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Monday, May 31, 2010

Hold the Spinach

Once upon a time, when I was a hot-and-bothered boy who had not yet discovered habitual masturbation, when I would get all angsty and frustrated about this or that, my mother would helpfully suggest,

"Write a letter."

I write lots of letters. I write letters to everybody. I don't care if they never read them, I write them anyway. I've written letters to the New York State Board of Parole to keep a pair of back-shooting cop-killers behind bars, men who commited their heinous crimes thirty-nine years ago. I have written letters to newspapers, many have gotten printed, some of the angrier, hotter ones have not.

Angry letters have, over the years, become my speciality. I wrote an angry letter to the Bronx Times Herald for plagiarizing a commentary of mine that appeared in another online publication. I wrote an angry letter to the Atlanta Journal Constitution after an article in there demonized Fulton County sheriff's deputies who mistakenly conducted a drug raid on a house occupied by a 92-year old woman. When they came charging in, shouting "POLICE!" the grammaw opened fire, shooting three police officers before they fired back, killing her. They didn't print my letter. It was too angry. And too hot. Like the bullets whizzing through the Atlanta air.

I wrote a letter to Nestle UK, Ltd to see if they would consider using a children's story of mine about shredded wheat as part of an ad campaign for their Nestle "Shreddies" cereal. I even used their crazy spelling ("favourable") in my pitch letter. They wrote back, saying they loved the story, but that they were contractually obligated to use a specific ad agency.

I get lots of rejection letters, but some are very nice. The ones from literary agents are often formulaic, but, although Augusten Burroughs' agent rejected my manuscript almost two years ago, he and I still send friendly emails back and forth, and mine to him are often addressed "Dear Faggot."

A couple of years ago, when my career aspirations were appropriately stymied, I wrote to Andy Rooney to ask him for advice, hoping he would be so charmed by my letter he would say, "You know, it's been a while since we at '60 Minutes' had a professional shoe-shiner/staff EMT-- come work for me" but he didn't. This is, however, what he wrote:

"Advice is spinach. It doesnt help. People who give it enjoy doing it butusually dont know what theyre talking about. When I was trying to make aliving writing magazine articles, I read a lot of magazines to see what sortof thing they were using and took my cue from that. I sold a lot of magazinearticles but Id write one Id hope to sell to The Saturday Evening Post for$1500 and it usually ended up in something called PAGEANT or CORONET for$300. Thanks for yout good letter. Sorry I cant help."

Well, Andy, I'm sorry yout can't type. But I still idolize you-- you are everything that I want to be except for handsome, and I'm not handsome, so that's okay. You wear a shirt, tie, sportcoat, sit behind a desk, and complain about things. I want to be you so bad you can probably feel it in your catheter.

I was listening to Pandora a few months ago and a song came on that I had never heard before and it made me cry, sitting in my office all alone. So I Googled the songwriter, Pierce Pettis, and I wrote him a letter and told him that his song, about his grandmother, had made me cry. His song was reminiscent of a personal essay I had written a while ago about transporting elderly people as an EMT, and so I sent it to him-- he wrote back an hour later, a beautiful note:

"I just wanted to say thanks for your kind words --and to tell you how much I enjoyed your poignant and beautifully-written essay. If I may say so, I think you have much talent as a writer, as well as a health professional.

Thank you again for sharing this with me.

take care, --Pierce"

He types much better than Andy Rooney, doesn't he? Without the spinach.

This morning, I scrawled a handwritten note to another singer-songwriter-- Leon Redbone, whom you may recall is my celebrity doppleganger. His website is soliciting photographs of him as a younger man, and I sent him a photograph of me as a joke, because I really do look like the sonofabitch.

"He'll answer," I said to my wife as I popped it in the mailbox. And he will, too.

You should write letters, too. To whomever. About whatever. It's like casting out a line in the middle of a lake. You never know what the hell you're going to dredge up. It's a goddamn hoot.


  1. I love writing letters. Only mine are about ten pages long and full of mundane bullshit and nonsensical doodles that crawl up the page.

    I don't think anyone is ever pleased to read them.

  2. i shall write one. to whom? not quite sure yet.

  3. Mmm, letters. I miss the days of snail-mail letters. :(


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