Neal Pollack changed my life one time; the year was 2002 and I was twenty, by day studying for the second year of an English degree, by night working bar in city clubs. Like most of my peers I was still trying to find my way in life, and the bloated, over-serious study materials and ever-duller blend of vampire fiction and subtextually desperate classroom readouts that flooded my Creative Fiction classes had all but killed my ambition of writing for a living in favour of the idea of moving into hospitalities management (not that I was by any means immune to the lure of inflicting my bad writing onto everyone around me; most of my essays were fanboy attempts at being Chuck Palahniuk and falling leagues short of Chuck Shurley).

And then a friend loaned me a copy of The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature, and I, for the first time in my life, found a book I truly couldn’t put down. It was as flawlessly put-together as any of the best works I’d ever read, excruciatingly funny, and it viciously ran a satirical razorblade across the hamstrings of the 20th century’s most puffed-up, pretentious pieces of creative non-fiction and literary journalism. And, most importantly, it was the first time for a long time that reading had provided me with a genuinely good time.

I’ve been going to bed lately on a pile of jagged stones covered only by a thin cotton blanket half-eaten by moths. This is one of the worst possible sleeping arrangements I could imagine. Sometimes I wonder how things got this way, but I have to remember that I am a journalist, novelist, radio producer and poet, and I am here in Albania to find out what life is really like for a family in the poorest country in Europe. I have personally borne witness to much human suffering. People here are beset by unwanted refugees, obscure diseases, and limited opportunities to express themselves through fashion. I must tell you: things are not good.

– The Albania of My Existence, The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature

In short, Pollack made me want to be a writer again, and I started to follow his blog (which in turn lead me to the likes of Matt Tobey, Ian Carey, Greg Robillard, and Darci Ratliff. And, regrettably, Wayne Gladstone. And shortly after Pollack followed up the Anthology with Never Mind the Pollacks, a rock and roll novel that featured a(nother) fictitious version of himself as the world’s greatest rock critic, and unwitting instigator of some of the greatest moments of rock history.

The rain came. Pollack opened his mouth, filling it with acidic water. He spat a broad stream of it onto the stage. It caught Dylan between the eyes.

“Judas!” Pollack cried. “Judas!”

Never Mind the Pollacks

From there, Pollack moved into non-fiction territory with his parenting memoir Alternadad, the detailing of his quest to maintain his lifestyle and coolness in the face of becoming a father, and Stretch, the yoga memoir that now sees him carrying out pose requests at readings. Oh, and he’s one of the guys behind the parenting community Offsprung.

And now Pollack has released his newest work, Jewball, a book featuring basketball players, Nazis, punches to the face and knives to the heart, drinking, gambling, sex, love, and standing up against the forces of darkness; not necessarily in that order. In a sign of the time he’s released it himself through Amazon, and now, on TNB, Pollack discusses Jewball, basketball, the realm of noir and the age of the ebook.

SS: In brief, what’s Jewball about?

NP: It’s a noir comedy centered around a Jewish basketball team in the 1930s. The team’s coach unwittingly incurs a gambling debt to the German-American Bund, and the team has to do battle with American Nazis while also trying to claw its way to another basketball championship.

Do you think it’s a book you need to be knowledgeable about basketball or Judaism to enjoy? It keeps pretty faithfully to those two themes throughout – that being said, I don’t know a point guard from a plate of brisket, and I loved it.

I think having knowledge of or interest in those subjects would certainly help you get interested in starting the book, but once you’re immersed, Jewball is a pretty breezy read, intended for a general audience. It’s more of a noir book than a Jewish one. The Judaism isn’t laid on too thick, and while there are a lot of basketball scenes, most of them don’t get very technical.

What’s a point guard?

Point guard is a position on a basketball team. He (or she) is generally one of the shorter players; their function is to handle the ball efficiently, and to make it easier for other players to score by passing intelligently and reading defenses. They should also be able to score a bit when needed, and it’s important for point guards to make their free throws. They get fouled a lot, particularly at the end of games, because they’re always handling the ball.

What’s brisket?

It’s a cut of beef that’s often served on Jewish holidays. Generally braised, with vegetables and stock.

The characters of Jewball are all drawn from real life – the SPHAs, the Bund, David Berman and William Dudley Pelley; these were all real people. How did you find the process of writing characters that were at once a blend of fact and fiction? How much did the real-world origins of, and events surrounding, these guys color their roles in Jewball?

It depends; for some of the supporting characters like Berman and Pelley, I often turned real-life stories, garnered from nonfiction accounts, into scenes. As for secondary leads like Gottlieb, Litwack, and Kunze, I used their bios as jumping-off points, deploying some true-life stories. But because they had to play a bigger role in the narrative, I inevitably had to fictionalize a lot of their personalities and their actions. Inky Lautman, who technically was a real person, I cut from whole cloth. There’s very little material available describing Inky’s actual character and personality, so while he’s the protagonist, he’s also the least historically accurate of all my major characters. Meanwhile, certain characters, like Natalya and Charlie Shostack, were wholly fictional. That mix and match between the “real” and the “fake” informs most history-based fiction, and I drew upon the writing of historical fiction writers who I admire, like Gore Vidal, Conn Iggulden, and Kevin Baker, to try and achieve historical versimilitude while also spinning a fun story.

Tonight, like after every Saturday SPHA game, several virginities would be lost and seeds of future generations would be sown. Lips would get sucked on until they bled. Everyone was togged to the bricks and ready to stroll down Seduction Avenue. The folks in the crowd had suffered the requisite tight-quartered Shabbat with their toothless bubbes, whose apartments stank of boiled onion, whose stories about the Old Country were growing increasingly maudlin. Yes, yes, the Cossacks killed your cows and burned your synagogue. Your pain is immense. Thank you for sharing. But now it’s Saturday night.

Jewball

I was thinking about a blog piece you wrote some time back about watching Shaolin Soccer and the idea of good and evil meeting across the sports field occurred to me as a motif that both Jewball and Shaolin Soccer share; one of these big, human themes that’s more than just which team gets more points on the board. More than that, though, there’s something of heroism in both of them – and in just about any good sports story you care to name. Add to that the noir ideal of the not-so-good guy fighting the good fight in a not-so-good world and you’re got Inky Lautman, the protagonist of Jewball. These larger ideals of good and evil – were they something you kept in mind throughout the writing process?

Since the novel is about Jews fighting Nazis at the dawn of World War II, those themes inevitably arise. But I also wanted some shades of gray in there. My “Inky” character is a basketball player and also a thug, though the real-life guy wasn’t. The Nazis are evil in the book, but I also wanted to paint them as bumbling and somewhat human. All the good guys have huge character flaws, except Litwack, which is kind of a flaw in itself. I read a lot of novels by Alan Furst, and he’s excellent at creating flawed protagonists who suffer from broken hearts and come from broken homes. He puts those characters against a broader historical backdrop. I tried to do the same thing with Jewball.

Did you find any inherent challenges in writing a sports novel? It’s not that common a field; did you draw any particular inspiration from either other sports works, or from non-fiction sports writing?

I don’t think a sports novel is harder to write than any other kind of novel. You have your subject matter, and your story, and you just have to lay them out with clarity and intelligence. I didn’t read much sportswriting specifically for the book. For inspiration, I mostly turned to the classic noir writers of the 30s and 40s, for mood, dialogue, and sentence structure. The book is well-served by that, I think. I like a good sports magazine feature as much as the next guy, but they’re not a great source of novelistic inspiration.

I agree with you on the noir front and how well it serves Jewball; there’s a certain peculiar enjoyment to the genre itself, and how you can sink your teeth into it – which compliments how enjoyable it always is to watch some Nazis getting their just desserts, in the face, at speed. And I liked how you paid such attention to creating the neighbourhoods and urban scenes; giving them a life of their own apart from the narrative – another noir twist?

A sense of place is very important to me as a reader. The best noirs have great plots, of course, but I rarely end up caring or thinking about the story when it comes to say, Raymond Chandler’s books. In fact, as a noir reader, I often find myself skimming narrative bits so I can get to the parts where the writer describes the vibe of place, or somehow captures the essence of a time. I wanted to do that as much as possible in Jewball.

You’re a big Jim Thompson fan, if I remember correctly – did his work touch on Jewball at all?

Only very indirectly. I turned more to David Goodis, who wrote so beautifully about Philadelphia, for this book, and I’ve also been reading a lot of Donald Westlake lately. For the Harlem chapter, I went back and read some Chester Himes.

You know what? Gottlieb thought. Fuck New York. Try spending a few months in Philadelphia and see how you like your life then. We’ve got all the soot, all the dirt, all the bums, all the corruption, and all the venereal disease that New York has, but we ain’t got DiMaggio or Broadway. Our dames are shorter and maybe not as smart, and lots of them are Catholic. It’s a real shit sandwich without the trimmings. But we still wake up in the morning, or sometimes the afternoon.

Jewball

I’m always curious about how people learn and develop their writing chops and how it shapes their later work – the famous example being Hemingway and his ‘journalistic’ style of prose. In a book like Jewball, as opposed to your last couple of non-fiction offerings, you’re writing a fiction novel, you’re writing a big cast of characters, some action-packed scenes of basketball and fighting, and wrapping it all up in this over-arching storyline – and that’s a combination that I haven’t read in your work before. A lot of that seems counter to your original journalist background – is it something you draw on, nevertheless?

I think my early journalism work in Chicago prepared me pretty well to write this type of book. In my 20s, I covered some very gritty stories and wore out a lot of shoes walking the beat. This is definitely a new type of book for me, but it’s the type of book I’ve always wanted to, and always intended to, write, and I’m thrilled that I was finally able to make it happen.

As for the release of the book – what informed your decision to self-release it as an ebook as opposed to a traditional hardcopy?

It just seemed that the time was right. The technology has more than arrived, and I’ve always had an entrepreneurial impulse. Also, my agent was very encouraging, so I thought, why the hell not? The process hasn’t been without its drawbacks, and it’s certainly an underdog, but let’s put it this way: Other than the first chapter, which I wrote in 2008, I started this book in February, and as I’m typing this sentence, it’s October and the book is about to come out. If I’d submitted this via the normal publishing process, Jewball might not have appeared officially until 2013.

How are you feeling about the whole ebook revolution in general? Apparently ebooks are now outselling printed by two to one on Amazon, and incredibly, three to one on Barnes and Noble. It’s a far cry from the days when the industry was proclaiming the ebook would never take off and even Stephen King couldn’t make any money from it. How do you think the changing landscape will affect authors?

It’s hard to say. Big publishing is certainly not going away, and it does appear to be finally adapting to the new landscape. It will be hard to do a “quality” launch via ebooks because the industry is so invested in gatekeeping their so-called literary standards. I also think that the biggest-name authors will mostly go through corporate houses because it’s a lot less work for them. In general, though, I think this will be good for most authors, because the options are limitless.

The SPHAs scored three baskets almost before the Rens had their warmups off.

Finally, the other team woke up and got down to business, jostling inside, making long set shots from the perimeter, restoring order. It was 26–21 after Shostack split a couple of free throws, 26–23 a few seconds after that, and then they went back and forth for a while until Inky spotted an opening, swiped the ball from the Ren point guard, and drove down for a six-foot spot-on setter that drained the nylon out of the net and drained the life from the crowd. They’d gone to 36–31 with twenty seconds to go. It looked like the SPHAs were going to (yet again unofficially) claim the title of the best basketball team in the known universe.

Jewball

What was the nuts and bolts process of writing and releasing the Jewball ebook, from start to finish – as a kind of Cliff’s Notes for other readers or writers who may be interested in going down that road but haven’t yet gotten to grips with the process.

I wrote the first chapter in 2008, rewrote it in 2009, showed it to my editor who basically ignored it, and then shelved the idea for a couple of years because I wasn’t quite sure where to take the book. Then my agent approached me with the idea of self-publishing, and I said I had this basketball story I’d been meaning to tell. He encouraged me, and that was all the spark I needed. I started writing Jewball in earnest in February. By Memorial Day weekend I had a first draft. My friend Tom Fassbender, who once ran a nifty noir-themed publishing concern in L.A., agreed to look at the manuscript. He did, gave me a few notes, and by the end of July, I had a manuscript. That was a little over three months ago. Since then, it’s been copy-edited. As I write this, it’s being formatted for the Kindle. From first sentence to first sale in eight months: Big publishing couldn’t begin to dream of that speed. Getting eyeballs to the book will be hard, but it’s hard no matter how you publish.

With the great power of writers these days being able to self-publish so easily to handheld or online platforms comes the great responsiblity of the traditional work of the publishing house – editorial, marketing, design, rights administration (if they get so far as the last one). Do you wonder if, with the gates as open as they now are, we might swing to the other side of the pendulum? A great morass of underdone, unskilled work clogging up the waters of the literary marketplace?

It’s possible, I suppose. But any serious writer is going to make sure that the editorial side of things is taken care of; you need to have pride in your work. I will always work with editors whether I self-publish or not. Designers are readily available for hire; I got a friend to do a brilliant cover for Jewball. Marketing is a ball that big publishers often drop; you can viral market yourself fairly easily, and if things start going well, you can always hire a publicist for a real big push. My agent is taking care of the rights administration.

So Jewball is kind of a hybrid project. I retained my agent, hired a great copyeditor, and worked with publishing professionals all the way down the line. I just did it a lot more quickly than I otherwise would have been able. And while the book may or may not find more success through this method, it’s certainly just as good a product as it would have been if I’d published it through a conventional stream. It’s an experiment, and experiments don’t always succeed. But sometimes they do.

If you had to recommend a noir primer to a reader unfamiliar with the genre, what would be your recommendations, and why?

There are so many choices. I’d start with Raymond Chandler and Patricia Highsmith, and probably Jim Thompson. There’s a nifty collection from the Library Of America that collects noir novels from the 30s and 40s by masters like James M. Cain and David Goodis. That’ll fill your nightstand or your Kindle for months.

How do you think the Phoenix Suns rebuilding program is going?

The Suns don’t have a prayer as long as Robert Sarver is the boss. That guy is the tool of tools. He’s made a tragic mess of a proud franchise that should have won a couple titles in the aughts.

Jewball is now available through Amazon.com. Neal Pollack’s site can be found at www.nealpollack.com.

The following scene is from Chapter Seven of my new yoga memoir Stretch: The Unlikely Making of a Yoga Dude. This particular chapter takes place during my time as a “seva,” or volunteer, at my neighborhood yoga studio. Everything else should explain itself.


One afternoon, midway through a substitute seva shift, I sat on a stool while baked out of my nuts, idly picking my nose until class got out. A handsome young dude entered. He said that the owner had asked him to drop off a seva application, and he handed it to me.

His most recent job had been waiting tables in New York City. Obviously an actor, I thought. Then I noticed that he’d once been an editorial assistant at the Chicago Reader, where I’d worked for seven years. Since the paper, like all papers, was more or less in the process of financial collapse, this probably wasn’t a coincidence that I’d run across many more times in my life.

“The Reader, huh?” I said.

“Yeah,” he said.

“I used to write for that paper.”

“Really?” he said. “What’s your name?”

I told him.

Now, when I drop my name to another writer, my expected response is “Oh my God, dude! I totally love your stuff! It’s really great to meet you!” Or at least, “Oh yeah, sure. I’ve heard of you.”

He stared at me blankly.

“Maybe I read you in the archives,” he said. “I spent a lot of time reading the archives when I worked there.”

“So did I,” I said.

Suddenly, I felt old, useless, and insecure. I easily had ten years on this guy. All the yoga philosophy in the world couldn’t counteract the horrifying feeling of obsolescence that washed over me at that moment. Still, I tried to make conversation. We talked about the death of newspapers, but how long can you do that, really? Eventually, as every conversation in my life did, the topic turned to yoga.

“So do you practice a lot?” I asked.

“Nah,” he said. “But I’m working on a pilot about a yoga studio. I figured I should see what one was like.”

Rookie mistake, kid. You never know who you’re talking to in L.A., or what kind of lunatic ulterior motives they have. For instance, you could be talking to a guy who was working at the same yoga studio, who maybe in the back of his mind harbored fantasies about writing his own yoga sitcom. And maybe this guy felt threatened.

“Do you have an agent?” I asked, hoping that my voice would drown out the sound of my sinking heart.

No, he said. But friends were showing his other work around to agents. It probably wouldn’t take long.

“Cool,” I said.

He left. I took the application into the owner’s office. As I sat there, staring at the paper, I felt a good Krishna hovering over one shoulder and an evil Krishna over the other. Do it, the devil said. This guy is your competition. He’s cutting in on your territory. The angel said, come on, man, he’s just a kid. Give him a break.

The market for yoga-based entertainment was surprisingly fat. I’d done my research and had seen trailers and pilots for a half-dozen independently produced yoga sitcoms. There was the yoga documentary Enlighten Up!, where a skeptical Jewish journalist tries to find inner peace on a voyage through the world of yoga. That hit way too close to home. Then you had the “Inappropriate Yoga Guy,” whose hilarious YouTube videos had racked up a million hits. Will Ferrell’s SNL sketch about achieving a yoga pose where he could suck his own dick had been making the rounds for almost a decade. They were doing yoga on The Office. Scarlett Johannson played a yoga teacher in He’s Just Not That Into You. Couples Retreat had that long scene with the loin-cloth clad Fabio lookalike yoga teacher. Scott Bakula was playing a yoga teacher on Men Of A Certain Age. If you wanted to go even further back, Jenna Elfman did yoga humor in the mid-90s on Dharma And Greg, for fuck’s sake. But at some point, something would tip the scales, no one would be interested in buying yoga material anymore, and that would mean another path blocked by the cruel hand of fate.

No, I thought. Not this time. There may be a lot of competition in the small and unimportant world of yoga comedy, but Karuna Yoga is mine.

And then I did it. I tore his application in half, folded up the halves, and tore them again, and again, and again, until there was nothing left but little shreds. When this was done, I went outside to the Dumpster and put half the pieces in one side and half in another. I wadded a few of the pieces into a ball and placed them in my mouth, mashing them into an unrecognizable pulp with my saliva. I had to destroy all the evidence.

I went back inside and immediately felt horrible. My conscience began to scream. That had been one of the most quietly venal acts of my life.

I went home, put the kid to bed, and was doing the dishes when I called Regina into the kitchen.

“I did something bad,” I said.

She sighed.

“What now?”

I told her.

“Do you really think you’re not going to get found out?” she said.

“No,” I said. “But….”

“Dude, the universe tested you, and you totally fucked it! You have to make this right.”

“I can do that.”

“Look, I understand the impulse. This is a competitive town. But that’s no way to win.”

“I know.”

“Seriously, you could get into big trouble.”

I went downstairs. Fortunately, the guy was on Facebook. I wrote to him:

“Hey. It’s Neal Pollack, the former Reader employee who was working the desk tonight at Karuna. I wanted to let you know that I misplaced your application. I have no idea where it went. There was a big rush for the 6:30 class, and I had to run a bunch of credit cards, and it vanished in the shuffle. I’m going to email the owner to tell her, but I think it’s best that you come in and fill out another one…I’m really sorry for the hassle, man. I owe you a beer.”

From there, I tried to deploy a more innocent deflection strategy. I said that Karuna is “a really nice studio with great teachers and cool, sincere students.” Nothing topped it “in terms of high-quality yoga instruction and laid-back attitude.” But as far as wacky characters went, I said, there were several other studios in the neighborhood that were better sources. I then named a bunch of studios that I’d never visited.

When that was done, I wrote to the studio owner:

“A guy stopped by the studio around 6 PM to turn in a SEVA application. Then I ended up doing some credit-card transactions for Lauren’s class. When the smoke cleared, I’d completely misplaced his application. I searched high and low but couldn’t find it anywhere. So it’s probably in the studio somewhere, but I have no idea where….I already contacted him on Facebook (it was definitely him), so he knows to come in and request another application if he’s still interested. I’m really sorry about this…I don’t know where my head was tonight. I imagine you’ll be hearing from him soon. Thanks for your patience. I’m sure you’ve dealt with worse.”

The next day, the guy wrote me back:

“Thanks for the heads up. I will drop by and fill out another app. And thanks for the tips on the other, more “eccentric,” studios around town. Great meeting you.”

He included a friend request.

A few weeks later, he started working a regular shift on Saturdays at Karuna. But by then, my mind had righted itself. For help, I’d sought guidance from a handy paperback called 1001 Pearls Of Yoga Wisdom. How would the masters deal with such a situation, I wondered. I found this one from the great Swami Sivananda: “There is no end of craving. Hence contentment alone is the best way to happiness. Therefore, acquire contentment.”

Yes, envy was bad, particularly combined with covetousness. That guy could write a dozen yoga pilots for all I cared. If one hit, I’d even think about being happy for him. I had everything I wanted and needed, right now.

A couple of days later, I heard back from Karuna’s owner:

“Thanks for the update,” she wrote. “No worries. I am glad that you are here at the studio taking care of the community.”

What are the most common questions people ask you about yoga?

The first one, by far, is “what type of yoga do you do?” It’s a totally legitimate and useful question, and yet very tough to answer. I’ve trained in the Ashtanga tradition, but most people either haven’t heard of that, or they’ve heard of it as something Madonna did in the 90s. Then I have a hard time explaining it without going into a historical explanation of the lineage, and by that time most people have already gone back to the bar.

The question gets even thornier, because I’m a somewhat overweight carnivorous stoner with a bad attitude. There’s not a specific “type” of yoga that caters to me. You either practice yoga, or you don’t, and it doesn’t matter if you do it in a hot room, or a lukewarm one, with or without chanting, with or without incense. Who your teacher is doesn’t, or shouldn’t, matter to anyone but you. But, as my teacher Richard Freeman is always pointing out, people are desperate to place themselves into a category, to feel like they’re part of something larger.

The mind is tricky that way. Doing yoga doesn’t exempt you from that. In fact, because there’s the illusion in yoga of doing an “enlightened” activity, people let their guards down, and then cult-like activity can begin. No one person’s yoga can exactly mirror another’s, just as no one person’s life can exactly mirror another’s.

Really? Is this how you’re talking now?

Sometimes. An intellectual understanding, no matter how basic, of the yoga tradition is new to me. Until about three years ago, I’d never read a word of Eastern philosophy. I’m like a kid playing with a new toy on the first night of Chanukah. It will, I hope, calm down a bit.


What’s another question?

“Does your wife do yoga, too?” This is a little more annoying to me. It’s like me saying, “I play poker two nights a week,” and then someone immediately asking, “Does your wife play poker, too?” The answer is, on both counts: No. She introduced me to yoga and then gradually got burnt out. “It’s your thing,” she says to me, which makes me feel kind of sad, but I’m not going to try to push her back into practicing. She still indirectly reaps the benefits because I’m a lot calmer, kinder, and saner that I used to be.


So has yoga saved your marriage?

No, deciding not to have a second kid saved our marriage. But yoga has definitely helped.



Some day, I like to think, I will write Important Books¹. My Important Books probably won’t spark revolutions, or shine the light of justice on the unseen foundational weaknesses of the free market, or inspire a united industrial front against global warming, but they will capture, completely and for all time, the frailties and follies of the human condition. Yes, people will say after reading them, yes, this is exactly what this means. My God! How could one Australian of above average height have grasped – and so easily – the deeper meaning of the subtle movements of life?

Also, the books will sell well, and I will be very rich.

At this point the apologetic emails from women will start to trickle in, becoming a flood when I take my band on the road (somehow, in this avalanche of success, I have learned how to play guitar. And write music. And gotten myself a band. Probably in the space of one weekend).

For me, the critical response will be the most enjoyable element of my literary triumph, as academics from around the world and keen observers of the zeitgeist alike write intelligent and considered columns about the subtextual meanings of my work². They will marvel at its intricacy, they will point to the synergies that run between my novels, my short stories, and my variety show, and they will be jealous of my bank balance and A-list parties.

No matter how collegiate or New York-abiding they may be, they will repeat the same refrain: ‘Amazing! Why, not long ago, this author, this well-dressed stallion of a man, this flying king of us all, was writing pieces about how Hollywood actress Clea DuVall had super-powers and continually refused to sleep with him!’

And in response I will say ‘Fuck you, publishing industry. Give humour writers a bigger shelf in bookstores, and then maybe I’ll let you into my stylish bar.’³ (I also own a bar. While I’m going for broke here, in the future, I’ve also found true love, or, as is more likely going to be the case, it has found me. Jesus. I make such a terrible boyfriend.)

Because I like to write humour (whether the end result is funny or not is something that’s up to the taste of the audience, and by realising that, I can neatly get myself out of trying very hard, or, really, at all). I enjoy making up fictitious animals with vaguely threatening-sounding names (the Himalayan strangler tuna was one of mine). I delight in coming up with names for new illicit substances (the formula I use here is to just pick an existing country and a colour and combine them. Bolivian Red, Peruvian Gold, Yugoslavian Blue… the only time I have deviated from this approach is with the substance ‘Russian whomping sauce’, mainly because I liked the sound of it). Sometimes I invent new and terrifying countries, and, let me tell you, if you ever wake up to find yourself under a signpost that says West Namaliba, make escape your number one priority.

I got into writing humour when a friend, years ago, loaned me a copy of The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but when I turned to the table of contents and saw pieces like I Have Slept With Five Hundred Women, I Am Friends With A Working-Class Black Woman, and Why Am I So Handsome? I knew I was onto a winner.

‘I felt vaguely ill, like the time my ex-girlfriend’s brother was brutally murdered by a sadistic graduate student at Yale. But as then, the feeling quickly passed, and I began to think about my own unhappiness.’
Introduction to the New Slavery, Neal Pollack

From there I found my way to Pollack’s website, which in turn led to my discovery of the sadly gone and much-lamented Haypenny, the humour site which in turn introduced me to the likes of Matt Tobey, Kittenpants (whose line about the correlation between the rising crime rate in her underpants and the recent influx of illegal immigrants to the same place is, hands down, one of the funniest things I’ve ever read), Gladstone, Ian Carey, G. Xavier Robillard, Christopher Monks, and Jason Roeder.

And Christ, how I hate them all, those talented sons of bitches.

‘How about a cheque for some sex that I can cash at the First National Bank of Your Underpants?’
Superpowers and How I’ve Used them to Get Sex, Matt Tobey

How can I not be envious of that?

From Haypenny I graduated to McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Cracked.com, Yankee Pot Roast… really, this could have kept going forever. But I found some inspiration in these guys. I started writing some of my own humour fiction, and, to my surprise, found myself enjoying it.

Admittedly, the early attempts weren’t very good. Still. It was fun.

Somewhere along the line I stumbled across Dave Barry and David Sedaris. Briefly, I contemplated changing my name to Dave.

‘The most precious gift that a parent can give to a child – more precious than material things such as diamonds, or gold, or a big mansion – is a big mansion filled with diamonds and gold.’
-Dave Barry’s Money Secrets
, Dave Barry

For the record, if you ever write to Dave Barry and ask to become his apprentice, his secretary will respond firmly, but politely, in the negative. By contrast, you won’t get an answer from Chris Carter’s representation at all, even if you include a wad of Monopoly money and a pack of Tim-Tams along with a note stating ‘There’s plenty more where that came from.’

Bookstores were a big help. Not only in widening my reading material, but also in making me think that my dreams of fabulous riches⁴ and humour-publishing success weren’t mutually exclusive. That idea got a big boost when I, out of nowhere, found Fierce Pajamas, an anthology from The New Yorker, in a second-hand bookstore. Enter James Thurber, E.B. White, Steve Martin.

‘Lying here in these fierce pajamas, I dream of the Harper’s Bazaar world, the vogue life; dream of being a part of it. In fancy I am in Mrs. Cecil Baker’s pine-panelled drawing room. It is dusk. (It is almost always dusk in the fashion magazines.)’
Fierce Pajamas, E.B. White

Don’t get me wrong. I, like many other people, enjoy laughter. And I like the written form of humour (I’m not going to go into the science of it too much, as, to quote White again, from Some Remarks on Humor, ‘Humor can be dissected, as a frog can, but the thing dies in the process and the innards are discouraging to any but the pure scientific mind.’ Although I will deviate from my self-proclaimed opacity to say that a very-well-placed profanity can be just about the funniest thing in the world). I even like the guys who are writing this stuff; I’m in contact with some of them. Luke Rhinehart, who wrote The Dice Man, has become an internet friend. Pollack helped me with a university assignment a few years back, Robillard offered fantastic critique on a manuscript I’m working on (and didn’t even ask for money!), and Gladstone… well, Gladstone just makes fun of me for being Australian.

The only problem is that they’re so damn good at what they do. I mean, I could probably take their skill as some kind of inspiration, but I’m just too in love with my own gnawing and petty small-mindedness. And I’d have to rewrite my revenge list.

Pitching humour writing to agencies and publishing houses, as I’ve found out, is hard work. It’s not impossible, but it’s not the kind of thing they leap at, either. However, as long as I’ve got the deep fires of envy burning in the pit of my stomach, I’ll keep trying.

‘Let me just say this-that with a shovel and a packed lunch, determination, and an up-to-date map of the sewer system, a man can get his hands on a surprisingly large amount of his de facto wife’s car’s gasoline.’
A Second Letter to Cecilia, Simon Smithson

¹ I’ll write the dick out of them.

² While simultaneously noting I have also single-handedly created a new genre: sub-sub-textuality.

³ But not you, Wyatt Mason. Never you.

⁴ First you get the money. Then you get the power. Then you get Chelsea Handler.

My wife is pregnant.

Showing.

Growing.

Glowing.

Claire is fertilizing my seed, so to say, and supposedly on June 6th we’ll have a full grown zucchini ready for bucketing.*