by H. W. Moss
All attempts to contact Dave Eggers have failed.
I phoned and emailed, dropped by in person at his business address at 826 Valencia Street in San Francisco, left a copy of my comic, “Haight Street Stories” (HaightStreet.com), to no avail. By my third phone call I could tell the person at the other end thought I was some kind of literary stalker.
Why do I want to talk with Eggers in person? Well, I thought the most lionized literary personality in my neighborhood might be someone with whom I could have a conversation.
“Nothing. Who’s this?”
“Hey, ever read any Faulkner?”
Ok. Then I’d ask if he ever read Thomas Wolfe.
“Yah! ‘Electric Kool Aid.’ White suited guy. Great!”
Actually, I was thinking more along the lines of “You Can’t Go Home Again.”
Dave Eggers, in case you just emerged from a broom closet, is a Gen X novelist and short story writer, the best selling author of “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” (Simon and Schuster, 2000) and “You Shall Know Our Velocity” which was originally published by McSweeney’s in 2002, then by Knopf in 2003. He is a contributor of fiction to the New Yorker (“Measuring the Jump” September 1, 2003) and editor of an annual collection of fiction and non-fiction titled “The Best American Nonrequired Reading” published by Houghton Mifflin, as well as editor of McSweeney’s which happens to be Egger’s own house. Then there’s “McSweeney’s Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales,” edited by Michael Chabon which contains one short story by Eggers called “Up the Mountain Coming Down Slowly.”
Although I have only seen one version and it was a typical hardcover book, McSweeney’s puts out a unique (I am told) collection of writing that more resembles an Andre Breton manifesto than a periodical. The book I saw had a short story printed on the spine, but a previous issue came in a box. The Believer, another of McSweeney’s publications, is a collection of essays in paperback about the size of a thick comic book. Eggers is married to Vendela Vida, 31, who recently published her first novel, “And Now You Can Go,” and who is co-editor of the Believer along with Heidi Julavits.
Local newspapers are full of Eggers sightings. He recently hosted a San Francisco mayoral debate and opened the Valencia Street store which is actually “a writing center for young people,” according to one account, but bills itself as a “purveyor of pirate supplies.” Right. Pirate supplies. I was immediately taken with the concept.
However, it was Eggers I wanted to meet and maybe shake hands with and generally congratulate on his great good fortune, maybe pick up a few pointers from him as we bent elbows over beers at the Elbo Room which is down the street from his store. Maybe we could stroll into Valencia Street Books together, say hi to Amanda who sells his products and my comic because he reads books. He must.
Eggers has achieved the nearly impossible and appeared to be accomplishing everything I ever dreamed of even if “Heartbreaking Work” hardly qualifies as a novel. It is more a rant, a long, desultory personal and ultimately pointless scream in need of an editor. It’s about being alive in an unfair world and is probably primarily autobiographical. I’d have to call it a memoir, even if plenty of people liked it and thought it was fiction.
Having read the name McSweeney’s in several local publications, I looked it up on the Net. Lo and behold, the address I found was literally a dozen blocks from my house. However, neither McSweeney’s nor Eggers were in the phone book (I did find McSharry Construction which I thought was amusing), so I phoned the library where they have a reverse directory. I got a number for that address and telephoned. A woman answered who said, yep, they sell pirate supplies: eye patches, peg legs, hooks for your hand.
How much demand could there be? And Dave Eggers? He around?
Was here last night.
He’s not in New York?
Divides his time, the woman said.
The next day was August 4, 2003, my birthday. I visited the store which turns out to be closed Mondays. A young man was exiting so I handed him a copy of “Haight Street Stories,” asked his name and he said it was Taylor. I asked him to please give this to Dave and handed over my comic which is actually three of my short stories illustrated by The Ant. Taylor said he would do that.
Next day, the fifth, I phoned and asked to speak with Eggers. Yosh Han answered. She said, “Dave’s not here,” and gave her title as “West Coast Representative.” I mentioned that PBS had a pirate show on the other night. The History Detectives tried to track down the ownership of a spyglass supposedly once owned by Jean Lafitte. Yosh asked what PBS was and I told her channel 9, a television station. She said she did not watch TV, exaggerated her non-television viewing habits in such a way as to make me feel less for watching any program on TV whatsoever.
Eggers will be teaching tomorrow, she said and took a message for me in which I asked if he received the comic and, again, left my phone number. There was no return call, so two days later I left a message on the machine asking if Eggers got the comic and left my phone number. No reply.
A week went by and on the 14th I phoned again. This time Suzanne answered. I asked if the editor of McSweeney’s and the Believer was available. She asked who this was and I told her. She said even if he were in, he would not be available. So I asked if Dave got my comic? She did not know. “Well, neither do I. Can I get a phone call back?”
She responded by saying I had called “numerous times.”
Defensively, I explained I had not really called all that many times and ticked off the day I delivered the comic, which was Monday the fourth when I also had a dental appointment, my phone calls of the fifth and seventh and, yah, today. She said, “Don’t call us, we’ll call you. We’re very busy. Goodbye,” and hung up on me.
On September fifth I finally finished reading a library copy of “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” and, boy, am I glad I didn’t buy it. The library is a wonderful thing. I told my brother I intend to order our friend Marjorie Kemper’s first novel, “Until that Good Day,” from the library but he pointed out she could probably use the sale so I am going to track it down at a book store. I have a photo of Marjorie standing next to me outside my apartment on Mission Street. She’s quite accessible.
Here are a few facts prompted by my reading of “Heartbreaking Work.”
There are three Bay Area phone numbers in Eggers’ book. The author said he had permission to publish them. I left messages on machines at the first two, that of Marna Requa (415) 431-2435 and K. C. Fuller (415) 922-7893 which has since been changed to (510) 524-5471 asking if they would ask Dave to call me and left my name and number. The third number was for Kirsten Steward (415) 614-1976 whom I never bothered to call.
In the book Skye dies. The movie Skye was in is called “Dangerous Minds” (1995) and starred Michelle Pfeiffer as an ex-Marine turned English teacher.
McSweeney is the main character’s mother’s maiden name in “Heartbreaking Work.” I phoned the library and learned that, yes, that is Eggers’ mother’s maiden name. However, the library failed when I tried to find out where he is from and what year he was born. They gave his birth year as either 1970 or 1971, did not know if he was born in Illinois although the bio did say he came to California after two brothers moved here.
Okay, my rant’s over. Except for one thing. The last paragraph of “Heartbreaking Work” may be worth sending to Eggers as a message from me. It reads:
“ . . . if you’re going to fucking sleep all day fuck you motherfuckers oh when you’re all sleeping so many sleeping I am somewhere on some stupid rickety scaffolding and I’m trying to get your stupid fucking attention I’ve been trying to show you this, just been trying to show you this — What the fuck does it take to show you motherfuckers, what does it fucking take what do you want how much do you want because I am willing and I’ll stand before you and I’ll raise my arms and give you my chest and throat and wait, and I’ve been old for so long, for you , for you . . .” (p. 375)
I particularly like, “I’m trying to get your stupid fucking attention I’ve been trying to show you this, just been trying to show you this –What the fuck does it take to show you motherfuckers, what does it fucking take . . .”