The oranges never came. I got a check for $100. Bob Edwards didn't call. Harper's never approached me. I called Florida State's Writing Program and asked about the oranges. They said they worked with a particular grove and if I never received the oranges, I should take it up with them. I called the grove on three separate occasions, an answering machine each time. My Homicide phone did not ring.
(Shyness is nice, and shyness can stop you from doing all the things in life you'd like to.)
"The Custodian" appeared in Sundog, and has been reprinted in a couple anthologies and a textbook, and it showed up as the topic of an article by Ron Wallace in AWP Chronicle. It lives on in the Web in interesting and complimentary ways, and family, co-workers, and friends across the country have reported coming across it in writing classes, teacher trainings, and Google searches. My wife read the story online before our first date, doing her due diligence to dig up any digital dirt.
In some ways, that story's out there having the career I always wanted for myself. On the cusp of its eighteenth birthday, that story is not so much a child of mine as a doppelgänger, a shade using my name and making something of itself while I stay home and do the washing up.
Anyone who says they have no regrets is either lying through their unreflective teeth or living such a charmed life as to be contemptible beyond all measure of reason. Even Sinatra reported having "a few" regrets, and who lived a more privileged existence than Frank effing Sinatra?
I regret that I didn't push harder for the deluxe treatment -- pushing back on Florida State for NPR connections, for a little box in the Readings sections in the front of Harpers. I know other writers who've sparked their careers by nudging editors. Just wasn't me, still isn't.
(Coyness is nice, and coyness can stop you from saying all the things in life you'd like to.)
I stayed in Boston until August of 2002, then brought that coffee table back to Milwaukee with me. I published a few more stories in disparate places and I worked on a novel for a while, but sputtered at it and back-burnered it, and worked more and got married and had two kids through adoption and a book appeared in my local bookstore that traded on exactly the same high concept character idea I'd been working on in my book except written by someone else, which crushed me, and though work I invested myself into issues of student retention and success and always sort of thought the whole time that I'd get back to writing fiction, and then one day you realize you've entirely run out of excuses. "Read less, write more," a friend wrote to me at the end of last week. "Seriously."
In Pam Painter's Short Short class, everybody had their particular trick when it came to in-class recitals. I recall Ted Adams rubbing hell out of his eye socket while trying to bring back the opening paragraphs of A Hundred Years of Solitude. And I remember the otherwise unflappable Jessica Purdy in full voice-quake, maybe reciting the tip-of-the-tongue-to-the-top-of-the-teeth bit from Lolita. I squinted, head down, trying to imagine the page I'd studied, saying...
When the shadow of the sash appeared on the curtains it was between seven and eight o' clock and then I was in time again, hearing the watch. It was Grandfather's and when Father gave it to me he said I give you the mausoleum of all hope and desire; it's rather excruciating-ly apt that you will use it to gain the reducto absurdum of all human experience which can fit your individual needs no better than it fitted his or his father's. I give it to you not that you may remember time, but that you might forget it now and then for a moment and not spend all your breath trying to conquer it. Because no battle is ever won he said. They are not even fought. The field only reveals to man his own folly and despair, and victory is an illusion of philosophers and fools.