SEX, DEATH, AND STAPLES® 100% RECYCLED 8½" × 11" (20 LB. 90 U.S./100+ EURO BRIGHT)
I’m sorry this installment has taken so long. Tiring of words as of about four months ago, I had set out to create a series of dances, paintings, and moody large-format photographs in reply to your letters. Alas, it’s been months and I’ve got nothing. Most of my time was spent in the sort of “tortured artist” stage of creating the paintings, dances, and photography. What few pieces I did manage to complete were involved in a series of shipping mishaps. And one mixed-media piece was bartered for the gift of companionship in Versailles, a lonely French suburb littered with people who are as affluent and pleasant as they are spiritually bereft. A place that really kind of falls flat once you’ve seen the palace and you’re stuck with a night to kill because of errant travel bookings. You’ve basically got a budget motel, a shop that sells film and cigarettes, and a bus stop. So if somebody in Versailles is willing to stay the night with you, watching badly dubbed Bond flicks, faking something like knowing you, and generally helping you repair what’s left of your self-image after an entire day of being lead through a palace that reeks of a certain womanizing teenage king’s posthumous gloating, well, it’s worth parting with your art. Of course, it meant I was back to square one in terms of turning in this column. And I was done with the heartbreak I had started to associate with painting and photography. Your notes kept coming in and I couldn’t dance my replies fast enough. So, here we go. Back to words. Back to typing. Back to listening to the problems you’re having with paper and paper-related products … Back to helping.
I just have to say, for the record, that Louis XIV was born into it. He didn’t “achieve” a thing, goddamn it.
Sorry for the outburst.
Date: October 28, 2006 1:55:11 AM EDT
To: Dan Kennedy
Subject: A Paper-Related Problem for a Paper Expert
Dear Mr. K.:
I’m not sure if you are familiar with the Asian paper industry, but here is my paper-related problem anyway: Why is it that recycled paper products are more expensive than those made from fresh pieces chopped off from trees? And just how can we stop the nuns in a Catholic girls’ high school from using those pale-green, fragile, and stinky recycled paper products? If you can’t think of anything to respond with, that’s OK. I understand. Asia (Taiwan, to be exact) is a little bit too far from NYC.
Sorry for the delay. I know you wrote me back in October and I’m just now getting around to typing out a reply. I had actually worked out a dance-based reply for your note. It was inspired by some of the moves that Ladysmith Black Mambazo do when they interpret the lyrics to Paul Simon’s 1986 hit album Graceland. It was intended to be a festive number that would be interpreted as the dancer (me) being trapped in an Asian all-girl Catholic school and taking a stand against a gaggle of nuns. It got weird, though. Somewhere along the line, my routine took a pretty big departure from Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s traditional steps and veered left into a crazy drugged-up (DayQuil) rave number that ultimately failed to address your question regarding the price point of recycled paper products in the Taiwan market. Anyway, on the price thing: it costs more to do the right thing—plain and simple. Want to eat food without pesticide’s and bioengineering’s dirty mitts all over it? Want to support a family farm instead of those huge multibillion-dollar conglomerates that buy out family farms by signing folks to half-million-dollar debts, then sitting them down in front of a thick rule book from the parent company about how to work their family farm for massive productivity? Cool, but, you know, put your money where your mouth is, sister. Same goes for paper: Want recycled product instead of sucking up the sweet, sweet discount offered by a huge paper house raking another patch of clear-cut through what’s left of our globe’s forests? Cool, but it might cost a buck more. You know what? I don’t even think stuff costs more as much as some things have cost too little for too long. You know what I mean? We were never supposed to get a 4-pound chicken breast for $2.99. Hell, chicken breasts were never even supposed to be 4 pounds. But huge corporate farms get the birds beefed up on drugs, cram 90,000 of them into a shed instead of a few hundred, a gigantic grocery retailer orders 7 million at a time, as opposed to the small family-owned store ordering maybe 50 a week, and all of a sudden everybody gets used to the idea of enormous chicken breasts for three bucks. You know what I mean? Best lesson in the world to learn the easy way: the cheap stuff always costs you more sooner or later. And I’ve said this next phrase a million times, although never in this context—but here goes:
I think the nuns are on to something, Vicky.
Does any of this even apply to the paper situation in Taiwan? I have no idea, as I’ve lived a relatively sheltered life in an orgy of middle-class conveniences.
If it’s any consolation, I lack fortitude.
From: Austin Mullen
Date: January 8, 2007 2:13:15 AM EST
To: Dan Kennedy (McSweeney’s Paper)
Subject: My own paper problem.
Like my fellow Iowa City-an Dana Christiansen, I too have fallen in love with a notebook—the Moleskine lined pocket journal. Unfortunately, my notebook habit is getting more and more difficult to support (at 16 bucks a pop) and I find myself in need of a new way to drown my sorrows. I love the creamy pages of the Moleskine, the perfect way that the cover keeps it all neatly protected and together … But we need to work something out. Suggestions?
Iowa City, IA
P.S. I’ve been looking for a good stationery stock that holds up well to fountain pen, preferably cream. Thoughts?
Thoughts? Yes. Suggestions? Yes. It’s 3:40 a.m. right now in New York City. Saturday night. On the stereo, the Replacements are screaming the song “Bastards of Young” into my head at stage volume. If the neighbors are in town, they’re wishing they had the pull to vote me out. Sober as a surgeon on duty; feeling more than I’ll ever record in books if I live to be 90; hair on my arms standing up like a deviant electrical storm has tracked me quietly from a tropical state and is finally ready to strike; Westerberg singing that line about “The ones that love us best are the ones we’ll lay to rest and visit their graves on holidays at best. The ones that love us least are the ones we’ll die to please”—goose bumps on my arms, and I’m now yelling advice out loud to a guy in Iowa; sitting in New York, screaming to Iowa, above the din of a Minneapolis ghost:
IT’S $4.89 FOR A REAM OF STAPLES® HOUSE BRAND 100% RECYCLED PAPER!
HORDE YOUR MONEY FOR FOOD!
YANK THE PENS OFF OF CHAINS IN BANK ATM LOBBIES IF YOU HAVE TO!
GOOD CREAM STATIONERY? FOUNTAIN PENS? SIXTEEN-DOLLAR BOOKS AND THEY’RE BLANK INSIDE?
SIR, WE’VE ALL BEEN DYING SINCE THE DAY WE WERE BORN!
THIS GIG’S TEMPORARY AND URGENT!
DON’T SPEND ANY MORE TIME SCOURING THE PLANET FOR PERFECT CREAM STATIONERY!
OR FOUNTAIN PENS!
WRITE ON ANYTHING YOU CAN!
The fine print: It’s borrowed time, from the second we get here, to the end.
From: Nicole Freidenfelds
Date: December 21, 2006 11:20:04 AM EST
To: Dan Kennedy
Subject: Paper-Use Suggestions
It took me three and a half years to obtain a Master of Science in Natural Resources: Wildlife, which, so far, hasn’t helped me get a job. I printed my thesis on Southworth Connoisseur Collection Exceptional Business Paper, 32 lb., white (100% cotton). I have some of this very fancy paper left over, and would love your advice on creative ways to use it.
Thanks in advance,
Nicole, meet Austin.
Austin, this is Nicole.