I clearly remember when I first saw McSweeney’s. This was the 1920s and I was living, as all the great writers were then, in Brussels, in a small flat in the Little Panama section of that wild city. There was much talk of sex and fantail dancing and the wearing of fancy shorts, but I was morose, experiencing the first fitful longings for home common to ex-pats, and Old McSwee’s (as we called it) was my lifeline. The magazine was a thrice-weekly then—the Sheepdog Edition came out on Thursdays and featured a running cartoon about a mischievous squid named Buckminster who would get into all sorts of adventures (“Oh, Buckminster, bad cephalopod!”) I read it for the reviews of crossword puzzles and the bocce scores from North Beach, but also for the society pages, to see which of my old girlfriends was marrying some industrialist. All of my old girlfriends married industrialists back then, but of course this was the 1920s and you couldn’t throw a machined steel pulley without hitting an industrialist in his fat fucking head. My parents were inconsolable because all nine of my brothers (save Lars) and all of my chums from Harvard (Barber College, of Boise, Idaho) had become industrialists, but here I was hanging on with my artist dreams, trying to write reportage (please, if you’re reading this, pronounce the word rep-poor-TAJ) from the great war, the Greco-Turkish border skirmish of 1919-1922, which I attended feverishly every third weekend, posing as a medic until the deaths under my watch became such that I had to admit my complete lack of medical training and was blacklisted from the war and all future wars, a death sentence for my dreams of becoming America’s most important and courageous writer. So I became an industrialist after all, founding General (Blender) Motors, which I ran until about 2008, when McSweeney’s generously took my piece, “Statistical Abstract for My Hometown, Spokane Washington,” and the ship, as they say, was writed. Or maybe the phrase is, the shit was writed. I don’t know. Either way, McSweeney’s, to me, means “home.” Happy 100th Birthday, Old McSwees!
Jess Walter appeared in Quarterly Issues 37, 39, and 41. We’ll be giving away an Issue 37 and a Best of McSweeney’s to two lucky Quarterly subscribers who sign up today.