Tag Archives: Dudes I Love

The Story of a Dirty Picture

I’ve talked about Davy Rothbart before. He’s a great guy and we met several years ago as he was starting up his now-huge Found empire. Right now, I’m halfway through his new essay collection, My Heart Is an Idiot (the title of which is also the name of an awesome Davy documentary by David Meiklejohn). It’s another gritty, beautiful creation by one of the most endearing dudes I know. I’m so excited to introduce Davy at Powell’s on Monday night.

Davy the dreamboat

A couple of years ago I was excited to have a short story in the Found-inspired anthology, Requiem For a Paper Bag (Simon & Schuster). It was a different sort of Found book–instead of photos of actual found artifacts, the book includes stories and essays about found stuff. It included a ton of cool writers and celebrities including Susan Orlean, Jim Carroll, Seth Rogan, Miranda July, Aimee Bender, Sarah Vowell, Andy Samberg, and a bunch of others. My story is one of the strangest things I’ve ever written and I was honored that Davy included it. I thought I’d use this occasion to post it on my blog. So, here it is–now on your Internets for the first time!!

I Was Torn From a Book

A young boy found me between cars in the church parking lot. He held me with both hands and carefully blew the dirt off me. He folded me twice and stuck me in his pocket. He walked somewhere that was silent and full of trees. He took me out and unfolded me. He stared for a long time, his eyes darting off to the side and blinking. The upper right corner was burned from a fire, the mark just a flicker away from my face. He folded me up again, but this time added another fold. I was tight in his pocket for several days it seemed. I didn’t know where I was.

I used to be complete, snug in a book. Warm. Surrounded, I’m sure, by other images of beautiful woman.

I remember being at the photographer’s house, in her studio, posing, primping, drinking wine for five hours. Only one shot from the session was used for her book. I’m on my hands and knees, looking just above the camera’s lens. Biting my bottom lip. Wearing a pair of black panties that fit too tight and a Cleopatra wig. She told me to bend my arms like I was doing a pushup. More, she said. A little more.

My breasts touched the floor just barely and the flash went off.

That’s me. Page 65.

I wonder what happened to the other shots that day. I never saw them. My whole day is captured in a moment when I felt the least in control. But here I am.

This book, this retrospective of an early career, was kept in the library of that photographer. Her students looked at me often and sometimes took me home with them. I noticed the different ways they looked at me. The men would nod at me in some vague way and paw me with their flat, dry fingers. The women were different. Sometimes they would point at me and laugh. A few of them would linger and stare.

The boy took me out of his pocket and moved me to his pillow. There was a tear in its seam and he put me inside. It was better there. I imagined I was a cloud and when his fingers would brush me, I wanted real skin and a shape. There’s nothing more I wanted than to have hands. To put my fingers through my boy’s fingers and to go under his covers with him.

Yes, I started to think of him as My Boy. His eyes dreaming all sorts of things when he looked at me. I didn’t care that he was so young. He was the only one who looked at me in real awe.

We both wanted me to be real.

A man once looked at me with loud, pounding music everywhere. He would look at another page sometimes too. But he’d always turn back to me and bite his lip.

It would start off calm. And then his eyes would switch from a casual search to a look to a look of business. His shirt would come off. The page would turn. I heard the click of his belt buckle, the sound of leather sliding through belt loops.

The boy showed me to his sister and her eyes danced all around me. “Do you think she would like me?” the boy asked her.

“You shouldn’t be thinking of this stuff yet,” she said.

“Do you think mom would kill me if she found this?” the boy said.

“Maybe,” she said. She scowled at me and then looked at the boy. “Give it to me and I’ll make sure she doesn’t find out.”

The boy folded me back up and told her to go away. I felt myself become a cloud again. I felt a wave of pride like something fought over. Then a nothingness, then sadness.

I remember being ripped out. The man seemed so studious as he folded me back and forth in a careful straight line. His hand pulled me slowly out of the book. Meat coming off a bone. He held me up to the light. I felt suddenly limp in the air. He put tape on me and stuck me to a metal wall. There were pages from other books or magazines that had been torn and stuck around me. It felt dirty and cold all around me, with a pungent smell of rubber and gasoline. The man wore glasses and overalls. He spent most of his time underneath a car, his legs stiff and sticking out, as if he was sleeping. The radio played voices, not music. Sometimes I heard laughing and I didn’t know where it was coming from. Once in a while, the man would look at me like he was looking into a mirror. He’d take off his glasses and rub his eyes and smile. I must have reminded him of something good.

The boy’s mother saw him looking at me. It was late in the day, almost dark outside. The boy looked sick and half-asleep. He had stayed home from school. I was smoothed out on the pillow with shaky fingers. He took something out of his pocket. It was a school photograph of a girl. Her hair was a long swooping blonde wave that ended neatly just above the white border of the photo. Her mouth looked too full and experienced for her age. Her eyes were open wide, as if she had been startled. He placed this face gently on top of mine, positioned it so we might somehow merge in his mind. I felt ashamed in that moment. Like those uncomfortable moments when the photographer kept saying More, more, a little more. But then his bedroom door opened and I was swiped away with his frantic hand. The two elements of his fantasy fell separately to the floor. His mother stood there in the doorway, her eyes alarmed and recoiling. Her whole face grimacing. She turned and walked away quickly, as if she were being chased.

I try not to think of the fire because fire means death. I just remember his legs under that car and the heat suddenly everywhere. His legs did not move. I thought he would shoot out from under there like I had seen him do before. There were loud popping sounds and flames splashing like waves against the walls. The smell of burning flesh and metal. The man’s work boots were flickering torches on the end of his stick legs. One wall collapsed and a burst of smoke rushed to the sky. It was raining. Thank God for the rain. I blew up in the air for a moment, fluttering with a small lip of fire trying to eat me from one corner. When I settled on a patch of concrete, someone stepped on me and the flame near my head stopped.

Smoke and water filled the air for a long time. I realized that it probably wasn’t raining after all. It was merely a couple of firemen wrestling their thick thrashing fire hoses. It eventually became dark after the flames died. Someone turned on a floodlight and people began to pick up some of the debris. Some of them were crying and some of them talked softly and discreetly, even laughing quietly. I was thrown into a cardboard box which was tossed into the back of a pickup. I was smothered by a fireplace kind of smell. Burnt wood, paper turned to ash, the sick stench of melted plastic and Styrofoam. Not long after the truck drove away, a bunch of papers got loose and escaped out the back. I was glad to find myself slipping out too. But then the truck stopped and parked in front of church with a big glowing cross. Church of the Nazarene it said. A man and a woman stepped out of the truck and started grabbing some of the lost trash. But some had already rolled and tumbled away from their view. Screw it, the man said. They adjusted a few boxes in the back and continued on their way. I skidded across the parking lot all of that night, not sure if I was in heaven or hell.

The boy and his father had a talk about me. It was the first time I had heard his voice and it was unfamiliar, too loud for the house. I suspected that the father did not even live in this house. There was an uncomfortable tone to their talk. It sounded scripted, as if they feared the mother was listening on the other side of the door. The boy, my boy, told of how he found me but stopped short of saying why he kept me.

What does it make you think of, the boy’s father asked.

I don’t know, the boy answered without thought.

Let me see it, said the father.

My boy reached into his pillow and set me on the bed between them.

Is there any more in there? the father asked.

My boy shook his head and looked at his doorway. His mother was nowhere to be seen. The father took his glasses out of his shirt pocket and scooted closer to me.

Does this picture make you feel excited?

My boy looked at his father sideways, unsure of the question. The father’s eyes stayed locked on me a little too long. It’s not so bad, he finally said. He took off his glasses, slowly folded them into his pocket. Then he picked me up, folded me just as gently, hands shaking a little.

I thought I heard my boy starting to cry.

I was slipped back into the pillow.

The father’s voice got softer then. It’s okay, he whispered. Hush now. It’s okay.

I heard the father’s heavy steps walk over to the door and close it.

I’ll throw it away, my boy said.

No, no, no, said his father. There was a pause. Just hide it somewhere else, he finally said. Don’t let your mother find it. I’ll say that I took it.

Really? I heard the boy wipe his tears, his drippy nose.

They talked a while longer until the mother knocked on the door. Okay, said the father, I’ll see you later. He left his son’s room and talked to the mother in another room.

My boy took me out of the pillow. He unfolded me and gave me a look that was more guilty than I’d seen from him. He walked me to a wall and quickly took down one of the smaller posters. With a piece of tape he stuck me to the back of the poster and returned it to the wall. It felt good to be unfolded and safe. He stood there a moment and inspected the poster to make sure I wasn’t visible. I heard him sigh loudly and then his bedroom light went dark. I knew it might be a long time before I was seen again.

In Memoriam

A couple of my favorite writers died recently, as well as a good friend. All of these guys were amazing, ornery, tough-as-hell survivors.

HARRY CREWS

Harry Crews was one of my first favorite southern writers. And lucky for me he had a lot of books to read when I discovered him in the early 90s. In fact, many of his books were already out-of-print and hard to find. For years after, it was a habit for me to always look in the C aisle of any used book store I entered. I was able to eventually collect nearly all of his books, even cheesy little mass market versions of Karate is a Thing of the Spirit and The Hawk Is Dying. My favorite books of his are A Feast of Snakes, Body, and the memoir, A Childhood (an amazing and touching book).

As a writer, I was inspired by his fearlessness and dark, sometimes brutal, humor. I also think it was Crews who said the thing about writing just one page a day and how that would equal 365 pages a year. Enough for a novel, even if you chopped off 100 pages! He also brought to my attention, the no-nonsense advice: Wish in one hand and shit in the other and see which one fills up first.

Harry was sort of forgotten in his last dozen or so years but apparently there’s another memoir that will hopefully find its way into the world soon. Here’s a great NYT tribute.

 

WILLIAM GAY

I liked William Gay because he was a late bloomer and didn’t even publish anything until he was about 57. His backwoods stories reminded me of Erskine Caldwell and his dark style brought to mind Cormac McCarthy.

Once, when I was in Oxford, Mississippi for a book conference, I was walking around the Ole Miss campus and I saw him walking through the parking lot. I wanted to run over and say hello to him but I was kind of scared of him.

My favorite book of his is the story collection, I Hate To See That Evening Sun Go Down. Here’s a nice tribute to him.

 

MARTY KRUSE

Marty ran the small press section at Powell’s before I took it over. But I was friends before we worked together. He was a fixture at the poetry slams back when they first started. He designed a book cover for me once (for Richard Meltzer’s chapbook, Holes). He published a weird story of mine in his food/cooking zine, Cooking Rock. He read his own writing at a reading series I hosted at the legendary Umbra Penumbra Cafe. He supported Future Tense books like a champ.

Yesterday, I spoke at his memorial, which was held at Mississippi Studios for a packed-in army of friends and family. Here’s what I wrote for the occasion…

Marty told me to apply to be a holiday cashier at the Beaverton Powell’s in late 1997 and to tell the store manager that he had sent me. I feel like that manager must have trusted Marty pretty well because I was hired on the spot. For the next several years, I tried to make good on that trust by being a great and enthusiastic bookseller like he was. Marty’s instincts were good in this way. He could spot commitment and enthusiasm in people. He could tell if you were a bullshitter or a real talent. He put his heart into the people he trusted, and when someone does that, it usually makes those people better. Marty made people better.

Marty was also like a magnet. A crazy, long-haired boisterous magnet for freaks and misfits and poets and passionate people of all stripes, all ages. Whether he was running the merch table at the poetry slam or buying a stack of zines from you at Powell’s, people felt connected to him, taken care of, and most importantly, they felt welcome. Marty welcomed all who deserved it.

On the day Marty was fired from Powell’s, I had lunch with him. At lunch, he told me he had the sneaking suspicion that his time at the job was almost over. He made me promise that I would try to take over the small press section at the store if he was let go. Before he ran it, Vanessa Renwick ran it, and I always looked up to both of them. Later that day, he was fired and I remember as he was walking out, someone said over the intercom, “We love you, Marty.” And I think people knew what had happened because a few people started crying right then and there. It was like the end of an era. Obviously, he was treasured as a bookseller and as the guy who fulfilled many a zinester and chapbook-publishing person’s dreams, but maybe more importantly, he was the person who encouraged solidarity, fairness, and unity through his work with getting the Powell’s union off the ground. Marty Kruse was solidarity.

Marty was also a great father. I remember one day my son and I went to meet him and his son, Nick and we were going for a hike around Forest Park. Nick and my son Zach are about the same age. This was in 1997, before I even started working at Powell’s—I know this for sure because we went on this hike with my first wife on the day before we got married. As we were hiking along, I remember Marty just randomly saying to his son, “I love you, Nick.” When I say randomly I mean he said it for no real reason other than to just ANNOUNCE it. His son replied, “I love you, dad.”

And around this time, I too, of course, would tell my son I love him but maybe not as randomly as that. Not as freely as that. I let that display be a lesson to me. I watched and I learned and I absorbed it. I admired that freedom, those random acts and declarations of love. We walked through the woods and threw rocks in the river. We watched our kids pick out walking sticks. We gave them piggyback rides. We held their hands. We were two fathers out in the natural world talking about love out loud. It was unforgettable.

 

 

Long Lost Eel

So, gosh. I was just looking through my files for a particular story and I came across this interview I did with Mark Oliver Everett about three whole years ago. Although he’s mainly known for his musical endeavors as the rock band, Eels, he’s also the author of a really great memoir, Things the Grandchildren Should Know. 

This interview was done for the Portland Mercury, but it was shortened for print. Here’s the slightly longer version.

Mark Oliver Everett

********

Inspiration For Clueless Kids:

The Mark Oliver Everett Interview

 

Mark Oliver Everett has released a bunch of critically acclaimed albums with his band, Eels. I don’t really know much about his band and I’ve never been that interested to tell you the truth. I always thought they were just some one-hit wonder (“Novacaine For the Soul”) ready to die off any second.

But hey—I’m wrong. After reading Everett’s memoir, Things The Grandchildren Should Know, I sort of have a man-crush on the guy. Not only does the book convincingly depict an awkward childhood and his adult struggles to become the artist he is today, but it also has a staggering death toll. It starts when Everett’s famous physicist dad, Hugh, dies without warning (learn more about Hugh’s legacy by searching “Parallel Universes, Parallel Lives” on Youtube). Shortly after that, his sister commits suicide, his mom passes away, bandmates die, neighbors die. The guy may as well become a funeral director. But somehow Everett has written an inspiring and funny personal history.

And it turns out that Eels are a pretty interesting band with a devout following. Who knew?

 

Was there a certain event that compelled you to write this book?

 

My friend Anthony, who I grew up with and has been around for all of it, periodically would tell me that my life would make an interesting book, but I never took the idea seriously. Then I finished an EELS tour that had a 7-piece band and suddenly the idea of doing something by myself appealed to me. I naively thought that writing a book by myself every day would be easier than worrying about the day to day dealings of a 7-piece band on the road. It turns out that writing a book is one of the hardest things you can do.

 

Harder than making an album?

 

Yes. Every time I branch out and try something other than music, I always come running back to music with my tail between my legs. Writing a book was the hardest project I’ve ever worked on, and I don’t recommend it. But I had to do it. I had to tell the story once I realized that it could maybe be inspirational for some clueless kid to see that this clueless kid made it through OK.

Were there any books that inspired you?


 

Yes, just one. Ray Charles’ autobiography, Brother Ray. I read it when I was a teenager and it made a huge impact on me, mostly because it felt like he was sitting there with you, telling you his story in a very straightforward, unpretentious way. I’m not a fan of flowery writing.

 

Do you think the book would have been much different if you would have filmed the BBC special about your dad before you started writing?

 

Yes. I would have known a lot more about my father, but I think it’s good that I didn’t know much about him when I wrote the book because it’s an accurate reflection of what it was like in my house at the time. He was a mystery.

 

You have one chapter about your Russian ex-wife, Anna in your book, but it was obviously a long and important part of your life. Do you think you’ll explore those years more in your next memoir? Will there be a next memoir?



 

Indeed, I could write a whole other book just about that part of my life, and maybe I will someday, but I’m not in a hurry to write any more books. I would like to do a sequel in forty years that is the most boring book anyone has ever read — because I can’t take any more drama!

 

Do you go to certain bookstores while you’re on tour? What sort of reading material would one find on an Eels tour bus?



 

When I tour I travel on a bus with the band and crew. There’s little time for book shopping and the reading material laying around the bus is the usual rock band fare: music magazines, porn, and, of course, the Motley Crue biography, The Dirt.

 

 

The Girl With the Cake: Thirty Years Later

At work this morning, a customer asked me if we had a copy of Richard Brautigan’s story collection, Revenge of the Lawn (1971, Simon & Schuster). It’s a book that can be hard to find, but luckily we had a copy. It just hadn’t made it out to the shelf yet. While we waited for another employee to bring it out (I was stuck at the cash registers for the opening hour), I told the customer that I was a big fan of Brautigan and she told me that she was the woman on the cover.

She said, “I have to get the book and show my nieces and nephews that their aunt Sherry was on a book cover once.”

I’ve always thought the Brautigan covers were pretty great in their simplicity. Especially the cute hippie girl motif. Here’s another cover, this time for my 2nd favorite Brautigan, The Abortion.

My favorite Brautigan book is this overlooked gem:

Sadly, no cute girl on this cover.

Anyway…so this lady tells me the she was not only the cover girl with the cake but she was also his “lover.” This was probably the closest I would ever get to the legendary author, so I instantly turned into super fanboy. I guess I felt kind of like a Star Wars fan meeting the guy who played Boba Fett or something. My lit-geek adrenaline was kicking in hard. I always loved Brautigan’s 60s-style perverse humor, minimalist poetry, and open-ended sentiment. He was one of my first loves as a book reader.

My co-worker, Christopher, walked up with the book just then and also started geeking out. He began asking her questions about the cake and she said she made it herself. Of course, all I wanted to know was “What was he really like?”

“When we first got together, I looked in his closet and saw all these ties, and he never wore anything but blue jeans and casual shirts, so I asked him, What are all these ties for? And he said, For tying up my girlfriends.”

I had to step aside a few times to ring up customers buying books, but I listened to Christopher talking with her and heard some other bits and pieces of her story. She had been a school teacher somewhere in California and a lot of the parents of her students were famous people. “Richard would come and hang out at my school just so he could try to meet Francis Ford Coppola,” she said.

She talked about staying in Montana with him where their friends included Thomas McGuane, Jimmy Buffet, and “the Fondas.”

I could tell that she was full of stories and I eagerly said, “I’d like to interview you. Have you ever been interviewed?” And she kind of brushed me off and said, “I’ve been interviewed a bunch of times.”

I asked her if she lived in Portland and I think she misheard me, because she started talking about his death. “I helped him find that house in California where he shot himself,” she said. Then I think I asked her something dumb, like: Was he depressed about something? And she said something strange that I hadn’t heard before. She thinks he may have had AIDS and was also in pain with scoliosis. She said he had a lot of women, many of these Japanese. I sort of wondered if she was implying that Japanese women were higher risks for disease. (Just now–I googled around about Brautigan’s death and found this very interesting article in, of all places, People Magazine.)

I asked her if maybe his waning popularity in the 80s was a factor in his emotional state (he shot himself in September, 1984) and she simply said, “He didn’t care about that stuff.”*

After she left the store, I couldn’t stop talking about this strange and wonderful encounter. I realized that although I had read a bunch of his books, I didn’t really know much about his life. A quick Internet search revealed this woman to be Sherry Vetter. I never found out if she lived in Portland or if she was just passing through. I sort of wish I had gotten a quick photo taken with her, or as Christopher said later, “We should have went down to Whole Foods and bought her a cake to pose with.”

Richard Brautigan would be 76 if he were still alive. I bet he would have put out a few more awesome books. It’s a shame he didn’t.

Richard and his signature hat, mustache, and typewriter.

*I didn’t disagree with her on this point, but I do think it may have been a bummer for him to go from selling 2 million copies of Trout Fishing In America to lackluster sales and bad reviews of his later work.

Another interesting story about a woman in Brautigan’s life (his first wife!) was published a couple of years ago by Arthur (introduced by my good friend, Mike Daily).

Dudes I Love

Sometimes I got to celebrate the dudes I love and a couple of them are coming to Portland town soon. Check it out:

1. Tom Franklin

Tom and his foxy wife, Beth Ann Fennelly

Last summer, when B and I went on our Southern voyage, we stayed in the awesome guest house of Tom and his wife (the great poet, Beth Ann Fennelly) in Oxford, Mississippi–for two nights! It was one of the highlights of the trip. I’ve loved Tom’s writing since his debut story collection, Poachers. He has put out some other beauties since then and his newest, Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, is a stunner. He’s reading on Tuesday, June 14th at the Powell’s at Cedar Hills. It’s gonna be good.

2. Davy Rothbart

Davy hangs out with star all the time. Here he is with "Hurt Locker" star, Jeremy Renner

I’ve been pals with the Found Magazine boss since he came into Powell’s several years ago and dropped off a copy of his then self-published story collection, The Lone Surfer of Manhattan, Kansas. I see him every time he comes to town now because the dude is so entertaining and awesome! He once told me that he gave his dad a copy of the first edition of A Common Pornography when his dad wanted advice on writing about his life. That, my friends, is sweet. Also, he published a story of mine in the Found fiction anthology. (I published two of Davy’s stories–one in The Insomniac Reader and this one in the Spork that I guest-edited.)

He’s in town on Wednesday, June 15th, to talk about the documentary movie about his love life, My Heart Is An Idiot. It was created by another cool-as-hell sweetheart of a man, David Meiklejohn. This will most likely sell out, so get your tickets fast.

3. Dan Kennedy

DK: Nice hair and a tasty drink

Like many folks, I discovered Dan Kennedy through his awesome writing that would appear on the McSweeney’s web site back in the early days of Dave Eggers empire. He’s had a couple of awesome humorous memoirs published since then and has been to Portland a few times to read from them.

He’ll be here, at The Woods, on Wednesday, June 22nd to host the next Entertainment For People, which I will also be reading at (with a special secret musical accompaniment)! We’ll also be doing the show in Seattle on Friday the 24th. DK is a genius of the deadpan and his writing shows up in all sorts of big-shot places now, like GQ and also on The Moth. Don’t miss this show!

Thus ends this episode of Dudes I Love. Thank you.