Aw, God Almighty…I have to ‘fess up: had I not drunkenly bumbled into a $.25, dog-eared, ripped-cover copy of his book, “Semi-Tough” at a yard sale in Pfafftown, North Carolina, back in 1985, most of those things people tell me they like about my writing – irreverence, humor, failed attempts at humor, imagery, flow, stuff like basic English, punctuation, grammar, and a certain fondness for the kill shot – would never have happened.
I was a perpetually-aspiring writer, was making money at it, even, but was harder on myself than PETA on Sea World. I didn’t much like me – not the human, he was (barely, occasionally) acceptable, but the writer. I was stale and static and wearing my chosen profession like gangsters wear concrete boots.
Then…that strange old yard sale lady in the muumuu, “That book is marked fifteen cents but I’d take a quarter for it.”
Best $.25 I ever spent.
In the pages of that book, I met Dan Jenkins, a semi-legendary sportswriter-slash-novelist, Texan by birth and by nature, who – by the end of the tale of Billy Clyde Puckett, Shake Tiller, Big Ed Bookman, Barb Bookman, Puddin Patterson, and Hose Manning and the fictitious Miami NFL team Puckett and Tiller played on…and around – had come to infect me like some benign virus for which there is, as it turned out, no known cure and none on the horizon.
Between even the most cursory readings of Jenkins and Hunter Thompson, the jig on my supposed talent as a writer is well and truly Up. I didn’t borrow from Jenkins. I borrowed from Hunter Thompson, strategically. I STOLE from Dan Jenkins, wholesale, gleefully, and without compunction. I didn’t lift actual passages but, as I read more and more by him, the flimsy, transparent template I hijacked from him became more and more crusted with artifice until finally I could hoodwink nearly everyone who read my stuff into thinking it was original…except for me. I knew. I knew that the anatomy of my writing was Jenkins as the bones and a lot of the muscle, fleshed out by bits and pieces of me and maybe 25 other writers.
As another one of that “25 others”, Aaron Sorkin once said, “Good writers borrow from other writers. Great writers steal from them outright.”
I am NOT a great writer. And that’s okay. It is also okay, now, if someone does read my scribblings and finds Dan Jenkins submerged under the reams of Steve Body crap. It is, in fact, a source of immense pleasure for me, because Dan Jenkins passed away on March 7, 2019, and far too many people never got to wallow in the intense and immersive pleasure of his books; the funny, oddly warm, sexy, compelling alt-reality of that Miami football team, Herb’s Cafe in Fort Worth, the PGA Tour, various collage campuses all across The Big Map, or the redeemed version of Manhattan at the center of “Life Its Ownself”. If I could, I would put a copy of one or several of these books into the hands of impressionable teenagers everywhere and, in the case of my grandkids, I just might.
Beyond the slap ‘n’ tickle and the occasional (okay, frequent) profanity, there is a great and rock-ribbed morality and decency at the heart of all Jenkins’ books; an unshaken and unshakeable belief in the inherent worth of every human being. He would probably deny that, if he was sitting here right now in actual, corporeal form, instead of the sneakin’ bastard who sits on my shoulder every time I type, egging me on, saying, “YES, say THAT! Say it just that way! It’s FUNNY! What are they gonna do, fire ya?”
If you have never read anything by Dan Jenkins – his gaggle of books loosely concerned with football or golf or college football or women or booze or sex – well…I don’t know what to tell ya. You missed out, that’s all. Your life is the poorer for this shameful omission. Most of all, your sense of humor has sustained a MASSIVE impact that you never even felt. I mean, you COULD fix it by just downloading one of the Kindle editions, looking up his old essays in Sports Illustrated or Golf Digest, or if you’re intrepid and a touch masochistic, take the romanticized route: haunt yard sales and used book stores and hope to have your own “bumble into” Moment (might wanna skip the “drunken” part). But that’s a Quest and history doesn’t go easy on those. But if you are of a certain, uh, more loosely-woven frame of mind, reading one will be liberating in a way you never expected; a sort of profound relief when you realize, “Hey, those rules my high school English comp teacher hammered into my head? THEY DON’T EXIST!” To use Dan’s own phrase, “it was like a fat man loosening up his belt after going ten rounds with an all-you-can-eat buffet“.
I never wrote anything about Dan’s passing when it happened because I was just too busted up. So, in the traditions of the unwashed gaggle of ridge-runner yahoos who pass for my family, this is horribly, inexcusably LATE. Even now, his aesthetic skeleton inside me rattles whenever I think of him. But, as missions go, telling people about Dan Jenkins ain’t a bad gig. I feel better getting this offa my chest.
Maybe he’s not for everybody but, hey, you don’t know until ya try, amirite?