In six small pieces:
In the late 90s, I loved the quirky McSweeney’s literary journal, edited and eccentrically designed by Dave Eggers. When my bosses at the St. Petersburg Times assigned me to book authors for the paper’s Festival of Reading, I wrote to Eggers and tried to get him.
An underling McSweeney’s editor wrote me back. He asked if I could “throw in a free fishing trip or something.” He quickly admitted that he hadn’t wanted to ask me for that. Then he forwarded me Eggers’ entire shameless fishing trip email. This got the editor in trouble with his boss, but he and I have been friends ever since (thanks to Dave Eggers).
For the record: I love fishing, and would have asked for the same thing. Besides, Eggers was at the height of his Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius fame, and this unpaid festival gig came only with a St. Pete beachfront hotel. A fishing trip would have made it worth it.
Eggers wrote to me directly, declined my invite, and suggested I instead book Neal Pollack, author of the very first McSweeney’s Books title, The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature. Neal Pollack visited St. Pete with author and TV writer Jonathan Ames. Both of them acted insane. And we are all still friends today (thanks to Dave Eggers).
Two years later, still hyped on his journal and his novel, I drove with a lady friend two hours from Tampa to Miami, to hear Eggers hold forth in a church full of grey-hairs, sprinkled with us 20/30-something-year-old fanboys. After, I waited in line, gripping tight the first McS journal. Eggers wasn’t terribly friendly when I told him I’d booked Neal, but I don’t really expect people to be friendly with we who aren’t friends.
Eggers drew a bloody-mouthed dinosaur inside my McS journal with the inscription, “I’m sorry for everything he’s done to you.”
After I moved to New Orleans in 2001, McSweeney’s.net published a piece I wrote about my Bourbon Street restaurant job. I turned that piece into my first novel, The Donkey Show, and sent that novel to the McSweeney’s shop in Brooklyn. They contacted me to set up a book event at their comically tiny “bookstore.” But when my friend Jonathan Ames agreed to read with me, they moved the big shebang to the large, trendy event space, Galapagos, where I read and played music in front of hundreds of Jonathan’s fans.
One of the greatest nights of my life! Thanks to Dave Eggers — who did not attend.
After Katrina, McSweeney’s contacted me again, and I ended up housing another of their underlings, and helping him work on a collection of oral histories for the McSweeney’s book, Voices from the Storm. That underling too, remains my deep friend.
I never spoke with Eggers about Voices, but a year later, I visited McSweeney’s headquarters in San Francisco, where Eggers had just opened his first 826 teaching facility and “pirate supply store.” I saw him in a room teaching as the staff gave me a personal tour. I also noticed my novel sitting on the main book shelf!
The second-to-last time I saw Dave Eggers, I‘d pre-ordered his first real novel You Shall Know Our Velocity online weeks before his “free” reading at an Uptown New Orleans bookstore. We arrived at the event to find a massive line, and news that you had to buy a copy of the book from that store to get in.
My two corny friends who loved me both bought books and went in and told Eggers, who sat signing autographs, that I was stuck outside. Dave looked up from his signature, waved to me and shrugged.
Five years later, I glanced out the open second floor window of a friend’s Uptown apartment, and saw Dave Eggers riding a bike.
Michael Patrick Welch’s “132 Famous People I Have Met” series is FREE, but please consider donating to his VENMO (michael-welch-42), or to his PayPal account (paypal.me/michaelpatrickwelch2), so he can feed his kids, pay his mortgage, etc.