November 12, 2011
I grew up knowing about mistresses because my great-grandfather Stephen Adelbert Griggs, an affluent Detroit brewer and municipal politician, maintained what my mother scornfully referred to as a “love nest” occupied by a series of “fancy” women. Great-grandmother Minnie Langley had to tolerate this, but she exacted a price: for every diamond Stephen bought his latest mistress, he had to buy one for her. This was how his love nest hatched a glittering nest egg of rings, earrings, brooches and uncut gems, which Minnie bequeathed to her female descendants.
Great-grandfather Stephen walked a well-trodden path. I realized this as I matured and met real mistresses and their lovers. … Yet it was [not they] who inspired me to write about mistresses. It was while writing my book A History of Celibacy that I came to realize that mistressdom, like celibacy, is a crucial lens through which to explore how women relate to men other than in marriage; mistressdom is, in fact, an institution parallel and complementary to marriage. Even before I finished writing A History of Celibacy, I was already beginning the research for what has become Mistresses: A History of the Other Woman. [A History of Marriage is the final volume in this historical relationship trilogy.]
There were sources in abundance, including in the daily news; mistresses, it seemed, were everywhere. In 1997, for example, when prominent journalist Charles Kuralt died, Patricia Shannon, his mistress of twenty-nine years, launched a successful claim to part of his estate. In 2000, Toronto mayor Mel Lastman’s former mistress, Grace Louie, announced that he had sired her (Mel look-alike) sons, Kim and Todd. In 2001, the Reverend Jesse Jackson’s mistress, lawyer Karin Stanford, sued for child support for their two-year-old daughter, Ashley, already in utero as Jackson advised and prayed for President Bill Clinton, under attack for his relationship with intern Monica Lewinsky. (Simultaneously with prosecuting Clinton, the self-righteous Newt Gingrich was secretly pursuing a passionate relationship with Callista Bisek, whom he married after divorcing his wife, Marianne.) I began to make lists and take notes, trying to understand the nature of these relationships, the modern as well as the historic.
As in the past, today’s presidents and princes also succumb to their desires and take mistresses, though they, too, risk exposure by scandal sheets and mainstream media (unless, like French president Francois Mitterand, they were impervious to criticism and enabled by a docile press; Mitterand lived with his primary mistress, museum curator Anne Pingeot and their daughter, Mazarine, while his wife, Danielle, remained in the family home. At Mitterand’s 1996 funeral, the three mourning women stood side by side, as he would have expected.) President Dwight D. Eisenhower had a very special “friend,” the
Englishwoman Kay Sommersby. JFK dallied with many women, including film idol Marilyn Monroe. Though rivalled in prominence by the story of President Bill Clinton and unforgettable White House intern Monica Lewinsky, the longest-running scandal belongs to England’s Prince Charles. When I began my book, he was in disgrace. Years later, widowed and remarried to his long-time mistress, Camilla Parker-Bowles, his image and hers have been largely rehabilitated.
Legions of other provocative unions are replacing Charles’ and Camilla’s in the spotlight. Champion golfer Tiger Woods’ multitudinous sexual partners included only one, Rachel Uchitel, whom he treated as a mistress rather than a casual fling. But politicians in a steady and adulterous stream have mistresses, and often media “scoops” are the first inkling their wives have that their husbands have been betraying them.
US presidential hopeful and former Senator John Edwards ignored his fear that “Falling in love with you could really fuck up my plans for becoming President” and capitulated to his passion for Rielle Hunter, who likened it to a “magnetic force.” Edwards was prescient: their affair destroyed his career and shattered his marriage to his cancer-stricken wife Elizabeth Edwards. It also produced a daughter, Quinn.
So did New York Congressman Vito Fossella Jr.’s affair with Laura Fay, a retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel; Natalie was three years old when Fossella incurred a DUI charge while on his way to visit his mistress and their daughter.
Congressman Mark Souder, an evangelical Christian, resigned in 2010, repentant (he said) for having “sinned against God, my wife and my family by having a mutual relationship with a part-time member of my staff.” Ironically, he and his married mistress, Tracy Meadows Jackson recorded a web video urging youth to abstain from sex “until in a committed, faithful relationship.”
Governor Mark Sanford, caught out in adultery, admitted his infidelity to wife Jenny with his Argentinean mistress and “soul mate,” Maria Belen Chapur. But he could not give her up. The scandal escalated, he resigned and Jenny divorced him. Afterward, Sanford continued to pursue his relationship with Chapur.
California State Assemblyman Mike Duvall, winner of an Ethics in America award, was a more cavalier lover forced to resign after an open microphone broadcast him bragging that “I’ve been getting into spanking her [one of his two mistresses]. I like it.”
British radio and television presenter Jonathan Dimbleby’s brief affair with his dying mistress was the most dramatic and obsessive, and it destroyed his until-then happy marriage of thirty-five years. In May 2003, Dimbleby interviewed the magnificent soprano Susan Chilcott, found her enchanting and began to sleep with her. Days later, Susan was diagnosed with terminal metastasized breast cancer. Against her anguished pleas that her very new lover consider his own well-being and not ruin his life for her, Dimbleby vowed to care for her until she died, and moved in with her and her little son. “I still do not adequately understand the intensity of passion and pity that animated my decision,” he said later.
It felt like an unstoppable force. I knew what I was doing but I didn’t know what the outcome would be. It was odd, but I didn’t want to be away from Bel either – I felt absolutely torn. But I was entranced; and then of course we didn’t know how long she had – it might have been a few weeks or months or it might have been a few years. It was a very powerful, overwhelming experience and also a kind of test.
Part of that test was watching Susan’s last public performance, playing Desdemona and, garbed in white linen, singing sorrowfully, her voice rising to a crescendo, “Ch’io viva ancor, ch’io viva ancor!” (Let me live longer, let me live longer!)
Less than three months later, Susan died and Bel Mooney, Jonathan’s wife, waited for her husband to return home to her and say, “That madness is over, let us pick up the threads of our life again.” He did not, Bel moved out and on, and their tattered marriage unravelled into divorce. Susan Chilcott and Jonathan Dimbleby’s love affair was fleeting and fuelled as much by her impending death as by passion. Push back its timing to an earlier century or set it on the stage of a romantic tragedy and it looks exactly as it did at the end of the 20th century, in cosmopolitan England.
After years of research, what interested me was the structure and common denominators of the relationships between men and their mistresses, especially how mistressdom reflects the nature of marriage and male-female relations in different eras and cultures. After much deliberation, I decided to frame my exploration of mistressdom through the perspective of individual mistresses whose experiences tell the story of men and women’s relationships in their society. By grouping these women into categories that reflect different cultures and historical periods, I could present their unique circumstances while also drawing conclusions about their society’s versions of what a mistress was and how its men and women lived together. The result of this approach to my material was that I titled my book Mistresses: a History of the Other Woman.
Mistressdom is inextricably linked with marriage, human society’s most fundamental institution, and almost automatically implies marital infidelity, sometimes by the husband, sometimes by the wife. Indeed, marriage is a key element in determining who is a mistress and who is not. Though many people assume that adultery undermines marriage, many others believe that, paradoxically, it shores marriage up. Frenchmen, for example, can justify the cinq à sept, the after-office-hours rendezvous a man enjoys with his mistress, by quoting French writer Alexandre Dumas’s pithy observation: “The chains of marriage are so heavy that it often takes two people to carry them, and sometimes three.”
This association between marriage and mistressdom, and also Eastern concubinage, extends through time and place, and is deeply ingrained in almost every major culture. British multibillionaire Sir Jimmy Goldsmith, who died surrounded by wife, ex-wives and mistresses, commented famously that “when a man marries his mistress, he creates an automatic job vacancy.” Not surprisingly, Western models are more familiar to North Americans than those of the Eastern world, with their different and more elaborate versions, notably institutionalized concubinage and harems.
The unbreachable chasms of class and caste have also created mistresses who might otherwise have been wives. Saint Augustine, the 4th-century bishop of Hippo, subscribed to his North African society’s proscription against marrying below one’s class, and so he lived with the lower-ranked woman he loved as his concubine. When he decided to marry, his mother found a suitably well-born girl.
Caste determined by nationality, race or religion can also relegate women to the lower status of mistress. Xenophobic ancient Greece, for instance, forbade its citizens to marry foreigners, so the Athenian leader Pericles could never marry Aspasia, his beloved Miletian concubine and the mother of his son.
In many Eastern cultures, concubinage was integral rather than peripheral or parallel to marriage, and concubines’ duties and rights were spelled out in the law or in social custom. Concubines frequently lived in their master’s house, under the same roof with his wife and other concubines. In modest homes, a concubine or two assisted the wife in her daily chores. Concubines were bound by wife-like sexual obligations, including fidelity, and confined to the same domestic sphere. There were excellent reasons for this. In sharp contrast to Western mistresses, one of the principal duties of most Eastern concubines was to bear their masters’ heirs.
In a few countries, notably imperial China and Turkey, some royals, aristocrats and men of privilege displayed their wealth and power by maintaining harems of concubines, often captured or purchased. Their crowded, eunuch-run harems were turbulent communities where intrigue, competition and conflict—to say nothing of children—proliferated. Older and less-favored harem concubines were drudges consigned to household labor. Their still hopeful younger colleagues filled their empty days with meticulous grooming and plotting, with and against eunuchs, wives, relatives, children, servants and each other. Their goal was to spend a night with their harem’s owner and, if they were extraordinarily lucky, to conceive the child who could catapult his mother from obscurity into a life of privilege and perhaps even power.
In stark contrast, the laws of Western societies have almost always reinforced the primacy of marriage by bastardizing the offspring of mistresses, from the lowest-born slave to the highest-ranked duchess. Legally and culturally, fathers had no obligation to accept responsibility for their natural children and could condemn them to the ignominy and perils of illegitimacy. Indeed, the law often made it difficult, even for men so inclined, to recognize and provide for their “outside” children.
Yet some men defied their society’s strictures against supporting their illegitimate children. Royals such as England’s Charles II, who elevated so many of his mistresses’ sons to dukedoms that five of today’s twenty-six dukes are their descendants, assumed that their bloodlines were exalted enough to outweigh such niceties as legitimacy. Commoners driven by personal passions also flouted their society’s values. A few slave owners, for example, risked serious reprisals from their profoundly racist compatriots by acknowledging paternity of a slave mistress’s children. In the Western world, however, acknowledging bastards has always been the exception to the rule.
Today’s mistress rightly expects better treatment for any child she might have with a lover. Like her precursors, she is the bellwether for female-male relations, and her status reflects how these relations have developed. The improving condition of women, the liberalization of the laws governing families and personal relationships, and the growing acceptance of DNA tests have greatly increased the likelihood that her lover will recognize, or at least contribute to the support of, her child. (John Edwards is an egregious example of this. After requesting an aide to pinch one of Frances Quinn’s diapers for a secret DNA test to determine whether or not he was her father, he systemically denied that he could be or was the father until, irreparably tarnished by a public trail of falsehoods, he admitted paternity and sought forgiveness, especially from Elizabeth, his furious wife.) At the same time, the advent of accessible and reliable birth control and of legalized abortion has substantially diminished the number of those children a mistress is likely to have.
And yet, like Rielle Hunter, mistresses do have children with their lovers. Some, like Karin Stanford, have to do battle for their children’s rights. Others, like François Mitterand and Vito Fossella, Jr. offer secret financial support. But even these cooperative fathers cannot guarantee that their legitimate children will take kindly to their “outside” siblings. Ashley Stanford-Jackson’s mother complains publicly that her daughter’s siblings have no interest in her. And Mitterrand’s son, Jean-Christophe, snubbed Mazarine in the hospital where both were visiting their father. “As long as my father doesn’t speak of this young woman, for me she doesn’t exist,” he told friends. When she was thirty-four years old, Mazarine assumed the legal surname of Pingeot-Mitterrand, explaining “For nineteen years I was nobody’s daughter, but I’ve finally decided to add my father’s name to my identity papers.”
An even more extraordinary case was that of African-American Essie Mae Washington-Williams, daughter of sixteen-year-old domestic Carrie Butler and her employer’s twenty-two-year-old son, Strom Thurmond, a politician who died, still in public office, aged one hundred, and was notorious for his relentless advocacy of racial segregation. “There’s not enough troops in the army to force the Southern people to break down segregation and admit the nigra race into our theaters, into our swimming pools, into our homes, and into our churches,” he thundered. “He became an outright racist, cloaked in the ancient doctrine of states’ rights,” Essie Mae recalled. He sounded “like the ghost of Adolph Hitler.”
But in private, Thurmond offered financial support and was keenly interested in and proud of his bi-racial daughter. They first met when Essie Mae was a teenager, when she and her mother visited his office. “He never called my mother by her first name. He didn’t verbally acknowledge that I was his child. He didn’t ask when I was leaving and didn’t invite me to come back. It was like an audience with an important man, a job interview, but not a reunion with a father,” Williams wrote. Yet she left it convinced that her mother’s relationship with Thurmond was ongoing and that they cared for each other.
At Thurmond’s recommendation, Essie Mae attended an all-black college now known as South Carolina State University. He paid her tuition and arranged occasional visits in the privacy of the office of the college President, who must have guessed at or known the nature of their relationship. So did Thurmond’s sister, Mary Tompkins, whom he delegated at least once to bring money to Essie Mae.
Yet Essie Mae never revealed her father’s identity. “It’s not that Strom Thurmond ever swore me to secrecy. He never swore me to anything. He trusted me, and I respected him, and we loved each other in our deeply repressed ways, and that was our social contract,” she wrote.
Thurmond died in 2003 and only then, in Dear Senator: A Memoir by the Daughter of Strom Thurmond, did Essie Mae disclose what Thurmond’s colleagues and friends had long suspected. The Thurmond family publicly confirmed her paternity and spoke of her right to know her heritage. (It helped that she had no interest in suing for a share of her father’s estate – her moral and legal right.) Her half-brother, Strom Thurmond Jr., added that he was eager to get to know her. In 2004, South Carolina’s Governor Mark Sanford added her name to the list of children engraved on a public monument commemorating Thurmond. Times were changing, even in South Carolina.
Feminism, expanded women’s rights and effective and accessible birth control have altered mistressdom, its parameters and its possibilities. As sexual mores surrounding pre-marital sex have relaxed and common-law living arrangements become increasingly the norm, the line between mistress and girlfriend has blurred. In many cases today, the answer must lie in the partners’ perception of their status and, to a certain extent, in society’s. Modern mistresses are less likely than their forbears to be married or to depend financially on their lovers. Today’s mistresses fall in love, usually with married men unwilling to divorce and regularize the relationship. The only alternative to breaking up is to reconcile themselves to an illicit relationship. But often these mistresses are reluctant to accept the status quo, and they hope that somehow, someday, their liaison will be legitimized through marriage, as Camilla Parker Bowles’ was.
Just as often, the love affair itself—the romance and the passion, the arousal of desire and its delirious fulfillment—is what matters. Even if guilt coexists with the excitement of sexual adventure and the challenge of defying social norms, that does not negate the bonding force of shared secrecy and the mutual trust underlying it. The relationship’s forbidden dimension also affects its balance of power, which is in part controlled by the unmarried mistress’s restraint and discretion. Though it forces on her considerable free time, especially during traditional holidays, it also liberates her from wifely domesticity into the mode and mystique of showing only her best face and her best behavior. The relationship may also feel or actually be egalitarian, with both partners bringing to it what they can and taking from it what they want.
Émilie du Châtelet, Voltaire’s mistress, was … uncommonly intelligent and uncommonly well educated, and she became the mistress of a celebrated philosopher. Émilie was the child of an enlightened era, and her lover was a progressive thinker. … As her formidable intellect matured, she focused on physics, literature, drama, opera and political ideas, including the startling proposition that women and men should have equal rights.
[ She married] Claude du Châtelet, colonel of a regiment, scion of a fine old family and an agreeable man twelve years her senior. Their arranged marriage was convenient and amiable, and quickly produced a daughter and a son. Émilie spent much time in Florent’s Paris townhouse, and he spent even more on garrison duty. As was quite acceptable among spouses who had already produced heirs and whose marriages were primarily family alliances in which romantic love played little or no part, Émilie took lovers. Her belief that a good wife behaved well and loyally toward her husband by allying herself only with lovers of quality and discretion was typical of her aristocratic social milieu.
When Émilie met the witty and clever Arouet de Voltaire, he was nearly forty and much sought after by women eager for the reflected glory of associating with France’s most famous writer and one of the philosophe movement’s leading lights. The philosophes were engaged in revaluating, in the light of “reason” and “rationality,” the entirety of the human experience. Besides ascertaining the truth, their objective was to compile a vast encyclopedia of human knowledge. … Much of the philosophes’ interaction took place at certain Parisian salons, where Émilie and Voltaire developed their deepening relationship.
Voltaire’s assessment of Émilie as a dynamo of energy and purpose was correct. She was fascinated by physics and the theories of Leibniz and Newton, and studied them with a discipline that put other scholars, including Voltaire, to shame. She also found time to dine with friends, attend social and artistic events and—alas!—to gamble away small (and sometimes not so small) fortunes at the gaming tables.
Émilie and Voltaire began to travel together, and in 1734 they settled down in Cirey, in her husband’s decaying family château. Florent was most cooperative about this arrangement. He would sometimes visit his wife and her lover, but he considerately slept apart from Émilie, and took his meals with his son and the tutor. Above all, he was delighted with the spectacular renovations and redecorating that the lovers undertook with money lent by Voltaire at a low rate of interest.
…She and Voltaire began a regime of study and literature that came to be known as his Cirey Period. Émilie was now Voltaire’s recognized mistress, and she conducted their affair as if it would last a lifetime. But unlike most 18th-century lovers, who resorted to subterfuge in the name of discretion, she and Voltaire cohabited. This took some managing. Whenever she was forced to spend time with her husband, she treated him with affectionate respect. In fact, Florent’s very presence belied the fact that she was actually living in sin with Voltaire, and it gave the arrangement a certain legitimacy, something all three of them desired.
Émilie, immensely disciplined and organized, established a regimen of study that focused the more disorganized Voltaire. The day began in Voltaire’s quarters, with late morning coffee and discussion. At noon, Émilie and Voltaire sometimes popped in to greet Florent as he lunched with his (and her) son and the tutor, then retreated to their separate studies to work. Sometimes they took a break, snacking and chatting before returning to their books. At nine, they met for dinner, a leisurely and well-provisioned production, and followed it with conversation, dramatic productions in their own tiny theater, and poetry readings. At midnight they dispersed again to their studies, and Émilie worked until about five in the morning. When she retired to her blue and yellow bedroom, so color-coordinated that even her dog’s basket had matching blue and yellow lining, she slept for a refreshing four hours. If she had set herself a personal deadline, she would reduce this to one hour and jolt herself awake by plunging her hands into icy water.
Under Émilie’s erudite tutelage, Voltaire assimilated (but never mastered) the principles of physics, particularly Leibniz’s and Newton’s, and incorporated them into the core of his thinking. He generously acknowledged Émilie’s influence and dedicated his Elements of Newton’s Philosophy to her. He even implied that he had been little more than her amanuensis rather than she his muse.
… Until just before her premature death, Émilie was immersed in translating and elucidating Newton’s Principia. In public as well as private, Voltaire was the first to acknowledge that his mistress was his intellectual and sexual partner and equal. He read aloud what he had written each day and eagerly welcomed her critiques and suggestions. Her keen mind convinced him that women could do everything men could. In a letter to a friend, Voltaire paid Émilie the ultimate compliment: “I [cannot] live without that lady whom I look upon as a great man and as a most solid and respectable friend. She understands Newton; she despises superstition, in short she makes me happy.”
Émilie du Châtelet’s story is an edifying narrative of purpose fulfilled, love reciprocated and passion (usually) requited. The constraints on her—principally the refusal to publish her memoirs, though her translations of men’s works were rushed into print—burdened all women. Even at the time, Émilie and her contemporaries knew that her status as Voltaire’s mistress rather than her genius guaranteed her a significant place in history.
Émilie’s alliance with Voltaire was widely known. Voltaire went out of his way to acknowledge her enormous contributions to his work, and in his private correspondence with Europe’s leading thinkers, he reiterated how greatly he was in Émilie’s debt.
The objectification of women by celebrities, politicians, and athletes, unfortunately, seems an almost necessary and accepted joke. Here in Seattle a local sports-talk radio station, KJR, yearly caters to the male-dominated audience, filtering interviews with strippers and discussions of women’s “racks” with sports talk. The most egregious example is “The Bigger Dance.”
“WELCOME TO THE BIGGER DANCE: KJR’s Mitch in the Morning’s Bigger Dance is run much like the Big Dance, however, instead of bracketing 64 college basketball teams, KJR brackets 64 beautiful celebrity women. Simply fill out your bracket and tune in to KJR weekdays in April at 6:50 a.m., 7:50 a.m., 8:50 a.m., and 9:50 a.m. for the head to head matchups. With each round we’ll be closer to crowning our 2011 Dancing Queen of the Hardwood!”
Mitch “Dork in the Morning” Levy, creator of the “Bigger Dance,” once bet Seattle Storm point guard Sue Bird whether she would better a 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. The stakes? Mitch would buy season tickets vs. Sue would let herself be spanked on the air as she said, “Harder, daddy, harder!” All good fun, right? I’ll admit, Howard Stern can be funny, and I am all for women acting on free will, but what’s the bigger issue?
In the sporting world sexual assault is not taken seriously enough. From LA Lakers star Kobe Bryant to Pittsburgh Steeler QB Ben Roethslisberger, too many athletes get away with mistreating women.
The “Biggest Dork” Sweet Sixteen
Not all mega-dorks made the list, including Mike Huckabee, Barry Bonds, Tiger Woods, Ron Blagojevich, and many other deserving phallus-and-testosterone riddled wankers… Stay tuned, the 16 dorks will be whittled down the Final Four. Who will reign as “The Biggest Dork?”
Thank you Mother Nature.
For the seasons are changing. Fall is right around the corner bearing two gifts. For one, my summer depression will soon hit the woe-is-me road for next year. And two, the 2010-11 NFL football season is here!
To hell with baseball!
And lawn bowling!
And Tiger Woods and that soft hobby that has delivered that horny misfit big cash, a divorce, and copious amounts of classy take-home-to-meet-momma beaver!
I mean enough already!
Is this all right with you? Huh?
Bring on the blitz!
As you know this is prediction time, folks. Everyone and their dope man knows what’s going to go down this year.
The Saints will kiss the Lombardi once again.
Watch out for the Ravens.
The Raiders will blow as usual.
Keep an eye on the Packers.
So on and so forth.
The truth is no one knows what’s going to happen. That’s the beauty. It’s a long season full of cheers, jeers, and unpredictability. What you can count on is that weird shit is going to go down. Bad luck. Dumb luck. Fluke injuries and victories. Some teams will be sickened one month into the party and other teams will bite and claw for 16 brutal weeks and play their best football as soon as the playoffs hit.
One never knows.
Except for me.
Here we go.
The Saints took the pie last year and it was a happening sight. Some say they have a good shot at getting back to the big game. History says there’s a good chance they won’t even make the playoffs. They’re defense is sketchy, but they have Brees and a very dangerous offense to boot. They’ll put on a show no doubt. I say they make the playoffs, but it stops right there.
Falcons have what it takes to battle New Orleans for the West. They have a solid young QB in Ryan, a good running game, and a good defense. With Ron Mexico and the Dirty Bird (thank god) in their rearview mirror, Atlanta is one of those teams to keep an eye out for in 2010.
The other two teams, Carolina and Tampa, are horrible. If you see either of these teams on your team’s schedule then have a party at your house that day. BYOB.
The Cowboys are the favorites to take the division. They have Romo, Austin, Bryant, Witten, a frumpy-looking coach, and all of Texas. That’s good eats. Cowboys fans span the globe and I met one the other day who barked in my ear for what seemed forever (she’s lucky she smelled good or it would have been intolerable) how the Cowboys were snatching the Lombardi this year.
“You’ll see,” she said, blowing a cigarette hit into the L.A night. “All you haters will see. Hot-ass Romo in the middle of the field talking about going to Disneyland or some shit like that. Just watch.”
“He’ll be fishing in the middle of the ocean when that trophy is raised.”
“Kiss my ass!”
I understood what that chick was talking about. The Cowboys are a good team and I expect them to be at the top of the conference at season’s end. Last year the Vikings dismantled them in the playoffs and I’m sure this year they’re looking to rewrite that nightmare.
Look for the Redskins to do a little better this year. Which is not saying much. Owner Dan Snyder (a bona fide football putz) signed McNabb and hired Mike Shanahan as the new head coach. You know, the one with the eye. The one with the Super Bowl rings. Their hope is that Shanahan will conjure up some of that Denver magic. I don’t see it. It’ll be more of the same for the Redskins: dish out a lot of fast cash for veteran players and high-profile coaches and keep losing.
It should be easy for the Giants to have a better season than last year. They ate themselves last year and just need to clean up their act. They have the talent. Saying that, their defense needs to pick it up and put the ball in Eli’s hands. If that happens then the Giants fans should have something to cheer about.
Philly ditched McNabb for Kolb and they’ll soon learn that, sure, the dance with Donovan may have run its course, but his replacement is simply not ready to lead the team to any semblance of success. Good defense. Bad offense. They’ll suck this year.
Brett Favre and the Vikings almost made it to the Super Bowl last year but they blew it big time. But if Peterson can hold onto the fucking ball and the receivers can get healthy one never knows. Favre is a veteran and if he knows one thing it’s football. Minnesota fans should be optimistic.
I like the Pack this year. I think Rodgers is a kickass QB and will probably get a Super Bowl ring before he hangs up his cleats for a gig calling games for ESPN. If that offensive line can block for him and that defense can hold their own then watch out. Really.
Da Bears? Fuggedaboutit. Even if Obama gave them a you-can-believe speech before every game they’d lose more games than they’d win. Look for this to happen in 2010.
The Lions? Well, I will never pass up a chance to rip on Matt Millen so here it goes: yeah, I know that bloated jock pig is not on their payroll anymore, but his short-sighted, dimwitted, boneheaded vision of football cursed that franchise (they didn’t need any help) for all eternity. He ripped out their hearts and shitted on their puny dreams because that’s all he knew what to do. He was incapable of doing or knowing any better. Sorry Detroit. Truly.
I don’t have anything to say about this crappy division so I won’t.
One word: Peyton. The Colts are still the team to beat in this division and the entire conference for that matter. Peyton is a football god and he’ll take his team into the playoffs without a doubt. Like the Saints, if the defense can hold their own then it’s on. It’s on regardless. Peyton. Say it again: Peyton.
Jaguars. I like the quarterback and have a good friend that hails from Jacksonville. He’s a crazy fucker that builds muscle cars and like me thinks that Amy Hempel is the bomb. Other than that I have nothing to say about Jacksonville.
The Texans were supposed to have a solid year last year. They didn’t. They won’t this year either.
Vince Young has turned his shit around. I thought the man was dead in the proverbial water. But hey. The Titans have the talent to do some damage this year. They have a vicious running back in Chris Johnson and a smart coach that sports a disgusting croissant-like mustache. I’ll be there to see it when they line up against the Colts. And you should, too.
The safe bet is that the Patriots will again be in the Super Bowl hunt. Brady. Brady. Brady. Moss is returning for one last dance. Oh, and Wes Welker is back and the moody coach in the hoodie will be mumbling at the podium. Enough said.
The Jets have gobs o’ players returning to the team after a solid year last year. Sure, their obnoxious coach has a foul mouth and has the class of a road apple, but he has his team believing they can win. Maybe his verbal prowess can stop Tomlinson from being a post-game pussy and get him to just run the damn football. We’ll see. Sanchez needs to keep up his chops of last year or it’s a bust for New York.
The Dolphins shocked a few people last year when they ended the season at 7-9. One would think they’d be better this year. But because I inherently loathe the Dolphins I say they’re going to stink up the field. Let’s hope.
The Bills are perfectly horrible. Again, if you see the Bills on your team’s schedule chalk it up as a win.
The defense-heavy Ravens should be in the fight once again. The Ravens have a thing for playing spoiler and I can see them making the playoffs and knocking off a team or two with a better record. Last year they smacked around the favored Patriots on national TV. It was a pure ass whooping. It’s what they do. I find Ray Lewis to be an utter bore with his lame two-bit sermons, but the man is an animal on the field and has the power to will his team to victory. I’ve seen it happen one too many times.
Roethlisberger’s off-the-field shenanigans have suspended that super genius for four games. If the Steelers can get passed this mess with a couple of wins they’ll be all right. Ben is still a good QB and the Steelers are, well, the Steelers. They know how to win. I look for them to make a run for the playoffs this year.
The Bengals should have an explosive offense this year with the acquisition of T.O and his big teeth. Let it be known that I think that man is a perfect asshole and hope he takes a short slant route right into Ray Lewis’ helmet and his world fades to black. Ray, I already told you that you bore me, but for the love of god, homie, if you have a love for humanity and god the way you claim that you do then you’d take that degenerate out. You have at least two chances this year. Put it to good use, dog.
Forget about the Browns once again this year. Most do.
The Chargers have dominated this cheap division for some time and should have no problem taking it again and go into the playoffs. Good QB. Gates. Sproles. So-so defense and a coach with great infomercial skin. What else can you ask for? A Super Bowl ring? Oh.
The Broncos? Last year they came out of the gate punching and kicking and then petered out when it counted the most. I don’t like Orton. Nothing personal, but he’s not a leader. They’ll be watching the playoffs with you and me.
The Raiders stink but should have a better season than the Chiefs who stink even more. Like last year, pay no mind to either of these pathetic teams.
Whew. That’s it, folks. Lame utterances and fast picks void of solid ESPN research. Straight gibberish. Just the way it should be. Now, it’s time to call my dope man and find out what he thinks. So fire up the grill. Break out the hooch and the brauts. See you at the stadium.
June 24, 2010
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: 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.
This is where we’re at?
10:04 P.M. February 18.
It’s around 10 o’clock on Thursday night, about twelve hours before Tiger Woods is scheduled to give a highly controlled statement to the press about “transgressions” against his family, and I’m wondering how to feel. Some of you may remember I wrote about Tiger’s minor “traffic accident” on this site a few days after it happened. This evening I read that post, two-and-half months old now, and one paragraph in particular caught my eye:
I’m so ashamed. I only made it three days.
Three days before I ended up on TMZ.com.
When the news first broke, I was watching a college football game with my dad. A network news anchor looked gravely into the camera and explained how Tiger Woods had been involved in an automobile accident and his condition on the scene had been described as serious. I don’t know about the world at large, or for readers of The Nervous Breakdown, but for sports (and particularly golf) fans, this was big news. Obviously you’re concerned for the guy’s safety, but when you find out he’s okay and learn a few details about the accident, questions begin to arise.
But why? As I wrote in an earlier TNB blog, I don’t know Tiger Woods any more than I know my neighbors who live two doors down. I’m not interested in their daily drama, so why would I be interested in the personal life of a famous golfer I’ve never met?
I’m completely interested to see him dominate the sport of golf like no one else, to use his swing as a model for my own (I still have some work to do there). As a sports fan and a serious golfer, I have every reason to be impressed with his miracle victory in the 2008 U.S. Open (hobbled by a bum knee), or winning the 2007 PGA Championship less than two miles from my house.
But why would I care about him running over a fire hydrant, other than he’s not seriously hurt?
And yet I was.
My first thoughts were that he either a) wandered out of the house on sleep medication, or b) had gotten into a fight with his wife. How or why else would a person who wasn’t drunk run into a fire hydrant right next to his own driveway? At 2:30 in the morning?
But I was determined not to care. Even as people texted me gossip from smut web sites, I refused to go looking for those details myself.
If you ask anyone if they approve of the methods used by today’s paparazzi, they will invariably say “no.” The worst of these photographers are dirtier scum than email spammers. They jump from behind trees and frighten actresses, and then sell these pictures to magazines that write stories about how Jen still isn’t over Brad. They’ll follow any minor celebrity hoping to see a misstep that can be sold for cash.
But they’re only able to earn a living doing that kind of shit because we as consumers buy their goods.
And even if you don’t buy trash magazines, you probably still watch television and read news on the Internet. Tiger’s story is on every network, on every news web site. They cover stories like this because that’s what sells advertising. It’s what we want to see.
Look at this photo, by Gerardo Mora/Getty Images:
All this for a guy who hit a fire hydrant and a tree with his SUV.
But oh, he’s the best golfer of all time and is worth close to a billion dollars. And won’t tell us how or why the accident occurred. Further, this extra attention is directed at Tiger largely because of his squeaky-clean public persona. It’s like we want to see him fail, since we’ve never seen it happen before. Is that because we’re happy to know he’s a flawed human being, or because jealousy drives us to enjoy his suffering?
Let’s say for a moment the worst rumors are true: He angered his wife, she attacked him in some way, and even chased the SUV with a golf club as he tried to flee the scene. All he’s done since then is blame the accident on himself and ask for privacy.
Isn’t that what any of us would do? In fact wouldn’t most wives appreciate a husband who protected her in that way, even if she was pissed at him for something else?
He is Tiger Woods, however, so people want the details. But why? Why does it matter? How will the lives of golf fans or casual observers be any different tomorrow if he were to offer us a few sordid morsels?
I’m ashamed of myself for following a link to TMZ (an entertainment site I deeply despise) but that doesn’t change the fact that I did it.
Whatever the reason for his accident, no matter which (if any) rumors are true, for me it doesn’t alter my awe of Tiger Woods. He is the best in the world at a sport I love. I didn’t think any less of Stephen King when I learned of his drug and alcohol problems (that actually explained a lot), and if tomorrow Jonathan Franzen were to admit an addiction to Internet porn, I would still purchase every book he ever published. I don’t know these men personally and likely never will, but as long as they don’t intentionally kill anyone I will probably always like them.
But I like myself a little less when I’m forced to admit that I cannot completely ignore the drama in their personal lives. No matter how much I wish it weren’t so, such is the reality of human nature.
August 22, 2007
The morning is soupy, humid and warm, and we all know the mercury will climb quickly. A ride on a bus and an uphill walk, rubbing elbows with an army of spectators, and then I see the sun breaking over the roof of the club house. Shadows stretch across the golf course, a man-made jewel. The sky is infinite shades of pink and blue. I never get up this early. As far as I’m concerned, the day doesn’t begin until two hours after sunrise. Minimum. But I might as well capture this rare moment for digital review at some later time, so I reach into my pocket and retrieve my camera. Push the power button. Nothing happens. I push it again, but knowledge surges into me like guilt, and I see clearly the camera battery mounted in the charger. Which is plugged into the wall. At home. Today is the day I chose to take pictures–the Tuesday practice round–because tomorrow I’m working, and during the actual tournament, cameras are prohibited. Because of the bus system and the long walk, the round trip time between this spot and my house is probably an hour and a half. Maybe even longer. I stuff the camera back into my pocket. Through the trees I notice a group of golfers on the fourth green. One of them is Tiger Woods. I happen to be standing near the fifth tee, so I walk over and find a spot on the ropes, directly behind the tee. Two minutes later, here comes Bubba Watson and Tiger Woods, two of the biggest hitters on the PGA TOUR, about to tee off on one of the longest holes in major championship golf. A 653-yard par 5. And I have no camera. But wait! I smuggled my cell phone into the tournament! It has a 2 megapixel camera! Phones are definitely not allowed here at the PGA Championship, but I get it out anyway and snap a couple of shots. Even though I know they won’t turn out well.
You know what, though? It’s okay. It’s no secret that I’m into golf. I like to think that if I could quit my job and practice full-time, I could probably make a living at it. Either playing or instructing. But I don’t, because I already chose “writing novels” as my pipe dream career. It would probably be greedy to have two.
The PGA Championship two weeks ago was one of the most rewarding weeks I’ve had in a while. I volunteered as a marshal on one of the more famous holes in golf, I was able to watch the sport being played at its highest level, and I was there when Tiger Woods won his 13th major. That all this happened a couple of miles from my house made the experience that much more sublime. A lot of people asked me afterwards: Did you see Tiger? Did you see Tiger? Yeah, I did. Being inside the ropes, I was pretty close. Did you get his autograph? people asked. Get a picture with him? I am a big fan of Tiger Woods because he set his sights on one of the most hallowed records in sports and has steadily marched toward it for the past twelve years. I am a fan because he is about the same height and body type as me, and I can look at his swing as a model. Surprisingly, I hit the ball about as far as Tiger (though nowhere near as precisely). It’s fun to compare your skill level with the best in the world, to imagine what it would be like to play a round with Tiger or any of the best golfers. But what would I do with an autograph? His name hastily scribbled on a ball cap? A photograph might be interesting, but only if it were taken after I had a conversation with the guy.
Because who is Tiger Woods? I don’t know. Who is Stephen King or Jonathan Franzen or any well-known person I admire for their skills? I don’t know them. They don’t know me. Would I like to play golf with Tiger? Discuss fiction with Franzen? Of course I would. But I would do it as a peer, not a fan. To do so is to acknowledge some gap between us, some difference in what we bring to the world, and I’m not prepared to do that. I can understand children pining for an autograph. But I don’t really get it with adults…and yet I’ve happily signed many books. For readers I meet in bookstores, for friends. It seems very hypocritical, I know. Maybe the difference is that at a book signing, I have the chance to speak with readers. Or maybe I’m conceited. All I know is that I prefer to take pictures with the people I care about. The people I talk to every day. The people who I share my life with. But hey, Tiger: Let me know the next time you have an open spot in your foursome. I’m free. And this time I’ll have a battery in my camera.