None of these people were America bashers in the crude sense, but from the moment I’d arrived in Cache, I’d been picking up a persistent strain of disenchantment with the States — along with an appreciation for what, in his post card to me, Crumb had called France’s "shreds of cultural resistance."
But what was this "resistance"? Essentially, it was economic: a refusal to allow profits to be the sole arbiter of society. One way to see how France differed from America in this respect was to think of all the businesses Cache contained: five restaurants, two bars, three bakeries, a butcher’s, a grocer’s, a dressmaker’s, a piano store, a tobacconist/news agent, a pharmacy, a bookstore, several barbershops and beauty salons, and not a chain store among them. In the States, most of them would have been gutted long ago, subsumed into some giant shopping complex three miles out of town. There would be no "baker" or "butcher"; there would just be employees.
A major misconception about Crumb, Pete tells me later that day, is that people think he’s a millionaire. He’s not. According to Pete, Crumb lives "a comfortable middle-class existence." In fact, he says, the coffee-table book came about only after Crumb had been hit with a $12,000 bill to have central heating installed in his house. (During their first few winters in Cache, the Crumbs warmed themselves with fires.) Until then, Crumb had resisted the idea.
Crumb sighs. His shoulders sag in defeat. "It’s really hard," he says. "Aline’s much faster. She’s been speaking bad French since the day we got here . . ."
Only Crumb, I figure, would hire the village idiot to teach him French. But then only Crumb would turn down $100,000 from Toyota to do an ad, not to mention an offer to do an "Absolut Crumb" ad. ("Absolut Crap," Crumb mutters disdainfully when I bring this up.)
"Crap" seems to be a big word with Crumb. No doubt he could have used it during a recent telephone conversation with a Hollywood producer, who, having failed to sell the ornery cartoonist on the idea of an R. Crumb biopic, decided to leave him with an irresistible, killer parting "thought": Jim Carrey is R. Crumb.