CHAPTER & VERSE
Short story author Steve Almond talks reading and writing — and wimps out of the one tough question we asked.
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by corey mesler
In the spring of 2002, author Steve Almond embarked on a reading tour to promote his short story collection, My Life in Heavy Metal. He’s been kind enough to share a few trenchant statistics and, er, highlights of that odyssey here.
Colloquy between Steve (age 30something) and Nathan Morris (age 4) of Clemson, S.C.:
S: Hey Nathan, you know what?
N: You’re a chickenbutt.
S: You’re a monkeybrain.
N: You’re a toilethead.
S: You’re a redneck.
N: You’re a tootface.
S: What’s a toot?
N: You’re a poopbreath.
N’s father Keith: Please stop calling Steve a poopbreath.
Number of times Steve has been asked whether he’s ever slept with a woman who ejaculates: 1
Number of times Steve has been asked why he writes about his penis so much: 1
Kritic’s Korner: Every couple of years, a writer comes along who tries so desperately to show that he’s got his finger on the pulse of his times that it makes you wish the times would just die already. Bret Easton Ellis, Amy Tan, Jay McInerney — they keep on appearing, up-and-comers who wear zeitgeist like Armani and whose sole mission in life seems to be to fill us in on the difficulties of being young, affluent, pampered, and (horrors!) oversexed. Steve Almond, whose new short story collection is called My Life in Heavy Metal, wants to join the list … Almond writes nice sentences … unfortunately, his frequent recourse to shallow epiphanies is just plain annoying. Almond complains at 7 p.m., Monday at Olsson’s Books & Records.
— Washington City Pages, March 28
“You can’t do a keg stand in a prom dress, cuz your dress will fall up over the keg and no one will know how much you drank.”
— Received wisdom from Angel Lynette Johnson (age 20), resident of Harlin County, KY, during the Greyhound bus ride from Harrisonburg, VA to Washington, D.C. Number of tattoos Angel showed Steve: 2
Steve’s chief calorie source on the road: Skittles
“Naw, it don’t hurt at all. It’s beautiful, man. Just silence. Silence all over the place.”
— Tony “The KO King” Gardner, former USBA Welterweight Champ, describing what it’s like to get knocked out, over B-52 shooters, on Beale Street in Memphis.
Number of pornography factories toured: 1
Lowest turnout: 1 person (Eric). Memphis, TN.
Colloquy between the author and Red Bull Promotional Girls Julie and April, transcribed Tuesday, April 16, at Beaucoup Books in Nawlins: Julie: Hey! That was really fun. This is, like, the first reading we’ve ever been to. We saw a thing about it in the paper.
April: Yeah, mostly we go to clubs.
Julie: It’s our job. They send us out to check out cultural stuff — you know, just to hang and check out the scene.
Steve: You get paid for this?
April: Yeah! Isn’t that cool?
Julie: It beats the hell out of handing out fliers.
April: Do you want a Red Bull? It’s a delicious energy drink.
Steve: What does it have, caffeine?
April: No, it’s just an energy drink.
Julie: Like, for energy.
Steve: Do a lot of authors drink Red Bull?
April: Oh yeah. Stephen King drinks this stuff by the gallon.
Julie: And Bellow. Bellow’s on an IV drip.
April: Toni Morrison.
Julie: All the big guns. For real.
From the department of poor planning:
A) Pairs of long underwear packed by Steve: 2
B) Average temperature of the cities visited by Steve: 77 degrees
Number of times the author has been pulled over by City of Miami police officers and told to “step out of the vehicle and place your hands on the car,” while transporting two very spongy buds of Mary J. Wanna in the pocket of his khakis: 1
Number of times the author complied: 1
Number of times the author has been patted down for explosives thus far: 7
Number of times the author has been patted down by a comely young security lass who lingers pointedly on his most sensitive parts before winking meaningfully & ushering the author into a tiny, hidden room used exclusively for the full-body-hot-grease-cavity probe: 0
Number of audience members who have left a reading in order to go strip: 1
Number of times women have speculated as to the size of author’s manmeat: 6
Consensus: Small to average
Kritic’s Korner: In the title story of Steve Almond’s debut collection of short fiction, My Life in Heavy Metal, the narrator attends a Metallica concert, where the bassist introduces himself by farting into his microphone. It was, Almond writes, “the heavy metal equivalent of a bon mot.” It is also an apt epigraph for this volume, which begins with a story that manages to be simultaneously weird, offensive, and banal… Never mind Almond’s woefully inaccurate rendering of the female anatomy and its capabilities — call it literary license … worse is that Almond wraps up this story, as he does many others, with a preachy little summary of the preceding tale that leaves the reader with Something to Think About. “I was doing something even noble in the eyes of youth,” David says. “Radical, kickass, seeking love on all fronts, transporting myself beyond the reach of loneliness and failure, into the blessed province of poontang.” In a word: Yuck.
— The extremely insightful Ann M. Bauer captures eau de Steve for the Minneapolis City Pages.
More from the department of poor planning:
A) Number of cold weather garments the author sent back to Boston while laying down a base tan in Miami: 4
B) Average temperature of subsequent midwestern readings: 41 degrees
“You always were the king of bullshit.”
— El Paso Times reporter Ramon Renteria, showing the form that has made him a renowned celebrity interviewer.
Pounds gained on the road: 11
Kritic’s Korner: And here is where some of Almond’s stories run into real trouble. In what are otherwise well-crafted stories bathed in nostalgia, a modern day version of, say, Fitzgerald’s early Saturday Evening Post pieces, Almond includes passages of sloppy erotica that may strike readers as vulgar and out of place. It’s as if you were reading The Great Gatsby and Nick Carraway suddenly launched into a lengthy aside on anal sex.
— Keith Pandolfi gets all hot and bothered in the New Orleans Times-Picayune.
Number of babies who urinated on the author during his tour: 3
Number of readings the author gave stoned: 1.5
“You look different. Fatter.”
— The author’s old pal Goeff welcomes him to Phoenix.
Number of pretty much crazy guys who showed up at a reading and asked long, incoherent questions that scared the rest of the crowd and who then presented the author with a “tone poem” scrawled in red ink (blood?) on a napkin: 1
Ratio of bills-to-fan letters the author received upon opening his mail: 23/1
Number of people who asked the author if he got laid on tour: 47
Number of these people who had penises: 46
“Oh, were you gone?”
— The author’s neighbor Jenna, upon his return home.
steve almond lives in somerville, ma. his story collection, my life in heavy metal, was published in spring 2002.