A Short Tribute to Selected Artiness I Remember from the 1980s, and a Hearty Recommendation of a Novel by Eric Kraft
When I was in high school, someone—I have no idea who—went around town putting up posters that said "New Haven is the Paris of the 1980s."
This was completely untrue, but it just slayed me and my friends. Every few years or so, I end up in a conversation with someone who was around then, and we go, "Remember the 'New Haven is the Paris of the 1980s' guy? Who the hell was that?" and then we laugh and have another beer.
In the 1990s I read all the available work by the sadly underrecognized literary genius Eric Kraft. I'd read his Herb n' Lorna, fallen madly in love with it, and begun to eat my way through the rest of his books. The one I liked best, and which is probably still my second favorite, is called Reservations Recommended. It is a sad comic novel (I know that sounds impossible, but trust me, it isn't) about a guy who lives a boring life working for a big company, but has an alter ego who is a restaurant critic in Boston. A lot of the novel is this guy's observations about Boston in general, and many of those observations focus on someone he calls the Neat Graffitist. The Neat Graffitist, actual identity unknown, goes around Boston neatly magic markering the town with random statements, "in small, precise capital letters," such as:
NEVER FEAR PAIN. TIME DIMINISHES IT. BUT AVOID BOSTON CITY HOSPITAL. NURSES THERE WEAR USED UNIFORMS PURCHASED FROM BURGER KING, TREAT PATIENTS WITH FATALISTIC DETACHMENT.
There are many parts of Reservations Recommended that I reread with deep pleasure, just reveling in the wonderfulness of it, but the words of the Neat Graffitist are some of my favorite parts of the book. My husband and I are especially fond of this one:
TO HERBERT: YOU WERE BORN ONCE AND NOT TWICE AND WHEN YOU ARE DEAD YOU WILL BE DEAD FOREVER. GIVE ME BACK MY WATCHES. THEY WILL NOT MAKE YOU HAPPY. THEY ARE NO DEFENSE AGAINST DEATH.
The Neat Graffitist belongs in a category, I feel, with the "New Haven is the Paris of the 1980s" creator, along with the person who spent time writing pithy little sweet nothings on masking tape and putting them on parking meters around downtown around 1984–85. I vividly remember strolling around downtown with a friend who noticed this and chortled: "Uh-oh—someone's getting arty with the parking meters." It was almost certainly a Yalie, but still pretty entertaining.
So whoever the "New Haven is the Paris of the 1980s" guy (or, okay, girl) is, thanks and hats off to him/her; also to the Masking Tape Artist of 1984. Where are you now? Do you even remember doing these things?
Meanwhile, Eric Kraft's been getting rave reviews for his recent fiction, but it's not likely you've actually acted on your fleeting thought, "Gee, I should pick that up sometime and read it." Listen to me. Start with Herb n' Lorna if you can; if you can't, with Reservations Recommended. Act on the fleeting thought. Fleeting thoughts are our friends.