I suppose it sounds presumptuous to say I have written my autobiography. After all, only important people do that—right? Maybe or maybe not, but we are living in a time when technology allows everybody from kings and queens to the scum of the earth to tell their story. I have told mine without fear or favor.
The large majority of the 165 pieces in this book first appeared in my web site. They were polished, put in one of seven categories (Dallas Days, Austin Days, Korea Days, Excursions, More Autobiographica, Sports and Commentary on Other Matters) and made to cohere. As with my last four books, Mark Hooper of Barcelona, Spain played a crucial role in making it a reality. So here’s a big shout-out to Mark!
The cover of ASM features me on top of Namsan in central Seoul. I am wearing my motorcycle jacket and a Detroit Lions cap. The northern part of the Korean capital stretches out behind me. Some people have wondered why I do not have a big grin on my face, and I tell them that while the book contains plenty of funny and whimsical stories, there are just as many serious ones. Who got raked over the coals? Jerry Sandusky, Dave Winfield, Mao Zedong, the Harlem Globetrotters, Darrell Royal, Malcolm X, John F. Kennedy, the sexually obsessed Dr. Alfred Kinsey, Muhammad Ali, my deceased father, Reggie Jackson, Timothy Leary, Pete Maravich, Archie Manning, Joe DiMaggio, Kim Jong-Il, Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson, middle-distance-runner-turned-hooker Suzy Favor and others. I would like to think I was fair in every case.
There were stories about a near-drowning, a brutal whipping from dear old Dad, my 1999 trip to Pittsburgh, a failed attempt to participate in the Soap Box Derby, an encounter with an infamous cross-dresser in Austin, the joyous summer of 1980 at the Denton City Pool, washing dishes six years after college graduation, ex-girlfriends, singing Christmas carols in an old folks home in 2004, a careful assessment of the guilt of Lee Oswald and much more.
I treasure my independence. I decide what to write about and how it should be handled. Every editorial decision, for better or worse, is mine. And so this book is a testament to the 63-plus years I have spent on the planet so far, my experiences and impressions. As I make clear again and again, I do not claim to derive from the best or worst of families. I do not have a world-class education, and I am not the smartest, the most this or that. Like Garrison Keillor used to say about kids in Lake Wobegon, I am just slightly above average. But you know what? I’ve got a voice, and I use it. If I have an opinion about K-pop or tattoos and graffiti or Hank Aaron or Brian Bosworth or apologists for the Confederacy or neo-sexism or some of the insufferable professors I had at the University of Texas (I’m talking to you, Herb Hirsch) or the crooks at Enron or Mormon “prophet’ Joseph Smith, I am going to state it. The tone that runs throughout this book is “I hope you like me, but if not—who cares?”
In anticipation of publication day of August 15, 2015, I came up with a fairly brilliant idea. I mocked the tendency of publishers to slather their books with advance praise by quoting from the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Le Monde, the Times of London, Beirut Times, Rio de Janeiro Globe, Joong Ang Ilbo and other such media outlets. All of them (supposedly) raved about A Seoul Miscellany and said I was the cat’s meow. My student Anthony Kim translated it into Korean; I made copies and dispersed it widely by e-mail.
All modesty aside, I think this book should win the Nobel Prize for Literature.