Oh, and I like his books, too


I lived alone for 3 years, back in my twenties.  My brother, John, called it a “slughole,” despite the fact that he also lived in a slughole in a different neighborhood. I loved it.  I had an oven with the words “Flame-O-Rama” on it (rarely used), a cool bay window and a downstairs muffin shop before muffins were in vogue.  Are they in vogue anymore?  I can’t keep up.  What are we on now?  Salted something?

Anyway.  My neighbor was a great guy and we considered dating, until he told me the specific reasons he liked me.  They were: 1) I sometimes said things I’d probably heard someone else say, decided it sounded really smart and then repeated them; 2) I had no apparent taste in furniture; and 3) I didn’t mind looking crappy sometimes.

Ok, so they’re all true, although I’d like to think the first one is only partially correct.  I was reminded of this curious portion of my prior dating life (if you could call it that) while listening to Junot Diaz at a local bookstore this past Sunday.  First, may I tell you, he was, hands down, the most riveting, intellectual and earthy author to whom I’ve listened.  I never expected to use those three words in one sentence.  And I’ve seen several compelling authors: Vanessa Diffenbaugh, Michael Chabon, Kathryn Stockett, Kate Atkinson.  I’ve had a few inspirational writing teachers, Ursula Hegi and Frances Mayes among them.  Diaz is promoting his new book, This Is How You Lose Her, but he addressed at least three issues everyone – particularly in an election year – should be considering.  At the risk of sounding like I’m mimicking something smart I didn’t fully understand (see above anecdote), here are just three of his comments, massaged into my own words because I didn’t have a tape recorder.

1.  Art was not been mentioned once in either the Democratic National Convention or the Republican National Convention.   It’s as if it just doesn’t exist.  He wanted to talk about art.

2.  He went to Rutgers and was able to work his way through college.  However, this was when college was within reach of those with strong desire and little or no money.  No one can work his/her way through college anymore.

3.  He teaches his writing students at M.I.T. to write not because he wants to identify the best writing prodigy, but to teach them writing is a key component in communication, understanding and knowing your own place in the world.  He teaches compassion, something that is missing in most American educational institutions, except, perhaps, elementary school…if you’re lucky enough to have your child enrolled in an enlightened one.

And even though he was standing the entire time it never felt like he was talking down to us, or preaching, or getting all touchy-feely-phony.  He dropped a few f-bombs, too, made some timely, street-wise jokes, all in context, and not unlike what Yunior might say in one of his stories.  I would say 150 showed up and 150 people stood in line for hours to get his autograph.  Yvette was with me for part of it and when we got to him – we were just about last because I ran home to put my raw chicken in the ‘fridge – he kissed us both on each cheek, Dominican-style, asked my girl what she was reading, couldn’t believe she was only 14 and said he loved Sherman Alexie (“Sherman’s my boy“).  My question now for Junot is: how is M.I.T.’s softball team?