During his 11 years at SI, senior writer Franz Lidz has demonstrated a true affinity for the idiosyncratic. For one thing, he has frequently written about unusual subjects, such as his story about Don King's hair (From Hair to Eternity, Dec. 10, 1990) and his piece on page 92 of this issue about the septuagenarian synchronized swimmers, Louise and Fred Wing. For another, Lidz himself is something of an aberration. This, after all, is a man who named his daughters Gogo and Didi (Daisy Daisy) after the protagonists in Waiting for Godot and who insists that his dream double-play combination is Ginsberg to Whitman to Pound because they represent "true poetry in motion."
But Lidz also has a serious side, as evidenced by such stories as his moving account in the 1987 Sportsmen of the Year issue of Olympic champion Kip Keino and how he had cared for more than 100 orphans on his farm in Kenya. Lidz has further displayed his gifts in a memoir, published last month by Random House and optioned by Paramount Pictures, a hilarious yet touching work titled Unstrung Heroes: My Improbable Life with Four Impossible Uncles. Actually the book is about five brothers, the aforesaid quirky quartet of uncles-Leo, Danny, Arthur and Harry (Franz has previously written about the latter two in SI)—plus Franz's father, Sidney, the youngest and relatively sanest. Franz writes that neighbors indulged his father, an electronics engineer, as "Crazy Sid, the mildly crackpot inventor."
As for the impossibles: "My uncles were smelly, screwy, astonishingly scrawny old guys who had abandoned everyday life.... They were happy to be outsiders; they never had to make the same compromises true adults did; they remained innocent and faithful to their own loopy dreams." Uncle Leo was a self-proclaimed literary genius who was sent to an asylum after declaring himself the Messiah of Washington Heights. Uncle Danny was a paranoid of unparalleled persistence. Once during a game at Yankee Stadium, Mickey Mantle hit a foul ball that landed near Franz and a terrified Danny, who scrambled to hide under his seat, convinced that Mantle was trying to assassinate him. Uncle Harry is sincerely committed to the belief that he was the world boxing champion in nine different weight divisions, and Uncle Arthur is the proud possessor of what is very likely the world's largest collection of used shoelaces.
Only Harry and Arthur among the brothers survive, but Franz, 39, looks to be a veritable fountain of lovely unstrung stuff-to-come. Be it noted that he once wrote a column called "Insect Jazz" for an underground newspaper in Baltimore and that until he came to work for SI, he had covered only one sporting event in his life—a pigeon race in a small town in Maine. We suspect he may be planning to give us an update on life among musical bugs or racing pigeons at any time.
Harry, Franz and Arthur: Even the shoelaces are unstrung.