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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'.