A couple of months ago I read here that the Nobel Prize winning playwright and novelist Samuel Beckett used to give the 7’4’ ex World Wrestling Federation champion Andre the Giant lifts to school when they were next-door neighbours in rural France. The other night, a late night Google search for ‘exotic breads’ led me to eventually stumble on a secret document embedded at the bottom of the ‘Focaccia Forum’ homepage, released by a man who’d broken into the Beckett estate, and found hidden cassettes from his old Dictaphone. It appeared the Nobel laureate had sat on it by accident during a difficult handbrake turn (which explains the otherwise enigmatic first line of dialogue), and what resulted was a documentation of their first car journey together. I’ve been working on a piece for Good Housekeeping about the influence of absurdist theatre on American wrestling in the late eighties, so it was a document I needed. Bad. A few emails and the promise of trading recipes involving sourdough later, and I had the transcript in my hands. It was revealing and deeply moving. I could barely finish my bread.
The inside of a truck. Buick.
Driver’s seat. Samuel, motionless. One hand on the gearstick. One hand on the wheel. The other hand on the wheel.
Passenger’s seat. Andre, massive. Both hands on both knees. Breathing heavily.
Andre moves his left hand from his left knee to his right knee. Andre puts his left hand back on his left knee. Samuel scratches his left forehead with his left arm, then puts it back on the wheel. Samuel indicates left. Andre indicates left. Samuel motions at Andre that only the driver is supposed to indicate. Andre puts his left hand back on his left knee. Samuel performs a difficult handbrake turn. Samuel’s teeth chatter.
SAMUEL: (fixed gaze, tonelessly) I hate those difficult handbrake turns.
SAMUEL: Turn, turn, turn, always sitting still, the car turn but we sit here still. Turn by turn, move by move, the car goes left but the passenger sit here still. The horn goes—
ANDRE: I did a suplex last week.
SAMUEL: —Beep, beep—
ANDRE: It’s when you pick up your opponent over your shoulder and lift him up in the air and drop him over your shoulder on the mat.
Into third gear.
Back into second.
SAMUEL: Do you worry about the costume?
ANDRE: The costume?
SAMUEL: Your costume. When you wrestle. The costume. We are all in costume.
ANDRE: It chafes a little. Down the gym.
SAMUEL: Lost love is a chafing gym.
ANDRE: Will you always be giving me lifts to school?
SAMUEL: Your father says so.
ANDRE: My father says I should do woodwork.
SAMUEL: You cannot fit on the school bus.
SAMUEL: We cannot fit on the bus. The bus is yellow. The bus goes beep beep. We all get on the bus and cannot fit and go beep beep.
SAMUEL: It chafes?
ANDRE: A little.
SAMUEL: A little?
ANDRE: Too little.
SAMUEL: What do they teach you at school?
Into first. Moving off now.
SAMUEL: Would you?
ANDRE: I would work on my suplex. I would work on my elbow drops ‘til the sun set. I would have you teach me.
Stalled. The car stops.
Smoke, from the Buick bonnet. Samuel scratches his head. Andre scratches his knee. Samuel scratches Andre’s head. Andre scratches his knee. Samuel scratches his knee. Andre scratches Samuel’s head with his knee. Andre bends down and stratches his knee. Samuel straightens up, scratches his other knee. Andre straightens up. Samuel bends down. Samuel tries to lick his own elbow.
ANDRE: I think it’s broken down.
SAMUEL: Shh… listen.
The smoke billows. While Andre is distracted, Samuel scratches behind Andre’s ears, staring off into the middle distance.
ANDRE & SAMUEL: (monotone) It chafes.
ANDRE: I could do a suplex on the engine.
SAMUEL: Yes. You could.
They do not move.
ANDRE: I could pick you up and do a suplex on the engine. It would start, and the smoke would stop, and we could start, beep—
SAMUEL: He told me beep beep.
SAMUEL: Your father. In the cabin. The cabin he built for me with his own hands.
Andre begins to laugh. Samuel begins to cry. He eventually stops. Andre doesn’t. Samuel puts his leg behind his head, and scratches his ears with it.
ANDRE: Let me start the car.
They do not move.
Andre didn’t make it to school that day, and eventually his father decided to ask his other neighbour, who had an equally servicable truck, to give his son lifts.
Andre’s attendence record was otherwise flawless.