Ah, parents. For many college kids, a necessary evil. For Teller, a source of inspiration. And the subject of a new book.
The shorter, quieter half of the ultra-hip magic duo Penn & Teller, Teller”s recent literary effort, “When I”m Dead, All This Will Be Yours!” has nothing to do with the afterworld, the dead or the dying. In fact, it has everything to do with someone very alive Joe Teller, father of the author. The book, after all, is subtitled “Joe Teller a portrait by his kid.”
“When I”m Dead” is a simple story about Pad (Teller”s pet name for his father) and his early, pre-family days in Philadelphia. Played out like one of the magician”s many trips home to visit the family, Joe Teller”s tale is drawn out like an eternal parental tale.
Readers learn details that even the author claims not to have known about his father before asking questions like “Where did you and mom meet?” and “What did you do after high school?”
Remember how you felt when you learned that your parents smoked pot back in the “60s? The answers Joe gives his kid are surprising, too. But not that surprising. Turns out that the wizened old man, now well into his 80s, lived life out of a boxcar for a time, running away from home. The text includes lengthy excerpts from many of Joe”s letters home, all of which Teller found squirreled away in his parents” Philadelphia row house.
In addition to life as a professional hobo, Joe recounts tales of working as a sign painter in Philadelphia and meeting his wife (that”s Mam, to the author) at art school.
But the book isn”t an out and out biography. It”s interspersed with many of Pad”s imaginative and wonderfully stylized charcoal cartoons, and includes a color section of Mam and Pad”s oil paintings. The cartoons are as charming as the text is and the paintings capture the spirit of Teller”s “rents perfectly. But this isn”t an art book, either.
What the book turns out to be in its scant 150 pages is a humorous homage to a man, his wife and their bohemian lifestyle.
Obvious admiration of his parents shines through on every page. They even teach the kid to paint at one point in the book.
Despite playing the part of a mute magician on stage, Teller”s flair for the written word is nothing to be scoffed at. Maybe it”s all those years of silence on stage, who knows. But the man knows how to turn a charming phrase. The right balance of parental comment and kid-inflected perspective makes the book cute. The artwork rounds out the package nicely.
If there”s one criticism to be made of “When I”m Dead,” it”s that the book is a fast read. It takes about an hour to page through and about an hour to be forgotten. Nostalgia seekers and fans of retrospectives take note: This book can be yours. And no one has to die.