Eggers, Teen Idol
As the editor of a controversial literary website, Gary Baum used to receive many strange emails, often from people who were conceptual email artists, and sometimes he didn’t know quite what to do with them. “I remember the first time Zadie Smith emailed me,” he told me when I visited him in California the month before his high school graduation. “I didn’t believe it was her. I was like, ‘Okay, bye.’ Finally she wrote me an email—she had a Hotmail account!—where she took all the people on the acknowledgments page of her book and explained how she knew every one of them. Then she was like, ‘Now do you believe me?’” Having established her credentials, Smith was able to inform Gary that the rumors he was trying to generate on his website, of her liaison with Dave Eggers, were not based in fact. “The ultimate literary hook-up,” is what Gary had called the alleged affair.
Zadie Smith was not the first person to find herself annoyed with Gary’s antics. In another time, the offended parties would likely have been limited to the principal of Calabasas High School, for whom Gary’s newspaper work was a constant thorn in the side, and possibly the local PTA. But in our technological age, a funny thing happened to Gary Baum: in addition to his duties as a young adult—editing the Calabasas Courier, filling out college applications, scrutinizing Dawson’s Creek—for two years he took the fight to New York literary culture. During that time he produced, on his website, a remarkable document about the rise to prominence of writer and editor Dave Eggers. While doing so he irritated a wide range of people—“I can’t believe,” one writer told me after being quoted on Gary’s site with a superfluous [sic] attached, “that he siced me!”—and made life less comfortable for the ostensible object of his affection. He also learned more than anyone ought to know about the way things work.
What follows touches upon many things—Eggers’s career, literary nepotism, digitized postmodernity, and the media tsunami in which Eggers himself became engulfed and whose abrasive spray Gary felt against his face. But it is above all the story of Gary’s education.
Gary first discovered Eggers in 1998, when he picked up Shiny Adidas Track Suits and the Death of Camp, an anthology of essays from the San Francisco magazine Might. Eggers, one of Might’s founders, was the motive force of the anthology, whose tone was a compelling mixture of a highly allusive, even immersive comfort with popular culture and an imperious animosity toward same. Politically leftish but uncommitted, casually erudite, angry in an ill-defined way, it was just the thing a teenager could use. It had an essay on MTV news anchor Kurt Loder (“The Old Man and MTV”) that suggested MTV was stupid but Loder was only pretending to be. It had an essay explaining why black people were cooler than white people. The title essay was an attack on the aesthetic of “camp” delivered in a mock-academic tone that could perhaps best be described as “campy.” Eggers’s own contribution, “Never Fucked Anyone,” was typical: preachy, sarcastic, written in a humorous, high-velocity prose, it made an earnest plea against the use of the word fucking to describe sex. If it was impossible to discern an overarching idea from the anthology, or even a consistent attitude, it was clear that Might had a problem with the way things were—or, at the very least, with where they were in the way things were.
Death of Camp was a tombstone for Might, whose editors had run out of money, closed up shop, and moved East a year earlier (Eggers became editor-at-large for Esquire). It also heralded things to come: Eggers’s bio indicated, semi-jocularly, that he might be preparing to launch a Web-based publication. He did much more. A few months after discovering Might, Gary held in his hands the first issue of Eggers’s next venture, McSweeney’s, a thick, beautiful literary quarterly with a mixed cast of famous writers (David Foster Wallace, Rick Moody) and as-yet-unknowns. The look and feel of McSweeney’s were like nothing anyone had seen since the 1890s—instead of a quarterly’s habitual neo-Impressionist cover, McSweeney’s was nobly black-and-white and designed exclusively with text elements. The front matter was a parody of front matter, at one point including a request that all submissions be accompanied by college transcripts and peer recommendations. But McSweeney’s was hardly a parody, as the stories and essays and interviews were for the most part very accomplished and, even more impressively, were given ample space. Several of the pieces in the first few issues exceeded 20,000 words—an unheard-of length for a modern magazine. McSweeney’s represented the arrival of a long-awaited sensibility, or simply a generation—it effortlessly inhabited a certain kind of experimental writing, as if this were how its writers most naturally expressed themselves. The magazine also had a web cousin, at www.McSweeneys.net, which published shorter humorous pieces, including, early on, a send-up of Esquire, barely disguised as “Man: The Magazine for Men.” Gary loved it. “This was my own personal thing,” he told me in Calabasas. “No one knew about this guy. It was something I had found, like you would find a cool band. And then all this stuff started coming out.”
“All this stuff” was related to the publication, in February of 2000, of Eggers’s memoir, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. The memoir relates that in 1991, when Eggers was twenty-one, his parents died of cancer within weeks of each other. Soon thereafter Eggers and his eight-year-old brother Christopher lit out for San Francisco, where Eggers lived a young adult’s fantasy-nightmare, raising his little brother while placing himself at the heart of that city’s late-millennial golden age. The story is compelling, Eggers’s style even more so, but for a first book the pre-publication hype was extraordinary. A portion of the book appeared, in October of 1999, in the New Yorker (as did a photo spread of the McSweeney’s staff), and previews popped up in Shift, Spin, New York, and Vanity Fair. Nor was it merely a push from the publisher: Eggers had received a solid but unstaggering $100,000 advance from Simon & Schuster (a sum he discusses in the preface to the book), suggesting that the marketing department would not be painting highway billboards for A Heartbreaking Work. The hype seemed to generate itself, as though from a magic hype-machine.
This was interesting, and for Gary, who knew a thing or two about Eggers, it was especially so. When the New York Observer published a list of all the magazines in which Eggers had appeared before his book was even available, Gary’s suspicions were confirmed: the memoirist had friends. One was a senior writer at Spin; another had until recently worked at the New Yorker. So Gary did the professional cynics one better, compiling an article for his website called, “A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius: Revised.” It opened with Gary’s signature urbanity:
Gabriel Snyder, the new writer of the New York Observer’s famous “Off the Record” media industry column, has been doing a pretty good job since the writer’s predecessor, Carl Swanson, left in January for New York magazine. A good example of Snyder’s work was an article-by-article dissection of the media buzz surrounding Dave Eggers in the February 21st issue of the Observer. Eggers is the editor of McSweeney’s and the author of one of the hottest memoirs on the market at the moment, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. He is also one of my favorite writers.
That last line was the odd note, for what followed amounted to a damaging exposé. Gary had annotated the Observer article, using numbered footnotes (1 through 9) and then lettered footnotes to those footnotes (a through j) in which he traced, via Web searches and his handy Might anthology, all the connections Eggers had at his disposal. “I was surprised,” Gary told me. “I didn’t know anything about it. I was like: this works, and this works.” Everyone with a link to the memoirist was labeled a Friend of Eggers, or FoE!—the exclamation point possibly indicating Gary’s shock as he discovered friend upon friend upon friend.
That first article was truly the work of a paranoid mind abetted by Google—nothing existed that was not linked to something else. A few of the connections, like Eggers’s several points of contact with the impregnable New Yorker, were revealing. Others were more oblique: “Kurt Andersen, the media superstar that used to be the editor of New York and is now one of the founders of Powerful Media,” Gary wrote in footnote 4, attempting to explain why Eggers was profiled in New York magazine, “employs FoE! Todd Pruzan, the deputy editor of McSweeney’s.” This comment indicated that its author, for all his copious insider-type knowledge, was working from the outside—the tenuous Andersen-Pruzan-Eggers connection was unlikely to spur antitrust legislation. And there were other indications, too, that Gary was not from around here: he initially smashed through the knotty U-Chicago vs. MLA dilemma over polysyllabic proper-noun possessives ending in s by writing of “Egger’s” book, and then referred knowingly to New York Times book reviewer Michiko Kakutani as “he.”
Gary had been writing essays on popular culture for several Web publications, and posting others on his website (www.aphrodigitaliac.com), for some time, but no one had really noticed. Now, some larger sites read by people in the New York publishing world linked to Gary’s, and his article was circulated via email. One editor contacted Gary directly. “He said I’d caught onto something in the zeitgeist,” Gary recalled. “I was like, ‘I just did this one thing.’ But he said, ‘No, you need to go with this. Trust me. You’ve been writing all these articles about pop culture—this is what you’ve been looking for.’”
And so the FoE! Log was born. “Armed with an array of new sources which reach far into the deepest corridors of Egger’s inner circle,” Gary announced at the beginning of Log #2, in the breathless, hyperbolic, metaphor-mixing, slightly condescending, and above all unstable tone that would always characterize the Log, “this space will bring you an unprecedented array of news, views, and shameless gossip about everyone’s favorite poster boy for the postmodernist set.” Thereafter, approximately every two weeks, for forty editions averaging 2,500 words and including links to many thousands more, Gary, often reluctantly, sometimes sporadically, but always with dogged commitment, traced the rise of the unstoppable Eggers.
Throughout the Log, Gary was wry and skeptical—of Eggers (a sellout?), of Eggers’s fans (mere hipsters!), and even of himself (a shameless publicity-seeker?). But he was also adoring, silly, and naive. Reading the Log you could watch Gary grow wise in the ways of the world without, somehow, growing cynical; you could see his increasing confidence and erudition, as well as his continuing troubles—thirty editions after his Kakutani gaffe, Gary referred to the Philadelphia Inquirer’s main book man, Carlin Romano, as “she.” In Log #9 he decided that the correct possessive for a noun like Eggers is “Eggers’s,” but warned, “In the interest of continuity, I will continue to use abominable punctuation.”
Countless journalists besides Gary had essayed Eggers’s tale, mostly in accounts that managed to praise Eggers’s zaniness while questioning his authenticity. Eggers’s friend and major McSweeney’s contributor Neal Pollack wrote a number of parodies of Eggers’s stardom, and the McSweeney’s style spawned countless imitators, including the designers of IBM’s Annual Report, a web-based “performance piece”/homage (at www.mcsweeneys.org), and a Nike advertising campaign. Gary’s Log was generally slighted in this august field—parodied by Pollack, referred to backhandedly as a “fanzine” by mainstream journalists. In fact the Log was far more than that. Devoted to tracing the Eggers phenomenon, it became a phenomenon; its central contradiction—an undisguised affection for Eggers coupled with an unrelenting and often highly critical scrutiny of his every move, made Gary the perfect fan for a writer whose subject was public, agonized, self-incriminating and self-exculpating self-examination. It was, as Gary would title one of the Logs, “Muckraking At Its Postmodern-ist”—exposure without the conclusions. Thousands of fan sites litter the Internet—Britney Spears has so many that there is a Top 50 list to help guide the novice Spears admirer—but only Gary’s Log is both a literary document and a sign of the times.
The best part of the Log may well be its makeshift table of contents, some of whose headings tell the story in brief:
2/21/00 FoE! Log #1: A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius: Revised
Noting the rise of Dave Eggers’s literary star.
3/13/00 FoE! Log #3: Yet More Eggersiana
Annotations without a starting-off point — shocking!
3/20/00 FoE! Log #4: Muckraking At Its Postmodern-ist
Better than ever!
4/17/00 FoE! Log #6: The Beth Eggers Exclusive (And Some Other Stuff)
Quality? Yes. Quantity? Not really.
5/1/00 FoE! Log #8: The Dave Eggers Backlash Is So “Five Minutes Ago”
Is he doomed to be a short-lived relic of pop culture commentary?
6/19/00 FoE! Log #11: “Hmmm . . . Gary Baum, The Next Dave Eggers?”
The last postmodernist gambit I’ve got left.
7/31/00 FoE! Log #13: A Very Special Edition Of The FoE! Log
Eggers talks. Baum talks back.
9/4/00 FoE! Log #18: Eggers Is Everywhere
Mr. Sensitive Novelist Guy meets Mr. Open-Minded.
9/18/00 FoE!: Log #20: Dave And Vendela, Sitting In A Tree
Eggers in love.
2/26/01 FoE! Log #29: He’s Mad As Hell And He’s Not Going To Take It Anymore
Will he follow in the footsteps of Salinger or Roth?
5/14/01 FoE! Log #35: McSweeney’s Quietly Sells Out
Scraping the bottom of the week’s literary news barrel.
And here is a sample entry, from Log #7:
[7.b] On page 73 of the May 1st edition of Newsweek (with Elian [Gonzalez] on the cover) there is a short article about Zadie Smith, the half-white/half-Jamaican publishing phenom from Britain whose first novel, “White Teeth,” is currently the talk of London. Smith inspires much of the same speculation/adulation/intrigue as Eggers does here in the States . . . But most importantly she seems to, with the help of Eggers, be starting a new author trend [4.g] among rising literary stars: The Self-Effacing Self-Review Of One’s First Book. Newsweek explains that “Smith reviewed her own novel for a literary magazine, and mocked her own giddy precociousness: ‘White Teeth is the literary equivalent of a hyperactive, ginger-haired tap-dancing ten-year-old.’” Eggers pulled the same stunt  a few months ago in Spin with the help of long-time FoE! Dave Moodie (who is an editor of the magazine) [4.p].
The first link is to the Newsweek article, the second [4.g] to Log #4’s item on a New York Times article describing the new “trend” among writers of mentioning one’s pets. The third  links to footnote 3 in the very first Log, describing Eggers’s self-review in Spin; and [4.p] takes the reader to the 16th footnote in Log #4, where Eggers’s relationship with Moodie is revealed in detail. One could theoretically get lost in the Log forever, wandering from link to link to link.
Gary’s conversation, too, was a collection of links. He was like a man stranded on a desert island to which the Postal Service still delivered magazines. He would begin to speak, then interrupt himself: “Did you see the piece in the Observer? No?” Anger, disappointment: he thought he could trust you. When I arrived in Calabasas, Gary handed me a stack of his old articles, some of his fiction, and two things written by others: an article about Calabasas from the Los Angeles Times Magazine, and a profile of Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter, for my edification. This is something about which the guardians of public morals never warned us—we knew that high school kids were online stealing our credit card numbers and downloading pictures of naked women, but who ever thought they’d be reading the New York Observer?
Some of it, of course, was just words on paper. While I was in California, Robert Blake’s wife was shot to death outside a restaurant in Studio City, and at night in my hotel, after a day-full of Gary, I watched as Fox News maintained a vigil on the scene. Having no idea, I finally asked Gary who Robert Blake was. “You remember that show,” he answered immediately, “Baretta?” No, I said, I didn’t. “Me neither,” he admitted—though, oddly enough, Eggers mentions Baretta in the memoir.
Similar lacunae often plague the Log, whose 1,000 or so core readers, according to Gary’s estimate, were 25- to 35-year-old hypereducated media or publishing or academic professionals (“like you,” he added helpfully). They invariably made references that were not in Gary’s repertoire. “Just today,” he told me the first time I called to say I was writing an article, “I didn’t know what the word acolyte meant. I had to look it up. This is a common situation here.” Another time, as we looked for a parking spot outside Jerry’s Famous Deli, an L.A.-area chain chiefly famous for having declared its flagship store “famous” when it opened in the 1970s, Gary got at the root of the problem: “I don’t know enough about postmodernism, I’ve decided.”
Gary’s keen sense of his own literary limits was one reason the Log remained tantalizingly agnostic on some of its major questions. “I’d rather take somebody else’s response,” he explained, and, always making sure to choose a representative comment, post that on the Log. At the same time, Gary had no doubt that what Eggers was doing was special. In some of his non-Log writing, the mark of Eggers was profound—especially the strain of world-conquering superconfidence. “[N]o one can stop us,” Eggers writes in the memoir, in the very first scene after his parents die and he and his brother Toph are hurtling down California’s Highway 1.
He is mine and you cannot stop me, cannot stop us. Try to stop us, you pussy! You can’t stop us from singing, and you can’t stop us from making fart sounds, from putting our hands out the window to test the aerodynamics of different hand formations, from wiping the contents of our noses under the front of our seats. You cannot stop me from having Toph, who is eight, steer, on a straightaway, while I take off my sweatshirt because suddenly it’s gotten really fucking hot . . . . It’s unfair. The matchups, Us vs. Them (or you) are unfair. We are dangerous. We are daring and immortal. Fog whips up from under the cliffs and billows over the highway. Blue breaks from beyond the fog and sun suddenly screams from the blue.
Gary often struck the same note. In a short review of Almost Famous for the Calabasas Courier, he wrote that the movie “captured what it is like to be right there, at sixteen, when the future is laid out in front of you and the world is at your feet”—which was a little odd, coming from Gary, who was a nice kid, a witty and very talented kid, but not a super-duper-popular kid. Calabasas High School was not an easy place to be super-popular; it wasn’t even an easy place to find a parking spot. Gary was well known for his muckraking articles in the Courier, but he was not a member of the school’s social elite. Unlike most of his classmates, who seemed to have had the markers of adolescence blasted from their faces by some sort of nuclear device, Gary’s jaw and forehead were still marked with quiet but persistent acne; he was also physically slight, and a little awkward in the angular way of skinny teenagers.
Yet something about Eggers, a writer for the literary beau monde, spoke to him. At a time when the MFA track had replaced bohemia as the dominant writerly lifestyle, Eggers was doing wonders for the notion of a young, ass-kicking literary community. His readings, which were packed by hundreds, were conceptually interesting performances—he had jugglers, and guitar smashing, and sometimes he asked someone to sit up front and maintain eye contact with the audience, because he was bad at it. He had good taste as an editor and brilliant taste as a designer, and in the wake of the memoir’s stellar sales he founded the McSweeney’s independent press. He also had a knack for creating community, as when, while doing a weekly comic strip for the SF Weekly, he began leaving the strip’s original artwork for people to take from the open trunk of his chartreuse 1972 BMW, along with a guest register for them to sign. “This is not some guy that did this fifty years ago,” said Gary. “He’s doing it now. I don’t have to be well-read to realize that.”
Despite this admiration, the Log’s primary organizing model remained the conspiracy. And you can see immediately how Calabasas, California, home base of the FoE! Log, would predispose one in that direction. It is an affluent, very Jewish town at the edge of the beautiful San Fernando Valley, about forty minutes northwest of Los Angeles. Full of gated communities and pretty pink Mediterranean houses, surrounded by the brown-and-green foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains, it’s a cars-only place—there is nowhere to walk and no way to walk there. Gary’s best friend, who didn’t have a car throughout high school, visited the Baums for the first time in my presence. Calabasas manages to be culturally isolated—the mountains turn L.A.’s two NPR stations into mush as soon as you descend from Highway 101—without being culturally distinct: though it seceded from Los Angeles in 1991 (largely to keep developers in check), the city hall, where Gary works part-time after school, is transparently a former office building in a current office park, with two stories of mirrored, corporate glass.
Calabasas, then, is all subtext, and it reads: You are being fooled; there is more, much more; there are secrets, there are plots. And Gary, keeping watch from here, saw plots being hatched across the continent. The Log is a lengthy tapestry, with some threads (like that of Eggers “selling out”) continuing throughout all 40 editions, others emerging and receding and stopping short, but the thrust of the Log is always the same, to piece together and understand. To read the Log in its entirety—it runs to about 350 printed pages—is to witness Gary’s steady initiation into secrets of the magazine world. Wide-eyed, in Log #4 he noted that Eggers’s younger brother, Christopher, had been featured as the month’s “Email This Boy” a year earlier in the teen-girl magazine Twist; young Eggers then reprinted many of the emails he received from smitten girls, first in his own high school zine (he is Gary’s age), and then on the McSweeney’s website. The precocious cruelty of the thing did not concern Gary, but the mechanics did. “One might wonder,” he began, “how Chris was picked to be the featured boy in Twist, as opposed to the throng of others who did not make the final cut.”
Well, a possible answer lies in a Feed magazine [i] continuing feature known as “BottomFEEDer.” One piece in the series detailed the work of Melanie Mannarino, the ‘Guys Editor’ at Seventeen. Mannarino, at the time of the interview 27-years-old (which would have put her in the same age group as the elder Eggers) described how she finds “real boys” for her magazine’s “Guy of the Month” feature. She said that to find the Guy of the Month “we started by asking staffers, ‘Do you know any teenage boys?’” . . . Mannarino seemed to indicate that she, along with those in similar jobs, rely on their network of friends, family, and colleagues to find her Guy of the Month. So maybe the Twist employee was, like Mannarino, a little desperate to find an appropriate boy for that month’s issue. And maybe that FoE! employee called on Dave to see if he/she could use the memoirist’s younger brother, Chris, as an “E-mail this Boy” subject. And, most likely, Chris was all too happy to oblige, as he knew that it would provide perfect fodder for his zine.
This is almost awe-inspiring. Note the Baum method: a deft lateral move (from Feed to Seventeen to Twist) combined with irrelevant innuendo (Mannarino’s age=Eggers’s age), an ostentatious suspension of judgment where the facts are unknown (the Twist employee is referred to as “he/she,” this scrupulousness lending weight to Gary’s more fantastic assumptions), and finally a projection of startling foresight onto his subjects—what Richard Hofstadter, in his famous essay on the “paranoid style,” called the “curious leap in imagination that is always made at some critical point in the recital of events,” in this case the notion that Chris only agreed to appear in Twist so he could receive publishable emails. And all of this massive effort, finally, to uncover a rather obvious chain of events—had anyone really thought that Twist conducted a scientific, nationwide search for each month’s “Email This Boy”? But this was the nature of Gary’s education, via the Log, and in his mind it all added up to form a massive plot.
Perhaps, too, Gary was forced to stretch the bounds of logic because he would explain the inexplicable. For no one could have predicted the Eggers boom, and in those first weeks and months of Eggers’s rise to stardom, there was much befuddled shaking of culture-watching heads. “He has become famous overnight,” public radio talk show host Christopher Lydon said by way of introduction. “He is the new new new thing.” The New York Observer, in the article that launched the Log, put the matter even more mystically: “Every so often, a literary media star is born. In the early 90’s, it happened to novelist Donna Tartt, and later in the decade it happened to memoirist Elizabeth Wurtzel. Now it is happening to Dave Eggers.” Success, in this formulation, is something that “happens” to a writer, without warning, possibly without cause. In Lydon’s case, there was an air of reproach—why hadn’t anyone predicted it? Didn’t we have a guy at Goldman Sachs working on this very problem? Why had we not been warned?
C. Wright Mills once wrote, ominously, that the world of celebrity “has not been built from below by a slow and steady linking of local societies and metropolitan 400s. It has been created from above.” But Eggers was different: he was neither imposed or chosen. Instead he brought to his book’s publication a pre-existing readership. Might had achieved a certain cult status, especially after its martyrdom to market forces; Eggers had done a few segments for the popular radio program This American Life; and McSweeney’s (whose fourth issue appeared shortly after the memoir) and its website had already begun to shake the literary firmament. Eggers “crossed over” due to a Web-aided linking of local societies; there may have been a cabal promoting him, as Gary insisted, but they were junior editors, not CEOs, and they were fans of Eggers’s previous work, not necessarily his personal friends.
And were we right, we junior editors, we not-quite-personal friends? I reviewed Eggers’s book when it first came out and was struck, as everyone was, by how representative his sensibility, and his prose style, seemed to be. The memoir is, for example, unsparing in its physical descriptions of his mother’s cancer, but in a peculiar way. “They took out my mother’s stomach six months ago,” he writes. “Then they tied the [something] to the [something], hoped that they had removed the offending portion, and set her on a schedule of chemotherapy. But of course they didn’t get it all. They had left some of it and it had grown, it had come back, it had laid eggs, was stowed away, was stuck to the side of the spaceship.” Eggers knows that cancer doesn’t work this way—but how apt, nonetheless, to imagine it as the extraterrestrial monster from James Cameron’s Aliens. This is the sort of thing one thinks and then chastises oneself for thinking. Eggers records it all.
His biography, too, was representative. He was in San Francisco when the dot-coms emerged, he tried out for MTV’s The Real World, he wrote lyrically of playing Frisbee. To see the picture of Eggers that appeared in Vanity Fair, in a room cluttered with books and pilfered US Postal Service bins, at an aged computer outfitted (we knew) with desktop publishing software, his hand up in a bemused wave-type gesture to the national audience suddenly focused on him through the camera lens, was to see the historical spirit of the past decade incarnated—this was what Hegel felt when he saw Napoleon on horseback. It’s hard not to be bothered by the alternately sanctimonious and ingratiating tone that sometimes appears in the memoir and has appeared increasingly often in Eggers’s writing and interviews since, and one can’t shake the feeling that Eggers has a real problem with people who are not-Eggers. But he was very cool, in his way, and he showed the possibility of certain things. He indicated that it was not entirely impossible to speak in one’s own voice before a national audience. It was a voice that grated, sometimes—but there was no use disowning it.
In Calabasas, I was allowed to sit in on the making of a Log. Gary’s parents live in large one-story California contemporary perched over a canyon, with a fantastic view of the nearby mountains. Ronald Baum is a neurologist, with a doctor’s discount subscriptions to more magazines than anyone could possibly read; Gary had the New Yorker, Harper’s, Details, Detour, Brill’s Content, Gear, Stuff, and a few others stacked in neat piles on the floor. He installed himself at his computer, an unremarkable Pentium desktop with a good landline connection. Like all civilized procedures, this one began with email, and we found Gary’s inbox so full of luminaries it should probably have been bronzed. Email was crucial, for the Log had gathered so much journalistic steam by then that most of Gary’s material came from the kindness of sources; he also had, as he explained, “a whole series of email from weirdos.” He read me the most recent such exchange: “Hello, Dave/Gary,” the first email began, “I see Dave has taken up skywriting over Santa Monica. Cheers, Andy.”
“He thinks I’m Dave, so he’s going to play some sort of McSweeney’s-type game. Let me show you the little interplay we went through. This is the typical weirdo type person. ‘Dear Andy: As you may know, I live just north of L.A. What skywriting are you referring to?’ He writes back: ‘If you’re Dave, you know. If you are just an aspiring journalist/writer, then you are on your own.’ Okay, whatever. ‘Dear Andy. I don’t play cryptic games on email.’ And he writes. ‘If you want to be a journalist when you grow up you might want to learn how to get stories without being spoonfed.’ I thought, I could go and deal with this or I could just move on and get away from the weirdos. So that was it with us. We haven’t discussed anymore.”
What did Andy want?
“I guess he wanted me to research some skywriting thing he did. Or Eggers did. Or I did, because he thinks I’m Eggers. You notice how I get weirdos. Sometimes I get the weirdest crap—and then I look at the address and it’s from a college professor!”
That was just how things were with Eggers—people thought he was everywhere, and they thought they were the only ones who could understand him. Some apparently believed that the entire Log was just an extended Eggers prank, that Gary was in fact Eggers (this is not true). Others, and they were often people wishing to impress or woo the memoirist, were convinced that Gary had privileged access: “A lot of people think there’s a phantom email address—like, there’s the regular McSweeney’s address, but people think I have a personal, direct line.” Gary shrugged—if only.
Finished checking his email, Gary launched into cyberspace. He visited www.Medianews.com, where meta-media-related news items are posted by a hero of Gary’s named Jim Romenesko; before Gary even began reading, he opened another browser, directing it toward Salon, so it could load while he read. Moments later, back on the Medianews site, a mention of Eggers appeared. “There you go!” cried Gary. “It is now 3:38 pm, and there is a new article at the New York Times: ‘“Dubya,” “at risk,” and “Eggers” have been banned at Esquire.’ I wonder why.” Swiveling to me. “This is an example of how I’m just reading my normal thing and something Eggers-related comes up. I don’t have to do any research, it sort of comes to me, he’s all over the place.” He didn’t even read the article right away, but pasted it into his HTML editor, for later. “I sort of get into the rhythm, and I don’t want to mess it up.”
At this point Gary’s mom came into the room with the mail. The University of Southern California, where Gary would begin studying journalism that fall, had sent some information, which Gary’s mom read aloud to him. “Okay, Mom,” Gary said after a while. “Goodbye, Mom.”
“I get on his nerves,” she explained to me. Then to Gary: “Could you hang up that sweatshirt?”
Mrs. Baum left, and Gary was back in the thick of things. Later on, our discovery would join the Log, fully linked and numbered like a gossip-column cyber-Tractatus:
[36.e] Anna Holmes published an article on Sunday, May 20th which detailed the “words and phrases [that] have been declared off-limits by . . . various magazines, in an effort to steer writers away from language that is hackneyed, imprecise or slangy.” The piece, which appeared in the blacklisted New York Times [29.a], analyzed banned words lists at such glossy magazines as Town & Country, Maxim, Gourmet, Glamour, and Allure. Most interestingly, blacklisted Esquire [3.g] editor-in-chief David Granger [34.a] forbids even mentioning the name “Eggers” in his magazine since “he had a falling-out with the novelist . . . who worked at Esquire before he was famous.”
The links lead to: the New York Times article, the Log’s description of Eggers’s confrontation with the Times, the dark tale of the original blacklistee (the New York Observer), and the Log item on the Details article in which Granger sounds off about Eggers.
The “blacklist” was Gary’s most infectious invention. First introduced in Log #3, it then cropped up nearly every time someone criticized Eggers. But in solid journalism school fashion Gary was scrupulous about it—he would refer to someone as being “most likely blacklisted,” as if there were a blacklist somewhere, and until we saw it we couldn’t be certain. “It seems that in [Cornel] Bon[c]a,” he wrote after that critic had spoken less than flatteringly of the memoirist and his literary likenesses, “Eggers has found the latest addition to his Blacklist.” Commenting on reviewer Mark Athitakis’s claim that “Dave Eggers Thinks You’re Stupid,” Gary wrote: “Well, Mark Athitakis, you may feel stupid when you are written down on Eggers’s literary blacklist.” The concept entered the mainstream discourse, with one Details profile citing a source near Eggers using the word “blacklist” to describe the people Eggers has it in for. When I asked Gary whether he really thought Eggers had a scrawled list of enemy writers taped to his shaving mirror, he said he was just hamming it up. “Anyway,” he added, “if he did have a list, he wouldn’t write it down. He’d have it in his head.”
This was just one of Gary’s contributions to the myth, for if he was not the most theoretically sophisticated observer of the Eggers gang, he was undoubtedly its most straight-talking and imaginative interpreter. Having created the Eggers-centric universe, he set about sowing it with conflict. In Log #12, he dubbed a number of the “lesser-to-mid-range FoE!s who are basically wannabe hangers-on”—“the Family.” In Log #7, he went after the McSweeneys.net letters page, calling it a “halfway house” for would-be McSweeneyites. “When reading please notice how just about everyone who writes in has adopted Eggers’s tone—it seems to amount to one of the most massive literary style hijackings that I can remember in recent history.” According to a defense of the letters section that appeared on McSweeneys.net a few months later, the volume of letters had indeed dropped off significantly after the broadside from “the Baum kid.”
It’s true that at moments Gary began to resemble A. J. Weberman, the man who used to scavenge through Bob Dylan’s trash on MacDougal Street. Gary himself suspected as much—“scraping the bottom of the week’s literary news barrel” was the subtitle to the rather skimpy Log #35. Like Dylan—like the Beatles, for that matter, with all those proper girls in skirts, suddenly screaming—Eggers seemed to have unleashed an energy in the culture that had previously lain dormant, and Gary witnessed its most bizarre excesses. But Gary at least had Eggers’s trash delivered via email, and usually he disdained to publish it. “I get a lot of stalker-type stuff, like, ‘I saw Eggers at this restaurant in Brooklyn. He was picking his nose.’ That sort of thing.” Gary was indignant. “I can’t use that.”
Inevitably and from the first, much of Eggers’s fate as a popular icon was beyond his control. Perhaps most telling in this regard were his sometimes sour relations with the mainstream press. Early on, a reviewer for US News & World Report criticized “this anticorporate-media iconoclast” for refusing her magazine an interview and “delivering himself instead to a large media machine soon to merge with AOL,” i.e., Time. This was an odd bit of revolutionary fervor for a mass-circulation weekly, but it was an irony of the sort that would repeatedly escape Eggers profilers. Article after article wondered aloud about his motives. “A longtime colleague,” we were told in the Details profile, “says he can’t decide whether Eggers’s behavior is the result of ‘genuine unhappiness and mania or a really long and ongoing promotional campaign.’” In the world of the “longtime colleague,” it seems, unhappiness and mania: good; promotional campaign: bad. This from a magazine that exists for the sole purpose of selling canvas pants and sunglasses to the twenty-somethings with whom Eggers is so popular—“a Sears catalog with ’tude,” as the Baffler once put it.
All this was not, however, quite so ridiculous as it seemed. Like many of the significant cultural critics of his generation—most notably Tom Frank, editor of the Chicago-based Baffler, and Joshua Glenn, editor of the Boston-based Hermenaut—Eggers emerged from an early 1990s culture that, inspired in part by the indie-rock scene of the previous decade, had declared war on the predigested products of the mainstream media. Not only did they publish more scabrous, alienated writing, but, as if giving the finger to 600-word dispatches from foreign bureau chiefs, they gave it more room. (Gary Greenberg’s 23,000-word “In the Kingdom of the Unabomber,” probably the best McSweeney’s article to date and certainly one of the best magazine articles in recent years, described how Greenberg, a psychiatrist, cultivated a relationship with Ted Kaczynski because it seemed the simplest and shortest route to getting published in a big-name magazine.) And the blood initially spilled by McSweeney’s was glossy—there was the Esquire parody, and Eggers in interviews speaking of setting up his quarterly as a counterforce to the mainstream, ostentatiously running work that “doesn’t know what year it is,” and pieces that had been killed by other magazines. It was therefore natural, especially for journalists who had made their peace with Mammon, to question the authenticity of someone who’d pledged himself to the eternal margins.
But Eggers had never really done any such thing, and his relation to the mainstream was always tortured; he told interviewers that Might’s aggressive humiliation of celebrities was less a protest against the concept of fame than a way to level the playing field. Glenn, one of Eggers’s few convincing opponents, once argued that Might was neither zine nor magazine but merely a “beautiful, glossy resume.” Yet the nakedness of his ambition—and the nakedness of that nakedness—was part of Eggers’s appeal. Unlike the musicians and even writers you typically see struggling to understand what journalists want from them, Eggers was, from the first, an apparatchik in the machinery of stardom. A Heartbreaking Work is in large part a meditation on fame, on the anger and disdain Eggers feels toward those who have it, and the ambivalence he might feel about having it himself. He wishes, he writes, “to become well known for his sorrows, or at least to let his suffering facilitate his becoming well known, while at the same time not shrinking from the admission of such manipulations of his pain for profit,” and so on, in Eggers’s quick chatty overheated-exactly-the-right-amount prose. He has suffered; shouldn’t he reap the rewards? Eggers’s book manages both ostentatious reticence and fame-seeking, though ultimately it is forced to choose fame. For in the vein of the the-novel-being-written-in-this-novel-is-the-novel-you-are-reading novel, A Heartbreaking Work says, in effect, “I want to be famous, I do not want to be famous. You are reading . . . you are finishing . . . are you almost done with this book? Then I am famous. Sucker.”
After achieving success, Eggers became increasingly adamant about controlling his own presentation. Initially generous with his time, he eventually refused to allow journalists to quote from face-to-face interviews; then he began demanding that interviews be published in a word-for-word Q&A format. Not even Nabokov was this picky, and it is a testament to Eggers’s popularity that people still tried to interview him. And even that they still wrote about him—for in those years he used his website to embarrass reporters from the New York Observer, Time, New York, the Village Voice, and finally the New York Times. McSweeneys.net even began a department of “clarifications” (which includes three real clarifications plus a fake clarification of the New York Times Book Review by Neal Pollack). The clarifications were usually fair—as when the Voice claimed that sales for a McSweeney’s book were poor, when the opposite was true—but sometimes capricious, as when a correction to the same Voice article took violent exception to the use of the term “ironic” in reference to McSweeney’s.
It was easy to sympathize with Eggers in most of his battles with a lazy and often sneering press corps. But he also showed how draining and nasty and mutually destructive such a campaign could be. One of the longest pieces Eggers published in the year and a half after his memoir appeared was a 10,000-word “clarification,” on McSweeneys.net, of a short profile done by the New York Times. Eggers reprinted his entire email correspondence with the Times reporter, David Kirkpatrick, who had published a somewhat unpleasant piece after expressing, in his emails, his great enthusiasm for Eggers’s work. The reaction to Eggers’s exposé was mostly negative—this sort of thing simply wasn’t done. The flare-up “put the buzz back into the ‘Staggering Genius’ author’s court,” reported Gary. “However, said buzz has probably not been what The Dave had intended.” In fact, Gary went so far as to claim (for, admittedly, the umpteenth time) that “the literary hipsters who have been trailing [Eggers] for over a year now just seem to have had enough of his antics.” For his own part, though, Gary was thrilled. “He came into school, he couldn’t believe it,” Jeff Partain, Gary’s journalism teacher and himself an Eggers fan, told me. “He just thought it was hilarious that anything like that could happen.”
A few Logs later, having recorded much of the criticism Eggers was subject to (including the inevitable “long-time Eggers watcher” wondering, “‘Is it some sort of brilliant marketing strategy? I’m not saying it is, but it just might be.’”—Entertainment Weekly), Gary linked to a fawning article on Eggers in a Madison-based paper, which printed its interview with him verbatim, as per instructions. “Welcome,” Gary announced, “to the fate of the Eggers interview in the post-Kirkpatrick world.”
Gary, too, when I came to visit, was extremely careful about the “Gary” on display. He was on the one hand accommodating, perpetually asking what I wanted to know, imagining what it was that could possibly interest me. I happened to arrive the day after prom, and one afternoon we went to lunch with a friend of Gary’s who’d had a particularly interesting night, of which he told us in some detail. I was thrilled with my infiltration of teen culture; I would tell the world! But Gary immediately swore me to secrecy; anyway, he explained, he’d set up the whole conversation, and teen-land was henceforth closed: “That was a one-time thing.” During dinner, a thought would occur to him. “Here’s something you might be able to use,” he said one evening over his matzo ball soup—and I could feel that in his mind he was helping me write, “over his matzo ball soup”—and told me how, when he was in fifth grade, a girl he liked named Hillary chose one of Mel Gibson’s sons over him. Thus, I was to conclude, his peculiar attitude toward celebrity.
He was fastidious about his responses, often referring me to places in the Log where he’d “already answered” my questions. “I keep talking to you ad nauseam,” he said happily after one exhausting session, “and I get tired, and you wait for me to say something stupid. That’s part of your plan, isn’t it?” Every time we talked he was listening to himself, measuring the length of my paragraphs, imagining the magazine font. “I’ve learned something from the Log,” he explained. “You only get one chance to make your image.” He warned me that whatever I wrote would be subject to “clarification” on his site; that there might even be an extra special edition of the Log devoted wholly to this important task. After saying something to this effect, he would look up at me expectantly and ask: “You’re going to cream me, aren’t you?” Imagining it already, a job well done. “Man. You’re going to kill me.”
Gary was, unfortunately, no stranger to the brutality of the publicity machine. The most famous event in the history of the Log, the Beth Eggers emails, may also be the ugliest episode in the whole Eggers story. It began several months after the Log was created, when Eggers’s older sister, a lawyer, wrote Gary an email. “She writes to me and she’s really pissed off,” Gary recalled. “I say, okay, why hasn’t anyone contacted you? There have been all these stories, there was a story in the Chicago Tribune. She says it’s because she’s not listed, and [Eggers] isn’t giving out her number. So I say, ‘Well, you can put it on my site, people read it. That can be your forum.’ I took out all the swearing, though.” In Log #6, “The Beth Eggers Exclusive,” Gary posted several comments in which Eggers’s sister claimed, angrily, that Dave had minimized her role in the raising of their little brother. “I am the sister who supposedly ‘helped out’ while Dave ‘raised his little brother alone,’” the comments began. “Yeah right.”
Some time later, Harper’s contacted Gary to say they wished to run a portion of the comments in their reprints section. Gary was thrilled—this was the big-time. When the Harper’s came out that July, Gary was in the middle of a five-week summer program for high school journalists at Northwestern; at an assembly of the students, the director of the program congratulated Gary on the scoop, on going big-time.
What Gary hadn’t known was that Beth Eggers’s comments would be printed alongside a lengthy and extremely self-serving diatribe against the notion of “indie cred” that Dave Eggers had produced during an interview with the Harvard Advocate. (“I say yes when Hollywood says they’ll give me enough money to publish a hundred different books, or send twenty kids through college. Saying no is so fucking boring.”) Taken together, the reprints were quite clearly meant to make Eggers look bad. Eggers, naturally, was upset. On McSweeneys.net, he posted a response, reprinting a strange letter of retraction from Beth Eggers and referring to Gary as a “16 year old boy who publishes a Web site which, creepily enough, talks mostly nicely and in detail about me.” He suggested that both Harper’s and Gary had behaved unscrupulously in the affair.
Gary was distraught. “That’s the only time I heard him talk about [the Log],” he told me later. “I had the most innocent intentions, and he made them look really sinister. I was going to write some screed, right when I read it, just ranting about it. But I decided to wait a couple of days, adjust.” When he finally sat down, he challenged Eggers’s version of the story, and stressed that he didn’t mean any harm with his site. “I am not running some sort of scorched earth gossip column here. This is just for fun. She had something interesting to say that I thought the FoE! Log readers would enjoy, so, with her approval, I published it.”
It was just for fun, and then . . . all this. Gary had been trying to get Eggers to notice the Log—this had, properly enough, been one of the Log’s central themes. Like every writer in the age of the Internet, Gary lived in terror of oblivion. There had never before been so many people writing, and publishing, who suffered precisely that fate. All those unread websites—what do they say if not that there, but for fortune and a copy of Strunk and White, sit you? The only time Gary had ever met Eggers, at a reading in Pasadena when the Log was still in its infancy, he’d handed him a card with the URL. No acknowledgment ever arrived. By Log #10, Gary was petulant: “Eggers makes it quite clear that he almost never sneaks a peak at any Web site devoted to him. Personally, I find this a bit elitist. I mean, it is not like he is John Grisham or anything . . . he has been under the microscope for about four or five months now and he is already too good for the web?”
The keeper of the Log had by then become the topic of conversation and conjecture; Log #11 (subhead: “The last postmodernist gambit I’ve got left”) was devoted entirely to reproducing and annotating a series of comments about the Log from Salon’s discussion forum. Initially hostile, the tide of the postings turned when one of the participants discovered that “Gary Baum is, how shall I put this, sixteen. We should be grateful he’s writing things on [the] internet and not doing crank.” (Gary’s footnote: “Ouch.”) Why, as Gary would inform us in Log #19, even Zadie Smith had written! Yet there had never been any sign that Eggers himself read the Log; and now that he finally acknowledged Gary he was simultaneously angry and condescending, and still maintained that he’d never actually visited the site.
A year later, Gary would become noticeably upset whenever the incident came up—which it did, often. It was the Log’s moment of greatest exposure, and, as is often the case, its lowest point. Beth Eggers was a practicing lawyer, in her thirties, sending profanity-laced emails about her family history to a stranger. It was clear, from what she wrote Gary and from her letter of retraction, that she was having some sort of nervous breakdown. Gary should not have posted her comments, and though he continued to stand by what he did on purely technical grounds, I think he knew this. He wrote about the incident in his application essay for NYU’s journalism program, expressing regret for having caused Eggers’s younger brother Christopher any pain. But I also had the sense that what made the confrontation most difficult for Gary was that Eggers, who had been merely the proper-name adjective attached to the “Dave Eggers Literary Phenomenon,” suddenly became a real person, and one who was upset with Gary Baum. Put another way, what is missing from the Log is not so much a spell-checker as a sense that the people being written about are people; that people can become wounded and angry; that they do not always see your best intentions. The truth is that though Gary, deep down, did not believe that anything so unfair as a blacklist exists, it does. That, too, is how the world works.
When I visited, Gary still maintained the hope that Eggers would come around. “I don’t think he’s read enough of it to get what I’m doing,” he told me. “I think he’d appreciate it, if he read it from start to finish.” In truth, if Eggers read the Log entire he would emerge with a ringing headache and a question: How can this kid still like me? For from the very start, Gary opened the floor to Eggers’s critics—both to mainstream journalists who seemed mostly offended by Eggers’s occasional bad manners, and to serious opponents like Josh Glenn, who believes that Eggers is merely “a magician posing as a writer” who has, “like many con men,” become “really good at what he was just pretending to be good at.” As the Log progressed, Gary became sharper, wittier, more certain of his voice. But in its last few months the Log also became darker. One New York magazine declared Eggers tops in the bizarrely conceived category of the “10 Most Overexposed Writers of 2000.” Vanity Fair announced that he was “out” as the Gen-X writer of choice. After Eggers’s conflict with the New York Times, Gary wondered whether he would “follow in the footsteps of Salinger or Roth.” (David Lee Roth, that is.) “Fallout From a Brilliant Marketing Strategy,” went the title of Log #30: “The Tide Begins to Turn Against the Literary Hero.” Log #32, subhead: “Swimming against postmodernism’s backwash.” Log #34: “Just About Ready For Crucifixion.” Log #35: “McSweeney’s Quietly Sells Out.” Log #40’s tragic subhead: “Over the hill, but still under the radar.”
As the backlash he’d been waiting for finally set in (“I knew there’d be a backlash,” he said. “I predicted that. A year ago!”), Gary was like the long-time biographer, weary with too much knowing. Other aspects of the world Eggers inhabited gained his attention, and then even his digressions became depressing. In #34 he quoted a gossipy account of a book party thrown for debutante-novelist Lucinda Rosenfeld—“a smash, cram-packed with New Yorkerites, including fiction editor Bill Buford, who worked great wonders with Lucinda’s book What She Saw . . . —primarily by running a powerfully fetching photograph of the lithe Rosenfeld alongside his excerpt of her work in the New Yorker.” This was just too horrible—the cutesy neologizing, the notion that a New Yorker editor’s main job is to choose a sexy photograph—but one sensed that it was not beside the point. The truth is that this sort of thing stood at the dark heart of the Log, which was not and had never been about Eggers. The Log was about fame: the fame that Eggers had and the fame that Gary wanted. It was about the wages of such fame, its conditions, its uses. There were occasional literary quotations in the Log, but they were not from Eggers’s book; there were references to literary figures, but only insofar as their careers were concerned. Larger questions were being dealt with here. How does one take the enormous apparatus of celebrity-creation and force it to do one’s bidding? How does one, to put it more succinctly, conquer the world?
It was a good question, a Balzacian question. And one was struck by the optimism of it, the innocence. I kept asking Gary whether he’d become disenchanted by the dirty secrets of the literary world, whether he still thought it a world worth conquering. He wasn’t, and he did. Because though Gary proved beyond the doubt of any reasonable reader that literary fame, and literature itself, is a vast and intricate conspiracy, the trick of the Log was that it wasn’t a conspiracy he abhorred. He wanted in, he merely wanted in.
But no one escapes unharmed. Eggers’s ugly battles with the press marred the good feeling he had initially intended to cultivate with McSweeney’s; embattled, he denounced all literary critics as essentially motivated by ressentiment; and in the addendum to the paperback edition of A Heartbreaking Work, one saw a sanctimonious, bullying and precious tone creep into his writing, a tone that in the original portion of the memoir was fully submerged beneath the humor and self-mockery of his adventures in parenting. Eggers had, all things considered, handled fame admirably, but it handled him more. And the truth is that Gary—sweet, curious Gary, who lit up when he imagined what it would be like to actually meet Eggers: “I have so many questions. I could talk to him for hours, even if he just said, yes, no, yes.”—the truth is that this Gary had a hand in the unpleasantness surrounding Egger in the year and a half after his memoir appeared. And in so doing, it should probably be added, to complete the ledger, he produced a very interesting piece of writing.
In Calabasas, I tried to dissuade Gary from his infatuation with New York’s trivial aspects—to explain, at the very least, that there were writers there who did not attend book parties. But it was no use: some illusions can only be lost along the way. And perhaps, like the illusion of fame, they are only illusions until they happen, when they fall on you like a ton of bricks. “I know there’s an ending somewhere,” Gary said of the Log. “I just don’t know where it is. First I thought: I’ll do it for a year. Then I thought I’d do it until I got up to his age—Log #30. But that was when the Kirkpatrick thing happened, and I couldn’t end it there. Now I’m thinking maybe I’ll stop when they make the movie: like, that’s it, they’ve made a movie of his life, there can be no more. Maybe it’s this article: when I go from being outside to being the subject. Or you know what would be really great? If I could announce: ‘Okay, I got my first book deal. Thanks, that’s all.’ Either that, or I get hired by Esquire.”
This article was written for the Atlantic in the summer of 2001, edited, and set up in type by mid-November. At that point Mike Kelly, the Atlantic’s editor, received a phone call from Dave Eggers informing him that Beth Eggers had committed suicide.
I spent the next few days on the phone with Cullen Murphy, the magazine’s managing editor, wondering what to do. Everything in the article was still true, but the tone was all wrong—the focus on Gary’s goofiness, the scene with his mother and the sweatshirt, Gary’s reflections on postmodernism in a Los Angeles parking lot. Cullen proposed a thought experiment: If Beth Eggers had died six months earlier, would we have embarked on the piece? The answer was no.
Gary was by then in his freshman year at USC. He was studying journalism. Over the summer, Cullen had shaken his head when I told him about Gary’s choice of major. “He should get away from that stuff,” he said. “Study religion. Or math.”
In November, Cullen and I spent some time on the phone discussing how to tell Gary about Beth Eggers’s suicide. The fear was that he would blame himself.
I called Gary from Syracuse, where I had begun a graduate program in writing. Gary wondered, briefly, whether I thought he had anything to do with what happened to Eggers’s sister. I said no way.
Later that week, I learned that people close to Eggers were engaged in a furious email and phone campaign. Like fictional villains suddenly sprung to life, they accused the Atlantic and me of delaying the article so we could dig up dirt on Beth; they contacted a number of editors and writers, including my teachers at Syracuse, to create pressure on the article; and they suggested that Gary was responsible for Beth Eggers’s suicide. At one point, Gary’s mom received a phone call from a woman demanding that she make Gary take down the site. When the woman refused to identify herself, Amy Baum hung up.
Three years later, the Log is still there, but it has not been updated, and many of the links have expired, and some of the magazines and sites to which it pointed have disappeared. And three summers after I visited Gary in California, I’m ready to admit that, at least for now, we’ve lost the battle for his education. At USC, he has prospered. He has joined a fraternity; he has a cute girlfriend; in party photos he occasionally sends me, Gary wears cool nerd glasses, his face more adult, his jaw squared, and that acne I mentioned, the only line in the article he begged me to take out, looks pretty much whipped. After a stint on the Daily Trojan, he’s now the editor of 28th Street, a new monthly lifestyle magazine targeted at L.A.’s college students, written in the college-ironic style. Each issue has an ad on the back cover from a strip club called “Valley Ball.” A few months ago, 28th Street featured a short piece on Joe Francis, the founder of the Girls Gone Wild empire. The teaser wondered: “Is Joe Francis a Marketing Genius?”
As for that other marketing genius, Dave Eggers, I’m no longer on the beat. But what happened in the week after his call to Mike Kelly—the contacting of editors and agents; the jockeying for position; the incredible air of entitlement surrounding the whole thing—did answer one important question: Why, in Gary’s Log, did the New York media insiders, the editors of lifestyle magazines and the authors of their puff pieces, all so insistently cry “Phony!” whenever Dave Eggers came up? Evidently they knew he was one of them, and they were amazed he could get away so long with pretending otherwise. Of course, they were right.