This afternoon I went to the liquor store across the street from the massage studio where I work to get a raspberry Tootsie Roll pop. The guy behind the counter, he owns the store and runs the register and is a ringer for Burt Reynolds. He’s habituated to my sweet tooth, and says to me, “New Orleans! Your whole milieu. You always seem so… New Orleans. It’s like you belong there.”
Last night I finished reading In The Land Of Dreamy Dreams, a book of short stories by Ellen Gilchrist, most of which are set in or refer to New Orleans. My fantasy life is on overdrive. In this week’s riff I spend my evenings moonlighting on French Quarter balconies with free form jazz musicians, Rich Robinson of the Black Crowes and an unmarried thirty-something version of Colin Firth. Is my imagination beginning to reveal itself? Because I further imposed my mental landscape on reality a couple of weeks ago when, in a burst of inspiration, I gave this book away to someone who came to see me for a massage. (I was only on page 60.) Fortunately, my clients are usually pretty out of it when I’m done with them. It’s a captive audience when I make with the literary advisement.
So I went home and got online and placed a hold on a copy at a branch of the Los Angeles Public Library. (While on Gilchrist hiatus, I read IV by Chuck Klosterman, which I recommend. I read and recommend everything Chuck Klosterman writes. He eliminates the need to own a television.) I should mention: I already knew Gilchrist’s book. I don’t go around sicking books on people when I haven’t good and read them myself. It was given to me a decade ago by a writer friend and I read it twice then. (While we’re at it, read her books too: London Is The Best City In America and The Divorce Party by Laura Dave.)
I’m hesitant to say too much about In The Land Of Dreamy Dreams, mainly because I don’t read book reviews or take advice about books from people who don’t know me and for the most part, I don’t talk about books. I read them. There is also the ol’ taboo… Those who can’t do, teach… Here is what happens when I teach literature: we watch Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet; we analyze Dr. Dre’s explicit lyrics; we write and produce a play about Navajo shapeshifters who dress like the band KISS in full make-up; and we play a lot of basketball. Then I quit. Chances are, there isn’t a whole lot you can learn from me that would approach the satisfaction of reading Ellen Gilchrist’s book.
I will tell you which in this collection of short stories is my favorite. It’s called, “The Famous Poll at Jody’s Bar,” and it’s about a girl named Nora Jane who has a knack for redirecting destiny. To quote the opening page, “Nora Jane was nineteen years old, a self-taught anarchist and a quick-change artist… Nora Jane didn’t want a decent home. What she wanted was a steady boyfriend…” I love this girl. I’m not alone in my affections. Ellen Gilchrist eventually published a book of stories devoted to her called, Nora Jane: A Life In Stories. I’ll be getting into that mess soon. What else I will say about Ellen Gilchrist: she’s hilarious, and she’s not above the shittiness of human motivations. Quite often her characters–men, women, children–are despicable. But they’re terribly interesting, colorful, stylish and always more surprising than your average fatal wreck.