You’re wondering how it goes when I am called on the telephone and invited to perform at a venue or event (act like you’re wondering that), so I’ll tell you.

The initial call, no matter the hour, wakes me from a combination of shallow slumber and television stupor, and conversation will start with the stammer of an almost pharmaceutically induced staccato.

A cagey, high-strung, slouching, growling medium-sized derelict canine is usually heard barking in the background on my end of the phone. He’s tied up at the parking meter downstairs, tortured by the dry itch of minor skin disorders to the point of lunacy. I don’t know his name, but I call him Taco. His favorite toy is a discarded box from Kentucky Fried Chicken, which he’s licked clean of tasty grease. He is not attractive or friendly, but I silently hope that, when heard in the background of phone calls, he casts an impression of quality living.

I’m asked my availability, and a couple of dates are reeled off. I feign a full schedule by mumbling while crumpling up a piece of paper near the phone. Once or twice, in the bind of having no nearby paper to crumple, I have rustled and whipped about a plastic shopping sack. This always draws inquiry as to my safety, because apparently it sounds like I’m “stuck” or “tangled up in something.”

There is the scheduling of a date after I feel I’ve crumpled the shopping sack enough. There is the confirming everything a day or so later by e-mail. Then all that’s left is for me to step up to the microphone, unleash a smattering of somewhat inappropriate anecdotes to attendees, read some things from a stack of paper, then cash in my drink tickets for water, which is usually free anyway.

When I get home afterward, I microwave a Hot Pocket® alone, read e-mail from strangers having problems with paper, and get started writing my Internet-based advice column.

Don’t be jealous—it took me 38 years to get here.

- - -

From: Katie Hardgrove
To: Dan Kennedy (McSweeney’s)
Subject: Recycling

I’ve been reading your column and really enjoy it. I grew up in the “Paper Valley” of Appleton, WI, and have a continued interest in paper-product manufacturing and recycling. In your opinion, can recycled paper products have the same quality as non-recycled paper products?

Katie Hardgrove
Yahoo! Autos. Looking for a sweet ride? Get pricing, reviews, & more on new and used cars.

Hi, Katie,

Your postscript catches my attention. It comes a bit out of nowhere, but that’s forgivable, as you seem so excited: “Yahoo! Autos.” Anyway, the answer is yes: I am indeed looking for a sweet ride. When I lived in Seattle, I drove a mid-‘70s-model Jeep Wagoneer that was, unbelievably, a chick magnet of sorts. There was something about that vehicle. The folks at Jeep AMC knew what they were up to with that one. Drive a ’75 Wagoneer around an art-desperado outpost like Seattle for a month and suddenly you’re pulling like Brad Pitt on guarana and yohimbe a week after the divorce. I thank you for the reminder, not to mention the tip on where to check out auto pricing, reviews, etc.

As for the Paper Valley, in a lot of ways, it sounds like an ideal place to grow up. That the township of Appleton is the world’s largest producer of carbonless paper and the only producer of the NCR Paper brand of carbonless paper, is only the beginning of life in the Valley, I would imagine. I’m not being factious here. I honestly think it must be nice to have a little something to hang your hat on in terms of where you come from. About all I can say for the valley I grew up in is that we lead the nation in understanding that heartbreak and longing is the curse of having ambition. We also had a regional country-and-Western singer who didn’t let a notable lack of height get in the way of developing a pretty solid local following by way of crafting sadly humorous songs on a weekly television and radio show. Actually, now that I see both of those in writing, my valley’s nothing to scoff at, either. I think we’re both blessed, Katie.

As if the glass weren’t half full enough already, I can add a sunny aside and tell you that, yes, recycled paper products have the same quality as nonrecycled paper products.

- - -

From: Jeff Robertson Alford
To: Dan Kennedy
Subj: Problem With Paper

Hi, Dan,

You may remember me from Installment 12. I was the “nose-blower.” Well, since you answered my question, I’ve sort of become a “big deal.” People keep sending me letters and handkerchiefs, and I don’t know what to do with all of these things. I’m sure you’ve encountered this problem before, Dan. What should I do with all this fan mail?

All best,
Jeffrey R. Alford

- - -

Hi, Jeffrey—

Your legal name didn’t ring a bell, to be perfectly honest. But, yes, put in the context of “The Nose Blower,” I immediately recalled your letter from some time ago. Listen, there’s a lot that comes with this paper-advice scene, you know what I mean? Yes. You do. Your life as you knew it is over, my friend. You’re in it. It’s a huge wave and you’re riding it. Yeah, sure, you get to a point where you think, “Would I have wanted all of this if I knew what came with it?” What should you do with the fan mail? You should save the fan mail, and read it when you wonder if you’ve made any difference. As for day-to-day life while you’re in the eye of the storm that lies at the top of the paper-related-products scene, there’s one angle I can recommend:

Start working the old "Trust me, it doesn’t fix you. If anything, it makes it harder to lead a normal life … Two years ago I was a guy in an apartment with a dream … Now if I try to buy groceries without sunglasses on it’s “Hey, Nose Blower!” and “Hey, blow it for us! C’mon! Blow it!”

Overall, I recommend you start undermining the hype yourself. Dress down. Affix an average and less ponderous expression on your face. Fly commercial, don’t move quickly through airports, wait to board at the gate instead of in the lounge. Your mantra? “You don’t know how boring I am. You have no idea. A big night for me is Netflix and pizza.” (Say it with a smile. No sour grapes here—you got what others only dream of.)

Lastly, enjoy it while it lasts, man. I mean, you’re the Nose Blower this year, but trust me when I say they’re already looking for the next one. Plus, what’s your other option—fading into the woodwork and always wondering what might’ve been? This is all there is for you. And that’s exactly who this paper scene is given to: the people who use paper and paper-related products like their lives depend on it because they have no other options. The line in your original letter from Installment 12 speaks volumes in retrospect:

Although it might hurt, it beats wiping your snot on a sleeve or sock.

Indeed. We got what we went looking for, my friend.

- - -

From: Dan Rosplock
To: Dan Kennedy
Subj: theological paper problem

Dear Dan Kennedy,

Hello! While reviewing vocabulary for an upcoming Japanese test, I had a startling revelation. Did you know the Japanese word for paper, “kami,” also means God? I was both stunned and troubled by this fact. I’m positive an ancient linguistic authority, possibly also a Shinto priest, was trying to tell us something important about the nature of the Divine. My problem is that I was raised Catholic and so I have a hard time integrating the idea of a paper deity into my system of beliefs. Is there any hope for my salvation?

Dan Rosplock

Dear Dan R.:

I’m not willing to do the research required to reply to your letter, so I’m going to have to tell you that you’re simply the victim of a practical joke. My gut tells me this tip came from a fellow student, and maybe even a Japanese student. The way the prank works is like this: He’s got you feeling like your little place in heaven has been given up to someone who has no problem praying to a half ream of Hammermill 8½" × 11", 20 lb. 104 Ultra Bright. And while you’re all tied up with wondering if you’ll ever be able to call a pile of copy paper or a goddamn scratch pad your creator and higher power, guess who’s finishing ahead of you on the grading curve. Yep, that’s right: your little friend who started your crisis in faith the night before a test.

Heads up out there, folks—