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Random musings on a writer's life & times, with occasional input from acquaintances

 

Saturday, December 28, 2002

 
The Year of Dave is drawing to a close, so we all need to look back and consider the significance of major Dave events in the last twelve months.

--JANUARY: Dave begins using his new “happy light,” a lamp which is supposed to improve the mood of people depressed by dark, dreary winter. He spends 30 to 45 minutes per morning slouched in front of it reading the sports page and eating his bagel and banana breakfast.

--FEBRUARY: a beefy friend of Dave’s youngest son kicks his foot through the plastic cover of the “happy light,” dealing happiness a major (but short-term) setback.

--MARCH: Dave fails to attend a Portland Arts & Lectures talk by South African novelist J.M. Coetzee, thus preserving his record of not going to an arts & lectures event since the first one in the fall, despite having paid the price of an Illinois congressman for season tickets.

--APRIL: Dave receives for his birthday a copy of “Now Again,” the first album released by The Flatlanders in 29 years, declares Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Joe Ely and Butch Hancock “towering figures bestriding the American musical landscape.” (You’ve got to pay the alligator, friend.)

--MAY: Dave comes down with the flu, sets new Oregon, U.S. and North American record for projectile vomiting: a chunk of carrot hurled 23 feet, 7 and a half inches across the family room. This record has been topped only by Freddy “Bigfella” Figueroa of The Philippines, who vomited a slice of water chestnut 24 feet, 11 inches on Sept. 13, 1952.

--JUNE: Dave buys a new, smaller house, earns the privilege of stashing everything he owns in its garage for ten months until remodeling is finished.

--JULY: Dave accompanies his youngest son on a plane trip east for summer camp at Franklin and Marshall University, learns there are actual trees and farm fields in Pennsylvania. Dave previously believed Pennsylvania to be all steel mills employing ex-Notre Dame football players and tenement housing where guys like Frankie Avalon and Fabian Forte stood around on street corners singing a capella versions of “De De Dinah” and “Turn Me Loose.”

--AUGUST: Dave connects his home office to the internet for the first time, cackles loudly as he begins harassing friends, relatives and the occasional stranger with vitriolic e-mail.

--SEPTEMBER: Dave hurts his back swinging a golf club, gives up running for exercise.

--OCTOBER: Dave’s weight balloons to 160 pounds, its highest since he packed on the Freshman Fifteen in college, so he begins walking for exercise.

--NOVEMBER: Dave hurries to get a tooth crowned so he can beat the Thanksgiving rush.

--DECEMBER: Dave sets a personal record for consecutive fiction/poetry rejection slips, collecting 17 in 25 days before Wavelength magazine accepts a poem the day after Christmas.

Yes, 2002 has been an exciting Year of Dave. Now we all can look forward to 2003, the Year of Dave II. I know you can hardly wait.



Friday, December 27, 2002

 


So what did YOU get for Christmas? Was it as cool as what I got for Christmas?

My wife gave me a confetti shredder. And I mean this is one killer shredder -- a Fellowes PS6OC-2, capable of chewing up paperclips and staples, as well as paper. Ruff! It even comes with its own attached trash can, as opposed to my old spaghetti shredder that balanced atop a wobbly basket of my own providing. I wired up the new machine this morning, and it’s already half full of tiny bits of paper. I’ve been feeding it every paperlicious thing I can lay hands on, from old check pads to chunks of magazine. My agresso-destructo impulses are being satisfied in a major way.

My wife also gave me a pair of leather gloves. She sort of had to, because when we moved last summer she threw away every glove in the house. “None of them matched!” she cried when I lamented what she’d done. “Why should we move seventeen gloves, none of which made a pair?” I was seriously bummed. Ever since I spent a few winters in Minnesota and Wisconsin as a young man, I have been addicted to wearing gloves from approximately September to approximately May. I DO NOT appreciate cold fingers. One of the famous photos from my newspaper days shows me sitting at the city desk of the Corvallis Gazette-Times typing on my computer with leather, fleece-lined gloves on my hands. Gloves are my friends.

I also received a DVD of the movie “Johnny Dangerously” from Cookie Jean. I am busy memorizing all the speeches of gangster Roman Moroni, and as soon as I get them down I will record them on the answering machine of my telephone so people who call up can be greeted by my voice saying, among others things, “Hello, you fargin’ icehole.”

My sister-in-law Patsy and her family gave me a spiffy gift -- a coffee mug with a drawing on the side of Bucky B. Katt stuffing a giant fish into his owner’s kitchen blender to make a salmon smoothie. This speaks to two of my major interests -- drinking coffee and reading “Get Fuzzy” comics. I keep telling myself I’m going to give up coffee (and the caffeine that comes with it), but that’s a lie. Coffee is one of my few remaining vices, and I fear I would be but a shadow of my formerly wild and crazy self if I abandoned it. Of course, I could switch to salmon smoothies. Hmmmm.

My mom was looking out for her boy, as usual. When we visited her in Bend, she gave me two pairs of jeans. She knows that, even all these years after I moved out of her house, I still would never travel to a store like an actual adult and buy pants, even if my old ones were dangling from my scrawny body in tatters (as they were, in fact).

My sons were mainly looking to improve old Dad, as often seems to be the case. I just ain’t hip enough. I’m so lame, I even use expressions like hip.

My oldest boy, Joe, gave me a copy of W.S. Merwin’s verse translation of “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” that he actually inscribed: “Dad -- You should read it. It’ll be good for you.” My youngest, Andy, gave me a CD by Billy Bragg & Wilco called “Mermaid Avenue.” I never heard of Billy Bragg or Wilco, but Andy tells me that’s the point. My musical horizons are in desperate need of expansion. Only Mickey, my middle munchkin, was willing to tolerate Dad’s questionable taste. He gave me a CD of some of my old-time rock & roll favorites he downloaded off the internet, ranging from Eddie Cochran’s “Cut Across Shorty” to Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall (II).” Hey, teacher! Leave those kids alone.

Now I have to sit down and write thank-you notes to everybody. But wait! I’ve got a better idea! I’ll just tell everyone to look at this blog entry, and conclude it by saying: Thanks for the great gifts!



Thursday, December 26, 2002

 
Have you made your year-end charitable donation yet? No? Well, hurry up! You’ve got only five more days to claim that tax write-off for 2002. And I’ve got the perfect charity for you: The Society for Indigent Daves.

You never heard of the society? Well, it’s a self-effacing group. But it does important work, providing food, clothes, housing and the occasional Hawaiian vacation for needy Daves. I happen to be the neediest Dave around, so I’ve been the primary recipient of society assistance thus far. If the organization can build up an endowment of a few million dollars, however, it will consider helping additional Daves.

The society accepts donations in any amount, from a dollar to a million or two. Give til it hurts. Give by mail today, and the society won’t send Jerry Lewis knocking on your door with a collection bucket next week.

Donors receive tax-free gifts in appreciation of their donations. Available gifts include:

--Under $10, a personal telephone call from me in which I tell how I always defend you when others say you are “a money-grubbing cheapskate.”

--$10 to $100, a signed lithograph, suitable for framing, of my poem “As Hemingway said to Lillian Ross in the men’s department of Abercrombie and Fitch . . .”

--$100 to $200, a 2003 calendar with a different photo each month of me in action: Dave sits at the computer, Dave sleeps on the couch, Dave watches football on TV, Dave feeds the cat, Dave stands in line at the post office. Twelve months of breathtaking excitement!

--$200 to $500, a CD of me reading a “Heroes for Hire” story I wrote for my sons when they were ages 12, 9 and 4.

--$500 to $1,000, a videotape of me shredding my arm pitching batting practice to a team of Babe Ruth League baseball players.

--$1,000 to $5,000 , a luncheon date with me at the restaurant of your choice. (Your treat; no Thai.)

--$5,000 and up, I come to your house and spend a week drinking your beer and eating your nachos. (You do have big-screen TV, right?)

Celebrities from all walks of show business endorse the Society for Indigent Daves.

Says Sally Struthers: “Daves are among the most endangered species in the world today. We must save the Daves! Don’t spend that dime on caviar -- save the fish babies, too! -- give it to the Society for Indigent Daves.”

Says Charlton Heston: “Donate a dollar to the Indigent Daves or I’ll pop a cap into your skinflint ass with my fully licensed .357 magnum.”

Says Richard Gere: “Peace will sit on your head if you share your wealth with the Society for Indigent Daves.”

Says Paul Newman: “My food company gives all profits from sales of its squid ice cream to the Indigent Daves.”

Says Damon Stoudamire: “If I donate a few grand to the Society for Indigent Daves, the district attorney may go easy on me after my next drug bust.”

So do it today! Send your money to:

Society for Indigent Daves
1111 Delmar Parkway
Flush, Kansas 01010

Your canceled check serves as your receipt for tax purposes.



Wednesday, December 25, 2002

 
Jargon

Every job, every pursuit,
every way of life
has its words. Words
I speak because
I am a poet -- strophe,
caesura, villanelle -- but
you do not know. Words
you speak because
you are a Catholic -- alb,
ordine, aspergillum -- but
I do not know. If only
we all knew
the same words
and spoke them clearly.
Words like
love, forgiveness, tomorrow.
--by David Jordan
originally appeared in Poesy Newsletter



Tuesday, December 24, 2002

 
I was disappointed in “The Little Friend,” Donna Tartt’s new novel, although I was rooting for it most of the way. That’s sort of the reverse of what happened with Tartt’s only previous book, 1992’s “The Secret History,” which I avoided reading as it generated buckets of publicity and crashed the bestseller lists. When I eventually ran across an abandoned copy during a vacation in Mexico, I found it surprisingly intricate and interesting for a 20-something woman’s fictional take on her college experience .

Tartt has a knack for publicity, I guess. The first book drew attention because of her youth and her networking (her sponsors included fellow Mississipian Willie Morris, former college classmate Bret Easton Ellis and assorted other literary heavy hitters of the time). I was put off by the splash and refused to read it until I found a tattered paperback copy on a condo bookshelf in Puerto Vallarta. Thinking I would merely read a few pages so I could sneer and quit, I found myself zipping through the whole thing.

I enjoyed it enough, in fact, to at least tolerate and sometimes even chuckle at the publicity machine cranking up again for Tartt’s new book. This time around the angle was that she took ten years to generate a second book. Why? What’s she been up to while out of the limelight? Is she still the tiny southern belle with designer clothes and the soft accent? And so forth. Tartt was on the cover of writers’ magazines, in People and USA Today, on PBS radio. The features were respectful and the reviews bordered on raves. So I bought a copy of the book.

Initially, I enjoyed “The Little Friend” a great deal. Tartt is from a small town in Mississippi, and this novel set in a small Mississippi town features tellingly precise local ambiance. I lived in the south the summer I was 12. From experience, I can say Tartt does a very nice job in the first three hundred pages of describing the twelfth summer of her central character, precocious Harriet Cleve Dufresnes. The look, smell and feel are right. As Hemingway would say, she did a good job on how the weather was. Also, she draws interesting portraits of Harriet’s family -- her domineering grandmother, her dotty great-aunts, her ineffectual mother, her absent father, her dreamy teen-aged sister. Harriet and her relatives seem like real people in a real place, and that’s good. Then comes the plot, and that’s bad.

I can see why Tartt took ten years to finish “The Little Friend.” In fact, I’d be willing to bet she never did finish it, really, she just quit working on it and let her publisher push this 555-page version into print. I suspect the original manuscript from which “The Little Friend” was carved ran much longer, perhaps even -- shades of Michael Douglas’s character in “Wonder Boys” -- 2,000 pages and growing. Tartt sets several plot lines in motion -- who murdered Harriet’s older brother when she was a baby, will she avenge the murder, what will become of her parents’ teetery marriage, how can the family survive after Harriet’s space-case mother fires the stalwart black maid who keeps it on an even keel? -- and then leaves them unresolved at the finish. Now, I know current literary dogma says sewing up loose ends in fiction is bad form, but this is a bit much. I’ll admit to a tacky addiction to seeing loose ends eliminated -- I like, for instance, the final frames of the movie “American Graffiti,” when the director tells you what became of the main characters after that long night in 1962 -- but even the literarily hip should expect Tartt to say l how the murder mystery she chooses to structure the book around turns out. And she doesn’t. It feels like a rip-off.

My suspicion is that Tartt has a version of this novel in which all of the plot lines are resolved, but the manuscript she generated in ten years of punching, pulling, poking and pinching was so unwieldy she -- or, more likely, her editor -- cut big chunks to get the book down to a publishable size. (Printing a mega-book kills a lot of trees, in this tree-hugging age, and the finished product winds up with a hefty price tag to boot; only Stephen King gets away with four-digiters.) What’s left of “The Little Friend” after the scissoring is a lot of very good local color, some nice anecdotes about an eccentric Southern family and a murder/revenge plot that doesn’t work.

Some interviewers have questioned Tartt about why she puts murder mysteries at the heart of her otherwise rather highbrow books (“The Secret History” was a novel about young would-be intellectuals spun around a killing). She counters that strong plots are necessary to entertain and she feels an obligation to entertain, as did esteemed writers like Charles Dickens. Being myself a writer who struggles with plot, I believe she throws murder into her books because she can’t figure out how to generate serious conflict or tension any other way. Without the death of Harriet’s brother, “The Little Friend” would read like one of Truman Capote’s stories about growing up eccentric in the South (“A Christmas Memory,” etc.)-- gentle, slightly odd people doing not very much while the author smiles sympathetically over their shoulders. With the death, Tartt adds melodrama and some unconvincingly villainous redneck suspects, but not much else.

On the plus side, Harriet is a memorable creation in the first half of the novel. She’s a smart, fearless, prickly girl with a can-do approach to things. She loses her edge and wanders off into the ozone of the second half, unfortunately.

Overall, “The Little Friend” is a pleasant read, but it falls considerably short of being -- as one misguided reviewer claimed -- another “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Next time,Tartt should give us Harriet and her family and skip the killing.



Monday, December 23, 2002

 
Don’t worry, it’s not too late to give me a Christmas gift. You could rush out right now and pick one up, then drop it off at my house. Or you could Express mail it, probably, if you paid enough. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

I’ll even help you out with a few suggestions. How about a video of Strongbad’s greatest hits? That would be awesome. Seriously.

Or you could go to the Get Fuzzy website and buy me that T-shirt with Lowe Tech printed on the front (like Rob Wilco, I am a loyal alumnus).

You could buy me some white sox. Or is it socks? In Chicago and Boston, they spell it sox, but my friends Bill and Hillary called their white-footed cat Socks. I get confused. Anyway, I need white sox(cks). My wife and I both wear white sox(cks) most of the time, and she tired of trying to sort hers from mine, so she decreed that henceforth she would dump them all in one of my drawers and help herself when she needed some. This means, of course, she helps herself so often I sometimes don’t have white sox(cks) when I need them, such as if I put on a pair of shorts. I may be pushing geriatric, but I ain’t ready to wear black dress sox(cks) with shorts.

How about a confetti shredder for my office? One of my main pleasures in life is feeding paper into the spaghetti-style shredder already balanced on my trash can, but the fun would ratchet up to a whole 'nother level if I had a CONFETTI shredder -- chop them ol' bank statements into itty bitty dots instead of long strings. Yes! A confetti shredder would make getting rid of paper as much fun as my all-time favorite household activity: cramming orange peels, apple cores, egg shells, etc. into the garbage disposal.

I also would accept a screenplay of the classic 1984 movie “Johnny Dangerously.” I am the world’s Number One Fan of gangster Roman Moroni, and I need to commit all his lines to memory. His speeches are classics, you fargin’ icehole. They rank right up there with soliloquies by Hamlet and Othello.

Then there’s that tape of “A Brilliant Madness” I’ve been searching for. It’s a recorded PBS-TV documentary about math genius John Nash, who was the subject of the fictionalized but Oscar-winning movie “A Beautiful Mind.” I saw Ron Howard’s so-so (in my opinion) movie, which led me to read the fascinating book by Sylvia Nasar on which it was based, which led me to want to see the documentary in which the real John Nash (who ain’t Russell Crowe, for sure) speaks. Nash was a walking, talking example of the thin line between genius and insanity. I identify with Nash, even if I am a lot less smart and a little less crazy.

Oh, yeah -- one last suggestion: tickets to a Portland Fire game, assuming the women’s team sticks around. It would be nice to watch pro basketballers from Portland who try hard and stay out of jail. I prefer a game against Seattle, please. I need to see Sue Bird again. I saw her against the Fire last season, and she’s nice to look at even when she’s just sitting on the bench, if you know what I mean, and I think you do.

I’ll be up until midnight Christmas Eve, so you have plenty of time to get a gift over to me. I’ll even accept gifts on Christmas day, if that will help you out. Or the day after Christmas. Or March 3rd. I aim to please.





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