A country road. A tree. Evening.
Actually the scene is a 12th-floor Manhattan apartment, but staff writer Franz Lidz is transported. He's listening to a recording of his favorite play, Waiting for Godot, in which two friends await a savior who never arrives. Every non sequitur broadens the beatific smile on Lidz's lips; a staccato laugh follows each cruel twist of fate. "I always wanted to play the title character," he says, "but I would have spent the whole night in the wings."
Happily for us, Lidz has in 3� years at SI emerged with a leading role. He has written on a profusion of people in sports, on fullbacks and con artists, on clay-court specialists and taxidermists, on mothers and boxers. "Boxers are my favorites," he says. "They're all originals."
So are Lidz's stories. What sets them apart is their gentle irony and incessant wordplay, and their obsession with lives that are "incongruous" and yet exemplary of "the interconnectedness of things." This week's feature on Roy Simmons Jr., artist and lacrosse coach, and his father (page 43) is no exception.
Lidz's own career in the arts began in bed, where his Dada daddy, an electronics engineer with an existential bent, would read to him from the works of Beckett, Pinter and Ionesco. Young Franz landed a part as a guard in a second-grade production of The Wizard of Oz. His only line: "Don't listen to that man behind the curtain." The following year he delivered to his outrageously fortunate classmates Hamlet's most celebrated soliloquy.
But thanks to his father, the seeds of modernism were already sown, and Lidz's professed admiration for "avant gardening" eventually blossomed—at the expense of the Bard. In a grad school drama class at the University of Maryland he chose to interpret the tragic role of Othello dressed as a house painter, in coveralls and a spattered cap. The professor was nonplussed.
"I wanted to play Othello not as the noble Moor," explained Lidz, "but as Benjamin Moore."
Thus began an eight-year hiatus from the stage. Tired of "mouthing other people's lines" Lidz signed up for night journalism classes. His teacher, Carl Schoettler, a feature writer for The Baltimore Evening Sun, told his students, "It's fun to be a reporter. You get to wear a sweater all day." Lidz warmed to the role immediately. "Franz was modestly amazing," recalls Schoettler, "not because he knew so much about writing, but because he was...not exactly bound by convention. He had an oblique way of looking at things. He'd come sweeping in from an angle, crabwise."
If Lidz be a crab, he is, in the Maryland tradition, soft-shelled. Says his friend Catherine O'Hara, the Canadian comedienne of SCTV fame, "Franz is so interested in people that he can always find something new to say about them. He can remember every detail about everybody he meets. It's like he's starved for weird information. It makes him really good at improvising. Last year Franz, my sister Mary Margaret and I videotaped skits. He was so good I always wound up playing it straight."
So do we, Catherine.