Dispatches, thoughts, and miscellanea from writer Jon Konrath

The Fuck Up

A side note: When I wrote about Seattle a couple of entries ago, that wasn’t any kind of cryptic clue that I was moving to Seattle, that I missed Seattle, or that I was visiting or anything else. I write about random nostalgia like that entirely because I can’t think of anything better to write. Also, I feel some need to cement my random memories in amber for later preservation. Don’t read too much into it. In fact, the topic came up when I was in Alaska recently, because there are so many regional chains up there that reminded me so much of Seattle. And when we were vaguely, theoretically talking about if I would ever want to move back, the answer was a pretty easy no, because you can’t go back. There are times I miss when I lived in Seattle and was a 25-year-old writer, eating tuna salad and cup-a-soup every night to survive on $7 a week, writing furiously every night because I had no TV, no playstation, no DVD collection or player, and no long distance because I never paid my bill. But if I went back to Seattle, replace all that with worrying about my 401K and bitching about taxes and traffic and whatever else. And there are too many ghosts in Seattle for me. I haven’t even visited since I left. I probably won’t for a while. You can’t go back. But I do write about it a lot. Don’t confuse the two.

I’ve been trying to step up the reading a bit. Finished that Amy Hempel book, got her new one, and the first hundred pages are some (but not all) of the stories in Reasons to Live. So about 100 pages out of 400 are things I already read. At least I grabbed the new one off of Amazon in hardcover when it was still in the “new hardcover – slashed price” state, so I paid like $14 instead of $21. That book is in the queue, but a couple of others jumped in front of it while I was waiting for it to show up in the mail.

I re-read Arthur Nersesian’s The Fuck-Up again, which has become one of my “friends,” the books I can read and re-read on an annual basis without boredom. It’s about a kid in New York in the mid-Eighties who is hopping from couch to floor to lover and from job to job to lack of job, mostly on the Lower East Side and Brooklyn. There’s some other story arc in there, but aside from Nersesian’s fluid writing, the main character is this old New York that is now gone. Most of the novel takes place in a ten-block radius from where I work. But all of the porn theaters and slum apartments described are now yuppie condos and fast food restaurants and Gap stores. (I think Marie told me though that he has a few fuckups, like saying a certain movie theater became a Gap store, when it didn’t, etc.) Anyway, it’s a good read, interesting.

One of the things that stuck with me this time I read was that the protagonist has a friend Helmsley that was one of these uber-intellect types. His parents died in a plane crash, and he invested all of the money and lived like a pauper on the interest. All he did was read, and write. That made me really wish I could strip away all of the distractions of my life and get to the point where the two main consumers of time would be reading books, and writing books. Now, I don’t even know what the fuck I’m doing with my time, because I never write, and I never read. I don’t have a subway commute anymore – it’s like three stops, and I usually walk home after work to clear my head, so that hour or whatever is now gone. I’ve been trying to read more at night though. The writing, well, I’ll talk about that later.

Current book is the new Anthony Bourdain, called The Nasty Bits. It’s a collection of various newspaper and magazine pieces he’s done over the last few years, cleaned up a bit and pressed into a nice little 288-page hardcover. (I guess it isn’t that new – mid-May.) Some of the themes are repeated from his last two books, and if you’ve watched his TV show, some of the essays are longer versions of the different trips he’s taken. I like Bourdain a lot, and not for the macho pseudo-elitish chef shit that makes him a star. I seriously like his writing. He’s got the chops, and he’s read enough George Orwell and Hunter S. Thompson to keep alive that tradition of sharp observation mixed with entertaining craziness. Every good writer knows the best way to lure in somebody is to talk about work. And the best way to talk about work is to take some kind of work that is truly fucked up or boring or demeaning, and add some kind of element that makes it seem like a secret society to people. That’s why that bad jobs show on cable is such a hit. Nobody’s really interested in becoming a sewer cleaner; but when it’s presented in such a way that it makes people think (or think they’re thinking), it becomes gold. Bourdain does a lot of that. I’m not going to run out and eat whatever assholes and elbows make French culinary tradition great, and I don’t want a career in cooking, or even to learn how to cook. But his descriptions make it interesting, and I like that. The book is also much better than the TV show, which is glossied and cut up and pasted together in such a way that it loses part of the element. They’re entertaining, but the essays do a much better job. I’m only halfway through this book, but I have a feeling it will be done by tomorrow.

And I haven’t been doing that much writing, but I’m finding myself picking at these Bloomington stories again, like a scab that I will never let heal. These may or may not become a book called Six Year Plan, or maybe it needs a new title. No real news or agenda here – I’m just reading stuff that has sat for a while, taking out words, tightening lines, but not really doing much. Maybe I will get more productive with it, but it’s mostly something I do when I can’t figure out what the next project will really be. I think even if I made these stories as tight as possible and then put them in a book, it would only sell two copies, and that makes it difficult to jump into the thing with great gusto. I wonder if I ever would have written Summer Rain if I ever knew how many (few) copies it would eventually sell.

Time for lunch. I think we’re walking to this new farmer’s market on Orchard, then to a restaurant around here for some kind of brunch. It’s 70 and cloudy, very cool and maybe not bad weather for walking around for a bit.