Dear Dust

I DARE you to print this. I know you won’t. And when you don’t, I’m going to start posting this on comment boards around the site.

Why? Because I’ve been studying “The Dust” ever since the (I won’t say your, because you are not you) first column. I’ve done a good deal of research: cross-checking, old posts, word comparisons, repetitions, likely suspects. And I’ve finally narrowed your identity down to one person.


The only person you could be.

Upon what do I base this conclusion? Let’s start with undeniable similarities in sense of humor (puerile, forced), vocabulary (self-aggrandizing, flowery), sarcasm (endless, tiresome), political preferences (uniformly and predictably left), music references (the smoking gun), and punctuation (as if you’d never attended school).

Not to mention, which I will, but grudgingly, an enviable intelligence. Although it becomes less enviable as each line reveals a certain childishness, let alone a deeply sublimated inner asshole.

There’s other things. Like the fact that you’ve admitted you’re a forty-ish male with children. Check. Or that you have “a few books out.” Check. That you’re unusually tall. Check. That you are Jewish. Check. Or that you have previous (published) experience answering letters and giving advice. Check. It’s also well known that you’re friends with Brad Listi. Your constant references to “Helmsman Listi” confirm your inside-joke status, and your likely avenue to the job.

You mentioned in your introductory letter that you’ve been “studying this site for quite a while without actually being a part of it.” Well, do you think your not being a part of it has to do with the fact that you launched an unwarranted attack on a TNB member and then were more or less chased away from the community with your tail between your legs?

What better way to “return” than under the guise of an anonymous advice columnist?

I’ve been here too long to put up with this sort of thing. Honesty is an essential commodity for any group of individuals. Historically and philosophically this has always been true. Why shouldn’t it be demanded, here and now?

Oh, and that other evidence-bomb I alluded to before: you’ve already self-published a book called Letters From People Who Hate Me, which, amazingly enough, is full of letters that you answer at length, in the process of giving advice! Oh, and you do it in exactly the same tone, with the identical level of dismissiveness, as J. Angelus Dust! Just a coincidence? I guess it could be, since apparently no one ever read that book. It is, after all, self-published. And was widely ignored. Maybe that’s why you thought no one would notice.

I noticed. And so did a lot of other people. Any number of them have asked me who I thought you were. And I made a few guesses. Until the truth dawned on me.

Like a nine pound hammer.

Even better (or should I say more damning?) here’s a recent quote from The Dust.




“But I understand why that seemingly innocuous sticker filled you with rage. There is a high price to be paid for convenient ideology all along the political spectrum. And those who believe in The Power of The Motto are rarely the ones forced to pony up. Particularly the tweedy Utopian who takes pride in as lazy and self-congratulatory a notion as World Peace. Which, of course, requires the banal idea that the world population is capable of enlightened deliberation on any single issue. Let alone all issues. And that the Zen-appropriated “visualization” of such hubris could magically usher in a global transformation. One that even the giddiest Pollyanna would be forced to admit (preferably while being waterboarded) that no two nations sharing a border have ever mustered throughout human history.”

And here is a quote from your book Which Brings Me To You:





“But I am not dismayed by the fact that your rage is inspired by ideologies that are all too convenient. The powers that be are never the ones who pay the check, they always leave you sitting there with the bill while they’re in the bathroom. And tipping is a Utopian ideal, one that usually runs at about 7.5 percent. The idea that any group of people are capable of enlightened deliberation is a fallacy-sheer magical thinking. Pollyanna and Politics have a lot of letters in common for a reason, they are myths that have been spun, unchanged, over centuries of human history.”

Jesus, you’re cannibalizing yourself. At least try a little harder!

And I love how last week, when I threatened to unmask you, (I didn’t send that letter because I thought you’d print it, but I guess you were scared enough to try and make a joke out of it) and then suddenly there you are on the boards, after all these months, with some dumb (fake innocent) poetry review. What a surprise! Just trying to make yourself look like a normal TNB user. Nice try! Not only did you only get one comment, but the post itself almost put TNB into a collective coma of boredom.

Need any more proof? I’ve got lots, but I’ll wrap it up with this:

I found a link to an old issue of Tin House, where, ha-ha, a few years ago you wrote a very positive review of John Fante’s Ask The Dust. Hey, that’d make a really great title for an advice column, don’t you think?


Oh, and I did a little digging in the code. Put my HTML skills to use.

Found an IP address.

You want to deny it? Go ahead.

J. Angelus Dust is really….STEVE ALMOND.




Thanks for the memories, Dust.

I mean Steve.


The Unmasker



Dear The Unmasker

Great follow-up letter, and thanks! That was almost like an episode of Murder, She Wrote. Except with way more commas. And less unintentional shots of Angela Landsbury’s potbelly. Hey, I wonder if this means that Helmsman Listi will start increasing the size of my weekly check?

But, seriously, I have one question for you:

Do you really think my vocabulary is flowery?



Most sincerely,


The Dust




Ask Me Anything.

Talk Shit. Be Vulnerable.

Go ahead, I know it hurts.

[email protected]


All contact info is entirely confidential.


Love Dust on Facebook.

Follow Dust on Twitter.

TAGS: , , , , , , ,

J. ANGELUS DUST is not much interested in biography. J. Angelus Dust wants to know where it hurts.

73 responses to “Ask The Dust – Vol. 22”

  1. James D. Irwin says:

    Now we need an anonymous entity to find out who The Unmasker really is…

  2. Nathaniel Missildine says:

    A compelling case but I’m still not entirely convinced. My sources tell me Dust is Thomas Pynchon.

    • Fabian says:

      Hi, I’m Fabian, The Dust’s personal assistant. Thanks for your query, Nathaniel Missildine! Mr. Dust says:

      “The Dust wishes Thomas Pynchon were The Dust.”

  3. Becky Palapala says:

    Don’t worry. Your vocabulary isn’t flowery.

    It’s stilted.

    There’s a difference.

    Take that, Unmasker.

    • Fabian says:

      Hi, I’m Fabian, The Dust’s personal assistant. Thanks for your query, Becky Palapala! Mr. Dust says:

      “Interestingly, within an hour of this post going live, no less than four people sent letters saying ‘The Unmasker is so totally Becky Palapala.'”

      • Becky Palapala says:

        Those people can go fuck themselves for thinking I’d write those reeking metaphors.

        Even more interestingly, when Ask the Dust was threatening to go, and then went, live, no fewer than four people wrote me saying, “You’re totally the Dust, aren’t you?”

        I must just be one shady-ass Sister.

      • Becky Palapala says:

        The really funny thing about it all is that though I’m not the Unmasker or you, I am D.B. Cooper.

        And the 2nd shooter.

        But try proving it.

        • pixy says:

          you’re not 43! how can you be d.b. cooper?

        • Becky Palapala says:

          How do you know I’m not 43?

          or 85, for that matter?

          How can you really know anything, Pixy? How can anyone?

          I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.

          Goo goo ga joob.

        • pixy says:


          salami, salami, bologna.

        • Gloria says:

          I’ve talked to you on the phone and the voice I heard sounded just like the voice coming out of the person who looks like your gravatar on the TNB cursing video. So, I can say with 100% certainty that the person I talked to on the phone who looks like the gravatar sounded NOTHING like a 43 year old or an 85 year old.

          And, I mean, what better evidence does one need?

        • Becky Palapala says:

          That’s just the drunk girl I pay to play me in face-to-face and one-on-one situations.

          The more beer I give her beforehand, the less she charges me.

  4. Greg Olear says:

    By this logic, Brad Listi is Dear Sugar.

    • Fabian says:

      Hi, I’m Fabian, The Dust’s personal assistant. Thanks for your query, Greg Olear! Mr. Dust says:

      “Rarely do logic and Helmsman Listi co-join, in a sentence or otherwise. Thus, the mysteriously ordered anarchy of TNB.”

  5. Gloria says:


    *scratches ass*

  6. SAA says:

    Quick, someone loan me a shit to give, I’m fresh out.

  7. dwoz says:

    and the L33T Haxtor mad skills strike again!

    damn you IP ADDRESS!!!!!! hehehehe

  8. Becky Palapala says:

    I just read this again. Somehow, on first read, I totally missed this line:

    I’ve been here too long to put up with this sort of thing. Honesty is an essential commodity for any group of individuals.

    What? Since WHEN.

    When did TNB contract a marm?

    What the hell is going on around here? Did I accidentally drop acid?

    God, I hope that’s not a real letter.

  9. pixy says:

    i’m not convinced it’s steve. and now that i’ve seen that the unveiling was meant as snark rather than silliness and fun, i don’t want to know who dust is. eff you “unmasker”. party pooper.

    • Fabian says:

      Hi, I’m Fabian, The Dust’s personal assistant. Thanks for your query, Pixy! Mr. Dust says:

      “Not to worry. The party continues unabated.”

  10. Joe Daly says:

    Unmasker makes a surprisingly compelling, albeit circumstantial case for Steve being the Dust. I’ve tried to suss out the Dust’s true identity based on his writing style and could not match it to any of TNB’s regular contributors. That’s not saying that my process has categorically eliminated anyone- that just means that my skill set didn’t lead me to water.

    But here’s the deal with Steve Almond- he’s a brand. He’s a published author who maintains a very public presence with essays at The Rumpus, print and radio interviews, book signings, etc. Anyone in his shoes craves/needs publicity, which leads to getting paid. As a former Masshole who lived in his ‘hood for quite some time, I can assure you that the cost of living can be eye-watering in even the lowest of markets. Writing anonymous freebie columns for TNB is a fairly reckless strategy for supporting a family.

    Plus, there’s no way a guy like Steve is going to put in the (likely) considerable number of hours it takes to do a regular column at TNB without attaching his name to it. TNB gets tens of thousands of unique visitors a month- you think a guy like Almond would forego that exposure simply for the titillation of writing covert advice columns for fledgling writers and people with relationship issues?


    No way is it Almond. If it is, I’ll publish a lengthy appreciation of his works here at TNB, print it out, sign it, and send it to him with a dozen roses and a Whitman’s Sampler.

    I re-iterate my position that The Dust is someone who had never contributed to TNB before his first column.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      The Dust continues to allude to the fact that he isn’t writing for free. Consider that it’s at least possible he’s paid.

      It’s also possible that whoever is behind the Dust’s curtain is doing it for nothing more than the fun of it. If I were in Almond’s (or any reasonably well-known writer’s) position, I totally would.

      Gotta be tough for a guy like Almond to just get on any old internet board and give his rollicking, unadulterated opinion without having to worry about his “brand,” don’t you think? It already went badly once.

      Or, on the other hand, manufactured controversy & intrigue might be really good for drawing attention to a brand.

      I’d like to offer an opinion to the contrary and suggest that ONLY a very well-known writer who didn’t want for work would do this.

      The rest of us may be busy flashing our boobies, hoping someone will throw us a set of beads, but that’s because we’re nobodies.

      (Provided Almond is somebody. I don’t really know anything about him, so I’m just going from your characterization of his apparently in-demand professional persona.)

      • dwoz says:

        The Dust bested my spaniard, so he must have studied. He bested my giant, so he’s clearly strong. He was clearly not suckered into fighting a land war in asia, so he’s not one to make stupid mistakes…

        but judging from the tone of the Unmasker, he’s clearly gone up against a Sicilian when death is on the line.

      • Joe Daly says:

        I’ve never bought into his implications that he gets paid. I’ve always read that as the same kind of puffery that he employs when referring to “Castle Dust.” But you could be right.

        You might also be right about Almond just doing this for the sheer enjoyment of writing and/or the freedom of running with a personality that differs from the one he’s used to promoting.

        I remember reading some piece, it might have been by Almond, that talked about Almond bringing copies of his books to signings so he could sell them for cash on the barrel and make some extra money out of the affairs. From that I extrapolate that Almond is a guy who exploits his opportunities and if that’s true, then I would be surprised if he devoted so much time on a regular basis for no recognition. If he got paid, then yeah, I could see it, but otherwise, it wouldn’t add up for me.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          I have no opinion on Almond, really, or whether or not the Dust is him (he?).

          My point was more that only a writer who already had considerable work or notoriety would agree–could afford–to write anonymously.

          With the exception, of course, of folks who would do it for sheer love of secrecy and anonymity. I would. I’ve considered it a number of times but always been reined in.

          I mean, there are writers like that. But as you imply, there aren’t too many. Most writers are, reasonably, trying to create and maintain a name for themselves, and for them, writing anonymously would be a total waste of time.

          But what happens once you’ve got the name? Maybe you launch an anonymous weekly advice column and spend your Tuesday evenings goofing off.

          Though Unmasked should check TNB contributors’ recent movements and events, where known, against The Dust’s recent difficulty keeping his regular response schedule.

          The last two weeks, he’s answered later than normal, and more lazily and/or hurriedly than normal, indicating that he’s doing…stuff. That he is indeed a busy individual.

        • Becky Palapala says:


        • Fabian says:

          Hi, I’m Fabian, The Dust’s personal assistant. Thanks for your query, Joe Daly! Mr. Dust says:

          “Castle Dust, my friend, is no mere puffery. And as far as getting paid, how do you think we can afford to dredge the moat each year?”

  11. Angela Tung says:

    am i the only one who thinks the Unmasker and the Dust are one in the same?

    enh, just a theory.

  12. admin says:

    Really? I’m a “Helmsman?”

    Oh god.

  13. dwoz says:

    The Dust’s reply is suspect.

    It’s snarky. And a little bit petulant.

    The Dust is typically unctious. To a fault.

    Then again, maybe he read that same huffpost article I did, where some bozo committed a hagiography of Ayn Rand, calling her old wrinkled 75 year old self “physically beautiful” which is something you couldn’t accuse her of even in her prime.

    It’s an enigma wrapped in butcher paper, thrown through the storefront window.
    there just wasn’t the same GRAVITAS in the reply.

    I’m perplexed.

    • Fabian says:

      Hi, I’m Fabian, The Dust’s personal assistant. Thanks for your query, dwoz! Mr. Dust says:

      “Odd use of unctious. To a fault or otherwise. I’ve never been accused of excessive flattery before. But Candy will be pleased. She has been trying to reform my dour countenance for years.”

  14. zoe zolbrod says:

    When I believed I had figured out who Sugar was, it made me happy and excited. I immediately friended the person on FB and ordered her book. What’s the problem with the Unmasker? Why take the time to do the research if you apparently loathe the writing/writer?

    • Gloria says:

      Seriously. The Unmasker needs to stop, collaborate, and listen – really listen…

    • Fabian says:

      Hi, I’m Fabian, The Dust’s personal assistant. Thanks for your query, Zoe Zolbrod! Mr. Dust says:

      “There are those for whom the unrevealed is a constant affront.”

      • zoe zolbrod says:

        Very quotable.

        • Fabian says:

          Hi, I’m Fabian, The Dust’s personal assistant. Thanks for your second query, Zoe Zolbrod! Mr. Dust says:

          “So much so, in fact, that for years it was stuck to the bumper of my ’77 Skylark, right next to SUBVERT THE SUBSERVIENT PARADIGM, and SABBATH RULES.”

  15. Zara says:

    Hmmm. There might have only been one comment on Steve’s poetry piece last week – but it was an awesome comment, I’ll have you know. Besides, we all know comment quantity is not the bloody be all and end all.
    As far as who the Dust is: who cares? Is it really that important? If people enjoy it then that really is the only thing that matters.
    Lighten up everyone. It’s not that big a deal. Really.

    • Fabian says:

      Hi, I’m Fabian, The Dust’s personal assistant. Thanks for your query, Zara! Mr. Dust says:

      “I just went back and re-read that comment. And you are correct. It is fantastic.”

  16. Holy shit, I had no idea this whole controversy was happening. No snoozing allowed at TNB!

    I love how Steve Almond doesn’t even have to freaking DO anything to be “controversial” in these parts. That’s pretty hilarious. Maybe people should start commenting on his posts if they’re giving him so much thought?

    Look, guys: I’ve been publishing Steve’s work since something like 1997. I published one of his early stories, before he had any books, in Other Voices magazine, and have worked with him sporadically ever since. He just wrote a Foreword for an anthology I’m editing. I read all his work on The Rumpus. One could say (though this won’t get me sent flowers by the Unmasker, who apparently thinks he’s a toad), I am a bit of a “Steve Almond scholar,” if such a thing existed.

    The Dust doesn’t sound anything like Steve. Like . . . ANYTHING like Steve.

    Not like his fiction.

    Not like his nonfiction.

    Not like his emails.


    I’d deconstruct this with my reasons why, but I’ve gotta go to the gym. If anyone really cares enough to want me to elaborate further, just comment back and I will. That could be fun.

    Peace out, TNB universe.

    And hey, I thought we weren’t supposed to admit that Listi is Dear Sugar . . .

  17. What is this mad rush to pull back the curtain?

    • Fabian says:

      Hi, I’m Fabian, The Dust’s personal assistant. Thanks for your query, Robin Antalek! Mr. Dust says:

      “Precisely. I. Am. Not. An. Animal.”

  18. This is Steve Almond. You know, the brand.

    Just taking a little break from my corporate strategy retreat here in Aspen and wanted to weigh in.

    On the fact front: I never wrote about “Ask the Dust” for Tin House.
    The passage from “Which Brings Me to You” was written by my co-author.
    I’ve been posting reviews for TNB for the past six months.
    I’ve never actually read Ask the Dust.

    Still, my powers as a brand are pretty awesome, so maybe I did it in my sleep.

    The Unamasker seems like he needs some attention. I’d suggest contacting Mark Sarvas.

    “Steve” “Almond”

    • dwoz says:

      hey, what makes you think you’re qualified in any way, shape or form to weigh in here? How would you know anything at all about this particular topic?

      Oh, I get it…it’s always about you. You think it’s always about……er…..um……



    • Fabian says:

      Hi, I’m Fabian, The Dust’s personal assistant. Thanks for your query, Steve Almond! Mr. Dust says:

      “How is Aspen this time of year? Steve, you and I should take a day trip out to Owl Farm, have a picnic, bless the rains, get our stories straight. Fabian makes excellent fried chicken.”

    • Greg Olear says:

      Hmm. Now that you mention it, the Unmasker’s tactics seem to be a shall-we-say inelegant variation on an old theme.

      • Fabian says:

        Hi, I’m Fabian, The Dust’s personal assistant. Thanks for your second query, Greg Olear! Mr. Dust says:

        “You, of all people, should be aware of House (Castle) Rule #14: Mark Sarvas jokes are unwelcome here.”

  19. Wow, Julianna Baggott is The Dust!?

    I didn’t know she was that tall.

  20. Quenby Moone says:

    I’m intrigued. This Unmasker: Ann Coulter-wang? Or is a formerly employed “pundit” looking at our little puddle to stir some shit up? I’m totally going to miss all my appointments today if that’s the case.

    • Fabian says:

      Hi, I’m Fabian, The Dust’s personal assistant. Thanks for your query, Quenby Moone! Mr. Dust says:

      “I find myself unhealthily obsessed with both the meaning and visual image of the phrase Ann Coulter-wang.

  21. Erika Rae says:

    You guys. The Unmasker is Steve Almond. (Joe, it fits the publicity qualification) And the Dust is, well, me. Sorry y’all.

    • Of course Steve Almond is the Unmasker. It’s a brilliant marketing ploy. He frames himself… with the only result being free publicity.

      And yes, you are the Dust. I knew that ever since visiting your house – which was in fact a castle – and there was that giant drawbridge outside, on which was written “Welcome to Castle Dust”.

      • Fabian says:

        Hi, I’m Fabian, The Dust’s personal assistant. Thanks for your query, David S. Wills! Mr. Dust says:

        “Erika ‘Candy’ Rae? Hmm. Not entirely implausible.”

        • Erika Rae says:

          OK, so I’m not The Dust. Anyway, we all know The Dust is a redhead goth dude. (Hello? Copperplate Gothic? Don’t you people actually read this column?)

          I don’t care who you are, The Dust. I heart you.

  22. Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

    Man. Slacking on TNB is confusing. What is going on here? I’ll be honest, I skimmed. My son’s watching a very exciting basketball game and they’re in overtime.

    The Dust is anonymous and now has an anonymous surrogate seeking to unmask the original? Interesting…

    Well, if I ever get a creepy ghostwriter, I’d like to nominate Miranda July to do the job.

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