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I wish now that I had asked him if a man born a millionaire can have any idea about how hard an American family must work to make ends meet, let alone a family of migrant workers. All of the phrases that went unsaid at our meeting seemed to come forth from my fingertips, blackening the white screen in front me.
It’s important for me to point out that the term long-awaited has nothing to do, technically, with the quantity, of, well, awaitment, and I only mean to say that a small handful of people, many of whom I know personally and some of whom depend on me for financial support, have been awaiting this book’s arrival for a long time. I began writing this book about two or three years ago, in a hotel room in Washington D.
Also waiting for it: My mother, my in-laws, and a few of the good folks at Bank of America to whom I owe a great deal of money. C., after a hard and wearying day of lobbying for an increase in federal funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities.
At that point in our nation’s history, Sensenbrenner was zealously pursuing an immigration reform bill as punitive and xenophobic as any piece of legislation recently considered in the halls of American government (now playing in Arizona). Sensenbrenner greeted me and my colleague, a librarian from Waukesha, with real warmth. “But have a seat and I will tell you why.” I simply smiled and did as he said. At that time, I happened to be a freshly-minted NEA Literature Fellow, and as much as I wanted to defend these two worthy federal endeavors, I simply nodded, and took notes, and tried my best to politely inform the congressman that a number of NEH and NEA funded initiatives actually took place in his rather wealthy fifth district.
When Mapplethorpe came up, as he always did, I cowardly blamed all that on those bad kids in the arts.
I was representing the sainted and patriotic humanities.
In short, I listened to the Congressman for Wisconsin’s 5th District spew forth a litany of accusations, misinterpretations, and talk-radio-perpetuated myths and sat on my proverbial hands.He was also named Sales Representative of the Year in 2006 by magazine. Mack Fences was initially a minor character, a sort of fop designed to provide a bit of levity from what was an initially dark and stormy little novel.Mack Fences chain-smoked, he drank too much, and he was intellectually fierce and witty but also a wee bit of a coward.Sensenbrenner remained cordial throughout, but he struck me as a sort of slob, unkempt and boorish. I returned to my room and ordered two scotches and a steak from room service, purchased a pay-per-view movie (, with the effervescent Kate Winslet), and, after finishing said movie and composing a half-hearted but lusty poem about Kate Winslet (which inspired a Google Image Search for Kate Winslet), I began to work on this novel: .I have heard it said that he has never held a job outside of Capitol Hill, and if he had not been born rich I doubt he would have had much of a station in this society. I wish now that I had called him an over-privileged jackass. I wrote twenty-six pages that night and I suppose I owe this unprecedented bit of productivity to Congressman Sensenbrenner.I had a great deal of things to say, but I said nothing. None of the events, characters, or situations chronicled in these pages are real.Seriously: I do not want my words to be used as a chance to disparage the good people in the world of the NEH or any of my former colleagues with the state humanities councils, most of whom are a wise, decent, and extraordinarily hard-working lot.Nor does the fictional Wisconsin Congressman Quince Leatherberry, who runs into a bit of trouble in the pages that follow, represent Representative James Sensenbrenner in any way. Sensenbrenner has been involved in anything unethical. If I hate your ideas, I turn you into a purely fictional literary character and then I beat you up. C., I finished a draft of this novel in a borrowed space, a windowless basement underneath an old townhouse from the 1840s.This was in Mineral Point, Wisconsin, where I had recently moved with my family and where I lived for four years.He is so politically disillusioned that he becomes part of the carelessness he detests.Zeke is the guy I feared I could become if I had no wife or kids or writing to hold my life together.