The personal essay is just like people: full of too much information, inherently dull, and a staple fascination of weekend media. The men and women of American letters just really love to get personal on their days off. We reward those who go too far.
Best expression of Joycean disgust goes to Peter Sagal, who has a Funny Pages "True-Life Tale" this week about a lady grifter who gets him to give her $20 so that she can get her broken-down car towed off the shoulder. The woman gets into Sagal's passenger seat, and he recoils: "I noticed that she wasn't quite as attractive as I first thought. Her hair was dirty, and so was the back of her neck. She smelled as if she had dabbed a spot of fresh motor oil on her pulse points."
Much more—including a crazy Mayan lady and a disgusting albino— after the jump.
Weirdest idea about what it means to be friends goes to ?mbar Past for her Lives piece in the Times Magazine about abandoning her life in San Francisco and moving to a distant Mayan village in Mexico. Past's angst-ridden, vaguely magical-realist piece ends with a strange Mayan merchant-lady bringing her to her home and molesting her out of curiosity while her husband and children sleep nearby. Past recalls: "Mar a Tzu approached me slowly, as if I were a wild animal... She was speaking to me softly, hypnotically. And then, gently, she began to feel my body from head to toe." Past lies there motionless while the woman touches her "breasts," her "abdomen," and her "sex" before pronouncing with excitement, "You really are human!" Then the two women hug, and Past feels happy: "And so at last I had a friend."
Best quote that was probably never said is Past again, who quotes an unnamed Mayan native as calling her "useless" and complaining to a friend that she "doesn't know how to spin yarn, or make tortillas, or use a machete. So lazy. And boy does she smell!"
Best desire makes it a hat-trick for Past, who was moved to start a new life by a longing for "magic, poetry and genuine human warmth."
Best cat-related remark goes to this week's Modern Love essayist Lucy Ferriss, whose mother remembers her wedding day and describes herself as feeling "like the well-known cat, grinning from ear to ear!"
Worst injustice goes to Calvin R. Donaldson Jr., the equipment engineer operator who provided this week's edition of the Washington Post's populist biography column "First Person Singular." Donaldson talks about being robbed of top honors at the Professional Equipment Roadeo, an annual D.C. event that had him driving a "10-wheel dump truck with a snowplow attachment" along a "heavy-wheel plow obstacle course at RFK Stadium." Donaldson got the best time, but a vindictive judge disqualified him for running over a cone. "Someone from the judge's county won," Donaldson reports. "They wouldn't even let me redo it."
The luckiest duck award lands neatly in the lap of movie writer/producer John Klein. Writing in the L.A. Times Magazine, Klein tells a story about living in New York as an undergrad in 1965 and shooting his thesis film project. While knocking on doors in search of a fire escape to use as a location for his last scene, Klein accidentally winds up in an apartment on St. Marks Street with Milos Forman, who happens to be in town to promote The Fireman's Ball. Forman asks to see Klein's movie, likes it, and the two collaborate on a film that ends up winning big at Cannes.
Best "and so I says to him" joke goes to Matt Bai for his entertaining but ultimately unsatisfying piece in the second issue of Key, the New York Times glossy real estate supplement. This maneuver is a staple of the mini-memoir, as it allows the author to proudly recount something hilarious he or she once did, said, or thought. Bai has a few of these in his essay, which is about a strange woman who pulls up alongside his curb every day in her car, and watches him through a window while a team of contractors renovate his new house. Turns out at the end of the piece that it wasn't Bai she was after, but one of the workers. For most of the essay, though, the mystery of the stalker runs deep, and Bai lets off a few cluckers in the process with great enthusiasm. To whit: "Ellen suggested that maybe the woman had been hoping to buy the house before we did and now she just couldn't get it out of her head. I told her this made some sense. It seemed to me that anyone who had wanted to buy this house would certainly have to have been unhinged to begin with."
Best leisurely activity is Bai again: "When Ellen and I and our best friends would get together on weekends, the four of us would sit around inventing cinematic theories."
Best rumor is back to Past: when she first arrives at the village, the highly suspicious natives murmur about how she probably "stole babies and turned them into gasoline for airplanes." They also say that she might be an albino, i.e. "hideously ugly and probably rich."