Praise for (Not that You Asked)
“Refreshingly irreverent . . . absurdly funny.”
–The Boston Globe
“[Almond] scores big in every chapter of this must-have collection. Biting humor, honesty, smarts and heart: Vonnegut himself would have been proud.”
–Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Taunting, revealing, irreverent, and earnest.”
–The New York Times
“Steve Almond has created a distinctive voice and literary persona. Pleasure-obsessed, self-deprecating, horny, hilarious and always dedicated to parsing the messy terrain of the human heart.”
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.20(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.63(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
SHAME ON ME- Lizzie
I am in the backyard, playing Ping-Pong against the warped backboard. Neither of my brothers will play me anymore, so I make believe I’m up against Adolf Hitler, with the fate of the Jews hanging in the balance. To summarize: I am bored.
Dave appears at the back door. He has a look of barely suppressed joy on his face; I will soon endure humiliation.
“What?” I say.
“Mom wants to see you.”
I find my mother in my father’s study—not a good sign. She is seated at the desk. The recliner is for me. I am fifteen years old, a junior. I have been in my awkward phase for nine years.
“Well,” she says. “Steven.” She sets her hands carefully on her lap. “I want to say, to begin with, that I’m very glad you’re using protection.”
My mother is staring at me, having just made direct reference to my use of a condom and therefore, in my mind, to my penis, an action that strikes me as a betrayal of certain founding mother/son principles. But my mother is a no-nonsense type, a psychiatrist who spends her days listening to graphic kvetchings.
“I recognize that you and Pamela have become sexually active. I’m proud of you for choosing to do so responsibly.”
I make a clucking noise. I do not think to question how it is that my mother has figured out that I am having sex with Pam. That is way beyond me. I am still trying to fit my penis and my mother into the same room without puking.
“There is one thing we need to talk about,” my mother says.
“Yesterday when I came home from work Lizzie was playing with something on the oriental rug, chewing on something.”
Lizzie is our new Labrador retriever. She is a frantic puppy who will soon grow into a frantic dog and be shipped off to a farm. She chews on everything. The only one of us who exerts any control over Lizzie is Mike, who French-kisses her with alarming frequency.
My mother waits for me to make the logical connection.
I do not.
“I didn’t know what Lizzie was chewing on,” my mother says slowly. “So I went over to see what it was.”
I am still not getting it, because my brain has a good habit of locking up when in the presence of large, mortifying revelations.
“I went over to see what it was,” my mother repeats. “And, as it so happened, she was chewing on a condom. A, uh, used condom.”
My reaction to this news is physiologically complicated. I begin sweating. My sphincter goes into a lengthy spasm. A vision comes to me of my mother walking over to Lizzie and bending down to figure out what she is chewing on and realizing what it is and sighing the sort of sigh that only the mother of three teenage boys can sigh and staring down at Lizzie and the condom, saying Bad dog! Bad dog! and trying to decide what the hell to do. She is a neat freak. She is a neat freak particularly when it comes to the oriental rug, which is hand-knotted and beautiful, with intricate designs I have spent many many stoned hours inspecting, a rug that frankly has no business in the living room, that belongs in a boy-and-dog-proof vault. My mother tells Lizzie to sit and to drop it, but Lizzie will not, so my mom finally grabs the edge of the used condom, which, to Lizzie, signals that it’s time to play. She starts shaking her head like hyper dogs do and clamps down on the condom, which, thanks to the sharpness of her teeth, has punctured already, such that when my mother tries to pull it away the latex tears and my mother is spattered (perhaps in her actual face) with my semen.
So now I’ve got this invasive thought in my head (thanks, head!), which I know to be wildly inappropriate and, which I know, what’s more, as the child of two psychiatrists, suggests some pretty unsavory things about me in terms of my Oedipal Complex and my hostility toward women and the likelihood (awfully likely) that I will grow into a sexual deviant who seduces women in the unconscious hope of staining them with my semen, and/or has sexual relations with dogs. Probably both. I glance at my mother. She has that look that says: I know what you are thinking,
Steven. So I say to her (in my head), Oh yeah? What am I thinking?
And she says (in my head, quite calmly), Your father and I have discussed the matter. We both feel these thoughts are within the normal range of adolescent neuroses, and nothing that thirty-five years of therapy won’t cure. Imagine my relief.
Back in reality, my mother is saying something like, “Lizzie must have found it in the bathroom . . .” But I am having trouble making out the words because I’m in the midst of what amounts to a grand mal seizure. At a certain point her mouth stops moving and I nod and mutter an apology. I am profoundly thankful she does not try to hug me.
I stumble back to my room. My brothers are standing in the doorways to their rooms shaking their heads, and I see now that I am not the first son called into the study; I am in fact the third and final son she has spoken to this afternoon, the one she has judged least likely to be having sex, an implied fact that only magnifies the horror of the entire Lizzie/used-condom episode, which is now—thanks to my brothers—public property to be invoked at their leisure.
B&N Q&A for Steve Almond's (Not That You Asked)
Q: (Not That You Asked) includes essays about Oprah Winfrey, Reality TV, the Boston Red Sox, and Sean Hannity. How did the book evolve?
SA: It began life as a biography of Kurt Vonnegut, actually. Random House wanted essays instead. So I wrote about a bunch of stuff that obsesses me. This explains the book's unique structure, which critics are sure to characterize as "a complete mess." Then again, I'm not sure lay readers give a hoot about organization. They just want good stories, a laugh, something to remind them how deeply embarrassed we all are, all the time.
Q: The book includes a long ode to Kurt Vonnegut. What's your favorite Vonnegut novel?
SA: Slaughterhouse-Five. I simply had no idea - until I read that book - that writers could do the things he did. As in: Be playful and Dream up crazy stuff and Tell the world to shape up and Confess to your own madness and sorrow. I thought being a writer meant locking yourself in a room until you wrote a 900 page novel about English landed gentry or blew your brains out.
Q: Based on the letters you sent her, it's clear you and Oprah Winfrey have a complex relationship. Where do things stand between you two?
SA: Oprah and I are soulmates. But not in that trite sense of sharing everything in our lives. More in the sense of me not (yet) getting arrested for stalking her.
Q: What about Sean Hannity? You guys didn't seem to get along very well when you appeared on his TV show.
SA: Oh, that's all for the cameras! The truth is, Sean and I are total pals. I was just down at his place in theHamptons. We took his ATVs out for a spin on the beach and fired BB guns at people who looked like illegal immigrants. He's such a cut-up.
Q: You resigned your teaching post at Boston College to protest the school's decision to have Condi Rice speak at graduation. Do you ever regret the decision?
SA: I regret it all the time. It was a great honor to be allowed to teach young writers, and to help them struggle toward the truth inside themselves, and in the world around them. I'm only sorry that the BC administration would choose to honor a public servant so contemptuous of the truth. Kind of sends a mixed message.
Q: What about doing the VH-1 reality TV show? Any regrets?
SA: Absolutely not. It's my God-given right as an American to be filmed for a Reality TV show. That's in the Constitution, man! It's the driving ecstatic delusion of our age. I mean, honestly, if I'd refused to allow that TV crew to invade my home and take over my life for three days, that would be like allowing the terrorists to win.
Q: In (NTYA), you write about getting your girlfriend pregnant four days after you got engaged. Do you have any other children we should know about?
SA: Sean Hannity and I talked about adopting and raising a child together a few years back, perhaps with some help from Anne Coulter. But I was afraid Sean might - totally by accident - eat the child if there was nothing in the fridge.
Q: You include some mortifying scenes in the book, such as being caught shoplifting something called "Sta-Hard Gel." Ever worry what other people will think?
SA: Nah. I tend to hate myself enough for all of us. Besides, we're all such utter messes on the inside, so full of shameful episodes and doubts and fears. And frankly, it takes more energy to pretend otherwise than it does to come clean. The cover-up drains your energy. The truth sets you free. Unless, of course, it gets you arrested.
Q: What about your daughter, Josephine? Are you worried about her reading the book?
SA: We will not be teaching Josie to read. Instead, she will communicate exclusively via interpretive dance.
Q: Is there any particular unifying theme to (NTYA)?
SA: Yes. The particular unifying theme of NTYA is: Hey, watch me screw this up! I've included some bonus themes, though, should anybody care to hunt them down: What is the moral duty of an artist? How might literature rescue us, as individuals, and as a species? How do we survive unhappy families? How does our culture of grievance disable us? And finally: Will I ever shut up?
Q: Will you ever shut up?
SA: Shut don't go up.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A little bit naughty, a lot endearing, and all Almond...Steve Almond, that is. Rarely do you find writing on "taboo" topics to be so genuine. The reader feels connected instead of embarrassed and that is a rare gift.
I thought this was uneven, but good in parts. It's a series of essays by the author of Candyfreak, which I loved, and about half way through this one, I figured out that I like him a lot when he is writing about things that are fairly specific to him, like being obsessed with candy, or with Kurt Vonnegut. On the other hand, when he discusses things that are more commonplace, like having grave concerns about the Bush administration, or sex, it gets a little monotonous for me, like the Charlie Brown adults.