Over the course of the entire summer of 1998, I read a book. I read a few books, but I mostly read one book, Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. I had peered at the sheer girth of its 1,079 pages for syrupy months, unable to will the mental clarity or general ambition to tackle what I was sure would be the most important book I’d ever read by a guy who was still alive.
Of course, David Foster Wallace, my favorite writer, is no longer alive. He hung himself several years ago.
I’ve had many heroes in my life: familial heroes as a young boy, athletic heroes as a teen, literary and musical and artistic heroes as I awkwardly protruded into adulthood. My obsession with David Foster Wallace rivaled that of my early-teens obsession with the baseball player Don Mattingly, which coincided with my first love, Miss Elizabeth—“Macho Man” Randy Savage’s gorgeous, emotionally abused sidekick. In retrospect, I think it was just all an ill-conceived, unbearably sexist act. I hope.
Thanks to a rapidly expanding Internet in the late 1990s, I could consume content by and about Wallace in a way impossible just a year before. I realized that he lived in Illinois, a driveable distance from my self-imposed life hiatus in Columbus, Ohio, and that he engaged in correspondence with failing young writers like myself. I daily steeled myself to write him, to just get in my car and drive to Bloomington and see what the hell might happen.
I was scared about not being the smartest guy in the room. I was always afraid of his intellect, as reflected to me via his frantic, oft-stilted, always-inspiring prose. Sometimes I was inspired to tear my hair out, sometimes to cry about my inferiority, sometimes to silently mock a fragile ego off his game. I never acted on my puerile fantasies, and now I never can.
If I had to write DFW a letter/tweet now, it would go something like this, like:
“Hey buddy, get over yourself, lol, but come on, how the hell did you talk your editors into such blatantly self-indulgent but brilliant wordplay? I was going to be a writer but thanks to you I quit. I went to business school! That was more than 140 characters; I’m slippery and loquacious!”
I write this now simply to write something, to make sense of Tiger Woods’ ill-conceived decision about ball-dropping and the possible end of Kobe Bryant’s career. Heroes make mistakes, but only one cannot be reversed.