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Weekly Wrap: Our Ancestry

By Posted on 30 5 m read 3.2K views

Before you read my blog today, please go visit Tommy Kane. It’s okay. I always go to his site before I come here, so you can, too.

Did you like it? My favorite thing about my friends is when they don’t filter themselves. I like to see the Id, the stream of consciousness. I like to see my friends in the buff, so to speak.

Um. I was going to do a wrap on ancestry today. I was going to tell a story of when I was in fifth grade and our class was assigned a unit on the family tree. The teacher suggested we talk to an older member of the family to find out our history, so I called one of my grandmothers and asked the first question: “What are your parents’ names?” She got strange and angry and told me never to ask her such a thing again. I must never speak of family trees or ask about any family or history. Nothing. Apparently, you can saw the branches off the tree and never tell anyone why you did it.

I was going to give a warning about bringing Norwegian flatbread to school on international night because your classmates will have a very poor opinion of Norwegians, and of you; and the kid who brings the tacos is the hero.

I was going to agree with the majority of you who commented this week about how a few generations in America is all it takes to lose an immigrant’s cultural traditions. There is nothing about the music, recipes, costumes or ways of celebrating holidays that seems to connect to my Welsh and Norwegian ancestors. And if there is a commonality between the ranchers, teachers, presidents, murderers, geniuses and Dairy Queen employees in my family tree, I can’t guess what it is. Really, except for the trend of liking our meat as hard and black as a hockey puck and the need for extraordinary amounts of space, there’s not a lot to tie the family members to the past.

But I just wasn’t able to think of anything to write about these things. My head’s too full of book edits and looming deadlines. And I needed to see my friend who was in town from China. So, last night, I took a stack of work with me on the train, went to my friend’s reading, and didn’t make it home until after 3 in the morning. And today, instead of talking about ancestry, I’m doing a photo essay (using Kimberly Wetherell‘s cell phone photos) on where I went and the strange things that happened there.


My favorite readings, hands-down, are at Amanda Stern‘s Happy Ending Reading Series. Here’s Amanda on the left, Martha-the-freelance-editor on the right, and the one Kimberly calls Young Severus Snape in back.

/litparkamandasternhappyending1.jpg bench press

The series is great because Amanda is a natural born comic and because the Happy Ending Lounge is red (which is really important), and because she brings in great writers and indie musicians to open and close the reading. But what this series is best known for is requiring its readers to take a risk – something they’ve never done before in public.

For example… Benjamin Percy had never bench pressed Amanda Stern before. Not in public, anyway.

And then it was my friend, Roy Kesey’s turn to read. Kesey (whom I always call Kesey, never ever Roy) and I have been editing each other’s work for years. It’s the hugest thrill for me to finally see his books in print. (And they are wonderful!)

Roy Kesey. Maybe you’re thinking: The guy whose short story was chosen by Stephen King for inclusion in this year’s Best American Short Stories. The guy who writes that funny McSweeney’s column. The guy who speaks all of those languages. The guy who should quit smoking already before it kills him.

So Kesey goes up to the microphone, reads a very funny (yet creepy) story. And then he calls my name and asks if I’ll come up to assist him with his public risk.

That’s me on the left, and Kesey, down on the ground lifting up one of his pants legs. At this point I have no idea what he has planned and am just enjoying the view.

Then he asks me to get a stool and kind of kneel beside it, and when he sticks his bare leg (with black socks – just like my Dad!) on the stool, I see he’s applied waxing strips.

And I actually get to wax his legs while he’s singing. Whenever he gets to certain parts of the song, he holds the microphone to his leg, and I rip. (I saved these hairy little strips, by the way. I’ve always been such a pack rat.)

I’ve known Kesey a long time, and this is actually not an expression I’ve seen on his face before.

Around midnight, a few of us went out for Vietnamese food, some of which looked like boiled fetuses, so I stuck to the green stuff. All night, Amanda had been carrying around a little Halloween basket – she brought it to the restaurant, too – and that’s where we found the box of waxing strips with Kesey’s instructions written on it (I like: 2 strips per thing). The Halloween basket, by the way, was a trick because every time I reached in, hoping for a Butterfinger, I got Raisinettes. I felt like Charlie Brown.

Look! His leg is mutilated, but we’re still friends!

We ended the night with talk of Gordon Lish and nipple rings and someone’s theory that – if all of us at the restaurant right then were on the show, Survivor, Kesey and I would be the final runners up, but then Kesey would win. Personally, I think laziness, bossiness, and severe crankiness when hungry might get me kicked off a little sooner, but let them think otherwise.

I jumped in a cab at the end of the night and opened the book Kesey gave me to read his inscription. I also noticed he put my name in the acknowledgments section. Sweet.


Thank you to everyone who answered the Question of the Week, and to The Very Hot Jews, who played Top 5 with us. Special thanks to everyone who linked to LitPark: Storytellers Unplugged, Robin Grantham’s Curious Distractions, Buzz Networker, and The Very Hot Jews. I appreciate those links!

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  • lance reynald
    October 26, 2007

    even cooler than ancestry; the people you connect with and make your family!

    very cool wrap, Susan!

    have a great weekend!


  • Susan Henderson
    October 26, 2007

    Lance – Chosen family. Amen to that.
    Daryl – I’m not actually very wild. I think he called me up because he knew it would embarrass me.
    Kimberly – I’m not usually squeamish, so that was strange for me. Maybe the appetizer of milk-vomit soup was what got me feeling all sensitive. So fun to finally do a writing thing with you!!
    Juliet – Amanda was light enough, but kind of wiggly, and I was very scared she was going to hit that hard floor. xoxo
    Betsy – Gail and Kesey are two of the greatest people I know. (Oh, and Gail’s cousin was doing a reading in NY the very same night.) I want to see you read, B!
    P.S. If you feel like hearing Neil talk about whatever this morning.

  • Daryl
    October 26, 2007

    my goodness but you are a wild woman! as always, a pleasure to learn more and more about you.

  • Kimberly
    October 26, 2007

    The thing about the boiled fetuses (which was hot and gooey and served in a bamboo log) was that it was SO DELISH!

    (Ew. I may regret clicking “post comment” in a minute.)

    But then again, I thought Natalie’s link to the bacon toffee sounded pretty incredible…

    Thanks for letting me play with *LitPack Live* on Wednesday!

  • Juliet deWal
    October 26, 2007

    My land, I wouldn’t have the guts to find out, in public, if I were light enough for someone to bench-press! You get to have all the fun (or at least to be where all the fun is!) Thanks for another great week, Susan. Wish I’d have had more time to play when things are lively. Coming in at the end of the week always feels like wandering around the playground after school… still better than anywhere else!

  • Betsy
    October 26, 2007

    Sue, I got to hear about this straight from Kesey’s mouth but the pictures! Holy cow… anyway, he’s about the sweetest guy ever. I was so stoked to read with him last night – and I got to meet Gail in real life too! Yay!

  • Robin Grantham
    October 26, 2007

    Thanks, Susan. I bet it didn’t take Kesey long to wish he’d picked some other risk to take. I was feeling his pain as I read your post. I can’t believe you saved the strips. That is too funny.

    Tommy’s id is right on the mark and his drawing is awesome, as usual.

    We should compare presidents some time, I have some in my tree as well. Maybe we’re related. It’s such a little planet, isn’t it? We’re all cousins somewhere up the tree. Don’t feel too bad about your sawed off branches, though. Yesterday I discovered I’m related to Charles Manson. Yeah, that made my Thursday. Not.

    Happy Ending Reading Series — I’m sold by the name of it alone. Looks like a beautiful thing. I’m glad you had fun.



  • Aurelio O'Brien
    October 26, 2007

    You saved Kesey’s leg fuzz? Like… Ew. What for? Are you gonna put it in a locket to were around your neck, like the Victorians did with their loved-one’s locks? Or weave it into a tapestry of Imperial life like the Chinese?

    Sell it on eBay?

    And most importantly, did Kimberly get it all on film?

  • Nathalie
    October 26, 2007

    So, let me summarize that evening: some type of wrestling went on – while reading ? – and then you had to wax some guy’s legs for him.
    You DO have an interesting life, you know that?

  • Kimberly
    October 26, 2007

    Aureio: If I had only known!!! (I’ve known the ‘H’s long enough I should have known something would be film-worthy!) Kesey would have made the ‘manscaping’ segment for sure! 🙂

    (This next project of mine is going to haunt me for the rest of my life, I’m certain! Oy!)

    How are plans for Drag Poker Night coming?

  • Jill
    October 26, 2007

    It’s true about the neglected family trees. When I lived in Russia for a time, I was surprised at how many people only knew the family history for the last 2 generations. After that, either no one knew, or would admit, their family history. A strange deficit for me–I mean, I’m no one special, but I can track my Irish and Scottish ancestors back to the 1700’s.

  • Carolyn Burns Bass
    October 26, 2007

    I agree with Lance. “even cooler than ancestry; the people you connect with and make your family!”

    Virtual hugs now.

  • Gail Siegel
    October 26, 2007

    Susan, I loved that you played a part in Roy’s performance art. Very creative: the pain of getting waxed akin to how reading the newspaper makes Roy feel when he contemplates how George Bush is ruining the country. Too bad you can’t link to his rendering of America the Beautiful (I think that’s what he said he sang…)

    The Chicago reading at the Fixx Coffee Bar was really terrific. Roy read a fabulously clever story (“Interview”) from ALL OVER. Betsy read this smart, hysterical (as in funny) story from YOU MUST BE THIS HAPPY TO ENTER about a woman who gets bitten by a Zombie while she’s shopping at JoAnn Fabrics — you’ve just GOT to read it to find out what happens. Buy it in February. Jonathan Messinger’s story, Bicycle Kick is also a must-read, especially for all you athletes and soccer fans. Or anyone who worries about brain injuries.

    I haven’t been to many readings that where each reader was so consistently great. Not just funny and entertaining, but made you want to see their work on the page, too.

    Plus, Besty is really warm and beautiful. (Not that Roy isn’t, too; he is).

    And Aaron Burch was there. And Pasha Malla was there. And Dan Wickett was there. I could go on, but — phone ringing –will stop.

  • Aurelio O'Brien
    October 26, 2007

    Kimberly, I’m all ready for drag poker, but I’m wondering if the Hendersons will be attending yours? Hmmm… Maybe that’s why Susan saved Kesey’s leg hair…?

    I was starting from scratch on the drag stuff, so I went to the crafts store and bought a cheap bag of clip-on earring blanks, then dug around the house for odd stuff to hot melt glue onto them: rubber spiders, plastic daisies, old gift bows, whatever colorful junk I could find. They’re pretty funny. (I may start a found-object fashion line.)

    I still don’t know if my friends will actually go through with this. (Or even if I will.) 🙂

  • lance reynald
    October 26, 2007


    you have to go through with it.

    courage my friend!

    (certainly drag, good or bad… ain’t for sissies.)

    and we expect pictures!


  • Robin Slick
    October 26, 2007

    Amy is Gail’s cousin? I adore her! (But who in their right mind doesn’t?)

    So Kesey had wax strips for this reading – talk about killing yourself for your art but oh my god, Kim, did you tell him he was about three months too late for this and could have had a starring role in your film? Damn!

    And sigh…I see what you mean about Tommy Kane and I’m hoping you all saw this article today about a man who allegedly had sex with ahem, Senator Craig…is he/his account of this encounter for real, do you think? And do not click on this link if you are squeamish about m/m sex – just my friendly R-rated warning since I’ve been slapped on the wrist about posting suchlike links without said warnings on other occasions (not by Sue) so now I’m sensitive…getting back to Tommy, that drawing of the Strat at the top of his blog is exactly what I imagined for my book cover, damn it…since it’s what the male protagonist plays and he is actually the title of the book…but yeah, yeah, Sue got you first, Tommy, the lucky b*tch.

    I’m gonna ignore the boiled fetus and milk vomit soup remark. Or not. Maybe it’ll help me diet today.


  • Pia
    October 26, 2007

    Those risks were pure greatness. What a great idea to have people props! Did you get to meet Ben? His voice? Wish I could’ve been with you. What did Min do?

  • Kimberly
    October 26, 2007

    Aurelio – I couldn’t get myself together in time to herd my posse of cats for an All Hallow’s Eve event, but I have the intructions on file and am anxious to see the pix from Drag Poker West!

    Suggesting “Smokey Eye” make-up would be tacky right now, eh?

  • Kimberly
    October 26, 2007

    Robin: What??? And steal YOUR spotlight???

  • Dan Wickett
    October 26, 2007

    Min told a dirty joke while balancing a spoon upon her nose.

    There’s not enough hype possible in regards to Ben’s voice.

    Susan, it was great re-meeting you and actually being able to talk a bit this time around!

    And all of the above comments are dead on in regards to how fantastic and nice and great Amanda, Happy Endings, Roy, Betsy, and Gail are.

    Pia, be sure to ask to see Roy’s mutilated lower right leg when he gets to N.O.!

  • Betsy
    October 26, 2007

    Oh, I’m feeling the love! Gail, That’s so nice of you to say. It was so great to see you there. I envy your fabulous hair. Sue, I’ll be reading in NY the first weekend in May! And thanks, Dan, you have always been a champ!

  • Susan Henderson
    October 26, 2007

    I promised myself I’d finish the chapter I’m working on before I respond to comments, but – real quick – I’ll post a clip of Ben Percy with the voice too deep to be true. Kesey tried to introduce me to him, but I was afraid.

    After you click the link, scroll down to the big box that says Benjamin Percy, and then click the play button.

  • Amanda Stern
    October 27, 2007

    Sue Henderson! I’m thrilled you had such fun. It was a great pleasure meeting you, watching you feast on boiled fetuses and hearing all your talk about nipple rings (yup – she’s leaving the best parts out, people). Please come back often. We are sorely in need of wax strippers. And Severus Snape heard you can teach people to smile.



  • Susan Henderson
    October 27, 2007

    Robin G – Yeah, I think he regretted it immediately. And later, when we looked as his leg, he realized it hurt. I love your DNA combo of presidents plus Charles Manson!

    Aurelio – What if I threw it away and found out later I needed it? For something really important? You have to be careful what you throw away, bub with the super amazing news I can’t spill. I want party photos!

    Nathalie – I have an interesting life. I agree. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

    Kimberly – I just want to thank you again for the great photos and for the fun. It’s the ONLY time we’ve ever hung out without Mr. H!

    Jill – That’s great you can trace it back so far. Have you held on to any of the Irish and Scottish traditions?

    Carolyn – Ooh, and I know from real life that you are an excellent hugger!

    Gail – The funny thing is that both Kesey and I were so traumatized by the ripping that neither of us have any memory of him singing. What’s Pasha doing in Chicago???

    Aurelio – I’m NOT going to wear his leg trimmings. But I may send them to you!

    P.S. everyone – You know how much I love Brad Listi’s Nervous Breakdown, don’t you? Especially when I can head over there and read something amazing by my wondertwin.

  • Susan Henderson
    October 27, 2007

    Robin – Ha! That’s some article. And yes, Amy Hempel is amazing, but I love Gail more. P.S. I love that photo of my favorite drummer up on your blog today.

    Pia – I remembered Min from the Narrative reading you two did with James Salter. What’s her full name so I can link her?

    Dan – It was great to re-meet you, too. (Dan, by the way, is the lucky publisher of Kesey’s books.)

    Betsy – I will be there, for sure!

    Amanda – I did NOT eat the fetuses. I ate the slimy green vegetables. Shhh about the rings. You are such a troublemaker. xx

  • Gail Siegel
    October 28, 2007

    Pasha drove in to Chicago from Ann Arbor with his lovely friend Nicole plus Aaron Burch (minus Elizabeth Ellen, who stayed home.)

    Didn’t mean to set that up as an algebra problem, but I guess I did.

    Pia also did a reading in Chicago, earlier this week! Sadly, I could not go. Very very sadly. But it sounds like it was terrific. The Kesey-Ehrhardt reading in NO is coming right up!

  • Dan Wickett
    October 28, 2007

    Min Jin Lee

  • James Spring
    October 29, 2007

    I Visited Susan Henderson
    in New York
    And All I Got
    Was Vodka.

  • Laura Benedict
    October 29, 2007

    Wow! Photos of you, Ben Percy, Roy Kesey, AND his hot legs–This is truly an October to remember! 😉

    SO glad about Roy’s book….

  • Susan Henderson
    October 31, 2007

    Gail – Wow, everyone’s in Chicago these days. Maybe it’s time for me to go back for a visit. Mostly, I want to sleep with your ginormous dog in my bed again.

    Dan – Thank you for linking Min. She’s wonderful.

    James – I don’t remember you asking me to wax you.

    Laura – Laura! I saw your books front and center at Border’s last week! I can’t wait to read it!

Susan Henderson