June 2010

Elizabeth Ellen

features

Stalking Dave Eggers

Dave Eggers and I are in love! Any day now, Dave Eggers is going to ask me to marry him! Dave and I will have a big wedding and Toph will be his best man and my daughter will be my maid of honor and at the reception we’ll dance to songs by Journey and Big Country and Loverboy (three of the bands Dave mentions in his memoir, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius; maybe you’ve heard of it? Maybe you’ve seen it on the shelves at Target between Me Talk Pretty One Day and Running With Scissors and all the other books your mother reads in her book club and which you probably read as well, secretly, alone in your room where no one can see you or judge you or say, “Dude, seriously? A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, dude? Dude, that dude’s a total douche. Have you seen his hair, dude? Dude, no.”) and then we’ll go back to our hotel room and Dave will take off his shirt and I will try hard not to stare at his unusually large, protruding nipples. I will try hard not to make him feel like a freak. I will try to be a good wife. I will try.

 

In the Dallas-Fort Worth airport bookstore I hold up Dave’s book, show his picture to my six-year-old daughter.  

“This is mommy’s new boyfriend,” I tell her. She glances momentarily at the picture but doesn’t say anything. She is clearly not impressed.  

“Isn’t he cute?” I say. “Look at his hair. Isn’t that cute hair?”  

Again, nothing. Again, silence.  

“Look!” I say, drumming my finger over his face. 

“Why does he have a bird on his shoulder? That bird looks fake. Why would he have a fake bird on his shoulder?”  

“It’s a joke,” I say. “He’s trying to be funny. He’s making fun of authors who takes photographs of themselves with their pets.”  

“I don’t think a fake bird on someone’s shoulder is funny.”  

“The bird isn’t fake. It’s a real bird superimposed into the photograph on Dave’s shoulder.”  

“I still don’t think it’s funny.”  

“Yeah, but you think he’s cute, right?” 

“Can I get a Beanie Baby?” 

“No, you can’t get a Beanie Baby.” 

 

Dave Eggers and I were in love. The fact that no one else knew it did not bother me. I was similarly unbothered by the fact that my communications with Dave were limited to e-mail exchanges, the great bulk of which occurred between the hours of 8 am and 4 pm, Monday through Friday, or that Dave did not e-mail me from his McSweeney’s account, or from an account registered in his name, but instead wrote me from a Hotmail address which incorporated a Tragically Hip lyric and entered my inbox as “Homeless Funambulist.” I figured Dave had his reasons. He was, after all, a self-described genius who in the aftermath of his parents’ death had managed to raise his little brother by himself, start two magazines and write a bestselling memoir. Who was I to question his methods?

And anyway, all that was about to change. After four months of emailing, I was finally going to see Dave in person. My daughter and I were spending spring break at my stepfather’s house in Dallas, and I had two tickets to attend the reading Dave was giving at the Dallas Art Museum with Neal Pollack (this was April 2002, when Neal was still relevant) that Saturday evening. I was taking a friend I’d worked with at Victoria’s Secret before I had my daughter. I’d gotten us invited to the after-party through Neal. Aside from Dave’s and my future wedding, I thought it was going to be the greatest night of my life.  

 

“You realize, of course, that you come off sounding completely insane in this essay,” my friend says when I tell him about it.  

“Obviously,” I say. “That’s why it’s funny.”  

“All right, I just wanted to make sure you were okay with that.”

“Well, also, you have to put it in context. It was 2002. I was new to the Internet.”

“Right,” my friend says, laughing. “Make sure you put that in there too then. How you were ‘new to the Internet.’ That will explain everything.”  

 

 

Let me back up and put this in context so you don’t think I’m completely insane. A very long time ago -- not so long ago, actually -- somewhere around March 2001, I was living with my husband and young daughter in a small town in the middle of Michigan. I’d been married seven years and had been trying for the last two to figure out how to leave. There were complications. There were specific reasons I felt guilty about the idea of abandoning my husband. Also, I wasn’t from Michigan and had only recently made a couple of friends, neither of whom could I confide in. I didn’t yet have a computer. I had written one or two terrible short stories and sent them to The New Yorker and The Paris Review, but I wasn’t a writer. For the most part, I felt isolated and alone. (Are you empathizing with me yet? I think if you can empathize with me in this part you’ll be less likely to think I’m insane later.)

I don’t remember exactly when I read A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. I remember going with my mother to the first New Yorker festival in the spring of 2000, and attending a panel of young writers (Zadie Smith, Matthew Klam, Alexander Hemon). I remember Nick Hornby sitting behind us. Dave was supposed to be on that panel, too, and there was a table full of young women next to us, most of whom, I’d overheard, were interns at Rolling Stone, talking excitedly about him, about having met him at a party or some literary event, and when it was revealed by the panel moderator that Dave would not be able to make it that day, and that Tony Earley (the poor thing!) would be sitting in for him, their disappointment was both visual and audible. I, however, do not remember being all that disappointed. I remember being much more excited about Nick Hornby’s close proximity than about any of the members of the panel, present or absent.

It was almost a year later that Christine, one of my two “Mommy friends,” called and asked if I wanted to attend a reading Dave was giving in Ann Arbor. I had by this time read the book. I had devoured all of it: the preface, the acknowledgments, all forty pages of appendix, even the awkward Real World middle section. I was, admittedly, completely fascinated and obsessed with it, in much the same way, I imagine, John Hinckley and Mark David Chapman and that dude in The Good Girl movie (and, okay, I, circa every year leading up to the one in which I read A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius) were obsessed with The Catcher in the Rye. In much the same manner Hinckley subsequently became obsessed with Jodie Foster, and Chapman became obsessed with John Lennon. Or, you know, in the way I became obsessed with [cough, cough] Dave Eggers. (This is, it should be pointed out, how I differ from assassins or attempted assassins: I become obsessed with both the book and its author, rather than, say, with a book and an actor or the book and a singer. I skip the middleman.)

I can’t recall having attended many readings prior to Dave’s. I went to a couple (somewhat embarrassing) book signings: Dave Barry and Richard Lewis spring to mind. And one not-so-embarrassing signing: Robert Pinsky (when he visited the Flint District Library during his year as Poet Laureate). Though even if I had, nothing likely would have prepared me for Dave’s reading (which was less a “reading” than a “show”). We arrived twenty minutes early and already the room was three quarters full. The reading was sponsored by the small, independent bookstore in town, though Dave’s popularity demanded moving the reading from the bookstore to a large university room, which could accommodate the two or three hundred people who would come out to see him read. Christine and I perused the copies of McSweeney’s for sale in the back, the most recent issue of which I purchased, and took our seats midway back from the podium, where we waited impatiently.

And then Dave walked out, and our eyes followed him to his seat. And we waited while someone who wasn’t Dave took the podium to introduce him. No one was paying much attention to him/her (and it’s hard now even to remember the gender of this faceless person). We were all still focused on Dave, studying him and thinking about things he had told us about himself in his book. For one, how thick was the cotton of the shirt he was wearing? Thick enough that we would not be afforded a Jennifer Aniston like glimpse of his erect nipples pressing through? Also, yes, his hands were chubbier than we would have expected, even after being warned of said chubbiness in the [What do you call that part of a book where normally all that is found is publishing dates and cities and so forth? Yes, that.] of his book. And his hair. Did he really expect us to believe it had once been blonde and straight? That puberty had darkened and kinked it into its current, Jew ‘fro state?

And then, finally, that nondescript person took his/her seat. Finally Whitesnake was on stage and we were ready to rock! As way of warming up the crowd, Dave asked us to come up with haiku featuring Condoleeza Rice. I was astonished how many people almost immediately raised their hands. I had heard of haiku but was unfamiliar with the specific rules regarding it. I had maybe heard the name Condoleeza Rice, but probably I hadn’t and I just don’t want you to know how much of an ignoramous I actually was back then. After the haiku, Dave finally seemed to be getting started with the reading. He pulled out the book. He opened it. We were quiet. We were ready. Then he paused. Then he looked out at the audience. He was going to need a volunteer, he told us, preferably one that knew Journey, preferably one that could sing Journey. A young, lanky chap gave it his best shot.

After the reading, a table was carried to the front of the room, and immediately a line formed to the left of it. By the time Christine and I made our way over, we were a good thirty or forty people back. We stood and watched as Dave slung his backpack on the table and craned our necks along with everyone else to see what was inside. Sharpies, glue sticks and jars of glitter soon littered the table. Soon you could hear utterances of “Oh, cool!’ followed closely by “Damn, how long is this going to take?” Half an hour or an hour later, Christine and I were finally three or four people from the table.

“What are you going to say?”

“I don’t know. Do we have to say something?”

“You should. You want him to remember you, don’t you?”

“Do I?”

“Of course you do.”

“Oh.”

Blame Christine for implanting in my brain this idea that I might somehow separate myself from the pack; that I might make a lasting impression on Dave, if I were witty and charming enough. (Brigitte Nielson did this by slipping nude photos of herself under Sylvester Stallone’s hotel room door. I didn’t know where Dave was staying. And the last nude photos I had taken were in my ninth month of pregnancy.)

But I couldn’t think of anything. I was drawing a blank, like I did every time I had to cross the border into Canada and they asked me my city of birth. (Or like now, when I tell someone I am a writer, and they ask me what I’m currently reading.) Suddenly it was my turn. I was shuffled in front of Dave. I was handing him my book and he was circling it with glue and then sprinkling it with glitter.

“Why weren’t you at The New Yorker festival last year?” I suddenly heard myself ask in a more accusatory voice than I’d intended.

“Oh, why, were you there? Yeah, I thought I could go, which is why I said yes but I forgot about a wedding I had to attend, so I had to cancel sort of last minute.”

“People were really disappointed,” I said, picturing the Rolling Stone interns, their cumulative eye roll and grumble, their skepticism as Tony Earley was introduced as a “young writer.”

“Oh, gee, were they? I’m really sorry about that. Are you going this year? I’ll be there this year for sure.”

“Yeah, I should be there,” I said, trying to sound as casual and nonchalant as possible, as though Dave were really counting on my attendance, as though he wouldn’t forget this conversation as soon as Christine handed him her book.

“Great. Thanks, Elizabeth. I’ll see you there.”

As I stood off to the side, chastising myself for my lack of wit and charm and waiting for Christine, I opened my book to read the inscription. Over the page that reads “This Was Uncalled For.” Dave had written, “Elizabeth, Sorry about last year. It will not happen again. Your pal, D.E.”

It was the perfect recipe for disaster. The exact ingredients for the development of unhealthy obsession bordering on stalker-like activity. One part feigning interest in my life, plus one part signing book as though having taken a personal interest in my life, plus one part passing Dave later on the sidewalk as he was leaving the university building and Christine and I were returning from a café where we had purchased tea and scones. 

In hindsight, I think it was the eye contact there on the sidewalk that did it. Never make eye contact with a prospective stalker. Particularly after calling her by name and apologizing in any manner, feigned or sincere. Keep your eyes focused on the ground. Run.

  

Two months later I was at The New Yorker Festival dance. Let’s not pause here long. Let’s pause long enough only for you to visualize me in my tan, J. Crew dress, belted at the waist, standing beside my mother on the dance floor. Picture me dancing to "Sweet Child O’ Mine" while staring longingly up at the roped off booths where Dave and Zadie and, if memory serves, Jonathan Safran Foer, and other members of the young literary establishment, drank and smoked and gestured wildly, aware, of course, that we, the common folk, the ticket-holders, were watching their every move with Gatsby-like envy. Imagine me believing, even for a fraction of a second, that Dave notices me, too. That Dave and I again make eye contact. That Dave remembers me from our Ann Arbor meeting. That Dave and I have a connection.

This was the summer I bought my first computer. My friend’s husband had to help me set it up. I’d never sent or received an email. I’d never been “online.” The following summer my (by then) ex-husband would blame the computer for our divorce. And in some ways he would be right. “But our marriage was already falling apart by the time I ordered the computer,” I told him. “It wasn’t the computer’s fault. We would have divorced regardless. The computer just kept me company during the process.” 

 

One of the first websites I went to once I got online was McSweeney’s. I started reading it daily, before I checked my email in the morning. I had read somewhere that Dave had a series of pseudonyms he wrote under for the site. I was probably searching for some sort of coded message to me (because that’s obviously how Dave would have dealt with a secret crush on some chick he met at a reading, by writing a humor piece for her under a pseudonym on McSweeney’s; it’s relatively the same theory that has a woman believing a talk show host is speaking directly to her in code through his monologues each night (and, yes, I am comparing myself to David Letterman’s stalker here (and, in fact, I was once obsessed with Letterman, too))).

One morning on McSweeney’s there was an announcement about a new literary festival in Philadelphia organized by Neal Pollack. It was going to be called the 215 Festival (named after the city’s area code) and would feature readings by Dave and Zadie and Matthew Klam and Neal, as well as other young, McSweeney’s-type writers. Under the festival announcement was a link to an Atlantic Monthly thread devoted to A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. Under the link it said something like, “Go here to find people to carpool to Philly with.”

I’m not sure how long the Atlantic Monthly thread had been around by this time. Genius had been published a year before, so not longer than that. The thread was ostensibly devoted to Dave and his memoir, but by the time I arrived on the scene, Dave and his book had taken a backseat to the thread members and their personal lives. There were about twenty or thirty semi-regulars, and ten or fifteen hardcore posters. Most of the people on the thread were wanna-be-writers themselves, or editors of small, online literary magazines, molded after McSweeney’s, or both: Whitney Pastorek of Pindeldyboz, Lee Klein of Eyeshot, Claire Zulkey of Zulkey.com, Michelle Orange (McSweeney’s writer), Stephany Aulenback (McSweeney’s writer), Carrie Hoffman (McSweeney’s writer), Chris Monks (who went on to become a McSweeney’s web editor), Ed Page (who went on to become a McSweeney’s assistant web editor), John Warner (Dave’s longtime friend and one in a long line of McSweeney’s web editors), Neal Pollack (McSweeney’s author), etc.

For the next two or three years, I would consider the people on this thread among my closest friends. We would see each other through breakups, marriages, miscarriages, births, schooling, graduation, cross-country moves, jobs lost and gained, publishing and editing failures and successes. Early in the morning or late at night, there was always someone around to talk to, someone who knew your story, who shared common interests, who could recommend a book or music, or drink “with” you, so you weren’t drinking alone. We watched the Oscars and presidential debates together, spent holidays together, and, when someone was going through a particularly hard time, sent each other packages.

And though I didn’t realize it at the time, we shared educations. Or, more to the point, I stole theirs. Unlike the majority of writers I know, I never got an M.F.A. I never even completed my undergrad. I dropped out of college my sophomore year due to an onslaught of panic attacks and agoraphobia and never went back. When I came to the thread, I’d never heard of the vast majority of contemporary writers. I started reading George Saunders and Lorrie Moore and A. M. Homes and Donald Barthelme and Aimee Bender and Lydia Davis and Denis Johnson because these were the writers my friends on the thread were reading. If someone mentioned a book, I wrote it down, looked for it at the library or the used bookstores in Ann Arbor next time I was in town. And when the members of the thread began publishing work of their own in online journals (Pindeldyboz, eyeshot, Sweetfancymoses, Opium, Surgery of Modern Warfare, etc.), I studied what they wrote, studied the journals’ archives, and began writing and submitting my own work.  

 

Many of the people from the Atlantic Monthly thread did end up at the 215 Festival that August. My friend Suzie and I went, sat behind them at the readings, drank beer with them at the bars, talked with Neal Pollack and his wife late into the night, and watched while Zadie and Dave played pool. I remember one night in particular, sitting with Suzie at a table while Dave and John Warner sat close by at another. (Do I admit here, again, that I was under the continued delusion that Dave remembered me? That I believed his proximity was no accident? That I believed we were having yet another “moment”? No. I shouldn’t. I don’t want you to know this about me. I am uncomfortable knowing it about myself. Disregard everything within these parentheses.)  

 

 

“You realize, of course, that you come off sounding completely insane in this essay.” 

Yes, I do. Of course I do.  

 

Five months later, in January of 2002, a new person began posting on the thread. The person posted under the name “treacly,” and we knew little about him. I wasn’t the only one who suspected it might be Dave. I was merely the one who suspected it the longest. I was also the only one of us, as far as I know, carrying on all-day e-mail conversations with him, the only one falling in love. 

Treacly’s posts weren’t like the rest of ours. He didn’t talk about his personal life, where he lived, where he worked, whether he was married or had a girlfriend or children. Treacly’s posts were nonsequitor and surreal. He wrote about sitting in lawn chairs in parking lots, children riding their bikes through sprinklers. His posts were like mini stories of their own, fictional flashes or linear poems.

All this lent itself to supporting my delusions.

Or, at the very least, did nothing to dissuade them.

 

There was a time, midway through the four months, when he tried to stop. He went away, left the thread, stopped emailing me. The day he “left” was the day the public found out about Dave’s sister’s suicide. But a week later he came back. It made perfect sense to me. And when he returned it was as dramatic and tear-jerking as the return of a lover in real life.              

 

Of course he knew I thought he was Dave Eggers. He teased me about it right up until the end. “You don’t still think I’m Dave Eggers, do you?” he asked, two days before the Dallas reading. I thought he was being funny; teasing me; making a game of our meeting.

As way of playing along, I e-mailed Dave at his McSweeney’s account (a friend had sent a mass e-mail a month earlier and I’d saved it as there were a number of high profile authors included, Dave and Zadie being two of them). I was being cute. I told him I’d see him Saturday night.

(Later, after the reading, I e-mailed him one more time at that address to apologize. I never e-mailed him again after that.) 

 

“You realize, of course, that you come off sounding completely insane in this essay.” 

It’s possible I was slightly insane during this time. I almost forgot to mention that at some point during all this, I filed for divorce, put the house up for sale, and moved with my daughter into a small, two bedroom apartment across the street from Kmart.

(Is this the part where I mention that my husband was mentally ill? That we hadn’t shared a bed in two years? That often I slept with my daughter, a flashlight in one hand, the telephone in the other? That my husband had a sister who couldn’t deal with his breakdowns or hospitalizations and no one else and neither did I? That the only two friends I had in the state were the kind you don’t tell things like your husband is schizophrenic? That one time when they came over for a play date and he refused to go to work because the other men he worked with didn’t like him, were conspiring against him, I had him wait in the basement until they left? That I had called my mother, begged her to come help, and that she’d refused, blaming her poor paying job and the cost of airline tickets? That one night, after one of his hours-long walks around town, he returned to accuse me of having hired a group of teenagers to kill him. “It’d be easier than getting a divorce,” he said. Context.) 

 

The night of the Dallas reading at the art museum, my friend Gretchen picked me up and took me to dinner. She was under the impression Dave and I were going to have some sort of magical night. How could she not be? This is what I had told her. If she had doubts, she never voiced them. If she believed then that I was deluded, she was too polite to say so. It’d been a few years since we worked together. We’d drifted apart.

We got lost along the way. We arrived late, took our seats in the back of the auditorium. The reading itself is a blur. I was wearing a new bra and underwear, for Christ’s sake. I was wearing four inch heels.

 

For four months treacly and I had been e-mailing eight hours a day. I would e-mail him the entire time my daughter was at school. I told him things I didn’t tell my closest friends. That he didn’t tell me anything of consequence didn’t seem to matter. He was a great comfort to me during my divorce proceedings, a time when I otherwise felt completely alone.

Later, after I knew, friends asked me if I was angry with him, if I didn’t somehow blame him for what had happened. But the delusion was all my own. And in some ways, I see now it was a necessary delusion. My belief in him was an embraced distraction from the shit my life had become at the time.  

 

After the reading Gretchen and I perused the gift shop, sat and talked while others got their books signed. I’d said I’d be the last in line. I made sure I was. While we waited, Neal came over and talked to us. We’d e-mailed before I left Michigan. He asked if we were coming to the party, if we needed a ride. Nothing about this seemed out of the ordinary. Everything seemed to be falling into place.

When it was our turn at the table, Gretchen held out her book and I stood nervously behind while Dave signed. I think Gretchen asked him if he was going to the party and he said that he was. There was a woman waiting to drive him. We said we’d see him there. I searched Dave’s face for some sort of recognition, a wink or knowing smile, but there was nothing. I attributed his coolness to the continuation of the game we were playing with each other.   

For years after, I was too ashamed to tell this story. When I started seeing my boyfriend a few months later (a writer I met online, through the people on the thread), I worried he’d hear it from someone else and that he would think differently of me when he did. But when I finally got up the courage to tell him, he didn’t seem to think it was that big of a deal. We laughed about it and he teased me whenever Dave’s name came up but otherwise we forgot about it. But I still didn’t tell anyone else. I still didn’t want people to know.  

The party was at a house in a residential neighborhood and by the time we arrived it was in full tilt. Half the people were inside, the other half in chairs on the lawn or standing around a keg. Dave was already there, a circle having formed around him. We walked past him, went inside to get a drink. Someone I didn’t know asked if I was Elizabeth Ellen and I said that I was. I still have no idea who that person was or how he knew my name. He offered us each a drink and we stood there awkwardly for a minute or two and then we went back outside. We sat in chairs in the grass by ourselves and after a while Gretchen had to use the bathroom and I was left there sitting alone. Maybe she thought this would offer Dave a chance to come and talk to me. Instead Neal came over and sat in her seat.

“Want a glass of sangria?” he said. “How ‘bout a pot cookie? Take one, I’ve already had two.”

It’s hard for me now to remember the rest of our conversation. There was the feeling that Neal knew something I didn’t. There was a look of empathy or pity in his eyes. Maybe he was just wasted.

Finally, somewhat abruptly, he said, “I can’t do this anymore.”

He stood and walked back into the house. I don’t remember seeing him after that. I can’t remember seeing him since. (A few days later, however, his wife Regina e-mailed me; asked me if I needed anything. We had e-mailed after the festival in Philly about Boston terriers. They had one. I wanted one. I had forgotten until now her offer of help. I don’t think I ever e-mailed her back.) 

I went into the house and stood in line for the bathroom. There were two or three people ahead of me. Someone else came in, got in line behind me. I turned to look. It was Dave. I turned quickly back around. I was too in awe of him to speak. Maybe, too, the delusion was beginning to lift.

After I used the bathroom, I hung around the house, sat on the couch, pet the cat. I was offering Dave an opportunity to talk to me. When he walked past me and went back outside instead, I didn’t follow him. Suddenly I was hiding out. I didn’t know what else to do. I was avoiding the inevitable scene that was about to play out once I walked through that front door.

It was worse than I had anticipated when I was still inside. Gretchen was standing in front of Dave, talking very fast and very animatedly. There were two or three other people standing awkwardly on the fringe of their conversation. Dave looked at once apologetic and clueless. I had nowhere else to go so I stood behind Gretchen and for once tried not to make eye contact with Dave. I heard the words “My friend Elizabeth is a very shy, sweet person,” and then the words, “I’m sorry. I honestly don’t know. I try to stay off the Internet as much as possible.” I don’t remember much more than that. I remember setting my beer on the sidewalk and walking with Gretchen to the car. I remember looking out the passenger window with tears in my eyes and seeing Dave walking with his driver to their car. I remember getting online at Gretchen’s house and writing Dave that last e-mail. I remember telling him how sorry I was and that one day I would write about all this.   

 

There was a long period of adjustment after I got back to Michigan. Even though I now knew that treacly wasn’t Dave, it was still hard to make sense of my feelings. Was I in love with Dave? Was I in love with treacly (whoever he was)? Either way, it didn’t matter. Either way I was alone in my apartment every night when my daughter went to bed. Either way, I no longer had someone to talk to eight hours a day.

I’d been back only a few days or a week when I wrote the story that would become my first publication. I’d had a glass or two of wine. I typed it right into an e-mail, submitted it that night. I heard back from the editor the next day. “I’ve always liked tales of obsession,” he wrote.

Shortly after this Dave picked a flash I’d written for The Guardian. That same year another story of mine was selected as one of the Notable stories in the back of the Best American Nonrequired Reader. I told myself these were mere coincidences. I doubted Dave even remembered my name. 

 

Last spring I saw Dave again. My boyfriend (the same one I had been afraid to tell the story) Aaron and I were stopping by 826michigan to borrow a cord from our friend Amy for a reading we were doing later in the weekend. It was supposed to be an in/out operation. But we arrived in the middle of a volunteer appreciation breakfast, and Amy didn’t get up to meet us so we just kept walking. We took a seat at an open table in the back and tried not to look conspicuous. We weren’t sure how long this was going to take. We had other errands to run, other places to be. Dave was going around the room, asking each person individually about their volunteerism. Eventually he looked in our direction. “What about you two?” he said. “What are your names?”

Luckily, Aaron had led a couple of workshops over the years. He told Dave his name, gave a brief description of the classes he had taught. He had his own Dave story to tell. A year or so earlier he’d gone with another writer friend of ours to a party where Dave was the key guest. Other people in attendance had paid for the right to be in the room with him. It was a fundraiser of sorts. Later in the evening, after a few glasses of wine had been drunk, Dave and Aaron had a brief conversation about their literary magazines (Aaron had founded the journal Hobart a few months before we met, and we’d co-edited it together since). Dave mentioned that he’d been thinking of doing a flip style version of McSweeney’s with another journal. He wondered if Aaron would be interested in combining Hobart and McSweeney’s for an issue. Obviously, Aaron was. They exchanged e-mail addresses and Dave told Aaron to e-mail him in a few weeks if he didn’t hear from him. Aaron waited three months then wrote Dave at the address he’d given him. A few days later, Dave wrote back. He said he was still interested. He said he was “running the numbers.” Aaron e-mailed him once more after that, but never heard back.

Apparently, Dave didn’t remember this. Or Aaron. Dave nodded and then turned his gaze toward me.

“Oh, I’m Elizabeth. I helped Aaron with the workshops,” I said.

I searched Dave’s face for some sort of recognition, a wink or knowing smile, but there was nothing. And I was okay with that.  

Half an hour later, the volunteer breakfast was finally over. Amy gave us the cord and we left. We walked down the block to grab a coffee. On our way back to the car, we passed Dave walking toward us on the sidewalk across the street. I didn’t make eye contact. I slipped my arm in Aaron’s, kept my gaze straight ahead.