Neil On Neal
The Almost Completely Unknown Neil Pasricha Interviews Neal Pollack, The Greatest Living American Writer

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According to the blurb on his book, The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature, “Neal Pollack has been the Greatest Living American Writer across six decades, seven continents and ten wives. He has won the Pulitzer prize, the Booker Prize, the PEN/Faulkner Award (twice), and the Premio Simon Bolivar for contributions to the people’s struggle in Latin America. In 1985, Pollack’s writing was declared ‘beyond our meager standards’ by the Swedish Academy.”

This statement is so obviously true, and so great, one cannot help but suspect Pollack wrote it himself. And why not? Who else is fit to praise him? Not us. We content ourselves with trying to divine what goes on in the head of one so gifted and so heartrendingly honest that the world truly is not worthy of him. Incidentally, if you want to know more about the “Wally” referred to in this interview, you will have no choice but to purchase the aforementioned book. After you have satisfied your morbid curiosity, of course, you are free to toss the book in the fire. In fact, that would be far the best thing you could do after contaminating it with your unspeakably grubby hands. Then go out and buy another copy, and this time, be more careful not to besmirch it with your foul touch.

The Big Jewel: What lessons did you learn from Cambridge? What did Wally teach you about yourself?

Neal Pollack: The years in Cambridge were spent, naturally, in a stupor. I learned particularly that gin does not mix well with cognac, and that opium does not mix well with Scotch. To tie in with the second question, I also learned that I am not capable of true love between men, unless that man is Wally Trumbull. Indeed, the blissful, stolen hours I spent in Wally’s arms, out there behind the rugby equipment shed, were the only hours I count as truly spent in my life. There I learned how to be a man, and how to make a fistful of hair my own.

TBJ: Have you ever saved anyone’s life?

NP: If only I could have saved Wally’s that fateful day in the Phillipines, or JFK’s that day in Dallas, or, let’s face it, James Dean’s on that fateful highway or Kurt Cobain that dark afternoon in Seattle. Why do all the beautiful men have to die, with the possible exception of Paul Newman, who is pretty sturdy? Why? Why?

TBJ: What advice do you have for young people from broken families with little ambition?

NP: Well, I say, one of your own became President of the United States, so there is hope.

TBJ: What do most celebrities look like naked?

NP: Having actually seen most celebrities naked, I can tell you that they’re pretty hot, with the exception of Catherine Zeta-Jones, who is, surprisingly, a hog. Most male celebrities are ripped beyond belief, especially Shemar Moore from The Young and the Restless. Mmm, girl. He is fine. Also, it is hard to imagine how spectacular Christina Ricci is in the sack until you’ve sacked out with Christina Ricci. On a ski lift. At Sundance.

TBJ: Can you tell us a humorous anecdote about someone you publicly humiliated?

NP: Oh, ho. Can I ever!

TBJ: How can somebody learn to be like you?

NP: It is not something that can be learned. Some things in the world are simply innate, like the speed of Ali’s left jab, the grind of Lili St. Cyr’s hips, the charm of William Jefferson Clinton. So, too, is my writing ability. It is a gift from god. A bequeath from the immortal universe. All mortals can do is bask in its glow and root for me to win awards.

TBJ: Are there any questions you get sick of answering?

NP: Yes.

TBJ: What are your thoughts on morons?

NP: They are all pretty much down on paper in my novel “The Moron,” which narrowly lost the Pulitzer to “Humboldt’s Gift” in 1976.

TBJ: Word Association time, Neal. What’s the first word you think of when you hear the following? Love.

NP: Wally.

TBJ: Life.

NP: Wally.

TBJ: Semen

NP: Wally.

TBJ: Hippo.

NP: Catherine Zeta-Jones.

TBJ: The Big Jewel.

NP: Hilarity.

TBJ: Other Web sites.

NP: Excrement.

TBJ: Harry Potter.

NP: Little girly wizard-boy.

TBJ: Eggos.

NP: Hot, sticky syrup.

TBJ: Bathing Suit.

NP: Wally.

TBJ: Model.

NP: Citizen.

TBJ: Can you compare yourself to a specific literary figure, rock band, and film?

NP: Yes, I can. The literary figure I most closely resemble doesn’t exist, but is a cross between Shakespeare, Dickens, Joyce, and Alice Walker. The rock band I most resemble is Outkast. As for film, nothing better captures my experience on this earth better than Apocalypse Now. Or maybe St. Elmo’s Fire.

The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature is available in a newly expanded Perennial paperback edition at Borders, Barnes & Noble, Amazon.com, and fine bookstores everywhere, as well as the kinds of sleazy bookstores where you probably shop. The original hardcover edition, which has fewer things in it but will be a much more reliable way to prop up that wobbly kitchen table leg, can still be ordered online from McSweeney’s Books at http://store.yahoo.com/mcsweeneysbooks/nealpolanofa.html. For ostensibly nude pictures of Neal Pollack and other sights too glorious for human eyes, visit http://www.nealpollack.com.

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Your Call Is Important To Us

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Thank you for calling Middle Trust and Loan. All of our operators are currently serving other customers. Please stay on the line for the next available representative.

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We apologize for the delay. Please continue to hold and a representative will be with you shortly. We appreciate your patience.

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Thank you for holding. Please hold. Thank you.

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Thank you for holding. Your call is important to us. Please stay on the line for the next available representative. Unless, of course, there is someone ahead of you in this queue, in which case the next available representative will serve them instead of you.

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Thank you for calling Middle Trust and Loan. This phone system was purchased to better serve you and the customers of Middle Trust and Loan. Unfortunately, due to the costs of the system, we were forced to reduce the number of operators who answer calls, thereby ultimately increasing your holding time. Sorry about that.

[Music]

Thank you for holding. Your call is important to us. Of course, since this is a recorded message, everyone who calls is told that their call is important to us. If a stray dog were to accidentally type in this phone number with his nose from a pay phone then that dog would be told his call was important to us. If a bored housewife were to call us during the day just to listen to our hold music on her speakerphone then she would be told her call was important to us, too. In both cases, it seems likely that these calls would be unimportant to us. You might well wonder how we could assure you that your call is important to us when, in reality, we have no idea as to the importance of your call. Thank you for holding.

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Thank you for your patience. By tolerating our inability to answer your question or comment in a timely fashion, you are saving us a great deal of money.

[Music]

We appreciate your patience. We have noticed that you are quite a patient person, as you have not hung up the phone, despite the wait you have endured thus far. Perhaps you are of the mind that you have invested so much time in this call that you may as well keep waiting, because you’ll just have to wait again the next time you call anyway. Simple economics, however, shows that this reasoning is flawed. All the time that has passed while you have been waiting is a sunk cost, and you should make a rational decision now about holding based only on the amount of future time necessary to invest and what you could be doing otherwise. It’s the same as if you bought a hockey ticket for a hundred dollars and were then invited to a party for the same night. When deciding whether you should go to the party or the hockey game, you should not consider the money already spent. The hundred dollars is gone regardless of the decision you make. So, since you had no idea how long this call would take when you first called, and you still have no idea how long this call will take, it is unreasonable to want to keep waiting merely because you have already been waiting so long. Thank you for calling Middle Trust and Loan.

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Thank you for calling Middle Trust and Loan. Our offices are now closed. Please call back during regular business hours from Monday to Friday, or call your local branch for more information.

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Small Talk

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The world is getting smaller — have you noticed? We have, and we say, “Keep shrinking, world!” Small is beautiful. Small is affordable. Small takes us inside and throws away the key. Smart money says small is here to stay. Dumb money doesn’t say anything.

Small means boarding up those big garish picture windows, those achingly obvious views of decay. Small means gazing only through the security peephole — and then only when you’re sure there‚Äôs no one waiting outside the door. Small means being mean, for the fun of it. Keep them waiting. Don’t look through the security peephole, not even to smile at how poorly they’re dressed. Instead, play that mail-order ambient recording of party noises — drunken laughter, glasses tinkling, cocktail chatter — and don’t answer the buzzer. Make them think you’re having one kind of fun when you’re really having another kind.

Insiders are saying almost nothing about small. Why should they? They don’t want you to know. They want you to keep feeding your fish the recommended amount of food, as opposed to a smaller amount, an amount that fits your needs. You have no idea how silly this makes you look. Try thinking small for a change. Give your fish only a taste of food — a pinch — and you’ll notice the difference in them. And in you.

Small rugs are in — flimsy synthetic rugs that cover nothing, do nothing. Honest rugs that refuse to pretend they can do the job, that slide out from underneath your loved ones, causing them to crack their heads on your exquisitely small nonfunctional plumbing fixtures.

Small drinking glasses are in — have you heard? We thought not. Who would have told you? Smaller shot glasses are very in — monogrammed little cylinders of solid glass with a tiny depression at the top to hold the liquor, to be moistened with the liquor. Also, slightly concave wineglasses that spill more than they can hold. Very in.

Entrees have given way to hors d’oeuvres. Not the fulsome, almost nutritious hors d’oeuvres of the past, but small hors d’oeuvres — indiscernible specks at the ends of toothpicks. Specks that cannot be eaten without puncturing the tongue, in a small way.

Wall decorations, too, are smaller, more focused. Stuffed mammals and reptiles are out — too big. Also, endangered birds of prey — way too big. But insects are just right. Not real insects, of course, but life-sized rubber replicas with hidden suction cups for adhering to the smooth surfaces in your life.

We could tell you where to find them, the places where all the best people are shopping — those in the know. We could tell you.

But we won’t.

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Your Life

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* After years of working in your basement lab you finally invent a perpetual motion machine, only to realize that one of the parts you were using to make the machine is a perpetual motion machine itself.

* After years of working in your basement lab you finally invent a time machine, only to realize that the time machine only has one setting and that setting is “Present Time.”

* After years of working in your basement lab you finally invent a money-making machine, only to realize that the money-making machine needs a time machine with a “Future” setting on it to run properly.

* After years of working in your basement lab you finally invent a money-making machine that runs off of a time machine with only a “Present Time” setting, only to realize that you gave away your time machine with only a “Present Time” setting to your only son for his Show and Tell project, on the day he was kidnapped by thugs demanding a ransom of a perpetual motion machine that doesn’t use another perpetual motion machine as a part.

* After years of working in your basement lab you finally invent a perpetual motion machine that doesn’t use another perpetual motion machine as a part so you can pay the ransom, only to realize that you could have used the perpetual motion machine you were using as a part for the ransom all along.

* After years of working in your basement lab you finally go upstairs to check the mail, where you read an updated ransom note that says the kidnappers who took your son are sick of waiting for your perpetual motion machine that doesn’t use another perpetual motion machine as a part and have changed their ransom to 1 million dollars.

* After years of working in your basement lab you finally use your perpetual motion machine that doesn’t use another perpetual motion machine as a part to help create a time machine with a “Future” setting to help create a money-making machine which you use to print out 1 million dollars, only to realize that your son wasn’t kidnapped at all, but instead merely lost your time machine with a “Present Time” setting at school and was so embarrassed that he faked his own kidnapping.

* After years of working in your basement lab only to realize that your many inventions haven’t garnered you the fame and fortune you were hoping for and, instead, have caused you to completely lose touch with your only son during his formative years of adolescence, you close off your basement and start a fresh life with your son, vowing to never again retreat to the basement for years at a time.

* After years of living an enriching life with your only son you slowly wallow into old age and near-bankruptcy, only to realize that you could have garnered the fame and fortune you were hoping for simply by properly marketing your perpetual motion machine you were using as a part in your first perpetual motion machine in the first place.

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Contest Rules

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OFFICIAL RULES: To enter the Bow Wow! Cancun Second Honeymoon Getaway Contest, simply buy a specially-marked can of Econo-Meat Dog Food and scratch off the Winner’s Circle on the label to reveal the words “Grand Prize Winner.” Then call our toll-free contest hotline at 1-800-555-0707 to claim your two-week, all-expenses-paid dream vacation at Rancho Reductio in exotic Cancun, Mexico.

ALTERNATIVE METHOD OF ENTRY: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. Using a single 3″ x 5″ card, type or legibly print a 3,000-word essay on why you deserve a second honeymoon, with as much explicit, clinical detail as possible on your first honeymoon. A signed note from your personal physician is allowed but not required. Explain exactly what you did or did not find satisfactory the first time around, and why. Don’t be shy. Winning (and losing) entries become the sole property of the Econo-Meat Dog Food Company, and may be used in advertisements, promotional campaigns, direct mail offers, billboards, bumper stickers, fast-food action figures, romance novel tie-ins, made-for-TV movies and late-night 900 number commercials. Entries must be received no later than — and no earlier than — midnight, December 31, 2002. Econo-Meat Dog Food is not responsible for late, early, damaged or misdirected mail, or for mail intercepted and opened by covert federal agencies, snoopy relatives, passive-aggressive roommates, landladies, or extraterrestrial interlopers. Entrants must be 26 years of age, 5’11 ” tall, weigh 176 pounds, have blond hair and brown eyes (one on each side of their face), and must have graduated from Wheaton North High School on June 11, 1992. Employees of Econo-Meat Dog Food, El Termino Airlines, and Rancho Reductio and their immediate families are not eligible. Nor are any members of the species homo sapiens, or for that matter any erect bipeds, vivaporous mammals, vertebrates, or mouth-breathing creatures located anywhere on the Great Chain of Being. Only one entry per person or personality is allowed. Entrants suffering from multiple personality syndrome must submit a separate entry for each recognizable psychic entity, and the handwriting must not match. The winner must reside in the 48 contiguous United States, and shall furnish 48 driver’s licenses to prove it. Both legible and illegible entries may be disqualified at the arbitrary whim of the judges, who reserve the right to pass sentence of death on any entrant deemed unworthy of winning or existing. The winner will be selected in a non-random drawing, or “fix,” at the headquarters of Econo-Meat Dog Food on or about October 1, 2003. Federal, state and local taxes are the responsibility of the winner, as are any payoffs or bribes necessary to avoid same. This contest is void where prohibited by law and prohibited by law where void, whichever comes first. All federal, state and local laws apply — except to the Econo-Meat Dog Food Company, its heirs, assigns, beneficiaries, business partners or enemies, and any immediate or distant relatives of its employees, customers or future litigants. The odds of winning are dependent upon the number of entries received, in a pig’s eye, and may be roughly indicated by a fraction consisting of the numeral “1” over the number of atoms in the known universe. The winner will be notified by mental telepathy, and will be required to sign an affidavit of eligibility within 24 hours using only the telekinetic power of his or her mind. For a list of winners, send a self-addressed, stamped #10 envelope inside of an unstamped, unaddressed #11 envelope. This precaution will protect your privacy and ours. Prize is subject to flight and hotel availability, with the following blackout dates: January 1 to the Ides of March; March 16 to Independence Day; July 5 to Labor Day; September 2 to Christmas Eve; and December 26 to December 31. Prizes are non-refundable, non-transferable and non-redeemable in cash or any other way. No substitutions by winner. Econo-Meat Dog Food Company reserves the right to substitute a bus ride to Dubuque for the Cancun thing. All meals, taxes, gratuities, air fare and hotel expenses remain the responsibility of the “winner.” Room subject to availability and may be substituted for by a large cardboard box on a street corner next to a homeless man eating a can of Econo-Meat Dog Food.

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