Larger Than Life Excerpts

Eating Mary’s lasagna; moths beating against the screens of the wide front porch; big bottles of Gallo; conversations (with Mary’s cigarette voice and dagger wit, the brilliant Bill Balance’s kind and measured stories) that often went on until dawn; Martin sitting with one foot tucked under his then vast self, holding a Marlboro like Greta Garbo in one hand and a drink in the other, and steering those conversations from Greek history to Aubussons, from Philip Larkin to Franz Kline, with a Wildeian mixture of erudition, wit, venomous relish and hyperbole… Talk was what Martin was always best at. In those days he was a precocious and indefatigable genius at it. (Charles Gaines)

In October of 2000, when I was still living in New Orleans, the editor of my book Milking the Moon had arrived from New York for a literary conference. Over the past year, we had talked on the phone for hours and exchanged countless e-mails about the editing of my manuscript. But we had never met one another. On the Friday night of his arrival, he came to my house for dinner. We hit it off in person just as well as we did long distance. At the end of the evening, however, I had to tell him that I was not going to be able to meet him in the French Quarter for Sunday brunch as planned.
     “I just learned that my high school English teacher is in town,” I explained. “He’s here for some convention of private school principals, and Sunday at noon is the only time I can see him.”
     “And your teacher from Birmingham takes precedence over your editor from New York?” Doug said, feigning offense.
     “Well…,” I said.
     “Let me guess,” he said. “This man was the most important teacher in your life. He transformed your existence and inspired your future like no one else.” All of this was quite true, but I only grinned, as I thought Doug was pulling clichés out of the hat until he added, “And this man weighs over 600 pounds.”
     “What?!” I stared at him. “How on earth did you know?” Doug laughed.
     “Katherine,” he said. “I have three authors who came from Birmingham, Alabama, and they all had the same damn English teacher.”
(Katherine Clark)

No stranger to exaggeration, Martin was a great raconteur, and would often supplement facts with fiction. One was never quite sure which was which. Everyone sees the world through a lens of space and time. Martin had a third lens, a lens that made things as he thought they should be, rather than precisely as they were. I always believed that this tendency was benign, but it paid to remember it while in conversation with him. There was never a need to call him on a point of fact, when his version was just so much more pleasant and entertaining. (Craig Crockard)

“It’s Sydney Greenstreet! It’s Sydney Greenstreet!” the boys screamed as they chased the fat man, lumbering down Broadway, barreling over, through, around the perplexed crowds—who either knew Sydney Greenstreet was long dead so this 400-pound Gargantua was a ghost or had never heard of Sydney Greenstreet so this unstoppable phenomenon of nature was a horrible vision that all knew would not go away soon—until the beat policeman stepped in, stopped him with a whistle, certain that he was completely drunk, but finding that he was only Martin Hames, the schoolmaster to a rowdy group of Birmingham University School boys. In the spring of 1967 they were seeing New York City, and people and places and things he had told us about, for the first time. Some claimed to have seen Henry Fonda, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, but I think they were lying. Who cares? The world had become a great dream come true for us that spring, and it was Hames who made that magic happen. (Jimmy Wiygul)