Various Writers Come Back from the Dead to Critique My Work for Citysearch.com

This is something I wrote 15 years ago for an end-of-the-year grad student reading, and I’m posting it now because of the Santa element and because it exudes a lot of grad-school odors. Odors? Let’s say aromas. These are 100% taken from work I did at my first full-time job, writing content for pittsburgh.citysearch.com based on what I was taught as “The Citysearch Voice” (I went to a training in Columbus, Ohio, one weekend and stayed at the same hotel they shot the pool scene from Little Man Tate in.)

The Santaland Diaries: Christmas isn’t all “ho, ho, ho” — David Sedaris shows you the dark side of Yuletide.

Overview
We’ve all considered the possibilities of annual department-store Santas being old, lecherous drunks in need of easy money, but what about the backstage lives of the helper elves? Usually younger and less in the spotlight, what sorts of delusional or hard-up art students flock to fill those pointy, green shoes? Perhaps most importantly, to what lengths will parents go to get snapshots of their kids on Santa’s lap? Actor Eric Woodall reveals the astonishing world of synthetic North Poles.

The Background
With “Me Talk Pretty One Day,” David Sedaris planted his feet firmly on the stage of contemporary memoirists. “SantaLand” started as a series of appearances on NPR’s “Morning Edition,” and was eventually published in his first book, “Barrel Fever.” Both aforementioned books are nice collections of short, comical pieces, but it’s “Naked” (Little Brown & Co., 1997) that everyone should read—everyone who doesn’t mind laughing out loud in public places, that is.

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Willa Cather responds:

Years later, you can brandish the Citysearch Voice all you want as an excuse of why this preview is so achingly dreadful, but even this doesn’t mollify the fact that memoirists don’t have a stage any more than three uninspired questions make up a satisfactory overview. And what, pray, was the point of listing publication information after “Naked” (and not, notice, after the other two books you mention)? Do you honestly think anyone goes to their bookstore armed with Little Brown & Co, 1997 as a means of finding what they’re looking for? I’m dead, and have never stepped foot in a Barnes and Noble, but I can assure you, they didn’t in my day and they sure as heck don’t in yours. Whatever pretensions I had throughout my career, I wore on my sleeve, but watching you hide them behind helpful info in “The Background” makes me feel as humble as Mary. Pathetic.

Anal Cunt: They’re wittier than you think.

The Band
Eminem? He’s harmless. If you’re looking for offense, seek out Boston punk band Anal C**t. On albums with such titles as “Everyone Should Be Killed” and “I Like It When You Die” the band’s songs talk about gays, violence, loser bands, and everything else you can think of. Sample song titles: “Recycling is Gay,” “The Internet is Gay,” “You Play on a Softball Team,” “I Intentionally Ran Over Your Dog.”

The Catch
If you think A.C. is just stupid, take a look at “Having to Make Up Song Titles Sucks” and “I’m Not Allowed to Like A. C. Anymore Since They Signed to Earache” and “MTV is My Source for New Music.” A.C. is smart enough to know who it is and how the world perceives it, but it doesn’t care. What band embodies more of a punk spirit than A.C.? Their name is unprintable, their songs are fast and loud, and their lyrics are offensive. It’s just what we need in this era of Orlando-based bubblegum.

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Oscar Wilde responds:

This … “orlando-based bubblegum” as you call it is all very new to me—I only now, after a thrilling and shameless obsession with Take That, just started paying attention, now that they’re all tabloid fodder—but it seems to me that “just what we need in this era,” as you say, is something more than noisy Yanks with an odd obsession with pederasty. Recycling? The Internet? Is everything gay to these men? I’d give them my number, but something about their name makes me think I’d lose my … well, I’ll just say interest.

One more thing: I’d like to draw your attention to the phrase, “gays, violence, loser bands, and everything else you can think of.” Everything else you can think of? Am I to understand that gays and violence are the alpha and omega of your contemporary experience, with maybe “loser bands” thrown in for a bit of flair? Look, I’m dead, and even I knew you were gay when you wrote this drivel. Yes, it’s a shame you didn’t yet, but does it excuse such laziness and harm to our cause? It doesn’t. Pathetic.

An Evening with Dave Eggers: An entertaining reading from the country’s most exciting young writer.

The Author
If Dave Eggers is on a crusade against irony, skepticism, and derision, you should probably pay attention, because isn’t it time we got past these things? Aren’t they tired? They are, and Eggers should know. After 2000’s autobiographical “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” (the work, here, is the genius, not Eggers himself as so many assume) made dozens of top ten lists, critics across the country labeled him as “ironic” and “Gen-X’y” when he isn’t either of these. What you get in “A.H.W.O.S.G.” and Eggers’ quarterly “McSweeney’s” is the most direct and genuine writing we’ve seen in a long, long time.

The Event
Past Eggers readings have included Panda costumes, audience requests, kung-fu demos, puppet shows, and guest appearances by writer friends, firemen, drill sergeants, and lots of scientists. You will have a good time no matter how familiar with Eggers’ writing you are.

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Dave Eggers responds:

I’m not dead, actually, but um … thanks, I guess, for the write-up. I remember you at that reading, I think, sitting in like the 4th row, a little bit to my left. You were laughing way too much. Practically at everything I did. You were even laughing at Neal Pollock’s embarrassing slam poetry, which made nobody else laugh. When I stood up there on the stage and looked down at your open mouth, I could think of the word “cavernous” and I could think of nothing else.

I also seem to remember you wearing a McSweeney’s shirt that was a size or two too small for you, but maybe I’m imagining things. If not, it was pretty pathetic.

Oh and speaking of which, don’t think that by doing all this you’re disassociating yourself from the McSweeney’s fanboydom of your past. You and I both know you’re stealing your use of the word “pathetic” here from that piece about Ezra Pound we published on the Web years ago. Years ago.

Overkill: At least give them credit for being around so long.

The Skinny
Overkill has a name like Overkill and boasts a 15-year existence. The band plays straight-up metal, the audience for which has waned to the point where you yourself might be thinking “Overkill is right.” But give the band credit for doing just what it wants. Starting in basements and garages after singer Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth and bassist D.D. Verni met each other through music-mag help wanted ads, the band has released over 12 CDs. Here are some great album titles: “F*** You and Then Some,” “I Hear Black,” “The Years of Decay,” and “Necroshine.”

Starting as a cover band, and inspired by the bands (AC/DC, Judas Priest, et al.) it covered, Overkill naturally adheres to the loud and chunky metal sound. Enjoy as  relic or as something refreshingly different.

The Crowd
Metalheads too cool to read this far down into the piece.

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Emily Dickinson responds:

You insinuate that metalheads are illiterate. You use the term “metalheads.” You begin immediately with a superior attitude that is carried through to the final word. You use the band’s name against itself. You begin a sentence with a dependent clause three times the length of its independent complement. And once again, you let a band’s titles stand in for your own writing. What am I to say to all this?

How about: Bravo?

Let me ask you this: Can you imagine a good 250-word preview for Overkill? What would it look like? I’ll tell you: garbage. I’m dead, and have never seen the Internet, and even I know it would be garbage. A writer is an artist and an artist has a singular vision, and writing in service of a national company owned by the man who inspired this “Mr. Burns” that everyone of your age loves is no way to go through life. My dead colleagues are too proud and too dead to tell you this, and that makes them cowards.

So buck up, tiger. Just because all these previews are pathetic doesn’t mean you are. But in the future, might I recommend avoiding Web publishing altogether? Try fascicles. For me, they did wonders.

On Feeling Sympathy for Jeffrey Toobin

First, the news. Vice, fittingly, broke this story:

The New Yorker has suspended reporter Jeffrey Toobin for masturbating on a Zoom video chat between members of the New Yorker and WNYC radio last week. Toobin says he did not realize his video was on.

“I made an embarrassingly stupid mistake, believing I was off-camera. I apologize to my wife, family, friends and co-workers,” Toobin told Motherboard.

“I believed I was not visible on Zoom. I thought no one on the Zoom call could see me. I thought I had muted the Zoom video,” he added.

One way to react to this news is with distrust. Oh yeah bullshit he didn’t know his camera was on. Another way to react is with indignation. Grown-ass men shouldn’t have to be told not to jerk off during a work meeting! But I’ve been Jeffrey Toobin, I probably still am Jeffrey Toobin, and I’m here to react with sympathy, if only because somebody has to.

And why does somebody have to? Because there are millions of Jeffrey Toobins out there—female and male, queer and str8—who’ve read all The Takes, and feel sick with fear and self-loathing right now, and I’m here to say: You don’t have to hate yourself.

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