I picked up this collection of essays from Boston writer (and Bay Area native) Steve Almond on a total whim and found it to be one of the explosively funny books I’ve read since Ozzy’s autobiography. Almond is just nuts—and honest to a fault—which may or may not be a product of his insanity.
Not that You Asked is organized thematically with the chapter entitled About My Sexual Failure (Not that You Asked) being the most cringe-worthy of the bunch.
In the extended piece Shame On Me (Why My Adolescence Sucked Donkey Cock), we are regaled with tales of his late-blooming sexuality via the water jets in the Almond family hot tub; hand jobs con sharp, inexperienced fingernails; the family dog’s rooting out of a used condom from the trash and subsequent tug-of-war with Almond’s mother leading to predictable, but no less horrifying results; and getting publicly busted for shoplifting condoms and Sta-Hard gel from Longs Drugs.
Chestfro Agoniste and My First Fake Tits reveal waxing and breast implants to both be somewhat less wonderful than advertised, the former resulting in this conversation painfully recounted by Almond:
Me: Ow! Please. Please, don’t—Fuck!
Her: It’s almost out.
Me: You have to do it faster, really—No! Ow! Fuck! Please move to
another—that part really—Owwww!
Her: Stop being a baby.
Me: Please, sweetie. Please, I’m not joking.
Her: Lie still. Just fucking lie still and let me—
Me: Owwwww! You fucking bitch! You mean fucking bitch!
For every writer who has attempted to wince his or her way through a sex scene, Almond offers a 12-step program that lays out some pretty good (and common sense) advice, such as Step 5 (Real people do not talk in porn clichés):
“Most of the time, real people say all kinds of weird, funny things during sex, such as ‘I think I’m losing circulation,’ and ‘I’ve got a cramp in my foot,’ and ‘Oh, sorry!’ …”
Given my utter lack of interest in the sport of baseball, it took me awhile to battle my way through one of the longer essays in the collection, Red Sox Anti-Christ, which ended up having some interesting and insightful things to say about sport and its place in a war-loving society such as our own.
He equates the coverage of the kick off to the invasion of Iraq with a major sporting event. “Nightly highlight reels charted the day’s major offensive drives. Correspondents offered sandswept on-the-field interviews with our burly combatants, while generals served up bromides fit for a head coach.”
Almond goes further and takes part of the blame for the unnecessary war onto his own shoulders. “As a fan, I had helped foster a culture governed by the sports mentality, in which winning mattered above all else, and the application of violence was seen as a necessary means to that end rather than a betrayal of our democratic standards.”
In a chapter entitled In Tribute to My Republican Homeys, Almond turns on the vitriol. Demagogue Days, Or How the Right-Wing Hateocracy Chewed Me Up and Spat Me Out spins the story of how Almond, an adjunct professor at Boston College at the time, resigns over the school’s invitation of Condoleezza Rice to give the commencement speech. Almond uses the format of Dante’s descent into hell to map out all of the insidious devils of punditry that all wanted a piece of him for a brief, terrifying moment.
With the ability to ride out ridiculous situations with the artistry of a Mavericks surfer (see How Reality TV Ate My Life), one starts to wonder just what would really get to Almond, what would crack his smooth, white chocolate exterior and let the creamy nougat pour forth? That force majeure comes in the form of a baby girl, the arrival of whom is hilariously recounted in 10 Ways I Killed My Infant Daughter in Her First 72 Hours of Life. It’s this window into the hopes and fears that people have shared from time immemorial, that saves Not That You Asked from being simple a collection of ravings from another smart ass cynic. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.