OUT OF RETIREMENT AFTER A BOUT WITH IDLE TIME AND A STRIPPER TYPE WHO (READERS SHOULD BE WARNED) IS NOT A MUSE.
I think the Scorpions said it best. In a high-pitched, German—and sexually confusing at the time—groin-based howl from my suburban-youth off-brand stereo speakers, Klaus sang:
And you know something? He was right.
I retired, didn’t I?
I had too much to do and not enough time to help you with the problems you might be having with paper and paper-related products, didn’t I? Well, guess what I found out? I found out that without helping you … I can’t help myself.
I was a mess in my so-called retirement from the paper advice column. Housebound by day, sleeping until three in the afternoon when I would wake up to a knock on the front door for a room-temperature Safeway-brand lemon-lime soda and a single untoasted Pop Tart brought to me by a stripper type who was apparently staying at the investment banker’s place across the hall. She kept showing up at my door pretty occasionally bringing me bad snacks and saying that she knew who I was, and that she loved my work. This was very flattering until it became apparent that she thought I was an actor from a Canadian television show about crime fighting. Still, it was strangely beautiful answering the door each morning/afternoon to watch her try to understand and fulfill maternal urges that were coming up for air after being suppressed for years under a weighty pile of juke-boxed classic rock and hot-boxed Marlboro Lights. So anyway, I didn’t hurry to tell her who I actually was, because the mistaken recognition and misplaced fanfare felt good with it getting darker out earlier, and the holidays and all. Besides, I was retired, after all … and I was trying to forget who I really was. I was trying to forget about you and your letters about paper. I was trying to forget everything I knew about the paper industry, and paper-related products.
Premium-grade laser 20-pound stock? Never heard of it. Fox River archival quality acid-free bond? Wouldn’t know, pal. Keep walking.
But you can’t forget what’s in your blood, can you? I was being of service to nobody but, well, this muse. Damn it, this is the time to finally be honest with myself and with you … she was not a muse. I got nothing written during my retirement from the paper column, I have to tell you. And if there’s one piece of advice, aside from paper advice, that I can give you, it is this: one homesick comely tart from Vancouver who’s living in your wealthy neighbor’s apartment rent-free and knocking on your door at odd hours to offer you second-rate snack food, does not a muse make.
Tiffany (if that was even her real name) is gone. And I’m back. Let’s act like this time away never happened. From now on, it’s me and you, and paper.
Date: November 5, 2004 10:09:49 AM EDT
Subject: paper problems
Dear Dan Kennedy,
I’m an avid reader of your paper column and have benefited immensely from your ongoing advice. I come to you now in a time of great desperation. I am a struggling writer, having spent four years of my post-secondary life learning the craft of English. I write with paper and pen and I write the most beautiful sentences and clever interesting combinations of words. The problem is, when I get around to reading back what I’ve written on the paper, it’s somehow transformed into absolute gibberish-hokey-high-school drivel. I’m certain the problem isn’t me, as my limited sanity hinges on that belief. I was hoping you could recommend some paper that would accurately convey what I write down when read back.
Something I’ve found is that cheap-motel notepads lend an unbelievably sage weight and road-worn maturity to anything you jot down on them. 9000 … that’s a silly last name. Anyhow, Brydon, even if all you’ve got to write is … I have never … I’m trying to remember if, in all my life, I’ve ever lived next door to a family named the 9000s. No … no, I haven’t. That really is a strange last name. My sister Nan lived in Atlanta briefly and knew somebody named Aaron Five-O. A Hawaiian guy living down there. He’s the only numbered surname that comes to mind. They got hooked on stuff together … grass and Cocktails For Two®-brand piña coladas mostly, but then they cleaned up their acts, got engaged, and started managing an apartment complex for retired blues musicians. Anyway, listen … a Days Inn, Motel 6, or Comfort Inn notepad and plastic ballpoint pen will do wonders for your writing. I swear, you could write a grocery list on the damn things and feel like Kerouac.
Subject: Paper and its chemicals
Date: December 1, 2004 11:27:12 AM EDT
Dear Dan Kennedy,
What kind of chemicals are used to treat the thinner-than-tissue paper I use to wrap plant material with before I incinerate and inhale the contents?
Dr. Philippe Devousivac
The nature of your question makes me wonder what one should infer from the “Dr.” that precedes your name. Are you “The Doctor” on the local FM station’s Morning Zoo type of affair? Are you “Doc,” like my friend Rick Jensen, who inserts the nickname in quotes between his first and last name? Kind of jocular and handsome in a rusted and sexy California going-to-seed-but-I-just-wanna-have-some-fun kind of way. Here’s the one line he’ll say when we’re out together that always cracks me up: “Ladies, my name’s Rick Jensen, but if we party together, you can call me Doc.”
Rick’s awesome. “Nothing to lose,” that’s what I think every time I see him … and I always feel like I should be living a little more like him. A little less obsessed with what life is leading up to, and why we all do what we do, and instead just having some fun with it. You know what I mean? Anyway, back to your situation. The fact of the matter is this: you’re a grown man referring to himself as a doctor, and you just asked a 37-year-old Internet-based advice columnist for some information about your rolling papers. Shall we sit together in this feeling any longer? Can you feel it killing our impressions of ourselves the longer we sit with it? I can. Tonight I’ll feel the weight of this exchange when I stare at the ceiling, reflecting on my day and trying to sleep. We’re getting older, Doctor. But you roll another fat one, and I’ll sit here at a little table at 3 in the morning doing my Internet writing. Ding, ding! All aboard … next stop, 50th birthday!
From: Denton, Angela
Subject: Paper is love!
Date: September, 24 2004 1:13:41 AM EDT
To: Dan Kennedy (McSweeney’s)
I want you to want me.
Dear Angela Denton,
I think what you’re trying to say is that you want me to help you. But I’m afraid you haven’t told me what problem you’re having with paper. I want me to … want to … wait a second. Let me try it this way: I want you … and me to want me … to … help me help … you. I think you know what I’m trying to say; I just can’t make it into a short and clever thing the way you did. But rest assured, I am here. Again.