Monday, August 10, 2015


I went to see The End Of The Tour, the movie about David Foster Wallace.  It’s sort of OK I think, like My Dinner With Andre but they only eat junk food.
The movie itself discusses Wallace’s depression and  “addictions” – and it does appear (I mean, he says it I the movie) that at a certain time he was a heavy and unhappy drinker.  He’s dry during the tour. 
I’ve read that an addiction to alcohol is essentially an addiction to sugar – and that makes some sense.  Certainly in the movie, our man eats his way through French fries, burgers, chocolate bars, Skittles, giant sodas and what not.  And you do find yourself thinking, maybe the guy would be a lot happier if he just ate some fruit.

I never met David Foster Wallace but I did talk to him on the phone when I was writing a piece about him and his book of short stories Brief Interviews with Hideous Men for the Independent.  There had been a moment when my editor in London contemplated sending me out to Illinois to do the interview face to face, but fairly obvious economic constraints prevented that. I mentioned this to Wallace and said I’d imagined we might get some local color and do the interview at his nearest Denny’s.  “Very reliable, Denny’s,” he said.  Yep, that’s the kind of interviewer I am: I always bring out my subject’s best lines.

There’s such a cult around Wallace these says, that I must say I feel the need to hold on to my agnosticism.  But it’s an interesting thing that coming home after the movie I didn’t go running to reread Wallace’s books, instead I poked around on the internet looking for gossip about his life.  I found it too.  I discovered all kinds of stuff, including “Six Things You Didn't Know About David Foster Wallace” in Rolling Stone.  It reads in part, “One of his best short stories is about Elizabeth Wurtzel.  After being rejected by the Prozac Nation author, Wallace wrote the 1998 story ‘The Depressed Person,’ basing the title character – the most unpleasant person on Earth – on her.”

Well, it’s true: I didn’t know that, although I had read the short story and now I’ve read it again, and I really don’t think it’s one of his best – but no doubt Wallace true-believers will show me the error of my ways.

I also discovered an essay by Wurtzel in New York magazine, about Wallace, in which she wrote, “I don’t think he exactly told me that he was a genius, but I must have gotten that impression, because I believe I was instantly impressed by something about him. Maybe it was just the way he was so open and curious, or the way he was so taken with the silver lamé leotard I was wearing.
“I took him around with me some time after that: to see Beat Rodeo on Monday night at the Ludlow Street Café, which is no more, and for seafood and soda at the Grand Central Oyster Bar, which is forever.”  “Seafood and Soda” – now there’s a title for something.

Degrees of separation being as they are in the literary world, in London I did once have dinner with Liz Wurtzel – there were plenty of other people there too.  Wurtzel was charm itself and of course I don’t recall what was said, or what we ate, but I’m pretty sure I’d have remembered if she’d been wearing a silver lamé leotard.  But I do remember which restaurant we went to -  Daphne’s in Draycott Avenue, SW3 (it’s still there –“recently refurbished” according to the website); and the Nicholsonian Archive being as it is, I still have a postcard of the place that I picked up that evening.  Here's a scan:

 I’m now wondering why I didn’t ask Liz Wurtzel to sign it – perhaps I thought it was uncool.  Rumor had it, and I have no reason to doubt the rumor, that Princess Diana was a regular there.

         Now I have been back to Wallace’s writing.  Of course, in the end, we value the fiction more than the non-fiction, but when I want a quick fix of Wallace the piece that never fails is his essay “Consider the Lobster” written for Gourmet magazine.   I suspect it’s one of the best bits of food writing anybody’s ever written.  It’s purportedly about the Maine Lobster Festival but Wallace devotes much of the essay to considering how “best” to kill a lobster and whether or not lobsters can feel pain, especially when boiled alive, and what it the largest sense it means to feel pain.

He writes: “However stuporous the lobster is from the trip home, for instance, it tends to come alarmingly to life when placed in boiling water. If you’re tilting it from a container into the steaming kettle, the lobster will sometimes try to cling to the container’s sides or even to hook its claws over the kettle’s rim like a person trying to keep from going over the edge of a roof. And worse is when the lobster’s fully immersed. Even if you cover the kettle and turn away, you can usually hear the cover rattling and clanking as the lobster tries to push it off. Or the creature’s claws scraping the sides of the kettle as it thrashes around. The lobster, in other words, behaves very much as you or I would behave if we were plunged into boiling water (with the obvious exception of screaming).”

         This is what we love about David Foster Wallace – his writing, and that’s the one thing we don’t get  The End of the Tour, though we do get a certain amount of it in the movie of Brief Interviews With Hideous Men, which I have seen, and even own a copy of, though I had absolutely no memory of what’s going on in this scene:

But now I watched the movie again: it seems they're talking about what women want.

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