In a 1994, ten-year-old Dan Herman stepped to the plate during a Little League championship game in Mount Laurel, NJ. The score was tied. Smaller than most of his teammates, and not as fast, Herman was not exactly a star athlete. The pitcher threw him a fastball. Herman swung his bat, connecting solidly, and watched the ball sail over the outfield fence.

Seventeen years later, the amazement in Herman’s voice is still palpable. He had hit the game-winning homerun. As he rounded the bases, teammates chanted, “Nails! Nails! Nails!”—the nickname he had appropriated from his favorite major leaguer, Lenny “Nails” Dykstra, who had just led the hometown Philadelphia Phillies to the World Series.

Dykstra, now 48, epitomized gritty determination more than any ballplayer of his generation. His cockiness and competitive zeal were legendary. Boys throughout the greater Philadelphia metropolitan region idolized him.

For Herman, the connection was even greater. In 1991, at age 7, he went into a sporting goods store near his father’s office. By chance, Dykstra was there buying a pair of tennis shoes. The impression that a star athlete has on a young boy can be enormous. Herman, in awe, approached his hero.

“He changed my life,” Herman said. “He told me, ‘Listen man, you’re only seven years old. You can be president some day.’”  The baseball player’s words seemed like prophecy; it was as if young Herman had been granted license to succeed.  “It didn’t matter if I wasn’t the biggest kid or the strongest kid. I was going to be just like Lenny. I would work really hard, harder than anyone else, and be successful.”

Now 27, Herman is indeed something of a success. While going to college at Penn State Altoona, he was paying $500 a month in rent for a room in a beat-up house. The house was only worth $30,000. He convinced others to help him buy the property, then rented out rooms to fellow students. He parlayed the investment into other real estate ventures. Eventually, he founded Chinga-Chang Records, a hip-hop label. Today, he classifies himself as a self-taught entrepreneur.

“I’m not a millionaire yet,” he says. “But I’m close.”

 

Lenny Dykstra, in his prime with the Phillies

**

 


In the days leading up to the publication of this article, I asked Herman to send me some photos. His Little League photo (top of the page) was among the ones he shared. “That’s the one my mother hopes you use,” he told me.

His offhand comment touched me. Herman is a grown man. I imagined the conversations that he and his mother must have had, leading to her endorsement of the photo.

Marilyn Dykstra, Lenny’s mom, no longer speaks to her son.

After retiring from baseball, Lenny established a chain of high-end car washes that he eventually sold for $38 million. Improbably, he gained a reputation as a high-flying financial guru. He touted investment strategies on CNBC, where Jim Cramer sang his praises, and published newsletters that were eagerly read within the day trading community.

By 2009 however, Lenny’s finances unraveled. He had an insatiable appetite for luxury goods of any stripe and could not rein in his spending habits. A series of bad investments and insanely stupid decisions cut into his income. He was hemorrhaging money. He summoned Dorothy Van Kalsbeek, his personal accountant, to a Camarillo, California airport hangar, where he dropped a huge black duffel at her feet.

“It was enormous,” Van Kalsbeek says. “And it was stuffed.”

The bag was stuffed with unpaid bills.

Jeff Pearlman, a reporter who has followed Dykstra for decades, wrote about the encounter in a recent Maxim article. “Do me a favor,” said Dykstra, his spirits as low as his credit rating. “Go through these and tell me where I’m at.”

Van Kalsbeek eventually told him what he expected: he was broke.

At 6 a.m. on March 23, 2009, Dykstra was stranded at a Cleveland airport. He called his mother. He had only spoken to her once in the previous three years.

“Mom. I need money,” he said.

Moderately-priced commercial flights did not appeal to him. He wanted to charter a private jet.  This is why he needed his mother’s money.

As Kevin Dykstra, Lenny’s brother, later told ESPN Magazine:

“[Lenny] had no money. He’s on the phone, crying to my mom, saying he has got to get home and he’s in Cleveland, Ohio. He asked my mom to put up her credit card for 23 grand. That is just sick, dude. The whole family is mad and she’s all sad, saying he caught her off guard. She was asleep. He was crying to her, man.”

Dykstra never repaid his mother. That is why Marilyn Dykstra no longer speaks to her son.

 

**

 

Few one-time celebrities have behaved as badly as Dykstra, who now resides at a swank Hollywood Hills drug rehab facility while awaiting sentencing on grand theft auto charges. Google Lenny and you’ll find stories of him bouncing checks to prostitutes, maxing-out friends’ credit cards, and defrauding his brothers. Soon, in separate cases, he will face charges of indecent exposure and embezzlement.

As Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Alex Karkanen said, “He has scammed everybody he knows.”

Dykstra’s former personal assistant, a single mother, claimed that Dykstra never repaid her for $7,300 worth of office supplies and business expenses he had charged to her credit card.

“Ninety percent of my day was spent on the phone, consoling people who were owed money,” the assistant said. “Jet company owners, printing companies, people trying to put food on the table, landscapers … it was all day, every day. I’d get calls at 6 a.m., [people] screaming at me, cursing at me.”

That wasn’t the worst thing about working for Dykstra.

“He ogled my then 11-year-old daughter’s chest with no shame when I worked for him… He is the most disgusting form of life walking the earth.”

America being America, every B-list celebrity has an entourage of apologists and enablers. In this, Dykstra is no exception.

A few years ago, Dan Herman became one of Dykstra’s people. Or, more precisely, he became his business manager. He booked appearances for Dykstra at lucrative autograph shows. He built websites, facilitated Twitter feeds, and plotted strategies to restore Dykstra’s credibility, an especially daunting task given the swirl of lurid allegations. He even contributed $30,000 towards Dykstra’s bail fund. He was, if you will, committed to the man.

“I was the one guy who would go to the press and on radio stations to defend Lenny when everyone else was calling him a creep.”

Responding to a paid escort’s account of Dykstra snorting cocaine, Herman told a Miami radio audience, “Lenny doesn’t do cocaine. If he was snorting anything, it was Adderall.”

In Herman’s eyes, his hero could do no wrong. “I grew up watching him play baseball. I really believed he was innocent.”

Dykstra, in fine form after hosting a $400,000 party for 800 chums at New York's Mandarin Oriental hotel on April 1, 2008

 

**

 

Dykstra played his last major league game in 1996. In his prime, some people considered him the best lead-off hitter in the history of the game. His best season was in 1993, when he led the National League in runs, hits, walks, and at-bats while propelling the Phillies to the World Series.

As fantastic as his career was, he was equally known for his off-the-field recklessness. In 1991, driving home drunk from a bachelor party, he crashed his red Mercedes into two trees, nearly ending his life and that of teammate Darren Daulton. He gambled, legally and illegally, prompting Major League Baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent to officially reprimand him. He got into a brawl with a Pennsylvania state senator, who objected to Dykstra’s loud, foul-mouthed behavior at a restaurant where both were lunching.

“I’m going to drop you, dude,” Dykstra yelled at the state senator.

Outspoken rude behavior was one of his defining traits.

Jeff Pearlman related another incident in The Bad Guys Won!, his chronicle of the New York Mets’ 1986 championship season:

“Once, a bunch of the Mets spent a couple of hours at a collectibles show in New Jersey. Dykstra signed hundreds of items, rarely glancing up from behind his sunglasses. Near the end of the session, a Roseanne Barr look-alike handed him a baseball. Dykstra snapped. ‘Lady,’ he said, ‘you are too fuckin’ fat for me to sign this thing for you!’ Security was called in to escort Dykstra to his car.”

 

**

Today, Dykstra remains a guilty pleasure for the mainstream media. He is the fallen idol who once led the life of a rockstar.  The American Dream gone off the rails.  A spectacular flame-out.

Last week, The New York Daily News interviewed Dykstra at his drug rehab center. “[He] said his demons were wine, vodka, pain pills, party drugs and the rush he got blowing through his millions.”

As Nickleback sang in their smash song, “Rockstar”

“’Cause we all just wanna be big rockstars

Livin’ in hilltop houses driving fifteen cars

The girls come easy and the drugs come cheap

We’ll all stay skinny cause we just won’t eat”

 

The 2007 video for the  song featured a number of cameo appearances by famous people, including hockey star Wayne Gretzky, who posed in front of his sprawling 12,360 square foot mega-mansion.

A month after the video was shot, Dykstra bought the Gretzky home for $18.5 million. It would prove his undoing. The mortgage terms were not favorable. He was launching a high-end print magazine, an insanely expensive proposition that further strained his finances. Four months after buying the house, he failed to make a $260,000 payment to his magazine’s printer, the first of many financial obligations he would be unable to meet.

Though he tried to patch himself up with a slew of stop-gap loans, he would never again regain solid financial footing. Creditors repossessed his $400,000 black Rolls Royce Phantom, his $370,000 Maybach, his $53,000 Porsche. So too went his $2 million Gulfstream jet.

In his July 2009 bankruptcy filing, he declared debts of $50 million against less than $50,000 in assets. Acutely conscious of all status indicators, he listed one of his most valuable assets as a $10,000 purebred German shepherd.

Woof.

If I were to interview Dykstra, I’d ask how it felt to take possession of the Gretzky house. Most of the Gretzky furniture and fixtures conveyed with the house. Click on the photos in the preceding two links, especially if you who get a thrill from real estate porn. By all accounts, the home was one of the showcase properties in the greater Los Angeles metropolitan region, its craftsmanship and attention to detail unparalleled. Bricks were custom-colored, the interiors decorated with silk, wools, and chenille.

Wayne Gretzky and the house that Lenny bought

 

**

 

As I write this, my ten-year-old son prattles in the next room about Robin Van Persie, the Arsenal striker who currently leads the English Premier League in goals. He does this quite often, weaving a running commentary of Van Persie’s soccer exploits: “Van Persie chests down a cross at the top of the penalty box from Aaron Ramsey, weaves around three defenders, and strikes a brilliant volley for another brilliant goal!”

Whenever I intrude upon his Van Persie fantasies, he becomes quiet: This is his guilty pleasure.

Still, there is an innocence to what he imagines about his hero. My son doesn’t know that, growing up, Van Persie was a legendary trouble-maker in his Rotterdam school. He doesn’t know about the rape allegations that landed him in jail for two weeks and threatened to end his marriage. To my son, Van Persie is simply someone who kicks a soccer ball extraordinarily well.

Arsenal's Robin Van Persie

Arsenal's Robin Van Persie

 

**

 

When I first interviewed Dan Herman, I expected him to be as sleazy as Lenny Dykstra. Call me cynical, or call it guilt by association, but it came as something of a shock to realize that Herman is fundamentally decent.

Why would a normal person put up with Dykstra’s obscene shenanigans?

It wasn’t the money. Though Herman may have been one of the few people not to actually lose money because of his acquaintance with Dykstra, neither did he make a lot of money. Jail stints, drug use, and moral turpitude compromised Dykstra’s income potential. At best, he was a problem client who failed to show up at many of the card shows and personal appearance gigs Herman booked for him. At worst, he was a nightmare: someone who could not be convinced that responsible behavior might actually have positive commercial consequences.

I keep trying to imagine how my son would react if Robin Van Persie were to reveal to him some prophecy of greatness. What would the impact be? Ten-year-old boys can be amazingly innocent and impressionable. Would my son carry the moment with him for the rest of his life, or would he shrug it off like the advice (Don’t procrastinate! Brush your teeth!) I give him?

(In fairness to Van Persie, he seems to have changed his life around rather nicely and might now actually be a worthy role model.)

Lenny on the subject of chewing tobacco: "Swallowing that wad gave me this weird high."

 

**

 

Herman ended his association with Dykstra a few Saturdays ago. He had booked him to fight former Oakland A’s slugger Jose Canseco in a pay-per-view Celebrity Fight Night event. Promoters pre-paid (in cash) a hefty portion of Dykstra’s $15,000 appearance fee, yet Dykstra was a no-show.

“Now that I’m looking back at it, I believe [Dykstra] had no intention of fighting,” Herman said. “In the back of his head, he was thinking that they’d give him the money and not bother to ask for it back. He was just going to take their money and run.”

Celebrity Fight Night participants are generally overweight, down-on-their-luck ex-celebs fighting to recapture a toehold in the public eye. Kato Kaelin. Joey Buttafuoco. Coolio.

The crowd was not impressed. They booed.

At a certain moment during the Octomom-Amy Fisher bout, something clenched in Herman’s gut.  He was seated, ringside, in a crowd of rockstar wannabes, all of them living a cheap, artificial dream. “It suddenly dawned on me that everything around me was false,” he said. “It was like sitting in this medieval English freak show.  I had devoted the last few years of my life [to Dykstra], who I suddenly realized was as bad as everyone said. I was a downed power line. All my energy, all my talents were being wasted. It  all came to me that everyone was right: Lenny had conned me too, just like he conned everyone else.”

Cami Parker and Tila Tequila in their CNF throwdown

 

**

 

Rarely does a homerun or touchdown change what we know or value about the world. Nor, for the vast majority of us, are the skills we learn on the playing field directly translatable into real-world job skills.  Yet sports can provide a lasting sense of accomplishment.  Especially for the young.

Four years ago, Herman was promoting a DJ Premier/Kool G Rap/Haylie Duff record. Lenny’s people heard a radio interview and contacted him. At the time, Lenny’s fortunes were just beginning to derail. Connections were made, a friendship formed.  “I really wanted to get [Dykstra] on the comeback track,” Herman said.  “He had meant so much to me. It would have made me feel good to give something back to him.”

With the benefit of hindsight, he now believes that his Dykstra reclamation project was somehow connected to reclaiming some earlier version of himself.

 

**

Asked what he’d tell Lenny today, Herman chooses his words carefully.

“You are the biggest disappointment I’ve ever witnessed in my entire life. I want to remember you for what you were rather than what you actually became.”

What was Lenny?

An inspiration.

“The coaches awarded me the game ball,” Herman says, thinking back to his long-ago Little League triumph. Mt. Laurel, New Jersey. Championship game. Score tied. The fastball. The swing. The game-winning blast.

Hearing him talk about it now, you can almost see the ball whistle over the fence.

“That was something,” he says.

For a brief moment, in his ten-year-old world, he was a rockstar.

 

In a scenario reminiscent of My Dinner With Andre, only with way less creepy background music and little or no Wallace Shawn, two Nervous Breakdown newcomers utilize the cold war-era concept of the “face to face chat” in a likely misguided effort to push beyond the personal essay format. Daly, already a TNB darling due to his heavily reported dust-up with Wally Lamb, and Beaudoin, still reeling from the announcement of David Coverdale’s defamation lawsuit, come together for a wide-ranging discussion on a number of subjects. They each arrived armed with three pre-prepared questions in case things hopelessly flagged, but the idea was to wing it as much as possible. No topics were off limits and no feelings were spared. So here it is: unedited, unexpurgated, and without a single national security redaction:

Sean Beaudoin: (sliding into a booth in which Joe Daly is already comfortably ensconced. An awkward male-bonding slap-five handshake-y thing follows) So, this diner is a little on the sleazy side. Just the way I like it. But I’m guessing you took a pass on the eggs benedict.

Joe Daly: Food poisoning changes your perspective on everything.

SB: Our waitress looks exactly like Endora from Bewitched. If you don’t get that reference, I’m even older than I thought.

JD: You’re barking up the right tree, brother. I remember both Darrins. And they were both Dicks.

SB: They were, weren’t they? Dick Sargent and…

JD: Dick York.

SB: There used to be a bar in San Francisco called Doctor Bombay’s.

JD: Nice!

SB: Actually, it was good place to get punched in the neck by some guy who decided you stole his bar change.

JD: Yanno, the last time I was in San Francisco, some guy tried to pick a fight with me.  Has it always been a big fighting town, or was it just me?

SB: I think there are just certain places where it’s unwise to stare at the expensive vodkas, mostly because they’re full of people who see your back as an opportunity.

JD: Have you ever been in the mafia?

SB: Lipstick or Trenchcoat?

JD: Either.  Your comment about sitting with your back facing people made me wonder. That’s the thing about TNB- we really don’t know much about each other. That’s the royal “we” by the way.

SB: It’s true. I sort of feel like I know you through post-osmosis. But in reality, I know absolutely nothing about you. I guess that’s why we’re sitting here. I’m going to take out my folded piece of paper with three questions on it now.

JD: I’m keeping mine in my pocket until the last possible second. My list of questions, that is.

SB: Okay, here’s the first one: let’s talk about the ubiquity of Joe. It seems like every post I read, you’ve already commented on it. Which I mostly take to mean you’re really conscientious about participating in the TNB model, as opposed to just slinging your own work up and basking in the glory. Do you feel an obligation to make the rounds, or do you just really dig the give and take?

JD: (pulling fake pencil from behind ear and leaning over napkin) Hold on-I need to write down “The Ubiquity of Joe.” If I ever record a folk album, I now have a title. I just need the Irish sweater and kinky hair.

SB: I can see the cover. You’re on a stool in a pirate’s jacket with a banjo, doing tunes from David Crosby’s solo album. Which I’ve actually listened to, by the way. Every single song is called something like Ecology, Ecology, Mustache, Drugs. Or Morocco, Booze, Mustache, Freedom.

JD: Classics.

SB: Anyway, I know “ubiquity” might sound sort of negative, but I’m trying to say I think it’s kind of an excellent thing.

JD: How so?

SB: Just that there’s a certain sort of “writerly cool” that requires being all enigmatic and not putting yourself out too much, trading ironic for earnest, not being willing to say things if they’re not always “brilliant”…  I see you out there sort of just being supportive and I like it. It’s anti-cool. It’s zero-hipster.

JD: (chuckling) I’m like the Hootie of TNB. No, I mean, I realize some people might think it’s sort of a yahoo thing to do-to consistently comment. But I really appreciate the feedback when I publish something, so I want make sure I’m supporting other writers in the same way. Personally, I find virtually all comments on my pieces to be enormously helpful-at the very least it brings my attention to what caught their eye, good or bad, and what they related to on some level. And you?

SB: At first I felt weird commenting beneath my own pieces, like I was fluffing the totals. But I got over it. And I really like the dialogue. It forced me to think about the entire process in a different way. That whole dynamic of “I am the writer, you are the reader, there will remain a wall of silent genius between us.” Totally subverting that.

JD: I hear you. My first thought on commenting on my pieces was that it was a pretty slavish way of pimping yourself out. Then some other writers suggested to me that actively commenting on your pieces was a good thing because it drives discussion and brings readers deeper into the piece, as well as the TNB community. Let’s face it-the Bible is online, the complete works of Shakespeare, most of the Garfield cartoon strips. There are some pretty good options for readers looking to kill time on the internet. I think that for people to spend their time reading a piece on TNB is deserving of some grateful acknowledgment, in my opinion. Oh, and yes-I just implied that I’m bigger than Jesus.

SB: You are. My oatmeal is bathed in loving light.

JD: I wish I ordered oatmeal. Maybe I’ll try to multiply yours.

SB: Can you multiply me a coffee refill, too? Okay, here’s my second prepared question: Writing about music is easy in a way, because almost all of us have spent our lives immersed in it, and also pretty impossible, since almost all of us have spent our lives immersed in it.

JD: Exactly.

SB: So there’s pretty much not a single thing you can say-“I love Rush, I hate Rush”-that won’t be considered by someone to be not only ill-informed, but actively offensive. So why take that whole package on?

JD: (briefly considering) Writing about music isn’t the most original endeavor. We music obsessives all suffer from the delusion that our passion is unique in intensity and/or variety. In reality, the only thing unique is probably our album collections, which are like snowflakes-no two are exactly the same. When I crawl into an album or a band’s catalog, sometimes a theme pops up, or I find myself struggling with the question of “what it is about THIS music that makes me feel this way, when this other music doesn’t?” And next thing I know, I’m writing about it. Know what I mean?

SB: I do. Except I tend to ignore that compulsion. To write about it. To me it’s like covering a Pro Choice rally. There’s two groups of people with signs and bullhorns, a bunch of nervous cops, and no possibility of convincing anyone of anything.

JD: Speaking of convincing, you used to write for The Onion. How in the world did that happen?

SB: I pitched the SF city editor an idea and he liked it. Never thought I’d hear back from him. They were desperate, obviously.

JD: Did you just come up with an individual story idea and send it to him, or was your idea to write a regular column?

SB: I pitched him “How to Spend Christmas Day Alone” which was essentially about being that guy who doesn’t have the cash to fly back to his parents’ in Cleveland like the rest of his roommates. The idea being, okay, here’s a list of places you can go to stag in hopes of warding off the crippling depression.

JD: So what’s open?

SB: Um, not much. The Avis rental car counter. Walgreens. I advised stealing lots of candy, getting caught, and spending the day with friends in jail. Also, David Brenner does a comedy night at this Chinese restaurant in North Beach every year. Which sounds almost like jail. After that I kept pitching the idea that SF really needed a sarcastic weekly sports column. And they finally agreed. As it turns out, it wasn’t at all what SF needed.

JD: What happened?

SB: I got canned.

JD: Sexual harassment?

SB: I wish. No, like two days after Lehman Brothers ate it, the SF and LA offices were shuttered. I’d just finished my column and the editor calls and says “don’t bother to send it in this week.” That’s more or less the last I heard from them.

JD: (reaching into pocket for notebook) I guess this brings me to my first pre-prepared question: In the cultural juggernaut Road House, Patrick Swayze’s character Dalton imparts nuggets of wisdom to friends and enemies like “Pain don’t hurt,” and “Go fuck yourself,” to name a few. Ok, in one of Buddhism-lite lectures, he tells the battle-weary staff of the Double Deuce, “I want you to remember that it’s a job. It’s nothing personal.” Is it possible for a writer to follow this advice?

SB: (Crossing fingers over chin in a Zen manner) Well, you probably remember that just before the climactic fight scene, the bad guy tells Swayze “I used to fuck guys like you for breakfast in prison. That’s pretty much my writing motto.

JD: It’s all starting to fall into place.

SB: Not to mention the 26-point Helvetica banner I have tattooed across my back…

JD: I’m sorry, but I’m going to need to see that.

SB: Obviously you’ve done a little research, and I appreciate you slyly bringing up Road House. Yeah, the lead character in my next book is named “Dalton.” And, yes, it’s an homage to Swayze.

JD: People are going to think you’re kidding. But you’re not, are you?

SB: Nope. It’s called You Killed Wesley Payne. But let’s talk about how Brad Listi called you and me onto the carpet of his mahogany-lined Fifth Avenue office last week.

JD: Good idea. We haven’t had a chance to break it down yet.

SB: So, after the usual niceties, he essentially told us-

JD: -to shape the fuck up.

SB: Yes, but also, if we did get our act together, we had the potential to be the Doc Gooden and Darryl Strawberry of this year’s TNB freshman class.

JD: Right.

SB: You seemed to think he was warning us not to stay up all night doing coke with Lenny Dykstra/Greg Olear anymore. I sort of thought he was trying to tell us to enjoy this time of innocence, because it doesn’t last.

JD: Seriously? I’ve been having a blast at TNB. It’s like a literary Lollapalooza. But without the eight dollar bottles of water and overflowing port-a-potties.

SB: You’ve mentioned you’re working on a book.

JD: (tenses up) Wait, is it bad luck to talk about a book that you’re still writing?

SB: Yes, and now the thing is doomed. Even so, what’s it about? What are your wildest expectations for it?

JD: The book is a direct consequence of TNB. I know it sounds trite, but the author community really inspired me to give it a shot. Being outside the literary world, I always had the idea that all novelists were pretentious and unapproachable-

SB: Aren’t they?

JD:-and riddled with fear and sarcasm. But most of the authors at TNB seem down to earth, passionate about the writing process, and sincere in participating in a community vibe. I realized I could either keep doing the one-off pieces and being a hired gun for other artists, or I could take on the challenge and see what I’m all about…the book will deal with music, which means that any expectations I have for it are hellaciously modest. In a genre populated with Nick Hornby, Chuck Klosterman, and Michael Azerrad, I have no pretensions that I’m going to burst onto the scene.

SB: The scene could use some bursting. You could be the new Klosterchuck.

JD: I’ll just be happy to get it published and read by a few people whose opinions I respect….(suddenly laughing) um, excuse me, Miss? Yes, waitress? Did we really order all these cliches?

SB: She’s like, “fuck off and tip me already, you guys are camping at my best table.

JD: Here’s my next written question, while we’re on the subject: You’re quite a music aficionado, seemingly across a number of genres. One of which is apparently jazz, which is sort of like the absinthe of music-few dare to sample it for fear that they won’t understand the experience. Even established musicians can be intimidated by the unfamiliar scales and chord progressions. What does jazz do for you and is it possible to discuss it without sounding pretentious?

SB: It’s unfortunate but true that you pretty much can’t talk about jazz without sounding like an asshole. Unless I meet someone who’s as much of a twitchy stalker about it as I am, I usually play dumb. There’s definitely this sense that, if you’re into Charles Mingus or Sun Ra, it must just be a bid for hipster credibility. It’s like, “there’s no way you actually listen to that for pleasure!”

JD: Right, right.

SB: But, you know, I will cop to the fact that there have been times in my life when I claimed to like things that I was actually not that into-Foucault comes to mind-because I thought it might impress people. One of the great things about getting older is completely not giving a shit anymore. I mean, if I want to waltz into Starbucks and order a triple caramel whipped cream enema, I’m going to do it and not worry what the cute barista thinks, you know?

JD: It depends how cute.

SB: And I would say that the “intimidation” aspect of jazz is probably more about the fear of looking dumb at a party than the complexity of chord changes. Even the name is sort of meaningless, because it encompasses so many different styles of music. You mean your grandma’s Artie Shaw collection? Cake walks? Hard bop? The fifteen incarnations of Miles Davis? Machito? Free Jazz? B-3 funk? Fusion-y shit?

JD: So then what’s the appeal? Does it relax you, inspire you, make you want to lay with a woman?

SB: A long time ago, and this was back in the cassette days, I worked the overnight desk shift at a hotel, and I had this one TDK of Coltrane’s Ascension which is, you know, a challenging piece of music. Seriously dissonant. People would walk into the lobby, hear it, pick up their suitcases and walk right back out again. I wore that tape down to the felt.

JD: It’s like you’re a conundrum, inside of a mystery, served next to some potato croquettes.

SB: I get bored easy. Verse, verse, chorus, solo. Turn on the radio, here’s another song about a girl you like. Here’s another song about how it sucks to be twenty and have no idea how your life will turn out. Here’s an ironic song about a toy we all grew up with. Did you really order the croquettes?

JD: I did. Out of all the world’s vegetarians, I have the worst diet by far. (gripping non-existent tofu gut). And I’m ok with that.

SB: A bunch of people I know got into a massive pixellated conflagration about Lady Gaga on Facebook last week. One side loves her, mostly for campy reasons, but still some true acolytes. The other loathes her, mostly because she doesn’t sound anything like ZZ Top. And the middle thinks arguments about musical preference need to be left in the dorm room, so grow the fuck up already. But I thought it was interesting that the main sticking point seemed to be that while some people admitted to finding her entertaining, they weren’t willing to concede she had any actual talent. Well, Joe Daly, does she?

JD: Wow. I do have a theory on Lady Gaga, which may or may not impact this question. The theory is that there are at least five Lady Gagas.

SB: Good, I like it….keep going…

JD: If you look at any series of pictures of her, she looks wildly different across all of them. Basically, you’ll see that her body and facial structure aren’t particularly unique-just the outfits, makeup, and hair. It occurred to me that if she got really blown out at a party, and was too hungover to make an appearance the next morning, she could easily send a similarly-shaped friend to do the gig, and no one would ever be the wiser. Plus, the way she sings has been auto tuned up to the max, so really there’s probably a legion of women who could pass themselves off as LGG in the studio. You see where I’m heading?

SB: Completely. And I do think she’s incredibly talented. It may just be that her incredible talent does not lay in the musical arena. I mean, she and some very smart people got together, came up with a character to inflame the pop fires, and every day they deposit truckloads of cash into various accounts. They’re just really bald about it, which I sort of admire more than bands or singers who pretend they’re not all about business.

JD: Dead on! You do have to respect an artist who plays it straight like that. So it’s my own personal conspiracy theory that Lady Gaga is like Lassie in that she’s played by a number of different actors/singers.

SB: And also that she can bark and claw the dirt in a way that tells you there’s a little boy who’s been kidnapped by Apaches and it’s time to run and get the sheriff?

JD: She would also probably be really handy if someone got caught in a bear trap. “What’s that Lady Gaga? It’s Timmy? Timmy needs help?”

SB: Seems like a good time to introduce a pretty clichéd scenario that was asked of me last week, mostly cause I got no more good material on Gaga…

JD: Bring it on.

SB: Okay, you’re going to the typical theoretical deserted island and can bring the entire recordings of only one artist to play on your coconut-fueled iPod. The caveat is, you don’t get any bootlegs or re-issues, just the studio albums. To listen to over and over, for the rest of your life. So, even if Working for the Weekend is your favorite song ever, choosing Loverboy limits you to a tiny pool of recordings. Who do you pick and why?

JD: Well, if it were one album, I was going to go with the Best of the Stone Roses, but as they only have two studio albums of original stuff, they don’t make the island.

SB: The smart move would probably be to snag Mozart, not only for the volume of material, but because you could while away the years studying him. If only to keep yourself from talking to a volleyball. Unfortunately I’m not that smart, so I’m going with Slayer.

JD: Because…

SB: Because only Slayer will keep me and my new monkey-wife sane.

JD: I’m going to have to go with The Who then.

SB: Really?

JD: I’ve just always related to them on a very deep level. I got into them in high school, when I was starting to feel my oats, and that was the same general age that Townshend was when he began writing some of his best stuff. I’ve always thought Daltrey was money. Great rage. Plus, end to end, they have a great legacy that includes anthems, punk, heavy riffing, and very melodic, stripped-down stuff.

SB: Supposedly Hendrix hated Pete Townshend. So, by extension, I am obliged to hate Pete Townshend, too. But I dig Live at Leeds. Total early punk.

JD: And one of the best motherfucking live albums ever! (waitress walks by, glares, shakes head.) Whoops-sorry for the profanity, miss. (In a quieter voice) Didn’t realize she was right behind us.

SB: We’re totally getting 86’d. I better do my final question.

JD: Good idea.

SB: (composing mentally, taking deep breath) Okay, so yesterday I was thinking about how, as a society, we process things in tiny increments-

JD: I agree. Next.

SB: (laughs)…we spend all our time like, what do I have to get done by noon? Who am I hanging out with this weekend? It’s pretty amazing how much has changed just in the last year alone, but we don’t really acknowledge it. For instance, Tiger Woods. He’s a punch-line. His iconography is permanently shot. But eight months ago he was a walking brand, one of the most revered, most reliable money-machines of the last century. Pretty much a god, at least to people who find their gods in someone else’s backswing. Okay, so….sorry this is so long-winded….so I was just reading that David Shields self-interview where for the third time he more or less said “literature is dead” and I was thinking how that was like saying “Tiger fucks waitresses at Waffle House.” Bang! Hit the defibrillator, lock your kids in the rec room, start selling off all those valuable first editions. But golf goes on. Tiger’s still playing. People still watch and care. It’s just different now. It seems to me that saying “literature is dead” is really “here’s a contentious generalized statement with which to drum up interest in my $25.95 hardback.” You know what I mean?

JD: I think I do. I mean, does anyone really think literature is dead? In fact, it’s more alive than ever-look at the growing list of contributors to the TNB, many of whom have their own books out. Maybe print is dying, but the fact that it’s easier than ever to get people to read your thoughts, via book, blog, or social networking site, shows that literature is very much alive, it’s just diluted. But for the record, I think the “contentious generalization” tool is about as original as the serial killer not being dead at the end of the movie.

SB: Right. You gutshot Michael Meyers. He gets up. Light him on fire. He gets up. But I do like that Shields is really confident about staking out his position. He’s like, “here’s what I think, here’s what my book is about, buy it or don’t, I’m not trying to make any friends.” He’s obviously spent years thinking through this stuff while the rest of us were running with scissors. I guess in the end I just feel protective of the old model. Which is dumb, since I mostly get screwed in the old model.

JD: Speaking of which, you just posted this thing called Read My Finger: How Not to Get Published

SB: I did. Which will probably guarantee I never get published again…

JD: All the TNB literary critics, editors, and very serious writers knocked each other over to effusively praise the thing. It felt like it was Christmas Eve and someone said there was only one Cabbage Patch Kid left, and it was in your article. Being an outsider in the literary world, I found the piece to be thoroughly entertaining, and at the same time, quite humbling. Not only did you name check a legion of authors I’ve never heard of, but you revealed the submission and acceptance process to be tired, saturated, and impersonal.

SB: Actually, once it was done I considered scrapping the thing. Even though most of it was intended to be comical, in the end I don’t want to genuinely discourage anybody. Writing is just too hard as it is. But, you know, it was all true. The truth cannot be denied. On the other hand, my mother called me up and was like, “that’s the last time I write anything but XXOO on your birthday card.”

JD: Nice one, mom.

SB: Since we’re at the end here, it does seem like I should mention that, even on a telepathic level, we seem to have agreed not to speak of the Steve Almond contretemps. Maybe if for no other reason than that we’re both bored to tears by ever single facet of it. But it occurred to me to ask you one thing, and maybe with this question put it all to bed, permanently, next to Hoffa in a layer of quicklime…

JD: (nodding warily)

SB: Did that experience give you, in even the most fractional way, a glimpse of what it’s like to be pinned down in the public eye like a Lindsay Lohan? By which I mean, caught up in some “spat” that was probably bullshit to begin with, but for whatever reason becomes a cultural snowball, conducted through headlines and discussed by third parties and generally taking on a life of its own, so that it goes way past really being about you, and you sort of end up standing by watching it happen?

JD: Yeah, it was really strange to watch things spin out so quickly. My thinking is that Steve had every right to say what he wanted to say, and I responded to him accordingly as a comment to his piece. My involvement ended there. I wasn’t going to get baited into some internet feud. As the saying goes, “never pass up an opportunity to keep your mouth shut.” But next thing I knew, people began weighing in and a very different debate arose. Greg Olear’s piece, Something Nice,” was awesome because it set off a very thoughtful and sometimes animated discussion about what the TNB culture means to different people and what their expectations are for the site. Apparently it was time for that discussion to happen at TNB.  But as you say, the debate had little to do with me or my writing.

SB: I feel compelled to mention that I do admire pretty much any willingness to leap into the fray brandishing unpopular sentences. To not worry if your opinion is going to keep people from being gentle with your own pieces. To toss it out there like a raw steak and deal with how it effects your Amazon ranking later. I mean, essentially, the internet is nothing but a massive binary excuse to be righteously pissed about stuff. So the guy with the pointy stick, in the long run, is sort of doing everyone a favor.

JD: When the TNB dust up was still pretty new, one of the more veteran authors told me that when you put something out there, some people will like it and some won’t, and to realize that none of them are right. The important thing is to just keep writing because that’s all I can control. I’m not going to say that I don’t care what people think about my writing, but I think that as long as I’m writing about topics that mean something to me, and not for other people’s approval or feedback, I can be happy with my process.

SB: Listen, people who say ‘I don’t care what anyone thinks about my work’ are either lying or Thomas Pynchon. I mean, everyone cares. Deeply. The locus of writing is showing off. It’s narcissistic just by definition to imply “my deepest thoughts are worth your investment in time.” So I think it’s how much of that ego you can deflate, you know, that makes certain writing rise above. How much can you ignore your nature and access your true feelings without censoring them, or tailoring them to a specific audience. No matter what the genre, guns and spies or Jane Austen, that’s the kind of writing that, to me, never feels disposable. So, you know, I guess I’m trying to say, if you feel like you’ve written something artfully, but with a minimum percentage of bullshit, you can pretty much get away with anything. You can call anyone out, or reveal things that are totally ugly and not be condemned for it. But if you’re going to attack someone for the intellectual rigor of their distaste for Dave Matthews, man, you better have a pretty solid handle on your own failings.

JD: Ok, they’re turning the lights out in here. I need to ask one more question though, if that’s cool. When I was researching your works, I found out that your first book, Going Nowhere Faster, was just translated into Polish. Polish!

SB: I know, right? Now it’s called Donikad Byle Szybciej. I’m embarrassed to admit how pleased I am with how entirely random that is.

JD: Why Poland over say, France? Is there a big Young Adult market in Krakow?

SB: No clue. But I intend for my empire to span from Budapest to Helsinki by 2012. And by 2112, I intend for it to span from Spirit in The Radio to Tom Sawyer.

JD: Ha! In a perfect world, where would you like to see your writing take you? If you could decide your own fate, what does the future look like?

SB: Totally honestly? If I can sell just enough to not worry about checks or agents or self-promotion, to be able to sit in my little office with my laptop and concentrate on whatever project I’ve got going that day, I would be extremely happy. Anything beyond that is frosting.

JD: Amen.

SB: Selah.

JD: What does that mean?

SB: I’m not entirely sure. Hunter Thompson used to say it all the time. Something like let those with eyes see, and those with ears hear.

JD: It doesn’t get any more profound than that.

SB: No, sir. It really doesn’t.