If you’re like me you know that your father told you and your brother and sister stories. They often involved characters named Jamie, and companions or equally relevant characters named after your siblings, as together you all tromped through forests and conquered giants and met and saved princesses and you all became princesses and princes and eventually kings and queens. This transpired while you were tucked under the covers of your childhood bed in the bedroom in which you grew up, situated in the northwest corner of the house in which your parents raised you. The covers covered your knees and, sometimes—during the scary parts when Jamie had to outlast ogres, dragons, or giant rats—the covers reared up to your chin, just as you’d imagine they might in a movie version of this story of your life.

There have been a lot of posts about love in recent months–finding it, losing it, what’s the right kind, what’s the proper duration, is it really even worth it?  Eccetera.

It reminded me that I went through a phase, some years ago, in which I was obsessed with the philosophy of Platonic Love.  It’s my favorite kind of love.  It’s the most interesting–and, I think, most delicate and complicated–kind.

So Brad… can I call you Brad?

Sure, for now.


Ten years ago, after you made a couple of appearances on national television and a book of yours was getting some attention, a widely-read newspaper columnist wrote a little piece about you.

I don’t think I like where this is going…


If memory serves, the opening line was: “Brad Herzog. Remember the name. He just might be the next Stephen King or John Grisham.”

(rubs temples and winces) And your point is?


I’m just wondering… What do you think of that now, a decade later? Hmmm….?

Three words come to mind: “Dewey Defeats Truman.”


Surely, the guy had a sense of your literary potential…

Absolutely, except that he hadn’t read anything I’d written… And he was a TV columnist… For USA Today, which is the Hannah Montana of newspapers. I’ll just settle for people remembering my name.


Obviously not, given your latest narcissistic endeavor, TURN LEFT AT THE TROJAN HORSE. Okay, it’s a travel memoir. I can understand the travel part – a cross-country jaunt to a college reunion. Fine. Lots of angst and Angus cows. But look at the other memoirs published this year – there’s one written by a playboy, a dominatrix, an internationally successful model, even a master falconer…

Don’t forget Laura Bush.


That’s what I’m saying. You don’t own a whip and high heels. You don’t know a peregrine from a pelican. You didn’t sleep with a guy who had one finger on the button and the other nine on Mad magazine. You’re just an average schmuck like me.

Essentially, yes. And him (points to imaginary bystander in the room, who turns tail and runs).


Who?

Everyone. Most guys, at least. I have a wife, two kids, an unfathomable mortgage, aches where I didn’t know I had muscles, professional frustration where I wasn’t aware I had ambition. Frankly, while I’ve been entertained by the memoirs of heroin addicts and Hall of Famers, I’ve never been particularly enlightened. How accessible can it be if I can’t see hints of myself in the protagonist’s journey?


So you took off on your own journey – a road trip toward your alma mater in Ithaca, New York…

Right. And I revisited the original hero’s journey – the homeward voyage of Odysseus, King of Ithaka – by passing through tiny hamlets like Troy (Oregon), Calypso (Montana), Siren (Wisconsin) and Apollo (Pennsylvania). I channeled Socrates (“The unexamined life is not worth living”) and Kerouac (“The road is life”) and cobbled together an early midlife memoir of an Everyman in search of the hero within.


You’ve been working on that one, huh?

Guilty.


Fine. So it’s more than your usual travel memoir. I’d even call it epic yet intimate.

Oh, that’s good. I’ll have to use that.


But the Greek mythology? Really? Didn’t we suffer enough in high school?

Nah. We just didn’t learn it right. Those myths are a sort of collective unconscious, embedded with universal truths. We weren’t made in the image of gods. The gods and heroic archetypes – those crazy stories passed through the ages – were created in our images, reflecting our fears and our fantasies.


Are you supposed to be Odysseus?

Nope. It’s the other way around. He’s just a manifestation of my psyche. He is me.


You mean, he is I.

Yep, you too.


You arrogant bastard.

Hardly. Odysseus is the prototype of the flawed fictional hero. At times, he could be hypocritical, unfaithful, merciless, an astoundingly unsuccessful leader, physically unimposing. Even one-eyed Polyphemus called him a “short, worthless-looking runt.”


You know you’re no physical marvel if you’re being dissed by a Cyclops.

He’s why Superman falls prey to kryptonite, why Sherlock Holmes prefers his seven-percent solution…


Why Indiana Jones hates snakes.

Exactamundo.


Now you’re channeling Arthur Fonzarelli?

It’s in my DNA. I dressed up as the Fonz for about six Halloweens in a row. Slicked back my hair with Brylcreem.


You should have used Rogaine.

Now I’m going to kick your ass.



There are two major bookstores in the world, City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco and Shakespeare and Co. in Paris.

Last week I read and discussed my novel at City Lights Bookstore. It was a dream come true. I’m not sure how my literary career can move forward from such an honor. I could die today with bragging rights for my future in the eternal nothingness.

Let me back up…..

***

In 1994 I went to Paris. I was 24 years old. I brought all of my handwritten poetry and expected Shakespeare and Co. to be ecstatic and celebrate an unpublished poet from San Francisco. I had visions that I’d be ushered to an upstairs room and given bottled water while they read over my petit opus, my generous contribution to literature. Bottled water would switch to Absinthe and I’d get a buzz on the smells of the spirits of authors past that also graced Shakespeare and Co. with their greatness.

I had recently discovered Henry Miller, Charles Bukowski, Jack Kerouac, Louis Ferdinand-Celine. I knew I was next on the list of these greats. My delusion was squashed when I asked about poetry readings and fumbled my papers onto the counter. I can’t exactly remember the reply of the clerk, but I remember my dreams crushed. Who are you?

Customers breathed down my neck as I picked up my papers from the counter and the few that fell to the floor.

It was 1994 and I went to Paris to stretch out my literary wings that were still soaked and unsuitable for flying even in my hometown of San Francisco. Why would Paris embrace me?

Because my last name is DuShane. I’m one of you.

I walked long hours alone in Paris, with my notepad, and a strict budget since the French Franc was strong against a weak US Dollar. I slept in a closet space of a friend of a friend in the suburb of Nanterre. It was understood as only a crash pad, during the day, I had to be out and about. With no one, going nowhere.

I tried to say hi to women, but I didn’t even get kissed. Four weeks in Paris and my lips touched no one.

…..End flashback interlude of my 20-something naivety.

***

Last week I fulfilled a dream. One of the greatest bookstores in the world actually hosted a night where I was the star. It only took 16 years from my Paris disappointment to spread my dry, literary wings in my hometown of San Francisco.

City Lights. Kerouac, Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti.

I feel blessed and lucky. I worked hard on my novel. I wrote it in blood. While loosely based on my fucked up life growing up in a cult, I actually have to acknowledge that without that experience I couldn’t have created the characters or have written that book. My novel, endearing, funny and tragic, is a homage to the human condition. Of people standing by their belief systems and making decisions from hearts they feel are pure. Decisions that might damage themselves and others.

I was able to read at City Lights….to discuss these topics….to read and have the crowd laugh and have them in utter silence when I discussed tragedy. A woman asked me if the world would be a better place without religion. I don’t have the answer. I know some people need religion. I know some exploit religion. I know some people are truly good, whether religious or not. I’m not religious, but if I started a religion, I’d called it, Just Don’t Be A Dick.

Without flaws, our stories, our novels, would suck. Without conflict we can’t embrace our human condition. I used to think I was unique as someone who grew up a Jehovah’s Witness….while there are some things I’ve gone through that 99% of the world didn’t have to go through, I know my story isn’t so unique. Most of us are doing our best. Even the assholes. Even the Jehovah’s Witnesses who have spewed hatred at me and personally attacked me for writing a novel that exposes situations they’d rather not have made public. One such Jehovah’s Witness tried to reason with me the only way he knew how, I know your book is true (regarding doctrine and situations), but why make it harder for us to preach?

Then I heard the same thing again. Why make it harder for us to preach?

They don’t even realize they want recruitment numbers over truth. When my book deal went through, I received vicious phone calls and emails from them. They’re human.

It hurt at the time. It still hurts a bit, but my peace is knowing they’re misguided. My peace is knowing that my novel is out there. They don’t have read it if they choose not to, but they can if they like.

……This is the part where Tony realizes he went from funny to grateful to serious to reflection.

***

….Wait, he doesn’t….

Where would American punk rock be without Reagan? Would Henry Rollins have turned into some type of Gallagher, smashing watermelons into a crowd because America actually decided not to be dicks for oil?

Let’s back up further. Would we have Louis Ferdinand-Celine if he wasn’t injured during World War I? Without Celine, could there be a Kerouac?

What? You would like to go back centuries? What if Cervantes never went to war, was never captured and had a posh life? Would we have Don Quixote?

I really don’t know any writer or humorist or comedian or artist that hasn’t suffered. I read them, I listen to them, and they speak to my soul.

I don’t have the answers. We suffer and we can sometimes laugh about it, at the absurdity of the human condition. At the flaws of ourselves.

Last week I read and discussed my novel at City Lights Bookstore. It was a dream come true.

Since I was a lad I’ve admired beat literature and its developers. My young mind was taken with the romantic image of Kerouac roaming the interior of the body politic, a mad sweating virus on the loose in the highway vein of Amerika, Ginsberg holy maniac,chanting, praying, exorcising a generation ruined by madness, Burroughs and Gysin, pushing the envelope, rubbing out the word, and di Prima, conjuring, straddling the magick/dream line, throwing us bits of tasty metamorsels and sumptuous subconscious feasts from the other side.

I’m wondering if writers in my Generation X age group who contribute their talents to various sites and newspapers, and yet don’t feel like they’re a part of a literary movement, might feel a kinship to this particular piece that I have never shared publicly until now. The Dead Generation is an excerpt from Chapter Nine of ‘Citrus Girl’ (about a third of that chapter). It was written sometime between 1996 and 1998. Could all be drivel. It’s up to you to decide. Part of it was edited by literary historian John Arthur Maynard of CSU Bakersfield who wrote ‘Venice West: The Beat Generation In Southern California.’