from December 30, 2010
This book starts in late December, in downtown Birmingham, in a coffee shop. I am by myself, writing in a Moleskine and reading Martin Luther. I am holding off on coffee, having finished off two cups at home before I left. I have the ever-present iPhone with me, and I am listening to the Smiths. (Then I switch to Hank Mobley.) There are half a dozen people in this room that I recognize. Chances are they recognize me. We do not speak. I stay at my journal and my Luther and my music. I am starting an absurd project, writing about this year – 2011 – in journals and online and in a document on a Dell computer. I don’t have a contract for a book. I just want to document this year because I’m self-centered and egotistical enough to think that it will be interesting to a handful of people and besides that it might go a long way to helping me stay sane. Now every absurd that gets lodged into my brain will find its way to paper, and I will make you read it and I will feel better and you’ll sit in a coffee shop with your music in your ear and your dark roast in your hand and think that this book is maybe worth keeping.
I got a pair of fingerless gloves for Christmas. I like the way my hands look in them. There’s a certain disheveled quality in wearing them with a blazer. I think it makes me (and you, if you wear them) look like a vagrant. It’s not the worst thing in the world.
It is important that we get a few things out of the way before we begin. Did you catch what I just said about myself? Egotistical and self-centered. That’s not an affectation, the way Brad Pitt once used the word “whilst” in an interview. That’s the truth. I’m not trying to be humble. I am trying to be honest. I think it is important to get this out of the way now. I would hate to write a nice introduction to this book and you sit there sipping coffee and thinking that you’ve been introduced a nice enough guy; the sort of guy you would invite over, wife and kids in tow, to enjoy football and barbecue. You wouldn’t enjoy it. I would come, but I would be a in a foul mood because of something insignificant I heard on NPR that morning or I wouldn’t like the taste of your wife’s crab dip and I would be awkward and sort of uncomfortable. Chances are that I would inadvertently insult in some way or that I would brag about myself or make fun of the way your brother dresses. You might think it’s no big deal, but I know better and deep down, so do you. You watched Seinfeld, right? It wasn’t one big thing that proved that Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer were horrible people. No, they – and by extension, we the audience – were proven to be thoroughly rotten by doing little things so terrible and so often that the only thing any sane person could do was acknowledge that despite wanting to like them, these were awful, awful people . And that’s what I am. If you can accept that now, from the very outset, then we can begin. We’re all awful, really, even if we’re not adulterers or murderers. We’re just indicted on a thousand counts of little things.
I am writing this introduction – honestly, I am – in December, just over forty-eight hours before we ring in 2011. I don’t know what will happen this year. Sure, there are basic things. They’ll play the Master’s in Augusta this spring. The Braves will play baseball and Alabama will play football in the fall. I will teach high school in the spring, lay low in the summer, and I’ll be back at it in the fall. All of that is generic. More specifically, my son will be two. My wife will enter her late twenties. Our marriage will turn five. I will turn thirty. Other things will happen, and if they matter, or perhaps if they don’t, you’ll find out. But for now, I suppose it is important you learn more about me.
I live in Birmingham. I was born in New Orleans, the son of a nurse and seminary student. I love New Orleans, for all the reasons that you love it, too. It’s hot and sticky and beautiful and the food tastes incredible and every bookstore is old and on every street you wonder if Andre Jackson himself spat tobacco on the cobblestone or if Walker Percy strolled by while dreaming up another malady to befall Will Barrett. I once went to New Orleans over Memorial Day with three friends. All four of us where single and in our early twenties, but it was a much more wholesome trip than you might think. Two of my friends were accosted by some prostitutes on the way back our hotel one night. I was already back and catching up on Sportscenter when they got in, and I still think it would have been priceless if they had paid the hookers fifty bucks to crawl in bed with our sleeping friend. It probably wasn’t a good idea to even ask, though, prostitutes being prostitutes and New Orleans being New Orleans. I have other stories from New Orleans and maybe we’ll get there. As for now, I am a high school teacher, married and a father, as you know. I am a failed PhD student. I wear glasses, thick because I am practically blind without them. I own two dogs. I do not own a home. I have degrees from an old South public university and I love it for all of its pomp and circumstance and even though it is just a few days after Christmas I am eager to see spring. I am a Southerner, and I suppose that this project will have a fair amount of wrestling with this place – its humidity and its charm and nostalgia and its weird relationship with race and land and God. I will tell you all in the following pages about what I believe and why and how but for now I think you know enough to stay with me.