Departure

At half past five in the morning on a Wednesday Melbourne Airport is empty anyone but airline staff. The sun hasn’t yet risen, and the big bay gate windows face out into a vast darkness broken only by blinking red lights and the dim movement of the great shapes of planes.

Deserted airports are unsettling places. As many of the flights I’ve taken have been during peak traffic hours, I’m used to being surrounded by people; long lines of people, stretching away from the check-in desks manned by energetic, white-shirted staff with great skin, or waiting to be herded through the thin cream plastic gateways of metal detectors while security guards turn their heads away to joke with each other, but never with passengers, or standing bored at the boarding gate, the long blue-carpeted corridor and the sense of forward momentum that just being on a plane brings only a tantalising few steps away.

Sitting here all by myself is a little eerie.

I want to stay awake as long as I can, in order to reset to California time faster – if I can go to sleep eight hours into the flight from Brisbane, I’ll be well on the way to coaching my body over the line and past the worst of the jetlag on the other side of waking. But because I’m up so early, I’m already fatigued, and if I go to sleep too soon, I’ll end up setting myself back further. My plan is to sustain myself by drinking thin, complimentary airline coffee, the taste of which, inexplicably, I love anyway, and focusing on some writing I want to get done until it’s time to sleep.

The flight from Melbourne to Brisbane is OK, although Brisbane Airport is no place for a young man. Leathery middle-aged women with missing teeth and low-cut pink halter tops over their flat and freckled breasts and entire families resplendent in identical rat-tail mullets and Juicy Couture roam the halls, delighted with the presence of a solitary Krispy Kreme outlet staffed by a lone and defeated Indian man.

I make it through to my gate and find there’s no one here, either. Just a long concourse, clinical and neat in its white tiles and in its empty tables and chairs. It’s quiet; lifeless in a way that seems to have no expectation of ever being anything but.

Where is everyone today?

People arrive and sit in pairs and groups around the departure desk throughout the next hour. When boarding is announced and I take my seat on the plane to Los Angeles I wonder idly if there are going to be any young children sitting nearby. I’m situated two rows behind the main bulkhead, and as the plane starts to fill, my insides clench. Beside me is a family with an infant. To my right, a family with two toddlers. Ahead of me, two more families with young kids. As I watch, another two families, infants in tow, come down the aisle and take the rows across the aisle to my left.

‘Isn’t this nice!’ one mother exclaims to another. ‘All these families here! All the kids can play together!’

On cue, one of the younger babies starts to bawl, which sets off another on the other side of this grid of horror, this devil’s game of tic-tac-toe I have found myself imprisoned in.

‘Excuse me,’ I say to a stewardess as she walks past. ‘I see a seat up ahead is spare. Do you think I could…?’

Thank God, thank God, thank God I’m so good-looking, I think. She’s going to give me anything I want.

‘Oh, I’m sorry,’ she says, smiling professionally. ‘That’s Premium Economy. I can’t let you sit there. But there are some seats spare down the back. After take-off, you could go and have a look to see if there are any still free? If someone else hasn’t beaten you to it?’

‘Thank you,’ I say, and sink back into my seat for take-off.

As soon as the fasten seatbelts light chimes off, I’m up and moving. Like a hungry ghost, I fly down the aisle.

And I see it.

It.

An oasis of solitude – empty seat surrounded by empty seat surrounded by empty seat; row after row of unreserved space. With one smooth motion, I strip my jacket from around my shoulders and launch it through the air. It soars in a graceful arc, its empty arms lifting like the eagle wings of sweet liberty herself, and lands perfectly in the middle seat of one of the empty rows, a message to the thieves and jackals who couldn’t think as fast as I: mine.

That night we hit the worst turbulence I’ve ever experienced, and my three empty seats bring me no comfort. High above the Pacific, one of my three blankets tucked under my chin, and my three pillows gently cushioning my head against the shakes and buffets of the squalling wind beneath our wings, I close my eyes and think  Goddamnit. I’m never going to get to sleep on this flight.

I am right, and my next chance to close my eyes and rest comes at LAX. I catch a fifteen minute nap there, and thank God for the opportunity to sleep on the connecting flight to SFO, even if its only for an hour or so. After I’ve taken my seat, a pale and tousle-haired hipster kid slinks his way down the aisle. He is wearing jeans so tight I worry for his future children’s IQ, and a loose beige cardigan that matches his perfectly dishevelled, scruffy hair. He sits next to me, and before I take my nap I wonder what he would do if I warned him that sometimes I scream in my sleep.

But I do not, and I’m sure I will be sorry for this later.¹

*

Arrival

It’s Wednesday, still, more than twenty four hours later, and I wake from a deep and dreamless sleep as we’re touching down in San Francisco and catch a taxi from the airport to my hotel. The Huntington is a towering old building just below the top of Nob Hill on California Street that I can only afford because of the cut-rate prices on Priceline.com. My room number is 11-11, which I take as a good omen.

‘What brings you here?’ the desk clerk asks as I’m signing in.

‘Halloween, man,’ I say. It is the first of a hundred times this week I will say this.

‘You came just for Halloween?’ he asks. ‘Really?’

It is the first of a hundred times someone will ask this.

I shower and unpack before heading down the hill to buy toiletries and food and coffee. I’m here. I’ve done it. This is my time.

At last, I will have my Halloween.

*

Inside Baseball

It’s Thursday, and Meredith texts that she and her friends are going to watch Game 2 in a bar in Glen Park. On arrival, I am greeted by a sea of Giants fans in orange and black, and a buzz of friendly noise. I order a drink, Meredith introduces me, and I have to ask the group: ‘So how do you play this game?’

The rules are explained to me, and suddenly the bar erupts as we score against Texas.

‘OK!’ A, one of Meredith’s friends says. ‘Let’s drink a shot every time we score!’

In the eighth inning, Posey singles up the middle. Holland walks Schierholtz and Ross to load the bases, then walks Huff. Lowe walks Uribe, Rentería singles to left field, and Ross and Huff score. In the space of five minutes, the Giants score six runs, and we decide it may be in our best interests to abandon the drink-a-shot-whenever-we-score rule. Instead, we start drinking freely, and when the game ends with us victorious, we pour out into the night looking for another bar.

This is much better than any Australian sport.

*

Before Halloween

Just as I’d hoped, Halloween is everywhere and by serendipitous coincidence, with the city in the Series, the streets are decked out in orange and black.

Everywhere I look, there are carved pumpkins on porches,  or toy ghosts hanging in store windows, or cartoon witches soaring on broomsticks through supermarket shelves.

It’s the best thing I’ve ever seen in my life.

My first real taste of the day comes as I’m getting a haircut at a salon a floor above street level. ‘Oh, quick!’ Joey the hairdresser says and puts down her scissors. ‘The kids from one of the schools nearby are trick-or-treating! You have to come see this, you’re going to love it!’

She drags me to the window and from our viewpoint about the street we can see the long lines of kids, held in formation by the watchful shapes of teachers, dotted at regular intervals along the column, dressed in costume. Sunlight glints off astronaut helmets, off fairy wings, off the blades of cutlasses worn through belts.

I hate all of the children. Their bright and shining faces remind me that this could have – should have – been mine, and it never was.

Also, one of them has a bitchin’ Lady Gaga outfit.

I could never pull that off, and I know it.

Saturday night is Meredith’s all-girl football team fundraiser. Ten bucks at the door buys unlimited PBR, and Sue’s packing a giant bowl of Jello shots. Me and Zhu and Emily, Kate and Tara and Lindsey, and Lyn and Erin and Casey shout at the TV as the Rangers take the lead in Game 3 and beat the Giants. We turn to the bottomless PBR to drown our sorrow. Someone puts twenty bucks in the jukebox. The fundraiser tails into an invitation to a house party in the Mission, and we drag ourselves away from Stray Bar in Bernal Heights and work our way there across 18th, across Dolores, by bicycle, by taxi, by car.

The house party is being held by someone named Tersch, a werewolf with a kitchen full of Brazilians. She paints my face in black and red and shows me where the drinks are.

Zhu and I make it our unspoken mission to have more fun than anyone else here. We drink the unfinished Jello shots, we shoot Tersch’s whiskey, and when someone starts passing around a bottle of Jager, we can’t seem to avoid it. Twenty minutes into the party, Zhu’s doing a handstand against the wall and I’m holding onto her boots while she drinks a cup of water upside down to cure her hiccups. A nerd and a Native American and Cupid look on and laugh as Zhu proclaims her temporary illness finally fixed.

Somehow, a half dozen of us end up sitting on the side of the street, under a blanket in the bed of Cupid’s truck, crowds of hundreds of migratory Halloweeners laughing and partying and shouting out around us. Someone steals Tara’s crutch while we’re not looking, and I run across the street to ask security at the nearby street party if they’ve seen it.

I see a girl sitting holding onto a crutch and I think Aha! I’ve got you now!

Then I see she’s wearing a giant moon boot.

‘Can I help you?’ she asks.

‘Oh.’ I say. ‘Well, see, someone stole my friend’s crutch, and I thought… ‘

She looks at me, and with the honesty of someone who’s been drinking for about six straight hours, I say ‘I figured maybe you’d be the kind of awful human being who would steal someone’s crutch, but now I see that you have that big boot on, so you probably need your crutch, but I kinda hoped that whoever stole the crutch maybe thought it was part of a costume, because who steals a crutch? So I came over to check, but it looks like you actually legitimately need your crutch, and you didn’t steal it from my friend. Oh. Both of your crutches, I see.’

‘Your poor friend!’ she says. ‘I wish I could give her one of my crutches.’

‘Yeah,’ I say. ‘Anyway, I’m gonna go.’

*

Halloween

It’s Sunday, and I’m going to meet  friends in a bar in Bernal Heights to watch Game 4 and grab a few quiet drinks. I catch the 22 to the top of the hill, and when I get off, the sky is still that perfect hazy shade of powder blue and ice-cream white.

I have no way of knowing that Bernal Heights is where people take their children for trick-or-treating. It’s like the whole suburban neighbourhood turns into a small town for the night – I crest the hill to see an ocean of people with their children, everyone in costume, wishing each other the best and knocking on doors. Jack O’Lanterns sit outside houses and stores alike; ghosts and witches hang from streetlights, the doors of haunted houses are thrown open to reveal thick cobwebs and polished skulls and grinning demons.

This is so perfect I’m almost on the verge of tears. This is everything I ever wanted from my childhood, and it’s right here. This is exactly how I pictured Halloween as being when I was a kid. I move through the crowd, taking photos, talking and smiling and never wanting to be anywhere but here.

*

Fear the Beard

It’s Monday night and Meredith and I are in the Mission. We’re sitting and watching Game 5 with two friends of hers. Lincecum is pitching what may turn out to be the game of his life – firing off eight innings of death from the mound. I wonder if he’s related to Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and why his face looks like it’s always going to crumple into tears.

The ninth rolls around with the score 3-1 to the Giants.  Wilson takes the mound. He strikes out Hamilton, Guerrero grounds out, and Cruz takes the plate.

We’re watching the game on a TV with a delay of maybe two seconds, so as we see Wilson wind up for his final pitch and a roar suddenly goes up over the Mission, we know we’ve won.

Meredith and I take to the streets to meet some people I know, and the city has become a madhouse. Everywhere, Giants fans are roaring, running through the streets, slamming their palms down onto the horns in their cars. There are cops and roadblocks in the Castro, while people shout and sing and throw rolls of toilet paper over the streetlights. No one is inside; it’s like we just won every war that’s ever been fought.

Later that night, as I’m walking down Market Street, I come to a pedestrian crossing in front of a line of cars that goes back three blocks.

Unable to help myself, I yell ‘Go Giants!’ and the intersection explodes with the sound of people calling back to me and honking their horns. I’ve never seen anything like it.

The next day I read that people were burning mattresses in the streets.

Those guys party much harder than I do.

*

Jornada del Muerto

It’s Tuesday, and we’re in a giant open warehouse with a skull-headed DJ playing beats. For five dollars, make-up artists will paint your face with spray guns, shading paints, brushes and pads and pencils. But there are too many people here, and the line is too long, and the parade starts at seven. Zoe takes me to the DIY table and makes me up with black eyes, a hollow nose, and lipless teeth. She makes up Lexy too, before we head off for the parade. The organiser with giant hoops in his ears is bitchy about giving me my money back.

‘Well, I guess you’ll have to get here earlier next year, won’t you?’ he says.

Well, I guess that would help if I lived here.

Five of us start off through the Mission, following the route of the parade for Dia de Los Muertos, but Zoe’s stylist, whose name I can’t remember, hangs back to meet some people. Lexy and I and the other girl, another forgotten name, lose Zoe, then find her, then I lose the group. We stay in phone contact as I wander through crowds of the dead. Hundreds, thousands. Skulls and candles and offerings are everywhere. A giant black coach emblazoned with calaveras moves slowly through the mass of people that packs the streets. People hoist paper skeletons high on poles. Dead women in white dresses and dead men in black suits move through the crowd to the beat of graveyard drums.

I find myself at the head of the parade; dancers in long headgear shake and writhe under long banners. Somehow, I’ve overshot the mark of meeting everyone. There’s an anonymity here, all of us dead together and reaching out to offer a spark of life and love to that other black world that crowds in around us tonight.

I can’t believe I’ve never been to Dia de Los Muertos before.

This is the best week ever.


 

*

San Francisco

It’s Wednesday, and I start to realise just how much I miss it here as I walk into Walgreen’s for the first time.

I miss the way the light breaks over the top of houses in Bernal Heights and Noe Valley.

I miss the way coffee shops with dark wooden interiors and twentysomethings with yoga mats using Apple computers sit alongside Starbucks full of professionals with that wholesome mid-Western American look.

I miss that cold clean breeze that moves through the streets when the end of the afternoon starts to deepen into the start of twilight, and I miss the inexorable chill that signals the sun is going down.

I miss standing on the porch in the Castro and seeing the city spread out in front of me at night.

While I’m here, I walk from Chinatown to City Lights bookstore. I catch the Muni as much as I’m able, from Powell to Church, to the Castro. I catch the BART out to the Mission. I walk through Nob Hill, through the Mission, through the Embarcadero. At long last, I catch a cable car. I sit in Barnes and Noble and drink caramel lattes, and I want to be back here.

We drink at the Lex, we drink at the Argus, we drink at Stray Bar. We get coffee at Philz, at La Taza, at Urban Bread.

I get lunch with Angela Tung, and a bird relieves itself in my hair.

I sit in Dolores Park with Meredith, and we talk about traveling and settling down.

I buy a Giants cap at the Westfield Mall, and, unwittingly, take off and throw away the hologram on the brim that will result in it being worth money some day. I don’t care; I’m never selling this thing.

I promise myself that I’m going to get back here. Some way or another.

 

*

Los Angeles

It’s Wednesday, and I arrive, exhausted, at the Grafton, on Sunset. I make a couple of calls, send a few texts, and open up my laptop  to discover that the loose casing (my fault) has finally cost me. A wire is visibly broken, and my computer won’t turn on. I sit down on the bed and wake up the next morning.

*

My American Year

It’s Thursday, and my friend Erinn comes into town from Ventura and spends the day ferrying me around. We go to Olvera Street and I buy a bunch of Dia de Los Muertos souvenirs for people. I pick up a 50-piece jigsaw puzzle for my mother, suddenly acutely aware that I have never once brought her back anything from overseas.

Better late than never, right?

We head out to the beach and I insist we find a place where I can buy a yearly planner for 2011. My reasoning is that if I buy it in America, it will be a sign to the universe that 2011, for me, will be a year spent in America.

I’m wearing my Giants cap, and we pass a woman wearing the same as we cross the streets.

‘Go Giants!’ I say, cheerfully. The woman stares at me blankly as we walk past.

‘Who were you talking to?’ Erinn asks. I shake my head and make a note not to show off any more.

Then as we’re in line at Barnes and Noble, where I’ve found a planner I like, I see a guy wearing a Giants cap two places ahead at the counter. He sees me looking at my hat as I see him looking at mine. He doesn’t say a word, just gives me a silent, satisfied nod of affirmation. Erinn laughs beside me.

‘Yeah,’ she says. ‘I saw.’

*

The Usual Suspects

It’s Thursday night and I can’t help it; if I think of Hollywood I think of Los Angeles, if I think of Los Angeles, I think of Lenore and Duke. If I think of Lenore or Duke, I think of Los Angeles, and I think of Hollywood. It’s just the way it goes.

Lenore and Duke pick me up from my hotel and we go to Delancey’s for dinner. I like that this is where we go when we’re together in Los Angeles, like it’s kind of where you go if you write for TNB. There’s an empty place at the table for four, and we allocate it to Zara, who calls a few moments into the meal. The food, as always, is good. Duke gets the chocolate cake for dessert, and I am jealous, as his choice is superior to mine.

It’s good to see them, and it’s strange to think I just got here and already I’ll be leaving tomorrow night. On the way back to the car we pass a cat who wants to play with us, and we decide that Zara’s place in the group can be taken by our new cat friend.

I secretly cannot wait to tell Zara she has been replaced by a cat.

*

Departures

It’s Friday, and I’m hanging out with my friend Linz. I’ve stolen Ben Loory’s delicatessen, Greenblatt’s. This is his place, as far as I’m concerned, but I want the hot pastrami dip sandwich. I must have it. I can have nothing else. The waitress is from San Diego and makes idle chatter as we wait about how good San Diego is, but has trouble pulling out specifics.

‘Hang on,’ I say. ‘We’re going to settle something.’

I call Joe Daly and ask him what the best place in San Diego is.

‘My house,’ he says, sounding surprised that such a question would even occur.

I promise Joe that Zara and I will make our next trip soon, and we will come to San Diego.

The day goes by too quickly, and soon I am back at LAX. I talk in my bad Spanish to the woman in front of me at the security checkpoint. She is from Colombia and going to Wisconsin, of all places. She is old, with bad teeth and a shy smile. We sit together after going through the metal detectors and put our shoes back on. Something falls from her bag, a piece of paper, and I hand it back to her.

‘Gracias, senor,’ she says.

‘De nada, senora,’ I say in reply. ‘Que tenga un bueno noche.’

‘Si,’ she says. ‘Y tu.’

I have no idea how to say, ‘I’ve had one of the best weeks of my life and I don’t want to go back to Australia yet,’ in Spanish. We haven’t covered that at El Patio Spanish Language School. So I smile and go to catch my flight, and in my head, I am laying plans for my return.

This week I have had my first baseball game, my first Halloween, my first Dia de Los Muertos. I have drunk my first Old-Fashioned, eaten my first tamale, done whatever it is you do with your first Jello shots. I have seen people I love and don’t see enough, people I don’t see nearly as much as I want to, because they’re so far away.

I could do this week every day of the year.

 

 

 

 





¹ – correct.


I don’t have many memories from kindergarten. I remember Paul Angelos, heavyset and Greek and the first bully our class ever encountered¹, scrawling a curse word on the side of our bright red plastic playhouse. I remember guiltily stealing an intricately-detailed toy space shuttle that had been die-cast from some kind of dense metal – I stowed it in my palm and could still hide it completely by closing my fingers, such was its size, and yet it had considerable heft, and dragged at me in my pockets as I walked out of the gate and home. I remember also a night one December when my father read Christmas stories to a group of us as we sat cross-legged in pajamas around his chair; what stands out most in my mind is that it was the first time I’d heard ‘Saint Nick’ used as a sobriquet for Santa Claus.

Incognito was a California fusion restaurant, steaks and sweet potatoes cooked with expensive wine and Asian seasonings, so pretty much anything flew for dessert. Upon landing the job, Esmerelda introduced a menu of fried green tea ice cream, eggplant tiramisu, papaya gelatin, Japanese plum cakes, cardamom shrikhand, and, on Sundays, raspberry fortune cookies with home-cooked haikus rolled up inside. Her profiteroles were made of thousands of choux pastry strips woven together, layered squirts of Swiss chocolate cream oozing within; her handmade ice cream was cool on the spoon and warm in the mouth, thick as mashed potatoes; her apple pie cracked with ripe fruit and fresh cinnamon, a dash of saffron spicing the crust.

Please explain what just happened.

I just made it through another hot day in San Francisco.

What is your earliest memory?

Eating dirt clods in my front yard and then wondering if I was doing something stupid.

Please explain what just happened.

I’ll let the empty bottle of Jack do the talking.

What is your earliest memory?

I think I was pretty young. Around three-ish walking down the sidewalk to my grandparents house. But I’m not really sure if it’s a real memory or not. I was likely drawing on the sidewalk with a stick.

If you weren’t a comic illustrator, what other profession would you choose?

I would probably be involved in comics in some way.  Or I would have been the guitarist for G.G. Allen.

The Crash

By David S. Wills

Travel

On Wednesday, 28th July 2010, at around 4pm Japan Standard Time, I was sitting in Narita airport, waiting for a journey that would carry me a significant way around the world. I was, however, not as excited as I could have been. I couldn’t shake the fact that I was leaving a comfortable life, leaving my girlfriend, leaving my cats, leaving my motorcycle… I couldn’t look forward because I was so focused on all that would cease to be a part of my present.

Boarding was uneventful, as had been my flight from South Korea’s Incheon to Japan’s Narita. I waited and waited and finally moved my bags onto the hideously crowded peak-season airplane, and took my seat in the middle of a five person aisle, right at the centre of the plane. My heart sank a little as I realised I’d been given the worst seat on the plane.

I didn’t look around at my fellow passengers. I don’t like people, for the most part, and I find my life is a little easier if I simply pretend they don’t exist. I had no idea then that these faces would become so familiar to me; that these people would become my friends, allies and enemies in the coming days.

I freakin’ love San Francisco. I mean, I love it.

It’s a weird hybrid of its own unique spirit and architecture and people, and the parts of my home town of Melbourne that make Melbourne, Melbourne. The trams, the street art, the tiny pockets of arts and culture, the live music, the bookstores (and the books)… the mix of parks and streets; green and grey. Progressive politics and e-commerce side by side; innovation and cultural projects and tiny bars down tiny streets that you have to know about to get to.

And, also, Zoe Brock!

On the flight from LA to SF I sat between a burly guy named Ken and a skinny young guy, whose name I forget. I feel a little bad that while I don’t remember his name, I remember that he misheard my introduction and called me Sam.

I like it when people mis-hear my name as Sam, which happens more often than you might think.

I wonder who this Sam guy is.

Sam Smithson.

American football used to be popular in the UK back in the late 1980s when Channel 4 showed games every Sunday. People loved watching players like Joe Montana and John Elway because, well, who doesn’t love a handsome, successful athlete?

I was born in 1989, two years before Joe Montana’s career as a 49er would be effectively ended by a tackle from Leonard Marshall in the 1990 NFC Championship Game. As Montana faded so did the British love affair with American football. Coverage would continue right up until 1998, but the popularity would decline rapidly.

1998 was the year I got into soccer. It was the World Cup, and I became obsessed with the game. Although I would take passing interest in other sports soccer was the only one I’d follow intently. And stayed like that until a dull afternoon in a San Francisco hotel almost a decade later.

Preseason: A Gridiron Galaxy

San Francisco, August 2007

The Grant Plaza hotel was a small hotel in the middle of Chinatown. It was no Hepatitis Hotel, but it was no palace either. The rooms were small and dark and the view out of the window was half courtyard, half scrapheap. But it had a TV.

My brother and I watched that TV a lot, because he and my mother had fallen ill and we couldn’t go out much. This is how we came to witness the stars of the gridiron galaxy come out to shine in a preseason game between the San Diego Chargers and the Seattle Seahawks. I don’t remember that game at all, but I think the Seahawks won.

It was hardly love at first sight, but we’d both gained an understanding of the game. We were keen to learn more, and knew that it was a sport we could come to love in time.

Week Six: Brady Does Dallas

October 2007

My bother and I didn’t pay any attention to the NFL until Week Six. We decided the best way to get into it properly was to start supporting a team. He picked Chicago seemingly at random whilst I unwittingly jumped on a bandwagon.

I didn’t feel too bad when I found out that the Patriots were one of the best teams in the NFL. For the past twelve years I’ve supported Tottenham Hotspur, a soccer team. In that time they’ve managed to win two minor cups and threatened both success and relegation in a rollercoaster of frustrating mediocrity. I felt it was about time I knew what it was like to follow a winning team.

I almost picked the Cowboys— because I’d heard of them. And I’d only heard of them because of the porn film Debbie Does Dallas. Ultimately I picked the Patriots because of their MySpace group. I’d joined a Cowboys group and got told to fuck off. The Pats group members welcomed me like it was an episode of Cheers and I was Norm.

In a twist worthy of a cheap thriller, Week Six of the 2007 season saw the Patriots going to Dallas to play the Cowboys. The Pats would end up annihilating the Cowboys, scoring two points shy of fifty.

I didn’t get to watch the game live. I followed it via updates on NFL.com, and caught the online highlights the next morning after I’d showered. The first time I saw Tom Brady throw a football I was drinking tea and feversishly trying to get my balls dry…

Week Eight: Giant Dolphin

October 2007

I was excited about Week Eight; the Giants would be playing the Dolphins at Wembley Stadium and it would be shown live on the BBC. I was going to watch an entire, proper NFL game.

I was in London on the Saturday before the game. There were stalls and stands all over the place selling football paraphernalia ranging from replica jerseys to commemorative t-shirts to over-sized novelty head gear.

In Trafalgar Square I saw a robotic Jason Taylor of the Miami Dolphins. If you’re going to have the Dolphins over to play a game of football then why not build a towering twenty-six foot likeness of their only decent player?

* * * *

By Week Eight the bad feeling towards the Patriots had increased. First there was ‘Spygate’, then they kept beating everyone and now rival fans were taking great offence at the manner in which the Patriots were winning. Week Eight was the week that the fifty point mark was reached as New England put fifty-two up against the Redskins.

‘Running up the score’ was frowned upon. I didn’t understand it; I was coming from soccer where teams are encouraged to score as many goals as possible. That’s how you win games: by scoring more than the other guys.

On the MySpace group the Pats hatred was fostering an isolated, communal, us-against-them atmosphere. It made for good fun, and it was almost worth the slight discomfort in supporting the sort of sports team that I would probably be outraged by if I didn’t support them. To us the Patriots were the good guys, and they were very, very good.

* * * *

I sat down on Sunday afternoon and took it all in. There was over an hour of build up where all the celebrities that were lurking about got interviewed and talked about watching the NFL in the Eighties.

Eventually the game itself got underway. The Wembley turf was being churned to shit. It was pouring with rain and the Giants’ white jerseys were dirtied and browned by the wet mud.

And there on the BBC Eli Manning threw the first touchdown I’d seen live in the 2007 season.

Week Thirteen: It Was In the Bleak December

December 2007

It had been close— almost too close. But it was 12-0 now, the Pats had beaten the Ravens and the Patriots were just four games away from an undefeated regular season: a perfect season.

At 27-24 it’d been the closest game of the season since the 24-20 victory over the Colts in Indianapolis a month earlier. Talk of the Perfect Season had become almost feverish; in the previous four weeks the Pats had destroyed the Bills and beaten the Colts, the Eagles, and The Ravens on the road. 

Meanwhile on the MySpace group I’d become popular with the regular members. They made me an honorary New Englander. A lot of it had to do with my talent for responding to the rival fans that would join the group to start arguments or spew abuse. It didn’t matter that I lived across the Atlantic and hardly ever got to watch live games, I was one of ‘them.’ The closer the Patriots came to the perfect season the more vitriolic the hate become. The us-against-the-rest mentality grew stronger, and I was ‘us’ because I was against the rest as well.

Week Sixteen: T’was Two Nights Before Christmas

December 2007

On December 23rd 2007 the New England Patriots beat the Miami Dolphins 28-7, and we were just one game away. The Dolphins were easily pushed aside, despite defeating the Ravens the previous week— the only game they won all season.

Over at the MySpace group seasonal greetings we discussed the game, the near-certainty of the 16-0 season and we exchanged season’s greetings. And then it was Christmas.

When Christmas Day arrived my brother and I received our present: cable subscription for the NFL postseason.

Week Seventeen: Standing On the Padded Shoulders of Giants

December 2007

My internet had gone down at home and I was out of contact with the guys on the MySpace group up to, and including game day. I don’t know what the general feeling was, but personally there was no doubt in my mind that the Patriots were going to do it. Defeat was inconceivable, and the Patriots were unbeatable. Sure, Eli Manning was a good QB, but he was no Peyton and over the season the Patriots had just been the best, they’d been the best by a long, long way.

The Giants led 21-16 at the half.

In the second half Brady and Moss would break NFL season records for touchdown passes and receptions to give the Pats a narrow lead. Later Maroney would run for a touchdown and a more comfortable ten point lead.

But right at the end of the last game of the regular season Eli Manning throws to Plaxico Buress for a touchdown. They go for an onside kick.

Vrabel recovers for New England and Brady kneels three times. It’s over: 38-35 Patriots. And it’s undefeated regular season. 16-0. A perfect season.

Super Bowl XLII: Failing to Graduate to Greatness in Glendale

Sunday, February 3rd 2008

Straightforward playoff wins over Jacksonville and San Diego put the now 18-0 Patriots in the Super Bowl. 19-0 seemed almost a formality. On the Myspace group moods were high. Someone in Hartford promised to post me a shirt when we won. A lot of jokes were made about Eli Manning. They were less jokes and more baseless accusations of mental retardation. We didn’t feel any need for caution, and why would we? We’d watched our team beat eighteen teams in a row in the NFL— twenty-one if you back to the end of the 2006 season. It stood to reason that we’d win the next one against a team we’d only beaten a few weeks earlier.

The concept of defeat was even mentioned on the MySpace group. Losing was something that happened to other teams, not the Patriots. Spirits were high on Saturday night, and the next day, whether for real or via TV, we descended on the Arizona desert for Super Bowl XLII.

* * * *

I still don’t understand how Manning spun past Green, or how Tyree caught the ball between hand and helmet. Then a twelve yard gain. All my pessimism, it comes flooding back. This is it. This is where it’s 18-1 and somehow, because it’s the Super Bowl and because it’s the Giants it’s even more humiliating than the Dolphins season.

I could hardly call myself a proper football fan at that stage. It was my first season, and I’d come in to it a few weeks late. I don’t think the Patriots winning every game of the regular season helped much either. It’s easy to support a winning team. I’d kind of just coasted a long on a tide of glory, and I felt pretty bad about it. Despite all the camaraderie on the MySpace group I didn’t feel like a proper fan. I felt like I was playing at it… I was riding a bandwagon from the comfort of a leather sofa three thousand miles from Foxboro— I was a plastic Patriot.

It would change, of course. The next season Brady would suffer a season ending injury and victories would be harder to come by. But at that time my future as a Pats fan was being shaped. The last thirty seconds of the Super Bowl would let me know defeat and lead me to receive gloating and abusive MySpace messages from strangers. It would draw the MySpace group even closer together. We’d become survivors of a harrowing sporting trauma.

Because there on the BBC Eli Manning threw the last touchdown I’d see live of the 2007 season. 

Some of you may have become familiar with Storm Large when she was a contestant (and finalist) for lead singer on 2006’s Rockstar Supernova, which, according to Wikipedia, was “a reality television-formed supergroup consisting of drummer Tommy Lee (Mötley Crüe), bassist Jason Newsted (Voivod and ex-Metallica), and guitarist Gilby Clarke (ex-Guns N’ Roses).” As many of you know, Storm has continued to build a name for herself as an independent musician, stage performer, and, soon, as a novelist. Storm’s 2009 one-woman show, Crazy Enough, which featured the song “8 Miles Wide,” was a smash hit, with all shows sold out.

On April 30, 2010, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Storm Large and TNB contributor Quenby Moone at a local taco joint here in Portland. Storm, who showed up in a pair of jeans and a well-worn white hoodie, sans makeup, was gorgeous, gregarious, generous of spirit, foul mouthed like a long-haul trucker, well-spoken, and hilarious. Storm gave me over an hour of her time, answering any question I asked with tremendous honesty peppered with frequent F-bombs. We discussed her music, sex, her recovery from a heroin addiction, growing up with a mentally ill mom, her book, the future of the publishing industry, sexism in the music industry, boob jobs, an amazingly simple recipe for pot candy, and so much more.

I called you from Utah because I wanted to hear your voice underneath the unending vastness of the pale blue afternoon sky, against the haunted emptiness of the waiting land.

I wrote you letters and sent them across the sea because I wanted you to come home to find them waiting, and hold them in your hands, and know the truth – that I wouldn’t leave you, no matter how separated we were by distance and by chance, by helpless accidents and unforgiving wreckages of the past we never had a chance of preventing.

I said goodbye to you for the first time, so long ago now, in the night at the airport terminal, and as I stood and watched you walk away through the loneliness of San Francisco International to Laura’s waiting car I wanted so much for you to look back at me, and you did, and the look on your face when you raised your hand uncertainly to wave cuts through me still.

I’ve stood guard over that moment; it’s too important to me to ever lose to the untrustworthiness of memory. Just as I’ve held all of my memories of you close to me and safe; just as now I’ll hold on to what it was like to see you, again.

I don’t need to replay the past and painstakingly construct new bridges of possibility of what you or I or we could have done differently on foundations of everything that has passed – but there is warmth in these recollections, and I allow myself the comfort of drawing them out when I need.

Of walking through the heavy rain in Japantown. Waiting for you in the lobby, my shoes soaked from flooded sidewalks, and rainwater still running down my face.

Of night through the Mission, waiting on street corners for the lights to change, walking through rivers of people in twos and threes, catching words and phrases in Spanish, light and sound and scent painting the streets and the two of us moving together. You told me then that being with me felt like being let out of prison; I didn’t know what to say back, because I knew I couldn’t say anything that would mean as much to you as those words did to me.

Conversations and coffee, and early mornings, and late nights. Market Street, 18th, Church. The J and the Muni and the stairs up to your apartment, and that cold light that washes over the streets of San Francisco in the late afternooon, that threw long shadows along the corridors of my house and warned of the heavy fog to come.

Today I stood on the sand of a Malibu beach and saw a girl who wore the same windcheater you have; for a second with the sun behind her she could have been you, and I wanted to take your hand and walk through the surf and over the rocks. Because while we’ve spoken of large and sweeping movements between us, so many of the missing parts were the small ones, the tiny brushstrokes of shared experience, measured in seconds and minutes and hours.

Now there has been so much I can’t know where to think it all begins and ends; I searched for understanding in our words and our silences. I needed to know where every piece fit together so I could still the terror of losing you that welled up in me whenever we were apart. I would have found something to be scared of no matter what – the flaws in me bend that way and without you, I might never have known who I am.

Whatever else, you have given me that. Whatever else, you have given me the knowledge of what it is to be loved, and now I want you to know that it was that, and it was you, that opened the doors of the world to me, who took my hand while I walked through. Whatever threads wind themselves around us to knot and catch our limbs or guide us home, wherever and whoever I am, and whoever I become, I will carry you with me, and the knowledge that everything changed because of you.

And so now that the last storms have passed, with so much fear at last drained from me, with my feet on solid ground, I can leave this country again tomorrow night, freed from what has been, and want happiness for you. I can leave this place we have found between us because it is a good place for us, I think, and while we may not share it, neither does it have to hold us tight and pull us down to the earth. I can leave behind everything that is not what has been, wanting only for you to know how grateful I am for you and what you’ve left me with, and how much I hope you find love and peace in the solace of days.

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.



Be there for installment number one of the quarterly TNB Literary Experience in San Francisco.

WHERE & WHEN: The Makeout Room, Tuesday, May 25th @ 7 p.m.
3225 22nd Street, San Francisco $5.

Featuring:

Penelope Houston (The Avengers, drool inducing poet)
Johnny Genocide (No Alternative, junkie memoirist)
Stephen Elliott (Adderall Diaries, The Rumpus.net)
Paul Clayton (White Seed, humorist)
Lauren Becker (Corium Magazine, great smile)
Thomas Wood (Funny as hell)

Hosted by:

Tony DuShane (Confessions of a Teenage Jesus Jerk, mustache)

Look forward to a fast paced night of excellent readers, lubricating your liver and getting your books signed.

Show ends at 9 p.m.

Click here for a larger copy of the postcard flyer and tell your friends.

I love my country. Not in a weeping, slightly creepy Glenn Beck way, but in a sincere but emotionally reserved way. I’ve had people comment that I don’t often write about England, so this is going to be the first in a series of love letters/handy guides to English culture. In this first one I’m going to discuss our oft maligned cuisine, because that’s the tangent I ended up going on…

One night, Tony went to a bar to have a drink.

That drink lead to another drink. Then to another bar. Then people bought Tony drinks and Tony can never say no to drinks. One bartender refilled his beer without even asking, and Tony, one never a fan of wastefulness, made sure to keep drinking.

Tony decided to go to another bar and another bar, then Tony took a cab home. On the way he realized that he didn’t want to pay more than $5 for a cab ride, so he stopped the driver at $4.40. It happened to be at an intersection of a bar where Tony knew friends and he drank more.

The next thing Tony knew it was noon the next morning and he was in bed, sleeping next to The Herring Fairy. The Herring Fairy surprised Tony with a tale more embarrassing than David Hasselhoff trying to eat a hamburger on the floor.

The Herring Fairy woke up hours earlier at 2:30am to witness a stumbling Tony. She filled in the gaps from his alcohol soaked memories. She saw Tony taking off his rings. He was bent over the table, with his face two inches from his hands as he negotiated the intricacies of removing his four rings. The rings fought with him and dared to stay on until The Herring Fairy lifted Tony’s head to help him. A string of drool finally broke from the table to Tony’s open mouth.

They gave me free drinks, Tony said.

You need to learn how to say no, The Herring Fairy said.

Tony paused and stared at The Herring Fairy and said, I don’t know how.

There was sadness and desperation in Tony’s reply.

I’m hungry, Tony said. I haven’t eaten all day, Tony said. And said. And said. And said.

After The Herring Fairy listed the meager food inventory in the cabinets, Tony chose Herring and crackers.

The Herring Fairy fed Tony a full cracker with herring. Tony was too drunk to chew. The Herring Fairy pushed Tony’s chin up and down to help him eat.

You need to chew, you’re going to choke, The Herring Fairy said.

After repeated use of those pesky, alcohol saturated jaw muscles, the cracker and herring finally went down.

Whatever happened to that writer who died? Tony said.

What writer? The Herring Fairy said.

The one who choked on a cracker, Tony said and laughed as The Herring Fairy decided to bypass the crackers and just get herring into Tony’s stomach.

Down the long hallway Tony walked, gripping onto the walls, like he was Samson between the pillars. Then he did a face plant onto the bed, giving The Herring Fairy enough space to work at taking off Tony’s shoes and pants.

She finally rolled him over and he fell asleep.

At 5am, The Herring Fairy heard a huge thump. Tony sat on the floor next to the bed.

Did you fall? The Herring Fairy asked.

I have to go to the bathroom, Tony replied.

Hoping Tony meant to use the actual facilities and not go on the floor, The Herring Fairy was relieved to see Tony hold onto the walls and chairs as he stumbled to the bathroom.

Tony learned a valuable lesson that night. A lesson that may help others if they chose to accept help. A lesson that he’ll forever be thankful for.

Tony learned that everyone should have a Herring Fairy.

The End.


Starring

Lia Garcia as The Herring Fairy
Tony DuShane as himself