And who needed such jerks? Their cozy universe was being upended by a new, disrupting technology: a powerful communication medium that allowed anyone to broadcast their ideas at incredible speeds over long distances for almost no cost. It went unnoticed at first, but the shock waves from this new invention would eventually rattle the foundations of the publishing world, as it empowered a brave new generation of awful poets to emote more effusively than ever before.
This invention, of course, was the photocopier. My coworkers and I used to molest the one at work by squeezing our genitals against the glass, or chasing the glowing scanner with our teeth to make hideous paper masks of ourselves. Sometimes we would even copy our poems on the poor thing, amplifying their awfulness with the “enlarge” button, and then paste these up on the walls of our offices, or on the doors of the toilet stalls, or on telephone poles around town. Apparently the business cost of telling the employees to quit fucking around with the photocopier was greater than the cost of the photocopies themselves. That was the nineties in a nutshell: insufficient supervision.
So in exchange for access to the unknowable but likely tiny audiences of the small presses, I was quite content, for a while, to circulate little photocopied pamphlets among my friends and through the mail, and in return I received and read fantastically endearing ’zines such as COMETBUS and COOL BEANS and DORIS and others — many, many others, I have a basement full of others, you should stop by someday with a shovel …
“Hello?” said Dave Eggers.
Sorry, right, here I am, yes. I told Dave I felt great (or awesome, or something like that) about that. It seemed like the correct answer. As for making fun of my name, I said Sure I Guess, although truly I was a bit offended; I actually consider that to be the very lowest form of humor. You will never be able to tell anybody a joke about their name that they haven’t heard a million times already — a truth I’d expect someone named Eggers to know from experience.
But still, this had to be good, right? My story was accepted — well, no, it was maybe’d — by this pretty interesting and nicely designed literary magazine that seemed to have a wide distribution. It was only the second story I’d sent out since I broke my vow — the first came back from The Baffler with an encouraging note along the lines of “send us non-fiction” — so maybe I wasn’t the only person who thought these stories of mine were any good. Perhaps my belief in myself was not wholly unfounded. And Dave Eggers — former editor of Might Magazine, though not yet the massive literary industry he was to become, but still a guy whose work I admired — had called me up to be weird and distant on the phone, and make fun of my name, and say maybe. I think I was supposed to be encouraged by that.
Instead it left me anxious, as did almost everything that spring and summer and fall, as my girlfriend and I bought that house, as we moved in and pulled up the carpet and painted the walls, as her belly ripened like an orange and we got married in front of a judge and signed our lives away to a bank. Everything was changing, everything was exciting and scary. Life was beginning, life was about to end. I hardly told anyone about the McSweeney’s thing because, after all, he only said maybe.
Maybe a month later, as I was packing my extensive collection of heavy useless objects into cardboard boxes so I could throw them away after we moved, Dave Eggers called again. And it was just as awkward: mumbling, long pauses, occasional deep sighs. But this time he was “pretty sure” that my story had been accepted, pending some edits. He was going to e-mail me his notes; he said I could “take it or leave it” regarding those, and then send a draft back. I said Sure, Great, Yes, Awesome, words to that effect. He sounded disappointed.