Smoking With Greg Ames

Read the Story December 15, 2005

How much courage did it take to write this story? And what would your own parents think?

I don’t think it took much courage, to be honest. Smokejumpers are courageous. They leap out of airplanes and plunge 3,000 feet into forest fires. Me? I sit alone in a room typing with my index fingers. I wear a bathrobe. When things are going well I make myself giggle with funny nouns. That’s not exactly what I would call courage. My dad hasn’t read this one yet but I think he’ll get a kick out of it. A few years ago, I began a story like this: “My father runs naked through the underbrush. We could hear him grunting and yelping as the brambles slapped his bare skin.” My dad found that a rather disturbing image. So I think he’s always secretly pleased when my father characters are properly clothed. That’s a step in the right direction, as far as he’s concerned.

How would you like us to read this story? As warped fairy tale? An alternative reality? As metaphor? As the truth?

Oh, it’s a true but warped alternative reality fairy tale with implicit metaphors. It’s also really biblical.

How did this story come to you? What challenges did it present for you? While writing it, was there anything you learned about yourself, yourself as a writer, the world at large?

Like most people, I learn by losing and by screwing up. When I was a teenager people often told me I had potential, and on some level I thought, “Well, great, that saves me the trouble of accomplishing anything. I’ll just ride on this potential thing for a decade or so.” And I drank a lot. I got into some messes. Typical stuff. And when I was twenty-five my mom got sick. I’ll spare you the details. It was very unpleasant and continues to be so. I had to grow up suddenly and become more responsible. Now, I have a different relationship with my family. My father and I have never been closer than we are now. And I’m present for my mom, my sister, and my mother’s sisters in a way that the narrator of this story isn’t there for his parents. He’s inherently selfish. So maybe “Retirement Home” is an alternate reality of my family (bringing us back to the previous question), a version of what might have happened if I’d continued in the direction I had charted for myself in my teens and early twenties. It is fiction, though, I want to stress that. My family never had a gazebo.

Say I click on www.gregames.com. What world awaits me?

That website was a birthday gift. Two of my friends designed it and put it up for me in September, 2005. It’s just a clean, simple site where friends of mine can keep up with my work. Nothing fancy. No flashing lights or nude women. But don’t let that discourage you. Click on it. Welcome.

A new year approaches (yikes!). So what’s the best 2005 had to offer in literature, web sites, music, movies, television, DVD, and the like? Also, any predictions for 2006? And we’d love to hear your New Year’s resolution?

Best book of 2005? That would have to be Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates. I realize it was published in 1961, but I read it only a few months ago. And every year I seem to re-read Too Loud a Solitude by Bohumil Hrabal. It’s a masterpiece. Who else in world literature has written a perfect novel in 98 pages? And I’ll add Gilead to the list. Excellent book. Music? Bonnie Prince Billy: “Master and Everyone.” I have no idea when it came out. A friend burned it for me. Maybe music suggestions should be contingent on one’s activity. For example, if you’re driving aimlessly around Buffalo in a rental car with four bald tires, in deep winter, and one of your windshield wipers is busted, I recommend Arcade Fire’s “Funeral.” That is the perfect CD for that situation. Otherwise, I don’t recommend it. I only watch DVDs at home. My TV is not hooked up for anything current, so I’m kind of out of touch. I’ve seen a lot of excellent stuff but none of it’s new. Sherman’s March by Ross McElwee. La Strada is the best movie I’ve ever seen. I also have a soft spot for Buffalo 66. A new year’s resolution? I’ve written it down here somewhere. Oh, yes, here it is: “Fill Dad’s water dish to the brim before leaving on two-week Jamaican vacation. Avoid repeat of last year’s fiasco.”

About the Author:

Greg Ames lives and works in Brooklyn. His stories have appeared in numerous literary journals and websites, including Open City, McSweeney’s, The Sun, Fiction International, failbetter.com, Literal Latté, and Other Voices. He received a special mention in the 2003 Pushcart Prize anthology and The Best American Nonrequired Reading of 2004. For more information, please visit www.gregames.com.

About the Artist:

A native of Ohio, Marty D. Ison lives with his wife transplanted in the sands of the Gulf of Mexico. He studied fine arts at Saint Petersburg College. In addition to the visual arts, he writes poetry, short stories, and novels. See more of Ison's work here.