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.