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Saturday, August 25, 2007

A Heartbreaking Post About Dave Eggers, a Pirate Supply Store and Taxidermy

Very rarely would I go to something like the Melbourne Writer's Festival. If I had to give a reason as to why I wouldn't go I'd say, with a straight face, that I was extremely homophobic and didn't want to be ambushed by gay people who go to "these things". It's fairly childish as far as answers go, but the logic behind it is: If you are a fair, open-minded person you'd stop asking me questions about my taste in literature ever again so I can keep claiming that I'm an illiterate hick. On the other hand, if you agree with the statement we could go to bars where girls take their clothes off for money and avoid any unnecessary conversations where we have to talk about themes and motifs buried within novels written by Gabriel Garcia Marquez for hours on end.

It's strange that, though I love reading, I tend to dislike talking about books or the people who wrote them. I don't like talking about books because I come across as a wanker and I know that most writers are essentially the same as the rest of us: They fall in and out of love. They get mugged on subway platforms. They wonder if they should make macaroni for dinner or just get take away Vietnamese food. They have their dogs neutered. They hatch plots to overthrow the Government. They have petty arguments with their siblings during Christmas. Nothing special.

Having said all that I put my fears aside and went to see Dave Eggers with Second-hand Bookstore Steve on Friday because we're both huge fans of his A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. We both read it and lent the book to indifferent friends who gave it a so-so review. Our friends are fuckheads. It was an exceptional piece of literature that dealt with death, life, loss and growing up in a touching and poignant way but you try telling that to some of the people we know and you'll be greeted with a blank stare. I think this is what happens when you let your brain rot from apathy.


Eggers, probably fielding questions such as, 'Yes..but what do you do with all that lard?'


When he came on stage (after a short, yet extremely dull intro by a guy who now does the breakfast radio on 3RRR) he was everything I'd expected him to be. Curly hair- looking just like the picture on the cover of his books. And when he spoke it was like listening to the cool, older brother of a friend of yours at a party, albeit with an American accent.

He shows us a slide show. '...and this here is the pirate supply store we opened in San Fransisco.'
Could you please explain why someone would have a pirate supply store? asks the interviewer.
'We had opened up a store in San Francisco. It was meant to be for our McSweeney's publication but the nature of the lease meant that it had to be a retail store. Sell things y'know? And the only thing we knew how to sell was taxidermy supplies (Ed- here, I can't exactly remember why taxidermy supplies were the only thing they knew how to sell)- embalming fluids, glass eyes for the animals, artificial teeth. But we were a real armature outfit. Coincidentally the store just next door to us was also a taxidermist- see? you can see a stuffed mountain lion in the window of the slide here (he points at a stuffed mountain lion displayed in the right-hand frame of the slide)- and we didn't want to create a feeling of...hostility with our neighbours so we made the store a pirate supply store.'
Ah, said the interviewer, to fill the niche market that was so ready for the plucking: the pirate supplies.
'We really didn't know how it was going to work at first but we built a whole series of things we thought a pirate supply store should have. There's flags galore, a fish tank, eye patches, skull dice and also a trap door located above a display right here. In the trapdoor we have eight mop heads which we drop onto people to scare them. The original idea was to have a thousand ping pong balls but the reality of that situation is you have to scoop up the ping pong balls every time you drop 'em on people which would be a real pain in the ass.'



For all yer pirate needs!

Dave is the guy that you'd be if you won the lottery. He seems to have a knack of doing things that shouldn't work. He writes a cult book about coping with the death of his parents that is painfully funny. He opens stores that don't make sense (following the success of the Pirate Supply Store he followed it up with the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Company that provides capes, suction cups that can be used for scaling walls, villain containment chambers, etc. But get this- all the proceeds go to a non-profit organisation that he started up called 826 Valencia which run writing workshops and tutor young kids aged 8-18) He edits the Best American Non-required Reading series which basically collects essays, poetry, short stories and Chuck Norris facts. He did the screenplay for Spike Jonze (Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are)He does all the things you want to do if you knew what that actually was.

We as a society accept mediocrity as the norm. I know I'm guilty of this. Our lives, if not exactly linear, are then like a place mat maze you find in crappy restaurants where you have to try to find the pot of gold in the middle and avoid alligators and other dangers, as if there is only one correct answer to life. I think we've somehow convinced ourselves that if we differ from the norm (buy a car, work hard, get promoted, marry, have kids, avoid eating too much corn chips) that this is a Bad Thing and life can't possibly hold any meaning. We let these feelings act like secret service agents who bustle presidents from limos to hotels to limos, and never let us experience anything outside of what's scheduled.

Hearing Eggers talk, listening to his life condensed into a one hour lecture, makes me realise that there is life outside the world of photo copiers and bad weather and unsatisfying haircuts. A life that's ripe for the pluckin'.

13 Comments:

Blogger Gorilla Bananas said...

I hate it when people are more interested in a writer's life than his writing. I didn't renew my subscription to the P.G. Wodehouse society for that reason.

So Fatman, are you gonna throw caution to the wind and become a radical bohemian? Being a bartender can't be that bad, it seems like a good way of observing people and combining life with art. Running a shop must be pretty boring really. If I were you I'd meet some of Kitty's friends and get some girlie stories. You need to work on your feminine side. That's lesbian, not queer.

7:26 pm  
Blogger Captain Smack said...

I once started a business selling magic pine cones. It was pretty edgy. I think i made $3 altogether. It may have not been the most solid business plan, but there was very little overhead.

8:26 pm  
Blogger kyknoord said...

I could do with a pirate supply store right about now. The authorities here recently arrested a whole bunch of people for selling knock-off DVDs, so a gap in the market has just opened up.

10:15 pm  
Anonymous Broadzilla said...

gorilla bananas: what the hell are you on about? I thought Fatman was a Radical Bohemian.

(Wow. I believe I need a Glass Eye Book Set. Yes. I mean yarr!)

9:54 pm  
Blogger Yawn said...

Gabriel Garcia Marquez wrote or book or something. Somebody made a movie of it. Something about A Very Old Man With Large Wings or something to that effect. You gotta rent that and check out The Spiderwoman. Complete with 60s-influenced psychedlic 80's sequence Spiderwoman music video. The Spiderwoman sequence is worth the wait and the $1 to rent it.

They also show her getting fucked.

8:04 am  
Blogger Fatman said...

GB-
1/ On the whole, I'd agree. But seeing that most of my favorite authors are violent alcoholics, it is sometimes hard not to hear about their antics.

2/ You know...I've never read a single one of Wodehouse's works. His Jeeves and Wooster series is held in such high acclaim and yet I have never been compelled to buy them. My loss really.

3/ Kittie's friends do have some lewd stories of the sapphic nature, as does Kittie herself. But I haven't seen her in months. I could call her up and say, 'Haven't seen you in ages babe! So....you got any cool girl-on-girl stories y'wanna tell me about?' but she may retaliate by throwing a brick through my window one dark and moonless night.

Captain Smack- I too have a succession of failed business schemes. Selling ostrich eggs, numerous Ponzi schemes, three-card montes, creating fake I.D.s for teenagers and terrrorists, lemonade stands. None of them have made me money although I now have a criminal record that is by and large comical in nature.

Kyknoord- Wouldn't it be funny if people selling pirated dvds wore eye-patches and had hooks for hands. No? Just me then.

Broadzilla- Thank you. Not that I'm going to start wearing things that are boho-chic but I do have certain Bohemian qualities (read: unemployable).

Yawn- Being the former director of a sinister quasi-governmental secret agency must give you access to some crazy dvds that are not meant for the world in general. Snuff films and movies that are illegal in most parts of the world must just be a phone call away. Order me some. I'll pay you back later.

11:28 am  
Blogger Gorilla Bananas said...

My favourite Wodehouse novel is Laughing Gas. It is written in the first person by a character called Lord Havershot. If I were human, I would be that man.

4:39 pm  
Blogger Mermaid of Moorgate said...

It's the thought that you're expected to say something even slightly clever at these book reading groups that pisses me off. I studied eng lit and lang for three years and did an MA in it. Why would I want to go back to being a student just to show off by using long words?

I'd like to go to one of these things and say, in all seriousness, things like:

"Um, yeah, I really liked the way he used the letter "a" on page 53. If you stare at it long enough, it starts to look like a picture of the Virgin Mary."

or

"Sorry... thought this was an AA meeting..."

2:39 am  
Blogger Fatman said...

GB- I often prowl the second hand bookstores for reading material so I'll keep an eye out for a Wodehouse or two. As you are my favourite gorilla writer (guerilla writer?) I'll buy the books on your say so.

Mermaid of Moorgate-

1/Actually the amount of dumb questions that came from the audience was kind of depressing. You have one question, and one question only, to ask Dave Eggers. What is it going to be?

'Mr.Eggers- where do you find your inspiration comes from?'

'Dave, can you walk us through your writing process?'

'How do you flesh out your characters? Does it take time?'

Fuck.

Off.

Is it just me or do all the question sound like, 'Dave, I want to be a famous writer like you. I'm going to ask these same dull questions to several authors during this Writer's Festival because I'm an uninspired individual who thinks that there may be some sort of a magic formula that can get me success. I don't think of the hard work that writers put in to their work. The nights spent indoors and alone. The intense scrutiny that they put into each and every sentence. The drafts. Re-writing. Editing. I just want the end results. How do I get that?'

2/It's a sad fact that the AA put such a negative spin on drinking. Just because they lost their wives, jobs, cars etc. to drinking doesn't mean that the world has to stop enjoying themselves. Hell, I class beer as 'inspiration juice'.

11:25 am  
Blogger Gorilla Bananas said...

Heh! Mermaid doesn't know you're a bartender, Fatman! You should declare your interest. I think she is more of a wine person.

4:52 pm  
Blogger EmmaK said...

You're right, Eggers is an inspiration. Imagine just starting something as wierd as a pirate supply store and it actually taking off! It's just sort of fairytale-like, the sort of thing a six year old would do: Hey mummy let's start a pirate supply shop.
Great post...I have linked you.

3:27 am  
Blogger Yawn said...

I talk with an American accent. Do you talk with an Australian accent? How does a gay man in Australia lisp his way into calzones of a speedfreak? Anything like a San Francisco drag queen?

Update already. Freaking update! I'm getting tired of imagining exican accents in Australian and Australian accents in gayese and Australian accents in Spanish.

11:08 am  
Blogger Fatman said...

GB- Well, I do whine constantly.

EmmaK- Dave Eggers is a dope fresh gangsta. Or he writes books or something. Either way, I'm glad you like him.

Yawn- Four days. I had four days off in a row and I didn't update. Why? Because I was playing Splinter Cell: Double Agent on the computer. It's a pretty tense game...you spend a long time hidden in shadows and waiting, waiting for that perfect moment when you can sneak up behind a guard to slit his throat. There are some split second decisions that you have to make that could mean endangering the mission or having 2,000 people die. Can you live with that kind of pressure and not be affected? Well....you might because you used to run a spy agency but your Average Joe wouldn't.

p.s. I think I have a fairly neutral accent. It isn't quite a typical Australian accent is what I mean. It sometimes drifts off into a semi-New Zealand accent for some reason. The words and phrases I use tend to be a mixture of "Try Hard Cool" and "Didn't People Used To Say That In The 1880s"? I have entire conversations using Simpsons quotes. I use split infinitives on a regular basis. Er...does that answer your question? Was there a question?

12:55 pm  

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