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If Goldstein seems to enjoy blowing the lid off family secrets, his parents are happy to help — even hamming it up with scripted lines for “WireTap.” (In one episode, his father called in to pretend that his own dad was the model for all Jewish in-jokes — even claiming that when pop lacked a napkin, he would simply use the living room drapes.)
“WireTap” shows how much his parents were already “performing their relationship,” Goldstein said, in what may be self-justification for using their antics in his work. Still, their inherent comedy has come to represent more than just fodder for his essays, which have appeared in The New York Times Magazine and The Walrus, as well as in his two previous books, “Lenny Bruce Is Dead” and “Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bible!”
“They enjoy it,” Goldstein said of his parents on “WireTap.” “They’re contributors. Sometimes I’ll feed them lines. If they’re acting, there’s a minimal honorarium.”
Professional — and financial — instability is a worry for many, and in Goldstein’s case, that’s been particularly true. Just this year, he went from being a contract to full-time employee at the CBC. “If my show gets canceled, I’m on staff here,” he said. “They have to find me some other form of work.” The safety net is something he lacked during the 10 years he was stuck in telemarketing, before he came to produce his own program.
This explains his reliance on family as a measure of success. “I was always anticipating my parents’ worry. I’m a full-grown man,” he said, “but I always look at them as a read on how I’m doing. Since my sister had a couple of kids, they’re so focused on the kids. I don’t have to constantly assure them that I’m okay, and it’s healthy.”
Still, his childhood — his buddies, his mom and dad, his favorite foods and home — is at the heart of “I’ll Seize the Day Tomorrow.” In it, being on the cusp of 40 feels like moving into a new house where half the boxes remain unpacked. “But I am enjoying the feeling,” he writes, “that not-yet-being-settled feeling — and I plan on dragging it out as long as I can, because it’s a state of grace where all things are permissible.”
Goldstein’s urge to sidestep maturity may be hanging on, but alongside a growing sense of professional privilege. “It’s exciting to present people to the world that you think are great,” he said. But don’t forget existential terror: “I’m always afraid things are going to bottom out and I’m going to end up living in a car with cats.”
Susan Comninos is a frequent contributor to the Forward. Her journalism has recently appeared in The Boston Globe and Christian Science Monitor.