Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Pretty Lies

I received my first fan letter the other day. A boy in Pennsylvania wrote to tell me that he loved a version of the Robin Hood stories that I wrote a few years ago. "By the time you get this letter, I will have read it four times already," he said of my goofy little book.

So yeah, I got all gushy and warm. I'm an ardent writer of fan letters. As a kid I wrote to Henry Rollins, William Burroughs, Hunter Thompson among others. I still write fan letters, though nowadays it's an email that I send. I figure that if I've got something simple and nice to tell a stranger, I should say it.

I sat down with his letter to compose my reply. An image of the boy's family came into my head. The whole bunch of them would read the letter, mother, father, child. The boy, I imagined, was an only child. Homeschooled. That's what it comes to in my mind, a boy who enages in one of my old hobbies must be an lonely, homeschooled, weirdo with crooked teeth and a head the size of a soccer ball. (I had two siblings, attended public school, had straight teeth and a head the size of a soccer ball.) He wears velour shirts and when he eats Doritos his mother breaks them into smaller triangles so that he won't cut the inside of his mouth.

They are almost certainly Christians. All that they do-- eat, sleep, shit, walk, talk-- is viewed through the lens of scripture. They are rural people. Anyone who lives in Brooklyn is foreign and strange to them, almost druidic in their imagination.

These are the thoughts that were on my mind as I wrote, I had to speak to this audience and convey a sense of appropriate interest in the boy, communicate a (very genuine) gratitude for his letter, and balance this with the awareness that a 34 year-old man who sends letters to 8 year-old boys run the risk of being creepy.

And so I lie a little bit. After thanking him for his letter, I ask what he reads, what else he's interested in. I tell him some of my favorite books from childhood. These are weighed carefully. Can I suggest that he read Roald Dahl? Probably not if the parents are the Christians I suspect them of being. What about My Side of the Mountain? A kid runs away from home and makes a life for himself in the Catskills. What the hell, they'll live.

Of course I am not obiliged to inform the boy that I've been a cigarette smoker for most of the last fifteen years. He doesn't need to know that I've got kleptomaniac tendencies, or any of the other unsavory truths about myself. But what can a bachelor say to a kid that's acceptable? I went to the man playbook and over emphasized guy stuff: sports, motorcycles, fighting with my brother. What wholesome american family would argue with that?

Friday, June 09, 2006

Cars from Heaven, literally

Last week I started getting buggy in New York. In need of a scenery change, I came up to Maine to visit my aunt. Much to my surprise, she had my grandmothers Pontiac Grand Prix sitting in her driveway, rusting very slowly. My Grandmother died two years ago, and the car has been at my Aunt's ever since. After a series of discussions, it became clear that I must take the car.

I have not owned a car since 1990. I feel like an exile returning to his homeland. The Flannery O'Connor story Wiseblood runs through my head as I call the mechanic to see about getting the brake rotors turned. No one with a good car needs to be justified


Aunt Sue and I were driving down I-95 from Portland, on our way to visit our 102 year old aunt (technically she won't be 102 until August, but I figure once you pass 100 it's gracious to round up). We passed a sign for the speedway. I asked Sue about it. She didn't know what I was talking about, either the sign or the actual speedway. As car agnostic kind of person, both had escaped her awareness or concern.

"Sue," I said. "Next time we're driving around up here and I ask you about something and you don't know, please lie. It's more fun that way."

Thursday, June 01, 2006

The Worst Lie I've Heard in a While

Recently someone told me a story about a gay acquantance of her's. The story, heard second hand, is that he walked out of a gayish bar one night. By gayish I mean that everyone in the neighborhood thinks of the place as being gay friendly, but it's not like the Blue Oyster Bar in Police Academy. As he walked away from the bar, a Ford Econoline van rolled up. A hasid at the wheel, it came to a stop. The driver said to him, "You wanna get in the van?"

This young man has a reputation for being adventurous, and he likes to live up to it. He got in the van. Once there, he saw that there were six other hasids in the back, gathered around a glass coffee table.

At this point in the story, I said, "Wait, are you going to tell me that they plated him?" (For those of you who don't know what plating is, uh, it's a sex practice that involves defecation and a pane of glass and an usual vantage point.)

She said, "Yeah."

"That did not happen."

"How do you know?"

Well, first of all it's too tidy, the story I mean, not the sex practice. Untrue stories ignore the messy loose ends of life. Complex behaviors happen effortlessly in a lie. A vast government conspiracy conceals the existinence of aliens in New Mexico. Satanists operate a string of daycare centers. Etc.

Now take this story. We, the audience of the tale, are expected to believe that a half a dozen hasids made a club out of their shared love of caprophilia and gone cruizing for goyish objects of this fetish. Absurd. Think about how hard it is for half a dozen people to choose a restaurant. Now consider that these folks are engaging in an act that is universally regarded to be filthy and disgusting. Now consider that the guys in this story, Hasids, live in a closed community that eschews unneccessary contact with people outside their community. How did this little consortium of perverts find one another? Did they post to Craigslist? "Hasidic Jews seek other Hasidic Jews to enjoy shitting on gay gentiles in the back of a van?"


What's more, this particular lie rests on the rock-solid foundation of good ole fashioned anti-semitism. Hasids mind their own business, and since the rest of us are dirty bastards we imagine that they're up to no good. I mean, why else do they avoid us good Christians? Isn't it obvious that they want to poo on us?