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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Story of My Teeth and A Bit About Suspenders

My luck was without equal, my life was a poem, and I was certain that one day, someone was going to write the beautiful tale of my dental autobiography. End of story. - Valeria Luiselli, The Story of My Teeth

I had a great idea in the shower, which is where all great ideas come from. The idea of the burrito almost certainly happened in the shower, for example. Lunchables? Total shower idea. I have it on good authority that George Foreman himself was in the shower when he imagined the first prototype for the grill that he totally invented and was not just hired to be the spokesman for. Why do you think there were the Dark Ages? No bathing. Sir Isaac Newton said, "If I have seen further than others, it is from standing (in the shower) on the shoulders of giants."

Newton was into some pretty wild stuff.

Anyway, the idea was this: I should do a podcast. Here's what I imagined. I would bring on one or two friends to discuss both the book and whatever astute ground-breaking savagery I laid down in the post. I'd have them read the post out loud, and then we'd use that as a launching point. Like a real book club and not just a pity-followed Facebook page and a rarely-clicked-on website. I know, you guys, that everyone has a podcast now. I also imagine that this is being done elsewhere and nobody is listening. But hear me out. It would be fun to talk to my friends about books and a podcast would be a good excuse.

The thing that got me the most excited was when I have a friend on, the first thing I could ask them is their version of how we got to be friends (or enemies, they're invited too). The more I thought about this the more I wanted to listen to it. I am both fascinated and terrified to know what people think of me, and especially how my account of our meeting and friendship came about differs from theirs. Obviously they probably wouldn't, you know, just let me have it and air grievances, but I bet they have terrible stories about me that I've completely forgotten. "What's the dumbest thing you remember me doing?" I'd ask them.

I love the literary technique of the unreliable narrator. Someone who is telling you their story, but who is not necessarily trustworthy, because that's all of us all of the time. Even when we do our best, we are all unreliable narrators. According to Wikipedia, there are five major types of unreliable narrators, and also "according to Wikipedia" is pretty meta when you think about it considering what we're talking about here.

Anyway, here you go:

The Pícaro
a narrator who is characterized by exaggeration and bragging, the first example probably being the soldier in Plautus's comedy Miles Gloriosus. Examples in modern literature are Moll FlandersSimplicius Simplicissimus or Felix Krull.
The Madman
a narrator who is either only experiencing mental defense mechanisms, such as (post-traumatic) dissociation and self-alienation, or severe mental illness, such as schizophrenia or paranoia. Examples include Franz Kafka's self-alienating narrators, Noir fiction and Hardboiled fiction's "tough" (cynical) narrator who unreliably describes his own emotions, Barbara Covett in Notes on a Scandal, and Patrick Bateman in American Psycho.
The Clown
a narrator who does not take narrations seriously and consciously plays with conventions, truth, and the reader's expectations. Examples of the type include Tristram Shandy and Bras Cubas.
The Naïf
a narrator whose perception is immature or limited through their point of view. Examples of naïves include Huckleberry FinnHolden Caulfield and Forrest Gump.
The Liar
a mature narrator of sound cognition who deliberately misrepresents themselves, often to obscure their unseemly or discreditable past conduct. John Dowell in Ford Madox Ford's The Good Soldier exemplifies this kind of narrator.

In other words, unreliable narrator, thy name is Howie.

If I were able to fully divorce myself from the inherent bias of being me, I imagine I could find examples of each of these situations here on the figurative pages of Howie's Book Club (editor: when these are published in book form, please change this to "literal," thank you. Also, I'm sorry that your career has led you to this point), not to mention sundry Facebook status updates and Instagram posts. When one is writing a biography, the journals of one's subject are valuable, but it would be irresponsible to publish something as history without at least a secondary source.

I want to take people by the lapels, if they are wearing them (and if they aren't, ask "why not?"), and just seriously say to them in a way that is somehow neither creepy nor distressing, "What do you remember about that time when I wore a plastic bowtie and suspenders as the singer in a band that played a Tool song during a high school assembly?" And, the much more crucial question, the one that haunts me to this day, is this: "What was your reaction when we did the exact same song at the next assembly because the guy who was supposed to sing a Rage Against the Machine song didn't show up and my friends convinced me that it was a good idea to just, like, do that other one again?"

I have very clear memories of these events. But are they the true memories? Here's what I do know: I was not then and am not now a good singer. In order to make it through, I employed a very 90's tactic of shouting the higher notes into a megaphone because I couldn't dream of matching Maynard James Keenan's range. Also, and I know I brought this up but it bears repeating, I wore a plastic bow-tie and suspenders, my "uniform" from my job at the movie theater. You will see them pictured below in a photo I took this last Halloween while rummaging through some old stuff.

Floyd, I'm running you out of town if you don't put that cell phone down
I worry that there is still video of these events. In the meantime, I pray for the day when some nerd somewhere declares that all VHS tapes have degraded to the point of uselessness. Only then can I relax. These events are some of a handful that prevent me from ever running for office.

Well, as Valeria Luiselli says in The Story of My Teeth, "The most important thing in this life, Master Oklahoma used to say at the end of each session, is to have a destiny." So, with the assumption that I will have at some point accomplished great things, and that a historian will be poring over these pages (figurative or literal), I implore you, historians, to get it right. Find those people who were in the audience that day. Publish what they said about me, however harsh. Tell that entire story. Just wait until I'm dead first.
Demented is the man who is always clenching his teeth on that solid, immutable block of stone that is the past.
Ok, I get it, book. I'm moving on. To the present! I read the aforementioned book, and again, the title of said book is The Story of My Teeth. It sounds like a very metaphorical title, the kind that you will puzzle over later to figure out what it means and why, but in this case it literally is the story of a man's teeth. Or, to be more precise, the story of Marilyn Monroe's teeth transplanted into a man's mouth. Yes. It is that kind of story.

Gustavo Sánchez Sánchez, aka Highway, narrates a bizarre, meandering tale that at its roots is not a fantastical story. But Highway learned how to auction, and the key to auction is to tell fantastical stories about everyday objects, so it's no surprise that his own tale would take on such mythical proportions. "I wasn't just a lowly seller of objects but, first and foremost, a lover and collector of good stories, which is the only honest way of modifying the value of an object." The story is set in a Mexico City suburb, and we watch as Highway spins stories about the objects he sells, their stories imbuing value to otherwise worthless things. Let's be clear, these stories are completely made up, and yet darnit if we don't see why someone would pay handsomely for the objects in which they are rooted.

It's almost like this whole book is an argument for the value of fiction. Gustavo Sánchez Sánchez, you see, isn't actually a real person. He didn't live on this Earth, but in the back of the book we see photos of his house and a handful of key locations that were dear to him for one reason or another. The photos are real, albeit of mundane real-life locations. But after going along with Highway, they take on value beyond the subjects they portray. If Luiselli were to auction the photos after the success of her novel, I wouldn't be surprised to see them sell for surprising amounts.

I've never knowingly misled anyone in this blog, but I will admit that for a huge amount of my life I thought that the word "misled" was pronounced my-zelled. That was my reality. Is it important that my interpretation of reality differed from literally everyone else on earth's? Yes. It makes me an unreliable narrator. No matter how hard I try to get the facts right, it's all coming from what is, let's face it, only a mediocre memory from a very distinct viewpoint. My only hope is that it still makes for an interesting story.

What I'm saying is that the bidding for these suspenders starts at $800. Who would like to get the ball rolling before the podcast blows up and makes them priceless?