I’ve never actually met bloggist Kenneth M. Walsh, but I have long checked in with him every morning at Kenneth in the (212) [you should as well, CLICK HERE] and now, with the publication of his memoir, Wasn’t Tomorrow Wonderful, I feel as if we are best friends. How did this happen? Let me explain.
It isn’t only that he has ties to my hometown of Frederick, Maryland, or that his brother works in journalism here, or that another brother has authored books on grammar and usage to which I frequently refer, or that Kenneth is gay and roughly in my age cohort, or that he’s attractive both physically and mentally, with the kind of sensibility and humor I enjoy, or that he had courage and spine and balls enough to live a New York life I always wanted but never got to; no, it’s not just any or even all of those thats.
What that is it, then?
Once upon a time I was a youngster who knew I was not like all the others. I felt alone. Isolated. I found solace in my aunt, and in the interests we shared, interests in which she encouraged me. I found my voice in theatre, mostly musical theatre, and when I couldn’t be someone else on stage, I lost myself in reading. My aunt introduced me to Dorothy Parker and Helene Hanff and Jane and Paul Bowles, and soon enough I found Joan Didion and Renata Adler and Fran Lebowitz. I kept journals, full of story ideas and tragi-emo-diary tales and – before I even knew what they were – my own personal essays. I discovered my forebears and betters like Montaigne and Sarton and Mencken and Benchley and Rorem and . . . you get the picture. I became an inveterate devourer of essays and worshipper of those with the ability to pithily sum-up life experiences – particularly those who’d employ a gift for the apothegmatic turn of phrase – in a few thousand words, shaped like fables: beginnings, middles, ends, moral.
Mr. Walsh is a pro at just that. He has stories, funny stories, well told, and the details and colors lavished throughout and within are both apt and “aha” – as in, “Oh holy shit, yes! I remember that!” Listen to little Kenny as he heads to a movie theatre where he is hoping to be abducted by a serial killer (Yes, you read that right.);
My stomach was in knots as we drove to the cinema in my stepdad’s brand-new black Malibu Classic. The anticipation was nearly unbearable, I was becoming light-headed from my mother’s cigarette smoke and the overbearing smell of Gary’s Wild Country cologne. Avon began selling his favorite scent in bottles shaped like chess-pieces that year — Mom bought him the whole thirty-two-piece set — and it seemed my stepfather had splashed on an entire rook that night.
That paragraph tells you everything you need to know about a particular family in a specific place during a distinct era; the Malibu Classic, the cigarette smoke, the Avon chess-piece bottles. Perfect. Walsh encapsulates many other eras and experiences with equal finesse and insight, taking us with him on his journey from small(ish) town boy to Manhattan-ite, child to adult,aspiring Buffy & Jody wanna-be to author and editor in New York City.
Walsh has the gift of capturing the passing zeitgeist with the tossing-off of one perfect cultural reference — be it Buffy and Jody from Family Affair (for me it would have been The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, but, that’s me) or Toni Tenille (I’m a Karen Carpenter guy) or who was cuter on Beverly Hills 90210‘s first incarnation, Dylan or Brandon (Walsh says, “Brandon, obviously,” but I am fonder of Dylan because I saw his dick on Oz and it seems just the right size whereas Brandon is famous for having one of the hugest cocks in Hollywood and I just am not a fan of such – uhm – largesse. I prefer a boyfriend dick.), or Shaun Cassidy (speaking of huge dicks, he and his brother David) or porn-star Mike Henson (with whom he lived and who was the star of the first porn video I ever saw) or Patty Hearst (I, too, collected Hearst kidnapping clippings until my mother insisted I throw them away) and . . . well, Walsh is a pop-culture treasure-trove, a trait I love, almost as much as I love being friends with someone who is happy to be naughty when called for, sassy, and able to make me laugh. A lot.
The culture has changed and we don’t anymore gossip with neighbors over the picket fence, or have those leisurely, meandering phone chats. We no longer have time to explore. We are busy. We spin. Not just with activity, but we spin our images. We become our social media profile, all of us the curators of our public personas as well as the information to which we expose ourselves, choosing from here and there that to which we attend, that which we post and re-post and borrow and morph and those we choose to spin and read the info for us. We are closer to and know more about people we have never met than we likely do about people we see all the time. We each live in our own imaginary, arranged world and we choose who we invite in.
Each morning, I invite Mr. Walsh. I am interested in the things about which he spins, and his spin is just my style. So, this memoir – which is really less memoir and more an arrangement of revealing personal essays that give a window not just into Mr. Walsh’s life, but, too, the world in which we all have been living during his lifetime – was, for me, like a friend sharing a few drinks and dinner and moving from acquaintance/friend status to near BFF.
Even if your life – unlike mine — has not been strangely similar to Mr. Walsh’s (wow – that syntax would drive Kenneth and both his copy editor brothers to distraction) in your social anxiety disorder, your sharp tongue juxtaposed with an “I weep at commercials” sensibility, fear, a pre-pubescent preference for middle-aged female friends, your memories of that private-parts-tingly-bits feeling when, as a ten year old, one got “butterflies in my stomach whenever the elastic band on the other boys’ Fruit of the Loom briefs became exposed when we were horsing around on the playground,” and your desire to live in a world the borders of which were Studio 54 as guarded by its hot doormen and populated by Liza Minnelli and Halston and Warhol (oh, my!) — you will still love Wasn’t Tomorrow Wonderful.
Why? Because, like Parker and Montaigne and Rorem before him, Walsh takes episodes from the life he has had the courage to live, that world he has gone out into and explored in ways most of us have not, and he has made them universal. He’s found the commonality of human experience in his days and his nights and his loves and his hates, and he has made them into amusing prose. And he has given them to us as a gift. The gift of friendship.
So, no, I’ve never met Kenneth M. Walsh, but, even so, he’s one of my BFF’s. You should have a glass of wine or a meal with him too. Buy Wasn’t Tomorrow Wonderful today at your local, independent bookstore. My pals at The Curious Iguana in Frederick [click here] ordered mine for me, and Mr. Walsh put a photo of me buying it on Kenneth in the (212) [CLICK HERE] which made me feel all butterflies tingly and famous. Nice guy. Of course, he wouldn’t be one of my imaginary BFF’s were he not.
Waste no more time, get yours and sidle up to your virtual picket fence and chat with Kenneth in whatever area code you happen to inhabit.