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Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Writers' Days of Shame

Some writers should be ashamed of themselves. 

The other day I was taking a little mini-vacation on my front porch, reading an anthology of stories, essays, and short memoir pieces from Montana. There were lots of fishing stories. Most of the writers, understandably, worried about the purity of Montana waters and whether enough open space would be preserved to allow continued wilderness experience. We worry about the same things here in Michigan (a much more populous state), so I was sympathetic.

Then I came to a story – a true story, I’m sorry to say – that left me, by its end, without any sympathy whatever for the writer. He had gone on a cross-country road trip with another writer (the second writer’s name was one you would all recognize, though I’m happy to say I never met the man), and the entire trip was one drunken blur. By day in the car, by night in the bar, they drank their way down the highway.

Drunken driving is bad enough, but that wasn’t all. The famous writer had another reprehensible foible. He loved to sneak out of restaurants without paying. 

Mind you, this was not some starving writer – his reputation was well established, his wisdom sought by students. But he strategically chose his restaurants, and he instructed the other writer, who was driving, on where to park before they went in for their meal, with the intention of skipping out on the bill. I was disgusted, repelled and sickened by the story. 

The writer of the essay, who was the driver on the trip in lieu of the obvious alcoholic, says he was bothered by the famous writer’s assumption that he, the writer-driver, would be complicit in cheating the restaurants and waitresses of their due compensation. And yet – time after time -- he complied! And then he wrote and published the story of the shameful behavior, with both their names attached! As if he were only a reporter, giving an account of two completely different people. I am being kinder to the two than they were to themselves, by omitting their names from this blog post.

I don’t understand. I don’t understand their behavior in the first place. They weren’t teenagers, either: they were both married men with wives and children. Acting like total jerks. And then publishing the account? As if to say, “Weren’t we wild and crazy guys? Weren't we exciting, naughty little boys?” No, you were jerks!

My writer friends, I say without hesitation, are a different breed – honest, hard-working, even generous. I’ll bet anything they overtip waitresses. Some of them have worked as waitresses themselves, but none of them would behave in this manner.

The story turned me off reading anything else, ever, by either writer. Even the famous writing school, their destination, seemed ever so slightly smudged by association, but I’m going to try to get past that. It was not the school’s fault.

But really! Does anyone think such reprehensible behavior is somehow the mark of genius? Ha! More like a couple of guys who can’t manage to be grownups.

Postscript, 14 July: I have changed my mind, due to Maiya's comment. I would not want anyone to imagine the wrong people in this story! The book (overall a wonderful book!) is The Big Sky Reader: A Treasury of the Best Writing From Big Sky Journal, edited by Allen Jones & Jeff Wetmore. The disgusting essay, "Ridin' With Ray," was written by Jon A. Jackson, and his road trip buddy was Raymond Carver. 


Deborah said...

Reprehensible. Disgusting. Irresponsible. Many restaurants will charge the waitstaff for the meal(s) if the customer doesn't pay. Why do these people assume they should receive something FREE?? I don't understand at all.

P. J. Grath said...

Hmmm. DID they assume they SHOULD get their meals for free? I'm pretty sure they knew they SHOULD be PAYING THE BILL! But I don't understand it, either.

Gerry said...

I'm curious about the reviews of the book. Did anyone ever call these jerks out? Don't tell me what the book was. If you told me I'd go get it out of a library and write a review and call them out by name. I am on a tear.

Dawn said...

Unbelievable. They should be ashamed and retrace their route...go into each place, pay up and apologize.

Unknown said...

I can imagine who at least one of them was. Yuck.

P. J. Grath said...

Dawn, I agree with you completely but doubt it was done. Maiya, I hope you aren't imagining an innocent party! Gerry, the rest of the book was wonderful -- which brings up the question, what was going on in the minds of the editors that they included this piece? Did they think a rotten apple in the barrel would add interesting variety?

Deborah said...

That IS a good question - why on earth would the editor's not call them out on their behavior? Why do the author's think this is an ok thing to admit to? Would love to hear their answers.

BB-Idaho said...

Always a bit curious, I did a search for 'anthology of stories and
essays about Montana'. When I found 1,750,000 choices on the topic,
I called off the search and noted that there were 750,000 more anthologies than people living in Montana! The lanky windblown
denim-jeaned cowboy-rancher types have been known to drink hard...
but they would no more skip a meal bill than abandon a calf in a blizzard. It is hard to digest that grown adults would act like that and then brag about it in print.

P. J. Grath said...

Okay, friends and neighbors, hold onto your cowboy and cowgirl hats! I'm going to go back and include the title of the book, the name of the author of the essay in question, and the name of the other fellow in the car. It just isn't fair, I decided, to cast a haze of possible guilt over all Montana writers.