The Ballad of Zephyr, Portland’s Most Legendary Dog

Captured live at the BackFencePDX storytelling main stage, it’s Leather Storrs, the owner/chef of Portland’s perpetually hot Noble Rot wine bar/restaurant and myself jointly telling the story of Leather’s childhood dog Zephyr, who I knew when I was a student at Lewis & Clark College in the early ’80s. Leather and I didn’t meet until twenty years later, but Zephyr changed both of our lives. Sort of. I mean, not really. But he was an amazing dog, that’s for sure.



The David Show: More on David Lipsky’s David Foster Wallace

The David Foster Wallace movie “The End of the Tour” is based on the David Lipsky book discussed here. Originally posted in 2010.


The real story in David Lipsky’s “Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself (A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace)” turns out to be the budding/ultimately unrequited love story between the two writers. Throughout the text, which is almost entirely an edited version of Lipsky’s interviews with DFW in the course of a days-long roadtrip through the midwest, the author is careful to note the evidence of their growing friendship. DFW’s compliments; the many hours they spend smoking, eating, smoking, talking, musing together and smoking some more. “I can’t win an argument with you,” Lipsky reports DFW telling him. DFW frets that every person who sees them traveling together will assume they’re gay. DFW says he’s particularly eager to follow Lipsky’s career now that he knows the extent of everything his interlocutor knows about literature and life.

It’s not like Lipsky doesn’t know what’s going on. DFW is flirting with him, subject-to-journalist. DFW is extremely flattered by the attention,  despite all of his better intentions, and is extremely, almost dysfunctionally, eager to see himself look cool in the pages of Rolling Stone. Lipsky offers these observations in brackets, along with self-lacerating notes about his own behavior and motivations. He’s got a tremendous writer crush on this guy, who is almost exactly his age, has almost all of the same experiences but is just. . . better, in nearly every way.

I ploughed through the book over the weekend, reveling in the scattering of DFW gems among the pages. For instance, here, on p. 198, is DFW on lovelorn country music:

“What if you just imagined that this absent lover they’re singing to is just a metaphor? And what they’re really singing is to themselves, or to God, you know? ‘Since you’ve left I’m so empty I can’t live, my life has no meaning.’ That in a weird way, I mean they’re incredibly existentialist songs. That have the patina of the absent, of the romantic shit on it just to make it salable. . .(but) they’re singing about something much more elemental being missing, and their being incomplete without it. Than just, you know, some girl in tight jeans or something.”

That’s exactly what we’re talking about when we talk about DFW, isn’t it? And God love Lipsky for dusting it off and putting it out there where we can find it and realize again how close cultural revelation is, if you know where to look. I look at crappy country music and see a bunch of suburban cowboys in acid washed jeans. DWF looks and sees. . . magic.

And here’s Lipsky tagging along for five days. He knows DFW is him, only better. That they’ve gone to the same schools, focused the same amount of energy into their writing, both emerged as phenoms, shockingly promising from the earliest possible age. Only DFW has been touched by the light and Lipsky realizes he’s reflecting a dimmer glow. Which isn’t to say that he’s a loser, by any stretch. Check out the nuclear-powered author bio on the back flap, with its many awards, top-rank magazines, the one bestseller, drawn from the Nat’l Magazine Award-winning story. It took a while, perhaps, and he’ll never be the rock star that “Infinite Jest” made DFW, but Lipsky is right up there. Way above me, for instance. And so there it is, and the challenge in life is to be okay with that.

The power of the book, and between DFW’s words and Lipsky’s yearning it’s a hell of a bracing read, is how vividly it captures that primal struggle. The quest to be so okay with your inner world that the externals just don’t matter any more. DFW wants desperately to be okay inside. Lipsky seems a bit closer, according to DFW, and also their relative experiences in life. At least the book’s dedication implies a wife and kids to whom he extends a very sweet kind of affection.

But that drive. The thing that pushed and tormented DFW. The thing that makes Lipsky want/need/hunger for his new friend’s approval. The tentative affection they share, never to meet, speak nor share it again. “I never saw him again, except on television once.” A very sad and lonely (to cop a DFW-ism) observation, indeed.

It’s a frustrating book, at times an angrifying one (did Jann Wenner really assign the profile based only on seeing a picture of DFW with long hair? Did he kill the piece for a better reason? Or any reason at all?) . Life is frustrating and angrifying too. Especially when DFW, the accidental meta-critic of country music, dies by his own hand at 46. Hearing his voice again (on the page) is sweet and wonderful and very sad. I don’t want the trip to end. Don’t want the book to end. DFW was the best voice of my/our generation. That fact (to say nothing of the brainpower it indicates) was no comfort to him in the end.

Tom Junod’s Bob Dylan


Just when you think you’ve read every word you can stomach about the mysteries and weirdities of Mr. Bob Dylan, here comes Esquire’s Tom Junod (and Jeff Tweedy, with a big assist) to lay it down in a whole new way.

And yet he has not given in; he has preserved his mystery as assiduously as he has curated his myth, and even after a lifetime of compulsive disclosure he stands apart not just from his audience but also from those who know and love him. He is his own inner circle, a spotlit Salinger who has remained singular and inviolate while at the same time remaining in plain sight.

“President Kennedy has been shot…they are bringing him into the emergency room now.”

jfk doc
Jimmy Breslin gets the ER doctor’s perspective: New York Herald Tribune, Nov 24, 1963. The first bit is below, but follow this leap to read the rest on the Daily Beast.

DALLAS—The call bothered Malcolm Perry. “Dr. Tom Shires, STAT,” the girl’s voice said over the page in the doctor’s cafeteria at Parkland Memorial Hospital. The “STAT” meant emergency. Nobody ever called Tom Shires, the hospital’s chief resident in surgery, for an emergency. And Shires, Perry’s superior, was out of town for the day. Malcolm Perry looked at the salmon croquettes on the plate in front of him. Then he put down his fork and went over to a telephone.

“This is Dr. Perry taking Dr. Shires’ page,” he said.

“President Kennedy has been shot. STAT,” the operator said. “They are bringing him into the emergency room now.”

The Vespa, the nun and the sad pig


You gotta hear the story about the Vespa and the nun. I can barely do it justice because I’m not telling it aloud in a voice rich with hickory, history and this sort of sweet-natured wisdom I guess you could call enlightened hickery.

But I’m seeing a visual representation of what I’m trying to describe here in that menu from Mike and Jeff’s Old School BBQ,up the page from Jeff’s home telephone number (which you should only ever call to place an order, not to be an asshole), in that fanciful pig that’s their trademark. Because the cartoon pig isn’t just adorable, he’s also worried. His ears are wilted, his little arms hang slack and he’s definitely not smiling. As you wouldn’t be either if you were a pig who only just heard, as I did at M&J’s yesterday, that none of those ribs on the menu belonged to cows. “We don’t barbecue the cow here in South Carolina,” I learned. “That’s Texas. Here in South Carolina we only ever barbecue the pig.” I’ve got no problem with that, but that pig on the other hand. . .

Anyway, it seems there’s at least one nun in Greenville, SC who pursues God’s work on a little scooter she parked just outside a downtown pool hall. I don’t think she was in the pool hall, but that Vespa was there, right in the path of some teenage art school students sprung loose for Friday night, putting the finishing touch on a rambunctious week of boarding school life.

Not the Vespa I'm talking about, but I guess she could be a nun somewhere. In my dreams.

Another Vespa with what I’m guessing is a very different owner.

I didn’t go to art school, let alone boarding school, so i can’t really say what they did to aggravate their painting teacher, let’s call him Jim, who unlike the nun was up in the pool hall, working the table right next to the front window. Which I guess he wasn’t looking through when the kids gathered around the scooter and came up with a kick-ass idea.

Or so it seemed until the nun saw the empty space where her scooter used to be and called the cops. Who made fast work of tracking down the missing Vespa, and also the kids who had zoomed off upon it. So blue lights and a siren whoop or two and then the scooter was right back where the nun was still standing now in the company of shouting cops and no-longer-carefree kids. And this was when Jim, the art teacher, finally did look out the window.

“I thought maybe I oughta go downstairs and do something,” he told a colleague later. “But then I’m thinking, fuck no, I’m not going down there. I’ve been taking shit from those kids all week long. I had a shitty week because of them, and now I’m drinking a beer and shooting pool. Why should I go down  and deal with that shit?” The  shook his head and snorted. “Fuck that. And fuck them, too.”

The next week of classes went a lot more smoothly.

MORE TO THE POINTSC-Governors-School-for-the-Arts-and-Humanities

I had a great couple of days in Greenville. Scott Gould and everyone else I met at the SC Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities, faculty and students, were crazily smart and cool and when I asked the creative writing students to write about a song they loved and what made them love it so much they all came back with more or less stunning little gems that were better-written and more insightful than nearly everything I see in Portland’s semi-regular newspaper. Not the least of them being the girl who came back with a piece on “Thunder Road” which basically transformed my sense of the song’s conclusion. And it’s not like I haven’t heard that song 10,000 times over 35 years or considered its contents in what I thought was some depth.

You don’t have to mourn for the future or arts and letters.Thanks to the folks at the SCGSAH — and a lot of other youngsters we’d be wise to nurture nearly as much — it’s fixing to get even better.