Saturday, May 23, 2020

Guest Blogger, Lenny Kleinfeld: How to Avoid Writing a Crime Novel During Quarantine


I’ve known Lenny Kleinfeld since beyond the dawn of time (notice that slight-of-hand on the classic cliché), and regard him as a great friend who never fails to make me laugh. Be it with his sidesplitting novels, rib-cracking in person antics, or bone-crushing biker tales.

So, when Lenny asked me if he could have my Saturday slot on Murder is Everywhere to share his secret technique for procrastination, I, being the compassionate understanding soul that I am— and madly in love with his wife, Ina Jaffe—said, “ Go for it, break a leg.”

But before turning the reigns over to Maestro, permit me to tell you a bit more about him.

Lenny writes black comedy crime novels set in Chicago. The latest is Shooting Lessons. "Grabs you by the shirtfront and drags you through its dark and increasingly blood-spattered shenanigans like something engineered for max adrenaline and engagement."—The Austin Chronicle. His first novel, Shooters And Chasers, was called "A spellbinding debut" by Kirkus Reviews. His second, Some Dead Genius, was one of National Public Radio's Great Reads Of 2014, and named Thriller Of The Month by
Back before he was spellbinding, he was a playwright in Chicago and a columnist for Chicago magazine. His fiction, articles, humor and reviews have appeared in Playboy, Galaxy, Oui, The Reader, the Chicago Tribune, New York Times and Los Angeles Times. According to a reliable rumor he also spent fifteen years writing screenplays which producers purchased but forgot to produce. You can learn more about Lenny here.  
On the morning of Thursday, May 7 my bike body-slammed me into the pavement. Okay, this happens. Move your limbs, wiggle your digits, nothing feels broken. Best thing is to get up, get back on the bike and keep riding; that way you're less stiff when you wake up tomorrow.

The standing up part didn't go well. My left leg burns like it's trying to electrocute itself. Refuses to support any weight. Second try I manage to achieve verticality.

Picking up the bike up was fun too.

So now I'm leaning on it with my right arm, using the bike as a rolling crutch, heading back to my car.

I'm unable to put my left foot down but have to, grimacing, wincing, yelping and making a good eight or ten inches of forward progress with each step. The car is about a mile and a half away.

Coincidence #1: This being in Brentwood, an upscale L.A. neighborhood (think OJ Simpson), a gleaming new Mercedes SUV stops and the driver asks if I'm okay.

Yeah, I took a spill, I'm headed back to my car. He asks if he can take me to the emergency room. I say no thanks.

He gets out, puts my bike in the back of his vehicle, saying he'll drive me to my car. I try to climb into the Benz and discover the only way to do that is to lift my left leg with both hands. Yeah, something just might be damaged in there.

As we're driving he asks how it happened. I give him the crash gossip, and add how frustrating it is—I recently broke a shifter cable and got the bike back from Helen's (local bike store) repair shop less than a week ago.

He grins. "My bike is in the Helen's repair shop right now."

We get to my car. He insists on loading my bike on the bike rack, because we both know that's the only way it'll happen. Then he waits to make sure I can drive before he leaves. Does the Vatican accept nominations for a secular saint?

Coincidence #2: My current car is my first vehicle in 35 years that has an automatic transmission; the traffic has gotten so insane on the westside I finally reluctantly abandoned driving a manual shift. Good thing. If driving home that day required pressing a clutch pedal I'd still be sitting there.

Ina, my wife, takes me to the St. John's ER. A nurse pours me into a wheelchair and exiles Ina.

There's a COVID tent in the parking lot, so it's only me and one other non-viral patient in the waiting room. But the ER is understandably understaffed, so I spend two hours wheelchairing around the room, pausing now and then to watch the TV, which is tuned to a news cable channel showing a cascade of stories detailing how the Mar-A-Lago Virus is devastating the population, the Constitution and civilization in general.

They take me backstage, hoist me onto a bed, check my vitals and cross-examine me. There's no doctor available, so I am in the care of a young Physician's Assistant. She is, like most PAs I've met, rigorously thorough and determined to get things right.

An alleged X-ray technician shows up and proceeds to measure my ability to withstand torture by rolling me up on my side so he can slip a hard metal plate under my butt. Which he then adjusts several times. To maintain his cover story he also takes a few X-rays.

The PA informs me my photos have been deconstructed and curated by a top-rate bone critic who is also an orthopedist. Bad news: There's a fracture of the pelvis. Good news: It's small; no surgery required. Here's the orthopedist's phone number, make an appointment.

Coincidence #3: I am wearing a University of Wisconsin t-shirt. When she's completed her tasks, the PA points to it and asks, did you go to UW?"

I pump a fist in the air and reply, "UW-Madison, '69. You?"

She nods and grins. A born caregiver, she's too polite and gentle to mention which of the past ten years was the one in which she graduated.

They give me a pair of crutches. At which point I remember we live in a townhouse with a staircase. That monster in the photo.

The first available ortho appointment is on Monday morning. It turns out to be a fairly posh practice. Three surgeons in a seventh floor corner suite in Santa Monica; to the west is a view of the Pacific, to the north the Santa Monica Mountains. It also has the longest corridor I've ever seen in a doctor's office. It might be the longest corridor I've seen anyplace but in a major museum. It looks like a forced perspective set in a Kafka movie directed by Hitchcock. I am the only patient in the office but of course the exam room the nurse points me to is at the far end.

In the 3-1/2 days I've been on crutches this is by far the longest hop-and-lurch I've been on.  When I get there and the nurse checks my vitals, my blood pressure is the highest it's been in living memory. I defend my cardio system's honor by suggesting it was the cross-country trek down the corridor that's caused it.

"Yeah, probably," the nurse agrees, and assures me the doctor will arrive any moment.

Any moment later the doctor arrives. He's the best orthopedist in the world. He tells me, "If you have to fracture your pelvis, this is the one you want. It's small and not near the hip joint. It should heal pretty well in eight to twelve weeks." No surgery or even physical therapy involved.

When can I resume exercising and riding a bike? (The bike survived the crash unscathed.)

The doctor says I can work out whenever it feels comfortable. Just don't rush things. "Be sensible."

When Ina picks me up I tell her the good news. She's pleased, but cautious. She insists on translating "Be sensible" into easily understandable English.

Tells me, "Don't do anything stupid."

Somehow, fifty years of living with me hasn't dulled her optimism.

On Tuesday, May 19th, the swelling in my pelvis has receded far enough to increase the range of motion in my leg and the range of concentration inside my skull. For the first time in ten days I'm able to look at the manuscript of a new novel-in-progress and see something besides random words sliding around on the page.

I polish a chapter written the day before the crash, paste it in and knock out an outline for the next chapter. I'm not satisfied with where it begins, and…

…it occurs to me the bike crash might make a reasonably amusing post for MIE.

# # # # # #

That it did, Lenny!  Thanks, and mend well, my friend.



  1. Thanks, Jeff, and amen to that mend. Next, I await peer review on a study I submitted to The Lancet which proves pelvic integrity is the key to creativity.

  2. I hear kagels do wonders for your pelvis...

    1. My doctor okayed the use of a generic substitute--bagels.

  3. Like everything of yours I have read, Lennie (which is everything I have been able to lay my hands on): This past is engaging, hilarious, and magically suspenseful. Get back to work. We want that next book. I think I'll have to read "Some Dead Genius" again in the meanwhile. It's too soon after I read "Shooting Lessons," and I have already delighted a second time in "Shooters and Chasers." You may recall my over the moon enthusiastic response to "Some Dead Genius" when when I read it the first time in a convent in Arusha, Tanzania. Please tell Ina that I love her.

  4. And we love you.