Twain, speech, parrots of various kinds, and readings

Some months ago I cornered my friend Dennis DiClaudio in a bar and forced drink and Mark Twain’s nonfiction upon him. Initially he was receptive, even enthusiastic, comparing Twain with Orwell, one of his favorite satirical writers. It did not escape my notice, however, that DiClaudio’s attention began to wane after the passing of the fifth (or was it the sixth?) hour.

He began to fidget and then to sigh and finally to yank out the tiny hairs below his knuckles, one by one, aligning them on his cocktail napkin. I knew I should wind things up when he asked for a straw and started blowing bubbles into his pint of Guinness.

“Just one more thing,” I told him. But that one thing had several parts. It took a little longer than expected to relay them.

Shortly before sunrise, DiClaudio leapt up on the table, kicked out a window and ran for the train.

I didn’t mind all that much; my Twain addiction tends to have that effect on people. Besides, he dropped his cigarettes.

Evidently DiClaudio has forgiven me, or forgotten how the evening ended, because he sent email last week urging me to read Ben Metcalf’s editorial in the new issue of Harper’s. “It’s everything that thoughtful satire should be,” he said. “Maybe it reminds me of our Twain discussion.”

I’m printing out Metcalf’s piece — a reflection on the “simple human decency” standard now governing journalistic speech — as I type. Here’s a tantalizing excerpt:

Am I allowed to write that I would like to kidnap George W. Bush and fly him to a prison in some faraway land where his ‘rights’ are no longer an issue, there to put a bag over his head and make him stand for hours on one leg while I defecate on his New Testament before chaining his arms to the ceiling until he dies of a heart attack, after which I will claim that he never existed? Here, though, taste, if not simple decency, again rears its delicate head: I doubt that I could bring myself to read such a thing, let alone write it.


If you’re in Boston on Sunday, go see DiClaudio read. He’ll be joined by Chris Monks, Rose Gowen, and Peter Berbergal. Dennis being Dennis, he may claim everything I said about our Twain conversation is a lie. You should probably believe him, except for the part about the knuckle hair. Even hypochondriacs are reliable twice a day.

I’m reading on Sunday, too: 7:30 p.m. at the Magnetic Field, with Amanda Stern and Donald Breckenridge. I plan to read a brief section from the second half of my novel(-in-progress). The part where the mother loses interest in Jesus, and starts breeding, and hand-feeding, birds. Hundreds of them. Especially African Greys, the same breed as Alex (pictured above), who’s grasped the concept of zero. They can be awfully vindictive.

Have a good weekend.


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