There is a city outside tonight. Oh, right … first of all: Hello. There is a city outside tonight silenced by snow. A different place when it’s quiet like this. Took a walk a little earlier and looked at the church out there, and Alexander Hamilton’s grave with a fresh white blanket of winter upon it. That was hours ago, though. Now it’s maybe two thirty in the morning and I’m back upstairs and typing to you. If I crane my neck from here I can see where Mark Twain celebrated his 60th birthday. On the TV there’s a picture of Johnny Carson, and the news from today. And the text across the bottom is where the quotes keep coming in from people who knew him. I’ve switched the channel over to MTV Jams, and the volume is down because I only feel like seeing. A gaggle of over-sized hip-hop thugs showing love with abandon. Handshakes, high fives, that thing where they pat their fist against their heart and look up to the sky. I feel dumb for earlier today when I was thinking most years seem to add up to pretty much nothing, and I was taking everything for granted. Oh, dude! I just remembered that I bought granola at Gourmet Garage today! I’m getting all up on some of that. And then, you’ve got some problems with paper and I’m going to help you solve them. That is what we’ll do tonight.

Life’s too big for me and you to wrestle with.

There is love, and there is lust, and we know the difference.

When it’s time for one of us to leave this life, we have no say in it.

(These are the things the mute hip-hop guys on TV seem to be saying. My hat is off to them!)

From: “Karen Frazier”
Date: January 21, 2005 10:03:42 AM EST
To: Dan Kennedy
Subject: A Problem with Paper

Dear Dan:

What’s the best way to remove wallpaper that has been applied directly to drywall? Right now, it’ll only come off in 2-inch strips. This is going to take forever …

If it weren’t so hideous, I’d try to live with it.


Man, my granola is hitting me strong and sweet. And in the headphones, Tommy Stinson is singing all about how “they’re the hardest days, seven days a week.” Jesus, I’ve pushed the volume. These headphones can take it, though. God bless the huge and soft AKG 240s. Listen to that. Can you hear that? If I could keep this song on top of my head like this for the rest of my life, everything would be fine. I wouldn’t be afraid to die if I could always hear this guitar tone and cop these lines. Oh, Karen … of course it’ll only come off in 2-inch strips. So take a little piece and stick it in your pocket. Then fly across the country to stand on the sidewalk out front with an old friend killing time before the next set. Then drive around at night somewhere you lived 10 years ago. Then spend a day and a half flying to someplace you’ve never been and when you get there, take that 2-inch strip out of your pocket for a minute. See how something can look all wrong when you stare at it too long? Took me 21 years to learn that.

From: Joe Conley
Date: January 5, 2005 10:56:03 PM EST
To: Dan Kennedy (McSweeney’s)
Subject: pastels

Dear Dan,

I was just wondering what kind of paper works best to paint on with oil pastels? I’ve been using cardboard I’ve acquired from my job as a grocery-store stock person, but the brownishness bleeds through too much. The paper I use for the printer seems to be too glossy to hold onto the oily pastel. Help.

Joe Conley


I need to put you in touch with Karen. She’s got walls she can’t stand looking at, and you’re looking for something to paint, man. I think I sold her on some mumbo-jumbo Zen approach of traveling around with a piece of wallpaper in her pocket, though … so she might be out of town for a while. But let’s make this happen.

From: “Ariel Quirolol”
Date: January 5, 2005 4:03:12 PM EST
To: Dan Kennedy (McSweeney’s Paper Expert)
Subject: I have a problem with paper

Dearest Dan,

I am a 27-year-old artistic, smart, well-read, sensitive, attractive female in charge of ordering paper (and various other office supplies) for a lobbying firm. I was given this duty several months ago. On average I end up ordering about 40 to 50 reams of multi-use ultra-white acid-free 20 percent postconsumer-product paper a month. That is a lot of paper for one office to use, considering we send our “big” printing jobs to an off-site printer. My problem with paper is that it comes from trees. I live in Sacramento, which has the second largest tree population per capita in the world (Paris is still numero uno). I love trees. Trees keep the air clean, give us shade during the dry, hot summers, and inspire us to write boring poems, which we will later have to critique in junior-high English class. All this paper-making is depleting the earth of trees, and this makes me very sad every time I fax in an order for 40 more reams of the stuff. Now that we are living in the “electronic” age, I think everything should be done electronically, until we can find a better source for paper. Hemp? Please let me know your thoughts on this subject. I know you are the expert, so I value your opinion and welcome any solution you may have.

Yours truly,


P.S. I met you when you were in San Francisco signing books this fall. We had a moment. I think. Or maybe I was just mesmerized by your mustache and you thought I was giving you the evil eye.


I know what you’re saying about trees, and I’m not sure what to tell you about how much of this stuff people still use. Have you ever flown from Seattle to San Francisco and seen the patches we’ve had to cut through the forests up there? I say “we” because we’re the ones using it. I don’t know about hemp. It might be the answer, but I think hemp is weed, Ariel. So that would be, like, 20 bucks a sheet for decent paper. My cousin could get you some killer paper cheaper, but you can’t just fax an order to him. You have to be way cooler about it than that, so with people talking too freely about it, it could be decades before we make the switch. But more importantly, I’ve chosen your letter for a number of reasons.

Firstly, your opening line: “I am a 27-year-old artistic, smart, well-read, sensitive, attractive female in charge of ordering paper …” Holy Christ, what the fuck! Pardon my language, but I’m a bit taken aback by the odds. Where were you when I was humping hand trucks loaded with case lots of Hammermill up the back stairs of every office building in Sacramento and Citrus Heights? I think the biggest lead I had on a woman who could understand a man working in the industry back then was Connie, the older, lurid shipping-and-receiving manager at the Office of the State Architect. I would show up and she’d get this look in her eye. She was, oh, I’d say 20-plus years north of me and still giving it a try with yours truly, the delivery guy. She had a line back then … “I can tell you’re bad. I’ll get some rum in you, bitch.” She was a class act, laying that line on a 22-year-old guy whose most physical gesture toward her was a strained polite smile while holding his sore back as he caught his breath.

Secondly, you use “Sacramento” and “Paris” in the same sentence, and I want to watch Google try to figure out what to do with that completely improbable line of text.

Thirdly, your postscript gives me the chance to address publicly the extremely unattractive mustache I showed up with in Brooklyn and San Francisco this fall at events promoting Created in Darkness by Troubled Americans. I grew it on some smart-ass lark, with the whole idea that everyone would think I was funny for growing it, or maybe dangerous like Hunter S. Thompson. And then I realized that I was in New York during the Republican National Convention with a mustache. And I spent most of my time explaining to folks that no, I’m not a Republican. And when flying west, it was all about trying to continually distance myself from the plane full of departing conventioneers who repeatedly went out of their way to make conversation with their evidently conservative-appearing mustachioed seatmate. Sarah Vowell reacted to me as if I were a shopping-mall security guard. My own sister displayed a similar disposition and finally blurted out that I “look like one of those weird right-wing maniacs … like one of the Promise Keepers or whatever they’re called.”

Ariel, I’m glad you were mesmerized by it and I’m sorry if I reacted like you were giving me the evil eye.

And whatever, Sarah Vowell and Trish.


Got a problem with paper?
Tell Dan Kennedy and he will help you.