Neal Pollack is our greatest living writer. You can even ask him. He is an acclaimed author from Austin, Texas, part of the McSweeney's family of writers. He also has an excellent weblog where he discusses Iraq, John Ashcroft, and his manservant, Roger. Last Thursday, he came to Pegasus Books in Berkeley for a reading.
I attended with my pal Monica Fitzpadrick, who has a slightly less excellent, infrequently-updated weblog of her own. Monica also brought her boyfriend Jeff, for whom I have no hyperlink. Monica is a great big enormous fan of Neal Pollack. She likes his sharp prose, she likes his caustic wit, and she likes that he's "a little bit meaty." When we first saw Pollack at Pegasus, Monica was visibly nervous, trying to simultaneously watch him and hide, be near him but be far away. Part of that was the sheer force of Mr. Pollack's personality, but another part of it was the airport-sized bottles of wine she had been swigging since sundown. As the metal chairs, amplifiers, and electric guitars were being set up, the tension got to be too great and we had to retire to Beckett's for some pre-partying in the form of whiskey shots. Neal Pollack would love us, we knew, but he'd love us even better drunk.
We had a few plans to get Neal Pollack's attention and win his heart. We first thought we would try to have him sign the book of an author he hates, like Jonathan Safran Foer. Then we thought about heckling him. Finally, we decided to make t-shirts that said, "Neal Pollack Is A Son Of A Bitch." We wore them under jackets, waiting for the correct moment to reveal them. Note: We considered having one of the shirts say "Neal Pollack Is Our Greatest Living Writer" and the other say "...Son Of A Bitch" but we thought the "Greatest writer" person would look like a pathetic fawning fan unless they were next to the other.
The show was fun. There was an opening act who played songs about Neal Pollack. Neal Pollack read "e-mails" from an Iraqi teenager named Raul. Neal Pollack also read a satirical piece about 9/11 (a phone call on that morning advises, "You'd better get on your roof. And bring your notebook.") and answered questions. I was struck by the amount of people who asked about his fictional characters as if they were real people, and at the same time realized Neal Pollack had gotten used to it. In every town, someone thinks they're clever by asking about his manservant. I asked Neal Pollack a question about the Phoenix Suns, and whether or not he thought they could knock off the Spurs. Neal Pollack concurred with me that the Suns' strong guard play and dominating small forward Shawn Marion matched up well with San Antonio, and acknowledged that Rex Chapman hitting an impossible shot versus the Sonics in '97 was a highlight of his life. Neal Pollack also read an essay (on Monica's request) called "I Am Friends With a Working-Class Black Woman."
After the show, we approached Neal Pollack together. Monica complimented him on his prompt reply to an e-mail she'd sent years ago. It wasn't so much the content that had made an impression on her, she said, as much as it was the promptness of his reply. Neal Pollack seemed excited to meet such devoted fans, especially when we revealed our matching homemade t-shirts. OK, Neal Pollack was mostly afraid of the shirts, but he thought Monica was hot. He even made up this story about wanting to do a show in a punk rock club in Norfolk, Virginia to get her to send him an e-mail. Neal Pollack even signed my copy of The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature.
After the reading was over, I thought about Neal Pollack. He had liked us, I was sure. Maybe the t-shirts had freaked him out, and maybe he didn't like the hardcover edition of his book, but he couldn't help but be impressed by our fresh-faced innocence, our literary enthusiasm, Monica's breasts, and our certain general joie-de-vivre-je-ne-sais-quois called moxie. I was speculative then, but I am sure of it now. For when I checked my e-mail today, there was a message from Neal Pollack himself, in response to the Syria-related pun I'd sent him:
"Very good, Sean. Sorry it took so long to get back. I was travelling and shit. Thanks.
One can read my Syria pun at Neal Pollack's letters page, or by clicking the "MORE..." link below. I was glad that Neal Pollack had liked my pun, glad that he'd given me approval, although he didn't know that the brilliant punsmith and the "Son Of A Bitch" t-shirt guy were one and the same. Mostly, I was glad that he had replied so promptly.
George Bush as Marc Anthony:
"I come to bury Syria, not to praise it.
The evildoers from Iraq do flee there;
The bombs oft rained on them back in Baghdad;
So let it be with Syria."