My brother Joe wanted me to read “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” a few years ago. It’s the story of a college senior who loses both his parents to cancer in a matter of weeks, and moves from Illinois to California with his sister and his eight-year-old brother, who is now his ward. Joe said the main character, author Dave Eggers, reminded him of me because he is haphazard and heartfelt, I guess, or a loser and a lunatic.
The first 50 pages of the book concern his parents’ dying days in the icy doldrums of Illinois. Suddenly, the setting shifts to the Pacific Coast Highway, where Eggers and his brother careen around cliffside corners, listen to “Don’t Stop Believin’” and play frisbee like golden gods. Regardless of your opinion of the book, I think Eggers earned whatever acclaim he received (Pulitzer Prize nomination) for this exhilarating passage, which ends on page 60, like so:
“… can you see this motherfucking sky? I mean, have you ever fucking been to California?”
No… No, I have not. Not until this Thursday morning, that is, when Posh and I will be at the Brewers game at Petco Park. I just wanna see some palm trees.
In brief, we’re very excited. We’re going to visit beaches and bars, and maybe the zoo. There will be many, many “Anchorman” quotes. But first things first — we want to see the Crew win on Thursday before they ship off to L.A.
Here is another story which references California only tangentially but explains the title. It’s a great story. Compelling, and rich.
In college, I played the role of the unruly fratboy for two years in a house full of a couple hippies, a couple techies, and one of their girlfriends, Joanne, a Hawaiian business-finance major. When one of the hippies, Will, was about to graduate, I fulfilled my duties as resident jackass and met him out with John and Nate (techie, hippie, respectively) and my little bro, Nic, The Dude. Will ducked out early, but we continued in his honor, drinking enough Spotted Cow to have our own cattle drive.
Will’s room was off of my room — in a architecture I called the Treehouse Suite — meaning he had to walk through it to get to the rest of the house. Before it was light outside, he was running through my room, between his room and the bathroom.
Me: Mmm, yo… Will… what… the fuck?
Will: Yo, Big wake yo’ ass up — c’mon.
Me: I’m up! I’m up. What the fuck, man? What’s up?
Will: C’mon now it’s a quarter to six. We got the 7:30 flight.
Me: Mmm, *mumbling* yeah.
Will: Yo Big, Big, Big… We gotta go back to Cali.
Me: Yeah, I hear you dawg. I hear you… alright, 7:30.
Will: A’ight honey, yeah write this down… Leaving Kennedy… On the L-A-X.
Me: Oh, OK. Cali?? Wait — Will, what the fuck are you talking about?
Will: Man, I’m graduating.
Downstairs, Nic The Dude was waking up on the living room couch to see all of Will’s family sitting around him, dressed in their Sunday best.
Will: White shirt or blue?
Me: White. What are you doing there? Is that a half windsor?
Will: I am very… very, drunk.
John, Nate, Nic and I stood in our t-shirts and gyms shorts with disgruntled hair and sleep in our eyes, as Will tied his tie in my mirror. He said he may not survive the graduation ceremony. But later, I saw him leaving the union with his family, his mortarboard tassel switched to the other side, and his face red from sun and beer. He made it. We will too.