This is the mostly final draft. I wrote it for a friend. Buy his book (and watch the short film) here: americanspaz.com
Greg Kieser is such a spaz he wrote a memoir, spelled his name wrong and called it a novel. He thinks he can admit everything and nothing at the same time. Spaz. If you don’t believe me, or him, go check out the newspaper article on his dad. Or watch the short film. Dude is not kidding around. There are jean overalls involved.
This isn’t a sob story. Sure there are some sad parts and some touching parts and some gross love stuff, but there is also a lot of cow poop and general angry teen stupidity. Sure, not everyone got their face smashed on a kerosene heater in high school or actually had to scoop out a waist-high pit of liquid cow poo. But pretty much everyone made an ass out of themselves in front of the opposite sex (don’t lie) and lived to regret it. And pretty much everyone got a perm. Ok, maybe not everyone.
But the thing is, the most spaz like part of the book is not all the stuff that our protagonist gets himself into. It is the fact that all these years later he sat down, put it on paper and is sharing it with us all. If pop culture hadn’t sucked the meaning out of the word ‘honest’, it would be an appropriate word to describe the 10 years of life crammed into the 241 pages of American Spaz.
The pre-pubescent and teen years are largely unflattering and universally brutal, even when both your parents are alive and sane. But those years become rosier as you decay into adulthood. So it’s refreshing to see those years captured in all their flailing, frantic, directionless energy. At that age, you don’t know what’s going on. You can’t really control the urges that propel you forward. Your wants are vague - out of this place, into this crowd, out again, sex. The adults in your life might yell and argue and repeat again and again that you need to use your brain - but you can’t listen. You’re barely out of the primordial soup, how are you supposed to comprehend life? Most states don’t try kids as adults for serious crimes because kids legitimately don’t know what they are going to do until they’ve gone and done it. Kids are spazzes.
Death also makes you a spaz. You can understand it, but it never makes sense. As evidenced by the presence of religion, and perhaps scientific theory, our brains will do pretty much anything to find a structured explanation of the unexplainable. If you are knocked free of that structure, as happens to our young protagonist and to a different degree, his father — your brain ends up like a deer that unknowingly steps onto a pool cover and into a world of utter confusion. (Youtube it.) How is anyone supposed to react in a rational way to something that exists outside of their rational world?
But really, what is a spaz?
If your therapist were to walk in on this, your therapist would say in her/his soft measured psychotherapist voice, “Well, what do you think Greg is achieving by calling himself a spaz?” You, being in therapy for a reason, would probably say “well, uhm, his childhood was wack and he was kinda nuts…” And your therapist, calculatingly but casually, says, “That is true, he has gone through a lot more than most. But we all go through trying times. Do you think his behavior was maybe just a natural reaction? Maybe a way to protect himself from emotional pain?” And you, sensing danger, say “yeah…?” And your therapist, moving in for the kill, says “Do you think sometimes your reaction to events is driven by you wanting to protect yourself from emotions that are hard to process?” You, trapped, “well, sometimes it’s better to feel in charge than sad…” And so on until your therapist finally gets you to cry at which point, match point, session over. Anyway, that’s why therapists ruin books instead of writing them.
By writing this book and facing his past, maybe Greg isn’t a spaz anymore. Or is the memoir as novel, everything but nothing, a protection? Maybe he is a spaz after all.
If that isn’t enough to convince your inner intellectual snob to investigate further, and your therapist hasn’t already given you a copy as part of the patient loyalty program, here are a few alternate, very good reasons to read American Spaz:
- You like anything that might involve MC Hammer. (Don’t lie, you know you had those pants.)
- You have or are about to have a child and would like to be reassured that it will probably come out ok.
- You are less than 22 and really want to know what people did with their lives before cell phones and the internet.
- You have been to enough therapy that you can admit that you like reading about other people’s lives because it makes you feel like you aren’t alone.
- You were a giant nerd as a child and would like to live vicariously.
- You are in the market for a super cool hairdo (read the book, watch the short movie).
- You love cows.