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?

No comments: