happy ending reading

Weekly Wrap: Our Ancestry

by Susan Henderson on October 26, 2007

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!