Thank Your Teachers: A Tribute to Dave Fish

It was my freshman year of college when I met Dave. He was in the graduate program at hippy haven SUNY New Paltz teaching Freshman Comp 101.  I landed in his class by mere fate or maybe some sort of secret lottery system I’m not sure of, but either way I was there.

Dave was going to show us what the Beat Generation meant to the world of literature and I was eager and ready having known for years who Allen Ginsberg was, his sad bearded face adorned a Rolling Stone that showed up some years before after his death on my parent’s coffee table. I read the article and was amazed that one man could do so much with poetry.

The novel that was assigned to us that class was Jack Kerouac’s masterpiece On the Road. I had no idea what was about to happen to me. I knew that I had been assigned many books to read in English classes, most of which were either good enough to finish or important enough to get through. My favorites up until that point were Of Mice and Men and Grapes of Wrath. I thought I was just a huge Steinbeck fan, little did I know how little I knew.

I read On the Road in one day. My eyes couldn’t stop darting around the pages and I needed more. I couldn’t wait to get to class every day to see what everyone else thought, to see what Dave had to say, to see what the narratives that were extracted smelled and felt like. I was, in part, obsessed, because I learned, Kerouac was more than just a writer, he was a rule breaker, a punk rocker, the beginning of the “hippy” movement and possibly the end and beginning of something bigger generationally in America.

Being immersed in the heart of the dragon every day, surrounded by neo hippy socialites and pot smoking sandal wearing patchouli addicts made me see why Jack drank himself to stupidity and eventually death. By the time the class had ended I not only had read other books by Jack, but a biography as well. I knew Jack like I knew myself, in and out, and was seriously pained to see how misconstrued his messages had become, the consumerism of it all, the lost art of jazz, true prose exploding like roman candles across the sky.

But Dave, he understood. He knew what Jack meant! He was explaining it daily and in terms I had never thought of. “Mississippi Gene is Buddha!” Dave yelled and my pen hit the paper to make a note. My brain was melting. “You don’t need to write this down”, I thought. “Jesus! This is life shit!”

Standing in the Shawangunk Mountains late one afternoon, the sun starting to disappear behind the peaks, the chilly air starting to casually stroll in, my stomach reminding me to go back to campus and hit the dining hall, and I realized what it was I wanted to do. Of course, I always knew it, but I needed this moment for it to become concrete.

I wrote my first book when I was in first grade. I was on the news. It was a Christmas book, but more Stephen King and Tim Burton than your typical Christmas story. Although I had no idea what macabre was I was certainly already dabbling in it.

In the book, Santa had been impersonated by the Devil, who went around killing children, then made toys from their bones and gave the toys as presents to other children.

It’s fucked, I know.

And the worst part is, they don’t catch the devil in the end. The lead detective, a woman named Kristy, is unable to solve the crime. The ending was either intentionally left open for a sequel or more importantly, was a precursor to the way I saw all literature, further backed and corroborated by the Beat Generation more than a decade later.

Even at an early age I always wondered why there had to be a well-defined good guy and bad guy in every story. Real life never works this way. Sometimes you’re the good guy and sometimes you’re the bad guy.

Sometimes you learn a bunch of stuff and change your ways and sometimes you learn a bunch of stuff and don’t change a damn thing. If life is never so cut and dry why should literature be?

Art imitates life. I have always considered writing an art before it is entertainment. Good art makes for good entertainment, but good entertainment isn’t necessarily art.

In New Paltz, under the distinct tutelage of Dave fish, I was shown that other people thought this way and I wasn’t alone. My thoughts were suddenly vindicated, it was a relief and a burden all at once. I couldn’t give up and I wouldn’t.

In order to break the rules I had to first learn them and I did, imitating Kerouac, Ginsberg, Brautigan, Baraka, Corso, Snyder, and others. I spent so much time writing that I forgot to go to math class, business class, science class, and pretty much every other class. I helped start a poetry group and an on campus magazine that centered on poetry as art. I eventually dropped out of school completely and moved to the city of Syracuse to become the next Jack Kerouac.

I became a waiter instead.

I did go back and eventually graduate college with a degree in writing and since have pressed forward as the struggling writer that I have always wanted to be. But you can’t live out your dreams without a lot of people standing behind you encouraging you and aiding you along the way.

You never know where your inspiration can come from as a writer or as any individual ready to move forward and progress. What I may not have understood at the time but certainly do now is that my progress had to embrace the complete weirdness that I know resides inside me. But it’s hard to let that out.

You’re growing a second head that if you let it out people are going to look at you differently. I needed someone to tell me that it was acceptable and that others had done it before, to cultivate the plant of weirdness that has already rooted in the soul was actually a good thing. Let them think you’re weird, because, well, you are. Weird is unique. Unique is art. Art is entertainment.

The reason I’m a weird writer isn’t Dave’s fault. That burden probably falls on my parents. But the enrichment of my weirdness that led me to become a writer?

That one’s on you, Dave.

The Art of Drunk Food

It’s late night and you’re wandering with a few friends. You had dinner around 6pm but a blurry check of your watch shows that it’s now just past midnight. The last IPA you guzzled left your mouth dry and you can feel that shot of Tully sloshing in your guts as you trod clumsily along.

It’s Time for Drunk Food

The question is, to what degree of greasiness will you be willing to go? Pizza? Cheeseburgers? Nachos? All of it?

There is an art to drunk food, a je ne sais quoi if you will, from conception to plate. Certain things seem less appealing, like an arugula salad with a pair of soft boiled quail eggs, although at 6pm that would seem like the perfect option. But it’s after midnight now and you’re hammed. Arugula and quail eggs can go straight to hell.

No, it’s time for something double fried, dripping with grease, topped with cheese and soggy with mayonnaise. It’s time for a heart stopping, artery clogging mess that you are certain will give you plenty of time for regret as you perch upon your porcelain throne time after time after time the next day.

Why Do We Do it to Ourselves?

It’s for the sake of the art, of course! Someone put together this creation much in the same way that you came around to eating it. You can imagine the chef coming home late, drunk as ever, looking helplessly around his fridge for something to annihilate. There are sparse ingredients, but just enough to pique the curiosity of the blotto culinary creator. A dish is born, and with certain delight it is consumed in pure gluttony, its ephemeral existence quantified by the inhibition-free state the spirits have created while swimming through your bloodstream.

It’s pure bliss. The next step is finding a place to stare into space for a few minutes until your head hits the pillow. Before you know it you’ll be waking up looking for water, your shriveled prune like body devoid of water, saturated with salt, and dreaming of an ice cold Grape Gatorade.

 Personally Speaking After Going Ham

I’ve drunkenly roamed late night in Boston, New York, D.C., Atlanta, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Montreal, Toronto, Baltimore, and smaller cities like Syracuse, Buffalo, Rochester, Albany, Kingston, Manchester, Raleigh, and West Palm Beach. I have eaten late night meals in pretty much all of them. Regretted some more than others, but never hated on how great a night it was.

Here are the 3 meals unique to a specific area that I would go back for:

  1. Primanti Brothers in Pittsburgh –  Absolute carnage. If you have never had the privilege of eating a sandwich there, its meat, coleslaw, and French fries on the sandwich itself, all piled up and delicious. I had pastrami, with swiss, and I added onions and an egg. I ate it greedily, obsessively, and without breathing. It was the perfect end to a great night.

    primonti bros
    Primanti Brothers Sandwich 
  2. Pat’s King of Steak in Philadelphia – Do me a favor and spare me the “the best cheesesteaks are not at Pat’s or Geno’s those places are for tourists” speech. I was in Philly and I was a damn tourist and the first time I ate a “Whiz Whit” I damn near cried. Tender steak and cheesey goodness was enough to send me to cholesterol bliss. Great night in Philly, too, complete with a memorable 3D Avatar porn experience and Monk’s Café Sour Flemish Ale. Not at the same time.

    pats cheesesteak
    Pat’s Cheesesteak
  3. Dog Town in Rochester – Despite its namesake, The Garbage Plate is delicious. Home fries on a plate topped with mac salad, a hot dog, and a cheeseburger, drowning in spicy meat sauce and speckled with raw onions. Sound gross? Come to Rochester and spend a few hours with yours truly walking around Monroe Avenue and then see what you think. You’ll cave in and then have to sleep for a week.

    garbage plate
    Garbage Plate on an actual plate

What it All Means

I’ve had late night hot dogs and slices of pizza in New York, grabbed after hours meals in Boston, and had a soft shell crab poor boy once in Baltimore that blew me away. But it’s not just what it was, it was the nights that surrounded the first time I had these specific meals, what I was doing, who I was with, and the meal just hit me. It hit me in a spot inside my mind that I can’t describe.

I went to school for a while in New Paltz, New York. I remember a little pizza joint that was on my stumbling walk home from the frat parties. It was called “Italian Supreme”. It’s not there anymore. I remember they had stuffed pizza slices, which were basically just two slices of pizza stacked on top of one another creating a “stuffed slice” effect.

I’m not sure if that pizza was any good. But at the time, at eighteen years old, with friends, drinking cheap beer and whiskey and smoking Natural American Spirits, it was the best pizza ever. We ate it like we were kings, sloppily sucking the sauce off our fingers and laughing till our heads fell off.

The art of drunk food is not just how the meal will satisfy your uninhibited hunger, it’s how that meal will entice your memory to go back to that spot in time and relive it all over again.

 

Anthony N. White is a writer currently living in Rochester, NY.

He can be heckled on Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat @Ruthieshusband

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