By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
"I just spent a week at an Austrian health clinic, and the doctors say I’m totally healthy!" says Mrs. Crumb, opening it for him.
According to Crumb, Cache is a lot more crowded than it used to be. When they first arrived here, the village was half-empty. Now it’s filling up. This worries him, as does my presence here. "Just tell them not to use the name of the village in the article," he urges me. "For God’s sake, don’t let them. Or use a fictitious name. Call it ‘Saint Jean de something,’ some generic name. ‘Saint Jean de Schmuck’ . . ."
"A woman from New Zealand came here," Aline says. "She stalked me. She wasn’t a journalist or anything, she was an aspiring cartoonist fixated on me for some reason."
"Was she cute?" Crumb inquires.
"Not bad. Not your type. Some obnoxious German artist came one time . . ."
This one he remembers. His hands sketching little movements in the air, Crumb’s voice cracks: "With a really beautiful girlfriend, incredible, staggering German beauty . . ."
"And then those Swedish art students came here," Aline continues. "Beautiful, breathtaking, blond giant Swedes. Robert was, like, shaking . . ."
"Really?" Crumb asks.
"Yeah," his wife answers.
Crumb throws his head back lightly and laughs. It’s a dry, almost soundless laugh that stretches the skin tight over his face and makes his teeth protrude like a skull’s. On the other side of it, I think, is horror.
Crumb wants to know who I’ve been talking to and what I think of the village, so I tell him. Then I mention the jogger, this crazy guy I keep seeing who runs around town in shorts and sandals.
"Yeah, yeah," says Aline, cutting me off. "That’s Johnny. He was in an accident when he was a kid, and he’s slightly retarded. He comes over all the time to collect stamps. He’s on medication, and he has a doctor and a social worker, and he gets money from the government."
"He’s my French teacher," says Crumb.
"That guy?" I say. "No wonder your French — "
"He’s good!" Aline says indignantly. Then she adds: "But I have to lock the door, because otherwise he lets himself in. A couple of times I’ve been upstairs coming out of the bath naked, and he walked in and I screamed. It’s like Quasimodo walks in your bathroom."
"Johnny’s actually done quite well for himself in his own crazy way," Crumb says fondly, as if he were reminiscing about a favorite nephew. "He calls himself Johnny Weissmuller Jr."
"And how are the French lessons going?" I ask.
Crumb sighs. His shoulders sag in defeat. "It’s really hard," he says. "Aline’s much faster. She’s been speaking bad French since the day we got here . . ."
Only Crumb, I figure, would hire the village idiot to teach him French. But then only Crumb would turn down $100,000 from Toyota to do an ad, not to mention an offer to do an "Absolut Crumb" ad. ("Absolut Crap," Crumb mutters disdainfully when I bring this up.)
"Crap" seems to be a big word with Crumb. No doubt he could have used it during a recent telephone conversation with a Hollywood producer, who, having failed to sell the ornery cartoonist on the idea of an R. Crumb biopic, decided to leave him with an irresistible, killer parting "thought": Jim Carrey is R. Crumb.
On my last night in Cache I am invited to dinner with Pete and the Crumbs, on condition — laid down firmly by Aline — that I "stop playing journalist." ("Forget about it," Crumb says when I ask him if I can take his photograph. He doesn’t want people to know what he looks like with his beard.)
There’s not much to report anyway. On the way over, Crumb and Pete spot some rolled-up posters sticking out of a garbage can, and make a dive for them. One of them is of a nearly naked, very American-looking blond pinup. "Johnny will like that," Crumb says, and takes it with him.
We eat at the corner table in a tiny, stone-walled restaurant in a converted wine cellar on Cache’s main drag — just wide enough for a small car to pass through. Crumb and I sit on one side of the table, Pete and Aline on the other. Pete and Aline do most of the talking, and everyone drinks wine except Crumb, who’s given it up. Next to me, in his gray zippered jacket, Crumb seems especially fragile tonight. Halfway through the meal he takes a small sketchbook from his pocket, leafs through it, stares at the portrait of an attractive girl. He does this almost surreptitiously, the way a cardiac patient might swallow a pill.
Over the course of the meal, several people from the village drop by the table to say hello. At one point, even Johnny makes an appearance, standing (for no apparent reason) just inside the entrance of the restaurant. Crumb catches sight of him and waves, smiling sweetly. Johnny waves back.