ve put up with this enfant terrible
Forty years and maybe more
And through ’em all I’ve quit so many times
I’d love to even up the score

If it wasn’t for my needling
He’d have nothing much to do
If there was no Archie Goodwin
There’d be no you-know-who

If there was no Archie Goodwin
There’d be no you-know-who

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