So everyone’s claiming to have been real tight with David Foster Wallace because they played tennis with him, had a class with him, got a book signed by him, did the naughty with him. Seems thousands of people were “pretty tight” with him and they want to make sure you know it.
I’ve hauled my copy of Infinite Jest, published in 1996, in and out of seven apartments I’ve lived in. Never made it past page 3. A few phone numbers scribbled in the back. Never wore a do-rag but had an earring in 10th grade. Took it out after someone made fun of me. I liked DFW’s cruise ship piece for Harper’s. I read it down in Palm Beach, then banged my then girlfriend in a hot tub from behind, at Lilly Pulitzer’s place. Like DFW, I dipped chewing tobacco (Copenhagen), but only for a week when I lived in Houston; I got dizzy and almost threw up.
Never met DFW but talked to him on the phone for 20 minutes. I tried to tease him about being a genius and literary celebrity. He said he wasn’t sure he liked how the conversation was going. Why was I such an asshole back then?
It was a different time. Everyone getting rich off the Internet. I worried that when I got old and people found out I was in New York during the late ’90s and didn’t make millions, they’d be laughing at me.
Well I never made it past page 3, but one day I’ll free up some time and tackle it along with the Harry Potter books and the collected works of that prick Paul Auster.
I figure I’ve thought about DFW once every three weeks for 10 years.
After thinking about DFW every day for two weeks since he hanged himself, I decided it was maybe time to move on. But then I looked at McSweeney’s Web site and was confronted by nearly 25,000 words worth of tributes to “Dave,” by apparently everyone who’d ever met him, attended one of his readings or sacked his groceries. Entry by Adrienne Miller caught my eye. I used to know her circa 1995 at GQ (she was an editorial assistant, I was a fact checker) plus a character in her novel, The Coast of Akron, may or may not be based on my fiancee.
On the McSweeney’s tribute page, Ms. Miller, who went on to become the literary editor of Esquire, writes about having lunch with DFW, whom she calls Dave W., and Dave Eggers, whom she calls Dave E.
“As we walked down the street and into the restaurant, Dave W. was polite to the point of paralysis—as excessively polite, I remember thinking then, as a cartoon chipmunk,” Ms. Miller writes. When Dave W. ordered a turkey burger, he “firmly but politely—again, he really was excruciatingly polite—told the server: ‘Well done. Italicize ‘well done.’” He also asked for “a hot Lipton tea” and used the teacup as a spittoon. Dave E. got “some sort of chicken-nuggety thing.” Must have been some lunch.
Ms. Miller describes DFW as a “huge drama queen,” “pissy,” “annoying,” “mean”—but, she sums up, “he tried to find the truth. He tried to be good, and he was. He was good. He was better than all of us put together. And he was—is—loved.” Followed by “he is loved” 36 times. With. No. Punctuation. See, that’s real literature.
I kept reading and noticed that for everyone who was real tight with DFW like Ms. Miller, there was someone who had never met the guy. Ellen Knowlton Wilson shared how she reread Infinite Jest during the summer of 1999, while doing fieldwork in the Aleutian Islands. One night Ms. Wilson had a dream about owning a chocolate Lab named Hal Incandenza, which is the name of a character in DFW’s 1,079-page novel, and a few days after DFW committed suicide she found the passage and began to sob: “My dog woke from his gassy slumber and bounded into my lap to lick the tears off my face. I can’t stop thinking about his dogs.”
Then there was Steve Beeson, who “never met the man but to Mr. David Wallace I owe my current situation in life.” Turns out Steve was on a ski trip with a pal, who asked if he’d ever read Infinite Jest. Steve said yes, and the friend looked at him in the rearview mirror and said he knew someone who would have sex with him on that basis. Steve not only got to do the bone dance with Karen, they now they have a little boy. Wonder what my 3 pages would have gotten me.
I own a copy of a book called The Hardness Factor: How to Achieve Your Best Health and Sexual Fitness at Any Age. The author—who isn’t DFW—recommends going for walks. I’ve been meaning to pick up some Rogaine shampoo but they only have it at CVS.
Hey, literary weasels: I’m truly sorry this isn’t McSweeney’s material. I didn’t major in math and philosophy at Amherst. Studied beer, frisbee and boobies at Kansas U. Spent hours in the library curled up with bound copies of The New Yorker, circa 1958, and dated the wacky ’n’ beautiful daughter of a world famous writer. Only time I ever tried anal.
“Take it out, too beeg!” she said after five seconds. She was French. Once she attacked me in a bar, spat on me and my date, threatened to take off all her clothes and call the police. Didn’t know we were exclusive until that night.
Took a Greyhound with her to N.Y.C. and she’d be in the bus bathroom screaming. What were you hollering about in there? I asked.
Brought her out to meet the parents in the Hamptons, then back to the city, where my cousin boned her in front of me. Then we (minus the cousin) headed out to a party in Westport, where she threatened to call the police on everyone. Still hear about that incident 17 years later. “Dude, why’d you bring her? Not cool.” They used to call me The Jinx.
I interviewed William S. Burroughs, met his cat.
“The murderer kills just one person. The suicide kills everybody.” That’s Martin Amis paraphrasing G. K. Chesterton.
Bottle of Johnnie Walker Red on my desk. Wait: Gotta be up at 11:30 a.m. tomorrow. Time to get on the Lifecycle for 22 minutes, stare at Campbell Brown, wonder how she got that banana tattoo on her foot.
I’ve been reading Paul Theroux’s book Sir Vidia’s Shadow on the john. V. S. Naipaul is one serious a-hole. Hates sex, music, bongo drums. Thinks he’s up there with Joseph Conrad. Silly man. Will there ever be 25,000 words about him on McSweeney’s web site?
Another book I’ve tried a dozen times is Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Area 51. I mean Lot 49. Got two copies. He’s a recluse. Big fucking deal; so is my friend, The Captain, who’s building a snow cave in Boulder.
When Paul Newman died, I did my best to shift the focus from DFW to him. Met Newman twice; he looked at me in disgust both times. Don’t blame him.
After reading the McSweeney’s material I found myself slogging through 10,000 more words online about DFW, compiled by the “The Literary Community”. Not making that up. Among the 48 writers holding forth were James Wood, Neal Pollack, R. U. Sirius. People develop imaginary relationships with famous people all the time.
As much as I love the movie, here’s what’s wrong with The Last Waltz: Joni Mitchell singing about a coyote.
Met a Russian knockout the other night. Asked if she was a you-know-what and she said no. Two minutes later we’re in a cab flying down Fifth. Where would she like to go? “Fancy!” O.K.! Bought her 3 drinks at Rose Bar. $70. She was wearing a snakeskin dress like in a ZZ Top video. Put her in a cab at 3 a.m., then I tripped and fell head first, stuff went flying out of my pockets, digital camera, tape recorder. Scraped hands. Sort of worth it.
On Monday I predicted the big plunge. Was off by 18 points. Have time-stamped e-mails to prove it. Sage of Wall Street. Not braggin’, just sayin’. Should be rich by now.