Monthly Archives: October 2010

The 23 Journals/Magazines Literary Agents are Reading

This is me making up for missing List Thursday.  Here are the 23 Journals/Magazines Literary Agents are Reading (as per Poets & Writers’ Nov./Dec. 2010 issue).  I decided basically to cut out the article itself and just repost the names of the journals that the agents ( Julie Barer, Bill Clegg, Diana Finch, Chris Parris-Lamb, Deborah Ritchken, Jim Rutman, Denise Shannon, Anna Stein, Peter Steinberg & Renee Zuckerbrot) named as the ones they read most. Then I nerdily typed them up in Microsoft Excel and sorted them alphabetically.  If you want to see which agents had what to say about particular journals, you’ll have to go out and snag a copy of the new P&W.

1] A Public Space
2] Alaska Quarterly Review
3] Cincinnati Review
4] Electric Literature
5] Fence
6] Gigantic
7] Glimmer Train
8] Granta
9] Hobart Pulp
10] Mississippi Review
11] n+1
12] The New Yorker
13] No Colony
14] One Story
15] The Oxford American
16] PANK
17] The Paris Review
18] Ploughshares
19] The Southern Review
20] Subtropics
21] Tin House
22] Words Without Borders
23] Zoetrope: All-Story

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List Thursday: Books I’m embarrassed to admit I haven’t read… yet!

Sometimes books slip through the cracks.  Whether out of laziness or academic shortcomings, we miss out on some really killer reads along the way.  Lots of times it’s simply easier to lie and say, “Oh yeah, I’ve read that, but it’s just been so long…” than admit you’ve actually never even cracked the dustjacket.  Well, here’s my list, in all it’s brutal and gaping honesty. I might need to do something to restore my street cred with all my book-nerd homeys. Word life, son.  Or something…

1) A Brave New World – Aldous Huxley: Given my love for dystopian literature and having read both G. Orwell’s 1984 and Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We, this seems like a no-brainer. However, I’ve somehow managed to miss out on reading this book for 29 years.

2) Catch 22 – Joseph Heller: I came to literature late. I was a journalism student in my undergrad days and my high school didn’t teach Catch.  But really, there’s no excuse.

3) American Pastoral – Philip Roth: American Pastoral is on my list because it’s considered by some to be Roth’s best, however, my real confession is that I’ve only read one book by Roth, The Human Stain.  It should be noted that Human was good enough to compel me to buy the rest of Roth’s bibliography.

4) Catcher in the Rye – J. D. Sallinger: see Catch 22

5) The Recognitions – William Gaddis: A friend of mine and I were talking about my favorite novel of all time, David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest and tried to come up with four predecessors that probably paved the way for Jest to be conceived. This is one of those four books we’d ultimately dub, “The Four Horsemen” of metafiction.

6) Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov: This one is simply embarrassing.  The only thing more embarrassing than having not read this is the fact that I’ve read zero Nabokov…

7) War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy: It was the size of this tome that always scared me away.  But now that I’ve read Infinite Jest, and am currently reading Adam Levin’s new 1,030 page opus The Instructions, I feel like I can probably read anything short of In Search of Lost Time.

8) The Sot-Weed Factor – John Barth: One of the “Four Horsemen[1]” of metafiction, the author of Lost in the Funhouse was truly a generational talent. In fact, the most embarrassing thing to admit here is that the fairly short Lost in the Funhouse is the only Barth I’ve finished.

9) On the Road – Jack Kerouac: Yes this is probably sacrilege.  I’m apologizing profusely here. I just never got around to it.  That’s all.  which, even a background in journalism doesn’t save me from. I’ll rectify this soon.

10)  Crime and Punishment – Fydor Dostoevsky: see War and Peace

11)  Labyrinths – Jorge Luis Borges: I’ve wanted to read this for a long time.  Honestly. I own it so there really is no excuse other than time; there never seems to be enough of it.

12)  Ulysses – James Joyce: The supposed difficulty always scared me away from this book in college.  However, my aptitude for reading difficult texts has increased dramatically since grad school.  I done gone and got smarter!

13)  Moby Dick – Herman Melville: Again it was the whole length thing.  As it turns out, Melville’s a pretty kickass writer!  I have Bartleby the Scrivener and Benito Cereno to thank for this realization.

14)  A Farewell to Arms – Ernest Hemingway: I’ve read a lot of Hemingway, but not this, or For Whom the Bell Tolls or A Moveable Feast. I’m working on it.

15)  Sound and the Fury – William Faulkner: Super embarrassing literary fact #?? of many: I haven’t read any of Faulkner either… Ostensibly, if I were going to get a PhD in Literature, I’d have to specialize in second half of the 20th Century Lit.  I missed a lot of stuff pre-1950 that I’m trying to catch up on.

16)  Armies of the Night – Norman Mailer: As a former journalism student, my face is red for this admission.

17)  The Divine Comedy – Dante: I was never big on the old epics written in verse even though they are some of the greatest stories of all time.  I single out Dante here, but the truth is I’m seriously lacking in Homer and Virgil too.

18)  Nostromo – Joseph Conrad: After reading Heart of Darkness, Conrad made me want to quit writing altogether.  Is this guy for real?  English wasn’t even his first language and he slays it, the guy was a genius.  Heart made me swear I’d read everything Conrad ever wrote and so far, I’ve yet to make good on that.

19)  The Three Musketeers – Alexander Dumas: The Count of Monte Cristo is one of my favorite stories of all time — not just favorite books — but stories.  Revenge just doesn’t get any sweeter and similarly to Conrad, I swore I’d read all of Dumas. I’m 0/2.

20)  Leaves of Grass – Walt Whitman: Finally, I thought I should include a poet here. If there’s one area I’m severely lacking in in my biblio-arsenal, it’s poetry.  I’ve read almost nothing by Dylan Thomas or Charles Bukowski either.


[1] The two other “Horsemen” of metafiction are Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow and William Gass’s The Tunnel, both of which I’m currently reading.  Really, Gass’s Omensetter’s Luck would be more appropriate as an influence to Infinite Jest (as Wallace was admittedly heavily influenced by Gass) but we disqualified it because of its shorter length.

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Best Single Contemporary Writing Collection Ever?

I’d like to make the argument that Tin House‘s 10th Anniversary issue might be the strongest collection of contemporary writing ever.  This post is going to be less about me [gasp!] and more about the unbelievable amount of awesome that is included here:

FICTION

AMERICCA by Aimee Bender (Complete story)

THE PLANET TRILLAPHON AS IT STANDS IN RELATION TO THE BAD THING  by David Foster Wallace

LOW-HANGING FRUIT  by Jim Shepard

THE COUSINS  by Charles Baxter

I STAY WITH SYD  by Amy Hempel

A NIGHT OUT  by Joshua Ferris

ARF  by Stuart Dybek

DONKEY GREEDY, DONKEY GETS PUNCHED  by Steve Almond

WHAT, OF THIS GOLDFISH, WOULD YOU WISH?  by Etgar Keret (translated by Nathan Englander)

WHERE NOTHING EVER HAPPENS  by David Gates

FIVE FICTIONS FROM THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT  by Lydia Davis

THE RIVER NEMUNAS  by Anthony Doerr

JASON WHO WILL BE FAMOUS  by Dorothy Allison

SUNDAY IN THE WINDY CITY  by Ron Carlson

POETRY

BURNING MAN HAIKU  by Olena Kalytiak Davis and Rick Moody

GOO IN THE VOID  FREAK-OUT  FIREBALL  PIONEER  by Lucia Perillo

MOSTLY OLD MEN  by Stephen King

BACKSTAGE PASS by D.A. Powell

SEMI SEMI DASH  NICHOLAS HUGHES IS DEAD  by Jillian Weise

HUMMINGBIRD  ODE TO MIX TAPES  MILITANT  by Sherman Alexie

SMUDGE  by Thomas Sayers Ellis

INTERVIEWS

COLSON WHITEHEAD by Rob Spillman

BARRY HANNAH  by Tom Franklin

ESSAYS

MY DEAR LITTLE ANIMAL by Jean Nathan

THE BLUE INSUPPORTABLE  by Tom Grimes

THROUGH A GLASS LIGHTLY  by Francine Prose

LOST & FOUND

ON SAUL BELLOW’S Ravelstein by Jon Raymond (Complete Essay)

ON ANDER MONSON’S Other Electricities by Cheston Knapp

ON DAVID MARKSON  by Rob Spillman

ON GEORGE HOWE COLT’S The Big House: A Century in the Life of an American Summer Home by Jeanne McCulloch

ON CARL WILSON’S Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste  by Brian DeLeeuw

ON MANDY AFTEL’S Essence and Alchemy: A Natural History of Perfume by Elissa Schappel

http://tinhouse.com/mag/back_issues/mag_back_order.htm
Issue #40, buy it!

List Thursday! “The 25 Best Women Writers, In My Opinion”

“The 25 Best Women Writers, In My Opinion”: The list ins’t in any real particular order, mostly they are in the order I thought of them and then some were rearranged because (I’m neurotic) I can’t have two in a row that start with the same letter. Enjoy!

1)     Zadie Smith (White Teeth)
2)     Virginia Woolf (To the Lighthouse)
3)     Joan Didion (Play it as it Lays)
4)     Monica Ali (Brick Lane)
5)     Amy Hempel (Tumble Home)
6)     Marilynne Robinson (Housekeeping)
7)     Nicole Krauss (Man Walks Into A Room)
8)     Patricia Lear (Stardust, 7-Eleven, Route 57, A&W, and So Forth)
9)     Maxine Hong Kingston (The Woman Warrior)
10)   Catherine Texier (Victorine)
11)   A. S. Byatt (The Children’s Book)
12)   Debra Marquart (The Horizontal World)
13)   Mary Karr (The Liar’s Club)
14)   Ann Beattie (Chilly Scenes of Winter)
15)   Karen Russell (St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves)
16)   Anis Nin (Delta of Venus)
17)   Z. Z. Packer (Drinking Coffee Elsewhere)
18)   Harper Lee (To Kill A Mockingbird)
19)   Miranda July (No One Belongs Here More Than You)
20)   Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum (Ms. Hempel Chronicles)
21)   Rivka Galchen (Atmospheric Disturbances)
22)   Lily Tuck (The News from Paraguay)
23)   C. E. Morgan (All the Living)
24)   Nell Freudenberger (The Dissident)
25)   Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Half of a Yellow Sun)

‘The New Sophisticates’: Chapter 1, UPDATE! [ver. 2.5]

20 November 2010
Friday, Omaha, NE, 6:07 P.M. CST

Lately, any time I see my reflection, I feel compelled to give it a quick once over, checking off that everything is OK as I go.  Quick, but systematic. I then consider my breathing and focus on it, hone in on it, abdominally. Slow, abdominal breathing can arrest panic attacks, can prevent them. Diaphragmatic breathing — it’s all in the diaphragm. Think about your tie, I tell myself.  Don’t think about your head… Six breaths per minute… Think about your tie and your abdominal breathing… This is the particular kinesthetic mantra I have been (and will continue) repeating to myself — over and over again — and which I’ll do out of necessity.

Truthfully, hindsight being what it is and all, I don’t think I fully appreciated, until recently, how much my life had been speeding along an irrevocably-changing course toward a destination enveloped only in oblivion.  I hadn’t realized much of anything in the way of change until the day I’d finally concluded that jumping out of our[1] tenth-floor bedroom window seemed like an altogether reasonable and infinitely more appealing alternative to soldiering on through my altogether banal personal day-to-day routine, a routine that approximated a basic mix — equal parts existence, survival and muscle memory — death, precipitated by boredom.

It wasn’t a [quote] “simple boredom thing” or a “depression-thing” I was experiencing during this eye-opening personal revelation, either — the latter part, the depression part, came later, along with other undesirable emotions like regret, remorse and scathing sense of self remonstrance. Initially, what it was was a [quote] “indescribable- unfathomably-excruciating-and-concrete-physical-pain-thing” — the kind of pain that drives previously sane and rational individuals to go to great[2] measures in which to alleviate it; the kind of pain a person isn’t even completely sure could actually exist outside of medical textbooks because it so accurately simulates a very real and very tangible railroad spike being driven through your eye socket into the center of your skull; the pain is there, it’s real, despite any hard physical evidence. It’s the kind of pain — real or imagined — that, at last, prompts one’s (debatably) irrational contemplation of the (unquestionably) enviable relief that only a one-hundred-foot free fall to the pavement below could bring, even if that connotes unpleasant preemptive machinations on your part — pharaohs once proclaimed death comes on swift wings, and I’m starting to believe that maybe I can fly.

I’ve had a lot of time to think about how exactly to describe my situation and I think the summation provided by the aforestated is about as accurate and honest a description as anyone could provide.

In various chronic pain-sufferers’ support circles, this recurring phenomenon, this affliction, is known as a cluster headache, or, as in my case, cluster headaches, plural. Perhaps, more appropriately, others have simply dubbed them “suicide headaches.”

There is no cure, and there is no relief. I know because I’ve personally done a lot of homework on the subject. There aren’t enough pharmaceuticals on the planet to alleviate a cluster headache — I’ve probably been prescribed every last one of them.  There just isn’t much warning before one of them sinks its malevolently barbed grapnels into you.

I suppose all of this is more or less by now my deposition, my disposition, my life.

[Blend in with Ashley’s changes.]

In which case then, the change I noticed in Ashley was nearly just as abrupt as the change I noticed in myself. I began paying more attention. I somehow hadn’t even realized anything was different, oddly enough, until things in her life started becoming positively this or positively that with more and more regularity.  By which I mean positively — not in the sense that she’d previously been, more often than not, an unsure or indecisive person — or that she was, at the time, experiencing generally a greater number of epiphanies than she had at any other time in her life before — but positively in a different sense entirely.  It was in the way she started to adverbify[3] what had always been, until then for her, ordinary, everyday verbs, clauses and participles. It was this trend, in particular, that prompted my own recognition that something about her — more substantial than just her vocabulary — had unquestionably changed.

For example, after enduring especially long and arduous days at the Furlong and Associates Real Estate offices, she’d burst through our condo’s front door and dramatically flop down on the sofa, proclaiming herself not simply “tired,” or “completely spent,” but positively exhausted. She could no longer ever feel merely “hungry” or even hungry’s more intense hyperbolic articulation, “starving” — she was all of a sudden, it seemed, almost always positively famished.  I think initially I thought this slight change in her everyday verbiage was cute and kind of endearing until I realized she wasn’t simply being facetious.

She even began adverbifying already concrete adjectives: a new pair of diamond earrings was positively stunning, and the crème brûlée, positively marvelous[4].

Right now she’s positively luxuriating on our Stickley Santa Fe sofa, chattering away on her iPhone to someone I think is most likely her best friend-slash-office assistant, Meredith Tomlin, whom, I’m unsure how Ashley can even hear with the television blaring at such an unnecessarily ear-splitting volume.

But anyway, more to the point, things weren’t ever positively this or that to Ashley until six months before we packed up our things in New York and relocated to Nebraska, long after I’d introduced her to my core group of New York friends who’d attended Columbia University with me as well, friends who were from families more well off than any she’d ever known, which intimidated her, at first.  That’s actually where Ashley and I first met — Columbia — specifically, the MBA program there at the Columbia Business School. After finishing my undergraduate collegiate work right up in Harlem, I’d decided to stick around for a couple more years to attend grad school because, well, that’s pretty much the path my family’d always expected me — practically groomed me — to follow. My family is from the East Coast — Old Money, relocated to Omaha for the opportunity to make an even more obnoxious amount of new money in the financial trading industry.[5]

However, Ashley’s family, the Van Zandts,[6] have always lived in the Midwest. She, herself, was an academic wünderkind, fresh out of the Big Ten from the University of Iowa, not to mention that she was our MBA class’s top applicant[7].  Most of my MBA cohort’d already heard of her — and consequently, by the nature of such a pristine preceding reputation, we’d formed exaggerated opinions and also spread rumors about her — both good and bad, of course — though nobody really even knew who she was yet.  My friends and I began making assumptions about the department’s shiny new academic golden child before we’d even sat down and talked amongst ourselves about exactly which ball-busting professors and graduate seminars were the ones that brought with them levels of difficulty that were in no way ever to be fucked- and/or trifled- with, and whether or not tweed was still as recherché as ever — a pastime most graduate students, Ivy League or not, are typically wont to engage in.

Before she’d even set foot in our first Managerial Economics class; before she’d even stepped off the plane in Newark,[8] Ashley Van Zandt was already both well known and controversial, whether she’d liked it or not — which, in NYC, is actually kind of a big deal — a fact she came to privately savor underneath that doe-eyed, sycophant posturing she’d so finely honed in Iowa City — honed by telling professors and administrators exactly what they wanted to hear at all times, and in return, those in positions of power and authority gave her exactly what she wanted to see: a dogged, unwavering 4.0 GPA, though she’d likely have earned it anyway.  The girl’s mind was a razor.  She was a natural academic, wholly blue around her middle-class Midwestern collar but also expertly knowing how to play the game — a quality of which I can’t help but think the MBA selection committee was keenly aware.

Not surprisingly, Ashley was also a fast learner when it came to Fitting in with Old Money 101, as she took to my well-bred, cosmopolitan friends like a fish to water[9].  We spent each of our Columbia summers’ final remaining weekends nearly always in a state of full tilt boogie: sailing with friends out of the Sewanhaka Corinthian Yacht Club, lounging around with people we only barely knew from campus and their wealthy families on a North Shore enclave called Centre Island.  Or we’d light out early on Friday afternoons to places like the Brookvilles, Lattingtown and Mill Neck to spend the weekend drinking, fucking and just living like a bunch of spoiled rich kids entitled to whatever the world was willing to offer us, and taking what it wasn’t if we wanted it bad enough.

On rainy weekends, we’d all sit around in fully decked out private home theaters and watch movies like the 2001 Johnny Depp film, Blow, and laugh hysterically — both at how Depp as George Jung used to sell naïve Ivy League kids like us[10] fucken bags of sticks ‘n’ stones-grade schwag weed at a Humbolt County premium, and also at how guys like George Jung would one day be calling people like us “boss.” After burning the candle at both ends for back-to-back(-to- back) days, we’d still somehow manage to wake up as soon as dawn cracked over the Atlantic on Monday mornings and head back to the city so we’d be able to make our 9:00 a.m. course, Power and Influence (and always only just in time[11]). One of us would quickly skim the assigned chapters on “Diagnosing Power and Dependence” or “Formal Authority, Reputation, and Performance” as we drove the 106 across the Queensboro Bridge, taking the Grand Central Parkway detour to avoid the tolls on the 495 and 295 back to Harlem — whoever’d skimmed the chapters would read aloud so everyone else in the car could hear the material too — such are the lives of young overachievers.

Some of our friends — Ashley’s and my[12] — even had the means to rent out their own places in Sands Point, and we’d ultimately do exactly the same things there.

Sometimes we’d skip all those other places entirely and head for the Catskills where we’d stay at the Villa at Saugerties for a bed and breakfast weekend.  It was mid-2000s New York City and the only thing we knew was that we’d go pretty much anywhere that wasn’t the Hamptons — which, I concede, were probably still the spot if you were over 40, but there was no way we’d be caught dead there. We were too young, too moneyed and so fucking utterly individuated from our parents (or so we thought) that we began staking the Catskills and Centre Island as the new Mecca for all the young and hip new sophisticates and socialites — individuals — who were trendier, more beautiful and wealthier than their parents and every generation that came before them — and if we, ourselves, weren’t yet, then we certainly would be — the compounding interest on our respective familial trust funds and our future nepotistically-secured jobs all but assured us of that.

So there’s no surprise ending here — it all worked out the way we’d always assumed it would — was there ever even a realistic alternative? Ashley and I found that, by the end of our two years in New York, after graduation,[13] we couldn’t stand the thought of parting ways from each other. We didn’t have anything concrete planned out but it didn’t matter either — nothing during the time we’d spent together in New York even hinted at a possible scenario where things wouldn’t only get better for us.  So we got engaged.  We packed our things and headed back to the Great Plains, where we were both originally from, despite the disbelief our New York friends held, along with their notion we’d quickly flee back East.

Though my parents both grew up in Connecticut, met at Yale, and got married in New Haven, I was born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska[14] where my parents still lived, so that’s where we pointed the GPS.  Victor Deramore, my father, a chief executive at TD Ameritrade, and long-time friend of CEO, J. Joseph Ricketts, had already made a few calls to a few powerful friends of his, and before we’d even finished moving in to our brand new Riverfront condo, he’d secured me a position at the prestigious investment brokerage, Bartleby, Barney, Barney & Company,[15] a firm primarily concerned with asset management and institutional securities — the latter business sector being the one I was truly interested in,[16] a sector that involved providing other institutions with various fiscal services such as capital raising and financial advisory services, including (but not limited to) mergers and acquisitions advisory, restructurings, real estate and project finance, as well as a little corporate lending for good measure.

B.B.B. & Co. was like a “mom-and-pop Morgan Stanley”[17] that still made its executives billions (yes, plural — but that was never really a secret).  To be perfectly honest, since I’m being perfectly honest here, I had no interest in starting off as a clerk and working my way up from the bottom of anywhere like some of my former classmates were doing in New York — I wanted to start somewhere near the top — was that so unreasonable? I mean, I figured I was at least entitled to that after busting my ass for six years in the Ivy League and completely acing my Series 7 exam. I mean, a clerk? seriously? are you fucking kidding me?

So yes, my landing a job at B.B.B. & Co. was absolutely a prototypical case-study in corporate nepotism at its very finest.  Sue me.  This was 2005, and I was 100 percent committed to working on my own personal Maslovian self-actualization and fulfillment stratagem — something that, when I told others of, I always conveniently neglected to mention it was a phrase I’d pilfered from Ashley.

On the flip side, Ashley was making some seriously lucrative moves on her own, the old-fashioned way: the tried and true system of social networking. A few of her Real Estate Finance professors at Columbia called in some favors, and before she knew it, she was interning at the Lund Company[18] which lasted for all of six months before she secured (however improbably it seemed at the time[19]) an associate broker position with commercial rival, Furlong and Associates, and parlaying herself shortly thereafter into yet another promotion in a decisive, yet controversial, executive coup d’état to Senior Site Selection and Acquisitions Broker in early 2008, audaciously climbing the corporate ladder with a fearless sense of ambition, determination and gusto the partners at Furlong had never seen before in someone so young.

The girl had real guts and she wasn’t remotely scared to rock the boat. Simply ruthless.  That’s what the Furlong brass’s always said about her.

And in case I didn’t mention this before, my wife is stunning, absolutely stunning — a perfect 10, seriously. Blondish (for maximum appeal), tallish (5’8 or ‘9 depending on the day, ‘10 with heels), long, slender legs and a runner’s tightly-defined upper body; each abdominal muscle only just visible when she takes her shirt off, which, consequently, is to say nothing at all yet of her perfect breasts — perfect in overall size, shape, suppleness.[20] She looks almost as if she’d been painstakingly engineered in a lab for the sole purpose of incomparable and universal beauty; this, a fact I tend to relish, albeit somewhat unabashedly, since she hasn’t spent a single cent on plastic surgery in her life. Ever.

In fact, last year, long before the headaches’d started, Ashley and I were having dinner at Wolfgang Puck’s Beverly Hills steakhouse, CUT,[21] during one of my (unfortunately) not infrequent business trips[22] — on which Ashley joins me, when and if her schedule permits — and this wiry and vigorous-looking older gentleman literally walked up to us while we were eating and just started talking to the two of us[23] as if we were all old friends. The man was supposedly a plastic surgeon who’d earned a great deal of notoriety in LA, though (and, this detail shouldn’t come as any real surprise), I’d admittedly never heard of him.

So anyway, he (this supposedly well-known plastic surgeon) made this deliberate, totally calculated point of altering his original camber through the restaurant to arrive at our table, specifically for the purpose of telling Ashley — and here he was just really candid, in fact — that he was, and, here I’m quoting: “typically not in the business of telling people things like this, but —” and then he did this sort of histrionic pause in the middle of his sentence because he (allegedly) “wanted to be 100 percent certain he was making himself clear,” like unequivocally so — I think he was really pausing for dramatic effect, but, anyway[24], here I’m quoting again: “there was absolutely nothing even [he] could do for her that would, or could, make her any more beautiful than she presently was, sitting before him”[25] and then, turning toward me, he more or less (though without nearly the enthusiasm he’d just five seconds ago shown Ashley) said, “you are a very lucky man,” to which both of us, Ashley and I — each of us finding ourselves feeling more than a little embarrassed by this point — said, “thank you,” and then, unsure of what else we could possibly add to the wholly awkward situation at that point, utterly discomposed and blushing, we simply resumed eating.  Ashley said the situation was positively awkward. That’s when it struck me that she’d been saying it more than an average amount.

Though, aside from her grammar tic, it’s perhaps a gross understatement to say that, in 2006, Ashley and I were getting into our respective professions at precisely the worst possible time where the near future was concerned in the American financial and real estate sectors.

I mean, just flash forward two years.

As if the national-turned-global economic situation hadn’t deteriorated enough in 2008 (i.e. the ubiquitous public uproar and brewing maelstrom of civic opprobrium) following the comprehensive — or perhaps, more accurately, teetering-on-the-verge-of-paralyzing — media blitz that ultimately exposed the $65,000,000,000.00[26] mega- ponzi-scandal, masterminded and executed, by one Bernard Lawrence Madoff, a scandal that, for all intents and purposes, simply erased the investment portfolios of countless investors. Thousands of portfolios that had, at one time, held considerable numbers of investment shares essentially ceased to exist once the money’d left investors’ hands.

The very same media outlets also exposed the alleged (media outlets always use the term “alleged,” even in the face of concrete evidence[27], which I think is silly) use of private luxury jets to conduct various shady American banking CEOs cross-country, using fuel that’d been, more likely than not, purchased with taxpayer-remunerated government bailout money (while, working-class citizens helplessly watched their retirement accounts tank in the affectless face of near all-time high rates of unemployment) — these utterly gut-wrenching events were compounded yet again by a nightmarish, and ultimately all too realistic scenario, that forecasted the inevitable collapse of the once-believed-invincible American automotive industry. In light of all this upheaval, Americans could hardly at all be blamed for their newly-developed pessimism and ever-more cynical day-to-day dispositions, especially where their country’s financial and banking systems were concerned.

So thus, in the wake of the whole devastating and widespread financial collapse that seemed to have, somehow, left me, personally, relatively unscathed, I, Sawyer Deramore, know that I was, above all else, lucky — very, very lucky — that is, with respect to my own personal financial security. This, a fortuitous contingency I can only truly rationalize by the simple happenstance of my location, my job, and some combination of the two. And by my own admission, it’s — more often than not — simply better to be lucky than good.

My location, Omaha, Nebraska, the city where I was born and raised — is a westward-sprawling metropolitan area, home to nearly 900,000 people, five Fortune 500 companies and the second richest man in the world, Warren Buffet[28].  In 2008, it was also one of only a handful of cities less affected by the national economic crisis — though certainly, no city could be said to be considered wholly unaffected — Omaha had more hopeful looking unemployment and depreciation numbers. With all of the capital that seemingly just meanders around the city at any given time, Omaha presents a truly fantastic opportunity for the young and ambitious to thrive considerably, if they can get past the glaring absence of readily apparent and assumed glamour and the extremely harsh winters.

However prior to my fairly recent tenure heading up the Investment Securities Department at B.B.B. and Co. where, in the wake of the whole 2008 meltdown, I found myself breathing a fairly significant sigh of relief when my fantastically well-paying position, did not, as so many others’ would, turn up under the ever-sharpened edge of the always- lurking budget-cutting axe, which really made its presence felt following an abrupt and decisive internal corporate restructuring that higher-ups casually termed “reshuffling

the deck.”

After shit hit the pecuniary fan[29] nationally in 2008, corporate brass at Bartleby, Barney, Barney and Co. issued a press release to its investors with whippet-like speed — a press release one Albus J. Bartleby personally requested be written almost entirely by me, lickety-split!, or even sooner, if possible — a document I very simply titled: “Committed. Capable. Competent.” I felt like the periods after each word intimated a sense of professional confidence and concrete decision making.

It was an expeditiously-timed effort originally conceived to mollify a brand new, yet substantial, catalog of fears amassed by our (Bartleby, Barney, Barney and Co.’s) investors — the press release itself stated that we (B.B.B. and Co.) would not, under any circumstances whatsoever, ever become yet another Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Lehman Brothers or Merrill Lynch — the primest examples of financial-juggernaut-clusterfuckups[30] that’ve occurred on an historically monumental scale — instances where those company’s leaders emerged as virtuosos in (and of) misappropriation, disorganization and deceit. That just wasn’t going to be us at Bartleby, Barney, Barney and Co.  That was the promise I made our investors.

At the time I wrote the press release, I didn’t truly realize that I was, in fact, prejudicially and comprehensively lying to them.

Back at the condo, it’s been maybe 15 minutes and I’m still futzing around with my tie. The deep breathing has helped. My heart rate is back down to a normal resting rate somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 to 60 beats per minute, about one solid thump every second like clockwork, a precision I can appreciate.

Ashley’s slender figure materializes at my side and, as always, I’m always struck at how much better she makes me look. She stands on her tiptoes and playfully bites my earlobe, her gaze never leaving our mirrored reflection.

“I’ve got a surprise for you,” she says.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah, in the living room. Come see.” She takes my hand and begins pulling me away from the mirror, I resist for a split

second to take myself in one more time, confirming the symmetry of my shirt, tie, dress pants — the whole ensemble. I’m five-by-five, good to go.

A smallish amassment of white powder, parsed into evenly-spaced rows, sits atop our Nuevo Roma coffee table’s black marble surface, the sight of which, perhaps even just a week or so ago, would have produced a Pavlovian-like slavering effect over me, but tonight, it only makes my stomach drop and almost triples my heart rate, which Ashley immediately recongnizes.

“Jesus, babe, you look like a ghost. Everything okay?” Ashley says.

Perspiration bursts from the pores above my brows and the only thing I can say is, “Yeah, no, I’m good,” and then, “I think I just need to sit down — got lightheaded all of a sudden.” Which wasn’t true, but it was the first thing that came to mind that seemed believable to tell her.  The look she gave me intimated she knew I wasn’t telling her the truth, not the whole truth anyway.

“You want some water? You haven’t been this pale since, like, February,” she says, poking a little fun at the difficulty I have in maintaining darker pigmentary coloration in the winter.

I nod in acquiescence and lean back into the sofa, stare at the ceiling.  I swallow a 10mg tablet of Benzedrine with my spit because I think half of my feeling weird is from coming down from my last Benzedrine a few hours ago.  I close my eyes and think about the other half, the meeting I had with Mr. Bartleby Monday afternoon I haven’t told her about yet.

Everyone at the firm was wrapping up what they were working on for the day. The clock read 4:47 and even at prestigious investing firms, the last 10 minutes, give or take, of each work day is ostensibly a wash, 15 minutes on Fridays.  I’d just opened up my fantasy football page and was trying to figure out who I’d be starting this Sunday and who’d be sitting the bench.[31] I’d just logged-in to my Yahoo! Sports account when I received an alert of an incoming Push-To-Talk message.

“Deramore?” Albus J. Bartleby said, using his latest Motorola Droid’s Push-To- Talk feature as an intercom.

“Yes, sir, Mr. Bartleby?” I said, responding into my iPhone, unsure of what he could possibly want right now, but also a little nervous that maybe I really did know.

“I’m gonna go ahead and need a — God willing — brief face-to-face with you in my office before five o’clock. Which basically means right now since my overall desire to stay here at the office after five is, frankly, pretty damn low.”

“Can do, sir,” I said, still unable to judge his tone.

Shit on fire, son — that’s what I like to hear! That’s a winning can-do attitude right there, Deramore, I tell you what.”

“I’ll be up in less than two minutes, Mr. Bartleby.”

A minute-and-a-half later, I saw Albus J. Bartleby minimize the window on his PC containing his minesweeper game which he was, in fact, just putting the screws to (to put it mildly) right as I gave a quick courtesy knock and, subsequently, walked through the CEO’s open office door.

“Have a seat, son.”

“Thank you Mr. Bartleby.”

“Listen — Sawyer, is it?”

“Yes, sir — Sawyer Deramore,” I said. “That’s me.”

“Right.  Victor’s son.  Sawyer, as you are, I’m sure, aware, we drug test randomly here at Bartleby and Co.,” Albus J. Bartleby said, looking over the top of his bifocals at a smallish stack of documents that I concluded must be important, as well as the reason I was at that moment sitting in the Chief Executive Officer’s office.

Yes.  That is to say, yes, I am aware,” I said, “—of the policy,” I added, shifting my weight in the ridiculously plush office chair, which, upon closer inspection, placed my seated height at a multiple-inch disadvantage to that of Mr. Bartleby’s, clearly by design.

“And judging by these Internal Negotiations and Acquisitions Net Exchange reports, you are one helluva broker and a real asset to us,” A. J. Bartleby said without looking up.

“Thank you Mr. Bartleby, sir.”

“Which is why I have to wonder out loud — if you’ll permit me to speak plainly — just what in the fuck are you doing with cocaine all mixed up in your piss test?” His gaze over his bifocals was then fully locked on to me.

“I— I’m sorry, sir.  It was a complete error in judgment on my part.”

“Well shit, son — you’re goddamn right it was! It’s not like we don’t give our employees who do the kind of heavy profit making you do ample fucking warning before we make ‘em piss in a cup!”

“I know, sir. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t been just epically stressing out about that particular urine test. It was really just a giant error in judgment.  One too many scotch and waters[32] and a little too much cheer with some friends is all.”

“Mind if I ask who you were cheering it up with when this so-called error in judgment occurred? Might be a case where we can just throw someone else under the bus — say they slipped it to you, say they got you all in a whole heaping fuckload of shit at work — that sort of thing.”

“Sir, if I could be really honest, I’d really prefer not to drag anyone else into this since it’s completely and utterly my fault. I’m willing to personally accept all the consequences of my actions.” Actually, I’m not sure I fully knew exactly what I was saying.

Hell’s bells, son — I’d really goddamn-well prefer not to be in possession of this information at all, I mean, if we’re shooting straight about ‘druthers and whatnot right now.”

“I apologize for putting you in such an awkward and-or unpleasant situation, Mr. Bartleby.”

“Shit son, it’s not my ass in the fire here — it’s yours. Policy here at Bartleby and Co. dictates that something needs to be done about an employee failing a piss test, Deramore.”

“I understand, sir. Should I go begin cleaning out my desk then?” I said, completely certain of my impending termination, pushing myself up using the armrests of the chair, nearly to my feet.

“Now, hold on — sit on back down — there’s no reason to go making any rash decisions. Policy dictates some kind of disciplinary action needs to take place, but policy also leaves it up to the discretion of the employee’s personal supervisor, and when it comes right down to it, I suppose I’m actually everybody’s supervisor around here.”

“I’m… not sure I follow… Sir.”

“What I’m saying is, being’s that my name is carved into the very slab of stone that appears in the lobby of this particular building, technically, I’m your supervisor, Deramore, if you are catching my fairly obvious drift. And that means I get to decide what said disciplinary action should be in the instance of this specific failed pee test here.”

“Sir?”

Goddamnit son! For having such an expensive East Coast education, you sure can be a thick sonofagun, you know that?”

“I’d just really hate to be even a little presumptuous, Mr. Bartleby.”

“You’re polite too — that’ll get you far, Deramore, let me tell you. But let me also go on ahead and spell out what it is I’m saying here, so’s that you can pick up what I’m layin down, if you know what I mean.  Myself, I will personally take care of this little drug situation where it concerns you. We aren’t in the business of losing money at Bartleby and Co., so I guess what I’m saying is, we aren’t in the business of firing our big earners either.”

“Oh, umm — thank you, sir — thank you very much. I —”

“Now just hold on a minute, I’m not done yet.  Of course, something is gonna have to go on the books that says disciplinary action was being taken, and any issues the employee in question — that’s you — might have are being addressed. And I know how these things work and what the people who take a close look at the books like to see, which is that we care about our employees and we stick by their side to the end and all that other happy horseshit.”

“I mean, sure. Yeah. Whatever you think is best, Mr. Bartleby — honestly.” I really couldn’t believe my luck.

“Right then, so what we have here is a case of a young man who is pretty damn good at what he does and is a real asset to the company, but who also happened to get a little reckless one night — and God knows we’ve all been a little reckless a night or two in our lives. And what those fellas who read over the books like to see are stories of fallen heroes, and such, who become the underdog and get themselves all re-habilitated and all that, and then they rise again like a goddamn’d phoenix from the goddamn’d ashes and such, if you’re following me?”

“I think so, sir.”

“And this is America, son — God’s own country, from sea to shining sea — and here in America, we don’t just fire our best people: we re-habilitate them — which is exactly what we are gonna do with you, Deramore.”

“…..”  Rehabilitation? I honestly had nothing.

“So here’s what I see happening: you’re gonna sign an official written statement saying you are mighty sorry you went and royally fucked up, and then you’re gonna apologize from the bottom of your heart for hurting your family and co-workers and yourself, and that you are one-hundred-and-ten percent committed to getting yourself all better and straightened out so that you can be the man that everyone once believed in again — that is, even if they never stopped believing in you to begin with — and so on and so forth.

“You’re gonna sign that little piece of paper and go to a damn meeting once or twice a week — or whatever those sorry sonsofbitches who believe in all that re-habilitation shit do — and you’re gonna have whoever is heading up those meetings sign your little sheet of paper, and you are gonna bring it back to me, because why?”

“Because… the guys who… read through the books… like to see the signatures…?”

“Be-cause, the goddamn guys who read through the goddamn books don’t just like to see those signatures, son — they love to see those signatures!  It makes them feel all warm and fuzzy inside like a shitload of corporate money isn’t being flushed down the crapper right in front of their eyes.  Money that could probably go toward their bonuses, by their line of thinking, I bet.”

“I understand, sir, yes — absolutely.”  I think I thought I understood, anyway.

“And so you’re going to go to these meetings, and we’re also going to have to — just for the sake of record keeping here, you understand? — give you a de-motion, of sorts.”

“Sir?” This, for sure, was a contingency I had not expected.

“Don’t worry, Deramore — the pay’s gonna be the same, so you can go ahead and keep on living whatever kind of lifestyle it is you’ve gotten yourself accustomed to living since working here at Bartleby and Co. We just gotta keep our shit smelling like roses on paper, if you catch my metaphor? So in the mean time, you are — as of this coming Monday — gonna be heading up things over in mutual funds. It’s not quite as sexy as acquisitions, but I’ve been in this business long enough to know that not a whole lot else is.”

“So then the projects I’m currently working on?”

“On paper—” Bartleby leaned in and looked at me over the top of his spectacles, “—as I’d like to keep re-iterating — they are going on over to Frank C. Pelizotti. Of course, you’ll still be the brains behind all those deals. The unfortunate part of it is that there’s just no way we can pay you the commission from them, from a strictly records-keeping point of view. No real point in arguing about it either since I’m sure you can appreciate our hands being tied.”

“…..”  Again, I had nothing.

“And the last thing I wanted to mention, while I’ve got you sitting here, is that we’ve got some good ol’ boys coming from the Securities and Exchange Commission in about two weeks — give or take a couple days — so in all likelihood, that means it’ll be even sooner. The SEC never tells us when they’re dropping by, but that’s why, in this business, it’s good to know people — as they say — so you can at least get a rough idea when to expect a major audit before they’re here, all of a sudden, standing on our welcome mat with briefcases and calculators, and being all demanding about seeing our bookkeeping records and whatever else.”

“…O-K…?”

“So basically, we’re gonna need you to work closely with Frank on getting everything five-by-five before those SEC boys show up. God love Frank, but he’s at least one foil pack short of a box of Pop Tarts sometimes, if you catch my drift. And — this is only me speculating at this point — but if his uncle’s name wasn’t carved into the very same entranceway stone-slab-thingamajig I just mentioned a couple minutes ago, I’d be highly doubtful we’d even be retaining his services at all — but again, that’s just my two cents that don’t bear any real significance worth repeating outside this office, if you get me?”

Albus J. Bartleby and I sat facing each another for a few moments which then became somewhat awkward when neither of us proceeded to say anything to break the silence (that is, within a contemporarily accepted and socially-appropriate amount of time).

“OK… well then, I should probably be going,” I finally said, standing up from my chair, Bartleby immediately following suit and extending a hand to me.

“You’re a helluva team player, Deramore — a helluva team player — and a good sport to boot! I’m glad we had this talk. I’ll have H-R get you that information concerning your weekly meetings and whatnot straight away so’s that you can begin the process of re-habilitating yourself, A-S-A-P!”

“…Thank you, Mr. Bartleby, sir.” I couldn’t think of what else to say at the time.

“Don’t even waste another second of yours thanking me. You just have yourself a great night — and a great weekend, too!”

“I will — I appreciate it, sir. Thank you, again.”

 

I’ve been spacing out.  Ashley’s voice brings me back to our living room. Earth to Sawyer? I rub my eyes because I can’t think of anything else to do and tell her I was spacing out, but I don’t mention what I was thinking about.  Revealing the conversation with Mr. Bartleby would have to happen later.

“So anyway,” Ashley says, her speech rapid, her eyes twitchy and excited, stimulated, “We need to stop by Meredith’s place before we head down to the Qwest.  She just finished the packet I’m taking tonight with all the Furlong materials in it.  She’s such a peach!”

“Oh yeah?”  I pretend I’m interested and not thinking about losing the commission on at least three major accounts I’ve been working on for the past couple months, and that I’m not thinking about Ashley comparing Meredith to a pitted fruit.

“Yeah, I mean, the Brandeis is sort of on the way anyway.  I’ll just run in quick and grab it, two seconds tops.”

“Side note, how the hell does Meredith afford a place at the Brandeis?”

“I dunno. Sugar daddy, maybe?”

“Seriously?”

“Probably not.  Probably her parents.”

“Pretty nice fucken parents.”

“I know, right?”

In my head I’m thinking the sugar daddy theory probably isn’t too far off. Meredith’s tits make guys want to throw money at them. I’m not convinced she wasn’t a stripper in her early 20s, either.  Maybe she still is.  Who knows?  The Brandeis is fucken cherry and it costs a mint to live there. More than an office assistant can swing each month, I know that.

“Yeah we can pop by on the way,” I say. I’d rather stay and hang out for a while. One, because I hate corporate galas and two, because I’d definitely fuck Meredith if it wasn’t for the vows. She’s easier on the eyes than a hall full of stuffy business guys in suits and tuxedos patting each other on the back and congratulating one another on being so obnoxiously rich.  I want to tell them, Fuck you, I got money too.

Shit! Look what time it is,” Ashley says, bounding from the couch.

“It’s, uh, six-forty-nine,” I say.

“I know that! Get your shit and let’s go.  I don’t want to be late.”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m coming,” I say, walking to the kitchen to see if I conveniently misplaced my keys.  I didn’t.  A glass of Jack and Coke I poured earlier and forgot about during my knot tying mantra perspires into a pooled ring around its base atop the granite countertop.  I shrug and pick it up along with my keys and make for the front door.  I can already feel the Benzedrine putting some pep back in my step.  Ashley’s already in the elevator, holding the door open for me and motioning for me to hurry up.

Here we go, I think.

* * *

 

I pilot my Infiniti G37x Coupe through the streets of downtown Omaha, imagining I’m a Formula-One driver.  I’m only test driving the car for the weekend but I’m already in love with it.  The feedback between my input, the closely-spaced gearbox, the clutch and the steering wheel is kinetic, it’s instant and fluid.  The precision of the mating ritual between human and automobile is erotic, intoxicating.  Ashley’s hand rests on my thigh and I’m getting an erection but mostly from the car.  She can tell what’s happening inside my pants and smiles that fucking million dollar smile she’s got and it drives me wild. My wife, my passenger, her coyness and overall sexiness are doing bad things to me.  I want to skip the event tonight and get us a room at the Hilton instead.

As I’m thinking dirty things about Ashley, my right eye twitches unnecessarily and my erection vanishes, like instantly, prompting me to inspect my tie in the rearview and assess the knot I finally decided on, almost by reflex. I’m suddenly feeling unnerved, a particular emotion I don’t at all care for.  It feels like a weakness and a character flaw and those are two things I associate with punks and pussies.

Ashley notices a change in my mood and asks if everything is OK which I tell her, yeah, of course as I try to resume driving as I had been before. Only now, she’s taken her hand back and clasps her fingers together in her lap, gazing absentmindedly out the passenger side window. The mood has taken a change for the chillier.

We’re married now but opening up still isn’t easy.  Ashley doesn’t know the full extent of my headache problem.  I told her the doctor said it was just migraines and not to worry.  I didn’t mention the Dr. I’m seeing happens to be my best friend Drew Marinovich and migraines were only mentioned in comparison to my cluster headaches, which, really, there isn’t even a fucking comparison.

I also left out the part about Drew and I trying some pretty experimental treatment options — so experimental the FDA hasn’t gotten around to entertaining the idea, let alone approving it. Drew, being the scholar that he is, read about some really interesting and really far-out-there study going on at Harvard University where doctors are treating patients suffering with cluster headaches with LSD. Of course, the trial is full — plenty of applicants showed up to claim whatever was necessary to have legal approval to drop acid and hang out with a bunch of other people doing the same thing; the majority had to be turned away.

Drew and I decided we needed to improvise.

I steal a glance at Ashley and she’s still not looking my way. I know she thinks it’s something she did but she’s so wrong, only I just can’t tell her yet.

“It’s not you baby, it’s me — for real this time.”

I want to tell her but the time isn’t right and, I’m not 100 percent sure, but I think my tie is at odds with my collar again which has me back repeating my mantra and deep breathing techniques. I have to.

After mantra’ing my ass off for a solid two or three minutes, I realize the radio is off and even the slightest sound of anything besides rubber on concrete is absent. In cars like these, the refined acoustics allow you to hear even your passenger’s subtlest exhale. Her body language demands distance. The little bit of white residue under her nose, however, begs for commentary.


 

 

[1] My wife, Ashley’s, and my — the condo, I mean, is ours — we of course live together. I apologize: I tend to think fragmentally and get sidetracked very easily — a case of severe attention deficit disorder (ADD) — but I also feel this urgent and insatiable compulsion to explain myself whenever I feel I’m being at all unclear.

[2] Read: wholly extreme.
[3] The author is aware that adverbify — as well as its gerundially-modified form, adverbifying — are not actually “real” words, per se, but for reasons unknown, has developed a special affinity for it and other not-exactly-real words, especially invented adjectives and the process of turning nouns into verbs, such as the ubiquitous use of the proper name “Google” to reference any Internet search — a process he has thusly designated as verbifying nouns.
[4] This development coming from the girl who’d — when I’d first met her — adorably thought the dessert was pronounced “creamy broolie.”
[5] Yes, more money.  I’ll explain shortly.
[6] At the time, Ashley Van Zandt (who’d eventually become my fiancée, and then my wife (though neither of us can say we really knew it at the time like some fairy tale, ‘love at first sight’ happy kind of fairy tale horseshit).
[7] Information like that is hardly as classified as admins would like, and spreads like wildfire.
[8] The flight, she’d tell me later, was more than $100 cheaper to bypass LaGuardia or JFK and fly into Newark.
[9] Presuming the fish were aware of- and understood- water, as it relates to their space and themselves, etc.
[10] Because Ashley was with me, and I was Victor Deramore’s son, they even began accepting her as one of “us.”
[11] I’ve essentially got an eidetic memory, which makes even something as simple as the classes I’ve taken at any given time hard to forget.
[12] Because it didn’t take long for them to become no longer just my friends, not nearly as long as I’d assumed since she was from the Midwest or exactly blue blooded.
[13] She never lost that Number-1 spot in our class, either.
[14] Forbes magazine ranks Omaha eighth among the nation’s 50 largest cities in both per-capita billionaires and Fortune 500 companies. Crazy, huh?
[15] Henceforth, B.B.B. & Co.
[16] Provided I was interested in anything work-related at all.
[17] OK, perhaps “mom-and-pop” is an exaggerated litotes, but the firm started in 1959 with Albus J. Bartleby and Jackson Barney working out of a stuffy single room office in Downtown Omaha underwriting tens of millions in debentures for the Omaha Union Stockyards, which, in 1955, surpassed Chicago’s Union Stockyards as the nation’s largest livestock market and meat packing industry center. Shortly after that, Jackson Barney’s younger brother, Smith (coincidentally [or not], no relation to either Charles D. Barney or Edward B. Smith of Smith-Barney renown), came aboard and the firm became one of the lead syndicates in the U.S. rail financing with the headquarters of Union Pacific Railroad also based in Omaha.
[18] One of Omaha’s largest Commercial Real Estate firms.
[19] Because of her youth and limited experience.
[20] I’m just trying to be thorough here.
[21] Which is actually how Ashley names the restaurant when recounting the story for friends, family and
acquaintances: Wolfgang Puck’s trendy Beverly Hills steakhouse, CUT.
[22] Though, had I chosen the spot, we’d likely have gone to the less trendy, but arguably, better Cal-Asian restaurant, Yamashiro or Mr. Chow.
[23] OK, he was mainly talking to Ashley.
[24] Also, I should add that I’m pretty sure he’d been drinking — likely furiously — since his speech was even more fragmented and disjointed than mine, and I at least have a medical excuse. He also had the look of someone who’d recently snorted a few lines of coke and was using the alcohol as an equalizer, but this is only pure speculation on my part.
[25] The well-regarded surgeon’s earlier disclaimer presumably stemming from a desire to illustrate to us the money he would invariably lose by not performing tummy tucks, nose jobs and breast enhancement/augmentation surgeries, and thus, potentially adding some kind of intangible significance to his compliment.
[26] Sixty-five-billion dollar.
[27] Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat — the burden of proof rests on who asserts, not on who denies for non-Latin fans.
[28] Sometimes, the first richest man in the word — it’s hard to follow all of Warren Buffett’s and Bill Gates’s philanthropic efforts where they each try to give away more money than the other.
[29] For lack of a better term.
[30] Not the actual word I’d used originally in “Committed. Capable. Competent.,” of course.
[31] Bengals receiver Chad Ochocinco was fined this week for sending a Tweet on a his iPhone from the end zone after scoring a touchdown which cost him $25,000 and a quarter of playing time so he’d be sitting, for sure.
[32] Technically they were Jack and Cokes, but Scotch and waters sound infinitely more distinguished and at this point, I was also pretty sure the word Coke in any form at all should be kept to a bare minimum. 


My Personal Picks For The Top Reads of 2010

So Arielle Ford posted her Top 7 Great Reads of the Year on Huffington Post.  The problem, however, was that none of my own personal top 7 books of the year were listed, a circumstance that prompted me to create a list (an arguably superior one) of my own. Hers were in no particular order; ditto for mine, except for my #1 (spoiler free!):

1)      The Instructions by Adam Levin: I’m not done with this book yet. Sue me. I’m not even half done but this book is so ridiculously good that I don’t care. Not only is it making the list, it’s Number 1, unapologetically.  Levin’s voice crackles off  the page. It’s sharp, brilliant, moving and hilarious. You not only laugh at the characters, you laugh with them. Early, praising comparisons to my favorite novel of all time, Infinite Jest, may have seemed premature, but I can assure you, it’s well-warranted. When you factor in that this is a debut novel, you realize you are engaged with something really special.

2)      The Four Fingers of Death by Rick Moody: if it wasn’t for Levin’s magnum opus, this would have been my top choice for 2010. Moody has never been an author to rest on his laurels and TFFoD is no exception. If only the book were generational, it’d be an epic, but at 732 pages, it’s certainly epic in its own right. Moody nails about 20 different genres here from social novel to sci-fi to thriller and weaves them together expertly. I’m sorry (not really), but the astronauts’ space travel to Mars and the subsequent happenings are utterly brilliant and engrossing. There’s so much I want to say but I don’t want to give even a shred away. Highly recommend!

3)      Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart: I’m sure you can see a trend appearing. As a fan of both Shteyngart’s previous efforts and satire, this book was a no-brainer.  Shteyngart’s ability to point out the absurdity in which we all live in such a digitally connected world and his almost prophetic vision of what can happen if this system is left unchecked is both frightening and captivating. This is all not even to mention the fact that the narrative is ostensibly constructed from journal entries and email correspondences, the fresh approach to writing a novel feels just that, fresh — perhaps a nod to the call to arms David Shields issued in his anti-novel, Reality Hunger, entreating authors to make literature different and throw convention to the wind.

4)      Freedom by Jonathan Franzen: You knew it was coming didn’t you? Here’s a simple declaration, however: the book is really friggin’ good! If you can separate your predetermined disposition for the book arrived at from the whole Jenn Weiner / Jodi Picoult / Oprah Book Club drama, you will truly be in for a treat. Franzen is at his most confident and razor sharp here, more sure of himself than he was even in The CorrectionsFreedom is less flashy, stylistically, than its predecessor, but the story, in all honesty, benefits from it.  The narrative is solid, the characters are believable and, most importantly, Franzen is addressing issues that are actually important to a lot of people.

5)      Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross: here’s another debut novel I highly recommend.  Ross sets up a psychological-thriller-cum-traditional-whodoneit?-meets-noir in his first attempt and he really swings for the fences.  The narrative is really two interweaving narratives which challenge the notion of what is reality, really? Ross has an encyclopedic mind and the influence of the well-established postmodernists and meta-fictionists such as Pynchon, Barth, Delillo and company is clearly evident. You get the feeling Ross is just starting to gain momentum and his best stuff is yet to come.

6)      The Ask by Sam Lipsyte: fans of Gary Shteyngart who haven’t checked out Sam Lipsyte yet owe it to themselves to do so.  I was blown away by Lipsyte’s earlier novel, The Subject Steve, so I’d been anxiously awaiting the release of The Ask.  The Ask shares a few things in common with The Instructions — aside from being written by Jewish authors — mainly in that the language of the novel teaches you the vernacular as you go.  You begin each book as an outsider and slowly begin to feel part of the cool kids’ group as you learn how the characters talk. Stylistic fireworks aside, the novel is just really good.  Lipsyte does the likeable-but-down-on-his-luck-oaf-type characters better than just about anyone, and his portrayal of fired-then-rehired-third-tier-university-development-officer at a Milo Burke is no exception.

7)      Imperial Bedrooms by Bret Easton Ellis: I personally don’t think Ellis has been this sharp since Less Than Zero and The Informers, though admittedly, I haven’t read Glamorama yet to compare Imperial Bedrooms to. Lunar Park was fun but got kind of hokey at times.  The Rules of Attraction felt a little hollow and American Psycho was just disturbing (keep in mind I really like all of the books Ellis has written). Imperial Bedrooms is a return for Ellis to what he knows: vapid, rich kids living as if the rules don’t apply to them, only this time, they are all grown up.  Very few writers can get as gritty as Ellis, and like Less Than Zero, Imperial Bedrooms left me with the same “hollowed-out” feeling I had after watching Requiem for a Dream.

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Let’s call it “List Thursday”: The 10 Best Essay Collections I’ve Ever Personally Read

1)     A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again – David Foster Wallace
2)     How to Travel with a Salmon – Umberto Eco
3)     The Great Shark Hunt – Hunter S. Thompson
4)     Stranger than Fiction – Chuck Palahniuk
5)     Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs – Chuck Klosterman
6)     Me Talk Pretty One Day – David Sedaris
7)     Consider the Lobster – David Foster Wallace
8)     How to be Alone – Jonathan Franzen
9)     Armageddon in Retrospect – Kurt Vonnegut
10)   The Secret Miracle – Daniel Alarcon

Honorable Mentions:

  • The New Journalism – Tom Wolfe
  • On Literature – Umberto Eco
  • 13 Ways of Looking at a Novel – Jane Smiley
  • On Writing – Ernest Hemingway
  • A Man Without a Country – Kurt Vonnegut
  • Mentors, Muses and Monsters – Elizabeth Benedict

How big is it REALLY?? Adam Levin’s ‘The Instructions’

With the release of Adam Levin’s new tome-sized debut novel, The Instructions, I wanted to compare it visually to the relative size of other longish books. However, one thing lead to another and…

Here, I compared it to some other long[ish] books…

…to Infinite Jest solo…

…to the Norton Anthology of Literary Theory and Criticism

…to some Chicago Cutlery…

…to a sweet-ass sticker’d-up MacBook Pro…

…to a sleepy Greyhound…

…to a Playstation 3 and HD DVR cable box…

…to a fkn’ awesome Technics SL-1200 Turntable…

…to a 2008 Volvo C-30 [V.2]…

…to a burly snowblower and miscellaneous garage junk…

…and finally, to an ultra-pimptastic early 1990s GT BMX bicycle.

Needless to say, the book. is. HUGE! (and from the first ~50 pages I’ve read, it’s also fan-fucken-tastic!!)

In fact, Levin’s book is even tall enough to ride this ride:

Word.

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And, click here for a story that maybe could have been written by Adam Levin if Adam Levin was less talented and was 29, living in Omaha, NE and was named Joseph M. Owens.

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